Garrett Johnson stood on the other side of the wall down in the pit area. Wearing a headset, he listened to the chatter between the driver and the crew chief. Most of the technical terms flew over his head. That's what you're here for. To learn all this car stuff.
"Bring her in, CJ. Someone's here to talk to you." Disdain colored the crew chief's voice.
He let it roll off him. Garrett had dealt with prejudices like the crew chief's all his life. Worrying about other people's opinions took too much time and energy away from the important things in his life.
The stock car flew into pit row and rolled to a stop in front of him. Its front bumper barely brushed the numbered sign someone held out. Garrett studied the brightly colored vehicle sporting the decals of CJ Lamont's sponsors. Some called it "the car of tomorrow". He wasn't sure what that meant, but he had a month to cram all the knowledge he could into his head. He hated not making his characters as authentic as possible.
The noise disappeared. Someone took his headset as he glanced over at the rubber netting where the driver's window should have been. The steering wheel appeared from inside the car and Garrett held his breath. God, it was like the most painfully slow striptease he'd ever seen. The papers had declared CJ Lamont the sexiest driver on the NASCAR circuit and Garrett was eager to see if the man lived up to the hype in person.
CJ emerged from the car, removed his helmet and pulled off his gloves. He turned and held out his hand, flashing Garrett a bright yet shy smile.
Garrett's first thought was, God, he's hot.
Yeah, but he's straight.
God, he's hot was his last thought before CJ spoke.
"You must be Garrett Johnson. I'm a huge fan of yours."
Their hands touched. All the thoughts rabbiting around Garrett's head disappeared into their respective holes and his mind went blank.
"Yeah. You must be CJ Lamont." Garrett wanted to smack himself upside the head. What an idiotic thing to say. Who else would the man be?
CJ's chuckle was low and easy. "That's me. One of those crazy rednecks driving in circles all day, making nothing but left turns."
"I do think racing is crazy," Garrett agreed. He held up his hand to stop the argument he could see forming in CJ's eyes. "Don't get all worked up. I think any kind of sport is crazy. That's why I'm an actor. I don't even like basketball and that's my brother's livelihood."
"Kasey Johnson is your brother?" CJ handed his helmet and gloves to one of the crew members, accepting a bottle of water in return.
"Yes. The newest star in the NBA, though he's finding it a lot harder than college."
He smiled as he thought about his twin. Kasey was a rookie in the NBA and his team was working him hard. Garrett rarely got to see his brother because of conflicting schedules.
"Big leagues always are." CJ gestured for Garrett to follow him.
Garrett tried not to stare at the broad-shouldered, lean-hipped man walking in front of him, but he was a healthy gay man and CJ Lamont was the sexiest thing he'd seen in a long time.
"Super Freak" blared from his pocket. Wincing, he answered, apologizing to CJ with a smile.
"Where the hell are you?" Rich's screech filled Garrett's ear.
He glanced at CJ, who gave him a sympathetic look.
"I told you when I left I'd be in North Carolina for a month. I'm doing research for my next role." Garrett sighed.
"No, you didn't." Rich's pout came through loud and clear.
"Yes, I did, but you were either too hung over or too caught up in that party of yours to listen."
He moved farther away from CJ and shoved a hand through his hair.
"It's a party for you, asshole. I told you when it was and you promised me you'd be here." Rich's pitch rose.
"I'm not doing this now, Rich. I never promised to be there. In fact, I told you several times I was coming to North Carolina. You chose to ignore me."
"I'm not going to be here when you get back. I'm going to find someone who really loves me." Rich sniffled.
There'd been a time when Garrett would have folded at the first sign of tears from Rich. No more. Rich had used them too many times to get his own way. Garrett wasn't going to feel guilty anymore.
"Maybe one of these days, I won't come back, Rich. What will you do then?"
Garrett hung up and turned his phone off before sticking it in his pocket. Closing his eyes, he tried to ease his anger and his pain. It was hard to watch a four-year relationship implode.
He jumped. He'd forgotten CJ stood near him. He smiled his famous "movie star" smile.
"I will be."
CJ nodded. "My wife and I are separated. She's trying to decide if staying together is worth the effort."
"Sounds like you don't think it is." He didn't want to pry, but CJ seemed to be willing to talk.
"She deserves better than me," CJ stated. "You hungry?"
Wow. CJ wasn't going to make any sort of comment about the boyfriend issue. Most of the time, he could shrug off people's disdain or disgust, but he was tired and being fed up with Rich's attitude played havoc with Garrett's patience.
"Thanks. I got in late last night and then overslept this morning. Didn't have time for more than a sip of coffee."
They headed toward a building swarming with people.
"This is the Morik Racing Team's garage. It's where all the magic happens." CJ gestured to a car on a lift and the men working under it. "I'll give you a tour of it later when there aren't so many people."
A man slammed into Garrett, spilling oil over his shirt and jeans.
"Hey, Chick, watch where you're going," CJ admonished the man.
"Sorry." Disdain and sarcasm dripped from Chick's apology. "Hey, why don't you let one of the P.R. guys show him around? I need to talk to you about the car."
Chick--the crew chief. From the impression he'd gotten of Chick earlier when they'd been introduced and from the look on his face right now, the oil definitely wasn't an accident.
"We're getting something to eat. I'll come back for the briefing." CJ frowned.
The crew chief stalked away with CJ staring after him for a second.
Garrett shrugged. "I get that sometimes." He grimaced, looking at his clothes. "I wish I'd brought something else to change into though."
CJ eyed him and Garrett thought of piles of techno-colored vomit to keep from getting hard. Those electric blue eyes combined with the sweat-drenched black curls pushed every button of Garrett's libido.
He turned away, angry with himself. Things had been going badly between him and Rick for a while now, but it didn't give him any right to lust after another man, especially a straight, married one.
"A friend of mine left some of his clothes behind after he got caught in a storm. He's about your size." CJ moved away. "Nothing great, but they're clean."
"Clean is all I'm interested in."
The oil covering his shoes made walking across the concrete floor hazardous, so he stepped carefully. His shoes slid and his weight shifted just enough to throw him off balance.
Strong hands grasped his arms, supporting him until he caught his balance again. His breath left him when he met CJ's gaze and witnessed the flare of heat in them. It disappeared so fast, Garrett convinced himself it wasn't there. Just wishful thinking.
"You can use this office." CJ let go of him and pushed open a door. "The bathroom has industrial strength soap. It'll get the oil off your hands. I'll grab the clothes and I have an extra pair of boots you can wear."
CJ left the room like his pants were on fire and Garrett sighed. Maybe CJ Lamont was better at hiding his disgust than Chick.
Glancing at his hands, Garrett pushed his worries to the back of his mind. He'd get through the crash course on NASCAR and stock cars. He'd go and make the best movie he could. Afterward, he'd take a break and visit Kasey. His twin always managed to ground him when things piled up.