What was he doing?
Aiden downshifted into a lower gear as they reached a busier street. Madison’s knuckles were white where she gripped the car. He could hear her panting for breath over the purr of the engine and it set his teeth on edge.
He should have sent her on her way, but he hadn’t been able to. The way her eyes had pleaded with him, the desperation.
He’d bet his Challenger she was innocent. And he didn’t harm innocents. There weren’t a lot of limits left to him, but that was one.
There was still a chance this whole thing could be a setup. Madison could be playing him. This whole divorce might be a ruse. But if it were, they had even the police fooled. No, Madison’s story was at least partly truthful. She was Dustin’s ex, but she might also be the key to learning how to pry open the inner ranks of Michael Evers’s organization.
That didn’t answer why he had Madison in his car, or why he pushed the Challenger in turns or zipped through traffic. This kind of driving was asking for trouble, but the way her breathing hitched, how she squeaked when he cut it close passing another car or skidded around a turn—it only encouraged him. By the time he reached the highway and headed toward the night’s meet-up, the pitch of her noises had changed, dropping an octave. Yeah, fast cars had that kind of effect on some people.
“How exactly did you go from being a housewife to a roller derby girl?” She baited his curiosity like few things did these days unless it was connected to Evers. His life was one, sad refrain—catch the bastard.
Madison chuckled. “Wish fulfillment. In high school I wanted the family I didn’t have. When I got divorced, I wanted to be the kind of woman who didn’t let life keep her down. Want to take a bet on what I do next?”
Her humor surprised a laugh out of him. She was an interesting woman, that was for sure.
It wasn’t long before the lights of Miami faded behind them and the Everglades stretched out on either side.
For the couple miles it took to reach the race site, he could pretend he wasn’t doing a job. That he was just a guy, driving a fast car with a pretty girl by his side. It was a nice dream, but it wasn’t for him.
He exited onto a two-lane road that seemed to go nowhere. Unless you knew where you were going. He took a turn and taillights lit up the darkness. Other speed junkies on the search for a fix.
They’d created a loose association of drivers. Those people in Miami who felt they had what it took under the hood to go fast and drive hard met up for a little friendly competition. At least they pretended it was friendly.
He passed a four-way stop, rounded another turn, and the night came alive with headlights, running lights, and the beat of a dozen different sound systems blaring music. There were a couple of groups dancing, some popping and grinding while others pulled out the smooth, salsa moves. People milled up and down the street, taking a look under the hood of some of the most jacked-up cars in the state.
“What’s this?” Madison asked. They passed the outlying vehicles, the people lined up to watch the beginning of the race.
“This is race night.” He revved the engine and chuckled when she jumped.
“Okay, smart-ass, I can kind of figure that one out on my own. I mean,”—she waved at the crowds gathering on the shoulder, the people set up for a show and the cars—“is this a thing? What’s going on?”
She had no idea the world she’d just stepped into.
“Every couple of weeks we have race night. Rules are simple—you have to have won a race since the last race night and someone has to verify you won. We pick a place, set the track, and see who wins. Simple, really.”
A redheaded woman stepped onto the asphalt directly in front of them. She wore a tiny pair of white shorts and a bikini top. She wiggled her fingers at him and smirked.
Roni was a damn fine driver, but you wouldn’t know it looking at her. She preferred to distract with her looks, as much as her twin, Tori, preferred to hide them under grease. Another of the guys pulled a few chairs out of the way and Aiden reversed into the vacant spot.
“Who’s that?” Madison asked. Her posture had gone tense, rigid.
“A friend,” he replied.
He gave the accelerator one last tap to hear the purr before shutting it off. Too bad he’d been too wrapped up with a restoration job the last few weeks to make any of the propositioned races. It would have been interesting to see how Madison reacted when he burned over the finish line.
Some women really got into it. Was she the type? He kind of wanted to find out.
Since meeting her that afternoon, he’d rolled around a few ways to tackle this situation. He felt pretty certain coming clean with her was the best choice. The question now was how to continue. There was no denying his attraction to her. He could play that angle, which would be a perfect explanation to Dustin why he was hanging out with his ex-wife.
Aiden stepped out of the Challenger. The damp evening air wrapped around him like a blanket. This far out into the Everglades they might as well be swimming. Without the noise of the cars, they could hear the buzz of cicadas and calls of the birds that lived in the wetlands. It was a beautiful and deadly habitat.
Madison circled the car and met him at the edge of the road. He could feel the gaze of not just his crew on him, but everyone surrounding them. There was no doubt that when Aiden or Julian did something, people paid attention, but this was a little much. He let his gaze travel over those gathered, taking in the position of the major players, the sideline jockeys, the outright gang members, and the other crews who just wanted to drive fast and score quick cash.
Why the hell were they staring?
He turned toward Madison—oh.
Standing in front of his Challenger, dressed like she’d just stepped off the pages of a hot-rod magazine, of course she’d draw the eyes of everyone in a quartermile radius. Those long legs were silhouetted by the running lights of his car and the thin fabric of her shirt was practically see-through.
“Come here.” He grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the light.
“What? What’s wrong with you?” Madison grumbled.
He didn’t reply, because what was he going to say?
I don’t want everyone looking at you like that.
“Hey, mami,” Julian said. He stopped between them and peered down at Madison. Julian was a big man, of mixed Cuban and Mexican heritage. His face was scarred from an IED explosion and more than a couple fights. He still kept his hair military short, which only accentuated the broken lines of his face and his dark, soulless eyes. Julian was a man with a singular purpose in life. Little else filled him now. He was hardly the same man Aiden remembered from boot camp.
Madison arched one brow and stared up at him, as if she were issuing a challenge. Aiden might find the exchange entertaining—were she tangling with anyone else. Julian though, he wasn’t a man to be trifled with.
“Madison, this is Julian. He co-owns the shop with me.”
Julian’s gaze flicked toward Aiden, but he didn’t meet it. Why had he brought her?
She put her hands on her hips and the neckline gaped forward.
Right. How could he forget those curves?
“You still racing tonight?” Aiden asked to get Julian to stop leering at Madison’s breasts. If she didn’t need Aiden in her life, then she really didn’t need Julian’s baggage barreling into hers.
Julian’s lips curled. “Yeah, heat four.”
“Hey, boys.” Tori stepped into their cluster, holding two beers. Unlike her sister, Tori wore cargo pants and a tank top, her red hair braided on either side of her head. A grease smudge marked her cheek, which was pretty much the norm. “Oh, sorry, didn’t realize you had a third. Hi, I’m Tori.” She handed the bottles to them and wiped her hand off on her pants before offering it to Madison.
“Hi.” It was almost comical to watch Madison’s face, the way it creased. She no doubt recalled Roni’s distracting shorts and bikini-top number to Tori’s cargos and tank top.
“Hey, Aiden.” Roni crossed the street at a jog. Up and down the street people stopped to stare, which was exactly why Roni picked her race-day outfits to show as much skin as possible. Distraction was her favorite tactic.