They both love to ride… and they’ve fallen for each other, but her brother is in the way of happy-ever-after.
Blake’s biggest competition is himself – both on the track and in life. His closest friend is family and he’ll do anything to protect the relationship.
Even if that means not following his heart and pursuing his friend’s sister, Eva.
Eva is going to rock her racing class. She’s tired of being known as the little sister to one of the greatest dirt bike champions in US history. She wants, no, needs to be seen as herself.
But when what she wants professionally and longs for personally collide, everything could blow up in her face and destroy any chance at happiness. For either of them.
Blake growled at the mud peppering his goggles. Just in time to cover his view of the checkered flag as it waved over his head. Come on, Mac! The sweet scent of exhaust lingered in Blake’s nose. His best-friend roostered off in front of him as he claimed first place about three bike lengths ahead of Blake.
Only two ahead of JT.
Another reason for Blake to growl deep in his throat with a rough timbre like that of his Yamaha YZF450.
What was going on with him?
He shook his sweaty, shaggy dark hair out of his face after pulling off his helmet. The bandana that usually held his hair back in his helmet had failed him that time. The stupid thing was probably back on the track somewhere.
He dangled the helmet on one of his handlebars while he pushed his bike from the race toward his pit and crew. His crew was great, but Blake would still take care of his bike. If he didn’t know how his bike was doing, then he couldn’t ride well.
Third. Again. How come he kept missing the stupid mark? Why couldn’t he get in second or first? Of course, he was happy JT was back from his injuries and racing so well. Blake hated seeing his friend injured and his pride had taken a beating when his injury had stemmed from falling down the stairs. Blake had felt awful at all the missed riding time, but he didn’t feel bad enough to take second to JT.
Seeing JT happy with Kelsey ate like acid at Blake’s insides – more than the winning.
Blake loved JT and Mac like brothers, but he was sick of being the outsider, sick of being alone. Where JT had Kelsey and Mac had his dad to fall back on, Blake had no one.
He’d never shared his thoughts with his friends, though. They had his back, and he knew it, but it wasn’t the same.
Waving at fellow competitors and other racers as he crossed the track, he worked on zoning out the loud rumble of the crowd and the general carnival feel flooding around him.
Blake didn’t want to be in last place forever. True, he wasn’t last with regards to the whole rest of the competition, but when it came to Mac and JT, Blake usually came in last.
Pushing his bike to the pit, Blake turned his scowl into a semblance of a smile. Mac and JT laughed as Blake approached. Sometimes, he felt like he was just enough on the outside that while he was part of the trio, he wasn’t a complete piece of the puzzle. Maybe that came from having the kind of background he had which wasn’t something he wanted to focus on. Not when he was already depressed about the third-place spot.
Mac jerked his chin at Blake. “Hey, man. Great race. If we keep this up, we’re going to be able to finish out as the top three for the division. FIM is just around the corner. I know you both want Des Nations as badly as I do.” He thumbs-upped Blake and slugged JT’s shoulder.
No one wanted Des Nations as bad as Mac did.
Blake shook his head, unable to fight the chuckle Mac’s words brought out. “You and that race. What if we don’t make it? If I don’t get better at my racing, I’m not going to get anywhere. Certainly, not into Glen Helen.” Even if he did live miles away.
JT clamped his hand on Blake’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about Glen Helen. Worry about Anaheim next week.” He winked at Blake and then glanced over Blake’s shoulder. “Hey guys, I gotta go. Kelsey’s waiting for me.” He waved at a strawberry blonde curvy girl whose smile could charm you into taking the worst tasting medicine on the planet. Her nursing skills had helped JT overcome his injuries and his determination to break from his father’s unscrupulous managing ethics.
Not only was JT winning the races Blake wanted to win, he’d also gotten the girl. Well, not the woman Blake wanted. At that point in time, Blake would be happy to settle for anybody, even if his heart wasn’t in it. His heart just hurt too much not having the one he wanted.
Since he discovered how much he actually cared for her, Blake hadn’t been able to date any other woman out there. He had to smother his true feelings under the heel of his dirt biking boot.
Blake set his after-market kickstand and pulled off his gloves. Third place would still warrant interviews. He had to get the new tight chest plate off before throwing on his hat and a clean jersey covered with sponsor info.
The warm day had dried the mud on his bike and gear to a crusty dust. Blake wiped at the sweat on his brow and wouldn’t mind snagging one or two of the polish sausage dogs he could smell from the concession stand in the bleachers.
Mac leaned over, pushing his hair out of his face. He jerked his thumb towards the disappearing JT. “Our brother got all his stuff fully moved out. He won’t be with us anymore.”
Blake smirked. “He has lived with us for a while, Mac. Are you just now figuring this out?” He laughed, shaking his head. “There’s nothing about Kelsey that will let JT return to our place. Not to mention his sweet house that his dad doesn’t live in anymore. The guy has heaven at home. He’s set. You and I are just lowly bachelors. We don’t even rank anymore.” But Blake hid his sadness over the fact that he was alone. He didn’t want to be and he was sure Mac didn’t either.
As if thinking about his lackluster love life made the object of his focus appear, an image walked into view. Blake nodded at Mac’s comment, distracted.
Because there she was. Eva Hudson. She hid her curves well underneath her black LBZ canvas pants and dark blue and white riding jersey. Her sponsors were sparse but the logos stood out well on the simple coloring scheme she had chosen.
Blake had seen her in swimsuits and tight jeans and even just a pajama shirt. He knew what she hid from the world and it had everything to do with her femininity, even as she worked on smothering it beneath layers of tomboy racer and defiance.
He hadn’t meant to, but Blake had swayed her towards riding Yamaha. Blue was the way to go and dang, she made the color look good.
She walked toward the racing pit, tightening her riding gloves and fixing the chin strap on her helmet. Her race was up, and Blake knew how nervous she was. He’d overheard her talking to Mac about her nerves. Mac had laughed and hugged her, saying it was okay and normal, but he hadn’t tried to address the problem.
Blake was a fixer, he wanted to make sure whatever upset her didn’t continue hurting her. She just needed to be reassured and Mac had only generalized it. Mac didn’t really understand where she was coming from. Blake understood her drive and her need to break away.
Eva had been riding the circuit all year, tried hitting qualifying times the year before and she was finally hitting scores where she could compete professionally. Girl even landed her own sponsors.
Blake was nervous for her. He knew how much riding meant to her. He understood it even more than Mac, her brother. The difference was Mac loved to ride and Eva did it because she couldn’t breathe without it.
“Do you think Eva is going to hit the necessary marks this week?” Mac turned and watched Eva with Blake. “She won’t let me help her. She said I’m too impatient to teach her. I’m not impatient. She’s slow.” He ended on a laugh but rubbed his nose to hide his concern for his sister. Blake could spot his concern without much trouble. They’d been friends forever and a half.
Blake bit his tongue to keep from lashing out at Mac or saying something that would be taken wrong. Mac actually was impatient.
If you didn’t hit Mac’s expectations the first time, you had some explaining to do. Blake couldn’t remember the last time he had successfully met the lineup of expectations from Mac.
JT seemed to hit them all the time, but Blake and Mac had been on each other’s nerves lately. Mac was wearing on Blake’s patience as well
He understood where Eva’s frustration came in. It sucked when you felt like you were never good enough.
If he felt like mentally punishing himself, Blake would imagine telling Mac how he felt about Eva. He fell so far below the standards that Mac had set for any guy to date her, Blake would never get to see her or the Hudson family again. Not if his true feelings were revealed.
Going after Eva as a love interest was not an option.
Even though they were well into their twenties, Eva didn’t date much because of Mac’s controlling older brother personification. He had a habit of blocking most men that tried to get close to his little sister.
“I think she’s going to do fine. She bore that throttle down and didn’t hesitate. She needs to stick it on the triple and she’ll do better on the last lap.” Blake didn’t glance at Mac, choosing instead to keep his gaze trained on Eva. She was easy to pick out in the line of girl riders. She held herself with a confidence he usually only saw in male riders.
The women raced great, but there was something in the way they held themselves. Eva’s posture and handling of the bike mimicked Mac. She held herself like she’d been riding with the boys her whole life.
Because she had.
Maybe it was her love for biking that had clinched Blake’s interest in her. How she commanded the larger bikes with a domineering attitude. The big engines didn’t faze her and she went for whatever popped out the higher horsepower. Blake couldn’t help responding to the hotness of that trait.
Or maybe it was just her. He’d probably fall for her, even if she didn’t ride. Before he started a mental compilation of all the tremendous facts about Eva, he returned his attention to the race. He always listed what he loved about her.
“I’m glad JT is back. I don’t want anyone but you guys going with me to Glen Helen. We are going, Blake. Don’t even try getting out of it.” Mac tapped Blake on the shoulder to get his attention. His touch wasn’t soft as he prodded with one finger.
Blake reluctantly turned his gaze to Mac. “Yeah, man. I get it. I’ll do my best.” He tightened his jaw and returned his gaze to Eva’s race. He had to remind himself how much he loved his friend. They were like brothers. Closer than most people were with their own blood.
Peering through the strong plastic netting used to protect the pits from any racing paraphernalia, Blake squinted to see the racers on the end farthest from him.
The deafening noise would give Blake a headache before the day was out. He preferred the relative quiet of a couple people riding along mountain trails where if you turned off your bike, there was silence – not another fifty bikes fighting to be heard.
Eva was coming up on the triple and those jumps were her hardest. If she didn’t hit the throttle hard enough, then she would come down too early and that would cost her time she didn’t have. Hopefully. the racers in front would get stuck on the whoops. Eva did really well on the short bumps that came in quick succession.
Mac prodded Blake’s shoulder as if to remind him they were talking. “Okay, you better not let me down. I need to be able to rely on my guys.” Mac nodded again, then walked off. Probably to discuss things with his sponsors.
All he did was talk about the Des Nations. Winning the last season of their careers was the only thing that mattered to Mac. He hadn’t even said if he was for sure retiring or mentioned his plans for after Des Nations. It was like all of his life’s focus had centered down to one race in time. The race was the only thing Mac and his dad, Brian, talked about. Dinner at the Hudson house had become a commentary on who was winning what race where and would they end up at Des Nations.
Thank goodness, Mac’s mom could cook.
Short timer syndrome had never made so much sense before to Blake. He didn’t even want to continue racing, even to finish the season. He was burnt out. He’d been racing with his friends since they were eleven or twelve years old. Before that riding had just been for fun.
Great, now he sounded like he was complaining about being paid to do something he loved. But that was the problem, when someone loved something as much as Blake loved riding, getting paid for it deleted a little bit of the fun and added pressure in its place.
All kinds of pressure.
Blake wanted to warn Eva and tell her that riding professionally wasn’t the way to go. The millions of dollars weren’t worth it, if you made it that far. Blake didn’t even know what he would do after he was done and the end of his career loomed nearer and nearer. Coaching would be great, or something that didn’t require him to be in the spotlight so much.
JT had a great plan after Des Nations to go into freestyle. He’d even lined up his sponsors to follow him across.
Maybe Blake would do the same thing. He honestly didn’t know for sure. All he did know was that as long as Eva was riding the circuit, Blake would be right there watching.
Eva headed into the next pass and Blake could only imagine what she would say if he told her just how much he cared. He imagined telling her over candlelit dinner, giving her roses, while she wore a silk, strappy dress. Her blonde hair would be in a braid down her back. Her brown eyes would sparkle with laughter instead of looking at him like one of Mac’s friends. Not just one of her brother’s friends, but the bad-boy friend that had nothing to offer her.
One way or another, he had to figure out a way to get Eva to look at him as more than just a friend. Heck, he’d be happy if she looked at him as a friend. Most of the time she looked at him like he was the most annoying thing she’d ever seen. Which wouldn’t be bad, if he annoyed her in ways she couldn’t keep out of her mind late at night.
Blake had to get her attention… But how?
Third. How the heck had she come in third? She had been right on Nancy’s tail.
Nancy had held her right on level and it was by sheer inches that Nancy had beat Eva. At least Eva hadn’t been roostered like Blake had. She’d winced watching him cross the line. He didn’t deserve that and she would make a point to tell Mac what a jerk he’d been to do that.
Things could get pretty catty inside the track when the riders got off the bikes, but holy cow, racers acted like spite ran in their veins when they were on their rides. Girls and boys, equally.
Although, to be fair, Mac didn’t usually treat other racers like that, so it had probably been an accident, but Eva wanted to direct her frustration toward someone and Mac’s shoulders were broad enough to handle his sister’s ire. Eva didn’t feel like being fair right then. Dumping on Mac in her mind was the best she could come up with.
She wanted first place. Bad.
Eva reached out and grabbed Nancy’s gloved hand in hers. “Great job, you did awesome on that triple. I just couldn’t seem to catch you.” She smiled, dangling her helmet from her empty fingers.
Lights flashed all around them, like being friendly and a good sport were newsworthy instead of common place.
Nancy wiped her brow, smiling back. Mascara tracks smudged under her eyes with a spotty shadow. “Thanks. You almost had me on those whoops a couple times. Maybe next time.” But her smile was tight and her eyes challenged Eva as if to say not in this lifetime, sweetheart.
Eva didn’t roll her eyes, she wanted to, but she refused to be like the other girls. At least outwardly. She’d be as catty as she wanted on the inside.
She scanned the crowd, unable to find Mac anywhere in sight. Thank goodness. She didn’t feel like dealing with his disappointment or his comments on how she could do better. He always made her feel like she didn’t do well enough but never gave her constructive tips that made sense.
Her gaze landed on Blake. Great. Blake saw her mess up. That was exactly what she needed. She pressed her lips together, uncertain what he would say since she’d lost. At least they got the same place. But third on Blake looked a whole lot better than it did on her.
She didn’t want to talk to him, yet all of her wanted to talk to him. Just being near him made her insides zing. She shifted her bike into neutral, and pushed her Yamaha across the track and towards the pit. Blake leaned against his bike, watching her. His broody eyes didn’t stray from her face as scantily dressed girls and a myriad of other people walked around and crossed the direct path between them.
Didn’t he see the other girls? Eva felt disgusting and looked like she just crawled out of a mud pit, which she pretty much had. Yet, there he was – just watching her. His eyes created a maelstrom of longing inside her. Why couldn’t she just run up to him and throw her arms around his neck and kiss him until he fell over? She certainly wanted to. Wanting, though, and doing were two different things when she was faced with the realities of dating her brother’s best-friend.
Dating Blake would be something she couldn’t come back from. She would always want more and he wasn’t exactly known for commitment or relationships. If things didn’t work out with him, Mac would be torn between his best-friend and his sister.
She couldn’t do that to either of them.
If Blake only knew how she felt, and how his gaze tripped up her insides, he probably wouldn’t watch her so much. She had asked Mac nonchalantly about it once. His replay was mingled with laughter and he’d said Blake watches her because she’s almost the same as his little sister and he had to make sure Eva didn’t mess up when Mac wasn’t around to watch out for her.
She’d kept her retorts to herself. Mac didn’t need to know she didn’t want to be Blake’s little sister. She already had an annoying brat for a big brother, even if he was just looking out for her.
Keeping her options open wasn’t even a real choice. Her eyes always sought Blake. Not that men chased her ardently anyway. How many guys had been turned away by Mac before even getting to her? Too many to count.
She pasted on the biggest smile she could and arched her eyebrow at Blake as she walked past. Even though she was covered in mud and had lost, didn’t mean she would let him see her as pathetic.
He nodded, just a touch. His eyes never left her face.
As she kept walking, she forced herself to keep a steady pace and not look back, her arms straight as she pushed her bike. She could feel his gaze burning into her back.
Mac swung his arms in front of him and yawned, walking toward Blake from the Pepsi booth. “Hey, Eva didn’t do too bad, right? Did she say anything when she went by?”
Blake glanced at the last spot he’d seen Eva and then back at Mac. “No, uh, I mean, why would she say anything? She just pushed her bike past me. That’s all.” He swallowed, as if Mac might suspect something.
Nothing was happening to cause suspicion, but Blake’s emotions weren’t safe enough for Mac to know about. His hands dampened when he thought about the reaction Mac would have, if he found out.
“Did you see Jason Prism sniffing around Eva at the last race?” Mac crossed his arms and stared out at the raceway. His jaw set and narrowed his gaze. “That guy is a player. I’m not going to tolerate him going after her. If you see anything, let me know, okay?” He glanced at Blake’s face and guffawed, clapping his hand on Blake’s shoulder. “I know I can count on you. You’re as protective as I am of her.”
Mac’s face sobered. “She needs us to protect her. As long as she has us, she won’t make any stupid choices.” He dropped his hand and searched the grounds for something Blake couldn’t define.
The moment of silent contemplation drew out between them. Blake couldn’t help glancing the direction Eva had gone, searching for another glimpse of her curvy backside.
“I know what you’re thinking.” Mac hit the seat of Blake’s dirt bike. Frustration furrowed his brow. He’d changed his jersey to his show jersey, so he was probably headed to the awards area.
“You do?” Somehow Blake doubted Mac’s claim, though. He’d have Mac’s fist in his mouth, if Mac had any idea what Blake thought.
“Yeah, and I think it’s a good idea. I just don’t know how we’ll find someone this late in the season that would understand our schedule.” Mac stared at the crowds milling about the arena. “It’s not like we can just post an ad. Too many privacy issues could be up for grabs.”
Blake blinked at Mac, once, twice, and then screwed his mouth to the side. “Sorry, what are you talking about?”
Mac returned Blake’s expression. “Haven’t you been listening to me? A roommate.” He held up his hand. “I’m serious about JT not coming back. I honestly hoped he’d sell that place and come live with us. We’re a team. We should be focusing on our game. I know money-wise we don’t need it, but…”
“Oh, right, a roommate. Yeah, whatever.” Blake stuck his riding gloves into his back pocket. Gripping the handles tight, he settled to the side of the bike to push it toward the pit. Mac was pushing the stupid team thing so much, Blake could feel resentment building up inside him.
“You don’t have anyone in mind?” Mac fell into step beside Blake, nodding at the girls they passed. He laughed and waved at one with a sign that read – Mac forever!
Blake shrugged, ignoring the fans and everyone else they walked by. “Nope. I don’t care. Just make sure they don’t take my parking spot. I got it fair and square from JT.”
The spot was right next to the grass and was least likely to get door dings from the other rigs that parked on their driveway. Parties weren’t unheard of at their condo and people were real idiots when they traveled in groups.
“Okay, I have someone in mind. I’ll set it up. Thanks.” Mac jerked his chin toward a group of reporters. “I’m gonna plug Des Nations. See if we can get chosen early on. I’ll let you know how it goes.” The selection process was pretty straightforward, but Mac never left anything to chance.
Blake didn’t care enough to comment one way or the other. He really didn’t care what Mac did or who lived with them.
As long as it wasn’t Jason Prism.