Authors: Sennah Tate
My eyes roved the crowd again, gaging their reactions. Most people seemed surprised, but excited. That was the general consensus. This kind of situation wasn’t unheard of, but it was fairly uncommon.
My gaze traveled over the same section of spectators a few times. Something wasn’t quite right. Something was catching my attention, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. At the fourth pass, I spotted him. Three rows up, in between a rowdy group of young girls holding supportive signs for Rex and a debaucherous crowd of men with copious amounts of alcohol amongst them. He sat there stony-faced, watching me intently.
My shocked expression must have given me away. The corner of his mouth twitched upwards in a lop-sided grin that could only say one thing:
Yes. Yes I was surprised.
She may have thought that she was fooling everyone else, but she wasn’t fooling me. Aubrey was pissed. This race did not go the way she anticipated and she was busy beating herself up over the perceived failure instead of enjoying the limelight she so rightly deserved.
Even angry she was gorgeous. The high ponytail atop her head accentuated her strong cheekbones and angled brows. Her eyes were heavily lined and the bright red lipstick she wore only sent my mind back to the wonderfully explicit things that mouth could do.
I wanted her the moment she stepped out of that car. Well, I wanted her long before that, but seeing her in those tight jeans and form-fitting top sent my libido into over-drive. The air of cool confidence that shrouded her in elusiveness only heightened the effect.
I expected to be affected by her; I never expected the effect to be so profound. It was as if the entire rest of the deafening crowd faded into the background. Her eyes locked with mine and we were the only two people in the world. My heart fluttered in my chest and I was dying to hurdle across the stands to get to her.
Her head tilted to the side; she wasn’t expecting to see me in the crowd, but surprisingly, she didn’t look upset about it. I’d mulled over all of the possible reactions she could have to my stalking her and showing up at her event. None of those possibilities that I considered involved detached amusement. Despite the thinly veiled anger that seethed just below the surface, I could see a little twinkle in her eyes that reassured me that she was happy to see me.
I felt a weight lift off of my shoulders that I wasn’t aware was pressing on me. Throughout all of this, I had convinced myself that she had a right to be angry with me, that she would probably feel violated and somehow twist this to make me seem like a creep. Hell, maybe I deserved that reaction. I couldn’t explain my motives for any of this beyond my insatiable desire to see her again and find out who she really was.
Regardless, it was a relief that she didn’t scowl at me. After a brief announcement, she was free to leave the track. There was still one more race after hers, so she had to move her car, but I flew out of the crowd as quickly as I could to follow her. I hoped that she wasn’t planning on running off again. I didn’t know what I’d do if that happened.
I found her still in her car, quietly stewing with a white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel. The car was parked, so there was no need for it other than her own frustration. I rapped my knuckles against the window and she rolled it down half an inch.
“Get in,” she commanded. I heard the doors unlock and sprinted to the other side of the car to climb in.
I closed the door behind me and we were off before she said a word.
“You were great out there,” I commented, hoping that she would hear the sincerity.
She scoffed and rolled her eyes, peeling out toward the highway.
“I got cocky and it bit me in the ass.”
“You didn’t lose,” I tried to reassure her.
Her ice cold gaze met mine.
“I didn’t win, either,” she said without an ounce of mercy for herself.
I didn’t know how to make her feel better. I didn’t know what to say to someone that obviously had such high standards for themself. I wanted to comfort her and convey how amazing I thought she was, but it didn’t seem like anything was going to calm her.
“Well, you’ll have your re-match,” I offered, realizing how futile the platitude was.
She rolled her eyes and glared at the road like it had wronged her.
“What a pathetic display that will be.”
Her phone started buzzing non-stop and she directed her death glare to the blinking device.
I raised a questioning eyebrow, but she tossed it out of the window without a word. I took that as my cue to keep my mouth shut lest I be the next thing sent hurtling out the window at highway speeds.
“How did you find me?” She finally asked the question I’d been waiting for.
I cleared my throat, trying to figure out the right way to phrase what I was going to say.
“Well, I told you I have a certain set of… skills. It wasn’t that difficult.”
It was my turn to receive the evil eye. It was unsettling to say the least.
“How much do you know about me?”
An understandable concern.
“Enough to know that you’re not really Aubrey, but not enough to know who you really are. Why all the secrecy?”
She exhaled and I saw some of the tension slip away from her shoulders.
“I have my reasons.”
“I don’t doubt that,” I answered, “but I had hoped that I wasn’t the only person that felt… whatever it was.”
Those slightly-tilted eyes framed by impossibly long lashes traveled to me, surprised and at a loss for a response.
“What… what did you feel?” She asked, training her gaze back to the road. I didn’t think she knew where she was driving. She was just going, trying to flee her self-loathing.
I rubbed my temples, wondering why I kept getting myself into these impossibly complicated situations with women. First Skye, now Aubrey. Didn’t I have enough going on?
“I don’t know, Aubrey. I’m not in the habit of feeling much of anything, to be honest. I certainly wasn’t looking to find this incredible sexy strong woman. I wasn’t prepared to have a new obsession. I definitely didn’t think that if I ever
find someone I felt something for that she would be living a secret life…” So, maybe I wasn’t helping myself. Her face transformed into a neutral unreadable mask.
“You didn’t have to track me down. You could have just left it as a one-night stand and washed your hands of me.”
I didn’t know how to make her understand.
“Believe me; I had every intention of doing just that. It’s not possible to forget about you. I can’t get you out of my head. You’re like that song on the radio that I don’t really want to hear but every time it comes on I just have to sing along. There’s no avoiding you in my brain and I hoped that seeing you again would fix that.”
“Fuck no. Tell me who you are.”
“That’s not going to happen, Tanner. I’m sorry; I have two reputations to protect.”
My blood was molten in my veins. I didn’t know if I was angrier at her or myself. What did I really expect? If she’d lived her life this long in secret, why did I think she’d change that for me?
“You know, I could find out regardless.”
The moment I said it, I realized how stupid it was. I was angry and being dumb. I didn’t mean to threaten her like that, but I could tell instantly from her body language that she took it as a personal attack.
“I’m sure you could. Please don’t.”
There was a hint of fear in her voice that tugged at my heartstrings. I couldn’t deny this woman what she wanted, even if what she wanted was to keep me at arm’s length.
“I won’t. I promise.”
As hard as it was for me to agree to stay out of her life, the wave of relief that washed over her made it worth it. I wanted to protect her, even if it was from me.
“Thank you Tanner, that means a lot to me.”
I nodded without a word, mulling over the last few minutes. I didn’t think I could just let her go that easily, but what choice did I have?
“I wish things were different…” she muttered. I saw remorse start to creep in to replace her self-deprecating fury.
“Why can’t they be? Please, tell me,” I begged, surprised even with myself. I wasn’t the kind of guy to be this desperate. I wasn’t the type of man to be defeated so easily.
She sighed and pulled off the road. I could tell she was getting overwhelmed. It shocked me how easily I could read her emotions. I didn’t even really know her and yet I could pinpoint her breaking point and the way her shoulders slumped.
She opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out. I couldn’t resist the opportunity. I’d been craving her taste for nearly a week and I couldn’t deny her when she was presented to me so perfectly.
My hand slipped behind her head and grasped the back of her neck, gently pulling her toward me. Our lips met in an electric embrace. It was so familiar and comforting, but exotic and spicy at the same time. Her lips molded to mine as if they were meant to fit together like puzzle pieces. Her soft gasps and hushed moans sent my hormones on an express trip to memory lane. I couldn’t forget her naked body underneath me, wrapped around me, engulfing me. I couldn’t forget the way her face contorted in ecstasy as I made her come apart over and over again.
I groaned and tried to angle closer to her, our embrace made awkward by the close confines of the car. She finally broke the kiss, a bewildered look on her face, her lipstick smeared and her cheeks flushed with want.
There were no words exchanged between us. We were both looking for things in that kiss that we couldn’t find. We both wanted a way out of this. Some kind of sign that our memories were failing us and there wasn’t anything there. If I was looking for something to make me forget her, that kiss was the last thing I ever should have done. It only cemented her place at the forefront of my mind and I cursed myself for letting her lure me in further.
She drove back to the racing spot in silence. By the time we arrived, the place was mostly cleared out. One or two late stragglers remained, but everyone looked to be leaving. She spotted my Jag, all alone on the hill top now and parked next to it, a silent suggestion for me to leave and never return.
It wasn’t that easy for me though. I couldn’t just forget about her. I couldn’t erase her from my life. She’d infiltrated my being and there was no going back now.
She patiently waited for me to make my move to get out, but I stayed put. If I exited this car, nothing would ever come of us. I knew that. Maybe that was for the best, but I just couldn’t shake my stubborn streak to accept that as the outcome.
“One date,” I said, finally breaking the long silence.
“What?” She clearly hadn’t expected me to say anything.
“Go on one date with me. A real date. Then tell me there’s nothing here.”
“Tanner…” she protested.
“What could one date hurt? If there’s nothing here, then you wasted one night… but if I’m right…”
She nibbled on her kiss-swollen bottom lip pensively.
“I don’t doubt that there’s something here…”
“Then what?” I tried to contain the anger that bubbled just below the surface. I didn’t want to lose my cool with her now. Not when she was actually opening up a little.
“It’s just not a possibility. Regardless of whether there is or not, there
be anything, Tanner.”
“Just give me one date. That’s all I ask.”
She shook her head, but I could see how hard it was for her to do it. There was a war behind her eyes and she still didn’t know which side would win.
“Fine, a race then. If I win, we have a date. If you win, you can choose to never hear from me again if that’s what you want.”
She thought it over for only a second before she stuck her hand out for me to shake.
I felt the cheesiest smile slide onto my face effortlessly. I didn’t know why I was so happy; there was no way I could win.
There was no way I could lose.
I still had a ton of pent up energy ready to be let loose after my disappointing race with Rex. I was sure that the internet was all abuzz about my latest event and I didn’t want to hear anything about it. That’s why my phone was on the side of the highway somewhere. I didn’t want to read Rex’s snide tweets or see the smack talk between fan bases. I felt like a failure and nothing on Twitter was going to remedy that.
Sitting next to Tanner did, though. I hated how rapidly my body responded to him, how easily I slipped into his kisses and how readily I wanted to agree to date him.
I couldn’t do that though, I was still engaged, whether I liked it or not.
I knew that no matter what he said, Tanner wasn’t going to stop looking for me unless I could put an end to this now. I hoped he would stick to his word and actually leave me alone after I won. And how could I not win? His car may have been faster and newer than mine, but the car was only part of the equation. Skill was another large component. We both knew that I far out-paced him in that regard.
So why had he even suggested the stupid race? Surely he knew that I would beat him. Surely he knew that meant there would never be anything between us again.
My lips tingled at the memory of our kiss in the car. Damn him for being so hot. His lips pressed against mine with that gentle yet firm pressure, his tongue gliding into my mouth, stroking and caressing me, his hands traveling up and down the back of my neck, sending jolts of pleasure straight down my spine to my core… Did I really want to stop that from ever happening again?
No. Of course I didn’t. But want wasn’t something that I could consider at the moment. This wasn’t something I got to have a choice in. As much as I wanted to pursue things with Tanner, this had to end.
Maybe he realized that too. Maybe he was just trying to give himself an easy out. He had to know that he was going to lose, so this was a fool-proof way to ensure that he couldn’t be tempted to come after me again. I wanted to be angry that he’d come after me at all. I never gave him any indication that I wanted to see him again. Hell, I didn’t even leave him a note after our night of passion.
No matter how badly I wanted to be angry, I was only flattered. I couldn’t believe that the sexy and charming Tanner Marx was enamored enough with me to want to figure out who I was. It was thrilling and endearing, but I also acknowledged that it was dangerous to my way of life. If wanted to have any hope of continuing my little second life, I needed to quash this.
We started up our respective cars and ventured toward the starting line. Unbidden, a swarm of butterflies erupted in my stomach. I knew I wasn’t going to lose, so what was I so nervous about?
Maybe the fact that I
There was no time for thoughts like that though. I needed to wash my hands of Tanner and get on with my dull meaningless life of spousal servitude.
Yeah, that was encouraging.
The sensor for the light tripped as we met at the start.
I was Aubrey Red. I was a world-class racer, the daughter of a political legend and the heiress to an American dynasty. I was not going to be unhinged by an attractive man in tight jeans.
I glanced to the car next to me. I was not going to chicken out of this race, no matter how desperate I was to feel Tanner inside of me again. There was no time for cowardice. A Van der Poole did not back down from a challenge.
My foot found the gas faster than my brain could even process the change in color.
Tanner was already lagging behind me, though he was making a valiant effort to catch up.
I shifted and put a little more distance between us.
He followed suit and the Jag’s superior power and acceleration came on full display. He passed me, edging me out only slightly. I couldn’t let him win!
He didn’t know how to handle all of that beautiful horsepower and she was starting to get away from him. I took that as my opening and zoomed ahead, crossing the finish line only fractions of a second before him.
The Jag cruised to a stop next to me and I couldn’t fight the urge I had to straddle him. I’d never been so turned on in my life as I was racing down the strip with Tanner. That didn’t change anything though. I’d won and now I was free of him.
We met in between the vehicles and he extended his hand to me in a friendly gesture of concession. I shook it, wishing again that things could be different.
“Well, you kicked my ass,” he said with a sad smile.
“Was there ever any doubt?” I teased, not wanting to release his hand.
He grinned and shook his head.
“No, I knew you’d smoke me,” he admitted.
My stomach did a little flip. Could I really just shut him out?
“She started to get away from you there a little towards the end,” I commented absently.
He seemed confused. It probably sounded like I was adding insult to injury.
“Yeah, well, I’m not an expert like you. Just an enthusiast.”
“Well, if you’re going to have a car like that, you should really know how to handle her.”
Now he looked annoyed. I was piling it on a little thick, I’ll admit.
“Uh, yeah, I’ll work on that I guess.”
“Well, if you ever need someone to show you a few things…” I trailed off, hoping that my intentions were clear enough. What was I doing? I had my out. Why was I throwing it away?
His eyebrows raised in surprise. He didn’t know what to say and stammered his way through his next sentence.
“Uh… y-yeah. That would be great. I’d love for you to teach me a few things.”
The sultry cadence to his voice was full of suggestion. He’d already taught me so many things. I doubted my lessons would be anywhere near as exciting, but I couldn’t accept that he wasn’t going to be a part of my life. Now that I’d had my first intoxicating taste of Tanner, I discovered a thirst that would never be quenched.
“All right. How’s Monday for you?”
“It’s a date,” he replied with a full-blown grin.
“You lost, need I remind you? It is not a date; I just think that a car that beautiful deserves to be driven properly.”
I tried to keep my voice steady and even. I didn’t want to betray myself by letting him know just how badly I wanted him. It was probably obvious, but I couldn’t let that be common knowledge.
He laughed, clearly not buying my bull shit.
“Right, of course. You’re just looking out for the underrepresented luxury cars with careless owners, am I right?”
I nodded curtly.
“Absolutely. Just because you can afford a car like that doesn’t mean you know what the hell to do with it.”
He nodded again and stooped down for a quick kiss.
My hand flew to my lips, shocked at the intimate contact amidst our playful banter.
“I’ll see you Monday, Aubrey.” His husky whisper dripped with sexual promise and I couldn’t suppress the tiny tremor of anticipation that flowed through me.
I nodded, still trying to maintain my mask of cool indifference.
“Monday it is then. 3 o’clock. Here.”
He waggled his eyebrows at me as he climbed back into his car.
What in the world had I just gotten myself into?