“No, not exactly.” He wagged his finger at me and took out his credit card for the waitress as she came by.
“You mentioned this boy that your character was friends with in the monologue. They were close, and then he turned against her. You said he drove a Mustang?”
I nodded, wondering where he was going with this.
“Jared Trent drives a Boss 302. A Mustang Boss 302,” he pointed out.
Sweat broke out across my brow, but I nodded again. I knew what he was getting at, but there wouldn’t be any answers if that was what he was hoping for. It was bad enough that I’d kissed Jared, behind K.C.’s back, but Jared and I only had one kiss. And that’s all there would be. I wasn’t about to explain something I didn’t even understand to Ben.
“And?” He placed his elbows on the table and crossed his arms, leaning in.
“And what was your question?” I hoped being evasive would come off cute, and then he’d surrender his line of questioning.
Looking to the side and then back to me, he laughed under his breath. “I noticed him giving you his undivided attention during that monologue. Were you and Jared Trent friends?” His wide green eyes were interested.
“How do you mean?” Playing hard to get was turning out to be easy. I could do this all night.
He looked like he was trying to contain a smile, but he pressed further. “Was the monologue about him?”
I cocked my head at him. “I thought the monologues were supposed to be from a book or film?”
“What book or film did yours come from?” he shot back.
The continued play had my stomach shaking from pent-up laughter. This was getting fun.
“It’ll all be in my essay,” I whispered when the waitress brought Ben’s card and receipt back. “But…Jared is nothing to me, just so you know.”
His lips curled up at the corner, hopefully satisfied with what I gave him. Taking my hand, he led me out of the restaurant and to his car. Unfortunately, he was driving, so he opened the door for me to slide in.
“You’ve never been to the Loop, right?”
“Nope.” I fastened my seatbelt and pulled my black pinstripe skirt as far down my thighs as it would go. The three thin buckles over the right thigh caught the streetlight shining through the window.
“Well, you’ll love it. And they’ll love you.” His gaze slid to my chest before he quickly averted his eyes. I suddenly wished I had worn a t-shirt instead. My white tank was slightly less revealing, thankfully, under my short gray military jacket, but I still felt exposed. The need to cover myself irked me. I wanted to look nice for Ben tonight, didn’t I?
Or maybe it wasn’t Ben I was thinking about so much when I got dressed.
“They’ll love me? Why is that?” I asked.
“Because you look like candy.” He shook his head and started the engine.
K.C.’s words came back to haunt me. Well, I, for one, am pretty excited to see the look on his face when he sees you!
My hands clenched into fists, and I bit my bottom lip to stifle a smile.
Yep, I bit my bottom lip. Shit.
The Loop was located on Mr. Benson’s farm outside the town limits. His son, Dirk, who graduated two decades ago, started a weekly racing scene around the pond on the premises. Over time, Dirk took control of the farm and still allowed races to take place on the property even though he rarely attended. As long as he received the fee charged to get through the gate, everyone else could make their bets and have fun without any intrusion.
We travelled down the long, dirt road leading to the farm. Normally, the farm would be pitch black this time of night, but with the traffic coming down the lane, it was lit up like a Saturday night cruise.
“I’ll just park here. You don’t mind walking a little, do you?” Ben asked. Cars lined the sides of the road, and since we were pushing race time, parking was scarce.
“Here’s fine.” My fingers tingled with the anticipation in the air. I hopped out of his Escalade, immediately thankful for the Chucks I’d worn. Not very stylish with the skirt, but I wasn’t a heels kind of girl. The dirt road featured dips and puddles, along with tiny gravel.
“Here, take my hand.” Ben reached out as he came around the front of the car to meet me. He pulled me to a stop and gestured to the car. “Do you want to leave your bag in the trunk?”
“No, I might need my cell. I’m fine.” I hooked my thumb behind the strap of my purse, which held two of my three lifelines. “Let’s go,” I chirped and started walking at a brisk pace.
Ahead of us, the track split to the left and to the right. Directly in front was the pond. The smell of exhaust already filled my nostrils, and I couldn’t help the bounce in my step. My eyes hungrily swept the scene, and I saw headlights from cars parked along the sides, facing inward, illuminating the track.
Fortunately for Dirk’s family, the pond wasn’t even within eye sight of the main house. Most of the time, people came and went without any disturbance to the family. Since most of the town’s current police force graduated around the same time as Dirk, the Loop was seen as a local treasure instead of a nuisance. Since racing was just as illegal as allowing people to use your property for it, anyone injured couldn’t throw the Bensons under the bus without themselves as well. It was all very convenient and tidy.
As we headed onto the Loop, Ben guided me to the right towards what looked like the starting line. There were two cars already parked side by side, and people crushed around the scene like tightly packed molecules. One of the cars was Madoc’s 2006 GTO and the other was a late model Camaro.
I spun around to meet the scream and noticed K.C. charging towards me. She fell into me in an attempt at a hug, and I stumbled to keep my balance.
“Whoa!” I burst out. “It hasn’t been that long since we’ve seen each other, has it?” Laughing at her obvious beer-induced love, I straightened us up.
We’d made amends, but now I felt uneasy about making out with Jared, and their relationship still bugged me. I aimed to keep my promise to mind my own business, but there was a distance between us that wasn’t there before, and I wasn’t sure how to get back what we used to have. Maybe I looked at her differently, or maybe our conversation wasn’t as easy, but I knew something had changed.
Ben held up his finger and mouthed “one minute” before he walked off to talk to a guy from our class.
“Is that Liam’s Camaro?” I jerked my head towards the starting line where the tenacious, red machine idled. The symmetry of his vehicle fit in any crowd or on any road. It was tough business not to respect a Camaro. And the tires were so wide that they looked like they would help the car float.
“Yeah,” she said, scrunching up her nose in disgust.
“He’s racing Madoc?” What Madoc would do to Liam’s car would be considered a Shakespearean tragedy. Although I’d never seen Madoc race, I’d heard about it. He wasn’t dirty so much as he was reckless and scared the shit out of the other driver.
“Apparently,” she answered.
“I thought you said Jaredwas going to avenge you.” I placed my hand over my chest and batted my eyelashes.
“Oh, shut up,” K.C. said with fake irritability and took a sip of her beer. “That was actually the plan, but Roman is back from college for the weekend and wanted to race Jared. So ya know…,” she trailed off.
The best had to race the best, I guess.
I started to fidget at the mention of Derek Roman. He was a world-class jerk and treated everyone the same. Like shit. It didn’t matter if you were a man, woman, or child. Young, old, rich, or poor. Roman behaved like everyone was beneath him, and had no regard for ethics. He was dirty.
“Where is Jared?” Suddenly uneasy at the thought of him racing Roman, I scanned the crowd for his wispy brown hair.
“Up with Madoc, giving him a talk.” K.C. gulped down her beer, and by the way she rocked her feet, I could tell she was restless.
“I’m sure Madoc won’t do anything stupid. He won’t want to mess up his car. Liam will be fine,” I assured.
“I couldn’t care less.” Her eyes looked anywhere but at me.
Startled by the thundering roar of an engine, I jerked my head towards the starting line and stood on my tip toes to peer through a gap in the crowd. Jared was leaning on Madoc’s doorframe, talking to the concealed driver. His hair fell in his eyes, and an easy grin spread across his lips. The way his face lifted with the radiant smile…
Oh, someone was playing the steel drums on my stomach.
I hated myself for going gooey at the knees. It was unacceptable to be affected by Jared, of all people. I was here with Ben, and he was very good looking, too, I told myself.
“Hey,” Ben walked back up and put an arm around me. His body next to mine warmed me, and he smelled like cologne.
I almost begged for the flutters or whatever to take root in my stomach, but they never came. Having him close or having his eyes on me just didn’t affect me like it should.
“Hey,” I replied. “Should we move to get a better view?”
“You’re really into this, aren’t you?” Ben looked down at me, an amused expression playing on his face.
“Cars? Hot chicks? Yeah.” I narrowed my eyebrows in a “duh” expression.
“Come this way.” K.C. motioned to the right. “Jared’s parked right off the track. We can watch from over there.”
She was here with Jared. I’d almost forgotten. Of course she’d want to watch the action with him.
And why not? I was over our bullshit, and if he could ignore me for the past two days, then I could do the same.
We fought our way through the crowd as everyone took their viewing positions. Jared was already leaning on the hood of his mean, black car. With one leg propped up on the bumper, he fiddled with something in his hand. His black button down was open to reveal a white t-shirt, and he and the car both looked angry.
“Hi, ya.” K.C. strolled up to him and leaned in.
“Hi, yourself.” He gave her a closed mouth smile, before looking to me. His smile faded before his eyes narrowed on Ben.
“Hey, man.” Ben greeted Jared.
“Hey, how’s it going?” Jared asked pleasantly but looked away too soon.
Ben must’ve realized the rhetorical question, because he didn’t answer.
I stood there, trying to seem disinterested, as I looked anywhere but at Jared. Breaking out in a sweat as the images of us wrapped around each other the other night flashed through my head, I fanned myself slightly with the lapel of my jacket. The awkward vibe in the air made me contemplate who needed to be deleted from this equation to make it more comfortable: Jared, K.C., Ben, or me.
K.C. broke the silence. “And Jared, this is Tatum Brandt. Say ‘hi,’” she joked as Jared slid an arm around her waist. My breathing hitched.
He glanced over at me through hooded eyes, and took in my outfit, only jerking his chin at me before returning his focus to the starting line.
I rolled my eyes and turned toward the action.
“And we’re ready!” A young guy I assumed was the Race Master called out for people to clear the track. My eyes darted to all of the money changing hands as people placed their bets.
The roar of the engines vibrated under my feet and sent shivers up my legs. My toes curled. Damn, I wish I was racing. I hated being a spectator, but I still fidgeted with anticipation.
A girl in a short plaid skirt and tiny red camisole took position in front of the cars and raised her hands in the air.
“Ready?” she called out.
The engines revved, sending shouts of enthusiasm through the crowd.