The first book of my new series releases on July 31st! I am SO excited about TAMING ZACH, and I can't wait for you to read it. I've loved writing this book and connecting with the characters. It's an older YA novel with characters in their early twenties, so it's a little different from my usual high school books, but I think you'll love it!
Taming Zach is the first book in the Team Loco series, which focuses on the three guys who are in Jett's professional motocross team. (Jett is from the Believe in Me Series. If you haven't read it yet, catch up here.)
See below for a two chapter sneak peek at the book! And then stay tuned for the cover reveal on July 1st.
AUTHORS NOTE: This teaser is unedited and therefore the final version in the book might be a little different.
When I was a little kid, my friend Tommy’s dad once said, “Second place is the first loser.”
We’d laughed and latched onto the phrase, throwing it back and forth at each other every time one of us would beat the other one in a friendly dirt bike race. I know it’s stupid to think like that, because even getting second place in a race filled with expert riders is still a pretty good accomplishment. People have had extremely well paying careers from getting second place.
But if second place is the first loser, then what does that make eleventh place?
I reach for a box that I’ve stuffed too full of my belongings, and not only is it heavy as hell but it’s going to explode out the bottom if I don’t hold it carefully. With a sigh, I lug the thing out of my apartment and down to my truck, which is also overflowing with the rest of my stuff. How did I get so much stuff? I barely even lived in this place after spending the last two years on the road with my motocross team.
After my devastating fuck up two weeks ago, I realized I can’t afford to keep this place. It was my pride and joy, too. My first apartment, deep in the heart of Nashville, Tennessee. It was good to me. Many parties were thrown. Many hot girls had a drink in this kitchen. Most of them woke up here the next morning because I’m too damn nice to kick them out after hooking up.
With the last box in my truck, I head back up apartment 312 and do one final sweep of the place to make sure it’s empty before I drop the keys off at the front office. I had a professional housecleaner come yesterday and make the place sparkle. I need that thousand dollar deposit back, even though I hate to admit it to myself. I’m broke. Well, nearly broke.
Due to my own stupidity, I am the tenth loser of the summer qualifiers and now I’m jobless and have no money coming in.
Feeling like the dumbass I am, I get on the highway and leave Nashville in my rear view mirror. I’m heading back home. Back to Hopewell, Tennessee. The smallest country town you’ll ever see. If not for Hopewell Motocross Track, no one would even know the place exists. I spent the first nineteen years of my life trying to get out of there, and now just two years later, I’m coming back, broke and jobless and a complete failure.
It’s not all over, not yet at least. I’m still a member of Team Loco. I’m still considered a professional motocross racer. I just failed to qualify for the summer circuit, and now I’m stuck sitting on my ass until the fall qualifiers roll around. If I don’t make those, then I’ll be screwed, and I’ll no doubt lose my spot on Team Loco.
I grip the steering wheel as I stare ahead at the highway, telling myself this is just a temporary setback. I still have money, just not enough to justify staying in my apartment for three months while I’m not earning anything. I briefly mentioned the idea of moving back with my mom and she got so damn excited that I knew I had to do it.
Mom’s the best woman on the planet. She raised me all by herself after my bastard of a father left her six months pregnant. Her parents both died young, so I’ve never had any grandparents. I have one aunt but she lives in Florida and is so antisocial she just keeps to herself. She was also in college when Mom got pregnant with me, so she never helped out. Mom did it all by herself. She was twenty years old with baby me, and she worked her ass off to give me everything I wanted. We never had it too good, and there were many times we ate PB&J every night for dinner, but I’ll never be able to pay my mom back for what she did give me.
I was five years old and every time we drove past Hopewell MX park, I’d press myself to the glass and stare in awe at the bikes as they soared over the track. I wanted to ride. I wanted my own bike. I could feel it in my bones that this is what I was meant to do.
There’s no way we could afford it, but somehow Mom bought me a used KTM 50cc dirt bike. She loaded it into the back of her Suburban and we went to the track. She asked a random guy to help us out, and he ended up being Tommy’s dad, Big Tom.
Big Tom took me under his wing and taught me how to ride. To how kickstart a bike and shift gears. He kept my bike maintained for me until I was old enough to change my own oil and air filters and tires. When I got too big, he found a great deal on a Yamaha 125 for me and I didn’t find out until later that Big Tom bought the thing and my mom made payments to him for years to get it paid off. Big Tom believed in me, probably more than he believed in his own son since Tommy was never very fast. He and my mom were my biggest supporters.
When I was thirteen, I was old enough to work as a flagger at the track, and that helped pay my registration fees for the weekend races. Mom got me used motocross gear at local thrift stores and somehow we made it work. She never had any hobbies of her own, and instead just made sure I was at the track every weekend so I could race. She even traded the Suburban in for an old Chevy truck to haul around my bike.
Thinking about my mom now is the reason I feel so damn shitty. I did all of this for her. Sure, riding is my life and my biggest passion, but I want to be pro for her. I want the big paychecks so I can buy her the new car she deserves so she can finally stop driving around the POS truck of hers. Pay off the mortgage on our tiny two bedroom home and then buy her a new house. I want to pay her back for all the years she sacrificed to give me what I wanted. And I was doing pretty damn good for the last two years, until it all fell apart.
Marcus, my team manager, has told me a million times that I’ve got potential. That I’ve got what it takes. That I could win more, if I only stopped the flirting and the partying. I thought he was just being the nagging father figure of the team, but he was right. Dammit, he was right, and I hate admitting it.
I fucked up.
I am the reason I failed.
I let the sudden fame of being the hotshot pro racer on Team Loco get to my head. I stopped working out every day, stopped riding six hours a day to get faster. I slacked on everything except the interviews, the autographing posters for fans, and the using my motocross fame to hook up with the hottest girl at the party.
It was fun as hell, too. But then it came back to bite me.
There are three qualifying races before each season. Even as an official pro rider, you’re not guaranteed a spot in the season. You have to qualify by placing in the top 10 in one of the races. You’ve got three chances.
I blew every single one.
Now my teammates, Jett, Aiden, and Clay will be traveling around the country this summer racing each weekend and earing five to ten grand each time. They’ll get the TV interviews and magazine articles and girls throwing themselves at them.
I’ve got three months of jack shit waiting on me in Hopewell.
But Marcus told me this is a good thing. He told me to get my head back in the game. To hit up the local MX track every damn day and ride like my job depends on it—because it does. I need to work out more, eat healthier, and stay far way from girls. If I get back to top racing condition then I’ll qualify for the fall circuit easily and I’ll be back racing with my team. I’ll earn the money and get noticed in the big leagues and hopefully drafted to a bigger team. I love Team Loco, but they’re the amateur pro team, for racers aged eighteen to twenty-four. Once you’re good enough, you get a spot on the real pros. That’s where the real money comes in.
I was seven years old when I saw a video of Ricky Carmichael giving a tour of his house. He’d framed the first paycheck he got from his first pro riding team. It was a hundred grand. And that was fifteen years ago. Now the salary is closer to two hundred and fifty thousand. And that’s not counting endorsements, sponsorships and paid interviews.
I can take care of my mom with that kind of money. All I have to do is stay focused.
My old house looks just as I remember it as I pull into the gravel driveway. The grass is a little high and I make a mental note to mow it this afternoon so Mom doesn’t have to. The two bedroom brick home is about the size of my old apartment, except it has a nice patio on the back that’s perfect for entertaining.
I knock on the front door instead of letting myself inside so I don’t give Mom a heart attack. She throws open the door and immediately bursts into tears.
“Zach, baby!” she says, throwing her arms around me. “Oh, I missed you so much.”
Mom’s a whole head shorter than me, and she still smells like flowers. Her brown hair has always been dyed blonde, but now it’s kind of a mixture of both colors. Highlights, I guess.
“I missed you too, Mom,” I say. I guess I haven’t been back to visit her as much as I should.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” she says, finally letting me go. “Your room is right where you left it.”
I smile and glance around the living room. Not much has changed since I was here last Christmas. The same old furniture, and the same framed pictures of me on the wall. There’s a few school pictures and my high school graduation one, but it’s mostly pictures of me on a dirt bike. A cluster of trophies as tall as my mom are in the corner of the living room. I head down the hall to my room and can’t help but snort a bit when I walk in.
I’ve still got my twin sized bed, but at least I ditched the Power Rangers sheets when I was in high school. All my friends had bigger beds, but stuff like that costs money so I never asked for a new one. It’s uncomfortable as hell. I wish I’d thought to keep my bed from my apartment and bring it here instead of selling it with all of my other furniture. Dirt bike posters hang on the wall, and most of my old junk is still in here. It looks like the bedroom of a fifteen year old. Part of me wants to update it, but that would mean I’m settling in. If I settle in then I won’t go back to racing.
This is just temporary, I tell myself.
After I’ve unloaded my stuff into my small bedroom, I sit with Mom on the couch. “Are you hungry?”
“I could eat,” she says. “I can make us something. What would you like?”
“Nah, don’t cook. I’ll go get us some food. What about Skeeter’s?”
Skeeter’s is the best restaurant in town, and besides one name brand fast foot joint, it’s the only restaurant in town.
“Sounds good,” Mom says. “I’ll take my usual.”
I kiss her on the cheek and then get back in my truck. Skeeter’s makes the best cheeseburgers and fries, which is what Mom and I both consider the usual. The restaurant is just how I remember it—old but charming—and I walk up to the bar and order our food to-go.
“Duuude!” a voice I’ll always recognize says. I turn and see Tommy sitting a few barstools down. “Zach’s back in town!”
“Hey, man,” I say, giving him a quick hug. Tommy never pursued professional racing. He always just liked riding for fun. He’s gained a beer belly since I last saw him, but otherwise he’s that same goofy kid I grew up with.
“What’s been going on?” I ask.
“Same old shit, different day,” he says. He points to the embroidered nametag on his shirt. “I’ve been working out at my uncle’s shop for a year now. I think I’ve finally talked him into letting me buy half the company and be his partner.”
“Nice,” I say. Tommy’s uncle’s mechanic shop always gave my mom a good price whenever she needed her car fixed. I’ve got huge respect for the guy.
Tommy grabs three fries and takes a bite out of them at once. “What’s up with you?”
This is the question I’ve been dreading. The question I will no doubt hear from every person I run into this summer. Why is the famous guy who got out of this small town back in the small town? I’ll make up a lie for everyone else, but Tommy is my friend. I swallow my pride and tell him the truth. He listens carefully and doesn’t look like he thinks any less of me when I’m finished.
“Ah, man, that ain’t nothing to worry about,” he says. “You’ll get back on the fall circuit.”
“I hope so,” I say. “I just need to concentrate this summer and find a job or something so I don’t drain my savings.”
Tommy lifts an eyebrow. “A job? Why waste your time on that when you can just get paid every Friday?”
“What do you mean?” I say.
He snorts. “Man, you’ve been gone a while. I’m talking about the Hopewell MX summer series. Races every Friday. Sign up for the cash class and you’ll win that five hundo every race, easy. You know no one in this state can beat you.” He snaps his fingers. “Easy money.”
A small flame ignites in my chest. I hadn’t thought of that. Although I fully plan on practicing at Hopewell MX all summer to hone my racing skills, I never thought about actually racing. But they do have a summer series here every year. Because it’s an amateur track open to the public, there’s no qualifying. And if you sign up for the cash class, which is one special race every race day, the winner gets five hundred dollars. Second place gets two fifty and third gets a hundred. It’d be enough money to pay my bills, and I’d be sticking to my goal of getting my life together this summer.
“That’s a great idea,” I say.
“Hell yeah it is,” Tommy says, clapping me on the shoulder. “Just keep your dick in your pants and get back to racing and you’ll be back in the pros in no time.”
He’s right. He’s totally right.
I just need to follow through with it.
I peek outside and look on the front porch. My text alerts said the package was just delivered, but there’s only a couple of potted ferns by the door. And I’m not expecting a potted fern.
I look out at the gravel driveway as the sound of dirt bikes echo in the distance. Then I see my package.
It’s floating on top of the mailbox. What the hell?
I slip on Mama’s flip flops that she left by the door and make my way down there. The package isn’t magical like I first assumed. The mailman must have been too lazy to walk it up to the door so he stuck it on top of our metal mailbox and stretched a big rubber band around it so that it would stay. The rubber band snaps apart as I try to pry it off my mailbox, and the sting of it hitting my wrist makes me curse under my breath. I guess this is my fault for expecting something a little more spectacular. It’s not like this package is carrying a Pulitzer Prize or anything.
I rip it open and the padded envelope falls to the ground. I slide my fingers over the black fake leather and lift it up. My heart warms when I see my name—Bree Elizabeth Grayson—printed in an esteemed calligraphy font.
My college diploma.
I tuck it up against my chest, grab the packaging off the ground, and rush back into my house. It’s just an associate’s degree, and it’s just from a community college, but I’m still proud of it. It’s the first of its kind in my family.
Both of my parents only have a high school education. They’re happy people, and they seem to enjoy our simple life, but it’s not the life I want for myself. Mom is smart and probably could have gone to college, but her English isn’t the best and that makes her quiet and reserved. She once told me she never even bothered looking into college because she couldn’t afford it. But I could see it in her eyes that part of her probably regrets that decision.
My dad never cared for higher education. He got a job here at Hopewell Motocross Park when he was in high school and has kept it ever since. That’s why we live here, in a twenty year old mobile home set up on the edge of the park grounds. My dad’s the groundskeeper. He runs the tractors and the water trucks and he keeps the motocross track in perfect condition. In exchange for a pretty crappy salary, we get to live here for free.
Mom cleans houses fulltime. She takes pride in her job and her clients love her, but I’ve spent most of my life wishing she didn’t have to work so hard. In my senior year of high school I applied for every scholarship I could find, and every time I filled out those forms and wrote those essays, I was picturing my mom coming home from a long day of cleaning up other people’s messes, her long black hair all frizzy and unkempt, her hands dried out from cleaning chemicals, and her feet aching.
It worked. I got a full ride to the local community college for a two year degree, and I just finished my associate’s degree in business.
And yet somehow, I still don’t have a damn job.
I work at the track on race days and I help Mama clean houses, but that’s not a job. I started applying to every salary-paying office position I could find about a month before I graduated. I haven’t even gotten an interview anywhere.
All of the good jobs require a bachelor’s degree.
All of the not so good jobs also require a bachelor’s degree.
I wish someone had told me that this two year business degree is pretty much worthless. This isn’t how my life was supposed to go. I was supposed to get a degree, get a good job, and buy my parents a better house. Buy Mama a better car. Get that knee surgery my dad desperately needs.
But it turns out I’m only halfway there, and the second half of the degree I need is so far away I don’t think it’ll ever happen.
Bachelor degrees are expensive, and the closest state college is two hours away. Since I can’t drive that far every day, I’d have to live in a dorm and I don’t even want to think about what that costs.
My parents are heavily against debt of all kinds, even student loans. Especially student loans, Mama always says. All of her friends are in their forties and still paying them off. It’s not worth it, she always tells me. You know what else isn’t worth it? Going into tons of debt and not living at home. My parents need me here. I help out around the house and I work at the track and I make sure Mama doesn’t spend more than eight hours a day cleaning houses because I help her get the jobs done quicker. I can’t just leave my parents and head off to college.
I walk into the kitchen and throw away the packaging trash and stare at my diploma, wondering if I should just throw it away, too. It’s as good as garbage. No one wants to hire the girl with a two year degree when there’s loads of other girls with four year degrees applying for the same job. I just spent the last two years of my life working toward something that’s pretty much worthless if I can’t afford the next two years of college.
I swallow the lump in my throat. I’d been so excited to get this stupid thing in the mail and now I wish I’d never even bothered.
The front door closes and I turn around, but it’s too late. Mama’s eyes light up and she rushes toward me, bringing a cloud of bleach smell with her.
“Is that what I think it is?” she says in heavily accented English. I’m holding the diploma behind my back and I shrug.
She reaches behind me and snatches it from my hands. She marvels at the shiny black case it comes in, probably looking just like I did when I was standing at the mailbox seeing it for the first time. It is pretty nice looking. Black and crisp with golden lettering embossed on top. Classy and important.
Mom opens it and her eyes tear up as she reads my name on the diploma.
“I’m so very proud of you, hija,” she says softly. “Our first college graduate.”
“Community college,” I say. “And it’s an associate’s.”
Mom’s dark eyes stare into mine. We are exactly the same height. Dad always says I look just like she did when she was a teenager, but I don’t believe him. I’ve seen pictures of her and she was much more beautiful.
“It is still a great achievement,” Mama says. “We’re going to celebrate!”
While we wait for Dad to get home from work, I hang out in my room and look for jobs on my laptop. I’ve got all of the major job posting sites bookmarked and I visit them every day. I also have email alerts turned on for new jobs, but I don’t trust them. I have to check every day just in case. Maybe one of these days something good will come up, and they’ll like my resume, and they’ll take a chance on the girl with the two year degree. I’m still job searching an hour later when Dad gets home and Mama tells him the good news about my diploma arriving. It’s kind of funny because I’ve technically been graduated two weeks now, and that piece of paper is just a formality. But Dad pops his head in my room and he’s wearing a big grin. “Proud of you kid.”
I roll my eyes. “It’s not a big deal.”
“It’s totally a big deal,” he says. My dad is a tall, friendly white guy who managed to win my mama’s heart over back when they were sophomores in high school. She was in ESL classes and he desperately needed a Spanish tutor. My dad is always happy and upbeat and sometimes he’s kind of goofy and embarrassing, but whatever he did back then really won over my mom and they’ve been together ever since.
Dad’s smile never fades when he’s around her. He’s giving me the same smile now. “Get dressed. We’re going to out dinner to celebrate.”
La Tapita is the best Mexican restaurant in the state, and it also happens to be in Hopewell. It opened up about six months ago and the whole town is crazy about it. They have delicious food that’s fresh and handmade and so much better than anything from Skeeter’s diner, which up until now had been the best place to eat.
It’s Thursday, which sucks because on Friday nights they have a live mariachi band, but with the way my parents are so freaking excited about my diploma, maybe I can talk them into coming here tomorrow to keep the celebration rolling.
Mama looks beautiful in a dark blue sundress, and her hair falls down her back in soft waves. She looks so much younger when she’s not wearing the scrubs she wears to clean houses. Dad has also dressed up for the occasion, wearing a clean pair of Wrangler jeans that don’t have any holes or oil stains on them. It might not seem like much, but since he spends his whole day outside working at the track, this is actually dressed up for him.
My parents gush about my degree and how all those long nights I spent working on essays or studying for exams have paid off. I don’t want to burst their bubble so I just smile and nod along, but I wish I could tell them their pride is for nothing. I can’t get a job with this stupid degree.
“I’ve been filling out applications all week,” I say when I finally can’t take their compliments anymore. “I still don’t have any interviews yet.”
“Give it time,” Mama says.
“I hear the job market sucks for everyone,” Dad says. “I was talking with Bryan Appleton the other day—you remember him?” he says to Mama, who nods. “He owns that pool supply store? He said he had one job opening for a cashier and it only pays minimum wage and yet three hundred people applied for it.”
“Wow,” Mama says. She puts a hand on my arm. “Don’t get discouraged, mi amor. You’ll get a job, even if it takes a while.”
I smile back at her, hoping it looks convincing. Mama doesn’t know what my true intentions are. That I’ve made it my life’s mission to be successful so that I can take care of them as they get older. As far as my parents are concerned, I can live with them forever if I want and their lives can stay exactly the same.
But I don’t want that. I want them to have a real house with a real front yard that’s not a dirt bike track. I want them to have a deed with their name on it. And I want the same thing for me, someday.
“You’ll never guess who’s back,” Dad says after the conversation has finally drifted away from me and my accomplishment.
Mom listens intently but I eat a bite of my enchiladas and I’m not really paying attention.
“Zach Pena. Remember him?”
I look up, suddenly very interested. Mom nods slowly. “I think so. Didn’t his mom make the blueberry muffins that were so good?”
Dad laughs. “Of course you would remember that part. Yeah that’s him. He was fast as hell and went pro a couple years ago. He was out at the track today. I didn’t get a chance to talk to him but Big Tom told me he’s back in town. Everyone’s all excited.”
“Are you sure?” I ask.
“Yep,” Dad says.
Zach Pena was my biggest crush in junior high.
And high school.
And, well, pretty much until the day he signed his Team Loco contract and moved away.
But he never knew I existed, I don’t think. We never talked even though I spent my childhood at the track and so did he. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t watch his interviews on YouTube every now and then. He’s only gotten hotter as he got older. And he’s our little town’s claim to fame. The first and only racer from Hopewell who made it to the pros.
I stare at my food and try to act casual. “I wonder why he’s here?”
Dad shrugs. “No clue. Probably just visiting his mom or something. But Big Tom said someone saw him moving boxes into her house. Maybe he’s back for good.”
That doesn’t make any sense. Zach Pena was one of the lucky ones who found a way to make it out of this small pointless town.
Why on earth would he ever come back?