Romeo, Romeo


Rosalie Ronald made a successful escape from the insane asylum. Okay, so it wasn’t a real insane asylum; it was her parents’ Bay Ridge home. But most days, it could pass for the Sicilian version of Bellevue. She pulled on her coat as the storm door snicked closed behind her, took a deep breath of cold early January air, and ran for the solace of her car.

Sitting through a typical Italian Sunday dinner at Chez Ronaldi was always a lesson in self-control. Today it had become a lesson in avoidance—marriage avoidance.

For the life of her, Rosalie couldn’t figure out why her mother would push a daughter she supposedly loved down the aisle. It wasn’t as if the institution had brought Maria Ronaldi any happiness. Just the opposite.

Whenever Rosalie made decisions, she measured the odds and studied the statistical evidence—something at which she’d always excelled. Take the divorce rate at 53 percent, add the number of unhappy marriages that wouldn’t end in divorce because of religious beliefs or sheer stubbornness, which she estimated at about 46 percent, only one percent of all marriages could be considered happy. A person would have to be crazy to take a calculated risk with a 99 percent failure rate.

Rosalie was many things, but crazy wasn’t one of them. As a child, she’d made the decision never to marry, and nothing in her experience since had done anything but cement her resolve. Of course, if she said that, she’d be breaking the eleventh commandment: thou shalt marry a nice Catholic boy (preferably Italian) and have babies—or go straight to hell.

Rosalie climbed into her VW Beetle and headed toward her Park Slope apartment. Turning onto the Prospect Expressway, she heard a funny thumping noise. Never a good sign— she pulled over. Her tire was flat as matzo, and after a marathon Italian dinner, the waistband of her pants was so tight that if she took a deep breath, she’d pop a button. God only knew what would happen when she bent down to change the tire.

Rosalie opened the trunk, expecting to see her spare tire. It was supposed to be right there, but all she saw was a big hole.

Great! Just what she needed. She stared into the trunk, turned to kick the flat tire, and called her brother the nicest name she could think of that fit him. Asshole.

Stronzo!” She should have known better than to give him a hundred and sixty bucks to replace her spare tire. She’d told him to buy a full-sized spare, and he hadn’t even gotten her one of those donuts. “He’s proprio un stronzo della prima categoria.”

She had no problem calling Rich the world’s biggest asshole in Italian. After all, God excused cursing if done in a second language. He gave bonus points for cursing in a third. Rosalie had a feeling she’d be brushing up on her Spanish.

Dominick Romeo stood in the state-of-the-art garage of his flagship dealership, the largest car dealership in all of New York. He’d built it from nothing with brains and hard work, and he owned a chain of dealerships that covered most of the East Coast. But he’d be damned if he could figure out what was wrong with his Viper.

Nick checked the clock next to his private hydraulic lift and decided to call it a night. He was the only one unlucky enough to be there at five o’clock on a Sunday evening. Anyone with the sense God gave a flea was at home digesting a traditional Italian supper, but not him. His car had chosen today to act up. He slammed the hood and cringed as the noise echoed through his aching head. Wiping grime from his hands, Nick contemplated one of the world’s great mysteries: why man had ever combined computers and the internal combustion engine.

The weekend had started badly and gone downhill from there. On Friday, the offer he’d made to acquire the one car dealership he’d coveted since he was a boy had been rejected. Then on Saturday night, instead of being considerate about his loss, his girlfriend Tonya started making noises about marriage, leaving him no choice but to break things off. That led to tears on her part, more than half a bottle of Jack on his, and a screaming hangover Sunday morning.

The very morning he was awakened at six o’clock by his mother’s phone call reminding him it was his turn to take Nana to church. Experiencing Mass with Nana while hungover made him wonder whether Jesus really died for our sins—or because dying was less painful than listening to Nana sing. That morning, Nick had been tempted to give the cross a try himself. His broken-down Viper was the icing on the cake. He’d heard trouble came in threes. He must have gotten a double dose, because he was up to five at last count, which meant he had one more to look forward to.

Nick put a socket wrench away and switched off the lights. At least he knew he’d find a cold beer and a warm bed at home. But unless he wanted to drive a wrecker, he’d have to search the key box and move the cars blocking the entrance of the dealership to take a demo.

Nothing brought out the neighbors faster than parking a wrecker in front of his Park Slope brownstone. The dirty looks didn’t bother him—at least not enough to spend half an hour searching for keys and moving cars. Hell, he’d lived in the same house since his birth thirty-one years earlier, back when Park Slope had almost as bad a rep as Bedford Stuy. If he wanted to park a garbage truck in front of his house, it was no one’s business but his.

Nick wore his coveralls so he wouldn’t get his clothes dirty sitting on the greasy bench seat of the wrecker and took off for home. He was almost there when he came across a disabled vehicle on the shoulder. A woman was kicking the shit out of a flat tire, paying no attention to the cars and trucks careening by at high speeds.

He flipped on the emergency lights and pulled off in front of the lunatic’s car. At least he hoped it was her car. If it wasn’t, the owner was going to be pissed, since the woman had missed the tire and kicked the back fender. He backed up, figuring he might as well get through the remaining bad thing sooner rather than later. The deranged woman looked like a good candidate for bad thing number six.

Nick hopped out of the wrecker and walked toward the crazy lady. Over the sound of the traffic, he swore he could hear her cursing in Italian and maybe Spanish.

“Hey lady, if you’re done beating on that side of the car, you might want to start on the other side. You’re liable to end up as road pizza if you stay where you are.” He waited for a response, but she only looked at him as if he were an alien being. He tried again, slowly this time. Maybe she was crazy. “Lady, if you’d pop the trunk, I’ll change the tire. Then you can go home and deal with the cause of your anger in person.”

“What are you, stunad? Don’t you think if he were anywhere in the tri-state area, I’d have hunted him down like the dog he is and beaten him within an inch of his life?” Nick raised an eyebrow, content to watch the meltdown from a safe distance. “And if he’d bought the spare with the money I gave him, I would have already changed my own tire. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson when I was five and realized Richie had been robbing me blind, trading my dimes for nickels. He said nickels were worth more because they were bigger, and I believed him. I should have killed my brother years ago. Instead, I’m standing here in twenty-degree weather talking to you.”

At that moment, it must have occurred to her that she was yelling at a Good Samaritan. She took a deep breath, tucked her hands in her pockets, and gentled her tone. “Not that I don’t appreciate you stopping.”

“Sure.” Nick had a hard time hiding his grin. He’d always had a weakness for feisty women. He wouldn’t want to piss her off, but damn, she was cute. A real lunatic, but cute as hell. “Look, lady, why don’t you get out of the cold and wait in the wrecker? Just don’t touch anything. I’ll put your car on the flatbed and take you home. You can pick it up tomorrow at Romeo’s.”

She backed up and sputtered. “You want me to get in the truck with you?”

Dominick narrowed his Sicilian blue eyes, wondering if he’d get credit for number six if he left her standing on the expressway. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t tried to help.

“You want me to tow your car to the garage or not?”

“Of course I do, but I’m not in the habit of taking rides from strange men.”

He removed the cables he needed to hook up the car. “Good luck finding a cab at this hour. If you need to, you’re welcome to use my cell phone. It’s on the seat in the truck. I’ll be another ten minutes if you change your mind.” Nick heard her say someone should die in a pool of blood, but with the noise of the traffic rushing by, it was hard to tell who she was talking about. He hoped it wasn’t him.

Rosalie wondered if the points she’d racked up cursing in Spanish were enough to convince God to send help, since she hadn’t found one garage open in all of Brooklyn. It was nice to know her three years of high school Spanish hadn’t been a complete waste, but then again, when something seemed too good to be true, it most often was. Wreckers didn’t drive around looking for broken-down cars, did they?

If God had sent this guy, she must have scored major points. Okay, she knew she was staring, but how could she not? He looked like a large, dark Jude Law. The Italian in him only added to his good looks, not to mention the way he filled out those mechanic’s coveralls. It should be illegal to be that dirty and still look so hot.

Under normal circumstances, she wouldn’t have thought twice about having a mechanic drive her home, but something about him didn’t add up. He wore coveralls with his name embroidered on them, and his hands were grimy, but his haircut was something you’d see on the pages of GQ, not Mechanics Weekly. He was wearing dress shoes that looked hand made, not oil-covered work boots. Then there was his accent—or lack of one. He had the Brooklyn speech pattern, said the right words, but the accent was missing. He sounded like a guy from Connecticut trying to sound like he was from Brooklyn. That made him either a rich man with amnesia working as a mechanic—or a mass murderer. The likelihood of either was slim, though a mass murderer was a better bet.

Rosalie dug though her pocketbook looking for the cell phone she’d thrown in after her last attempt to find an open garage. She dialed her boyfriend Joey, her parents, her best friend Gina, and even her cousin Frankie. No one was home, and it was beginning to snow. She called a cab. The best they could do was a forty-five minute wait. She’d sooner take her chances with a possible Ted Bundy than stand on the side of the road for the next hour. Besides, her favorite suede boots were fading fast, and she loved those boots. Damn.

She looked up to find Nick, if that was even his real name, walking toward her.

“Did you reach anyone?”

Rosalie shook her head.

“If you don’t want me to take you home, at least let me drop you off at a restaurant or bar where you can wait for a cab.”

“Why don’t you have an accent?” Okay, so he thought she was crazy. At least, he was looking at her that way.

“A heavy Brooklyn accent isn’t good for business, so I changed mine. Now, are you coming or not?”

His reason was plausible. Even she tried to drop the accent when working. It was strange for a mechanic, but if he were a mass murderer, he could have already thrown her into the truck. What the hell, she’d take a chance and save her boots. “Home, James.”

“The name’s Nick,” he said, pointing to the name embroidered on his chest.

“So, is Nick short for Dominick Romeo? It would make my day to be rescued by the most eligible bachelor in New York…well, now that Donald Trump’s married again.”

Her joke fell flat. Nick’s scowl made her wonder if she’d do better on the expressway, but he was already helping her into the truck.

Nick closed the door and rounded the front. He jumped in and picked up the conversation, not bothering to hide his distaste.

“So, are you looking to get lucky and land a rich man?”

“Who? Dominick Romeo?” Right, like that was going to happen. She strapped herself in, trying to ignore the grease-covered seat belt and the cleft in Nick’s chin. Both made her squirm in her seat, for very different reasons. “Bite your tongue. The last thing I need is a husband, rich or otherwise. I have a hard enough time cleaning up after my dog. But if you ever tell another living soul I said that, I’ll have to kill you.”

He laughed, and his scowl disappeared. “Your secret’s safe with me. So, they’re comparing Romeo to Trump now?”

“Yeah. I’ve heard he’s Brooklyn’s version of The Donald minus the comb-over. He might not be as wealthy, but I hear he’s younger and much better looking.”

Nick smiled, and she felt as if she’d been hit with a tire iron. He should register his smile as a lethal weapon and be careful where he aimed it. That smile would make any normal woman throw her arms up and scream, “Take me.”

It was a good thing Rosalie wasn’t normal. Hell, she wasn’t even single. She was in a relationship—one of convenience, but still, it was enough. Correction, it had been enough to keep her parents off her back about marrying, until today. Today her mother had informed her that it was the two-year anniversary of her first date with Joey—a date that obviously had made more of an impression on her mother than it had on Rosalie.

Joey seemed content to let things go on the way they were. She fed him several times a week; they had occasional, albeit boring, missionary-position sex; and they both had a significant other to take to family functions. It also helped that his mother no longer questioned his sexuality. For a while there, he’d said, Mrs. Manetti would ask if he’d like to bring a boyfriend or girlfriend to dinner. She’d said that a boyfriend wouldn’t upset her, although she’d looked relieved the first time Rosalie joined them for a meal. Somehow, Rosalie doubted Nick had ever had his sexuality questioned.

Nick took another look at the woman next to him. Crazy Lady was giving him the “alien arrival” stare again. Too bad the only single woman he’d ever met who wasn’t looking to marry a rich man was a nut job. Though, to be fair, it could be temporary insanity. He had to admit he’d go a little crazy if someone left him without a spare.

After getting a good look at her, Nick decided sanity was way over-rated. Miss Loco was every guy’s wet dream. She reminded him of the Sophia Loren pin-up his Great Uncle Giovanni had hanging in the back room of his barbershop. Nick liked his women curvy and built. None of those bony women who looked more like a boy than a girl for him. Tonya was always trying to lose weight, and it drove him nuts. Her ass was so small there was almost nothing to hold. Psycho had an ass like you read about. Damn, he should ask her out for her ass alone. Plus, a guy had to admire a woman who could curse in several languages. And she was beautiful, even without makeup. He’d never seen Tonya without makeup, not even after sweaty sex, but he’d bet she wouldn’t look so good. La Donna Pazza wasn’t drop-dead gorgeous like Tonya, but he’d lay odds she didn’t get botox injections and collagen implants—and didn’t have breasts you were afraid to squeeze for fear they’d pop. Hers looked like one hundred percent natural 36Ds.

He had a real problem with her car, though. The sunflower yellow VW Beatle couldn’t have been girlier if she’d painted it pink. It had a freaking bud vase built into the dashboard. If he did decide to date her, he’d have to get her a new car. He couldn’t date a woman who drove a car he’d be embarrassed to be seen in.

“Are you going to give me your address, or do you want me to drop you off at a bar or something? Since I need your name and address for the work order, you might as well let me take you home.”


Nick was tempted to snap his fingers in front of her face. Instead, he picked up the clipboard and filled out the form.

“I need your name.”

“Rosalie. Rosalie Ronaldi.”

“Ronaldi? Any relation to Rich Ronaldi?”

“He’s my older brother and the reason I’m missing a spare. You know him?”

Nick smiled. The less she knew about his history with her brother, the better. Even at fifteen, getting drunk and sleeping with Rich’s girl had been unforgivable. Getting them both arrested for grand-theft auto had added insult to injury.

The last he’d heard, Rich had been teaching at some college in New Hampshire or Vermont—one of those states that had more trees than people and way too much snow. He saw no need to alert either the delicious Rosalie or her brother that Nick Romeo was dogging her. She’d figure it out soon enough, and by the time Rich heard, it would be too late to do anything but wipe her tears. Not that Nick intended to leave his women crying, but more often than not, that’s what happened. His relationships never lasted long, so why complicate things by bringing up old news? He’d be history by the time Rich came back to town. Although for some reason, the thought wasn’t gratifying.

He shook it off. He was a Romeo in every sense of the word. It was a legacy and a curse. Nick came from a long line of men who married women, knocked them up, and left, never to be seen again. He’d never put a woman and a kid through what he and his mother had gone through. No, the Romeo line would end with him. It wasn’t as if he did anything underhanded. All his women knew the score. He practiced serial monogamy, refused to marry, and always used condoms. The way he looked at it, he was doing women a favor.

“Rich still teaching?”

Rosalie turned to face him, pulled her leg up, and tucked it under her. “He is. It’s hard to believe, I know. I can’t imagine an ex-juvenile delinquent like Richie in charge of impressionable kids, though I hear he’s great at it.”

“It just goes to show you, we all grow up sooner or later.”

“Do we?”

Rosalie looked as if she doubted it. He remembered Tonya saying he “suffered” from Peter Pan syndrome. But his definition of suffering and hers were two different things. He got to sleep with a beautiful woman until the novelty wore off or she started talking about marriage, whichever came first. He kept his place off limits so he never had to worry about putting the toilet seat down. And, best of all, he didn’t have to be at anyone’s beck and call. If he didn’t want to do something, he didn’t. Yeah, that was his kind of suffering.

Nick pulled into the slow lane and stole a glance at his passenger. “So, Rosalie, are you going to tell me where you live, or do I have to guess?”

“Get off at the next exit, and head toward the park. Left on 4th Street.”

Rosalie tried not to stare, honest she did. She fumbled with her bag, but her eyes always returned to Nick. He must have been having a bad day. His eyes were bloodshot, and he wore a pained expression as if he had the mother of all headaches. The emotions that swept over his face were telling—anger, determination, and a cocky “I’ll show you” look.

The man could grace the covers of magazines and romance novels, but if she needed eye candy, she’d buy herself a beefcake calendar. She knew they made one with guys from the NYFD. Maybe they made one with mechanics. She had no problem imagining Nick with the zipper of his coveralls pulled low, showing his muscled chest, washboard abs, and treasure trail leading down to…well, let’s just say she wouldn’t mind checking out his undercarriage.

“Well, what do you think?”

The sound of Nick’s voice pulled Rosalie’s mind out of the gutter. “Excuse me? I’m sorry, I wasn’t paying attention…um, what did you say?”

“I asked if you wanted to grab lunch or a cup of coffee when you pick up your car.”

“Why?” Okay, now he looked as if he thought she’d escaped from a mental ward, which, today, wasn’t far from the truth. “I mean, um, I guess, okay.”

“Gosh, try to contain your excitement. You got something against dating a mechanic?”

“A date? With you?” she sputtered. Great. She sounded like an idiot. “I’ve got a boyfriend—”

“Look, if you don’t want to go out, just say so. There’s no reason to lie.”

“I’m not lying. I have a boyfriend.”

“Yeah? Then why didn’t you call him when you got stuck on the side of the road?”

“I did. He wasn’t home.”

“Where is he?”

“How the hell do I know? We don’t check in with each other.”

“You two are real close, huh?”

“My relationship with Joey is no concern—”

“So, how long have you and Joey been going out?”

“Two years. Why?”

“I see.”

“You see what?”

“I see that either Joey’s an idiot, or he’s ready to move on. Maybe both.”

“I know I’m going to regret this, but I’ll ask anyway. What do you mean by that?”

“It’s obvious. Joey’s not concerned about some guy coming on to you and stealing you away, which makes him an idiot. ’Cause if you were mine, I’d damn sure know where you were—and you’d know how to reach me twenty-four hours a day. But maybe he’s ready to move on. Then he’s distancing himself, showing that you’re not together, that you’re out of sync and ot involved in each other’s lives, in which case he’s an idiot for letting you go.”

She couldn’t believe she was having this conversation with Nick the mechanic…or anyone for that matter. She crossed her arms and turned toward him.

“Wow, you’re good, aren’t you? You just cut my boyfriend to shreds, made him sound like an uncaring jerk, all the while making me out to be some kind of fantasy woman. Amazing. It’s hard for a girl to listen to that monologue and be angry with you. I bet it works like a charm.”

The weasel had the nerve to smile. Sure it was a good old-fashioned, take-your-breathaway- and-moisten-your-panties smile, but, still, he had some nerve.

“Did it ever occur to you that I might be distancing myself? That I’m ready to move on?”

“I sure hope so, but it still proves my point.”

“What point is that?”

“The guy’s an idiot. Only an idiot would leave you unsatisfied.”

She hoped he had good peripheral vision, because he had his eyes on her, not the road. The look he gave her said he knew what to do to keep a woman satisfied and that he’d be happy to demonstrate. He smirked and returned his eyes to the road.

“I’m right, aren’t I? The guy’s an idiot. Now the question I have is this—why would you, Rosalie Ronaldi, date an idiot for two years?”

“It keeps my family from harping about me getting married, and I always have someone to take to family functions.”

“So, how’s that working out for you? Your family off your case?”

“What are you, a freaking psychic? It worked fine until today. It seems I’ve passed the uncommitted-relationship expiration date. Where in the Italian handbook does it say a girl turns into a puttana after dating a guy for two years?”

Nick shot her a sideways glance. “It’s in the fine print below the section on arranged marriages.”

“Well, no wonder I missed it. I’m not interested in marriage, never have been. Why would anyone take that kind of risk, especially a woman? Why spend her life catering to a man, only to be replaced by a new model as soon as her body starts to droop?”

“Beats me.”

“Make a left on the next block. Third house on the right.”

Nick double parked in front of her brownstone and took her car key off the key chain.

“Which floor is yours?”

“Why do you want to know?”

Nick pointed to his clipboard. “I need your address.”

“First floor.”

He held out Rosalie’s keys and then wouldn’t let them go. “So, where do you want to go to lunch tomorrow?”

Tugging the keys from his hand, she found him smirking again and tried not to smile. Not an easy thing to do, he had one hell of a smirk. She started to grab the door handle, but Nick stilled her hand.

“Don’t.” He jumped out of the cab, walked around to open the passenger side door, and helped her out of the truck. His rough, scarred hand warmed and dwarfed hers.

Rosalie stood with him on the sidewalk in front of her apartment and had to tip her head back to look him dead in the eyes. “I never said I’d go to lunch with you. I’m seeing someone.”

“You told me that you’re distancing yourself from Idiot Joey, the guy who doesn’t satisfy you. So I’ll see you around one tomorrow.”

“I can’t come back to Brooklyn for lunch. I work in the City.”

“Dinner then. I’ll meet you at the garage. You can pick up your car before we eat.”

“Nick, I told you—”

“I know. Look, pick up the car after work, and we’ll grab a bite. No big deal.”

“I don’t even know your name.”

He handed her the clipboard and a pen. “Sure you do.” He pointed to his chest. “Nick.”

Rosalie scribbled her signature and handed the clipboard back. Nick wrote something else before he tore off her copy and gave it to her.

“Call me if you need anything. You can reach me at Romeo’s. Just ask for Nick. Everyone there knows me. The other number is my cell phone.”

She took the paper and stuffed it in her coat pocket. “I won’t need anything.” She started up the steps of her brownstone with Nick on her heels. When she reached the door, she and Nick did another tug-of-war with her keys. He won. He unlocked the door, held it open, and stood on the stoop under the porch light. “Good night, Rosalie Ronaldi.”

“’Night, Nick.”

He leaned forward and for a second there, she thought he was going to kiss her. She held her breath, but he only pushed a lock of hair behind her ear and winked. Then he turned around and took the steps two at a time, whistling. Whistling!