Austin

1

AUSTIN

The crowd parts like the Red Sea as my ’69 Chevy Camaro rumbles its way through the abandoned lot. Guys stare at the sleek lines and dual exhaust while the girls stare at me. Everyone wants a piece of one or the other, and my place as the god of this racetrack is evident the second I show up. 

A blonde in a tight leather skirt mouths something to her friend. The way her teeth skim across her bottom lip lets me know she’s saying my name.

Falcon. 

She’s just like every other girl here—waiting for a chance to bed a driver. There are six of us tonight, and there’s no doubt I would get first pick. Too bad I don’t sleep with pit girls. They’re not worth risking my anonymity.

I rub my thumb over the angel charm that sits on my gearshift. It might be superstitious, but I have a routine I run through before every race. Closing my eyes, I say a silent prayer to—

“It’s about time you showed up.” Gregg’s loud voice interrupts my thoughts as he swings my driver’s-side door open.

I glare in his direction. “Nobody fucks with me until I get out of the car.” 

Gregg doesn’t seem fazed. “Get over your goddamn ritual and get out here. Beckett Smith is talking mad shit. I can handle this crowd by myself for only so long.” 

“Beckett’s a joke. He’s only here to cause trouble and shake things up, so people don’t realize how small his dick is. We should just kick his sorry ass out.”

Gregg and I have been orchestrating these races for the past eighteen months. How he manages to secure prime locations in the outskirts of the city without getting cuffed and bagged amazes me.

He gives a devilish grin. “And miss the chance to watch you run him off the road? Now, what would be the fun in that?” 

I ignore his comment as I kiss my thumb and touch it to the angel. “To the moon and back,” I whisper to the bronze charm.

After I make sure my sweatshirt hood is covering my snapback hat with the word LUNATIC written across it, I exit the car. I know no one actually sees the hat, but I love knowing I have it on. It fits how I feel when I’m behind the wheel.

Everyone here knows me as Falcon, the undefeated street racer, and not Austin Sexton, middle son of one of the most prominent families in San Francisco. That’s why I always have a hat pulled low over my brow with my hood covering the sides.

Luckily, the headlights of surrounding cars are the only lights in the area as Gregg and I walk toward the pit.

“What got you all riled up tonight?” Gregg asks. “Did Bryce not kiss your ass like you’d hoped?”

I clench my jaw at the reminder of the fight I had with my older brother, the great and powerful Bryce Sexton, at the gala I was forced to attend earlier tonight at the Gala. “Fucker thinks I’m not doing my part. Says I act like I don’t want to be there.” 

He shrugs. “You don’t. You hate working for your father.” 

I shake my head and crack my knuckles before turning to Gregg. “You know why I’m there. Especially since my gold-digging stepmother entered the picture. That bitch can’t wait to push me and my brothers out.” 

“Missy?” He lets out a sharp laugh. “When did sex and stilettos start selling papers?” 

“When she became a twenty-five percent shareholder of Sexton Media.”

Just the thought of my father giving half of his shares to that woman has me tightening my fist harder. It’s all a disgusting insult to my late mother’s memory. 

Maybe racing Beckett—and winning—will calm this firestorm about to blow inside me. 

We’re approaching the pit where Beckett is standing with a group of guys around his Mustang. I cross my arms and appraise his bravado. He’s flapping his arms in a wild gesture while making a crying face. My blood was already boiling, but seeing him just lit it on fire.

I stop and turn to Gregg. “What’s Beckett been saying?” 

“He says Falcon can’t handle him, and that’s why he’s not slated to race you. That you’re”—he makes a quivering gesture—“scared to lose.” 

This isn’t the place for that shit, and everyone here knows it. This is an invite-only event. Anyone who wants to race their car has to prove themselves at smaller venues around the area. When I find them worthy, an invitation is placed inside their car along with an untraceable phone with only one number programmed to another untraceable phone.

Mine. 

Gregg might run this event, but I decide who’s here, who races, and who has to go, never to come back. And Beckett Smith is about to get beaten and banned.

I cross the dirt, get right up in his face, and point into his ugly mug, making everyone instantly shut up. “You want to run your mouth tonight or race?”

He turns in my direction and doesn’t miss a beat. “I’m here to race. Just wish you weren’t chickenshit enough to go up against me.”

“You’re racing me tonight,” I spit.

Beckett stares at me, trying to act like he’s tough, but I know he’s not.

“Not so talkative now, are you?”

“You’re on, Falcon,” he says in a mocking tone. “It’s about time someone showed you who’s really boss around here.”

His little entourage surrounds his car as he hops in. I look around to see who’s left. With the shake-up in tonight’s lineup, they all wait for me to tell them who’s racing who. 

“You and you.” I point to Tyler and Zack, well-known drivers I’ve raced before. “Then, you and you.” I nod toward Chad and Kyle. “Get ready. First race is in five.” 

Everyone scatters, and within minutes, the sounds of engines roar to life, filling the night air of an abandoned warehouse parking lot. The cars move to the pavement and line up to start the show.

“Fifteen minutes,” Gregg says as he looks down at his phone. That’s the amount of time we have to get three races in and out before the cops arrive.

My pulse beats at the rush from the thrill of racing and the risk of getting caught. These events are illegal, so we get in and get out with three being the maximum number. Gregg scopes out each location and tips off a cop friend to keep the rest of his patrol units away from us. We only have a half hour total. Then, it’s free game, and it’s every man for themselves.

Gregg walks between the cars and stands before them with a flashlight pointed at the ground. Once it’s raised and lit, it’s pedals to the metal.

Tyler and Zack take off, and the mob goes crazy as we watch the cars drift in the pitch of midnight. We walk up to a chain-link fence and look out. All you see are taillights and the rumbling of a twin-turbocharge big block reverberating from every direction.

It’s the sexiest thing you’ll ever hear.

“Fuck me,” Gregg grumbles as he looks at his phone, his hand knuckle deep in his hair. “Julie’s here. I told her to stay at the apartment.” 

“You let your girl drive here? Where the hell is she?” 

He’s looking down at his phone, thumbing his texts. “I don’t know. She says she’s by a freight container. Where the hell is there a fucking freight container? I gotta go find her before she ends up getting us all arrested.” 

I curse under my breath. “Go.” 

Gregg slams the flashlight into the chest of Tyler, who is coming out of his car after getting his ass handed to him by Zack. He looks like he wants to fight anyone who says a word, but thankfully, his gaze finds me first. I stand up a little straighter, nodding my head toward the second race and make sure he knows it’s not up for discussion.

While Tyler acts as the race starter for Chad and Kyle, I make my way back to my Camaro and put on a helmet. This isn’t just any muscle car; it’s over seven hundred cubic inches of massive twin-turbo muscle. I’ll be hitting a hundred miles per hour in seconds.

When the next race is over, I ready myself for the match with Beckett, who creeps up to the starting line inches at a time to make sure our front ends are perfectly aligned. 

I run my finger over the angel charm one last time, closing my eyes and taking a deep, calming breath.

When I open them, I turn my head to see Beckett make the sign of the cross down his forehead and over his chest. After we’re both in place, Tyler steps back to stand directly in the middle of us as we wait for the moment where he turns on the flashlight, signifying our start of the race.

Adrenaline soars through my body.

This is why I do this.

This is my high.

Not drugs or alcohol. Hell, not even women can make me feel like this. It’s speed—the rush of flying down the road and racing through the gears.

I grip the shifter in my hand, my fingers tingling and my body vibrating in excitement.

“Come on, come on,” I whisper under my breath. 

Tyler nods to me and then to Beckett before checking out the crowd around us. The moment arrives, and I watch as his hand rises up to his face. I stare, waiting for the light to shine back at me. 

When brightness fills my vision, I instantly release the clutch. My car jolts forward, and my head slams against the headrest. It takes a second to realize Beckett’s not racing. Confusion stumbles my mind as I question what I saw.

I know I saw a fucking light. I know it.

I slam on my brakes. My eyes drift to the rearview mirror to see Beckett still at the starting line, and everyone else is frozen in place. 

I throw my car door open. “What. The. Fuck?” 

Tyler’s eyes are big when Beckett hops out of his car.

“You jumped! I win,” Beckett yells while pointing at me. 

“I did not jump. That light turned on, and I went. Are you saying it didn’t go on, Tyler?”

“It did, but …” He lowers the light toward a group of people, the same way he did at the start of our race.

“Why the hell did you point the light toward the crowd?” 

I stomp my feet to the pavement with each step I take, trying to relieve my frustrations so that I don’t kill him with my bare hands. I’ve had a shitty day, and I’ll be damned if I lose a race due to a fucking technicality.

Tyler frantically looks around. “I … shit, I-I mean—”

“Spit it the fuck out before I get really pissed,” I growl. 

“I wasn’t thinking. I saw someone cross the line over there, so I shined the light on them to tell them to back up.” 

“You shined the light? The one thing that signifies the start of the race and you shine it on someone because they were over the fucking line? You couldn’t have used your hand or yelled at them?” 

Tyler is rubbing his palm across his head. He looks like he’s about to puke. “I’m sorry. I really am.” He’s pleading for his life because he knows I’m about to end it. 

“Does someone want to come forward and save this pathetic soul?” I yell toward the mob of people watching the drama unfold. “Who crossed onto the track before my race was about to start?” 

The crowd moves back, except for one girl who looks like a deer in headlights. 

“So, it was you?” I stalk in her direction. 

“I didn’t mean to. I promise.” Her hands go up in surrender.

For a second, I get caught up in the sight of her pink polo shirt and khaki pants. She’s not like the usual girls who hang out at our races.

“She’s with me. Leave her alone,” Beckett calls out. 

I turn to him and bite out at the irony of this situation. “Oh, really? She’s with you? Now, isn’t that convenient? Was this little stunt planned?” 

The girl launches forward, speaking as fast as humanly possible, “No. I swear, it wasn’t. This is my first time here. I didn’t know there was a line.” 

“Just drop it, Falcon.” Beckett pulls my attention away from the girl. “It was Tyler who shined the light. Leave her alone. We’ll have a redo.” 

“There’s no doubt about that. Kyle,” I yell into the air until he steps out of the crowd and up to the line. “You start us off. Tyler, get the fuck out of my face.” 

Beckett nods to the girl and motions for her to get back into the crowd. 

“One change though.” I reach out for her. “She rides with me.” 

The crowd lets out a gasp as I grab the girl’s hand and pull her toward my car. 

“Leave her out of this,” Beckett shouts. 

“I’m sorry.” I hold my hand up to my ear as if I couldn’t hear him and then drop it. “You don’t have a say in this. You want to continue to race here, you do as I say.” 

I can see Beckett’s mouth open to argue just as Gregg walks onto the line with Julie by his side. Beckett looks at Gregg to see if what I’m saying holds ground. Gregg gives a nod, which causes Beckett to let out a series of expletives.

“You’re not really gonna let him do this, are you?” the girl yells to Beckett.

And, just like the douche I know he is, he throws up his hands and hops into his car. Her jaw drops as her milky complexion turns red in a nanosecond.

“Guess your knight in shining armor isn’t going to help you tonight. Now, get in. Let me show you what a real man can do.” I guide her to the front seat.

I’m not a total asshole. If she put up a fight, I would stop. I just wanted to get under Beckett’s skin. But there’s something about the way she opens the door with determination and falls into the passenger seat of my car that makes me wonder if she’s secretly thirsty for this race.

“You might want to buckle up for this.” I slam the door once she’s secure. 

After I enter on my side and close the door, I take my helmet off and quickly put my hat and hood back over my head. I hold the helmet out to her, trying to ignore the way she smells like a sweet peach. “Put this on.” 

She looks at it like I just handed her a tablet of acid. “So, now, you care about my safety?” 

“Put it on and shut up.” I drop the car into reverse and back up to the line. “Oh, and I’d hold on if I were you.” After putting the car into neutral, I rev the engine, causing the metal to shake, sending vibrations up my spine. 

She lets out a little squeak as she slides the helmet on. I try to ignore how adorable it sounds and get back in the zone.

I briefly close my eyes, clearing my mind and preparing for the race. With my hands tightly gripping the shifter, my right foot hovers over the brakes while the other presses the clutch.

Seconds tick away as Kyle walks to his place in front of us.

After nodding to each of us, his hand rises, and it’s on. The light shines bright, and I slam on the gas.

My tires spin for only a second before I speed down the quarter mile to where another flashlight lies on the ground. My body becomes dense in my seat. My heart and lungs feel light as air when the speedometer hits a hundred twenty miles per hour. It’s a blast of euphoria as I cross the finish line—one I can only assume is synonymous with taking a hit of your favorite drug.

Eleven seconds are all it takes for me to win the race with not just one, but two car lengths ahead of him. Even with his girl as added weight in my vehicle. 

There’s a thumping sound as I slow the car down. It takes a second too long to realize it’s the girl’s helmet as it hits the passenger window. I’m glad as hell I made her put that thing on.

I fist-pump my hand as I scream out my release, only to hear the sirens in a distance. 

“What’s that?” Beckett’s girl asks.

I drop the car back in gear. “That’s our cue to leave.” 

“Don’t you dare—” she starts to argue, but there’s no time.

I take the back road around the warehouse and onto the side streets that lead away from the highway, where the police would be coming in. My foot is lead on the gas as I move us through the Lower Bottoms neighborhood in Oakland. 

“Stop the car!” she shouts as she grasps the oh shit handle above her window. 

I run through a red light. “No can do, sweetheart. This is a do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars moment.” 

“Great, so I’m gonna die at the hands of a guy who makes Monopoly references.” 

A speed camera flashes, causing her head to swivel to the right so fast that her dark hair whips from the base of the helmet. “You just got caught. They’ll run your plates off that picture and see the car is registered to … who the hell are you?” 

“Dirk Diggler,” I state calmly as I whip the Camaro so hard to the right that her tires burn on the pavement.

She lets out a sound of disgust. “You registered your car in the name of the porn star from Boogie Nights?” 

I pat the steering wheel of my baby. “This beauty is void of any identifying marks. Notice the DMV big number five sticker in the back window. That stops me from getting pulled over for no plates. I can do whatever I want, wherever I want, and no one will know who did it.” 

Something about my comment must really tick her off because she starts kicking her feet, banging them on the dash, while her fists pound the roof. She’s screaming as loud as she can, which is really fucking loud. “Stop the car. Stop. The. Car! Let me out!”

“I can’t just pull over.” 

She yanks on the handle, trying to open the locked door. When her hand moves to unlock it, I jerk to the curb and step on the brakes, causing us to lurch to a stop. 

“Are you crazy?” I yell.

She flings her door open, making my dome light beam bright in the otherwise darkness. We’re in a shit part of town, and if I were a total prick, I’d tell her to walk home. But I’m not, so I can’t.

I open my door and turn to her, resting my hands on the roof of the Camaro. “Get back in the car. I’ll drive you back to your prick of a boyfriend.” 

“No, thank you. I don’t want to be in this car for one more second.” She removes the helmet and tosses it on the seat. When she rises, the light of the overhead streetlamp flickers on, illuminating down on her. 

I was going to say something, but my mind has gone completely blank.

She’s looking at me with these hazel eyes that are wild and vibrant, glowing in stark contrast to her long, dark hair. 

We’re having a virtual standoff across the roof of a car.

Me staring at her and her glaring directly back at me. 

Fuck.