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Lucas works alone. The last thing he wants is a much-too-attractive, hotshot reporter shadowing his every move. But the NYPD ...
Lucas works alone. The last thing he wants is a much-too-attractive, hotshot reporter shadowing his every move. But the NYPD detective is an outsider in the close-knit NASCAR community. He needs Mattie, whether he likes it or not.
Now they've teamed up to catch a dangerous criminal, only to find that the love blindsiding them both may bring the greatest peril of all.
Mattie Clayton, daughter of Steve Clayton, former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and now owner of Pebble Valley Wines in California. Mattie was short for Matilda, a fact he'd dug up on the Internet when he'd first been assigned to the Alan Cargill murder case the winter before. Must have been either a much-loved, or more likely, a very rich relative hanging off a branch of the family tree, to saddle a girl with that name in this day and age, he'd decided as he mentally scrolled through her vital statistics once more: Twenty-eight. Unmarried. Freelance investigative reporter with an impressive number of journalistic credits for someone her age. A childhood spent bouncing back and forth between a playboy father and a mother who had been married more times than your average Hollywood star.
Alan Cargill had been one of the few constants in her life. Lucas was counting on her loyalty to those childhood ties to get him what he wanted today.
"Hello, Mattie," he said coming up on her unawares, catching her staring off into the distance, looking a little wistful. He followed her line of sight. A baby clothes shop seemed to be the object of her attention. Sarah Clayton, her new stepmother, was three months pregnant. He'd read that on a NASCAR blog a week or two earlier. Was Mattie daydreaming of a baby of her own, or merely considering a gift for the new member of her family? He couldn't tell. Despite her ready smile, she wasn't an easy read.
"Oh," she said, jumping in her seat. "You startled me."
"Sorry. I didn't mean to."
"No problem. Have a seat, Detective." She seldom called him by his first name and he hadn't pressed for any lessening of the formality during their infrequent meetings over the winter. Now he wished he had. It would have made it a little easier to broach his plan if they were on a first-name basis. She pushed her sunglasses down on her nose and stared at him over the mirrored lenses. Her eyes, big and wide and the rich brown of a fine mink coat, were her best feature. A guy could get lost in those eyes if he didn't watch himself. She motioned him to take the other seat at the table. "You're late."
He hid a grin. She always had to take the offensive, be the one in control. He didn't mind, if it made her more comfortable. Odds were she wouldn't stay that way for long when he disclosed what he had come to tell her. "I had a conference call to New York. It ran long."
"You could have sent me a text."
He shrugged as he slid onto the seat of the metal chair. It was hot to the touch. The weather in North Carolina took some getting used to. It was the beginning of October and as hot, and even more humid, than mid-August in New York, where he'd been born and raised. "I'm not very good at multitasking. When my boss is chewing my butt, I tend to stay focused on the matter at hand."
"Oh," she said, grudgingly. "That does make a difference." A black-clad waiter with a snow-white towel draped over his arm came from inside the shop to take their order. "Would you like a glass of wine?" she asked. "My treat."
"It's a little early for me."
A quick frown slipped across her expressive face, but remained only a moment. Her smile returned. She had a nice smile. He'd noticed that every time they met. She wasn't a beautiful woman, not by a long shot, but she was very attractive. Her hair was the same dark brown as her eyes, and her mouth was soft and full and looked very kissable. He didn't fool himself, though. Her strong jawline and determined air had been inherited directly from her father, a man with a reputation for getting what he wanted. "Two iced teas," she said. The waiter looked offended but nodded and disappeared inside.
"I can't decide if he's miffed because we didn't order wine, or because we didn't order sweet tea." He hadn't been able to get used to drinking the overly sweet brewed tea that was a Southern favorite.
"I know you don't like sweet tea, Yank," she said.
He lifted an eyebrow. "And you don't like iced tea. Why didn't you order wine? Your father owns a vineyard and winery, doesn't he? Pebble Valley, Sonoma County?" Steve Clayton's vineyard would be sponsoring a NASCAR driver next season. Like the news of his new wife's pregnancy, he had learned of the sponsorship deal from a NASCAR-related Web site.
She tapped the wine list with her finger. She was wearing nail polish, pearly white, just like her lightweight cotton suit and camisole top, all neutral in color and tone. The understated shades were a perfect foil for her hair and eyes. "Dad just released a new Gewürz-traminer. It's getting really good reviews. It's basically an aperitif wine, but with enough body and complexity to make it interesting. They carry it here. The offer's still open if you'd like to try it."
"Maybe next time," he demurred. "You know a lot about wine."
She shrugged negligently. "I thought I might go into the family business once upon a time."
"Once upon a time?"
Mattie's mouth tightened into a straight line. She didn't like it when he got personal, he'd learned over the past months. She pushed the wine list away as the waiter returned with two tall, sweating glasses, which he placed on coasters in front of them. When he had marched back into the shop, nose still in the air, she turned to Lucas once more. "Why did you ask to see me, Detective?"
He didn't fall into her trap by asking her to call him Lucas. She would nod, and smile, and go right on referring to him by his title. He gave it to her straight. "The D.A. has decided to drop the murder charges against Armando Mueller," he said. He watched her from behind his own mirrored sunglasses and saw the corners of her mouth tighten, but other than that she showed no outward signs of disappointment. She wasn't just another trust-fund baby amusing herself with a stab at working for a living, he reminded himself, but a successful investigative reporter with an impressive track record. It would take more than this bad news to shake her into revealing her inner feelings, even if the murder victim had been as close as a blood relative to her.
"I figured that would happen once Alan's diamond cuff links turned up at Patsy Grosso's birthday party. You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to see that blew the case against a New York sneak thief into a million pieces."
"Not to mention the prime suspect being in custody seven hundred miles away," he added.
"Damn. I wanted it to be Mueller, but my gut told me otherwise."
"What did it tell you?" he asked, not discounting her instinct. He used his own often enough.
"That Alan's murder wasn't a random act of violence. Sure, his jewelry is missing but I still think he was killed by someone he knew. Someone he allowed to get close enough to stab him through the heart." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "I loved Alan," she said, raising her eyes to his. He didn't need to see their golden-brown color to know they were swimming in tears. It was his turn to stiffen and draw back slightly. This was way out of character for her. Emotional women gave him the spooks. "He and his wife were always there for me when I was a kid being dragged from race track to race track by my dad." She caught herself, and when she continued her voice was rock solid and hard as cut crystal. "I want whoever killed him to pay for what they did."
"So do I." He leaned forward, elbows on the table. "Get me access to the people who can help solve the murder." He needed to work a deal with Mattie. She was a NASCAR insider. Her father was a past NASCAR Sprint Cup champion. She was Dean and Patsy Grosso's goddaughter. She was part of the NASCAR family.
"You've had access," she responded instantly. "For almost eight months."
"Access, yes. But I'm still an outsider." No one opened up to him, no one relaxed around him, talked about the little things, the small details that might give him a thread of a clue to follow. No one trusted him, and trust was what he needed now to get his dead-in-the-water case back on track. This is where he had to take a leap of faith. Put his trust in a woman he barely knew and didn't much like. "I need to be on the inside," he said. "And I need you to help me get there."
"You're joking, right?" she asked, leaning back in her chair, putting as much distance between them as she could manage sitting down. He was up to something, but she wasn't sure what it was. Lucas Haines wasn't a man to act on an impulse. There was a reason for everything he did, every move he made. "Do you think anyone will open up to you just because I introduce you to them? You've already interviewed everyone I know, some of them more than once."
"And I've gotten nowhere because I'm a big-city cop with no ties to NASCAR whatsoever."
"That would certainly make me think twice about telling you anything," she agreed. The corners of his mouth tightened. She imagined his night-blue eyes narrowing behind the mirrored sunglasses, eyes that seemed to bore right through her. She was a little surprised he had admitted his failure quite so readily. But then again, she supposed she shouldn't be. Haines was a straight-arrow, by-the-book cop. He took his responsibilities very seriously and it was completely in character that he didn't shirk the blame when he failed.
"I thought maybe you could help me."
Startled, she laughed out loud. He had nerve; she'd give him that. "Why should I? You've made it more than clear that you didn't need any help from a flighty sports reporter. On more than one occasion, as I recall." She couldn't quite filter all the bitterness out of her voice. She was a damned good investigative reporter. She had to be to nail a top-ten college basketball coach for turning a blind eye to steroid abuse on her team, and to uncover an alumni fund-raising scheme in one of the most prestigious colleges in the Southeast that was funnel-ing tens of thousands of dollars of illegal gifts and services to prospective athletes and their families. But none of that had mattered to the big-city cop.
"I apologize for that." The sun had moved behind one of the iron-fenced trees that shaded the walkway. He took off his sunglasses and twirled them between his lean, strong fingers. His gaze was level and candid. "I'm not always the best team player."
She admired him for admitting that. It was an attribute she shared. She was a lone wolf. She always had been. You couldn't survive the kind of fragmented childhood she had if you relied too heavily on anyone but yourself. "So in other words you're asking me to pull your chestnuts out of the fire for you."
He leaned back in his chair, hooking one arm over the back. "I'm offering you a partnership in solving a crime. My boss has told me in no uncertain terms not to show my face in New York again until I find the real murderer of Alan Cargill."
Mattie grinned, she couldn't help herself. "You've been exiled to Charlotte indefinitely."
"You could say that." He had the grace to look a little sheepish.
"That can't be easy for a big city boy like you, Yank."
"Cut the Yank crap," he retorted. "You spent many of your formative years in California. And even a year in a finishing school in Connecticut."
He'd turned the tables on her again. He knew far more about her than she did him. She had to remember the man was too sharp to toy with. Maybe it was time to call in a favor or two and do some digging into his background. Turnabout was fair play, after all. "It was one semester," she corrected him. "I was, uh, asked to leave after that." That awful episode in her life had occurred during one of her mother's periodic guilt trips for abandoning Mattie to her father's care while she went off to commit serial matrimony. Her mother had begged to have Mattie come live with her. But a sullen sixteen-year-old was not what her mother, pregnant with twins by her fourth husband, had bargained for, and it was off to boarding school with Mattie—but not for long. "I've lived in Charlotte since I was in college. My roots go deep here. There have been Claytons in North Carolina since before the Civil War."
"Wow!" he said sarcastically, then leaned forward, all business. "I'm asking for your help, Mattie. I need access to NASCAR people. They're a close-knit, close-mouthed bunch, but you're one of them. They'll talk to me if you're around."
She shook her head. "Not necessarily. You're still an outsider. The big-city New York cop. Having me sitting there twiddling my thumbs while you grill my friends won't change anything." She schooled her expression to remain slightly haughty, cool, detached. She'd watched her mother achieve it enough times to make it believable. But inwardly she was humming with nerves. A chance to work with Lucas Haines to solve Alan's murder, a chance to avenge the memory of the man who had always been there for her when she needed him. She couldn't turn him down, no matter what he asked. But he didn't have to know that, not yet. "If they think you're more than that—" "Partners in the investigation?" She finished his sentence for him. "Why should they? Nothing's changed. I'm not a cop. Or a CSI, as you've pointed out in the past. I'm just a sports reporter."
"Look…" He ran his hand through his short, dark hair. She was beginning to get under his skin. That pleased her. He was hard to throw off balance. "What if we made it seem as if we were more than working together. What if we let people think we… we were… well…an item."
Posted July 9, 2013
Into The Corner by Marisa Carroll
Harlequin NASCAR Library
NASCAR: Hidden Legacies Book 14
Mattie Clayton, daughter of former NASCAR driver Steve Clayton, is an investigative reporter. She wants to help find who murdered her “Uncle” Alan Cargill. The NASCAR family was the most stability she had growing up while being passed between her parents. She holds no hopes of ever finding her own happily ever after.
Detective Lucas Haines needs closure on an eighth month old murder. The NASCAR folks are tight lipped around him so he has a plan. Talk Mattie into pretending they are dating so he is accepted as one of them. Pretending is all it can be no matter how much he’s attracted to her. And if he keeps telling himself that….maybe he’ll believe it. Or not.
The murder mystery is finally solved. There is still a mysterious blogger out there who seems to know something about the missing Gina Grosso. Is the thirty year old kidnapped victim alive or dead? Book fifteen, Raising The Stakes, introduces Evie Winters to the series and engine specialist Jared Hunt. Previous books have mentioned their other family members already.
Posted April 10, 2011
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Posted March 24, 2011
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Posted January 7, 2011
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Posted June 1, 2010
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Posted July 21, 2011
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