Des Nations. Mac. He has to win because anything less is unacceptable.
Angie is from the enemy’s camp and Mac’s chivalry lands her smack in the middle of his life. She doesn’t believe she’s good enough to fit in and maybe her choices prove her right.
With his dad’s health in question and a team spot on the Des Nations tour, Mac doesn’t have time for the spunky Angie to get in his way. But when she ends up needing a knight, he can’t help but hope she’ll want him for more than aid in her distress.
Mac makes the mistake of trusting her and his heart, learning secrets which hurt more than just his career. Can they ride off together in the sunset or will both of their losses block their chances at love?
Heathrow Airport was like a small city. People of so many nationalities and with varying goals milled around the shop fronts or rushed from terminal to terminal. Some sat on benches while they hurriedly ate or talked on the phones. A line of irritated men and women leading into the restrooms was the only thing worth avoiding on the main level.
The only thing missing as far as Mac was concerned was a motocross track. He could do without the stores and the banks and the multiple resting areas. But then again, Mac wasn’t the biggest fan of anything that wasn’t racing oriented.
His stomach growled. Reaching into his pocket, he jangled the Euro coins he had left over from his racing trip. There wasn’t a lot of time in between his flights but he could fit in ten minutes or so to shove something in his face.
As much as he loved the treats his mom sent him, he couldn’t live on junk food alone – no matter how much he wanted to.
Coming to a stop by a sandwich shop, he winced as his duffel bag clanged against his knee. The dang strap was too long and he needed to fix it when he had a spare moment.
Breakfast that morning had been in Frankfurt and he hadn’t eaten since. His stomach growled again, attesting to his hunger. “I get it. I get it.” He muttered to no one in particular.
Best bet would be to stay away from the traditional fare pubs on the south side of the airport. Last time he’d been through there, he’d accidentally ordered haggis and he hadn’t been able to eat for a couple days. Nothing against English food, but the texture of the haggis he’d had reminded him of curdled milk. Instead of the sour taste, it had reminded him of a very iron-based liver.
Thinking about it made him wince. He couldn’t do that again.
A sandwich it would be. And fries. Nothing better than fries.
Mac ordered a pita with chicken and so many other things the pita itself was splitting on the sides. He said fries a couple times and then remembered chips was the correct English term. The girl didn’t give him a hard time, instead she smiled and watched him as he walked toward a table.
While she was cute enough, she wasn’t his type – obsessed with dirt bikes and not afraid to tell him like it was. Being a world-renowned champion racer had its perks, but for the most part, people weren’t really themselves around him.
Grabbing a seat by the railing, Mac adjusted his baseball cap and leaned into his meal. He liked to watch people, as long as he wasn’t recognized.
On his home turf, he loved being recognized. Who wouldn’t love beautiful girls asking you to sign their various body parts because you are were on billboards and in magazines and commercials?
Being abroad, Mac wore his hat low and his hoodies baggy. He didn’t even wear his sponsor products, because he didn’t want to bring attention to himself.
Euro fans weren’t very forgiving to United States racers. They were loyal to their countrymen which Mac respected more than he could report in any interview.
Hunched over his place setting, he took a bite of the pita, pulling away with sprouts dangling from his mouth. Thank goodness there weren’t any cute girls around.
Just then, he looked up and, of course, met the startling green eyes of a very beautiful woman. Her long blonde hair had been French-braided down her back with long fringe style bangs that she tucked behind her ears. Small gold studs twinkled from petite earlobes.
Green wasn’t the right color of her eyes. They were more like a cross between green and blue and deeper than the ocean.
Mac caught her staring at him and he froze, his mouth half open for his next bite.
The woman glanced away from him, pink claiming her smooth pale cheeks. She tapped a small stack of papers on her palm and made a point of not looking his way again. Turning, she faced away from him, her braid whipping with her movement and her yoga pants showing the curves of her backside and legs.
Lunch and a very enticing view.
Mac lowered his pita and grabbed a napkin to wipe his mouth off. Why did that always have to happen to him? He put the napkin down and hid behind the bill of his hat.
He lacked the general suaveness Blake and JT seemed to have in spades. He apparently had to eat like a pig in front of a beautiful girl. Classic Mac.
His phone buzzed in his pocket, pulling his embarrassment away from his situation. He’d probably never see her again, anyway. Shifting to the side, he pulled his phone out and glanced at the screen. His sister, Eva’s profile picture flashed on the phone.
Tilting a water bottle to the side, he drank out of the corner of his mouth so he didn’t glub-glub on the phone. “Hey, sis, what’s up?” Putting down the drink, Mac ignored the sandwich on the basket-style tray and opted instead for a French fry dipped in ketchup. He swirled it around the red sauce and munched a couple before Eva finally spoke.
“Malcolm,” Eva’s voice was drenched in tears. She dragged in a loud breath, as if gasping for air.
His sister never cried. Mac stilled. His chewing slowed. Eva never used his full name unless things were extremely, extremely serious. “What’s going on? Just tell me.” Don’t drag it out. Most likely she and Blake had gotten in a fight. They were about due. They couldn’t be in a state of perfect bliss forever… could they?
“Dad… Did you… Did you know he has stage-four pancreatic cancer? I think that’s what it’s called. I just saw the note from the doctor. Did you know about this? Did you know he’s not going to get treatment? I tried calling you a couple times this last week but kept getting a roaming signal.” Her words tumbled through the connection, landing around him on the floor of a far-off place more than a huge ocean away where he couldn’t do anything about any of it.
“I just turned roaming on.” Mac’s tongue felt like a dry brick, sucking the moisture out of his mouth and throat. Everything had a scratchy feel to it.
The bite he had taken curdled in his stomach. Mac sat back, the rungs of the seat digging into his bunched back muscles.
All his thoughts of the beautiful girl escaped his mind. He focused on his sister and what she was trying to tell him about his family. He spoke slowly, staring at the table. “Eva, calm down. What are you talking about? Dad doesn’t have cancer. He’s just been a little sick, lately. Remember? That’s why you were supposed to go in and take him to the doctor. What quack did you take him to?” Mac’s fear turned swiftly to anger. There was always an answer. There was always a way to fix things or prevent things. The best way to be prophylactic was to be on top of it, stay ahead of the game.
Eva had not been on top of it.
At the same time, though, Mac knew deep down none of it was Eva’s fault. Dad was a big boy. If he could manage two major careers, help out two other major careers, and still run the family, he could certainly get himself to the doctor. Dad didn’t need to be babied. Unless he did.
Eva’s tears abated enough she could spit out the first few words in her retort. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I got him to the doctor, Mac. This is the result. They took a bunch of blood, did a bunch of scans. I’ve been taking him to a specialist every day this week, sometimes two or three in one day. He’s too far along. They won’t even attempt surgery.” She sniffed, her despondency returning. “They offered chemo, and some kind of radiation thing to slow stuff down, but they said something about quality of life? I don’t know what it all means. Kelsey has been at school all week. JT said she’d help us understand everything next week.”
The burden was heavy on her, and she started to cry hard. “I can’t get… a hold of Mom. She’s… still on the cruise with… her sisters. Middle of the ocean and no reception… What do I do? I haven’t been told… how long he has.”
Mac closed his eyes, leaning forward to brace his forearms on the table. He hung his head, making a silent plea to whoever in the galaxy would listen to him. “You’re okay. You’re doing good. I’ll be home by tomorrow morning. I’ll get there, okay? Mom’s cruise is supposed to return tonight or tomorrow morning, too. Keep trying to get her. Make sure he’s comfortable and I’ll get there soon. I’ll take care of this.” He set his jaw. No matter what it took, he’d change the circumstances. Mac never left things outside of his control for long.
Eva’s sobbing turned to sniffles. “Okay. I’ll let Blake know. He’s torn up, too. I’ll see you soon. Love you.”
“Love you, too.” Mac hung up slowly. He was glad Eva had Blake. The man had been Mac’s brother for all intents and purposes during the best of times. When they fought, they were relegated to just best-friends.
Not too long ago, Blake and Eva had finally admitted their feelings for each other. Feelings that Mac, JT, and the whole rest of the Hudson family had already known about for years. It had taken Mac’s interference to get them together. Something the rest of the family said would never happen.
The doctors could say Dad was going to die and that he wasn’t treatable all they wanted. When Mac got home, he’d find the answer and make it happen. It’s what he did.
He didn’t consider the alternative an option. Until he found the answer, though, what were they going to do? As far as Mac was aware stage IV was bad. He didn’t know all the stages, but just the big C-word was enough to make his heart pound a little faster.
Checking the time on his phone, he tucked it hurriedly back into his pocket and stood from his seat. He’d only planned on taking a few minutes to eat. Now, though, he wasn’t even hungry after the conversation with his sister.
Mac tossed the basket of food into the garbage, upset about the waste but unable to force anything else down. He dragged one last drink from the water bottle and tucked it into the side pocket of his bag.
His duffel hit him in the knee as he picked it up.
Claiming his ticket-assigned seat by the window, Mac pulled his earphones out of another side pocket of his duffel, and looped them around his neck. As soon as the stewardess gave the okay, he planned on pulling out his iPod and listening to his favorite tunes. Flying wasn’t his favorite, but he did what he had to do for the job.
And the job. He was a lucky man to be able to do what he loved and get paid for it. Entertaining people was one thing – riding a dirt bike, catching air, being in front of the world as he excelled further and further and further was more than a dream come true.
Mac Hudson got paid to play.
Covered in a gray overcast, London didn’t care that Mac was leaving or that his father was sick and could be dying. The ever-present rain made it difficult to see the beautiful greenery Mac knew was there. The entire island had constant access to water which showed itself in its green foliage and aged trees.
One of the first people on the plane, he’d allowed himself to be distracted with thoughts of his father. He’d embarked and claimed his seat before the other people in his row had arrived. He couldn’t drag his eyes away from the small window by his shoulder.
The row he’d been assigned sat just in front of the wing and most of his view was filled with the large, white, accordion-style on-ramp. The emergency exit wasn’t by him either.
He didn’t bother looking away from his reflection in the glass as the rest of the plane’s occupants filed inside and packed their carry-ons in the luggage compartments overhead. He stared out the window, avoiding the gaze of his own reflection. He looked too much like his dad. He didn’t need to have a meltdown before the flight even left the tarmac.
A garbled message from the pilot instructed the passengers to keep their blah blah blah in their blah blahs. Mac tuned in and out to the redundant message. He got it, put on the mask, breathe, whatever.
He rested his elbow on the armrest and leaned away from the person next to him. Folding his arm across his waist, he angled himself closer to the window. Why hadn’t they left yet? Mac needed to get home. The nausea hadn’t left… not since he’d hung up with Eva.
If he wasn’t careful, he was going to get sick. A guy didn’t have to be diabetic for low blood sugar to get to him. At least that’s what his dad always said.
The plane moved slowly away from the airport. Drops of rain on the glass didn’t make it easier to see as they moved along the runway, faster and faster until they jerked up into the air.
Mac closed his eyes. The heady ascension was never his favorite, but he preferred thinking about that then the possibility that the news about his dad might be right. He’d rather dwell in denial and demand that the information was incorrect.
The possibility that the doctors had gotten false positives wasn’t unrealistic.
For the Hudsons, it wouldn’t be the first time.
Two years back, Mac’s mom came home and said she’d been diagnosed as pregnant again. She’d just announced it over dinner, with her hand in Brian’s and his eyes wide like he’d been slammed over the head with a frying pan.
Eva had stared at them both and Mac had snorted while eating his spaghetti. Blake had drunk some pop and watched the family with a curious tilt to his eyebrows.
Everyone had gone through various stages of rejection, denial, loss, grief, anger, and finally acceptance.
Mac smiled as he remembered sitting around the table with everyone a week later. They’d ordered pizza and a cake to celebrate the expansion of the Hudson clan. Everyone had ideas for names and they shouted at each other in jest as they vetoed options and came up with fun and daring choices.
Eva had suggested Rose and Mac rolled his eyes. No. No flowers.
Dad had maintained a stoic expression as he’d replied, “But Malcolm is a wild flower in England.” They’d all paused and stared at Mac like they were serious. He smiled and shook his head, and they’d all laughed. Until he’d looked up the meaning of his name, he hadn’t been completely sure Dad was joking.
Mom had said she’d like to do things differently, maybe take yoga while she was pregnant.
The phone rang and Mom had answered, smiling at one of their random comments about wrestling with the new tike.
As she’d spoken to the caller, her expression had cooled until all mirth and happiness had disappeared. She’d blinked rapidly and nodded. “Of course. Thank you for calling.”
Hanging up, Mom offered a polite smile to her family sitting at the table. She cleared her throat and avoided meeting anyone’s gazes. “Well, we don’t have a baby coming. It was a false positive. I’m just going through peri-menopause.”
“Are you sure?” Dad had reclaimed her hand and tugged her closer to him on the wheeled chair. “Maggie, are you sure?”
She’d turned her gaze toward him and nodded, long and drawn out. She didn’t make it more than thirty seconds before she’d burst into tears.
The weekend and following week the family walked around in a morose state of depression. They all wanted a new family member, especially after the idea had taken hold. To have that taken away once they’d all been so excited had been heart wrenching.
That, though… the cancer wasn’t something Mac would be upset if the doctors took back. They could yell false positive at any time and he wouldn’t be upset.
Add his dad’s cancer, true or not, real or not, and combine it with the upcoming Des Nations held in Glen Helen by his hometown, and Mac’s stress climbed through the roof.
Blake and JT finally had their game on. They’d been winning and placing in the circuits since they’d figured out where they stood in their lives and their plans. As their surety had taken root, Mac’s had become more and more shaken. He wasn’t sure where he stood, no matter how false his bravado was.
JT’s goals of going into the freestyle arena after the current and final season of motocross racing and Blake’s plans to hire out as a coach and be Eva’s manager all seemed too final for Mac. Even though, if he was honest with himself, he’d admit he was jealous of their plans.
All Mac ever wanted was to race. Now that he’d reached twenty-seven-years old – the age that most people retired or aged out of the sport – he didn’t know what to do next.
Even his sister had plans to conquer women’s riding. Another thing he had to accept. Shaking his head, Mac finally admitted to himself that Eva, his little sister, was actually a really good rider. Great even. As long as Mac stayed out of her way.
A cough from his right pulled his attention. He shifted his downcast gaze to the side, taking in carefully manicured hands holding a dirt bike racing magazine next to him. His interest piqued, he glanced up to see the beautiful blonde woman he had been caught eating like a slob in front of.
She didn’t acknowledge him, flipping the pages of the magazine. Her glossed lips moved as she read the words from the articles or headlines she came across. With some of the articles she arched her eyebrow and others she didn’t react at all.
After a moment, she must have sensed Mac staring at her because she lifted her gaze and met his. “Do I have something on my face?” She didn’t have an English accent but it wasn’t starkly American, either. Like maybe she’d been given only enough of a lilt to her consonants and vowels to sound lyrical.
The details didn’t matter. Mac needed her to speak again.
He shook his head, acutely aware that his eyes were shadowed by his favorite Fox hat. “No, I’m sorry. I… You’re just remarkably beautiful.” He blurted the compliment out, all attempts at a smooth delivery shoved to the side as the blue-green of her eyes made him distinctly nervous.
Her eyelashes fluttered at his words and she looked away from him, muttering, “Thank you.”
At least the ice was broken. Did Mac take the chance to apologize for how he must have looked while eating his pita? Or should he just pretend like it had never happened?
His decision was ripped from him as an article about the Three Golden Racers came front and center when she turned the next page. Mac, JT, and Blake had posed for the centerfold soon after Blake and Eva had officially gotten together. Blake’s smile was genuine and bright. He’d found happiness and Mac envied him that.
She harrumphed as she read, leaning back with a look of boredom on her smooth features. Turning the page again, she skimmed the article and continued on through the magazine.
Mac couldn’t figure out why she wasn’t impressed. Everyone was impressed when they read the article. It’d been a big deal, even garnered them a feature on Entertainment By Melissa, a huge evening syndicated show.
But the woman next to him didn’t care. She had to be more European than her accent let on. He wasn’t impressive to the Euro fans. They didn’t even like Blake’s rags-to-riches story.
Mac’s brow furrowed, why hadn’t she stopped and actually read the article? The story was pretty good and he tried not to get angry at her apathetic response. The piece talked about JT, Blake, and Mac as best-friends growing up and how they’d overcome quite a lot to get to where they were.
The mention of JT’s neglectful father and Blake’s absent family were points of pride for Mac and he didn’t appreciate anyone acting like it was nothing important. There had even been a nice mention of Brian Hudson, Mac’s dad and his role in their lives.
Irritation mounted in his chest as he watched the woman next to him, beautiful as she was, skip right over an article like that.
“You didn’t like the article?” He would’ve rolled his eyes at himself, if he hadn’t just brought her attention back to his face. Why did he care if she liked the article or not? Honestly, it’s not like she knew him or knew it was him.
She shrugged, training her gaze on him as if challenging him to refute what she said. “It’s okay, I’ve already read it. Bunch of Americans, if you know what I mean.” She glanced at the picture then at Mac. She lifted the side of her mouth in a wry smile and then glanced back at the article. “Ah, now I see why you care, if I read it or not. Is this how you go around hitting on people?” She glanced back at Mac with a challenge in her eyes.
“People? Wait, I wasn’t hitting on you. I don’t…” He took a deep breath. “I just thought…”
She rolled her eyes. “You thought I would be interested in you because I have an article in a big dirt biking magazine that is based on you, right?” She half-shrugged. “Sorry, doll. I don’t do ‘groupie’. It’s not easy to impress me.”
“I just didn’t know if you recognized me or not.” That was awesome. He’d been put in his place and he didn’t know what he’d done to deserve it.
Her soft laugh as she flipped another page didn’t hold any derision, like he expected. “I recognized you, Mac Hudson. I’m not sheltered.”
So, she did recognize him. If that was true, had Mac just been dissed?
Of course, Angie knew she sat next to Mac Hudson, the biggest dirt bike sensation since Jeremy McGrath.
Angie wasn’t stupid. Nor was she giving into Knox Taylor and his aggravating control issues. He’d arranged for Angie to sit by Mac, even paid the man who’d been moving to sit there two-hundred American dollars to switch spots with Angie.
Rather than cause a scene, Angie bit her lip and shot hatred darts at Knox with her eyes. He didn’t care. He never cared.
Where she sat didn’t matter since the ticket he’d gotten her had been in coach anyway, while he’d claimed a first-class seat alone.
What was she doing? The money was hers, everything was hers. Knox wouldn’t even be where he was, if it wasn’t for her paychecks. The only reason she’d agreed to go with Knox to the States was to get free from him and maybe visit her family.
She hadn’t seen her mom and dad since she’d gone to Europe to tour the countries after college. She’d been wrapped up living on the road when she’d met Knox and he’d charmed her into moving in with him and staying longer than she’d originally planned. Going back to the States had been on her list the last six months but he’d gotten in the way of every attempt she’d made – first hiding her passport and then tying her money up in a joint account that only he had access to.
She stared at the text on the magazine, the black letters blurring together as frustration drew tears to her eyes. Oh, man, why did she always choose the losers? The ones that just wanted to control her? He didn’t even like her, not the real her.
Sure, Knox Taylor was hot, but then so were a lot of guys and looks weren’t everything. He was warm toward her, then cool toward her, he was interested in seeing other people, but only when she was interested in him again.
The games the man played made her carsick. She couldn’t believe how wrapped up in him she’d been. About six months ago, she’d gotten off work early and come back to the flat to find him on the couch with two university girls from down the hall.
She’d worked her butt off since to come up with a plan to get out from under him. The last time she’d tried moving on from him, he’d been right back, begging her to give him another chance and suddenly becoming the Knox she remembered.
The seatbelt light turned off, a soft ding filling the air.
She had to keep up pretenses that she needed money from Knox. He’d taken her down to sign for traveler’s checks at the bank and then he’d held onto them.
Which was fine. He could have the measly couple hundred pounds she kept in there. He had no idea about her other bank account or the fact that she’d wiped it out right before leaving. She was going back to the States, going back home, and she was going to be free from Knox.
That’s all she wanted. Angie stood and excused herself as she pushed past the gentleman’s knees who sat on the other side of her opposite Mac. She needed to talk to Knox and seem needy. She’d done so well hiding who she really was, hiding her strength, that to act like she normally would didn’t fit with the character she’d become.
That girl… that girl did awful things, things Angie would never do.
Getting into first class was impossible. The stewardess stopped her at the entryway, her hands up as if creating a human barrier. She didn’t even meet Angie’s eyes as she spoke abruptly. “I’m sorry, miss. You can’t go in there.”
Angie lifted her hand and pointed toward the back of Knox’s head. She could see him from where she stood. If she spoke loud enough, he’d hear her and have to come get her… Right? “My boyfriend’s in there. I’m not going to stay. I just need to talk to him. Can you get him for me?”
The stewardess arched her eyebrow, tossing a glance at Knox and then returning her gaze to Angie. She shook her head. Folding her arms, she inclined her head towards Angie. “A lot of people say things like that to get up here. I’m sorry, miss. Please, go find your seat.”
They stood there, locked in a battle Angie knew she couldn’t win. She still had to try. Angie couldn’t let the stewardess win the entire battle. She told Angie to get to her seat and that meant Angie couldn’t go back to her seat – at least for a little while.
On the large plane there weren’t many options for a person to go. Angie ducked into the bathroom, catching the stewardess’s eye right before closing the door behind her.
Angie sat on the closed seat after locking the door and put her face in her hands. What was she going to do? Her stomach ached and she just wanted the whole thing to be over. Knox Taylor was British. He couldn’t stay in the States. Not for long.
Angie was American. If only she could get back home, she could be free from that jerk forever.
What was she doing? How had she let herself get this entwined with someone like him?
Charm. Dang it all, she was a sucker for a charming, good-looking man. There was something about a man that all the ladies looked at and he’d chosen you. She grimaced as she realized that she’d always given into his machinations because she was also more than a little insecure that what he said was true. That she was getting older and fatter and no one was going to want her.
Knox continually teased her about being his cougar – she was only twenty-eight, but to his twenty-four years he said that seemed like forever.
Angie stood from the toilet in the small space and faced the mirror. She wouldn’t even waste time looking at her face. She lifted her shirt and turned to the side, sucking in her stomach. One thing he’d been right about, she had too much extra weight. She’d tried everything she could to lose it before coming home, but nothing worked.
Knox may not have an honest bone when it came to monogamy, but when it came to how she looked, he was brutally honest. Parts of her sagged and he pointed out every spot of cellulite on her butt and legs.
He even claimed she had cellulite on her back. No matter how much she twisted and turned in the mirror, she couldn’t see it, but he said the dimples were there.
And, for crying out loud, she was a warm-blooded female. Believing that she was ugly was so much easier than believing anything else.
Angie usually ate little to nothing and worked out all the time. Still though, he claimed she was fat and that she should be grateful he loved her.
Knox didn’t use the L-word very often. He said she should just know.
Two minutes was probably long enough in the loo.
Opening the door, she returned to her seat. Most people had settled in to their spots and zoned out, not caring when others passed them or moved about.
The man she had to crawl over had fallen asleep, his head lulling toward the aisle side. Mac leaned back in his chair with his arms folded across his chest, ear buds in his ears. His eyes were closed with his black hat lowered down to block the light.
He looked so peaceful, Angie almost felt bad she had snubbed him like she had.
But she couldn’t feel bad. If she wanted to be free from Knox, then that meant no more casualties. Knox thought he had her life in his hand, but once she got her things from the baggage claim, she was out of there. She didn’t even need to stay in California. She had enough money to get her home to Washington.
Knox was a parasite. He found out what your weakness was and then hammered you until he’d taken control. Only by sheer force of will had Angie pulled herself out of his grasp without him knowing.
It was too late for some of the racers he’d forced Angie to ruin, but it wasn’t too late for Mac. Even if Knox did demand that she go after Mac and get him to quit the race.
She wouldn’t do it. Every time since that first one, she’d felt guiltier and guiltier. She couldn’t continue destroying the dreams of men.
Sitting back in her seat, she pulled out her tablet and scrolled through all of the apps that she had. The small case was one of her favorite belongings. It acted like a purse with its sewn on front pocket. Opening it like a book revealed a wallet style setup with slots for credit cards, checks, change, and a pocket slot for papers. She’d tucked her passport and the real traveler’s checks in that flap, hidden so that when she pulled out the tablet case, Knox didn’t see what she had inside.
The little secret gave her a thrill that she was close, so close to getting free from him. And he had no idea.
She’d been working so much, that she’d fallen behind on her reading. Five books in her favorite series had come out and she’d planned on catching up a lot on the flight back home.
Her tablet was hooked in securely with metal hooks into the case and she folded the front panel over to keep the tablet in a small, manageable size. Pulling up the e-reader app, she pushed the book cover of the next book she couldn’t wait to read.
At least with Knox in First Class, she didn’t have to listen to him talk about how awesome he was or all of the things he wanted her to do to Mac.
Pretending to sleep next to someone who Mac was wildly attracted to, but obviously wasn’t a fan, proved to be one of the harder things he had to do lately.
The first sign that he’d taken his career and his lifestyle for granted was sitting next to a gorgeous girl and listen to her say he wasn’t anything special.
It was true. He wasn’t. He wasn’t anything special. If he were, he’d be able to help his dad with his sickness. Wallowing in his own shortcomings wasn’t going to help anyone.
Mac had to avoid the fact that – cancer or not – Dad was extremely sick. The thought that everything might be true made him uncomfortable in his skin. He sat up, pushing the button to bring his chair upright. Adjusting his jacket, he pulled his legs to the side and stared out the window.
The rattling wheel of the drink cart drew his attention.
The stewardess flashed her over-bright smile and passed him the drink he requested.
Reaching across the woman, Mac accidentally elbowed her shoulder. He shook his head and pulled his drink to his tray. “Excuse me. I’m so sorry about that.” Just racking up the points.
The blonde glanced at him, as if his apology startled her.
Swirling his plastic cup, he glanced at her, cautious lest she think he was trying to accost her or something. “You’re surprised I said excuse me?”
She softly shook her head, pushing the ice in her own cup around with a thin straw. “No, I just… I didn’t expect it.”
“Well, you should always expect respect. When you don’t get it, you demand it.” That was a line his dad always gave Mac and the boys. He added a lot more to the sentiment for Eva.
Mac sipped his orange juice and 7-Up mix. He had the overwhelming desire to not think about his dad. “So, you’re not impressed with me, which is actually… nice. I’m Mac Hudson.” He inclined his head with a rueful smile. “As you know, and you are?”
The girl beside him glanced at her cranberry juice and then back at him. Thick, black lashes framed her remarkable eyes. Normally, Mac was used to a lot of mascara, but she didn’t look like she had put on more than the bare essentials for the flight.
“I’m Angie. Angela, but my friends call me Angie.” She sipped her drink and shifted on her seat. A subtle hint of coconut and vanilla wafted toward him when she moved her braid out from behind her and swung it over her shoulder.
“So, you’ll let me be your friend, now?” He half-grinned, but his heart wasn’t in it. As much as he wanted to flirt with her, he didn’t have the energy when he was faced with so much emotional turmoil.
She studied his face in the dimming light as more and more passengers shut off their overheads. An overnight flight had been a good choice for possible sleep, even though most wouldn’t sleep well. Angie reached out and softly touched his forearm. The slight touch of her fingertips on his forearm over the sweatshirt made the rest of the plane disappear and she came into sharp focus.
Murmuring, her voice barely reached him in the tunnel he’d slammed into at her simple touch. “You should be ecstatic or excited at the very least.”
“Why?” Mac’s stomach twisted. What did she know? Why would she think that? Unless of course, she really had read the article and believed his life was roses and KTMs.
She half-grinned at him, her teasing expression was colored with concern. “You’re racing in the upcoming Des Nations this next week, aren’t you?”
“Oh, yeah, Des Nations.” What would it hurt to tell her? She’d asked and he needed to talk about what was going on. He’d never see her again – the thought brought a pang to his chest. He didn’t like that idea, but he leapt at the chance to have a momentary confidante. “I just found out my dad may have stage four pancreatic cancer. I’m not sure if it’s true or not, so I have to wait until I get home to find out for sure.”
He avoided her gaze as he felt emotions pricking at his eyes. The last thing Mac needed to do was embarrass himself with a display of sensitivity.
Mac almost rolled his eyes. He was the least sensitive guy he knew. He’d once pushed Eva off a trampoline for crying because she’d gotten hurt.
Angie placed her fingers to her lips, her eyes wide. “I’m so sorry. That’s just awful. I haven’t seen my parents in years. I’m trying to get home.” She leaned back, taking another drink. Her gaze flashed up and she cast an apologetic glance back at Mac.
Every time she looked at him, his heart beat did a little bump thing he couldn’t explain. It was different from his normal pulse, similar to the way he felt when he climbed on his KTM 450SXF and revved the throttle.
Suddenly Knox Taylor stood at the edge of the row.
What was Knox Taylor doing on the same flight as Mac? Mac’s fist clenched involuntarily and his breathing quickened. The man was a snake.
The guy to Angie’s right still slept and Knox’s appearance added to Mac’s distress. He half-stood and glared at the black-haired Englishman that was one of the dirtiest racers Mac had ever met. He half-growled, surprised Knox was even on the same flight as him. “What do you want, Taylor?”
Amusement sparked in Knox’s bright green eyes. He had the look of a famous vampire on one of Eva’s favorite shows which only irritated Mac more.
“I’m not here for you, so bugger off.” Knox redirected his smile to Angie and his amusement faded to boredom. He held out his hand to Angie, leaning on the seat back of the row in front of them. He didn’t even look at her while he spoke. “Give me your tablet. I’m bored.”
Angie softly shook her head and carefully pulled her tablet case from the tray closer to her chest. Eyes imploring, she stared up at Knox. “I’m reading. Besides, I can’t even get up there to get it back.” She pressed to the side of her seat, her leg and arm nudging Mac. She seemed to genuinely not like Knox, but Mac couldn’t understand how they knew each other and how she happened to be sitting by Mac and not Knox.
“Read a magazine or something. I want to play the apps that are on there. Hand it to me.” Knox glanced at Mac and smirked. “Are you ready to get smoked at Des Nations? Sorry you had to sit next to this.” He flicked his wrist toward Angie.
Her eyes downcast and she tightened her grip on the tablet, her knuckles white. She avoided his gaze and didn’t answer him.
Knox’s eyes narrowed and in one swift movement he reached down and yanked the tablet and case from her grasp. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
Angie half-stood, as she reached for her tablet, and begged. “Knox, give it back. Please.”
“If I have time. I’ve been dying to play this game. Thanks.” Knox turned, walking toward the front. He checked out every girl he passed as he returned to first class.
Mac looked at Angie in utter disbelief. He couldn’t believe what he had just seen. “Is Knox your brother or something?” Please, let him be a sibling or something. Mac hadn’t heard her last name, so Taylor was a possibility, but if she was married to that jerk, Mac might throw up for real.
She shook her head, cheeks pink and set her jaw. Claiming her seat again, she held herself stiff and tight, staring in the direction he’d left. “No, he’s my…” Angie glanced at Mac and then seemed to deflate against her seat back. “…boyfriend. I just wish he wasn’t. He says he loves me, but… I’m not sure.”
“You wish he wasn’t your boyfriend, but he is? That’s a weird way to look at love.” Mac fell into a bemused silence beside her. No, that definitely wasn’t love.
He had watched JT, one of his best-friends, fall in love with his nurse in no time. Mac had watched as they took care of each other and worried about each other. JT and Kelsey only ever gave each other complete respect.
Then, Mac watched Blake and Eva fall in love, actually, they finally admitted their love for each other. Those two had loved each other since the first time meeting in his downstairs living room as eight and six-year-olds.
Taking it a degree further, Mac’s parents were the epitome of true love, standing by each other’s side no matter what.
That was love. Mac had seen it firsthand. He wanted a love like that. There was nothing Knox could say that would convince Mac that the way Knox had just treated Angie was anything close to love.
But that wasn’t his job to demand that Knox treat her well. He just suddenly felt an overwhelming wave of pity crash over him for the girl who deserved so much more than Knox Taylor could dish out.