Wheeler Series Book 1
by Sara Butler Zalesky Genre: Sports Romance
Loren Mackenzie is at the top of her game, leading an elite team of pro cyclists in the Women’s World Tour in Europe. But for her, cycling was a way to escape, using the burn of her muscles to cleanse her mind.
After a change in the management of her team, Loren is brought back together with a man she once loved. His amorous attention resurrects the feelings she once had for him, but also how he tried to force her to sleep with him, and the sting of his hand on her cheek at her refusal.
When mishap puts her in the sights of an A-list actor, the flirtation quickly develops into something more for Loren, but the relationship exposes her to the tabloid media, dredging up the past she wanted to bury. It also reveals a dangerous rival who puts her chances in the World Championship in jeopardy.
Love and obsession collide in the first book of the Wheeler series, can Loren stand at the center of the storm, or will she lose the success she has worked so hard to achieve?
Thousands of cycling fans had braved the cold drizzle to watch the second La Course by Le Tour de France. The women’s race consisted of thirteen laps, up and down Avenue des Champs-Élysées, from Place de la Concorde to l’Arc de Triomphe and back and scheduled to finish a few hours before the end of the 21st stage of the men’s Tour de France.
The riders all gathered at the judges’ stand to sign in and receive any last-minute instructions from the stewards. Each team was announced from the main stage and photographed, then released to head back to their ready areas to warm up for the race under canopies. Reporters and their photographers roamed between the team vehicles to take pictures and interview the women on their trainers.
Loren put her headphones on specifically to avoid being interviewed. She adjusted her mirrored amber sunglasses, catching a glimpse of Graham with Aria as they glanced in her direction. She didn’t want anyone to see the dark circles under her eyes. After returning to her room, she slept an hour or two before the nightmares began. It got so bad she stared up at the ceiling until dawn. I just have to suck it up. This is a huge platform for us, and if I can put on a show, it’s gonna be a big fucking show. She ate several caffeinated cherry cola chews with her water before heading to the start line with the rest of her team.
La Course by Le Tour de France
Paris, France 89km, 13 laps of 7km
The drizzle had abated in time for the roll out of 142 cyclists, but it didn’t make for better conditions. The peloton stuck together, keeping the speed relatively sedate for the first three laps, but there were still several slips to the road.
On the fifth lap, there was a crash of more than fifteen riders, splitting the field into two parts. Loren, Ashley, and Chantal were in the middle of the pack, with Ashley and Chantal going down as two of the fifteen. Neither they nor their bikes were damaged and were able to get back underway quickly. While it is a courtesy for the lead group to let up to allow those who crashed the chance to regain their positions, Ashley and Chantal still had to push hard across the gap to reconnect with Loren.
With forty-five kilometers to go, Holly Parker took an early lead and held on for a lap before getting caught. At lap seven, another crash took down Ingrid and Cece, just as Loren crossed the line to mark the lap.
At thirty-six kilometers remaining, the main group strung out as the pace picked up on the long straights with speeds close to forty-three kilometers an hour. Several riders broke out of the turn at the Arc, working together to build a lead that topped out at thirty seconds. Team GoreTech, with Samantha Sharpe at the helm, dragged the main field up to the breakaway.
By then, the sun had started to shine however, the cobbles remained slick, with riders approaching the corners with caution, and jump out of the turns. Loren and Ashley kept Chantal at the fore and worked with other riders to keep the pace high and further competitors at bay. She glanced at the group around her. Chantal is behind me, with Ashley ready to blow herself up for us. Two from GoreTech, one from PZI. The blonde from FusionTurnstep, she might have something. Loren drew her energy around her like a tornado funnel. I am the storm.
The peloton had just passed the Arc de Triomphe when Ashley attacked with Loren on her wheel, catching the other riders off guard. Shouts from behind told somebody going with her. I hope Chantal remembered the plan and is behind me. Felix’s voice crackled through her radio then.
“Stand by.” He paused. “Let up! Let up! There’s been a crash. Just hang on.” She eased up on the pedals, glancing around at the five other riders who were being told the same thing. She then saw Chantal wasn’t with them. Dammit. She glanced back. They’re not that far behind but once we go again–.
“Go! Go! Go!” Felix yelled in her ear.
Two riders took advantage of the hesitation and took off, with Loren hot on their heels, but leaving Ashley behind. The trio pushed hard to increase the gap to twenty seconds to take the turn at Place de la Concorde to mark the final lap.
Loren stayed just behind the other two, biding her time as the kilometers fell under their wheels. One or the other rider would glance back. She had little doubt they were being coached from their team cars on how to defend against her.
She sneered. I’m no rookie, ladies. I’ve got time, and while I wait, you two are doing all the work.She began to tick up her pace with the two riders responding in kind as they swung into the turn at the Arc for the final time. Felix was soon in her ear to confirm her strategy.
“Let them worry, mon trèsor. Let them think they can defend against your strength, then make them suffer for their arrogance.”
It is the ultimate game of bluff. If Loren twitched, one or both riders could be fooled into going early, or they could block her when she took off. But like the man said, if you want it, ladies, you’re gonna to have to suffer to beat me. All three knew the peloton was closing fast and they still had two kilometers to go. Loren watched the riders closely, looking for signs of fatigue: a drooping shoulder, a lowered head, ribs expanding quicker with increased breathing. Her eyes narrowed at the rider in the purple jersey. Yes, there it is. The PZI rider’s pedaling rhythm began to falter. If I swing out around her, the other girl might not see me until it’s too late. The trio passed under the one-kilometer banner, and the rider looked back at Loren. You don’t have it, and you know you don’t. I know what that feels like. She had already shifted into a heavier gear when Felix was crooning in her radio.
“Wait for it. Start your surge… GO, GO, GO!”
At 300 meters, Loren jumped out of the saddle and slipped around to the right of the rider in purple, committing every molecule of energy to cross the finish line first. Her legs burned as her muscles consumed all available oxygen, but she forced them to go harder.
It was close, but the white line flashed under Loren’s wheel first. She sat up and pumped a fist in the air.
“YAH!” The rider from GoreTech crossing a tire width behind, and they glided down the chute together to the roar of the crowd. “That was fucking amazing! You were amazing!” Loren laughed to the other rider, and she grinned back.
“Congratulations,” the GoreTech rider said, patting her on the back. “You fought hard for the win, Mackenzie.” A flush heated her ears when she saw Ulrik waiting for her. Loren rolled to a stop before him, and he held her bike as she dismounted. They embraced, laughing and patting each other on the back. He pulled away, his brown eyes wet with happy tears.
“You did it! I am so proud of you!” He hugged her again. “Gabi would be proud of you, also,” he whispered.
“Thank you,” she replied and held him tighter. Her teammates called out to her and turned to into their hugs or to them bumping helmets with her. Ingrid pulled on her sleeve.
“I’m sorry, but you’ve been selected,” she said, not even hiding her glee. Loren looked up to see Aria waiting and pulled a face.
“Aw, come on! Really?”
“Come, Loren. Your wee cup is waiting.” Aria waved to her, trying not to laugh.
Graham stood off-stage as Loren was announced as the winner of La Course and watched her make her way across the stage. She accepted the offered assistance to don the winner’s jersey and bent stiffly for a medal to be placed around her neck. As she turned to accept a bouquet of flowers from a little blonde girl in a yellow dress, her eyes flicked up to the side of the stage.
“Thank you,” she mouthed to him, and his smile widened. Loren gave the child a kiss on each cheek then raised her arms as the crowd cheered. Movement caught his attention on the opposite side of the stage. A well-built, dark-haired man in a red IDC jacket stood there, his intense gaze locked on her. Who is that? A young woman in a yellow dress and sash with Le Tour on it stood next to him, and Graham leaned a bit toward her. “Pardonnez-moi, mais qui est cet homme?”
She smiled up at him. “That is L’Assassin, Felix Lalonde.” When Graham looked back, Felix was no longer watching Loren. His hate-filled glare was firmly fixed on him. And so, the gauntlet is thrown. He leveled an icy stare at the challenger, every muscle in his body taut, his fists clenched at his sides. I will protect what’s mine.
In Darkness, There Is Still Light
Wheeler Series Book 2
"Atherton Leaves Her! Has the Actor’s Whirlwind Romance with the Women’s Pro Cyclist Run its Course?"
Loren Mackenzie knew the headline in The Sun was misleading, but the Elite Women’s World Champion cyclist still felt the sting. With her team’s season winding down, reuniting with boyfriend, Graham Atherton is tops on her holiday to-do list. But as rumors and innuendo swirl around the couple, secrets they have kept from each other shake their relationship to its foundation.
Her fragile confidence is tested when Loren discovers details of her relationship with Felix Lalonde were provided to the media. Still reeling from the headlines, a bittersweet reunion with someone she thought lost becomes the catalyst for reliving the fractured memories of her childhood. Resentment and betrayal only add fuel to the fire already burning in her heart.
All the while obsession and greed churn into a storm on the horizon, threatening Loren and those closest to her. When the tempest hits, what is uncovered tilts the axis of her world.
In the second novel of the Wheeler series, can Loren believe that even in darkness, there is still light, there is still hope; there is still love.
NEW YORKAs Loren dressed after her shower, her thoughts were occupied with what to tell Maggie about what happened recently. She heaved a sigh and glanced at her watch. Band-Aid theory. You can do it. She picked up her mobile to begin a video call while moving to the desk near the windows.
“There’s my birthday girl!” Maggie sang when the video connected, but her expression changed to a deep frown. “Are you alright? You don’t look so good.”
Loren patted her cheek. “I’m fine. Nothing a bit of tea and a soak can’t cure.”
“What happened on Sunday?” Maggie narrowed her eyes. “Is Graham with you?”
“He’s here. He just went downstairs for a minute.” She glanced away, shrugging. “And nothing happened on Sunday. It’s just the tabloids trying to spin something.” Her aunt’s expression didn’t change, and Loren rolled her eyes. “Leave it alone, Mags.”
“Uh huh,” she muttered. “What do you have planned for today?”
“Honestly, I just want to sit here and stare out the window.” She changed the screen to share the misty view.
“Wow. Is that Central Park?”
“That it is.” Loren turned the camera back to her. “Fortieth floor penthouse on West 63rd, courtesy of Benny Wallace.”
“Damn. Maybe I should find myself an actor.” They both chuckled, but Loren’s didn’t last long. “There’s something else, isn’t there,” Maggie said.
“I got an early birthday present. A letter from Aaron.” She scrunched her nose. “His name is Adam, now.”
Her aunt’s mouth popped open. “You’re joking.”
“No. I’m sending you a copy of it now.” She grabbed her tablet to pull up her email and after she pressed send, Maggie’s tablet pinged almost immediately. Her aunt’s brows knotted as she read and when she was done, she looked up with tears in her eyes.
“Maggie!” She put a hand over her ear. “My virgin ears!”
“Oh, stop it,” she laughed but let it fade. “He was in Philadelphia? Do you know what he’s talking about?”
Loren nodded. “Yes, and I was a little freaked out, but I had to focus on the race.” She bit her lip as she opened her email again. “I emailed him back the other day, and I just sent you his reply.” The bedroom door opened behind her. Graham walked over and leaned down to see the screen.
“Hey.” She gave a distracted wave as she was reading, then looked back to Loren. “O’Connell is my maiden name,” she said.
“I imagine that’s why he chose it, but I’ll ask him about that when I see him.” She sat back and pressed her lips together as her aunt’s mouth dropped open again.
“You’re going to see him?”
“I talked to him last night.” Her eyes slid away and she swallowed hard. “Mags, I’ve started to remember more and none of it is good.” She glanced at Graham. “We were going to meet up today, but I’m starting to freak out.” He brushed her hair over her shoulder.
“You have to do what’s best for you, love,” he said. “You can’t think about hurting his feelings, but I’m certain he’ll understand.” Loren worried at her fingernail before looking to her aunt again.
“I need to know what’s real, and he’s the only one who can tell me.”
“I know, kitten, and I’m sorry I can’t help you more,” Maggie said, then glanced at her watch. “Poop. I have to get to work, but call back later, okay? Randall and the kiddos would love to hear from you.”
“I will.” Loren sat back in her chair after disconnecting and stared out the window. Graham touched the back of her neck.
“You’ve got your thinking face on.” She gave a soft smile, then pressed her lips together.
“I need to be in control, and I’m not.”
“Loren, you can’t control everything.”
She shot him a look. “I know I can’t, but I should be able to control my reactions. With everything that’s happened… ” She sighed, and Graham put his arm around her shoulders.
“Darling, you’ve spent years winding yourself up so tightly,” he said. “You’ve been able to function, but I don’t think you’ve actually lived.”
She raised a brow. “And then you came along, and my whole world started to unravel.”
“You make it seem like that’s a bad thing,” he said, his mouth somewhere between a frown and a smirk.
“In some ways it is, but I think my remembering was only a matter of time,” she replied, making a face. “James told me I had to stop looking down into the hole I dug, because if I looked up, I would see how many hands were reaching for me, to help pull me out.” Graham reached for her hands and squeezed them.
“I’ve got strong hands, you know,” he said. “I can change out a bike tire pretty quick.”
One Fire Burns Out Another's Burning
Wheeler Series Book 3
It’s the start of a new year for World Champion cyclist Loren Mackenzie and already, her luck has taken a nosedive. Tensions rise at training camp in Mallorca, Spain, with the arrival of team sponsor, Ryzak Sports. There’s something familiar about Maksim Ryzak’s charm, and while Loren can see through it, she can’t shake the attraction.
Fingers are pointed at Loren when a reporter hints at her involvement in a doping scheme allegedly begun by Felix Lalonde. She denies it, but her fears that no one will believe her drag her down. When pictures of Graham with another woman are published by the tabloids, a match ignites that could burn their relationship to the ground.
The Spring Classics begin with races in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Italy, where rivals become allies and friends become adversaries. Loren is tested in both mind and body, but she is determined to prove herself worthy of being a World Champion.
But, as one fire is put out, another takes its place. Loren is still haunted by Felix, and it’s his voice in her ear in competition, whispering she’s not good enough. Even with her friends and family rallying behind her, can Loren free herself once and for all?
Sara has never lacked for imagination, but it wasn’t until the Fates decided to give the string of her life a tug, bringing her romantic leanings together with her passion for the sport of cycling and Poof! A story was written down and completed, much to her surprise and chagrin.
She is a (self)published author of women's fiction/sports romance novels, Wheeler and Wheeler: In Darkness, There is Still Light. A third novel to complete the series is in development.
The author resides in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA, with her husband and their son. Sara is a paralegal for a law firm in Chester County, Pa, an avid road cyclist, and indoor cycling instructor at a national chain.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
I like to crochet, which is kind of an old lady thing to do but it helps me think while I’m writing. I used to play Guitar Hero when I needed to clear my mind, but the TV keeps everyone else awake.
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
My life is pretty routine and boring.
What are some of your pet peeves?
Loud gum chewing. Not using a turn signal. Drivers who try to run me over while I’m on my bike.
Where were you born/grew up at?
I grew up in Wharton, NJ. Exit 34B off Rt. 80.
What are you passionate about these days?
I’m passionate about cycling, especially women’s cycling. The women’s races are more exciting than the men because their race distances tend to be shorter and more intense. The teams don’t have the same number either, between 6 and 9 riders, whereas the men can have up to 12. Women racers have to be good at everything - sprinting, climbing, endurance. It’s difficult to specialize in one thing like the men’s teams when your teammates rely on each other to fill every position.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
Ride my bike or binge Midsomer Murders on Acorn TV.
How to find time to write as a parent?
I have spent many a late-night writing Wheeler, but that quickly caught up to me. Now I write whenever I get the time, be it 10 minutes or an hour, and often at work. SHHH! Don’t tell.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I still don’t consider myself a writer. It was a strange congruence of events that led me to put the first novel on paper – and finish it. A first for me.
Do you have a favorite movie?
There are so many films I can watch over and over, but I cringe at what I used to bolt home for when I was a kid. I prefer action and suspense films, like Tom Clancy or Dan Brown. I really liked Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher and Oblivion.
What inspired you to write this book?
It was June of 2015 and I was watching the Aviva Women’s Tour in England while working on an indoor cycling profile for my Tour de France classes. The idea to write a story about a character in the Women’s Tour caught fire and exploded in my brain.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I might take a break from writing, but probably not. I have two ideas bubbling in the back of my brain at the moment. One is a Fantasy/Thelma & Louise type story where two Searchers are on a quest for the Eye of Osiris. The other is a romance/suspense about a NJ State Trooper. Maybe.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in Wheeler?
Loren Mackenzie is the main character of the Wheeler series. She’s reserved with a dry sense of humor, a good friend, and a teensy bit controlling. She’s a closet romantic with a big heart and sees her teammates as her sisters.
Graham Atherton is her current love interest (and minor antagonist). He’s British a Shakespearean-trained actor. Sexy but not your average romantic lead type. He uses the Bard’s words to make Loren go all ‘fangirl,’ and it works.
Felix Lalonde is Loren’s manipulating first love and main antagonist of the series. He has been obsessed with her – the one that got away but also as a kindred spirit. They have lived through similar childhood abuse and neglect. Unfortunately, his fixation turns violent.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
There were times when I loved writing. The words flowed from my fingers to the keyboard, but then there were times when I didn’t want to write, I had to write. It became a compulsion that took me over.
Who designed your book covers?
My best friend, Bob produced my covers for me, but I came up with the design. There’s a little homage to Athena on them. Can you find it?
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Truthfully, I never would have published Wheeler in 2016 without first committing the money and hired an editor before anyone ever saw it. That is and forever will be my biggest regret.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I learned so much about how to write and how NOT to write. I learned I’m a total pantser. I tried to plot the third novel and it went way left, but in a good way, I hope.
If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
My characters are based on real people but I’m not going to say who. I might get in trouble.
If you could spend time with a character from your book whom would it be?
It might surprise you, but I’d spend the day with Charlotte, Loren’s best friend. She’s full of snark.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story?
It’s the strangest feeling to have characters you gave mental birth to jump off the path you set for them. There have been times I’ve gone back and read something I don’t recall ever writing. Obviously, I wrote it … or did I?
What did you edit out of this book?
I edited out almost 60k words from Wheeler, some of which I used the second novel, In Darkness, There Is Still Light.
Fun Facts/Behind the Scenes/Did You Know?'-type tidbits about the author, the book or the writing process of the book.
Loren is more me than I’d like to admit. While I didn’t have the kind of childhood she had, her reactions to situations are mine.
There are little references, jokes or pop culture sprinkled in each the novels that are about things I like or dislike.
I had to read every word Shakespeare ever wrote and comprehend the meaning of the lines before I could use them. Believe me, I dug deep to get the right ones, but I don’t remember a word of it.
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