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Excerpt from "Tame My Racing Heart"

Tame My Racing Heart is a contemporary romance about second chance love. Sami Jo McLean, a hot shot female race car driver is determined to win the same race in Charlotte that took her father 20 years ago. When Sami starts receiving threatening photos, her uncle hires Grayson Finch, an ex-Marine, as her security detail. The only problem is, six years ago, Gray broke her heart. Sami promises not to be duped again, although the years have been good to Gray and she can’t stop thinking about him. Gray needs to make peace with the past, a past that includes Sami Jo, but he can’t deny how badly he wants to tame the woman he never quite got over.

Sami Jo McLean was late—as usual.

Parking her black Aston Martin in the driveway of her Uncle Royce’s oceanfront home, she killed the stereo blasting Motley Crue’s “Kickstart My Heart” and realized the irony of a professional race car driver not having a better handle on her time. 

Fresh ink on the inside of her right wrist stung under a gauze pad. The symbol for spirit she’d gotten that morning wasn’t her first tattoo, and it wouldn’t be her last. The sentiment behind the symbol was there to keep her focused. With her new sponsors and attitude, she was determined to clinch first place in the series. 

It was also the reason she was running late.

When Sami opened the car door, a familiar voice pierced the salty sea air.

“Samantha Jo, what is it gonna take for you to ever be on time?” 

Melanie Burton, Sami Jo’s cousin, tapped a flip-flop on the threshold of the open doorway as an Atlantic breeze whipped her straight brown hair into a frenzy. 

Sami straightened her tank dress and turned her arm as she took the stairs, so that Mel might not notice the telltale signs of the tat.

“It’s not like Royce is on some sort of time schedule. He’s practically retired.” She followed her cousin through the foyer into the kitchen. The smell of chocolate chips cookies filled the air which meant one thing—Royce had company. “What the hell is going on?”

What the hell is going on?” Sami Jo’s eight-year-old nephew mimicked from the living room. 

“James, go clean your room!” Melanie stomped her foot and retrieved a pitcher of lemonade from the refrigerator.

Sami Jo spotted the tray of cookies on the counter and reached out to take one.

“Stop right there. Those are for our guest. Make yourself useful and bring them outside for me.” Melanie pushed through the door leading to the porch.

“Who’s here?” Sami Jo asked. As the door slammed, she raised a brow and stuffed a cookie into her mouth.

Some man.” The small voice that came from the living room made Sami Jo smile. She picked up the tray of cookies and carried it into the brightly decorated room to find her six-year-old niece, Emma, sitting on the floor next to the leather sofa. A few coloring books Sami Jo had recently bought her were splayed out on the coffee table.

“What’s up, Emma-roo?”

“Looking for pink.” Emma frowned as she probed a shoebox full of crayons.

Sami Jo craned her neck to see the picture Emma was working on. “A—pink cactus? Are you sure about that, Em?”

Emma pulled a crayon from the box—carnation pink—and looked up at Sami Jo, wide-eyed and serious. “It’s a girl cactus.”

“Of course. Silly me.” Sami Jo selected a cookie and handed it to her niece. “So, who’s the man outside?”

Emma shrugged and stuffed the cookie in her mouth. “I don’t know him.” Pieces of cookie fell from her lips.

“Okay. Hey, don’t get crumbs all over the place, or your mom will kill us both.” Sami Jo winked and headed toward the door to the porch, carrying the tray. 

Royce had been cryptic about why he wanted her to come over when they spoke first thing that morning. Now, there was a guest waiting to meet with her? Her uncle was going to kill her for being late.

“There’s my girl!” Royce McLean called out from the far end of the open-air porch, where he leaned against the wood railing in his company logo-embroidered polo, the breeze ruffling his salt and pepper hair.

His handsome face showed delight, but those smoky eyes of his bored right through her. He was pissed, and calling Sami Jo his girl meant he was showing off to someone.

Royce’s guest stood by the stairs that led down to the beach. Sami Jo caught her breath, releasing the cookie tray as if it burned her hand. It clattered onto the low table.

“Hey, Sami Jo.” 

The sound of his voice sent a shiver through her, as infuriating memories bubbled to the surface. 

Grayson Finch turned slightly, holding a glass in his hand. It had been six years, but even under his sport coat, she could tell he was still built like a tank.

Damn, he looks good.

And, different. 

For one, he’s grown out the crewcut. Long layers of dark blonde hair framed his face. And then, there was the short beard. She’d only even seen him clean-shaven. How any of this could be such a vast improvement on someone who was already ridiculously good looking was, well—ridiculous.

“Here, Mr. Finch, let me top off your glass.” Melanie hurried over with the pitcher of lemonade.

Sami Jo broke from her trance-like state and adjusted the tray of cookies on the table.

“Come, Grayson, take a seat.” Royce crossed to a cushioned wicker chair. “Sami Jo?” He pointed at her, and then gestured to the seat next to his. “Sit.”

Royce always had a knack for making situations seem dire. Nonetheless, she obeyed, as her heart did synchronized somersaults with her stomach. 

“Melanie, can you be a doll and make sure the kids stay inside until we’re done? And, let me know when Matt gets here.” Royce gave his daughter a wink.

“Sure, Daddy.” Mel put the pitcher on the table in front of them and headed inside. 

Royce looked across the table at Gray. “Melanie reminds me so much of her mother. I don’t know what I would’ve done without her after my Trudy passed on last year. Having her and Matt living here with the kids has really brought life back into this place. You’ll meet Matt soon. He’s been negotiating for two new cars all morning, but I’m optimistic he’ll get us a good deal.” Royce stuck his thumb out and jerked it toward Sami Jo. “Meanwhile, this one is costing me an arm and a leg in tires every single time she races.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she swore Gray was smiling and nodding. It was Royce’s attempt at humor, yet she had no sarcastic comeback to diffuse it—that was a first. 

“Sami Jo, weren’t you friends with Grayson’s cousin? Um—” Royce snapped his fingers repeatedly. “Julie? Jenny?”

“Gemma,” Sami Jo and Gray answered simultaneously, causing her to stiffen. His answer sounded low and calm while hers felt like it was bordering hysterical.

“Royce, what’s this all about?” Sami Jo had dispensed with Uncle years ago; the business had seen to that.

Royce picked up a blue file folder from the accent table and passed it to her. When she tried to take it, he didn’t let go. “I want you to take this seriously. Especially after—” 

Her uncle didn’t have to finish his sentence. He was referring to the incident in Vegas. She thought they were past it.

Sami Jo tugged the folder out of his hand and opened it. Inside, were several photos of her at races and other appearances. Each had lewd words and images drawn over them in Sharpie. She shrugged, trying to think of a way to lessen her uncle’s concern. “I always get this crap. So what?”

It was true. She’d had plenty of deranged individuals trying to contact her. She always blew it off, knowing it was part of being in the public eye.

“They’ve been coming to the office pretty regularly over the last two weeks,” Royce replied. “After everything that happened last month, it just doesn’t sit right with me. That’s why I asked Grayson here, to provide security for you.” 

Sami Jo blinked at her uncle for a few moments. “I don’t need a bodyguard.” She closed the folder, tossed it onto the table and stared at Gray. She struggled to keep her cool as he sat with his hands folded in his lap like he was judging her. “I thought you were in the Marines.” 

“I was. I own my own firm now. We provide protection and investigative services—”

“This is completely unnecessary. If I had a dollar for every time some psycho stalked me.” 

Gray’s stare made it clear, he disagreed.

“I’m sorry if Royce wasted your time, Gray. Take care of yourself.” She stood, slipped out of her sandals, and quickly crossed to the stairs going down to the beach as Royce called after her to stop.

A cacophony of gulls drowned him out as she headed through the smooth sand leading toward the water. 

Up and down the beach, young children were building sandcastles as adults sat under colorful umbrellas. Just another day in the life of Royce’s neighbors, but Sami Jo barely noticed. 

She let out a deep breath as her pace slowed.

Why the hell was Grayson Finch sitting on her uncle’s porch? The last time they’d even spoken—more like screamed at each other—he was breaking up with her.

The ugliness he’d spewed at her, at the end of that summer, came flooding back as waves licked at Sami Jo’s feet. She remembered like it was yesterday.

“You’re living in a dream world if you think I’d pop your cherry, and stay here to work for your uncle, Sami Jo.”

He had not, in fact, popped her cherry. And, it wasn’t for lack of trying on her part. She’d spent that entire summer trying everything under the sun to lose her virginity to the hottest man she’d ever met. Not that they hadn’t come close. 

Sami Jo had practically begged for it that last night they were together, only to be denied. Gray had tossed her aside as if she’d meant nothing to him and left her with a broken heart. Plus, she’d alienated all her friends that summer, so she had no one to turn to after he left. Especially Gemma, Gray’s cousin, who’d been her best friend until Sami Jo let her priorities and hormones ruin their friendship.

And, now—he was here. Potentially working for her uncle. 

Damn, could’ve thrown that in his face.

Then he’d know it still bothered her. She wouldn’t give him that satisfaction.

When Sami Jo glanced back at the house, Gray was approaching her. 

“What do you want, Gray?” she called over her shoulder.

“Sami Jo, come back to the house so we can discuss this.”

“It’s nothing I haven’t seen before. I can take care of myself.” She picked up a shell and cast it into the waves. A seagull overhead dive-bombed toward it in search of food.

“Not this time.” Gray held up the blue folder. “Considering you’re a rather high-profile celebrity who makes public appearances, your uncle insists—”

Sami Jo spun to face him. His rugged features under the bright sun caught her off guard. Six years had weathered his face a bit, yet he was still arrestingly handsome. Maybe even more so now. 

“Give me a break. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was just a stunt intended to get me extra media coverage.”

“I think you do fine with that on your own. This isn’t a stunt.” Gray stepped toward her, risking the waves hitting his leather shoes. “Why don’t you tell me about what happened in Vegas last month.” 

A shudder ran through her, but she did her best to conceal it.

“Well, obviously you know about it, if you’re asking.” She straightened.

“Yes, but I want to hear it from you,” he said.

She studied him for a moment. Uncharacteristic scruff covered the dimples she knew existed in both his cheeks, while the sun off the waves reflected in his intense stare, making her insides flutter a bit.

“It was a month ago, after I won the race. There was an unofficial after-party at the Monte Carlo where we were staying.” Sami Jo poked at the sand with her foot, wondering how many times she’d told this story. She’d repeated it enough it sounded like the statement she’d given police, but it was the only way she could get through it. “It wasn’t a private party, so we mingled with the crowd at the nightclub. Some time after two a.m., a bunch of us left together. Several of us got off the elevator on the same floor. By the time I realized one of the guys in the group had followed me, it was too late.”

Sami Jo’s mouth went desert-dry at the memory. She decided to leave out the part where he’d forced himself into her room, and how she could still smell the beer on his breath when he’d shoved her up against the wall. Then, there was how drunk she had been and how she thought maybe she’d coaxed the guy with her flirting although the police insisted none of that mattered. She wasn’t about to admit her guilt to Gray.

“Sami Jo—” Gray’s voice was practically a whisper, filled with pity.

It made her straighten.

“I was able to fend him off. I clocked him good with a bottle of champagne and ran out of the room. When the police got there, he was gone. They got a blood sample off the bottle but nothing became of it.”

“I’m sorry that happened, Sami Jo.” Gray closed the gap between them. 

“Yeah, well, I still think this is Royce over-reacting.”

“He’s concerned for your safety and I’m your best option. It’s what I do now.” 

Sami Jo gazed down the beach, not wanting to show him how much his physical presence agitated her. He was so close, she could smell his woodsy cologne and she zeroed in on the short whiskers surrounding his mouth. Remembering how his lips had felt—

She crossed her arms over her chest. “This is nothing. It’s unnecessary.” 

Gray opened the folder, producing an item she had obviously missed.

Kelly DuffComment