Racecar driver Kate Reilly is suited up and ready for the start of the legendary 24 Hours of Daytona. But what lies ahead is not just a racing challenge but a harrowing test of her will and nerve off the course.
Even before the green flag waves over Daytona International Speedway, Kate receives word her boyfriend Stuart is hospitalized nearby in a coma, fighting for his life after a hit-and-run. Stunned by the news, Kate can do nothing better for Stuart than complete her scheduled laps driving her team’s car. But more shocks follow as Daytona’s clock starts ticking. An on-track accident ends tragically. Some of her complicated family is spotted with other teamswhy? And an eyewitness claims Stuart was run down deliberately by someone from the race paddock.
Alternating stints behind the wheel of the team’s Corvette with stretches of quizzing colleagues and searching for clues, Kate circles the police and taps every possible sourcefriend, foe, and familyto find out who’s after Stuart and why. As the race clock counts down to zero hour, Kate must come to terms with her own fears rising from her past and decide who she’s willing to trust. Only then can she identify who’s willing to kill to keep a secret buried.
About the Author
Tammy Kaehler’s career in marketing and technical writing landed her in the world of automobile racing, which inspired her with its blend of drama, competition, and friendly people. Mystery fans and racing insiders alike praised the first two Kate Reilly Racing Mysteries, Dead Man’s Switch and Braking Points , and she takes readers back behind the wheel for the third time in Avoidable Contact. Tammy works as a technical writer in the Los Angeles area, where she lives with her husband and many cars.
Read an Excerpt
A Kate Reilly Mystery
By Tammy Kaehler
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2014 Tammy Kaehler
All rights reserved.
1:20 P.M. | 0:50 TO GREEN FLAG
Nothing surprised me about pre-race festivities anymore. Skydivers, samba dancers, Clydesdales—we saw them all. Uniformed cops and security guards generated no excitement. But two police officers with their serious faces on, heading my way? Unusual.
I stood in pit lane, enjoying the view of overcast skies, an enormous racetrack, and some ten thousand people, all of us buzzed on anticipation and adrenaline. Drivers, teams, and fans savored the buildup to the green flag. Everyone focused on the world inside the giant bowl of Daytona International Speedway. Everyone was ready for the marathon that is the legendary 24 Hours of Daytona endurance race. Then the sight of badges, gunbelts, and somber faces, flanked by Series staff, shot my heart rate into race-stint territory.
I straightened up from my slouch against the side of our number 28 Corvette. Tug Brehan, the number two guy in operations for the new United SportsCar Championship series—and, hands down, the most stylish guy at the racetrack—led the officers to me through the sea of people.
Tug put a comforting hand on my shoulder. "Kate Reilly, this is Detective Latham with the Daytona Beach Police." He gestured to the tall, slender man with a shaved-bald head and mocha-colored skin. "And Officer Webster, Daytona International Speedway Police." That was the older guy, shorter and rounder, with graying red hair and pale skin.
Webster nodded, then turned to scan the crowd around us.
Latham looked from me to Tug. "Is there somewhere quieter or more private we could talk?"
I shook my head. Dread curdled my stomach. "Tell me." When the cop didn't respond, I pointed to the front of the grid. "We could fight our way to my team's pits, but it's at the far end of chaos. What is it?"
Tug beckoned to someone. Holly Wilson, my best friend and new manager/assistant, appeared next to me.
I panicked. "My grandparents?"
"Your family is fine." Tug started to say more, then stopped.
Relief left me lightheaded.
Latham cleared his throat. "I understand you know the Series Vice President of Operations Stuart Telarday well."
"Stuart?" Twelve hours ago I'd have said he was my boyfriend. I'm not sure what he is now. "He's a good friend. Is he in trouble?"
"I'm sorry to tell you he was involved in a hit-and-run accident a couple hours ago." Latham watched me intently. "He's in critical condition."
My mind went blank. I shook my head. "Hold on. What?"
"Stuart Telarday was injured in a hit-and-run shortly before eleven this morning. He was crossing International Speedway Boulevard, possibly on his way to a restaurant."
"Outside the track? He wouldn't leave the track on race day. It can't have been him."
"He carried three kinds of photo identification."
The news slammed into me with the force of a couple Gs. I must have swayed, because Holly put her arm around my waist. Tug stepped forward again.
"A restaurant?" The details didn't make sense. Stuart. Hurt. Critical.
"A security guard at the track exit said Telarday mentioned the Mexican place," Latham responded. "On the corner of Bill France Boulevard."
I looked at the detective, but pictured Stuart instead. Black trousers, crisp white Series shirt, horn-rimmed glasses, and a slight frown on his face as he scrolled through messages on his phone. He saw the green light and stepped into the crosswalk with his typical determined stride. Then a car careened through the intersection, inspired by the racetrack nearby, tires squealing—bam. I closed my eyes on the horror of impact and a person—Stuart—flying and hitting the ground.
The pedestrian and car were easy to imagine. I'd witnessed nearly the same accident yesterday, in the same location. Then, however, the car braked and swerved in time, and the pedestrian jumped out of the way.
I opened my eyes, astonished to find a vibrant world around us. I looked at Detective Latham. "How bad is he?" It came out as a whisper.
Latham spoke first. "The official word is critical."
"We're not releasing anything more than that," Tug—Stuart's employee—put in. He pitched his voice low, though the cacophony around us made it unlikely anyone else could hear. "But I think it's appropriate to tell you, Kate—" he eyed Holly.
I exhaled sharply. "She won't repeat it."
He nodded. "Stuart has compound fractures of multiple limbs, broken ribs, internal bleeding, a broken collarbone or shoulder. But the concern is the skull fracture and possible brain injury. He's in surgery right now."
I had to concentrate to make sure I was breathing. "Is he going to—" I couldn't finish the question. Not out loud.
Tug took my hand. "Kate, we don't know. He's got the best team of doctors around." I stared at him, trying to process his words. Tug was short for a man—which still meant taller than me—with dark hair, perpetually tan skin, and something around the eyes that hinted at some kind of ethnic ancestry—part Native American was my guess. The charm he always oozed was mixed now with sympathy and concern.
I need to sit down, pronto. I pulled free of Tug and Holly. I curled up on the pavement next to my car, my arms and head on my bent knees. I tried not to think about the pain and terror Stuart must have felt. Tried to think positive thoughts about the work surgeons were doing. How Stuart would heal. I processed the idea of him fighting for his life in a hospital room. Not being at the race. Maybe ever. I tried not to cry as I argued with myself.
I should be there. You can't do anything. I should be there anyway. You have a job to do here. How can I be here with him hurt? Are you willing to let two dozen people on your team down or damage your career to sit in the waiting room? Would my boss let me? Would Stuart want me to?
Slowly the buzzing in my head faded, and I looked up. Detective Latham and Officer Webster were talking with Jack Sandham, my team owner and boss, and Tom Albright, our team media, computer, and everything-else-unassigned guy.
Holly crouched down next to me. "You going to make it, sugar?"
"No alternative." My voice shook.
"This going to stop you from driving?"
"Not getting in the car won't help him. He wouldn't want me to stay out of the car and sit at the hospital." I grabbed Holly's hand. "Would he? Should I be there? I feel like I should be there."
She shook her short, red curls. "He'd tell you not to let your job be another casualty of his accident."
I looked at my feet.
"Time for you to stand up, though." She tugged on my hand. "Come on. They're starting to clear the grid."
When I pulled myself to my feet, everyone closed in again, physically and emotionally. I turned first to Jack. I had to look up a foot and a half to meet him in the eye.
"You okay, Kate?" His voice was low, gruff. At my nod, he blew out a breath. "Do you need—if you need to go to the hospital, I won't stand in your way, but it's problematic. I wouldn't say that, except he's in surgery, and it's not like you can see him anyway." Jack was uncharacteristically flustered.
"I'll stay here now. Later ..." I swallowed hard.
"We'll see what happens later," he agreed. "For now, you're third stint in the car. Do you want extra time?"
"Let's stick to the schedule. Let me do my job."
"Business as usual then. Keep me posted on how you're doing." He moved away.
I turned to Tug and the cops. "Thank you for bringing me the news. Tug, who can keep me updated on his condition? Who's at the hospital?"
"Let me have your cell number, and I will call or text." He handed me a business card. "His family is en route, and in the meantime, Polly's there."
I recited my cell number, feeling a flicker of relief. Polly was the office manager for the operations team, helping Stuart and Tug ensure every team, supplier, and sponsor had the information or tools they needed to race. I knew Polly viewed Stuart as a second son. Even better, she knew I was dating him, and I could contact her directly.
Latham recorded my number in his notebook. "We'd like to ask you a few questions."
I had a terrible thought. "Was it an accident?"
"Based on witness accounts, we believe it may have been a deliberate attack."
No one would want to kill Stuart. I had to pause to be sure my voice was steady. "I have no idea what I can tell you, Detective. It doesn't make any sense to me—and I certainly didn't run him down in a jealous rage." I faltered, remembering my last conversation with Stuart wasn't all sunshine and roses.
Webster, the track cop, raised an eyebrow. But before he or Latham could follow up, Tom interrupted.
"Kate, get ready, Zeke's on his way to you." He bounced on the balls of his feet.
I didn't give the cops a chance to argue. "That's SGTV with a live shot. You'll have to wait."
I walked to the front of the Sandham Swift Corvette where Tom had cleared a space for a good camera angle. I took a deep breath. My mind churned with Stuart's condition, the argument I had with him that morning, and what the cops wanted to ask me.
"Tom," I shouted. "Topic?"
He shook his head at my unasked question. "Race only, not Stuart."
Zeke and his cameraman were on final approach. Fifteen feet away. Ten. Five. I took another deep breath.
1:45 P.M. | 0:25 TO GREEN FLAG
"Another benefit of this year's merger between the former American Le Mans Series and Grand-American Road Racing is the appearance of stalwart ALMS teams in not only this race, but also at other iconic tracks and races that were previously part of the Grand-Am schedule." Sports Group Television reporter Zeke Andrews walked slowly backward in my direction, facing the camera.
"One such team," he said, only two steps away now, "is Sandham Swift Racing, a longtime privateer in the ALMS. They're a team that's had their troubles in the past, but has been turning their luck around in recent years, perhaps in part due to the arrival of one Kate Reilly."
He reached me and turned, the camera swinging to capture us both. We stood side-by-side, at roughly equal heights, his talking head blond and tanned, mine black-haired and even more pale-skinned than usual because of the news I'd received.
"Kate," Zeke began, "what do you think are the factors in the team's improved competitiveness over the last couple years—culminating in a second-place finish in the championship last year? And what's the team think about the chance to compete here at the Daytona 24?"
I turned on interview autopilot, smiling at Zeke as the camera moved to focus on me alone. "The only credit I'll claim for Sandham Swift's recent success is for being part of a team that works hard and works well together. In the last year and a half, we've come together and really meshed—from drivers, to crew and mechanics, to the bosses and support staff. We enjoy being out here racing, enjoy the competition, and we're on fire to beat all of them."
Zeke smiled with me. I registered one of my co-drivers for the race, Miles Hanson, approaching from my left. It figured SGTV also wanted to talk to NASCAR's tall, handsome golden boy.
"As for being here at this race?" I looked left and right at the assembled teams and cars on pit lane. "We're excited for what we hope is the first of many, many years. The next twenty-four hours ..." I froze as fear crashed down on me. What's going to happen to Stuart?
Zeke's eyes widened at my uncharacteristic on-camera fumble. I could see him forming another question as I attempted to speak past the lump in my throat.
Miles stepped into the breach, slinging an arm around my shoulder and drawing the camera's attention. "We're so ready for the next twenty-four hours, we're speechless." He smiled, and we all laughed at his joke before he went on. "They're going to be intense. Exciting. Stressful and probably scary. But amazing. I think that's how the whole team feels. And I'm honored to be here for the first time with such a strong team—strong in team dynamics and on the track. Y'all watch out for us."
Zeke asked Miles a follow-up question about the difference between the stock cars he raced all year in NASCAR and the sportscar he was driving this weekend, and I struggled to keep a pleasant, happy look on my face. I was only partly successful.
Zeke tossed the live feed back to his broadcast partners in the booth and turned to me immediately. "Kate, what's wrong?"
I sagged against Miles' side, and my eyes filled with tears. Stop it, Kate!
"Kate?!" Zeke had known me for a dozen years, and he'd rarely seen me cry—tears weren't allowed in Kate Reilly's rulebook.
I took a deep breath and straightened. "Sorry, Zeke. Sorry, Miles, and thanks."
Miles squeezed me in a brief hug and returned to the other side of the car. Zeke's eyes widened in shock as Tom spoke in his ear.
I grabbed Zeke's hand. "If he's telling you about Stuart, don't broadcast it."
He looked hurt. "Don't offend me, Katie-Q." He hauled me in for a quick hug and whispered in my ear. "He's an ass-kicker, Katie. He'll fight this. Hang in there."
I nodded. Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry.
Zeke stepped back. Every trace of my pseudo-big brother was gone, replaced by my racing mentor and coach. He put his hands on my shoulders. "Katie, you focus on the race and on doing your best. That's all you can control, so be great. Use your emotion to perform. You hear me?"
I smiled for real this time. "I owe you one."
"Katie-Q, you owe me more than that." His sunny, outrageous smile took up half of his face. "Text me if you need anything else. I'll be in the SGTV broadcast booth for the race." With that, he ran down the pit lane after his cameraman.
I turned back to my team and the car and saw Tom and Holly standing with the police detective and the speedway cop.
Tom waved me over, his curly brown hair already looking unruly and disheveled. "If you sneak out now, you have a few minutes to talk—maybe over in Victory Lane?"
Latham shrugged agreement. I led the cops and Holly past teams forming lines next to their cars. We crossed through the pits into the gated area with a podium wide enough for two dozen people. I stopped and faced the officers, fear and anxiety dragging at me. I wished I could sit down.
"Ms. Reilly, we'll keep this brief." Latham flipped open his notebook.
"Kate," I corrected, studying the two officers. Latham, the DBPD detective, was mid-forties, polished, and obviously in charge. Track-cop Webster was at least fifteen years older and fond of jingling the change in his jacket pocket.
"Kate. Can you walk me through your day?" Latham saw my surprise and held up a hand. "A formality. We ask everyone."
I should have remembered the drill from past investigations I'd been part of—including the one in Connecticut where I'd been prime suspect for a while. "Holly and I drove over from the hotel about nine this morning. Aside from the social media thing in the Fan Zone at ten, we were in the team lounge—the room on the end of the building next to the rear garages—or in the garage until I went to the series driver meeting at eleven thirty-five. After that it was directly to the autograph session in the Fan Zone and out here to the grid."
Webster spoke up. "You were in those places only? Never went anywhere else?"
"The bathroom at the end of our lounge building, that's all."
"Twenty minutes," Holly said. "That's as long as she was ever out of my sight all day. Even then, you were halfway between the garage and the lounge talking to fans, right, Kate?"
"Talking to fans and Stuart," I confirmed.
Holly jammed her fists on her hips and looked at the cops. "She didn't have time to get a car outside the track and run him down."
"Easy, Ms. Wilson," Latham said. "We don't think either of you did. Mr. Sandham and Mr. Albright have already confirmed neither of you could have left the track today. But we do want as full a picture as possible. Kate, when did you see Mr. Telarday and what did you talk with him about?"
My breath hitched and my chest felt constricted. I didn't want to relive the argument that could be the last interaction I'd ever have with Stuart. I heard the on-track announcer introducing the mayor of Daytona Beach, "here to say a few words," as the cops and Holly waited me out.
Excerpted from Avoidable Contact by Tammy Kaehler. Copyright © 2014 Tammy Kaehler. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Reviewed by Samantha Rivera for Readers' Favorite Kate Reilly is just about to begin one of the biggest races of the year when she receives terrible news; something has happened to her boyfriend that has everyone buzzing. No one knows why he was leaving the track on a race day or why someone would want to run him down. Now Kate is stuck with a mystery to solve and a race to win, all within 24 hours because after that there just might not be a chance to save Stuart or herself from whatever is out there. Avoidable Contact by Tammy Kaehler will leave you guessing. Kate, Holly, Stuart and the rest of the racing teams as well are definitely key in making this a story you don’t want to miss. Each of them brings more and more to the plot and will help keep you guessing what’s going to happen. Everyone has secrets in their past after all. Kate hopes to keep hers away from her life, but of course those secrets tend to pop up when you least want them to. I could definitely relate to how Kate was feeling as she attempted to go on with her race, despite the bad feelings she had about Stuart and what might have happened to him. She was also determined to figure out as much as possible and to learn it all as fast as possible. With some assistance from unexpected friends, Kate just might manage to figure out everything before that 24-hour clock runs down to nothing in Avoidable Contact.
Avoidable Contact by Tammy Kaeler is about the twenty four hour Daytona endurance race. Anyone that knows racing, knows that Daytona opens the racing season with a week long celebration. I love Nascar racing, so I was excited to have the opportunity to read for review the ARC of Avoidable Contact. Kate Reilly had a bad feeling as the police officer approached her. He asked if she knew Stuart Telarday very well. He was her ex boyfriend and the Series Vice President of Operations. He had been in a hit and run car accident. Was it deliberate? Who, or better yet why, would anyone want him dead? The Daytona endurance race consists of the car, drivers and pit crew running for twenty four hours straight. There are four drivers that alternate. The team stuck together and supported her, concentrating on the task at hand. Kate was third in the car, so it was important for her to say and help her team. Imagine how grueling this can be for all involved. Avoidable Contact covers much of the sport in plain, easy to understand, language, even the uninitiated can understand. Tammy talks about the teams, cars, sponsors, parts, tires ( different tires for different situations), safety devices (safety barriers and the Hans device) and people (each has their specific function). We ride around the track with Kate her as she races, brakes, dodges and weaves, even talking about the dip in the track that causes a wiggle. THEN, the big wreck. Are we ghouls, sitting and waiting for it? Wanting it? Wishing for it? Someone died. Is a penalty for ‘avoidable contact’ penalty enough? The penalty is called a ‘stop plus 75’ – the driver must stop in the penalty box plus they are held for 75 seconds, which equals a lap at the Daytona Race Track. How about the women in a sport that has been traditionally know as a man’s sport? Are they treated differently? Of course, just look at the flak Danica Patrick gets for being too sexy. Who care? It’s all about the driving. I love Nascar racing and have been in tracks from Michigan, Alabama, New York, New Hampshire and Maryland. I have even worked some events for the IHRA and my husband has worked for Dirt Motorsports. I love the noise, the smell, the sounds and the feeling of the roaring engines vibrating through my body. The action is nonstop. Avoidable Contact by Tammy Kaehler is a cozy mystery for a sport that I have not read fiction novels for before. I was not on pins and needles as I read through the pages, waiting for the murderer to be discovered, but I did enjoy all the racing details and the mystery was a bonus. Tammy’s writing kept the story flowing smoothly and I think I was more interested in who would win the race, than who wanted Stuart dead. I would definitely consider reading more of Tammy’s work.