It’s hard to believe it’s been six years and eight books since the Fast Track series first sprang to life! When I originally conceived the idea, I didn’t have a series in mind, just the idea that I wanted to return to contemporary romance (which I very much did!) after writing paranormals, with a sexy and very loyal hero. So on a road trip with a friend, Flat-Out Sexy was born, and Elec Monroe, his siblings, Tammy and her kids, and Ty and Ryder all became reality. In my mind anyway. I fell in love with the world of racing; Charlotte, North Carolina; and these drivers and the strong sense of family they all share. Through racing wins and losses, injuries, pregnancy scares, trips to Vegas, adoption, marriage, and remarriage, I laughed a ton with them and felt satisfaction at each of their subsequent happy endings.
So I have to say it’s with a great deal of sadness that I say good-bye to the series, but I hope you’ll enjoy this final chapter featuring Harley and Cooper. Everyone from the previous books reappears in Final Lap so you can get a sneak peek into their lives and see who is doing what. Hint: Imogen and Ty finally get married, and Elec and Tamara do adopt a baby.
As Suzanne Jefferson might say, it’s been fine as frog’s hair split four ways writing these books. Much love to all of you who have supported and enjoyed the series, and happy reading!
HARLEY McLain felt like Cinderella at the ball. Well, without Prince Charming. So far the only man to pay her any mind at this wedding was the groom’s stepfather, who was thirty years her senior and blind drunk. But still, standing on the terrace looking down over the gardens of the beautiful Biltmore estate, at the wedding of the illustrious stock car driver Ty McCordle and his PhD bride, Imogen Wilson, Harley definitely thought the night was magic. A million twinkling lights were strung across the enormous heated tents, and red and orange spotlights in a floral pattern lit up the side of the mansion to reflect the autumnal beauty of the mountains.
It was chilly outside in her cocktail dress, the November air brisk, leaves swirling across the stone floor, but Harley had wanted to take a minute to pause alone against the railing and appreciate the majesty of the mountains and the scene spread out before her. When her friend Eve Monroe had invited her to the wedding she had been reluctant to attend initially, knowing she would feel like an outsider in the racing crowd and being an add-on guest, having met the bride and groom only a few times. But Eve had insisted she needed a plus one, since Eve’s new husband, Nolan, wasn’t able to attend with her, which was actually a plus two because of Harley’s identical twin, Charity, being there as well. Now Harley was glad she had come just to experience the beauty of the estate inside the tent and out.
Besides, the groom had teared up when he had seen his bride appear on the stone steps of the mansion and descend toward him. That was worth the two-hour drive from Charlotte, just to see that love wasn’t the fictional unicorn Charity was convinced it was, and Harley was starting to waver on herself. She didn’t want to be that girl who felt bitter, but she was starting to question why love seemed to come easily for everyone else but her. It felt like the last time she’d been on a date, Christ had been on a potty chair. It had been that long, honest to goodness.
“Do you mind?” a masculine voice asked her, the air shifting as someone stepped in alongside her.
Actually, yes, she did, but that would be rude. Harley turned to give Mr. Whoever a polite smile and instead almost swallowed her tongue when she realized who it was. Cooper Brickman. Playboy driver. Good-looking as sin. The object of many a schoolgirl crush, including her own. And technically it wasn’t a schoolgirl crush, since Harley still got a little weak-kneed every Sunday when Cooper climbed out of his car, and she was way past the classroom.
Now he was standing next to her on the terrace under the fairy lights, wearing a tux. She was no longer cold, that was for damn sure, though her nipples were suddenly standing at attention underneath her dress.
He was holding up a cigar and a lighter, asking her permission to fire it up.
Like she would say no to him. For any reason. Whatsoever. “Sure, go for it.”
“Thanks. I needed a breather. A break from all my dance moves.” He winked at her. “I’m Cooper, by the way.”
As if she didn’t know that. “Harley. Nice to meet you.”
“You, too.” He puffed on his cigar, expensive lighter clicking shut.
Harley thought the stogie reeked like yesterday’s tire-kissed skunk, but she didn’t mind since when the hell was she ever going to get to stand next to Cooper again? Never. That’s when. She could have sex with him via osmosis. He didn’t even have to touch her. It was just enough that there was only six inches between them. It was like a virtual orgasm.
Sneaking a look over at him, she studied his profile. He was gorgeous, with a strong jaw, a narrow nose, rugged shoulders, and dark blond hair falling in his eyes. Beautiful, almost.
“Damn, beautiful, isn’t it?” he asked.
Harley started. “Huh?” Her heart started pounding overtime.
“The estate. I’ve never been here before. It’s amazing.”
Right. The gardens. Not him. Not her. Not this moment. “It is. The mountains are just beautiful. Our room has a view, but I guess every room has a view.”
“Our? You here with your husband?”
She was going to tell herself he cared whether or not she was single. “No. My twin sister.” Eve had gotten her own room because she didn’t like to share. At all.
“Y’all identical?” he asked, looking over at her curiously.
People always wanted to know that. They found the twin concept intriguing, for some reason. She nodded, used to the question. “Physically, yes. Otherwise, not so much.” Charity was the sexy sister. Harley was the serious one. Or at least that was the label everyone slapped on them because Charity was outspoken and fond of displaying her cleavage. Harley preferred the natural look, makeup-free for the most part, and she preferred the girls to remain in her sweater, not catching air and creepy stares.
“I have a sister, too,” Cooper said. “She’s twelve. She just moved in with me and I think she might kill me, honestly. Been driving for twenty years and I have never felt at risk of dying, but it’s this kid that’s going to be the death of me, I’m telling you. It’s stressful as hell to be responsible for another human being.”
“I’m a nanny for a couple of preschoolers,” Harley told him. “I love kids. But I haven’t dealt with any preteens yet. You have my sympathy.”
“I’ll trade ya.”
She laughed. “That only works in reality shows.”
“Damn, so you mean this is real life?” He gave her a grin. “Shit. I’m screwed.”
“I’m sure your sister will settle down. Twelve is a tough age for a girl.” Harley remembered legs that were too long and a sudden painful awareness of boys.
“She’s had it really easy and really hard at the same time,” he said. “That doesn’t sound like it makes sense, but it’s the truth. I want to do right by her. But I don’t always know what I’m doing. Actually, I don’t know what I’m doing at all.”
The laughter had left his voice and Harley heard the sincerity, the worry, in his voice, which she respected. It did her heart good to hear that he cared so much about his sister. To her, he’d always just been the cocky grin jumping out of the 78 car, sexy and confident.
But then he shook his head. “And I have no idea why I am boring you with my troubles. You just have one of those faces. Makes me feel confessional.”
She did. Everywhere Harley went people wanted to overshare with her. The bank teller spilled about her divorce, the dental hygienist confessed to an affair, the man behind her in line at the grocery voiced his fears over his upcoming surgery. She was used to it and didn’t mind, most of the time.
Though she did wish, on occasion, someone would ask her how she was doing. If people would see her as a woman, a potential friend or lover, instead of just a sounding board. That was not going to be tonight, apparently.
Before she could even respond, Cooper continued. “Maybe you could give me some professional advice. Can I grab you a drink and bend your ear?”
Harley could think of many, many things she would rather do with her evening. And many, many things she’d rather do with Cooper Brickman. There was no way she could say no, though. Because it was Cooper Brickman. And the truth was, she probably wouldn’t say no to anyone. It was a problem she had, not saying no. Maybe that was why people shared their TMI with her all the time. They read her correctly that she wouldn’t shut them down.
“Sure, of course. I’d be happy to.” Harley figured she’d be able to gaze at will on the picture of hot he presented in that tux while she murmured appropriate words of understanding for five minutes. Then maybe they could move on from the topic of his sister to the topic of her desire to see him naked.
Forty-five minutes later Harley opened her mouth for the ninth time or so to speak, but Cooper didn’t seem to notice. He was too busy venting what must be about a decade’s worth of anger and anxiety and didn’t seem to require any response other than an occasional nod from her. It was worse than she had expected. It was like any warm body would do, and she was it.
“Our mother is in the south of France with a twenty-two-year-old boyfriend, though I use that term loosely, and my sister is staying with me until she gets back. But you know what will happen, don’t you?”
“No.” She had absolutely no idea whatsoever.
“She won’t come back for months. Mark my words. Who ditches their daughter like that?” Cooper stuck his finger out and lifted his glass of whiskey. “A selfish woman, that’s who. I love my mother, but she doesn’t always have her priorities in order.”
Harley was going to give some kind of pat answer, because she did feel bad for his sister, but Cooper kept talking.
“What if Mary Jane starts her period or something? What am I supposed to do about that?”
“Uh . . .” Harley felt as appalled as he looked. He took another deep, bracing swallow of his whiskey.
“And my housekeeper said she needs a bra, which maybe she does. I don’t know. I’m not going to look! But how the hell do I deal with that? I cannot take her bra shopping. I’m thirty-five. She’s twelve. That’s fucking weird, pardon my language.”
Good Lord. Harley wanted another drink. “It is a little odd. But she’s your sister, not a random kid you have no relation to. It’s perfectly acceptable. Just take her to the store and hand her over to the clerk.”
“That’s all anyone ever does with her—hand her over. No wonder the kid is seeking validation online.” He flagged down a passing waiter. “Can I get another Jack and Coke?” He peeled two twenties out of his pocket. “And a vodka tonic for the lady.”
It would never have occurred to Harley to have the waiter fetch and carry for her. It was an open bar, which to her meant drinks were delightfully free, but you got it yourself. But she wasn’t a rich and famous driver, who had staff, and clearly he expected that if he wanted a drink, he didn’t have to stand up. For a minute Harley was distracted by the thought of what life would be like if she were rich. If Prince Charming really swept her away to a world where she no longer had to be concerned that the sum total of her net worth was seven dollars the day before payday.
“Thanks, man,” Cooper told the waiter with a smile. “I appreciate it.”
Harley appreciated it, too. In fact, that drink couldn’t arrive fast enough. This was surreal and bizarre.
When it did, she sucked her vodka tonic down in record time, though not as fast as Cooper made his whiskey disappear.
He was leaning forward, forearms on his thighs, his knees bumping hers. A casual observer might think they were having an intimate conversation. Which maybe they were, just not the kind of intimacy Harley was looking for.
“Where do you live?” he asked suddenly.
“And you’re a nanny?” he asked, a little longingly.
Oh, no, she saw where this was going. “Yes. I work for a cardiologist and a therapist. They have two boys, two and four.”
“I don’t suppose you’re looking for a new position?”
He gave her a charming smile, one that made her want to kiss him repeatedly and give him everything he asked for. Except for that. There was no way she was going to quit a job she loved to monitor the Internet activity of his tween sister and go on maxipad runs when puberty well and truly hit.
Trying to channel her sister and the fact that Charity would direct the conversation to where she wanted it to go, Harley gave him a smile and went for an innuendo. “It depends on the position. Some I like more than others.”
That was pretty damn good for her.
But Cooper didn’t pick up on the flirt, probably because she sucked at it.
He just frowned. “Technically, I guess it would be considered a nanny position. I know that sounds odd since she’s twelve and that’s a little old for a nanny, but that’s really what she—and I—need.”
Sigh. She tried to give herself a mental pep talk. He was distraught. Possibly drunk. It wasn’t that she had a complete lack of sexual appeal. “No, I’m sorry. I’m quite happy there and I couldn’t leave the boys.”
“Damn. You seem like you’d be great at it.”
Under other circumstances it would be nice to be appreciated for a job well done. Right now, unless that job involved her riding him like the bull down at the Buckle bar, she didn’t need a compliment. She didn’t need polite and professional respect. She wanted to be seen as a sexual feast he couldn’t wait to take a bite of.
“You seem very maternal and stable.”
Yeah. What every twenty-eight-year-old woman in a cocktail dress wants to hear.
Suddenly Harley felt monstrously depressed.
It was the same old story. She was a scullery maid in the eyes of every man under fifty.
Even the fact that he was good looking wasn’t making up for the fact that her ass was going numb from sitting stiffly in the chair on the edge of the dance floor or that her stomach was growling from hunger, her lips chapped. She desperately needed to use the restroom as well since she’d sucked down the two vodka tonics he’d gotten her, but wasn’t sure how to interrupt him without sounding like a jerk or like she was trying to ditch him.
Which was just the most hilarious of ironies. Her trying to ditch Cooper Brickman? Not how she imagined the evening going if she ever had his hotness all to herself. But even his muscles couldn’t alter the fact that her bladder was going to burst, and she felt about as desirable as Mrs. Doubtfire. She just wanted to pee, then hit the dessert table for some sugary comfort.
When “Single Ladies” came blaring out from the speakers and the DJ announced the bride was about to throw her bouquet, Harley lifted her head. If she knew her sister, she would be out there knocking down every bridesmaid she could for the honor of having a random man feel up her leg for the garter deposit. Charity had no interest in the men or marriage; she just wanted to win. Plus possibly prove that catching a bouquet in no way guaranteed a proposal.
As Imogen, slim and elegant in her lace gown, moved to the front of the stage area, Harley’s sister didn’t let her down, appearing out of nowhere and grabbing her.
“Come on! Single ladies, front and center. That means you, Harley!”
As she tugged her arm and Harley stood with an apologetic look at Cooper, her sister realized who she was talking to. “Oh. Hello. Are you going to be vying for the garter, handsome?”
Cooper, who had been earnest and serious, suddenly looked like a rooster let loose in the henhouse. He gave Charity a sly smile. “I hadn’t planned on it, but if you catch the bouquet I may have to rethink that.”
Seriously? Harley got him telling her about his concern over his sister’s impending puberty, and Charity got flirty Cooper? What the hell was fair about that? They looked exactly the same. They were identical twins.
She clearly had no sex appeal. Zero. Less than zero. Negative sex appeal.
Annoyed, she didn’t even try to catch the bouquet, preferring to stay a bit clear of the melee, sneaking side glances at Cooper, who was watching Charity. Unfortunately, watching Cooper meant she wasn’t watching the bouquet.
It hit her in the head.
Then bounced off and fell right into the hands of her twin, who let out a whoop of triumph.
Damn it all anyway.
* * *
COOPER had no idea what had just possessed him to jaw Harley to death for the last forty-five minutes. He never talked about his personal life with strangers. He didn’t even talk about his personal life with friends. But he was really worried about Mary Jane, and Harley just seemed so compassionate, he had found himself blurting out all manner of random and embarrassing shit. He suspected he was drunk.
Okay, he knew he was drunk.
When he got back to Charlotte he was going to have to send her flowers or chocolates as a thank-you for letting him monopolize her for half the wedding. Damn, the poor girl had probably been dying to dance or hit the dessert buffet and he’d been holding her hostage. Normally his manners were a little more polished when it came to the ladies, so he didn’t blame her for dashing off with her sister the minute she appeared. But what was crazy was that his reaction to her twin was totally different. He didn’t feel like confiding in Charity. He felt like flirting.
How could two women who looked identical inspire totally different responses from him?
And how could he be so fucking shallow?
Of course, they weren’t identical, not really. Harley had met his gaze with concern and sympathy. Charity had given him a sassy smile. Charity was also more in-your-face with a tighter dress, breasts on display and glowing with some kind of unnatural bronze glitter, her hair teased up pageant style. She was currently fist-pumping and vying for domination on the dance floor. Harley’s hair was more controlled, and while her dress was very similar to her sister’s, both a blue that complemented their eyes, her chest was more contained. But mostly it was her demeanor that was more contained. She hovered around the fringe, observing, and Cooper felt weird and conflicted about the whole thing.
It was distressing to realize that if you shook boobs in his face, he was that easily distracted. He was too old for that, or so he had thought. Yet now he couldn’t stop looking over at the dance floor and thinking he really would love to feel the warm slide of a woman’s skin against his.
The twins were both attractive, obviously, and truthfully, Harley was the type who actually interested him as the complete package, but she fell squarely in the nice-girl camp, and he felt like it would be in seriously poor taste to hit on her after she had listened to him blather on and on. On the other hand, it wasn’t right to flirt with her sister either. Charity was like Harley on sexy steroids and that was appealing, he wasn’t going to lie, because she was the kind of woman looking for a little fun, not much else. Harley was the girl you put a ring on, or at least settled into a relationship with, and he wasn’t exactly fit for a relationship at the moment. His plate was piled pretty high. With crap.
It had been a shitty year. He’d had a piss-poor season, with his worst finish in ten years. His mother’s defection, yet again, with no understanding that her boy toy was a mooch, plain and simple, and that by taking off she hurt her daughter. Then there was Mary Jane herself and her habit of trolling the Internet twenty-three hours a day and buying all manner of crap online. Every damn day the postman was ringing the bell with a mystery package for MJ and she wouldn’t talk to him about it. She cloistered herself in her room, and it terrified him, he was not afraid to admit. She could be buying shrunken heads from Peru or One Direction blow-up dolls for all he knew, and he wasn’t sure which was scarier.
So while yesterday he would have said that he was way too goddamn old for drunken wedding hookups, today that didn’t seem like such a bad thing. Okay, so maybe not an actual hookup, because that might be pushing a boundary or two, but a little harmless flirting. Was the distraction of a pretty woman so wrong? Didn’t he deserve a break from reality?
Charity caught the bouquet, after it nailed Harley in the head. Cooper thought maybe that entitled her to the claim on it, but Charity seemed determined to keep the prize. Harley didn’t look like she cared one way or the other and beelined for the back of the tent.
He was on the fence about joining the bachelors or being mature and skipping the whole thing, when Ty, the groom, pointed at him. “Get out there, Brickman. You’re next to take the plunge, you know. You’re the last bachelor on the circuit over thirty.” Ty had taken his jacket off and he was grinning, hadn’t stopped grinning since the minute he’d said “I do.”
Cooper was happy for him, but that didn’t mean he wanted to get married himself. He figured he was like wine—he’d be better with age. Once he retired and had more time to devote to not screwing things up with a woman, he would. But he’d play along and get out there for the garter toss. What was the worst that could happen? He’d be forced to put a garter on Charity’s leg. Hurt him.
“Just because you fell for this marriage con doesn’t mean I will,” he said to Ty, clapping him on the shoulder. “But I have no objection to showing all these young punks how to do this thing.”
“I’m counting on you to be thoroughly tacky just on principle,” Ty said. “Imogen was adamantly opposed to the whole bouquet-and-garter thing. It’s outdated and sexist, according to her.”
“It is,” Imogen said dryly, coming up behind her new husband.
Ty jumped. “Damn, you move like smoke, Emma Jean.”
“One of my many talents.” She linked her arm through his. “But far be it from me to deny your male friends the opportunity to jostle each other for domination. Just tell whoever catches it not to fondle Charity. I’m sure she doesn’t want a stranger’s hands all over her thighs. The ritual really has its basis in pagan fertility rites, but I don’t want to encourage conception at my reception.”
Ty made a face at Cooper. “Yeah. What she said.” Then he turned back to his wife. “But I think you’re naïve in assuming the ladies don’t want to be fondled. Probably eight out of ten are vying for a grope. It’s a wedding. Everyone wants to get lucky.”
“I know I do,” Cooper said with a grin, because he did, and it was the expected answer.
“You’re not a lady, idiot.”
“Hey, I have a feminine side.”
Ty snorted. He kissed Imogen’s forehead. “It’s showtime. I have to aim this thing right for Brickman.”
Cooper wasn’t sure he really wanted to catch the garter, but he was just competitive enough that now he felt obligated to make it happen. The competition wasn’t stiff. At a wedding with two hundred guests, it was clear they had reached the age bracket where every male was either married or from the next generation of cousins and nephews and still in their teens. Ty was right. Cooper was damn near the only bachelor left between twenty-five and forty years old. There were a few ballsy dudes in their fifties out there, clearly having spotted the legs on Charity. The rest were young, including a precocious ten-year-old. Where the hell was that kid’s mother? Cooper’s sister was at home, where children should be, damn it.
At home, on the Internet. Doing God only knew what.
Shit. He wanted another drink.
Instead, he elbowed Carl Hinder, the owner of Hinder Motors, out of the way and snagged the garter when Ty tossed it. “Hah. Eat that, Carl,” he told him with a grin.
That might have been his biggest earliest indicator of how truly drunk he was, given that Carl was a heavy hitter in the industry and someday might be his boss if he ever wanted to change teams. The other might have been that he found it necessary to toss back the drink the waiter brought him before he swaggered onto the dance floor to place the garter on Charity’s leg.
Third, it was possible he went higher under the blue dress than he intended. The thought was to edge just past the knee and call it quits, but his maneuver had more speed than finesse, and suddenly Charity was grabbing his hand and stopping him, a look of alarm on her face.
“Whoa! Keep it PG-13, big guy. This isn’t a sex club. Imogen’s grandparents are here.”
While he found it hard to believe anyone in their eighties hadn’t had their share and then some of sexual encounters, he knew Charity was right. This wasn’t prom, it was a classy wedding at a beautiful venue, and hadn’t he just said he was too old to behave like that? “Sorry, didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I think I may have been hitting the Jack a little too hard.”
Standing up, he held a hand out to her to assist her off the chair, while the reception-goers all cheered. There might have been a few catcalls and snickers as well, so he figured the best way to defuse the situation was to acknowledge it. He turned to the crowd and gave a grin and a shrug to show he’d been thoroughly rejected. Everyone gave a chuckle, though he saw Imogen’s mother giving him a dirty look. Whoops. The art gallery owner from Manhattan was unimpressed with him. But hey, he never claimed to be anything more than a country boy at heart, despite all the dollars in his bank account.
“Can I get you a drink?” he asked Charity, figuring he should make amends.
“No, I’m fine, thanks.” She tapped him on the chest with the floral bouquet and gave him a smile. “Nice to meet you, Brickman. Keep it off the streets.”
She walked away.
Just walked away.
Yeah. Shitty year. Check.
* * *
CHARITY McLain was totally ticked off, her cheeks feeling hot from the embarrassment of having Cooper Brickman treat her like a two-dollar hooker. She stomped over to her sister and tossed the bouquet down, announcing, “Just because a man has money does not mean he can mine for gold in front of two hundred people. These damn drivers are all far too used to getting their way. I feel like a piece of meat.”
Harley blinked up at her, startled. “It’s just a tacky tradition, Char. I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it.”
She slid into the seat next to her twin and stole a bite-size brownie off Harley’s plate. “That’s because you work with cute kids who both adore you and respect your authority. I work for a nineteen-year-old driving wonder who thinks he’s God’s gift and uses every chance he gets to make it clear that he has a penis and I have a vagina.” She bit the brownie hard and spoke around it. “Though I bet his penis is small. Really small. Like pencil dick.”
“If you hate your job with Roger you can look for another one.”
That was Harley for you. Being rational.
Charity just wanted to vent.
Most days she didn’t mind her job as a handler for a cup series driver, because she actually liked being bossy and in charge, and working for Roger afforded her many opportunities to treat him like the obnoxious brat he was, but she did want to command respect. It was annoying that because a girl liked big hair and red nails, no one took her seriously. Tonight alone, she’d had her butt pinched, her lower back massaged by a seventy-year-old, and Cooper Brickman sliding his hand up her inner thigh like she’d dropped the flag and let him at it. It didn’t matter that he was good looking or rich. He didn’t know her at all.
“You don’t understand. Everyone treats you with dignity. I get treated like a hussy because I choose not to hide my body.”
“At least men pay attention to you,” Harley said. “I’m like this tablecloth.” She gestured to the linens. “No one notices me. Later on no one will be able to tell you what color this tablecloth is. That’s me. No one remembers me. Not once does a man look at me and want to have sex with me.”
“But you know a man likes you for you.” Grumble, grumble. She had thought this wedding was going to be fun, but now her feet hurt and she felt like she and Harley were having the same discussion they’d had a million times, with no resolution. “I confess Brickman just tipped me over the edge. When I went to order a cocktail, I forgot what’s in a Manhattan, the signature drink they’re serving in honor of Imogen’s family, and I asked the bartender. I was repeating it back to him and I mispronounced ‘vermouth’ by total accident, and do you know the guy next to me mistook me for Nikki Strickland?”
It had been horrifying. No one wanted to be mistaken for Nikki, who had more shoes than brain cells, at least not anyone Charity knew or wanted to know.
“Yes. This dude told his friend that you can’t expect beauty and brains to go hand in hand. I just tripped on my tongue! I’m not an idiot. And I am no Nikki Strickland. I have a job, for one thing.”
“I guess it could be considered a compliment,” Harley said.
Charity stared at her sister in amazement. “Are you drunk? How?”
“She weighs like two pounds. It makes me feel better about chowing on these desserts since we’re the same size.”
Charity snorted. “You know, I’m surprised Imogen hasn’t invited us to be a case study for her sociology thesis on the effects of hair and makeup on men.”
Harley laughed. “Don’t even suggest it.”
Wait a minute. Just hold the freaking phone. “I have an idea. Let’s twin-swap, right now. You’ll see what I’m talking about.”
Harley raised her eyebrows. “Are you insane? We haven’t done that since high school and it was a total disaster every time.”
There had been an incident where Harley had taken Charity’s spot in detention in exchange for Charity flirting with Robby Newcomb pretending to be Harley to get her a date for homecoming. But Harley had been too efficient at doing Charity’s homework under incarceration, and Charity had been a little too efficient in flirtation, and there had been accusations of cheating all the way around. Not pretty.
But they were older, savvier now.
Just once, Charity wanted the respect that Harley enjoyed from men, even if it was under false pretenses. Plus she was bored. It would certainly serve as entertainment for the rest of the night.
And she knew just how to talk her twin into it. “We’re at a wedding. It will be fun. Let’s just go in the bathroom, change dresses, slap some lipstick on you, and see what happens. I can’t wait to see you trying to fend off Cooper Brickman.”
Harley had a crush on Cooper and it didn’t take a twin connection to see that. There was no way Harley would be able to resist the idea of him hitting on her.
Harley sat up straighter.
Bingo. Charity had her.
But then she shook her head. “This is really a bad idea.”
She waved her hand. “Whatever. I’ve had worse.” Like dyeing her hair black in eighth grade. “This is totally going to make this weekend suck less.”
Her sister bit her lip, a sign she was wavering. “He called me maternal and stable.”
Yikes. Charity instantly felt bad for her. “Screw that. Show him the sassy side of Harley. Make him see you as a woman.”
Harley put down her brownie, her expression suddenly fierce. “You’re right. I can do this. I’m not a tablecloth. Cooper Brickman is going to remember me, damn it.”
The wedding was about to get a whole lot more interesting.
Especially since she’d spotted Jeff Sterling, the team owner who she thought was hot with a capital H who had never shown her the time of day. He always looked at her like he expected her to suddenly jump onto a pole and start working it. He went for understated women. Like Harley.
Who Charity was about to become for the evening.
IT was a weird experience to be Charity. Harley felt naked, first of all, and she was well aware of the half-dozen pairs of male eyes that swung in her direction when they walked back into the tent, past the bar. She was also struggling a bit to achieve that confident strut her sister had mastered, but at the same time it was an awesome feeling to be able to be so brazenly sexual and yet no one knew it was her. With each step she took, she felt more comfortable in the heels that were a good two inches higher than her own, the short skirt allowing so much cool air up under the skirt that it automatically made her aware of her girl bits, which in turn made her want to display how sexual she was feeling. So her hips started to move more easily, and her chin came up.
She found herself making bold eye contact with the men who were checking her out, staring them down. Some quickly looked away, obviously embarrassed or ashamed, but two others acknowledged her, one giving her a grin and a wink, the other letting his eyes roam over her legs. He twirled his finger in a gesture for her to turn around, his lusty gaze appreciative. Harley raised an eyebrow at him and shook her head, not wanting to encourage him and his outrageous assumption.
But for once, she wanted to be thought of as sexy, not maternal. At work, she could be maternal. At a wedding she wanted to be a single woman, a sultry, sexy single woman who could make the driver she had fantasized about for years want her. Granted, it meant Cooper actually wanted her sister, not her, but if she was Harley with him when he wanted Charity, even though he thought she was Charity, she was still Harley, so didn’t he by default actually want her?
Yeah. Think that one through a few times and learn the definition of rationalization.
It was probably flawed logic, but then so was using hot wax to remove body hair and she did that every single month.
Funny how she was aware of Charity next to her but could tell that eyes were on her, not her sister. Male gazes were drawn to cleavage and short skirts, not sensible sweaters over conservative dresses. Which she knew, of course, since she was usually the one being ignored, but it was an odd perspective, both exciting and unpleasant. She didn’t like being objectified, and it annoyed her that Charity constantly was, but at the same time, she couldn’t deny there was something ego-boosting about the attention.
It was the ultimate paradox—how did you achieve interest without it becoming smarmy?
Harley had never had that problem. She was used to being indignant on her sister’s behalf, and she knew that Charity tolerated a lot of ego on a daily basis in her job as handler at the track, but Harley never experienced that attention herself. She had to admit she was willing to overlook a little macho swagger just once if it came from Cooper. Because it might be her only shot at a decent story to tell her grandkids someday. I flirted with Cooper Brickman at a wedding. Okay, it wasn’t much of a brag, but it was more than she had at the moment. Her arsenal of scandalous stories was nonexistent.
Maybe Charity was right and this was something of a social experiment.
She could be Cinderella tonight if she chose to be. The quiet and plain nanny who got to flirt with the prince of stock car racing.
It would be liberating, thrilling. If she could pull it off.
Her eyes landed on Cooper, sitting at the bar, his gaze fixed on her. She felt the heft of his lustful appreciation from across the room, and immediately her body responded to the intent in his eyes. But then he glanced behind her, at Charity being her, and his expression changed, became respectful. For a second it gave her pause, but then he was undressing her with his eyes again and her panties went damp and all rationale went out the door.
“Play it cool,” Charity said from behind her. “Let him come to you. And remember, I just blew him off on the dance floor over the garter thing, so if you’re being me, which you are, give him a dirty look.”
She wasn’t sure she even knew how to do that. Harley wrinkled her nose up and did a sharp turn to the right, breaking eye contact. Okay, that was the worst expression of disdain ever, but she was a novice. She’d been born with the people-pleaser gene. Blowing someone off was foreign to her.
“Oh, let’s get more desserts,” Charity said, pointing to the burgeoning dessert buffet. “They cleared your plate from before. Damn efficient waiters. I hate to think that those brownies went to waste.”
Harley blindly grabbed a plate and threw everything within reach on it. Her heart was racing and she felt odd, like her insides had been inflated. That look on Cooper’s face. Damn. If chocolate was a substitute for sex then she was going to have to stuff her face, because he had basically caused her ovaries to explode just from that one hot glance. If she didn’t find something to fill her, it was going to be ugly.
“I can’t do this,” she told Charity, panicking.
Her sister gave her a stern look. “Did you see that look he gave you? Girl, just have another vodka tonic and get your flirt on. I’m going to have an intellectual discussion with the bride’s mother about the modern art movement and enjoy being taken seriously.”
Harley tugged at the dress bodice. She was sure any second her breasts were going to spring forth and she would wind up online under “Embarrassing Wedding Photos: The Nipple Edition.”
“Stop touching your dress.”
“Stop pressuring me!” Harley shoved a tart in her mouth and wished some of its bite would rub off on her.
* * *
COOPER was losing his charm along with everything else this year.
The whole night was a disaster. First he’d stressed about his sister getting her period to Harley, then he’d groped Charity and she’d reprimanded him like he was a kid with his hand in the cookie jar. Which, he supposed he had been, in a sense.
Maybe it was time to scrape his manhood off the floor and head back to his room at the inn. But he got waylaid by Carl and some of the other guys and it was forty minutes before he broke free, though it did give him time to suck down a water and combat some of the effects of the whiskey. He made eye contact with Charity once, when she strolled past the bar looking like she owned it and every man sitting there. Which, if the appreciative gazes from the men left and right were any indication, she did.
It just made him feel even shittier.
At some point Cooper had torn his tie off, so he went wandering in search of it, planning to pack it in for the night. Harley was at the table with a plate of macaroons in front of her. His tie was lying next to her little purse. At least he thought it was Harley. His first gut instinct was that it was definitely her, but then he started to doubt that because she had the bouquet Imogen had thrown and Charity had caught, and she was wearing a dress that was pushing her assets up further than he remembered an hour ago. Her smile as he approached also seemed a little sassy to be Harley, but then again, would Charity smile at him at all?
He doubted it.
Plus, her eyes . . . something about the sincerity in them said Harley to him.
Damn, he was just altogether too drunk for the identical-twin thing. It was messing with his head.
“Harley, right?” he asked as he sat down next to her. “I’m ninety percent sure, but before I start talking and make a bigger ass out of myself than I already have tonight, I want confirmation.”
She leaned toward him and licked the cream off of a macaroon, the tip of her tongue sliding into the pink meringue in a way that made him shift uncomfortably in his chair. Jesus.
“You had a fifty-fifty chance of being right,” she told him. “But you’re wrong. I’m Charity.”
This night had gone from bad to worse to naughty.
He should walk away. He really should.
“I apologize again for taking it a little too far on the dance floor,” he said, tossing his hair out of his eyes. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”
That pink tongue got a tiny dot of cream off her bottom lip, thoroughly distracting him. “I didn’t object to the direction your hand took, Cooper, just the setting we were in.”
Hello. Not at all the reaction he was expecting, given how annoyed she had looked. Maybe the night wasn’t such a bust after all. “Is that right?”
If you don’t ask . . .
“So. If we were in private, we could try that again? Or should I say, I could try that again, with more pleasurable results for both of us?”
It wasn’t a no.
Which meant he didn’t see himself going to bed anytime soon. At least not alone. He’d always liked a challenge, damn it. It was what drove him year to year in his career, what kept him in shape, what made life exciting. Sometimes made it a little dangerous.
It was a little dangerous to be flirting with Charity at McCordle’s wedding.
Not a huge risk, but potentially an entanglement he didn’t need right now.
But he’d feel her out, see if she was the kind who understood that a few hours of fun at a wedding didn’t translate into anything more the next day.
“Dance with me?” he asked, as a slow baby-making song came over the speakers.
“Is that a thinly veiled excuse to touch me inappropriately on the dance floor again?”
The words were teasing, but her expression wasn’t. If he wasn’t mistaken, that was lust written on her face, not as a seasoned flirt would show it, but as a raw, naked desire.
It punched him in the gut and had his dick going hard.
Cooper held his hand out to her, hoping she would say yes. Willing her to. “I wasn’t planning to put my hand up your skirt, no. Unless you’d like me to. Then I think we should arrange to do that somewhere in private.”
Suddenly his thought to just flirt with Charity, convince her he wasn’t a lecherous wedding guest, was overshadowed by his lecherous-wedding-guest thoughts. He was still buzzed and it had been a few months since he’d last shared his bed with a woman.
That suddenly felt like a very, very long time. An eternity. The stress of Mary Jane moving in, his disappointing year, his mother, it all had been weighing him down. But now he might have an opportunity to escape his crowded thoughts for the rest of the night.
“Don’t get ahead of yourself,” she said. “Let’s just see how you move first.”
“Is this a test?” When she accepted his hand, he stroked the warm flesh of her palm with his thumb and led her onto the dance floor. “To see how much rhythm I have?”
“I don’t think swaying to R&B requires rhythm.” She gave him a rueful look, but she did let him pull her close against his body, her breasts brushing his chest.
“So you’re staying with your sister?” he asked, then immediately regretted it. He still felt odd about the mind freak of Harley and Charity looking nearly identical. He was attracted to both of them, clearly, and that made him uncomfortable. So he wanted to ignore that fact.
She nodded. “We get along well. So I guess you’re staying here at the inn?”
It was polite conversation, nothing more, and Cooper nodded, distracted by her eyes. She had the kind of eyes that hinted at hidden thoughts, unspoken words, a compassion that belied the sassy tilt of her head. A paradox. It was both appealing and confusing.
“Yes. I have a suite with a Jacuzzi tub and a mountain view.”
“A suite? Fancy.”
“Would you like to see it?” he asked, leaning down to murmur in her ear, his hands low on the small of her back. He found that he didn’t want to talk. He’d done enough of that earlier, boring Harley with his worries. He wanted to move his mouth over Charity’s and explore all the curves of her body until his mind was empty of everything but the feel of her beneath him.
Her hands came up to his chest and she scratched her nails lightly across his shirt. “You don’t waste any time, do you?”
“It’s almost midnight. Another couple of hours they’ll be shooing us out of here. I’m just trying to make sure an opportunity doesn’t pass me by.”
The song ended and transitioned into a fast-paced pop song. He hoped she didn’t expect him to dance to that, because he was drunk, but not that drunk. But she just gave him a smile and said, “I want another drink.”