Stick Shift

 

Stick Shift

 

Lissa Matthews

 

 

Stick Shift

Copyright © May 2010 by Lissa Matthews

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eISBN 978-1-60737-584-5

Editor: Jana J. Hanson

Cover Artist: Croco Designs

Printed in the United States of America

 

Published by

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This e-book is a work of fiction. While reference might be made to actual historical events or existing locations, the names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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* * *

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Chapter One

“So what are you doing next month?”

Lillian 'Lily' Jackson smiled at her friend's excited tone. Candi was up to something, but then, Candi was always up to something. She never slowed down for anything. “Nothing out of the ordinary, why?”

“What do you say you come up to my place in North Carolina? I know money's been tight, and you won't take a vacation because of it.”

Candi was right about that. Money was tight. For a self-employed woman in an average to below-average moneymaking field, money was as tight as it could be.

She loved her work, otherwise she'd have sought out higher-paying employment, but at least her three little jobs made her smile, kept a roof over her head, food in the pantry, and gas in the car. She didn't need much else, and she'd never really been a frivolous person. She wasn't cheap or even frugal, just simple. Simple was the way she liked things, and simple was the way she lived.

Candi was also right in that Lily hadn't been up to visit her friends in at least nine months, maybe more.

“If it will make it more enticing to you, I've got race tickets.”

Oh man. Candi was pulling out the big guns. Her friend knew the one thing Lily wouldn't be able to resist was a chance to go to the stock car races. She loved them, watched them every weekend, and whenever she could afford it, she made the trip from Tallahassee to Daytona for them. She'd not been to a race outside Daytona yet, so… “I'll be staying with you if I come up there?”

“Well, actually yes and no.”

“Yes and no? What aren't you telling me?” Lily looked out the kitchen window into her small backyard. Her herb garden was beautiful this time of year, so bright and green. Spring flowers were in full bloom, and the small pond she'd had installed after her tax refund in March sparkled in the sunshine. She loved her little house, this small haven she'd created for herself. It was quiet, peaceful, just like her.

Well, except when it came to stock car racing. Then she got loud. And rowdy.

“I'm not going to be here, Lil.”

“Where are you going to be if not at home?”

“Italy.”

Lily could see the shocked on her face reflected in the window. “Italy? Why?”

“Remember I told you and Alli back at Thanksgiving that I wanted to take a cooking tour of Italy?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Well, I'm doing it.” She squealed. “I've taken the month off, cashed in part of my 401(k), and I'm going to Italy. Please say you'll come and stay at the house, Lil. I know I can have Alli come over and make sure everything is okay, but since I know you won't take a vacation and get away otherwise… Please? You and Alli can go to the races, I'll know my house is safe, and you'll get some time away to relax.”

“You've really thought this out, haven't you?”

“I have. I've been planning this for months. I leave in five days. What do you say?”

As if she could deny Candi anything.

They, along with Alli, had been friends since grade school. They lived such different lives, but that hadn't changed them or their friendship. They would do anything for her, and she would do anything for them. Besides, what could it hurt going to stay at Candi's house, using her race tickets and hanging out with Alli?

“Okay. I'm in. I'll be there in a couple of days.”

* * *

3

 

“Oh my God! He's signing autographs today!”

Lily turned and was nearly run over by Alli, who was on her way to the front of the gift shop. “Who?”

“Cam Carter,” Alli gushed, grabbing Lily's hand and pulling her toward the gathering crowd. “C'mon. If we hurry, we can get in at the end of the line.”

Lily froze. She'd never been one for celebrity crushes, but she had one on the twenty-five-year-old race car driver. She was certain to make a complete fool of herself if she went anywhere near him, though she was dying to get up close and personal to look into those serious eyes. “You go on. I'll wait out in the car for you.”

“The hell you will! You're coming with me. I dragged you out of bed to give you the grand tour of race shops, and believe me, this is way better than anything I had planned.”

“Seriously, Alli? I've seen the race shops dozens of times, so you didn't have to drag me out of bed.”

“Seriously, Lily. If not for yourself, then for me. Please? You need to come with me and make sure I don't end up making a complete ass out of myself by jumping across the table at him or something.” Alli continued talking a mile a minute, and pulling her toward the line on the far side of the lobby, which was lined from one end to the other with glass trophy cases on one side and floor-to-ceiling windows on the other. They had to do some fancy maneuvering around the two race cars on display but finally found their way to the tail end of the line. “Besides, you know you want to meet him too. And Candi will be so jealous when she finds out.”

Alli had a point. Candi was big Cam Carter fan and would be green with envy when she found out she hadn't gotten to meet him and they had. At the same time, she might get over it more quickly, given that she was in Italy tasting fabulous food and wine while they were stuck stateside.

“He's just a guy, Alli. And you don't even like him all that much. I've been here since mid-April, and you've heckled him during every race we've watched.”

“Oh please, Lil. I do like him. I just…you know, play devil's advocate when he's on the track. He's an in-your-face and up-your-ass, 'get the hell out of my way'

driver. Besides, I don't really have a favorite. I like 'em all. Especially the single ones.”

She had a point. “That's true. There's never been a man you haven't liked. But he's still just a guy. Yeah, sure, he drives a race car…” Lily shrugged. “What's the big deal?”

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Lily looked away from Alli. She knew exactly what the big deal was about Cam Carter. Currently the hottest race-car driver on the circuit, Cam was young, aggressive, and winning. A lot. The fans loved to hate him, and from the crowd gathered in the lobby of the race shop, they loved to love him too. He had it all: fame, fortune, boy-next-door good looks, smarts that rivaled men's twice his age, and the kind of cocky confidence that most women loved. Including her.

Damn, what a package.

“Just a man? Just a driver? You're telling me that if he offered himself to you on a silver platter, you'd look at him and think of him as 'just a guy'? The heckling is all in good fun, and you know I don't mean anything by it. And he's just so yummy, Lil.”

“Yeah, sure, yummy in a robbing-the-cradle kinda way.”

“He's not that young,” Alli said, slanting Lily a sideways glance.

“He's twenty-five. You're thirty-two.”

“That's not a bad age difference. Just because you only date men our age, when you decide to date, that is, doesn't mean the rest of us have limited ourselves.”

“Oh shut up and get over there before you miss your chance.”

Alli grinned. “Right. Come on.”

Lily sighed. Watching Cam as he smiled and laughed and chatted with the people gathered around, she smiled to herself. The truth was, she found him 5

 

incredibly cute, and his charisma was just plain hard to resist. She was a fan, a huge fan, but would only dare admit it to herself, unless she was at a race, and then she kept it purely race related, grinning at the gibes thrown out at him from those around her. How would it look for a woman her age to be openly lusting after a man so much younger? It wasn't Alli she needed to be worried about. It was herself.

Looking at him did funny things to her, and she wouldn't even think about the fantasies he'd inspired. Her insides were having a freakin' parade. She'd never met any celebrity before, and though most people outside the racing community didn't know his name, race fans—hundreds of thousands of race fans—knew exactly who he was.

Before she knew it, she and Alli were up next, and Lily's heart kicked up speed. Damn, but the man had great eyes, and his smile… Her belly flipped, then flopped to be so near to that smile.

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