Zoë sighed, dropping her head to the steering wheel of her Honda. Maybe it was true that bad things happened in threes. Her mother had kicked off the trio of misery yesterday, instructing Zoë to get married and pop out a few kids ASAP, before all her eggs withered away. Naturally, she’d put in an SOS call to her best friend. But meeting Dario for coffee had turned out to be an even bigger fiasco than the egg talk. Every time she’d snuck a glance at him over her mocha, her mom’s words had echoed louder. You’re not getting any younger. Isn’t there anyone you can see yourself settling down with?
And, suddenly, there was. The hottie sitting across from her.
She wasn’t about to ruin a lifelong friendship by asking Dario out, so she’d bolted out of Caffeine Fix. That was when she’d discovered disaster number three—her car wouldn’t start.
She twisted the key again. The engine didn’t make a single sound of protest. It was just dead. As dead as her love life.
A glance in her rearview mirror showed Dario approaching. Even from twenty feet away, she felt a pull, like all would be right with the world if she were a little bit closer to him. What was wrong with her today?
“Hey.” He opened the door and leaned in, shooting her a grin powerful enough to wake up parts of her body that had gone dormant from lack of use. “How’s it going?”
She pulled in a breath. I think I’m going crazy and it’s all your fault. “Not bad. Well…aside from the car.”
“You want me to take a look under the hood?”
That must’ve been a rhetorical question, because he was already stripping off his jacket. He leaned over her to toss it in the back seat.
He’s the one, spoke some internal voice—a voice that sounded disturbingly like her mother. You’ve known it since he gave you that Best Friends Forever locket for Valentine’s Day in second grade.
“That’s strange,” Dario muttered, still leaning over Zoë.
He was so close it was impossible not to breathe in his scent—soap, sun, and man. She wanted to bury her face in the hollow between his neck and shoulder. To run a hand through his hair, and then all the way down his body.
Instead, she pushed him out the door, where he belonged. “I thought you wanted to look at the engine, not the back seat.”
His grin widened. “Zoë? Do you have something to tell me?”
“Uh…” Crap. He’d noticed the way she’d been staring at him. Of course he had. She’d practically been drooling. “I didn’t… I wasn’t…”
“I know you like bargain hunting, but I always pictured you flipping through the sales racks at Nordstrom, not the discount bin at Joe’s Hardware and Automotive Supply.”
“Huh?” She’d gone crazy. Lusting after Dario had killed so many brain cells, she could no longer make sense of the words coming out of his mouth.
“Why is there a distributor cap in your back seat?”
She twisted around.
Okay. Maybe she hadn’t gone crazy quite yet, because there actually was a plastic bag, labeled Joe’s Hardware and Automotive, stuck behind the driver’s seat.
Her stomach pitched toward the asphalt. Her mother.
Zinnia McKenzie subscribed to the warrior philosophy of parenting. When she ran into a problem, she attacked relentlessly, from all sides. So it was no surprise that the egg lecture hadn’t been her only foray onto the battlefield. She must’ve settled on Dario as the most likely candidate to rescue Zoë’s withering eggs, and figured that a dose of Dario as mechanic-in-shining-armor was all it would take for Zoë to see her friend in a whole new light.
The joke’s on you, Mom. I didn’t even need him to get under my hood to jumpstart the fantasies.
“Interfering busybody,” she muttered.
Dario raised a brow. “Didn’t your mother teach you not to be rude to the man who’s saving you a three-hour wait for roadside assistance?”
“Funny you should mention my mom, because that’s who I was talking about. I think this is her way of trying to set us up. It’s going to drive her crazy when I tell her I fixed the car myself.”
If Dario had any survival instincts, the thought of Zinnia playing matchmaker would’ve sent him running. But he’d always been the type to wander closer to the flames, and today was no exception. “Since when do you know anything about distributor caps?” he asked.
“I took auto shop in high school, remember?”
“Sure. But I also remember that the only reason you enrolled was because you wanted to hook up with Jason Duarte.” Dario leaned in closer. “Whatever happened to Jason, anyway?”
Jason? With Dario so close, she couldn’t remember what her high-school crush looked like, much less what he’d done after graduation. “I think he joined the Army. Or maybe the Peace Corps.” Her face burned. Could you make it any more obvious how distracted you are. Those two things are nothing alike. “The point is, I know how to replace a distributor cap.”
“Well then. Let’s get this car running.”
Zoë swallowed. If she was going to replace the distributor cap, she needed to get under the hood. But in order to do that, she had to walk past Dario. “I’d love to. But you’re in my way.”
He lingered for a moment, one hand braced against the open car door, his gaze wandering over her.
Her skin tingled. Was he noticing her the same way she was noticing him?
“Sorry.” He stepped out of the way, slanting her the same easy smile he’d been giving her for the past twenty years. The kind of smile a friend gives another friend. She couldn’t believe she’d read anything more into his gaze, even for a second.
Wishful thinking, Zoë.
She grabbed the bag with the distributor cap and strode past Dario, keeping her gaze fixed on her goal. Once she had the hood open, it got easier. For several blissful minutes, she didn’t have to worry about why she was crushing on her best friend. All she had to do was replace a sabotaged distributor cap.
Too soon, the job was done. She took a step back, wiping sweat off her forehead with the back of her arm. Which—of course—had grease all over it. So now she had grease all over her face. Not that it mattered, because she was absolutely not, under any circumstances, trying to look hot for Dario.
“Should I give it a try?” asked the man in question.
She must’ve said yes, because he reached through the open door and turned her key in the ignition. The car started up smoothly.
Thank goodness. She could leave before she did any more damage.
“Thanks for your help.” She pushed past Dario and slid into the driver’s seat. “Good to see you. Catch you later.”
“Wait.” He caught the door before she could swing it shut. “Where are you running off to?”
“I need to have a chat with my mother about boundaries. Once she realizes her plan was a bust, maybe she’ll stay out of my love life.”
“I don’t know about that.”
Zoë sighed. “You’re right. I’ll be fighting her off for the next twenty years. Or until I get married.”
“No.” Dario looked her over like he was seeing her for the first time. His eyes should have been washed out by the sunlight, but the bright rays somehow deepened their indigo color. “What I meant was, I think her plan worked just fine.”
Zoë’s heart stopped beating, then started back up, twice as fast as it had ever gone. Did he mean…
No. It wasn’t possible.
She forced a laugh. “What?”
“You’re my best friend. And I don’t ever want that to change. But I can’t lie. For a long time now, I’ve been thinking about you as more than a friend.”
“You… You didn’t say anything.”
He gave a self-deprecating laugh. “Yeah. I was afraid you weren’t feeling it. But, right now, the way you’re looking at me… Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but it seems like you might want to take our relationship to the next level.”
Emotions spiked through Zoë so quickly she could only identify a few. Excitement. Terror. Hope.
She shook off the terror and held tight to the rest. “I do. I really, really do.”
Dario grinned. “Also, I’ve never seen you fix a car before. That was hot.”
“I have grease on my nose.”
“I know. Because I can’t stop thinking about how much I want to help you wash it off.”
Her heart ka-thumped in her chest. “Not so fast. You’re going to have to take me out to dinner first.”
Dario smiled. “Friday night. No running out of the restaurant this time.”
“Friday night.” Zoë smiled back, knowing her life would never be the same.
Thanks for reading Dating Your Best Friend.
Want more friends-to-lovers goodness? If you liked Zoë and Dario’s story, you’ll love Nikki and Alex in FREE FALLING IN LOVE.
By-the-books FBI agent Alex Voretti knows his co-worker Nikki doesn’t see him as anything other than a friend. But when a simple favor for his brother goes horribly wrong, Alex finds himself on a date with the woman of his dreams…only she thinks he’s his twin…