“Set?” She raised her arms higher.
I jerked up to my tiptoes again to see the peel of the tires kicking up dust as they struggled to get going. I bobbed up and down a little with the excitement, and I couldn’t contain my ear to ear smile. The cars shot past, sending a gust of wind in my face and a thunderous pounding in my chest.
“Shit!” I heard behind me and turned to see K.C. wiping her shirt.
“I spilled beer,” she mumbled.
I saw Jared a few feet behind her, still leaning on his car, not even watching the race. His focus was entirely on me, something familiar in his expression. In that moment, the race, Ben, and K.C. didn’t even exist.
A tiny moan barely made it out of my throat as my heart sped up and my stomach flip-flopped.
He was giving me the same look I got Wednesday night right before he kissed me, and I knew I hadn’t imagined anything. It was anger and desire mixed together to make something hot enough for my knees to go weak. From the way he’d been ignoring me yesterday and today, barely sparing me eye contact, I had begun to wonder if it’d all been a wet dream on my part.
Taking a deep breath and tearing my eyes away, I tore off my jacket and tossed it to K.C. “Put this on.”
“Thanks.” She held the cup in one hand and slipped on the jacket with the other.
Sparing Jared another glance, I noticed that his chest rose and fell hard as his eyes spit fire. The desire was gone. His gaze was on Ben now, who I realized had also been looking at me but turned away as if he’d been caught eyeballing something he shouldn’t have.
Again, I immediately wanted to cover myself.
I was here for the race. I reminded myself and turned back to the track.
Madoc and Liam were never head to head. Either Madoc was drastically behind Liam, or Liam was a ridiculous distance behind Madoc. After a minute, the crowd started laughing when they realized that Madoc was just toying with his opponent. No wonder Jared wasn’t watching. He knew it would be an easy win. Not that Liam’s Camaro wasn’t worthy, but Madoc was more experienced and had done a hell of a lot of work to his car.
On the last turn, Madoc surged ahead one last time and crossed the finish line to the sounds of cheers and whistles. People rushed his car, and Madoc emerged with an idiotic grin on his smug face. Some girl grabbed his gray t-shirt and stuck her tongue in his mouth. Eww.
Liam slowly climbed out of his car and immediately looked to K.C. who, I noticed, was blatantly wrapped around Jared again. My leg spasmed with an urge to kick something when I saw him bury his head in her neck. She giggled with pleasure, obviously for show.
“Jared’s up next.” Ben rubbed his jaw. “Roman’s awesome. I hope I didn’t bet on the wrong guy.”
I honestly didn’t know who I would bet on if I cared to place money on either dickhead.
“Everyone clear the road!”
The Race Master was starting the next event. “Trent and Roman, get your asses on the starting line.”
And suddenly I was nervous about this match up.
Ben and I parted with the crowd so Jared could pull his car out. K.C. came up to stand beside us, but for some reason, I couldn’t look at her.
As Jared climbed in and started his engine, the girls around us started jumping and squealing. Papa Roach blared at a deafening level from his speakers. He revved the engine a few times to get the crowd going, a playful grin on his lips.
The Boss 302 pulled up onto the track, and I realized I almost felt like leaving. Jared and I had dreamed about being here together to race, and now I was on the outside looking in. He was living this without me, and I hated that I was being left out.
Roman had just pulled up in his Pontiac Trans Am. Even though his 2002 car was considered ancient compared to Jared’s, it stood an outstanding chance of winning. The amount of work and options Roman had added to his vehicle made it a formidable machine. Unfortunately, Derek Roman didn’t rely simply on his skills as a mechanic to win. There had been many injuries out here when he’d raced in high school.
“All right!” the Race Master announced. “Clear the track for the main event of the evening.”
According to K.C., the Loop only has a few races per week during the school year as the college kids had gone back to school, so this was a light night with only two races.
Jared’s music filled the air, and I saw him take something from his hand to hang it on the rearview mirror. I couldn’t make out what it was, only that it was bulky and looked like a necklace.
The same girl who set off Madoc and Liam came to stand in front of the cars, shaking her ass as she walked in front of their headlights.
The smell of fuel and tires permeated the air, while the engines’ rumble coursed through my legs. Jared stared ahead, wearing a stone face, waiting for the call.
“Ready?” Little Miss Look-At-Me called.
“Set?” The engines roared.
“Go!” Her arms fell hard to her sides, and the cars zoomed past her, kicking up dust and rocks in their wake. I darted onto the track with the flood of people to watch from behind, more afraid than excited this time.
As much as I hated to admit it, I was worried. Roman would do something shady and hurt Jared. Even after everything, I didn’t want to see him hurt.
The cars’ taillights got smaller the closer they reached the first turn. It was four lefts, and the race would be over. The turns were sharp, and this is where a drift racer might be better for the Loop. The track was small, these cars were big, and the turns were hell. For this reason, no cars were allowed to park on the perimeter of the turns.
Jared took the gentleman’s route by slowing down to make the turn after Roman, while the latter plowed ahead. Roman would either win or kill them both. Both cars skidded around the turn, sending a cloud of dust into the air, much to the delight of the onlookers who screamed relentlessly. Forging ahead, Jared caught up to Roman and they proceeded head to head.
Come on, come on. I clasped my palms together to my chest, fingers entwined so tight that my skin felt stretched. I rotated my body to follow their progress, seeing Jared pull back patiently each time to let Roman take the turns first.
My heart pounded, and my stomach was felt tight from the nervousness.
Coming up on the last turn, Jared pulled back behind Roman, but he wasn’t slowing down. As Roman rounded the last corner, he skidded further to the edge while Jared took the inside. Both cars recovered and were neck to neck as they neared the finish line.
The crowd cleared the track in a mad rush, and watched as both engines thundered past. The cars were so close that I couldn’t figure out who’d won.
As both cars slowed to a stop, everyone rushed them in a clustered mess of pushing and yelling. No one seemed to know who’d won.
I twisted my neck around, searching for the Race Master guy. He appeared to be deliberating with a couple of other people, probably trying to come to a decision.
“So did you see who won?” K.C. asked, looking confused as we walked up to the cars.
She shook her head.
“There you are!” Ben sidled up next to me and grabbed my hand. “I guess they’re not sure who won. Awesome race, huh?”
I let out a laugh. “My nails have been chewed into oblivion.”
“Come on. Let’s go see Jared.” K.C. grabbed my wrist, and the three of us trekked up the track.
Approaching the cars, I noticed that the drivers were nose to nose between the vehicles. Their mouths were tight, and they were too close. They looked like they were about to turn the event into a fight.
As we pushed closer, I heard what they were saying.
“You were pushing into my lane!” Roman gritted through his teeth. “Or maybe you just don’t know how to handle your car.” His black hair was slicked back, and his jeans and white t-shirt made him look like a 1950’s reject.
“There are no lanes on the track,” Jared snickered. “And let’s not talk about who can’t handle their muscle.”
Roman pointed his finger near Jared’s face as he spoke. “I’ll tell you what, Princess. Come back after you’ve grown some balls and taken off your training wheels. Then you’ll be man enough to race me.”
“Man enough?” Jared pinched his eyebrows together like that was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard. Turning to the crowd, Jared held his hands out to his sides, palms up. “Man enough?” he asked sarcastically.
The trampy brunette from Jared’s party, Piper, walked up and plastered herself to him like a snake. She cupped his cheek with one hand and grabbed his ass with the other. Plunging her tongue into his mouth, she kissed him slow and deep, putting her entire body into it.
The f**king crowd couldn’t scream any louder.
Heat shot out of my nose, ears, and eyes before I looked away.
He’d kissed me like that only two days ago.
I peered over at K.C., whose eyebrows were raised in surprise.
“Are you okay?” I asked. Did I really care? Probably not, but at least it took my mind off the ache in my chest.
“Fan-fucking-tastic,” she snarled. “Liam just saw that. Awesome.”
I almost laughed, realizing that the only thing she was pissed about was Liam’s reaction. If Liam didn’t think that Jared was serious about K.C., then he wouldn’t feel threatened.
She didn’t give a damn about Jared. That was for sure. And that made me feel a little better about kissing him behind her back.
“Okay!” The Race Master cut through the crowd. “Out of the way, out of the way.”
His eyes swept the crowd, waiting for them to quiet down. Piper peeled herself off Jared and retreated back to her friends, wiping him off her lips as she stumbled.
“Listen up. We have some good news and bad news. The bad news is that we’re calling a tie.” Moans and expletives sounded around the crowd. Bets had been placed, and people were upset. “But, the good news is,” he continued, “we have a way to solve the stalemate.”
His smirk scared me. I let go of Ben’s hand to inch closer, now standing at the inside of the crowd. Jared and Roman were both frowning.
“A rematch?” Jared asked.
“Kind of.” The Race Master looked a little too amused. “If you boys want to settle this, then your cars will race again, but…you won’t be the drivers.”
Murmurs could be heard around the crowd, and my eyes darted to Jared to see his stunned expression.
“Excuse me?” Roman inched closer and questioned.
“We know you’re exceptional drivers. The race was close enough to prove that. Let’s see who has the better machine.”
“So who’s going to drive the cars?” Jared all but shouted, his face gone pale.
The Race Master’s face puffed out as he grinned. “Your girlfriends.”
I was sure the laughter at the Loop could be heard all the way to the Benson house. Some people cheered at the Race Master’s innovative solution, while others bitched about their bets. But everyone seemed to agree that a race by two dimwitted teenage girls in high performance machines would be hilarious.
“Dude! That’s not happening!” Roman glanced over to his girlfriend, a petite Mexican girl with more weight in her chest than the rest of her body. Knowing Roman, they could’ve been dating for two months or two minutes. Who knew?
“Zack, I don’t have a girlfriend. I never have a girlfriend,” Jared stated point blank to the Race Master, emphasizing the word “never.”
“What about the pretty little thing you arrived with?” Zack asked.
Jared’s stare flipped over to K.C., and her eyes bulged.
Swallowing hard, K.C. yelled, “He’s just my rebound.” The crowd let out a loud “ohhhh,” to which K.C. smiled at her own tenacity. Jared raised his eyebrows to Zack in a “you see?” kind of look.