Authors: Maya Blake
‘I make it a point not to credit rumours, but it seems in this instance the rumours are true, Sasha Fleming.’
The way he said her name—slowly, with a hint of his Latin intonation—made goosebumps rise on her flesh. ‘What exactly do you think you know about me?’
‘Sex is your weapon of choice.’
‘I beg your pardon?’ she squeaked as the backs of her legs touched the side of the bed. ‘Did you just say—?’
‘You need to learn to finesse your art, though. No man likes to be bludgeoned over the head with sex. No matter how … enticing the package.’
‘You’re either loopy or you’ve got me confused with someone else. I don’t bludgeon and I don’t entice.’
He kept coming. She leaned back on the bed and felt the hem of her shirt riding up her thighs.
‘For goodness’ sake, stop!’
He stopped, but his gaze didn’t. It continued its destructive course over her, leaving no part of her untouched, until Sasha felt sure she was about to combust from the heat of it.
Desperate, she darted out her tongue to lick her lips. ‘Look, I’m not who … whatever you think I am.’
‘Even though I can see the evidence for myself?’ he rasped in a low voice.
fell in love with the world of the alpha male and the strong, aspirational heroine when she borrowed her sister’s Mills & Boon
at age thirteen. Shortly thereafter the dream to plot a happy ending for her own characters was born. Writing for Harlequin Mills & Boon is a dream come true. Maya lives in South East England with her husband and two kids. Reading is an absolute passion, but when she isn’t lost in a book she likes to swim, cycle, travel and Tweet!
You can get in touch with her via e-mail,
at [email protected], or on Twitter:
THE PRICE OF SUCCESS
is Maya’s debut book
for Mills & Boon
First and foremost for my dear sister, Barbara, who
gave me the book that started this wonderful journey.
For my husband, Tony, for his unwavering support
and firm belief that this dream would become reality.
For my HEART sisters—your incredible support
kept me going right from the beginning—thank you!
And finally for my darling MINXES!
You are the best cheerleaders a girl can have
and I’d be totally lost without you.
moments before the crash played out almost in slow motion. Time paused, then stretched lethargically in the Sunday sun. And even though the cars were travelling at over two hundred and twenty kilometers an hour, there seemed an almost hypnotic, ballet-like symmetry in their movement.
Sasha Fleming stared, frozen, her heart suspended mid-beat, terrified to complete its task as Rafael’s front wing clipped the rear tyre of the slower back marker. Hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of carbon fibre bent backwards, twisted in on itself. Ripped metal tore through the left tyre, wrenching the car into a ninety-degree turn.
The world-renowned racing car launched itself into the air. For several brief seconds it looked more like a futuristic aircraft than an asphalt-hugging machine.
Inevitably, gravity won out. The explosion was deafening as sound erupted all around her. The screech of contorting metal rang through her head, amplified by the super-sized loudspeakers all around her. In the next instant the white concrete wall just after the Turn One hairpin bend was streaked with the iconic racing green paint of Rafael’s car.
‘He’s crashed! He’s crashed! The pole sitter and current world champion, Rafael de Cervantes, has crashed his Espiritu DSII. Only this morning the papers said this car was uncrashable. How wrong were they?’
Sasha ripped off her headphones, unable to stomach the frenzied
glee in the commentator’s voice or the huge roar that rose around the Hungaroring circuit.
Her heart, now making up for its sluggishness, was beating so hard and so fast it threatened to break through her ribcage. Her eyes remained glued to the bank of screens on the pit wall, and she and two dozen pit crew members watched the horrific events unfold.
‘Turn up the sound,’ someone yelled.
Curbing a wild need to negate that command, she clamped her lips together, arms folded tight around her middle. Memories of another time, another crash, played alongside the carnage unfolding on the screen. Unable to stem it, she let the memories of the event that had changed her for ever filter through to play alongside this appalling spectacle.
‘Sometimes the only way to get through pain is to immerse yourself in it. Let it eat you alive. It’ll spit you out eventually.’
How many times had her father told her that? When she’d broken her ankle learning to ride her bike. When she’d fractured her arm falling out of a tree. When she’d lost her mum when she was ten. When she’d suffered the desperate consequences of falling for the wrong guy.
She’d got through them all. Well … almost.
The secret loss she’d buried deep in her heart would always be with her. As would the loss of her father.
The commentator’s voice scythed through her thoughts.
‘There’s no movement from the car. The race has been red-flagged and the safety car is on its way. So is the ambulance. But so far we haven’t seen Rafael move. His engineer will be frantically trying to speak to him, no doubt. I must say, though, it’s not looking good …’
Sasha forced in a breath, her fingers moving convulsively to loosen the Velcro securing her constricting race suit. A shudder raked her frame, followed closely by another. She tried to swallow but she couldn’t get her throat to work.
Alongside the thoughts zipping through her head, her last conversation with Rafael filtered through.
He’d been so angry with her. And the accusations he’d flung at her when she’d only been trying to help …
Ice clutched her soul. Was this
played a part in this carnage?
‘The ambulance is there now. And there’s Rafael’s brother, Marco, the owner of Team Espiritu. He’s on his way to the crash site … hopefully we’ll get a progress report soon.’
. Another fist of shock punched through her flailing senses. She hadn’t even been aware he’d finally arrived in Hungary. In her two years as reserve driver for Team Espiritu, Marco de Cervantes hadn’t missed a single race—until this weekend.
The whole paddock had been abuzz with his absence, the celebrities and royalty who jetted in from all over the world specifically to experience the de Cervantes lifestyle, visibly disappointed. From Rafael’s terse response when she’d asked of his brother’s whereabouts, Sasha had concluded the brothers had fallen out.
Her heart twisted tighter in her chest at the thought that Marco had finally arrived only to witness his brother’s crash.
A daring cameraman broke through the flanking bodyguards and caught up with Marco. Tight-jawed, his olive skin showing only the barest hint of paleness, he kept his gaze fixed ahead, his set expression not revealing the slightest hint of his emotional state as he strode towards the courtesy car waiting a few feet away.
Just before he got into the car he turned his head. Deep hazel eyes stared straight into the camera.
Sasha’s breath stilled. Icy dread flooded her veins at the banked fury in their depths. His features were pinched, his mouth a taut line, the lines bracketing his mouth deep and austere. Everything about him indicated he was reining in tight emotion. Not surprising, given the circumstances.
But, eerily, Sasha knew his emotion extended beyond the events unfolding now. Whatever emotion Marco was holding in, it went far beyond his reaction to his brother’s horrific accident.
Another shiver raked through her. She turned away from the
screen, searching blindly for an escape. The back of the garage where the tyres were stacked offered a temporary sanctuary.
She’d taken one single step towards the opening when her heart sank. Tom Brooks, her personal press officer, broke away from the crew and made a beeline for her.
‘We need to prep for an interview,’ he clipped out, fingers flying over his iPad.
Nausea rose to join all the other sensations percolating inside her. ‘Already? We don’t even know how Rafael is.’ Or even if he was still alive.
‘Exactly. The eyes of the world will be on this team. Now’s not the time to bungle our way through another disastrous soundbite,’ he said unsympathetically.
Sasha bit her lip. Her heated denial of a relationship with Rafael only a week ago had fuelled media speculation, and brought unwanted focus on the team.
‘Surely it’s better to be well informed before the interview than to go on air half-cocked?’
His face darkened. ‘Do you want to be a reserve driver for ever?’
Sasha frowned. ‘Of course not—’
‘Good, because I don’t want to play press officer to a reserve driver for the rest of my career. You want to be one of the boys? Here’s your chance to prove it.’
A wave of anger rose inside her. ‘I don’t need to be heartless to prove myself, Tom.’
‘Oh, but you do. Do you think any of the other drivers would hesitate at the chance that’s been presented?’
‘What chance? We don’t even know how Rafael is doing yet!’
‘Well, you can sit on your hands until the moment’s snatched from you. The handful of female X1 Premier Racing drivers who’ve gone before you barely made an impact. You can choose to become a meaningless statistic, or you can put yourself in the driver’s seat—literally—and lay the paddock rumours to rest.’
She didn’t need to ask what he meant. A wave of pain rolled through her. Pushing it back, she straightened her shoulders. ‘I don’t care about rumours. I’m a good driver—’
‘You’re also Jack Fleming’s daughter and Derek Mahoney’s ex. If you want to be taken seriously you need to step out of their shadows. Do the interview. Stake your claim.’
As his fingers resumed their busy course over his iPad, unease rose inside Sasha. As much as she disliked Tom’s acerbic attitude, a part of her knew he was right. The move from reserve to full-time driver for Team Espiritu was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity she couldn’t afford to squander—not if she wanted to achieve her goals.
‘I have a reporter ready to meet—’
‘No.’ Her gaze flicked to the screen and her resolve strengthened. ‘I won’t give an interview until I hear how Rafael is.’
Two ambulances and three fire engines now surrounded the mangled car. Sparks flew as the fire crew cut away the chassis.
Marco de Cervantes stood scant feet away, ignoring everyone, his impressive physique firmly planted, hands balled into fists, his unwavering gaze fixed on his brother’s still form. Sasha’s heart squeezed tighter.
Please be alive, Rafael. Don’t you dare die on me …
Tom’s stern look mellowed slightly as he followed her gaze. ‘I’ll prepare something while we wait. Find a quiet place. Get yourself together.’ He glanced around, made sure he wasn’t overheard and leaned in closer. ‘This is the chance you’ve been waiting for, Sasha.
Don’t blow it.’
Marco de Cervantes stepped into the private hospital room in Budapest, sick dread churning through his stomach. He clenched his fists to stop the shaking in his hands and forced himself to walk to his brother’s bedside. With each step the accident replayed in his mind’s eye, a vivid, gruesome nightmare that wouldn’t stop. There’d been so much blood at the crash site …
so much blood …
His chest tightened as he saw the white sheet pulled over his brother’s chest.
Absently, he made a note to have the staff replace the sheets with another colour—green, perhaps, Rafael’s favourite colour. White hospital sheets looked … smelled … too much like death.
Rafael wasn’t dead. And if Marco had anything to do with it this would be his last senseless brush with death. Enough was enough.
He drew level with the bed and stared down into his brother’s pale, still face. At the tube inserted into his mouth to help him breathe.
Enough was enough
Marco’s throat closed up. He’d chosen to give Rafael time to come to his senses instead of forcing him to listen to reason. And by doing so he’d allowed his brother to take the wheel behind the world’s most powerful car while still reeling from emotional rejection.
Unlike him, his brother had never been able to compartmentalise his life, to suppress superfluous emotions that led to unnecessarily clouded judgement. Rafael coalesced happiness, sadness, triumph and loss into one hot, sticky mess. Add the lethal mix of a seven hundred and fifty horsepower racing car, and once again
was left picking up the pieces.
His breath shuddered. Reaching out, he took Rafael’s unmoving hand, leaned down until his lips hovered an inch from his brother’s ear.
‘You live—you hear me? I swear on all things holy, if you die on me I’ll track you to hell and kick your ass,’ he grated out, then swallowed the thickness in his throat. ‘And I know you’ll be in hell, because you sure as heck won’t get into heaven with
His voice caught and he forced back his tears.
Rafael’s hand remained immobile, barely warm. Marco held on tighter, desperately infusing his brother with his own life force, desperately trying to block out the doctor’s words … his
brain is swelling … there’s internal bleeding … nothing to do but wait …
With a stifled curse, he whirled away from the bed. The window of the ultra-private, ultra-exclusive, state-of-the-art hospital looked out onto a serene courtyard, with discreet fountains and carefully clipped flowers meant to soothe the troubled patient. Beyond the grounds, forests stretched as far as the eye could see.
Marco found no solace in the picturesque view. He found even less to smile about when his eyes lit on the paparazzi waiting beyond the hospital’s boundaries, powerful lenses trained, ready to pounce.
Shoving a hand through his hair, he turned back to the bed.
A flash of green caught the corner of his eye. He focused on the flat-screen TV mounted on the wall and watched Rafael’s accident replayed again in slow motion.
Bile rose to his throat. Reaching blindly for the remote, he aimed it at the screen—only to stop when another picture shifted into focus.
Anger escalated through him. Five minutes later he stabbed the ‘off’ button and calmly replaced the control.
Returning to Rafael’s bedside, his sank onto the side of the bed. ‘I know you’d probably argue with me,
, but you’ve had a lucky escape. In more ways than one.’
Jaw clenching, he thanked heaven his brother hadn’t heard the interview just played on TV. Marco had first-hand knowledge of what people would sacrifice in their quest for fame and power, and the look of naked ambition in Sasha Fleming’s eyes made his chest burn with fury and his skin crawl.
His fist tightened on the bed next to his brother’s unmoving body.
If she wanted a taste of power he would give it to her. Let her acquire a taste for it the way she’d given Rafael a taste of herself.
Then, just as she’d callously shoved Rafael aside, Marco would take utter satisfaction in wrenching away everything she’d ever dreamed of.
‘Excuse me, can you tell me which room Rafael de Cervantes is in?’ Sasha infused her voice with as much authority as possible, despite the glaring knowledge that she wasn’t supposed to be here.
The nurse dressed in a crisp white uniform looked up. The crease already forming on her brow caused Sasha’s heart to sink.
‘Are you a member of the family?’
‘No, but I wanted to see how he was. He was … is my team
mate.’ The moment the words left her lips she winced.
Way to go, Sasha
True to form, the nurse’s frown dissolved as realisation dawned. ‘His team mate …? You’re Sasha Fleming!’
Sasha summoned her practised camera smile—the one that held the right amount of interest without screaming
look at me
, and lifted the oversized sunglasses. ‘Yes,’ she murmured.
you!’ The nurse gushed. ‘He pretends not to, but I know he thinks you rock. Every time he sees you during Friday Practice his face lights up. He’ll be thrilled when I tell him I met you.’
The tension clamping Sasha’s nape eased a little. ‘Thanks. So can I see Rafael?’ she asked again. When the frown threatened to make a comeback, Sasha rushed on. ‘I’ll only be a moment, I promise.’