Excerpt: Slow Ride
Book 3: Drive Me Wild Series
Los Angeles, Cedars-Sinai hospital 3 years ago
The first thing Marcus noticed when he came out of his medically induced, drugged haze, was the smell. He’d always hated the cloying stench of hospitals. It went back many years; he’d spent most of his teens visiting his sister, Kendra, when leukaemia saw her spend days and weeks in the antiseptic smelling, bleak environment of a sterile hospital ward.
I’m still in hospital. No surprise given three weeks ago he’d broken just about every bone in his body, including his back, in a car going over 150mph.
The second thing he noticed—couldn’t escape more like—was the pain. Yip, it fuckin’ hurt. There wasn’t one part of his body that didn’t seem to feel like it was being accelerated over, again and again. His heart started racing as his throbbing head took mere moments to replay the crash in exquisite detail.
Flashes of frightening images filled his mind; metal flying apart and flames bursting from the engine with searing heat. And again, the presence of pain. His stomach clenched as he fought down the nausea.
“He’s progressing better than we expected. The head injury was not as bad as we thought, and his cognitive functions are good. His ribs and broken arm will take a few weeks to heal, as will his broken femur, but it’s his back we’re concerned with.”
“The surgeon in Monaco told us he might be paralyzed?”
Stinky fear filled his nostrils at his father’s words. He licked his lips, wishing his mouth wasn’t so dry. Too scared to try moving his toes in case it was true, he tried to form words, but his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. Suddenly beeps sounded like a shrill whistle in the room. Yes, I’m awake, he wanted to yell at them. Stop talking about me as if I’m not here.
“We don’t believe so. If we prick his feet he reacts. However, he’s not completely out of the woods. The disc damage in his back is significant and could create ongoing problems, if not now, perhaps later.”
All Marcus heard was not paralyzed, and as he wiggled a toe, the beeps still piercing the air slowed to a steady blip.
“He’ll need extensive physical therapy once his broken bones heal. He is extremely lucky and the surgeon in Monaco did an excellent job.”
“My son is a fighter. He’ll bounce back. He’ll be back racing in Formula One again before you know it.”
“I very much doubt that, Mr. Black. Your son’s back required fusing and he won’t have the strength needed to sit in a small sports car for long periods without being in agonizing pain.”
The beeping sound raced once more. His career. His Formula One racing career he’d worked so hard for was over? Not if he had anything to say about it. He was the current world champion, and he had every intention of winning again this year.
“Besides, he has months of recuperation to get through. This season is over for him.”
The doctor spelled out the end of his career as if he were discussing a day at the beach.
“Ah, you’re joining us once again, Mr. Black. I was just explaining to your father you’re making a splendid recovery.”
“Water,” his voiced scratched out.
Suddenly a glass with a straw was placed to his lips. He followed the hairy arm up to see his best friend, and head mechanic, Thomas Lorde, was his water boy.
Tom smiled. “You’ll do anything to gain the ladies’ attention.”
With his thirst momentarily quenched, he couldn’t hold his head up any longer. “Care to swap places.”
Tom’s smile died, and he couldn’t look Marcus in the eyes.
“Any news on what caused the crash?”
“They are still reviewing the footage and cars. I’m sure we’ll know soon enough.” Was his father’s reply. Was that why Tom couldn’t look at him?
“There was nothing wrong with the car, Tom. It was bloody Colter.” Marcus closed his eyes against the pain, not even enough strength to curse out Jason Colter, his rival and the man who’d sent his car into the wall.
“Don’t worry about that now. Just concentrate on getting better. I’m sick of keeping your girls’ at bay.”
He really wanted to smile at Tom’s words, but the pain was building. Suddenly a nurse appeared and pushed the button on the drip, and thank God for small mercies the pain subsided—slowly. He really tried to keep his eyes open but…
The room was quiet when he next woke, just the soft sound of his blipping heart monitor filled the room. He was thirsty again. Before he could raise his head off the pillow a straw was before his mouth. But the arm holding the cup was slim, toned, tanned and smooth.
“Boys and their toys. What was I always telling you?”
Stella. He smiled through the pain as he took in the fair-haired beauty holding the glass. “Speed kills. But honey, I ain’t dead.” Nope, one part of him was very much alive. It twitched even though his body ached with pain. Stella could always get his motor running.
“Kendra’s getting me a proper coffee. We are here to ensure you do as the doctor orders.” She paused and the ‘old lady’ scowl disappeared, replaced by the sexy smile he loved. “And to keep that tribe of groupies away from your door. I’m pretty sure you’re in no condition to be entertaining.”
“You’d be surprised.” But she was right. He was in no condition.
“When you’ve recovered, you can surprise me plenty,” she purred making his balls swell. She was the hottest thing on long, long legs he’d ever seen. Guys took one look at her and sex is all they saw. But there was much more to Stella. She was intelligent, sassy, and so much fun in bed and out. Her only drawback was she was best friends with Kendra, and keeping his life private from his nosey sister was always a problem when it came to Stella.
Whenever he came home from Europe, he craved his hook ups with Stella. They’d been friends with benefits since hooking up at Kendra’s twentieth birthday drinks at the Porter Club two years ago. She was the only woman he’d had any kind of consistent relationship with. A life traveling the Formula One circuit made any other type of relationship impossible.
But then Stella was the female version of him. Her opening line to him that night at the bar had been, “I do sex, really well actually, but I’m shit at relationships. I’m a screw him, thank him, then leave him kind of gal. So don’t go falling in love with me.”
He’d never wanted a woman more.
If his body wasn’t wracked with pain, he’d want her now. Hell, even with morphine flooding his body, or perhaps because of it, he wanted her now.
As if sensing his thoughts she leaned close so her breasts pressed into his chest. “Perhaps if you’re a good boy and behave, do what the doctor orders, I’ll wear my sexy nurse’s uniform next time I visit.”
An image flashed in his head, and blood fled south. His dick didn’t seem to get the message that the rest of him was out of action. But when he healed, she would be the one flat on her back. Who was he kidding? She’d be whichever way he could have her.
Just then his little sis entered the room. Kendra handed a coffee to Stella, elbowing her out of the way to bend down and hug him, whispering in his ear, “I don’t want you ever racing again. I can’t lose you, and Connor needs his uncle.”
He looked at Stella as Kendra sobbed against his chest. She too had a tear in her eye.
He bit back a response. After all, it was his career that was over. If anyone should cry it was him.
He’d make Jason Colter pay if it was the last thing he did.
Maui, The Four Seasons Resort
For the first time since he’d gotten off the plane in Maui, Marcus’s back pain was bearable and this time it wasn’t because he’d popped a pill. The flight from Los Angeles to Maui, with the one stop in Honolulu, was about seven hours too long. Too long for his back to be sitting in a seat, even if it was in business class. Three years on from his accident and his back saw him living in agony.
He rolled off the portable masseuse table set up in his hotel room and wrapped the towel around his waist. He wished the beautiful woman with the magic hands wasn’t so businesslike. Perhaps Karla would let him work some of his magic on her.
He gave her one of his customary seductive smiles, but there was no answering smile, so he didn’t push the matter.
Besides, part of the excitement about attending Kade and Lexie’s wedding here at The Four Season’s Resort, was Stella was in the bridal party too. He missed his friend with the benefits! She’d been so busy of late, apparently some charity she worked for, that they hadn’t been able to hook up for quite a while. He hoped to change that this weekend. He refused to look too closely at why Stella was on his mind so much.
He walked Karla to the door, and pressed a generous tip into her hand. His money brought out the missing smile. “I’m here all weekend if you need me,” Karla added as she thanked him and walked off.
“Making new friends already, I see.”
He looked down the corridor. Stella. He couldn’t help but smile. She looked amazing, dressed in an off the shoulder white linen top and jean shorts that showcased her amazing legs. Already he longed to have them wrapped around him. “Masseuse. Plane trips are a killer.”
He noted her hostile stare vanished, and concern flooded her lovely blue eyes instead. “How is your back?” she asked walking toward him, her ponytail of long blonde hair swinging in time with her hips.
“The usual. I’ll cope.” He stepped forward, forgetting he was only dressed in a towel and heard his hotel room door click shut behind him. He spun around on a curse. “Shit. I’m locked out.” How fortuitous. He faced Stella. “I’ll wait in your room while they send up a spare card key.”
She laughed. “Or I should give all the women in the hotel a treat and make you go down to reception in that skimpy towel.”
“Come on, give me a break. I’m covered in oil and I want a hot shower to help my back.” Why not go for the pity vote?
Stella shook her head and turned back to her room a few doors down from his. “Come on, then.”
“When did you arrive?” he asked as he followed her in.
She threw her hat and suntan lotion on the table. “Yesterday, with Lexie and Kendra. Lexie’s so excited about her big day.”
“Are the guys here?”
“Yip. They arrived this morning. The pre-wedding dinner starts at 8pm tonight. Don’t be late, and I want you on your best behavior. Tomorrow, during the wedding ceremony, you’ll be standing next to Jason Colter.”
His fists clenched at the name. He’d hated Jason for so many years, and when Jason was an alcoholic, opiate addicted arsehole, that was easy. Everyone felt sorry for Marcus. But now Colter was sober and trying to be an upstanding citizen, if Marcus let his hatred show, he appeared the arsehole.
Life was so unfair.
He did what most men do when they don’t want to answer. He changed the subject. “Can you ring down to reception to get me a new card key while I use your shower?” Stella sighed at his lack of affirmation on the behavior front. Because he was pissed, he added, “Feel free to join me.”
Five minutes later, he realized Stella wouldn’t be joining him. Damn. Why had he let Jason get under his skin? If he’d simply agreed to play nice, Stella could have relieved his tension.
He grabbed one of the hotel toweling robes in Stella’s bathroom, and with his anger burning low, joined her. She was busy mixing a drink.
He came up behind her and enveloped her in his arms, pulling her back against him, letting her soft curves cool his anger. He should have left off the robe, but even through the soft toweling he could feel her heat, and the orchid scent she always wore filled his senses. His dick hardened instantly.
His lips found her neck and he nibbled as his hands explored her body. She had tiny breasts, but they were oh, so responsive. Her nipples formed tight peaks and he was eager to taste them. She turned in his embrace and her arms slipped around his neck on a sexy moan. She rubbed against his erection. He found her mouth, and her tongue met his for a duel, which of course he won. This is what he needed. He always forgot the constant pain in his back when he held a beautiful woman in his arms.
When he held Stella in his arms.
He backed her towards the bed, but before he could tumble them onto it, she broke off the kiss and pushed out of his hold.
“Tempting as you are, big guy, I need a drink and a shower, and you need to go back to your room and get dressed. Find Jason and sort your shit out.”
Another thing he could blame Jason for—cock blocking. He didn’t have his watch on. “It can’t be that late?”
She was back to making a drink. Ok, something was off.
“A beer for me, thanks,” he said as he ignored her hint to leave and instead took a chair on her balcony over-looking the sea. Stella’s mention of Jason was a reminder that this wedding was going to be hell, and a beer was a great way to start the weekend since a romp between the sheets appeared to be off the table.
“I suggest you have a drink with Jason before the dinner. Get out whatever it is you want to say, beat him to a pulp if you have to, but don’t bring this pissed off attitude to the pre-wedding dinner or the wedding. Kendra would never forgive you. As for the bride—Lexie would kick your ass.”
“Why is it I’m the bad guy here when fuckin’ Jason was the one who—”
— “They never found him guilty of causing the crash.”
If Stella said ‘let it go’ he would… He took a long slug of his beer. What would he do? Scream like a girl? And why was it that he couldn’t let it go?
Her tone softened. “I know what the end of your career meant to you. I know how long it took you to recover. I was there, remember? But look at you now. You love Bad Boy Autos. It’s a tremendous success. And you don’t need the title of world champion race car driver to attract the women. They drop into your bed on a smile.”
“The masseuse didn’t,” he muttered under his breath.
“Well, more fool her.”
“You didn’t join me in the shower, either.”
He waited for the usual snappy, edgy reply, but it never came. He looked at her. His gut clenched. “Why didn’t you join me in the shower? Why aren’t we in your bed right now? Neither of us brought a date to this wedding.”
“I need another drink.” She made her way inside and he heard the ice cubes clank. Something was up with his Stella. His Stella? When had she become his Stella? He rose and followed her inside.
“Have you met someone?” Her back stiffened at his words, and for one moment he feared the worse.
He let out the breath he’d been holding. “Then what’s up?” She wasn’t the same. Normally she’d have him out of this robe, naked on the bed and straddled before he’d dried himself off from the shower. Hell, she would have been with him in the shower down on her knees…
She turned to face him. Shit. He knew instantly he wouldn’t like what she had to say.
“I think it’s time we called an end to our friends with benefits arrangement.”
Yip. Something was definitely up, and it wasn’t his dick. “Why?” What he should ask himself was why the idea of Stella not being his friend with amazing benefits made him feel like his world was ending. But he wasn’t drunk enough to face himself.
“The view is beautiful on the balcony.” She took his hand and led him back outside. “Besides, you need to be sitting down for this. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“Try me,” he insisted.
Shielding her eyes from the setting sun, she sighed. “I blame your sister.”
“What’s Kendra got to do with this?”
“She’s happy. She and Tom… their children, Conner and Matti. They are so happy together.” She turned to him with tears welling in her eyes. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been as content as they are. But I know I want to experience what they have. I want that someone special. Marriage and children even.”
He swallowed slowly. “Are you telling me you want the white picket fence and happy families? I thought we both agreed there was no such thing?”
“Maybe we’re wrong. Maybe if you find the right person…”
If she wasn’t looking so teary and serious he would have laughed. Right person! Yeah, right. There was no such thing. Her movie producer father was onto wife number five or was it six, and his father… His parents didn’t even share the same bedroom, let alone the same bed—hadn’t for years. God knows how he and Kendra were ever conceived.
Marcus wasn’t giving up yet. “So what? Let’s keep our arrangement on the table until the right man comes along. Or at least for the wedding.” Stella would come around. She just needed a reminder of how great they were in bed.
She shook her head. “I’m serious, Marcus. No more FWB. I’m not likely to find a potential husband with a hunky guy who I have sex with hanging around.”
“Well, that’s just made this wedding even more unbearable.”
Stella laughed. “Oh, please. You’ll find a replacement for me before the dinner tonight, I bet.”
He didn’t want a replacement. He wanted Stella.
“Don’t look at me like that,” she said softly.
“Like I’m the only woman in the world for you. That’s not fair, because for you it’s not true. You aren’t a one-woman kind of guy, and nor are you interested in marriage.”
She was bloody right there. But losing… it wasn’t just about losing the sex, fuckin’ fantastic as it was between them, it was the idea of losing this. The one person he could be himself with. The woman who didn’t give a shit about his celebrity status or how much money he had. The one person he could really talk to. His body grew cold even with the heavy bath robe on.
He was losing Stella, and he didn’t know what to do about it.
He drew in a deep breath and really looked at her. She was staring at the sunset, sadness hanging over her. He didn’t want her sad. He reached out and took her delicate hand in his. They sat in silence, watching the sun go down. It was going down on their relationship, and friendship. Whatever he had with Stella would never be the same, and it tore him up inside.
In the dimming light, he stood and leaned down to kiss her cheek. “I hope you find Mr. Right, if he exists. I really do. I want you to be happy. Life’s too short. But I’m always here if you need me.” She rolled her eyes. “I’m not talking about sex, you wicked girl, but it’s always on the table. I’ll remind you in case you have forgotten, but the F in FWB stands for friends.”
She didn’t reply. What could she say that she hadn’t already said? It was over and he hated how it made him feel. Scared. He’d always had Stella on his side since before the accident. Now he had no one.
He took his leave, picking up his new key card off the table, and called over his shoulder, “I’m off to find Jason. Will Lexie kill me if he has a black eye in the wedding photos?”
“No, but Kade, his brother, you know, the groom, might.”
The door to her hotel room closed behind him on her laughter. But Marcus couldn’t laugh. It was only just sinking in that he’d probably lost the best thing in his life. And the feeling sucked.
I did it. I told him. She knew ending her—relationship—with Marcus would hurt, but she hadn’t expected to see the matching hurt in his eyes. That really ripped her heart out. Was there more to their arrangement than she thought? Could Marcus have deeper feelings for her? Had she done the right thing?
She sipped her rum and coke and let the tears fall. She’d told him, but she’d told him only the half of it. She was in love with him. She wanted him to be her special someone, but after nine months of slowly drawing away, nine months of making herself unavailable, he’d not even bothered to chase after her. It would appear any woman would do.
She swiped the tears off her face with the back of her hand. She wanted to be Marcus’s only woman. She wanted a genuine relationship, something Marcus didn’t know how to do. Tears were useless.
Why did he have to look so damn hot? God, wandering around her room in a skimpy towel, with all those wash-board abs on display… she deserved a flipping medal for not jumping his bones. She loved running her tongue over each ripple of muscle as she rode him. He was solid muscle, working on his core strength like crazy to help stabilize his damaged back. He was sex on two legs. But he was more than just sex to her. That’s why she had to end it. He’d be in her bed satisfying her now, if sex was all she cared about.
She looked down from her top floor room and watched couples walking hand in hand through the garden below. How many of them would be together one year from now, twenty years from now? She understood where Marcus was coming from, she really did. Her father was the walking advertisement for staying single. The only person happy about dear old Dad’s serial divorcing was his lawyer.
As for her mum… all she looked for in a man was a deep wallet. Husband number three appeared to have lasted longer than most. She hoped her mother stayed with him.
She was tired. It was going to be a long weekend. She rose, taking one last look at the couples down below. It was time to shower and put on her happy bridesmaid face. If Lexie could be brave and marry the brother of her ex-husband, and if Kade was happy for Jason to be in the bridal party, then Stella could face this one wedding without giving in and sleeping with Marcus.
She just wished he wasn’t so tall, dark and handsome, or that she loved him so much. The memory of him in her bed, and how they scorched up the sheets haunted her dreams.
Worse, if he, or more like when, he picked up a woman this weekend, Stella would have to watch and bear it, as if she was happy with the fact they were no longer bed buddies. She didn’t think she was that strong.
Maybe she’d find the man of her dreams amongst the guests. She doubted it, because she pretty much knew all of Kade and Lexie’s friends, and besides, who could ever win against Marcus?
Getting through the wedding was going to be hell.
Getting on with her life without Marcus… was there a place worse than hell?
Just then there was a pounding on her door.
Please don’t let it be Marcus because if he stepped one foot back into this room, she didn’t know if she had the strength to resist him.
Her prayer was answered.
Lexie piled in the door before Stella had even stepped back.
The bride was all fidgety with excitement. “You’re not dressed yet? What have you been doing?” Lexie spied the empty beer bottle. “Let me guess, Marcus has been here.” She looked at the bed, which of course was not rumpled. “Or maybe not.”
Lexie was the only one who knew about her relationship with Marcus. She’d caught them kissing late one night at Bad Boy Autos. Lexie worked as a mechanic and designer for Marcus’s upmarket chop shop. They specialized in up-specking European cars like Maserati and Porsche.
“If you must know I had a drink with Marcus and ended our—arrangement.”
“Before my wedding? Why did you—no—I won’t ask? It’s about time if you ask me. You deserve more.”
“I do.” That’s why she’d ended it.
“I’ll wait while you get dressed.”
“Look, I haven’t even showered yet.” She gently pushed Lexie toward the door. “I’ll meet you downstairs as soon as I’m presentable.”
Lexie stopped. “One favor. It should be an easy one now you’ve broken it off with Marcus.”
She crossed her arms. “I’m not saying yes until I know what it is.”
“It’s Jason.” Stella’s mouth dropped open, but Lexie pleaded. “I know you’ve never really met him, but he’s here on his own. I just don’t want him to feel like everyone is looking at him, or is against him. Could you just attempt to introduce yourself and keep him company? As he’s in the bridal party he’s come solo too.”
Shit. Why was Lexie so worried about her ex-husband who’d put her through hell? He’d been a booze and coke addicted, man-whore, and just because he’d got himself cleaned up all should be forgiven? Lexie had nothing to be guilty about. Jason had cheated on her, abused her and run off with her money. Kade had helped her, supported her, and given Lexie faith enough to love and trust again.
Besides, it wasn’t a good idea given she’d just broken up with Marcus, and Jason was at the top of Marcus’s hate list. Marcus to this day swore it was Jason’s erratic driving that saw him crash in the Monaco race. The crash that destroyed his racing career and almost left him a cripple.
She was about to say no, but Lexie was biting her lip and looking desperate. Stella hoped she didn’t live to regret this. “I will not be his official watcher, but I’ll ensure I talk with him, and if I see him looking lost, I’ll meander to his side.”
Lexie hugged her. “Thank you.”
“Why are you so worried about a man that treated you like dirt?”
Lexie hugged her harder. “Because he was a different person then. Drugs make people do things they wouldn’t normally do. Addiction is an illness.”
Stella always thought addiction was for people too weak to say no. Then the image of a naked Marcus going down on her flooded her head. Suddenly, she knew how hard it was to battle an addiction. Her addiction was an ex-Formula One racing car driver with come to bed eyes. If it had been Marcus, not Lexie, at her door what would she have done?
“If you say so. Now scram, I’m running really late.”
The next day, just after lunch, Marcus was wishing he’d had time to ring for Karla before this wedding. He’d only just made it through his shower.
He bent backwards, trying to stretch out his back, but the golf he’d played today with the guys meant he was fucked. He knew he shouldn’t have played the last five holes, but then he’d have to explain just how bad his back had gotten. Besides, he wasn’t about to let Jason win the match.
He’d gone to confront Jason last night, but the bastard beat him to it by approaching him with a groveling apology. Part of Jason’s 12-step program, apparently. He’d listened, but he couldn’t quite come to accept Jason’s apology. Besides, Jason hadn’t mentioned the crash. He hadn’t apologized for that. He didn’t trust Jason as far as he could kick him. And he still didn’t like him.
He finished his glass of scotch and made his way to the bathroom and his toiletry bag. He hated having to rely on his pain meds, but he’d never get through this wedding without them. He’d barely made it through the dinner last night and golf today had finished him off.
Stella. Stella dumping his ass. That’s why he’d needed alcohol.
He shouldn’t have had that scotch, but one drink shouldn’t cause any major problems when mixed with his prescribed OxyContin. He needed both to block the pain. But he wouldn’t drink anything else tonight. He wasn’t stupid.
He downed two pills and slipped on his jacket just as someone rapped on his door.
“Bro’ come on, I’m sure you’re pretty enough.” He opened the door to Tom.
“What’s crawled up your ass?”
He could hardly say he was pissed that Stella had dumped him. Tom didn’t know about their arrangement. “I have to go to a wedding and I have to stand next to Jason ‘asshole’ Colter.”