Furious RushS. C. Stephens
Table of Contents
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To my brothers, whose love of motorcycles
helped inspire this novel
I have been pouring my heart and soul into this book for more than a year—time flies when you’re having fun! Creating a brand-new world has been exciting, challenging, rewarding, and yet, at times, incredibly stressful. I’m very proud of the final product and have so many people to thank for making it the book it is today.
First off, I’d like to thank my agent extraordinaire, Kristyn Keene of ICM Partners. I am so blessed to have such a patient, encouraging, hardworking person backing me up. Furious Rush would still be a vague idea in my head without our multiple brainstorming sessions.
My heartfelt thanks to everyone at Forever/Grand Central Publishing. Beth deGuzman for literally supporting my writing every day on her wrist. Marissa Sangiacomo for always getting me exactly what I need—I miss you already! Megha Parekh for being such a great editor, and so wonderful to work with. And most especially, a huge thank-you to Amy Pierpont. Your work on this book was extraordinary, your input invaluable. Your mind blows me away!
Virtual hugs and kisses need to go to the many people in my life who have given me their endless support, help, friendship, and advice—K. A. Linde, Nicky Charles, Rebecca Donovan, J. Sterling, Jillian Dodd, K. Bromberg, Kristen Proby, Jennifer Probst, Katy Evans, Emma Chase, Christina Lauren, Jeanette Grey, Jay Crownover, T. Gephart, Sunniva Dee, Danielle Jamie, Kim Karr, Claire Contreras, Gail McHugh, Sam B., Becky K., Lori F., Lesa F., Rena L., Toni S., Lysa L., Denise T., Nic F., Dawn B., Jackie P., and so many more!
My biggest thank-you will always go to the fans, readers, and bloggers. I am doing what I love because of you, and I never forget that. A special thank-you to Simmi, Janet K., Christine, Katie M., Charleen R., Verna M., Glorya H., Totallybooked Blog, Flirty and Dirty Book Blog, Aestas Book Blog, Maryse’s Book Blog, The Sub Club Books, Vilma’s Book Blog, The Literary Gossip, Southern Belle Book Blog, Love N. Books, and hundreds more that I don’t have room to thank!
And lastly, to my family—words cannot properly express how much you mean to me. I love you all so much! To my man, I am so glad we found each other, and so glad you accept my introverted ways with space, wine, and well-timed back rubs. Love you! To my kids, you make me laugh, you make me cry, you challenge and inspire me. I am so proud to be your mom. All my love, always.
I hated getting phone calls in the middle of the night. It was a well-known fact that being unexpectedly awoken before dawn never led to a positive outcome. As the buzzing cell phone loudly vibrating against the glass of water on my nightstand slowly woke me up, I was sure whatever I was about to find out would not be good. Icy pinpricks of fear began waging war with my sleep-induced fatigue, and I reluctantly opened my eyes. What had happened? Was everyone okay?
A part of me wanted to ignore the rising panic and return to the calm warmth of slumber. Surely everything was fine and it was just a wrong number. But I couldn’t shake the concern that something wasn’t right, so with blurred vision and bumbling fingers, I grabbed my phone off the nightstand and glanced at the screen. It was my friend Nikki.
“Nik? What’s going on?” I mumbled. My alarm clock proclaimed the extremely early hour in large red numbers. Ugh, somebody’d better be dead. I instantly retracted that callous thought. Please God, don’t let anyone be dead.
A voice far too bubbly for the early hour met my ear. “Kenzie! Oh good, you’re still awake. I have a huge favor to ask.”
Nikki’s relaxed tone instantly melted my worry. If something bad had happened, she wouldn’t sound so casual. Why the hell was she calling at this time of night, though? “I’m not still awake, I’m now awake. Huge difference. What favor?”
There was a long pause before she answered me, and some of my trepidation returned. “Well…” she slowly began. “I was hoping you could drive down to San Diego with five hundred dollars. Cash.” My jaw dropped as her request scrubbed the last remnant of sleep from my brain. Before I could ask her if she was crazy, Nikki filled me in. “See, I kind of lost a bet, and the people I owe money to won’t let me go home until I pay them. They don’t exactly take checks, you know…so I need cash.”
I was so stunned, I sputtered a few times before managing to curse at her. “Goddammit, Nikki. Are you kidding me? San Diego? Now?”
“I know, I know, I suck. But I didn’t expect to lose tonight, so I didn’t bring that much money with me. Come on, Kenzie, your dad is going to kill me if I don’t show up tomorrow because I’m stuck down here…so…can you help me? Please?”
“Ugh! You know what I’m going through right now, Nikki. The pressure I’m under. The season is starting soon. I want to make my father proud, honor the legacy he started…” I sighed as the weight of expectation firmly settled onto my shoulders. It was stifling at times, paralyzing at others. My voice more subdued, I added, “You know Dad is counting on me to do well, since things have been kind of…tight lately.” My gaze flicked to the clock again. It was so freaking early. “And to do my best, I have to be at my best. Getting up at three in the morning is not my best, Nik!”
“I know,” she groaned. “But I didn’t have anyone else to call. It was either you or Myles, and once he’s down and out for the night, nothing short of nuclear war will wake him up.”
That was true. Our friend Myles could sleep soundly through a heavy metal concert. “So you knew I’d be sleeping when you called, but you decided to wake me up anyway…Is that what you’re telling me?” I asked.
“Well, yeah…I could set my watch to your schedule.” That comment made me frown, but it was also true, so I couldn’t really condemn her for saying it. I liked routine; I liked predictable. It helped me race. I wanted to know that no matter where I was or what day it was, when I got on my motorcycle, it was going to do exactly what I wanted it to do. Same with my life. I wanted to know what to expect every morning when I woke up. Just another reason this phone call was irritating me.
“Please, Kenzie,” she interrupted. “I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t screwed. You’re my best friend; don’t leave me stranded with a bunch of thugs. I mean, who’s gonna make your bike a lean, mean winning machine if I’m dead?”
Unfortunately she had a point. Nikki was a genius mechanic—my genius mechanic—and I needed her skills to do well this year. She was also my best friend, and I would never abandon her to that fate…even if she had brought it upon herself. “Fine. But you owe me, Nikki.”
She breathed a heavy sigh of relief. “My soul, my firstborn. Whatever you want, it’s yours.” I was about to tell her that I just wanted her to make my Ducati the fastest motorcycle on the planet when she quickly added, “Oh, hey, can you grab another couple hundred from your rainy-day fund? There’s another race starting soon, and I have a really good feeling about this guy.”
I just about threw my phone across the room. “No! That’s stup— Wait…What race? What the hell are you betting on, Nikki?”
“Krrr…ssssssshhhhh…Sorry, Kenzie…crrrrr…you’re breaking up. See you when you get here! Jackson and Maddox Street, under the bridg
e. Text me if you can’t find it!” She immediately hung up, and I closed my eyes and slowly started counting to ten.
Tossing my covers off, I forced my body out of the comfort of my bed and placed my feet on the chilly hardwood floor. Internally cursing Nikki, I walked over to my closet, where my clothes for the day were already folded in a neat pile, waiting.
While brushing my teeth, I noticed that I looked like I’d been electrocuted in my sleep. I debated whether I should spend the fifteen minutes it would take to tame the mass of unruly waves, then decided I could use the time more efficiently elsewhere in my day. Running my fingers through the worst tangles, I cinched a band around the bottom of the mess, making a low ponytail that would easily fit under my helmet.
Regretting that I’d ever mentioned my emergency cash to Nikki, I riffled through the envelope hidden under my mattress and pulled out five hundred dollars. And that was all I pulled out. Nikki was crazy if she thought I was going to let her lose even more money.
Stuffing the cash into my wallet, I grabbed my jacket and my street bike keys and headed for the garage. My everyday motorcycle was peacefully resting under the fluorescent lights next to my beat-up truck. This bike wasn’t as flashy or as fast as my racing bike, but my Suzuki was beautiful in its own understated way. Opening the garage door of the one-bedroom house I rented, I rolled the bike outside and started the engine purring. Such an enticing sound. It almost made up for the fact that the sun was still hours from rising. Almost.
Stifling a yawn, I closed the garage door, slipped on my helmet, and left my still-sleeping town of Oceanside, California, behind for the slightly more vibrant San Diego. The drive south only took about forty-five minutes, but I had a little trouble finding the streets Nikki had mentioned. The navigation in my phone kept trying to send me away from where I was sure I needed to go. When I finally found Jackson Street, I kept my eyes peeled for…something. But honestly, I had no idea what I was looking for. Then I spotted the bikes, and I knew I’d found the place. Jesus, Nikki. What the hell did you get yourself involved with?
Motorcycles were parked perpendicular to the street for at least three blocks, the occasional car or truck smashed between them. Swarms of people walked around the bikes, closely inspecting them, like they were picking out prized cattle to take home and butcher. The riders—decked out in ripped jeans and flashy leather jackets that were poor imitations of the racing leathers I wore to protect my body and promote my team—strutted around their bikes with pride-filled grins that oozed confidence. The men in charge of the betting promoted their favored racers with loud boasts and outlandish claims. Zero to one hundred in under two seconds? I highly doubted it.
Rolling to a stop in a break between the bikes, I texted Nikki: I’m here, where are you?
I instantly heard someone down the street shouting my name, and looked over to see Nikki jumping up and down, waving her arms over her head. With a sigh, I shut off my motorcycle and hopped off. No sooner had I removed my helmet than people started crowding around my Suzuki, inspecting the tires, the struts, the engine. A man leaned down to touch the seat while I was putting my helmet on the handlebar, and I slapped his hand away. “Me and my bike are not a part of…this. Don’t touch her again. Or else.”
Even though I had used my “scary” voice, the seat caresser laughed at me. He walked away, though, and took the looky-loos with him. Good thing, since I wasn’t sure how I would have backed up my threat. I hated everything about this place, and the thought of a part of this seediness somehow coming home with me on my bike—even just a stranger’s fingerprint on the gas tank—nauseated me. Racing should be done on a track, with strict rules, officiated guidance, and specifically calibrated machines. I felt like I’d just been transported back in time, or maybe zapped into some apocalyptic future, where grimy men battled to the death for a cup of clean water. I really didn’t want to be here.
Nikki had made her way over to me at this point, and she was all smiles when she bounced on her toes in front of me. “Hey, you found it. Good.” Nikki was of Latin American descent, and she had that perfect, golden creamy skin that didn’t color with emotion the way mine occasionally did. She tried to keep the guilt out of her expression, but I saw the tightness in her lips, the worry in her dark eyes. She was afraid I was pissed. And I was. But there was nothing to be done about it now.
“Yeah,” I said with a frown. “Google Maps and I are on a first-name basis now, but I found it.”
Nikki’s features relaxed. “Just in time too. The next race is about to start.” She actually had the gall to light up at the prospect of more gambling, and the last straw holding my anger in check broke cleanly in two.
“What the hell are you doing, Nikki? Betting on street racing? That’s why you dragged me out of bed in the middle of the night?” I indicated the street crammed with potential competitors patiently waiting for their shot at “glory.” “You know this is illegal, right? You know Dad would probably kick us off the team just for being here, right? Hell, the ARRC could ban me from the sport for life if an official saw me here and thought I was taking part in this shit. What the hell are you thinking? We can’t be here!”
Nikki cringed as she put a hand on my shoulder. “Relax, Kenzie, no one is going to see us. I mean, they’d be in trouble too if they were here, so we’re totally cool. And to answer your question, what I was thinking was that I can make an easy grand tonight.” She paused to mime totaling a cash register. “Ka-ching!”
Before I could remind her that the entire reason I was here was because she had lost money, Nikki tightened her grip on my shoulder and turned me so I was looking across the street. She pointed a finger at a guy standing beside a souped-up Ninja. “The next race is between that guy…” She twisted me again so I was looking down our side of the street, and her finger focused on a guy a few yards away. Wearing a black leather jacket and faded blue jeans, he looked calm, confident, and comfortable as he stood beside a Honda that was completely surrounded by scantily clad women. “And that guy. Rumor is, Honda Boy there is undefeated, so I’m putting all my money on the Ninja.”
I turned to look at her in stunned disbelief. “What? Why the hell would you bet on the other guy? If Honda Boy is undefeated, then you should bet on him.” Closing my eyes, I shook my head. “And I can’t believe I just said that.” Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out my wallet and handed her the five hundred dollars. “Here. Now pay up so we can leave, okay?” The sooner we got this over with, the better.
Nikki had apparently recovered from her bout of guilt, because she didn’t seem bothered in the slightest as she took my money and said, “No way. We’re staying. And I’m betting it all on the underdog. That other guy being undefeated just means he’s due for a smackdown. It’s Gambling 101, Kenzie.”
Rolling my eyes, I told her, “No, it’s You’re an Idiot 101. But I guess it’s your money, so…” Pausing, I stuck a finger in the air like I’d just had an epiphany. “Oh wait…No, it’s my money.” I lowered my finger to her shoulder and poked her for emphasis. “And you’re not betting with it. You’re paying off your debt and then we’re going home. Hopefully I can still get a couple hours of sleep before I need to be at the track.”
“Okay, okay…I hear you.” She looked completely compliant, and I actually believed she was going to listen to me. Right up until she turned and yelled down the street, “Hey, Grunts! I got a thousand on Hayden!”
The giant of a man standing behind Honda Boy raised his thumb to Nikki, then jotted down something in his book. Her bet was logged, and I had a feeling these guys didn’t allow you to have a change of heart. I pushed Nikki’s shoulder to get her attention. “I said we were going home! I said no more betting!”
Nikki bit her plump lip. She shrugged, and even managed to look contrite while doing it. “Well, we’re committed now…We have to see it through, otherwise those two guys over there will start breaking kneecaps. That’s how it works. I think.” I followed her pointing finger to s
ee a group of burly-looking dudes who seemed like they’d enjoy nothing better than breaking a few body parts. Goddammit. I wanted to go home. Right now.
As I balled my hands into fists, Nikki patted my shoulder. “But you should be happy, Kenzie. I did what you asked and bet on the golden boy. Hopefully tonight isn’t the night he falls from greatness…” She considered that for a second, then asked, “Just in case he does crash and burn, you have more money stashed away in your rainy-day fund, don’t you?”
It took a lot of effort to not scream at the top of my lungs. “No! I don’t have a thousand dollars in there! What the hell are we supposed to do if he loses the race, Nikki?” Before she could answer, I tossed my hands into the air. “Great. This is just fucking great.”
The banks were closed, and I couldn’t withdraw that much from an ATM. Just like Nikki, I’d have to make a late-night phone call to save my ass. Definitely not to my father, though. Maybe my sister Daphne. But she was financially wrapped up in planning her wedding; I doubt she’d be able to help me. Maybe my other sister, Theresa. But she’d kill me, then tell Dad everything. Feeling the toxic twinge of dread beginning to radiate outward from my chest, I looked down the street at the man who was going to either help get me out of this mess or completely screw me over.
Honda Boy was holding his helmet under an arm while he flirted with the girls surrounding him. He was blond, with a short, shaggy hairstyle that probably took a lot more effort to create than it looked like. I could tell from the way the girls around him were tittering like teenagers that he was charming; with seemingly little effort on his part, he had all of them eating out of his hand. When a break in the crowd gave me a clear view of his face, I realized another thing: He was smokin’, someone-hold-on-to-my-ovaries-before-they-explode hot.
There was a perfect symmetry to his rugged features that made it seem unreal that he was standing just a few feet away from me. He should be plastered on a billboard somewhere, half-naked, selling overpriced cologne to men who wanted just a fraction of his sex appeal. As if he could feel my eyes on him, he turned his gaze my way. Our eyes met and locked, and I was helpless to turn away. There was something carnal about him, primal and dangerous. Exotic. I was instantly captivated, and I hated that I was. This guy was neck-deep in a world that twisted my stomach, a world that spat in the face of my sport. My career.