Old Flame, New Sparks

By: Day Leclaire

CHAPTER ONE

“THE RACING COMMUNITY is in mourning today following the loss of one of our most beloved personalities. James ‘Jinx’ Hammond, two-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion and tireless ambassador for the sport of stock car racing, was known first and foremost for his skill behind the wheel. But when that career was taken from him in a tragic run-in with a drunk driver that left Hammond a paraplegic, he started up Hammond Racing, Inc., along with his wife, Kellie.

“This next season, watch for eighteen-year-old racing sensation, Jamie Hammond, who will bring his father’s legendary Number 56 car out of retirement and show fans everywhere that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. We extend our deepest sympathy to the friends and family of Jinx Hammond.”



“I SWEAR, JINX,” Kellie Hammond murmured. “I never met anyone who had worse luck than you.”

What had her late husband always said? Life has a twisted sense of humor. Me, I’m one of life’s better jokes.

She stared at his grave site where moments before a freak snow cloud had covered up the sun and sent a minor ice-and-snow storm swirling through the crowd of mourners. The grounds had cleared out faster than pit road after a race, leaving Kellie to offer her husband a final farewell in private.

The solitude suited her. She stood within the biting embrace of the storm, her head tipped back. Snow pelted her face, mingling with her tears of grief. The icy flakes melted into her hair and the in-your-face, flamered silk skirt and jacket she wore, an outfit Jinx had chosen personally for the occasion. Not that she cared if her clothes were ruined. She’d never wear them again.

God, she missed Jinx.

She’d never met anyone better able to find laughter in tragedy. Not when a drunk driver had confined him to a wheelchair at the height of his racing career. Not even when pancreatic cancer had cut his life short only a few months after his fiftieth birthday. A blizzard at his funeral? It was only to be expected.

“You had a bigger heart than anyone I’ve ever met.” She dropped the silky checkered racing flag she held onto his coffin. “I’m going to miss you, sweetheart.”

She sensed a presence behind her and turned, assuming she’d find her son or father standing behind her. Instead, she found the one man she least wanted to see�Lucas “Bad” Boyce.

The years had been kind to him, his black hair still rich and full, his bottle-green eyes still as direct and astute as ever. She’d first met him when he’d been a tall, lanky twenty-one-year-old. Now, pushing forty, he’d matured into one of NASCAR’s most revered drivers, while still embodying the dangerous edge and air of intimidation that had earned him the nickname “Bad Boyce” that the fans and media slurred so it sounded like “Bad Boyz.”

“You’re going to freeze if you keep standing out in this,” she said, instantly wishing she’d kept the foolish comment to herself.

He nodded in agreement, snow sinking into the thick waves of his hair and sliding down the hard-cut planes of his face. “So are you.”

She shrugged. “It’s just a little snow. Jinx would have found it funny. Especially the mad dash to the cars.”

A slight smile touched Lucas’s mouth. “Yes, he would have.”

Then his smile faded as though it had never been, which was much more in keeping with the attitude he’d always taken toward her. He approached, coming to stand beside her. She’d forgotten how tall he was, how the strength of his personality surrounded him like an aura.

It amazed her that he could crawl in and out of his stock car with such ease and grace. Years of practice, she supposed, combined with a lean muscularity that left his female fan base drooling in delight. She shivered, hoping he’d put it down to the weather, rather than her reaction to him.

“Are you ready to leave?” he asked.

There wasn’t anything left for her here. Jinx was gone. Though he’d have appreciated the amazing turnout from his many friends and family, he wouldn’t have wanted her standing for endless hours in the middle of a blizzard grieving his passing.

She glanced around for her son. “Jamie�”

“He left with your father.” He shocked her by slipping a large, capable hand beneath her elbow. To the best of her recollection he hadn’t touched her in nearly nineteen years. In fact, he’d done his best to avoid being anywhere near her. “Careful. The snow’s made it slick through here.”

She would have preferred to be alone, but couldn’t think of a polite way of making the request, not with Lucas intent on taking charge of the situation. “I have a limo waiting.”

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