Duchess's Kiss Chapter Reveal
I sit on the sofa with my gear almost completely on. I take a breath and look up at the ceiling of the motorhome. It's been over a year since I’ve been here doing this. I've always loved the adrenaline of racing, the vibration of the bike between my legs. I'm all about going fast, but on a superbike it's a totally different experience. It's all about being one with the machine going so fast you can't focus on anything but what is in front of you. Feeling the asphalt slide under my knee as I lean into the turns.
But for the first time ever, the adrenaline is making me want to chunder all over my boots. I shake my hands out alongside me. Roll my head on my neck and think of anything but that baby and the man I left behind. I can't and won't go back there. I quit. I'm free. But am I really? Is this what I want?
A knock sounds on the door stopping my train of thought.
"Mik, time to race." Tate's voice comes through the door.
"On my way."
Okay, here we go, I give myself a pep talk and grab my jacket, slipping it on over my compression shirt. I wear all my base layers along with special gear that only I wear because of who I am. All my under the gear armor on, my racing pants and jacket with their safety features go on next. My gear is specially designed for me. And a lot of it is still really new. I wear more than the guys, but that's mostly because I'm a woman and also because my grandfather demands certain precautions be taken. It used to be harder for me to move in all my gear, but this new stuff is better, and I feel more comfortable.
Opening the door, I step out on to the parking lot. There are at least a half dozen other motorhomes here, mostly all men. They are trying for the same position I'm trying for. Tiernan International not only built a brand-new racetrack here in Belfast but they have decided to sponsor a Ducati racing team. Mr. Tiernan called me personally to ask me to tryout. I can feel all the eyes of the other racers on me, but I ignore them and stand tall. Well, as tall as my five-foot-three frame can get. I follow behind Tate, my crew chief. He’s been with me for years. When I took the year off to work for Securities International, he took time off too. He told me I'd be back, and he was right because here I am.
We round the corner into our garage area, and I look at my bike and smile. This machine and I are one. My shoulder-length blond hair is French braided down the back of my head. I move over the machine and Tate pats my shoulders, double-checking my gear is secure. He hands me the ear bud I wear that directly connects to him but allows me to listen to music too so I can focus on me and not everything else. As I squat down and stretch my legs, I look over to the stands and see my racing manager, Fletcher, along with Aidan Tiernan and some other gentlemen. I stand and bounce on my toes, stretching my calf muscles.
My bike is specially designed for my shorter and lighter frame. The suspension softened so it flexes for me. I put my helmet on, my visor up so Tate can talk to me.
I roll my head again, readying my mind. I can't think of Wesley or Blake right now. I need to focus. So I do what I've done for years. I lock my feelings and thoughts in the box in my mind. Tate pats my shoulder and I turn to give him my attention. He talks through the mic on his head so I can confirm my ear buds are working.
"Okay, you got this. No major stunts. Just run your normal times and you'll be on the team. All the others have gone, and you beat their times just practicing. Don't do anything stupid." He smiles at me and I reach up and pat him on his scruffy cheek.
"Okay, Daddy, I can do that." We both laugh, my words slurred around my mouth guard. He gives me a thumbs up that he heard me through the microphone in my helmet. "Be ready." I wiggle my eyebrows. He shakes his head and helps me get my gloves on, the special pads and guards in them will keep me from breaking a finger if I crash. Everything about my gear is more advanced and meant to protect me.
Tate looks over my shoulder to the guys sitting in front of the laptops with all the diagnostic equipment and the programs for my safety gear. He nods and knocks my helmet. I climb on the bike, one leg swinging over the seat. Another crew member releases it off the ramp and the bike drops to the ground. I switch it on and aim myself toward the track. I'll have only a short amount of track once I come out of the pits to get to full speed and ready for them to time me.
Here I go.
I pull away feeling Tate pushing me off. I guide my bike through the empty pit lane and head for the track. As soon as I'm on the track, I open the bike up and take off, starting the timed lap. One single lap will determine my future. One lap will change my life. One lap. That’s all I have to do.
The cycle between my legs is tuned to the optimal numbers. I work through each turn, leaning perfectly. At the straightaways, I open the throttle, racing as if I have opponents. As I enter the final turn, I downshift and follow the motion of the bike. My body leans into the turn, my knee barely grazes the ground. I'm one with this machine. I've ridden her for two years; I trust her, and she trusts me. I know it sounds weird to talk about a bike like that, but it's true. She holds my life in her wheels, and I hold hers in my hands. My time has been good. Tate lets me know different times as I pass certain markers.
As I'm coming out of the turn, I accelerate and upshift, opening the throttle all the way. Tate knew telling me to take it easy wasn't going to happen. I'm going to give it my all. Prove I'm ready to be back and I'm ready for that championship. I’m not just some pretty face. I modeled for the track shots a month ago and all the other racers made fun of me because I was in a bikini top. Hey, if you got it, flaunt it. That’s my philosophy.
I cross the finish line and know my time is better than the others. As I coast along, allowing my cycle to lose momentum, I downshift. I raise my chest off the tank and look up in the stands to see them. I've got this. Mr. Tiernan's new track here in Belfast is world class. But I'm ready to ride a Ducati. They're going to want me to race on their debut team. I have a condo here already. I have my cousin close by, and I'll be away from any distractions.
I need this adrenaline rush. I need this feeling. I don't need happily fucking after. I don't need children.
I don't need him.
I raise my arm in salute to my manager. I'm on such a high right now. I haven't raced like this in so long. As I lower my arm back to the handlebars, I feel like I've been punched in the chest. I watch in slow motion as my cycle continues on without me. It wobbles and sparks fly as it slides across the asphalt. An explosion of parts hits the wall.
My helmet hits the ground with a sickening thud. The airbags in my gear go off but I still feel the impact.
My body slides, rolls, and tumbles across the racetrack. I try to tuck like I was taught but my left arm isn't working. My head hits the ground again and this time I can't keep my eyes open. My face shield shatters apart.
I force my eyes to open, trying not to lose consciousness. I'm on the grass, a cold feeling against my skin. How can that be in my full gear?
I hear screaming, shouts, and sirens. They're not going to make it on time. I'm not going to be able to stay conscious for them. They won't be able to tell him I was wrong. I tried to convince myself I didn't want the life he wanted.
I was even doing it on this run, before this run, and the whole month since I quit S.I. I’ve been lying to myself since I left the compound. But now the truth comes out… I want that baby. I want to be the woman Blake has in his life who he looks up to. I want happily ever fucking after. I'm just too blimey stubborn to tell Wesley. I force my eyes open again and look into the blinding light of the November sky above. My body is broken, my gear destroyed. My perfectly tuned cycle in pieces. I feel cold and fuzzy. People are now gathered around and looking down at me. I look at them and say the only thing I can before I'm out for good.
"Tell Wesley I love him."