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Downshift, Gear 1, is HERE!

When a lonely dirt bike champion is injured, it puts him on a crash course with a determined redhead nurse. But she is desperate to deny this daredevil into her heart. Can they help the other escape their lonely lives or are they destined to race from their hearts for all seasons?
J.T. is one of the top dirt bike champions in the US. With sponsors and races filling his calendar, he should be happy in his success. But until his ten year contract is up, he’s tied to the controlling and thieving management of his father.
Kelsey’s responsibilities are crashing around her. The only way to get ahead is to get a job that pays more and with impossibly specific benefits. If she can’t succeed, her dreams will fade like her grandmother’s memories.
An accident thrusts J.T. into Kelsey’s care. She accepts his proposal and challenges him for a price. But when their emotions and attractions get in the way of their mutual goals, they need to choose which is more important – their hearts or their dreams?
***
Chapter 1
JT
The clutch stuck. JT shifted on his seat to avoid squirreling to the side of the track or into another race. Another ride, probably Blake, clipped his right handlebar.
Come on. JT squeezed, released, and squeezed again, but his Honda refused to respond. He was fast losing his spot in first, hell, his chance to place at all.
The cacophony of roaring engines surrounded him, vibrating from under his jersey to his helmet. Even muffled, the thrum filled his body. In the short second everything happened, JT remembered to breathe.
Pop the gears down into first, and then… he closed his eyes and released his clutch. The bike jerked forward and JT pulled hard on the throttle. He snapped his fingers tight and jerked his left foot up to fourth as fast as he could. That last side crunch on a jump had messed with his cable, or something, messed with the mechanical aspects of his bike.
A full bike-length behind fifth place when he entered the whoops, bumps on the trail that demand skill to cross over, JT took the corner at full speed. Idiot. Once again, he had to downshift or lose his balance in the curve.
Blake’s blue and gold helmet weaved in and out, popping up when he hit the triples and nailed all three slopes. He disappeared again past the tabletop.
JT’s breathing sped up. He had to catch Blake. If Mac won, fine, but Blake couldn’t beat JT. Not again.
This season had to be different. It had to be.
Someone on a Kawasaki cut in front of JT, roostered around him, and crested the first plateau. The mud and rocks peppered JT’s jersey and pinged on the plastic of his bike.
A tangled milieu of bikes and riders covered the course thirty yards in, just feet from the finish line.
Back far enough to observe the mess, JT throttled over a fallen bike’s rear tire. He grinned when he recognized the bike’s gold Fox emblem. Ah, Blake. Down this time.
As the checkered flag waved through the thunderous applause of the crowd and cameras flashed, JT downshifted and cruised toward the two bikers who’d finished before him – Mac and a rookie. There weren’t many things more annoying than to be considered old when other kids JT’s age were just finishing college.
Distant roars echoed off the stadium walls, mixing with the droning crowd. Unclipping his helmet, JT slid it from his head. “Mac, glad you made it!” he yelled as he thrust his chin upward at one of his best friends.
Mac leaned across his handlebars and shook JT’s outstretched hand. “Hey, man. Great race. Was that Blake down again? Where the hell are the rest of the riders?”
JT wiped his sleeve across his damp forehead. “Yeah, that was Blake, alright. Punk passed me after I thudded off the whoops. Messed up my clutch. Karma, right? Here they come now.” He pointed at the stragglers coming into the fielding area.
A rider decked in orange and a healthy layer of brown mud brushed at his jersey. Another in yellow pushed his bike down the incline, the handlebars hanging at an angle.
One hand steadying his bike and the other resting on his leg, JT pasted a fake smile on his face when Blake’s Yamaha came into view. Pushing the bike, Blake clenched his helmet over the side handle and glared at JT.
“What the hell was that? My rear tire’s bent now ‘cause of you, prick,” Blake groaned.
The fact that he’d reclaimed third place helped JT maintain his good mood. “Hey, good race, Blake. Maybe next time, yeah?”
JT ignored the urge to flip off his friend. Only during the season was it hard to remember they loved both riding and each other. Exhaust filled the air, the sweet smell of Maxima two-stroke oil wafting just under the high octane of the four-strokes, announcing Eva’s arrival.
Mac’s sister only rode two-strokes for practice, but raced four-strokes. She was the only girl that practiced with the pro circuit. Too many girls tried, but zero held their spots with the men.
She pulled up and parked next to Mac in time to witness him call JT and Blake to task.
Mac held up his hand. “Alright, boys, that’s enough. Blake, your manager’s over there. Go grab your replacement and get to the awards area. JT and I will go around for interviews and meet you there.”
“Pssh. Your captain is showing.” Blake growled, but managed a smile, He glanced at Eva as he smoothed his shoulder-length dark brown hair back from his face. His solid jaw and dark eyes sobered as he watched Mac and his sister.
Mac had been voted as their leader a long time ago. About the time they’d all crept into the woods to face the werewolves together. Mac had been the only one smart enough to bring a flashlight and not run screaming from the forest when an owl hooted. Eva had laughed the entire time they’d been shaking in the mud room, huddled around the fire.
JT smothered the grin he wanted to throw at Blake. He’d get interviewed while Blake had to clean up and watch. “Yeah, you need to do what the boss says.”
Blake’s glare could bubble the graphics on JT’s Honda. Chuckling, JT glanced around for his father who acted as his manager. Relief stole through him at the man’s welcome absence.
“Stop baiting him, JT.” Mac tossed his helmet into his dad’s open arms.
Mac’s father, Brian Hudson, acted as his son’s manager as well, but he didn’t tie Mac into a contract or take three times his cut of pay.
“Hey, Dad, do you have any more of the Pepsi caps? I’m heading up to interview.” Mac pulled a wristband from his pocket and wrapped it on his right wrist. The logo of one of his sponsors prominent on the wide leather strip.
“I have some.” Eva pulled off her backpack and withdrew a flat brimmed cap from the pocket. “Don’t tilt it to the side this time. You looked like an idiot.” She handed over the hat and glanced after Blake and the group of women following him for an autograph.
“Yeah, and don’t forget to drink this and hold it. The last shot wasn’t really clear and the sponsor wasn’t really pleased.” Brian held up his son’s can of pop and smiled at JT. “Good race, Josiah. It looked like your clutch was sticking. Did you smash your handlebar when you landed off that double?”
“Yes, sir. I must have hit the jump at the wrong angle.” JT cranked on the bar and shrugged. He didn’t want to admit that he’d most likely gotten cocky and relaxed into the jump instead of being ready.
“Have your dad take a look, if your pit crew won’t do anything.” Brian poked Mac. “Get goin’, son. First place waits for no man.”
He one-arm hugged Mac, smiling at him with genuine affection. Something JT didn’t remember ever getting from his own father.
Blond hair stuffed under a dark blue Pepsi baseball hat, Mac gripped the can and slid off his bike. “Thanks, Dad. Ready, JT?”
JT wiped at the mud splatters on his jersey. It wasn’t the first time he’d wished Mr. Hudson was his dad. His own father’s notorious tardiness was usually due to ogling the card holders and crowd teasers. JT waved to a pit member loitering by the gates and left his bike with him to be returned to the loading area.
Paraphernalia would be nice to display, but JT had set up his sponsors to pay for plastering his jersey and bike with logos and ads, rather than count on his dad to bring the stuff he needed for interviews. He did wear an LBZ bandana under his helmet to hold his long hair back from his face, but it fell back often and didn’t always stick where it was supposed to. He’d never let his hair get longer than nape of the neck. He couldn’t cut it short like he wanted to, or he’d miss a huge opportunity to piss off his dad.
The trophy area and media stage had been mashed together at the north end of the arena. Bulbs flashed and the attention hungry waited to descend like vultures. Mac glanced back at JT and raised his eyebrows to bolster them both. This was the worst part of the gig.
JT tilted his head toward Mac as if to say, “let’s get this over with.” On the other side of the stand, coming up the stairs, was Dick Thompson. JT’s dad.
Dang it.
JT had been so hopeful he wouldn’t have to deal with him. No such luck. The end of the day couldn’t come soon enough.

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