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The Heart's Victory

Nora Roberts

  Chapter 1

  Foxy stared at the underbelly of the MG. The scent of oil surrounded her as she tightened bolts. “You know, Kirk, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your lending me these coveralls.” Her smooth contralto voice was touched with sarcasm.

  “What are brothers for?” Foxy heard the grin in his voice though all she could see were the bottoms of his frayed jeans and his grimy sneakers.

  “It’s wonderful you’re so broad-minded.” She gritted her teeth on the words as she worked with the ratchet. “Some brothers might have insisted on fixing the transmission themselves.”

  “I’m no chauvinist,” Kirk returned. Foxy watched Kirk’s sneakers as he walked across the concrete floor of the garage. She heard the click and clatter of tools being replaced. “If you hadn’t decided to be a photographer, I’d have put you on my pit crew.”

  “Fortunately for me, I prefer developing fluid to motor oil.” She wiped the back of her hand over her cheek. “And to think if I hadn’t been hired to shoot the photos for Pam Anderson’s book, I wouldn’t be here right now up to my elbows in car parts.”

  When Foxy heard his quick, warm laugh, it struck her how much she had missed him. Perhaps it was because their two-year separation had worked no change on him. He was precisely the same, as if she had closed the door and opened it again only minutes later. His face was still weathered and bronzed with creases and dents that promised to grow only deeper and more attractive with age. His hair was still as thickly curled as her own, though his was a dark gold and hers a rich russet. The familiar mustache twitched above his mouth when he smiled. Foxy couldn’t remember him ever being without it. She had been six and he sixteen when it had first appeared, and seventeen years later it was a permanent fixture on his face. Foxy had seen, too, that the recklessness was still there. It was in his smile, in his eyes, in his movements.

  As a child, she had worshiped him. He had been a tall, golden hero who allowed her to tag behind and pay homage. It had been Kirk who had absently dubbed her Foxy, and the ten-year-old Cynthia Fox had clung to the name as if it were a gift. When Kirk left home to pursue a career in professional racing, Foxy had lived for his occasional visits and short, sporadic letters. In his absence, he grew more golden, more indestructible. He was twenty-three when he won his first major race. Foxy had been thirteen.

  This tender, testing, learning year of her life had been one of indescribable pain. It had been late when Foxy had driven home from town with her parents. The road was slick with snow. Foxy watched it hurl itself against the windows of the car while the radio played a Gershwin tune she was too young to either recognize or appreciate. She had stretched out on the backseat, closed her eyes, and begun to hum a tune popular with her own generation. She wished briefly that she were home so that she could put on her records and call her best friend to talk about things that were important—boys.

  There had been no warning as the car began its skid. It circled wildly, gaining speed as the tires found no grip on the slick, wet snow. There was a blur of white outside the car windows and she heard her father swear as he fought to regain control of the wheel, but her fear never had the chance to materialize. Foxy heard the crunching impact as the car slammed into the telephone pole, felt the jerk and the quick pain. She felt the cold as she was tossed from the car, then the wet swish of snow against her face. Then she felt nothing.

  It had been Kirk’s face that Foxy saw upon awakening from the two-day coma. Her first wave of joy froze as she remembered the accident. She saw it in his eyes—the weariness, the grief, the acceptance. She shook her head to deny what he had not yet told her. Gently, he bent down to rest his cheek on hers. “We’ve got each other now, Foxy. I’m going to take care of you.”

  And so he had, in his fashion. For the next four years, Foxy followed the circuit. She received her education from a series of tutors with varying degrees of success. But during her teenage years, Cynthia Fox learned more than American history or algebra. She learned about piston displacement and turbo engines; she learned how to take an engine apart and how to put it back together; she learned the rules of the pit lane. She grew up in what was predominantly a man’s world, with the smell of gasoline and the roar of engines. Supervision at times had been lax, at others, nonexistent.

  Kirk Fox was a man with one consuming passion: the race. Foxy knew there were times he forgot her existence completely, and she accepted it. Seeing the dents in his perfection only caused her to love him more. She grew up wild and free and, inconsistently, sheltered.

  College had been a shock. Over the next four years, Foxy’s world had expanded. She discovered the eccentricities of living in a dormitory with females. She began to learn more about Cynthia Fox. Having a discerning eye for color, cut, and line, she had developed her own distinctive taste in clothes. She found that clubs and sororities were not for her; her childhood had been too freewheeling to allow her to accept rules and regimentation. It had been easy for Foxy to resist college men because they seemed to her to be foolish, immature boys. She had entered college a gangling, awkward girl and graduated a willow-slim woman with her own innate grace and a passion for photography. For the two years following college, Foxy poured every ounce of her talent and effort into building her career. The assignment with Pam Anderson was a two-fold gift. It allowed her to spend time with her brother while nudging the crack in the door of opportunity yet wider. Foxy knew the first part of the gift was still more important to her than the second.

  “I suppose you’d be shocked to learn I haven’t seen the underside of a car in over two years.” Foxy made the admission as she tightened the last of the bolts.

  “What do you do when your transmission needs work?” Kirk demanded as he took a final look under the MG’s hood.

  “I send it to a mechanic,” Foxy muttered.

  “With your training?” Kirk was appalled enough to bend down and glare at the top of her head. “You can get twenty years to life for a crime like that.”

  “I don’t have time.” Foxy sighed, then continued, as if to make amends, “I did change the points and plugs last month.”

  “This car is a classic.” Kirk closed the hood gently, then wiped the surface with a clean rag. “You’re crazy if you let just anybody get their hands on it.”

  “Well, I can’t send it out to Charlie every time it gets the sniffles, and besides . . . ” Foxy stopped her justifications at the sound of a car pulling up outside.

  “Hey, this ain’t no place for a businessman.” Foxy heard the smile in her brother’s words as she set down the ratchet.

  “Just checking on my investment.”

  Lance Matthews. She recognized the low, drawling voice instantly. Just as instantly her hands clenched into tight balls. Heat bubbled in her throat. Slowly, Foxy forced herself to remain calm. Ridiculous, she thought as she flexed her fingers; resentments shouldn’t survive a six-year separation.

  She saw from her vantage point that he, too, wore jeans and sneakers. While his showed no streaks of grease, they were frayed and worn. He’s just slumming, she thought and suppressed an indignant sniff. Six years is a long time, she reminded herself. He might be almost tolerable by now. But she doubted it.

  “I couldn’t get here for the practice run this morning. How’d she do?”

  “A 200.558.” She heard the click and fizz of a beer being opened. “Charlie wants to give her a last going-over, but she’s prime, absolutely prime.” From the tone of her brother’s voice, Foxy knew he had forgotten she was there, forgotten everything but the car and the race.

  “He’s got his mind fixed on setting a pit record Sunday.” There was a faint snap, and a pungent aroma drifted to Foxy. It annoyed her that she recognized it as the scent of the slender cig
ars Lance habitually smoked. She rubbed her nose with the back of her hand as if to erase the fragrance from her senses. “New toy?” Lance asked, walking over to the MG. Foxy heard the hood lift. “Looks like the little number you bought your sister after she got her license. She still playing with cameras?”

  Incensed, Foxy gave a push and rolled out from under the car. For the instant she lay on the creeper, she saw a look of surprise cross Lance’s face. “It’s the same little number,” she said coldly as she struggled to her feet. “And I don’t play with cameras, I work with them.”

  Her hair was pulled in a ponytail back from her grease-smeared face. The coveralls left her shapeless and sloppy. In one oil-splattered hand, she held the ratchet. Through her indignation, Foxy noted that Lance Matthews was more attractive than ever. Six years had deepened the creases in his rawboned face, which, by some odd miracle, just escaped being handsome. Handsome was too tame a word for Lance Matthews. His hair was richly black, curling into the collar of his shirt and tossed carelessly around his face. His brows were slightly arched over eyes that could go from stone-gray to smoke depending on his mood. The classic, aristocratic features were offset by a small white scar above his left brow. He was taller than Kirk with a rangier build, and there was an ease in his manner that Kirk lacked. Foxy knew the indolent exterior covered a keen awareness. Through his twenties he had been one of the top drivers in the racing world. She had heard it said that Lance Matthews had the hands of a surgeon, the instincts of a wolf, and the nerve of the devil. At thirty, he had won the world championship and abruptly retired. From her brother’s less than informative letters, Foxy knew that for the past three years Lance had successfully sponsored drivers and cars. She watched as his mouth formed the half-tilted smile that had always been his trademark.

  “Well, if it isn’t the Fox.” His eyes ran down the coveralls and back to her face. “Six years hasn’t changed you a bit.”

  “Nor you,” she retorted, furious that their first meeting would find her so attired. She felt like a foolish, gangling teenager again. “What a pity.”

  “Tongue’s as sharp as ever.” His teeth flashed in a grin. Apparently the fact that she was still a rude, bad-tempered urchin appealed to him. “Have you missed me?”

  “As long as I possibly could,” she replied and held the ratchet out to her brother.

  “Still hasn’t any respect for her elders,” Lance told Kirk while his eyes lingered on Foxy’s mutinous face. “I’d kiss you hello, but I never cared for the taste of motor oil.”

  He was teasing her as he had always done and Foxy’s chin shot up as it always had. “Fortunately for both of us, Kirk has an unlimited supply.”

  “If you walk around like that for the rest of the season,” Kirk warned as he replaced his tool, “you might as well work in the pits.”

  “The season?” Lance’s look sharpened as he drew on his cigar. “You going to be around for the season? That’s some vacation.”

  “Hardly.” Foxy wiped her palms on the legs of the coveralls and tried to look dignified. “I’m here as a photographer, not as a spectator.”

  “Foxy is working with that writer, Pam Anderson,” Kirk put in as he picked up his beer again. “Didn’t I tell you?”

  “You mentioned something about the writer,” Lance murmured. He was studying Foxy’s face as if to see beneath the smears of grease. “So, you’ll be traveling the circuit again?”

  Foxy remembered the intensity of his eyes. There were times when they could stop your breath. There was something raw and deep about the man. Even as an adolescent, Foxy had been aware of his basic sensuality. Then she had found it fascinating; now she knew its dangers. Willpower kept her eyes level with his. “That’s right. A pity you won’t be along.”

  “Not a pity,” he countered. The intensity disappeared from his eyes and Foxy watched them grow light again. “Kirk’s driving my car. I intend to tag along and watch him win.” He saw Foxy frown before he turned to her brother. “I suppose I’ll meet Pam Anderson at the party you’re having tonight. Don’t wash the grease off, Foxy.” He patted a clean spot on her chin before he walked to the door. “I might not recognize you. We should have a dance for old times’ sake.”

  “Stuff it in your manifold,” Foxy called after him, then cursed herself for trading dignity for childish taunts. After shooting Kirk a glare, she stepped out of the coveralls. “Your taste in friends eludes me.”

  Kirk shrugged, glancing out the window as Lance drove away. “You’d better test-drive the car before you drive to the house. It might need some adjustments.”

  Foxy sighed and shook her head. “Sure.”


  The dress Foxy chose for the evening was made of paper-thin crepe de chine. The muted pastels of lavender and green clung and floated around her slender, curved figure. With a draping skirt and strapless bodice covered by the sheerest of short jackets, it was a romantic dress. It was also very alluring. Foxy thought with grim satisfaction that Lance Matthews was in for a surprise. Cynthia Fox was not a teenager any longer. After placing small gold hoops in her ears, she stood back to judge the results.

  Her hair was loose, left to fall below her shoulders in a thick mane of gleaming russet curls. Her face was now clear of black smudges. Her prominent cheekbones added both elegance and delicacy to the piquant quality of her triangular face. Her eyes were almond-shaped, not quite gray, not quite green. Her nose was sharp and aristocratic, her mouth full and just short of being too wide. There was a hint of her brother’s recklessness in her eyes, but it was banked and smoldering. There was something reminiscent of the wilds in her, part deer, part tigress. Much more than beauty, she possessed an earthy, untapped sensuality. She was made of contradictions. Her willowy figure and ivory complexion made her appear fragile while the fire in her hair and boldness of her eyes sent out a challenge. Foxy felt the night was ripe for challenge.

  Just as she was slipping into her shoes, a knock sounded at her door. “Foxy, can I come in?” Pam Anderson peeked through a crack in the door, then pushed it wider. “Oh, you look marvelous.”

  Foxy turned with a smile. “So do you.”

  The dreamy pale blue chiffon suited Pam’s china-doll looks perfectly. Studying the petite blond beauty, Foxy wondered again how she had the stamina for as demanding a career as that of a freelance journalist. How does she manage to get such in-depth interviews when she speaks like a magnolia blossom and looks like a hothouse orchid? They had known each other for six months, and though Pam was five years Foxy’s senior, the younger woman was developing maternal instincts toward the older.

  “Isn’t it nice to start off a job with a party?” Pam moved to the bed and sat as Foxy ran a comb through her hair. “Your brother’s home is lovely, Foxy. My room’s perfect.”

  “It was our house when we were kids,” Foxy told her, frowning over her perfume bottle. “Kirk kept it as sort of a base camp since it’s so close to Indianapolis.” Her frown turned upward into a smile. “Kirk’s always liked to camp near a track.”

  “He’s charming.” Pam ran her fingers over her short, smooth page boy. “And very generous to put me up until we start on the circuit.”

  “Charming he is.” Foxy laughed and leaned closer to the mirror as she added color to her lips. “Unless he’s plotting track strategy. You’ll notice, sometimes he leaves the rest of the world.” Foxy stared down at the lipstick tube, then carefully closed it. “Pam...” Taking a quick breath, she glanced up and met Pam’s eyes in the mirror. “Since we’ll be traveling so closely, I think you should understand Kirk a bit. He’s...” She sighed and moved her shoulders. “He’s not always charming. Sometimes he’s curt, and short-tempered, and downright unkind. He’s very restless, very competitive. Racing is his life, and at times he forgets people aren’t as insensitive as cars.”

  “You love him a lot, don’t you?” The clear insight and hint of compassion in the quiet blue eyes were a part of the reason for Pam’s success in her field.
She was not only able to read people, but to care.

  “More than anything.” Foxy turned until she met the woman’s face rather than the reflection. “More still since I grew up and discovered he was human. Kirk didn’t have to take on the responsibility of raising me. I don’t think it occurred to me until I was in college that he’d had a choice. He could have put me in a foster home; no one would have criticized him. In fact”—she tossed her head to free her shoulders of her hair, then leaned back against the dresser—“I’m sure he was criticized by some for not doing so. He kept me with him, and that’s what I needed. I’ll never forget him for that. One day perhaps I’ll pay him back.” Smiling, Foxy straightened. “I suppose I’d better go down and make sure the caterer has everything set. The guests will be arriving soon.”

  “I’ll come with you.” Pam rose and moved to the door. “Now, what about this Lance Matthews you were grumbling about earlier? If I did my homework properly, he’s a former driver, a very successful driver, now head of Matthews Corporation, which, among other things, designs racing cars. He’s designed and owns several Formula One cars, including the ones your brother will be driving this season. And yes . . . the Indy car, too. Isn’t he . . . ?” She made a small cluck of frustration as her inventory of facts grew sketchy. “He’s from a very old, wealthy family, isn’t he? Boston or New Haven, shipping or import-export. Disgustingly rich.”

  “Boston, shipping, and disgusting,” Foxy affirmed as they moved down to the first floor. “Don’t get me started on him tonight or you’ll have nightmares.”

  “Do I detect a smidgeon of dislike?”

  “You detect a ton of dislike,” Foxy countered. “I’ve had to rent a room to hold my extra dislike of Lance Matthews.”

  “Mmm, and rent prices are soaring.”

  “Which only makes me dislike him more.” Foxy moved directly to the dining room and examined the table.

  Lacquered wooden dishes were set on an indigo tablecloth. The centerpiece was an earthenware jug filled with sprays of dogwood and daffodils. One look at the setting, at the chunky yellow candles in wooden holders, assured Foxy that the caterer knew his business. “Relaxed informality” was the obvious theme.

  “Looks nice.” Foxy resisted dipping a finger into a bowl of iced caviar as the caterer bustled in from the kitchen.

  He was a small, fussy man, bald but for a thin ring of hair he had dyed a deep black. He walked in quick, shuffling steps. “You’re too early.” He stood protectively between Foxy and the caviar. “Guests won’t be arriving for another fifteen minutes.”

  “I’m Cynthia Fox, Mr. Fox’s sister.” She offered a smile as a flag of truce. “I thought perhaps I could help.”

  “Help? Oh no, good heavens, no.” To prove his words, he brushed at her with the back of his hand as though she were an annoying fly threatening his pâté. “You mustn’t touch anything. It’s all balanced.”

  “And beautifully, too,” Pam soothed as she gave Foxy’s arm a warning squeeze. “Let’s go have a drink, Foxy, and wait for the others to arrive.”

  “Silly, pompous man,” Foxy mumbled as Pam urged her into the living room.

  “Do you let anyone else set your f-stops?” Pam asked with bland curiosity as she sank into a chair.