Read an Excerpt
She'd done something to her hair.
That was the first thing Dean Grosso noticed about his estranged wife as he stepped from the air-conditioned comfort of his borrowed motor home into the blazing Arizona sun. She'd cut her hair. The soft brown curls he'd always loved were gone, replaced by a sleek, sophisticated bob that swung just above her shoulders and curved against her throat. She didn't look like his Patsy-girl now. She looked like the independent and accomplished woman she was: not his wife of thirty years, not the mother of his children, not the girl he'd loved since before he was old enough to shave.
Now she was almost a stranger; a woman he'd barely spoken to, hadn't touched, hadn't woken up beside for going on five longdamned longmonths.
"Hi, Patsy," he said. It would be cowardly to go back inside the motor home and pretend he hadn't seen her. The owners' and drivers' lot at every race track since they'd separated hadn't been big enough to keep them from running into each other time and again. But that didn't mean he'd gotten used to it.
"Hello, Dean," she said, her voice and manner as calm and cool as the rest of her. "Did you have a good flight out?"
"Hit some turbulence over the Panhandle but otherwise okay. When did you get in?"
"Last night." She was carrying her usual clipboard and a leather shoulder bag, dressed in a crisply tailored beige shirt and khakis with the requisite blue-and-white Cargill Motors logo on the left pocket. She was wearing the opal studs in her ears that he'd given her on their anniversary three years ago. She didn't like big flashy jewelry. Never had. Usually just earrings, a watch, her wedding ring.
Hecouldn't help glancing at her left hand. No wedding ring now. It hurt, like a fist to the gut. He looked away.
"I'm on my way over to the garage to check on the car," he said, guessing she had probably already figured that out, but needing something to say. Together they owned half shares, along with his team owner and business partner, Alan Cargill, in a NASCAR Nationwide Series car and two trucks in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Even though they weren't living under the same roof, neither of them had taken any steps toward a legal separation. They were still business partners, if not husband and wife.
"That's where I'm headed, too," she admitted reluctantly.
"I'll walk with you."
"I wish you wouldn't," she said.
"I know, but it drives the gossips crazy to see us together." That got a smile out of her.
"It does confuse people."
"We might as well give them their fix for today." He took her arm and felt her muscles tense, but she turned to walk with him. "Everything looking good on the car?" he asked, dropping his hand from beneath her elbow before she could shake it off.
"Been fine-tuning the setup since they took it off the hauler. I think we're ready. Davy's due on the track in half an hour for his practice run."
Davy Andleman, the son of one of Dean's cousins, was the young driver they'd plucked from the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series to drive the NASCAR Nationwide Series car. He hadn't won any races yet, but he had finished in the top-five three times and was improving with each race.
"Then let's go watch our investment perform."
"That reminds me, I brought some papers for you to sign."
"I'll stop by sometime and take care of it."
"Call first," she said as they climbed into his golf cart and headed for the garage area.
"Hell, Patsy, I got enough manners to do that. You don't have to be so damned cold about it."
"I know," she said, not looking directly at him. "I'm sorry I said that."
"It's okay. It's just so freakin'" He was running out of patience with the situation he found himself in, but giving vent to his anger and frustration wouldn't do any good. It would certainly only make matters worse, maybe even push her over the edge into actually filing for divorce.
"Not now, Dean. I don't want to talk about us now. I have work to do." She fell silent while he maneuvered the golf cart through the tunnel that ran under the track. "Look, there's Kent," she said as they emerged once more into the blinding desert sunlight. The relief in her voice at no longer having to be alone with him was palpable. She waved and their son waved back, veering his cart in their direction.
"Hey, Mom. Dad," he said coming alongside them. "I didn't think I'd run in to you this soon."
"When did you get in?" Patsy responded, raising her voice as a car rumbled by on its way to the garage from its hauler. "Your motor home isn't in the lot yet."
"I'm expecting Jesse to pull in anytime. There was an accident on the interstate and he had to detour. Held him up a few hours." They wheeled the carts into a couple of parking spaces and Kent jumped out first to give his mother a hug.
"I like your hair. Makes you look"
"Don't you dare say mature," she said with a laugh, but Dean could tell she was pleased that Kent had noticed the change.
"I was intending to say sophisticated and darned sexy. If it's okay to say that about your mother."
"It's okay," she said and gave his arm a squeeze.
Dean wanted to kick himself for not mentioning the hairstyle earlier. He didn't dare say anything now. No telling how she'd respond.
"I thought you were still in L.A.," Patsy said as they began to walk toward the garage area.
"I got out of there early, believe it or not. They'd scheduled two days for the commercial shoot but I guess I'm a natural. Got it all done in one."
"I can't wait to see it."
"I talked it over with Tanya and she decided I'd be better off coming straight here rather than fly back to North Carolina for thirty-six hours and have to deal with a double dose of jet lag."
"Sensible woman," Patsy said approvingly.
Dean approved of Kent's fiancée, too. She was smart, talented, owned her own business photographing society weddings, and she was strong enough and confident enough to handle being a NASCAR wife.
He'd always thought Patsy was the same, until this year when she'd not only demanded he retire, but when he refused to promise this season would be his last, she'd also up and walked out on him. He still couldn't get his mind around it. Still couldn't believe his thirty-year marriage was over and done. Not when he still loved her just as much as he had the day they were married.
The problem was he loved stock car racing damned near as much.
"Dad, did you hear me? I said, how's Davy coming along in the Nationwide car?"
Kent was looking at him a little quizzically, as though he'd missed a couple of beats of the conversation, which he had. He shoved his hand in the front pocket of his jeans and focused his full attention on his son.
"No wins yet but he's getting us some owner points. Wish Neely was doing as well in the truck." Neal "Neely" Andleman was Davy's brother.
"Neely's not a natural like Davy but he's a hard worker," Kent said, giving a half wave to Rafael O'Bryan, the current points leader, as he passed them in a golf cart headed for the tunnel.
Dean added a half salute of his own to his son's greeting. Kent was the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and Dean was as proud of that as any father on the planet. But at the moment Dean wasn't thinking like Kent's father. He was thinking like a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver and Rafael O'Bryan was the man standing between him and the championship title. Only sixty-seven points separated them in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Kent was only another thirty points behind them with only two races left to go. Dean had been racing NASCAR Sprint Cup cars for almost twenty-five years and this was the closest he'd come to the championship in a long, long time.
This year he was going to win.
But winning the championship was more than likely going to cost him any chance there might be of winning back his wife.
"Kent, I haven't had two minutes to talk to you in weeks," Patsy said off the top of her head to fill the silence that followed the sighting of her husband and son's biggest rival. They stood side by side, legs splayed, identical expressions on their faces, and watched the golf cart out of sight.
They were so alike, those two. Same Roman nose inherited from Dean's Italian ancestors, same head of dark brown hair, although Dean's was threaded with silver, which only made him look even more handsome in Patsy's opinion. Kent was taller than his father and he had gotten her deep blue eyes instead of Dean's dark brown ones, but there was no denying they were father and son. Their personalities were as similar as their looks: both were ambitious, focused, scrupulously fair and honest, but determined to win no matter what the cost. Including the death of a thirty-year marriage.
She didn't want to talk racing anymore. She didn't want to think about the Chase and her broken marriage. It was hard to keep her resolve when Dean was so close. She missed him. Had missed him every second of the last five, long months. But she couldn't give in. She was fighting for something important to them both. Their future. He was just too damned stubborn, too fixated on winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship to admit she was in the right and he wasn't. "Have you and Tanya settled on a wedding date?" she asked Kent. It was the first thought that popped into her mind because her interest in her children's lives was always percolating away just below the surface.
"Not yet," Kent admitted as they walked toward the garage area, stopping just inside the pit wall where they could still hear each other without shouting. "But we're thinking sometime just after the first of the year. Tanya has a friend who was married on this private Caribbean island"
"Oh, Kent. How romantic. And how wonderful."
"And expensive," Dean muttered.
She turned her head to tell Dean to be quiet and stop being a penny-pincher when she realized he was teasing her, hoping to get a rise out of her. She clamped her lips shut on a retort. She no longer had the privilege of scolding him that way. Or of laughing with him. Or loving him, she thought morosely. She was his wife in name only now, and only until such time as they both retained a lawyer and began to hammer out the details of a divorce agreement.
The word still sounded alien to her ears. She had never, once, thought she, Patsy Clark Grosso, would ever be a divorced woman.
She'd planned since she was a little girl to love Dean Grosso until the day she died.
She still did love him. She just couldn't live with him.
"And we've kind of been waiting on Justin and Sophia," Kent said and she forced herself to stop thinking about her broken marriage and pay attention to her tall, handsome son. Kent cast Dean a slightly wary sideways look before continuing. "Is there going to be some kind of big blowout public engagement announcement when we're all in New York for Champions Week? A small family party?" He shrugged. "We don't want to steal their thunder."
"The longer we wait the better chance there is Sophia will come to her senses and leave him," Dean said, and this time he didn't smile.
Patsy sighed and held her tongue though it cost her dearly. She spent almost as much time worrying about her daughter and her secretive engagement to Justin Murphy, currently ninth in the Chase standings, and the son of Dean's old enemy, as she did about her broken marriage.
"I don't know," she admitted. "I didn't get much chance to talk to Sophia this week. It's been a zoo at the garage. I had a ton of quarterly financial reports to go over with the CPAs and Milo's got a chest cold and he's been acting like a bear with a sore paw. Nana's exhausted taking care of him."
Dean stiffened beside her and she realized he hadn't known his grandfather was ill. Like the southern gentleman he'd been raised to be, he'd moved out of the huge farm house they had shared with Dean's grandfather and his wife since Sophia left for college, and was currently staying in an apartment Cargill Motors maintained for visiting sponsor reps and such.
"Milo's not feeling well? I wondered why he wasn't at the garage Monday." Milo Grosso, one of the original generation of NASCAR drivers, and a former FBI agent who had worked with J. Edgar Hoover, was ninety-two years old. Feisty and opinionated, he was the undisputed head of the Grosso family dynastyif you didn't count the fact that his second wife, Juliana, ruled him with a velvet fist.
"It was just the sniffles." Patsy broke her own rule and reached out to touch Dean's arm. The muscles of his hands and arms were rock-solid, as befitted a man who wrestled three thousand pounds of recalcitrant race car around the track for hours at a time. He flinched a little as her fingertips grazed the bare skin above his wrist. "He's fine, Dean. Nana bullied him into going to the doctor. Sophia went with them. He's on antibiotics and he was already feeling better before I left. I swear it."
He gave a short, sharp nod. "I'll call Nana later and check on him myself."
Patsy kept her expression neutral, not letting the sting of his abrupt dismissal show on her face. She'd had a lot of practice keeping her emotions hidden from view.
Every public figure had to perfect that skill, and NASCAR wives were no exception. "It's nearly time for practice to start. We'd better get to pit road. Coming, Kent?"
"I can't, Mom. I was on my way to a conference call when I spotted you. I'd better get a move on or I'll have some major 'splaining to do to my owner," he said in his best Ricky Ricardo imitation.
Patsy laughed as he expected her to. It had been his favorite way to coax a smile from her since he'd first learned the trick as a ten-year-old.
"Dad, I'll see you later?"
"Sure thing," Dean said and grasped Kent's upper arm with his hand. "Just FYI. I plan to be on the pole Sunday."
"What a coincidence," Kent said, returning the gesture. "So do I."