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There were, in Vicky's opinion, three types of men: Those that made you go, "Eww." As in, yuck, I wouldn't touch that with a ten-foot pole and a pair of rubber gloves. Those that made you think, "Hmm." As in, if I was tired, tipsy and just a little bit desperate, I might take him home. And those that made you exclaim, softly, of course, "Oh, my."
Brandon Burke was a solid "Oh, my."
She'd known that. Of course she'd known that. The thing was, it didn't make it any easier to approach him. So she hung back, peering around the edge of one of the many buildings located at the South Carolina racetrack, every once in a while walking forward only to stop suddenly and turn back, the large bag she'd slung over one shoulder hitting her in the spine.
Back to hiding.
You're being ridiculous. He's just a man.
It was a busy day at the drag race motorsports complex. People heavily laden with salty-scented sunblock rushed past her, spectators, track officials and crewmen alike. The sweet smell of hot dogs and hamburgers hung in the air, as if everyone were at an outdoor barbecue rather than a drag strip. On the asphalt behind her, cars took off at regular intervals, their engines so loud, Vicky resisted the urge to cover her ears.
Come on, Vicky. Sooner or later you've got to do it.
She took another peek.
And her whole body just sort of went oomph.
Brandon leaned against the side of a big rig that hauled his drag bike from track to track, looking very very
She thought for a moment.
Gladiator-ish, if there was such a word. He was watching a mechanic work on his bike. Yellow Do Not Cross This Line tape kept fans at bay. Above him someone had pulled a white awning out from the side of the rig. It cast a translucent glow over his darkly tanned skinas if he stood beneath a photographer's umbrellaand turned his black leather gear a shade of gray. She didn't know how he could stand to wear those leathers on a hot, sunny day like today, but she had to admit, he looked, um, hot in them.
She wiped a trickle of sweat off her own forehead. Go on, she silently urged, watching as he leaned forward and said something. But Vicky had never been aggressive where men were concerned. Out on the track, the deafening roar of a race car in the middle of a qualifying run filled the air yet again, but she could still hear the two of them laugh over the sound.
She readjusted the straps of her indigo bag, and headed for him.
He became more beautiful with each step. Race-car drivers were not, as a rule, pretty at least not in her experience. But this guy was gorgeous in the same way as a Calvin Klein model. Razor-stubble chin. Blond sideburns in front of his ears. Michelangelo's lips. Botticelli's wide-armed physique, and the swept-back, shoulder-length blond hair of Perseus. She'd minored in Art a degree that wasn't useful in her current job, but terrific for spur-of-the-moment metaphors.
She paused outside the tape, clenched her hands, then sternly told herself to stop being ridiculous. She'd graduated at the top of her class. With honors.
"Hi, Brandon," she said.
Dizzyingly blue eyesthe same color as oceans south of the equatorgave her a puzzled stare.
"I'm Vicky," she said, ducking beneath the yellow tape. "Vicky VanCleef."
Brandon glanced at his mechanic, gave him a don't-worry-I'll-handle-this look, albeit one tinged with amusement, and pushed away from the side of the semi.
"Can I help you?" he asked, those eyes of his sweeping her up and down.
Not much to see, I'm afraid. "You don't recognize the name, do you?"
"No," he said, his drawl more pronounced when it was oozing male sensuality. "Should I?" he asked suggestively.
Whoo-wee, the man should come with a Warning: Smile May Cause Electric Shock. She felt that sexy grin all the way down to her toenails. And it figured he didn't recognize her. She'd only worked for SSI, Sports Services Inc., for a couple of months.
"We've actually talked on the phone a few times," she said. "I work for SSI."
"SSI?" he asked, as if he didn't recognize that name, either. But of course he did. They might be new to representing him, but they weren't that new.
"SSI," she repeated, shifting the bag to the other shoulder so she could lift the wide flap and pull out a business card. "Sports Services, Inc. I'm Scott Preston's assistant."
He glanced at the card, recognition dawning. Again, the eyes scanned her, and for the first time Vicky found herself wishing for a six-foot-one frame, voluptuous cleavage and sexy, pouty lips. Alas, she was five foot four, average looking, and with hair as light brown and wispy straight as an Afghan hound's.
"What are you doing here?" he asked.
All amusement had fled. There was no longer any hint of a smile. No word of greeting. Just the steely-eyed glare of a man who wasn't happy to see her. Well, she'd expected that. After all, he'd been ducking her calls for days.
"Actually, Mr. Knight requested that I come. Well, Mr. Knight wanted my boss, Scott, to come. But he's too busy. One of his star football players broke his leg. Terrible thing. End of his career.
Scott went down to, um" tell the player SSI was through with him, too. But she couldn't tell Brandon that. He might suddenly comprehend what a complete and utter jerk of an agent Scott was, and so she said, "Console him."
"What does Mr. Knight want with me?" he asked, one of his dark brown eyebrows lifting. He crossed his arms in front of him, something that made his shoulders appear twice as wide.
He knew. He had to know. Mr. Knight owned the car Brandon drove and he'd have to be stupid not to know what his team owner wanted, but if he wanted to play dumb "Well, he thought, and Scott thought so, too, that maybe you'd forgotten that you're not supposed to race any type of vehicle other than stock cars." She put on her best we-all-make-mistakes smile. "It's in your contract," she added, patting her square bag where a copy of said contract rested. "Although it appears as if you didn't see that particular clause."
He smirked, and it was one of those not-quitea-grin looks that wasn't really an attempt at a smile. She hated when people did that.
Another drop of sweat trickled down her back. "Ahem. So," she said, resisting the urge to wipe her hands on the front of her pants, and having to raise her voice to be heard above the sudden roar of yet another engine. "I know this is kind of bad timing, but I'm afraid you can't race today. Not if you don't want to violate your contract with Mr. Knight."
"Tell Mr. Knight to go blow."
He'd started to unzip his leather race gear. Vicky felt her mouth go dry. The black material slid off his shoulders, exposing a white cotton tank beneath. Arms so sculpted they belonged on the cover of a fitness magazine flexed as he shrugged out of the material.
"Mr. Burke," she quickly added when it became clear that he wasn't undressing because he'd taken her warning to heartor to make her mind go blank. Which it did. Momentarily. "I understand your reluctance to pack up and leave, but obviously I can't tell Mr. Knight to, um, go blow. We only just signed with him, so I don't think it'd be wise to go against his wishes."
All Brandon did was shrug before he turned away. She watched him cross to an orange-andwhite cooler where he pulled out some sort of purple-colored drink. When he turned back, he almost seemed surprised to see her still standing there.
"I'm not giving up my drag bike," he said after cracking the lid. "I told Scott that same thing. He said we'd work it out."
And why wasn't Vicky surprised?
"If we can't," Brandon said, "then I'm not interested in driving for Mr. Knight."
Her mouth hung open for a moment. He made it seem as if they could just rip up the thirty-page contract in her bag. "You can't just arbitrarily decide not to work for KEM."
"I can do whatever I want," Brandon said, walking away.
"Mr. Burke, please," she said, trying not to panic as she moved to catch up to him. "This is obviously some kind of misunderstanding, and until we have it all sorted out, I think we should at least talk it over with Mr. Knight."
He turned back to her, tipped the minijug back, then proceeded to down half the bottle in a few loud gulps. Vicky watched his Adam's apple bob with every swallow. He had a muscular neck, thick cords running up the side of it; she wondered what they'd feel like beneath her fingers .
He uncoupled the bottle from his lips with a suctioned pop, released the breath he'd been holding and looked over at her once again. "Out of the question. Don't have time to talk to anyone right now."
"You mean, you're going to race anyway?"
She forgot how good-looking he was at that moment. Forgot that just a second ago she'd been fantasizing about swiping the sideburns that hugged the shell of his ear. Forgot everything in the wake of the realization that Brandon Burke was an ass.
"And I'm here to tell you that you can't," she said, trying hard to keep the conversation professional.
What a jerk.
What did you expect, Vicky? He has Scott as an agent. Like attracts like. And Scott is the king of jerks.
"Actually," he said, taking a step toward her. "I doubt you're in a position to tell me anything."
His ploy almost succeededthe one he'd no doubt used to keep women in line. He tried to discombobulate her with his good looks. Five minutes ago it would have worked. Five minutes ago she might have completely forgotten what she wanted to say in the wake of his tangy, masculine scent, one she caught a whiff of as he tipped away from her.