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Eli London stared at the drop of sweat gathering on the shoulder of one of his mechanics, Alanso. He flexed his fingers around the torque wrench he’d retrieved for the man, refusing to let go and trace the path perspiration took over deceptively wiry muscles.
Inked artwork brightened as the bead dampened several tattoos. First a tribal scribble, then a portrait of Al’s long-lost mom, and finally the top of an intricate cross that disappeared beneath the bunched fabric clinging around his waist. Torn and oil-stained coveralls hugged a high, tight ass.
All Eli could think of these days was that goddamned ass, which Alanso now shoved out in his direction while the bastard tuned some rich kid’s engine. With hardly any effort at all, Eli could smack it. Or bite it. Or fuck it.
Son of a bitch.
Nothing good could come of this obsession. Damn his cousin Joe for putting crazy thoughts in his brain. The guy was a member of a construction crew that liked to work hard and play harder together. Their polyamorous bedroom gymnastics had become obvious when Eli and Alanso had walked in on a scene he couldn’t forget. But just because that bastard had been lucky enough to find a whole team of fuck buddies his wife adored—no, loved—didn’t mean such a wild arrangement could work for everybody in the world.
Eli had no right to wish for the same. Yet lately, each time he looked at the half dozen guys and girl he considered his grease monkey family, he found himself sporting a hard-on stiff enough to jack up a tank with. Thankfully, the oblivious gang hadn’t identified the source of his recent frustration. Though they certainly had borne the brunt of his bad temper, adding guilt to the unslakable arousal stripping his gears, leaving him spinning his wheels.
Stuck and stranded. Alone with his dirty little secret.
Except for Alanso
Why had that mechanic been the one to witness Joe and his crew’s alternative loving along with Eli? Probably because they went most everywhere together. Eli shoved the memory of his right-hand man’s right hand from his mind. Or at least he tried. The guy had tortured Eli’s cock with greedy pumps of his trembling fist while the crew’s foreman, Mike, demonstrated just how hot it could be to take on one of his own. By fucking Joe while the mechanics had stared, in awe of the power exchange.
Grunts had spilled from Joe’s mouth, which knocked against his wife’s breast as he took everything Mike gave him then begged for more. The audible decadence echoed through Eli’s mind day in and day out. In perfect harmony with the memory of Alanso’s answering cries as he witnessed the undeniable claiming.
Eli knew that if he slammed Alanso against the 426 inch engine block of that 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T coupe, the man would spread and welcome him.
And that’s where the fantasy turned to battery acid, burning Eli’s insides with the bitter taste of responsibility and logic.
How could he want a guy he considered family? How could he violate that trust?
He couldn’t afford to lose Alanso.
Not from his business, definitely not from his life.
So he could never seize what he craved. Frustration bubbled over.
“What’s taking so long, Diaz?” Eli knocked thick, bunched biceps with the tool he carried.
“We’re trying to make a profit here, you know?”
Alanso couldn’t seem to wipe his glare away as easily as he rid his brow of the moisture dotting it. He snatched the wrench from Eli and returned to his task without taking the bait. If Eli couldn’t fuck, the least the guy could do was give him the courtesy of engaging in a decent fight. His teeth ground together.
“You hear me, huevón? This isn’t some charity case. Hot Rods is a business. Don’t spend all day on a five-hundred-dollar job.” Eli thumped the hood, knowing how the impact would reverberate.
Alanso’s shoulders tensed. The clench of muscles along his spine altered the shape of his tattoos. Still, he said nothing about the low blow—or how he’d repaid the Londons a million times over for their hand-up through a solid decade of friendship and loyalty—and continued about his job. One he was damn fine at performing. No one could make an engine purr like Alanso.
“You want half-assed, go hire a motorman from the chain in town.” He didn’t bother to acknowledge Eli with a look.
Still, as Alanso’s boss and best friend, Eli knew that tone well enough. It’d be accompanied by Al’s tattooed middle finger sticking up along that wrench, he’d bet.
The defiance made Eli long to grab the other man’s chin and force him to gaze up. Maybe then Alanso would see the desperation making Eli more unhinged than Mustang Sally during a particularly bad bout of PMS. God help them all.
He’d never wanted something he couldn’t have so badly before. Except maybe to heal his mom during those horrid weeks she’d spent dying.
Terror and a soul-deep pain that never entirely faded turned him into something no better than a cornered animal. Eli lashed out. “Good idea. Maybe they’d spend less time checking me out and do their goddamned work.”
A clang surprised him. He didn’t quite realize what had happened until a spark flew from the metal tool where it connected with the concrete floor of the garage. Alanso had winged the thing an inch or less from Eli’s thankfully steel-toed boot when he spun around.
He wouldn’t have missed by accident.
“Para el carajo! Maybe I should’ve done more than look. You’re obviously too hardheaded to man up and come for me. So the deal’s off the table. I’ve wasted too much time on a dude who’s in denial. You’re right about that.” Alanso sneered. “I’m tired of waiting for you to grow some cojones.”
“Keep your voice down.” Eli checked over his shoulder. Kaige and Carver didn’t so much as glance in their direction, but the stillness of their bodies made it clear they caught at least wisps of the conversation. Years of tough living had taught the men to tread lightly in conflict. At least until swinging a punch became necessary. Then it was likely to become a free-for-all.
“Joder! Now you want to shut me up. Come mierda.” Alanso scrubbed a hand over his bald head, leaving a streak of oil that tempted Eli to buff it away, maybe with his five o’clock shadow. “Wouldn’t want the rest of the Hot Rods hearing about the good life and how we’re not living it, right? They might revolt.”
“Hey, I’ve never kept anyone against their will. You all chose to stay here. With me. The door’s open.” Eli waved toward the enormous rolling metal sheets that protected the garage bays at night or when the weather turned cold. Through them, the pumps of the service station his dad had started were visible.
A flash of something miserable twisted Alanso’s usually smiling lips into a grimace. The gesture had Eli thinking of something other than what it would feel like to get a blowjob from the man. That was a first after weeks of studying that mouth.
He reached out, but it was too late. Alanso dodged, taking a step back and then another.
“You know what, Cobra.” He grabbed his crotch hard enough to make Eli wince. “You can suck it. Or, then again… No, you can’t. That fucking checkered flag has dropped, amigo.”
Reflex, instinct, dread—something—inspired Eli to lunge for the man who turned away.
Warm, moist skin met his palm.
“Get your fucking hands off me.” When the engine guru pivoted, the unusual chill in his brown eyes froze Eli in his tracks. “You had your chance. You blew it. For us both. I’m out of here.”
“You’re quitting?” Eli gaped as the bottom fell out of his stomach. “Wait—”
“Hell no. I told you I’m over that bus-stop phase.” Alanso sliced his hand through the air between them. His knuckles skimmed Eli’s chest. They left a slash of fire across his heart. “I’ve got places to go and people to do. There are things I gotta learn about myself. And for the first time since we were fifteen, you’re not going to be a part of that with me. Your loss.”
“Shit. I-I’m sorry.” Eli couldn’t find a way to say what for. For violating their friendship, for wanting to destroy what they had or for acting like an ass by postponing the inevitable—he couldn’t make up his mind. “Don’t go.”
They’d drawn a crowd. Even Roman inched closer now. The tough yet quiet guy stared openly at their spectacle. Charged air had somehow tipped off Sally too. She emerged from the painting booth, crossing the bays at an alarming rate. If she got tangled up in this, Eli would never forgive himself. Of all their gang, he knew better than to trample on her emotions. Her heart would rip in two if she had any idea of the rift opening at his feet right now.
Just like his chest was hewn.
“I’m not leaving leaving, Cobra.” Alanso lowered his voice. “This is my home. I hope some things haven’t changed. Let me know if I’m no longer welcome and I’ll pack my shit. But I can’t fucking do this anymore. Not for another damn minute. I have to know what it’s like. To be honest about who I am and what I want. Before I lose any more respect for either of us.”
“Fine then.” Eli leaned forward before he could stop himself. The awful sensations sliding through his guts had to stop. Fast. Before the rest of the garage got caught in their crossfire. He shoved Alanso hard enough the man stumbled across the threshold before catching his balance. It felt like forcing a baby bird from the nest. He only hoped Al spread his wings fast enough. “Get the hell out. Do what you gotta do.”
Alanso mouthed a plea out of sight of the guys now wiping hands on coveralls and milling near in a semi-circle. “Come with me.”
Eli slammed his fist on the big red button on the doorframe beside him. With an ominous rattle, the metal door began to lower between them, severing all communication as completely as if the aluminum were a drawbridge over a monster-filled moat.
The scream of a crotch rocket taking off at an unwise speed ricocheted through their space. Gravel pinged when it slung against the barrier he’d erected.
“What the fuck did you do to him, Cobra?” Sally canted her head as she laid into Eli.
“You’ve really been acting like a snake lately, ever since Dave’s accident. Hissing at anyone who comes near. We get that you’re afraid of losing people important to you. The crew’s near miss seems to have scared you stupid. I get it, I do.”
He closed his eyes, trying to block out the concern she voiced for all the rest of the guys staring at him.
“But keep going like you are and you’ll drive him away.”
“Stop talking, Salome.” He knew better than to tell her to shut up, even if she didn’t understand how her insight cut him. Hopefully using her full name would be enough to convey how serious he was. He couldn’t dive into the details.
No way could he admit what he and Alanso had seen. What they’d done.
“You better not have let your fear hurt him. Tell me you didn’t.” Her emerald eyes begged much more softly than her steely tone.
Eli didn’t bother to lie.
The hand she let fly didn’t catch him by surprise. She loved Alanso. They all did.
Which was why he didn’t bother to duck. He deserved the stinging impact of her open palm on his cheek. That and more. Because even as his head whipped to the side, he admired the stretch of her petite frame when she stood on her tiptoes, her raven hair and the glint of her fancy-painted fingernails, one of her pride and joys.
If he’d only wanted Alanso, maybe the two of them could have explored the possibility. But he was going to hell because he lusted after all of the Hot Rods.
The gang held their collective breath, waiting to see how he would react to Sally’s uncharacteristic act of violence. Roman stiffened, prepared to spring to her defense.
All the fight leeched out of Eli.
No matter how bad it got, they didn’t have to be afraid he’d attack one of their own. Then again, hadn’t he done just that?
The damage he’d wrought would be far worse than the impact of a fist.
His shoulders dropped and his head hung. “I’ll get him back.”
“You’d fucking better.” Mustang Sally shook her hand before propping it on her hip and pointing to the door. “Don’t come home without him.”
The five remaining guys closed rank around their littlest member. They knew she’d hate for Eli to see her tears or her alarm. He didn’t waste any time offering comfort she wouldn’t welcome. Kaige, Carver, Holden, Roman and Bryce would take good care of her.
They didn’t need him.
But Alanso might.