Review copy was received from Publicity team. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Clever Girl by Laralyn Doran
Series: Driven Women #3
on February 21, 2023
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Source: Publicity team
Amazon, Barnes & Noble
Mia St. James
Men want me. I rev their engines.
No, really, it's my job to make their cars go faster.
Some say I'm the perfect woman—but not Gus Quinlan.
In college, I knew not to lose my heart to him. Yet, he still managed to break it.
Years later, he helps me land a dream job with a women-led race team.
He even invites me to be his roommate—that's how far in the "friend zone" I am.
Until he kisses me and promises I'm more.
Some say I'm sharp, others say clever…but when it comes to Gus, I can be such a fool. Is my heart strong enough to give him a second chance when the smart thing to do is to leave him in the rearview mirror?
In my life, I have women I date and friends who are women…and then there is Mia St. James.
She crashes into my well-constructed world with the sweetness I remember
and a new sexy confidence that has me spinning my wheels.
My friends warn me not to cross that line.
Until we're on a romantic beach under the moonlight, and…come on—I couldn't not kiss her.
When forced to relive a trauma, I misread the data and destroy our bond. I can rebuild a hundred-thousand-dollar engine…but how do I repair us?
Clever Girls is the third book of the Driven Women series that combines romance with fast driving and stock car racing. Mia St James is a woman in a field dominated by men; she is great in her field but after her last boyfriend stole credit for her work and spread rumors about her, she is a bit distrustful and her confidence is shaken. Gus, on the other hand, has all the confidence in the world when it comes to cars and women. He knows Mia would be a great fit for Merlo racing and puts her name in the hat to be an engineer for the female racing team. Little did he know how much she was going to rev his engine.
Mia, well I totally liked Mia. She is a smart woman who just needs a little more confidence and belief in herself. This racing team is a great fit for her as they help to lift her up and make her believe in herself. She ghosted Gus when she shifted universities and he might not know why but it is strange to have him back in her life again. He was always charming and sexy but she was the smart girl, not the sexy girl and let’s just say he played the field in college. She liked Gus and he hurt her, which is one of the reasons they didn’t speak after she left, but being this close to him again, living in the same house is almost torture.
Gus is broken. He has some big daddy issues and some wrong ideas about love and his capacity for it. Mia has always been cute but now she is everything Gus wants and doesn’t think he deserves. He driving himself crazy with her in the same house and getting to finally know someone on a deeper level than the distance he normally keeps in his relationships. As the two become better friends, how is he going to move them out of the friend zone and into a zone where they are more to each other? He needs to figure it out fast; Mia is a desirable woman and another man has noticed and is about to make a move.
It took me a minute to get into the story, not sure if that was because it was book three and I needed to catch up a little to who all the characters were, or it just takes a minute to build. Overall it is a good story building on the sexual tension well. I got a little tired of Gus not getting out of his own way and regressing anytime things got serious. I always liked Mia but Gus, I don’t know if I would forgive him for all the stuff he did in this book. I don’t think I’ve read a story with racing as the backdrop; it wasn’t overdone so it was part of the story but not so technically in the story that I didn’t enjoy it. I’m not a race watcher and I enjoyed the backdrop of the story. Overall there were some really cute and great moments in the story but Gus might have crossed too many lines for me to really love him as the lead.
“Good afternoon, Harper,” I said, as she marched into her corporate office at Merlo Motorsports, simultaneously tossing her phone on her elegant, executive desk and shoving my boot-clad feet off it.
Harper Merrick scowled as I replanted my feet on her desk, daring her to do it again—a challenge a brother would give a sister. I flashed her my most amiable, yet, taunting, smile, but she didn’t miss a beat and wasn’t impressed with my boldness. We’ve been friends all our lives, after all.
“The new guy isn’t going to work out,” she stated, and with grace that belied her tone, she dropped into her leather executive chair. Crossing legs almost as long as mine, she pinched the bridge of her nose and let out a very unfeminine groan of frustration.
This was a typical expression these past few months as Harper and my other best friend CJ were trying to get a new stock car team off the starting line. Recruitment was a challenge for any new start-up, but employee retention seemed to be their Achilles’ heel. The latest departure was one of several.
“Jacks or CJ?” I asked. The cause for lack of retention could usually be narrowed down to Jacks, the veteran crew chief who came out of retirement just to help this fledging new team and fired anyone who he deemed unfit without discussion—or our notoriously hot-headed best friend, Charlotte Jean “CJ” Lomax, the talented driver who was the face of the team, driving them to quit.
I repositioned my feet and weaved my hands behind my head. Her level of frustration, or concern, was high enough that my movement didn’t even illicit a condemnation.
I’d been waffling back and forth between being envious of not being part of this new endeavor and thanking my stars I got to sit back and enjoy the fireworks as they tried to get this team off the ground.
She flashed another scowl my way. I grinned. She scowled some more. Today, it was a day of entertainment.
“Just goes to show being the head of a female-centric stock car team wasn’t all glitz and glamour,” I said.
“Don’t you have your own team to run?”
What made it more interesting was that I, Gus Quinlan, worked for a rival team and was CJ’s fiancé’s crew chief. It wasn’t easy walking the tightrope between friendship and competition. Especially because my employer, Merrick Motorsports, was owned and operated by Harper’s father—the man to whom I owed my entire career.
Yes, we are a bit of a tangled bunch. Holiday dinners were interesting.
Harper propped her deep red, stilettos on her desk, mirroring my stance, but even in her impeccable suit, she couldn’t possibly pull off the coolness factor like I did. She wasn’t capable of my level of relaxation—of course, I had a veteran staff and not half the issues she did. I gave myself a mental pat on the back.
“If anyone would’ve told me running a stock car team was akin to teaching preschoolers to share new toys, I wouldn’t have bothered. She wiped her hands over her forehead and raked them through her long blonde hair.
Ah, so today’s drama was due to CJ.
“Did he quit or did CJ run him out of the building?”
“Does it matter?” She tossed up her hands in frustration. “He’s gone and I still need a new lead engineer.”
“He was too soft spoken to deal with her. What does Jacks say?”
“Jacks keeps reminding me he’s got a foot out the door,” she sat straight up and threw her hands in the air, pointedly staring at me. “And that I promised to find him a new crew chief. But if Jacks doesn’t back up the people I bring in, he makes it clear they don’t have his blessing. But, just letting CJ have free rein to run him out, was his way of giving the new guy his walking papers and avoiding an argument with me about it.”
I dropped my head to hide my grin, “I could still learn a thing or two from the old man.”
“That old man is as wily as a fox,” she grumbled. “Very passive-aggressive of him. He knew I’d be begging him to hold off until I found someone else, and he didn’t want to wait.” She stared up at the ceiling and softly said, “You know you’d solve all my problems if you just came over and worked for us. CJ would listen to you—”
She glanced over and I gave her my standard side-eyed stare, calling her out on what she knew was a lie. On a good day, there was a fifty-fifty chance CJ would consider what I said to her.
“Well, she’d listen to you more than anyone else. And Jacks trusts you—”
I shrugged. “You know I would if I could. But I have a contract with your father over at Merrick for another season, and I really don’t think CJ would want me abandoning Grady and leaving your brother to find him a new crew chief.”
I rested my right hand on my chest. “Besides—”
“You’re loyal to my father…”
I gave her one nod because she knew this. The minute her brother was in charge I was gone. I was slipping that into my next contract. No way I was working for that pompous ass. But her father, I owed my career to that man.
“So now I have to fill two major positions—lead engineer and crew chief.” She threw her hands in the air, let out an audible sigh and sat up straight.
“We had a real decent season. I may be able to sweet talk one more season out of Jacks if he can pass it by his wife. But I really have to take his threat of leaving seriously. Originally, he was only supposed to be here for a year. If you can’t take his place, I need you to help me find someone who can come in as lead engineer, at least to back him up.”
This was how Harper got people to do things for her. “In case you forgot. I don’t work for you. I work for your competitor—your father and brother—who love you but wouldn’t take too kindly to that idea. Junior would lose his mind if I was recruiting for you.”
She walked in front of me and leaned against the desk. “I don’t need you to recruit, I just need you to rack your brain. We’ve basically looked through all the Cup teams, and either CJ or Jacks nixed them, gave me a ‘hell no’, or ran from me when I approached them.
“Obviously, we need someone smart and eager. But they also need to be young, and strong-willed enough to hold their own with CJ, and not someone who will rock the boat. We just got this ship sailing in the right direction. I don’t want to capsize it with the wrong person.
“Shouldn’t you be using racing metaphors instead of sailing ones.”
“Come on. Help me.” I swear she was about to stomp her foot and start whining if I didn’t take her seriously. “This could be your future team one day. Who would you want to work with?”
I closed my eyes, sat up straight, and held up my hand to stop her. We’d come to the reason I was actually here—to help out an old friend.
“That’s why I’m here. I have a friend…I was going to suggest her before, but I thought she was happy where she was. I heard she was pretty entrenched in Rex Richardson Racing. But rumors are spreading that’s not the case any longer.
I ignored the one word she picked up on. “Not sure if she’d be willing to move to Charlotte—” I scratched the side of my head.
“She?” Harper repeated herself, her eyes growing bigger with interest. “Is she an engineer?”
She crossed her arms over her chest and sighed. “Gus, I’m not hiring one of your ex-girlfriends for you—”
I held out a hand. “Slow your roll…she’s just about one of the most talented, intelligent engineers I know. In fact, when Junior finds out I have connections to her and am pointing her your way he’s going to possibly fire me. She’s living in Chicago, has a fantastic resume, but recently separated from Triple R due to some personnel issues.”I leaned forward, as if imparting a secret, “Harper, if I heard correctly, she was on the team that helped design and test the Next Gen car.”
Harper cocked her head, “Go on—”
“I haven’t spoken to her recently, so I’m not sure of the circumstances. But, seriously, this girl—err, um, woman, is sharp. She’s probably one of the smartest people I know. She’s got a backbone, and I think she’d be a good fit for Merlo.”
Harper turned to her computer and logged in, ready to move on with her day and whatever her next crisis was going to be. “Well, okay. Sounds good. Why don’t you give her a call and see if she wants to come out, and we can set up a meeting? Let Megan work out the details.”
“Uh. You forget,” I stood ready to leave. “I don’t work for you. I’ll leave her name with Megan and maybe she can track her down–”
“Wait, I thought you said you knew her?”
“And you never dated her?” She stared up at me from her computer.
“Did you ever sleep with her?”
“Then why won’t you call her and set up an introduction?” She hadn’t been my friend
since we were kids without learning when I was hiding something, but I still tried to cover.
“First of all, your father would have my head if he knew I was recruiting someone with Mia’s caliber to your team and not our own. Second of all,” I paused, checking my phone as if I were ready to leave. “It’s been a few years since I talked to her and…I think she’s been avoiding me.”
Harper rolled her eyes and kept working on her computer. “So, another broken heart. I don’t want that complication here, Gus.”
“I swear it was never like that. We were in some college classes together. Actually, you may remember meeting her. I brought her to a race once, showed her around. Tommy met her. He liked her.” An ache echoed inside me. Faint, but still present whenever Tommy’s name was mentioned.
Harper studied me.
“Honestly, we just lost touch.” I shrugged, “I have no idea why, but I…”
“Probably did something stupid. You weren’t the sharpest crayon in the box back then,” she said. “Especially with girls.”
That’s it, as always, she fell back on the old insult of me being a womanizer. “I’m serious,” I grabbed my jacket to leave. “Just have someone reach out to her…or don’t,” I said, feeling in my bones this was right. I wasn’t sure what was going on with Mia, but the rumors flying around didn’t sound good, and they certainly didn’t sound like her.
I’d like to help her. While Mr. Merrick was responsible for helping me with my career, I wanted to pay it forward because if it wasn’t for Mia, I probably wouldn’t have made it out of college.
CLEVER GIRL Copyright © 2023 by Laralyn Doran.
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