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Slow Ride (Fast Track #5)
Author: Erin McCarthy

PROLOGUE

TUESDAY Jones stared at the minister in front of her, watching his mouth move, but unable to process what he was saying. The sun was hot on her arms, the breeze flapping her skirt, heels sinking into the soft grass, while her mother wept quietly beside her. None of it seemed real. It was like her entire body and her brain had been dipped in analgesic, and she was completely numb as she watched them lower her father’s casket into the ground.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. He was supposed to beat cancer, be one of those miraculous stories of triumph.

Instead, he was dead just three months after diagnosis, and Tuesday couldn’t believe it was real.

She hadn’t cried. She couldn’t cry. It was like all of her emotions were locked inside her, frozen solid.

It even took her a second to realize when her sun hat was lifted off her head by a gust of wind. She actually stared at it blankly as it tumbled past her mother’s legs.

Only when it appeared her grieving mother was going to give chase did Tuesday react. “I have it,” she murmured to her mother, squeezing her hand as she moved across the grass.

If it had been up to her, she would have just let the hat fly away to God knew where. She didn’t care about the hat. She didn’t care about anything.

A man a few headstones over bent down and caught her hat.

“Here you go,” he told her, holding it out with a wisp of a smile.

“Thank you.”

“My condolences.” He nodded toward her father’s funeral, now complete.

Her family and her father’s friends were murmuring to each other, standing around in small groups. Tuesday swung her head back to the man in front of her. “Thank you. The same to you.”

He nodded.

When Tuesday just stood there, staring at him without even really being aware of what she was doing, he cleared his throat.

“I guess you were close with him?”

“Yes. It’s my father.” And she couldn’t go back. She knew it was weird and awkward that she was just standing there staring at this man, intruding on his grief, but she knew that if she turned, if she walked across that grass and had to face her mother, she would lose it. Which she couldn’t do. She needed to keep it together for her mother, who was beyond devastated. Her mother had lost her life partner and she was walking around in a haze. Tuesday needed to be strong.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“And you?” she managed, determined to force normal conversation from her mouth, to focus on this man standing in front of her in a white dress shirt and black pants. As long as she concentrated on being normal with him, she could hold the tears, the hysteria at bay.

“My cousin.” His thumb jerked behind him. “My mother.” He pointed to the left. “My kid brother.” His finger stayed in the same direction, then slowly fell to his side. “It does get easier with time, I promise.”

And suddenly Tuesday lost it. The lip started to tremble, then the tears sprang out, while the low, deep sobs burst forth from her chest. She fought for control, but grief was winning. His eyes went wide, then suddenly his arms were around her, holding her.

“Shh, it’s okay, let it out. Stop fighting it.”

So she did. She let the sobs wrack her body, let the tears stream onto his gray-striped tie and shirt, even as she held her arms awkwardly at her sides, unable to wrap them around him. He had a muscular, solid chest, and arms that held her with gentle yet strong confidence. He smelled like aftershave, and his deep voice was soothing as he murmured in her ear over and over.

When she finally got a rein on her crying, and was able to step back, too upset to even feel embarrassed that she had sobbed on a stranger, he reached out and wiped her cheeks with callused fingers. “Everyone needs a good cry now and again.”

Tuesday sniffled, using her arm to wipe her nose like a little kid.

“I’m Daniel, by the way.”

“Tuesday.”

“I think you should get back to your family, Tuesday,” he told her. “Take care of yourself. Again, I’m sorry.”

He squeezed her hand in good-bye, his green eyes flooded with sympathy before he turned and left.

Tuesday glanced down at the headstone he had been standing over. Peter Briggs. The stock car driver, killed in a wreck a few years earlier. His cousin, he’d said.

She watched Daniel walking across the grass, a slight limp to his gait, and she knew immediately who he was.

Daniel “Diesel” Lange.

Pete Briggs’s cousin and a driver of considerable reputation and success until his car had kissed the wall head-on, leaving doctors and officials alike wondering how the man was still alive. He’d suffered a broken neck, a punctured lung, and a shattered leg, but he had survived, though he had retired.

A good ol’ boy, Tuesday’s father had called him.

And her dad’s favorite driver.

As she made her way back to her mother, she found herself glancing up at the sky, like she could somehow see her dad there.

Her father’s favorite driver had been standing ten feet away during his funeral. She thought her dad would have appreciated the irony of that.

It was the first peaceful thought she’d had all day.

CHAPTER ONE

GRATEFUL that her toast as maid of honor was behind her, Tuesday also appreciated that her orange bridesmaid dress looked remarkably better under the muted ballroom lights than it had earlier in the day. Heading for the bar—because one glass of champagne clearly wasn’t enough—she veered at the last second to the dessert table. She was supposed to meet Evan Monroe, the man who had been smart enough to marry her best friend, Kendall, and throw her a big old wedding reception four months after their impulsive elopement. When Evan had commented during dinner that women couldn’t do shots of whiskey, Tuesday felt it was her duty, orange dress and all, to stand up for her gender.

But first she wanted a piece of cake.

To coat her stomach for the liquor.

Or maybe just because she liked cake.

She had to admit she was feeling weird-happy for Kendall, but also like she still wasn’t totally enjoying herself. Like she couldn’t. Yet for the first time in the three weeks since her dad had died, she didn’t feel like she might burst into tears at any given moment, so that was progress. Baby steps. Little tiny almost nonexistent baby steps, because there was nothing easy about losing her father. Death sucked. Grief sucked.

On that very unpleasant thought, she grabbed a piece of cake from the assortment and crammed it into her mouth.

 

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