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Authors: Audra North

In the Fast Lane

BOOK: In the Fast Lane
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Table of Contents

About the Author

Copyright Page

 

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For Kerri-Leigh Grady and Tahra Seplowin, without whom this book would not exist.

And for A.B., always.

Chapter One

“Holy rotors!” Kerri slammed on the brakes and swerved, groaning with the effort it took to move a couple of tons of metal barreling down the racetrack at nearly two hundred miles an hour. The car shifted to the right, toward the wall. Shit. Not good. She threw all her weight against the wheel, trying to change course while Grady’s voice started screaming in her ear, “Ease up on the brake or you’re gonna spin out! Fucking sh—”

She eased up, but it was too late. She couldn’t straighten out. The car started whirling, crossing over the lanes in horrible, grinding circles. Her arms burned, every molecule in her body now fighting to at least keep the wheels on the ground. How fast was the car moving now? One-twenty? One-thirty?

The car did another full spin, barreling down the straightaway like a Tilt-A-Whirl gone off the rails. She fought the urge to throw up.

There’s a man on the track.
A man. On the fucking track.

That’s what she’d swerved to avoid in the first place. She’d seen him step out onto the asphalt just as she’d come out of the curve, and she’d gotten spooked, bad. But now her car was out of control, and she prayed that he’d at least have the sense to get somewhere safe lest she end up hitting him anyway.

Wouldn’t that just be a bitch.

Damn it, her arms were killing her now. Her fingers were numb. And still she fought the wheel. Sweat beaded her brow, and she could hear her heavy breathing echoed back at her through the receiver in her ear.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw that the red flag had gone up.
Shit.

She pushed harder.

The wheel started to turn.

“Kerri, what the hell is going on? Kerri, are you there?” Grady’s voice was loud and breathy.

Scared.

Which only made her scared, too. And angry as all get-out. Having her excitable brother as crew chief might not have been the best choice at a time like this, but she’d hardly expected a man to jump in front of her car during practice.

“I’m here, Grady. Now shut up. I’ve almost got it.”

“Oh, shit, Kerri. Shit fuck damn. You’re so close to the wall. Don’t hit the wall. Mom would kill me. I’d kill myself. I can’t—”

The line crackled loudly in her ear, then Kerri heard a grunt … a faint pop … and then …

“Hey, sugar,” a strange voiced drawled into the earpiece. A strange, deep voice made out of honey and sex. “You’re doin’ just fine. Don’t listen to old Grady here. You’ve got everything under control.”

That honey and sex voice stroked over her. Soothed her angry fear. She pumped the brakes a bit, finally wresting control over the wheel. The car stopped spinning, moving backward down the lane, but at least it was slowing.

“That’s it. Atta girl. Take it nice and slow.”

Oh, for God’s sake.
Whoever had taken over the headphones had somehow turned their channel into a phone sex line. This guy would be as useless a crew chief as Grady.

Though maybe she should hire him to—

Focus, Hart! Focus!
Kerri took a split second to assess the situation. She guessed that the car was now moving at a mere sixty miles an hour. Time to bring this show to a close.

“We’ve cleared the track, sugar. You’re not gonna hit anything or anybody. Just push the brake all the way down, now. Push it in—”

“Oh, shut the fuck up already!” She slammed on the brakes, skidding for a hundred feet or so, the jarring slide making her entire body vibrate down to her bones. It would be a miracle if she wasn’t sore all over tomorrow morning.

Finally, the car came to a stop in a cloud of rubber smoke, and Kerri breathed a heavy sigh of relief. She flipped up the visor on her helmet and turned her head, shocked to realize how close to the wall she’d ended up—mere
inches
away from the Colt International sponsor sign.

Jesus.
She’d used some pretty choice words when she’d turned down the ridiculous offer they’d made last year to sponsor her—if she’d agreed to “sex up” her image. If she’d smashed into the concrete barrier and took their banner out—well, to call it ironic would have been much too generous. Satisfying, maybe, but also humiliating. The end of everything she’d worked for, definitely.

Racing was an expensive sport. Not having a big sponsor like Colt added a whole extra level of pain when talking about replacing an entire car the day before a minor-league race. But she hadn’t crashed. She’d managed to control her car
and
not kill anyone.

Kerri let out a long breath. She’d find another sponsor after she won tomorrow’s race—one that didn’t ask her to wear a push-up bra and lipstick just because she was the only woman driver in the pack.

“Nice job, sugar.” The voice was back. “Don’t go anywhere just yet, though. They’re sending out the emergency crew.”

“The emergency crew? But I’m fine. And you said they’d cleared the track. I want to get out of the car.”

The stranger laughed. Kerri couldn’t help the shiver that went through her at the sound, so low and intimate in the tiny space of her helmet.

“Oh, they’re not coming for you, sweet pea. Not yet, anyway. Look down the track.”

She snapped her head back around and stared down the asphalt. The figure of a man—the one who had caused all of this in the first place—was sprinting across the lanes, unrolling a huge sheet of paper as he ran. The first word had already been revealed.

WILL

Dread coiled deep inside her belly as she watched more letters appear.

YOU

She squinted at the running man. Something about that loping gait looked familiar. Oh, God. That couldn’t be Earl. Could. Not. Be.

MARY

The dread rose up, strangling the sound of protest even before it could leave her throat.

ME … KERRI?

No. No no no. No, this could not be happening. As a woman, she’d already had to fight twice as hard just to gain a tiny foothold in this sport. She just knew how this was going to be played in the media, especially after the way they’d made it out to be
her
fault when she and Earl had broken up two months ago. The news outlets were going to pin this on her, too. It wouldn’t matter that they hadn’t been a couple in two months. Hell, for longer than that. She was going to take the blame.

She always took the blame.

Before Earl, she’d gone on dates with about a dozen different guys. Just first dates, trying to get to know whether the guy she was with was someone who could deal with the heavy travel and intense personalities that were part and parcel of racing life. But invariably when it came to her, the tabloids would hype up even the most innocent interactions between Kerri and any man who came within a fifty-foot radius.

Add in a cozy dinner for two, and all of a sudden the media wanted to know whether she was serious or just stringing the poor guy along. It didn’t matter who the guy was or how many dates they’d actually been on or whether
he
was only after
her
for one thing. They always blamed her when it ended, calling out her aggressive racing strategy and somehow making it look like she was tearing through men both on and off the track.

Of course, it didn’t help that she was unrepentant about how quickly she decided whether or not someone was right for her. In a business like racing, no one had time for games, and she didn’t suffer fools lightly.

Sponsors already didn’t like that kind of brash, aggressive demeanor in a female driver. Especially fifteen stories involving fifteen different men … in a single year. It had made her look flighty and noncommittal on top of everything else. Not multimillion dollar material.

She’d stuck with Earl a lot longer than she should have precisely because she was trying to shake that reputation. But now she was going to have to turn down his proposal and end up taking the flak for it, no doubt.

There was no way a sponsor would back Hart Racing now.

“Well, at least he spelled your
name
right.” The voice sounded like it was laughing.

Confined in her car, adrenaline still pumping from navigating through a spinout caused by her harebrained ex-boyfriend, Kerri couldn’t keep herself from lashing out. “I don’t know who the hell you are, but this is
my
channel.
My
car.
My
team. Now sign off and get out of my head!”

The line went silent.

Good.
She sagged in her seat, suddenly exhausted.

The relief lasted only a couple of seconds, though.

“You know…” Her ears prickled as he hummed the words in her ear. “My mom used to tell me that I should never argue with a lady, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to make an exception. Just this once.”

You have got to be kidding me.
Further down the track, a group of police officers was chasing Earl, who had dropped the banner and was waving his arms around like a wild man as he ran across the field.

“I’m sorry you have to find out this way,” he said, and for a moment she believed him. He
did
sound sorry. “But this isn’t your channel, sugar. At least not anymore.”

“Excuse me?” The man might have a great voice, but he was as nuts as Earl.

“It’s not your car, either.” A long pause. Kerri wanted to rip the helmet off her head, but her hands wouldn’t cooperate. She could only stare, transfixed, as Earl was hauled away by the policemen as the devil continued whispering in her ear.

“You can ask your brother about it later. In the meantime, let me be the first to welcome you … to Team Colt.”

*   *   *

Ranger ripped the headset off and threw it at Grady. “Get that back on and tell your sister to stay put!” He didn’t bother to wait for an answer, just strode to the ladder that hung down the side of the box, praying that Kerri would have enough sense to do what she was told this time. Not that he actually expected that particular prayer to be answered. Kerri Hart was famous in the racing world for two things: her sheer raw skill behind the wheel … and a temper that burned faster and hotter than a Top Fuel engine.

BOOK: In the Fast Lane
5.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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