I twist on the throttle, eating up the pavement in front of me. Too fast really. These back highways are perfect for the Duc, my high-powered, gravity-gripping, death machine Jordan called it.
Fresh-tears blur the scenery in front of me. A sweeping curve, I take it a little fast, have to lean deep into the momentum. The thrill of it, the risk, the chance that I might die this very ride, is enough to focus me, obliterating the shock-sadness of thinking my best friend’s name. Remembering.
Blue-white lights flash behind me. I groan when I see that my speedometer reads eighty-nine miles per hour.
Coming home with a speeding ticket won’t win me any favors with my older sister. And truth be known, the way my mug looks right now, I won’t be able to flirt my way out of this either.
I ease down to fifty-five, then forty-five, then thirty, pulling into the parking lot of the feed store on the outskirts of town. Kicking the stand down on the bike, I switch it off and listen to the engine tick while watching the door of the SUV police cruiser open in my side view mirror.
When I see the tall drink of water that emerges from behind the wheel, I curse my rotten luck.
The eldest of the three Frost brothers, he was ahead of me by five years in school. According to my sister during our last weekly phone chat, Officer Frost here is about to be sworn in as Chief of Police soon. He’s wearing cowboy boots, wranglers, and a brown button down with a shiny badge clipped to the pocket. His head only lifts when he settles his Stetson on top of it.
I lace my fingers together on top of my gas tank and suck in an annoyed breath.
I don’t know AJ. Calling him an acquaintance would be a stretch. Five years older than me, we never crossed paths back when I lived in town. I know him only from my sister pointing him out in a crowd once, and by reputation alone.
Never underestimate a small-town gossip chain. I may have never formally met the man walking to me with a look of utter disapproval on his face, but I know who AJ Frost is.Star quarterback, military career, police academy, and boom, back in his hometown enforcing the law and taking care of his family. Married, straight-laced, responsible, never a toe-out-of-line, all around good guy. On the surface anyway.
I bet there’s a power-hungry asshole under all that respectability and upstandingness. A giant stick up that sexy bum of his. The gossip chain churns when AJ’s involved. Any of the Frost brothers really. Their family gene-pool features heavily in the tall, blonde, and handsome. And, he’s somewhat tentatively connected to my family. His cousin, Reid, is married to my sister.
“Ma’am, mind taking off your helmet for me?” He asks as he comes to a stop beside my right leg.
I grit my teeth. Might as well get this over with.
Unsnapping my chin strap, I lift the full face helmet off and set it on top of my gas tank, holding it in place with one hand. Normally this would be the point where I ask the officer what the problem is, but I know what the fuck the problem is. So I remain quiet.
“Do you know how fast you were going back there?” He asks.
I turn to look at him. “Can’t say I do.”
He studies me, but there's only a set frown of his lips as an outward reaction to my busted lip, and the yellow-green bruising under my left eye.
“License, registration, and insurance please.”
I unzip my leather jacket and dip my hand into the interior pocket. Coming out with my phone and the little card case that clips to the back of it.
I hand the required items over to Frost, who takes them with, “You mind stepping off the bike and walking back to my SUV while I run these?”
I don’t answer, just swing my leg over and follow him back to the SUV. I stand at the edge of the parking lot between his running SUV and the road, hoping like hell no one I know will drive by and see me standing out here. Most especially my mother or my sister.
Finally, after looking everywhere but at him, I see his door pop open in my peripheral vision. He slides out, in his hands my paperwork attached to a clipboard.
“Delphine Rhodes. Can’t say I’ve had the pleasure before.” He holds my license out to me.
I take it from him, sliding it into my back pocket. I let my hands follow, sliding palms down into my back pockets, attempting to stand non-defensively. Loose, open, non-combative.
Like me, he’s privy to town gossip. Even if he doesn’t know me on sight, he knows of me.
“So what’s it to be?” I have very little patience right now. I’m hurting since I didn’t take anything stronger than an ibuprofen this morning and am ready to get to my sister’s, Cressida’s. A bed, a bottle, and a pill sound mind-numbingly comforting right now. Re-hashing my past misdeeds and the rumors associated with them isn’t something I’m in the mood for.
“You’ve been gone for a few years.”
His words aren’t a question. It’s a flat statement he makes, and one I won’t deem to answer.
Eight years, two months and some change. That’s how long I’ve been gone. Not that I have been counting.
“Clocked you at ninety-two. In a fifty-five. What’re you running from?”
I can’t see his eyes behind his aviator sunglasses. But I can feel them. A gaze heavy with insinuation. He didn’t ask why I was speeding. He just assumed I was running from something.
Whomever put these bruises on my face.
“Just out for a joyride.” I smile wide, feeling the pain of the pull in my lips.
Yep, I just reopened that scab. I lift my thumb up to my bottom lip and wipe the blood away with the pad of my finger.
Fucker roughed me up good. Bridger’s man knows how to backhand.
“You must joyride a lot.”
I laugh a little at that. Yeah, I have a few speeding tickets. But it’s been at least three years since the last. Doesn’t that shit drop off the record?
“You in town for a while?” Frost rolls right into the next question, sounding more annoyed than curious.
Yeah, he knows my story. Father died young, Mom remarried, youngest daughter acting out, acting wild in her angst, anger, adolescence. There might have been some underage drinking, indecent exposure, and trespassing on my juvenile record, but I’m not totally sure he has access to that.
On my adult one? Well, I’ve learned my lesson enough to keep my partying within the mostly legal limits.
And what the gossip chain churns out about me? I’ve been labeled this town’s “wild child.”
I shrug my shoulders, answering his question with a slightly petulant, “Don’t know.”
And that’s the god-honest-truth. I’m on the lam without a plan.
I didn’t know Jordan, my best friend and manager, was bankrolling our racing team with drug-money. And when I lost the last race, we didn’t have the winnings to pay back his bankman, Bridger.
It all started when I crashed in Atlanta. Not my fault. Not totally anyways. Accidents happen in racing, and when another driver lost control, and I was in the wrong place at the wrong time... well, the car didn’t run as fast after the repairs. That’s just racing.
Post- race, the other driver apologized and I flipped him the bird before storming into the garage. I have a temper. My outburst was caught on camera, and now, I’m persona non grata on the circuit.
If a man had done the same thing I did, he’d be forgiven in a heartbeat. Racing is an exercise in passion. Drivers are passionate people and we lash out when we lose.
And maybe I partied too hard a couple times, but I never drove while under the influence. Never was arrested, and tried to keep myself out of social media as best as I could.
I wasn’t being totally irresponsible.
One not-so-random drug-test and the results weren’t perfect. What can I say? I’m human. And the pressures of being female in a male-dominated world gets to me sometimes. I like to relax and have a good time. But, the racing team and our sponsors dropped me hard and fast - citing the drug test results as the final straw.
Things spiraled quickly then. Jordan threw together a crew, a car, and we raced ‘unsponsored’ to finish out the season.
Knowing what I know now, I should’ve just laid low and found work in one of the garages or something. Let the swirling media frenzy and crap die down.
But the pull of being behind the wheel. Damn, it's strong. I’d apparently put blinders on, deciding whatever it takes to be racing, that’s what I’d do. And apparently it took three-point-two million in illegal drug money. Thanks Jordan. The past six months has been a whirlwind crapshoot.
So, I’m here, back in the place of my birth, the place I resided the first seventeen years of my life, (I refuse to call it my ‘hometown’) trying to breathe for a minute.
And AJ Frost is clogging up my airways. My eyes ease from the spot I’d been focused on over his shoulder to his face.
He’s writing on his notepad now, and the disappointment in my chest burns.
“Look. Can’t you let me off with a warning?” I ask.
The last thing I need is some gossip rag finding out I got a speeding ticket in this podunk town.
He stops writing, and I wish he’d take off the damn sunglasses, because I can’t get a bead on what is going on inside that thick skull of his.
Seconds pass and I have to look down and away from the intensity of his impassivity. I hear him blow out a heavy sigh, so I look back up at him from under my lashes.
“Alright. You answer my questions and I’ll let you off with a warning.” He crosses his arms in front of his chest.
I nod, not liking his terms but accepting them.