Winning her heart will be the sweetest victory of all.
Twenty-three-year-old Carolina Hawkins needs an experienced Cup driver, or the business she inherited from her father will be facing its last lap on the NASCAR circuit. Approaching her childhood friend, Dell Wayne, is risky - there's a reason he doesn't have a ride in the middle of the season. Carolina pins her hopes and dreams on the man once touted as a brilliant, new style of driver, but whose recent track performance has earned him the nickname – Madman.
After his father's tragic death at Darlington, Caudell Wayne Jr. has done his best to live 'down' to his father's expectations. When Carolina Hawkins hires him to drive for her failing race team, her faith in his ability prompts Dell to dig deep to find the driver she needs in order to save her business and her dream, and if he's lucky, maybe he'll win the biggest trophy of all, her heart.
Dell closed the door behind her and watched through the sidelight as Caro walked to her car. Who would have thought little Carolina Hawkins would grow up to look like that? When he opened the door and saw her standing on his porch, he thought he was hallucinating. He'd heard she was back, and running Hawkins Racing, but he hadn't seen her until tonight.
Damn. Now he understood some of the bawdy comments he'd heard around the garage. Caro had always been pretty, but she'd also been a tomboy – smudged with dirt and grease. She couldn't go five minutes without getting dirty.
She wasn't dirty tonight. Nope. Her classy clothes were spotless with that crisp, don't-even-try-to-guess-how-much-I-cost look about them. Her father had been right to send her away. She turned into a first-class lady, and a beautiful one too. When her taillights were out of sight, he shook his head and returned to the den and the six-pack he'd been working his way through when she came calling.
He opened another bottle and downed half in one long pull. The cold liquid did nothing to ease the ache in his groin or erase the image of Caro Hawkins' shapely ass from his memory. The skinny tomboy wasn't skinny anymore. She'd developed more curves than the track at Sonoma, and those legs… what he wouldn't give to see the full straightaway of those. Preferably wrapped around his hips, or spread on his bed. Then there was the thing she did with her hair. Some sort of tight coil intended to ward off the entire male population, but having the opposite effect. On Caro, it looked utterly feminine and screamed a challenge no human with a y chromosome could ignore. He had a sneaking suspicion if you got the hair to unwind, the prim little skirt she was wearing, and the silk blouse would disappear faster than a pit stop.
But he wasn't going to be the one to make it happen. For some reason he couldn't fathom, he agreed to drive for her. She was the boss, and Dell had never screwed an employer, and he sure as hell wasn't going to start now. No matter what.
Besides, this was Caro Hawkins. He'd raced her Big Wheel-to-Big Wheel when they were kids. He wondered if she still liked peanut butter and banana sandwiches and RC Cola or if her tastes were more sophisticated now, like the way she dressed. There wasn't much about the new Caro Hawkins that resembled the one he remembered, except those eyes, and those lips. He'd been barely old enough to start noticing those things when her dad sent her away.
He'd hated like hell for her to go, but seeing the way she turned out, it was a good thing. No one in the Hawkins' garage would have gotten a damned thing done with her around. Throwing all that brewing estrogen into a garage full of testosterone would have ignited one hell of a blaze. He wasn't entirely sure it wouldn't now. Sure, she was older, and presumably able to rein in her sexuality when need be, and now that she was the boss, even more off limits than when she was the boss' daughter.
That was crap. Everything about her was feminine, from her womanly curves to the intelligence in her eyes. Her presence would disrupt a garage full of eunuchs.
What the hell was he thinking? Did he want a ride that bad? He drained the rest of his beer and let his head drop against the back. No. He didn't want a ride that bad – he needed a ride that bad. The only time he was able to forget was when he was driving – fast. The faster, the better.
The NASCAR official accused him of being suicidal on the track. They didn't have a clue what they were talking about. On the track was the only time he wasn't suicidal. Behind the wheel of a stock car, he didn't have time to think about anything but self-preservation. Get distracted for a fraction of a second, and it would be all over. That was enough to keep him focused on staying alive.
It was all the other times – like tonight – before Caro Hawkins showed up on his doorstep with her offer of salvation. Those were the times when his life was in danger – from himself. From his memories. Too much time alone with those memories messed with his head.
At least Caro had given him something else to think about tonight. His hand went to his fly and he wondered if she'd have this effect on him when he was driving. He'd never tried driving with a hard-on before. It would be a new experience. Dell laughed. At least it was something new to contemplate. Better than trying to solve the mysteries of the universe, or dwelling on a past he couldn't change or a future that didn't exist.
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