From zero to sixty in a heartbeat—if she doesn’t throttle him first.
Extreme Racing, Book 1
When CJ Randall arrives in Nevada to cover the Celebrity Pro/Am Off Road Rally for DRIVE Magazine, she’s already stuck between a cactus and a hard place. Her boss has made it clear if this article doesn’t measure up, her job is wrecked. Then she gets a look at the “pro” half of her “am”: Tan. Rich. Overconfident. Unsuitable. Bachelor. Lacking. Ethics.
She’s sworn off tall, dark and handsome men. Too bad the desert heat is making her hyperventilate like a hormone-crazed teenager.
Despite her makeup-free face and ready-to-go attitude—a far cry from the high-maintenance women he’s used to—Bryce Danvers doesn’t expect CJ to last an hour. To his surprise, she toughs out the entire day. The least he can do is show his appreciation with some fast food and a friendly kiss.
The instant their lips connect, warning klaxons go off in CJ’s head. He’s a taste of heaven she can’t afford to sample again. Bryce finds himself wanting to give her generous curves a bumper-to-bumper inspection. And his focus on the checkered flag shot all to hell.
"Playboy Prankster is hilarious ... Extremely entertaining story" - SensualReads.com
This particular Trouble, aka Bryce Danvers, leaned against the side of a big rig, the afternoon sun casting shadows on his angular face. Race trucks zoomed off into the desert. People milled around the staging area looking for their favorite movie star, professional driver or celebrity millionaire slated to drive in the Charity Pro/Am 2000. But Trouble seemed oblivious to it all because Trouble was talking to a cotton-candy blonde with a tight, pink, mini-skirt thingie vacuum packed to her body.
“I just love your toy store commercials,” the blonde gushed.
CJ checked her stride, hanging just a few feet away from them. This ought to be good.
“Do you? Which is your favorite?” Bryce Danvers asked.
“The one where all the baby toys come alive.”
Yeah, probably because she couldn’t figure out her own Speak and Spell. CJ side-stepped an overzealous spectator.
“Oh yeah?” Bryce smiled down at the blonde with what could only be called a predatory grin, his black hair rustling in the dusty breeze. “Do you want to get together tonight and talk about them?”
Talk? Yeah, right. As if the blonde woman had worn the dress as part of a shrink-wrap experiment.
“Sure, Bryce, I’d love to.”
Get naked with him, she meant.
“Where’re you staying?”
At a place which rents rooms by the hour, where else?
“The Star Motel.”
“When can I pick you up?”
Let’s see. Give her two hours for the hair, an hour for the makeup, three hours for her to find her motel again…
“How about seven?”
She just bet it sounded great.
Okay, okay, so she was obviously in a rank mood, but she’d been that way ever since she’d been told by her editor she’d have to sit in the same race truck as Bryce Danvers. Still, that didn’t excuse being such a cat. Jealousy, she admitted, eyeing the blonde. And who wouldn’t be? The last time she’d looked good in anything that tight had been about sandbox age.
She wiped her palms against her jeans and shoved off to meet Mr. Trouble.
“Hi,” she said brightly when Bryce managed to tear his blue eyes away from the blonde’s breast implants.
“Hi, yourself.” His Southern drawl washed over her like the chords of Clint Black’s guitar.
“I’m CJ Randall.”
“Hi, CJ Randall.” His mouth curved into a flirtatious smile. Bryce Danvers with a flirtatious smile was a Bryce Danvers who should come with a warning sign. Caution—Respirator Required Beyond This Point.
Apparently, the woman in pink thought so too. Her voice sounded a bit breathless as she said, “Bryce, honey, perhaps we should talk somewhere else, away from all these…people.” Her gaze slid contemptuously down to CJ’s jeans and T-shirt, but CJ ignored her. She refused to be intimidated by a woman whose hair probably weighed more than her brain. Besides, it was obvious talking wasn’t all the blonde wanted to do. Heck, no woman in her right mind would waste her time talking to Bryce Danvers. But that’s exactly what CJ was here to do. Talk to him—for three days straight—while conducting her very first in-action interview from the passenger seat of his one-ton, twelve hundred horsepower Dodge Ram.
“Actually, I need to speak to you too,” CJ said.
Bryce lifted a curious, adorable black brow and CJ’s throat went dry. “I’m from DRIVE Magazine, and I’m your co-pilot for the race.”
Silence greeted her words as someone jostled her from behind. Bryce stared down at her as if a big wad of dirt hung off the end of her nose.
“You’re CJ Randall?” he repeated in disbelief.
CJ nodded, then swiped above her lip…just in case.
“But…you’re not a man.”
“Gee, really?” Gosh, she was sick of hearing that. People always assumed her initials stood for a guy’s name.
“I meant, your editor told us he was sending a man.” Bryce looked amused. Pink Pumps snorted. CJ stared up at Bryce in shock. It couldn’t be.
But it was.
Miles Van Dyke, Editor-From-Hell, had set her up. Little worm. No wonder he’d had that nefarious grin on his face when she’d left the office yesterday. All during the flight from Los Angeles to Las Vegas she’d wondered about it.
“Is that a problem?” she asked. It came out sounding more like a challenge than a question.
“Not that I can see,” he replied silkily. His eyes broke contact to examine her. “But it might be with the owner of this truck. After all, you’re his liability if I kill you.”
“Are you saying that as a woman I’m more of a liability than a man?”
“Just a helluva shame to endanger such a pretty neck.”
Oh great. He was a playboy and a flirt. But as his words sank in she tried not to panic. She couldn’t afford to lose this assignment, not with Miles Van Dyke breathing down her neck, and not when her finances had dropped lower than the Dow Jones average on Black Monday. After the fiasco of her last job, if she lost this one she could kiss her journalistic career good-bye. “If you’re concerned about my qualifications, let me assure you I can handle the job.”
Pink Pumps snorted again—or maybe she was letting air out from her swollen head. CJ wasn’t sure.
“It’s not up to me.” Bryce shrugged.
“I know. But… Well…” Oh, darn. Why couldn’t things be easy for once? “I’d like to discuss this with Mr. Santini.” Be firm, CJ. The owner of the Star Oil race team had to let her go along.
“Sure.” Bryce pushed himself away from the truck.
Some of the tension drained from CJ’s shoulders, not much, but enough so she didn’t feel like a linebacker for the Rams.
“But, Bryce,” Pink Pumps interjected. “What about us?”
Puuuleez. CJ wanted to shake her. Her whole future could be at stake and Hairspray Head was worried about playing hide the salami with Mr. Toy Store Mogul. Bryce must have read her mind because CJ could have sworn he shot CJ a look that said, “I’d go belly-to-belly with the little blonde in a minute.”
He wrenched up his smile, then turned back to Pinkie. CJ almost felt sorry for the woman. No female under the age of ninety should have to endure such a grin.
“I’ll catch up with you later,” he said.
I bet, CJ thought wryly.
“You mean here?” Pinkie asked, shifting on her heels like a race horse waiting to ram the gate.
“Sure. I’ll meet you back here in about an hour.”
Jeeze, the broad was pushy, and the man was smooth, CJ’d give him that much. Of course, she’d known that about him. Bryce’s reputation as a playboy was just about as famous as his toy store chain.
“Great!” The woman actually gushed.
She watched as Bryce smiled back. Pinkie tossed her empty little head, but not before she shot CJ a triumphant Cheshire grin lacking only the whiskers to make it complete. CJ wished her well in the chase of Bryce, though the woman might find that hard to believe. Personally, she had no intention of getting involved with a man who looked like Bryce, not after the last time she’d let passion rule her actions. She’d not only lost her job, she’d damaged her reputation. Now that she was finally back to work after two years of forced retirement she wasn’t going to get involved with a man who’d do the horizontal mambo with Pinkie.
The crowd thinned as CJ and Bryce wound their way through the huge big rigs hauling the trucks around. Beyond the forty or so haulers was a parking lot. Desert cacti stuck up like sign posts between a mass of cars. To the right of the lot was a grove of campers.
They found Harry Santini, owner of the Star Oil race truck, in his RV. The monstrous thing looked more like Mick Jagger’s touring bus than a recreational vehicle. He was lying face down on a plush orange sofa, his smoldering cigar filling the air with noxious waste. A lanky brunette looked up, then went back to massaging his back, her fingers delving beneath the neck of his white polo shirt. The woman had breasts the size of the Sierras, and lips so full she could have been in a movie titled Pump Friction or something. TV noise flickered in the background. Someone grunted. The roar of a crowd filled the room, followed by the nasal voice of a commentator. Tennis.
“What is it, Bryce?”
They both turned. Mr. Santini hadn’t bothered to look up, Betty Boobs apparently doing too good a job to warrant movement. CJ studied what she could see of Bryce’s long-time friend. He appeared heavier than in his pictures, but the gray hair was the same. With his head turned away she couldn’t see his face, which was a pity. She’d like to look into the eyes of a man who’d gotten rich selling toys…the leather whip kind, that is.
“I want you to meet someone.” Bryce bent down to shove three pillows off a small couch directly opposite Harry. He plopped himself down, somehow managing to look better against an orange backdrop. The window behind him threw soft light onto his face, making his five o’clock shadow even darker. Next, he released the Velcro strip holding his white and blue firesuit closed. CJ glanced down at him and had to force herself to look away from the thatch of dark, curling chest hair.
“Who?” Santini asked, startling CJ, who’d been wondering if race trucks had back seats.
Mr. Santini still didn’t look up, although the woman massaging him did. She glanced at CJ, wrinkled her nose, then honed in on Bryce with diamond-tipped precision. The smile she shot him was an open invitation lacking only her phone number. Yup, Bryce was a bimbo magnet. No doubt about it.
“Who?” Santini repeated, sounding impatient.
“CJ Randall,” Bryce answered, clearly enjoying the moment. “The journalist from DRIVE Magazine.”
Santini shifted. CJ mentally braced herself. Gray eyes met hers, white, bushy brows drawing up and up and up. “That’s CJ Randall?” he all but shouted, pushing himself into a sitting position and nearly smacking his head into the brunette’s. CJ winced. She’d been hoping for something a little more positive.
“In the flesh.” Bryce leaned back, stretching out his long legs.
“How do you do, Mr. Santini?” Taking the bull by the horns, she went forward and offered her hand.
Santini just about swatted it away. “Silvia, why don’t you leave us for a sec, hon?”
The brunette nodded, darting another glance at CJ. What she saw apparently impressed her about as much as dog doo. She sniffed as if she actually smelled it, then exited stage left. The door admitted a blast of desert heat behind her.
“Is this one of your pranks, Bryce?” Santini asked when they were alone.
“Mr. Santini,” CJ interjected, tired of Bryce’s amusement at her expense. “Perhaps I can explain. I’m new to DRIVE Magazine and I’m sure my editor didn’t think—”
“You’re new?” the man squawked. “They sent someone to me who doesn’t know squat about off-road racing?”
“Well, not exactly,” CJ hedged.
“What do you mean not exactly?”
“I, well, I…” Oh good, CJ. Great time to have a brain meltdown.
“Do you or don’t you?”
“Yes,” she said firmly.
Santini looked far from convinced. He leaned back and crossed his arms in front of him, seeming not to notice the ashes that fell onto his tan slacks. “What’s a chit?”
The question threw her. He was testing her, she realized. “Something a bird does on your shoulder?” she said, hoping to make him laugh.
Bryce chuckled. CJ had a hard time holding back a laugh too. Unfortunately, Mr. Santini didn’t seem as amused. “Nice try,” he snapped.
Party pooper. She’d have thought a man who made adult toys for a living would have a better sense of humor. Guess she could scratch charming him with her stunning wit.
“It’s a marker,” she said when it looked as if he was going to shove her out the door himself. “The officials give them to you along the course. At the end of the race, you have to have all your chits in order to prove you ran the course. If you don’t, you’re disqualified.”
Santini looked startled, but then his bushy gray brows lowered. “Name the computer system we use to keep drivers on course.”
CJ considered the question for a moment. “What is Global Positioning?”
“How does this race differ from other off-road races?”
That one she could answer too. “There’s two divisions, one for professional drivers and one for non-professionals, like Bryce. It’s run over a period of three days, twelve hours each stint, unlike traditional off-road racing, which is usually run over a period of twenty-four hours or less. At the end of the race, the driver with the best average time will win.” There, that hadn’t sounded too bad. “Oh, and real off-road trucks don’t have front windshields,” she added.
Santini looked about to sling another question at her but Bryce interrupted him. “Come on, Harry. It’s not as if she’s asking to drive.”
Oh man. His voice shivered up and down her spine. Stop it, spine. You are not getting involved with a millionaire playboy. Especially when this one had a reputation to put a rock band to shame. Trouble.
“I don’t like it. It’s too dangerous for a woman.”
CJ lost her patience. She wasn’t trying to get into the NFL for criminey’s sake. It was a stupid race. Drive from Point A to Point B. She didn’t proclaim herself an expert on the subject, but she hardly thought it’d take more than a leathery behind to get her through the darn thing. Besides, she had an ace up her sleeve.
CJ smiled sweetly. “Mr. Santini, what do you think your sponsor, Star Oil, will say when they learn you turned down national exposure via a magazine article simply because the reporter was a woman?”
She had him. She knew it the moment she said it. Still, the silence stretched on as he struggled with his options. The TV had switched to auto racing. The drone of high horsepower engines faded in and out in the background. The pungent stench of cigar smoke drifted lazily through the air.
“Do you know what it’s going to be like out there?” he asked at last.
CJ swallowed. “Well, not exactly, but I—”
“It’s hell. Purgatory on wheels. You’ll be lucky if you don’t toss your cookies five minutes into the race. The heat sucks the life right out of you. There’re no bathrooms, no air conditioning, nothing but you, the truck and Bryce. Hell, I’m not even sure Bryce is going to make it.”
Blunt, yet effective.
“But I’ll tell you what,” Santini continued. “The first fueling stop is about an hour into the race. I’ll let you ride with him for sixty minutes. And if you pass that test, an hour the next day, and then an hour the next. You can do your interviewing when we hit the hotels at night.”
Well, it wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing. “I appreciate that, Mr. Santini.”
“Yeah, well, I doubt you’ll thank me tomorrow.”
She had a sinking suspicion that was true. Frankly, she’d done a little research into off road racing. What’d she’d seen on-line had scared her to pieces. The realization that tomorrow she’d be a passenger in Bryce’s vehicle caused her stomach to spasm in an all-too-familiar way. Her nerves had a way of dribbling out…one way or the other.
“Be here tomorrow morning at six forty-five.”
She nodded, headed toward the door. Did they have public restrooms on-site?
Bryce shot up from the couch, opening it for her. “See you in the morning,” he drawled softly.
CJ looked up, then wished she hadn’t. He stared down at her lazily, his blue eyes making her wish she had cotton-candy hair and snow-cone boobs.
“Hey, you don’t think it’ll be that bad, do you?” And though she tried to keep her voice from cracking, it didn’t work.
He smiled, a cocky boyish grin all the more adorable for the touch of compassion in his eyes. “It’ll be okay, just relax.”