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Can I really be considering this? Hailey Rogers asked herself.
"Shavasana," she said aloud. Her yoga class complied, assuming the final pose, knowing she would lead them serenely into a relaxation routine that would put the finishing touches on their very strenuous workout. The cherry on top of the sundae if Hailey still ate sundaes, that is. Or cherries that weren't organically grown.
Hailey herself didn't feel all that relaxed just now. Empty your mind, she counseled. Usually becoming one with the flow was as natural as breathing. Today, however, doing so required effort.
But she managed, as she'd had to for years as she sought to make a peaceful existence for herself after growing up with a perpetually dissatisfied mother and minus the father she hadn't seen since she was thirteen.
Yoga and the meditative life were not only a cure but her salvation, her reason for being. That's why this group of rich women had signed on for a very expensive retreat weekend in Santa Febecause Hailey believed in what she taught and lived it every single day.
So why was she going to risk rocking the boat by contacting her long-absent father? She didn't really have an answer for that, except that in an existence built around peace and well-being, Dixon Rogers was the stone in her sandal, the gnawing mystery of her life.
It's only a phone call. And you need to know. Her relationships with men had been few and fragile because she didn't understand why her father had dropped out of her life. The man she'd been dating most recently wanted more from her than she was willing to give and had leveled some devastating accusations about her caution. She was wary, yes, but also tired of feeling that way, and she'd realized that to move forward, she had to give the male sex a chance by finding out, for once and for all.
Why, Daddy? Why was it so easy to forget me?
As the last of the students departed, Hailey strode with purpose and picked up the cell phone where she'd programmed in a number she'd looked at a thousand times but never used. Before she could wimp out, she scrolled through and punched the call button.
"Fulcrum Racing, how may I help you?"
She'd sort of expected a voice mail system, not an actual person. Hailey swallowed hard before responding. "May I speak with Dixon Rogers, please?"
"Who may I say is calling?"
Hailey gripped the phone hard. "His daughter."
"His daughter?" The soft, Southern voice hesitated. "But Mr. Dixon doesn't" A male voice in the background spoke swiftly. The woman cleared her throat. "Ah, one moment please."
He's never even told anyone I exist. Hailey nearly hung up then, but before she could, a man's voice came on the line.
"Hailey? Is it really you, sweetheart?"
Even though she hadn't heard him speak in fourteen years, that voice rose from long-buried memory. Tears crowded her throat.
Sweetheart. He called me sweetheart. Not in a million years had she expected that.
So exactly where have you been all my life, Daddy?
"Hey, Ryder, they hung the car body for Bristol, but I don't know, man "
Crew chief Ryder McGraw looked up from the spreadsheet he was building, switching gears instantly as he had to do many times a day. "What's wrong with it?"
His car chief, Marcus Conroy, responsible for setting up all the cars for the No. 464 team of Fulcrum Racing, shook his head. "I don't think that tweak to the front bumper is going to make tech inspection, not the way it's fabricated right now."
Ryder didn't react with the frustration he felt. Every microscopic facet of the race operation was ultimately his responsibility, including personality conflicts between the shop's fabricators and his increasingly difficult car chief. "You think or you know, Marcus?"
The clench in Marcus's jaw didn't bode well. Marcus had wanted Ryder's job, but he'd never get it, not when he was becoming less and less a team player by the day.
Ryder opened his mouth to respond just as one of the engineers appeared in his office doorway with a shock absorber in his hand.
"Bingo. RyderI'm officially a genius! This baby's gonna make Jeb Stallworth the best road course driver anyone's ever seen. Oh" The engineer faltered as he spotted Marcus in front of him.
Ryder held up a hand. "Hang on, don't go anywhere. I want to see this." He turned to the car chief. "Marcus, get me tolerances on the new body and shoot them to me ASAP. I'll come look as soon as I can."
Ryder's phone rang. "Hold on. McGraw," he answered.
"I need you in my office right now." Dixon Rogers, the team owner. His voice was strained. He probably wanted to discuss Jeb's less-than-stellar race at Indy.
"Will do." Ryder clicked off. The pressures of forming a brand-new team would have him eating aspirin like candy if he allowed himself.
But he loved racing. And he owed Dixon Rogers everything.
Including a championship-caliber team.
Which he would deliver if it killed him.
Marcus was still lurking. The engineer stood in the doorway.
"I said I'd be there, Marcus, as soon as you get me the data." He turned to the engineer. "I have to head for Dixon's office. Walk with me." He moved into the hallway, stopped every second or two to sign something or make a decision or give advice. To each person he tried to give his full attention because team cohesion was critical. Each member was important, and he wanted them to feel that way.
It was only ten-thirty in the morning. He'd been here since five and would be lucky to leave by midnight, but he held out a hand for the shock, smiling. "Let me see that beauty." He studied it as he walked and whistled appreciation. "Get me that win at Watkins Glen and I'll name my firstborn after you."
The engineer chuckled. "Since you never take time to date, I'm not holding my breath."
Ryder couldn't argue. Personal time was way down low on his agenda. "Well someday." He returned the equipment and paused at Dixon Rogers's door. "Looks good. Let's get one into a practice car and see how it tests." He clapped the man on the shoulder, then started to knock just as the door was yanked open.
Dixon Rogers stood on the other side of the doorway, a strange expression on his face. "Come in, come in." He closed the door behind Ryder. "How are you today, Ryder?"
"Fine, sir." Ryder resisted the urge to frown. "You doing okay?" Dixon's color was high, and there was a slightly manic air about him, unusual for a generally calm man.
"Couldn't be better," he said. "Have a seat." He gestured toward the chair in front of his desk.
"About last week"
"I'm not concerned about Indy."
Ryder did frown then. Finishing thirty-fourth was hardly a matter to blow off. "Why not? It was inexcusable. Set us back in points."
It was Dixon's turn to furrow his forehead. "I know. But I have faith in you. There's not a better crew chief in the garage."
Ryder wished he shared the optimism. He was good, he knew that, but he was only one piece, and a championship team required all the members to perform flawlessly. He still had weak points, such as Marcus. "Mr. Rogers " he began.
"How many times have I told you to call me Dixon? You're not a wet-behind-the-ears mechanic anymore." Dixon chuckled. "I swear I never saw anyone bust their butt like you. Probably never will again."
"I had a lot to prove."
"Not to me. Not for long, anyway."
Ryder loved this man who was like a second father to him. There was nothing he wouldn't do to repay the confidence Dixon had bestowed by bringing him up through the ranks. "Thank you, sir." At Dixon's lifted brow, he amended, "Dixon. Just feels weird."
After a pause, Ryder continued with his original point. "I think I'm going to have to replace Marcus, maybe before the season's over."
At the same moment, Dixon spoke. "I have a favor to ask. I need your help."
"What did you say?" both responded.
"You first," Ryder said.
"You want to replace Marcus?"
Ryder prepared for an argument, though Dixon mostly left decisions in his handswith the exception that his boss was tight with money. But as long as Ryder kept expenses in line, he was okay. "His ego's getting in the way. We can't have that. Most of the good car chiefs are working, but I was thinking about Bodie Martin."
Dixon's eyebrows lifted. "He's been out of the game awhile."
"Yes, but when he was in, there was no one better." Ryder cocked his head. "Think I'm crazy for going with an old-school guy?"
Dixon shook his head slowly, grin widening. "Nope, I'm thinking you just might be a genius, son. There's something to be said for age and experience." But even as he spoke, worry slid over his features and he stared off into the distance.
Dixon snapped back to attention. "Nothing. Not to do with Bodie, I mean. You go ahead if you think you want him. I trust you with the budget, as well as the team." Then he rose and started to pace.
"What's wrong, Dixon?"
The older man was staring out his office window, jingling the change in his pockets. "You ever made a bad mistake you'd give anything to fix, Ryder?"
Ryder tried to imagine what he could be referring to. It had to be something to do with the team because in the twelve years he'd been with Dixon Rogers, they had never discussed anything personal. "You haven't made any big mistakes with your racing teams, far as I can tell."
Dixon turned, his gaze piercing. "This isn't about racing. It's what I wanted to talk to you about."
What could have the man so concerned? Ryder waited.
"This is about my daughter."
Ryder's eyes popped. "You have a daughter?" So far as anyone around here knew, Dixon's life began and ended at the track.
"Hailey. She's twenty-sixno, twenty-seven, I think. I haven't seen her since not long after her mother and I divorced. She was just turning thirteen." His expression was filled with regret.
Ryder wondered what had happened, but he had never been one to meddle, so he remained silent.
"She called me today." If Ryder hadn't known better, he'd have thought the older man had tears in his eyes. "I didn't even know where she was, though I've wished I did." He glanced away and swiped at his eyes with finger and thumb. "I want her back in my life, Ryder. I loved that little girl with everything in me."
Yet you haven't seen her in this long? Ryder bit back the question. Again none of his business.
"And that's where you come in."
"I've invited her to spend the next month with us, here at the shop and traveling with the team. I want you to help me make her feel comfortable."
I'm not a social director, Ryder wanted to say. I'm trying to build a championship team, and I don't have time to squire some princess around.
But he said none of that. Everything he had he owed to Dixon Rogers, and he was genuinely fond of the man, as well. "What does she do for a living? She can take this much time off, a whole month?" No. Please say no.
Dixon's face creased in a grin. "Well, that's interesting, actually." If anything his smile grew wider. "She's a yoga instructor, apparently."
Ryder blinked. "Yoga?"
Dixon shrugged. "She grew up in California. What can I say?"
Oh, great. Just great. Estranged daughter from la-la land, a freakin' yoga instructor. Could this day get any better?
"I think I'm speechless." He rose.
Dixon had the sense of humor to chuckle. "I hear you. Her mother was not a fan of racing, you know." Yet he was filled with cheer. "I'm counting on you to help me show her how great my world is. I want her free to roam anywhere in the operation and make herself right at home."
Ryder opened his mouth then immediately shut it. Aside from safety issueswhich were considerablethe likelihood that this flake from the Left Coast would find any of Fulcrum remotely interesting didn't seem high to him.
But that would be to the good. Maybe she could just go twist herself into a pretzel or whatever in a vacant corner or the conference room or somewhere. Anywhere he didn't have to add her to the list of his daily duties, one that seemed endless already.
"How soon will she arrive?"
"She's finishing up at some fancy resort in Santa Fe today. I'm sending the plane for her in the morning."
Holy crap. Dixon was serious. He wouldn't send a whole plane for one person unless that person was important really important. Well, surely she'd want to rest up, get acquainted with her dad the first few days, so maybe he'd be free of her until after Pocono, if he were lucky. "I'll look forward to meeting her. Now I'd better go see what Marcus is carping about on the new body for Bristol."
Dixon clapped him on the shoulder and squeezed. "I appreciate this, Ryder. It means a lot to me for her to like this place and what I do. She's my only child."
The vulnerability in the older man's eyes got to Ryder more than he wanted it to. He wasn't used to Dixon being emotional about anything. "I'll do my best, sir."
"I know you will. You always do, and I'm grateful."
But not grateful enough to give this duty to Hugo Murphy, Fulcrum's other crew chief. Though the very thought made Ryder grin. Hugo was an excellent crew chief and actually a good guy, but he was crusty as hell and would likely scare Dixon's cupcake of a daughter right out of town before she ever got past Hugo's bluster.
Ryder was pondering what on earth he would do to entertain a yoga instructor in the land of gearheads, when one of the mechanics came charging down the hall toward him. "Ryder, the cylinder honing machine just broke, right in the middle of getting next week's engine ready."
The last thing they had the budget for was replacing an expensive piece of equipment, but this one was crucial. "How bad?"
Words tumbled in a rush as they picked up their pace down the hall.
I'll think about the cupcake tomorrow, Ryder decided. I'm all out of time now.
Hailey still couldn't believe she'd been flown to Charlotte on a private jet. She dealt with wealthy people often, yes, but she herself lived quite modestly, and she preferred things that way. Her mother had constantly criticized her father for spending money on race cars instead of on them, but from what Hailey could tell, her dad had sent child support like clockwork. He'd also sent birthday and Christmas gifts, even if they'd often been out of touch with her age or interests.
What he had failed to do was be present or even to call.