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. He’d spent too many months, most of his teens, visiting his sister, Kendra, when leukemia 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 run 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, 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 those words were 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 will 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 before you know it.”
“I very much doubt that, Mr. Black. Your son’s back required fusing and he won’t have the strength required to sit in a small sports car for long periods without being in agonizing pain.”
The beeping sound picked up 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 met 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.
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. Coming up to three years on from his accident and his back still saw him live in agony.
He rolled off the portable masseuse table set up in his hotel room and wrapped the towel around his waist. 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. For what he had in mind, his back needed to be, if not pain free, at least bearable.
He missed his friend with the benefits! Stella had 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 Marianne to the door and pressed a generous tip into her hand. His money brought out another seductive smile, but he was taken for the next few days—he hoped. “I’m here all weekend if you need me,” she 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, dressed in only a towel, and heard his hotel room door clicked 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 key card.”
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 please ring down to reception to get me a new key card while I use your shower?” Stella sighed at his lack of affirmation on the behavior front. With an encouraging wink, 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. Okay, 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 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.”
“No, they don’t,” he muttered under his breath.
“Don’t be modest.”
“You didn’t join me in the shower.”
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. Or why it mattered so much.
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. She’d been there when he wondered if he’d ever walk again. 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.Return to Slow Ride