One Sweet Ride

Chapter 28

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“After my father and I had a falling out when I decided not to go to Harvard and took the baseball scholarship to Oklahoma. Things were rough after that.”

“Because your father thought your schooling and career should go one way, and you wanted to go in another direction.”

“Yes. He wanted me to go into law, and eventually follow him into politics. That was never my passion.”

She nodded. “Because sports had always been what you loved.”

Funny how easily she understood that, and his father never had. “Yeah. The old man was pissed when I turned down Harvard.”

“Understandable. It’s always a parent’s dream that a child will follow in their footsteps. I’m sure he was disappointed.”

“Oh, he was more than disappointed. He railed about it, called me a failure, and told me I was wasting my life. And then he cut me off financially from the family money.

He told me if I was going to insist on making this mistake, I’d be doing it on my own.”

“Oh, God.” She laid her hand on his leg. “I’m so sorry, Gray.”

He shrugged, keeping his gaze firmly on the road. “I was so used to him always having to have his own way, by the time he’d made that decision I’d already figured that’s probably what he was going to do.”

“Didn’t your mother run interference for you?”

“She tried, but once Mitchell Preston makes a decision, no one can change his mind. There wasn’t much she could do. The family money is all his. But I had the scholarship to Oklahoma, so I didn’t need his money. I worked my ass off at school, worked part-time to cover whatever the scholarship didn’t. I managed just fine. Even got an offer from a major league team.”

He glanced over at her. She was frowning.

“But you didn’t pursue baseball.”

“Yeah, I know. It was enough to know I could have succeeded. I liked playing ball, but my love was always in racing. After I graduated college I pursued it professionally, made it my full-time career.”

“You’ve done very well for yourself. You should be proud. And all without Preston money.”

Hearing the words from Evelyn sank deep into his chest. “Thanks. I got lucky and raced with someone who showed me the ropes and allowed me to hone my instincts.

He gave me a car and let me show what I could do. After I won a championship, the money from sponsors started rolling in, enough to sustain me until I turned twenty-five. That’s when I received the inheritance my grandfather left for me, something my father couldn’t control.

“I took that money and started Preston Racing, went out on my own and built a successful race team, won another championship.”

When she didn’t say anything, he shifted his gaze to hers. “What?”

Her lips curved. “There’s such a spark when you talk about racing. I can’t imagine you ever having that kind of fire in you in law or politics.”

He let out a laugh. “I’d have hated it. I’d have been miserable.”

“Not many people get to do what they love.”

He took the exit that would lead to the main road and the college. When he stopped at the light, he turned to her. “You are.”

“That’s true. I guess both of us are very lucky.”

“I guess we are. And I have Bill Briscoe to thank for that. He kept me focused, made me pull my head out of my ass. I arrived with a huge chip on my shoulder and a lot to prove. He knocked that off and told me to stop thinking about my dad, stop being mad at him and start focusing on myself.”

He turned left at the light and made his way down the road. “He helped shape who I am today. I owe him a lot. I just hope he’s okay.”

Evelyn leaned over and squeezed his leg. “Me, too.”

Bill and Ginger’s house was on campus, just down the street from the dorms. Gray parked in front and got out.

“Drew and Trevor aren’t here yet, but there’s a car I don’t recognize in the driveway. It might be Haven,” he said as he held the door for Evelyn.

“Haven being their daughter?”

“Yeah. She was around a lot when we were in school. Even attended the college.

She’s the same age as Carolina. She tutored Trevor for a while.” Gray smiled. “God, he hated that.”

The house looked the same, though it could have used a new coat of paint. The white trim was flaked in spots, and a few of the porch steps looked like they could use some reinforcing—or maybe replacing. Otherwise, the one-story ranch-style house still had hanging geraniums, the same two white rocking chairs on the porch, and the front door was open as always.

Gray knocked on the screen door. “Anyone home?”

“Someone’s always home,” Ginger Briscoe said. “Come on in.”

Gray shook his head and turned to Evelyn. “Ginger and Bill don’t believe in strangers. You knock, you’re always welcome to come in.”

Evelyn looked a little wide eyed with disbelief over that one. So had Gray, the first time Bill had told him that, but that’s the kind of people they were.

He held the door open for Evelyn and they stepped in. Something was cooking.

Smelled like chicken.

Ginger came down the long hallway, her face beaming in a wide smile as she spotted him.

“Grayson Preston. I can’t believe you’re here.” She opened her arms and he picked her up in a hug.

“Miss Ginger. It’s been too long.”

She squeezed him, patted him on the back, and when he set her down, her smile was still as wide as the entire state.

“What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be out somewhere breaking speed limits?”

He laughed. “I was at the ranch for the Fourth, so thought I’d drop by. Miss Ginger, this is my friend Evelyn Hill. Evelyn, this is Ginger Briscoe, best cook in all of Oklahoma and the most gorgeous woman in the state.”

“Oh, you’re still a sweet talker, I see.” Ginger turned to Evelyn and, though Evelyn had started to extend her hand, she folded her into a hug. “If you’re with Gray, you get a hug from me. Nice to meet you, Evelyn.”

Evelyn blinked and looked surprised. “Nice to meet you too, Ginger . . . Mrs. . . .

Miss Ginger.”

“There you go. Now you two must be thirsty. How about some sweet tea? I just made a fresh batch.”

Gray nodded. “That’d be great. Where’s Bill?”

“He’s in the kitchen bothering me while I’m trying to cook. Come on back. He’ll be pleased as punch to see you.”

Gray took Evelyn’s hand and led her down the hall. Yeah, still the same yellow and blue striped wallpaper, still the same dark hardwood floors throughout the house, the same white tile in the kitchen. And everything polished and clean and smelling like lemon oil. It reminded him of home, way more than the ranch ever had.

Ginger looked the same, maybe a little older and a little heftier than the last time he’d seen her. But still sharp and filled with energy.

When they walked into the kitchen, though, his heart sank.

Bill, on the other hand, had changed. He’d lost a considerable amount of weight, his hair was thinner, his skin sallow.

“Well, look who decided to drop by. I thought you forgot our address.” With a wide grin, Bill stood, though not without some effort.

Gray went over and put his arms around him, trying not to tear up at the sight of the man who’d been more of a father to him than his own father. He fought back the tears and forced a smile as the two of them parted.

“Yeah, I know. I’ve been bad about coming to visit, but I’m here now, aren’t I?”

Bill offered up a smile. “Yeah, I guess you are.”

Gray introduced Bill to Evelyn.

“Isn’t she just the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen—aside from my Ginger, of course,”

Bill said, then turned to Gray. “Prettier than most of those floozies I’ve seen you with on TV. This one has class, Gray. You should marry her.”

Evelyn coughed and Gray’s lips curved into a smile. “She’s definitely pretty, and classy.”

“Sit and rest,” Ginger said, putting out two glasses of tea.

“Thank you, Miss Ginger,” Evelyn said.

“And she’s polite, too,” Ginger said.

“So tell me what you’re doing coming all the way out here,” Bill said.

“I had some extra time, and I know it’s been a while since I’ve been back. Besides, I wanted to show Evelyn the campus.”

“Ohhh,” Bill said, winking at Evelyn. “Trying to impress you, is he?”

“Apparently.” Evelyn smiled at Gray. She knew he was making it up as he went along, and he appreciated her follow-through. “Though I am very impressed. This is a beautiful school.”

“Where did you go to school, Evelyn?” Ginger asked.

“Georgetown.”

“Also a lovely place. Bill and I had occasion to take a trip to Washington, D.C., a few years back. Toured a few of the colleges there. Georgetown is quite the place.”

“Thank you. I enjoyed attending school there.”

There was another knock on the door. “Lordy, but this is a busy place today,”

Ginger said. “Come on in,” she hollered.

“I smell roasted chicken. Is it lunchtime yet?”

“Oh, good heavens. Is that Trevor?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Trevor said. “And I dragged Drew with me.”

Bill blinked, then frowned and looked at Gray. “Did you know they were coming?”

Gray smiled. “We talked about it yesterday. They were at the ranch with me. We got all nostalgic about times at the dorms, and talking about you and Miss Ginger. They said they might come by today.”

“I can’t believe it.” He got up, moved around the table—slowly, Gray noticed—and made his way down the hall. He was enveloped by both Trevor and Drew.

“Man, you’re gettin’ old,” Trevor said. “I might be taller than you now, or you’re shrinkin’.”

Bill laughed. “I can still whup your butt, young ’un.”

“I don’t doubt that,” Trevor said. “I was always just a little bit afraid of you.”

“That was my master plan to keep you all in line.”

After the guys hugged Ginger, she set more tea at the massive table. “Sit, boys,” she said.

“Yeah, well, you had to be intimidating to handle all of us, didn’t you, Bill?” Gray asked.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Ginger said. “You were all such good boys.”

Bill snorted. “That’s just what I told her. She didn’t know the real you. All a pain in my butt, sneaking out past curfew, smoking in the dorm rooms—”

“Who smoked in the dorm rooms?” Evelyn asked.

“That was Garrett,” Drew said.

“No it wasn’t. It was you,” Trevor said. “You got drunk one night and decided to smoke an entire pack of cigarettes. And that was after all that Jack Daniel’s.”

“Oh. I remember that,” Gray said with a snicker.

“So do I,” Bill said, giving the evil eye to Drew. “Who do you think sat up with your sick ass all night long while you puked your guts up.”

“Funny,” Drew said. “I don’t have much recollection of that night.”

“Yeah, I’m sure it wasn’t the last time you did it, either,” Bill said.

Gray listened as they reminisced, his heart aching as he looked over at Bill. It was obvious Bill wasn’t in good shape, but he wouldn’t let on that he wasn’t feeling well.

When Bill took Trevor and Drew into another room to go find old photo albums, Gray took Ginger by the arm.

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