“This is the one I want,” Margaret Kingsdale commanded as she carelessly tossed a blue multi-part folder in front of her son, Albert.
The folder snapped open, displaying a photo of a naturally beautiful, fresh-faced young woman. Long golden strands of hair blew across a glowing face, lit up with a glorious smile. Bright blue eyes, high, sculpted cheekbones and small straight nose seemed as if they belonged on the face of royalty instead of a racecar driver.
She has that girl-next-door, sweet, sexy look—so incredible.
Albert sighed at his mother’s choice. Of the six women the private detective had presented, this one’s profile was the most interesting.
“Cassandra Jamison is said to be reckless, Mother. Not easy to control.”
He lifted the folder and studied the woman closer. Cassandra was leaning against a black motorcycle, outfitted in form-fitting black leather, a full-faced black helmet resting in her small, feminine hands.
There was something about the woman that aroused him. Maybe it was a feeling that she was wild, perhaps even uncontrollable. Along with the mischief in her eyes, he saw a challenge.
Taming Cassandra, he decided, would be worth the effort.
“She lost her parents in a car wreck when she was young and raised her baby sister. She sort of gave up her racing career after that.”
Margaret extracted a cigarette from her jewel-studded 24-carat gold case. She lit the cigarette drawing on it like she was sucking all the life out of it.
“Cassandra Jamison’s beauty and spirit will fit our plan perfectly,” she drawled.
Their plan, Albert thought, cringing. So unbelievable and crazy, it might work. Lovely Cosmetics was the largest grossing, leading producer in the cosmetics industry. However, as of late, they had been losing market share to their arch competitor, Narella Cosmetics, innovative advertising campaign, Women at Work.
Women all over the world were connecting with the idea that they could do anything and still remain feminine. It had earned Narella three percent of the cosmetics market share in two months and it was still climbing. Even three percent was a devastating blow to Lovely Cosmetics.
Margaret Kingsdale, Albert reflected, was one of the most shrewd, influential female business figures of the century, and when she made a decision it usually made them money.
Lovely Cosmetics’ plan was to sponsor the first female stock car driver to break into the male-dominated Nextel Cup Racing Series.
The campaign was targeted at the over forty percent female fans of the NASCAR circuit. His mother calculated they would gain back their lost market share and more.
“Are you sure?” Albert said.
“How old is she?”
“She just turned twenty-one.”
“Is she well respected in the field?” Mrs. Kingsdale took another pull on her cigarette.
“Does she have a husband? Boyfriend?” Finishing her first cigarette, his mother crushed it out and reached for another.
As the smoke wafted toward Albert, he tried not to gag on the overwhelming smell. “No.”
“Can she make our plan come to fruition?”
Albert hoped this was her last question. “Our investigator assures us if anyone can do it, it’s her. She’s been a gifted racer since she was a child. She used to fake her age to race. She started when she was five years old. Her father was a mechanic of some sort.” Speaking exhausted the breath he’d been holding in an attempt not to inhale any more of his mother’s smoke. He was forced to take another breath of smoke-laden air.
His mother leaned back her head and laughed. “Spectacular!” She enunciated each syllable clearly. Her dark eyes locked with his.
“Albert, you know what to do. Make this happen—spare no expense. Get the best!”
She stopped while she took another life-sucking breath from her second cigarette.
“And, Albert, the cars will be fuchsia.” Her eyes narrowed, her lips puckering to blow out a cloud of white billowing smoke, waiting, he was sure, to pounce on him if he answered incorrectly.
She leaned back with her usual wicked smile plastered on her face. “Oh, and, Albert?”
Rising to leave, he stopped. Wary of her tone, he didn’t move. He sensed she could smell his fear and she silently celebrated producing it in him.
“Do not screw this up or I will put you back in the mail room.” She casually puffed on her cigarette.
“Yes, Mother … I mean, no, Mother, I won’t.” Albert quickly exited her office while he exhaled another breath he had been holding. He had work to do.
“This is by far the craziest thing you have ever thought of doing, Lee.”
Lee turned his head from the track and met Darrin’s annoyed stare.
“If I’m so crazy, engine man, why are you standing next to me looking at the same thing I am?” Lee yelled over the noise of the car engines revving and a few hundred people talking at once. They stood in the stands of Marigold Raceway, which was the pride of the small city, smack in the heart of the Montana countryside.
“Hell if I know. I guess I couldn’t pass up the huge amount of money they offered me on this crazy scheme,” Darrin shouted back.
“I guess you answered your own question.”
“Well, folks, the event you have all been waiting for has finally arrived.”
As the announcer finished his sentence, the speaker tweaked with feedback. Lee cringed, then placed his hands over his ears as the crowd groaned in complaint.
“Tonight we have a special treat, the main event, as Cass Jamison returns for the third year in a row to defend her title, taking pole position earlier tonight in the qualifying runs.”
There was a roar from the crowd as the drivers walked to their vehicles. Lee watched a slim, baseball-capped fair-haired female driver throw a wave at the call of her name. She hopped into her 1969 modified Chevy Camaro stock car, strapping herself in for the ride.
She was the only female in the motley crew. This race was the pure stock car category; twenty laps around the asphalt track and anything goes. One step above the demolition derby category, Lee thought.
He knew the routine. When all the drivers were in place, they would pull on their helmets. After the announcement, they would start their engines.
Each was consulting with their crew before the final call of the race was made. The female he assumed was Cass was conferring with a young man with a baseball cap proudly displaying the sponsor’s name. He was probably the mechanic or car owner. She was nodding her head, making signals with her hand.
“This should be interesting,” Darrin noted.
Lee ignored him as he watched the field.
She is awfully small.
In slenderness, he amended, not height. From the top of the field, she appeared to compete in height with most of the men, probably around 5’7” or so. The announcer’s voice drifted over the loudspeaker.
“Get ready, folks, and let’s see if our little lady Cass can pull it off again this year.”
Lee’s excitement grew as the green flag was let loose and the cars surged forward with Cass in the lead. He watched in silence as he assessed the skills of the Lovely Cosmetics NASCAR protégé. He smiled as the crowd shouted their approval as the twenty cars jockeyed for position around the field, rushing around the track lap after lap. He loved the sound of the track.
The excitement from the roar of these vehicles was second only to sex as far as he was concerned.
His grin turned to a frown as he saw Cass wasn’t in the lead. Instead, she stuck to the leader’s bumper like glue, more than likely drafting to gain more speed.
She seemed to be keeping her position without much effort. It was almost as if she was purposely remaining in that position.
Ahhh, she has a plan.
Around and around they continued, amid the smell of rubber, the gasp of the crowd as cars banged together, and finally the roar of the engines, which drowned out all other noise.
Lee watched as Cass continued to closely follow the first position driver. He began to wonder if she would actually win the race. She should have made her move much sooner. As they rounded the last curve to the finish, Lee sucked in a stressed breath when she suddenly bolted alongside the number one driver, rubbing the side of her car against his. Her wheels were riding on the bottom side of the track, barely touching the dirt center.
She had placed herself in a very hazardous position. Too much wheel on the gravel and she could lose her grip on the track and spin out. Suddenly, she punched ahead and passed the other driver, then dropped in front of him an instant before the checkered flag declared her the winner.
Lee released the breath he had been holding without realizing it.
The crowd around him surged to their feet, screaming, clapping and chanting her name. She pulled onto the side pit area as her small crew surrounded her and lifted her out of the car, throwing her up into the air. They set her down long enough for her to pull off her helmet, allowing her long golden hair to cascade down her racing suit.
Lee’s lips twitched in response to her radiant smile as she laughed with her crew. Even from a distance, her beauty was arresting, causing Lee to shift in his seat as he tried to adjust his erection. He heard Darrin shift next to him and mutter one word. “Incredible!”
Lee continued to watch the celebration and awards ceremony, trying to size up her potential. He suspected she had known exactly what she was doing when she passed the leader on the third curve.
He grinned. Maybe this wasn’t such a crazy idea after all.
* * * *
Cassandra grinned and waved to her crew as she walked to the parking lot where her motorcycle awaited. She was glowing with happiness. Her only disappointment was that her sister had been unable to see her win the title this year. She had finally packed Jewel up last week and driven her to the University of Washington in Seattle, where she had earned a full scholarship. Cass was so proud of her.
Racing like she did tonight was the pinnacle of her existence. Her need for speed and the thrill of the competition were like a drug to her, a sometimes dangerous habit. She’d felt this craving for racing since she was a small girl. It didn’t matter what or who; she would race tricycles with the local neighbor boys.
She smiled as she made her way to her street bike, a sleek black Ninja model made, of course, for speed. She already felt the familiar tingle when she thought about taking the curves of the road.
The sound of her name startled her and she stopped in mid-stride, warily watching two men walking toward her. She was suspicious as she always was with strangers.
“Who’s asking?” She eyed them intently from head to toe when they stopped in front of her. There was a handsome older gray-haired man, the lines of character evident in his face. Next to him was a tall, skinny blond man, cute in a lanky way.
“May we have a minute of your time?”
She eyed the man who anxiously asked her the question. “Depends on what you want to waste it on.” She gave him her most unfriendly expression, the one that usually told people to stay away from her, that she wasn’t a woman to come on to. Guys were always hitting on her after races.
“Um.” The man seemed taken aback with her demeanor.
Good, Cass thought, she was accomplishing just what she wanted to, a stay-away-from-me attitude.
“I’m Lee Gray, I’m here representing Lovely Cosmetics, and my company is interested in sponsoring you.”
She felt a rush of anger. “Well, sorry for wasting your time, Mr. Gray, but I’m not interested in modeling. I consider the career a degrading profession for women.” She swiveled on her boot heels and started to stride toward her bike.
“Um, Ms. Jamison, we weren’t interested in you for modeling. We are interested in sponsoring you as a driver.”
She stopped so fast her boots skidded on the gravel. She turned, not sure she had heard him right. She thought he had said they wanted her to drive for them.
“What?” Cass questioned the gray-haired man. The blond sidekick hadn’t said anything, just stood there, looking uncomfortable.
“I’m a Team Manager, Ms. Jamison, this is my Chief Mechanic, Darrin Jacks. We represent Lovely Cosmetics and we want you to consider driving our NASCAR in the Nextel Cup this year, including Daytona.”
Her jaw completely dropped and her mouth formed an O.
NASCAR. Daytona. Those were words she had only dreamed of hearing.
Then the name suddenly dawned on her. Lee Gray, the crew chief for the NASCAR Kid Justin Steed, who had claimed the Winston Cup Series five years in a row starting at the young age of eighteen. That was until he was injured in a near-fatal wreck in the last race of his sixth series.
“Lee Gray,” she said the words out loud, “of the NASCAR Kid team?”
He stuck out his hand, smiling. “The one and only.”
“Oh, my God.” Cass placed her hand in his, too stunned to even comment after her initial shock. She transferred her hand to Mr. Jacks.
“I’m so sorry … I didn’t know … I’m sorry if I was rude. You don’t understand how many lewd offers I get after a race like this.”
“That’s okay, Ms. Jamison, we understand.”
“Call me Cass. Are you guys crazy? A woman has never made it through the Nextel Cup Series. They have never been able to maintain steady sponsorship. Why do you think I can do it?”
“The question, Cass … is do you think you can do it, and are you willing to try?”
Cass smiled at his question.
Lee stepped back. He was stunned at her appearance. She wasn’t just beautiful; she was striking. Her ice blue eyes were the first feature that caught his attention, then the elegant lines of her face and nose followed by the most astonishing wavy golden mane of hair he had ever seen.
Up close and in person, she was breathtaking.
Then there was her smile, that devastating smile, one that could bring down an entire building, one that could sell anything. He couldn’t help but smile in return.
“Boys, you’ve got yourself a driver.”
She whooped and dropped her helmet, raising her hands in the air. Then she launched herself on both of them, laughing and hugging them until she almost knocked them over.
She is strong for a slight thing.
He and Darrin glanced at each other. Darrin, who Lee wasn’t sure he had ever seen smile, had a quirk at the corners of his lips. He mouthed the word “women” to Lee as he was being squeezed in a bone-crushing hug. He didn’t seem too uncomfortable. As a matter of fact, Lee saw Darrin’s arms set around her in return, and watched in amazement as Darrin’s lips stretched into a full smile.
He stepped forward and pulled Cass out of Darrin’s arms. This one was dangerous and she didn’t even know it.
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