She wouldn't know a NASCAR star if he hit her with his car-and he just did.
Sarah was a kindergarten teacher until a sleazy ex-boyfriend got her fired. Now the only job she can find is driving the motor coach for racing star Lance Cooper...whoever that is. Sarah doesn't know a thing about NASCAR—she just needs a job, and she’s off to a rocky start when she doesn't even recognize her ultra-famous boss.
Lance can't help but notice Sarah’s sweet smile—and how seriously unimpressed she is with his fame. It's a reaction that peaks his interest--that is, until things get a little too friendly on the bus. But Sarah has no interest in Lance's jet-setting life; she'd rather deal with spit balls than one super sexy race car driver.
But when things begin to heat up on the track, Sarah begins to wonder if life in the fast lane might be a detour worth taking—and if maybe, just maybe, she might be able to take a famous race car driver down a rocky road to find love.
The high-speed thrill of NASCAR racing meets the high-stakes game of love in this whirlwind romance from the author of Dangerous Curves!
Atlanta Journal Constitution
East Valley Tribune (Arizona)
The Indianapolis Star
Redding Record Searchlight (California)
St. Paul Pioneer Press
St. Petersburg Times
The Ledger (Florida)
The New York Times
The News & Observer
The Salt Lake Tribune
The Oakland Press, Pontiac, MI
NASCAR Scene Magazine
USA Today Article
NASCAR Scene Article:
The Oakland Press, Pontiac, MI
Television - Major Networks:
The Speed Channel
Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC
NASCAR XM Radio
98.7 WMZQ - Ben & Brian in the Morning
JR 93.7/WSJR (FM) - Dallas, PA
WNWN (FM) - Kalamazoo/Battle Creek, MI
The Country Bull Y102 - Hay, KS
WKCN (FM) - Columbus, GA
96.5 WOXL - Asheville, NC
Cat Country - WICO/WXJN FM
La Crosse Radio Group
The Morning RushWNOK 104.7 Columbia, SC
Mantel & Michelle in the Morning 99.5 WGAR/Cleveland, Ohio
Johnson & Johnson Morning ShowK-BULL 93FM Salt Lake City, UT
The Wolf Radio Station from Dalla, TX
"What a great story! ... Ms. Britton makes the world of NASCAR come alive." - Susan, SingleTitle.com
"In The Groove is a blast! It’s funny, sexy and romantic..." - Nannette, Joyfullyreviewed.com
"Ms. Britton’s story is fast paced both on and off the track... The situation, setting, and sexual tension blended into a fantastic tale that kept this reader on the edge of her seat. Congratulations on a fun, entertaining, and wonderful reading experience." - Kimber, Coffee Time Romance
"Pamela Britton makes her characters likeable...[and] allows readers inside the racing world to see the inside story. In the Groove will keep you turning page after page until you have raced through the novel." - Dawn Myers, Writers Unlimited
"Ms Britton's vivid description of what is involved in being part of NASCAR and the race itself is electrifying. ... The story is spectacular with the romance sensuous and engrossing! ... Ms Britton definitely has a new fan in me and once you pick up IN THE GROOVE you will be one too." 4 1/2 - Livia Holton, The Romance Reader's Connection
"IN THE GROOVE is an informative, exciting, seemingly realistic look at racers and the NASCAR experience. As a NASCAR novice, I found it entertaining, and the sincerity of Lance and Sarah's love touching. Now, how can I find a single NASCAR driver to meet my beautiful daughter? Whether you know what NASCAR is or not, IN THE GROOVE will be an engaging read." - Carolyn Crisher, Romance Reviews Today
"Start your engines: Harlequin kicks off a line of NASCAR-themed romance novels with this unlikely love story between a ordinary kindergarten teacher down on her luck and a famous, handsome race car driver whose best time was in distant memory...while the love story is revving up, bestselling author Britton delivers big-time on the atmosphere and details about the racing circuit, and the drivers and the lives they lead." -Ginger Curwen, Barnes and Noble
"IN THE GROOVE is a fabulous sports romance that is better than most entries into the athletic arena because Pamela Britton brings to life the milieu of the car racing world from an insider’s view of the pit and not just as a convenient backdrop. The romance between the lead duo is warm and tender, enhanced by the exciting NASCAR circuit. Fans of car racing will enjoy this driving look inside the sport as much as readers who appreciate a strong love story." 5 Stars - Harriet Klausner
"Britton's IN THE GROOVE is the impressive debut title for the collaboration between Harlequin and NASCAR. She has created an incredibly appealing hero in Lance, who is charismatic charmer. The author also beautifully captures the palpable excitement and chaos of the track. NASCAR fan or not, let IN THE GROOVE drive you to distraction." - Romantic Times
"In The Groove is first and foremost a fun, light-hearted, love story with racing as the backdrop and a feel-good ending, and isn't that what we all wish for in our real-life romances? DW, Racing Milestones
"If you like NASCAR, you will definitely enjoy this book. If you like romance, the same holds true. It is a win-win story from beginning to end." 4+ Roses A Romance Review
Legends and the Fall
Q&A with Lance Cooper
By Rick Stevenson, Sports Editor
There are certain names in motor sports that are, in some people’s eyes at least, nearly as sacred as certain Popes. Names like Earnhardt, Petty, and Johnson. Men like the late Davey Allison and Tim Richmond.
It used to be people spoke about Lance Cooper in such hushed tones, but not so much any more. I caught up with Lance Cooper at the start of this year’s racing season when he was testing at Daytona. I asked some hard-hitting questions that for the most part Lance was kind enough to answer.
Q. Lance, you used to be the man everybody talked about, can you fill us in on why you think some people have written you off as a “has been” and why they think your days as one of racing’s brightest stars are over?
A. A has been? Come on man. That’s what you call those older guys. I’m not even thirty yet. I’ve got a lot of years ahead of me as many of my long-time fans will tell you.
Q. Yes, but you’ve got to admit, it’s been awhile since you’ve won a race. Care to tell us why you think that is?
A. Heck, Rick, I wish I knew what it was, but the truth is I can’t say it’s any one thing. Certainly our engine program needs a bit of work. A few of these teams have an engine program that puts them at the top of the field week after week. Also, we’ve got some new people going over the wall and so that’s a factor. And, too, part of it’s my fault. I need to focus better. Keep my mind in the game. Avoid distractions.
Q. And you think you can fix all that this year?
A. Without a doubt.
It was the worst day of her life, and that was saying a lot.
Sunshine dappled the blacktop that Sarah Tingle walked upon causing heat to radiate up through the soles of her sandals. It was late June, and so walking on a narrow, two-lane road, any two-lane road in North Carolina, wasn't a good idea. But thanks to her continuing streak of rotten luck, her car had broken down a half-mile back, and in the continuing tradition of Sarah Tingle's life goes to hell, said road appeared to be deserted. She’d stood by the side of her car for almost an hour a nobody, absolutely nobody had come by.
Not even a cyclist. That was probably a good thing because right about now she'd tackle anybody for some wheels. Instead she pulled her red tank top away from her body (the hue no doubt matching the color of her exercise-exerted face), using her other hand to clutch her ankle-length skirt as she fanned the material in an attempt to get some air flowing to her lower regions. Didn't help.
How had it happened? she asked herself, dropping her skirt when all she managed to do was entice more gnats into dive-bombing her body. How had her life spiraled so out of control? A week ago she'd been on top of the world. Dating a good guy, enjoying a great teaching job, a nice apartment, and now…nothing.
She closed her eyes, ostensibly against the sunspots, but in reality against the sting in her eyes.
But, nope, she told herself, resolutely prying her lids open, no time to cry. She had to deal with the fact that her car, everything she owned stuffed into the back of it, had died a splendid and dramatic death that involved a loud clank, lots of noise, and clouds and clouds of smelly black smoke. Right now what she needed to do was find the address she'd been looking for. Too bad she couldn't seem to locate it, which meant she might have been better off walking back toward the main road instead of hoping for her new boss's house to appear between the tall pines, Lake Norman sparkling in the distance.
Her new boss's house.
Sarah Tingle—bus driver. She still couldn't believe it. And as she recalled the twenty, precious little faces she used to teach every day, Sarah felt like closing her eyes all over again. Instead she pushed on, shoving her curly red hair over one shoulder as determination set in.
Ten minutes later she was about to throw herself into the lake. She'd even made a deal with herself that if there wasn't a home around the next bend she'd do exactly that.
God must have tortured her long enough because right at the sharpest edge of the turn stood a mailbox, sunlight spotlighting the thing like a biblical tablet. She ground to a halt, feeling almost giddy upon recognizing the address. Two brick pillars stood to the right, an elaborate wrought iron gate between them.
A gate with the cutout of a black race car in the middle of it.
She'd arrived. Finally.
She walked forward a few more steps—well, limped, actually; her big toe had a blister on it—so excited that she didn't look left or right as she stepped into the road, just blithely assumed no one was coming (because, really, no one had in the forty-five minutes she'd been walking).
Tires cried out in protest, their screech loud and long. Sarah looked left just in time to see the front end of a silver car coming toward her. She leapt. The car kept coming. She went airborne, then landed, rolling up the hood of a car.
It took a moment to realize she'd come to a stop.
She opened her eyes. Her head—still attached to her body, miraculously enough—had come to rest against something hard a cool. A windshield, she realized. Her cheek and the front of her body pressed against the glass.
She was now a human bug. How appropriate.
Lance Cooper saw cleavage—that was it—a large valley of flesh where moments before there had only been open road.
He jerked on the door, knowing full well what had happened. He'd hit somebody.
"Am I alive?" he heard the woman mumble.
Relief made his shoulders slump. "You are." For now, he silently added, because if she turned out to be okay, he was going to kill her.
The woman shifted, rolling away from the window like a mummy unfurled from bindings. Damn, crazy race fans, he thought trying not to panic. What'd she been doing in the middle of the road like that?
"I think I broke a rib."
She deserved a broken rib. He'd had women do some strange things to get his attention, but this took the cake.
"Don't move," he ordered, figuring he better get her to a doctor because he probably had a lawsuit on his hands.
"No," he thought he heard her murmur. "No doctor."
Lance reached for his cell phone before remembering service was spotty this far off the beaten path. Sure enough, no antennae. "Damn," he murmured.
"No, that would be damned," she groaned. "As in I'm damned. I can't believe you just hit me."
He bit back a sarcastic retort. "Let me go call an ambulance."
"Because why should I get off with just my car breaking down?" she continued. "Why not add getting struck by a car to the list?"
"Look, don't move. I'll go call 911—"
"No," she said, sitting up—groaning.
"Hey," he cried in irritation. "I told you not to move." And wasn't it ironic to be the one saying that when most of the time it was him getting yelled at by rescue crews.
"Don't call 911," she said, ignoring him, which made Lance instantly angry all over again—another irony given the fact that he always refused infield care, too.
"Lady, I just hit you with my car. I'd be an idiot not to call 911."
"I'm fine," she said, swiveling on her butt ever so slowly so that their gazes met.
She'd managed to shock him.
Not a speck of makeup covered her face. Usually fans were a little more overt in their attention-getting techniques—bared midriff, strategically located body piercings, even a tattoo or two. This woman didn't have any of that. Zero. Zip. Zilch.
She slid off his fender, wincing as she did so.
"Look, I'd appreciate it if you'd hold still for a moment—"
"I'm fine," she said, swiping reddish-brown hair out of her face.
"You don't look fine," he said, steadying her with his hand, a hand that landed in a mass of abundant curls too soft to be fake, or permed, or heated into submission.
"I am," she reassured him, straightening. "Believe me, this doesn't feel any worse than the time Peter Pritchert ran me down."
"You've been hit before?"
"No, not like that," she said, wincing again, her flat vowels proclaiming she was from out of state, probably California. "Peter is—was one of my students." And he could have sworn her brown eyes dimmed for a moment, something he wouldn't have noticed if he hadn't been observing her so closely. "He had the stomach flu," she added, "and I didn't get out of his way fast enough."
"You're a teacher?" And as her words penetrated, something else she'd said earlier also sank in: broken car. Lord, that was her hunk of junk he'd passed a mile or two back. She wasn't some crazy out of state fan.
"I was," she said, rolling her shoulder a bit. "I recently underwent a change of career." She straightened, giving him a brave, everything's-all-right smile. "You're looking at Lance Cooper's newest bus driver—well, motor coach driver. I'm supposed to bring his fancy new RV to Daytona for him."
For the second time that day, she managed to shock him. She was his new driver. And she didn't know who he was.
"I was supposed to have a meeting with him, actually, which means I should probably get going before a meteor lands atop my head."
"Sure, why not?" she asked. "It's possible. I mean, everything else has gone wrong today. Why not a meteor, or a swarm of locust or a plague."
He almost smiled. Obviously, she was hanging on by a thread. "Look," he said, deciding to hold off telling her who he was for the moment. "I think you should see a doctor. I have a friend—"
"No doctor," she said impatiently.
"Because I don't have health insurance."
And there it was again, that look: Disgust. Disappointment. Dismay. Lord, but the woman was an open book.
It fascinated him.
He didn't know why, but suddenly he found himself studying her face. It wasn't a particularly beautiful face. He would venture to say she was even plain with her brown hair and brown eyes. But there was something pleasantly endearing about it. She was cute in a sweet-faced kind of way. And maybe that was what fascinated him. That sweet face didn't go at all with her hot, hot body, one perfectly outlined by her red tank-top and pretty floral skirt.
"Don't worry about the health insurance," he said. "I'm sure my car insurance will cover—"
"No thanks. Mr. Cooper's waiting for me."
He opened his mouth to tell her he was Mr. Cooper, only something stopped him. He had a feeling if he told her he was Lance Cooper it might just be enough to push her over the edge.
"C'mon," he said. "I'll give you a ride. That's a long drive."
"Is it?" she asked, looking puzzled, as well she should because you couldn't see his house from the road and so there was no way to know that, unless… "I've been there before," he said.
"Lots of times."
"You're friends with Lance Cooper?"
Okay, time to confess who he was. "I'm his pool boy."
Now why the heck did you go and say that for?
"You're his pool boy."
Because he had a feeling when she realized who he was, humiliation just might make her do something crazy—like run off shrieking, hands flailing. He almost smiled at the image.
And then he saw her glance at his car—a top of the line M300. Her brows lifted. "Wow," she said. "Cleaning pools must pay better than I thought."
Sarah figured the man wasn't going to do something crazy, like abduct her, and so she got in the car with him. Besides, she was in no condition to walk—not yet at least.
Run over by a car. If she didn't hurt so much she'd laugh—granted, it'd be hysterical laughter, but she'd be cackling nonetheless. Instead she slid into the interior of the car—slid being the operative word since her rayon-clad rear zoomed across the leather seat.
"You're not dizzy or anything, are you?" the man who hit asked after getting in on his side, his southern voice smooth and oddly comforting.
"No. I'm fine." The only time she'd been dizzy was when she'd caught her first glimpse of him.
It was bad enough to be hit by a car, but for that car to be driven by God's gift to women was the icing on the cake. Even now she couldn't resist peeking glances at him. In a beige polo shirt that hugged his bulging, strongman-arms, she had a feeling this pretty pool boy was ver-rey popular with his female clients.
I wonder if they make him wear Speedos, she mused to herself, watching him punch in the code she'd given him, his shoulder muscles flexing. She'd never seen a man with muscles along the back of his neck, but Lance the pool boy sure did, his short-cropped blonde hair curling around his nape.
"What's wrong?" he asked, and Sarah realized she'd sighed.
She looked away. "Nothing."
"You know I really would feel better if I took you to the hos—"
"No," she cut him off. "There's no need. It didn't feel like you hit me all that hard."
"Well, I wasn't going all that fast. I'd slowed down to turn into the driveway."
"See. And I jumped up onto the hood of you car, so I really wasn't hit. Just…shoved. I'm fine." And she was. The only thing that hurt was her pride. And her elbow. And maybe her knees. She rubbed at that knee now, feeling a bump and the sting of what could only be scrapped skin. She bent forward, lifting her skirt.
"Ouch," she heard him drawl.
She dropped the skirt over her knee, feeling suddenly self-conscious. "Just a scrape."
"It'll need some antibiotic lotion."
"I'll ask Mr. Cooper if he has some." Which made her glance in front of her, just in time to spy the driveway open up before them, Lance Cooper's home coming into view.
"Oh, wow," she said.
"Not bad, huh?"
Not bad at all.
The massive stone home jutted from the landscape like a pop up castle in a book. That's what it looked like, she thought in amazement, sunlight glinting off the windshield as they passed beneath trees. She shielded her eyes with her hands, taking note of the leaded windows, a few of which were colored in by stained glass. Give it a few turrets and draw bridge and Cinderella could move right in.
Did race car drivers make good money?
Speaking of which. "I wonder if he's home," she murmured.
"Doesn't look like it."
"Great," she said, dropping her hand back to her lap at the same time she blew a hank of hair out of her eyes. "The man must have thought I stood him up."
"I'm sure he figured something happened."
But for Sarah, it was suddenly all too much. "I just can't catch a break," she found herself saying, her hands digging into her skirts. Her nose was starting to clog—never a good sign—and her throat suddenly constricted. But she wasn't going to cry. Not in front of— "I don't even know your name," she said in a voice that sounded on the verge of tears—even to her own ears.
"Lance," he said softly, even the way he said his name sounding southern—Lay-yance. She almost sighed again.
But then she straightened in surprise. "Lance?" she asked. "You have the same name as the guy that owns this place?"
Later, much later, Sarah would look back at that moment and call herself the world's biggest, bimbonic fool (if bimbonic was really a word). But right then she was barely hanging on a thread, and so she instead she said, "What a coincidence," instead. She had bigger fish to fry. Such as holding onto her sanity, something that was getting increasingly harder and harder to do.
"You in pain?" he asked, probably because he'd seen her face contort as she tried to refrain from crying.
"No," and, oh lord, was that her lip quivering?
"You look like you're about to cry."
And he sounded so concerned, so caring—and, all right, a little bit panicked—that she found herself taking a deep breath and saying, "You ever go through times when you feel like a fish being slowly digested in the belly of a giant whale, bile eating at your flesh, bacteria nibbling at your eyeballs? And then, just when you think it can't get any worse, you get regurgitated and you're floating in some water current, flailing about with giant sharks soaring overhead?"
She looked over at him. He was blinking in a funny way—kind of like a dog the first time it saw a toilet flush.
"Well, that's the way I feel."
She took another step closer to tears. "Because in the space of a week I've been publicly humiliated, lost my job, been hit by a car. And now…now I'm about to embark on a career driving a bus for some famous race car driver. I'm a kindergarten teacher, not a bus driver."
"Then teach instead."
"I can't," she said. "Not back home at least."
"Because of the pictures," she said in total, absolute frustration—forgetting for a moment that he had no idea what the heck pictures she was talking about.
Which was why he probably asked, "What pictures?"
Which made Sarah realize she didn't really want him to know about them. "Nothing," she said quickly.
"Oh, no," he said, a half-smile alighting on his face. "You can't say something like that and take it back."
"I'm not trying to take it back. I just refuse to expand on it."
"What kind of pictures?" he asked again.
"Forget it," she said, trying to get out.
He locked the car doors with a pop. "What pictures?" he asked again, giving her a wicked grin.
Sarah was suddenly aware of the fact that she was alone, with a near stranger, parked in front of a deserted home. "Let me out."
"Did you pose for Plaboy?"
Her face suddenly felt like a barbecue. "I did not."
"I'm leaving." She tried the door again. He let her go this time. That made her feel a bit better, though the sticky North Carolina air did nothing to cool her heat-embarrassed cheeks.
"Wait," he said, getting out, too. "You can't leave me hanging like this."
"Yes, I can," she said, turning toward the house, though she suddenly realized she had no idea what to do. Wait for Mr. Cooper? Go back for her car?
Get hit by a bus next time?
"You were in Playboy, weren't you?" he asked, coming around the front of his car. "Tell me what issue. I'll be sure to bring it into the bathroom with me."
She gasped in outrage. "Why you…sleaze ball. I was not in Playboy."
She crossed her arms in front of her. He chuckled a bit. Oh, wow.
Sarah almost melted into fancy stone driveway. She'd never, not ever, been in the presence of a man who looked like Lance before. Gorgeous smile with just a hint of razor stubble lining his masculine jaw. Lips that curved up in a wicked way, a more pronounced patch of razor stubble right below his lower lip. And his eyes; they were a playful gray filled with laughter that seemed to poke fun at her.
"It wasn't Playboy," she said when she realized those eyes were staring at her in unabashed curiosity, too.
"Then what?" he asked.
"Is there a hose I can use to wash off my knees?" she said, turning away.
Lance stayed with her. She stopped, her gaze darting to his. He'd wiped the laughter from his face, but a film of humor still drifted in his eyes. "I'm sorry. I forgot for a moment that I'd just run you over with my car. C'mon. We have Band-Aids and stuff inside." He motioned for her to follow.
Sarah stood there for a second, watching him turn away. "I didn't pose naked," she found herself confessing.
He stopped. She met his gaze, feeling her chin lift in dignified pride. "I was wearing undergarments. And I took the pictures in college. Driving a bus wasn't paying the rent and this was a way to make some quick money."
"And you got fired over something that happened years ago?" he asked. "How could that be?"
She should have let the matter drop. But he seemed genuinely curious, and perplexed, and lord knows, she'd been dying to talk about it to somebody who might understand. "The photos were published this year," she said. "And they were put in a magazine that makes Playboy look like Reader's Digest." She shuddered. "I can't even say the name. But the worst, the absolute worst was that they took my underwear off and replaced it with someone else's—" She couldn't finish, humiliation making it impossible to speak.
"Somebody else's…" he prompted.
"Somebody else's you know."
"No, I don't know."
"Body parts," she admitted.
"Body parts?" he asked.
"Yeah, body parts."
But he still looked confused.
"I was wearing somebody else's who-who," she confessed.
He drew back, and for a second he looked incapable of speech. Then he started laughing, a big, booming laugh that filled the air and all but vibrated her skull.
"You were wearing someone else's—" His words got choked off by his laughter.
"And breasts," Sarah confessed. "And it's not funny." Only, suddenly, it kind of was. "I got fired for wearing someone else’s who-who."
She heard him bite back a laugh before choking out, "Why?"
"One of the parents found out. Other parents heard about it, too. Someone bought the magazine in to show the principal. There was a formal review…".
She left out the part about dating one of the school's officials. And that he'd turned his back on her during the whole affair. That little humiliation she managed to keep to herself.
"I packed my bags and headed for North Carolina where I heard teaching jobs were more prevalent. Only they're not and so I was forced to take the first job I could find out of state."
"Driving a motor coach."
"It was better than nothing. Plus it came with living quarters. I was, ah, living with someone at the time, someone who frowned upon my illicit past."
"Your boyfriend," he surmised.
Well, and now that cat was out of the bag, too. Not that it mattered. After today she'd probably never see Lance again.
"He kicked you out," he said softly.
Sarah met his gaze, surprised at the sudden compassion she saw in his eyes. "Well, it was his apartment."
Silence filled the air, the kind of heavy quiet that seemed to amplify everything. Her breathing. His breathing. Her scent. His scent….
And then his lips began to twitch a bit. He moved in closer to her. And then there was noise, a loud noise—her heart as it echoed in her ears like the slap of water against a rock. Her cheeks began to heat all over again. He flicked her chin up with his hand.
And Sarah knew the moment he touched her that she was in deep, deep trouble.
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