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Play By Play [6] One Sweet Ride

Jaci Burton

  One SWEET Ride



  Published by the Penguin Group Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand | India | South Africa | China Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England For more information about the Penguin Group visit


  This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.

  Copyright © 2013 by Jaci Burton.

  Excerpt from Hope Flames by Jaci Burton copyright © 2013 by Jaci Burton.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

  Berkley Sensation Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group.

  BERKLEY SENSATION® is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  The “B” design is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-62393-0

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Burton, Jaci.

  One sweet ride / Jaci Burton.

  ISBN 978-0-425-25338-0

  1. Presidential candidates—United States—Fiction. 2. Political campaigns—United States—Fiction. 3. Political fiction. I. Title.

  PS3602.U776O53 2013813'.6—dc23 2013006290


  Berkley Sensation trade paperback edition / June 2013

  Cover photo by Claudio Marinesco.

  Cover design by Rita Frangie.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

  To Charlie, for one sweet ride all these years.

  I love you.


  To the Berkley Art Department, for continually giving me, and my readers, covers to drool over. Thank you!

  To my readers:

  I’ve always loved stock car racing. There’s nothing like hot men and fast cars to get one’s motor running, is there? That being said, any changes to the stock car racing schedule or the way stock car racing is run is by my design and for purposes of story line.

  I hope you enjoy!



  THERE WAS NOTHING THAT GOT GRAY PRESTON’S MOTOR revving more than a well-running engine, a fast car crossing the finish line in first place, and a hot, willing woman waiting for him at the end of a great day.

  Too bad a blown engine had sent his car into the wall three laps shy of the finish line in Michigan. He’d been in second place and coming up alongside his competitor in a hurry, certain he’d be able to wrestle first place from Cal McClusky before the checkered flag.

  That dream had gone up in smoke. So had the hot woman, one Sheila Tinsdale, a frequent visitor to his trailer and his bed over the past month. Smoking hot, platinum blonde, and stacked, Sheila put no strings on him and liked sex as much as he did.

  She was damn near the perfect woman.

  Unfortunately, Sheila also had her eye on McClusky, and she bedded winners. So when McClusky crossed the finish line and Gray hit the wall, Sheila hit McClusky’s trailer faster than Gray’s Chevy had spun out on turn three.

  Not that he was surprised, and it hadn’t hurt his feelings. Much. He wasn’t emotionally invested in Sheila, and there were plenty more like her on the racing circuit.

  So he had a big fat zero for today’s events. No win, a smashed-up car, and no consolation sex. Plus, he’d dropped two spots in the points race and had a disappointed crew to deal with. As the owner of two cars for Preston Racing, and the driver of car number fifty-three, responsibility weighed heavily on him.

  It was his goal to make something of himself, especially since he’d broken away from his former owner and gone out on his own two years ago. He had a lot to prove —to himself, to his team, to his fans, and . . .

  It probably didn’t do him any good to think about just how much he had to prove.

  And how much it would cost him, financially and otherwise, if he failed.

  At least it was still early in the season. There was time to make up the ground he’d lost in today’s race.

  He made his way to the team garage where his crew was busy, their heads under the hood of his car.

  His crew chief lifted his head. “That sucked today.”

  Gray nodded at Ian Smart. He and Ian had been together since Gray had first climbed into a race car, before he’d ever gone pro. “Understatement. Oil temp was screaming high toward the end. I pushed it too hard. But damn—I was so close.”

  As Gray leaned over and inspected the engine, Ian nudged him with his shoulder.

  “That’s what you gotta do to win the race, buddy. Nothing you can do about it. We’ll get ’em next time.”

  Yeah. Next time. He knew all about loss. His father was a senator, so he’d grown up around campaigns, around strategies for winning, and what you did to regroup when you didn’t win.

  Though his father rarely lost a race. He’d be disappointed in Gray’s performance today. That was if he ever bothered to watch him race, which Gray knew damn well he didn’t. Mitchell Preston wouldn’t be caught dead lowering himself to watch auto racing. He considered it a redneck sport and beneath him. His father was involved in a big election this year and was more interested in his own race—which Gray had no doubt his father would win.

  Gray lost a hell of a lot more races than his father ever had. Something his dad absolutely hated. Then again, his father disliked everything Gray did, as he had ever since Gray had turned down the Harvard scholarship and chosen the sports scholarship to Oklahoma. That had royally pissed off his dad, too.

  At least that memory put Gray in a decidedly better frame of mind.

  “Donny did pretty good, though. He rolled in twelfth.”

  Gray dragged his attention back to Ian. “Not bad, but I know he can do better. He needs to work on his focus more. I’ll talk to him and his crew chief.”

  At least he could salvage something out of this shit day. Donny Duncan drove the new car Gray had brought into Preston Racing this season. At twenty-four, Donny was still a little green, having just made the switch to this level two years ago. But the kid had raw talent and great instincts. Gray was confident that if he continued to push Donny he’d see winning results.

  Gray made the turn to head toward his trailer and saw someone waiting at his door.

  Not just someone. A very attractive, way-overdressed-for-the-track female wearing a business suit and very high heels. He gave her an assessing look as he made his way toward her.

  Media, maybe? Though he’d finished his interviews earlier.

  She pulled down her sunglasses and gave him the once-over, too.

  “Grayson Preston?”

  Wow. She was a stunner, with her strawberry blonde hair expertly pulled up, her blue eyes assessing him, and her lips perfectly glossed. She sure as hell didn’t belong here. Besides, nobody on the racing circuit called him Grayson. Hell, only his mom called him by that name. And his father.

  “Yeah. And you are?”

  She walked toward him, her steps sure and confident, then
held out her hand.

  “Evelyn Hill. Do you have a moment?”

  For her, he had a lot of moments. He shook her hand, noticing her manicured nails.

  Not those long, fake, clawlike nails some of the women around here wore. Evelyn’s were short and unpainted. “Sure. Come on in.”

  He opened up the door to his trailer and waited while she climbed the stairs, which gave him an opportunity to ogle her very shapely legs and mighty fine ass. Too bad her skirt covered her knees. Normally the women around here wore their skirts a lot shorter. Then again, normally the women hitting on the racers didn’t dress like they were going to have high tea somewhere.

  She moved into the living area and he shut the door.

  “What can I do for you, Evelyn?”

  She turned to face him and gave him a smile. A practiced, professional, very businesslike smile. “I’m here representing your father, Senator Preston.”

  Just as he was focusing his radar on her, she had to go and ruin it by working for his father. Though at least he was sending better emissaries now. Gray went to his fridge and grabbed a beer. “Want one?”

  “Oh. No, thank you.”

  He popped the top off the can and took a long swallow, his throat parched from all those laps and the interviews he’d had to do after the disastrous finish. “Did you see the race today?”

  “As a matter of fact, I did. I’m sorry about your wreck, but I’m relieved you weren’t hurt.”

  He shrugged. “It wasn’t that hard a hit.” He pointed to the small table. “Take a seat, Evelyn. You sure you don’t want something to drink? I also have water and pop.”

  “No. I’m fine. But it was nice of you to offer.”

  Wasn’t she polite? She slid into the booth and crossed one long leg over the other.

  He cleared his throat. “Okay, then, what did my father send you all the way to Michigan to talk to me about that one of you couldn’t have called to say over the phone?”

  She swept a curl behind her ear and folded her hands together on the table before focusing those gorgeous clear blue eyes directly at him. “As you are aware, or at least I hope you’re aware, now that Senator Preston has dropped out of the presidential race, he has a good chance at being considered a viable candidate for vice president in the election this year.”

  He leaned back in the booth. “I knew he dropped out of the race, but didn’t know he has a shot at the VP spot. Good for him. What does that have to do with me?”

  “He’d be very grateful if you could assist him in his efforts.”

  Now this was a first. His father hadn’t wanted anything to do with him for a long time now. “Is that right? And how am I supposed to help him?”

  “You’ve done very well for yourself in this sport, Mr. Preston—”

  “If you’re going to keep talking to me, Evelyn, you’d better call me Gray.”

  She opened her mouth, paused, then nodded. “All right, Gray. As I was saying, you’ve become very successful in auto racing, which means you have a very dedicated fan base. A very dedicated nationwide fan base.”

  Evelyn sure was pretty, and there was a light sprinkle of freckles across the bridge of her nose that spread to her cheeks, which did nothing to diminish how damn sexy she was, or how commanding her eyes were. Her beauty also didn’t distract him from the very clear message she had just delivered on behalf of his father.

  “I get it. A very dedicated nationwide fan base of registered voters who you think I could persuade to cast a few for my dad and the presidential candidate. And if I agree, that makes Mitchell Preston an even more attractive potential vice presidential candidate, what with all those critical southern votes I could help him garner.”

  She didn’t avert her gaze. “Yes.”

  “Why didn’t he come to me when he was running for president?”

  “He would have, had his presidential bid continued.”

  “Huh. You do realize my father and I don’t exactly see eye to eye on a lot of things, political issues included.”

  “I know a lot about you, including your likes and dislikes—politically, that is.”

  He wanted to laugh, but he could tell Evelyn was doing her best to perform the job she’d been assigned. It wasn’t her fault she’d been assigned to Mitchell Preston’s uncooperative sonofabitch of a son. “I’m surprised, given that I’ve never spoken publicly about my likes or dislikes—politically, that is.”

  She lifted her chin. “Your father has briefed me.”

  Now he did laugh, then took a long swallow of beer before answering. “Has he? My father doesn’t know shit about me. We don’t speak much at all. And since I inherited my trust fund from my grandfather when I turned twenty-five, he can’t blackmail me into giving him what he wants by refusing to give me money, so we have no reason to communicate at all and I have no reason to give him my assistance.”

  He watched Evelyn squeeze her hands so tightly together that her knuckles turned white. “I see.”

  He started to get up. “So we’re done?”

  She didn’t move. “Your mother wanted me to tell you that she would greatly appreciate your cooperation in this. She’s sorry she didn’t get a chance to talk to you herself, but she’s been very busy on the campaign trail with your father, and of course, you’re very difficult to get hold of now that you’re racing every week.”

  Damn. “Cheap shot, Evelyn.” He could tell his father to stick it. But he loved his mother and would do anything for her. Well, almost anything. His mother was well aware of his relationship with his dad and she skated that ice carefully, usually not interfering. But for some reason she adored the bastard and supported his political career.

  Evelyn gave him a sympathetic look. “I’m sorry. I realize this is . . . difficult for you. But your support would help your father’s campaign.”

  “My father is a misogynistic prick who treats women like servants. Why in hell are you working for him?”

  Her lips curved. He liked her smile.

  “Obviously you haven’t spent much time around your father lately, have you?”

  “Obviously the old man has you snowed, or you’re utterly gullible.”

  She arched a brow. “I can assure you, Gray, I am never gullible.”

  He was sure Evelyn thought she knew all there was to know about Mitchell Preston.

  But Gray had grown up with the man and knew him better than anyone. And the one thing he’d witnessed time and again was how his father treated women. It was a wonder there were any women at all on the campaign given his father’s condescending, dickhead behavior toward them, especially if they were young and vapid. And this was a man they were considering for the VP nomination? His father was an overbearing, unemotional douchebag. Gray didn’t know how his mother had stood by his dad for thirty-three years without smothering him in his sleep or poisoning his coffee, but he’d never understood their marriage anyway.

  “So, can we count on you for your cooperation?” Evelyn asked.

  He couldn’t help but laugh at her audacity to think he’d still be agreeable. “Not a chance. Let me walk you out.”

  She looked stunned. Obviously, she was used to people falling at the senator’s feet.

  He wasn’t one of them.

  She stood. “Seriously?”

  “Seriously. Sorry, Evelyn, but I don’t kiss the senator’s ass. You’re going to have to find some other way to get votes for him.”

  “You do realize this could be beneficial for you. Think of the exposure you’d get, the new fans you could bring on board.”

  “I have plenty of fans already, but thanks.” He handed her bag to her, rested his hand on her back, and directed her toward the door.

  She stopped and turned to him. “This could be a way for you and your father to repair your relationship.”

  He could tell she was grasping at straws now. “My father knows my phone number.

  And my schedule. If he
wanted to repair our relationship, he could have done that years ago.”

  That’s when he saw the fight leave her eyes. “Then I’m sorry to have wasted your time.”

  “You didn’t waste my time, Evelyn. You wasted yours.” He held the door for her and walked her down the stairs.

  She didn’t even look back as she headed toward the parking lot.

  Too bad she was here representing his father. Evelyn Hill was one hell of a beautiful woman, and he wouldn’t have minded spending some time with her. But now that he knew she was associated with his father, he wanted nothing to do with her.


  EVELYN THREW HER BAG DOWN ON THE BED IN THE hotel room, kicked off her shoes, and flung herself onto the chair, wincing as she curled her toes.

  Stupid shoes. She grabbed the remote and turned on the television, which was set to the sports channel. Too tired to channel surf, she ordered room service, rolling her eyes as the replay of today’s race events came on TV. Despite the childishness of the act, she stuck her tongue out at the screen when Gray Preston’s handsome face appeared before her.

  “Dickhead,” she muttered, then grabbed her phone to check her email, grimacing when she saw one from the senator asking for a status update.

  The most important task he’d ever given her, and she’d failed on the first try.

  She lifted her gaze to see Gray’s smiling face as he was interviewed by the media.

  She’d been thwarted more than once in Washington, and she’d never given up.

  Where was her fight, her determination to win? That was how she’d gotten as far as she had. And she was so close to getting what she wanted, to being able to live her dream.

  She knew exactly what she needed to do.

  She scrolled through her phone and punched the number, grinning as it rang. If Gray thought he could say no and it was over, he’d soon realize she was more formidable than he thought. She’d never go down without a hard fight.