Hitting the Brakes

( 2 )


Since taking over PDQ Racing, widowed businessman and single dad Jim Latimer is out of his element. Truth is, Jim knows next to nothing about stock car racing. On the positive side, however, the new position means a lot more time with PDQ publicity rep Anita Wolcott.

But while they totally click outside the racing arena, Anita and Jim can't quite see eye to eye when it comes to PDQ Racing. For Jim, each damaged car is a bundle of money gone in a cloud of oily smoke. Anita, on ...

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Since taking over PDQ Racing, widowed businessman and single dad Jim Latimer is out of his element. Truth is, Jim knows next to nothing about stock car racing. On the positive side, however, the new position means a lot more time with PDQ publicity rep Anita Wolcott.

But while they totally click outside the racing arena, Anita and Jim can't quite see eye to eye when it comes to PDQ Racing. For Jim, each damaged car is a bundle of money gone in a cloud of oily smoke. Anita, on the other hand, knows that car crashes come with the territory. And as every minute they spend together emphasizes their obvious differences, Anita wonders…is a future with Jim a dangerous investment?

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780373217915
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Publication date: 6/10/2008
  • Series: Harlequin NASCAR Series
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.72 (w) x 7.14 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Read an Excerpt

It was the smell that hit her first. Alcohol floating above a thin miasma of pine scent and an indefinable mustiness. Her stomach did a momentary heave and settled as the automatic doors hissed closed behind her. She hated hospitals.

"Richard Latimer," she told the silver-haired volunteer behind the receptionist's counter.

The woman fumbled through a sheaf of curly-edged papers. "Room 618. Elevators are down the corridor to your right and then left."

Anita didn't have to make a conscious effort to process the information. She knew the way. All too well. "Thank you."

The private room on the sixth floor was large and dimly lit. Electronic monitors beeped rhythmically. Intravenous tubing coiled down from clear plastic bags of fluids. Richard was a large man, but he looked small under the white sheet and fawn-colored knitted blanket. The head of the bed was raised, its occupant pasty-faced and slack-jawed.

Anita stepped closer, stood by the bed and studied him a few seconds, before adding her modest bouquet to the side table already crammed with much more impressive displays, then she slipped her hand into his.

"Hello, Richard. It's Anita. I just came by to see how you're doing."

No response, either in his expression or his touch. From experience, she knew that didn't necessarily mean he hadn't heard her.

"Everyone's pulling for you, Richard. You'll be up and around in no time. Just hang in there. We're all praying for you."

She stood there another minute, maybe two, before she released his dry, limp hand. Still gazing at him, she turned absently away and collided hard with a warm, solid body.

"I'm sorry," the man said in a deep voice, his hands quickly bracketing herupper arms. "I didn't mean to startle you."

Her heart pounded painfully for several beats. "I…I—"

She was completely, angrily unnerved. Whether it was merely because of his unexpected presence, her sudden, overwhelming sense of helplessness or something about the man himself, she wasn't sure.

"Are you all right?" His eyes—they seemed black in this shadowy light—peered at her with concern.

She forced herself to relax her adrenaline-spiked muscles and reposition her feet enough to regain her balance. "I didn't know you were here," she half mumbled, half accused.

He removed his hands and took a step back and to the side. "Again, my apologies. You were talking to Uncle Richard when I came in, but I thought you'd heard me enter."


He motioned her to the door, reached forward to open it. As he did so, she couldn't help notice the sinewy contour of his forearm below the short-sleeve white cotton shirt. She stepped into the hallway, then spun around to face him.

He pulled the door almost closed.

"I'm Jim Latimer," he said, coming forward and extending his hand.

Instinctively she took it. "Anita Wolcott. I'm—"

"The Motor Media Group public-relations rep for PDQ Racing."

"How did—"

"Uncle Richard has spoken about you. He's been very impressed with the way you've handled the Hilton Branch scandal."

Anita wasn't quite sure how to reply. She was, after all, just doing her job. But why had Richard been discussing her job performance with his nephew anyway?

"He's a wonderful man," she said, then quickly added, "Your uncle, I mean." She managed to crack a smile. "Not Hilton Branch."

Jim chuckled softly. "I'm glad you clarified that."

"How is he?" she asked.

The lightheartedness instantly vanished. Richard's nephew took a deep breath and exhaled. "Not good, I'm afraid."

A nurse came down the corridor pushing a square red cart with a multitude of little drawers and doors, almost a smaller version of the huge tool boxes that NASCAR teams used at the race tracks. In a sense, she supposed, it was. The woman stopped outside the patient's room, nodded to the visitors, checked the notes on a metal clipboard and went inside.

"There's nothing we can do here at the moment," Jim said. "If you have a few minutes, how about letting me buy you a cup of coffee? I've consumed a fair quantity of the house brew in the last two and a half days to vouch that it's reasonably palatable."

Anita hadn't planned on hanging around. A quick visit to pay her respects, to see if there was anything she could do—there rarely was in situations like this—and be gone. But just then, her stomach emitted a loud, hollow grumble. She hadn't had lunch.

"And in spite of this being a hospital—" he smiled again "—the food isn't half bad, either."

Jim Latimer, she realized, was a very good-looking man. Close to six feet tall, he had broad compact shoulders and a deep chest that tapered down to a slim waist and narrow hips. He reminded her of a gymnast, though on a larger scale. Neatly trimmed thick ebony hair, just long enough to show a subtle wave. And eyes that, even out here in the afternoon sunlight that pored through the window behind her, were as dark as burnt umber.

"I'll fill you in on what I know about Uncle Richard's condition," he added.

Richard had said his new public-relations rep was a pretty gal. An understatement, if ever Jim had heard one. This woman, Anita Wolcott, was gorgeous. Golden-red hair, emerald-green eyes and a creamy soft complexion. She was conservatively dressed in a charcoal pinstripe pantsuit and lavender, wide-lapeled silk blouse. Not so conservative in cut, however, that he wasn't aware of her distinctively feminine curves. Simple gold studs in her ears, a braided gold chain around her neck. She was wearing an amethyst ring on her right hand, he noticed, but no jewelry on her left. Richard had casually mentioned she was single, probably hoping Jim would ask more about her.

They retraced their steps to the elevator and descended to the second floor. Since it was the middle of the afternoon, the cafeteria was nearly empty. Each poured a cup of coffee. Jim talked her into eating something. She chose a small chicken wrap. He opted for a piece of apple pie.

At the checkout he started to offer to pay, but she already had her wallet out of her purse. His uncle would undoubtedly have finessed picking up the tab "for the little lady," claiming it was the privilege of an old Southern gentleman. Jim didn't think he could get away with the same line. Instead she surprised him by paying for his coffee and pie before he had a chance to protest. He kept the chuckle that bubbled up to himself and thanked her.

She led him to a table against the far wall, where they sat opposite each other. When she put her back to the outside window and let him face the glare, he realized, not without a certain amusement, that she was a woman used to being in control of things.

He watched her peel the paper off her wrap, mesmerized by the feminine grace of her movements. Her glance told him she was aware of him studying her.

"You were right," she said, after taking a sip of her coffee.

"This isn't bad at all."

"I'm glad you're enjoying it." He certainly was, observing her closely.

"You were going to tell me about your uncle."

His playful grin faded, his face grew solemn, double ridges appearing between his thick black eyebrows.

"He's had a massive stroke," he said. "They've been able to dissolve the clot on his brain with medication, but that was two days ago and he still hasn't regained consciousness. They did a CAT scan this morning. No more clots, but they can't say for sure how much damage might have been done, and they won't know till he comes around…if he comes around."

She ignored her food. "That bad?"

He nodded. "On the other hand, he may wake up and order a twenty-four-ounce porterhouse, medium rare, with baked potato, sour cream and bacon bits."

Anita did her best to match his upbeat attitude. With a forced smile, she said, "Somehow I don't think his doctor will approve that menu."

More by reflex than appetite, she took a bite of her food, her mind skittering between fond sentiments for the man in the sickbed upstairs and thoughts about the one sitting across from her.

"I've known Richard for only a few months, since the beginning of the season. He's never said much about his family. Since you share the same last name," she said, after another sip of coffee, "I assume you're his brother's son."

"His younger brother," Jim confirmed. "There are also two sisters. Uncle Richard is the eldest and the hero of the family, the one who made all the money and shared it with just about everybody."

"If you've been here for the past three days, you and he must be close," Anita observed. "What about your job? Can you afford to take time away from it?"

He grinned at her, clearly amused. "The boss won't mind." Each resumed eating. "I saw your press release in the paper this morning," he went on a minute later. "You handled those vultures very well."

"Thanks. I think. Am I right in concluding you don't hold the fourth estate in high regard?"

He shrugged. "I admit to having limited contact with them, but on the few occasions when I have, or have been personally familiar with a story they've covered, I've never known them to get it right."

"Maybe they just didn't see the story the way you did. Has it ever occurred to you that your perspective may have been the one that was slanted?"

"Regarding opinions, maybe," he conceded, "but I bet we can look at half a dozen reports at random and find at least one factual error in each. There's no excuse for that, not from people who call themselves professionals."

A perfectionist? Or simply a man of high standards? She felt as if she'd just stepped into a minefield and wasn't quite sure how she'd gotten there—or how to get out.

"The overwhelming majority of people in the business," she said, "try very hard to do an honest job, but they're not computers. People do make mistakes. Unfortunate though that may be, most of their errors are inconsequential."

His continuing scowl made it clear he wasn't moved by her argument.

"The big question in this case," she said, trying to remain calm, "is what effect Richard's illness is going to have on PDQ Racing? From what I saw and what you've said, it doesn't seem likely he'll be manning the helm for a while. Who's in charge while he's sidelined? Do you know?"

Jim sighed discontentedly, the thin smile on his lips not one of happiness or glee. "You're looking at him."

A woman wearing green hospital scrubs approached the table. "Mr. Latimer?"

He looked up, apprehension written in his expression.


"Your uncle seems to be rousing. The doctor thought you might want to be there when he wakes up."

They immediately returned upstairs. Anita had a litany of questions to ask Jim, but this didn't seem the appropriate time. There would be other opportunities. As they stood in the elevator, side by side, in silence, their proximity and the isolation within the small cubicle made her all the more aware of his size, of the breadth of his shoulders. She glanced over at his hand, only a few inches from hers, remembered the feel of its grasp when she collided with him. Even now, she felt unbalanced, in need of his solid strength. Her pulse was tripping, she realized, when the door opened. A wave of heat ran through her when he half turned and motioned with his arm for her to precede him. Her insides fluttered. It wasn't the man before her that made her so edgy, she told herself. It was the place; she hated hospitals.

As it turned out, Richard hadn't actually regained consciousness, he'd only become restless.

"That's still a positive sign," the doctor on duty insisted. But it didn't take more than a brief conversation with him to realize it might be hours, even days, before they could accurately evaluate the older man's condition.

While the physician continued to examine his patient and the nurse replenished the intravenous fluids, Jim motioned Anita back outside the room.

"Thanks for coming," he said once they were in the hallway.

"But there's no need for you to hang around. I'm sure you have other things to do. I appreciate your coming by, and I know Uncle Richard will be pleased when I tell him you were here."

He reached into his back pocket for his wallet and took out a business card.

"Got a pen?" he asked.

She rummaged in her handbag, withdrew a ballpoint, clicked it and handed it to him. He cupped the card in the palm of his left hand—no ring, she noted—and scribbled on its back.

"The number on the front," he said, "will get you my answering service. Here's my personal cell number. If you have any questions—"

She examined the face of the card. James Latimer. Independent CPA. She understood now his frown when she'd made the crack about computers. But how was she to know? He didn't exactly match the stereotype of an accountant.

"I'll call you later to find out how he's doing," she said.

"We'll need to prepare another press release. Keep the public informed."

The disapproving expression in his eyes didn't surprise her, but at least he didn't object.

"I could be here for hours," he said, "and since they don't like people using mobile phones in the hospital, it might be better if I called you. What's your number?"

She rattled it off, then started diving into her purse again. "Let me give you my card. It has the number on it."

He smiled. "No need. I'll remember it." He repeated it back to her, then broadened his smile. "I'm an accountant, remember? Numbers are my racket, just like spin is yours."

He said it with a smile, so she assumed he was trying to be funny rather than insulting. She hoped so, especially if he was going to be taking over PDQ Racing.

"If there are any changes in his condition," she replied, "please let me know. Or if you need anything, don't hesitate to call. I really would like to help."

"Thanks," he said, sounding touched by the offer.

In her car a few minutes later, she thought about the two men she'd left. Miracles happened, and modern medicine was remarkable in what it could do with conditions that only a few years ago seemed hopeless. She just prayed it didn't take a miracle for Richard to recover.

As for the younger Latimer, he was something of a contradiction. Physically attractive, without a doubt. Intelligent and seemingly capable of charm. But there was an edge, as well, one that both irritated and intrigued her.

After turning off the main thoroughfare onto a more lightly traveled secondary road, she decided to check the voice mail on her cell phone. Half a dozen messages from reporters. She didn't have anything for them yet, and they'd no doubt be bugging her again, so she deleted them. That left three calls she really did have to answer. Sandra Jacobs, the head of Motor Media Group. Bart Branch, PDQ's sole driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. And Philip Whalen, his crew chief.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 28, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Hitting The Brakes by Ken Casper Harlequin NASCAR Library Secret

    Hitting The Brakes by Ken Casper
    Harlequin NASCAR Library
    Secrets And Legends Series Book 8
    Widower Jim Latimer knows nothing about owning a NASCAR team. After his Uncle Richard has a stroke that is exactly where he finds himself, running PDQ Racing. He likes the nine to five type jobs as his son is his first priority, ownership of the team is a bit more time consuming. And who knew that he’d find love again on this side of the racetrack?

    Anita Wolcott, from Motor Media Group, is Bart Branch’s Pr representative. The nephew who has come to run things while Richard hopefully recovers is nothing like his laid back uncle. He may not run business the same way but he is sure easy on the eyes. If only they could get along as well in business as they do outside of it.

    As in two of the earlier books there is another cameo by Carl Edwards. The media continues to hound the Branch twins about their missing father and other mysteries within this series have yet to be solved. The books continue to bring previous characters back and introduce the readers to new ones. The ninth book continues with Larry Grosso who is Steve’s dad and Kent’s uncle. Seems he’s going to cause a stir that has nothing to do with the old feud.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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