Hugo’s garage was usually very busy. In fact, Tara knew he planned to open a second one across town. But right now the place was closed. She and Luis were the only ones in the bay where he poked around under the hood and she perched on a grungy old stool and watched him. Not even a radio was on, and the silence was a little unnerving.
“Do you like doing that?” she asked him. “Troubleshooting car problems.”
“It’s okay.” He paused. “I like that there’s very little chance it will blow up.”
“That must have been pretty intense, doing bomb disposal.”
“It could get hairy.” He didn’t add anything else.
“Did you have any close calls?” she asked. There was a fine line between trying to get him to open up and prying. In fact, they were pretty much the same thing.
“Want to tell me about them?”
He shot her a look. “I’m not trying to shut you down. It’s just… All that’s over now. I don’t see much point in dwelling on it. I’m here now.”
She smiled. “You are. And we’re all glad about it. I missed shooting the shit with you.”
“So tell me something interesting about Dre Rodgers.”
“Uh—no. I’m not talking to you about some guy I date. I mean, who I’m friends with.”
“Okay, then. Tell me something about this Neal guy my sister’s dating. Is he cool? What do you think of him?”
“I don’t really know him too well. I’m friends with somebody else in the same band, so I’ve seen him a little now and then. He’s very nice, and he sure makes Graci happy.”
“A tattooed, unsteadily employed musician. Doesn’t sound much like Graci’s style. But she does seem happier than I’ve seen her in a long time.” He abandoned the engine and leaned against the car, facing Tara. “You think it’s serious, then? Like marriage serious? Graci just got out of an almost two-year engagement.”
“I know. The timing’s not great, but she seems to feel like Neal’s the one.”
Luis snorted and shook his head. “The one. Does anyone still believe that crap? You girls read too many fairy tales.”
Tara put her hand to her chest. “Hey, it’s not me saying it. That’s Graci’s thing. She’s way more traditional than I am. I believe a person can have a number of legitimate relationships in their lives. I know I’ve had a few.”
“I think my sister was always a little starry-eyed.” He cocked his head and studied Tara. “Not you, though. You looked at the world as it was and liked it anyway, and you always seemed so happy. That’s what I liked about you.”
Tara dipped her head and fanned her face in mock humility. “Go ahead. Tell me more wonderful things about me.”
“You’re a good kisser.”
Her face burned as she blushed in earnest. “Oh, hell no. You are not going there.”
“I haven’t forgotten.” He twisted the greasy rag he held between his hands. “Graci’s quinceanera. That was one weird night.”
Tara winced at the recollection of the way she’d thrown herself at eighteen-year-old Luis. Bree had snuck a flask into the party, and Tara had drunk more than her share of it. After giving Graci advice about acting on her feelings for a boy she liked instead of waiting for him to notice her, Tara had boldly decided to take her own advice.
“You marched up to me like you were pissed about something,” Luis remembered. “Grabbed my arm and dragged me outside.”
“I didn’t drag you.”
“I remember dragging,” he teased, “and you throwing your arms around my neck and attacking me.”
“It was one kiss. I was a tipsy fifteen-year-old with a crush. Can you let it go now?”
“Not when it’s still so much fun to tease you about it.” His brown eyes sparkled. “Besides, as I remember, it was more than one kiss.”
“So, two kisses.”
“More like a series of kisses and some touching of inappropriate body parts before I came to my senses.”
“Then you shoved me, and I about fell on my ass.” Tara still winced at the humiliating memory. “You practically ran away.”
“Because I didn’t want to be accused of child molestation!”
“Oh, come on, Luis. You’re only a few years older. It wasn’t a crime.”
“I was already out of high school. You were barely fifteen. It felt like a crime. Besides, I had a hard-on like you wouldn’t believe,” he confessed.
She lifted an eyebrow, her interest piqued. “You did?”
“Oh yeah.” He folded his arms and kicked a toe against the concrete floor. “I thought about you after that, you know. More than I should have.”
Tara couldn’t help the little lift of her heart at that news. It would’ve been nice information to have about ten years ago when she was so embarrassed she wouldn’t even go over to the Ramirezes’ house anymore. It had taken Graci worrying that Tara was pissed at her about something to make Tara get over it. She couldn’t let her relationship with her best friend suffer because of one stupid incident, which would never be repeated and she would never tell Graci about.
“I wouldn’t have guessed you thought about that kiss,” she said. “Afterwards, you acted like nothing had happened.”
“We both did, which is how things eventually got back to normal—me baiting you, you teasing me. Sympatico.”
Tara smiled and watched Luis’s worn shoe scuffing patterns on the floor. “We always did have a good rhythm.” She took a breath. “Might be fun to find out how good. Do you still think you’re too old for me?”
She looked into his face, and his smoking hot gaze burned into her like a laser. Her sex clenched hard, and she caught her breath. Only a few yards of space separated them. He could cross that distance in a couple of strides. And when exactly had she slipped off that shaky stool so she was standing instead of sitting?
“Not too old,” Luis said. “But too much like your big brother. Don’t you think it would be weird?”
“Maybe.” Weirdly hot!
“And anyway, don’t you have a date you’re late for?”
She waved a hand, dismissing Dre. He wasn’t her boyfriend and their relationship didn’t work that way. He might just as easily get caught up in something and stand her up. It had happened before.
“I told you, Dre and I are friends. Casual friends,” she amended.
Good Lord, one of her shoes had taken a step toward Luis without her permission. Damned if she’d be the one to make the first move again after ten years. She had some pride after all. If Luis was honestly interested, let him be the one to—
Suddenly, he stood right in front of her, his gaze nearly level with hers. Luis had never been tall. She liked that she didn’t have to tip her head back much to be able to meet his eyes. She’d never before noticed the light flecks in his dark brown eyes, or how extraordinarily thick his lashes were.
“Casual friends, huh? Well, you and I are old friends,” he said, “so I guess it would be okay to do this.” He touched her face, just the tips of his fingers grazing her cheek, leaving little trails of heat. His attention focused on her mouth, and he leaned in.
Tara closed her eyes and parted her lips. Of all the turns this day could have taken, she never would have guessed this one. An earthquake or lightning strike couldn’t have been more unexpected, although honestly, this felt a little bit like both of those. A slight tremor and buzz of electricity passed through her as Luis’s mouth covered hers. Soft and warm, his lips pressed briefly against hers, leaving behind a tingling impression.
That was it? Just one kiss? Just enough to make her lean in for more?
Tara opened her eyes to see Luis’s face close up, the smooth brown skin marred by a scar she didn’t remember him having before above one eye, the upward tilt of his eyebrows that gave him a permanently quizzical expression, the eyes that regarded her with nearly as much surprise as she felt.
“This is probably a really bad idea,” he said, and then he pulled her against him fast and hard and really kissed her.
Tara stumbled into him. His arms caught and held her, his chest solid beneath her palms, his mouth hot as he stole away her breath. His tongue swept over hers, invited it to dance, and Tara responded as playfully. She let her body go, melting against him, and sliding her hands up around the back of his thick neck. Her passion matched his as she kissed Luis with the fervor of a fifteen-year-old girl’s first crush and the skill of the woman she’d become.