Former NASCAR driver Mike Morgan didn't believe in miracles--until Maggie Taylor. Now he's entered the biggest race of his life...the one to win her heart!.
"Each of the stories in this excellent quartet featuring NASCAR drivers as heros is different, yet entertaining. Over, the Christmas spirit shines through, making them just the prescription for those who want a minute to relax and enjoy the season." - Susan Mobley, Romantic Times Magazine
"...These four superb yuletide contemporary romances are driven by NASCAR hunks and the women who take them for a spin around the track of love." - Harriet Klausner
“Oh my gosh, Mom. He is so hot!”
Maggie Taylor rested her fingers on the steering wheel of her Ford Tempo, trying to ignore her daughter as she stared at the man who was, well, hot.
Mike Morgan, famous race car driver—actually, former famous race car driver—stood on the porch of her condo, far enough away that he’d merely turned when she’d pulled in, yet not so close that he’d recognized it was her in the dark gray car. But she knew it was him in the dark brown slacks and buff-colored shirt.
“I mean, Mom,” her daughter said, green eyes wide with excitement. “You never told me he looked even better in person than on T.V. How can you stand to work with him and not hyperventilate?”
Maggie glanced over at Brooke, realizing there was something vaguely disturbing about her thirteen-year-old daughter gawking at the same man Maggie’d had thought was gorgeous, too.
I’m getting old.
Or Brooke was getting old.
“Brooke, enough,” Maggie said sternly. “He’s just someone helping me coordinate the Christmas Miracle fundraiser. That’s all.” And he was early, Maggie thought, glancing at her watch. She’d told him to come by at noon to pick up the sample giveaway items for the fundraiser that he needed to bring back to NASCAR for approval, but that wasn’t for another twenty minutes or so.
“Oh, yeah, right.” Brooke said. “Admit it, Mom. You hit the jackpot when you found out he’s the NASCAR Foundation representative assigned to help you plan your party.”
Alright, Maggie admitted. Maybe she had hit the jackpot. She worked for Miracles—a charity organization that granted wishes to terminally ill children but she’d never expected to meet the man whom she’d gawked on T.V. for years. Granted, he wasn’t a driver any more, but that didn’t mean she hadn’t stopped breathing for a second when she’d walked into a conference room and been introduced to the man who’d be representing NASCAR’s interest in the event.
“He’s just a man,” Maggie said, her gaze skating over his salt and pepper dark hair and tan skin. “Despite the fact that he used to drive cars for a living.” She gazed at Brooke sternly. “And my days of having a crush on him are over.”
“Oh, you are so not telling the truth,” Brooke said, her green eyes full of mischief.
Maggie debated with herself whether or not to argue, decided instead to say, “You know, you’re awfully full of yourself for someone wanting to go to a movie with Patty later on in the day.”
“Maybe we should both go to a movie. You could ask Mike to go along.”
“Hah. Right,” Maggie said, opening her car door before her daughter could say another word. As if someone like Mike Morgan would want to spend time with a plain-faced, slightly plump, mother of a thirteen-year-old.
“Hey, Mike,” she called, her car door slamming and echoing off the front of her condo. She’d lived at the end of a U-shaped complex, one with a parking area in the middle. Only as she climbed out did she notice that the brown paint on the two-story structure made the place look older than it actually was, and for some reason she felt embarrassed.
What? Were you hoping to impress the famous race car driver or something?
Maybe she was. “I’ll be there in a second,” she called out, disgruntled with herself.
“Take your time,” he called back, his smooth southern drawl so familiar—thanks to all the hours she’d spent in front of a T.V watching NASCAR races—that she would have recognized his voice with her eyes closed.
Brooke gave her a knowing grin. Stop it, Maggie silently reprimanded before popping the trunk on her Ford. Inside were a multitude of bags, most of them filled with Christmas decorations. Brooke wanted to get an early start. By next weekend their condo would probably look like the electric light parade at Disneyland.
“Invite him out,” her daughter whispered as she leaned in to grab a white bag.
“I will not,” Maggie said, grabbing a bag laden with
gold garland, the shiny tinsel sparkling in the sunlight. It seemed wrong to be thinking of Christmas when the California sun beat down on their heads so pleasantly.
“Mom. You only get a shot at a man like that once in a lifetime.”
“And a man like wouldn’t be interested in little old me.”
“How do you know?” Brooke hissed, as Maggie closed the trunk.
“Shh,” Maggie scolded. “He might hear.”
“You haven’t been out in what, eight months? A year?”
Nine months, six days and twelve hours. But who was counting?
“Go for it, mom. He’s a hottie.”
“And you’re starting to worry me,” Maggie said. “Or at least your fascination with my love life is.”
“Clock’s ticking, mom,” Brooke said with a lift of her eyebrow.
“Shh,” Maggie hissed again. The last…the very last thing she wanted was to jump into a relationship with a man, especially a man like Mike. Someone who lived a few thousand miles away, and who’d probably had a string of lovers at least twenty miles long given his history as a driver. He might not drive anymore, but he was still one of NASCAR’s most recognized personalities.
But despite the fact that Mike Morgan was out of her league, her heart still pounded as she walked up to him. The truth was, she was attracted to him. What red blooded female in America hadn’t thought him handsome? It’d been part of his appeal back when he’d raced cars.
Their gazes met.
And it hit her again. That same fluttery sensation that always seemed to happen whenever he was near.
“Sorry I’m early,” he said, his mouth lifting into a smile.
“No, no. That’s okay. Glad you could make it by.”
She stopped in front of him, his tall form looming over her Maggie thinking that he seemed shorter on T.V.
But every bit as handsome.
It was hard not to blush like a freshman in front of the high school football captain. He had the build of a marathon runner. Long and lanky with just the right amount of muscle tone. And those eyes. Female hearts all across the land had succumbed to the brilliant green of his eyes. She was no different.
“Um, Brooke,” she said, having to clear her throat. “This is Mike Morgan.”
“Nice to meet you,” Brook said with a knowing grin. “I’ve heard all about you.”
Maggie wanted to jerk her daughter to her and cover her mouth with her hand, probably would have, too, if she hadn’t been carrying shopping bags.
“Can I help you with those?” he asked. He had slight five o’clock shadow, something Maggie found highly attractive on a man. Oh, hell, everything about the man attracted her. The first time she’d met him, her cheeks had lit up as if he’d somehow gleaned every erotic fantasy she’d ever had about him.
“No, no,” she said. “We’ve got it. Come on in, although don’t mind the mess,” she said, even thought she scrubbed the thing clean the day before.
“You should see my place,” he said.
Oh, yeah right. She’d seen his place on one of those NASCAR shows. Ten bedrooms. A pool the size of a lake. Acres and acres of green lawn. She had a two bedroom, one bath condo that had the same beige walls and brown carpet it’d had for years. She might own it, but she had little money to make improvements. Raising a child in the bay area, a community that had one of the highest costs of living in the nation, made for tough times.
“Thanks,” she said, setting her bags down on a small table to the left of the front door. Unfortunately, she was so discombobulated by his presence that she miscalculated, one of the bags sliding off the edge. They both reached for it at the same time. Maggie caught the bag. Mike caught her hand.
“Oh,” she said, all but jerking the limb back. “That was silly of me.”
Brooke came up behind him, glancing at her oddly as she set her bags down next to Maggie’s.
“Getting ready for Christmas?” he asked, obviously spying the contents of the bags.
“We always set up for Christmas early,” Brooke said, smiling a Cheshire cat grin as she stared between the two of them.
Brooke, behave, Maggie silently warned because she recognized the look of crafty machination on her daughter’s face.
“It smells good in here,” he said.
They’d bought their tree already, the sharp tang of pine needles filling the air. In the window overlooking the spot where they’d parked, Brooke had already hooked up lights, and even though it was the middle of the afternoon, they twinkled merrily. In the corner opposite the window and a beige couch stood a Douglass Fir. The thing looked like a Snoopy tree without any decorations on it.
“Here,” Maggie said, picking up the Ziplock bag of sample giveaway items from the same table she and Brooke had set down their bags. “Sorry I forgot these yesterday,” she said, all but thrusting the bag at him.
“Thanks,” he said.
“Let me know if NASCAR likes any of them. It’ll only take a couple weeks to get them in and so you have a couple weeks to decide. The fundraiser’s not until the twentieth of December.” Which he probably knew. Which meant she was babbling.
“I’ll give you a call once I hear something.”
She nodded, headed for the door pointedly.
“You’re not flying back until tomorrow,” Brooke said, her freckled face wreathed in a friendly smile as she stared up at Mike.
Brooke, Maggie silently warned again.
“That’s right,” Mike said.
“That’s what my mom told me,” Brooke said. “So I told her that she should ask you to a movie today. You know, maybe even show you around a bit. Show you some of our California charm.”
“Brooke,” Maggie cried.
Mike stared between the two of them, a slight smile on his face. “Actually,” he said, the word sounding slow and very southern with its rich drawl. “I was planning on doing some sightseeing today. I have to leave early in the morning and so this is my last chance to do it.”
“Oh, that’s too bad,” Maggie said in a tone of voice that indicated she wasn’t really disappointed. The last thing she needed was Mike thinking she’d orchestrated this whole deal. “Well, have a great time.”
“Why don’t you take my mom with you?” Brooke said.
“Brooke,” Maggie said again. “Mr. Morgan obviously wants to do his own thing today.” She glanced up at him. “Sorry. I know you’re probably in a hurry to get going.” She moved toward the door.
“Actually, it might be kind of nice to have some company today.”
Maggie almost stumbled. For a split second she was almost certain she’d misheard. But when she turned back to Mike, there was a smile on his face.
“Awesome,” Brooke said. “You can drop me off at Patty’s while you two go drive around.”
“Brooke, don’t be silly,” Maggie said. “Mr. Morgan here is merely being polite.”
“Not at all,” he said. “It’d be great to bring along someone who knows her way around.”
Ah. Just as she thought. Not interested in her. He just wanted a human navigational system.
“Well, I appreciate the invitation, Mr. Morgan.”
“Call me Mike,” he said with another smile, the same polite grin she’d seen him use on network reporters.
“Mike, I appreciate the offer, but I have way too much to do here this weekend. We need to decorate the tree—”
“We can do that later,” Brooke said.
“I need to make lunch,” Maggie said.
“I’ll make myself a sandwich.”
“I’ll help with those tomorrow,” Brooke said.
“I’ll go call Patty,” Brooke said. “Tell her to ask her mom to take us to the movies later—”
“Brooke,” Maggie said again, grabbing her daughter’s hand. She smiled up at Mike. “Will you excuse us for a second?”
“Sure,” but as Mike watched them walk away, a smile slid onto his face. To be honest, he really did like the idea of taking Maggie along for the ride. Not because he was interested in her or anything. No, no. He had a long-standing policy about dating single moms. It was difficult enough for two people to work through a relationship. Add a child into the mix and things became even more complicated. Worse, if the couple ended up calling it quits, the child suffered too. No way he wanted to do that to a kid.
But he doubted she’d read anything into his invitation, anyway. Maggie Taylor seemed all business.
He heard a raised voice, although he could tell Maggie tried to keep her voice down. When the door opened a few moments later, sans Brooke, he knew Maggie’d gotten her daughter under control and that she was about to decline his invitation.
“Look, before you say anything,” he said. “I don’t want you to think I’m coming onto you or anything.”
He saw something flash in her pretty blue eyes. Was it disappointment? “No, of course not,” she said. “I never thought that. And I’m sorry about my daughter’s outspokenness. I just explained how rude it was for her to invite me along. You don’t have to feel obligated or anything.”
“I don’t. Look, honestly, it’d be nice to have some company.” He spent far too much time on the road. And now with the team he was hoping to form up, and his work for the NASCAR Foundation, not to mention various other obligation, it seemed like he had less and less time for himself. It’d be nice to spend some time with a woman—purely platonic, of course—and not by himself.
“Well, thank you for the invite,” she said, “but I really do have a lot to do today.”
“We can do it tomorrow,” came a voice from the bedroom.
Mike laughed. Maggie shook her head and glared in the bedroom’s direction, and Mike had to admit, she really was cute in a Suzie homemaker kind of way. Definitely not his type with her kinky brown hair and bright blue eyes, but cute.
“Sounds like your daughter has other ideas.”
“My daughter is about to be grounded.”
“Don’t do that. Honestly, she’s done me a favor. I didn’t realize how good the idea sounded of spending some time with someone other than myself until she mentioned bringing you along. But if it’ll make you feel better, we can talk about the fundraiser on our way.”
“Where are you going?”
“I want to see the coast. And then I thought I’d pop by Watsonville.”
“What’s in Watsonville?”
“Just something I want to see. You can help me get there.”
But he could tell she wanted to refuse, and it struck him as odd that he fought so hard to change her mind. He must truly be desperate for company. “I promise to get you back before dark,” he added.
“I don’t know….”
“Please,” he added.
He saw her look toward the bedroom door, watched as she frowned. But the frown was quickly replaced by a smirk.
“Alright,” she said. “Because I have a feeling if I don’t agree, I’ll be hearing about it for the rest of my life.”
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