Why Not Tonight
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He drove onto the lot and parked. Before he could issue any last-minute instructions, Natalie was out of the truck and heading toward a red BMW convertible gleaming in the sun. Ronan caught up and held in a groan. Yes, the car was a head turner, but it was also more than double her budget.
“It’s so beautiful,” she said, holding her arms open as if she wanted to give the car a hug. “See the color? I’d look good in that.”
“Yes, you would, but where would you put your various art projects? Some of them are big. The roof drops into the trunk, meaning you won’t have any room when the top is down.”
“Oh, you’re right. That’s okay. Plus I could never afford this one.”
She spun in a circle and eyed the different cars. “What about that one?”
Ronan followed her gaze and saw a beat-up import. The paint job was decent but the car looked battered. There was something off on the hood, as if someone had done bodywork in a hurry.
“It’s red,” she said as she approached, her tone doubtful. “Is it just me, or does it look like it’s been in an accident?”
Ronan studied the large As Is tag on the front windshield. “Not this one.”
Natalie hesitated before nodding. “I think you’re right.”
They walked around on the lot. A salesman named Greg joined them. Greg seemed pleasant enough and wasn’t pushy, nor did he balk when Ronan said he’d already made arrangements to have the car Natalie picked checked by a mechanic in town.
They found a great Corolla that met all of Ronan’s requirements, except it was silver. Natalie agreed that it was in mint condition and had low miles. There were no accidents in its past and the interior was in excellent shape.
He watched her circle the car and saw disappointment in the set of her shoulders, then glanced at the red BMW convertible.
“Do you have any other red cars?” he asked, unable to believe he’d spoken those ridiculous words.
“Sure.” Greg led them to a red Honda Fit. It was only a few years old with low miles and in perfect condition. It was also about four thousand above Natalie’s budget.
“It’s amazing,” she breathed until she saw the price tag. “Oh, no. That is so not going to happen. I can’t risk a payment.”
Ronan glanced at Greg. “Give us a minute, please.”
Ronan waited until Greg stepped a discreet distance away before touching Natalie’s arm. “Let me pay the difference. It’s the least I can do,” he added before she could speak. “I’m the reason you lost your car in the first place.”
“If I hadn’t lost my car, I couldn’t afford a new one now, so it’s totally fine. You’re not paying for part of my car.”
He didn’t know what to say or do. If only he’d thought to contact the lot ahead of time and arrange to pay down a good-condition red car. If only he could convince her that the extra money didn’t mean anything to him.
“I owe you for the deductible on your insurance. You’re going to let me pay that, aren’t you?” Not that it would make up the difference.
“I want to, Natalie. Please. I would feel a lot less guilty if I could at least do that.”
She nodded. “Thank you. That’s really generous. But nothing else.” She looked at the Fit, then sighed. “I just can’t swing it. If only the Corolla was a different color. I like how it looks and I know the car gets really good reviews.”
A light bulb went on in Ronan’s brain. “I’ll get it painted,” he told her. “It’s only a few hundred dollars. Come on, Natalie. It’s the perfect solution. You get a car I don’t have to worry about and it’s red.” He leaned close and lowered his voice to a seductive pitch. “Candy-apple red.”
Her eyes widened. “I could get the car painted?”
“No, I could. I’m pushing the sensible car. Come on. I’m an artist. Let me get it painted.”
He hoped she wouldn’t think to point out she was just as much an artist.
“You’re sure it’s not much?” She sounded doubtful.
“You’ve seen those commercials on TV, right? Painting a car is cheap.”
He was lying through his teeth and he knew it. A decent paint job would be a few thousand, but he was willing to accept being a weasel about this if it meant she had a safe car that she loved.
“I want to double-check with Greg.” She looked at him. “I don’t trust you not to try to give me something expensive.”
“How would that be bad?”
She considered the question. “I’m not sure, but it would be.” She waved Greg over. “If I took the Corolla, could I get it painted?”
“Of course. We have a paint shop right here in the service department. They do an excellent job and you’d get a discount.”
“I’m going to pay for it,” Ronan said easily, careful to stand behind Natalie so she couldn’t see him. “It’s only a few hundred dollars, right? Before the discount?”
Greg looked momentarily startled, then caught Ronan’s slow nod and smiled. “Right. With the discount, it’s practically free.”
Natalie clapped her hands together. “Then it’s the Corolla. Let’s take her to the mechanic, and if she passes, then I’ll buy her. I hope she’s in good shape because I can already picture her bright, shiny red.”
“There’s some paperwork to fill out before she can go to the mechanic,” Greg said. “Let’s go into my office.”
Natalie waved them toward the building. “You two go ahead. I need a minute more with the car.”
“Take your time,” Ronan told her. “You need to be sure she’s the one.”
He walked with Greg. When they were out of earshot, Greg said, “The paint job is a few thousand.”
“I know. She’s going to want candy-apple red. That’s going to be more.”
The other man stared at him. “You must really like her.”
“Something like that.” He passed over his credit card. “Just make sure she doesn’t find out I did this.”
“You got it.”
Ronan watched Natalie to make sure she wasn’t done bonding with her new-to-her car. When Greg handed him the receipt, he signed it without glancing at the final amount.
“If the car doesn’t pass with the mechanic, I’ll refund the money,” Greg told him.
Natalie started toward the offices. Ronan tucked the receipt in his back pocket and hoped his good deed wouldn’t come back to bite him. If it did, he would have to deal.
“I DON’T KNOW what I was thinking,” Atsuko murmured as she studied the brass statue. “Had there been wine at the meeting?”
Natalie carefully pressed her lips together, determined not to comment. Every quarter, Atsuko went over the gallery’s inventory to determine what was and wasn’t selling. The accounting software provided a list of everything waiting to be sold, but Atsuko preferred to look at the various pieces herself. She always said that while numbers were interesting, art came from the soul.