“Whip! I gotta have that torque wrench
or I ain’t never gonna get this done.”
“Take a look in the far chest, Sunshine. The second drawer. I
got it out of there earlier.”
“Well, it ain’t in there now. It ain’t in any of ‘em.
Drawers or chests. I done looked.”
Hunkered down outside the Corley Motors rig, Trey “Whip” Davis
straightened from where he’d been securing an extension cord against
the race pit flooring, and mentally retraced the day’s steps.
He’d had the torque wrench with him when he’d grabbed for
his Blackberry to call Butch Corley, his driver, only to realize he’d
left the PDA on a shelf in the hauler’s workshop. He’d obviously
set down the tool when he’d picked up the phone, but crap on a
What was the deal with his head?
This wasn’t like him, being off kilter, disorganized, careless.
He was making stupid mistakes. It had to stop. And it had to stop now.
He headed for the racing trailer’s open door. “Take a breather,
guy. Grab a corndog. Get a cup of coffee. I’ll rustle it up.”
Sunshine got to his feet, twisted and stretched, gave Trey his trademark
sunny smile – one that reddened his already ruddy complexion. “Can’t
turn down that million dollar offer. See ya in a bit, Boss.”
Trey watched his assistant crew chief hop onto the team’s four-wheeler
and make his way toward the concession stands, zigzagging through the
haulers, pop-ups and motor homes turning the Dahlia Speedway pits into
a virtual campground.
The late morning sun shone off the reds, greens and yellows, blues,
blacks, and whites of the various teams’ logos coloring everything
from trucks and T-shirts to ball caps and tattoos. It was a sight Trey
would never tire of, and he was going to miss it like hell.
When Corley Motors pulled out early Monday morning following this weekend’s
Farron Fuel Spring Nationals, he’d be temporarily handing off his
crew chief duties to Jimmy Gale, aka Sunshine, and staying in Dahlia – the
town where he’d lived the first twenty years of his life – to
take care of some personal business.
He knew that weight had everything to do with his mind being on the
fritz, knew clearing away those obligations and solving the puzzle of
his father’s downfall had to be done if he intended to remain in
the top fuel game.
And he did. That was why he’d made arrangements with his crew
and his driver for the time away.
It was either do so, or find himself canned as Butch Corley’s
tuning boss, and he’d worked too hard to let that come to pass.
No mechanic with a lick of sense wanted to work with a has-been. The
ones who’d jumped ship and left his father floundering had proven
Knowing Sunshine couldn’t resist a conversation any more than
he could a corndog, Trey stepped up into the hauler’s workshop,
figuring he had a free thirty minutes while the other man schmoozed the
vendors setting up around the track.
The rest of the crew would arrive tomorrow to prepare for Friday’s
first round of qualifying. There would be no downtime over the weekend;
work would continue from dawn to dusk to dawn again, the team tweaking
their tuning formula to guarantee a performance the Corley fans wouldn’t
This break was the last one Trey would have until at least Sunday night.
By the time Sunshine got back, all hands would be required on deck and
“You know, the last time I saw you standing still, you had your
pants around your ankles.”
What the hell?
“And it’s nice to see my memory hasn’t failed me.
You do have a fantastic ass.”
Glowering, Trey turned. The woman in the doorway had the sun at her
back, which put her face in shadow. It didn’t matter. He knew without
question who it was standing there giving him the eye. Had known who
was speaking the moment he’d first heard her voice.
That didn’t mean he was able to answer without taking a deep breath
first. “Cardin Worth. It’s been awhile.”
She wore black Converse sneakers, low-riding jeans, and a black Dahlia
Speedway logo T-shirt. His pulse began to hum, but not because of the
way she looked in her clothes. Humming was what it had always done when
she was around.
What it had done even before the pants-around-his-ankles incident all
those years ago. “How the hell are you?”
Pulling off her sunglasses, she came further into the trailer, her long
black ponytail swinging. “I’m good, Trey. You?”
“The same.” He looked on as she laid down the glasses, as
she picked up and fondled the wrench he’d come for. He’d
always thought she had the most graceful hands, had always wanted to
feel the touch of her fingers . . . “What brings you out here so
early race weekend?”
“I’m actually looking for my grandfather.” Her gaze
came up, intense, searching. “Have you seen him?”
“Jeb? No.” Trey shook his head. He hadn’t remembered
her eyes being so blue. Her body being so . . . fine. But he finally
did remember his manners. It didn’t matter that her grandfather
was someone he really didn’t care to see. “Is he doing okay?”
A comma of a dimple fondly teased one side of her mouth. “Flying
as right as ever, thanks.”
“And you? You’re doing okay?” Because he sure as hell
Her smile took pity, her gaze softened. “We already did that part.”
“Right. Sorry. My mind’s - ”
“On the race?”
Actually, it had gone back seven years to the night of the kegger celebrating
her class’s high school graduation. The night of the pants-around-his-ankles
He still wondered how long she’d been standing there, how much
she’d seen. If she’d been as turned on as he had. If she
dreamed about that night the way he did, for no reason that made any
He cleared his throat. “Yeah. Farron Fuels is always a big one
“For all of Dahlia,” she reminded him sagely, her hometown
He nodded in response, knowing her family, along with the others whose
businesses thrived on the spring drag racing series, would get the bad
news soon enough.
Without the Fisks – the Speedway’s current owners – coming
through on their promised repairs and improvements, Corley Motors wouldn’t
be back. And with his ties cut from Dahlia, that meant neither would
Cardin turned the torque wrench over in her hands, a thoughtful crease
appearing between her arched brows. “It has to be strange to have
grown up here, yet never visit. Except during the Farron Fuels.”
He wanted to tell her it wasn’t strange at all. That these days
he didn’t think of Dahlia as anything more than another quarter
mile strip of asphalt he needed to get his driver down as fast as he
could. But he didn’t say anything, just waited for her to dig deeper
for whatever it was she wanted.
She did, switching from a gentle trowel to a more painful pick. “Don’t
you miss hanging out with Tater? Seeing your other friends? Spending
time at home?”
He shook his head. This wasn’t his home.
“Hmm.” Her tone said she didn’t believe him. “There’s
not anything about Dahlia you miss?”
“Not even Kim Halton?”
Kim Halton had been the girl on her knees when his pants had been around
“There is one thing.” He might as well tell her since it
was highly unlikely he’d get another chance.
“I miss seeing you.”
“Pfft.” She fluffed her fingers through her bangs, hiding
behind her hair and her hand. “When did you ever see me before?”
He wondered if her refusal to look him in the eye meant her cool was
all a ploy. Then he wondered how much of the truth she really wanted.
He went for broke. “You mean besides the time you stood there and
watched Kim blow me?”
Color rose to bloom on her cheeks, but it was her only response until
she gave a single nod.
That one was easy. “I saw you at school, in the halls, shaking
your ass on the football field. I saw you in Headlights every time I
came in for a burger or a beer.”
“That was a long time ago, Trey,” she said, her voice broadcasting
her bafflement. “At least - ”
“Seven years,” he finished for her.
Her frown was baffled, too. “You say that like you’ve kept
“I have.” He knew exactly when he’d moved away from
“I don’t get it. You were two years ahead of me. We can’t
have exchanged more than a couple dozen words.”
Words had nothing to with the heat she’d stirred in him then.
That she still stirred now, a stirring he felt in his blood. “So?”
“So, there’s no reason for you to miss seeing me.”
“None you can think of, you mean.”
“Whip - ”
“Hold up.” He lifted a hand. “Forget about me missing
you. Let’s talk about the nickname instead.”
That got her to laughing, a throaty, bluesy sound that tightened him
up. “Hey, I had no idea it would stick. You can blame that on Tater.”
She returned the wrench to the shelf, her fingers lingering, her lashes
as thick and dark as the bristles of an engine brush as she lifted her
gaze coyly to his. “At least most people think it’s about
you cracking the whip over your team.”
That was because most people hadn’t been there to hear the gossip
about him whipping it out for Kim Halton.
He was lucky their secret had stayed close. That no one knew he couldn’t
have cared less about Kim. That, instead, he’d wanted the girl
watching from the doorway as Kim stroked him. The one too close to his
He moved to block it. “I suppose it could’ve been worse.”
“You’re right.” She paused, added, “I could’ve
called you . . . Speedy.”
Ouch. But he grinned. “Maybe I was wrong when I thought I’d
missed seeing you.”
“I’d say that’s a distinct possibility.” Coy
was gone, a come-on in its place. “Especially since I’m right
here, and you’re still missing seeing me.”
He was pretty sure his definition of missing and hers of the same word
were two different things. That didn’t mean she wasn’t right.
That he wasn’t overlooking something vital.
He crossed his arms and widened his stance, furrowing his brow as he
gave her an obvious once-over. “I’m seeing you now.”
Her tongue slicked quickly over her lips. “You’re too far
away to see much of anything.”
There were less than three feet between them. He came closer. “Is
“You tell me,” she said from where he’d backed her
into a waist high storage locker.
He leaned in, flattened his palms on the stainless steel surface, one
on either side of her hips, and hovered, her body heat rising, his breathing
labored and giving him away. “Not as better as it needs to be.”
Her hesitation in replying wasn’t about uncertainty, or impropriety,
but about making him sweat, making him wait, making him want and ache.
He was doing all of those things, strangling on the tension that was
thick in the trailer around them, and robbing him of his air.
Finally, she moved, her hands coming up, her palms pressing to his chest,
her fingertips finding his nipples and rubbing circles where they dotted
his shirt. He shuddered, and she tipped forward, nuzzling her nose to
He closed his eyes, inhaled, caught the scent of her shampoo, of her
sun-heated skin, of her perspiration that was sweet, a damp sheen. Keeping
his hands to himself had seemed smart, but she made him too stupid to
He held her upper arms, her shoulders, sliding his hands up her neck
to cup her face, her cheeks, her jaw, sliding them down to her ribcage
and the promise of her breasts.
There was no sense for any of this, no reason, no rhyme. He had no idea
what had really driven her here, and the climb of his temperature left
him unable to figure it out, or do anything but feel.
She met his gaze, parted her lips, pushed up on her sneakered tiptoes
to find his mouth. He bent to make it easy for her, but mostly he bent
for himself. Her tongue slipped between his lips to tease and seduce
and show him the years he’d missed out on.
He couldn’t let himself wonder about or regret any of that now
because she was here, and he didn’t want to miss any of what was
happening. Her hunger was that of a long separation, a desperation, neither
which he understood or which fit.
What he did understand were her hands at his waist, tugging up his T-shirt,
slipping beneath. Her fingers threaded into the hair on his belly, then
into that on his chest. She toyed with his nipples, his chest hair, and
drove him mad.
He broke the kiss because he had to, and rested his mouth at the corner
of hers to catch his breath, his control. Her lips parted. He felt the
urgent beat of her heart all over. “Cardin, why are you here?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know. It’s been so long.
I wasn’t sure. I need - ”
“Yo! Whip! Where you at? You’ll never guess who I found
holding a corndog in each hand.”
Sunshine was back, and Trey had no choice but to set Cardin away, his
question unanswered, her reply incomplete. He looked down, trying to
find something to clue him into the truth, seeing only the flush of her
His own strained obviously and would take time to calm. “We’ll
finish this later.”
“Be right there,” he called toward the still open door,
smoothing down his shirt as Cardin checked that nothing was out of order. “You
heard me, right?”
“That we’ll finish this later?” She nodded.
Good. But also . . . “And you’ll tell me then what you need?”
She didn’t answer. She brushed her mouth one last time against
his before turning, snagging her sunglasses and hopping from the trailer
to the ground.
Trey took another few seconds to gather himself, grabbed for the torque
wrench and walked from the rig’s interior into the white hot light
of the sun.
He squinted, then shook his head at the irony of the interruption as
he recognized Jeb Worth climbing off the four-wheeler. That settled one
thing at least.
Cardin looking for her grandfather was not as far-fetched as Trey had
thought. Whether or not finding Jeb was what had brought her to the Corley
hauler was yet to be seen.
Trey had a feeling it was something a whole lot bigger – and with
a whole lot more baggage – than that.