NASCAR driver Justin Murphy is content to go through life flying by the seat of his pants. Why bother with commitment--to racing, his girlfriend, or even living responsibly--when he can just have fun and occasionally finish in the top ten? But when an irate fan injures Justin, nurse Sophia Grosso makes him forget all about family obligations, his former love and even partying hard.... But any thoughts of a happily-ever-after are quickly extinguished by a reminder of the decades-long grudge between the Grossos and Murphys. Justin and Sophia come from families intent on tearing them apart. They whisper things that hurt. Secrets meant to drive a wedge between the lovers...for good.
Can Justin afford to ignore the misdeeds of the past...and marry the enemy's daughter?
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January 31, 2008
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Excerpt from Forbidden Attraction by Marisa Carroll
"C'MON, HUGO. I finished fifth not thirty-fifth. A top-five finish at Daytona. The Great American Race." Justin Murphy gave his uncle a feigned clip on the shoulder. "Lighten up. You're acting like I went out there and screwed up the car." The first race of the season had ended two hours earlier but the celebrating inside the Turn-Rite Tools corporate suite was still going strong. Twenty-five or thirty people filled the smallish space, eating, drinking and crowding around Justin and his uncle--and crew chief--Hugo Murphy. "Everyone here's fine with my finish."
"Yeah, well, Dixon Rogers isn't and he still calls the shots at Fulcrum Racing, don't forget. Do you think these suits from Turn-Rite won't ditch you in a heartbeat if Dixon lets it be known he's 'looking to go in a new direction' for next season? Or the other way around. The sponsor didn't drop fifteen million dollars in the kitty not to get their chance at the championship."
Of course he'd thought of that. What driver didn't worry about what his team owner was thinking--or his sponsors, big and small. But hell, he'd run a good race, except for that one blown call, and who could blame him for taking off after Kent Grosso that way? Wasn't he put on this earth to outdrive the Grossos, father and son, and avenge his family's honor? "Justin, we need another shot of you with our employee of the year." Diane Meeks, his publicity rep from Motor-sports Media Group--MMG--elbowed her way through the well-fed and tipsy gaggle of Turn-Rite executives, towing a slightly bewildered-looking man and his young family in her wake.
"Sure," he said, raising his hand to the bill of his orange-and-brown Turn-Rite Tools ball cap to make sure the logo was properly positioned. He smiled and held out his hand to Nick Harris, a guy who appeared to be not much older than he was, a couple years past thirty, maybe, with a pretty wife, two cute kids and another on the way. But inside, Justin wasn't smiling. He'd blown it. He'd been running good the whole race. The car's setup was excellent. The pit crew had been smoking--and he'd let it slip through his fingers just to beat Kent Grosso off pit road.
"Thanks, Justin," the plump, fortysomething PR rep said as the photographer positioned the award winner and his family next to him.
"Glad to oblige," he responded, shifting into sponsor-stroking mode as quickly as he shifted gears on his race car. He flashed Diane his trademark killer smile and she flushed slightly. Not so much because of his unequaled sex appeal; she seemed immune to his charm. But because he knew she was lined up right behind Hugo to rip him a new one for letting himself get carried away chasing down Kent Grosso, when he should have been protecting his chances of a second-place finish.
Now he'd gone and done the right thing in the PR department, so she'd have to hold her tongue for the time being. Diane was a good rep and she never strayed far from her objective, which was marketing one Justin Troy Murphy as a driver with the potential to be one of NASCAR's greatest. Her biggest problem was that Justin usually failed, if just by a car length, to live up to the hype.
He gave her a two-fingered salute and a wink that told her he knew exactly what she was thinking, then bent to autograph the back of Nick Swan's oldest kid's T-shirt. He was a good driver. But good wasn't enough any more; sponsors didn't pay millions of dollars to back a driver who never made it to Victory Lane. A top-five finish at Daytona was cause for celebration certainly--witness the crowd around him--but it wasn't the same as being in Victory Lane. That's what Turn-Rite Tools was paying the big bucks to see happen.
"You managed to finish fifth," Hugo growled under his breath when they were momentarily left alone in front of the decimated buffet table, not letting Justin off the hook as easily as Diane had. "Because you coasted over the finish line just ahead of the pack.You ran out of gas because you pulled out early just to beat Kent Grosso out of the pits."
"I wasn't going to let the SOB get out ahead of me--Hey, what's up, buddy?" Justin interrupted himself as the Harris kid came running up once more.
"Can I have your autograph, too?" the boy asked giving Justin a grin but holding out his fine-tipped permanent marker to Hugo. "Right there on the back beside Justin's." He spun around, presenting his back to Hugo, looking over his shoulder. "Please? My dad said you're the best crew chief in NASCAR. That's why we're sponsoring your team."
"I'm mighty proud to hear that," Hugo said, no trace of the anger that Justin sensed simmering below the surface evident on his uncle's weathered countenance. He signed the back of the boy's T-shirt, then shook hands with the father who had come hurrying up to make sure his son wasn't out of bounds.