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Marc Newton wished he could run his race car business without sponsors. An illogical thought considering how much cross-marketing was done, making each side dependent on the other. Besides, the cold, hard reality for him came down to his ability to generate revenue. Especially now that his body threatened to punk out on his plan to dominate the auto racing landscape.
The business relationship, however, exacted a heavy debt. Sponsors wanted a chunk of his flesh with their legal teams pushing meetings that elicited endorsements for their various products, crafting deals for bigger profit margins and pushing their cause for partnerships in other business ventures.
One day he awoke and his name was more than his identity. His fairly new iconic status had escalated on a steep incline and was now a viable brand. Sports pundits predicted that his income potential had only hit the tip of the iceberg. Being one of the top fifteen drivers in the National Car Racing Federation guaranteed him financial success.
In the competitive inner sanctum of the industry, a few critical sportscasters shared their belief that he hadn't earned his stripes yet. That was real B.S. He'd earned every accolade by rolling up his sleeves and working hard, putting in the long hours running his business and being disciplined. No way would he apologize for his success.
His rise to the esteemed top fifteen started as a driver struggling to get experience first in the local and regional races and then on the bigger tracks and speedways. He wasn't part of a family dynasty, nor had he nurtured business contacts to give him a leg up on the inner workings. Rather it was through dogged determination that he'd earned enough money to take the next step and serve as president of his own small company, Newton Enterprises. He also took on the double role as the key driver for his fleet.
His dream hadn't changed since the first time he spent the day with his father at a car race. Nothing beat the roar of the engines, the electrifying speed of the cars shooting out onto the track. Each time he got behind the wheel, he channeled that rush of adrenaline to fuel his senses as he strategized his path to the finish line.
Some days he got to the finish line with a few bumps. Then there were those days when nothing fell into place and his car hurtled like a bumper car down the track. The last race shook and rattled his body like a rag doll between a rottweiler's teeth. A reaggravated neck injury now had his board of directors and sponsors wringing their hands like nervous Nellies. The investors pushed him to get a quick checkup by one of their recommended specialty doctors.
For Marc, the whole ordeal was a big waste of his time. He was willing to try anything to get out of the doctor's appointment. However, since he couldn't, the next strategy was to twist the female doctor around his finger. A flash of his smile and wave of tickets usually netted the results he wanted. And now he wanted a quick exam and an official release to race.
"Mr. Newton, the doctor will see you now."
Marc followed the nurse through the door that led him deeper into the doctor's lair. The walls of the medical suite were painted the warm, creamy yellow of hon-eydew melon and decorated with framed abstract art, but they did little to calm him. Unlike the nerves that fairly popped as he prepared for a race, the nervous spikes of dread slinking down his legs had nothing to do with precompetition jitters or the need for speed.
Doctors, hospitals, threats of dire prognoses always seem to touch on his childhood fears. He didn't want to go down that dark road. The Do Not Enter sign spoke only to him. Over time, he'd learned to heed the directive.
The nurse escorted him into the examination room, chatting about the hot North Carolina summer they'd just endured. Folks around the city didn't usually grumble about fall's entrance in September. However, Marc knew at the end of the racing season, the weather would take a sharp turn to an unpredictable, icy wintry mix.
He submitted to the thermometer, weight scale and blood pressure cuff. Not that he had much of a choice once he'd decided to come into the office.
The nurse ran through the preliminary checklist of his vitals. By now her conversation had turned to her thoughts regarding car racing. Her opinion that it was a dangerous sport received validation, she claimed, upon noticing a few of his old wounds.
Where the heck was the doctor? He wanted outfast.
On cue, a light knock on the examination door preempted the nurse's lecture. "Mr. Newton, it's Dr. Wilson."
"Come in." Marc focused on the door. Now he was curious to see the owner of the husky voice colored with a sexy lilt.
He didn't have long to wait. She entered, armed with a wide smile and an extended hand. She shook his with a confident grasp and instantly he recognized someone used to being in control. Her gaze assessed him, as if collecting data to ponder for an eventual decision. Despite the smiling greeting, she wore her cool professionalism like an additional layer of clothing.
Marc mentally pulled up short. The warm, gooey voice hung in the air like false advertising. The doctor's no-nonsense demeanor didn't partner well with her warm, sultry voice. Charming her might prove difficult. She'd already turned her attention to the computer with his medical file.
"Doc, look, I know that I have to come to you because sponsors have that in my contract. But I'm fine. Look at my vitals. I'm a vision of good health." He grinned. "Good looks, too." He raised his chin slightly. No woman could resist him. Some turned his way fast and held on tight. Some turned his way slowly, taking a little more effort on his part. But sooner or later he had them all eating out of his hand. He had that knack. The promise of a challenge stirred his competitive spirit.
Why should this doctor be an exception, even if she wasn't really his type?
"I have your images from the latest MRI," Dr. Wilson said.
?" He didn't like the fact that she hadn't responded to his light flirtation. Nor did he like her serious countenance as she pulled up his file and leaned toward the computer monitor. She pointed at data on the screen, tracing the line of information. Her forehead wore a deep furrow.
When she was done reading, she stepped back from the monitor and then turned to him. "Your neck is heavily bruised." Her fingers trailed a path along the back of his neck from the base into the hairline.
"That's all?" He twitched his shoulders away from her touch.
"It wouldn't be such a big deal if it hadn't been accompanied by your second concussion. What your body needs to get over this hurdle is rest. You need to heal."
"Uh-huh." Marc felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. His busy life was knocking, waiting for his attention. But the steely-eyed gaze his doctor cast on him warned him that multitasking wouldn't be appreciated. His hand remained in his pocket, covering the phone.
The doctor pulled out a form and began writing. "Do you have any questions?"
"You said that I needed to heal." He glanced at the form. "I don't think I need written instructions for that."
"This is going to you and the insurance company with my recommendation that you sit out racing for two weeks. Then we can recheck and get you back in the saddle. I will also recommend that you have a limited number of physical therapy sessions."
"No way." Marc shot up from the examining table. He didn't care that he'd momentarily startled her. She was about to sideline him with the stroke of that pen. Didn't she realize what she was going to do to his career?
"Mr. Newton, relax."
"Look, stop calling me that. You're about to wreck my life. Drop the formality, please. I'm Marc."
"Fine." The doctor's mouth tightened into a disapproving line. Her eyebrows arched over sharp, dark brown eyes. "Marc, I'm aware that you make a living from your driving. My goal is to make sure that you are able to continue driving safely and in good health. Right now, you're nursing some pretty serious injuries."
"I feel fine."
"The images don't lie. I interpret them, give you my expert opinion and provide my recommendations."
He'd pushed and she'd pushed right back.
Marc tried a different approach. "If the physical therapy works in a week, then I can get behind the wheel and perform my practice runs that following week." He stated his opinion, rather than asking for hers.
"I can't say how quickly you will heal. Nor am I going to rush your recovery."
"But if I'm clear, then you can't block me?" Marc wanted to be perfectly clear of the rules.
"I wish you wouldn't take the attitude that I'm restraining you. It's not my purpose or my goal."
Marc shrugged. He didn't want to argue semantics. Only his release mattered.
"So, if you don't have any further questions, I'll have the nurse schedule your therapy sessions."
"Who's conducting the therapy?" He didn't care if he sounded grumpy. Her matter-of-fact tone stirred his desire to argue with her.
"It will be me."
"Really?" What the heck? Couldn't he get a break? "Isn't it below your pay grade to play with my neck?" He remembered how he'd barely been able to stand her touch a few moments ago. Not that the sensation had been unpleasant. Quite the opposite. Darn it, this was his doctor.
"This is my practice. I'm perfectly able to work at any level. Allows me to stay on top of my clients' progress. In your case, my close attention is mandatory." She clicked her pen rapidly. "Do you have any objections?" Her eyes blazed at him, as if willing him to say something to offend her further.
Marc had lots of objections, but he wasn't about to lay them at Dr. Wilson's feet. Petite as she might be, her iron will seemed to have a tall reach. Plan B hadn't been ironed out yet.
"Good. Here's your paperwork. It was nice meeting you. My contact information is listed on the paperwork. Please call me if you experience any pain. Otherwise, I will see you again for therapy." She offered her hand once again. He reluctantly shook it.
"Thanks." Marc folded the paper and clenched it in his fist. He couldn't wait to get out of her office.
Other meetings were on his schedule for the day. Top priority was to get on the phone to his manager of operations to set up a meeting with the most influential member of his board of directors. However, taking care of the pressing issue of the doctor's power over his ability to drive prevented him from thinking about anything else.
Checking his phone, he saw that his manager had already taken care of things. Lionel's text informed him that a quick meeting with the board member was already scheduled. Marc had fifteen minutes to get to the office. That was all the time he needed to get across Raleigh to Edgar Pace's office. By the time he arrived, his foul mood had enough time to percolate to an angry boil. His mood could easily be compared to a dark summer storm of crackling anger and thunderous frustration.
He walked into the glass-and-chrome office building that headquartered Edgar's aeronautical engineering business. Investing in Newton Enterprises was a side venture, an outlet for Edgar's enthusiasm for car racing. Their paths had crossed at a charity golf game several years ago. An easy business partnership followed.
"Here to see Edgar." Marc had to pass three security checkpoints before he finally stood at Edgar's secretary's work area. She nodded, had him sign in again and then indicated that he should follow her to Edgar's palatial office.
"Marc, come on in." While Marc settled himself, Edgar continued, "You look like you could kick someone's behind just for saying howdy do."
"Pretty much. I suppose Lionel gave you a heads-up?" Edgar nodded. "What the heck is up with the new doctor?" Marc barged on with his irritation. "She wants to sideline me for therapy. I'm supposed to be racing in two weeks. But she doesn't seem to give a rat's"
"The checkup was only a formality."
"Not in her opinion. The woman would put Mary Poppins to shameall wrapped up in rules and regulations with a crusader's spirit." He didn't mention the delicate features, graceful arm movements or the way she walked, as if she trained in ballet. And he certainly wouldn't mention the sexy, husky voice that could deliver bad news with a velvety touch. Not fair. Not normal. Not his type.
Edgar waved away his objections. "She comes highly recommended."
"I'm not questioning her credentials or reputation. I have a problem with someone taking full control over what I can and can't do. It's my damn body."
"Sponsors may beg to differ on that point." Dressed in a custom-made suit, Edgar looked the role of savvy deal maker and sharklike deal breaker. He flashed a toothy grin while twisting a thick diamond ring on his pinky finger. "Relax. We'll get around this. It wouldn't hurt for you to do the rehab anyway."
Marc stewed over the nudge to play nice. He hadn't won a race since early in the season or placed high in the last four races. His car had been clipped, pushed or smashed against the wall with increasing frequency. The rigors of the last skirmish had had longer effects on his body. He'd had to keep ice packs on his shoulders and heat on his back. Now concussions had to be added to the list of injuries. Still, he wasn't happy about relinquishing his future, even for a little bit, to a pushy doctor with a nervous habit with her pen.