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Authors: Wendy Etherington

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BOOK: Winning It All
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The door swung open, and a male voice filled the small room. “We need to make sure—” A man with
sandy hair sprinkled with gray stopped just over the threshold. “Sorry. We didn’t know anybody was in here.”

Bryan Garrison walked into the room a moment later.

Though she’d seen him that morning, then at lunchtime, Darcy’s breath caught. He’d changed into black pants and a pressed white shirt with the GRI logo stitched over the pocket. He’d shifted from just-one-of-the-guys into big-time-team-owner mode.

Embarrassingly, big-time-hottie mode for her.

She wished she could tell him how he dominated a room. Whether he was a driver, ex-driver, owner…whatever. Even if he pushed a broom, he’d command attention. In a T-shirt and worn jeans, he was dangerous and sexy. In more polished clothes, he made her head spin.

“Darcy?” Parker asked, stepping in front of her, making her realize he’d probably called her name more than once.

She resisted the urge to lean around him and look at Bryan a little longer. “Hmm?”

Parker laid his hand in the center of her back and urged her toward the sandy-haired man who’d walked in ahead of Bryan. “I wanted to introduce you to Cade’s crew chief, Sam Benefield.”

“Hi, Sam,” Darcy echoed automatically, shaking his hand. “I hear you guys are on track to win a championship this year.”

Sam shook her hand, then scowled at Parker. “What’ve you been tellin’ people? It’s race
two
of thirty-six, and you’re talking championships? You tryin’ to jinx us?”

“Sam’s pleased to meet you, as well,” Parker said to her. “He’s just a bit superstitious.”

Sam’s already lined brow furrowed deeper. “And with good reason.”

“Oh, good grief, Sam,” Rachel said, crossing her arms over her chest.

Sam’s gaze flew to Parker. “You still have the lucky penny, don’t you?”

Parker rolled his eyes, but he reached into his pants pocket, then opened his palm so everybody could see the shiny penny lying in his palm. “It’s getting a bit silly, don’t you think?”

“No,” Sam, Rachel and Bryan said at the same time.

“I’ve been carrying around this penny since last year,” Parker explained to Darcy. “Everybody thinks it’s good luck for Cade.”

Her gaze slid to each person’s in turn. All of them looked resolute except Parker, who seemed embarrassed. “Has Cade done well since then?” she asked.

“Yes, but—”

Darcy quickly grabbed Parker’s hand, curling his fingers around the penny. “Then hold it tight. Karma’s a serious deal. Don’t mess with universal balance.”

“Ha!” Sam bobbed his head in a decisive nod.
“Universal balance,
no less. I told ya’ll.”

“Would it be all right with you guys if Sam and I actually had our meeting now?” Bryan asked, glancing at his watch. “Our schedule’s a bit tight.” He raised his eyebrows. “Unless you’re planning to balance the universe at this moment, of course.”

To Darcy’s surprise, Parker and Rachel immediately hustled out. She followed more slowly, still intrigued by the concept of the lucky penny, still a bit dazzled by Bryan and his crisp, white shirt.

She turned at the doorway, unable to resist the urge to comment, “You guys are pretty cute.”

As she walked out of the hauler, she nodded to crew members she passed and reflected on a memory, one where she smiled as her husband walked out the door in his white uniform shirt.

Unbidden, tears filled her eyes. Guilt and a sharp stab of betrayal followed. She ruthlessly swallowed all the unwanted emotions in one gulp.

Would she ever be able to enjoy being attracted to an interesting, compelling man—even if the desire was for a client and could go nowhere?

Would she ever heal? Was her work with Bryan helping him but hurting her?

All her friends told her things would get better. Hour by hour, then day by day, everybody—friends, family, experts—told her she’d eventually be able to move on.

When?
she wanted to scream. When would that happen?

Just as she stepped outside, someone grabbed her
arm. Even before he’d briskly urged her to the tiny area between the GRI hauler and the one next to it, she’d sensed Bryan.

“Cute, huh?” he asked, scowling down at her.

Even as her attraction to him flared to life, the guilt remained. She forced herself to smile. “I had no idea you were so superstitious.”

The scowl turned dangerous. “I’m not. Sam is.”

“It’s not anything to be embarrassed about.”

“I’m not embarrassed.”

Her smile widened. “Sure you are.” She tapped his cheek. “Your face is red.”

He stepped back. The flush deepened. “No, it isn’t.”

“The great Bryan Garrison isn’t susceptible to normal human emotions?”

“No.”

Though she felt silly, touching him only to have him step back, she nodded. “Oh, right.
Steel.”

“Look…” He glanced away and shoved his hands into his pants pockets. “I know we’re doing all this yoga and deep breathing stuff, and it’s working fine. I’m on board. Treadmill walking, Downward Dog and revenge.”

“You remembered a pose. I’m so proud.”

His gaze, dark gray and seemingly impenetrable, slid to hers. “You’re not telling anybody, are you?”

“About walking, posing or vengeance?”

“Any
of it.”

“None of it.” She wanted to touch him again,
maybe even hold his hand and hopefully watch some of the anxiety drain from his expression. But having already experienced his retreat, she wasn’t about to push herself forward again, even in a friendly, trying-to-forget-her-dead-husband way. “We’re bonded like a doctor and patient,” she said to assure him of her discretion. “What we do together is private.”

The moment the words were out of her mouth, she realized how provocative they sounded. “I mean, personal.”
Good grief, that doesn’t sound much better.
“Not anybody’s business but yours.”

“I got what you meant.” He cocked his head. “You wanna keep digging?”

She imagined the hole where she was standing—representing the muddy area between client and friend—was already pretty deep and thick. “No, thanks.”

“I just don’t want you to talk in too much detail about the…unconventional aspects of our training.”

She nodded. “You have to protect your tough-guy rep.”

“Exactly.”

“Your secret is safe with me. You were pretty great this morning, by the way. The glowing smile was a nice touch. It totally threw your family off balance. Unlike your business, there’s not a lot of entertaining moments in mine. But that was one for the books.”

The satisfaction was plain on Bryan’s face. “Did
you see how Isabel couldn’t even drink her coffee? The woman
lives
on caffeine.”

“Speechless Cade was my personal favorite.”

“Even Parker seemed surprised. Believe me, it’s hard to throw him for a loop.”

“I bet.”

“Bryan, let’s go!” someone called from the hauler.

“Be right there,” Bryan called back, never budging his gaze from Darcy’s. “What’s for dinner?”

“Tofu surprise,” she said as she backed away.

His pleasant expression vanished. “You’re not serious.”

“Probably not. Maybe you’ll be surprised when it
isn’t
tofu.”

“You’re not so bad after all, Darcy Butler.”

CHAPTER SEVEN

“I
’M GONNA KILL HER
.”

Staring at the contents of his refrigerator in disbelief, Bryan vowed a new vengeance—on Darcy’s head.

He saw skim milk, water bottles, eggs, sliced turkey, low-fat cheese—what was the point of cheese without plenty of fat?—fresh fruit and vegetables, lettuce, tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts and something called hummus. No bacon. No premade hamburger patties. No salami. No beer. No Go! The energy drink was one of Cade’s primary sponsors. How could Bryan invite their business executives to his motor home and not offer them their own product?

It was humiliating. It was crazy.

It was unacceptable.

He scoured the cabinets and found the same drastic change. No chips. No boxes of macaroni and cheese or instant, flavored rice. In fact, there was nothing but whole-wheat pasta, almonds and rice cakes.

Rice cakes, for pity’s sake.

He paced his motor home, trying to figure out where he’d gone wrong, where he’d failed to explain
to Darcy that his rehab wasn’t prison. That he needed
real
food, not rabbit nibbles. Plus, with all the freakin’ exercise—and the torturous stretching—she had him doing, he’d already lost six pounds. He’d drop the last fourteen in no time. There was no need for drastic measures.

Rice cakes and alfalfa.

No damn way.

They’d cruised along the last several weeks, from California and Las Vegas to Atlanta and Bristol, with all the GRI teams doing well. Arriving in Martinsville, VA, Cade was third in points, Shawn tenth, and the combination of last year’s champion Kevin Reiner and their new driver, Lars Heiman, were twelfth.

He and Darcy had found a rhythm to their exercise and meal routine. She dragged him to the treadmill in the morning. She grilled food at lunch, provided snacks during the day, then consulted with the chef at the hotels or made him simple meals at night that met her nutrition requirements. It hadn’t all been steamed fish and tasteless vegetables. Either just before or after dinner, they went through the yoga, at which he was improving.

His knee felt better. He slept easier. He was stronger. With this being an East Coast race and his motor home kitchen readily available, he’d been looking forward to finding out just how good a cook Darcy really was.

Parker had been bragging about her fettuccine Bolognese and shrimp with pesto sauce. Isabel went on
and on about Darcy’s advice and tips, which had given Isabel’s Quest for Cooking Perfect Italian an extra kick. Even the office manager at GRI—whose Latino roots ran as deep as the racing tradition of red hot dogs at the Martinsville snack booths—bragged about Darcy’s fresh salsa and chicken with yellow rice and black beans.

Where was
his
Bolognese? Where was
his
chicken and rice?

A knock at the door jolted him from his vengeful thoughts. Whoever was unlucky enough to need to see him now wasn’t going to go away happy.

It was Darcy.

Dressed in the now-familiar fitted yoga clothes—this time in pale pink—she held a covered platter high in one hand. “I brought—” She stopped, her gaze roving his face. “The rice cakes were a joke. They taste a little like cardboard, don’t you think?”

He was so pleased she didn’t pretend the fridge and cabinet ambush wasn’t traumatic and unwarranted, he nearly smiled.

But stopped himself just in time.

He crossed his arms over his chest. “I have no idea. I’ve never eaten them and never will.”

She shrugged, then scooted past him, setting her platter on the counter before ducking into the fridge. “Some of my clients like them. But I think you’ll prefer the hummus and veggies.”

“What about the alfalfa sprouts?”

She glanced back at him. “I don’t see how you can dip those in hummus.”

“I mean, what are they doing in my fridge?”

“I’ll add them to salads. They’re very good for—”

“No.”

She straightened. Her eyes narrowed. “What do you mean
no?

“I mean,
no alfalfa sprouts.
No rice cakes. I have a line, and you’ve crossed it. Get rid of them.”

She said nothing. Instead, she pulled a bunch of broccoli and a yellow pepper from the fridge. Setting both on the counter, she began to chop. “Exercise has only a minor role in weight loss.”

“Then what the hell am I doing it for?”

As if she hadn’t heard him, she continued, “You need to control your caloric intake. You also need to lower your cholesterol.”

“You’re supposed to be treating my
knee injury
,” he returned just as sharply. “The weight loss thing somehow got added.”

“Part of the revenge, right? To get your ex-wife’s attention?”

“Well…” He didn’t want to get her attention all that much—except for her to briefly notice that she’d made a huge mistake by dumping him. It’s not like he wanted her back. He wouldn’t ever take her back. All the great times they’d shared had been obliterated by divorce papers arriving a week after she’d moved in with Chance Baker.

“You need to get the extra weight off your knee,” Darcy continued matter-of-factly.

Like he was an overweight blob. “Fine. I am. I’ve already lost six pounds.”

“Yay for you.”

“I’ve worked hard for those pounds.”

“Some. Mostly, you go through the motions.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be
encouraging
me?”

She ceased her chopping and glared at him. “I’m trying. Up until today I thought you’d stopped grumbling, arguing and complaining every five minutes. But, oh, apparently not. You’ll continue to lose weight and get better if you do as I say. Eat what I tell you to eat, and move when I tell you to move.”

Had her eyes always had those pale golden stars in the center? Did they only come out when she was angry? No matter how hard he tried to focus on his fury at having his life disrupted and taken over, he couldn’t look away from those stars. “I don’t like being told what to do.”

“News flash—that’s exactly what you hired me for.”

What had started as a heated argument had become intense in another way. The tips of his fingers tingled with the need to touch her. He willed the urge away. He wanted to be pain free. He wanted to make what he could of the cards he’d been dealt. And, yes, he wanted to prove to his ex-wife that he’d moved on.

Reminding himself of his goals
should
have calmed him.

Her eyes flashed with challenge. “Do you want to change or not?”

He wanted a great deal out of life. She’d helped him to see how much was really possible, how far he could go. She’d made him wonder about the future. Not just the team’s future, but his own.

But, mostly, just then, he wanted to kiss her.

He flung his arm around her waist and pulled her toward him, laying his hand against the side of her face to angle her head. He didn’t think or wonder or even breathe, he simply drew her close. He absorbed her energy and fire.

She responded for a moment. He forgot his goals and responsibilities for the same moment.

Then she jerked back out of his reach.

Breathing hard, her eyes wide, she laid the back of her hand over her lips, as if she was shocked or ashamed or both. “What are we—”

She turned away.

He leaned back against the kitchen counter. What had happened to him? She was an
employee.
She wasn’t to be handled. Maybe there was some chemical attraction between the two of them. No doubt they were both lonely. But his actions were inexcusable.

So why had he felt better during those few seconds than he had in four years?

Still, he couldn’t look at her. “I’m sorry. I—” He scraped his hand through his hair. “Talk about crossing a line.”

“We shouldn’t be—”

“I know.”

“We’re supposed to be—”

“Professionals.”

“I don’t want—”

Now there he couldn’t honestly stop her. Because he did want. He wanted
her.

Very much.

“We need to run,” he said abruptly. Exercise released endorphins, right? Any feeling was better than the regretful, but still needy one zipping through him at the moment.

“Run?” Her gaze zoomed to his. “You can’t run.”

“Sure I can.”
I can run away from these feelings. From you and…everything else.
“Let me throw on some shorts.” He headed toward his bedroom in the back.

“Get sweats or a jacket,” she called. “It’s cold out.”

The fact that she’d argued so little told him that either she was knocked as off balance as he was, or she was so pissed she simply didn’t care if he collapsed at her feet.

When he came out, she was pulling on a hooded sweatshirt. The GRI logo was stitched across the front in bold red letters. Parker’s or Cade’s generosity, no doubt. Why didn’t he ever think about giving her anything? Was their relationship—their
professional
relationship—so all about him that he never thought of her beyond the moments they trained together?

The problem, he decided as they walked silently out of the motor home and into the dark, chilly night, was that he thought way too much about her. Her honesty and genuine caring for others, the shadows behind her bright smile. She was a woman determined to be positive, even when she lived with so much pain.

He understood pain, even if he didn’t know how she kept her positive attitude.

“We shouldn’t be doing this,” she said as they stepped onto the track after walking from the motor home parking lot.

Being Thursday night, the track itself was quiet, the grandstands dark and deserted. There were floodlights on around the motor homes and parking lots. Night-lights of sorts to all the fans, drivers, owners and media people who would be flooding into the track over the next several days, preparing for the weekend of racing.

Bryan glanced from Turn One, across Start/Finish, then back to Turn Four. There was no one around. “It’s fine. Several drivers are dedicated runners, though. I’m surprised they’re not out here.”

Her gaze connected with his. The gold stars were visible again. Somehow, both haunting and sexy. “That’s not what I meant.” Then, she pumped her arms and took off in a brisk, but controlled jog, straight toward the first turn.

Other than giving him tips on his pace, warning
him to slow down and walk at certain intervals, she said nothing during the run. He’d been so busy feeling guilty himself, he hadn’t realized that she probably had guilt of her own.

According to Parker, Darcy had been devoted to her husband. Had his death, like Bryan’s injury, caused a shift in her world that had changed her entire outlook? She seemed like a woman who gave her whole heart to everything and everyone, so he didn’t doubt her concern.

We shouldn’t be doing this.

She meant him. Them. Whatever craziness had brought them to the point of him grabbing her and kissing her.

Then being unable to forget those amazing moments. Even when he knew he should.

When she called a halt to the run, he followed her lead, walking back to the motor home to cool down. She retrieved bottles of water, then took off her tennis shoes and sat cross-legged on the floor.

Yoga.

He joined her, and in a few moments, in a quiet voice, she began calling out the now-familiar names of poses. He kept his eyes shut. The routine that had been a trial a few weeks ago had somehow become sensuous. If he watched her slim body move through the asanas in his current state, he’d never get his mind off the idea of touching her.

Though he normally felt calmer after yoga, he
opened his eyes to find her watching him. And his heart pounded again.

“Do you mind if I take a shower?” she asked.

“No, I—” He resisted the urge to ask to join her. He needed cold water and lots of it. “I’ll get you some clean clothes to change into.”

Out of breath—and not just from the exercise—sweaty, his thoughts racing, he sat on his bed and listened to the water run. He fought to dismiss the visual his imagination provided. He closed his eyes, which didn’t help.

This whole…whatever between them wasn’t viable.

They were working together on a project. The same as his engineers worked on chassis and engines. The same as the marketing team produced logos and promos. The same as the office staff answered the phones, sent faxes and e-mails.

And all those, lofty, professional thoughts went out of his mind the moment she stepped out of the bathroom, wearing his clothes.

 

T
HEY SMELLED LIKE HIM.
Spicy and enticing.

His clothes should have smelled like laundry detergent. Instead, she imagined Bryan sliding them on after a long day at the office, or collapsing in front of the TV to watch whatever sports event or news happened to be on at the time.

She couldn’t dismiss the intimate connection, no matter how many times she reminded herself that she’d
loved and married another man. That
he
should be the one she fantasized about. She should be kissing
him.

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