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Jo Bianchi, medical school dropout and Billerica’s top automotive technician for two years running, had finally seen a car problem she couldn’t fix. It wasn’t the automobile itself. Like most car lovers, Jo had a dream ride, and in her case, it was a classic Maserati. She had helped her dad restore one when she was thirteen, and now here was another one in heavenly metallic blue, being pushed down the highway by a muscular man with more strength than brains.
She shaded her eyes against the brilliant sunlight of a Massachusetts fall afternoon and focused in on the scene. The car was rolling along, custom wheels gleaming, at the pace of a particularly slow tortoise. Behind it, a man with his white shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows pushed the vehicle from behind, both hands planted on the car’s aerodynamically curved rear.
Well, there went her plans to get out of the auto shop early and get a workout in before her Saturday date night with her girlfriend Parisa. Something had gone wrong with this beautiful machine, and this man wasn’t going to get far pushing his vehicle down the road. In fact, Jo had no idea how he could be strong enough to move the car by himself. There didn’t appear to be anyone in the front seat helping steer the car, either.
As he drew closer, Jo got a better look at both the car and the man. Jo being Jo, she focused on the automobile first. It was a Maserati Sebring from the ’60s, all burnished metal curves and sleek elegance. She would have to look up what the base price was on a model like that, but the car had to be worth more than a hundred thousand dollars. Why the driver had decided to put it in neutral and push it down the highway was a mystery to her. Men with enough money to buy a Maserati like this generally called other people to fix their car problems for them.
The man was tall, with well-built arms and a head of wavy dark hair. Both his shirt and pants gleamed a crisp white, no small feat given the haze and dust coming over the asphalt road leading to her automotive shop. She gave up shading her eyes and simply stood, mouth ajar, as he succeeded in rolling the Maserati into her front parking lot, right next to Jo’s own F-Series Ford pickup.
He straightened then brushed his hands against his pants to clean off invisible dust before addressing her. “Peace be upon you, and good afternoon. I’ve been informed your establishment provides repairs for these mechanical chariots, and I’m in need of assistance with this particular one.”
Jo glanced over at the car, trying not to drool in envy over such a gorgeous piece of automotive engineering, or smack its owner upside the head. Mechanical chariots? Maybe he was trying to be amusing, or maybe he was completely off his rocker. What a total waste, for a car this fine to belong to someone this clueless.
At least he had his looks going for him. The guy was movie-star gorgeous, with green eyes and and high cheekbones. Jo liked women, not men, and she preferred brains over a pretty face. Still, he was certainly nice to look at. She flung an arm up at the faded sign above her garage, which read Bianchi Automotive. In one of the office windows, a placard of even older vintage declared American or Foreign, Come to Joe’s Auto for All Your Car Needs!
“You were told right. This is a garage and we fix cars.”
He nodded then peered at the smaller sign. “Is Joseph the owner then? I’ve been informed there’s a Joe Bianchi at this address, and I would like to discuss repairing my vehicle with him.”
Jo took in a deep breath, and with an effort of great will, forced her face into a smile. “Joseph Bianchi was my father, and he passed away two years ago. I’m Josephine Bianchi—Jo for short—and I own the shop.” She also was the only one working this late on a Saturday afternoon and the only repair shop open for several miles. If he had a problem with a woman auto mechanic, he could spend the rest of the day and part of the night pushing his Maserati down the road.
He gave a solemn nod at the mention of her father’s death. The familiar flash of pain washed over her when she thought about her dad and how much she missed him.
“My apologies for the error. My name is Harut and I’d like to compensate you for your expertise.”
His voice was smooth and melodic, but he had a touch of a foreign accent, and Jo decided he might be Middle Eastern. Harut was an unusual name, though. Jo was Syrian on her mother’s side, and her girlfriend was Iranian, and she couldn’t place it. Not that Jo could carry on a conversation in Arabic, much less Farsi. She had never met her maternal relatives—or her mother, for that matter.
Harut opened the side door of the car and pulled out a leather satchel. He lifted the flap, and Jo spotted a pile of what looked like dollar bills stacked inside. Some of her customers paid in cash, and a few even in trade, but carrying around a bag of Benjamins that big was foolish.
Harut pulled out a handful of rolled money and thrust it to her. They looked real, and they were hundred-dollar bills, in a stack that must represent at least twenty-thousand bucks, if not more.
Good-looking, dumb as a stick, and loaded—too bad he wasn’t what she was looking for, even if she had been available. Jo pushed Harut’s hand and the money away. Honest pay for honest work. That was what her dad would have done, no matter how foolish the customer. On the other hand, if there was something seriously wrong with the Maserati, he might need a few bags of hundred-dollar bills to cover the parts.
“There’s no need to pay in advance. Let me take a look at your car, and then I can give you an estimate. Did it stall out on you on the highway?” She circled the vehicle as she spoke to him, admiring the car’s graceful curves and luxurious leather interior. Not a scratch on it, and the car had been cared for like someone’s treasured firstborn. She slid into the driver’s seat, giving a sigh of pleasure as she settled in. This car was truly a work of art.
“I was progressing toward my destination when the vehicle slowed and then stopped.” Harut leaned over the driver’s side door and stared at the car’s dashboard with a puzzled frown. “Perhaps one of those circular devices might reveal the cause of this breakdown.”
Jo turned the key and all the gauges came to life. Yes, one of the circular devices did reveal the underlying issue, and it wasn’t going to require thousands of dollars in repair work to fix. So much for her dreams of making a big profit by working late on the weekend. “I’ve got just the thing to solve this problem.”
She climbed out the car and headed into the back of the garage. Returning, she held up a red plastic container to show Harut. Then she flipped open the lid to the gas tank, unscrewed the cap, and tipped the nozzle in. “I think all that happened was you ran out of gas. It happens, especially when driving an unfamiliar car where you might not be used to the gauges.”
Harut looked baffled, rather than embarrassed. Most people felt like idiots when they realized they had simply forgotten to fill up for so long that their car had run out of gas. “Does that foul-smelling liquid power this vehicle?”
“Yes. This isn’t an electrical car.” Jo stopped, since Harut’s expression indicated he had no idea what she was talking about. “Do you—drive much where you’re from?”
“I’ve never handled a machine like this, no.” He waved his hands at the sky. “But I had my reasons for avoiding flying and this human technology seemed like an efficient way to travel.”
“So, you were planning to fly out of Logan and decided to buy a Maserati instead.” Jo seriously considered asking this guy for his number and giving it to one of her straight friends who had been pining for a guy this handsome, rich, and loose with his money. “Look, downtown Boston driving can be a little hairy if you’re not used to it. Maybe you should plan on flying rather than driving.”
Harut pushed himself away from the car and, for a moment, Jo thought she had pissed him off. She had been trying so hard not to sound patronizing, too. Then Harut surprised her by taking her advice, all too literally.
A pair of wings popped out of his back, huge and beautiful, with feathers studded with blinking eyes. Jo tried to tell herself this was all some sort of fantastic prank, with computer-enhanced special effects. That would explain everything, the guy’s crazy story, the money thrown in to catch her attention, even the car having nothing wrong with it except being out of gas.
Harut shot up into the air, and the downward draft of his wings blew hot air in her face. She spun around, hoping to find a grinning crew with cameras, ready to tell her the whole thing was a setup, but there was no one on the ground. In the air, however, it was a different story.
Something big was overhead, and all Jo’s overwhelmed brain could tell her was that a bird the size of a helicopter had decided to try and land in one of her front parking spaces. She caught a glimpse of a riot of feathers, in every hue of the rainbow but all tinged with red, and then the huge shape came barreling down at her. Jo dropped down and rolled under her truck a second before a giant pair of talons scraped the asphalt right where she had been standing a second ago.
A giant bird had tried to kill her, and her customer was some sort of… angel?
A shout rang out and a blaze of light flared. Jo peered out from under the truck and caught a confusing glimpse of Harut burning where he stood. Then she realized the only thing on fire was the sword in his hands. He slashed the blade through the air, as flames licked up its polished blade. The helicopter of a bird retreated from his fiery blows, shrieking in a high-pitched, metallic voice that rattled Jo’s senses and made her feel her ears were about to bleed from the pain. Harut struck out with his blade again, and the bird launched itself into the sky. As it took off, a single feather fell to the asphalt.
Harut sheathed his sword and bent down to make eye contact with Jo. “If it’s not too much trouble, I’d appreciate it if you would take possession of my vehicle for now.”
Then his form shrank down and twisted, and a sharp-eyed bird of prey took his place. With a piercing cry that mimicked the ear-splitting shriek of the giant bird, the hawk took off into the sky.
End of Excerpt