EXERPT FROM CHAPTER 1
Marissa Maguire rose abruptly from her seat amid her fellow Mission Speedway volunteers. She had to get away—do something to occupy her mind before the conflicting emotions churning inside erupted into a flood of tears.
"I’m going outside to take some pictures." She shrugged her sling pack over a shoulder, then turned away quickly before anyone noticed the tears at the corners of her eyes.
As she stalked towards the door of the media center, the phone in her pocket buzzed. Although she desperately wanted to ignore the call, she couldn’t. It might be Davis, the Mission Speedway Coordinator for Gateway International Speedway.
A glance told her it was Tristan, her ex-fiancé. For the fifth time today. She quelled an overwhelming desire to fling the phone against the wall. Instead, she returned it to her pocket. He could just leave another message.
The instant the door cracked open, the roar of powerful racecar engines assaulted her ears. Practice for NASCAR’s Nationwide race tomorrow was in full swing. She reached underneath her short auburn hair for her earplugs around her neck and shoved them into her ears.
Someone behind her held the door open as she stepped through. A male voice called out, "Mind if I join you?"
Marissa recognized the voice of Cole Barton, the youngest member of their volunteer team. "Sure. Why not?" She pulled down her baseball cap to shield her eyes from the bright July sun. The action also covered her glance at the man behind her.
Cole’s unruly, light brown hair and round face made him look younger than his twenty-one years.
With a sigh, she wished he was older. Still a college student, he lived in a world vastly different than hers.
Cole caught up to her after they passed through the gate outside the building. He hooked an arm inside hers, then leaned down and spoke directly into her ear so she could hear him over the noise of the cars as they zipped past on the track. "What’s the rush?"
I’m running away. That’s the rush. Running away from the humiliating memories of Tristan’s infidelities, the broken engagement, the wedding that would have happened tomorrow if she hadn’t called it off. The sting of embarrassment heated her face more than the late afternoon sun.
Cole kept his arm looped around Marissa’s as they walked towards pit road. A trickle of delight ran up her arm at his touch. Against her better judgment, she didn’t remove his arm. Today, of all days, she rationalized, she needed the comfort of physical contact—the comfort of knowing that someone found her attractive.
Cole led Marissa to the short wall that divided the pit stalls into two sections. "You’ve got a great view of turns one and four from here." He hitched a thumb over his shoulder and added, "You’ve even got a clear shot of the cars coming out of the garage."
Marissa pulled out the earplugs out so she could hear him better, then assessed the spot he’d chosen and nodded in agreement. "Perfect choice, Cole." She flashed him an appreciative smile and took in his boyish good looks. Maybe she should focus on their similarities instead of their differences. After all, he only had one more year of college before he’d be out in the real world.
She pulled a small digital camera out of her sling pack. Although not the fancy SLR she’d received for Christmas last year, it would give her quality pictures. Still, she couldn’t hold back a small sigh. The money she made by downgrading had been applied to the huge credit card debt her parents had run up in her name.
Cole nudged her shoulder, then pointed towards the garage. "Look, there’s the 33 car. You’ve gotta get a picture of that one." Rod Jamison was one of the few drivers from the Cup Series who would race at Gateway the following day.
After Marissa fired off several shots, Cole leaned in close to look at the pictures as she reviewed them. He grinned down at her petite form. "Nice. You’re good at this."
Marissa basked in his praise. Maybe I shouldn’t make such a big deal of the fact that he’s five years younger than I am. I should at least give him a chance. It was high time she picked up the pieces of her life and started living again. She said a silent prayer and decided that if she still felt he same by the end of the night, she would ask him to join her for lunch tomorrow.
Ten minutes later, she aimed her camera towards a cluster of colorful cars as they rounded turn four. After several shots, she felt her phone buzz again. It took all of her willpower to pull the phone out of her pocket. She heaved a sigh of relief when she saw Davis’ name instead of Tristan’s.
"There’s been an accident involving a fan," the Mission Speedway Coordinator informed her. "Could you meet me at the care center under the grandstands?"