Roberto, who was working on another car, straightened. “Yes, I know.”
She blinked. “You know.”
“Yes, I gave him the keys myself.”
The man had a way of flustering her unlike anyone she’d ever encountered. “Well, I want it back.”
“You’ll get it.” He returned to the truck he was working on, disappearing behind the hood.
“Do you generally allow Emilio to ride around in your customers’ cars?”
“No.” His answer was clipped and didn’t invite further inquiries.
His attitude—in fact, everything about Roberto—irritated Brynn. “I want my car returned,” she insisted, her voice raised and tight. No matter what Father Grady claimed, it was plain to her that this man didn’t have one shred of responsibility.
“And you’ll have it.”
Brynn crossed her arms and started to pace. Twice she made a show of looking at her watch.
“Emilio will be back any moment,” Roberto said, continuing to work on another vehicle.
Bent over the engine as he was, Brynn couldn’t see his face, but she had the distinct impression the mechanic was smiling. Her irritation amused him. That infuriated Brynn all the more.
“I want you to know that I don’t appreciate being kept waiting.”
Roberto straightened and reached for an oil rag; his dark, intense eyes meshed with hers. “I’m not one of your students, Miss Cassidy, so there’s no need to yell.”
“I was not yelling.” She realized she was and lowered her voice immediately.
Roberto grinned broadly. “I suppose you’d like to send me to the principal.”
“Aha!” Her arm flew out and she pointed at him with her index finger, wagging it while she gathered her thoughts. “I thought as much. You blame me because your brother was suspended.”
“On the contrary. Emilio knows not to fight on school grounds. What is it the law enforcement people are so fond of quoting? Do the crime, pay the time. My brother deserved what he got.”
“But you blame me?”
“No, I just wish you’d quit filling my brother’s head with garbage.”
Brynn clenched her jaw in an effort not to argue. This was the same mine-riddled ground they’d covered earlier. Brynn had no desire to do battle with Roberto a second time.
From the corner of her eye, she saw her car pull into an empty parking slot in front of the garage.
“Yo, Miss Cassidy,” Emilio called out. “Your car’s running like a dream.”
Despite her misgivings, Brynn managed a smile. “If I could please have my bill,” she said with stiff politeness.
Roberto gestured toward his brother. “Emilio will take care of that.”
Brynn hesitated before leaving the garage for the small outer office where Emilio stood. Although Roberto had been deliberately rude, she felt obligated to him. “I want you to know I appreciate your help.”
Involved once again with another vehicle, Roberto didn’t bother to answer. It was almost as if he were ignoring her. His lack of a response to her peace offering offended her pride. Swallowing the small hurt, Brynn brushed the hair from her face.
“Your car runs like new,” Emilio told her as he stepped behind the cash register. “Roberto asked me to test-drive it around the block. I hope you don’t mind that I let a couple of my posse join me.”
“Four is more than a couple,” she informed him primly.
“I know,” the youth said with a flash of pearly white teeth. “But it isn’t every day that we can say we rode in a teacher’s car.”
Brynn decided it was best to not comment.
Emilio located the work order for her vehicle and scanned its contents. Brynn had been waiting for this moment, praying that the expense wouldn’t wipe out the meager remainder of her budget for the month. The Escort had well over two hundred thousand miles on it and thus far had been relatively problem free. With the dread building up inside her, she opened her purse and took out her checkbook.
Something didn’t appear to be right, because Emilio looked up from the bill. “I need to ask Roberto something,” he said, and walked around from behind the counter. In the other room, the two brothers talked in hushed tones.
Emilio returned, wearing a wide grin. “It’s on the house,” he announced.
Brynn wasn’t sure she understood. “What do you mean?”
Pride gleamed in the youth’s dark eyes. “You don’t owe us anything.”
“But I can’t let you do that. . . .”
Still Brynn argued. “That wouldn’t be right.”
“It’s a gift, Miss Cassidy,” Emilio said with a deep sigh of frustration. “Didn’t you ever learn you’re not supposed to question someone when they give you a gift? Some lady with manners wrote it up in a book. You read all the time . . . you must have read that.”
Brynn was uncertain. “Let me at least pay for any parts.”
“No way.” The teenager held up both hands as though she were holding him up.
“But carburetors can be expensive.” She didn’t want Roberto absorbing the cost of this.
“Roberto says he found another carburetor at the junkyard and got it for next to nothing. Besides, he let me do most of the work myself.” His dark eyes pleaded with her to accept this small gift.
“Emilio, I don’t know how to thank you.”
His face erupted in a wide smile. “I’ll think of something.”
Roberto shouted from the other room, and Emilio’s smart smile disappeared. “Think nothing of it, Miss Cassidy.”
“Thank you both again.” Brynn felt like a fool for having made such an issue of Emilio driving her vehicle. She glanced toward the garage, but Roberto was bent over the side of the truck, busy at work. “Tell your brother that I’m grateful.”
“I will.” Emilio followed her outside and held open her car door for her.
When she couldn’t find her car keys, she eyed the youth. A desperate look came over him, and he slapped his hands over his shirt and pants pockets, then laughed and withdrew them from his hip pocket. “I had you worried there, didn’t I?”
Brynn rolled her eyes, then started the engine. As Emilio had said earlier, it purred like new. Her car sounded better than it had in years. She backed out of the driveway. It was as she started down the street that she noticed Roberto Alcantara watching her from inside the building.
* * *
He owed her an apology, Roberto reasoned. He’d been angry and frustrated the day they’d met, and he’d taken his irritation out on her. True, he believed the things he’d said, but generally he kept his opinions to himself. It had helped relieve his irritation to sound off at Emilio’s teacher; but it hadn’t been fair.
An hour before he’d met Brynn, Roberto had learned his offer to lease a building in another neighborhood had been rejected. It hadn’t been the first time a landlord had refused to rent to him. Naturally he’d been given some flimsy excuse, but Roberto had learned long ago the real reason. No one wanted a Hispanic taking up residence nearby.
Brynn Cassidy was everything Emilio had said. Bright. Intelligent. Pretty. Roberto feared his younger brother was half in love with her himself. But this spunky teacher was off-limits to the both of them, and Roberto knew it. It would be best if he never saw her again.
Funny how a woman could be so dangerous; but Roberto had recognized it from the first moment they’d met. Brynn Cassidy just might teach him to dream, too.
Friday evening Brynn arrived at the gymnasium behind St. Philip’s. She walked into the gaily decorated room and stopped to admire the decorations. Red and green streamers were looped across the ceiling from one end of the room to the other. A refreshment table was set up alongside the folded bleachers.
“Hello, Miss Cassidy.” The first one to greet her was Suzie Chang, who looked exceptionally pretty in a dark blue silk pants suit.
“Oh, Suzie, you look so nice.”
The Chinese girl lowered her head and blushed. “So do you.”
Brynn hadn’t been exactly sure what to wear and had opted for a blouse and skirt and patent-leather flats. Although she’d attended a number of school dances at St. Mary’s, she’d never actually served as a chaperone. Generally the girls’ school relied on parents and members of the PTA.
“Miss Cassidy,” Emilio called. He helped himself to a handful of cookies. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m a chaperone.”
“Hey, that’s cool. So’s my brother.”
Brynn hadn’t recognized Roberto without his coveralls. She hadn’t given Roberto much notice before, but now . . . caught by his piercing dark eyes, Brynn found it difficult to look away.
“Miss Cassidy.” He nodded politely in her direction.
The music started. It came from a sound system with large speakers that blared from the front of the stage. No one seemed to want to be the first one on the dance floor.
“Hey, you two,” Emilio said. “Shouldn’t you start the dancing or something?”
Hannah needed to talk to Joshua. It was important that she return the gloves as soon as possible. It was wrong of her to have kept them this long. Then to walk past him on the street and pretend that she didn’t know him was a terrible insult. She’d witnessed for herself the surprise and confusion in his gaze. Yet she was forever grateful that he’d read her silent message and hadn’t greeted her. Hannah didn’t know how she would explain knowing him to her mother.
For herself, Hannah was both bewildered and guilty, and she felt like a coward. It was unfair to Joshua to lead him to believe that she was free to care for him. Unfair to Carl, who’d courted her faithfully these many months. She’d juggled with her conscience until she couldn’t think straight any longer.
“I do wish we weren’t doing this,” Hannah said to her mother.
“Doing what?” Ruth questioned. “Buying my daughter a trousseau? Don’t be ridiculous.”
“We haven’t set the wedding date yet.”
“You will soon enough.” In the eyes of her parents she was all but married to Carl Rabinsky.
“Your father and I have patiently waited all these years for a man who was worthy of you.”
A lifetime of accepting what her parents felt was right was what helped Hannah hold her tongue.
“Such a wedding you’ll have,” Ruth promised, her eyes alight with excitement.
Hannah found she couldn’t look at her mother.
“Your father’s already talking about the food for the reception. I promise you it will be one that people will talk about for years to come. You are our only child. God’s gift to us. Our joy.”
“Mama, what if I don’t love Carl?”
Her mother hesitated, but for only a moment. “Nonsense. I know you, Hannah, you wouldn’t have agreed to be his wife if you didn’t love him. Carl will make you a good husband. Every girl has doubts when it comes time to pledge her heart to one man.”