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Authors: Abby Gaines

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BOOK: The Comeback
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“Sorry, but there’s no magic,” she said blithely. “You’re on your own out there.”

Nothing new about that, Zack thought as he circled the track a few minutes later. For some reason, the thought didn’t bug him, as it usually did.

Up ahead, the lights turned green—Zack was too far back to see the flag—and he floored the accelerator.


finish line in fourth place after as good and clean a race as a driver could hope for, Gaby whooped as loud as anyone. There had been magic out there, all right, and it had been all Zack’s doing. Getaway would be thrilled.
was thrilled.

Zack climbed out of his car to the applause of his team. He pulled off his helmet and ran his hands through his hair, swaying slightly as he adjusted to being out of the cockpit.

“Great driving,” Dave Harmon said.

Chad stepped forward. Gaby wondered if anyone else saw the way Zack stilled as he looked at his big brother.

“Chad,” he said, and something in that clipped, masculine syllable tugged at Gaby’s heart. She found herself willing Chad to say the right thing, her mind putting words in his mouth.

“Nice going,” Chad said.

It didn’t seem nearly enough to Gaby, but Zack’s shoulders eased, and he and his brother gripped hands in a firm handshake.

“Our setup was slightly off, the car was pushing in the turns—we guessed the track temperatures wrong,” Zack said. “If we can get a handle on that, we’ll do even better next week.”

Briefly, Chad’s other hand clasped their joined hands. “Looks like Trent’s buying the beers tonight.” The youngest Matheson had finished ninth.

“I’ll drink to that,” Zack said. His gray eyes met Gaby’s.
“Seems I’m doing my job,” he said. “How about you? Got that interview arranged?”

Something in the arrogant raise of his eyebrows, tempered by the warmth in his gray eyes, made her want to laugh. Or maybe it was just the general jubilation.

“As a matter of fact, I do,” she said. “Ten o’clock Tuesday morning, your place.”

She expected him to balk at doing the interview in his home but he merely nodded.

“We’ll start preparation on the flight back to Charlotte tonight,” she said.

He squinted a little, but nodded again.

“Then we’ll spend most of Monday doing more prep,” she continued. She’d gone too far; he opened his mouth to protest.

“See you on the plane,” she said quickly, and waltzed out of the pits.


Now Woman
wasn’t as good as the prolonged coverage the bachelor contest would receive in America’s biggest-selling weekly magazine. Not to mention on TV. But as far as Gaby was concerned, it was an excellent step toward her goal of getting Zack into the contest.

She didn’t tell Zack she was still holding out for that—he’d figure it out soon enough. In the meantime, why ruin what was turning into a productive business relationship?

Although Zack was engrossed in working with his team on his car setup, he’d kept his promise, and let her call the shots on the interview preparation. They’d rehearsed answers, then she’d fired difficult questions at him in an attempt to provoke him. He was even trying to give answers that were more than the bare minimum.

The only thing he wasn’t good at was turning on the charm with an interviewer. Though it frustrated her, Gaby found his inability to be shallow rather appealing.

She had high hopes for this interview, first that he would impress
Now Woman,
and second that he would find the experience not too painful. Then the next time she asked him to enter the bachelor contest, he would roll over and sign on the dotted line.

Unease flashed through her as she tried to imagine Zack rolling over for anyone.

This will work. We’re getting along so well. Zack just needs a little push.
She chanted the line for the thousandth time as
she pressed the doorbell of Zack’s French-style country home on Mountain Island Lake. Apparently he’d chosen to live away from the NASCAR enclave that clustered around the better known Lake Norman. Chad and Brianna also had a house nearby.

Zack didn’t answer the door. Gaby glanced at her watch. Nine o’clock, an hour before the reporter was due.

She called Zack’s cell. When he picked up, she heard a metallic thump, suspiciously like a hammer hitting metal, in the background.

“Are you at the workshop?” she asked.

“The guys and I have been working on the setup.” The words were rushed, excited. “We’re
close to finding the problem.”

Gaby took a calming breath. “You have the
Now Woman
interview at ten. I’m at your place.”

Zack cursed. “The thing is, there was more to the car’s tightness last week than just the track temperature. We just haven’t been able to figure out—”

“You need to be here now,” Gaby ordered.

Silence. “I can be there in fifteen.”

“You’re nearer half an hour away,” she said. “I don’t want you killing yourself on the way.”

“Your concern is touching,” he teased.

Gaby took it as a good sign that he wasn’t too tense. “Just get here as fast as you can, safely. In the meantime, I need to get into your house to set up for the reporter.”

“Sure. Best to use the great room, I think. It has a nice view.” He gave her the combination that would unlock the front door, and the code for the alarm system.

Once inside, Gaby stopped for a moment to admire the coffered ceilings, deep carpets and large windows that admitted plenty of light and made the most of the lakefront setting.

The room that had to be the great room was to the left of the entryway. It was enormous: not even the huge, overstuffed
couches and coffee table the size of a small pool table could diminish it.

Gaby crossed to the French doors and soaked up the breathtaking view. The lake was a long stone’s throw from the house, the water absolutely still, perfectly reflecting the trees, the jetty, the tied-up dinghy.

Gaby didn’t have time to admire the outlook. She slipped the DVD she’d brought with her into the DVD player hidden in a cabinet beneath the widescreen TV, and went to make coffee.

In the kitchen—maple and granite and stainless steel—she tried not to look too hard into Zack’s cupboards and drawers. The house was tidy, but not overly so. Just how she liked it.

She’d just filled the coffee press and retrieved cups and spoons when the doorbell rang. Gaby glanced at her watch—the reporter was right on time. Unlike Zack.

“Zack’s been detained at the workshop,” she explained to Kaye Martin, the reporter, as she ushered the woman into the great room. “He’s on fire about last week’s race, it’s hard to drag him away from perfecting the car for this week. He should be here any moment.”

Luckily, Kaye didn’t seem perturbed.

“What’s it like, working with such a hunk?” She examined a photo of Zack with his brothers that sat on the mantelpiece. It was the only photo in the room, and to Gaby it looked as if it was seven or eight years old.

“Uh…easy on the eyes.”

Kaye laughed.

“You must meet plenty of hunks yourself, with the bachelor contest,” Gaby said.

“Sure do.” Kaye sat on the couch that faced out to the lake. “Unfortunately, a lot of them know just how hunky they are.”

“You’ll find Zack’s not like that.” As Gaby poured coffee, she willed him to pull up outside
right now.
As was usually the case when she tried to will him to do something, it didn’t work.

They drank their first cup of coffee while they chatted
about the bachelor contest and the huge hit it was proving with the magazine’s readers. It was getting plenty of coverage on TV and in the national newspapers.

“Zack should sign on for the contest,” Kaye suggested. “We had another NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver join up this week and we’ll be making an announcement before Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen. Readers start voting next week, so if Zack wants in, the sooner the better.”

The truth—that Zack thought the contest was stupid—clearly wasn’t the right answer. “Zack’s well aware of the contest and the great publicity you’re getting, but he’s a naturally modest guy,” Gaby said, and realized it was true. Zack didn’t drop his big win at Daytona into conversation the way Trent would. Trent wasn’t a show-off, but he naturally highlighted his successes.

A silence fell; Kaye glanced at her watch.

Come on, Zack.
“I’ll try his cell again,” Gaby said. Her call, watched by Kaye, went straight to voice mail. “The reception can be patchy around here, he’s probably a minute away,” she said brightly.

He wasn’t. He wasn’t even fifteen minutes away. Just as Kaye was making noises about having to leave—long after Gaby herself would have given up—his pickup truck swept into the parking bay in front of the house. Only the fact that he hurried inside prevented Gaby from stabbing him with her pen.

Thank goodness he was wearing a Getaway Resorts polo, she thought as she introduced him to the reporter. He didn’t have time to change.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said distractedly. “My team worked through the night to find the glitch in my race car’s handling. We finally cracked it half an hour ago.”

“So that’s not just designer stubble,” Kaye said archly, eyeing Zack’s unshaven chin.

“Huh?” He registered the direction of her gaze, ran his hand over his jaw. “Uh, no.”

Gaby rolled her eyes. If you’d asked Trent a question like that, he’d have made some flirty rejoinder that would have won instant forgiveness for his tardiness. Zack’s response highlighted how stupid the question was. Kaye’s lips tightened, but she sat back down on the couch, and switched on her voice-activated recorder.

Zack slumped into the armchair opposite. From his long, slow blink, Gaby realized he was on the verge of falling asleep. Whatever adrenaline had carried him through the night, it had just run out.

She had the horrible suspicion that no matter how good his intentions toward this interview, he might forget all their preparatory work.

Give him caffeine.
She poured him a coffee, though he seldom drank the stuff. He frowned when she shoved the cup into his hands, made to give it back, but when he caught her warning look he wrapped his fingers around it.

A ring at the doorbell announced the magazine’s photographer, who was supposed to have arrived just as the interview wrapped up. Gaby went to let him in. Her explanation that they were running late didn’t faze the man.

“Celebrities,” he said with a resigned grin. “I’ll set my gear up while they talk.”

Back in the living room, Kaye was asking Zack some questions about his youth, easy ones designed to relax the subject. Zack looked more sleepy than relaxed, legs stretched out in front of him, eyelids heavy. He answered the questions too briefly, and Gaby had to prompt him to elaborate.

“Let’s talk about your racing,” Kaye said. It soon became obvious the journalist didn’t know much about NASCAR. Although Gaby and Zack had rehearsed for this, tiredness seemed to have worn Zack’s patience thin. He tried, but a couple of times he sounded almost snappy. The chances of a positive story in the magazine slipped a little further away with each curt response. Gaby chewed her bottom lip.

“I believe you’re good friends with Kent Grosso, the son of last year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion,” Kaye said.

Zack nodded. “Kent’s a former Sprint Cup champion himself, don’t forget. I’m a couple of years older than he is, but we used to race karts together as kids and we’ve stayed pretty close.”

Gaby had noticed Zack had strong friendships with a handful of other drivers—it was only his family he had trouble with.

“Kent must appreciate the support of friends like you, with the difficult time his family is going through,” Kaye said sympathetically.

It had been a heck of a year for Kent and his parents, Dean and Patsy, who owned Cargill-Grosso Racing. Alan Cargill, the team’s former owner, had been murdered in New York last December—the death of a man so beloved in the sport had shaken everyone. Then rumors had surfaced that Kent’s twin sister Gina, stolen at birth and believed dead, might be alive and somehow involved in NASCAR. The press had been all over the family. They still were, going by Kaye’s line of questioning.

“I don’t gossip about my friends,” Zack said flatly.

Gaby almost cheered. Yet she knew Zack had just made things harder. She gave him an encouraging smile.

“So, Zack.” Kaye’s voice was clipped. “You’re still a bachelor at age thirty-four.”


Gaby could tell by his grimace he was stifling a yawn, rather than regretting his bachelor state, but fortunately the distinction bypassed Kaye.

“So, why haven’t you met Ms. Right?” she asked.

“Uh…” Zack blinked again, even more slowly.

Stay awake,
Gaby urged. Then wondered if it might be safer for him to fall asleep.

“You must have your share of dates,” Kaye persisted.

“Sure,” he said.

“Have you had many serious girlfriends?” Kaye asked.

“A couple. Don’t get much time.” Zack sounded about as personable as a lug nut. The reporter’s eyes began to glaze over.

“So, what kind of woman will it take to win your heart?” Kaye continued gamely. “What qualities will she have?”

Yikes, they hadn’t rehearsed this, since Zack wasn’t part of the bachelor contest…yet. Gaby found herself listening for the answer with inordinate interest.

“I guess—” Zack ran a hand around the back of his neck, easing tired muscles “—she’ll support me in my racing.”

Kaye nodded encouragement.

“She’ll put what I do ahead of what she does.”

Excuse me?
Gaby sat up straighter, tried to flash him a warning.

“Are you saying you wouldn’t marry a career woman?” Kaye asked.

Zack’s glance intersected with Gaby’s. “Uh, my wife can have a career. Of course she can.”

He probably didn’t intend to sound as if he was doing the future Mrs. Zack Matheson a favor.

“It’s just, while I have a window of opportunity to race NASCAR, that has to be the priority in any relationship.”

Gaby groaned silently. Not only was he a lug nut, he was a Neanderthal lug nut.

Then he rubbed his eyes, and the gesture made him look oddly vulnerable.

“You need to understand that racing isn’t just racing for the Mathesons,” Gaby explained, trying not to sound like a desperate rescue mission. “Zack’s entire family is involved in the team. Naturally, his wife would be too, to whatever extent she chose.”

“Tell me about your family’s history in NASCAR,” Kaye said.

Zack stretched, and Gaby’s gaze got hung up on his lean length, the play of muscles in his arms as he clasped his hands behind his head. Kaye appeared equally fascinated. “It all started with my father,” he said. “Dad was a NASCAR cham
pion back in the 1960s. He still has the blood of a champion in his veins, strong as ever. He’s an inspiration.”

Zack’s respect and love for his father were obvious; Gaby thought she spied a minuscule softening in the reporter’s demeanor. “Your brothers,” Kaye said. “They’re involved in the team, too, right?”

Uh-oh. Gaby was racking her brain for a way around certain trouble when Zack said, “In recent years, Chad and Trent have been a lot more involved than I have.”

“You’re the odd one out,” Kaye suggested. Zack’s face darkened.

“He sure is,” Gaby chirped. “He’s the only one who’s still a bachelor.” Zack’s glare told her he didn’t welcome a return to that topic.

“I covered Trent’s wedding for the magazine.” Kaye’s expression turned dreamy. “What a wonderful day. We did a photo shoot of Chad and Brianna, too.”

Trent’s wedding had been a highlight of the NASCAR social calendar earlier this year, and the announcement of Chad’s reunion with Brianna, his “secret wife,” had generated many column inches in the women’s magazines.

Zack gave a noncommittal grunt.

“Both your brothers married career women,” Kaye observed.

“More to the point,” Zack said, “they both married incredible women. Kelly is perfect for Trent, she puts a dent in his ego while still making him feel like the luckiest, happiest guy in the world.”

Kaye laughed.

“And Brianna…” Zack pondered Chad’s wife, and a slow smile took over his face. “She has this amazing knack for taking the pressure off Chad. He can get pretty uptight, but when Brianna’s in the room, he’s doesn’t give a damn about anything.”

“Wonderful,” Kaye breathed. She wasn’t talking about Chad, Gaby figured. Nope, she was looking at the way Zack’s harsh face had softened, and the wistfulness in his eyes.

BOOK: The Comeback
11.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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