Novel Excerpts

Running Strong

Chapter 1

     Who was this guy?

     The moment the man in the suit entered the motorcycle shop and surveyed the place with scowling self-supremacy, Flannery knew he wasn’t a local. Probably not even a biker. IRS agent? Attorney? Movie producer looking for crash vehicles? No, too stodgy to be that cool.

     She approached him like there wasn’t a question in her mind and forced a smile when he gestured toward the Harley displayed on its carpeted platform. The sweetest bike in the shop.

Tyler’s bike.

     As Flannery joined the man on the platform, she suffered his gaze to laser over her. Yeah, she knew what he was seeing. Shaggy-short red hair, this summer’s crop of freckles, skinny legs in cut-offs, and faithful old Chuck Taylors. And don’t forget the chipped, teal nail polish. His smirk sent a sick feeling to her gut. Flannery lifted her chin and crossed her arms over her chest, showing he didn’t intimidate her while also hiding whatever aspects of her figure he might judge.

     “You work here?”

     No, she just wore the bright green Bentley Cycles shirt because it did so much to accentuate her nonexistent figure. “Yes, sir. Can I tell you about this machine?”

     The muscles around his mouth twitched to one side. “Can you?”

     Be polite to the customers. That’s what Dad taught her. “2014 Harley-Davidson Street Bob, 103 cubic inch engine with only 3,900 miles. Single owner, never dropped. Has chrome forward controls and forks, custom five-spoke wheels, Screamin’ Eagle dual shorty mufflers, and lots of owner-added extras. $10,995, and she’s yours.”

     “Not bad. Is the manager around? No offense, but I’d like to talk to someone who’s old enough to actually ride this bike.”

     Seriously, dude? “I have ridden it, sir.” Up and down the street at home. With Dad supervising.

     “I’m impressed. But if the deal’s right, I’m ready to take delivery today. I need to speak to the sales manager.”

Unbelievable. Flannery’s jaw dropped for half a second before she reclaimed her dignity. Never argue with the customers. Maybe it wasn’t about pleasing this snob, but about maintaining her own cool. Walking away from him would be a pleasure.

She texted Dad in the back office.

 

               FLANNERY:             Customer wants to talk to you about Tyler’s bike.

 

     Not that Tyler could actually buy it. His mother wouldn’t survive the heart attack. Yet every time he came into the shop, he’d sit on the bike and his eyes would go all dreamy.

Flannery had a dream too, of riding side-by-side with him, astride her own rolling thunder machine. Living life together with the wind in their faces.

     Not likely. After months and months of awkwardly rebuffed hints and hanging onto their friendship when she wanted more—and he knew it—Tyler, in his shy way, had made it clear he wasn’t interested.

     Too tall, too, narrow, too flat. Too—

     Stop it.

     A few negative words from a stranger and all her self-doubts bubbled up. If only her hair would grow a little faster and she could keep herself from demolishing her nail polish before it was a day old, maybe—

     STOP!

     Dad strode into the showroom and clapped twice, ready to deal. He swung an arm wide to clasp the customer’s hand. “Dave Moore. Nice to meet ya.”

   If he’d seen the way that man leered at her, Flannery doubted her father would be so congenial. Probably bounce this corporate dude right back to his cubicle. But they had to sell that bike. And several others besides. They had to.

     Flannery took a sneaky photo of Corporate Dude and Dad haggling. Texted it to Tyler.

 

               FLANNERY:             Oh no! Should I tell them it’s not for sale?

 

    She tugged at her lower lip. Sales at the shop weren’t good. Tyler couldn’t prevent the bike from being sold. And he couldn’t do anything about it while he and their mutual best friend, Calvin, were a hundred miles away for the weekend. Motocross training facility, learning amazing things from Jammin’ Jimmy Weinert, 22-time AMA Nationals winner.

     And just twenty minutes from the beach.

     Without.

     Her.

   She grabbed a rag and a bottle of spray cleaner and headed for the corner of the shop where a rack of helmets needed attention. She bent to pick up a loose price tag and glanced sideways. Corporate Dude’s eyes seemed focused on the back of her cut-off jeans.

     Flannery huffed. She had every right to be furious. Corporate Dude was probably as old as her father. What was he looking at, anyway? Her flat backside?

     ...stop…

    Humming along to Dad’s classic rock mix playing softly throughout the store, she wiped her rag over a green and black motocross helmet. Tyler had bought a similar helmet a year and a half ago, the day he’d come in with his father to take delivery of his Kawasaki KX 250F dirt bike. A gift for his sixteenth birthday. She remembered the details well.

     It was the day she fell in love with him.

     Well, not fully in love. Not like the frustrated longing that plagued her now.

     He was a friend from school and still nerdy at the time, with glasses, a full crop of zits on his face, and braces that gleamed like the Harley’s chrome. But that day he stood on the verge of becoming awesome. The light in his gray-blue eyes zinged into her heart to simmer, languish, and sometimes fester.

     Yeah, sure. Get over the sappy stuff, girl.

     “Ten grand. Best I can do.” Dad smacked the padded seat of the Harley.

     “I can get it for seventy-five hundred on eBay.” Dude’s manners hadn’t improved.

     “Then I suggest you buy it through eBay,” Dad growled.

     Flannery stopped cleaning and tuned in.

     “Listen, this isn’t a stock machine.” His voice shifted back to its usual happy-persuasive tone. “It’s got a lot of upgrades and custom parts. Look at those wheels. And those pipes! You’d pay twelve grand for this baby anywhere else.”

     Give it up, Dad. He’s a poser. Probably wreck it on the way home.

     She moved away from the helmets to tackle the ever-dusty bottles of motorcycle fluids. Boring, boring. She should be at the motocross facility with Tyler and Calvin, beating them around the track with her 450 Suzuki. No place for a girl, though. Staying in a single-room cabin with two teenage boys and Tyler’s father as the chaperone? Awkward. Inappropriate.

     Unfair.

     “No! We’re done here. Go on. Get out of my shop.”

     Say, what?

     Dad never yelled at customers. He was more a steely glare kind of guy. Flannery peeked around a rack of gloves to see the man in the suit hit the front door with both hands and stomp out to the sun-drenched parking lot. Dad went the other way, ramming open the doors of the service department and leaving them swinging behind him.

She followed, saw his office door slam. The bays were quiet. A Honda waited for customer pickup. Their only mechanic, Jake, had finished his work and left for the day.

     Tapping her finger against her chin, Flannery glanced toward the storefront. Through the glare of sunlight on asphalt, she saw Corporate Dude standing with one arm propped on the roof of his Mercedes. Like he was considering returning for round two.

     Not happening. She hustled to the door and turned the lock.

     Bye-bye, dude. So sad for you.

     She jogged to the office and found her father bent over his desk, his head in his hands. An odd, snuffling sound bounced off the metal desktop.

     Crying. He was crying.

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