Indi's only rule: never date a driver. Todd's new rule: win a date with Indi. Good thing rules were made to be broken.
Indi Wilcox has a bad track record with professional athletes--and the skid marks on her heart to prove it. So when she's forced to team up with Todd Peters, NASCAR's number one bad boy, to grant the wish of a terminally ill child, she vows to keep things professional.
Todd isn't sure what he thinks about the new Miracles caseworker. Except that she's gorgeous...and steaming mad. Not that he blames her. He accidentally let down one of her kids. Determined to prove to Indi that he's not just another spoiled NASCAR star, Todd sets out to make things right. With every combustible moment they share, deeper feelings take over. Giving up total control might be the scariest--or the best--risk they ever take.
"This new installment in Britton's NASCAR series is the best yet. It not only brings alive the sport but also the emotional roller coaster of those who have a loved one suffering from cancer. The story is heartachingly real but also wonderfully hopeful. It's an incredible read." TOP PICK! - Susan Mobley Romantic Times Magazine
I think this is a magnificent book. The beginning immediately caught my attention and latched on until the conclusion. Total Control is powerful, compelling and an impressive read that is worthy enough to read many times over. Cherokee, Coffee Time Romance
TOTAL CONTROL is Ms. Britton's latest edition to the NASCAR collection from HQN and it is certain to find new fans and old quickly adding it to their keeper shelves. Fans of the world of NASCAR will love this action packed ride that will take your emotions around the track at 200MPH. Ms. Britton has written characters that are realistic and will touch your heart on many levels. Wendy Keel, The Romance Reader Connection
Love ‘Em or Leave ‘Em
By: Rick Stevenson, Sport Editor
It’s no secret that there are some drivers on the NASCAR circuit whom everybody loves. Lance Cooper comes to mind. And lately, Adam Drake.
Then there’s the opposite: Those drivers everyone loves to hate. Okay, one driver in particular.
Rarely do I see so many people boo as when Todd Peters is introduced.
But then they cheer him too—when he suffers some bad luck. At Dover this year when Todd wrecked on lap fifty-three, I honestly thought a favored driver had taken the lead until one of my journalist friends pointed out that it was actually the crowd shouting in delight that Todd Peters’ day was over.
And all because he’s accidentally “bumped” someone off the same track last year. Of course, he ended up sending that driver to the Infield Care Center. And many a NASCAR aficionado will argue that the driver he punted ended up not making the Chase because of Todd’s little stunt, although with the revisions to the Chase this year, maybe not.
But, you know, all that aside, I have to wonder what all the fuss is about. In the past drivers like Todd were revered for “bumping” and “nudging”. If someone was sent into the wall, so be it. Nine times out of ten the crowd cheered. They loved it. That’s racing, they used to say. What happened to those days?
Todd Peters is as close to despised by NASCAR fans as I’ve ever seen. That’s a pity. And I have to wonder: does he care? He certainly hasn’t done anything to change that image. Should he?
Do other “bad boys” worry about their public image? Does it matter to them that they might end up losing a sponsor because of their tarnished image?
Todd Peters is poised to make the Chase. With one race left to go, Richmond, he might just find himself in the thick of things.
How will fans react to that?
I suppose time will tell. In the meantime I’m going to watch a replay of 1987’s All Star race at Charlotte. You know the one...when the Intimidator made his famous “pass on the grass” so he could lead the race. Now there’s a man who knew how to bump ‘n nudge, and was hailed as a hero when he did it.
Damn. I miss the old days.
* * *
“You are the biggest frickin’ jerk that ever walked the earth.”
Todd Peters froze, sunlight refracting off the water and momentarily blinding him.
“It’s all I can do right now not to push you off the pier.”
He squinted, turned, but it was hard to see with his eyes momentarily blinded by the sun refracting off the water. A woman. That much was clear. Blonde-haired. Skinny. And really, really angry.
“With any luck you’d land in a pool of Piranhas. Hopefully a whole school of them. Maybe they’d eat your pestilent flesh, nibble out your eyes then snack on your pea-sized brain for dessert.”
Todd pushed himself up. “Can I help you?” he asked.
Out behind him a jet ski roared by, the wha-wha-wha of the engine popping in and out of the water making Todd long for the smooth surface of Lake Norman, too.
“Yeah, you could help me. You could help me by showing up when you’re supposed to. By not blowing off my clients. By being kind and thoughtful and considerate instead of selfish and pig-headed and a self-centered ass.”
Okay. That was harsh. “Do I know you?” he asked.
“No, you don’t know me, but I know of you,” she said. “And what I know, I don’t particularly like.”
She’d started to come into focus. The hair went from mouse blonde to platinum with reds and browns mixed in, the strands loose and well past her shoulders. The oval face suddenly had the cheekbones of a ferocious feline. The brown eyes weren’t just brown, they were a brilliant, nearly green, hazel—and they were furious.
“How’d you get down here?” he asked, glancing back toward his house, and at the French doors at the rear of his multi-leveled home. They were closed. He leaned forward, hoping to see past the lush foliage that surrounded his backyard. The side gate appeared closed. And locked.
“I climbed over the fence,” she admitted.
“You climbed over?” he asked, wondering if he needed to call the police.
“I wanted to see you. And since neither you nor your assistant, Jennifer, seem willing to call me back, a padlock gate wasn’t going to stand in my way.”
Jennifer. She knew his PR rep. Maybe not a crazy woman after all. “I see,” he said. “What’d you need to see me about?” he asked.
“I work for Miracles,” she pronounced, an expectant expression coming to her face.
He shook his head. “Doesn’t ring a bell.”
“Maybe that’s because we used to be called The Wishing Tree.”
Okay, so that did sound familiar. “And what does Miracles, formerly known as The Wishing Tree, want with me?” although he could guess. It wouldn’t be the first time the wish-fulfilling organization had asked him to grant a wish, although this was the first time one of their volunteers had ever accosted him in his home.
“You mean you can’t guess?”
“Why don’t you just fill me in instead.”
She looked incredulous. Behind him water splashed against the front of his boat. He braced himself for the inevitable rocking of the dock beneath his feet.
“You’re unreal, you know that?” she said. “You show absolutely no remorse.”
“Remorse? For what?” he asked.
“Blowing off two meetings.”
“Are you denying it?”
“I don’t manage my schedule,” he said, going back to his task of untying his boat. “So if I did blow you off, chances are I didn’t know it was you.”
“How can that be?” she asked, following him from cleat to cleat.
“I’m told where to go, and if I can’t make a meeting, I tell them to cancel it.” He untied another line. The Scarab was twenty-five feet long, sleek, and heavy. It’d been a gift from one of his sponsors, its red, yellow and orange paint scheme seemingly luminescent. The minute he untied a line, the fiberglass hull started to drift away. He moved quickly to the next cleat.
“You blew off two meetings with us. One last month and one this month.”
“That’s unusual,” he said. “I don’t usually cancel meetings with charity organizations,” he added.
That wasn’t exactly true. Over the past few weeks he’d canceled a lot of meetings—thanks to Kristen.
“Yes, but what makes your behavior all the more deplorable about canceling this meeting is that these weren’t with us, they were with one of our clients—a terminally ill child named Benjamin Kotch, who, for some misguided and totally incomprehensible reason, wants to meet you—his favorite race car driver—before he gets sicker than he already is, only you…” Red blotches of color stood out on her cheeks, the splash of crimson spreading all the way to her neck. “You stood him up.”
He straightened, nylon rope forgotten. “I did?”
“You did, and to be perfectly honest, I was hoping that after the second time he’d start rooting for, you know, Adam Drake. Alas, he’s still enamored of you—goodness knows why—and so this time I’m leaving nothing to chance. I want to set up another time for you to meet Benjamin, only this time I need to warn you that if you stand him up
again, I’ll hire a hit man, have you boiled in tar, hung out on a rack, tortured and then dragged behind one of those race cars you drive, preferably one driven by one of your arch enemies.”
He didn’t seem amused. Or threatened. He didn’t look anything, Indi thought.
“Wow,” he drawled, his accent making him sound like a southern gentleman. But she knew for a fact he was no gentleman. “That’s harsh.”
“That’s only the first part.”
She thought he might have smiled, saw the very edges of his lips tip up, but then he frowned.
“Like I said. Sometimes I cancel meetings without even knowing who they’re with.”
“Well, maybe you should take the time to unearth that little tidbit of information in the future.”
“Maybe I should,” he said, going back to work.
“Will you meet with him then?”
“Of course,” he said, peering up when he knelt down by another line.
“I’m not certain.” He tossed the rope into the boat. “Like I said before, I don’t handle my own schedule.”
“Well if you don’t mind, I’d like to call whoever does manage your schedule and arrange for a meeting now.”
“Sure,” he said. “But is it going to make a difference if we do it right this minute? Or in a couple hours?”
“’Cause if you don’t mind, I’d like to enjoy what’s left of the day.”
Spoiled race car driver. They were all alike. “It’ll only take you two minutes to do it.”
“Actually, it might take longer than that, depending on if I can get a hold of Jenn or not.”
He patted his pockets. “Don’t have my cell phone.”
“Use mine,” she said.
He glanced from the boat to the lake to the boat again, his body language telling her that he wasn’t happy to have to deal with this now. But to give him credit, he held out his hand.
“I’ll be right back,” she said. “I have to go get it.”
He stiffened. “What?”
“The battery was low. It’s charging in my rental car—”
“Fine,” he said, dismissing her with a wave of his fingers.
“And go through my house,” he called out after her. “That’s all I need for you to do is break your neck on my fence.”
Blah-blah-blah-blah, she silently mimicked. He could just sit there. It was the least the jerk could do. Whenever she thought of poor Benjamin’s face, of the way it’d crumbled the second time Mr. Fancy Pants race car driver had stood him up, well, it infuriated her all the more. She’d take her time; and Todd Peters would learn to like it, she thought, inhaling the sweet scent of lilies someone had planted along a windy pathway. The air was heavy with the exhalation of foliage: ferns, ivy and some kind of tree with thick, glossy leaves.
“Whoa,” she said, the minute she pulled open one of the many French doors that, like about a half a dozen others—lined the rear of the house.
The inside was huge. But of course she’d known it would be the moment she’d pulled up in front of the split-level mansion. She was in some sort of game room: pool table, big screen T.V., pinball machine in the corner. She walked across a hardwood floor and toward the front of the house only to discover there was no exit, just stairs. She climbed those next. At the top she found a mammoth-sized kitchen—complete with its own hearth—and one very large family room off the side of it. Windows stretched up ten feet high, allowing her a view of the dock. The egomaniac stood there, glanced at his watch, then at his boat that was still tethered by a single line to his private dock.
You can just wait, she thought again.
She didn’t deliberately take her time. Alright. Maybe she did. But it was hard not to gawk at the main foyer that rose up three stories tall, single-paned windows allowing light to filter onto the off-white marble floor. There was a light fixture hanging from the middle of ceiling some thirty feet above her head, one with bulbs that were made of blown glass and were elongated and twisted in such a way that the fixture resembled a giant sun. She would bet with the lights on that’s exactly what it was supposed to look like. Un. Believable.
She let herself out before she was tempted into doing something stupid, like turn on the switch, her car parked atop a brick driveway, one whose color complimented the rose-colored stucco of his home. The outside was landscaped just as beautifully as the front, lush Crape Myrtles splashing color amongst a green lawn backdrop.
“I’m back,” she called a few minutes later, almost out of breath. “My name’s Indi Wilcox, by the way, when you talk to your assistant, Jenn.”
“Indi?” he asked, black brows hiked up over impatient eyes.
“I was born early while my mom and dad were driving through Indiana,” she said, weary of the explanation that inevitable followed her name.
“Well. alright, Ms. Indi Wilcox,” he said. “Hop on in.”
“Excuse me?” she asked, watching as he untied the last line, then climbed aboard the shiny (it had to be new—like everything else) ski…boat…thing.
“If you want to schedule something,” Todd said. “You’ll have to come aboard. I’m heading out.”
“Oh, I don’t think so.”
“Okay, then,” he said, moving to the rear of the boat and pulling on a rope with a rubber thing on the end that she assumed kept the fiberglass hull from rubbing against the dock. “Call Jenn at my office. Tell her that we met, and what happened. I’m sure she’ll make things right.”
“I already have called Jennifer,” she said, following alongside the boat when he moved to the front, the deck beneath her feet hot. She could feel warmth ebbing through the rubber soles of her white tennies. “That was the point of tracking you down. Jenn isn’t calling me back.”
“Really?” he said, pulling a canvas cover off the driver area, the snaps coming off with a pop-pop-pop. “Tell her I told you to call.”
“What if she doesn’t believe me?” she asked, having to lift a hand to shield her eyes against the glare of the sun. Did it ever cool off in North Carolina? “What if she doesn’t call me back again?”
She heard a chu-chu-chu and stepped back quickly. He was trying to start the damn boat.
“That’s the risk you take, Ms. Indi,” he said, the engines flaring to life with a roar that made her lean back. Holy cripes. “You either come with me now,” he called, slipping on a pair Ray-Bans, “and I’ll give Jennifer a call while we’re out on the lake, or you go home and take your chances.”
Hotel. Not home. She’d flown all the way out here on her own dime. And she wasn’t going to leave without getting the jerk to set up a meeting.
“Why can’t you call her now?” she asked, her irritation mounting. “I’ll dial her number for you.”
“Go ahead,” he said. “Try. But she won’t answer. It’s after five.”
“Look, I only have two hours of freedom left,” he said, bending. He pulled out a dark-blue baseball cap from somewhere, tucked it on his head. And suddenly he seemed more like a professional athlete than a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup series driver. Tan arms. Toned body. Wide shoulders. Those shoulders shrugged. “After today it’s back to the grind. Press conferences, photo shoots, PR appearances. I want to enjoy what’s left of the day, and if I can’t get a hold of Jennifer right away, it might take me some time to track her down.”
“Can’t you just leave her a message?”
“Not if you want to resolve this thing tonight. I’ll have to call her house, her boyfriend, maybe her private line at the office. I’ll do it out there,” he said, nodding toward the water.
“See ya,” he yelled, the engines changing pitch.
“Wait,” she cried.
He cut off the motor so abruptly she just knew he’d been waiting for her to do exactly. She felt her insides burn, and not in a good way, either. Damn the man.
“Fine,” she said, walking to the back of the boat. “How do I get on this thing?”
“Just step onto the back. I’ll help pull you aboard.”
“No thanks,” she said. “I can manage on my own.”
She couldn’t believe he was forcing her to do this. She could dial his assistant’s number for him. She’d called the woman enough times. It’d take her two seconds to hand him the phone, and if the woman didn’t answer, he could leave her a message. Instead she was waving carbon monoxide fumes away from her face.
Maybe, just maybe, he’d choke on them.
She put her foot on the tiny ledge that jutted out from the back of the boat, suddenly afraid to lift her other foot because what if the boat drifted off when she moved? Or if the boat tipped? Or she slipped or something?
And then the boat did start to drift away, its colorful stern bobbing on the water…ever further away.
Her worst fear came true.
Her foot slid off the back. She gasped, flinging her arms over the backend. He grabbed her.
He heaved. They landed, Todd Peters beneath her, Indi sprawled atop his surprisingly muscular chest. She drew back, her palms digging into the scratchy indoor/outdoor carpeting that lined the bottom of the boat.
Now it was Todd Peters’ turn to seem unhappy. “Well, now,” he drawled, the expression on his face belying the sexy drawl of his words. “If I’d known you wanted to do that, I’d have asked you aboard sooner.”
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