Franklin Smith was the perfect fiancé. He was at the top of our class at Stanford and had been recently accepted to Harvard Law. But Spring Break our senior year of college changed everything. He went back home to New Jersey and never returned. At his funeral I discovered a guy I never knew. His secret past. And a twin brother, Fisher, I didn’t know existed.
Author’s Note: This book is dedicated to cover model, Joshua Scott Nicholson (August 30, 1990 – December 12, 2014). A portion of the profits from the sale of this book will be donated in Josh’s memory to Joining Hearts, Inc., a 501 (c)(3), all-volunteer, non-profit organization dedicated to providing housing support to people living with HIV and AIDS in Atlanta. Cover Photographer Eric McKinney of 6:12 Photography will also donate a portion of his profits to Joining Hearts in Josh’s memory.
When I phoned information they gave me an address for Sherry Smith in Old Town. Heading down a long, windy semi-paved dirt road I’m just thankful I have a rental and not the luxury car my parents purchased for me for my twenty-first birthday.
I feel like I’ve been slapped in the face when I see a run-down double-wide at the end of the driveway. The house, if you can call it that, has definitely seen better days. And those days weren’t in this century. The place is surrounded by old trucks in various states of disrepair along with piles of engine parts everywhere.
After I park the little Hyundai I hop out and stretch my long legs. I normally don’t do well in compacts, even with the seat back as far as it will go. This car is no exception.
As I look around for signs of life all I see are a few mangy-looking stray cats milling about, no doubt searching for rats or other varmints who will serve as their next meals.
Then I hear the faint sound of tapping. Followed by an “Oh, No!”
I guess it’s not just me and the cats here. I head toward the area from where the exclamation emanated.
An old truck that looks like it hasn’t been driven since the 1950s is behind another truck maybe from the 1970s.
There’s a man with the entire top half of his body underneath the hood of the older truck, obviously trying to fix it. All that’s visible as I approach is his bottom half, in tight-fitting Denim and black work boots.
I clear my throat, hoping to get his attention, but I get a rather annoyed “Just a minute” instead.
After sixty-two seconds pass I clear my throat again. “It’s been over a minute. Sixty-three seconds to be exact.”
He laughs. One that sounds familiar. Too familiar. His laugh sounds just like Franklin’s. A shiver runs through my entire body in response.
When he extricates himself from the hood of the car and turns toward me my knees buckle and I nearly faint.
The man grabs me just before I hit the dirt. Once he has me upright I notice that the brand new white silk shirt I’m wearing is now covered in grease.
“This can’t be happening,” I utter as I try to remember if grease can be removed from silk.
I quickly remove my stash of sanitizer wipes from my pocketbook and get to work trying to remove some of the grease from my shirt.
“I don’t think that’s going to work,” the man says.
He looks just like Franklin, but a disgustingly filthy version of my fiancé. Every inch of the guy is covered in grease and dirt. It’s like my worst nightmare come to life.
One of the few things I hate more than being disorganized is being dirty. I will do almost anything to avoid becoming soiled in any way.
The guy’s eyes search mine as if he’s trying to figure out what I’m doing standing in front of his old truck in the middle of nowhere New Jersey.
“Here,” I say as I hand him two of my sanitizer wipes to clean his grimy hands.
“That’s not going to work either.”
I hand him one additional wipe. “Better?”
He shakes his head. “Not really. I have special grease remover in the house. My hands are never completely clean, but I’m used to it. I’ve been a mechanic all my life.”
“Your voice,” I mutter. “You sound just like him. You look like him too. It’s unbelievable.”
“I should. He’s—um—was—my twin brother.”
I feel my stomach start to knot. “He told me he was an only child.”
The guy lets out a cynical laugh. “I’m not surprised. When he left Old Town he left all of us behind. A hot shot lawyer and fancy politician doesn’t need a twin brother whose a mechanic hanging around his neck. Better not to have a brother at all, I suppose.”
“He really is gone?” My voice cracks again. It’s starting to get annoying.
“He was gone a long time ago. When he left for Stanford he didn’t look back. But he is dead, if that’s what you mean.”
His face looks pained. Grubby and wounded.
As it finally starts to sink in that Franklin, my Franklin, really is gone. I can feel my entire body start to shake. And before I know what’s hit me I’m crying.
Me, Chloe Woodford, the girl who never shows any emotion, is blubbering like a child. “I just—don’t—understand—it,” I say between snivels.
“What?” Franklin’s brother whispers.
“Any of it.”
“Can you tell me what you’re doing here?”
I hold up my left hand, hoping he’ll take note of the 1.2 carat diamond engagement ring that Franklin bought me.
“Nice rock. So you’re rich. I figured that out before you flashed the bling. But it still doesn’t explain what you’re doing here.”
“Franklin is—um—was my fiancé.” I try to speak with as much dignity as I can muster, but the words still feel like they’re getting caught in my throat.
When he slams the hood of the truck closed I nearly jump out of my skin. I’m raw and on edge and the loud noise sends me reeling.
“I should have known.” He waves a hand up and down my body. “You fit every requirement he could ever want in a trophy wife. A tall, beautiful blonde. Model thin, but still has a nice rack. Your family obviously has money. And you go to Stanford, right? So you’re not dumb. You’re the perfect package. You would have made the ideal politician’s wife.”
“You’re not a very nice person,” is nearly all I can manage to say. “I lost my fiancé.”
“And I lost my twin brother. So what’s your point? There’s no law that says I have to be nice.”
I’m not sure what to do. I don’t like Franklin’s brother. I really don’t want to be around him and his filth, but I’m not sure I have any other options. I need answers and at least he’s giving me some, even if I don’t like the message or the messenger.
My mother is a shark is sheep’s clothing. And she always told me you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. That might be a cliché, but I’ve always found it to be true. I decide to up the charm a few notches to see if I can entice Franklin’s brother to tell me more.
“So you’re a mechanic?” I bat my big blue eyes at him. “Do you work at a garage?”
“This is it.” He motions around the yard, which looks more like a junkyard. “I’m a mobile mechanic.”
“I’ve never heard of that.”
He removes a business card from the front pocket of his jeans and hands it to me. I try to take it in such a way that I don’t have to touch the grease stained fingerprints all over the outer edge.
“Are you afraid of getting dirty?”
“Why would you ask that?”
“You seem to have an aversion to it.”
“I don’t like it. I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of it.”
I examine the card: Fisher Smith, Mobile Mechanic and then a phone number.
“I’m Chloe Woodford, by the way, in case you’re interested.”
He just nods. And doesn’t really give me a clue whether he’s interested in knowing anything about me or not. But I soldier on because there are a lot of things I still want to know about Franklin. And in order for me to get the information I want I need to try to warm Mr. Iceman up a little bit.
“So do you drive around and fix people’s cars?”
He laughs. “That’s a small part of my business. The local sheriff is a buddy of mine. He refers anyone who breaks down on the side of the road. I work with local farmers, who need help with old trucks or even tractors or farm equipment. I also work on dirt bikes, race bikes, ATVs. If it has an engine I can fix it.”
Holding up the card I ask, “How’d you get the name Fisher?”
“My dad loved to fish. It was one of his favorite pastimes.”
“He doesn’t fish anymore?”
He shakes his head. “He died when Franklin and I were twelve. I guess he never told you that either.”
“Nope. How did he die? He must have been pretty young.” As soon as I ask the question I immediately regret it. Especially when I see the look on Fisher’s face.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry. It’s just…”
“Franklin didn’t tell you much, did he?”
I let out a single, cold laugh. “He told me a lot. I’m just realizing that most of it wasn’t true. Your dad didn’t work on Wall Street either, did he?”
Now Fisher is the one who laughs. “Is that what he told you? Dad was a mechanic. Taught me everything I know.”
“What about your mom?” I ask.
“Mom started working at the local deli after my dad died. She’s been there ten years now. She works the breakfast and lunch shifts mostly. They’re known for their Taylor ham sandwiches. Best in the county. She’ll be back soon. Then I’ll be on the road. I’ve got to help Randy Barnes get his Jeep ready for race season.”
I had no idea that people raced Jeeps, but I keep that to myself. He seems to take it for granted that it’s common knowledge.
“Maybe I’d better go before she gets back.”
“Why?” For the first time since I arrived he actually sounds like he wants to talk to me.
“I phoned Franklin’s cellphone when he didn’t make it back to Stanford. Your mom answered and didn’t seem very happy to hear from me.”
“She’s been going through a lot the last few years. And losing her golden boy didn’t help. We have no idea what’s going to happen with Jackson. She’ll most likely get full custody. Not that she didn’t have him a lot anyway, but now it will be 24-7 thing.”
My stomach knots as I ask the next question. “Who’s Jackson?”
The smallest of smiles appears on his face. “My brother was full of secrets, wasn’t he? Come on.”
DAKOTA MADISON is a USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR. She has been writing since she learned to read and fell in love with books. When she’s not at her computer creating spicy new romances, Dakota is traveling to exotic locales or spending time with her husband and their bloodhounds. DAKOTA also writes romance under the pen names: Savannah Young, Sierra Avalon and Ren Monterrey.
I love this quote, Diana
“I’m wondering what to read next.” — Matilda, Roald Dahl