Hard and Fast

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SLINGSHOT- A maneuver in racing where the car following the leader in a draft steals his good air and allows him to take the lead How To Work It- Hang back if your man is interested in another woman. When she proves herself too obnoxious or clingy, move right on past her into the lead From How To Marry A Race Car Driver (In Six Steps) “Oh, my God, run!” Imogen Wilson had her shoulder nearly dislocated from its socket when her friend Tamara yanked her arm, trying to drag her down the hallway. Stumbling to keep up with Tamara and their other friend Suzanne, Imogen glanced behind her to see why they needed to sprint, worried about a herd of angry race fans, fire, or a sudden act of terrorism in the speedway. What she saw was worse. It was Nikki Borden. Twenty-two years old. Bouncy. Bubbly. Blonde. Built like Barbie, thanks to Nikki’s campaign of personal starvation and the assistance of breast implants and lip injections. She was definitely a beautiful girl by most male standards and Imogen knew Nikki worked hard to maintain her appearance. Unfortunately, it seemed to be at the expense of nurturing her mind. The few times Imogen had tried to have a conversation with her, she had been left wondering if there were residual effects of the excessive use of hair dye because there was a whole lot of nothing going on in that girl’s head. None of which would bother Imogen, per se, except that Nikki was dating Ty McCordle, the stock car driver Imogen had an inexplicable attraction to. “Don’t turn around,” Tamara said to Imogen, horrified. “She’ll see us!” “Damn,” Suzanne said. “Too late.” Nikki was waving to them with a big smile, and Imogen stifled a groan. She did not want to spend her time at the racetrack trying to make small talk with Nikki, and it was her fault they were going to have to do the polite. She should have just run and asked questions later, but that wasn’t her personality. She always had to know what was going on, and it was highly likely her curiosity would be the death of her someday. Today it was going to result in fending insults from Nikki, who seemed to think it was her duty in the name of friendship to inform Imogen of all her physical flaws. “Hi!” Nikki said, making record time over to them despite her high heels. “Where are you guys going? I’ll go with you.” “We have passes to sit in the boxes,” Suzanne said. “I’m sorry, I’m not sure we can get you into the restricted area.” Suzanne didn’t look the least bit sorry, and Imogen almost felt bad for Nikki, who clearly was hanging around the track by herself. Imogen knew what it was like to always be the loner. “Oh, I have a pass too,” Nikki said, pulling a piece of paper out of her giant purple handbag. She grinned. “I guess having sex with a race car driver ought to get you something, right?” Ugh. Imogen had known that Nikki was having sex with Ty- she had to be. It wasn’t like Nikki was the kind of girl who could cook a man a meal, discuss politics or racing with him, or even be considered a candidate for bearing his future children. Nikki was booty call, if Imogen understood the definition of the term correctly. But to know it and to hear it out loud were two different things entirely. “I guess that I’d rather get an orgasm out of sex than a paper pass, but that’s just me,” Suzanne said. Imogen had to concur with that. She would really like to have an orgasm at the hands of a racecar driver. A racecar driver. Ty. Sexy, laid-back, always wearing a grin Ty. Who was instead giving Nikki orgasms and track passes. It was utterly futile to think she could ever attract the attention of a man like that, and she needed to remember that. Why she even wanted to severely mystified her, but there was something about his joi de vivre, the way he didn’t take himself too seriously, that appealed to her. Or at least to the parts of her that resided below the waist. “Well, let’s go sit down,” Tamara said. “We’re going to miss half of the race and I have a certain rookie driver I need to cheer on.” Tamara was clearly antsy to see her husband Elec driving, already flashing her pass and making her way into the seating area of the boxes. Imogen followed her, wondering if her sunscreen was going to hold up for the duration of the race. She was dark haired and fair skinned and the North Carolina sun was brutal. Looking around at the crowds, she had realized that the straw hat she had brought to shield her face wasn’t exactly de rigor. Everyone else who had on a hat was wearing a ball cap, most advertising their favorite driver. Imogen was aware she wasn’t dressed appropriately either. She was wearing a black sundress with a three quarter sleeve cardigan and sandals while the majority of the crowd was in shorts and T-shirts. But considering it was her very first time to the track in Charlotte to watch a live stock car race, she hadn’t known the protocol. She had been looking forward to it as a life experience and because she was still fishing around for a thesis project for her graduate degree in sociology. The culture of stock car racing in the south seemed like a great jumping point, but she needed to hone in on a more specific topic. Only she hadn’t anticipated being stuck sitting next to Nikki. Suzanne had virtually vaulted over the row of seats to get the one furthest from Nikki, and Tamara had already taken the seat next to Suzanne. That left Imogen, then Nikki on the end, who was wiping the seat off with a tissue. “I don’t want to get my white pants dirty,” she said in explanation when Imogen stared at her. “Then why did you wear white pants?” Imogen couldn’t help but ask. “Because they make my butt look good,” Nikki said, like this was completely obvious. “Don’t you have other pants that make your butt look good that won’t attract dirt?” Nikki smiled. “Yes. But with white pants you can’t wear anything but a thong and men love that.” Ah. Imogen didn’t see the logic in that at all, because wouldn’t men generally assume that a woman like Nikki was always wearing a thong? And if they were allowed to actually gain the knowledge of the thong for themselves, she suspected they wouldn’t care one way or the other what Nikki had on over them. But there was no point in launching further discussion with Nikki. Imogen suspected Nikki had made up her mind and that was that. “Of course.” Imogen settled into her own seat and looked out at the track. A pack of cars went whizzing by before she could blink, none of which were identifiable to her by either decal or number. She should have bought a program so she could attempt to educate herself. Nikki was rustling around in her handbag and Imogen glanced over to see the blonde tearing into a bag of mixed greens lettuce. She pulled out a piece of spinach and popped it in her mouth like it was a potato chip. “Want some?” Nikki held the bag out to Imogen. Imogen shook her head. “No, thanks.” She had zero interest in chewing on greens sans salad dressing. Watching her waistline was as important to her as the next person, but she wasn’t about to sacrifice at least some kind of flavor for skinny jeans. Not that Imogen was really the skinny jeans type. She had probably exited the womb wearing Ann Taylor coordinates. The clean lines and understated harmony of classic clothes made her happy, and she was fortunate to have inherited her mother’s naturally thin figure. Of course, the flip side of that was a serious lack of breasts, but it was what it was and she had no interest in buying herself a cup size. “Does that actually satisfy your hunger?” she asked Nikki curiously. “No. But it keeps me from buying nachos.” Nikki had balanced her lettuce bag in her lap and she was digging a notebook-sized book out of her bag. “Is that a race program?” Imogen asked. She wanted to look up Tamara’s husband Elec, and okay, she could admit it, Ty McCordle, so she could monitor their progress around the track. “No, it’s a book I’m reading.” Imogen gained a whole new respect for Nikki. She was reading at the racetrack. Clearly she was there to show support for her boyfriend, but had brought a book to occupy herself in the long hours alone as the cars did something like five hundred laps. “Oh, what book is it? Fiction or non-fiction?” Nikki frowned and pushed her sunglasses up. “I don’t know. I can never remember which one means it’s real and which one means it’s fake.” Huh. “Fiction is a story, non-fiction is based on facts.” “Then I guess this is non-fiction. I think.” Nikki held up the book for her to see the cover. The title was Marrying a Race Car Driver in 6 Easy Steps. On the cover was a photograph of a woman kissing a man in a racing uniform with a pair of wedding rings surrounding them. “Wow, uh, I don’t know if that is fiction or non-fiction either.” Imogen wasn’t sure if the book was intended to be tongue in cheek or if someone really thought there was a formula to garner a proposal from a driver. Or if the publisher and author didn’t necessarily think so, but knew women like Nikki would buy the book to learn the secret. “What does it say?” “There are all kinds of tips and rules, plus profiles of the single drivers.” “Are you serious?” That completely peeked the interest of the sociologist in Imogen. “Yeah. And I broke Rule #17 of Step Two by accident. I wasn’t supposed to wear high heels to the track, only I didn’t read that part until after I was here.” Nikki rolled the top of her lettuce bag closed and stuffed it back in her purse. “I hope Ty doesn’t notice.” Considering the man was in a car on the track driving it at approximately one hundred and eighty-five miles an hour and attempting to pass other cars going an equal speed with only inches of clearance, Imogen highly doubted Ty was concerning himself with Nikki’s trackside footwear. “I’m sure it’s fine. I don’t really see why a driver would care what his girlfriend or wife wears at a race, anyway.” Nikki looked horrified. “That kind of attitude will never land you a driver. It’s all about image.” “Really?” Imogen glanced over at Tamara and Suzanne. They were both normal, attractive women in their early thirties. Tamara was married to a driver, Suzanne was divorced from a driver. Somehow Imogen doubted either one of them had followed a manual to land their husbands. In fact, she would bet her trust fund on it. “Can I look at the book?” she asked. Nikki clutched the book to her chest for a second, clearly suspicious. “Don’t worry, I have no interest in following the steps. A stock car driver isn’t really my type.” Which she would do well to remember. Just because she had a strange and mysterious physical attraction to Ty didn’t mean it was anything other than foolish to pursue that. A driver wasn’t her type, and she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt she wasn’t a driver’s type. She was the total antithesis of Nikki. “Okay.” Nikki handed the book over begrudgingly. Imogen almost laughed. It wasn’t like what was in those pages wasn’t available to anyone who had twenty bucks and a bookstore at their disposal. She flipped the book open and it landed on a section regarding your first date with a driver. The Don’ts for First Date Night including drinking any alcohol, even a single glass of wine, an explanation of why beer drinking women weren’t at all the thing, and how while a chaste kiss at the door might be deemed acceptable, anything beyond that was wrong, wrong, wrong. Girls men wanted to marry did not, repeat did not, have sex with men on the first date. Feeling like she just might have slid back into 1957 when she wasn’t looking, Imogen flipped to a new chapter. It was a list of places to meet drivers, including the stores they might shop at in Charlotte, the bars and restaurants they were known to frequent, and the gym several worked out at. The wheels in her head started to turn faster and faster as she scanned through half a dozen more pages. “What are you looking at?” Tamara asked her, leaning towards Imogen to read over her shoulder. Imogen looked at her friend and sociology professor in satisfaction. “My thesis. I’m looking at my thesis.” The book was declaring itself an instructional manual on how to marry a racecar driver. Which led Imogen to the question that would be the basis of her thesis- did dating rules result in success when altered for a specific occupation? Imogen was going to follow them and find out.