Computer specialist Lucy Gunter was determined to uncover the blackmailer sending threatening e-mails to a NASCAR driver. She knew that for every dirty little secret, there was always a trail left behind. But exposing the culprit was as difficult as keeping her mind off charismatic Sawyer Branch, whose routine visits to the sick children at the hospital where she worked touched her heart. As she grew closer to Sawyerand edged closer to the identity of the blackmailerLucy sensed that there was far more to Sawyer than met the eye.
Little did she know that Sawyer was hiding something from her and he'd do almost anything to keep her from finding out!
About the Author
Ever since she was in first grade, Michele Dunaway wanted to be a writer. Well, she wanted to be a nun, too, but that quickly passed when she discovered that boys were cute and didn't have cooties. So, while she didn't follow in Sister John Michael's footsteps, the writing dream did stick with her.
Michele typed her first romance stories when she was in high school. Using an old green manual typewriter with a bad ribbon, Michele wrote love stories in which the girls on her street married the cute boys in the neighborhood. She still has those romance novels, in the memory box in her basement.
In 1988 Michele set a goal at her five-year high school reunion, which was to publish a romance novel by the year 2000.
After the birth of her children, Michele returned to writing. While she authored three professional journal articles, and compiled the Journalism Education Association Middle/Junior High Curriculum Guide, it wasn't until August of 1999 that Michele learned she had sold her first novel to Harlequin American Romance.
Writing for Harlequin has always been Michele's dream, and she made her first sale after pitching the manuscript to an editor at the RWA national convention. As Michele is fond of saying, if you work hard enough, dreams really do come true.
Michele still teaches and writes and you can reach her at P.O. Box 45, Labadie, MO 63055.
Read an Excerpt
"Hi, race fans. I'm Guy Edwards and, along with Malcolm French, we'd like to welcome you to Friday's edition of 'NASCAR A.M.,' live from Richmond. Today teams are busy preparing for tonight's NASCAR Nationwide Series race and tomorrow's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race under the lights."
Malcolm smiled. "One of the main concerns for some teams is how their drivers are doing after four months of racing."
"Dean and Kent Grosso and Justin Murphy are off to a rocky start, especially after all three did not finish in Las Vegas and Murphy took forty-first in California," Guy agreed.
"But the season's still young when it comes to Chase points. Another story continues to be the Branch twins," Malcolm said.
Guy nodded. "Imagine having your own father embezzle tons of money from the family business, leaving you virtually penniless and without a sponsor."
"And if that's not bad enough, every passing week brings you one day closer to publication of your father's mistress's tell-all autobiography," Malcolm added.
"I can't imagine driving with that cloud over my head," Guy continued. "Will, who's usually the more erratic of the twins, has been doing better than Bart, who placed fourth at Martinsville and sixth at Texas but hasn't placed higher than twentieth since."
"With predictions on how the Branch brothers will run in Richmond, we turn to Payton Reese with the story."
The camera panned to Payton. "Thanks, Malcolm. I'm here outside Bart Branch's hauler, where he'll be joining us shortly to comment on his performance ."
As Payton Reese began speaking, Lucy Gunter gave herself a little shake and turned away from the television set in the pediatric-cancer ward visitors' lounge. The TV broadcast to no one in particularexcept for Lucy, the room was empty. Tonight, though, the space would be filled as family members of young patients camped out for the night.
The television was on twenty-four-seven.
Not that Lucy cared.
Okay, perhaps that was a big white lie. Despite her recent resolve, she had to admit she was still more than a little interested. NASCAR remained her favorite sport, even before Carolina Panthers football. Give her a Sunday where she had to choose between the two, stock car racing won every time.
She'd been an avid fan ever since her father had taken her to her first race at age eight. That very first autograph from one of her favorite drivers was now preserved in her scrap-book. She'd remembered the awe when he'd signed the photo just last year she'd met that driver again. Now a racing legend, he'd been equally as kind and his wife equally as sweet when Lucy had spoken with them in the garage area.
At that time Lucy had belonged. She'd been an insider, a race car driver's girlfriend.
But this past February she'd put that lifestyle behind her. She'd broken up with Justin Murphy, driver of the No. 448 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car for Fulcrum Racing.
She'd tried everything to make their relationship work, but, like trying to manufacture diamonds from coal, her efforts had been futile. Justin had been a round hole to her square peg. They'd had some great times, but long-term they weren't right for each other. Deep down, that eternal love and commitment Lucy wanted hadn't been there.
In her case, that fantasy of marrying a driver and living happily ever after was not meant to be.
So, as for being up close and personal, being in the garage area and smelling the car exhaust, listening to the shouts of crew members and feeling the vibrations of forty-three engines as they roared to life, she'd been there, done that.
Her friend Tanya may have won a driver's heart, but Lucy's reality would be much different.
No matter how much she missed it.
She was trying to put Justin Murphy and NASCAR behind her. She'd limited her involvement to watching races on TV, but sitting at home was a far cry from experiencing the real thing from the pits.
She jutted her chin and fed her dollar into the soda machine, the real reason she'd entered the lounge. She'd always been a survivor. She'd earned a pretty good promotion this past March. She now supervised the entire hospital computer network. She was a problem solver. So while she loved NASCAR and would never give up watching, she was trying to leave her personal involvement where it belongedthe past. Determined, she changed the channel to a game show and strode from the room, cola in hand.
"So that's your brother, huh?" Johnny Blankenship asked.
Sawyer Branch glanced at the TV, where Payton Reese was interviewing Bart Branch. "Hard to believe, is it?"
Johnny nodded, his body pressed back against the white hospital bed. "He doesn't look a thing like you."
Sawyer laughed. He'd heard that before, possibly more times than he could count. Unlike his brothers and sister with their blond hair, Sawyer's physical attributes were a throw-back to his Greek paternal grandmother. Thus he had black hair, black eyes and a permanently tanned complexion. He stood five eleven; his older twin brothers were six two.
"So you never wanted to race?" Johnny asked.
"Nah." Sawyer shook his head. That had always been his brothers' thing.
"Not even a little?" Johnny pressed. For a fifteen-year-old, he was pretty wise. Sawyer figured having cancer did that to a personmade you grow up fast.
"Maybe a little," Sawyer admitted. "But I wasn't any good at it. Now, Will and Bart, they're naturals."
"And you don't mind?"
At thirty, his brothers were working in their careers. Two years younger, Sawyer had flitted from college to college and had recently finally figured out what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. But he didn't tell Johnny that.
"I think all brothers are a little envious of one another at times. That's normal. And I'm better at math."
"Yeah. My brother gets to play baseball and I don't. It bugs me sometimes. It sucks that life's not fair."
"I agree," Sawyer said, wishing Johnny hadn't been shorted in the life department. Instead of playing baseball or casting fishing lines, Johnny made frequent visits to the hospital. Over the past year Sawyer had been visiting the pediatric ward as part of his doctoral research, and he'd gotten to know the teen well.
"Hi, Brice," Johnny greeted the orderly as he came in with a food tray. Sawyer rose to leave. Usually Johnny's mom arrived during lunch.
"I'll catch you later," Sawyer said before walking out into the hall.
As he walked through the cancer ward, a few nurses and orderlies glanced his way and some greeted him. Sawyer smiled back or gave a quick wave. Since his Ph.D. dissertation involved creating mathematical formulas to predict and manage cancer remission rates, he was a familiar face on the floor.
He rounded a corner and came across Lucy Gunter. He slowed his footsteps as he surveyed the unfolding scene.
"That should finish your upgrade, eliminating your problem," Lucy said to the woman seated at the cancer ward's reception desk. "We'll give it another minute to check everything before I go."
"Thanks. I know you don't usually do this yourself," the nurse said, her expression one of gratitude that her computer had been fixed.
"Oh, it's no problem," Lucy said with a warm smile.
"Kyle's on vacation this week so I'm filling in everywhere that's needed. It gets me out of the office. I rather like the change."
As neither woman had seen him, Sawyer inched back slightly. He'd always admired Lucy, and not just physically. Sure, she was about five six, slender and had the most beautiful shade of strawberry-blond hair, but Sawyer also knew she had brains. She worked at the hospital as a network administrator and he'd heard she had a master's degree in computer application or something like that.
In essence, the few times they'd spoken both at the hospital and at the race track, he'd found her to be articulate and able to hold her own against him. That impressed him a great deal.
However, one of his cardinal rules was that you didn't poach another man's woman, so until recently Lucy had been off-limits.
But now that fate had provided him this perfect opportunity, Sawyer approached the desk at the same moment Lucy straightened. Her blue eyes widened slightly in surprise and then relaxed in greeting. "Hi, Sawyer. Been visiting the kids?"
He nodded and found his voice. For a brief second, he'd thought the cat had his tongue. "Yes. Even though I'm just about finished with my research and have begun putting my dissertation together, I'm admittedly attached to quite a few of them. I was visiting Johnny. So, do you have a minute?" he asked Lucy, nerves suddenly tight. He wanted her to say yes.
"Sure," she said, stepping around the reception desk counter. "What do you need?"
"Here, I'll walk with you," Sawyer said, pushing the button that opened the door that led out of the ward. Just in case she said no and turned down his advance, he certainly didn't want to ask her out in front of everyone. They stepped out about ten feet into the floor's lobby area, which was thankfully deserted of hospital employees.
He found himself nervous, an unfamiliar state. Sure, he knew he was attractivein that classical Mediterranean sense that women seemed to like. He was one hundred seventy pounds of lean muscle that came from running, biking and swimming. Women found him sexy, and the more aggressive ones had no problem telling him so.
But that didn't mean he couldn't be rejected, and that had been happening a lot lately, including by his own father. There had to be something Freudian in that somewhere. He inhaled a breath. They stopped and Lucy smiled tentatively as she waited for Sawyer to explain.
In for a penny
"Do you want to go get some lunch?"
"Lunch?" Lucy parroted. She hadn't been anticipating his question and he'd taken her totally by surprise.
"Yes, lunch," Sawyer repeated. He laughed. "That meal around midday. I thought we could get some pizza?"
She blinked. She had to be standing there like the world's biggest idiot. He waited expectantly. "You mean now?" she clarified, glancing at her watch. She must appear a fool. She hadn't dated since Justin.
"If now works," Sawyer said, and she could read relief in his expression. "I know we don't really know each other and this may seem kind of awkward and out of the blue but "
Lucy shook her head. Stranger things had happened in her world and the word pizza had made her stomach grumble. She'd skipped breakfast.
"I was thinking Sleeter's," he said, and the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich Lucy had packed for the second day in a row paled in comparison. She could eat that for dinner instead.
"I haven't had their pizza in ages. Their deep-dish is the best."
As if on cue, her stomach rumbled and his grin widened. "You sound hungry and we're in agreement on that deep-dish. Just tell me you'll eat more than pepperoni or sausage."
She laughed a little. The few times she'd met Sawyer briefly at the track she'd found him charming. A year ago she'd met one of his dates in the infield restroom at Charlotte. The woman, a local model, had confided that Sawyer was difficult, often getting caught up in his research. Lucy had found herself siding with Sawyer, even though she'd heard later through the NASCAR grapevine that Sawyer had gotten wrapped up in math equations, forgotten to call the woman and that had been that. Lucy hadn't been too impressed with her, anyway.
"So, Sleeter's?" he asked.
Maybe it was the way his black eyes twinkled. Lucy had just determined to stay away from NASCAR. But he wasn't a driver, just his brothers. And a good deep-dish pizza never hurt anyone. Her stomach growled louder. "I don't think there's a pizza topping I've ever disliked. Okay, maybe anchovies. I'll go."
"Great. I'll drive."
His smile widened and Lucy's heart gave a tiny flip. She calmed herself. Down, girl. Nothing but lunch. No big deal. Life post Justin had begun.
Sleeter's was one of those places you went when you were broke in college and loved even years later. The place always felt like home and the menu never changed.
Sawyer pulled up in the parking lot, marveling a bit at his good fortune. She'd said yes. For a moment there he'd had doubts.
After all, his life was a bit of a mess. Aside from a ride in a current-year Corvette, the case could be made that he didn't have a lot to offer.
Some scandal, maybe. A date with a soon-to-be math professor.
He pushed those thoughts out of his mind as he and Lucy ordered a Sleeter's deluxe pizza.
"I like your car," Lucy said.
"My father's guilt gift," Sawyer volunteered. Her expression sympathized but didn't pity. He appreciated that. He'd also appreciated that the car had given him a nice view of her calves as she'd climbed in, the floral skirt she was wearing hiding everything above the knee.
"So your dad really did run off with everything?" Lucy asked. She covered her mouth with her hand and he noticed she wore pink nail polish. "Sorry. It's rude of me to bring that up. You don't even know me so scratch that I asked."
He shook his head. He'd been pretty tight-lipped, but today he felt like talking. If nothing else, he'd find out very quickly if Lucy went running for the hills.
"No, it's okay," he told her. "Everyone asks. Fact is, yes, he pretty much embezzled everything. I get a quarterly allowance, and next installment's not coming."
Her eyes widened. "I'm sorry."
He shrugged. "Don't be. I'm graduating the last week of July, and once my dissertation's presented in June, I'll be officially hired for the State U. teaching job I applied for."
"So you're doing okay, then. As well as you can," Lucy pressed, and Sawyer could tell her curiosity came from genuine concern for people, not just so that she could relay his sad story to others as many wanted to do.
In fact, for the first week after the scandal, several women had hit on him, their concern a front as they probed for information. He'd sent them packing with little to show for their efforts.
"I'm doing fine," he reassured her, fibbing slightly. He refused to doom himself before he got past the starting gate. Besides, he'd have his personal financial matters all cleared up soon, making everything his family worried about a nonissue. All it would take were a few more trips to Vegas and some rendezvous with Lady Luck at the blackjack table.
"Tell me a little more about your Ph.D. project," Lucy asked, switching the subject. "I think you mentioned it to me before. Something about predicting cancer remission rates?"
"Yes." Sawyer hesitated in telling her the rest, reaching for the sweetened iced tea he'd ordered. He'd been declared a math geek too many times over.
"Is there more to it than that?"
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Out of Line by Michele Dunaway Harlequin NASCAR Library Secrets And Legends Series Book 7 Lucy Gunter had hopes of being a NASCAR wife but things didn’t work out with Justin Murphy. Things are looking up though when Sawyer Branch starts showing an interest in her. Maybe she’ll still get her happily ever after. Meanwhile she wants to help her friend Tanya find out who’s been trying to blackmail her fiance Kent Grosso, that is until it’s looking like she may not like the answer. Sawyer Branch is the youngest of four. He’s had a rough few months as his money was cut off when his dad skipped town, their family name is being drug through the mud by his father’s mistress and his family won’t get off his back. They are sure he has a gambling addiction and that he’s going to ruin his twin brothers reputation if he don’t pay his loan off. And no way he is going to tell the girl of his dreams about his debt and how he’s going to pay it off. Of course, the truth always seems to come forward….at the worst of times. The series continues with characters that have been in earlier books. Sawyer has been somewhat of a mystery in the Branch family, not being there for family meetings and seeming not to care what’s going on. Lucy had become invisible when Justin reconnected with Sophia Grosso. Many unsolved issues have been coming along for a ride through this series. The blackmailer will be unmasked from In High Gear but we still have a missing embezzler and no answer to actually had a hand in the deaths of the two Murphy’s that has caused the feud with the Grosso’s. The next book in the series is Hitting The Brakes.
¿Some secrets are never meant to be discovered¿¿ Lucy Gunter is a computer guru, a math wiz, and a NASCAR fan. She¿s also hurting after breaking up with a race driver who she¿d hoped was the one. She tries to swear off everything surrounding the sport, but somethings are easier said than done. When Sawyer Branch asks her to lunch she willingly accepts ¿ after all, he¿s volunteered at the hospital where she works, and though his family is part of NASCAR, Sawyer is a math geek working on his PhD ¿ a polar end of the racing world. But Sawyer has a secret ¿ one that goes deeper than just working on a friend¿s thesis on counting cards in blackjack and using the money to pay off a loan ¿ a loan that if left unpaid would only exacerbate the scandal around his family. A secret that will jeopardize his future with the lovely Lucy. Lucy is falling for Sawyer ¿ he¿s everything and more. But when her friend asks her to use her computer skills to track down an email blackmailer, doubts start to surface. She doesn¿t want to believe he could have anything to do with the horrible threats. But like most secrets, they never stay quiet. Can Lucy open her eyes and keep her heart in tack? Can Sawyer resolve the problems with gambling and save his future without loosing the one person who completes him? Read Michele Dunaway¿s fast paced, thrilling ride around the track of love, loss and redemption!