Monday, November 12, 2012

Forged by Becky Banks


 
Synopsis:

First loves, dark pasts, and fast cars collide in this high-octane adventure.

Eva Lynn Rodgers, the daughter of a mechanic, grew up with a need for speed. So did her best friend, and later boyfriend, Nathaniel Vellanova. But when Eva left the drizzling rain of Portland, Oregon, for a high-powered career in New York, she left both Nathaniel and her past behind.

Now Eva's back, and her BMW—like her life in general—could use a little love. Her new mechanic is the right man for the job, but he's got some scores to settle with the girl who peeled out for the East Coast when he needed her most.

It's time for Eva and Nathaniel to confront their demons. Passionate and dangerous sparks ignite as Nathaniel's brutal youth rises up and pulls Eva Lynn back to him—forging a bond that, this time, won't be denied.


 
CHAPTER 1

The memories flicker by like the frames of an old film. Unfocused and dark at the edges. A punch to his gut, to his face. The wall behind him in the yellowing kitchen seems to punch him as well. It slams against his back and smacks his head to the tabletop as the fist from his father throws it there. He’s seven.
By ten he learns to dodge the fists, to know when tension in the apartment would erupt. Eleven, he has one foot out the door, has found a second life, a best friend. Twelve, he has already left home to live with his aunt. Twelve slides into fifteen and fifteen into freedom.

Freedom? It was never free.
The memories of that final day came unbidden, as they always did—and slippery. That day he was twenty-seven and holding the phone to his ear, listening to a foreign sound. His father’s sobs echoed over the line; they begged him home. To please come, it was his mother… These sobs, from the man who met every sobering morning with a toast of his golden can of Olympia and every sunset with his fist in his wife’s face.

Could the son have known then? He’d always ask himself that. Was there any way to know what his father had in store for him when he returned home, for his mother, for the man who was his father? The scars on his skin and the wounds within that had yet even to scar told him not to go, but he had unfinished business with the old man. He’d go, and maybe this time it would be a different.
Nate opened the door to the dark apartment he’d once called home. It was after work, the sun had gone down, his boots were slick with the rain he had just come in from. They slipped on the linoleum floor. A smell rose up and enshrouded his body like a cloak. It clung to his nose and at the back of his throat, tangy rusty tincture of blood. Warm, as if it were being pulsed from the veins of a being. Automatically he reached for the light behind him, his stomach clenching, his mind telling him no.No. NO!

That was when the memory got slick. Even now his mind recoiled, and the details of that night faded back into the black mist.

Eva, he thought to distract himself. Where are you now, Eva? Her name rolled around in his mouth softly, whispered to no one. An entirely different set of emotions consumed him as his parents faded away once more. She was seven when he was ten, and she was there for him every time he showed up with a black eye or a new burn. She’d shown him his first fast car, and later he taught her how to fix them, to make them go faster. At sixteen she rocked his world in a way he would never recover from.
The years had passed like lightning after that day, each one spent with Eva more mind blowing than the next. But as everything in his life tended to do, that too would come to an end.

The pain, now cathartic, motivated, consumed him. His dark past closed up shop and faded away, leaving him with his future. His future, where he was in control.
CHAPTER 2

The rain hammered down on the windshield as my assistant Jenny and I made our way to our recently discovered import garage. I had been relieved to find a BMW mechanic that wasn’t too drunk or too deaf to hear that I just wanted the oil changed, not a forty-minute hollering hand-gesture session about how he wanted to replace my brakes. I’d bought the German sedan used from a California Craigslist ad, and she was perfect—aside from needing regular repairs.
Though my car was going to reap the rewards and I would come to blissfully claim at least partial credit for the mechanic find, Jenny and her precious Peugeot were technically the sole heroes in the discovery. On Monday, I’d been in my office ostensibly reviewing the recent shoot for May’s cover, but really wallowing in the current state of my life. I knocked the old-school desk light to motivate it to work and thought of the fashion rag—particularly the office—I’d left in New York City. That office had been wide and luxurious—plush gray carpeting and dark paneling, furniture handpicked from a sleek and modern designer catalog—and I’d bitten and clawed my way to that corner palace thirty-four floors into the Manhattan sky in just seven years. Now I felt like I was perpetually crouching low under the Portland, Oregon, cloud cover. My fourth-floor office’s midcentury décor had nothing to do with design resurgence; rather, it simply hadn’t been touched since Mad Men’s inspiration had been reality. On top of that, I had chosen this new life and had a magazine to run, which included advertisers and subscribers who didn’t care what my current office looked like. In other words, I had made my own worn-out bed, and I was having to work hard just to keep that.

Jenny, my Rose City Review intern and sometimes guest writer, came waltzing in that morning and flopped down on one of the chairs in the semicircle in the middle of the office. “You would not believe what I found,” she said smugly.
Jenny was five foot five inches in her comfy ballet flats, a well-rounded, good-hearted person whom I truly enjoyed—and wanted to trade lives with. She had a huge extended family and a stable and relatively stress-free job that allowed her to scrapbook and knit to her heart’s content. We were both still single and looking, though I suspected I chose the more stressful, cynical path in that realm, too. Jenny blissfully believed the perfect men in the books she read—the men who looked beautiful naked and who always kept their women in the throes of an orgasm—really existed, and the reality she’d met hadn’t dissuaded her of that belief. I couldn’t enjoy those books—not since I’d witnessed the creation of a cover photo. Cover models were sprayed down with baby oil to mimic sweat, their chests were taped or air brushed so they popped like they did, and one body was simply replaced with another if a different set of abs worked better with the shot angle.

“What’s that?” I bit on Jenny’s bait. “And please don’t tell me it’s a new yarn color.”
Jenny rolled her eyes. “That wasn’t a new yarn color—it was a whole new type of yarn made from Himalayan alpacas—and it cost me a mint!”

“Right,” I said feigning that I even comprehended what she’d just said.
“Anyway, so you know how I’ve been on this trek to find the best import repair shop in the city, right?”

“Please tell me that your ancient Peugeot has found one,” I said with a laugh and returned to my work, editing pen in hand.
“I did…and they do all years of BMWs.”

“Yup, and the one guy is a lush and the other is deaf, right?” I asked, not looking up. “Nope. Young guy who seems to have it together in a newly opened shop off Sandy.”
“I just saw that the other day—European Pro Auto? Pro Euro Auto? Something like that? I thought they only did Ferraris and stuff.”

“Nope, they do the high-end stuff but they also do other Euro cars. And the best part?”

“They offer scrapbooking while you wait?” I asked, eyes on the cover choices.
“The mechanics are H-O-T,” she pronounced, ignoring my snarky comment.

 I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye. “So you asked one of them out with your oil change?” I asked and then held up a cover option. “Does her skin tone seem abnormally red to you?”
“No and no. I’ll probably work up the gumption, though. This one guy is totally my type.”

“Lusciously Latin, you mean?”
“Yeah,” she said with a mildly dreamy look before she came back to the point she was trying to make. “The head mechanic actually owns the place and he’s not really hot per se, but he has that air about him that I thought would be perfect for you.”

“Perfect for me, huh,” I repeated. “And what’s that?” I was now thoroughly engaged with what she had to say.
“Unavailable, uninterested, sort of dark—with a past, you know? But I imagine that with him you sort of feel like you could take over the world.’”

I arched a brow at her. “Quite the brief first encounter.” I looked back down. “If you’re right, you just described complex to a T, my friend.”

Jenny laughed, like a chiming bell tower, loud and ringing. Another thing I loved about her. “Yes! That’s totally it. Anyway—didn’t you say your door has a leak?”
I dropped my car off the next afternoon, leaving the keys with their front desk woman, who wore glaring orange and was the same age as my father, and not a single luscious or brooding mechanic was in sight. There were four work bays, from which noise screeched, and a parking lot full of fancy Euro cars, except for two. They were a red Toyota family car and an black two-door monster. Though I was unsure of its heritage from this distance, the black monster screamed: fast. Something I once knew a lot about.

Through the sheeting rain, from the comfort of the dry interior of Jenny’s car, I saw the watery glow of my car idling, parking lights on, directly in front of us, beside the main office. I hoped the water seal on the rear door was indeed fixed; otherwise, my baby was now officially a fish bowl.
"Wanna borrow my umbrella?” Jenny asked.

“No, I’m good—I’ll just run inside. I have to say”—my hand on the door handle—“I’m impressed already that they have the car running. I bet the heater’s on, too. “We’ll see after I get the bill if I’m still appreciating the attention to detail. See you tomorrow and thanks for the ri—”
Jenny grabbed my arm. “Omigod.”

“Wha?” I said, leaning to the side, trying to see what had made her gasp—probably the Luscious Latin—but at that moment only my car and its exhaust and lights were visible through the sheet of water on the windshield. Then the wipers cleared away the water, and I noticed what had made her gasp.
He stood tall in slate-colored work pants and an open rough-hewn jacket with the company logo embroidered over his heart. Leaning against the building under the scalloped awning, he smoked a cigarette like it was the last one he’d ever have. His features were shadowed under the awning, but it could have been pitch-black and I’d still have known who he was. And he was looking straight into the car—and into my eyes.

“Lord…” I said like an oath under my breath.

“I know, right?” Jenny said, misinterpreting me.

“Wish me luck,” I whispered to her and to no one and got out of the car.

Nathaniel Vellanova pushed away from the wall and in one smooth movement opened the massive golf umbrella that had been leaning next to him and strode toward me.
Behind me I heard Jenny reverse out the driveway, leaving me to my past.


CHAPTER 3

Nathaniel Vellanova stubbed his cigarette out and closed the distance in a few strides, effortlessly getting up in my space, covering us both with the umbrella.

“Let’s get this over with,” he said, the hint of nicotine still on his breath. “This is your car, and this is the work order for the job that was done. Rear passenger door seal was leaking—it’s fixed.” He flicked the paper in his hand at me. “I did the work personally. There’s no charge, and here are the names of two other mechanics in the area that I recommend for BMW owners.”
I was dismissed.

I could feel warmth rise up in my cheeks, making me forget that it was raining in April in Portland and I should have been chilled.
My mouth opened and shut without my permission; my mind flooded with questions and observations. There was a change in the boy I knew—that was, he was a boy no longer. His strong Italian heritage was displayed in his high, wide cheekbones, firm jaw, and jet-black brows and lashes around chocolate-and-whiskey colored eyes. His long lashes had always made him a pretty boy, the kind who got his hair ruffled by old ladies, the kind little girls would befriend, thinking nothing of showing him what was under their dresses. Most unsettling were his eyes: When we were together many lifetimes ago, they communicated everything that his mind was thinking. Now, they were carefully in check, challenging even in their impenetrability, and yet I still couldn’t find my voice—and that was a problem I rarely experienced.

I looked down at the paper in my hand, cold complete text detailing parts and labor, came to a total of zero at the bottom.
“I’m not sure what to say, Nate…Thank you…I—”

“Not interested in what you have to say, and I don’t want your thanks. Good-bye, Eva.” He turned, taking the umbrella with him, and wrenched open the front office door, tossing the collapsed umbrella to the side.
The rain drizzled cold and wet down my neck and slithered down my back. I stood alone and dazed in the parking lot as I recovered from colliding into my past. After years away from here, I had learned to successfully control my words, making them say courteous and rational things. But in my old world, Nate made me a very irrational person.

I walked. Wrenching open the front door, in imitation of the way Nate had, I crossed the linoleum floor, my two-piece business suit and hair dripping but my heels clicking satisfyingly, echoing against the sparsely decorated room.
“Ma’am!” said the woman behind the massive welcoming desk, startling me, her expression one of mild bewilderment.

I briefly registered her as the woman I’d dropped my car off with. Today her dark skin was adorned with jewels that matched her hot-pink nails and crisp blazer, which covered her ample bosom. It was immediately apparent that I’d just stepped into her territory. Nate could run the things in the shop, but she ran everyone who came through the front door.
Ignoring her, I strode for the closed door that I would bet my next paycheck led to Nate.

Despite her age and size, the older woman moved like lighting, coming out from behind the desk, putting one hand up. Her pink nails were like a warning flare in my face. “Oh no, unh-uh. You are not going back there.”
“I just need to speak to the owner.”

“Who are you?”
“Does that matter?”

She raised her eyebrows at me. “The only time I’ve seen that man put his fist through the wall was when we first opened and someone stole half our shiny new equipment. He came right in, closed that door, and beat the tar out of that wall. Got three holes in it, and now? It’s probably got ten. Who the hell are you and where the hell in his past did you come from because you don’t look anything like the women he takes up with now?” She placed her other hand on her wide hip.
I squinted. “Thanks? And that is where I came from, his past. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a couple things I’d like to say to him to bring him into the present.”

“Well now, look who is handing out candy at the angry parade.” She said, looking me up and down, “Don’t give me your sass. If you go back there, where do you think that’ll get you? Because I can tell, you got that look on you that says you’re about to do something that you’ll regret later.”
“I doubt I’ll regret it,” I said, moving to the side.

She moved with me. “Not in my office.” She nodded toward the front door behind me. “Go, while I still like you.” She leaned, keeping part of her weight in front of me, to pull a card out of the holder. A pen came with it, and she scrawled something across the top of the card before handing it to me.
I looked down at the card. It was Nate’s business card, and the woman had added in tidy handwriting what I guessed was Nate’s personal cell phone number.

“What’s this for?” I asked, and she used my distraction as time enough to put a hand at my back, ushering me to the door. “He’s right in there; I don’t need his number.”
“Oh yes, you do. If this is still important in the morning, you can call him and talk about it.”

 She opened the door for me and effectively pushed me out.
“Give him a call in a day or two, and don’t sit in that damn car waiting for him.” She shut the door in my face, throwing the deadbolt and letting down the blinds.

CHAPTER 4
The dream came to him again.

He was ten, standing on the sidewalk under the tall fir trees that stood between the road and the apartment complex that he and his parents lived in. His pops getting drunk and busting up his mom. Some days he thought his mom’s mouth was going to get her killed. She never seemed to know when to shut up, know when Pops was on a bender, know when it was better to let him sleep it off, not shake him awake to tell him what a lousy piece of shit he was. Or what she graduated to doing, leaving little hatch marks on his arm with the kitchen knife to remind him that he’d gotten so drunk she could do that and he’d not wake up.

Eva, three years his junior, ran up to him. All skin and bones, knobby knees and stick arms; Marvin’s daughter. He felt his pulse quicken. She was a weird girl; she was like a guy, his best friend. Her nails were dirty with paint or grease; she had smudges on her face and arms, bruises on her shins from playing rough.
“Hey!” Eva yelled. “Where do you think you’re going?” She skidded to a stop just in front of him.

“Home, dumb ass,” he said nonsensically, since he was standing outside his apartment building. “Why don’t you go play with dolls and leave me alone.”
She cocked her head to one side and looked at him, as if she knew he didn’t mean the words he’d spoken.

“I’m not a dumb ass—you’re the dumb ass. You forgot to tell me you were leaving.”
“I don’t have to tell you shit.”

“My dad says not to swear.”
“Yeah well, still, I don’t have to tell you anything.”

“I know, but I meant to give you this before you left,” she said, and in the dream everything became slow, his subconscious lingering. In his dream, he replayed those handful of seconds when her skinny arms wrapped around his waist in a hug. When she held tightly to him, squeezing him in his dirty white tank top and torn jeans, careless of who saw, careless if even he cared.
After a while he felt his hands come around her—the feeling so foreign to him but also so good. Happiness roared through his system, making him feel lightheaded and something else that he’d not felt but a handful of times in his life up to then. It was the feeling of being loved—he would learn later.

She stepped back from him, looking up at him; Nate’s voice cracked when he asked, “What the hell was that for?”
Her face screwed up tight. “Retard. It’s your birthday.”

The dream faded as Nate woke slowly to the orange glow of the city lights pouring in through the floor-to-ceiling windows of his studio apartment atop an old refurbished brick flourmill.
He sat up and scrubbed his face and double-checked that he’d sent his date home already. His bed stood alone in the middle of the cavernous space. The developer sold it to him at half the cost when the housing bubble burst. It was considered unfinished, with no interior walls or ceiling lower than the one twenty feet above him and open to all the industrial HVAC. Not that Nate cared—the view was good and in a central location, just down the street from the new nightclub he helped get off the ground, Festivál, and just over the bridge into the east side of the city was his garage. The hardwood floors still shone and the widescreen against the brick wall was well used, but the gourmet kitchen gleamed with unused appliances.

Nate lay there, not knowing what had pulled him from the dream or what had made him dream of her again.
Only, he did, of course. Seeing her again that day had him reburying her in his mind, only his subconscious was putting up a good fight against that.

His phone chirped. Reaching over, he grabbed his phone off the floor and slid his finger across the screen. Two unread e-mails. The first, which had probably woken him, was from European Forged Parts, and the second was from the district attorney’s victim advocate department.
Fully awake now, heart hammering in his chest, Nate clicked the alert. It was simple text, an automatically generated electronic notification that said one Stephen R. Vellanova had been released on the third of the month. If there were questions, Nate could contact the issuing district attorney’s office at the information below.

Nate felt his palms go slick. He knew he was coming up for parole and that good behavior and crowded prisons meant early release was possible, but he had also been told it was highly unlikely. And now the unlikely was done, and his father—the man who had sliced his mother to death—was out.


 

Becky Banks grew up, like the generations of Bankses before her, in the Hawaiian Islands. With the Islands as her roots, Becky was raised within the time-honored tradition of “talking story” amid a backdrop of grassy fields, blue waters, and cloud-clad mountains. She moved to the mainland after high school to attend Oregon State University, where she studied forestry, natural resources, and science education.

She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband Keith.

Becky’s first novel, The Legend of Lady MacLaoch, received Night Owl Reviews’ Top Pick Award and achieved #8 on the Amazon Bestsellers list for Historical Romance.


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