Running on Empty

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NASCAR crew chief Hugo Murphy could never forget Sylvie Ketchum, especially since he only had to look at her daughter--their daughter--to be reminded of the woman he'd loved. But she'd deserted him and Kim without a word, shattering their hopes and dreams. Nothing could fill the void--except NASCAR.

Years ago, Sylvie had loved Hugo with all the fiery impetuousness of youth. But she'd had a secret that had torn them apart. Now she had a chance to atone for her mistakes...and save...

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NASCAR crew chief Hugo Murphy could never forget Sylvie Ketchum, especially since he only had to look at her daughter--their daughter--to be reminded of the woman he'd loved. But she'd deserted him and Kim without a word, shattering their hopes and dreams. Nothing could fill the void--except NASCAR.

Years ago, Sylvie had loved Hugo with all the fiery impetuousness of youth. But she'd had a secret that had torn them apart. Now she had a chance to atone for her mistakes...and save the life of the child she'd left behind. But doing so meant dealing with her ex-husband, Hugo, again...and having the strength to finally tell him the real reason she'd left him and the world of NASCAR behind.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780373217977
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Publication date: 11/1/2008
  • Series: Harlequin NASCAR Series
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 4.10 (w) x 6.60 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Ken Casper, author of sixteen Harlequin Superromance novels as K.N. Casper, figures his writing career started back in the sixth grade when he was ordered by a teacher to write a "theme" explaining his misbehavior over the previous semester. To his teacher's chagrin, he enjoyed stringing just the right words together to justify his less-than-stellar performance. Fortunately she forgave him.

Born and raised in New York City, Ken is now a transplanted Texan. He and Mary, his wife of thirty-plus years, own a horse farm in San Angelo. Along with their two dogs, six cats and eight horses—at last count! They also board and breed horses, and Mary teaches English riding. She's a therapeutic riding instructor for the handicapped, as well.

Life is never dull. Their two granddaughters visit several times a year and feel right at home with the Casper menagerie. Grandpa and Mimi do everything they can to make sure their visits will be lifelong fond memories. After all, isn't that what grandparents are for?

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Read an Excerpt

It was well past twelve o'clock when they left Dr. Peterson's office. Kim had spent two days in the hospital last week after her collapse at the race track and had then been released as an outpatient. She was always positive in attitude, and her engagement to Wade and the news that a donor had come forward lifted her spirits even more. She wanted to have the surgery immediately, but as a scientist, understood the need for more tests.

Hugo was ecstatic. His daughter was finally going to get the transplant she required; unfortunately the surgery was still a week away. In the meantime he had to check out this Nancy Jean Smith woman. If it was Sylvie—

"Join us for lunch," Wade urged. "We have to make sure Kim eats."

She stuck out her tongue at him.

"You two go ahead," Hugo demurred. He had only one thing on his mind at the moment, and lunch wasn't it. He figured these two lovebirds would rather be alone, anyway.

"Come with us, Dad," Kim urged, and coiled her arm around his. He knew his protest was futile.

She suggested a well-known eatery, famous for its huge sandwiches and rich soups. Hugo followed her sports car in his SUV. Wade was driving. Kim was on her cell phone, probably giving her cousin Rachel the latest news. Justin, Rachel's brother, the driver of No. 448 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, was in Winston-Salem today, doing a promo for his sponsor, Turn-Rite Tools. Kim would no doubt fill him in later, if Rachel hadn't already.

They were in luck when they arrived at the restaurant a few minutes later. The first wave of customers was clearing out, so they were seated immediately.

While they examined their menus, Kim steered the conversation to Wade's familyback in Tennessee. She'd gotten to spend some time with them when they came up to the Bristol race, and she had fallen in love with the big clan. Sunday dinner at his mother's house, Wade said, rarely involved fewer than a dozen people.

Hugo, too, had once entertained notions of having a big family. Instead, he'd become a single father to three children, none of whom was he the biological father of, but whom he couldn't have loved more if he had been. They'd turned out okay, too, more than okay. He was proud of all of them.

Yet he'd never stopped waiting for Sylvie to come home.

He'd felt so helpless these past months, ever since Kim had been diagnosed with acute kidney failure— even more helpless than he had when her mother had walked out on him years ago, abandoning him and her child. He'd done everything he could to find Sylvie, but she had disappeared completely, vanished without a trace.

"I wish my surgery didn't have to be put off until next week," Kim said after they'd placed their orders. "I'm ready now. I want this to be over."

"We've waited this long," Wade reminded her. "A week is nothing, now that we know there's a donor available. Besides, the doc is right, the more time he has to run tests and prepare, the better."

"Well, the good news is that I'll be able to go to Martinsville this weekend," Kim commented.

"I don't think that's a good idea, honey," Hugo said. "You've collapsed twice at race tracks, last month at Kansas and last weekend at Charlotte."

"They were just accidents," she argued. "I let myself get carried away. It won't happen again. I'll be more careful."

"You scared the daylights out of us," Hugo countered. "For a few hours, we actually thought we might lose you. I don't want you taking another chance like that, especially right before surgery."

"He's right," Wade said. "It's too dangerous for you to go this weekend."

She frowned at her fiancé, then glared at her father.

"You can watch it on TV," Hugo said, "in air-conditioned comfort."

"Spoilsport," she said with a disappointed pout.

She toyed with the flatware at her place setting. "I asked Dr. Peterson's assistant this morning about the donor," she said. "He wouldn't tell me anything, said the person insisted on remaining anonymous."

As soon as Hugo had learned Kim needed a new kidney and he realized that neither he nor his niece and nephew were compatible donors—they were not biological relations and so their chances had been small to begin with—he'd hired another detective agency to find Sylvie. After thirty years of silence, the prospect seemed remote, and in fact, they'd come up dry, as had the previous investigators. He'd had no choice, though. He had to keep trying. He'd have done anything to save his precious daughter. At no point in Kim's life had she needed her mother more than she did now. She had a rare blood type, and Hugo remembered that Sylvie was AB negative, as well. If they were ever going to find a compatible kidney donor for Kim, Sylvie was the most likely candidate, he'd thought, the best hope, and maybe her last hope.

"He told me the same thing," Hugo said, aware of his daughter slanting a questioning glance at him. "You really can't blame the donor," he added. "If the press caught wind of this, they'd turn it into a circus, get in her face, hound her for interviews—"

"Her?" Kim's eyes lit and dimmed, almost as quickly. "You know it's a woman?"

Hugo didn't have to be a mind reader to know what his daughter was thinking or to recognize the forlorn hope he saw in her eyes. Should he tell her he'd sneaked a peek at the medical record and found the name Nancy Jean Smith and that he intended to check her out?

He decided not to. It could be another dead end— there had been so many of them over the years. He didn't want to hold out hope that maybe her mother had been found. He knew how devastated she always was when it turned out not to be true.

He shook his head. "Peterson's assistant referred to the donor as she, but when I questioned him about it, he claimed if the recipient were a man he would refer to the anonymous donor as he. The guy likes to play word games."

Wade reached over and took Kim's hand. "The important thing, darling, is that someone has come forward."

She smiled at him, then frowned at her father. "I don't want it to be her, Dad. I don't know why. I can't explain it. But I don't." Her hand shook as she reached for her iced tea.

"Hey, calm down, Kim. No getting all worked up." Wade stroked her hand. "Doctor's orders."

"Don't you give it another thought, sweetheart," Hugo said in his most casual manner, grateful that their food had arrived. "Whoever the donor is wants to remain anonymous, so we'll just leave it that way."

But who exactly was Nancy Jean Smith?

It was after one o'clock when Hugo was finally able to break away. He loved his daughter and enjoyed her fiancé's company, but his attention had been elsewhere. He'd managed to eat half a club sandwich before he finally understood what it must be like for Kim to have to eat when she wasn't hungry. But the doctor had found her slightly anemic and she'd lost weight, so he had been very insistent that she eat three meals a day, whether she was hungry or not, to keep up her nutrition.

The address he'd memorized from the medical record wasn't a familiar one, and for a moment he wondered if she—the donor—could have given a phony address. But he checked a local map and found the street—Hadley Road—on the outskirts of town.

How should he approach the situation? He'd never considered himself famous, but as a top crew chief in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, his picture had been in racing magazines from time to time and occasionally in the sports sections of newspapers, so he wasn't completely unknown, especially in the NASCAR world. More than once he'd been stopped in grocery stores or approached in restaurants by people who recognized him and wanted his autograph. After all these years, it surprised him that it still felt like a pat on the back. Even when the circumstances were inconvenient, he did his best to be affable. Trying to hide his identity in this situation, especially so close to home, therefore, probably wasn't a good idea. If this organ donor truly wanted to remain unknown, his showing up could put a jinx on her generosity. He couldn't afford to jeopardize what Kim needed so desperately.

Maybe he should watch the place for a while and hope to catch a glimpse of Nancy Jean Smith. Most likely he'd be wasting his time. Stakeouts were a professional investigator's job. He ought to call Rod Callison, the detective he'd hired, and let him handle the situation. But he didn't want to wait.

He would go to the address and ring the bell. If a woman he didn't recognize answered the door, he'd say, "You're not Nancy Smith," give her a second to contradict him, apologize for bothering her and walk away. If she said she was, he'd say she wasn't the Nancy Smith he was looking for. There were probably hundreds…thousands of Nancy Smiths.

If it was Sylvie…

Hadley Road ran through a remote part of the city, an older section that hadn't yet come under gen-trification. Number 743 never would. It was a two-story building with asphalt-shingle siding that was designed to resemble stone and brick. It hadn't fooled anyone in its heyday, and that had been a long time ago. Now it looked derelict. Apartment 203 was the second from the left on the upper floor.

Hugo parked his SUV at the curb close to that end of the building, rolled the windows up tight, in spite of the Indian-summer heat of October, and locked the doors. The concrete path that led from the cracked sidewalk was in equally poor repair. The steps up to the second-story balcony, however, were metal and reasonably new. They rang out as he mounted them, an unintended alarm for residents of people arriving.

The red door to apartment 203 was metal and faded. Beside it was a bell button with a piece of tape over it, indicating it didn't work.

The butterflies in his stomach were taking on the dimensions and temperaments of bats on a rampage.

He knocked on the door. No immediate response. Not a sound. Maybe the occupant wasn't home. He knocked again. This time he thought he heard movement inside.

He waited, then knocked a third time.

Finally the door opened.

The woman standing in front of him had a world-weary look. Limp brown hair, generously streaked with gray, hung to her shoulders, unadorned, uncurled, neglected. She was slender, almost skinny, and the plain cotton shirt and baggy jeans she wore didn't do much to enhance her appearance.

But there was no question who she was.


Her amber-brown eyes, in spite of the crow's-feet subtly radiating from their corners, were still star-tlingly vibrant.

The two middle-aged people stared at each other. It took several moments for him to realize that although she wasn't pleased to see him, she wasn't surprised, either.

He finally managed to swallow. When at last he spoke, it was to say just one word. "Why?"

Why did you leave me? What am I going to do now that you've been found? Do I tell Kim? What will her reaction be?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 1, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Running on Empty by Ken Casper Harlequin NASCAR Library Secrets

    Running on Empty by Ken Casper
    Harlequin NASCAR Library
    Secrets And Legends Series Book 14
    Hugo Murphy is the crew chief for his nephew Justin. He had raised Justin and his sister Rachel along with Kim, his stepdaughter who he always considered his own daughter. Especially since her mother had deserted them when Kim was only four. Hugo never gave up looking for his ex-wife or wondering why she left. Someone had come forward to give Kim the kidney she needed to live and Hugo had to believe it was Sylvie.

    Sylvie Ketchum Murphy had a pretty rough life. She loved her husband and daughter so much that her only choice was to leave them. Thirty years later she heard the plea for someone to come forward to donate a kidney for her beloved Kimmy. Someone with the rare blood type she shared with her daughter. She tried to be anonymous but Hugo found her. She told the truth about the past and Sylvie didn’t have much hope for herself in the future, but at least she could give her daughter a new chance at life.

    This book was full of emotions and the author did an excellent job of bringing them to life for the reader. The mystery of what happened to Sylvie has been solved along with other questions. The racing season is coming to an end now but there are still a few things that need to be settled. Book fifteen is Extreme Caution and it brings back Maeve Branch. A woman trying to keep her social standing and make it another day as her world as she knew it crumbles around her. 

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    Posted April 27, 2011

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    Posted January 30, 2011

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