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Power pulsed beneath Tracey Bradshaw's legs, humming through every inch of her body like a well-loved song. She pressed on the clutch, shifted into high gear and the car screamed even faster.
A warm spring sun glowed over the cool track and made conditions flawless. A perfect day to prove herself.
She loved this. L-O-V-E. Loved it. It was why she'd been put on the planet and what she was born to do.
"What do you think, Trace? Not the same as the quarter midget tracks you raced on when you were seven, huh?" Uncle Joe's voice in her ear sounded much as usual, the ever-overprotective father she never had and the all-knowing chief engineer he had always been.
"I think this one's a little faster," Tracey joked with a chuckle. "I like it better than the Brickyard too." The Indianapolis Motor Speedway had been a blast, but this track rocked. "I'm feeling really good in the turns."
She'd graduated from Indy cars to Arrow cars six months ago. She'd battled the stereotypical jokes and the inflated male egos. She was as good a driver as anyone else on the track. Hell, she was better. The best.
"What are you doing?" Joe asked as she zoomed past pit road. "I thought you were bringing it in. Over." He could go from teddy bear to gruff lion and back again in the span of a heartbeat. Too bad she couldn't adjust the volume on her earpiece. At the moment, he seemed especially loud.
"Not yet. I feel good today, Uncle Joe. Who knows? I might even break another record." The lightly populated grandstands flew by in a blur. It would be a real rush when a screaming crowd filled the seats.
"For God's sake, you're only nineteen. You set three track records yesterday. Why don't you save one or two for someone else?"
"I'll think about it." Pride swelled in her chest as a smile curved her lips. She'd been speeding her whole life. Didn't really see a reason to stop.
Considering the American Racing OrganizationAROhad been around for thirty-two years, setting these records said something.
But Tracey had so much more to say.
"Damn it, Trace. Save it for race day. Come on in. Practice time is about done anyway."
She whizzed past her pit again. "Two more. I have enough time for two more laps. Don't fret." She knew he hated that word. "I'll go fast."
"That's what worries me," he groused.
Tracey pictured Joe's tan, deeply lined face. She could see his gray-peppered brows knit together as clearly as if he were next to her. She grinned to herself. "You worry too much, Uncle Joe."
The line crackled with static. "One of us has to."
Not her. She was on top of the world. She had everything she'd always wanteda car in winning form and a man who loved her. The pieces of her life were finally coming together. Her future lay out in front of her. She'd never go back.
She focused on the road as she came up to turn four. "Almost done. One more," she said into her mouthpiece. She barely heard Joe sigh as she came out of the chute.
Something caught her eye in the empty grandstands. It only took two milliseconds for it to register. Someone, a man, threw something over the protective fence. A red water balloon? Shit! Was he kidding? Water on the track at her speed was deadly.
The balloon splattered. Fear slammed into her like a semitruck at full speed. Blood drained from her head as sweat prickled her back. It wasn't a water balloon. It was an oil balloon. The black mass splashed across the track
A death sentence.