Honda Boy was holding his helmet under an arm while he flirted with the girls surrounding him. He was blond, with a short, shaggy hairstyle that probably took a lot more effort to create than it looked like. I could tell from the way the girls around him were tittering like teenagers that he was charming; with seemingly little effort on his part, he had all of them eating out of his hand. When a break in the crowd gave me a clear view of his face, I realized another thing: He was smokin’, someone-hold-on-to-my-ovaries- before-they-explode hot.
There was a perfect symmetry to his rugged features that made it seem unreal that he was standing just a few feet away from me. He should be plastered on a billboard somewhere, half-naked, selling overpriced cologne to men who wanted just a fraction of his sex appeal. As if he could feel my eyes on him, he turned his gaze my way. Our eyes met and locked, and I was helpless to turn away. There was something carnal about him, primal and dangerous. Exotic. I was instantly captivated, and I hated that I was. This guy was neck-deep in a world that twisted my stomach, a world that spat in the face of my sport. My career.
As his light-colored eyes bored holes into mine, one edge of his lip curved up in a devilish crooked grin that was both playful and promising. He was practically shouting, with just that one deadly smile, that he would satisfy my every desire, satiate every craving I could possibly have. My heart started thudding in my chest as sensations that had been dormant for far too long swirled to life in- side me. Luckily for me, the big man taking the guy’s bets clapped him on the shoulder, breaking our stare down. Once I was free of his steamy gaze, I instantly turned around so my back was to him. Jesus, was I breathing harder? Ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous. I was twenty-two, not twelve.
“Damn,” I heard Nikki say. “You were right. I should have bet on him from the get-go. I didn’t really get a good look at him before, but he is freaking hot!”
Inhaling a deep breath, I attempted to force my body back in line with my brain. “This guy is undefeated?” I asked Nikki. “Really?” She nodded in answer and I had to close my eyes for a second. A face like that with racing skills to boot? Jesus.
Clearing my throat, I nonchalantly asked, “What did you say his name was again?” I could at least label the guy in the fantasy I was surely going to have later.
“Hayden... something. He’s been around for a while, from what I gathered.”
I risked a glance over my shoulder at... Hayden. He’d slipped his helmet on, thankfully, although his visor was popped up. The big guy taking bets had been joined by a skinny Hispanic guy who seemed to be giving Hayden instructions. Or maybe a pep talk. The little guy was acting out the race that was about to happen with his hands, complete with swerving and explosions. God, I hoped there weren’t going to be explosions. While he was going through his dramatic highlights, the big guy looped a camera over Hayden’s helmet.
When the two competitors were ready, they backed their motor- cycles onto the street. A cheer ripped up and down the sidewalk as the hopeful gamblers prepared for another round of racing. I didn’t want to feel anything but contempt for what I was witnessing, yet the energy of the spectators, the roar of the bikes—I couldn’t help the zing of excitement that raced up my spine. Against my will, my mouth twisted into a wide grin, and a yell of encouragement left my lips. Hayden’s helmet swiveled my way as he revved his engine. My pulse quickened as our eyes met. Then he winked at me and slammed his visor shut.
As the riders moved into position, Nikki grabbed my arm. “Come on. We can watch the action from the van.”
I had no idea what she was talking about. Before I could ask her, though, she yanked me toward a black van parked on the sidewalk. The back doors were open, and a giant monitor attached to a swinging metal arm was sticking out above the hovering crowd. The screen was split in two, each half showing the footage from one racer’s helmet cam. Hayden and his opponent were both looking straight ahead, and the dual feeds showed similar stretches of barren road. Looking down the street, I saw that the pair were stopped at a crosswalk, waiting for the light to change.
Returning my eyes to the monitor, I found myself holding my breath as I waited for the signal to change colors. When it turned green and the bikes surged forward, I stepped closer to the van, like that would somehow release my pent-up energy. In unison, the crowd around me started hooting and hollering. Swept up in the moment, I bounced on my toes and prayed for speed. But after watching the screen for just a few seconds, I was struck with the harsh reality of the situation I was watching. This was no closed-off track with well-defined paths. This was down and dirty, anything goes, just get to the finish line first racing.
The bikes blew through red lights like they meant absolutely nothing. The streets were fairly empty at this early hour, but they blurred past the few vehicles on the road like they were standing still; they had to be going 100 miles per hour, easy. They dodged obstacles by hopping onto the sidewalk, they fishtailed around slick corners, and they came close to colliding with oncoming traffic more than once.
I turned to Nikki with shock clear on my face. “This is insane! Someone’s going to get hurt. Maybe killed!”
Nikki’s face was pure elation as she watched the screens. Her expression changed as my words sunk in, then she looked at me like I had a foot sticking out of my head. I supposed it was odd to hear that type of statement coming from someone who routinely hovered around the 150 mark on the speedometer while riding, but that was a completely different kind of environment. Believe it or not, what I did was safe, relatively speaking. Millions of dollars were spent to make it that way. This was not safe. At all.
“They’re breaking every traffic law there is,” I added, feeling like a giant stick in the mud. Someone needed to be the voice of reason here, though, because everyone was clearly out of their ever loving minds.
Nikki smirked at my comment. “It’s a race, Kenzie. They can’t exactly drive cautiously. Why do you think this happens so late at night?”
“Because it’s illegal,” I deadpanned. I got a couple of odd looks from the crowd after saying that, including a particularly nasty glare from Hayden’s bet collector. Maybe this wasn’t the best place to be talking about the law. Shutting my mouth, I quickly refocused on the screen.
Just as I noticed a familiar section of street come into view on the monitor, one side of the screen started wobbling, then the camera showed asphalt, sparks, spinning scenery, and a rapidly approaching telephone pole. The crowd around me hushed as it became clear that Hayden’s competition wasn’t going to finish this race. I heard Hayden’s bike rounding the corner seconds later, then Nikki was once again pulling me along like a rag doll. She shoved us into a good position to see the finish line right as Hayden’s Honda whizzed past. He was alone. Cheers erupted mixed with a few groans from the people who’d bet on the other guy.
Just as I was wondering if anyone was going to go check on the Ninja rider, Nikki grabbed my shoulders and started shaking me with uncontainable joy. “We won, Kenzie! We frickin’ won!”
“Great,” I said, clenching my teeth so I wouldn’t bite my tongue.
Releasing me, Nikki let out a squeal of excitement. “I just made enough money to pay you back and cover my loss. See, aren’t you glad you came?”
I narrowed my eyes into poisonous daggers that would hopefully drill some sense into her. “I hate you,” I murmured. Nikki held a hand over her heart. “I know by hate you mean love, and I love you too, Kenzie. Now let’s collect my winnings and go home so you can rest up. Big year this year!”
I opened my mouth to scold her with some biting remark about how I’d wanted to leave ages ago, but she turned on her heel and left me there, gaping. Just as I was forcing the muscles in my jaw to relax enough to contract, Hayden pulled up next to where I was standing on the sidewalk. It felt like the world suddenly shifted into slow motion as I turned my head to look at him.
He was still hunched over his bike, hands on the grip and throttle; the only indication that he was looking at me was the direction of his dark helmet. Then, like some freaking Prince Charming in a fairy tale, he slowly removed his helmet and tucked it under his arm. I swear the air around me condensed as his tilted smile came into view. Jesus Christ, this guy was sex on a stick.
Reaching up, he roughly ran a hand through his sweaty dirty- blond hair. The short, sexy shag he’d had going on earlier was destroyed from the helmet, but somehow after just a few scruffs of his hand, the carefree style was back to utter perfection. I kind of wanted to mess it up again, run my hands through the strands, grab a handful and clench it tight while I outlined those incredibly kissable lips with my tongue.
Whoa. No. I didn’t want that.
His penetrating gaze studied my face for a moment. There was something there in his eyes that I couldn’t quite grasp. Interest, sure, but almost... sadness too. Then he smiled, and the look vanished so fast, I was sure I’d imagined it. “Haven’t seen you here before,” he said, his voice low and easy, like he hadn’t just risked his life. “I hope you bet on me. It would be a shame to see someone as beautiful as you... lose.”
His grin turned suggestive, and warning signs started flashing in front of my eyes. Danger! Do not proceed! Rocky road ahead! Turn back now! The warnings flared even brighter when he stood from his motorcycle and began approaching me.
When he was directly in front of me, so close that I could smell the subtle spicy aroma of his cologne, my heart was hammering so hard, I was positive he could hear it, positive he could see my T-shirt lifting and releasing like a frantic hummingbird was hiding under the fabric. What the hell was he doing to me? Was I nervous or excited? Because the sensation was so similar to both, I honestly couldn’t tell.
Extending a hand, he smoothly said, “Name’s Hayden. Hayden Hayes.” I was just about to lift my hand and touch him—my fingers even twitched in response—when he added, “And what should I call you, sweetheart?”
Sweetheart? With those two simple syllables he had just dumped a bucket of ice water over my head and killed any fantasy I might have had about him. I lived, worked, and breathed in a world where men looked at me like I was a second-class citizen. To prove my worth, I had to work harder, longer, and with everything I had inside me, all the fucking time. I felt like he’d just tried to take all of that hard work away from me with that one demeaning word.
“Leaving,” I said, walking away.
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