Matt worked through the night to locate the rim for Aiden’s car. He slept a few hours, then ventured back to the shop. Although he needed the rest, he couldn’t shut his brain down. Every time he closed his eyes, he thought about Aiden. Holy hell. How had he been so lucky to find a man like Aiden? Most of his clients didn’t walk into the shop in suits. The way Aiden’s suit clung to his frame and the cut of his hair… He wasn’t like the other men Matt had been attracted to. He tended to gravitate to gruff guys—ones covered in ink and metal. Aiden didn’t strike him as a tattoo kind of person.
He finished up the paperwork on Aiden’s car, then headed into the garage bay. “How are you coming on the tire?”
“I’m almost done.” Aaron grinned. “This is record time for us. If the good doc isn’t happy, I’ll karate chop him. I hate working on Sundays.”
“Nah. He’ll be happy.” Matt twiddled with the cell phone. “I’m not wild about Sunday work, either, but it’s when a lot of others have the time to bring their cars in. Speaking of cars, we’ve got a job. Do you want to retrieve it or should I?”
“Sure. I’m tired of looking at the undercarriage of this car.” Aaron wiped his hands. “I’ll need your help to get this belt on later.”
“Deal.” He returned to the office and took care of the tow call. He jotted down the information. Running the tow truck didn’t bother him, but he’d prefer to see Aiden. If he didn’t hang out at the garage, he risked missing him.
“Shit.” Aaron strode into the office. “I need you to get the car. I just got the fuel line taken apart and I don’t want to stop while I’m ahead.”
“I thought you didn’t want to look at the underside of the car?”
“I lied.” Aaron shrugged. “No, I’m finally in a groove. Sorry.”
“It’s fine.” He grabbed his coat and the truck keys, then made his way across the lot to the massive vehicle. Well, shit. He headed out on the call. The coupe waited in a ditch on the state route north of town. After an hour of wrangling with the vehicle and arguing with the owner, he pulled back into the lot at the garage.
“What do you have?” Aaron met him in the empty bay. “Crashed?”
“Broken fuel line.” He unchained the car. “It’ll be a pain to fix, but it’s not impossible.”
“Nice. I’m done with the Toyota and Mrs. Hayes is coming by in an hour to pick up her car.” Aaron rested his hands on his hips. “Speaking of picking up… Your doctor was here. About an hour ago. He paid and left. I got his number, if that helps.”
“It’s on the invoice.” He shouldn’t be mad at Aaron. His coworker had done his job. It wasn’t his fault that Aiden stopped by before Matt had returned.
“Still. You could call him.” Aaron waved the phone at Matt. “You should.”
“No.” He squared his shoulders. This wasn’t how relationships—even ones that hadn’t started yet—worked. For all he knew, Aiden wasn’t gay or even looking for a date.
“I’m not…dating anyone.” There. He’d said it. He barely knew Aiden. Christ, Aiden was his client.
“Why? You’ve got to move forward,” Aaron said.
“You know why I…” He almost said won’t, but the truth was he couldn’t.
“Because of Ted?” Aaron asked. “Be serious. One asshole shouldn’t ruin everything.”
“Well, he did,” Matt snapped. He’d never get over the feeling of hurt and embarrassment when Ted had walked away.
“No. This isn’t all on him. Yeah, he acted like a dick. He was a total…mismatch for you. I mean, Jesus. I had no idea he’d screw you over and around like he did. But forget him. I saw how you looked at the doctor. I also noticed how you reacted to me when I said you’d missed him. I can see it in your eyes. You like him. That’s freaking awesome and there’s no crime in trying again.”
“No.” He hadn’t wanted Aaron to see any of that.
“Asshole.” Aaron tossed a towel at Matt.
“Fine, but I told the doctor that you’d call him.” Aaron rushed out of the office and laughed along the way.
Fuck. “Did you?” He’d thought the tension between him and Aaron was done after they’d called each other names. No luck. “What did you do?”
“I didn’t do anything.” Aaron ducked behind the vehicle lift. “He’s not expecting you to call, but I was right. You like him.”
Well, yeah. He did like Aiden, but a doctor wasn’t going to hook up with him. They were too different people. He had ink, piercings, and seemed to have grease under his nails at all times. The doctor was clean, pressed, and put together. They’d never work and that was his luck. He never realized he liked polished men, and the guys he’d dated weren’t as in to him as he was to them.
Matt sank onto the stool behind the counter. He needed to make calls and should hire a receptionist. Unfortunately, his bare-bones budget didn’t allow for extra workers.
* * * *
Eight hours later, Matt returned to the counter. He checked the spreadsheet on his archaic desktop computer. He and Aaron had completed work on four cars, which were now with their respective owners. Two new vehicles had come in and five were scheduled for simple repairs tomorrow. Not bad. If he and Aaron worked hard, they’d hit his goal for the month.
He saved the spreadsheet, then switched programs. Paperwork was his least favorite part of the job, but someone had to do it. He filed the completed invoices, then paid bills. When he tore the check from the pad, he sliced the side of his index finger. “Fuck,” he murmured. Just what the tool company wanted to see—him bleeding for his work. Jesus. He sealed the envelope and moved on to the parts needed for the next day. He’d have to pull some from the stockroom and compile a list of what should be ordered. His pen ran out of ink partway through the task and he groaned. Maybe he should invest a few dollars in a tablet. The electronic device would probably make inventory easier.
Matt jotted down the rest of the parts and retrieved them from the stockroom before he returned to the office. His back ached. He stretched and sat behind the rusty metal desk. He was almost done. Thank God. He hated being at the shop past ten at night. Aaron had mentioned getting a dog so he wouldn’t be by himself. Probably a good idea, but he never seemed to have the time to head down to the shelter.
Lights flashed and illuminated the office portion of the building. He glanced up from the stack of papers. Who needed service at this hour? He abandoned his post at his desk and eased up behind the counter in the lobby. Had he arranged for someone to drop off a vehicle tonight? He couldn’t remember. Not that someone leaving the keys in the box and the car outside was against type. He preferred to have the car or truck there so he could get started first thing in the morning. But he didn’t remember anyone being on the schedule to drop off a car.
Oh well. The sign on the door read CLOSED, so the owner of the headlights would have to deal. He tucked his keys into his pocket and swiped his finger across the screen of his phone. No calls and no scheduled drop-offs. Good.
The lights didn’t extinguish, but a shadow darkened the door. When Matt looked up, a figure knocked on the glass.
“We’re closed,” Matt said. “Sorry. Come back in the morning.”
The man—cloaked in a black jacket and a ball cap covering his eyes—knocked on the window again.
A shiver ran the length of Matt’s spine. Few things scared him, but when the feeling hit, he didn’t argue. Besides, if he didn’t recognize the person at the door, then he doubted he’d set up an appointment for the vehicle.
Matt left the counter and strode up to the door but didn’t open it. “Do you have an appointment?”
The guy shook his head and pointed to the handle, but didn’t speak.
“Do you have an emergency?” Matt asked. He still wasn’t opening the door.
The man didn’t move.
“I’m sorry. We’re closed.” Anger crept into his brain, despite the uneasiness. He wanted to go home and the sooner the guy left, the sooner he could too. Matt checked the security system. He hadn’t splurged on much, but the digital security system had been a must and had saved his ass more than once.
The man knocked again, not leaving Matt alone.
Matt’s blood chilled. The shadowy object wasn’t the guy’s hand. It was a gun. Where in the hell had that come from? Matt kept his expression as steely as possible and stepped behind the counter. He’d installed a silent alarm for this sort of situation and thanked God Aaron hadn’t talked him out of it. He’d hoped he’d never have to use it. Too late now. He pressed the button.
When Matt met the man’s gaze, something boomed. The shriek of glass shattering echoed in the lobby and shards landed on the carpet. Matt collapsed behind the counter and his shoulder ached. What the hell?
“You made this harder than it had to be.” The guy stood over Matt and aimed the gun at him. “You’re supposed to hand over the money.”
Matt’s heart hammered. He’d never expected this—to die at the shop with no one around but the man who’d taken his life. Another shot rang out and Matt cracked his skull on the floor. Pain exploded in his brain and he closed his eyes. He should fight back but didn’t have the strength to do so. His limbs weren’t cooperating. The ringing in his ears damn near deafened him. A bone-deep ache seeped through him and his hearing muffled. He couldn’t breathe.
Shit. He was dying. He had to be. For what? Money and parts. If the fucker would’ve asked and explained, he would’ve given him whatever he needed. Matt fought to open his eyes, but failed. He couldn’t fight back and succumbed to the darkness. He needed to sleep. Yes, a nap would be good. He just hoped the slumber wasn’t going to last forever.
* * * *
“Matt? Mr. Phillips?”
Matt struggled to open his eyes. He didn’t recognize the voice and wanted to argue. Mr. Phillips was his father. He blinked and groaned. The bright light hurt and the stinky smell of antiseptic curled around in his nose. Did heaven smell like cleaner? Nah, that wasn’t possible. But he swore he detected the stench of sanitizer in the air. He couldn’t be at the shop. He and Aaron used an orange soap to clean off the grease.
He gritted his teeth. His head ached and his tongue felt fifteen sizes too big as well as dry. He managed to open his eyes, but didn’t recognize his stark white surroundings. Where was he?
“Hi.” A figure blocked the light over Matt.
He knew this voice. Aiden? Was the doctor in heaven with him? He blinked again and focused on Aiden. Instead of the navy suit, sickly green scrubs covered Aiden’s body. The awful color seemed to swallow him up. A bandana with a cartoon cat covered his hair, but his eyes shimmered. He must not have shaved recently. A dusting of a five-o’clock shadow covered his cheeks.
“It’s good to see you awake.” Aiden touched Matt’s forehead. “How do you feel?”
“Like I’ve been punched in the head, shoulder, and gut.” Matt groaned. “What happened?”
“I was going to ask you that.” Aiden stood beside Matt’s bed. “You came in last night with a gunshot wound to your shoulder and the side of your head was grazed. Do you remember any of the last twenty-four hours?”
He winced. He pieced through what Aiden had said. “Wait, I was shot?” Like a bullet through his body and could’ve died, shot?
Aiden nodded. “The wound on your scalp is superficial, meaning it grazed your head. The one on your shoulder was a through and through. I closed the wound and bandaged you up.”
“I see.” Matt massaged his forehead. The IV tugged on his skin and against the pole. “What’s this for?”
“You’ve been assaulted. You’re bruised on more than half of your torso.” Aiden rearranged the tubing on the pole, giving Matt more slack. “I haven’t seen so much black and blue in a long time.”
He had to think. Beaten? Shot? “Oh shit.” He remembered bits and pieces of the night before.
“What?” Aiden’s eyebrows rose. “I’m here.”
“The shop was robbed. A guy—wore a black jacket and ball cap—he came into the shop. He knocked on the window and I ignored him at first. When I refused to let him in, he shot. I hit the deck and the silent alarm. I remember him standing over me and aiming the gun. After the second shot, I blacked out.” God. What had the guy taken? Were there cars stolen? Just money? He needed an update. “My shop.”
Aiden rested his hand on top of Matt’s. “It’s fine. Your coworker came in to be with you. The only reason he left was to get some coffee. He’ll be right back.”
“Oh.” He understood Aaron having to take a moment, but he wanted his lone employee there now. Not that he didn’t like Aiden sticking around. He appreciated Aiden’s kind tone and apparent worry over him.
“He’ll be back. Promise.” Aiden smiled. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
He took comfort in Aiden’s comment, but he wished he were anywhere else with him. The spark felt real to him. He glanced down at his hand. The IV hadn’t gone anywhere. “Can we get rid of this thing? It’s in the way.”
“The IV?” Aiden asked. “In the case we had to do surgery on your shoulder, I wanted to be prepared, so no. I wasn’t sure how long you’d be out and you needed fluids.”
“Take it out.” He wanted to go home. Yes, he’d just been shot, but he couldn’t shake his desire to get the hell out of the hospital and heal in familiar surroundings. Thank you, Doc, for helping me, but I’m done.
He struggled to sit up and yanked on the tubing. “Now.”
“Not yet.” Aiden moved the IV pole, giving Matt more room to move. “I can’t, even if I wanted to. I’m not the doctor on call any longer.” He dragged the thin blanket over Matt’s torso. “By the way, we had to remove your piercings in case you went into cardiac arrest. The nurse put them in a baggie for you. I’m sorry.”
“You’re a doctor,” Matt snapped. “You have the training to take this out.” Fury welled within him. Removed his piercings?
Shit. He’d have a bitch of a time getting the damn things back in. He stared at the ceiling. Impatience wasn’t a good color on him. He controlled things, not gave it up to others. Fuck. He faced Aiden. “Please?”
“My friend, Dr. Ramos, is in charge. He’ll check you over and discharge you—if you’re ready.” Aiden folded his arms. The sleeves of the scrubs tightened against his biceps and chest. “You’re not ready to go. You just woke up and need another round of tests. Hold tight, let Ramos give you an exam, and while you’re at it, wait for your partner to return. It won’t kill you.”
Men in ugly green scrubs weren’t a usual turn-on for Matt, but Aiden managed to work the look with finesse. Matt groaned. He didn’t belong at the hospital and Aaron wasn’t his partner. “I’m not with Aaron.”
“I meant business partner.” The tips of Aiden’s ears burned and the rosy glow spread down his cheeks to his throat. “Never mind.”
“I’m sorry.” Matt settled against the bedding. He wasn’t going to get his way at the moment and might as well stop fighting. Besides, he wanted the pleasantness back with Aiden. “Aaron just wants to get paid. I can count on him to keep the shop running and to put a transmission back together without fail—but us being a couple won’t work.” He’d pushed himself too much and a groan erupted in his throat.
“What?” Aiden perched on the side of the bed and placed his hand on Matt’s shin. “I can answer any questions—except if you can go home.”
He hated that the doctor was right. Leaving wasn’t happening anytime soon. “Well…” He should keep his mouth shut, but why bother? He’d never been shy about going for what he wanted any other time. “Would you stick around? If you’re not busy. I like the company.”
“Then it’s a good thing I’m not busy.” Aiden left the bed and dragged a chair close. “When I got off work, I came up here to check on you. I won’t lie. You had me worried.”
He felt a little better and also wanted some conversation that didn’t revolve around him being hurt. “You said you’d answer questions, right?”
“Fire away.” Aiden rested his elbows on his knees and met Matt’s gaze.
“Why’d you assume I’m gay?” He’d lost his sense of suave. Fuck. He’d blame the incident at the shop. Sure. He’d lost his ability to be cool when he’d had his guts kicked in.