I have absolutely no business being here I thought to myself as I looked around the busy NASCAR track. This was a huge mistake and I knew it. I kept telling myself on the drive up to the track that I was doing this because I needed the money and to keep that thought in my mind while I was out there sweating my ass off today. I was lucky enough to be a freelance photographer so I could take on projects like this, for companies who would pay me for my work. I normally loved shit like this, but today? Today this felt like an actual damn job.
I stood in the hot New England sun and pulled my dark hair into a messy bun before snapping off a couple of pictures. The drivers were getting ready to qualify for the race on Sunday and those that already had finished were standing around talking to the press and each other. I pretty much knew all of the drivers and I knew at one point or another, I was going to run into the ones that I was trying to avoid. Isn’t that usually how it worked?
I used to love NASCAR racing. In fact, I used to go to as many races as I possibly could, when I could, up until that fatal day that broke my heart and changed my life forever. Wait, no, scratch that. It did more than just change my life or smash my heart into a million fucking pieces, but that’s at least a good place to start. My entire world was turned upside down and I had been avoiding NASCAR racing ever since that happened. I had my entire life planned out up until that day and when Cooper died? He took everything I had planned as well as my happiness with him.
“I should have stayed home,” I mumbled to myself as I lifted my camera to try to get a few more pictures. Lately, I had tried to stick to babies and weddings. Again, I made a mental note to think about how I was doing this for the money and nothing more. It was nice to get out of the house for a bit and enjoy myself. Maybe I could think of this as a vacation of sorts, even if it was only a couple of hours from my house.
I spotted my friend and driver Finn Houston standing up ahead with another driver who I hadn’t had the chance to meet yet. It was actually because of Finn that I heard about this job and if he hadn’t pushed me to take it I most likely would be at home right now taking pictures of another Frozen birthday party. Nothing against Elsa or anything, but I’m just ready to let it go. As much as I prided myself in being a strong and independent woman, I felt a sense of relief wash over me when Finn raised his hand to wave me over.
“Hey, Sully!” Finn flashed me a big smile before he pulled me into a giant hug as soon as I got close enough. He was handsome, not as good looking as his brother Cooper had been, but close enough. He was over six feet with broad shoulders and thick dark hair. His green eyes sparkled with happiness when he pulled back to look at me. “I’m sorry I didn’t get the chance to see you until now. How does it feel to be back?”
I shrugged my shoulders as I tried to think of an answer. I couldn’t lie to Finn without him knowing. We knew one another too well. “It could be worse. It hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be.” I let my eyes wander a bit and they landed on the driver standing next to him which turned out to be a big mistake. Huge mistake. I made sure to familiarize myself with some of the newer drivers once I had been hired for the job and I recognized him immediately.
Rand Shepard was not your typical race car driver. He grew up in Georgia and was around five or six years old when the racing but bit. The guy was as big as a linebacker and looked to be seven feet tall from where I stood. This was his first season of NASCAR so he might be a rookie driver, but the rumors about him being a bad boy, heartbreaker looked to be true as I watched plenty of women walk by trying to get his attention.
There was no denying Rand was attractive. The pictures I had seen did not do him justice with the inky-black hair that curled around his ears as well as the tattoos that covered his entire body. Or at least, the ones I could see with his fire suit on which was saying a lot since it covered his entire body.
Finn put his hand on Rand’s shoulder. “Sully, have you met Rand yet?” He raised his eyebrows at me with a look of concern in his eyes.
I shook my head. “No, not yet.” I smiled up at Rand as I tried to ignore the alarms and bells going off in my head. Warning me to run, telling me to watch myself. I wasn’t sure what it was about the young driver that had me so on edge.
“Brooklyn, right?” Rand’s thick southern accent caught me off guard. His eyes were hidden behind a pair of dark sunglasses, but that didn’t stop him from making me feel like he was undressing me as he slowly looked me over. A smile tugged at the corners of Rand’s perfectly shaped lips and I got the feeling that he wanted to eat me alive.
I immediately hated Rand Shepard. There was no other way to describe the feeling running through my mind right now. Anger flashed through my veins as I stared up at him. Drivers like him? They thought they were every woman’s dream. Cocky and so goddamn full of himself, Rand probably thought I would drop my panties for him the second he asked. Over my dead body.
“It’s nice to meet you, Rand.” I plastered a fake smile onto my face and turned back to Finn.
“Oh no, the pleasure is all mine, darlin’.” Rand’s voice shouldn’t have made me feel the things I was feeling right now, but I couldn’t seem to control my body. It was like it had a mind of its own right now. I could hear the teasing; the flirting behind his words and it took all I had not to slap him across the face just so I could wipe that smug smile from it.
Finn coughed softly. “Alright then.” He shot Rand a look that might have killed him if this was a movie or television show and I was never happier to have him in my corner. “Sully, how about you take a few pictures? Rand and I would love to help you out with that.”
I gritted my teeth. “That would be great, thanks.” I avoided looking back in Rand’s direction and instead, picked up my camera from around my neck as the two men tried to get into a more natural position. “Just relax, both of you.” I giggled at the expression on Finn’s face. “Just try to act normal.” I clucked my tongue along the roof of my mouth. “If that’s possible.” I shot a look at Rand for a second just so he knew that yes, dickhead, I was talking to you.
“Darlin’.” Rand’s smooth southern accent washed over me like butter on toast. “I couldn’t be more natural if I tried.” I resisted the urge to tell him to shove it up his ass and instead, plastered that fake smile back on my face. I needed this job. I needed this money. London, she needed to stay in school.
Finn shot a look over at Rand. “Dude, you’re acting like a real douche. We talked about this.” His eyes had gone hard. “Knock it the fuck off.”
Haha, I wanted to laugh at him. Finn, forever my protector and for a second I felt a wave of heartache wash over me like I hadn’t felt in a very long time. Cooper and Finn, shit, they were the best bodyguards a girl could ask for until—.
“Sully?” Finn brought me back to reality.
I looked up at the sound of my name. “Sorry.” I turned to face Finn and Rand but had to take a step back. Rand had removed those dark sunglasses and staring back at me now were a pair of the bluest eyes I had ever seen. They were so blue you might think you could swim in them and for a moment I swore that he could see straight into my soul. Shame and desire mingled deep in my throat as heat settled deep in my belly. Fuck me.
I gathered myself together and managed to snap off a few shots of Finn and Rand together before I got a couple of each, alone. I knew that I was working faster than I normally did and I hated myself for it. I tried to shrug it off with the excuse that I could see how tired they both were, how tired I was, and the fact that I wanted to try to get ahold of London tonight if possible. I wanted to make sure she was doing alright and just wanted to hear her voice. I hated having her so far away, but she was happy and doing what she loved. We both were.
The real reason I was moving so fast was because I wanted to get away from Rand Shepard as fast as I could. I didn’t like him or trust him.
“Thanks.” I covered the lens of my camera when I was finished. “Appreciate your help.” I met Finn’s gaze and he smiled at me. “Good luck this weekend,” I added as an afterthought.
“Text me later, Sully.” Finn pulled me into a hug again and I knew he meant well. I also knew he would try to drag me out to some party that I didn’t want to be at. He let go of me and glanced over at his teammate who was unzipping his fire suit.
“Don’t need luck,” Rand stated and when I turned to look at him I instantly regretted it. “I could, however, use the company of a beautiful woman. Any plans tonight, darlin’?”
My mouth fell open as I stared up at him. Motherfucker, who did this guy think he was? I noticed the way his white undershirt clung to his broad, chiseled chest and the colorful tattoos that were visible now. “Excuse me?” I managed to stammer out.
“Come on, Brooklyn.” Rand took a step toward me, and I took one back. “”I don’t see a ring on that pretty little hand of yours, so unless you have a boyfriend back home—”
My entire body began to shake. I wasn’t entirely sure if it was because I was angry or excited about the words coming out of Rand’s mouth right now.
“That’s enough, Shepard.” Finn stepped between us before I had the chance to do something I really shouldn’t. Or say something even worse.
I watched as a huge smile broke out on Rand’s face. A smile so bright that it would put the Rockefeller Christmas tree to shame. “Alright, no need to get so upset.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I’m sorry if I upset you, darlin’.” He still had that shit-eating grin on his face that made me not want to trust him. “But, if you change your mind, you know where to find me.”
“You.” Finn gave Rand a little shove. “Need to chill the fuck out and go back to your RV. Take a cold shower or something. What the fuck?”
Rand didn’t look one bit sorry about what he said. He shook his head at me before turning and leaving me standing there with Finn who looked absolutely madder than a wet hornet. “Sully—”
“I’m fine.” I put my hand up. I’ll be fine. I have a few more pictures I need to try to get before I head back to my hotel. Don’t worry, I’m a survivor, remember?”
Finn looked like he wanted to say something more, but he didn’t. “Text me. Just let me know you’re alright.”
I assured him I would and we both went our separate ways. I realized that I wanted nothing to do with Rand Shepard and I was going to make sure as hell I stayed away from him the rest of the weekend.
Little did I know that wasn’t going to be the case.