Raising the Stakes

( 10 )


When a family crisis brings Evie Winters home to North Carolina, she isn't prepared for her powerful reaction to Jared Hunt. Her old friend—and girlhood crush—is even more irresistible than ever. But Evie knows not to mix business with pleasure, especially if it sets her up for heartbreak again.

Called the "engine whisperer," Jared is hailed as a genius in the racing world. And Evie's cost-cutting measures could cost the NASCAR troubleshooter his job. But there's more at stake ...

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When a family crisis brings Evie Winters home to North Carolina, she isn't prepared for her powerful reaction to Jared Hunt. Her old friend—and girlhood crush—is even more irresistible than ever. But Evie knows not to mix business with pleasure, especially if it sets her up for heartbreak again.

Called the "engine whisperer," Jared is hailed as a genius in the racing world. And Evie's cost-cutting measures could cost the NASCAR troubleshooter his job. But there's more at stake than the bottom line—there are Jared's growing feelings for the classy accountant. Then, when a link between two high-profile investigations implicates both their families, he's got to find a way to fix things. Or lose his chance for a future with Evie…

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780373185337
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Publication date: 4/1/2010
  • Series: Harlequin NASCAR Series
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 213
  • Product dimensions: 4.10 (w) x 6.50 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Wendy grew up wanting to rule the world--or at least be the CEO of Coca-Cola. Then she discovered two literary giants: Harlequin romance novels and Louis Grizzard. For those of you above the Mason Dixon line, he was a renowned--or was it infamous?--writer and Southern humorist. Who knew these three passions would someday blend together into a career? These days she gets to create a world she rules with her keyboard, and write about enduring love with a comedic twist.

Born and raised in the deep South--with the accent and fried chicken recipes to prove it--Wendy now lives in the Midwest with her husband and two children.
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Read an Excerpt

Evie Winters banged her screwdriver against the metal plate covering her bike's chain. "A bike made for at-home exercising should be at-home friendly."

How she could understand the Theory of Relativity, Gödel's Theorem, all aspects of trigonometry, geometry and calculus and not understand a thing about simple mechanics was a mystery she fully intended to find the solution to.

As long as she could locate the X and Y axes.

At the moment, she simply needed a short-handled screwdriver—and possibly a wrench—so she could take off the bike's plate and figure out why the pedals wouldn't turn. How hard could that be?

Thankfully, someone rang the doorbell before she could humiliate herself by contemplating that problem.

As she swung open the door, she instantly recognized the tall, dark-haired man on her doorstep. Swallowing unexpected nerves, she smiled. "Hey, Jared."

He yanked her into his arms. "Hey, brainy."

She had a moment to resent the old nickname while still appreciating his wide chest and muscled arms, as well as the scent of his forest-laden cologne, before he leaned back, holding her at arm's length.

"You look good." His light blue eyes sparkled as his gaze roved over her from head to toe. "Really good."

She pressed her lips together. He looked amazing. As always.

In fact, the grown-up, filled-out Jared packed even more of a punch to her senses than the teenage version had. He had a man's shoulders and broad chest, though his waist was still narrow, his legs long and trim. Stubble from a dark beard shadowed his sculpted jawline, enhancing his good looks, adding a touch of careless danger.

They'd kept in touch via e-mail and phone calls, but she'd seen him pretty infrequently over the last seventeen years. She'd needed the distance. Seeing her first—and unrequited—love on a regular basis wasn't exactly an ego boost for the former Geek of the County.

"You, too," she managed to say, noting he was looking at her as if geekdom had never been an issue.

He cupped his hand beneath her jaw, his touch sending her senses into overdrive. The old vulnerability climbed into her throat. He'd been the center of her teenage world, but he'd broken her heart, and she'd promised herself she'd never be that vulnerable to a man again.

But having this man staring at her as if he couldn't take his eyes off her was a heady experience.

"You've become a stunning woman, Evie."

"The braces helped," she said lightly, unsure what to make of the sensual speculation in his eyes and feeling awkward in her T-shirt and sweatpants.

The moment passed when he stepped back, releasing her face. "I guess you got in okay last night?" he asked.

"The flight was late, but I hear that's normal for the Charlotte airport."

"Yep. I catch a ride on a race team's jet whenever I can. Are you busy?"

She glanced back into the den, where the annoying bike sat. "I was about to work out, but it's not going too well."

"I'm glad you're back," he said, grasping her hand as they headed down the hall. "Even if it's only for a while."

"Two months. I took a leave of absence from work and sublet my apartment."

With all the trouble her family had landed themselves in, she hoped that would be long enough. She missed the hustle of Manhattan already, and she'd gladly trade the blast of cab horns and swarms of humanity for the crisis—correction, crises—she was dealing with at home.

"How's your mom?" Jared asked, squeezing her hand as if sensing the direction of her thoughts.

"Not so good." The counselors couldn't yet explain why her mom was so anxious and despondent, at times refusing to eat, at times lashing out verbally. She'd lost her best friend—who happened to also be Jared's stepmother—last year, but lately she'd fallen deeper into grief instead of beginning the healing process, and no one seemed to be able to reach her.

Personally, Evie could hardly blame her mother for breaking down. After the death of her oldest child a few years ago, then the loss of her best friend, she was now colliding headlong into another catastrophe with her middle son. The combination was enough to drive any mother over the edge.

"I hope my being here will comfort her," Evie added.

"I'm sure it will. Have you talked to Tony?"

Clenching her jaw, Evie ground to a halt. "No."

"You should visit him. He needs his family right now."

"Tony always needs something from somebody."


The quiet censure in Jared's voice only brought her back up higher. Their families were as close as any two could be, but he didn't have the right to judge her on this issue. "I doubt I can bail my brother out of his current mess, even if I wanted to. Confessing to murder has even stymied his lawyer."

Her brother, who was once brilliant, had wasted his life on schemes, partying, thievery and friends who dealt drugs. His lifestyle had finally led to the desperate stabbing of NASCAR team owner Alan Cargill last December. With Tony's lies unraveling and a private detective on his trail, he'd been arrested and charged a few weeks ago.

Despite their strained relationship over the last few years, the idea of him falling so far that he'd take another person's life was more than a shock. It was unimaginable.

"I'm here to help Mom," she said stiffly to Jared, who, during the phone calls they'd exchanged recently, seemed determined to find some hidden justification for Tony's actions. Jared had always been the optimist, no matter how lousy the odds.

Turning toward her, crossing his arms over his chest, he studied her. "But you just happened to come home right after Tony's arrest."

"Because of the impact his actions will have on her."

"And you don't care about him at all."

"And you're going to defend a murderer?"

"No." Sorrow moved through his expressive eyes. "But I can still have pity."

"Is this why you came over?" she asked, holding his gaze. Even he couldn't move her to forgiveness for her brother. "To convince me to talk to Tony?"

"No. I came to see you and find out if I can do anything for you or your mom."

Relieved, she nodded. After all the years between them, the family drama and turbulent romantic emotions—at least on her part—she was grateful to have him as a friend.

And she'd need him while she was here, even if seeing him, and remembering his rejection, was surprisingly painful. She'd long ago set aside her romantic dreams about Jared and focused on their friendship, but it was hard to return home, to remember how shy, awkward and self-conscious she'd once been. It felt like stepping backward over the starting line, decades after she'd already run the race.

"I appreciate your support," she said to Jared as they walked toward the ancient, tacky, taupe-colored sofa her mom refused to replace. "Have a seat."

He dropped onto one end of the sofa, laying his arm along the back. "Thanks."

Evie perched on the cushion's edge. How she could have so many issues going on in her life and still be thinking about how great her friend smelled probably pointed to her lack of decent dates for the last several months.

"I'd do anything for you," he said, scooting closer. "You know that, don't you?"

"Sure," she somehow managed to say without choking. "We're buddies."

"Yeah." His gaze searched hers as he drew his finger down her cheek. "Did you look this good when you came home last year for my mom's funeral?"

"I…" Her breath was clogging her throat. Whew. No wonder he'd always had women lined up around the block.

Though serious and intent about his work, Jared was a world-class flirt, so she had never taken his words or touches seriously. But then she'd never had the full force of that charm focused on her.

"I looked the same, I guess. You were pretty distracted with family issues. Maybe you just didn't notice me."

He leaned closer, his gaze dropping to her lips. "I don't see how."

She really didn't want to remember the pain from his lack of attention—last year and when they were younger—but her pride wouldn't let her move away from him now. She settled for changing the subject. "How's—"

His cell phone rang, interrupting her. "Sorry." He pulled the phone from his pocket, glanced at the screen, then silenced the ringer and returned it to his pocket. "I'll call back."

"Which girlfriend was that?"

He grinned. "Erin, but she's not my girlfriend. Just somebody I see."

"And how many somebodys are there these days?"

"A few."

Through e-mail and texting, she and Jared shared casual details about who they were dating, but, frankly, she didn't want to know too much.

"How's your family?" she asked.

"Pretty good. Grace and the kids are busy as ever. Her racing-themed cookbook is a big sensation."

"I heard."

Jared's sister, Grace, had been married to and had raised three children with Evie's older brother, Todd, who'd drowned a few years ago trying to save someone else from drowning while they were on vacation.

The Hunts and the Winters had been next-door neighbors, close friends and in-laws. They'd bonded in grief and turned to each other during every crisis. But the losses of Todd and his mother-in-law Linda, followed so closely by the exposure of Tony's ugly life, had shaken the solid foundation between the families. No one seemed to know how to fill in the cracks.

"I swear the kids get bigger by the minute," Evie said, striving to focus on something positive. "Grace's e-mails are full of pictures, but I can't wait to see them in person."

"They're energy in motion. If only I could get that kind of action from the folks at my engine shop…"

"Oh, please. You're already a legend. What more do you want?"

"Bowing and scraping would be nice."

"Naturally." She smiled. "And how's your dad? Did he go out with that woman he met at the grief counseling session?"

Jared's expression darkened. "No."

"I wouldn't worry. He'll find someone eventually. At least neither you nor your brother has killed anybody lately."

Jared said nothing for a long moment, and the silence lengthened long enough to have Evie regretting her harsh comment. Apparently, her mother wasn't the only one affected by the stress of the last several months.

"New York's made you callous," he said finally.

"Probably." She angled her head. "Is that a bad thing?"

"At the moment, yes."

She nodded in acquiescence. She could never resist those beautiful, serious eyes.

Having been weak and vulnerable once and vowing never to be so again had obviously brought out her de-fensiveness. Due, no doubt, to having a physical reminder of her past sitting beside her.

"Sorry," she said quickly, not wanting him to realize how much her crush on him had shaped her life. He couldn't change the past or who he was, after all. "It's the accountant mentality—bottom-lining everything. Your buddies at FastMax Racing are sure to appreciate me."

Jared shook his head, but his eyes lightened with humor. "Don't count on it. Everybody I know over there is responsible for spending money, not saving it."

"I guess so, but I appreciate you recommending me for the job anyway. I can't sit around here all day hovering over Mom."

"They drooled on themselves to get you on their accounting team, even for a month or two. Running out of money in the thick of the Chase isn't the ideal way to win a championship."

"I'm sure I can find a few ways to cut costs, even if racing is as expensive as it is lucrative." She let her gaze wander over him, dressed in faded jeans, a white T-shirt and black leather jacket, which didn't look so upscale, but she knew he'd recently bought a luxury lakeside condo, which was. "Or so I hear."

He shrugged. "I do well enough. You can't race without an engine, and you get what you pay for—money buys speed." His gaze fell on the stationary bike. "Is that what's giving you workout troubles? I could have a look."

She extended her hand. "Be my guest."

Crossing to the bike, he examined it for less than thirty seconds before pulling a key ring from his jacket pocket. From it hung a multi-purpose tool. He flipped open one lever.

A short-handled screwdriver.

"This should take care of it," he said absently.

Knowing that in-the-zone look, Evie kept silent. He wouldn't hear anything she said now.

As she watched him, his capable hands moving over the chain, she recalled snippets of their childhood.

Jared had fixed her bike and his scooter. Then he'd moved on to lawn mowers, air conditioners and four-wheelers. Then his and her parents' cars. Anything with a motor. Anything that moved, rolled or shook.

And while she'd rarely spoken in his presence without her face going hot, the few times she had worked up the nerve to say something flirty and stupid—asking him if he worked out a lot or telling him his eyes were lovely and piercing, both of which embarrassingly came to mind—hadn't brought anything more than an uncomfortable silence.

But, on the other hand, if she thanked him for fixing something, she got the Jared Special Smile. Looking back, the jealousy over all the other women who seemed to hover around him, capturing the attention of her crush when she couldn't, was definitely memorable. But she'd also spent a lot of time resenting premium motor oil and moving metal parts.

Now, as a successful and confident thirty-five-year-old woman, with a circle of equally savvy friends and several adult relationships under her belt, she found absolutely nothing had changed. He still made her heart flutter ridiculously.

"That should do it," he said, sliding his keys back into his jacket pocket and rising. "Try it out."

Not looking directly at him—another stare into those heavenly blue eyes and she'd lose the power of movement and speech—she climbed onto the bike. After pushing the pedals around a few times, his hands wrapped around her waist and he plucked her off, setting her back on the floor.

"Still wobbling," he said, releasing her and kneeling again.

You're telling me, she thought, her knees shaking.

At five foot eight, she wasn't exactly a tiny woman. Yet Jared Hunt moved her as easily and delicately as a piece of china.

She hadn't seen the muscles beneath his clothes since the summer after their senior year in high school at the graduation pool party.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 9, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Raising The Stakes by Wendy Etherington Harlequin NASCAR Library

    Raising The Stakes by Wendy Etherington
    Harlequin NASCAR Library
    NASCAR: Hidden Legacies Book 15
    Evie Winters had left North Carolina and her heart behind years ago and made a new life for herself as an accountant in New York. Her family is falling apart so she returns home for a few months to be with her mother. Susan Winters is not herself though, mood swings and always on her computer. At least Evie has her friend to turn to. The very man who held her heart all those years ago and unfortunately she finds out he still has it.

    Jared Hunt has a successful business as an engine builder. He lives the life of a playboy when he’s not working. No relationships for him. When Evie returns to town he’s surprised to find himself attracted to his old brainy friend. Maybe he can commit himself to one woman for the time she’s home, something he’s never done before.

    These two families are strongly connected. Neighbors, friends and in-laws. They have both been through a lot this past year. Will Jared and Evie’s friendship survive when a secret comes to light? Crossing The Line is the sixteenth and last book in this series. The previous series and some of the following books contain the same characters but the final book will wrap up the remaining secret of this series. Who is Gina Grosso?

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  • Posted May 6, 2010

    NASCAR In Fiction

    I really enjoyed all of this series of books. Each one gets a little more mysterious. I hope I can look forward to more NASCAR reading from Harlequin Books. My daughter has made me a big fan of NASCAR. These books tell a little bit about what goes on behind the scenes as far as racing is concerned. I am looking forward to going to an actual race someday.

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