Rev Your Engines
by Evan Purcell
After starting work in a new city, Cynthia Kent tells herself to stay away from Mark Sable, her boss’s son and Arizona’s most notorious ladies’ man. She can’t handle a relationship, especially with a smooth-talker like Mark.
After a PR disaster that threatens to derail the entire company, Cynthia and Mark are thrown into a cross-country road trip along Route 66. All they have to do is record their travels and look like they enjoy the ride... In other words, they have to lie through their teeth.
What starts out as a rocky road soon turns into a journey of discovery and blossoming romance. Mark isn’t exactly the cad he seems, and Cynthia soon finds out she has a wild side she never knew existed. As the trip continues, Cynthia and Mark discover a lot about their country, each other, and themselves... but can a new romance survive the rough road ahead?
Release Date: January 30, 2016
Genre: Contemporary Romance
When Cynthia Kent pulled into the parking lot of SableDyne headquarters, one thought crossed her mind: My life has just entered the fast lane. She adjusted her skirt, pushed her hair behind her ear, and stepped into the looming shadow of the most intimidating building she’d ever seen.
“What’s it like?” a voice whispered in her ear. For a second, Cynthia forgot that she was in the middle of a phone conversation with her roommate May Austin. Cynthia decided to ignore the question and stare at the intimidating structure in front of her.
She felt flames of panic lick at the bottom of her stomach. Even though she’d been with SableDyne for six years, she’d never been to the main offices. The only comfort, besides May’s voice repeating, “Can you hear me now?” in increasingly wacky tones, was that she was in Flagstaff, Arizona. This was her hometown, and while the space-age building looked like something Walt Disney drew on a napkin while designing Tomorrowland, she was surrounded by the same breeze that caressed her as a child, the same smells she remembered from kindergarten.
She breathed in a whiff of pine scent. Yup. That was the stuff. Nothing felt more comforting than the smell of real ponderosa pines. She could recognize that smell anywhere.
And the allergies. She definitely recognized the allergies, too.
“Hello? Earth to Cynthia!” May squawked into her ear. May was Cynthia’s closest and oldest friend. They’d been inseparable since playground-bonding in the third grade, when May accidentally jumped off the slide and landed on Cynthia’s head. It was a strange beginning to a friendship that was already seventeen years old. Most elementary school BFFs lose touch or start actively hating each other by the time high school rears its ugly head, but not Cynthia and May.
It probably helped that they were polar opposites. May was the loud, brash blond who talked without a filter and was very happy working nearly full time at Bath & Body Works. Cynthia was the smart, contemplative brunette who spent most of her life at work and would go into coughing fits if she set foot in a Bath & Body Works. In movie terms, May was the “quirky best friend” in a romantic comedy, and Cynthia was…well, Cynthia saw herself as the “final girl” in a low-budget horror movie. At least, that was how her life had been going so far.
“You have to tell me what it’s like,” May said. “It’s totally like the lair of a Bond villain, right?” When she got excited like this, her voice got extra high-pitched and scratchy. The day she scored a free ice cream at McDonald’s, she sounded like a lifelong smoker who was also hooked on huffing helium.
“May,” Cynthia said. “Your inside voice, please.” Cynthia didn’t want to have to keep switching ears every time her best friend asked a question.
“Sorry,” May whispered. She made her Bond villain comment again, but Cynthia wasn’t paying attention. Instead, she was staring at one of the grandest office buildings she had ever seen.
SableDyne headquarters was a marvel of modern architecture nestled into the rolling green mountains just north of Flagstaff. If Cynthia could remember anything from her freshman year Architecture 101 class, she’d say this building was postmodern colonial or mission-revival influenced. If she said that, however, she’d be talking out of her ass. She barely passed her architecture class, and the only reason she enrolled was because the TA was an impossibly handsome tennis player from her dorm building.
“Oh, it’s nice,” Cynthia finally responded to May’s question. “I’d say it’s postmodern colonial.”
May laughed. “You’re talking out of your ass again, right?”
“Well?” May continued. “What about the inside?”
“I haven’t exactly gone through the doors yet,” Cynthia admitted. She suddenly realized that she’d been standing outside the building with her cell phone superglued to her ear for the last two minutes. It was about time she entered.
“Well?” May said.
Cynthia started walking up the stairs, but then she stopped herself. “I don’t know,” she said. “I can’t.”
“Because it’s too postmodern, right?”
“Don’t joke,” Cynthia said. “This is a major moment for me and... I’m not ready. I don’t think I’m qualified for this.”
“Uh, you’re totally qualified.”
“No. I’m not,” Cynthia said. There was no amount of false honesty in her voice, only real anxiety. “The only reason I got this promotion was because I found a defect that no one else saw.”
She heard her best friend make a loud tongue-click noise on the other side of the phone. “You need a May Austin pep talk, don’t you?” May asked.
“Just a little one.”
“Okay,” May said. “Give me a sec.” She breathed deeply. Exactly six seconds later, she said, “Okay, Cynthia. Listen. You’re completely qualified for this. You got the promotion because you found some flukey design flaw on the new bike. Yeah, that’s true. But the only reason you found it was because you triple-checked everything, tested the product, and routinely spent long nights in the office while your coworkers were getting drunk at the bowling alley. Plus, you’re way smart. And you showed me that blue outfit you were going to wear today and... well, damn. That’s all I’m going to say. So please, suck it up and be as awesome as you always are.”
As if on cue, Cynthia’s mood instantly lifted. She saw her smile reflected in the glass front doors. She wasn’t sure exactly when she started smiling, but she sure looked confident and comfortable. Plus, May was right. This blue outfit was definitely a good call.
They said their good-byes, and Cynthia clicked off her phone. The moment May’s elfin voice disappeared from her eardrum, Cynthia felt a little bit of the anxiety come back, but only just a little.
Cynthia knew she was a great employee at SableDyne, but she also knew that she was really lucky she found the defect before anyone else could. With all the testing they did on their projects, someone would’ve found it sooner or later.
SableDyne was an eco-friendly manufacturer of bikes, scooters, and (as of this year) motorcycles. Their products were economical, sleek, and above all safe. She had been working on the motorcycles, studying their emission levels. In the process, she discovered that the seats had a high possibility of cracking in half, but only if the bikes were ridden by two passengers. Such an issue would cause a huge media circus, not to mention serious injuries, if she hadn’t told the designers. Two weeks after the discovery, Cynthia was packing up her office and transferring from Phoenix to the main HQ in Flagstaff.
It was as simple as that.
Only it wasn’t. There was something else to the story, too. Back at the Phoenix office, Cynthia had worked closely with SableDyne’s founder and CEO, Kenneth Sable. Kenneth was an older man with an ego as big as his jowls. He was in his late sixties, and he had a Santa belly that sloshed with whiskey every time he walked. Because Cynthia was the only single girl in the office—besides that accountant who always wore inspirational kitten sweaters—she was the constant target of his inappropriate come-ons.
Two days after finding the defect, she gave Kenneth Sable a piece of her mind. There might have been a slap involved, too. She figured she had just proven herself indispensable to the company. He wouldn’t dare fire her. And indeed, he didn’t.
He promoted her to their Flagstaff office. She got a fancier title, a bigger salary, and an office all her own, but to Kenneth, he viewed the move as a punishment. He was exiling her to Flagstaff. Even though it was their original headquarters, all the real action happened down in Phoenix. He thought she would balk at the move and quit on the spot. That way, he could get rid of her without the dreaded F-I-R-E word. He didn’t know that Flagstaff was her hometown. He also didn’t know how stubborn she was.
May never heard that part of the story. No one knew about it except Cynthia and Kenneth. She would never tell anyone. To her, Kenneth was a fine businessman but a truly disgusting human being. She was happy to be working three hours away from him.
A few more minutes passed. All this time, while Cynthia was pondering the circumstances that brought her to these doors, she still hadn’t entered. Cynthia forced Kenneth out of her mind. She forced May out of her mind, too. When she entered SableDyne, she wanted to be a blank slate, not an anxious twenty-eight-year-old who overthinks everything.
And she entered.
Just as she pictured, the building was beautiful on the inside. The far wall was a single sloping pane of glass positioned directly above the city. The lobby itself was about three stories tall, with giant lamps hanging from the ceiling. The whole place was a beautiful meld of connecting lines, glass, and metal.
Directly in front of her was one of the Green Streak motorcycles displayed on a circular platform. It was the centerpiece of the lobby, the crowning jewel of SableDyne’s lineup. Cynthia had spent countless hours hunched over identical bikes for the last six months, but she’d never really appreciated Green Streak’s beauty until that very moment. It was pure power. It was speed. It was lightning on a stick.
“Like what you see?” a man said behind her.
Cynthia let out a startled gasp and spun around. She hadn’t heard anyone approach.
“Hi,” the man said, extending his arm. “Welcome to SableDyne. You must be Cynthia Kent.”
“Cynthia,” she mumbled. “Yeah.”
This guy was gorgeous. He was tall, blond, lightly tanned. He wore the hell out of his dark blue suit and red tie. Cynthia wanted to admire his thick shoulders and wide arms, but she couldn’t look away from those green eyes.
“Pleased to meet you,” he said. “I’m Mark Sable.”
Cynthia instantly pulled her hand away from his grasp. Mark Sable? This was Mark Sable? That meant...
“You’re Kenneth Sable’s son,” Cynthia said.
“I see my reputation precedes me.” A half-smirk spread across his face, and Cynthia recognized it as the same smirk that his father wore every time he tried to get a little hands-on with his employees. Most women would find a smile like that attractive, or at least playful. Most women would swoon at those dimples. Cynthia couldn’t even look at him anymore.
Cynthia decided then and there that she would avoid Mark Sable at all costs. If he was anything like his father, that meant he was trouble. She loved SableDyne, but she had nothing but contempt for the Sable family.
“Come on,” Mark said. “I’ll give you the grand tour.” He reached out his hand again, but she pointedly refused to take it. That caught him a little off-guard, Cynthia noticed with delight. A guy like that—with that chin and those green eyes—probably wasn’t used to getting the cold shoulder from women. “Okay, then,” he added. “Follow me.”
Mark Sable led her through the lobby and into the main building. Cynthia was excited to see everything, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that Mark was leading her straight into the lion’s den.
* * * *
Mark smiled to himself as he realized that even though Cynthia had no idea where she was going, she was still leading the way. She walked about three paces in front of him, her long legs moving in a steady rhythm.
For the last ten minutes, she hadn’t said a word to him. Well, she asked a few minor questions. She nodded or gave him eye contact every time he pointed out offices or bathrooms or break areas, but she didn’t actively engage him in conversation. He couldn’t tell if she was one of those ball-busting ice queens, or whether she was just taking everything in. Maybe it was the former. Maybe that was why his father had warned him about her. “Watch out for Cynthia Kent,” he had said. “I won’t say why. Just...well, watch out.”
Mark trusted his father’s judgment above everyone else’s, perhaps even his own.
They were up on the third floor now. Her office was here. His was two stories up. He led her to a door marked “Cynthia Kent” in gold letters. “This is it,” he said.
She nodded and silently slid the door open. Honestly, it was an extremely normal-looking office. It had a window overlooking some pine trees. There were three metal chairs, a desk, and a picture of a SableDyne bicycle on the wall. The whole room screamed “standard” or “corporate” or “boring.” Mark had no idea that the rooms down on the third floor were so small and unimpressive.
Cynthia squeaked. “This. Is. Amazing!” she said.
“What?” Mark asked. “Really?”
Cynthia ran around the office, sliding her fingertips over every surface. “Look at that view!” she said. “Those are ponderosa pines. And my desk. And, and…oh man.” She stopped in front of the bicycle picture on the wall. “Do you know what that is?”
He was going to say, “A framed picture,” but he knew she was asking about the bicycle itself. As the SableDyne Director of Product Integration, Mark was supposed to recognize all SableDyne products instantly. He flipped through a mental catalogue of bike models.
“Of course,” he finally answered. “It’s the GF84.”
“Eighty-six,” she corrected. “GF86. It was the first model I worked on. They knew! Whoever decorated this office knew that. God, I feel like I’m home.”
And just like that, Mark’s image of her as a ball-busting ice queen completely faded. Cynthia Kent was warm, enthusiastic, and passionate. She loved SableDyne. She seemed like the perfect employee. So why did his father warn him about her? Kenneth Sable was a great boss and an excellent judge of character. He was everything Mark wanted to be. Cynthia seemed like his perfect employee, so there must be something else wrong with her, something he couldn’t quite see yet.
As she tried out her brand new desk chair, Mark studied the new addition to the Flagstaff office. She was certainly attractive, with her slightly curled brown hair and delicate features. She certainly wasn’t his type, though women his type usually didn’t have desk jobs at a product design company. His type usually worked as cocktail waitresses or cashiers at the Gap. Maybe that was why she seemed so refreshing.
“I love it,” she told him. “Don’t you love it?” As she said that, she looked up at him again and her face instantly changed. Her smile faded into a half-smile, and then into no smile at all. It was as if she suddenly remembered that she was talking to the Big Bad Wolf.
Mark didn’t understand the mood swing, especially since she had been jumping around the room less than a minute before.
“Oh, I love it,” Mark said flatly.
“Good,” she said, and her smile came back. It was a nice smile; it showed off her perfect teeth and the fullness of her lips. “Oh, hey! The picture’s crooked!”
Before Mark could react, Cynthia jumped on one of her chairs and tried adjusting the picture of the GF84... no, the GF86. He couldn’t tell that it was crooked, but then again, he wasn’t a details kind of guy. He was a big picture kind of guy.
“Is that better?” she asked him.
If anything, her efforts had made the picture even worse. “Just perfect,” he said.
“No, it’s not.” She adjusted it some more.
“You know,” Mark said, “I still have two more floors to show you before you can get settled in. So…”
Cynthia yelped, not at the tone of his voice or at the prospect of two more floors. She yelped because the chair slid under her feet and she toppled into the air. She would’ve landed hard on her backside, but Mark caught her.
In this moment of unexpected contact, when her small body folded into his arms, he felt a flush of warmth course through him. He didn’t have a hero complex—or at least he didn’t think so—but it felt good to come to the rescue of a woman who seemed so confident and put-together. Well, maybe he did have a hero complex. Then again, her body did fit perfectly against his own. In his arms, he could feel the gentle curve of her hips and the tightness of her narrow waist.
“And what exactly are you doing?” she asked.
“Rescuing you,” he said, without thinking how pompous that made him sound.
Her glare made him realize that he had probably held onto her a few seconds too long. Sheepishly, he lowered her to her feet. “Watch that first step,” he tried to joke. “It’s a doozy.” He had no idea where that came from. It sounded like a quote from a cartoon he’d seen as a kid.
“Yeah,” she said, still eyeing him. She dusted herself off, even though there was no dust on her.
Mark couldn’t quite understand why he was so drawn to this woman. She didn’t fit his type. He’d never even dated a brunette, except for a few bottle blondes who revealed their true hair color after the second date, and he’d certainly never been attracted to an upwardly mobile businesswoman who openly despised him. Well, maybe despised wasn’t the right word.
“So, are you going to show me the rest of the office, or are you waiting for me to fall again?” she said, shifting her voice back to its default ball-buster mode.
Yeah, despised was probably the right word.
And even though Mark was supposed to be leading her to the next floor, Cynthia charged through her door before he could blink. “Let’s go,” she said.
Mark couldn’t help but admire her moxie. He knew how he looked, and he knew how most women acted around him. Either they turned into stuttering puddles of nerves or they giggled at everything he said. Cynthia did neither of those things. Instead, she stared him down and smiled at him in a way that made him want to punch the wall.
This was going to be an interesting work arrangement.