Was this a dream? It had to be, because time had suddenly stopped. Taylor Winchester found herself flying through the air, her bike released from her hands, and the ground coming up fast. She knew there was nothing she could do, knew in reality she was hurtling through space, but still, it seemed like a dream.
She was in a race for a semifinal slot on the motocross circuit. She was winning. Or she had been winning. Until she’d gone over the jump, and—while she was seventy feet in the air, feeling the wind whip across her face—something had gone wrong.
Instead of landing gracefully back on the ground and zipping farther into the lead, she was falling . . . falling in slow motion.
The dream turned quickly into a nightmare as her body slammed into the dirt track. When her bike landed on top of her, everything went black. Her last thought was that darkness was good, it was pure, it was relief, because her entire body was radiating pain, and the blackness took that pain away . . .
A sigh escaped her lips as she rested her head on the steering wheel of her father’s oversized truck. “Come on, Taylor. If you haven’t been broken yet, you’re certainly not going to let this be your demise.”
New determination firming her shoulders, she lifted her head as her words echoed through the cab of the pickup. After shutting off the engine, she sat there a moment longer before opening the door.
She refused to allow the terrors of the pitch-black night to creep up and choke her. Besides, she was home, or near enough to it. There was nothing frightening about home, she told herself. Still, a tremor ran down her spine. Frustration mounted inside her. Before her near-fatal injury, Taylor had never before had to deal with fear.
Many people had commented on her daringness; they’d told her she was too brave for her own good. These days, though, even the smallest of noises seemed to terrify her. It frustrated her, but the doctor had told her that was normal after a head injury, and that it shouldn’t last forever. The sooner she was back to normal, the better.
“There is nothing to be afraid of,” she said aloud. “Well, except for maybe the coyotes waiting on the other side of the tree line, looking forward to their next meal,” she murmured as her eyes strained to see ahead.
The overcast sky of this early June night didn’t even allow the light of the moon to peek through. Leaving her headlights on, she walked to the back of the truck to find her father’s heavy-duty Maglite. It had always rolled noisily around in the bed of his many trucks, and she’d wanted to take it out each time she’d borrowed the vehicles, but her father wouldn’t let her. Its ever-annoying clanging sound served as a constant reminder that it was there if needed. For the first time, she was thankful for the miserable flashlight. She gripped it tightly in her hand. If a coyote attacked, she could strike it with the flashlight-slash-weapon.
Not that doing so would do a hell of a lot of good against all those teeth and claws coming straight at her. And didn’t coyotes travel in packs, flush out their victim, and strike when the prey was at its weakest? Of course they did, but it wasn’t going to happen to her, she assured herself. She still trembled.
She shined the light onto the back of the truck and wanted to scream. Yep, the tire was trashed. Whatever she’d run over had shredded it and there was no way she could get out of changing the darn thing. If she even attempted to drive the five miles home, the rim of her dad’s truck would be ruined beyond repair. Not that she’d make it anyway—the sparks caused by driving on metal would start a forest fire in this dry county.
Changing a tire would normally be no big deal. Taylor knew basic mechanics. As a champion motocross racer, how could she not? But even three months after her accident, she was still fighting to move around, and lifting anything heavy would be supertough.
But there was no help for it—or for her. So, resigned to her fate, she pulled out the jack and lug wrench. After prying off the hubcap, she let out only a small groan as she got onto her back to find a solid jacking point. When she’d positioned the jack, she turned back to face the tire.
Taylor determinedly rose to her feet, lug wrench in hand. It took three times as long as it should have, but she finally managed to get the bolts off the tire. Then she stood there, already exhausted, her healing ribs screaming as she contemplated the jack she now had to pump up, and the tire she’d have to remove.
Getting into a crouch in front of the jack, sweat beading on her forehead, she began pumping the handle to lift the truck. Completely out of breath and more than a little frustrated, Taylor had to sit on the ground when she finally got the truck high enough in the air to remove the tire. Tears filled her eyes at such weakness.
“I am not this girl,” she cried out, her voice reverberating off the nearby trees.
Taylor couldn’t stand simpering females who needed a man to do every little task. She was strong and independent, and had been on her own for the past eight years. Well, to be fair, she’d been on her own as much as her two older brothers had allowed.
She wasn’t a fool. She knew they haunted her races obsessively, ready to catch her if she fell. She loved Hawk and Bryson more than any other men alive, but her brothers were overprotective, ridiculously so.
She’d only ever wanted to prove she was just as capable as they were. She hadn’t wanted to be dolled up in a pretty pink dress with a bejeweled tiara on her head. When her mother had once come home with a Cinderella dress and a smile, Taylor, age six, had cried. She hadn’t wanted to be a princess for Halloween. She’d wanted to be a pirate like Hawk had been the year before.