xcerpt from Hardworking Man

“Jacoby? You don’t by any chance mean Michael Jacoby?” Jessica asked Bob Schumann, service manager of Piedmont Incorporated’s Redding dealership.

“That’s his real name, yes, but he goes by Jake,” Schumann replied. “Came to us with operating experience and a technical background. Nobody in the company knows hydraulics like Jake. When other guys say ‘can’t be done,’ Jake says ‘send it my way.’”

Jessica’s mind reeled as she sat across from Schumann in his cluttered corner office. Holy shit! She was going to spend the next two weeks interviewing Jake?

“Sounds like Jake, all right,” she said, forcing an upbeat tone into her voice.

“Oh, did you happen to run into each other at corporate?” he asked, his salt-and-pepper eyebrows knitting together.

It had been seventeen years since she’d seen her former high school crush, the one who had given her an unforgettable night in the cab of his Ford pickup. Jesus. Images of that evening flitted across her mind’s eye. Jake had been amazing, and she’d preserved that memory in her “intimate moments” file, pulling it out at college and beyond, whenever she needed a little mental foreplay. Right now, however, memories of Jake and that night were something she definitely did not need.

“No. No, we didn’t.” Jessica gave herself an inner smack and thought of a quick lie. “Jake and I had a few classes together in high school, but we weren’t friends.”

“So, you’re from Redding too?”

“That’s right.” She smiled. “Doing this job is like coming home.”

“Fantastic!” Schumann said, slapping his hands together. “Then you two have more in common than just the excavator. Finishing up the maintenance and repair manual should be a breeze.”

Jessica had already spent several months at corporate headquarters in Alameda working with Piedmont’s top engineers. But Marshall Evans, CEO of Piedmont, wanted her to spend two weeks with one of their best service technicians, someone who’d actually been working with the machine. He believed observing the excavator in person and speaking directly to a technician would add authenticity to the manual. So she was back in Northern California for the first time in over a year.

Jessica hadn’t been avoiding her hometown; she’d just been consumed with building her career. After earning a degree in communications from Cal Poly, Jessica had known she wanted to become a freelance technical writer, specializing in the heavy-equipment industry. After all, she’d grown up around Peterson Tractor, the local Caterpillar dealership where her mom had worked for the past twenty-five years. The terminology wasn’t foreign, and she felt comfortable around technicians. It had only taken Jessica one additional year to earn a certificate in technical writing through an online program. She’d spent her early years working for a firm, but later she’d managed to land numerous small- and medium-sized jobs, including a safety manual for a regional construction company.

In her mind, every job was a stepping-stone to her dream project, the opportunity to write for one of the big boys: Cummins, John Deere, Case, New Holland, or Caterpillar. If she could get her foot in the door with just one of them, her credibility as a technical writer in the heavy-equipment industry would be solidified.

“To be honest, everything about the Piedmont project has gone smoothly so far,” Jessica said.

“Hey, nothing wrong with that.” Schumann leaned back in his executive chair and folded his hands across his paunch. “But in my experience, you never say such a thing without knocking on wood quick.”

She laughed and tapped twice on his desk.

“Now, if I understand correctly, you’ll be coming in each evening just after closing?”

“That’s right. It’s much easier to do the interviewing without any distractions.”

“No problem. Corporate’s already approved Jake’s overtime.”

“Then you told him I was coming?”

“We heard a technical writer was coming, but we didn’t know who’d show up.” Schumann smiled with a sudden realization. “Don’t worry. Jake’s flexible. Works well with everybody. Do you have any other questions?”

“None at this time.”

“Well, Ms. Cooper, my directions were pretty simple. Introduce you to the tech, show you the machine, and let you do your thing. Piedmont has a lot of faith in your abilities, and they’re giving you free rein around here.”

“I appreciate your trust, and it won’t be misplaced. I actually worked a few summers in high school at Peterson Tractor, doing mostly clerical work. But I know my way around a shop. You can be certain I’ll stay out of your hair.”

Schumann pushed away from his desk, climbing to his feet. “All right, then. Let’s get you acquainted with Jake and introduce you to the machine.”

“Acquainted with Jake.” Jessica stood, smoothing down the folds in her pencil skirt. As she followed Bob Schumann through the double doors leading to the main shop, she expelled a deep breath.

The shop area consisted of eight individual bays housing a handful of machines in various stages of repair. Classic rock and country radio stations competed to be heard over the metallic clang of impact guns, the wheeze of air compressors, and the raw pounding on steel frames.

Jessica received a number of curious looks from technicians and other personnel who probably hadn’t been notified of her visit, but she was too distracted with thoughts of Jake to give them more than a cursory glance.

This wasn’t the time or place to recall her final hours with Jake, but there it was–the memory rushing back as vibrant as ever. His large hands had been everywhere at once, tunneling through her hair and roaming her body, while his strong fingers had worked her into a frenzy, playing with her clit and plunging into her heated core again and again. Even today, she never thought about Jake without thinking of his hands.

But the night hadn’t ended there. After she’d climaxed, he’d given her a thrilling ride on the bench seat in the cab of his truck. Pushing his jeans and boxers to his ankles, he’d pulled Jessica on top of him and smoothly slid his cock inside her. Then, as he’d bucked into her, she’d frantically ground against him, leading to a second breath-stealing orgasm.

Jessica couldn’t remember every detail of that night, but she recalled the sex being intense: the pounding bass of his Stone Temple Pilot’s CD, most of their clothes strewn about the cab, and the urgency of Jake’s hips. And she remembered with perfect clarity what she’d given Jake later that night, wanting him never to forget her. Heat suffused her cheeks, and she closed her eyes for a second, suppressing the urge to groan.

Bob Schumann slowed his pace, glanced over his shoulder at her, and pointed toward the northernmost corner of the shop. “There’s our guy. Working on the backhoe.”

“Great.” She filed behind him once again.

As they approached the machine, Jessica raised her chin a notch and tightened her grip on the attaché case folded under her right arm. She was glad she’d chosen to wear a fitted black suit and heels, even though the late afternoon had far exceeded ninety degrees. She wanted to appear as professional as possible.

Maybe he won’t recognize me. After all, seventeen years was a long time, and people certainly changed. Jessica had shortened her deep honey-blonde hair into a chin-length bob that angled toward her face. And though she worked hard to maintain her high school weight, she certainly didn’t look like an eighteen-year old girl anymore. Maybe he’d forgotten about the few times they went out that week, or the last night they spent together. Maybe she had nothing to worry about at all.

But Jessica was worried.

Because if Jake didn’t take her seriously, the next two weeks were going to be hell. They had a great deal of material to cover for the maintenance and repair manual, and she was counting on the success of the Piedmont project to expand her career. She couldn’t allow her past with Jake to jeopardize her future as a technical writer in the heavy-equipment industry.

With a firm resolve, Jessica stepped beside the service manager and watched Michael Jacoby, who was sprawled on his stomach near the bucket of the backhoe, welding in new pivot pins and bushings in the machine’s right lift arm.

“Jake’s work is always very clean,” Schumann said, focusing on Jake’s movements. “No bubblegum in his welds. No grinding required.”

“Impressive,” Jessica replied. And she was impressed. Jake’s face was obscured by an auto-darkening welding helmet, but his body was stretched provocatively along the backhoe’s arm. He wore black work boots and navy leather welding gloves to protect his forearms. A heavy tan leather welding coat, buttoned securely at the throat, reached the tops of his thighs. The single plastic strap at the back of the safety mask separated his wheat-colored hair, and Jessica recalled how soft Jake’s hair had felt slipping through her fingers. Does it still feel that soft? She quickly dismissed the thought. I have to view him like any other technician.

However, when Jake climbed down from the backhoe, removed his helmet, and peeled away his gloves and coat, Jessica’s pulse started to race. My goodness. She swept her gaze over his sweat-tousled hair, down his broad chest and the flat plane of his stomach, and past his thick, muscular thighs. No matter how badly she wished it, Michael Jacoby was not and would never be just any other technician. He was as gorgeous as ever, and she was in trouble.

Jessica’s stomach twisted into a tight knot as Jake approached, rolling up the sleeves on his royal-blue coveralls. He’d left the collar unzipped several inches, revealing a golden dusting of hair on his chest. Jessica was fairly certain he wore little beneath the cotton material except a fine layer of sweat, the summer heat being too oppressive for added layers.

“Hey, Bob,” he said, directing a small wave toward Schumann.

“Jake,” Schumann said, returning his greeting. “You remember me mentioning a writer coming up from corporate to work on a repair and maintenance manual?”

“Yeah.” He wiped a sheen of sweat from his brow with the back of his fist. Then he folded his arms across his chest. “Something about the new excavator.”

The movement drew Jessica’s gaze to the rippling muscles in Jake’s forearms, and she quickly diverted her attention back to his face. His very disinterested face. So far, Jake hadn’t even spared her a glance.

“Well, Jessica Cooper is here to work with you.” Schumann motioned toward her. “She’s got two weeks and a whole series of topics to cover. Ms. Cooper, this is Michael Jacoby.”

As Jake turned to acknowledge her, Jessica held her breath and said a small prayer that his memory would be as short as his closely cropped hair. When his vibrant blue gaze locked on to her dark-brown one, he showed no sign of recognition.

Jessica breathed a sigh of relief and offered him a small smile.

“It’s Jake,” he said, giving her hand a firm shake. “Nice to meet you, Ms. Cooper.”

The contact of his warm, calloused palm against her smooth one sent a delicious chill up Jessica’s spine. She remembered those hands all right. And those fingers…

“Jessica,” she returned, broadening her smile. “And thanks for agreeing to work on this project. Mr. Evans was adamant I talk to you before putting the finishing touches on the manual.”

Jake cocked an eyebrow at Schumann, and the two exchanged some secret knowledge. “Evans himself, huh?”

“Yes,” she said with a nod, unsure how to interpret his remark. “You have quite a reputation.”

When Jake stared at her with a blank expression, Jessica continued, “Seriously. They raved about your technical abilities at corporate. And Mr. Schumann here was saying you’re the best hydraulics man in the shop.”

Shit! She could hear herself rambling and couldn’t pull up the reins. What the hell was wrong with her?

Jake was on the verge of replying–no doubt something cryptic–when a man she assumed was the foreman trotted up to Bob Schumann and said a customer was demanding to see him.

“Lovely,” Schumann said with a frown. “It’s been one of those days. Jake, will you show Ms. Cooper the machine? This could take a while.”

“Sure, Bob.”

“You’re in good hands, Ms. Cooper. If you need anything at all, don’t hesitate to ask.”

Jessica smiled and waved good-bye, saying, “Thank you.”

Then Schumann ambled back toward the front office.

When she spun back around, Jake’s previous look of bored indifference had been replaced by a subtle grin. The expression was so like his teenage self that Jessica felt suddenly transported back in time. Yet, when she looked at him more closely, she could tell that he too had changed. Deep creases now ran alongside his shapely mouth, and laugh lines fringed his electric blue eyes. He appeared older, more weathered, and yet the years had merely increased his attractiveness, rather than lessening it.

But why the hell was he grinning? An alarm went off in Jessica’s head. Her body tensed, and she looked at him expectantly.

Jake eyed her with warm appraisal. “How’ve you been, Jessie?”

A small gasp escaped, and she swallowed hard. “You remember.”

Jake shrugged. “Pieces.”

“Any pieces in particular?” she asked in a small voice. Say no, say no, say no, say no.

“No,” he said. “Not really. What about you? How much you remember?”

Once again, heat swept across her face, and Jessica hoped it wasn’t as red as it felt. “Me? Oh, not much at all. Wow, that was so long ago. I never think about it.”

“Yeah, me neither,” Jake replied, looking aside. A bead of sweat trailed down the side of his face, and he wiped at it irritably.

“That’s a relief.” Jessica managed a tight smile.

Two minutes ago, she’d prayed he wouldn’t remember their series of dates and one wild night together. But Jake dismissing their encounter altogether stung. “I’m sure neither one of us would want a past indiscretion to interfere with this project.”

At the word “indiscretion,” Jake stiffened. “Indiscretion, huh?”

“Well…yeah,” Jessica said. “Getting together like that was a pretty impetuous thing to do, even for teenagers. And we’re both professionals now. I have to be careful, especially the way gossip spreads in this industry. You know what I mean.”

Jake rubbed hard at his chin. Then he turned his brilliant gaze on her, and for a minute, she felt trapped. “Sure. You don’t want anyone finding out about our…encounter.”

“Exactly.” Jessica smiled broadly, relief swamping her. “I’m so glad you understand.”

“Perfectly.” Jake led her through one of the roll-up doors to the yard area where the excavator was parked. “Hooking up with a tech, even if it was seventeen years ago, wouldn’t look good for a big-time writer like you. Why would you lower yourself to be with one of us?”

Just as they reached the machine, Jessica grabbed hold of Jake’s sleeve and gave it a sharp tug. “Hey, wait just a minute. That’s not what I meant. You have the wrong idea.”

Dammit! He thought she avoided technicians because she felt superior. But her decision was based on preserving her credibility in the industry. Having affairs with the men she interviewed would jeopardize a reputation she’d fought long and hard to build.

“I doubt that very much. I know your type, Jessie.”

Her mouth fell open. “My type?

She was two seconds away from telling him to go straight to hell when she remembered how badly she needed this project to succeed. Taking a deep, cleansing breath, she clamped down on her irritation. “Listen, Jake. I’ll let you get back to work. I can look over the machine tomorrow when we start reviewing the topics.”

Jake looked away sheepishly, running a hand through his hair. “Fine.”

She took a step to leave, then did a sudden about-face. Jessica didn’t understand what had provoked his sudden resentfulness, but she couldn’t leave without knowing Jake could move past it. “I know you agreed to the interviews. But if you’ve changed your mind, I’ll ask Schumann to find another tech. No hard feelings.”

“I said I’d do it, and I will.”

“You’re sure you want to work with me? This is really important. I need your total commitment.”

He frowned at her. “I mean what I say.”

“All right.” She held up her free hand in surrender. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then. Just after closing.”

“Got it.”
Jessica turned to leave again, but this time was stopped by Jake’s voice.

“Look, Jessie, I…”

When she looked up at him, Jake shook his head.

“Never mind. See you tomorrow.”

Copyright © Kat Oliver

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