Crossing the Line (Hard Driving)

BOOK: Crossing the Line (Hard Driving)
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Chapter 1

“And Riggs makes another attempt to—yes! He grabs the lead with only ten laps to go! Ladies and gentlemen, keep your eyes peeled because this will no doubt be a finish y’all don’t want to miss!”

Cori Bellowes pressed her face against the glass wall that overlooked the track. Throughout most of the race, the announcer’s voice had barely cut through the din in the press box. But now that they were getting close to the finish, the race was becoming more intense. The reporters had grown quiet, barely breathing as they watched the drivers jockey for position at over a hundred fifty miles an hour.

One of the series’ newer drivers—Ty Riggs—had just overtaken a veteran racer and was pulling away from the pack. It was his second year in the Intercomm Cup, the highest level of stock car racing, but he’d come up through the ranks over the past dozen years to make a name for himself in the sport
and
in celebrity news.

It certainly didn’t hurt that he was gorgeous, too. But his very fine looks were secondary to his racing abilities.

So it wasn’t a surprise that he was tearing things up down there, but that didn’t make it any less exciting. Cori had been following Riggs in the news for years, well before she’d gone to college, then on to journalism school to become a sports reporter. Riggs was known for being the most intense and focused driver on the track, but the most laid-back, affable guy off of it.

Except for the knock-down, drag-out fight with Dave Gilroy he’d gotten into after last week’s race, that was.

Poor Ty was driving today with a not-quite-healed shiner from that scuffle. Of course, the fight—and the subsequent gossip swirling around about the reasons why he and Gilroy came to blows—was one of the main reasons Cori was here in the first place. She couldn’t feel
too
sorry about it.

“And there’s Gilroy in third, trying to make a move up but—no! He’s blocked by Colt!”

Uh-oh.
A similar move was how the fight started last week. Ty was in the lead and managed to shut out Gilroy on the last lap.

Gilroy accused Ty of cheating and, to everyone’s surprise, it was
Ty’s
fist that flew first.

Cori contented herself with the assumption that, since it was Kerri Colt who had blocked Gilroy this week, he wouldn’t dare hit a woman—even if she threw the first punch.

She hoped, anyway. Gilroy wasn’t exactly a model citizen.

The cars seemed to pick up speed and even from up in the box, she could hear the scream of the engines on the track below. Ty was still in the lead, hanging on to his position by a narrow margin of distance. She wondered how he felt, knowing that if he won, fans would probably be
hoping
he’d get into another fight. A driver like Ty, who’d never publicly lost his temper before? It was too sensational
not
to.

Of course,
she
didn’t believe the accusations of cheating that Gilroy had slung at Ty. But she could see how, once suspicion was raised, people would begin to wonder. Ty had been on a winning streak at the end of last season, and last week he’d won the first race of the new season by a significant margin.

Fans were starting to talk. People would probably want answers.

The orange and white of Ty’s car—the trademark colors of his biggest sponsor—were nearly a blur from above.

To have a sponsor like that was what teams dreamed of. It was impressive. But then, so was the team’s founder, Bobby Riggs—a retired racer and Ty’s dad. Bobby had started his own racing team twenty years ago after leaving Youngtown Racing and had built it into a multimillion dollar operation with eight drivers on the payroll.

It would be almost too perfectly tragic, to bring down the biggest names in racing based on a single post-race throwaway insult.

On the track, the pack whipped around the curve, Ty in the lead.

She tried not to let her plans for Ty bother her. Despite the matching black eye he’d given Gilroy, which the other driver definitely deserved, she knew from years of watching his career that Ty was a good guy. She didn’t like the idea of deceiving him.

That’s not your problem. This is your only chance.

Right. She couldn’t allow her misgivings to get in the way of getting the information she needed.

If he won today, he’d give the reporters ten minutes of Q&A in the pressroom after the race. Either way, tomorrow during Media Day, she would have a chance to interview him one-on-one.

A one-on-one with Ty Riggs. She allowed herself a small, excited smile.

“Keep your eyes peeled, honey. It’s about to get good.” The reporter standing next to her, a man in his mid-forties—who’d been standing way too close to her all day—nudged her with his beefy shoulder. She tottered on her heels, but pressed her palm against the window, steadying herself before she toppled over.

Asshole.

She didn’t even care about the nudge as much as she did the comment. Only a complete idiot
wouldn’t
realize that the race was about to get good. It already had, in fact. She knew racing. She
loved
racing. And she was a damn good journalist. She’d waited for too long and worked too hard to give up the chance to actually report on something, instead of fetching coffee and answering phones.

Even if that chance had come at a price.

She suppressed the urge to nudge the guy back . . . with the spike of her heel. He wasn’t the first man to think that blond hair and a pencil skirt merited condescension and inappropriate come-ons. She was used to male reporters being assholes. She worked for one, after all. And her boss had already asked her to do something that was outside her comfort zone. Something that the wire service she worked for should never have even considered in the first place.

But what was done, was done. And she was about to deceive one of the most genuinely good people in the racing business.

That
was why she was feeling so nervous beneath the excitement.

She wanted to release some of those nerves by inflicting bodily harm on the condescending reporter, but responding to the jerk at her side would only draw undue attention. And she already had enough of that, being the lone woman in the press box. She didn’t want too many eyes on her in the coming weeks.

So she nodded her head just slightly in acknowledgment, then focused on the track below. As soon as it was over, they’d be rushing to the pressroom, and she wanted to be sure she didn’t miss a moment of the race.

The announcer’s voice echoed through the box. “Going into lap one-ninety-five, and Colt is working her way through the pack. She’s moving up behind Riggs . . . she’s challenging him . . . but Riggs blocks! Colt is forced to drop back with only five laps to go.”

Cori watched Kerri Colt’s car as it chased Riggs’s around the next lap. The two were famous for their friendly rivalry on the track and their close relationship off it. Not that there was anything romantic going on between them. Colt was formerly Kerri Hart, the only woman driver in stock car racing, who had married her team co-owner, Ranger Colt, last year. Kerri and Ranger seemed like the happiest couple Cori had ever seen—at least, they did in the photos of them online. Cori had followed Kerri for a long time, too, starting back when Kerri had still been racing on the Indy circuit. Colt was only a couple of years older than Cori, but she’d already accomplished so much, and in one of the toughest sports imaginable.

Cori might faint if she actually got to meet the woman in person.

Of course, that probably wouldn’t earn her any points as a serious journalist.

Then again, considering that Cori was about to perpetrate the most ethically questionable act of her life, a little fainting might not matter at all.

* * *

“You got this one, Ty. You got this! Don’t slow down, just go go go—yesss!”

The voice of the Riggs Racing crew chief whooped over the headset as Ty crossed the finish line. “You won! You won! Holy shit, you won!”

He could hear cheering everywhere. In the stands, through his headset . . . even his spotter was going nuts from atop the skybox.

Ty grinned and spoke into the mouthpiece in his helmet. “
We
won, guys. I couldn’t have done it without y’all.”

And he couldn’t have. A few days ago, after that horrible mistake he’d made by responding to Gilroy—and the resulting media debacle, the entire crew and the rest of the team had come together in support of Ty. They’d all agreed that Gilroy was talking out of his ass, that he had it coming for making such baseless remarks, and they kept each other going with encouragement and focus on what really mattered: the next race. As a result, they’d out-performed everyone else on the track today.

But they didn’t know what Ty knew. No one did except for Dad, and they both wanted to keep it that way. Ty should never have lost his cool with Gilroy, but the words out of that little shit’s mouth . . .

You’ve been cheating for years and everyone looks the other way because of your dad.

It had been impossible to hold back. All Ty had been able to focus on were the words “cheating” and “dad” and, well, he’d lost it.

And that had been the fatal mistake. Because he’d never lost his temper like that, even when his life was on the line, like in this race when Sedgwick had nearly clipped his rear bumper back on lap fifty two. Only his spotter’s quick instructions, for Ty to move fast and pull in tight, had saved him from an accident. The thought of what could have happened had sent Ty into a rage. But only a private one, of course. In the confines of his car.

Outside, he was careful not to show any signs of anger to the public. It didn’t matter that fights between drivers were pretty common right after races—all the adrenaline from near-accidents on the track had to come out somewhere. But he never had . . . until the one last week with Gilroy.

But that was exactly why people were paying so much attention now. It had been too out of the ordinary to ignore.

On the other hand, he wasn’t about to start a trend by challenging Sedgwick for driving too close. If anything, Riggs Racing needed to maintain a positive image in the media now more than ever.

He coasted into pit road while the rest of the pack finished the race. The crew chief nearly yanked him out of his car, the entire jubilant pit crew gathering around as soon as Ty had emerged, slapping him on the back and shouting their excitement. Someone popped a bottle of champagne.

At least the fans didn’t seem to be slinging mud . . . yet. It had been a good race and people seemed to be happy with the outcome. But it didn’t feel like a win usually did.

Even though Ty hadn’t cheated—never had and never would—the shadow of Gilroy’s accusation hung over this week’s victory.

The roar of the crowd grew deafening as more racers finished up and started to pit.

Dad ran up and grabbed Ty in a strong hug before setting him down and giving him a light shake and a wide grin. “That’s my boy! I knew you’d start this season with a bang! Two wins in a row!”

He hugged his father back and managed a laugh. “You say that every season.”

The older Riggs rubbed a hand over the close-cropped hair on Ty’s head. “I mean it every season.”

Ty closed his eyes and tried not to grimace.

Bobby Riggs is a cheater.

That was why he’d flown off the handle last week. Gilroy had been too close to the truth.

But very few people knew about the incident that Dad had been involved in, and those who did had been paid for their silence. Hell, his dad wasn’t even
really
involved. Bobby Riggs’s crew chief twenty-two years ago had bribed the crew chief for the frontrunner, who was Bobby’s rival, to make a few little mistakes that would cost his team the win.

He’d done it, and Dad had won the championship. No one was ever able to prove whether he’d won on his own merit or whether the rival crew chief really had thrown the race. Either way, money had changed hands and the possibility that Bobby had won unfairly was too high.

Cheater.

It had been covered up and never made the news, though, and for years Dad had seemed to think that was a good thing. But the secrecy around it, the cover-up, had gone on for so long that exposing it now would make it look worse than it had been.

That knowledge was why Ty had gotten so worked up last week. What had happened back then, when Dad raced for Youngtown, was the reason he’d left his old team and started his own, in fact. When he’d finally told Ty about it a couple of years ago, Ty had urged his father to come clean about it and clear the air.

But Dad had refused, insisting that if they ignored it, no one would ever know. But all his private confession had done was to add a layer of stress to Ty’s life that he’d worked hard to contain—but that had finally come out last week in the form of his fist to Gilroy’s face.

He hated keeping secrets like this. A part of him wanted to yell at Dad for being so blasé about it all. But another part couldn’t do that to the guy. Dad’s battle last year with Hodgkin’s lymphoma had been enough stress for all of them.

Thank God he’d won that one, though.

Hopefully the shitstorm raging at the moment would die down soon enough and no one would bother too much with Gilroy’s accusations.

Besides, it wasn’t as though there would be any record of Dad’s incident just lying around.

Then again . . . maybe it had stayed a secret for so long because no one had ever bothered to go digging. Maybe it was easy to see if only one started actually looking.

After the fight, Dad had doubled down on his insistence to keep a low profile and try not to call any more attention to themselves than necessary. The problem was that Dad’s avoidance approach extended to everyone, including Ty himself.

After a quick, heated discussion last week in which Ty again urged his father to be open with what had happened with Youngtown, Bobby simply refused to discuss it further, even with Ty.

It was as though it wasn’t really happening.

“Hopefully this year I’ll also
end
this one with a bang.” Ty kept the pleasant grin on his face as he spoke—he didn’t want it to look to the media like he was anything less than satisfied with his win today—but he couldn’t keep the seriousness from his voice.

BOOK: Crossing the Line (Hard Driving)
2.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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