A hero’s welcome…
Champion race-car driver Lucas Blackstone made it his mission to escape small-town life and his dark family legacy. But then an injury sidelined the superstar, forcing him to return home. At least he has Avery Prescott as a physical therapist. The shy young girl is all grown up and impossible to resist. Now he’s ready to have a little fun.
Having her girlhood crush right there on her massage table is pretty awkward for Avery. But soon her teenage fantasies become reality. Will she help Luke heal, only to have him run again? Or will he choose to stay…for her?
Published by Harlequin Desire, July 1, 2016
Behind the Scenes
~~ THE RENEGADE RETURNS PINTEREST PAGE ~~
With inspirational photos of the characters, setting, and more…
~~ SONGS ~~
Avery Prescott’s Theme song: Catch My Breath, Kelly Clarkson
Luke “Renegade” Blackstone’s Theme song: Renegade, Daughtry
Romantic Times Review, 4 stars
“Avery is a fun contradiction because she is confident professionally, but unsure when it comes to her own sexuality. Together they find balance. The ongoing plot line of a saboteur at the mill provides an excellent resource throughout the series for a subtle touch of intrigue–only this time the identity is finally revealed!”
Night Owl Reviews, 4.5 stars, Reviewer’s Top Pick
“…The overall theme in this book is about how events of the past influence the choices of the future. My opinion is that Dani Wade has a lot going for her with Lucas and Avery’s romance. She treks back to events that shaped their lives in flashbacks and creates an in depth story that is well rounded and more coming of age with a hint of suspense. She deftly handled the switches and pulled me into the characters lives. Overall, she did a wonderful job with “The Renegade Returns”. This book deserves a Top Pick and 4.5 stars.”
~~ Chapter 1, Scene 1 ~~
Ignoring stares and whispers was an art form Lucas Blackstone had perfected. The more wins he claimed as a stock car racer, the more attention he attracted. Which was normally fine by him. In fact, he thrived on it.
Used to thrive on it.
Tonight, he wished he could fade into the wainscoting on the walls so people would stop staring. Stop whispering about his arrival at the country club. Stop measuring the difficulty with which he walked to his family’s chosen table. Stop speculating about whether his racing days as Renegade Blackstone were permanently over.
Just as he did during the long, dark hours of every night.
Instead, he pretended this was a normal night, a normal dinner with his family. Not his debut before his hometown after having his body broken into more pieces than any man should experience.
His back straight, he vowed to himself that he would beat this with every single step.
“You’re doing so well,” Christina softly encouraged him as he carefully placed each footfall on the way to their table. As their resident nurse and his brother Aiden’s wife, she had been tracking Luke’s progress since his accident earlier this year. “But by the end of the evening, you might be wishing for that wheelchair you refused.”
“No,” he said through teeth he tried not to clench. He didn’t quite succeed.
He would not resort to invalid status. The marble-handled cane he leaned on was his single concession to his still-healing legs. The plonk every time it met the floor sounded loud in his head, even though he knew it hardly made a sound.
“All that macho stoicism will lead to one thing,” she warned as they reached their destination. Then she rolled her eyes when the men all booed. “I’m serious, Luke. Pretending you don’t need help will just make getting out of bed tomorrow more painful.”
“You’re so cute when you’re concerned,” he cooed back, laughing when she stuck out her tongue.
The reality couldn’t always be covered by his teasing mask—but he sure tried. He’d become a close buddy with pain since his car accident. During everyday tasks, during rehabilitation. Sometimes it shot through him under the cloak of a dead sleep. He hated it, but pain could be good. The sharp sting reminded him he was alive. Not just a shell, a body that would never feel again.
Luke lived for high speeds. Recovery at a snail’s pace could only be described as pure torture. Some days, he’d give anything to take his mind off his present state.
“You keep babying him, and he’ll wish he’d never consented to coming home,” Aiden teased his bride.
All the attention aside, Luke knew being back in Black Hills would be good for him. Helping his brothers out at the mill that supported the entire town would surely blunt the aching need to return to his race car. After a year of what they all suspected was sabotage to their business by an inside source, the family needed all hands on deck.
This is only temporary…
To his relief, he managed to seat himself after only a minor skirmish with the long tablecloth. Damn accoutrements. But the formal atmosphere had been the deciding factor in choosing to eat here tonight. Hope against hope it might keep nosy, small-town people in their seats—for a while.
“Stop pulling at your collar, Luke,” his twin brother, Jacob, reprimanded.
But Luke couldn’t help it. He was as ill at ease as his brother was comfortable in a suit. Even now his hand crept back up to tug at the tie around his neck—give him a racing suit any day. “This damn thing is almost as uncomfortable as all the people staring,” he grumped. His comfort zone had always been his car—not polished silver, gold-rimmed china and fresh flower centerpieces.
“Well, most of these people are family friends, but they still love a celebrity. They can’t help the need to watch,” Aiden explained in his tolerant older-brother voice.
“I just enjoyed it more when they were in awe of my good looks.” Instead of speculating about my doom.
Luke’s teasing tone left his brothers and the women laughing, and gratitude added another layer to his self-defense. The maudlin martyr was not his most sought-after role. Only he knew there was a kernel of truth in his humor, and he would keep it that way. So he covered his discomfort as carefully as he draped his cloth napkin over his lap.
After ordering, Luke deemed it safe to let his gaze skim the softly lit room. A lot of faces had aged since he’d been in high school, though they were still familiar. It had been many years since he’d left town to start an incredibly successful racing career but he’d returned for a few events. Some fund-raisers. Anything to make his visits home more bearable. He had spent time with his incapacitated mother and Christina, who was her nurse. After that, his only thought had been getting himself out of the house without running into his domineering grandfather.
Escape. If his life had a theme song, that would be the refrain. Now that the old man had kicked the bucket, Blackstone Manor had transformed into a home—thanks to the people around this table.
About halfway across the crowded space Luke’s gaze snagged on a tawny, upswept head of hair. The woman’s profile was sharper than it had been in high school, more refined. Gone was the softness of a young woman, now honed into a sphinxlike silhouette that immediately captured his eye.
Avery Prescott. Now that he thought about it, he hadn’t seen her on any of his visits home. Which was odd—and from the looks of her, a total shame.
As if feeling his gaze, she glanced his way with pale blue eyes. Despite the distance between them, something jolted through his body. Deeper than an I know you, but not a lightning flash. More a wash of awareness that flooded over all his uncomfortable emotions, muting them to radio silence. When she quickly turned back to her dining companions, he had an urge to stand, to command her attention.
This was a pleasant surprise. Luke had always enjoyed women—the sight, sound and smell of them—but there’d been nothing since his accident. Not even when surrounded by a hospital floor full of pretty nurses. Oh, he’d flirt and play, but it had covered a storm of pain, worry and frustration that he didn’t know how to calm now that his one mode of escape had been snatched from him.
But tonight, watching Avery as she smiled and conversed with her dinner companions sent an electric spark of attraction tingling down his spine. Her frequent glances in his direction made him wonder if she felt it, too, but their eyes never met again.
Avoiding him, huh?
Throughout dinner and conversing with a few brave visitors, his awareness remained. Finally she stood to leave, giving him his first unhindered look at her slender figure. Her sheath dress showcased curves right where he liked them, proportionate to her delicate bone structure.
She made her way through the tables with elegant grace, pausing to smile and speak to several people, but never for long. The candlelight from the centerpieces reflected off her earrings, lending sparkle to her slight glow. Her black sequined dress reminded him of her family’s wealth and the undeniable fact that she belonged in this place. Still she refused to look his way.
He thought she was going to avoid their table altogether, until Christina stood to wave. “Avery, over here,” she called.
Avery’s hesitation was noticeable, at least to Luke. But then again, he’d barely taken his eyes off her to look at his plate. Why didn’t she want to stop and say hi?
His memories were of a gawky girl, shy, always on the fringes. Under direct attention, she would stumble over her words, drop things, trip over her own feet. Tonight she moved with a type of deliberate grace. Head high. Steps secure. This new Avery fascinated him.
Her greeting included them all, when a need inside Luke wanted her to rest those pale blue eyes on him. He kept his body on lockdown, refusing to draw her attention until it was freely given.
“Having dinner with Doc Morris again, I see?” Aiden said with a grin.
“If his wife wasn’t with us, some rumors might have started by now.”
Luke soaked in the slight movements of her hands, the shrug of those delicate shoulders as everyone chatted around him. This is crazy—the last thing you need is to get involved with someone here. You’re recovering. Still he couldn’t look away, couldn’t ignore the draw he felt growing deep inside.
“Doc says someone has to make sure I’m eating. We don’t want to lose a community asset after he worked so hard to get me into good schools and internships,” she added in a decent replication of the older man.
As a round of chuckles rose from the table, she finally glanced his way—and those sparks inside him multiplied. “Um, hi, Luke.” With that slight stall, the first small chink in her sophisticated armor appeared.
He remembered those same words spoken to him with the enthusiasm of a young girl trying hard to hide her crush, but not quite succeeding. Now, that awkward innocence had morphed into a sophisticated woman with a restrained politeness, as if by keeping herself under tight control she could prevent a repeat of the embarrassments of her youth.
Somehow, he didn’t like this as much as his memories.
“Are you a doctor now?” Luke asked. How could he have been home so often and never thought to ask what had happened to the young girl who had hung around the edges of their social circle?
Her gaze touched on his before skittering away. “Actually, I’m a physical therapist.”
Ouch. His recent painful visits for therapy did not make that a happy revelation. Very unexpected. Very unwelcome.
“In fact,” Aiden said with an amused tone that set Luke’s nerves on edge, “she’s your physical therapist.”
In a flash, Luke relived the agony of his therapy sessions over the last three months and winced. Pain forced things to the surface, compelled a man to reveal way more emotion than he wanted other people to see. “Oh, hell no,” he muttered.
Apparently his words weren’t low enough, because Avery’s elegant features took on a hint of frost. “I’m afraid you don’t have a choice. I’m the only physical therapist in Black Hills. Or within fifty miles of it.”
Damn. “I didn’t mean…”
Her body straightened, gaining only a slight inch in stature. “And I’m a damn good one, too.”
“Everyone around here knows that.”
Luke had been so focused on Avery that he hadn’t noticed the approach of anyone else. Next to her now stood Mark Zabinski, an old high school friend of Jacob’s and part of the upper management at Blackstone Mills.
“So the Renegade is back,” Mark went on, ignoring Luke’s lack of welcome. “And causing quite the stir.”
“That I am.” Might as well own it.
Avery glanced around the table, surveying the reunited Blackstone family. Her voice was hushed compared to Mark’s forceful tone. “It must be strange, having all of you back here, together again.”
Very few people would notice the phenomenon, much less mention how each brother had left, then returned to find their place in Black Hills now that their grandfather was dead. But this was Avery. He remembered glimpses of her standing on the edge of the crowd in high school, alone but not missing an ounce of what occurred.
Aiden’s dark gaze swept over them all before he smiled. “Yes, but family is good. Very good.”
Luke wouldn’t have gotten through the last few months without family, including both his brothers, Christina and Jacob’s fiancé, KC. “Amen,” he agreed.
But as the conversation continued around them, Luke didn’t miss the dark shadow that clouded Avery’s eyes, the subtle shift of her expression. And he certainly didn’t miss Mark’s hand casually lying against the small of her back. A sign of ownership, possessiveness, protection. Comfort for a friend? Or something more?
Avery didn’t move away, but she also didn’t relax into the touch, either. Interesting.
“Mark,” Jacob said, his tone firming to one of authority, “I’m glad you stopped by. The computer gurus are finally coming to install the new computer system at the plant. Time for an upgrade like we talked about last month,” Jacob continued. “We’ll meet early tomorrow morning to discuss it.”
Mark shifted on his feet, his dress shoes squeaking under the stress. “Great.”
Mark smiled as he said it, but Luke suspected he wasn’t as thrilled as he tried to look. Something about the overstretch of his smile, giving his face a slightly Joker edge.
“Avery, let me escort you to the valet,” Mark said, using that damnable hand to steer her away. She nodded, her gaze making a warm sweep of the table…while studiously avoiding Luke.
Why did that leave him feeling cold?
Escorting a woman—something Luke couldn’t do with ease anymore. As if she knew his thoughts followed them, Avery glanced back over her shoulder, but a cool mask still protected her emotions.
Great. Just what he needed—a ticked-off physical therapist with the ability to visit pain on him with a simple twitch of her wrist. His dismissal of her abilities had given her motivation aplenty for inflicting a twinge or two on him.
But Luke was used to using his charm to get out of sticky situations—turning them into something positive, something entertaining. Despite the complication, his curiosity grew. So did his unexpected need. He’d been lost in a miasma of pain and frustration that seriously weighed him down. But this kick-start to his motor had lifted him up, exhilarated him. A relationship was nowhere on his agenda, but a little battle of wills would definitely liven up his current dull existence.
A few fireworks to dull the pain. What could be more fun than that?
* * *