Read an Excerpt
His tail was sliding out from under him, the rear tires skidding to the right, up the steep bank of Turn Two. He'd told his crew chief he was running loose. Ethan assured him they'd fixed the problem. A wedge in the suspension during the last pit stop, his second. Three pounds less air in the outside back tire.
Damn, his ass was going into a full swerve now, veering up the side of the asphalt hill.
Two cars screamed past him on the inside, below him. He sailed into a counterclockwise rotation, the wall behind him, above him. Trey steered to the right in an attempt to regain traction. Not soon enough. Jem Nordstrom smashed into him broadside. They plowed forward together down onto the straightaway.
Not for long. Suddenly Trey was rolling sideways.
Over and over and over.
The tube-steel cage of Car No. 483, the snug fit of the custom seat and the five-point harness kept him from being tossed around like the proverbial rag doll, but the bounces still weren't gentle. He instinctively brought his right hand up across his chest toward his left shoulder.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
The direction changed and Trey found himself flipping like a gymnast across an Olympic pad. One more rotation, this time in slow motion, then all movement ceased.
He was light-headed; no, he was upside down. Lightheaded, too. Assess and act. He took a deep breath, reached once more across his chest, started to release his harness and realized his left arm wasn't cooperating.
Broken? No pain. Not yet, at least.
He had to get out of the car. Hanging upside down wasn't good.
He struggled with his right hand to release the clasp, then squirmed his way out of the window opening. The pavement beneath himwas hot and sticky. The acrid stench of asphalt and burned rubber scorched his nostrils.
A twist of his head to the right brought a cockeyed view of vehicles approaching. Trucks.
He'd pulled his legs nearly free of the car by the time the first vehicle stopped close by and made it to a three-legged-dog position when strong hands gripped his elbows.
"My shoulder!" He forced the words out between his teeth. "The left."
The man holding it relaxed his upward pressure but continued more gently to support the arm.
Trey wasn't sure exactly when the stretcher materialized. He eased himself onto it and closed his eyes.
He closed his eyes, feeling guilty about leaving other people in charge of what was happening to him.
"Is my arm broken?" he asked as the gurney was being pushed into the boxlike ambulance.
"We'll know in a minute. Try to relax."
A joker. Relax. Ha! If his arm was broken he'd be out for the rest of the season. There was too much at stake. He lifted his right wrist to his chest, then slipped it back to his side.
He heard a vehicle door slam, felt dizzying motion and realized they were rolling again. To where? The infield care center, of course.
A guy was by his side, wrapping a blood-pressure cuff on Trey's right wrist, an earnest expression on his face.
"My name is Jody. Tell me your name and what injuries you're aware of." He shined a penlight into Trey's right eye, then his left.
"I'm Trey Sanford. My left shoulder hurts."
Jody encased Trey's left hand in his as if they were shaking hands. "Can you squeeze?"
Trey winced in the process.
"Probably not broken," Jody murmured. "Could just be badly bruised. Maybe dislocated. We'll know for sure in a minute." He carefully strapped the arm to the side of the gurney.
Trey's mental processes were beginning to clear. DNF. Did Not Finish. Damn. He'd launched the season by winning the opening race at Daytona, but that had been a demonstration competition and didn't count for points. Since then his performance—and his team's—had been like a roller coaster. Still he'd been in the top ten going into this race at Charlotte. Now another DNF, his third. Even with his recent win in Talledega, making the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup would be tough. So what? Sanfords didn't quit. At least, some Sanfords didn't.
The doors flew open and he was moving again, feetfirst.
"One thirty-five over ninety-two," he heard Jody report. "Pulse seventy-one. Conscious and alert. Pain in the left shoulder. Possible dislocation."
Trey wanted to object. The pain wasn't severe, just annoying. Nothing he couldn't handle.
"Curtain four," a female voice stated.
A very nice female voice. Confident and businesslike but not strident. Pleasant.
Trey rotated his head to the right. She was pretty, redheaded, wearing a white coat, a frown of concern on her pretty face. Blue eyes. Compassionate blue eyes. A man could—
She leaned over him. "I'm Dr. Foster. Tell me where you're hurting and what it feels like."
"Left shoulder," he said. They really were the most extraordinary blue eyes. "Dull ache now."
"Can you sit up for me?"
And beg? he nearly blurted out. "Sure."
The medic—what was his name? Jody—guided his legs as he swung them over the side of the gurney and then helped lever him into a sitting position. The room spun. Trey raised his right hand to his chest, dropped it.
"Let's open your uniform so I can take a look," ordered Dr. Foster, she of the enchanting blue eyes. But, Doc, we've just met.
Fighting giddiness, Trey used his right hand to unzip it down to the waist.
"Can you slip it off your right shoulder without hurting yourself?" The question made him feel like a little kid. Now don't hurt yourself. "If not, we can cut it," she added.
"I can do it."
With Jody's help, he managed to shrug the fitted garment off his right shoulder. Accepting a little more assistance, he extracted his arm and hand from the sleeve. The doctor and Jody then eased the left sleeve off the other shoulder.
The T-shirt underneath, soaked with perspiration, clung to his skin. He shivered in the air-conditioning.
"Cut the shirt off," she directed.
One-handed, Trey loosened the soggy cotton from his waistband in front, while Jody tugged it out in back. The scissors slithered like an icicle up his spine. After slicing the front, as well, the medic removed the two halves.
Visually assessing Trey's upper arm, Dr. Foster checked
his wrist pulse to ensure circulation in the damaged limb. She placed her hands on his left shoulder, moved the arm slightly while palpating the joint. Trey sucked in a breath involuntarily. She gently positioned his hand in his lap.
"Let's get an X-ray," she told Jody.
Minutes later, she was peering at an image on a nearby computer flat screen.
"As I suspected, your shoulder has been dislocated," she informed Trey. "I can reset it, but it'll hurt. Do you want something for pain?"
"Just do it, Doc."
"Help him onto his back," she instructed Jody. "Stabilize his chest and shoulders."
Her assistant had hardly moved into place, one hand resting on Trey's right shoulder, the other positioned under his right elbow, when the good doctor rotated Trey's left arm and gave it a sharp tug.
The action was so quick he didn't have time to brace himself, to tighten his muscles, which, he decided after it was over, was precisely what she'd wanted. The momentary high-voltage jolt was so unexpected, a startled groan barely had time to escape. Instantly the pain subsided to a dull, low-grade gnaw.
She instructed him to move his arm and shoulder slowly in certain directions.
He raised his open hand, clenched his fingers, tentatively at first, then with increasing confidence, rotated his arm, flinching only slightly at a residual twinge of soreness.
She took hold of his triceps and forearm above the wrist and folded the arm across his belly and studied his chest more closely. Her perceptive eyes roaming over his bare skin suddenly felt intimate, making him aware of her as a woman rather than a doctor. Uncomfortably aware.
"That scar." She pointed to a nearly four-inch-long, pencil-thin line that ran vertically above his left pectoral muscle. "Do you have a pacemaker, Mr. Sanford?"
Her eyes made contact with his. Oh, yes, he definitely liked looking into those cerulean-blue depths. What he didn't like was her drawing attention to the blemish that made him different.
"There's nothing wrong with my heart, Doc," he murmured in a warning undertone and hoped she got the message. "Trust me on that."
"But—" A question formed on her lips. Nice lips, too, he observed. She was about to ask it when a voice outside the curtain distracted them.
"I'm looking for Trey Sanford."
"I'm in here, Gaby," Trey called out.
The white drape was yanked aside and Gaby Colson stuck her head in. Almost immediately the rest of her five-foot-four frame followed. "You okay?"
"I am now, thanks to Dr. Foster here. She made sure all my body parts were in the right place."
Trey introduced the two women.
"So what happened?"
"Dislocated my left shoulder," he explained. "The doc here set it back where it belongs with one gentle tug."
"I'm an orthopedist. That's what I do." She removed the stethoscope from around her neck and stuffed it into her coat's right patch pocket. "Besides, I'm not sure you thought it was so gentle at the time." Her taunting smile was like an electrical charge, jolting him, producing heat.
"Ah, come on, Doc." He offered her his best grin. "It was just a little whimper."
"Let's get you decent," Gaby said to Trey, "so you can go out there, make a clever remark or two about it being
one hell of a ride today, then vamoose. I'll take over from there."
"We need to immobilize your arm," Dr. Foster reminded Trey.
"That won't be necessary," he objected.
"I tell you what, Mr. Sanford. You let me make the medical decisions, and I'll let you drive the cars."
Gaby snickered. "Ouch!"
"You're really cute when you're giving orders," Trey said.
Gaby rolled her eyes.
"I think those grease smudges on your face are adorable, too. Nice touch. Jody," Dr. Foster called out, "we'll use the six-inch."
The medic appeared with a large role of flesh-colored flex bandage, and the two of them commenced binding Trey's left arm across his chest.
"You dislocated your shoulder," she explained in a professional tone. "Keep it bound for at least three days. After that you can use a simple sling. If you don't, you'll be susceptible to dislocating it again, and every time you do it'll be easier to pop it the next time. You don't want that to happen."
"No, ma'am," he said the way he would answer his schoolteacher.
"Will he be able to drive next week?" Gaby asked.
"If he follows medical advice. I recommend he get the shoulder examined by his regular physician in a couple of days to ensure he's mending properly." She again visually examined his torso and shoulders. "If you normally do weight training, lay off for a couple of weeks. Then you can resume gradually."
Seemingly satisfied with the job she'd done, Dr. Foster told him he could get dressed. She went back to the computer in the corner of the cubicle and started tapping on the keyboard.
Jody and Gaby helped Trey pull his tacky uniform back up, his left arm inside, his hand sticking out, as if it were pointing to his right shoulder.
"Thanks, Doc," Trey called out as he jumped off the thin mat. "You've got one hell of a bedside manner."
She spun around on her low stool. "It's a gurney, not a bed."
"Well, maybe next time we can do a bed." He watched her almost blush, but then she shook her head.
"You'll be sore for a few days and tender for perhaps a week, but you should fully recover if you don't try to push it too fast, avoid violent motions and heavy lifting." Her eyes wandered to the spot under the uniform where she'd seen the scar. "About that scar—"
"Doc…" He leaned forward and placed his free arm around her, gave her a hug and whispered in her ear, "Shut up about the scar." He started to release her then, on an irresistible impulse, kissed her firmly on the lips. He wasn't sure whether it was the message or the kiss that made her stiffen, but it didn't matter. He liked the effect and the sense of power it gave him. "Thanks for your help," he added more loudly, aware that several people were watching.
"Give them a quick 'I'm fine' outside," Gaby reminded him impatiently, "and leave the rest to me."
As he approached the door, someone opened it, letting in the sounds Trey loved—the roar of unmuffled 850-horsepower engines screaming around the track in front of equally loud, excited fans. He could feel the ground beneath him tremble as the lead pack circled Turn Three.
He looked over his right shoulder. One kiss wasn't enough. She was watching, her expression now one of professional detachment—until their eyes met. Maybe not so detached after all. He turned again toward the door. They were waiting for him out there—the reporters with microphones, the cameramen with long lenses ready to zero in. For a moment he braced himself psychologically, brushed his right wrist across his chest. Trey stepped aggressively toward the open door, stopped and glanced back one more time. She hadn't moved, but color had suffused her cheeks. Seconds that seemed timeless ticked by, before he spun around, marched through the gaping doorway and was instantly assailed by questions. One kiss was definitely not enough.
Nicole watched him go. He'd caught her staring, but so what? He was her patient; she had every right to observe his movements, to make sure he was physically fit for the circumstances he was in. Except he'd also kissed her. Just a friendly act of appreciation, she told herself. She'd had other patients kiss her. Not on the mouth, though, and not the way he had. Still, it didn't mean anything. He was Trey Sanford, after all. He had a reputation. She should probably be insulted by his audacity in kissing her, but it was fun.
She'd met several NASCAR drivers over the years, spent her share of time in the infield and garage areas, but she hadn't met Trey Sanford even though her best friend, Becky, had dated him for several months. Every time the crowd got together, Nicole had to work. He was every bit as handsome in person as he was in photographs and in live interviews, and she had to admit the guy intrigued her beyond the purely medical.
She couldn't help thinking about his slight hesitation when she asked if he had a pacemaker. Nothing wrong with my heart. Cute comeback. As for his message just before he kissed her—it had silenced her but hadn't answered her question. The scar on his chest was obviously the result of a surgical incision, one he clearly wasn't eager to talk about, so what kind of medical procedure had he undergone? Becky had never mentioned it and Nicole couldn't recall ever reading anything about him being hospitalized. Why was he so secretive about it?