Summer Reading 2022

 

Cam Carter is young, hot, and cocky as hell. He’s loved by some, respected by many, and hated by more. He’ll do anything to win the next race, the championship, or the heart of the girl.

Lily is unlike any other challenge Cam has faced. Quiet, full-figured, and several years older, she’s trying everything she can to resist the pull of this bad boy of stock car racing.

Can they find a way to cross the finish line and take the checkered flag together? Or will obstacles and distractions, both inside and out, push against them until they crash and burn?

Chapter One

“What are you doing next month?”

Lily Jackson smiled at Candi’s tone. She couldn’t decide if it was excited or conspiratorial. Either way, her friend was up to something, which for Candi was a little out of character. “Nothing out of the ordinary. Why?”

“Want to come up for a few weeks? You haven’t visited in while and you can stay at my house. Won’t cost you a dime.”

Candi was right. Lily hadn’t been up to see her friends in some time. She didn’t make much, between her three jobs – substitute teacher, private music teacher, and chamber musician. But her expenses were minimal, and she lived simply enough.

“If you’re undecided,” Candi hurried to say, “how about I sweeten the deal?”

“I’m listening.” Lily was going to say yes no matter what Candi threw in, but she was curious.

“I’ve got race tickets.” Her sing-song voice teased and tempted. Candi really was pulling out all the stops and she knew the one thing Lily wouldn’t be able to resist was race tickets.

“There’s a catch, isn’t there?” Not that she cared. She was already mentally packing her suitcase and figuring out which Cam Carter tee shirts she would be taking with her.

He was her favorite driver and Lily hadn’t been to a stock car race in way too long. Daytona was her usual go-to for races as it was closer to Tallahassee than anywhere else. It would be nice to go with her friends up in Charlotte.

“Well, yes and no.”

“Yes and no?” Lily looked out the kitchen window into her small backyard. Her herb garden was beautiful this time of year, bright and green. Spring flowers were in full bloom, and the small water featured she’d had installed last summer sparkled in the sunshine. She loved her little house. It was a small haven she’d created for herself. Quiet, just like her. Well, except when it came to races. Then she got loud and rowdy. “What aren’t you telling me?”

“I’m not going to be here.”

“Where are you going to be?”

“Italy.”

Lily’s reflection in the window showed her shock. “Italy? You’re finally going to do it?”

Candi had been talking for several years about going on a cooking tour in Italy. Cooking was her passion. She’d worked in enough kitchens, put herself through culinary school, and dreamt of opening her own restaurant. Lily couldn’t be more thrilled for her.

“I’m doing it. I quit my job, pulled out some money from my savings, and booked a tour.”

“That’s awesome. I’m thrilled for you.”

“Please say you’ll come stay at the house. You and Alli can go to the races together, spend some time wallowing in misery because you miss me so much…”

“You’ve planned it all out, huh?”

“I have. For months.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Not that Lily was surprised. Candi usually kept things quiet until the last minute, just as her next words confirmed.

“I know. I didn’t tell Alli, either. I wanted to make sure I could really do it, really afford it, really take that leap. I’m tired of playing it safe. I’ve never traveled like this on my own and you know me, sometimes I’m scared of my own shadow.”

Lily did know. Candi was beautiful, giving, and artistic. She was also self-conscious sometimes. Taking a trip like this would be huge for anyone, but for Candi, especially. “I’m proud of you. When do you leave?”

Candi sighed and Lily heard the relief in the exhalation. “In five days. Say you’ll come. Please.”

“I’ll be there in time to see you off.”

* * * * *

“Oh my God. Will you hurry up? He’s signing autographs today and we’re going to miss him.”

Lily turned at the high-pitched exclamation and was nearly run over by Alli, who was on her way to the gift shop exit. “Who?”

She’d been in Charlotte for two days and so far, the relaxing part of the trip hadn’t kicked in yet. She and Alli had taken Candi to the airport earlier and all Lily wanted was a nap. She wasn’t used to being up that early. Even during the school year, she wasn’t up at ungodly hours like four in the morning.

So, she was a little slow on the uptake at the moment.

“What do you mean who? Cam Carter that’s who.” Alli gushed and grabbed Lily by the hand. “C’mon. We need to hurry.”

Lily froze. Her knees locked which in turn jerked Alli to a stop.

Cam Carter was on site? Signing autographs and greeting fans? She’d never been one for celebrity crushes, but she had one on the twenty-six-year-old race car driver. Lily took one look at him when he first arrived on the national stock car scene and had literally whimpered. Out loud. No one had been around to hear it, but she knew. She’d gone so far as to start fantasizing about him, having dreams about him.

That was not like her. At. All.

Between she, Candi, and Alli, Lily was the least romantic of the three.

She couldn’t go near him. Not if there was a chance that she’d make a complete fool of herself. It was bad enough robbing the cradle in the privacy of her own mind, but to look into his intense gray eyes and see the smile that made her bite her lip every time she saw him on TV? Nope.

“You go on,” she urged Alli. “I’ll wait in the car.”

It was a lame attempt to get out of the surprising situation, and she knew Alli would call her on it.

“The hell you will. You’re coming with me. Candi dragged us out of bed and the only thing keeping you and I from going back to her place to crash is this grand tour of the race shops. Believe me, this is better than anything I could’ve imagined for today.”

Lily smiled. “We’ve been to these shops more than a few times over the years.”

“Yeah. But you haven’t been up here in a long time, so this is like the first time. Drivers and teams have changed. And we’ve never met any of the drivers. I mean, here in Charlotte where they’re all based, and we haven’t seen one in person. It’s ridiculous. So… If not for yourself, then do it for me? Please? You need to make sure I don’t end up jumping across the table at him or something.”

Alli talked a mile a minute and Lily gave in, letting Alli drag her toward the line on the far side of the lobby near the glass trophy cases. They had to do some fancy maneuvering around the two race cars and three race trucks on display but finally found their way. “Besides, you know want to meet him, too. And just imagine how jealous Candi will be when she finds out.”

Lily nodded. Alli had a point. Candi was as big a fan as the two of them.

At the same time, Candi was on a plane headed to Italy for loads of pasta and wine.

The closer they edged to the front of the line, the more Lily wanted to turn tail and run. She didn’t need to add fuel to her overflowing lust for the young race car driver. She might want to stand up close and personal next to him, but she knew it wasn’t a good idea.

“Why are you so interested in meeting him?” she asked Alli. “You don’t really like him. You heckle him every chance you get.”

“That’s just a front. You heard me say I might jump across the table at him, right? I just… I like to play Devil’s Advocate when it comes to him. He’s an in-your-face and up-your-ass get the hell out of my way driver. And you know I don’t have a favorite. I like them all. Especially the single ones.” Her eyebrow waggle was on point and Lily couldn’t argue.

“You haven’t met a single man you haven’t liked. Ever. But you know he’s just a guy, right? He drives race cars and wins a lot, but he is just a guy.” As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Lily turned her face away. She was such a liar. She knew what the big deal was about Cam Carter. He was currently the hottest race car driver on the circuit. He was aggressive and the fans loved to hate him. From the crowd gathered in the race shop lobby, they loved to love him, too. He had it all. Fame, fortune, boy-next-door good looks, smarts that rivaled men twice his age, and the kind of cocky confidence that most women loved.

Damn.

“Just a guy? Just a driver?” Alli hissed in Lily’s ear. “You’re telling me that if he offered himself to you on a silver platter, you’d think of him as just a guy?” She backed off when Lily looked at her, knowing she’d called Lily’s bluff. “The heckling is all in good fun, and I don’t mean anything by it. He’s so yummy, Lil. You know you want to meet him as much as anyone else here. Probably more.”

She did. In the worst way. “Sure. He’s yummy in a robbing-the-cradle kinda way.” But even she knew she was digging the hole deeper with her denials.

“He’s not that young,” Allie said, slanting Lily a sideways glance.

“He’s twenty-six. You’re thirty-two.”

“It’s not a big difference. Just because you only date men our age, when you decide to date, that is, doesn’t mean the rest of us have to limit ourselves.”

“Oh, shut up and pay attention before you miss your chance.”

Alli grinned. “See? I’m right and you know it.”

Lily sighed and focused on the man with the permanent marker in his hand and a seemingly permanent smile on his face. Today, at least. Get him in a bad spot on the race track and the post-race interview was likely to find him scowling and being called to the official’s trailer. But watching Cam interact with his fans made her smile. He was incredibly good with those who loved him and incredibly forthright about those who didn’t. He had charisma and charm, and in this place, surrounded by the tangible reward of success in his young career, he was almost too hard to resist.

She could admit to being a big fan, but honestly, how did it look for a woman her age to be openly lusting after a man so much younger, so much hotter, so much in demand? It wasn’t Alli she needed to be worried about. It was herself. Looking at him did funny things to her, and she wouldn’t even think about the fantasies he’d inspired in the dark of night when was alone in bed. But damn if her insides weren’t having a freakin’ parade at the moment. She’d never met a celebrity before, local or national, sports or entertainment, and though most people outside the racing community didn’t know his name, race fans — hundreds of thousands of race fans — knew exactly who he was.

Before she knew it, she and Allie were up next, and Lily’s heart kicked up speed. Damn. The man had great eyes, and his smile… His mouth… Her belly flipped, then flopped to be so close to him.

She couldn’t do this. She couldn’t meet him. She couldn’t stand that close to him. She was so nervous her hands were sweating, and she couldn’t wipe them on her jeans enough.

“Hi Cam! I can’t believe I’m meeting you. Can you sign this?” Alli held up a new shirt she just bought in the gift shop and beamed at him, while Lily stood slightly behind her trying not to stare. Cam winked and grinned at Alli. And why wouldn’t he? While she was the same age as Lily, Alli didn’t look a day over Cam’s twenty-six and had the bubbly personality he seemed to go for, if his on-camera rotation of girlfriends was any indication.

He reached for the shirt, but Alli shook her head and held it up against her body. Shameless hussy, Lily though with wry twist of her lips.

“Sure,” he replied good naturedly. He stood smoothly and leaned toward Alli. He gave the gathered crowd a shrug accompanied by a flirtatious smirk which Alli echoed over her shoulder.

Lily was mesmerized watching him lay his long, slender fingers against the tee-shirt to hold it against Alli’s chest as he signed his name with a flourish. Lily had vision of being naked on the hood of his race car, those fingers insider, that hand holding her down, that mouth…

“Lil? Lily!”

Lily shook herself out of the erotic thoughts with a guilty smile and focused on Alli who was now bouncing up and down on, holding the shirt with Cam’s signature against her jiggling boobs. Lovely. “Sorry,” she mumbled.”

“You okay?”

“Yeah, fine. Ready?” She tried to nudge her friend, but Alli wouldn’t budge. She was staring at Lily with an odd expression, making her uncomfortable. Had they been able to tell what she was thinking? Had they seen it written all over face?

Her cheeks heated, but she drew herself up as though nothing was out of the ordinary.

Alli gave her a hard look, but eventually shrugged and looked back at Cam, blowing him a kiss. “Thanks. Good luck this week.”

He nodded. “Thank you.”

Lily barely kept herself from staring at him again. She started to follow Alli past the table, but she startled when Cam reached out.

“What about you?” he asked. There was a light in his eyes she hadn’t seen before, not with Alli or anyone else that had gone ahead of them in the line. Then again, given the direction of her thoughts only moment ago, she was probably imagining things.

“Oh, uh… I didn’t bring anything for you to sign,” she said, her voice soft, her gaze darting away from his face, and more heat creeping into her cheeks.

“Why not? Don’t like me?”

There was humor in his tone, and she made the mistake of quickly returning her gaze to his. The crowd laughed at his always present sarcasm, but Lily was beginning to tune them out. Dark gray eyes danced with merriment, and she tremulously returned this smile. “I like you just fine.”

“Embarrassed, then? I get it. I am the favorite of fans everywhere.”

More sarcasm and more laughter accompanied his open arms gesture, but the look between Lily and Cam began to change. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Alli glancing back and forth between them, and Lily scolded herself for making a spectacle of herself.

She needed to get out of there.

“I’m not embarrassed. I just… I didn’t know you were signing today, or I’d have brought a car.”

“You collect cars?”

“Some.” For a split second, there was appreciation in his gaze, but it changed. Again. He gave her a soft, more personal smile and took a picture from a nearby stack of promotional materials. He signed his name, then flipped it over and quickly scribbled something else.

“Your name?”

“Lily.” Heat morphed through her, sliding down through her body to pool between her legs. He had such young features, like those of a guy just graduating college, and his antics were less than those of an adult when dealing with the press, but his eyes – his eyes belied a maturity that tugged at her. He found balance for both sides of himself, a balance that had seemed to escape her. She’d seen what his combined focus on fun and maturity had done for him on the track, and she wondered about that same focus being trained on a woman.

“Lily,” he repeated. “Pretty name. Here you go. Lily.”

The way he said her name… She took a shaky breath. “Thank you.” She took the picture and was careful not to touch him. She didn’t trust herself.

His cocky smile returned for the benefit of the crowd, but the look in his eyes was all for her.

* * * * *

“That was the coolest thing. Oh. My. God.” Alli hadn’t stopped gushing since they left the race shop. Lily couldn’t stop seeing Cam’s smile in her mind’s eye.

“What?”

“Don’t you what me. You know damn well what.”

“I…”

“Don’t try to deny it, either. The way he was looking at you.”

Lily didn’t want to have this conversation, especially in public. She wanted to go back to Candi’s house and curl up on the bed with Cam’s picture pressed to her chest. She wanted to be in private where she could squeal like a teenager who had just met her favorite idol. “How was he looking at me?”

“He was undressing you with his eyes in front of everyone. He was flirting with you, trying to get you to talk, and you… You looked like you were ready to either strip naked or run.”

“Oh, please… It wasn’t like that.” But the little she-devil in her head was dancing a jig knowing all too well it had been exactly like that.”

“Oh yes it was. He wanted you, Lil. He wanted you on that table, and you, my sweet and not-so-innocent friend, wanted him, too.”

“It was just a show, an act. It didn’t mean anything.” Lily took the latte off the counter and walked outside to the patio of the coffee bar, leaving Alli behind.

Sitting at a small table under the signature green umbrella, she thought about her encounter with Cam Carter and how aroused she’d gotten just looking at his hands. She never got aroused like that without some actual touching going on. She wasn’t sure she’d ever been that aroused even with touching.

But aroused she’d been, and aroused she still was every time she thought about his smile, his eyes, his laugh, his voice. Him.

“Wanting to throw down in the middle of a race shop was not a show for his fans,” Alli said, picking up right where she’d left off inside.

Lily shook her head and refused to meet Alli’s eyes because she was right. Lily wanted him, but she didn’t know how to flirt like that. She didn’t know how to be casual about personal things. He was a man way out of her league, and whether it was or wasn’t a show, she was sure he got the message loud and clear.

She wasn’t his type.

“You’re off in space again.”

“I don’t know why I keep doing that.” She took a sip of her drink, licked her lip, her mind drifting back to his mouth. What would it feel like to kiss him, for him to kiss her?

“Uh-huh. What did he write on the back of the picture?”

“I… Just his signature.”

“Liar. His signature is on the front. What’s on the back?”

Lily groaned. She didn’t want to say it or show it. She didn’t want to think about what it could mean. “A phone number,” she mumbled.

“What?” Alli’s eyes widened. “His? He gave you his number? Oh, you have to call him. Is that all?”

“Isn’t that enough?”

“There’s more isn’t there?” She was practically bouncing in her chair across from Lily. “C’mon. What? What else did he write?”

“A time and date, and a place to meet him.”

Alli screeched, drawing the attention of everyone seated around them. “He wants to see you again? This is fabulous. When? Where? You’re going, right? What am I saying? Of course, you’re going. What are you going to wear? That’s the bigger question. We have to go shopping. We have to get you something hot that will knock him right out of his firesuit. Something –”

“No,” Lily interjected into Alli’s monologue.

“What? What do you mean no? Why not? He wants to see you. You have got to go. Nothing like this has ever happened to any of us. This is a once in a lifetime shot.”

“It’s not… I don’t chase guys and I’m most certainly not going to chase him. Alli, he’s a race car driver. He’s got women hanging on him all the time. I’m not his type. He was just giving the people a show. Nothing more.”

“For such a big fan of his, you sure aren’t giving him a lot of credit to know who he does and doesn’t like.” Alli chastised her. “And I believe it’s him doing the chasing.”

“It might not even be his number. It could be the number of the shop.”

“And what about the date and time?”

“I…” Everything she said sounded lame to her own ears. She was looking for excuses and she didn’t even know why. Okay, well, she did know why. What if she went and he rejected her? That was a big why not to go through with meeting up with him again. What if it had just been a… Hell, she didn’t know.

Did things like this happen to other people? To normal people?

“I know you’re thinking about it. I know you want to. I can see it in your eyes. You’re going. You know that, right? You’re going, and I don’t care if I have to drag you kicking and screaming.”

“He’s too young.” Of the three of them – Alli, Candi, and Lily – Lily was the oldest by three months. She was also the most conservative, the most levelheaded, the most boring. Candi was a year younger, and they had met Alli because she moved next door to Candi growing up. They became thick as thieves seemingly overnight and had remained so through the years.

And of the three of them, Lily was the least likely to go through with something like a date with Cam Carter.

But Candi was currently on a plane doing something they hadn’t been sure she’d ever have the nerve to do… Could Lily do the same thing?

“Age? That’s the best you can come up with? I mean, if you’re going to turn down a chance like this, at least try to find a better excuse.”

It wasn’t. Well, actually it was, but Alli didn’t need to know that. “Allison…” Lily only used her full name when she was admonishing or warning her friend and evidently the other woman got the message.

Alli stood from the table and leaned forward, invading Lily’s space. “I know you don’t do one-night stands. I know you don’t do anything without thinking through all the angles, but just this once, Lil… Just this one time, maybe you could let go and have something special and all for yourself. You’re one of my best friends and you deserve a gorgeous, sexy, hot, young man in your bed.”

Lily couldn’t think of anything to say in the face of Alli’s conviction and friendship.

Alli headed toward the car and Lily watched her. She’d ignored all of Lily’s objections about Cam and she’d been right to do so. They were weak at best, but she really believed she had no business going to see Cam. She hadn’t been with a man in more than a year. Not that it mattered. It wasn’t like they were going to become lovers or fuck buddies.

The twinge of heat between her legs told her differently though, and much as she tried to ignore it, tried to deny it, she couldn’t. Her body responded to thoughts of him more so now that she’d met him, seven year age difference or not.

Suddenly the idea of staying at Candi’s for the next month didn’t seem like such a good one, even if it was the only chance she had at a vacation this year.

“Alli,” she called out, getting out of her seat at the table and hurrying to catch up.

“If you’re just going to give more excuses, I don’t want to hear it.”

“You’re not being fair.”

“Not being fair? You have got to be kidding me.”

“C’mon…”

Alli spun around. “Not being fair? Lily, honey… there’s a hot-blooded man who drives cars at two hundred miles an hour for a living and he was in lust at first sight for my quiet, practical, music teacher friend. The only thing I’m not being fair about is that this is a chance not many women get to live out. A fantasy come to life.”

“Lust at first sight?”

“Yes. That man had a serious case of lust. For you. All I want is for you to take him up on it. Would be a hell of a waste if you didn’t,” Alli finished off as she climbed into the car. She started the engine and waited as Lily rounded the front end and climbed into the passenger side.

“Shopping?” she confirmed, buckling her seatbelt.

“Shopping.”

“What does one wear for a date with a race car driver?”

Alli laughed. “Something he can get you out of real fast.”

Chapter Two

“Cam. Hold up.” Cam looked over his shoulder at Ronnie. Crew chief. Best friend. General pain in the ass. He was jogging to catch up and Ronnie didn’t jog. “What’s your hurry?”

“What do you mean?” But Cam knew and chose to play dumb for a minute.

“You’ve been checking your watch and your phone all day. You weren’t paying a lick of attention in that meeting earlier. I’m not sure you heard a thing that was said. And now you’re high tailin’ it out of here. You got a hot date or something?”

Or something. Cam started walking again. “I hope so.”

“Oh yeah? Who?”

“Just…someone.” Cam wasn’t ready to tell anyone about her. It wasn’t like him to pick up women in the autograph line, or any line for that matter. But there was something about the woman named Lily that intrigued him. He’d seen enough that intrigue and interest wasn’t usually the first thing to cross his mind, so when it did, he knew to pay attention.

He wanted her. From the second he spied her staring at him while nibbling on her lip. He was pretty sure she hadn’t been aware of it.

“Someone who?”

“A woman I met.”

“When did you meet a new woman?”

“I… A few days ago.”

“And?”

“You’re being awful secretive. What’s her name?”

“Lily.”

“Okay. Where’d you meet her?”

Cam stopped moving again and waited until Ronnie caught up. They stood face to face. “What the hell, man? Why all the questions?” he asked, exasperation lacing his voice. “Why does it matter? I met her. I liked her. I asked her out.” Sort of. He didn’t ask so much as left his number and when he’d be leaving the shop today.

Ronnie held his hands up, surrendering. “Sorry. It’s just always been a different woman with you, and you never fixate on any one of them.”

“I know. This one… She’s different.” He hoped she was, at least. His gut told him she was something special and his gut had never steered him wrong when he chose to listen to it.

“Will you at least tell me where you met her?”

“I wish I knew why you were so interested.” He sighed and rolled his shoulders, trying to ease some of the tension that had been building all day. He hadn’t heard from Lily. He was afraid she wouldn’t show, and he didn’t have to a way to find her. “She was at the shop the other day when I was meeting with fans.” He thought back. She’d been curious and understated and distracted and brazen in how she looked at him when she thought he wouldn’t notice. “She wouldn’t even speak to me.”

“I see.”

Cam heard the skepticism in Ronnie’s voice. “You gotta trust me on this. She’s different. I know she is.”

Ronnie shrugged, clearly not trusting Cam at all. “She could’ve been trying a different tactic than the usual ones you fall for.”

Cam shook his head. “No. I don’t believe that.”

“All right. I’ll stop with the questions. For now. Just be careful. I’ve been in this business a long time and these women… Well, hell. You’ve been around long enough to know better. They put up a front when all they want is to trap you, be linked to you, and get their fifteen minutes which you’re only too happy to give them.”

“I’m well aware of my faults.”

“Good. I don’t want to have to keep reminding you.”

He and Ronnie started walking toward the doors leading to the parking lot again. The week had been a long one. Race weeks in Charlotte always added more stress and work to their already hectic schedules. He usually fell into bed exhausted at night from all the sponsor schmoozing, extra media appearances, and more special events than he cared to tolerate. He knew it came with the territory, but all he wanted to do was race.

In the days since meeting Lily, though, exhaustion had left him alone. In its place was anticipation and excitement. The need to see her again consumed him and images of her in various settings, mostly naked in his bed, haunted his dreams.

He’d never really thought about women as older or younger, even though women of all ages threw themselves at him. He dated casually, often within his own age bracket, give or take a year, but Lily wasn’t just a year or so older. If he had to guess, she was more than five years older than him. Was that why she hadn’t called? Because he was younger? Was that why she hadn’t wanted to engage with him at the signing?

The thought rankled him. Surely, that wasn’t it. Older women and younger men weren’t a stigma anymore. She’d seemed more intimidated than uninterested. Yes, they made a bit of a scene by just staring at each other, but he hadn’t wanted her to leave and he hadn’t known how to ask her to stay and wait. She’d looked ready to bolt, ready to be away from it all, ready to crawl over the table and take him on the floor.

“Did you get her number?”

“No.”

“Damn, son.”

“I know.”

“Let’s grab a beer, play some pool. Maybe she’ll call if you get your mind off her. My mama used to say that a watched pot never boils, and ya know, sittin’ around watchin’ your phone ain’t gonna make it ring.”

It amazed Cam sometimes how Ronnie’s southern twang emerged every time he talked about his mama or growing up in Georgia. At any other time, you couldn’t tell where the man was from.

Cam gave the offer a moment’s thought before declining. He just wasn’t up for the rowdiness of the guys and the bar. “Nah. I’ll catch up with you tomorrow about those changes at the team meeting. And see, I was listening.”

“Uh huh. Sure. If you change your mind, you know where we’ll be.”

Cam nodded and pushed through the front doors of the shop while Ronnie headed off down a hallway leading to the executive offices. He slid his sunglasses on and didn’t notice the woman on the other side of the large ornamental fountain until he heard his name.

He spun on his heels and couldn’t stop the grin from spreading across his face. “Lily.”

* * * * *

He was there. Lily could hardly believe it.

She could hardly believe she was there, too. And bless his gorgeous face, he looked happy to see her.

She suddenly felt out of her element again and not quite up to the dress code in her lacy blue skirty and white ruffled t-shirt. Her pink painted toes curled under as she shifted her weight nervously from one foot to the other in the cute, sparkly flip-flops Alli had talked her into wearing.

Then again, there probably wasn’t a dress code, given that he was in faded, threadbare jeans with holes in the knees and one of the back pockets ripped at the seams. His t-shirt was black with a washed-out logo she couldn’t make out, and his sneakers had seen much better days. Still, she felt uncertain about how she looked while they stared at each other. What was it about him that drew her and scared her all at the same time? Maybe it was his freshness, his youth, his smile that was all too knowing and aimed at her. Maybe, she reminded herself, it was because she was out of her depths, and he was way out of her league.

Things like this just didn’t happen to women like her.

He stopped in front of her. “You’re here.” He sounded pleased and Lily hoped she wasn’t making a terrible mistake.

“I-I hope it’s okay that I just showed up without calling. My friend drove me and wouldn’t let me call. She was afraid I’d chicken out.”

“Would you have? Chickened out?”

“I tried, but I was already strapped into the seat of her car.”

“I’m glad you’re here. I can stop checking my phone every thirty seconds now.”

Checking his phone? He couldn’t be serious. Could he? Guys didn’t do that sort of thing. Guys like Cam Carter didn’t do that sort of thing. “I’m sure you probably made plans for tonight since I hadn’t called.”

But then, he was smiling at her, telling her he was happy she was there, so maybe…

And she was stranded. “I’m sorry, I…”

She hated stumbling over her words. The man had her tongue-tied and she wished she hadn’t had that particular thought because she would love to be tongue-tied, naked and wrapped around him.

She had to stop thinking that way. Instead, if she focused on how different their lives were, she might actually be able to get out of this awkward mess unscathed.

But first, he had to stop looking like he wanted to devour her.

“I have nothing else I’m needed for until tomorrow, so that means I’m all yours tonight.”

“Oh.” It was a quick response that was followed by her cheeks heating. What did a woman say to a man who just told her he was all hers? She didn’t know when she was going to wake up from this dream, but she hoped it was either soon, or never because in what universe was Cam Carter ever going to be hers?

“You like that?”

He was reading her mind again, just as he’d done when he was signing autographs. She was so transparent. Allie was forever telling her that everything she thought or felt could be seen in her eyes and in the expressions on her face.

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She could do this. “Yes.” She could play along for a few hours. “I’d be crazy not to want you all to myself.”

“Great. Because that’s how I want you.” He stepped close and traced the outline of her cheekbone with his callused and scratched fingers causing her to melt even more. “All. To. Myself.”

He was going to kiss her. She knew it because he took off his sunglasses, because the pulse beating in his neck had kicked into high gear, because his lips brushed against hers. Oh. My. God.

Too young. Too different. Too young. Too different.

Her mind rattled off the litany, knowing she needed to remember it. It would be so easy to let herself get carried away if she spent any amount of time with him. But all her reminders, all her good intentions drifted away at the softness of his lips, the insistent tip of his tongue, the feel of his hand sliding into her hair, the pressure and control he exerted in holding her mouth to his.

It was just a brief kiss, just a small taste of him, but it was enough to whet her appetite for more. The little devil inside her head laughed. As if she needed her appetite encouraged at all. For six days she’d though of little else except him, and she’d never wrestled with anything more.

Should she, or shouldn’t she?

More than once, she’d picked up the phone and dialed his number but never let the call go through. What if he hadn’t remembered her by just her name and voice? What if he put her off or changed his mind or hadn’t meant for her to take the date and time on the picture seriously?

Lily had been so uncertain what to do that Alli had forced her into the car and dropped her off at the shop. As soon as Alli left, Lily entertained the notion of walking to the nearest bus stop, but then Cam stepped outside and she couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. She didn’t want to leave without trying. Trying what, she didn’t know, but there was definitely something in the air between them.

“Just as sweet and hot as I knew you would be,” he said softly, his lips still grazing hers. Lily smiled, not trusting herself to speak just yet. “My shy little kitten.” He chuckled and shook his head. “What do you want to do? Dinner? A movie? A show? A club? Whatever you want, we’ll do it.”

“Shy little kitten?” That statement had cleared the fog enough for her to open her mouth.

“Yes.” He nipped the tip of her nose with his lips. “Shy and timid, like a scared kitten. I won’t hurt you. I just want to date you.”

“Date me?”

His brow wrinkled and his mouth twitched at the corners. She wanted to kiss that mouth again and she wanted to brush her fingers against the creases in his forehead. She wanted to touch every inch of him, commit him to memory.

“Yes,” he confirmed. “Date you. What did you think this was?”

“I… I don’t know.”

Cam’s smile faltered as he gazed at her with curiosity. Now he was the one looking uncomfortable. “Was it presumptuous of me to think you might like to go out with me?”

“No. No, I… I would very much like to go out with you.”

“On a date?” The light returned to his face as he teased her, and it took her breath away. Damn. The effect the man had on her.

Cam Carter.

She wasn’t strong enough to deny him, or herself. He was offering her a chance few women ever got, just as Alli said. She’d told Lily to make the most of it and Lily couldn’t think of a reason why she shouldn’t throw caution to the wind just once and do this one thing.

Okay, so, there was the age difference thing and the lifestyle difference thing and the fame thing, but… Other than those…

“And just so we’re clear… It’s likely that I’m going to want more than one date.”

Her jaw hit the pavement. At least, her mental jaw hit the pavement. Her physical jaw was screwed so tightly shut she couldn’t get a peep out, much less a full word.

She swallowed. Hard.

She wet her lips, or tried to, but her tongue was dry, so it didn’t do her much good.

“Likely more than one date?”

“Possibly.”

“Possibly?”

“Probably.”

“I… What does that mean exactly?” She needed to call Alli. She needed someone to ground her. Her brain was working overtime on this little issue, and she was so scared of screwing it up before they ever took a step away from the bench she’d been perched on while waiting for him.

Cam placed a kiss to the top of her head and slipped his hand into hers, lacing their fingers. He was so casual about the gesture, about the public display that she was having a hard time reconciling the Cam she saw in interviews before and after races and the Cam standing in front of her now. He was so intense, but in vastly different ways.

“We’ll talk about it later,” he answered in a tone of voice that made it sound very much like a promise. “What do you say he get to know each other a little bit first?”

Chapter Three

She looked like a deer caught in headlights. Cam didn’t know if she was going to eat him alive or turn tail and run as far and as fast as she could to get away from him.

Indecision was written all over her face.

“I’m not that bad. I mean, at least not in public.”

She smiled up at him, a real smile, a relaxed smile. It stole his breath. “I don’t know. It might fuel the rumors and add to your reputation.”

As soon as the words were out, she slapped a hand over her mouth and her cheeks colored. Cam frowned. He didn’t want her to be scared to say anything that popped in her head. He wanted someone real, someone honest.

“I’m so sorry.”

“Why? I earned my reputation. I’m not bothered by it.” He reached for her and took the hand that had covered her mouth. He threaded their fingers together. “Are you?”

“I…”

“I take it you’ve read some of the more colorful interviews and articles.”

“Yes. I’ve read them all.”

“Good. You know what you’re getting into, then.” He shrugged. “I’m a normal guy. I have a few peculiar tastes in my romantic life, but they don’t define me.”

“I think normal is relative.”

“I think so, too. I just… I do my own thing, you know? I try to keep my private life as private as possible. No one really needs to know the details of my sex life.”

“But you talk about it when asked.”

“I’m not going to lie just because it might make others uncomfortable. And I don’t give all the details. That wouldn’t be fair to anyone.”

She nodded, but there was a question in her eyes. She was cute, beautiful, different. He was charmed by her uncertainty of him, of his intentions. And he was thrilled by her curiosity about him, that she’d read a lot about him. He tapped the tip of her nose, a slight smile crossing his lips. “Why are you looking at me that way?”

“The different sides of your personality… The way you are in public, on television, in the media isn’t the same as the way you are here, with me. I know I don’t know you or you me, but there’s public Cam and there’s opposite end of the spectrum Cam.”

“Mm… I grew up not too far from Los Angeles and spent a fair bit of time in San Francisco. You see things, learn about things, about yourself, about others. We all have secret likes and dislikes. We’re all hiding something we think others wouldn’t understand.”

The women he usually went out with didn’t know much about him at all. They weren’t interested in him as a person. They were interested in him as Cam Carter the driver, the winner, the celebrity.

But Lily? “You’re a fan, aren’t you? A real one.”

“I…”

“You soak up everything I say, everything I do. You’re not just a pretty face, not just after a little fame.”

“No. I’m not after anything. I…”

“I say so many things for shock value and some of those publications make their living off asking the more provocative questions. I mean… At least I didn’t get naked.” The conversation had taken a bit of a turn he hadn’t expected or been prepared for, though he wasn’t complaining. “Reporters like to instigate. It’s part of their job. I get that. They look for us to say or do something outrageous. It’s nice to throw something in every once in a while that makes themes squirm. For the most part, we all keep a lot hidden to protect our families, even our fans. We are a family friendly sport, after all.”

“I’d invite anyone who thinks that to come sit in the stands with the fans. They’d find out exactly how unfriendly it could get and how unfamily-like it actually is.”

“Seen some stuff, huh?”

“Stuff I can’t ever unsee.”

“You’ll have to tell me sometime. Now, why are you doing that with your hand?” She’d been flexing her fingers and squeezing his hand, then tried to pull away. “Are you trying to get away from me?”

“No, I…” She looked around the parking lot they’d been walking the length to get to the spot he’d parked in earlier that morning. “It’s not like I can go anywhere.”

“Nope. I kind of like that you’re at my mercy. So, we’ll be taking my truck.”

“That’s not what I’d imagined you driving.”

“No? What did you think?”

“A sports car, maybe. Something fast and sleek.”

“You can’t mean that? Do I really look like the fast and sleek sports car type?”

“Well, you don’t look like the truck type.”

“I realize I’m not the typical good ol’ boy the sport has been used to since it was first introduced, but us new drivers have found a place in it.” He often wondered if that’s why he wasn’t more fully accepted among the fans. He and several others were from out west and a lot of those fans of small, local tracks hadn’t made the transition to the national side of the sport when he’d first arrived. Over the years, though, it had changed as more and more races were held on the west coast.

He stopped in front of a midnight blue four4-wheel drive and he was rewarded with Lily’s eyes widening and doing a double take. “It’s beautiful.”

“Still surprised, huh?”

“I am.”

Cam turned and leaned against the passenger side door. “I like that it doesn’t take much to surprise you.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. It’s refreshing. You’re genuine. You’re real. You’re different.”

“I don’t know how to be anything else,” she said, at first defiant, but then shy and she ducked her head, looking anywhere but at him.

“Hey…” He touched her chin, hesitant at first, then with a little more grip. He wanted her to hear him, to see him. “I… I didn’t know I’d like different until I saw you. Your friend? She’s cute and I’m sure she’s nice, but I’ve met a million just like her.”

She offered a small smile. “She wouldn’t like that.”

He responded in kind, but added a wink for good measure. He didn’t want her to think he was insulting her friend. “Then we won’t tell her I said it.”

He dropped his hand and shoved both in his pockets. He didn’t trust himself. He wanted to touch her. All over. Sexually, yes. But just… Different didn’t even cover it. Her curves. Her smile. The way she wore her bashfulness and her naked interest like two sides of the same coin.

“You’re going to have to bring me back here tonight so Alli can come pick me up.”

Cam shook his head. “I can take you home. You know, like a proper date should.”

Her smile returned, bigger than before, and her pretty eyes lit up. “This is… This is not a proper date.”

“Why not?” He braced himself for some sort of rejection. He didn’t like the word no.

“Because guys like you don’t date women like me.”

“I don’t think I agree with that. You make it sound like there’s something wrong with you and something wrong with my interest in you. Which, by the way, there isn’t.” She blushed and the light dimmed in her eyes. He hated that, but he’d bring it back. They could disagree about everything under the sun and he’d be just as fascinated by her. “And… If I take you home, It’ll give me a little more time with you. I don’t know what kind of guy you think I am, but I’m nothing special. I’m just me. I drive race cars. I get on camera once in a while. But my mother still takes me to task if I don’t call her at least once a week and my dad still tells me I’m not too old to get my ass tore up when I smart off or do things that bug him.”

That brought her out of her shell a bit more and he grinned. He wanted to make sure she knew they could find a way to relate to each other.

“You’re a celebrity to me.”

“Well, tonight, I’m your date and you’re mine. And make no mistake about it, Lily. This is a date. The first one. You should probably get used to that idea.”

He pushed off the truck and turned to open the door, leaving her to think about those words. When he looked back at her to help her up into the cab, she was staring at him, at his ass. “Lily?”

“Yeah?” she replied absently. He waved a hand under her face. She lifted her gaze and a blush stole across her cheeks. “Sorry.”

“What were you doing?”

“I… Nothing.”

“Liar.”

She shook her head and took a step toward his truck. He stepped in her way. “Nope. Not until you tell me why you were looking at my ass.”

“No. I… I… Please don’t make me say it.”

“Oh, you’re going to have to or we’ll stand here all night.”

“Cam…”

He folded his arms across his chest. “Take your time. I can wait.”

She stared at him, speechless, opening and closing her mouth several times. She was beautiful when she was flustered. He couldn’t get over the effect he had on her or the effect she had on him. “You’re serious?”

“I am.”

She sighed. She fidgeted. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other as she had before. “Okay, but in my defense… I… This is so embarrassing.”

“The sooner you tell me, the sooner we can forget about it.”

“Easy for you to say. I was wondering…” She blew out a breath and shoved a hand through her hair. He wanted to do more than that. He wanted to wrap it around his hand and tug her head back and kiss the fucking hell out of her.

“You were wondering?”

“Boxers or briefs,” she mumbled softly. He heard it, though. He heard it clear as day.

“Good girl,” he said, a grin spreading across his face. “You can find out the answer later if you want.

“I’m so sorry.

“I don’t know why. I love that you want to know. I have some things I want to know about you, too.”

“Like what?”

“You’ll have to find that out later, too. I’m starving.” For more than food, but he’d settle for a steak at the moment.

“That’s really not fair.”

“I know. But I never said I was going to play fair.” He stepped to the side so she could get into the truck. He took her hand and held her steady while she climbed up onto the seat. He leaned in as she pulled her seatbelt around her body. “Lily…” Her eyes met his. “You need to know I want you like that. Intimately. What you’re wearing under that skirt…”

“I…”

“Don’t say anything. Nothing even say you want me that way, too.”

“Why not?”

“Because I already know.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah… Oh.” He lifted himself up so his face was level with her and kissed her surprised mouth. She was going to be so much fun to unravel.

So much goddamn fun.

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