Excerpt and Review: In The Fast Lane by Audra North
Good morning, dear readers! Happy Thursday! Today on the blog, we’ve got a full chapter one excerpt from In The Fast Lane by Audra North, as well as further details about the book, information on where to find In The Fast Lane and it’s author, Audra North, online. We’ve also got our book review and rating of this fantastic, soon-to-release, contemporary romance novel to share with you.
In The Fast Lane
Release Date: 07/14/2015
PUBLISHER: ST. MARTIN’S PRESS | GENRE: CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
SERIES: HARD DRIVING | HEAT LEVEL: SEXY & SIZZLING
LIFE IN THE FAST LANE
Racing cars is in Kerri Hart’s blood–literally, since it’s the family business. But Hart Racing is in dire financial straits, and as the only female rookie driver, Kerri’s sponsorship offers always tend to be of the unzipped racing-suit variety. It’s a message she’d rather not sell to her young fans. But how can she afford not to?
LOVE ON OVERDRIVE
Ranger Colt knows how to make a woman’s heart race. But when his voice pops up on Kerri’s headset–while she’s in mid-tailspin–she’s in no mood for his charms. Colt Hardware now has a significant stake in the Hart family business, and Kerri has no choice but to work with him. But when her ex-boyfriend makes a very public, tabloid-fodder scene that threatens to tarnish her image, it’s Ranger who comes to the rescue. Pretending to be engaged to generate some good publicity seems like a good plan. In fact, it works–all too well. What begins as a ruse is revving up to feel a whole lot like the real thing. Will Kerri and Ranger’s fake-lationship take a wild turn. . .and lead them toward the finish?
Praise for In The Fast Lane
“The type of book that keeps you up late into the night, In the Fast Lane is utterly addictive and completely satisfying. Audra North has her finger on the pulse of contemporary romance-flawless writing, smart heroines, and sexy-as-sin heroes.”
~ Lauren Layne, USA Today bestselling author ~
Keep on reading for an excerpt from In The Fast Lane, along with a review and rating.
From In The Fast Lane by Audra North:
“Holy rotors!” Kerri slammed on the brakes and swerved, groaning with the effort it took to move a couple of tons of metal barreling down the racetrack at nearly two hundred miles an hour. The car shifted to the right, toward the wall. Shit. Not good. She threw all her weight against the wheel, trying to change course while Grady’s voice started screaming in her ear, “Ease up on the brake or you’re gonna spin out! Fucking sh—”
She eased up, but it was too late. She couldn’t straighten out. The car started whirling, crossing over the lanes in horrible, grinding circles. Her arms burned, every molecule in her body now fighting to at least keep the wheels on the ground. How fast was the car moving now? One-twenty? One-thirty?
The car did another full spin, barreling down the straightaway like a Tilt-A-Whirl gone off the rails. She fought the urge to throw up.
There’s a man on the track. A man. On the fucking track.
That’s what she’d swerved to avoid in the first place. She’d seen him step out onto the asphalt just as she’d come out of the curve, and she’d gotten spooked, bad. But now her car was out of control, and she prayed that he’d at least have the sense to get somewhere safe lest she end up hitting him anyway.
Wouldn’t that just be a bitch.
Damn it, her arms were killing her now. Her fingers were numb. And still she fought the wheel. Sweat beaded her brow, and she could hear her heavy breathing echoed back at her through the receiver in her ear.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw that the red flag had gone up. Shit.
She pushed harder.
The wheel started to turn.
“Kerri, what the hell is going on? Kerri, are you there?” Grady’s voice was loud and breathy.
Which only made her scared, too. And angry as all get-out. Having her excitable brother as crew chief might not have been the best choice at a time like this, but she’d hardly expected a man to jump in front of her car during practice.
“I’m here, Grady. Now shut up. I’ve almost got it.”
“Oh, shit, Kerri. Shit fuck damn. You’re so close to the wall. Don’t hit the wall. Mom would kill me. I’d kill myself. I can’t—”
The line crackled loudly in her ear, then Kerri heard a grunt . . . a faint pop . . . and then . . .
“Hey, sugar,” a strange voiced drawled into the earpiece. A strange, deep voice made out of honey and sex. “You’re doin’ just fine. Don’t listen to old Grady here. You’ve got everything under control.”
That honey and sex voice stroked over her. Soothed her angry fear. She pumped the brakes a bit, finally wresting control over the wheel. The car stopped spinning, moving backward down the lane, but at least it was slowing.
“That’s it. Atta girl. Take it nice and slow.”
Oh, for God’s sake. Whoever had taken over the headphones had somehow turned their channel into a phone sex line. This guy would be as useless a crew chief as Grady.
Though maybe she should hire him to—
Focus, Hart! Focus! Kerri took a split second to assess the situation. She guessed that the car was now moving at a mere sixty miles an hour. Time to bring this show to a close.
“We’ve cleared the track, sugar. You’re not gonna hit anything or anybody. Just push the brake all the way down, now. Push it in—”
“Oh, shut the fuck up already!” She slammed on the brakes, skidding for a hundred feet or so, the jarring slide making her entire body vibrate down to her bones. It would be a miracle if she wasn’t sore all over tomorrow morning.
Finally, the car came to a stop in a cloud of rubber smoke, and Kerri breathed a heavy sigh of relief. She flipped up the visor on her helmet and turned her head, shocked to realize how close to the wall she’d ended up—mere inches away from the Colt International sponsor sign.
Jesus. She’d used some pretty choice words when she’d turned down the ridiculous offer they’d made last year to sponsor her—if she’d agreed to “sex up” her image. If she’d smashed into the concrete barrier and took their banner out—well, to call it ironic would have been much too generous. Satisfying, maybe, but also humiliating. The end of everything she’d worked for, definitely.
Racing was an expensive sport. Not having a big sponsor like Colt added a whole extra level of pain when talking about replacing an entire car the day before a minor-league race. But she hadn’t crashed. She’d managed to control her car and not kill anyone.
Kerri let out a long breath. She’d find another sponsor after she won tomorrow’s race—one that didn’t ask her to wear a push-up bra and lipstick just because she was the only woman driver in the pack.
“Nice job, sugar.” The voice was back. “Don’t go anywhere just yet, though. They’re sending out the emergency crew.”
“The emergency crew? But I’m fine. And you said they’d cleared the track. I want to get out of the car.”
The stranger laughed. Kerri couldn’t help the shiver that went through her at the sound, so low and intimate in the tiny space of her helmet.
“Oh, they’re not coming for you, sweet pea. Not yet, anyway. Look down the track.”
She snapped her head back around and stared down the asphalt. The figure of a man—the one who had caused all of this in the first place—was sprinting across the lanes, unrolling a huge sheet of paper as he ran. The first word had already been revealed.
Dread coiled deep inside her belly as she watched more letters appear.
She squinted at the running man. Something about that loping gait looked familiar. Oh, God. That couldn’t be Earl. Could. Not. Be.
The dread rose up, strangling the sound of protest even before it could leave her throat.
No. No no no. No, this could not be happening. As a woman, she’d already had to fight twice as hard just to gain a tiny foothold in this sport. She just knew how this was going to be played in the media, especially after the way they’d made it out to be her fault when she and Earl had broken up two months ago. The news outlets were going to pin this on her, too. It wouldn’t matter that they hadn’t been a couple in two months. Hell, for longer than that. She was going to take the blame.
She always took the blame.
Before Earl, she’d gone on dates with about a dozen different guys. Just first dates, trying to get to know whether the guy she was with was someone who could deal with the heavy travel and intense personalities that were part and parcel of racing life. But invariably when it came to her, the tabloids would hype up even the most innocent interactions between Kerri and any man who came within a fifty-foot radius.
Add in a cozy dinner for two, and all of a sudden the media wanted to know whether she was serious or just stringing the poor guy along. It didn’t matter who the guy was or how many dates they’d actually been on or whether he was only after her for one thing. They always blamed her when it ended, calling out her aggressive racing strategy and somehow making it look like she was tearing through men both on and off the track.
Of course, it didn’t help that she was unrepentant about how quickly she decided whether or not someone was right for her. In a business like racing, no one had time for games, and she didn’t suffer fools lightly.
Sponsors already didn’t like that kind of brash, aggressive demeanor in a female driver. Especially fifteen stories involving fifteen different men . . . in a single year. It had made her look flighty and noncommittal on top of everything else. Not multimillion dollar material.
She’d stuck with Earl a lot longer than she should have precisely because she was trying to shake that reputation. But now she was going to have to turn down his proposal and end up taking the flak for it, no doubt.
There was no way a sponsor would back Hart Racing now.
“Well, at least he spelled your name right.” The voice sounded like it was laughing.
Confined in her car, adrenaline still pumping from navigating through a spinout caused by her harebrained ex-boyfriend, Kerri couldn’t keep herself from lashing out. “I don’t know who the hell you are, but this is my channel. My car. My team. Now sign off and get out of my head!”
The line went silent.
Good. She sagged in her seat, suddenly exhausted.
The relief lasted only a couple of seconds, though.
“You know . . .” Her ears prickled as he hummed the words in her ear. “My mom used to tell me that I should never argue with a lady, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to make an exception. Just this once.”
You have got to be kidding me. Further down the track, a group of police officers was chasing Earl, who had dropped the banner and was waving his arms around like a wild man as he ran across the field.
“I’m sorry you have to find out this way,” he said, and for a moment she believed him. He did sound sorry. “But this isn’t your channel, sugar. At least not anymore.”
“Excuse me?” The man might have a great voice, but he was as nuts as Earl.
“It’s not your car, either.” A long pause. Kerri wanted to rip the helmet off her head, but her hands wouldn’t cooperate. She could only stare, transfixed, as Earl was hauled away by the policemen as the devil continued whispering in her ear.
“You can ask your brother about it later. In the meantime, let me be the first to welcome you . . . to Team Colt.”
* * *
Ranger ripped the headset off and threw it at Grady. “Get that back on and tell your sister to stay put!” He didn’t bother to wait for an answer, just strode to the ladder that hung down the side of the box, praying that Kerri would have enough sense to do what she was told this time. Not that he actually expected that particular prayer to be answered. Kerri Hart was famous in the racing world for two things: her sheer raw skill behind the wheel . . . and a temper that burned faster and hotter than a Top Fuel engine.
He may have grown up in the heart of racing country, but he’d only officially been in the business for a day and he already knew that much about her. Who in hell would want to marry that—
Wait a sec.
He paused, one foot hanging over the edge of the stall roof. “Grady!”
Grady whipped around and pulled the mic of the headset away from his mouth. “What is it, Colt?”
“What’s your sister’s answer gonna be?”
Fuck. Seeing that man—Kerri’s ex-boyfriend, from what he’d gleaned from the news he’d read—dart out on the track . . . watching that fast, heavy car whirl like a child’s toy over the asphalt . . . had brought Ranger’s accent back. Years of working on ridding himself of his slow-drawling, Tennessee backwoods accent kept his voice clipped and neutral even in the most intense boardroom discussions, but a drop of the wrong kind of adrenaline had him reverting.
Lord, deliver him from imbeciles. Ranger glared at Grady.
“Oh, you mean that thing just now with Earl? No way would she marry him. In fact—” Grady cocked his head to one side, listening to whatever was coming through his headset. After a second, he nodded at Grady. “Kerri says she’d rather eat a flaming pile of—”
Ranger didn’t bother to stick around to hear the end. Instead, he shot down the ladder into the pit, his Italian designer shoes scraping and clanging on the metal rungs as he descended.
Fuck this Godforsaken assignment. Why Al had decided to do a deal like this still baffled him. On Colt’s corporate jet from Harrisburg to Talladega, Ranger had studied the Hart Racing portfolio that his assistant had put together, trying to understand what would drive a multibillionaire like Al Colt to throw a pitiful three million dollars and his most ruthless VP at a project like this.
This deal was personal. Ranger Colt versus Al Colt.
Nothing like being the boss’s son, even if Al had never done a damned thing to deserve to be called “Dad.” Hell, a man who abandoned his wife and infant son to poverty while he ran an empire didn’t deserve to be called human, much less “Dad.”
Ranger’s feet hit the asphalt and he paused for a moment. Al’s voice echoed in his head, that rumbling baritone so much like his own. You want to move forward, you have to go back first. Get back to your roots. Making this project “a raging success” had been the condition that Al had given him for promotion to executive vice president, second in line to the top.
It felt like a punishment.
Besides—race cars? That was taking his “roots” a bit far. He and Mom had been too poor to care about much more than getting their next meal, much less a sport that took a whole lotta money to buy into.
Fuck this stupid sport. Ranger strode to the edge of the pit. Not even a sport, just a bunch of fools going in circles, and now I have to deal with this bullshit.
His job at Hart Racing—Team Colt, now—was to do what he always did with ailing organizations: evaluate the business problems, figure out what it would take to fix them, then either go ahead and shape it up or shut it down. Just from the cursory glance he’d given to Hart’s financials, Ranger knew that Colt could at least recoup its investment by selling off the assets. They might make a nominal profit, even.
But that wouldn’t be the raging success that Al had requested. That kind of success required risk.
Something Ranger excelled at.
He took a deep breath. Walked forward.
The entire crew was lined up along the low concrete barrier, looking across the track where the blue and green of the Hart Racing car was still sitting where Kerri had brought it to a screeching halt. A group of emergency first responders surrounded the car while Kerri stood next to it. Even from this distance, he could see her gesticulating wildly, making it look like she was throwing a tantrum.
Shit. This was exactly why he’d told her to stay in the car. For all he knew, she could be out there singing hymns and saving puppies, but without any other information to go on, it definitely looked bad.
“What the hell is going on out there?”
Six pairs of eyes swung around to stare at him.
Shit and goddamn.
He’d only met these guys for the first time thirty minutes ago. Shouting within the first twenty-four hours of being introduced to a new team was not his usual m.o.
But then again, neither was being late, and he’d managed to achieve that today, too. After meeting with Grady at the hotel last night, he’d gone to his room and stayed up even later than usual going over the Hart Racing portfolio. Today, he’d intended to arrive early enough to meet the crew and Kerri, but by the time he’d actually shown up and navigated his way to the stall, she was already out on the track.
Fuck Al Colt. Old bastard ruined everything.
Ranger’s murderous thoughts must have shown on his face, because the youngest mechanic—Danny—blurted, “It looks worse than it is. The emergency crew is only a precaution. She’ll drive it in as soon as they give her the clear, we’ll check it over and make the adjustments she needs, and it’ll be like this never happened. It’s really not a big deal.”
No big deal?
Scratch what he’d thought before. He wasn’t the insane one. Everyone else here was.
Ranger simply nodded, which Danny seemed to take as encouragement, because the mechanic pointed down pit road. The handful of other cars that had been on the track with Kerri during the practice session were waiting, some being worked on by crews. “A couple of these guys have had far worse happen to their cars. During practice time, qualifying, a race—it doesn’t matter. They drive it in, get it fixed, and get back out. Takes nerves of steel and a whole lotta hard-riding determination to be a race car driver.”
Ranger didn’t miss the way Danny’s chest puffed with pride.
Yeah. Or just a whole lotta plain ol’ stupidity.
Goddamnit. Even the voice in his head had an accent now.
He shook himself. Time to get focused and start treating this like any other project he took on. Put out the fires first, then tackle the cracks in the foundation. Given Kerri’s famous temper, he didn’t want her calling even more attention to herself by—well, he wasn’t sure what, but he was fairly certain it would only exacerbate the situation.
She might get a lot of positive coverage because she was a woman, but she also got judged much more harshly for that same reason. Her famous temper usually landed her on the wrong side of public opinion, and news reports over the years made her out to be a fickle, cruel, hard-ass woman when it came to love. They’d done everything to ruin her reputation in anything related to romantic relationships, just short of outright calling her a slut.
Maybe all the reports were true, maybe they weren’t. But what mattered was that sponsors seemed to believe them, and most companies didn’t like giving money to drivers with low public-approval ratings.
And now she’d just announced on her public channel that she’d rather eat shit than marry this guy. The odds against her securing a big sponsorship had just gotten stacked a lot higher.
The second Ranger had seen her name on the sign that idiot had unfurled across the track, he’d known that managing the media shitstorm around this was going to take a much bigger effort than a ten-minute press conference.
The news crews had arrived yesterday and were already all over the track. A few of them even did live feeds throughout the entire weekend. No doubt today’s events were already all over the internet by now.
Hart Racing already had a cash problem, an image problem, and a management problem, and now this proposal fiasco could irrevocably harm the public view—and potential endorsement deals—of their star driver.
“She’s comin’ in!” The pit crew coach, a grizzled older man who’d introduced himself earlier as “Bit,” called their attention back to the opposite side of the track, where Kerri had gotten back into the car, turned it around, and was heading toward the pit.
Ranger lost sight of it for a second as it entered the curve on the track just before pit road. But seconds later, there it was, zooming toward them, big white lucky number thirteen painted on the side.
He could hear that strong feminine voice in his mind. My channel. My car. My team. His pulse jumped. There had been passion in that voice.
The car kept coming up fast. Too fast, it seemed. What the hell? Was she going to stop? He cast a furtive glance up at the faces of the pit crew. None of them seemed fazed. In the next second, Danny and Kyle jumped out onto the road, directly in the path of the incoming car as it whipped into the space, stopping on a dime with a jolt.
Another example of crazy becoming normal.
“What are they doing?”
Bit shrugged. “They’re gonna swap out the tires and gas it up. She was talking about some changes before the spinout, but now she’ll want to do a few more laps and see if there’s anything else before we get to work.”
“Wait a second. You mean she’s not going to get out of the car?”
“I thought you didn’t want her to get out.” Grady’s voice sounded right behind him, and Ranger turned.
“I meant when she was still on the track. But that’s already shot to hell. Now that she’s back here, we need to talk—immediately. Before she talks to anyone else.” He frowned at Grady. “She was surprised just now by the news. You didn’t tell me you hadn’t filled her in about Colt’s involvement in Hart Racing.”
Grady’s face flushed. “If I’d told her, she would have thrown all her energy behind trying to fix the business end of things. We need Kerri focused on racing, not a rescue mission.”
Ranger had to admit Grady had a point. At the moment, Kerri was their only chance for whatever success in this sport entailed. Still, it didn’t sit right with Ranger that no one had told Kerri about the buyout. Given Hart Racing’s financial straits, they’d sold almost everything to Colt.
And no one had told their star driver about it.
God damn it. Ranger certainly hadn’t planned to deliver the news of Colt International’s investment in Hart Racing to Kerri over a headset while she was in the middle of a spinout. But something about her had stirred him up and made him throw his carefully planned speech out the window.
That had never happened to him. Ever.
He needed to get this whole thing back under control, and fast. But right now, they had an even more pressing issue: damage control.
He turned to Bit. “No tires. No gas.”
Beyond Bit’s shoulder, through the netting that served as the car’s window covering, he could see the silhouette of a helmet. Gloved hands. Waiting.
Bit’s eyes cut to Grady’s face, looking for approval, and Ranger cursed.
He stepped over the wall, ignoring the silent power struggle behind him, and sauntered up to the car. Her face wasn’t visible through her helmet, but when she turned her head jerked back fast, as if she’d been electrocuted.
By the time he was standing right next to the driver’s side, she’d recovered. The netting came down. The visor came up. Big hazel eyes in a band of smooth skin stared at him in frank appraisal.
He’d known she was pretty.
But none of her photos had captured the feeling he got from actually seeing her, of being caught in the path of that fiery gaze. The full force of it nearly knocked him back. This woman was one hundred percent passion. Damn. He couldn’t be thinking about that kind of thing right now. The quicker they got this under control, the better, and letting desire rule the day wasn’t a good—
That was it. That was the answer. Desire. Romance. What better way to salvage today’s disaster and repair Kerri’s reputation in the media than for him and her to pretend to be a couple? He was stuck with her for the next few months, after all. May as well kill a few birds with one stone.
Besides, you’ll get to kiss her . . .
Heat, low and burning, snaked its way down his body and pooled in his groin. He tried to ignore it, but the unexpected desire only fueled his need to regain control. He didn’t bother with introductions, just jerked his thumb toward the pit and growled, “Get out of the car.”
*ARC provided by Publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review*
In The Fast Lane is the first book in the Hard Driving racing series by new-to-me Audra North for St. Martin’s Press. In the book, racecar driver Kerri Hart is forced to work with Ranger Colt, of Colt International, to improve her team’s financial situation and repair her image so she can pick up some well-paying sponsors. She never dreamed feigning a relationship with Ranger would work so well for them, and yet, it does.
Oh, man, but I loved this book. It was fun, with a lot of emotional depth and heart. It was also surprisingly sexy, with lots of sizzle and heat packed inside its pages. And the writing, characterization, and story fit together so seamlessly, and flowed so well, this became a quick, easy, thoroughly enjoyable read for me.
I loved the introductory scene between Kerri and Ranger at the track because it’s fresh, unique, and memorable. Ranger’s quick-thinking saved Kerri’s tail, though her anger over the sale of part of her racing team-and at her ex-boyfriend’s disastrous decision to cause a spectacle-almost got in the way. And then came the fake romantic relationship, which became all too real for both of them and made me smile.
Pretend relationship stories have been among my favorite books to read for years, and I’m happy to say, this book is a fantastic addition to my growing keeper’s list. I loved every single word of it, and let me just say right now, that Ranger Colt is one hot, sexy hero. I loved him like mad!
In The Fast Lane is an extremely well-written, engaging, sexy and fun, fast-paced read that contemporary romance readers are sure to love, and it’s an excellent start to what promises to be a fantastic new racing series. Audra North made me a fan!
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Audra North fell in love with romance at age thirteen and spent the next twenty years reading as many romance novels as she could. Even now, after having read over one thousand of them, Audra still can’t resist the lure of a happily ever after, and her collection continues to grow. She lives near Boston with her husband, three young children, and a lot of books.
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Special thank you to St Martins Press publicity department and author Audra North for allowing us to post the excerpt of Chapter One, and to also read and review the book for our blog readers.