TWO WEEKS AFTER HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION
Why the hell am I driving to Collinsville to watch Dane Wickham race? Better yet, how have I let him talk me into making a two hundred dollar bet that he’ll win? I don’t know jack about racing and if I have to guess, Dane doesn’t, either. Sure, his parents bought him a fast, new Porsche for graduation but that doesn’t mean he knows shit about how to race it.
I stop at a red light on the outskirts of Collinsville, Jesse’s old stomping ground. I look in my rearview mirror at my best friend’s true love sitting in my back seat. “Hey, Jesse, do you know this guy Dane is going to race?”
“Yeah. I went to school with Hawke at Collinsville. We were in the same class and I’ve helped him out with his car.”
“Hawke?” I laugh. What a dumb name. His mom is wrong for doing that to him. All I can picture is some ugly guy with a hooked nose. “What kind of name is that?”
“It’s actually Nick Hawke but everyone calls him Hawke. It suits him. He’s well known for his predatory nature.”
That doesn’t sound like a compliment. “A predator? Like a hunter?”
“No.” I look up again in my mirror and see Jesse laughing. “Girls are his chosen prey.”
Claire twists to look at Jesse. “That’s funny. I was under the impression that the Collinsville ladies’ man left when you came to East Franklin.”
“Hawke’s always been the favorite among the chicks. They love his pretty face. He can sweet-talk himself into any girl’s pants so you should keep your distance from him. I don’t want you falling for any of his Jedi sex tricks.”
That’s the most interesting thing I’ve heard all day. I turn to look at Jesse. “Did you just say Jedi sex tricks?”
In the midst of spinning to look at Jesse, I forget I’m the one in the driver’s seat and my foot slips from the brake to the accelerator.
“Payton!” Claire squeals just before I ram into the back of the car stopped in front of us. The whole thing happens within a split second.
Shit. My parents are going to kill me. I don’t have the best driving record but at least I’ve never gotten into an accident. So much for my collision-free driving history.
Jesse leans forward. “Yes. I said Jedi sex tricks.”
“Shut up,” I bark as I look at the car in front of us. I try to see if there’s damage but I can’t tell.
I sit in my car and watch the driver sling his door open. He gets out and walks around to look at the back of his car before staring at me with narrowed eyes.
Oh … my. I just mated my Lexus with a piece-o-shit Camaro being driven by quite possibly the hottest guy I’ve ever seen. The problem, other than the obvious? He’s pissed off about it––like, really pissed––and looks as though he could strangle me.
“Umm … I don’t think you should get out of the car,” Claire says. “He looks really mad. Maybe we should just call in the accident and wait on the police to come.”
“Nah, I’ve got this.” Jesse opens his door and is out before Claire can object. He’s Claire’s knight in shining armor and because I’m the bestie without a boyfriend, he takes it upon himself to be my protector as well. That’s just Jesse.
I lower my window as he walks by. “Be careful, Kemosabe, you know you don’t have a really great track record with confrontation.” I make a joke about it but I’m concerned for his safety. Too much has happened to him already.
He flips me off over his shoulder without looking back. “You really need to teach your boyfriend some manners.”
Claire laughs. “I haven’t managed to teach you any.”
I have manners but I often choose to not use them. “Why be difficult when with only a little bit of effort, you can be impossible?” I can’t help myself. I enjoy a little friendly conflict.
“There are a lot of other things you could excel at besides being a smart-ass.”
Claire shifts uncomfortably in her seat as she watches Jesse talk to the guy I just collided into. I can’t tell a thing by the expression on his face but he puts his hands on his hips and turns to look at me in the car.
“I’m sorry you find my normal behavior so inappropriate, princess.”
“You know you don’t get to call me that. My boyfriend is the only one with that privilege.”
Jesse comes to my car on Claire’s side. She lowers her window and her man leans in. “Warning. This is going to go over like a turd in the punch bowl.”
I lean around Claire to see Jesse since that clearly means I’m about to get pissed off. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“He says he won’t sue if you’ll go out with him.” He’s laughing and Claire punches him in the shoulder.
I look at Jesse and wait for the punch line, but it doesn’t come. “You need to stop clowning, bro, ’cause there’s no circus in town.”
He holds his palms up like he’s an innocent party but he’s still laughing. “That’s what he said. Don’t shoot the messenger.”
“Oh, hell to the naw,” I say as I wave my hand back and forth. Now I’m the one slinging my door open. “One minute and I’ll have this taken care of.”
“Calm down and play nice, Payton. Don’t forget you just ran into the back of his car,” Claire reminds me.
“I don’t play nice when I’m given ultimatums.” I slam my car door and straighten my short skirt before I walk in four-inch wedge heels toward Mr. Prince of Nothing Charming.
This is going to be the most fun I’ve had all night so I plan to take advantage.
Damn. The closer I get, the more I realize how great looking this jack-off is. It’s a little unnerving. His hair is dark and longer than I like but the way the untamed tendrils curl and stick to the perspiration along his forehead suits him perfectly. He shoves a lock out of his face and his dark, chocolate-brown eyes pierce mine through long, sooty lashes.
His shoulders are broad––just the way I like them––and his black T-shirt fits his chest tightly so I’m able to see how well defined his chest is beneath it. He works out. A lot.
He catches me looking and my heart betrays me as it begins to race without my permission. My breath is held hostage in the back of my throat as my eyes move from his chest to his face. What would that scruffy chin feel like against my throat as it slides lower?
Hey! Stop having a lady-boner moment! This guy is trying to coerce you into a date by the means of a threat. Don’t crack just because he’s eye candy.
I stand in front of him with arms folded and wait for him to say the first word, but he doesn’t. Good thing I don’t mind speaking up. “So, I have to go out with you if I don’t want to get sued, huh? Are you kiddin’ me, dude? That’s called blackmail and it’s illegal.”
He gives me a seductive grin and I’m certain it isn’t the first time he’s used it to get what he wants. “Some might call it extortion but I think a date would be adequate compensation for any harm that may have occurred.”
I look at the back of his car and see that neither of our vehicles has suffered any damage. I could argue that there is nothing to be compensated for but I feel like having a little fun with this guy. “Do you have something I could write my contact information on?”
His lopsided grin oozes satisfaction, revealing two of the cutest dimples I’ve ever seen. He reaches into his pocket and takes out his cell. “Don’t need it. I’ll add you to my contacts.” He’s going to add me to his cell phone, his version of the little black book.
He’s looking at his phone so he doesn’t see the smirk on my face as I call off a number. “Five. Five. Five. Three. Nine. Eight. Five. You should probably add the name. It’s Vivian Archer, attorney at law. She’s my mother and your lawyer may contact her so they may discuss the conditions of your claim.”
Okay, that’s a little bit of a lie. My mother hasn’t practiced law in years but he doesn’t have to know that.
His sexy little grin fades while mine spreads. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have money riding on a race and I’d like to be there to collect my winnings.”
That lopsided grin makes another appearance. “A race, huh? I heard about that. I hope you bet on Hawke instead of that spoiled rich kid from East Franklin or you can kiss your money goodbye.”
He’s a know-it-all too. Perfect. “I’m not putting my money on anyone named after a bird. It’s riding on something I trust––Porsche.”
He steps back and leans against his old black Camaro. He crosses his arms and I suspect he does so to call attention to his muscular, tanned biceps. Mission accomplished. “You put money on a car with no consideration for the driver? That’s bad betting, doll face. I hope you didn’t wager a lot because you’re going to lose.”
I shift my weight to one leg and keep my arms crossed over my chest. “I have two Benjamins on the Porsche and it’s going to win.”
He whistles. “Wow, you seem very confident in your car. How would you feel about upping your ante since you’re so positive the Porsche will leave Hawke in the dust?”
I wish I could but I don’t have cash on me and I doubt this jerk takes credit. “Sorry, no can do unless I can swipe my Visa up your ass crack.”
He grins and laughs. “Wow, I really didn’t expect anything like that to come out of a beautiful, delicate mouth like yours.”
It’s a rare occasion when anything delicate comes out of this mouth. “You’d be surprised.”
He cocks his head slightly and rubs his scruffy chin with his hand. I think my less-than-genteel statement intrigues him. “I love surprises.”
I hear a car honk in the distance. “In case you forgot, we’re in the middle of the road holding up traffic.”
“They can drive around.” He displays his lack of concern with the wave of his hand toward the waiting cars. “I have a proposal for you.”
I should walk away but I’m too curious. “What might that be?”
“I’d like to make a side bet with you.” Of course he would. “If your Porsche wins, I’ll give you two hundred bucks in addition to the winnings you’ll receive from the pot on the bet you’ve already placed.”
Wait for it … what’s the catch? “I’m listening, but I didn’t hear what you’re proposing I wager.”
That seductive grin is back. “You agree to one night with me.”
That’s sounds like Indecent Proposal, except he’s not offering me the million dollars.
Is he kiddin’ me? There’s no way that can be considered a decent proposal. I’m not even sure what “one night with him” means.
His expression is smug as he lifts a brow. “I guess you’re not as confident as you claim or this would be a no-brainer.”
Shizzle! That eyebrow thing is sexy. I need a mental pimp-slap and an ice bath.
I manage to gather some words but I’m not sure how convincing they are. “I’m very confident that my driver is going to win.”
“Okay, prove it by accepting my bet.” There it is––a challenge. That always gets my competitive juices flowing.
I know I shouldn’t agree. It’ll prove nothing but it sure would be fun to wipe that shit-eating grin from his face. And it never hurts to make an extra two hundred bucks. “I’m not afraid. I’ll take your challenge.”
He offers his hand for a shake. My instincts tell me it’s no less dangerous than the snake in the Garden of Eden but I decide it isn’t going to bite me. “Can I safely assume you’ll be at the race and won’t run off with my money after Dane wins?”
He laughs at me and I might have gotten pissed about it except it means I get to see his gorgeous dimples again. “There won’t be any running off with your money, doll face. I’ll be looking for you so we can settle up on our night together.”
His cockiness pisses me off so I yank my hand free. “I think you’ve delighted me long enough with your trash talk. I have a race to watch.”
“And I have a race to win.” He winks before getting into his old Camaro. He starts the engine and it roars loudly––just like a racecar. I stand frozen in the middle of the road and watch him pull away.
Shit! I realize I didn’t ask his name. Was that Nick Hawke? Have I been preyed upon by the sex-tricks Jedi?
I don’t want to admit it but I believe I’ve just been bested. I tuck my tail and get into my car without a word.
“What’s wrong?” Claire asks.
“Hell just froze over,” I say as I stare ahead at the spot once occupied by a Camaro and its driver.
“I know that look.” Jesse groans from the back seat. “What did he pull?”
I turn around and look at him. “That was him, wasn’t it? Nick Hawke?” I reach around to swat Jesse. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You didn’t give me a chance to tell you anything before you jumped out of the car with promises of manhandling him. You said that you only needed a minute to straighten him out and I believed you.” He’s right. I did say those things. But that was before I knew who I’d be manhandling.
“What happened?” Claire asks.
I feel stupid and played so I’m not telling them about my bet with Nick Hawke unless I have to––meaning, if I lose.
“Nothing, Claire. Let’s just go watch this race and get it over with.”
And hope Dane drives that Porsche like he stole it.