Home > Clutch (Custom Culture #2)

Clutch (Custom Culture #2)
Tess Oliver

Chapter 1


The smug little runt sneered at me over the top of his car, and I wanted to pound him into the ground like a tent stake. I’d been racing my sixty-nine Chevelle all spring, but I’d never made it to the final drag. The twerp climbing into his nitrous pumped Chevy SS had won every heat. His head had grown bloated from it, and it definitely needed some deflating.

I ducked down and climbed into the custom front seat that had been lowered to accommodate my height. The car creaked and leaned slightly toward the driver’s side. Racing was the only thing that made me regret being so friggin’ tall. I was like a massive paperweight in my Chevy. It definitely gave my paperclip sized opponent an advantage.

The crystal blue spring sky had muted with the grays and yellows of sunset. The dry Santa Ana winds were strong enough to tilt the palm trees lining the track and carried enough warmth for the spectators to dress as if it was a summer night. Rowdy, the guy who organized the amateur drag racing events, gave me the signal to head to the staging area, and I fired up the engine.

The four-fifty-four big block roared like a dragon, and I squeezed the steering wheel. “That’s right, Sweetheart. Let’s show them what you’ve got.”

An impressively large crowd had gathered to watch. Nix’s tall head stood out over the other spectators, but I couldn’t see Scotlyn. She was, no doubt, attached securely to his arm.

The Christmas tree of lights lit up as I rolled to the starting line. I could see the SS out of the corner of my eye. I really wanted this, and it wasn’t just because my opponent was an irritating gnat. Nix always insisted that I was way too hard on myself, that it was all right not to succeed at everything, but that just didn’t fly in my world. My rigid determination had helped me earn a hell of a lot of money since high school, and, to me, failure of any kind was out of the question. Dray had insisted my need to win these drag races helped me cope with my lack of girlfriend, or as he had so eloquently put it, ‘having no one to fuck.’ The asshole had finally found himself in a relationship, and suddenly, he’d become a goddamn expert. Of course, I’d feel pretty cocky too if I had someone as awesome as Cassie. She was definitely the best thing that had ever happened to Dray.

I gripped the steering wheel, and the car vibrated anxiously like a racehorse at the starting gate. I glanced into the rearview mirror. The track beneath my rear wheels was watered. The screeching sound of tires and the acrid smell of melting rubber filled the evening air. The three amber lights winked at me before the tree flashed green and my foot flattened the pedal.

The Chevelle exploded through the cloud of smoke. I could see the flash of yellow paint next to me for a second and then it fell back. My gaze shot up to the rearview mirror as I crossed the line. I would have been pissed as hell if the guy had crashed or blown a tire. I wanted to win this fairly. His car drove up next to mine. I’d won. I waved politely at my opponent. His tires shrieked as he whipped the car around and headed back to the pits.

Cassie emerged from the line of spectators, her camera hanging around her neck. She tapped the window of the car. I cranked it down, and as I looked up at her, she snapped my picture.

She held up her camera and squinted into the screen. The tiny silver hoop in her lip danced as she twisted her mouth in disappointment. “Dammit. I really need to be able to get that fleeting moment of emotion when you win a race. It’s gone by the time you stop.”

“Well, Cass, unless you can figure out a way to lay across the hood with your camera poised as I cross the finish line, I don’t think that’s ever going to happen.”

Her eyes opened wide as if she was actually considering it. It was hard to get used to her without her glasses but she’d occasionally taken to wearing contacts because of her new found hobby— photography. And she was damn good at it. She could capture the raw emotion and action in one shot that told you an entire story in one frame. Recently, she’d sold a few photos to magazines, and it seemed her talent only grew with each shot.

“You can’t strap yourself to my hood, if that’s what you’re thinking, Cass. Maybe I could just try and recreate the look.”

“Nah, it wouldn’t be real.”

“Well, if you want to capture that agony of defeat moment, I’m pretty sure my opponent is still wearing it.”

She laughed. “I did hear some rather unsavory language coming from his car as he sped past.” She looked back toward the spectators. “I’ll climb back through the crowd and find Nix and Scottie. I don’t know if Dray made it or not. He texted me that there was a shitload of traffic on the freeway.”

“I’ll see you guys in a minute. We’ll have to go back to my place for some pizza and beer. I’m in the mood to celebrate.” I whipped the car around and waved to the line of onlookers who cheered as I rolled past.

My opponent was already in the pits cursing out some dumbfounded-looking stooge who must have been acting as his mechanic. The guy was as shitty a loser as he was a winner He was definitely the kind of jerk who would blame the mechanic for his loss.

Nix and Scotlyn turned heads as they made their way through the crowd. Even in jeans and sweatshirts, they looked as if they’d just walked out of a fashion magazine. Cassie scurried up behind them, her attention caught by something in her camera viewer. She was short and petite, and the big camera around her neck looked heavy enough to pull her over. Her love for photography rivaled my passion for cars, and lately, I’d noticed Dray was slightly jealous of her newfound hobby. Mostly because it drew attention away from him. The three made their way through the mass of people milling about. They reached me as I climbed out of the driver’s seat.

Nix held out his fist. “Nailed it.”

“Damn right. I knew the Chevelle could beat that blowhard in his laughing gas amped rust pile. Just needed the right circumstances.” I looked at Scotlyn and smiled. “You can release that death grip on his arm, Scottie. The race is over.”

A pink blush covered her cheeks, and she loosened her grip on Nix’s arm. I teased her way too much when she came to the races. They made her nervous as hell—and with good reason. No one would be able to survive the horrors of a deadly car accident and not have a freak-out session when two cars hurtled down a slick track at top speed.

“Congratulations, Boss,” she said quietly. Most of us had only had the pleasure of hearing her soft, breathy voice for a few months, and even now, she was noticeably quiet when she was stressed or upset about something. Everything about Scotlyn was still so frighteningly vulnerable, it seemed that anything unexpected could send her newly found voice back into the black hole of anguish that had once swallowed it. But as vulnerable as Scotlyn seemed, my best buddy, Nix, the guy who had always reeked confidence, even annoyingly so, when it came to girls, looked so completely susceptible to heartbreak now that it showed up in every one of Cassie’s pictures. Scotlyn was his and that was more than clear, but it was also painfully clear that if Nix ever lost her, he would be shattered beyond repair. It was still hard for me to fathom that the Heartbreak Kid had given away his heart, but Scotlyn was really something. My two best friends had found amazing women. I had girls too, but they were dressed in shiny chrome and had expensive drinking habits— gasoline. I had money and plenty of friends but lately I’d felt my life was seriously lacking. In my quest to focus on business and success, I’d completely ignored my heart.

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