She wants to design the perfect race car…
Engineer Kristen McKenna loves to make things go fast. So when NASCAR team owner Matthew Knight offers her a job, Kristen’s competitive spirit shifts into overdrive. But she has to struggle to keep her mind on her blueprints and off her dangerously appealing boss.
Kristen's always been more comfortable in a lab than on a date--but suddenly both Matthew and Todd Peters, the supersexy team driver, are vying for her attention! Things heat up both on and off the track as Kristen finds herself torn between two men. And as sparks begin to fly around the garage, she discovers that there’smore to life than spoilers and engine specs. But can Kristen design a finish that gets both her team—and her heart—to Victory Lane?
"To The Limit is a smooth read both on and off the track. It’s a well-written racing story with romance, fun and excitement!" - Joyfully Reviewed
"Ms. Pamela Britton has written a fast paced novel full of the excitement that comes with the sport of car racing. She details the inner workings in such a way that you immediately feel comfortable with the technical jargon…I thoroughly adored this book." - Kathy, Reviewer for Coffee Time Romance
"Britton's community of NASCAR professionals and enthusiasts is brimming with detailed insight into the world of competitive racing, making this an interesting opportunity to learn about this popular sport." - Romantic Times
"Ms. Britton has once again written a thrilling story that takes readers to the exciting world of NASCAR, in and out of the garage. It was truly an edge of the chair, heart racing, can’t put down read that had me eager to reach victory lane or the last page, as the case may be." - The Romance Readers Connection
The helicopter just about landed on her head.
One minute Kristen McKenna was jogging along a sunny beachside path, waves crashing in the distance on her left, the next—blam.
She stopped cold. Actually, what she did was cover her face with her arms, the sand kicked up by the helicopter's rotors pelting her face like a new age treatment at a health spa. (Not that she'd ever been to a spa—no time for that.)
"Hey," she cried, wishing immediately that she hadn't opened her mouth. Her teeth suffered next. She moved her elbows to her side and tried to spit the grit out, wincing against the gnat-like stings. At least her glasses shielded her eyes, although at this rate she wouldn't be able to see out of them thanks to the sandblasting.
Gradually, the thing passed, enough so she could slowly drop her arms. She watched in shock as the aircraft, one she thought at first might be military, dropped to the ground like excrement from a bird. A Bell JetRanger, she noted. 3200 pounds heavy. 1487 pounds of load capacity. Maximum cruise speed of 213 kilometers.
What the hell was it doing? Crashing? she thought. Some of her hair had come out of her ponytail, the mouse-blonde strands flicking her sweaty forehead where it stuck for a moment before being ripped away.
No. Not crashing, she realized, pushing her glasses up her nose. Its loss of altitude was too controlled for a crash. Plus, by now it was hovering fifty feet away, still off the ground, but turned in her direction, the pilot—with his insectoid glasses—waving.
Definitely not a crash.
But then it backed up, reversing like a dog told to stay, its tail end spinning around so that she could see the side.
She straightened and absently rubbed at her aching leg—it always hurt while she was jogging. Knight Enterprises.
Her employer. Actually, she worked for one of their small subsidiaries—a research and development facility that tried to figure out ways for Mr. Knight to make more money off his string of aircraft, usually by increasing fuel efficiency via aerodynamics.
The helicopter dropped lower, the fronds of nearby palm trees cowering away as a half-second later the pilot cut the engines. That helped considerably. Slowly, the blades began to lose velocity, the turbine engine's whine became more pronounced. She watched the pilot turn and then say something to a passenger, fluffy clouds reflected in his cockpit's window. A second later the side door popped open and a man with burly shoulders and forearms the size of Thanksgiving turkey breasts dropped out, his black glasses reflecting the green lawn as he squatted beneath the blades. He had gray hair, oddly enough, that didn't move an inch.
"Are you okay?" Kristen called to the black-clad figure. "Do you need me to call 911?" she asked, patting the sides of her baggy jogging suit—blue—the pants bulging on the left side.
Cell phone. Good.
"Kristen McKenna?" he called out, straightening now that he was away from the spinning blades. He had an earring, she noticed, but she only spied that because he had an earpiece, too, a drumstick-sized mic hanging by his left cheek.
Kristen's arms dropped.
"Are you Kristen McKenna?" he asked again and when he drew a little nearer, she could see he was tall. And wide. Sort of military-looking, in a retired Navy SEAL type of way. Short-sleeved black T-shirt and matching black pants. Scary looking, actually.
"E-yes," she said. "That's me."
He pulled something from his pocket. A picture of her, she realized. Of her.
"Good," he said after comparing her with the photo. "Come with me."
"Come with— What?" she asked, stepping back. "Who are you?"
"Rob Sneed. Head of security for Mathew Knight."
The Mathew Knight? Her boss? The single richest man in the universe? She'd only ever seen him on the covers of magazines. Or on T.V.. Or in the newspaper. Front page.
"Mathew Knight is looking for me?"
"Affirmative," he said, glancing at the picture again, and then his watch. Rolex Aviator. She'd coveted that watch since flight school.
"Well—" She blinked a few times, trying hard to focus her brain. The rotors had stopped spinning, Kristen able to hear the nearby waves crashing onto shore, the smell of the ocean suddenly more pronounced. "What about?"
"I'm afraid I'm not privy to that kind of information."
That made sense.
Wait a second. None of this made sense.
"Mathew Knight wants to see me?" she asked again, the import of those words suddenly hitting her. Before he'd passed away, her dad had often said that for a genius, she could be awfully dense at times.
The big man in front of her nodded.
"And he sent his helicopter for me?"
"You weren't in the office."
"No," she said. "I'm not."
"We were told to find you."
And so they'd sent a helicopter after her?
Kristen glanced down, noticing leaves and bits of debris stuck to the front of her jogging suit. "Look," she said, brushing at the stuff, tiny clouds of dust rising around her. "I appreciate that fact that Mr. Knight sent his helicopter for me, but I'm not so certain I should actually go with you." She glanced up, shooting him a nervous smile. "No offense. It's just that I have no idea if you are who you really say you are. I mean, obviously I'm pretty certain you're not some twisted sicko with a private helicopter, but still. I'd appreciate it if you'd tell Mr. Knight I'd be much more comfortable with a meeting at my office. His office, I mean."
He crossed his arms in front of him. "Negative."
"Negative?" she echoed.
"No time to meet you at the office."
"But he has time to send his helicopter after me?" She straightened suddenly. "Although I do have to wonder how you found me?"
"Our intel revealed you like to jog on your lunch hour."
"I'm outta here."
A hand on her shoulder stopped her cold.
"Hey," she said.
"Ms. McKenna," he said, his grip tightening. "I think it would be best if you met with Mr. Knight right now."
"And I'm telling you, I don't think so."
"You don't really have a choice" he said, pulling her toward him.
All right. That did it. She kicked him.
"Ouch," she instantly cried, drawing back and hopping around on her bad leg—never an easy thing to do. That had hurt. "What's your shin made of? Titanium?"
The human monolith didn't move. No. He stood there. Unflinching. Like one of those British soldiers outside of Buckingham palace.
"My, my, my," a masculine voice drawled. "When they told me you were a handful, they weren't kidding, were they?"
The man with the slicked-back black hair and the dark suit was instantly recognizable: Mathew Knight. In the flesh.
"Oh. My. Gosh."
Mathew saw her mouth drop open after she said the words, eyes wide beneath her thick-framed black glasses, foot still held in her hands.
He doubted she realized it, but her face was covered with a fine sheen of grit.
"Why didn't you tell me he was in the helicopter?" she asked, glancing at Rob, leg slowly dropping.
"You didn't ask," his security manager said in his deep, deep voice.
Mathew smirked. Rob loved to play security specialist to the hilt.
"You have something on your face," he said, wiping at his own cheeks in a way meant to tell her that she might want to wipe at hers.
She must not have heard him, or understood the silent gesture. "Look Mr. Knight," she said. "While I'm sure the whole helicopter and special agent thing might work well with some people, I'm afraid I'm still not comfortable with flying off with you. If you want to talk to me, I'd rather do it back at the office."
"Negative," Rob started to say, stepping forward.
But Mathew slid in front of him, holding out a hand. "I really don't have time to meet with you at the office. Not anymore."
Ms. McKenna looked at Rob again. "Does he sit and stay, too?"
"You have something on your face," he said again, ignoring her question.
She lifted her own hand then, one swipe revealing the full extent of the damage. "Holy—" She began to wipe at her cheeks furiously, using the edge of her jogging shirt. And as the oversized jacket lifted he caught a glimpse of something, just a hint of flesh that was surprisingly tan, and lithe, not the least bit lumpy as her jogging suit had suggested.
"Rob," he said as she continued to clean herself up. "We can just do the meeting here." But her cleanup job didn't help much. She looked like a child who'd been playing with a box of chocolate.
Mathew gave up then, reaching into suit jacket and pulling out a handkerchief. "You missed a spot," he said, dabbing the handkerchief against his tongue, then lifting her chin and beginning to wipe.
She saw her chest cavity expand, and then still. She had an unusual face. Tiny chin. Thick lips. And—behind thick brown glasses—the world's largest eyes, he realized, suddenly meeting her gaze.
His hand dropped.
"Uh, thanks," she said, her chest starting to move again.
"You want to walk down to the beach?" he asked.
She smoothed her hair off her face, her gaze suddenly locked upon the ground. "I'm supposed to be in a meeting in a half-hour."
"Rob can let them know you'll be late."
"It's a class of sixth graders. They want to see the wind tunnel. I hate to keep them waiting."
"We'll keep it short," he said.
She nodded and stepped up next to him, her stride a little uneven. Must be the injured leg he'd heard about. He'd been filled in by Rob who did background checks as a matter of routine.
That's how she'd been described. Wonderful. Brilliant. Unique, and in possession of a sense of humor that kept her team in stitches most of the time. His head of R&D had spent a half-hour extolling her virtues, then another half-hour telling him why he couldn't afford to lose her.
"Well?" she asked, Mathew catching a bit of a wince when her left leg took the weight of her body.
"You okay?" he asked.
"Fine," she said. "Just a little sore from jogging."
That leg was probably more than a little sore judging by what he knew of the injuries she'd sustained, but he let it slide.
They walked for a bit in silence, Mathew taking note of the scenery. He'd always liked Florida—great Palm Beach Polo Club. And even now, in mid-May, the breeze that flung itself off the ocean cooled things off, the sea a clear grey-green. If it weren't for the hurricanes he'd have bought himself a place out here years ago.
"Do you always send helicopters after your employees?" she said, interrupting his musings.
"Then it's safe to say that I'm the first employee in history who's been run down by one of your Rangers?"
Close to shore he could see dolphins break the surface of the water. He stopped for a moment, intrigued.
"What do you need to talk to me about?"
But the porpoises were forgotten the moment she reminded him of his task. "I need your help."
Her whole face seemed to lift in surprise. "You need my help?"
"I do," he said.
"With what?" she asked.
Fascinating, her eyes. Big and blue. Like a Siamese cat's.
"Long story," he said.
"Then you better find a way to make it short."
Indeed, he probably should. "I recently embarked upon a business venture that could use your help."
"How so?" blonde brows arching above the frame of her glasses.
"You have the background needed for the project."
"Your employee profile said you used to race open wheels."
She let out something that sounded suspiciously like a snort. "About a million years ago."
"And that racing is what got you interested in pursuing a degree in aeronautics."
"Before I realized women weren't really wanted in USAC garages."
"From what I understand, NASCAR's much different."
He wondered how much to tell her, realized he'd better tell her as much as possible, and so said, "Ms. McKenna, I've bought myself a race team." He smiled down at her, sliding his hands in his suit's pocket and jingling some change in his pocket. "A NASCAR race team."
"Why'd you do that?"
Her honesty was refreshing, and amusing. His bank had hemmed and hawed around that same question before one of them had finally gotten the courage to ask him outright—an hour later.
"It seemed like a sound investment. The sport's growing by leaps and bounds. I expect a healthy return for my investment. Plus, I like things that go fast."
"So you bought yourself a team."
He shrugged. "Some people buy themselves baseball teams. I chose NASCAR."
"Because when you have more money than God, why buy a second home or a new car when you can own a whole race team?"
"Exactly," he said.
"So what do you need me for?" she asked.
The breeze kicked up, strands of her hair whipping around her face. "You're my ace in the hole."
"I beg your pardon?" she asked looking up at him from above the rim of her glasses like the catholic nuns used to look at him when he was a boy.
"You're one of the best in your field, according to your employee profile. Plus, you have the background. Your psych profile tells me that you like to win and it just so happens you already work for me. Perfect."
"Perfect for what?"
"Engineering consultant for Knight Enterprises Motorsports."
"I beg your pardon."
"You're imminently qualified for the job," he said.
She shook her head, slowly at first and then faster and faster, setting wispy strands of hair loose. "Do you have any idea how surreal it is for you to be standing here?" she asked. "In front of me, offering me a job designing race cars?"
"Didn't you spend your first three years in college learning to do exactly that?"
"Yeah, but that was before I realized how hard it was for a woman to break into the racing industry."
"And so you switched to airframes."
"Better job market."
"But wouldn't you like a shot at doing what you originally wanted?"
Unreal. Just unreal, she thought, staring up at him. She felt like an actress in a James Bond movie, but that might be because of his resemblance to a young Pierce Brosnan or a young Sean Connor (and maybe his helicopter entrée). But there was no denying that with his slicked back hair, tan face and born-with-money attitude, he seemed out of this world.
"And, actually, you wouldn't be the first person to cross over from aerospace to NASCAR. A number of teams have started to look outside of racing for their engineers."
"I can't believe this is happening," she mumbled, looking away from him.
The clouds started to part, patches of sunlight seeming to float and undulate across the ocean's surface. When she'd graduated college that's all she'd wanted to do—design cars. She's spent her summers racing midgets with her dad back in Kentucky. She'd been good—really good.
Until the accident.
She closed her eyes, willing away the bad memories.
"Look," he said, green eyes holding her gaze. "I have a plane leaving for North Carolina tomorrow morning. Why don't you sleep on it?" he asked, handing her a card.
A card. Of course. Probably with gold lettering. Yup. And it said:
The Mathew Knight. Her boss. And he was offering her a job. Well, a different kind of job. Designing race cars.
"Call the number on the bottom. My secretary will arrange things should you decide to take the job."
"Why?" she asked. "Why me. I haven't worked on car bodies in years."
"I don't want someone who's already in the industry. I want someone with a fresh mind. Someone who will think outside of the box."
"Yeah, but surely there's other people better qualified than me?"
"I want new blood. And you just happen to have the added benefit of already working for me."
"But I don't know anything about stock car racing."
"Even better. You won't be throwing the same old, same old around."
She began to shake her head. "This is crazy."
"Maybe," he said. "Maybe not. But I didn't get to where I am today by thinking like everyone else."
No. He probably hadn't.
"Just promise me you'll mull it over."
And with that, he turned away. Very 007ish, she thought as he strode back to his helicopter, hand in the pocket of his black suit pants, his security specialist crouching by the helicopter door.
Knight. Mathew Knight.
"Wait," she called out.
He half-turned, cocked his head in her direction.
"How much does it pay?"
His hands jingling the change in his pockets again. "Two-hundred."
"Dollars?" she asked, which was probably the stupidest question in the world she'd ever asked because of course she knew what he meant.
"No," he called, his voice having risen because his helicopter's turbine engine had begun to spin, the rotors beginning lazy loops in the air. "Thousand," he called. "For six months worth of work," he added. "That is—if you make it through the sixty day probationary period. But if it doesn't work out, you can have your old job back."
"Unbelievable," she muttered.
"Think about it," he called again, turning away and disappearing inside the helicopter like the secret agent he resembled.
"Umm, sure," she mumbled to nobody but herself.