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Excerpt for Racing Hearts by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Racing Hearts

By Dena Blake

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2018 Dena Blake

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Racing Hearts

For Samantha Kelleher careening around a NASCAR track is treacherous enough, especially after the near-death experience that left her burned, broken, and guilty. When the top team’s drivers start to die from engine sabotage, the cop who is assigned to investigate turns out to be the sexy stranger Sam slept with to get revenge on a cheating ex. At least that’s what she told herself.

 

All cop, Detective Drew Thompson is bullheaded and arrogant—just the right qualifications to infiltrate the racing circuit as a cocky driver with a serious adrenaline addiction. Except, a one-night stand with the prime suspect isn’t exactly protocol for an undercover operation.

 

Drew isn’t going to let another cop, or civilian for that matter, die on her watch. Can they catch the real killer before their chance at a future goes up in flames?

What Reviewers Say About Dena Blake’s Work

Where The Light Glows

 

“I’m still shocked this was Dena Blake’s first novel. …It was fantastic. …It was written extremely well and more than once I wondered if this was a true account of someone close to the author because it was really raw and realistic. It seemed to flow very naturally and I am truly surprised that this is the authors first novel as it reads like a seasoned writer…”—Les Reveur 

 

 

Unchained Memories

 

“This story had me cycling between lovely romantic scenes to white-knuckle gripping, on the edge of the seat (or in my case, the bed) scenarios. This story had me rooting for a sequel and I can certainly place my stamp of approval on this novel as a must read book.”—The Lesbian Review

 

 

“The pace and character development was perfect for such an involved story line, I couldn’t help but turn each page. This book has so many wonderful plot twists that you will be in suspense with every chapter that follows.”—Les Reveur 

 

 

A Country Girl’s Heart

 

“Dena Blake just goes from strength to strength.”—Les Reveur

Racing Hearts

© 2018 By Dena Blake. All Rights Reserved.

 

ISBN 13:978-1-63555-252-2

 

This Electronic Book is published by

Bold Strokes Books, Inc.

P.O. Box 249

Valley Falls, NY 12185

 

First Edition: September 2018

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

 

Credits

Editor: Shelley Thrasher

Production Design: Susan Ramundo

Cover Design By Jeanine Henning

 

By the Author

Where the Light Glows

Unchained Memories

A Country Girl’s Heart

Racing Hearts

Acknowledgments

Thanks to the BSB team. It’s a long journey from beginning to end, but you all make it seamless. Thank you to Len Barot and Sandy Lowe for being so awesome and giving me the opportunity to share my characters with the world. Seeing them in print will always be a thrill. Thanks to my editor extraordinaire, Shelley Thrasher, for teaching me something new with each book and always making me look so good.

Thanks to my friends Kris, Erin, and Lisa. The constant support you provide is a much needed light at the end of the tunnel. I’m forever grateful you’re in my life.

Thanks to Kate for taking this ride with me and loving me through it all. You have my heart. To my kids for being my rocks and supporting me in every way. I will always love you the mostest. To my awesome family for being my biggest fans.

Thanks to Robyn for reading my books from the very beginning.

Last but certainly never least, thank you to all you readers out there. You give me reason to write.

Dedication

For all the NASCAR junkies out there.

The need for speed is strong in this one.

Chapter One

The shrilling screech of metal scraping pavement pierced Sam’s head. “Shit! Not again!” She watched the number-thirteen car slam into the barrier and immediately took off toward the pit truck. Racing across the Sonoma Raceway track, she couldn’t take her eyes off the crash. No way in hell would she lose her brother today.

“Don’t blow!” she shouted, watching twisted metal rip from the mangled machine and fly across the roadway. The first high-speed impact. The car was moving at an incredible speed, and more collisions would come.

The packed stands cleared as the car shot across the track without slowing, smashing into the side barrier. After skidding across the asphalt again after the impact, the car finally stopped. The engine burst into flames—Sam’s worst nightmare. Soon the whole car would be engulfed. Her heart hammered and her vision tunneled as she sprang into action, speeding to the mangled race car. Dead or alive, she wouldn’t leave Tommy to burn.

Heat radiated through the windshield, the intensity of the blaze unreal. Please don’t die, please don’t die.

She jammed her foot down onto the brake and halted the truck. It bucked as she bolted from it.

Her father’s voice screamed through her headset, “Damn it, Samantha, stay back! Let the emergency team get him!”

She searched the track for the fire truck. “Wait? Are you crazy? It’s gonna blow.” She refused to leave this to someone else. Tommy would be dead before they even got close. She ripped the headset from her head, her scalp stinging as a tangled wad of hair went with it.

Her eyes and nostrils burned as she ran toward the inferno, the scorching heat unbearable. She turned her head down track. The fire crew would never make it in time.

Sam had no choice but to act—NOW. She shut her eyes for an instant, steeling herself for what would come. Then, with no more hesitation, she reached through the window, groping for the harness release.

“Fuck!” She hissed a breath through her teeth. The searing hot metal of the buckle blistered her fingertips. Pain shot across her skin, nearly knocking her off her feet. Fumbling through her pockets, she took out a red bandanna, wrapped it around her hand, and reached back into the car. She popped the harness button and yanked the straps from Tommy’s unresponsive body. She hauled him through the window with all her strength, and his weight took them both to the ground.

“Stay with me, Tommy. We’re halfway there.” Sam pulled herself up, dug in with her heels, and dragged him across the asphalt backward. An explosive pop blew her to the ground again. She knew that sound too well. The car would explode any second. Heaving Tommy to one side, she rolled on top of him to shield him from the blast.

Ow! Pain seared through her. She stared at her leg and panicked. Fire! She slapped the spreading flames, a useless tactic. Sam tugged at her racing-suit zipper but realized her mistake. Without the added protection, she’d be toast. She couldn’t expose herself to the flames.

She fell to her knees and the car exploded again, blowing her to the ground headfirst. Sam raked her hand across her splitting head. Blurry eyed, she tried to see her fingers, barely able to focus. Covered in blood, her hand shook. No hope for them now.

Blinking, she saw the stream of suds spewing from the fire hose. Flames swallowed the foam flying silently through the air before it even touched the car.

She made out black boots in the distance. More firemen. Raising her arm, she shouted, “Over here.” But they didn’t turn. She shouted again. Still no response. Was her voice working? Only a deafening, high-pitched tone rang in her ears.

Looking over at her brother, Sam stared at his vacant face. She touched his cheek and shivered. It was cold. She was too late. She blinked again, trying to maintain focus. Forgive me, Tommy. Her vision faded and everything went black.

 

* * *

 

A constant beep forced Sam to pull her weighted eyelids apart. The lingering stench of heated pavement slowly dissipated, replaced by an antiseptic smell. The new odor produced an overwhelming feeling of relief.

White walls, window, TV. Too much noise. She turned her head, following the annoying sound. Heart monitor. She was in the hospital.

“Where’s Tommy?” Her words were muffled.

“Hang on there, little lady.” Ray pulled the oxygen mask from her face.

“Tommy? Is he okay?” Her voice didn’t sound right. It was low, and rough. Probably from the smoke.

“He’s alive,” he said, his upbeat tone contradicting his sober expression.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothin’.” He still wasn’t smiling.

Ray was her best friend—he wouldn’t lie to her. Tommy must be alive, but something was definitely wrong.

“Ray, tell me straight. What’s going on?”

Ray’s eyes skittered anxiously. “His neck is broken.”

“Oh my God.”

“He’s paralyzed.”

“Permanently?”

“Not sure. The doc says they have to wait for the swelling to go down. See how bad the nerves were damaged.”

Crazy thoughts flew through her mind. Did I do this? Would Tommy have been okay if I hadn’t pulled him out? Her blood pressure spiked and the machine alarm whined.

“Settle down, Samantha.” Her father’s thunderous voice shot through her. She hadn’t seen him until now. He must have been sitting in the corner chair.

“Where is he, Paddy?”

“A couple doors down.” Ray turned slightly as Paddy stood. “Your dad’s been up with him most of the night.”

“What happened?”

“The crash probably caused the damage, but they can’t say for certain.” Paddy raked his hand down his red-freckled face. “Why’d you rush in there like that, Samantha? I told you to stay back.” His voice rumbled. He wasn’t holding his anger very well today.

“The car was on fire, Paddy.” She held her tone steady, trying not to provoke him. “It was going to explode.”

He grabbed the bed rail, twisting his hands around it. “You should’ve waited for the rescue crew.”

“The fire trucks were nowhere in sight.”

“I know you did the best you could, Samantha.” His tone softened. “But—”

“But what, Paddy? I got him out of the car.” She raised her voice, and his eyes narrowed.

“If you’d waited, he might not be paralyzed.” The bed shook as he released the rail.

“I wasn’t going to let my brother burn up in that car.” The tortured moments in the fire scorched through her again.

“The boy can’t walk, Samantha.” He turned away muttering. “Force him to live like that for the rest of his life or…”

“Or what, Paddy? Let him die?

He let out a heavy breath. “I’m not sure this was the better choice.”

“Tommy would want to live. Paralyzed or not.” Sam couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Would her father really have let him burn to death?

“One thing’s for sure. He’ll never be able to race again.”

“That’s an awful thing to say.” She bolted up in the bed. Her backside burned, a rush of heat flooded her, and she thought she might throw up.

“Maybe we should come back later.” Ray slipped something long and round into her hand. “The nurse said to push this button when the pain gets too much. It’s morphine.”

She sank back against the bed and immediately pushed it multiple times. “When can I go back to work?”

“Let’s not worry about that,” her father said. “Ray can handle things for now.”

“How’s the car?”

“Totaled. We need a new one.”

“I have to get it ready.” She tried to swing her legs to the side of the bed but couldn’t. They felt like bricks.

“You’re going to stay right here for the next few days,” Paddy said.

“And Tommy?” Her words slurred. The medication was kicking in.

“I’m afraid he’ll have a much longer stay.” She saw the disappointment in Paddy’s face. Had she done the wrong thing? Was it her fault Tommy was paralyzed? At the time she was so sure she was doing what had to be done.

Her mind faded into a haze, her eyelids heavy again.

 

* * *

 

The warmth was gone. She reached for the blanket. No blanket. She forced her eyes open. Large nurse, hovering above.

“Time to get you up and out of bed.” The nurse took Sam’s hands, gently pulling her into a sitting position. “Can you swing those legs off the bed for me?”

Nodding, Sam took in a deep breath and searched the bed for the morphine button to squelch the pain. No button. She followed the tube in her arm to the saline hanging from the pole. No morphine.

The irritating beep was gone, but Sam was still on edge. “What time is it?” She hauled her legs to the side, found them much lighter now.

“It’s almost nine. You slept well last night.”

After wrapping a light cotton robe around Sam’s shoulders, the nurse prompted her to lift her dangling feet before sliding a pair of slippers on them.

“Can I see my brother?”

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea.” The nurse transferred the IV bag from the bed to a portable IV pole.

“Please. I need to see him.” A young woman dressed in purple scrubs and a white lab coat slid the glass door aside and entered the room. Sam wasn’t sure who she was, but this was overkill. “I can get out of bed myself.”

“Go for it.” The woman raised her eyebrows. “I’d like to see what you can do.”

Sam eyeballed the nurse. “Nice attitude.”

“This is Jade Barnes, our resident physical therapist.”

Sam took a double take. The woman didn’t look old enough to be out of high school.

“She wants to see her brother,” the nurse said.

Feeling Jade’s gaze rake across her, Sam shot her a demanding stare.

Jade gave her a subtle smile. “Maybe for just a minute.”

Sam stretched her legs to the floor, and pain shot up her backside. Fighting to catch her breath, she stumbled forward, grabbing the IV pole.

“Take it easy.” The nurse held her steady. “You need to do things a little slower for a while.”

She sucked in a deep breath, letting it shudder out. “Which way?”

“I’ll take you.” Jade tried to grasp her arm, but Sam flinched.

“I don’t need your help.” As she pulled herself upright with the IV pole, her stomach roiled and lodged in her throat. “Just tell me where he is.”

“Out the door and to the right.” Jade offered her arm to steady her.

Sam ignored it, leaning on the IV pole instead.

“I heard you were a tough one.”

Sam glared at her.

“It takes a lot of courage to pull someone out of a burning car.” Jade’s tone softened, the admiration in her voice sounding sincere.

“He’s my brother.”

“You saved his life, you know?”

“I paralyzed him.”

“No, you didn’t.” Jade stepped in front of her. “His neck was broken in the crash.”

“But I made it worse.”

“You couldn’t have done anything to prevent it.”

“Do you know that for sure?”

“Ninety-nine percent certain,” Jade said, moving to her side, continuing down the hallway.

Sam almost believed her. There was still that one percent.

Jade stopped before they reached the door. “You need to know a couple things before you go in.”

“I’m all ears.” Sam propped her shoulder against the wall for support. Walking wasn’t as easy as she’d thought it would be.

“He’s wearing what we call a halo vest. It’s a little daunting at first sight, but it’s not a permanent fixture. It’s only there to keep him immobile.”

“That’s all you can do for him?”

“The only other option was to do surgery right away and fuse the broken bones with metal pins, wires, and bone grafts. He was in pretty bad shape when he came in. The doctor didn’t want to risk surgery.”

It was more serious than Sam thought. Her brother would probably never walk again.

“We’re hoping he’ll regain some upper-body movement by letting some of the nerves grow back together. In order to do that he has to stay perfectly still. Understood?” She raised her eyebrows, waiting for a response.

“Understood.”

Rounding the corner, Sam saw her semi-conscious brother. No burns or scrapes. He appeared to be perfectly normal except for the rigid frame locked around his head, neck, and chest. Sharp spikes twisted through his scalp into his skull. It had to be painful.

“I sure did it this time, didn’t I, Sammy?” Reality dampened her brother’s usual playful tone. “I guess Lucky Thirteen’s good fortune ran out.”

She couldn’t stop the tears. “I’m so sorry, Tommy.”

“I’ll be okay, sis.” He gave her a loving smile. “But from now on, you’re gonna have to do the driving.”

“No driving for at least a month,” Jade spouted, following Sam in with the rolling IV pole.

“Who are you, my mother?” Tommy asked, grinning.

“Worse. I’m your physical therapist.” She gave him a don’t-mess-with-me look before glancing over at Sam. “Are you okay?”

Sam nodded.

Without hesitation, Jade grabbed Sam’s hand and placed it on the bed railing. “I’ll be right back. You two visit for a few minutes.”

“I’ll be counting every second.” Tommy shot her a wink.

“Hold that thought.” Heading to the door, Jade smiled. “After a few days of therapy, you’ll never want to see me again.”

“Look at you. Flat on your back and still flirting.” Sam took his hand and squeezed it. He didn’t squeeze back. He couldn’t feel her. She swallowed hard, fighting back the tears.

“What can I say? The girls love me.”

“Has Erica been in to see you?” Sam didn’t like his soon-to-be other half. She’d swooped in six months ago and dug her claws in deep. Now Sam was afraid Tommy would realize the woman was made of pure greed.

“She stopped by this morning. Didn’t stay long.”

“Not taking it well?” Pain shot through her leg. Sam let Tommy’s hand drop and gripped the bed rail.

“Not taking it at all.”

“I don’t know what to say, Tommy.” That wasn’t true. For starters, she could say I told you so. The woman was a gold-digging bitch.

“You don’t have to say anything. I’m not stupid, Sammy. I knew what kind of woman she was when we met.” He gave her a wicked smile. “We both got what we wanted.”

“Life goes on, I suppose.”

“It sure does. Don’t blink, or you might miss it.” He clamped his lips together into a half-hearted smile. “Besides, I’ve got this pretty little physical therapist to spend my time with now.”

Jade walked back into the room shaking her head. “You might not feel the same about me next week.”

Sam took a good look at her. Even without heels, Sam towered over the woman. Considering Sam’s five-foot-nine frame, that wasn’t unusual. Jade brushed back her dark, shoulder-length hair, and Sam caught a glimpse of a small heart-shaped tattoo on her neck just behind her multi-pierced ear.

“You ready to go back to your room?”

“Yeah. My leg’s hurting a little.” That was a lie. The pain was throbbing up and down her entire backside. She could barely stand.

“Just a little?”

Grabbing hold of the IV pole, Sam clenched her jaw. “That’s what I said.”

When they reached the doorway, Jade stepped in front of her and held eye contact. “I’m your therapist too. You need to be truthful with me.”

“It hurts like hell. Is that what you want to hear?” she whispered, trying not to let Tommy overhear. “Can you get me a wheelchair?”

“Coming right up.” Jade slipped down the hall and came racing back with one. “I’ll order something for the pain as soon as we get you back into bed.”

“Why’d you take me off that machine?” Sam winced, lowering herself into the seat.

“I don’t want you to be in pain, but you need to be coherent. We have a lot of work ahead of us if you want to get out of here sooner rather than later.”

“The sooner the better.”

On their way out the door, Jade glanced over her shoulder at Tommy. “After I take care of your sister, I’ll be back to see you.”

“That sounds promising.”

Sam watched her cock her head as though she was going to give him a stinging retort, but instead she clamped her mouth shut.

“Your brother’s some kind of Romeo, huh?”

“Take it easy on him. I think he lost his fiancée this morning.”

“The blonde?”

Sam nodded.

“I’ll save my banter for later in the week when he’s just starting to hate me.” She rounded the corner into the room. “So what do you think happened with the car? Steering-column failure?”

Sam glared up at her. That was an odd question coming from a therapist.

“I’m a fan. Cars are a hobby of mine.”

She should have guessed. Jade was a track junkie gone straight. “I won’t know until I get out of here and take a look at the car.”

“I bet it was the steering column. It probably locked up.”

“You said that, not me.”

“You won’t even hazard a guess?”

“That would be unprofessional.”

“Come on. That’s what you’re going to check first, right?”

Sam narrowed her eyes. “You should really keep your mouth shut. Rumors get started that way.”

Jade tried to help her into bed. Sam waved her off, slapping her hand accidentally. “Sorry. It’s easier if I do it myself.” After climbing in, she closed her eyes momentarily, trying to stifle the pain. “Can you get me that pain medication now?”

“Sure. Be right back.”

The woman was asking questions more like a racing official than a physical therapist. She was trying to make Sam admit something she didn’t know, but to admit something was mechanically wrong with the car would be professional suicide. She’d be blocked for the rest of her career. She would never admit anything like that to anyone, under any circumstances.

Chapter Two

Three months to the day after the accident, the halo vest Tommy had endured was finally removed, and he was being released from the hospital. It was a bittersweet moment for Sam. He’d regained feeling in his upper body, but the doctors told him his spinal-cord injury was permanent. He would never walk again.

Three months seemed like a lifetime. Three days of this place had been enough for Sam. After her release, she couldn’t wait to get back to work. If nothing else, it kept her mind off Tommy.

Sam checked her watch. They weren’t letting him go for a few more hours, but she wanted to watch his therapy session and talk to Jade before they left. As she approached Tommy’s room, Sam heard laughter. Poking her head inside, she spotted Jade sitting on the foot of the bed, seeming pretty cozy with him.

“Hey, Sammy. You’re early.”

“I thought you might want some company, but it looks like you have plenty.” The words came out harsher than she’d meant them.

“We were just discussing our mutual love for racing.”

“I’m sure you were.” Sam watched Jade slide her hand down Tommy’s leg to his foot, and it gave her an uneasy feeling. It was Jade’s job, and he couldn’t feel it, but the movement seemed very intimate.

“Did you hear the good news?” Tommy asked.

“What news?”

“Jade’s agreed to stay on as my personal therapist.” He and Jade shared a warm smile, and Sam suddenly felt like an outsider.

She pinned Jade with her stare. “What about your work here?”

“Your brother convinced me to take a hiatus.” After giving Tommy’s toes a light squeeze, she pulled the blanket over his legs and slid off the bed. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”

“My schedule’s a little off. I’ve been busy getting the new car ready.”

Tommy’s eyes lit up. “I can’t wait to see it.”

“I can take you by today, if you’re up for it.”

“I’d love it.” He shifted his gaze to Jade. “You wanna come?”

“Sure.” She glanced from Tommy to Sam. “If Sam doesn’t mind.”

“No. Of course not.” A total lie. She’d been doing that a lot lately, and it was getting easier every day.

“How are your burns? Do you need them checked?” Jade pulled up the back of Sam’s shirt before she could stop her.

“Thanks. I’ve got it.” She spun around, pulling the fabric from Jade’s hand. “I’ve gotten pretty good at taking care of them these days.” Sam evaded her gaze.

She hated being mean to this woman, but she couldn’t stop herself. She’d helped Sam with her burns and had done wonders with her brother’s attitude. Something was suspicious about her. She was always asking questions, which made Sam uncomfortable.

“No problem. I’m spending most of my day with your brother anyway. I figured as long as you were coming to see him, I could take an hour out to dress your burns.”

Sam could’ve asked her sister. But she hadn’t seen her since the first day she was in the hospital. Faith’s social calendar was much too busy to expect anything from her. She wouldn’t be comfortable with Paddy, and Brad, her on-and-off again fiancé, would never have been able to stomach it.

“That’s so sweet of you.” Tommy didn’t take his eyes off Jade. “Isn’t it, Sammy?” She knew what that gleam flitting in her brother’s eye meant. Another reason she didn’t like Jade.

“Yeah.” She headed for the door. “Jade, can I talk to you in the hall for a minute?”

“Sure.” Jade patted Tommy on the leg. “I’ll be right back, sweetie.”

Sweetie? She took Jade’s arm, rushing her into the hallway. “I thought I told you to be careful with him.”

Jade shrugged. “What? We’re friends. That’s all.”

“That’s not what he thinks, and you know it.”

Jade peeked through the door at Tommy and smiled. He was still watching her. “Would that be so bad?”

“You’re no different than Erica.”

“Except for one thing.” Jade’s smile faded into a scowl. “I’m still here.”

“What happens when his therapy is done?” Sam’s voice rose. “Are you going to follow him from track to track? Because you know he’s not going to give it up. Whether he can drive or not, racing is his life. His place is with me. I’ll take care of him.”

“Can you?” Jade’s brows rose in the same lofty fashion they had when Sam first met her. “His needs are different now. He requires twenty-four-seven care.”

Sam didn’t respond. She truly didn’t know if she could tend to him.

“I didn’t think so. I can give him that and possibly make him happy too.”

“What’s in it for you?”

“There’s no prize here. I really like him. Does there have to be something more?”

“And when you get tired of his needs? What’s going to happen then?” Sam didn’t give her a chance to answer. “I’ll tell you what’s going to happen. You’ll bolt, and I’ll be left to pick up the pieces.”

Jade took in a deep breath. “I don’t know what’s going to happen between us down the line. But good or bad, don’t you think you owe it to Tommy to let him find out for himself?”

As Jade started toward Tommy’s room, Sam grabbed her arm and swung her back around. She wasn’t done yet. “So help me God, if you break his heart.” She dug her fingers deep into Jade’s arm.

“Believe me. I need him as much as he needs me.” She tugged out of her grasp. “Tell him I’ll be back in a few minutes.” She headed behind the nurses’ station and out of sight.

Sam didn’t know what Jade meant by that, but her clouded eyes gave her away. She did need him for some reason.

 

* * *

 

“You want me to do what?” Drew laughed at Captain Jacobs’s request.

“I want you to back up Barnes at Sonoma Raceway.” He was serious.

“Barnes doesn’t want me for backup.” Since the incident last year, no one wanted to partner with Drew. That was just as well. She didn’t intend to get attached again.

“She’ll just have to deal with it.”

“I’m not a homicide detective. I want back in Narcotics.”

“You think anybody there wants to work with you? You’ve alienated anyone who’s tried to get close.”

“I work better alone.” The captain was right. She’d burned too many bridges.

“I need someone with racing experience.” He took in a deep breath. “You’re all I’ve got right now.” Ignoring Drew’s protest, the captain pulled a file and a flash drive from his drawer. Slapping it onto the desk he said, “No more arguments. As of now you’re a driver for Freemont Oil.”

Deciding that working Homicide was better than working paper behind a desk, Drew stuffed the flash drive into the pocket of her leather bomber jacket before picking up the file and thumbing through it.

“But Barnes is with Kelleher Motorsports.”

“Putting you directly in would look suspicious. You’re a smart girl, Thompson.” He gave her a smirk. “I’m sure you can find a way.”

After dropping the file onto the corner of the desk, Drew jammed her fingers into her jean pockets and paced the office. The captain knew she couldn’t resist a challenge.

“How deep is she?”

“Haven’t heard from her in weeks.”

“She okay?”

“I don’t know.” The captain’s forehead creased when he glanced up. “Like I said, she hasn’t checked in.”

“Is she staying at the motel by the raceway?”

“Supposed to be. The whole race team is there.”

“I’ll check it out and let you know what’s going on in a few days.”

 

* * *

 

Drew must have watched the recording fifty times and couldn’t figure out who would risk their own life to pull an unconscious Tommy Kelleher out of that flaming race car. After she slapped the laptop closed, she rolled the question over and over in her mind.

Accidents in racing weren’t unusual, but too many in a row on the same race team sent up a red neon flag. Flopping back onto the bed, Drew wondered how she’d gotten stuck here, in this low-budget hotel, working this dead-end case. She traced the small cracks across the white, plastered ceiling with her gaze. What a dive.

Why Captain Jacobs had given her the case, she didn’t know. She guessed he’d thrown her a bone to make up for the bullet she’d taken in Narcotics. Something to take her mind off the event that still plagued her. Like that could ever happen. The reoccurring ache radiating in her shoulder would never let her forget.

A year of undercover work and the whole drug case had been blown in an instant. Her testimony had put the right people away, but her best friend and partner had been killed. The doctor said the post-traumatic-stress-disorder episodes she dealt with might fade eventually, but he couldn’t guarantee it. The more she thought about it, the more her head hurt.

She opened her suitcase, took out a bottle of ibuprofen, and popped off the top. After shaking a few out into her hand, she slapped them into her mouth and washed them down with a fresh beer.

“New case, clean slate,” she told herself, dropping the bottle back into the bag and flipping it closed.

She’d already scoped out the common areas and met a few of the drivers earlier. That had been easy. Drew knew her way around the track from the driver’s seat. Getting in close with the mechanics wouldn’t be so simple. Drew loved to race but hadn’t paid much attention to the workings of an engine. This dude would have access to the garage.

Taking another swig of lukewarm beer, she grimaced and set it on the table. She’d have to pick up a cooler and a bag of ice tomorrow. Now it was time to hit the bar down the road. First introduction, Slick, crew chief for Kelleher Motorsports, and the best mechanic on the circuit.

 

* * *

 

Most of the drivers made it a habit to hit the nearest bar after a long day at the track. The one closest to Sonoma Raceway was nicer than most and included a restaurant as well. In addition, it was just down the road from the motel most popular with the drivers and their crews.

Samantha Kelleher, aka Slick, had just pushed back her plate from dinner at the bar and was mid-sentence when the tall, dark-haired woman slipped in between her and Ray.

“Excuse me, sweetheart. Can I steal Slick away from you for a minute?” She motioned to the bartender for two shots of Jack Daniels.

Sweetheart! Boy, this chick has balls. Sam thumped her fingers on the polished wood finish, waiting for the stranger to turn and offer her one of the shots. She would politely refuse, of course. Even if the woman had forgotten her manners, Sam always remembered hers. Her father insisted on it. When the woman slid the shot over to Ray, Sam realized her mistake. Big mistake.

Undeniably tempted, Sam leaned up against the brass-metal-framed oak bar and circled her finger around the rim of her glass. The thought of pouring her drink over the brunette’s head crossed her mind, and Sam seriously considered it. Besides the mistaken identity, she’d hardly given her a look, let alone an appropriate apology for the interruption.

Tossing the impulse aside, Sam raised the glass to her lips and let her gaze trip across the back of the woman’s neck. The distinct white line left just below her dark-caramel hair made Sam shiver. She was a sucker for a clean-cut neckline.

“I hear you’re a pretty good mechanic,” the brunette said before downing her shot.

This chick is a driver. Even with her back to Sam, she heard the arrogance in her voice.

She shifted to see past Ms. Badmanners and gave Ray a wink. He grinned. Her old friend Ray knew when she was peeved. Right now, he was acutely aware of how close this jackass had come to being soaked.

“I think I can probably say that old Slick here is a great mechanic.” Ray stared over the woman’s shoulder at Sam and tipped his beer. “What can I do for you?”

“I need a little help with my engine.” She offered Ray her hand. “Drew Thompson. I drive for Freemont Oil.”

Setting his beer on the bar, Ray ignored her hand and picked up the shot. “Freemont, huh?” He hesitated until Sam nodded, prompting him to respond. “They’ve got a good rep. What’s wrong with your crew chief?”

“Let’s just say he and I don’t see eye to eye.”

“Where’s it at?” Ray scratched his head, waiting again for a sign from Sam.

“The number-three garage.”

Sam gnawed on her bottom lip for a minute before giving Ray another nod. The woman was an arrogant ass, but considering the best drivers often were, she’d captured Sam’s interest.

“I’ll come by and check it out in the morning.”

“Thanks. I’d appreciate it.” She gave Ray a pat on the shoulder and headed to the door.

Sam watched her as she crossed the room. Broad shoulders, nice ass, and a bad-girl swagger. It was probably a good thing the woman had ignored her, or Sam might be the one making the big mistake tonight.

 

* * *

 

Sam threw the door open and crossed the room quickly. After sliding onto the bar stool, she ordered a Crown and water and pressed her fingers to her forehead. She’d already popped enough ibuprofen to burn a hole in her stomach, but the incessant pounding in her head was still going strong. Today had been ridiculously long in the garage, and her argument with Brad this evening had thrown her day into the “sucked” category. Every time she saw him lately, their conversations morphed into raging battles. All the signs were there. He was having another affair.

The man had done everything in his power to get out of the bar early tonight and didn’t ask her to come along. Brad was a master of seduction, but tonight it wouldn’t be Sam in his bed. Maybe that was for the best, seeing as how she’d started the affair with him just to spite her father. Each passing day, they were drifting further apart. It would be more difficult to bridge the gap this time.

Working nonstop on the new car wasn’t helping the situation. Not having Tommy around the last few months had turned out to be harder than she’d thought, and now that he was back, he was more of a distraction than a help.

Sam wanted to hit the circuit hard this year. She still had a lot of work to do before she would be satisfied with the car’s performance. They had only two weeks left before the Dodge/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, a road course touted as one of the most difficult on the circuit. The corners made even the most experienced drivers look like amateurs. Luckily, Sam had the advantage. Sonoma was her home track, so she knew it inside and out. This was one race she wanted to win, and to make that happen, her car had to be in tip-top condition.

Hearing a familiar voice, Sam glanced to the end of the bar, where she caught a peripheral glimpse of Drew Thompson, the arrogant driver who’d interrupted her conversation with Ray earlier. Sam should’ve given her a piece of her mind right then and there, but as her sister always pointed out, Sam had a major personality flaw. She wasn’t good at being the bitch.

Veering her gaze back to the mirrors mounted behind the bar, she watched the woman’s reflection as she spoke. Suddenly her voice deepened and she broke into laughter. Her lips spread into a crooked grin, revealing one front tooth overlapping the other just enough to make her undeniably sexy. Damn! She caught me looking. Sam let her gaze drop to the liquor bottles lining the shelf at the bottom of the mirrors and held it there. Considering the smile along with her square jaw, Sam was sure Drew wasn’t turned away often. Nevertheless, Sam continued to stare straight ahead, reciting each brand of liquor in her head as she studied the labels. Just how long would it take Drew to get the message? Not interested!

 

* * *

 

As soon as Drew Thompson saw the woman parade into the room, her mind went to work branding her as high-maintenance. With fiery-red curls and a seductive stride, this woman oozed sensuality and confidence. She really didn’t have the time or energy for any of that right now. But then again, she never could resist a challenge.

It took only a few minutes to catch the redhead watching her, so maybe it was worth a try. Sliding onto the bar stool next to her, Drew donned her sexiest smile and waited for the woman to turn her way. Judging by her reaction, or more specifically lack thereof, it seemed as though she was going to ignore her. If the woman thought she could get away with that, she had another think coming.

Reaching for the bowl of nuts, Drew purposely clipped the top of her glass and splattered her drink across the bar in front of them.

“Hey!” The redhead’s arms flew up.

Drew grabbed a bar towel and sopped up the liquid. “Sorry about that. How ’bout I buy you a drink to make up for the mess?”

“Already have one, thanks.” The woman raised her glass and then set it back down onto the bar in front of her.

Drew noticed the ring when she saw the woman’s gaze fix on her finger. Even in the dim lighting, the diamond sparkled with her every move. In one swift motion, she flipped the jewel around to the inside of her finger, then picked up her drink and took a large gulp.

Noting the attitude and the ring, Drew stayed put, thinking she might get something out of this after all. She’d enjoyed benefiting from an angry, unhappy lady once or twice before.

“Waiting for someone?” she asked.

“No,” the woman said, still not giving Drew her complete attention.

“It isn’t often I see a pretty lady sitting alone at the bar,” she said, observing how beautiful she was even with the sour disposition.

The redhead turned and narrowed her eyes. “Probably because there’s always some Casanova around who can’t stand to leave a woman alone.”

“Ouch.” She gave her a wounded pout and slid back off the stool.

“Wait.” She touched her arm lightly. “I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry.”

Drew stopped, letting the warmth of her hand linger on her skin. She actually sounded sincere. Maybe she wasn’t your average high-maintenance woman.

The woman blew out a breath. “I’ve had a really rough day, and I’m taking it out on you.”

Drew dipped her chin in acknowledgment. “Apology accepted.”

“Please, don’t leave on my account.” She gave her a soft smile. “I’ll try to be more pleasant.”

“Want to talk about it?”

“No. Not really.” She turned, and Drew followed her gaze across the room to the dance floor, where the crowd had thinned measurably in the last few hours.

“Would you like to dance?”

Her eyes flashed back to Drew’s, and the pensive emerald-green pools penetrated her instantly. She could see this was a woman who would surely leave a girl knowing she’d been kissed. Drew took her hand and led her across the room. Sensing no boundaries, Drew held her firmly against her and floated her around the dance floor. Feeling her hands cling to her shoulders, Drew wasn’t surprised when they traveled to the back of her neck and her mouth slowly made its way to hers, softly touching, baiting, searching for some sort of comfort, she imagined. The kiss deepened, and Drew let her hand slide down the woman’s sides, skimming her breasts with her thumbs, making it clear the interest was mutual.

Drew pulled back slightly, expecting a well-earned slap across the face. Instead she caught the come-and-get-me glimmer in the woman’s eyes.

“Do you have a room?” she whispered.

“I’ll meet you at the door.” Drew turned to the bar and tossed a twenty across it. “Mine and the lady’s.”

Drew was in paradise as she indulged in the sweet taste and the simmering scent of the woman beneath her. Her flat belly yielded under her hot, pressing mouth, and the subtle resonance of moans spurred her on full force until the moans increasingly resembled cries of pain rather than pleasure. Drew pushed up onto her elbows and hovered, watching tears roll from the eyes of the half-naked woman on the bed. She couldn’t even look at Drew. Just my luck. She let out a heavy breath and rolled to her side. Drew might be a little lacking in the morals department, but she certainly couldn’t continue now. Helping an irresistibly hot body get back at her partner was one thing, but taking advantage of a distraught, weeping woman wasn’t her style.

“Why can’t this be as easy for me as it is for him?” Her sultry voice dropped to a faint whisper.

Drew took her hand and fingered the diamond ring. “Apparently you’re a woman with a conscience.”

“I shouldn’t be here.” She popped up, found her shirt, and jammed her arms into the sleeves.

“Maybe not, but you can’t leave like this.”

“I’m so sorry.” Dropping back onto the bed, she clenched her arms across her chest and sobbed quietly.

“It’s okay.” Drew took the blanket from the bottom of the bed and covered them both. The little lady didn’t know what she was missing. Drew considered herself, among other things, the best lover on the California Highway Patrol. Of course most of the others were assholes, and that was kind of a given when it came to satisfying a woman.

Encircling her waist with her arm, Drew pulled her close, then closed her eyes and focused on the case she was working instead of the soft, beautiful redhead lying in her arms.

Chapter Three

Awakened by the small stream of sunlight bleeding through the curtains, Sam rolled over and found herself staring at the handsome stranger’s face. Rugged and tanned, it had a definite masculine aura. She had an average nose, but it pulled to the left as though it had been broken once or twice. Expressionless now, the woman seemed perfectly content as she slept. From Sam’s first impression at the bar, she would’ve never guessed her to be so forgiving.

Drew’s hands had been working the buttons quickly, and Sam had let her blouse fall to the floor. In the heated frenzy, she’d quickly forgotten about the man whom she’d given up so much of herself to support. After tumbling together onto the bed, the handsome stranger had only hesitated long enough to pull the shirt over her head before letting her mouth trail back up Sam’s neck to her lips. Her fingers had pushed the black silken straps from her shoulders, and her breath had caught at the thought of this strong, sexy woman wanting her.

Drew had slowly, methodically removed Sam’s bra, and when she brushed her thumb across Sam’s nipple, the sudden sensation had made her shiver. With no time to recover, the intensity had reversed, and heat had seared through her. Drew’s mouth had trickled like a sweltering summer rain across her breast. She’d shuddered and leveraged herself to meet Drew’s lips. Then she’d closed her eyes, and Brad’s face flew through her mind. At that point, she’d cursed herself and gone limp onto the bed.

She hadn’t known what else to say last night. The poor woman had to have whiplash. Sam had put the pedal to the metal, topping out her speedometer, and then without any warning, she’d slammed on the brakes. Closing her eyes and taking in a deep breath, she felt an odd, comforting scent fill her head. She ran her fingertips across Drew’s chin as she remembered the feel of its smooth texture trailing across her skin. Then her lips, umm…soft, sensual lips streaming down her body.

Drew shifted slightly, and Sam snapped her eyes open. In the slight glow of sunlight, Sam watched her, waiting for some sign of consciousness. When she saw none, she swept the room with her gaze—clothes hanging out the side of a suitcase, an empty pizza box in the trash, and half a six-pack of beer on the table. Nothing personal here. She was no different from Brad. When the event was over, this woman would be gone with the race.

Sam felt empty and alone. She hadn’t meant to drift off to sleep last night. Since her brother’s accident, she hadn’t been able to sleep for more than a few hours at a time. But she’d been here all night, feeling safe and somehow comforted by a woman she barely knew, a perfect stranger who had more compassion for her than her own family did. She had to get out of there. Now. Sliding out of the bed, she grabbed her shoes and slipped out the door.

Sam peeked around the corner and sprinted up the stairway. Luckily her benevolent stranger’s room was on the opposite side of the hotel from her own. She’d already made a fool of herself once this morning and didn’t want any messy confrontations with Brad. She thought she’d had it made, but halfway up the steps, she was startled from behind.

“Late night, huh?” Jade stood at the foot of the stairs, towel in hand, wearing a bikini and flip-flops.

“Actually, I was just going out for coffee.” Dropping one shoe, Sam turned around abruptly. “Lost my shoe on the step.” She picked it up and gave Jade an innocent smile. Slipping them both on, Sam hoped Jade hadn’t picked up on her feeble attempt at deception. From the smile Jade gave her, she probably had.

Jade remained at the bottom of the stairs assessing Sam’s appearance. Sam followed her gaze and hoped she hadn’t taken note of what she’d worn last night.

Tight black pants, red silk blouse, uh-oh, she’s staring. Sam’s eyes darted to her blouse. Something was funny about the buttons.

Jade laughed loudly and Sam stiffened. “What?”

“Your shirt’s on inside out.”

Sam glanced down quickly, mortified to see she was right. Closing her eyes, she brushed the unruly curls from her face and sank onto the steps. She was in such a hurry to get out of there this morning, she hadn’t bothered to check. Damn! She’d tried so hard to be careful, and now she’d been caught.

Jade took a few steps up, dropped her towel next to Sam, and sat down. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone.”

Sam let her head sink into her hands. “That would be a surprise.”

“Why do you say that?”

“After the way I’ve treated you?” Sam said, raising her voice slightly.

“True. You haven’t been very nice.”

Sam tightened her lips and shook her head. Haven’t been very nice. That’s a fucking understatement. Since the day Jade had signed on as Tommy’s physical therapist, Sam had made her life more difficult than finding a chameleon in a bag of Skittles.

“How are your burns?”

“They’re fine.”

“No problems with cracking skin?”

“I’ve been using the ointment you gave me.” Sam felt really bad now. Jade had cleaned and debrided her burns daily for three weeks after the accident, and Sam still couldn’t bring herself to like her. She supposed it was an unconscious effort to spare her brother another heartbreak.

After the accident, Tommy had been at his lowest. He not only had to deal with being paralyzed, but his fiancée had dumped him. Then, here came this black-haired, tattoo-ridden therapist swooping in to take advantage of him. Sam just knew the woman had piercings in places that would make her squirm. When Sam saw Jade getting close to her brother, she threw up all the roadblocks, but he fell for her anyway.

Jade caught Sam’s evading eyes. “Tell you what. You promise to be a little nicer, and my lips are sealed.”

Sam drew her brows together. “That’s it?”

Jade shrugged. “That’s it.”

Sam heard a door shut upstairs and spotted Brad. Dressed in his usual jogging shorts and T-shirt, he was heading out for his morning run. She pressed herself flat against the steps and cursed.

Jade motioned down the steps. “Go. I’ll take care of him.”

Sam rushed down and ducked just out of sight under the stairs.

“You’re up early,” Brad said, starting down the steps.

“I’m going for a swim.” Jade walked toward the pool, swinging her hips lazily. “You want to join me?” Flipping the towel over her shoulder, she glanced back. Sam knew the miserable cad’s eyes were sufficiently glued to Jade’s ass. In about five seconds, he would be in the pool with her, and Sam would have the green light to head up the stairs to her room.

 

* * *

 

Drew yanked open the side door to the garage, and a burst of cool air coated her face. Letting her eyes adjust to the lowered lighting, she appreciated the brief chilly sensation as the air mingled with the moisture on the back of her neck. She’d definitely needed a break from the scorching Northern California heat. She’d hoped to lower her body temperature a degree or two but saw no relief in sight from the unusual heat wave cursing the rolling hills of Sonoma County this summer.

After slipping inside, she swiped her sleeve across her forehead and scanned the huge, round-topped, hollow building. The earsplitting noise of a screaming guitar reverberated through the air, but no one appeared to be in the number-seven garage.

The metal door clanged against the frame as it swung closed, and the dank, musty odor made her mind scatter. She stopped, trying to make sense of it, but as usual the memory of her injury vanished as quickly as it came. Shrugging it off, she rounded the cherry-red, number-fifteen car, almost tripping over the steel-toed work boots sticking out from beneath it.

“Hey, Slick. I thought you were gonna come by and check out my car this morning?” She watched as a gloved hand reached out for the socket wrench lying on the concrete and pulled it back under the car.

Drew scanned the garage for the radio but couldn’t locate it. She’d have to wait until the music broke to get his attention. She knelt down and picked up the open-end tool left close to where the socket wrench had been. Soon after, the hand reached out again and skimmed the floor, searching for it.

The music stopped, and the DJ’s voice rang out. “You’re listening to ninety-six point nine, San Francisco’s number-one classic rock station.”

Drew took the opportunity to break in. “You and I need to talk.” She tapped the steel shaft of the wrench on the concrete.

The hand turned palm up, as if waiting patiently for it. She dropped it into the glove. Without flinching, the fingers twined around it before disappearing back under the engine compartment. After a few minutes of ratchet clinks, the person under the car slid out.

Drew shook her head and smiled as she stared at the grease-laden woman sprawled out on the roller board in front of her. With her red curls now neatly confined by a yellow bandanna, she was quite a vision. As she rolled off the board, Drew caught the gotcha smile she threw her and followed her to the refrigerator. She was definitely going to have her hands full with this one.

After lowering the volume on the radio, the fiery redhead took out a bottle of water, unscrewed the top, and flipped it into the recycle bin.

“And so we meet again,” Sam said, locking her gaze.

“I didn’t know you were a mechanic.”

“Technician.” She took a swig from the bottle before hiking herself up onto the workbench. Drew didn’t like Sam in this position. It gave her the advantage of appearing just a little bit taller.

“What can I do for you, Ms…Thompson, is it?” Sam grabbed the edge of the bench and leaned forward, giving Drew a straight shot down her flannel shirt. “I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced.”

“You’d be correct.” Drew took in the view before letting her gaze skitter up across her pouty lips and tiny nose to find the emerald-green eyes she’d already become intimately acquainted with the night before. “I’m thinkin’ by now, maybe I should at least know your name.”

“I’m Sam.” She didn’t offer Drew her hand. “For someone I don’t know, I’m sure havin’ trouble shakin’ you.” Bringing the bottle of water to her lips, she closed her eyes and took a long, slow gulp.

Drew put her hands on Sam’s thighs and let her thumbs drag across the inside of her knees. She watched Sam’s eyes dilate, and Drew tingled unexpectedly. Damn, she’s hot. What exactly had she come here for? Drew shook her head. Time to back up now. “I’m looking for Slick.”

She raised her hand in the air. “Also me.” She reached for a clean shop towel, dribbled water across it, and blotted her face and neck. “Most people call me Sam.”

“Wait a minute.” Drew scratched her head. “The guy last night at the bar, who was that?”

“That was Ray.”

“But he—”

“No, he didn’t.” Sam shook her head. “You made an assumption.”

“My mistake.” Drew let out a soft chuckle before resting her hands on Sam’s knees and moving closer. “I didn’t realize a mechanic…” Seeing the glare in Sam’s eyes, she said, “I’m sorry, technician, could be so…engaging.”

Sam quickly moved past her. “Your engine’s gone.”

“What do you mean gone?”

“I mean irreparable. Dead. Demolished.”

“But it was just makin’ a little noise.”

“A little noise.” Sam choked out a laugh. “I checked it this morning. It sounds like an old locomotive.”

Drew raised her eyebrows. “But you can fix it, right?”

Sam frowned. “You threw a rod. Then you drove it around the track. The inside of your engine is spaghetti now.”

“Damn!” Drew raked her hand across the back of her neck. The car was already dead before Drew got there, but she needed Sam to think she’d done it.

“The car talks to you. Listen more carefully next time.” Sam picked up the wrench and pulled the socket off. “That is, if you can find someone to give you a next time.”

“What the hell am I supposed to do now?”

“I suggest you find yourself a sponsor who can afford your sloppy driving habits.” The drawer whirred as she slid it out, dropped the tools into their slots, and slid it closed again.

The side door swung open, and Brad strutted across the garage.

“Hey, babe.” He slipped his arm around Sam, tugged her close, and kissed her hard on the mouth. “I waited up for you last night. Where’d you go?” His voice was low and demanding.

Sam glanced at Drew momentarily. “I stayed with my sister.” She arched her back.

Drew watched as his grip seemed to tighten, suffocating her as though she were trapped in a hydraulic vise. He stared at her for a minute and then released her. “How is little sis?”

Her gaze darted back to Drew before she returned to the tools. “Ask her yourself. She should be here this afternoon.”

“She’s coming out today?”

“Yep. Said she wanted to check out the cars,” Sam said, and Drew wondered if that was a lie as well.

“Good. I haven’t seen her in a while.” Brad turned to Drew as though he’d just noticed her. “Have we met before?”

“Drew Thompson. I drive for Freemont Oil.”

Brad pressed a finger to his mouth. “Are you driving this race?”

“No.” Sam smirked. “She killed her engine.”


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