Gretchen would have kicked the tire of her car if she wasn't wearing her dress shoes. The two-hundred dollar Italian pumps that were only replaceable if she ordered a new pair or went to Rome.
She was supposed to be at a dinner function for Abe's work. He was a high-powered corporate attorney, working in his family's firm, and he was very good at what he did. Abe Greenwich was a very attractive man of thirty-two, who was kind, intelligent, and took wonderful care of her. They had been dating for five months, and Gretchen already had an inkling in her mind that he would ask her to marry him.
That would be totally fine with her. A rich, attractive man, who would take her on European tours and buy her mink coats. She would have security and never want for anything.
Especially for cars that would break down on the side of the road.
At least she wasn't too far from civilized society, Gretchen pulled her dress coat around her shoulders. It was getting cold out and would probably snow soon, and she found herself praying it wouldn't be now so it would ruin her clothes. She had to make a good impression with these people, since that would potentially be her future husband's co-workers.
Why had she driven herself in the first place?
Gretchen Holiday usually had a driver. While growing up, she was toted around in limos and cars worth the budget of a small state. A few years ago, she had realized that she was twenty-five and she didn't have a driver's license. Even though she was wealthy and had the means where she didn't have to driver herself, there was something there that told her she was being unrealistic.
So, she went and got her driver's license.
And was a damn good driver, if she didn't say so herself.
Abe didn't quite understand her need to relate. He told her that most people were in a different class then they were, and that she shouldn't feel the need to waste time on something trivial. Gretchen couldn't quite seem to explain to him that all her life she had been dictated to by other people, and that it was nice to have a little freedom to do what she wanted. Which is why she hadn't minded having to drive thirty minutes from her business in New York to meet up with Abe and his associates. It was also the reason why she was stuck in the outskirts of New York City on the side of the road.
Her phone didn't work.
She couldn't bring herself to swear out loud. Someone would hear and that would be humiliating.
Scanning the area, she spotted a gas station. Gretchen made her way across the parking lot and pulled open the door. The girl at the register eyed her black dress and shoes with much awe.
"Excuse me, it seems my car isn't working. Is there somewhere around here that I can call?"
"There's an auto shop a block from here," the girl replied, "Owned by Jacob Nickelson."
She had thirty minutes to spare. Pulling her jacket even tighter around her shoulders, Gretchen set off for Nickelson's Auto.
Jake worked on the undercarriage of a vintage Jaguar. The owner had been very specific in the repairs to the point where Jake only allowed himself to touch it. He had two other workers and an intern who could have worked on it, but he didn't want to take chances. Frank, who was ten years Jake's senior, was better with large vehicles, and Sam was better with motorcycles and compacts. The kid, Michael, was still learning the ropes so Jake had stuck him with the 2001 Dodge that needed an oil change, brake change, and needed rotated tires.
Michael had complained, but only because they were all friends and Jake knew he wasn't seriously complaining.
It was starting to snow outside, and Jake was grateful for the nice heating system. The weatherman had spoken of an early blizzard, and all the doom and gloom of the coming winter. Picking up a wrench, he cursed as oil dripped out of the car and onto his cheek. The Jag was a beautiful car, and he wished the owner would take better care of it. It should be serviced more often instead of the owner waiting until 'it made a funny noise'.
There were voices.
He could hear them over the sound of Hank Williams that was blasting over the stereo. Jake wheeled himself from under the car, and used a rag to clean his hands off before turning the stereo down. He could hear Gloria talking to another woman in the lobby, and pulled the door open to see for himself what was going on.
A woman stood in front of the counter looking distressed. She was covered in snow, holding her shoes in her hand, her purse pulled high on her shoulder. Despite her current state, she looked perfect. Her blond, straight hair was curled into a sophisticated knot in the back on her head, she wore diamond earrings that he would stake his business on were real, and a long dress coat.
"...but, I only have an half an hour extra. I can't be late."
"I'm sorry, ma'am," Gloria looked incredibly sympathetic. It was hard not to when the poor woman looked like she was going to burst into tears, "But even if we could tow your car here and make repairs in that time frame, the snow is starting to get bad. Many of the roads are closing."
The blond woman sighed, walked over to the chairs, and simply sat down, "I worked so hard to get there on time. Abe's going to kill me."
Jake took the opportunity to jump in. Not only did he see himself as a fixer of cars, but sometimes he was able to be more than that. Fixing people's problems was what he generally ended up doing, since a car was usually the center of someone's life.
"Is there anyone you can call?" he walked into the lobby.
She jolted, having not realized that he was standing there, "Um," she stared at him, "Yes. I should probably call. Do you have a phone I can borrow?"
"Of course," Jake reached around the top of the desk when Gloria handed him in the lan-line phone, "In the meantime, why don't you tell me where your car is? I'll take some guys out there and take a look."
"Thank you," she nodded, picking up the phone.
She was a pretty little thing. She was perfect, not a hair out of place even after her walk, and something in him wanted to muss her up. Instead, he stuck out a hand to her, "Jake Nickelson."
Shaking his hand back, she offered him an uneasy smile, "Gretchen Holiday. Thank you, again, for your help."
"It's not a problem," he said, opening the closet in the front entry to get his coat and boots, "Glory, give her anything she needs while I'm gone. There should be donuts left in the box and coffee."
The elder woman smiled, "Of course. Be careful, dear."
Jake grinned. Gloria was a friend of his mother, and was probably old enough to be his grandmother. She treated everyone at the shop like her own children. He took in the sorrowful look on Gretchen's face and new leaving her with Gloria was the best thing for her.
He pulled on his coat and stepped into the snow.
Abe was not happy.
He gave her a long lecture about being foolish and selfish. About how she was going to let him down and that this dinner was important. About how he was expected to have her there and she was going to embarrass him because of her frivolous attempt to take care of herself. Abe couldn't even send a car for her because it was a blizzard outside and the roads were closed.
You need to stop this ridiculousness. Your family and I are only trying to do what is best for you and you shouldn't repay that by gallivanting around New York.
Ooh, she was mad. Gretchen politely let him say his piece, then apologized for not being able to make it. She managed to even set down the phone gently instead of grabbing it and throwing it across the room. Wanting to do things for herself wasn't ridiculous. How dare he presume that she didn't know what was better for herself?
Gretchen turned to find a big jelly doughnut and a cup of steaming coffee.
Her mother would have a stroke if she knew that Gretchen was going to eat a jelly doughnut. There were calories and fat and god-knows-what in pastries. But at the moment, Gretchen didn't care. She took the doughnut, and bit a huge chunk out of it.
"Hard phone call?"
She sighed, "You could say that."
"You poor thing," Gloria went to the closet and pulled out a blanket, "Here. I'll get you something for your feet too. You must be cold. Don't worry, Jake will have this taken care of."
Jake seemed like the boss. He looked like the type to control things without being a jerk, and to top it all off, he had to be the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.
Seeing the tall, dark-haired man that had come in from the garage had surprised her. She had half-expected Jake Nickelson to be some sort of tattooed, post-jail-bait, thug. Either that, or some old man that spoke with only half his teeth. Gretchen had felt a jolt at seeing him in the doorway, covered with dirt and grease, dress in a black t-shirt and a pair of jeans that fit him nicely. He was well toned and muscled from years of working in the garage, and had gray eyes that seemed to know everything.
She squirmed slightly in her seat. Why was she thinking about this? She had Abe. Abe was the complete opposite of Jake. He was blond, usually dressed in suits, and wouldn't set foot in a car garage if he had a gun to his head.
While she waited, she ate her makeshift dinner and tried to think about how to fix the situation with Abe. He wasn't necessarily angry, because he never got angry. He was simply perturbed. Abe didn't really know how to get 'angry' because that wasn't in good manners. But once she sat down and explained it to him, he would be alright. Nothing to worry about.
Gretchen looked up as Jake returned. He brushed the snow off his coat.
"Well, we found it. Towed it back to the garage," Jake told her, then sighed, "Would you like the good or bad news first?"
"Good news." She could take it.
"It's fixable," he smiled, "Bad news? It's going to take a couple of days of work."
She sighed and hung her head slightly. She would never hear the end of it, "Thank you, Mr. Nickelson, for letting me know."
What was she going to do now? She was stuck in some in-between town, without her car, and without any means to get home. The blizzard had practically snowed them in. Jake was talking with Gloria when Gretchen allowed herself to sweep a hand over her face. Careful not to smudge the mascara, but enough to clear the away the tear.
"Hey, hey," Jake caught the motion out of the corner of his eye. He knelt down in front of her. Raising his hands to touch her, he realized they were dirty, and set them on the armrests of her chair, "It'll be okay. Do you have anyone to call?"
"Not really," her voice cracked slightly, "The roads are closed so...I'm kind of stuck."
"Well, that's okay," Jake smiled, "You can stay here if you want. There really isn't a motel around her, but I converted the upstairs of the building into an apartment. There's an extra bedroom if you'd like to stay there," then he seemed to realize what he said, "I mean...I can sleep down here, so it's no big deal."
Gretchen stared at him, then at Gloria.
"Think about it," Jake smiled, "Let's go and take a look at your car. It's already in the garage, and it's warmer in there too."
She nodded, taking her coffee and stood. The blanket slipped off her shoulder, and she watched as he pulled it tighter around her. Jake smiled down at her, his gray eyes mirroring his face. He wasn't going to reprimand her for being stupid, he was only trying to help her.
"It's getting late, Gloria. We're going to close early, so I told Frank to stay home. Sam is hooking the plow up to the truck right now so we can get you home."
She smiled, "Bless you. Will you be okay, sweetie?"
Gretchen looked at the old woman, and gave her a small smile, "Yeah. I'll be okay."
"Good," Gloria patted her cheek and set off to gather her things and close up.