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Chasing the Truth by Carol Stephenson
As an assistant on a powerful racing team, Emma-Lee Dalton wants to prove herself in the thrill-a-minute NASCAR world--and impress Holt Forrester, the man she can't stop thinking about. But when she gives Holt the inside track, unaware of his real agenda, she falls hard and fast for him. Now she needs her billionaire boyfriend to admit ...
Chasing the Truth by Carol Stephenson
As an assistant on a powerful racing team, Emma-Lee Dalton wants to prove herself in the thrill-a-minute NASCAR world--and impress Holt Forrester, the man she can't stop thinking about. But when she gives Holt the inside track, unaware of his real agenda, she falls hard and fast for him. Now she needs her billionaire boyfriend to admit the truth about everything--including how he feels about her.
Cornered by Maggie Price
Uncovering the secrets of reclusive racing star Rafael O'Bryan could make--or break--Caitlin Dempsey's career. But the NASCAR driver refuses to let the reporter get too close.... He won't expose Caitlin to a scandal that could destroy them all. Still, the journalist is hard to resist. And deep down, Rafael yearns for a woman who can share his future and his past. His heart's telling him Caitlin could be the one....
Had he really thought he could handle the crush of people in attendance today? Managing his investments based on cold hard data was one thing. Directing a tired mother with a wailing toddler to a Port-a-Potty was totally outside his comfort zone. Still…
Pausing, he glanced up to the gleaming span of bridge eight hundred and seventy-six feet above. Another jumper yelled a battle cry as he somersaulted off the platform. Moments later a white parachute popped open against the blue sky. Holt smiled.
Unbelievable. He'd actually done it. He'd pulled off the fundraising event for breast cancer without a hitch. All the months of convincing everyone in the West Virginia government from the governor to the Division of Highways to allow this special day of BASE—bridge, antennae, spans or earth—jumping had paid off.
The adrenaline buzz of his own jump still pumped through Holt along with pride and satisfaction.
He had known those adventurers who thrilled to parachute free falls wouldn't be able to resist the lure of a legal jump off the second-highest bridge in the United States. All in the name of a good cause, the Amanda Forrester Jump for Cancer.
An event to honor his mother. He'd been only twelve when she had lost her battle with breast cancer, but the memories of her efforts to maintain a normal life for him and his father despite her pain remained seared in his soul.
The latest jumper splashed into the river. Volunteers gunned motorized inflatable rafts and raced toward the man to pluck him from the water.
Holt released a sigh of relief. So far the event had gone without any major injury to any of the participants. Only a cut here, a bruise there.
The only other thing that would make this day perfect would be to meet the woman with the smoky-warm voice who had called him from Double S Racing. Emma-Lee Dalton.
He looked around for his assistant. Ted would know if she had registered. He might not be able to find her in this crowd, but surely she would be at the auction following the jumps. Double S Racing had been more than generous in its donation of NASCAR racing memorabilia, and Holt suspected that the very enthusiastic Ms. Dalton was largely responsible. He wanted the opportunity to thank her in person…and see if the woman matched the voice, he admitted.
"Hey, Holt!" Stan Preston hurried toward him. "Did you see all the NASCAR bumper stickers in the lot?"
"Yes, I did."
Stan huffed to a stop. The older, heavier-set man wore carefully creased khakis, a blue oxford-collared shirt and navy windbreaker. He pulled a handkerchief from his pants pocket and mopped his brow.
"Wasn't I right about NASCAR? The fan loyalty is incredible. Once I got the word out that the organization had donated items for the auction, the fans hotfooted over here."
"You were right, Stan." Not only had Holt been impressed with the man's contacts at NASCAR, but he'd been amazed by the surge of registrations after the auction announcement.
Stan beamed. "You understand now why a NASCAR sponsorship would be a smart business move for your launch of the new software line?"
"I'd be a fool not to." Holt had met the insurance magnate when Stan had consulted with him about developing computer programs. When Stan had gotten it in his head that he wanted to start his own NASCAR team, Holt had been one of the first he'd hit up for sponsorships. A sponsorship seemed to be good business, but Stan's new team might not be a good fit.
Holt never jumped into a deal, which is how he'd made his millions. He needed more data before he made his decision. He hadn't even divulged to Stan the true nature of his latest computer venture. Although the Internet was alive with rumors, he was keeping the game under wraps for now as much as possible.
"Holt." Stan looked concerned. "When I was checking out the auction display, I noticed a number of items from Double S Racing. The owner, Gil Sizemore, isn't wooing you as a sponsor, is he?"
No point mentioning to Stan that he inexplicably had found himself flirting with the Double S's representative. Hearing her bubbling laughter over the phone had caused him to hit the Delete key at an inopportune moment on a report he'd been reviewing at the time.
Holt shrugged. "My P.R. person mentioned that the individual racing teams might donate if I contacted them personally, so I did. Business is business, no matter whether it's for charity or not. You should know that better than anyone, Stan."
The insurance magnate hadn't exactly amassed all his agencies by being an emotional pushover.
Stan relaxed only fractionally. "I'm still trying to get you a few pit passes to the upcoming races. Those passes are harder to come by than a rate increase."
Holt glanced up at the bridge. With her pink jumpsuit fluttering in the breeze, a woman stood on the edge of the platform and appeared to be talking with the volunteers. Why wasn't she jumping? He glanced at his watch.
Only thirty minutes left in the permitted time, and he had at least that number of people waiting for their turn. "Excuse me, Stan."
Walking toward the riverbank, he spotted his personal assistant helping another jumper. "Ted, I need your radio."
"Sure thing, Holt." The young man hurried over and handed it to him. He pointed out the solid line of bystanders lining the bridge above.
"Can you believe all the people who came to watch? What a show they got today! The vendors are selling food and souvenirs like hotcakes. This is going to rake in a ton of money."
"I couldn't have pulled this off without your help, Ted."
The assistant flushed at the praise, but one of the volunteers called for him from the control center they had set up by the river. He hurried off.
Holt looked up again. That woman in her pink jumpsuit still stood there. Was she frozen with fear?
He activated the walkie-talkie. "Davey, what's the holdup? If that woman's gotten cold feet, get her out of there."
Not everyone could stand at the end of the sixteen-foot-long ledge and take that step off into emptiness.
"Not cold feet, Holt. She's just going on and on about how pretty the gorge is and what a momentous occasion this is."
He rolled his eyes. "Tell her to gawk later."
"10 - 4."
Moments later, the woman directed a smart salute at him. Then she lowered both arms to her sides. This was it. That minute when you prepare mentally for the leap and say a prayer.
Then he felt it, the breeze stirring.
"Holt!" Ted ran toward him. "The storm we've been watching is now coming faster."
Holt raised the receiver. "Davey, weather's moving in. Stop the jumpers…"
Too late. The woman raised her arms and executed a perfect swan dive off the platform.
He handed off the radio to Ted and raced to the water's edge.
One second. Alone in the air she would experience perfect quietude, not the howling wind when one jumps out of a plane.
Two seconds. She would be picking up speed with wind whistling through her clothes and the ground rushing toward her.
Three seconds. Pull the chute.
Too long, too long. She would hit the ground hard.
Relief flooded him as the purple-and-red parachute snapped open, making a colorful splash against the darkening sky. He watched as she guided it. She was going for a bull's-eye landing in the taped-off spot behind him.
He'd made it himself, so he understood the desire to make a controlled landing, one where you bested the elements.
The wind picked up and the chute turned. He recognized by her movements that the woman was going with the change and would land in the river where the rafts waited to pick up any jumper.
As her feet touched the water a gust of wind caught the parachute full blast, dragging her like a rag doll along the river straight toward an outcropping of boulders.
Holt raced along the edge and then splashed into the shallow depths on a diagonal path to the woman struggling to release the harness.
Ten feet to go. The water was now waist high. Five feet. He lunged.
Cold water sprayed, blinding him, but he had a handful of fabric. He dug his heels into the soft riverbed and braced himself. The force of the wind-dragged parachute jerked his shoulder, but he held on.
He blinked until he could see. He had her by one of the chest straps. She reached up and gripped his wrist.
Step by precarious step, he eased backward. When he reached the shallows, the woman scrabbled for and found her footing. Circling his other arm around her waist, he hauled her up against his body and held on.
Beside him Ted jumped into the water and made his way over to the chute lines. Others joined him and worked to collapse the parachute.
Holt reached between their bodies and released the clasp and slipped the straps over her shoulders. She shimmied out of the harness, but as she stepped clear, she tripped, stumbling against him. He staggered and lost his footing. Together they fell.
He hit the ground, the jolt sending a hiss of pain through his clenched teeth. The jumper sprawled on top of him.
"Hey, are you all right?" Concern filled her voice. Elbows and knees, one dangerously close to causing him real pain, flayed as she struggled to move off him.
"Hold still." He managed to sit up and found himself face-to-face with her straddling his lap. Incredibly, laughter filled the bright blue eyes as she scrutinized him. Her soft body shifted, causing an altogether different physical reaction, as she reached up and removed her helmet.
Honey-blond hair tumbled across her shoulders as she gave him a bright smile. "That was sooo awesome! I can't believe that I just jumped a three-hundred-and-forty-five-million-year-old gorge."
He didn't know whether to dump her back in the river or kiss her.
"Oh, by the way." She extended a slender hand and, bemused, he gripped it. A strange sensation surged along his arm as if a circuit had been completed and her life force was pumping into him at a million bits a second.
"I'm Emma-Lee Dalton."
Emma-Lee had done it. She had jumped for her friend Sandy.
When her friend was physically strong enough again after the chemotherapy, they would go parachuting together. Those moments of absolute freedom from all earthly ties might be the ticket to boost Sandy's spirits.
With the adrenaline rush still fizzing in her veins like champagne, Emma-Lee grinned at the man whose lap she straddled. Of course, this man who had charged into the river and dragged her to safety could definitely get a woman's blood pounding. When he failed to reciprocate with his name, she arched a brow.
"I believe our—" she gave a meaningful glance down "—circumstances warrant an introduction?"
The way he studied her with such intense hazel eyes sent a delicious shiver through her having nothing to do with the fact that she was drenched. His was a strong, lean face, softened only by a frame of damp waves of hair. A sculpted mouth that could lend itself only too easily to brooding. She couldn't help but notice that his stomach was board flat and he had hard, muscled thighs.
As he continued to regard her in silence, she realized here was a man who valued self-possession. An age-old awareness stirred within her, raising a very feminine challenge. What would it be like to be the woman who caused him to lose control?
Heat pooling deep inside her chased away the bone-deep chill from the river lapping around them. Even though logically Emma-Lee knew he couldn't know the direction of her thoughts, embarrassment overrode her mind and warmth infused her cheeks. His eyes narrowed and then for the first time he smiled like a predator that had run his prey to ground. She was in trouble.
"I'm Holt Forrester."
This was Holt Forrester? Not at all like the geeky teenage computer genius made good she had envisioned from his Internet bio.
His voice was dark and quiet, as she remembered from their phone conversation.
"I don't know about you, but I'm freezing my butt off in this water. Could we continue this conversation under better conditions?" he said.
"Oh, sorry." Mortified, she scrambled to her feet. He followed suit and then, gripping her elbow, guided her up the bank. A young man carrying blankets rushed up.
"Thanks, Ted." Holt took one and wrapped it around her shoulders.
"Over in the lot we have a motor home that we're using as a control center. Let's get you inside and get you warmed up. Do you have a change of clothes? If not, I can send Ted to get you some."
"You don't need to go to any trouble. I have a bag in my car, but I'm parked at the Cliffhanger Lodge. If you could point me in the direction of the shuttle—"
"Don't be ridiculous. You'll catch pneumonia. Give me your keys and a description of the car, and I'll see if Ted can bring back your car while you take a hot shower."
A stranger drive her precious car on that poor excuse of a road running from the river to the highway? No way.
"Thank you, but the shocks would never survive the trip down." She smiled at the younger man. "However, if you wouldn't mind, I'd be eternally grateful if you could retrieve my bag."
Ted nodded. "I'd be happy to get it for you."
This time the shiver that racked her system had nothing to do with hormones. She was cold.
Emma-Lee unzipped the pocket of her jumpsuit and after removing her keys, handed them over. Holt tossed them to Ted and she gave the assistant a description of her car along with the tag number. Ted hurried off.
"This way." Holt guided her and propelled her to the parking area where an enormous black motor home occupied one end. Had she really expected a mobile home along the lines of the cheerful red one that her parents owned? This monster was closer to the one her sister Mallory and her race car driver husband, Roberto Castillo, used at the races.
Holt led her up the steps, opened the door and urged her inside. She blinked until her vision adjusted. The living-dining room area buzzed with activity. Some people sat on tan leather benches at laptops stationed around a long table, while others stood talking on phones or radios. Several TVs were mounted on walls with flashing pictures of the bridge and exhibition stands. Now she knew why the event had gone with militarylike precision. Holt had left nothing to chance.
Although a few individuals, particularly women, looked at her with curiosity, most kept focused on the task at hand. A well-trained crew, she thought.
Posted January 17, 2011
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