Chapter 10: Business
God, why did I drink that much again?
Right, I didn't even know I was drinking to begin with...
Truth was, last night was a hell of a lot more fun than I thought it would be. Hanging out with Vi lifted my spirits, and her open-minded attitude definitely resonated with me on a level I hadn't experienced yet. I felt free with her, like things mattered less when she was around.
Only downside of that was that I ended up getting hammered without intending to do so. Not that it was her fault; I just assumed they served non-alcoholic drinks as well and ended up fooling myself. How was I supposed to know I'd end up vomiting all over the place? And in front of Phoenix, too...
"Shit." I sighed as I opened my eyes slowly, giving myself time to adjust to the dim light. Unfortunately, my head kept hammering with the drinks I've had. Right. I didn't deserve any mercy, really.
My gaze fell upon my nightstand, where a blister of pills lay right next to a bottle of water that had a note stuck to it. I craned my neck, trying to read what it said without having to reach over.
The bus to the airport leaves at 10. Drink this and take an aspirin - you'll need it. Trust me.
See you on board,
Usually, Formula 1 employees drove around in their team trucks as long as they're in Europe. The Formula 2 team truck made some issues this weekend though, meaning important people like drivers and team principals had to scramble into the remaining trucks, while interns and other non-essential personnel got transferred to a commercial flight.
That obviously included Phoenix, Connor, and me.
"Trust you..." I snickered. "Yeah, right."
A glance on my phone told me I had about an hour to get ready, and so I gave myself another minute or so to catch up with my thoughts, letting my mind wander. I laid back on the bed, closing my eyes as my hands slid over my sheets, my fingers mindfully tracing every inch of satin on my skin. The longer I focused on the soft fabric, the more I remembered last night, and especially that one particular moment where I almost lost myself.
Having Phoenix beneath me, feeling his skin on mine, letting his heated gaze burn right into me, it all just came back with a flash. The mere image made me dizzy, and my heart started pounding in my chest as I remembered how I felt last night, and how damn irresponsible that was...
Getting close to him was dumb, reckless, and absolutely impossible. It just couldn't happen — end of story. And yet, we kept running into each other...
And I couldn't deny there was just something about him, the mystery lingering beneath his stormy and dark gaze that kept infuriating the hell out of me. The complex vulnerability displayed when I touched him, traced his scars... It blew my mind, and I could only imagine how things would've turned out if I hadn't vomited all over the place.
Never thought I'd be thankful for that.
Now it was time to save my reputation, to gather my confidence and step out into the world again.
Hungover or not, the one thing I knew I needed to do was get out of this bed. It held too many memories already.
And so I crept out from underneath the covers, knowing I had to force myself into a cold shower to reboot my brain. It was all that ever worked, really.
By the time I was dressed and my suitcase packed, the headache turned into a full migraine. Nice.
I grabbed the rest of the things from my nightstand and threw them into my bag, making sure I didn't forget anything. Luckily the rest of my body cooperated, and I ended up on the team shuttle bus to the airport just in time. Now I just had to find a seat.
Trying to avoid any curious glances, I simply slid into the first available spot at the front. Only when I sat down did I realize who I was sitting next to, though.
"Florence." Connor nodded a greeting but quickly averted his gaze, looking out of the window.
"Morning." I mustered up a smile.
I was both surprised and relieved by his unusually quiet behavior this morning. Maybe he knew something was up, given I was wearing sunglasses inside a bus and kept groaning with every move I made. Maybe he just was in a foul mood himself. Who knew?
The bus filled with more people, and I kept glancing up, obviously not to see if a certain dark-haired driver would enter the bus... Because no, definitely not.
I also didn't sigh in relief when the bus left the station without Phoenix in sight. Not at all.
"So you got hammered last night?" Connor asked, a smirk playing on his lips.
"Oh my god, don't tell me it made the rounds..."
He nudged my shoulder with a sympathetic look. Something else that surprised me, given his cold behavior after I rejected him. "Don't worry. I just figured because you look... well... hungover."
"Gee, thanks." I rolled my eyes with a smirk. Of course Connor of all people would be able to tell.
Oh no. What if everyone could?
Glancing around the bus, I felt more pairs of eyes on me than I saw, but that surely didn't help matters either. Fuck. Did I screw up before my career even began?
"Come on, Florence. You're still pretty, if that's what you're worried about."
I raised an eyebrow at him. Of course that'd be what he sees now. Obviously. "Um, yeah. No. That's the last thing I care about right now."
"Just saying." He shrugged, turning back away from me as the bus merged onto the highway.
Sitting in the aisle seat and not wanting to get too close to Connor meant I had to focus on something else, since looking out the window was not an option. With the headache raging and my stomach churning, I opted for the book I hadn't touched in a while.
I've read about half of The Daughter's Curse until it got a little boring. But I was no quitter, and I wanted to read all of this before I wrote it off as a mispurchase.
I was merely a chapter in when the bus driver announced our arrival at the airport, pulling into the parking area at the north entrance. People rushed out of the bus as soon as it stood still, grabbing their personal items on the way out. Luckily, we didn't have to transfer the suitcases — that was the airline's job, given this flight was mostly for the Azure Racing crew.
We still had to run through security check though, which meant having to stand in line with all those people, yet again. The prospect made me slow my walk into a shuffle as I followed the crew. Some peace and quiet to calm the herd of elephants plowing through my brain definitely wouldn't hurt.
I even let some other people, none of whom were associated with Azure Racing, pass and stand in front of me. As long as I could be on my own for a moment longer, I should survive the three-hour flight ahead of me.
Rubbing my temple, I closed my eyes for a brief moment. Maybe that would help the nausea too.
"You should've taken the aspirin." A dark voice grumbled behind me. I didn't have to turn to know who it was. His familiar yet mysterious scent instantly lingered in my nostrils, and I had yet to forget about the effect his dark voice had on me.
The hairs on my neck stood up as I stepped forward, following the woman who was next in line in front of me. "Thanks, but no thanks."
We reached the beginning of the security check, and a guard hastily pushed a basket in my direction while pointing at my shoulder. Swinging my messenger bag into the basket, I tried to ignore Phoenix's relentless stare. How did he even get here? Did I miss him on the bus?
"Was that your way of saying thank you?"
Rolling my eyes, I pushed the basket into the screening area and stepped to the side, waiting for the woman in front of me to pass the metal detector. She walked straight past and I followed, luckily passing the check just as quick as she did.
It was the sound of frantic beeping that made me turn around, and I had a hard time suppressing a smirk when I saw Phoenix being waved to the side for an extended search.
Hah. Maybe I could get rid of him this way...
"Miss?" A guard waved his hand in front of my face. "Miss, is this yours?"
I glanced at my blue messenger bag in the basket and noticed the red square flashing on the screen behind him. Something told me this wasn't good news.
"Yes, that's mine. Is there an issue?"
"Yeah. Open that up." He shoved the basket onto the table next to me like he was taking out the trash, impatiently waiting with his hands propped on his hips.
"May I ask why?"
The forty-something man raised an eyebrow at me. "Because I am airport security?"
Great, he was an asshole. This was absolutely not helping my headache.
"I know you are and your job surely is important, but if you just told me what you were looking for, we could resolve this issue in seconds without me having to go through all my stuff."
"I have the right to search your belongings."
"And I have a right to know why."
The man furrowed his brows, and I almost thought he was getting ready to challenge me again when suddenly, he fell silent. His gaze fell on something right behind me, and for some reason I just knew what — or rather, who — he was looking at.
"There a problem?" Phoenix asked.
"I don't need your help, McCoy."
"I know you don't need my help. I'm thinking he does." He nodded to the security guard, whose eyes only widened as he scratched his head. "Pretty sure you'll rip his throat out, soon."
Cocking my head at the guy who suddenly showed such a great interest in my life, I still couldn't fight a smirk as I muttered, "Probably..."
"Knew it." He winked. "Now, what's the issue?" Phoenix looked back at the guard, who'd watched our interaction closely, but with a much needed distance.
"I uh... Well, look here." The guard finally moved the screen, pointing at something I couldn't see from my point of view. "You have liquids in your bag. We need to see what it is."
"No, that's impossible. I'm not dumb enough to..." The penny dropped. "Oh... Fuck me." I zipped open my bag, pulling out the very bottle Phoenix left on my nightstand, his note still sticking to the front. "This is your fault, McCoy." I waved the bottle at him.
"It most definitely isn't." He laughed. "That's on you, Nyx."
Couldn't even argue with him on that front, unfortunately. I was too hungover to remember I threw those into my bag.
"Well, either way..." I ripped off the note and handed the water bottle over to the guard. "Here you go. Can I go now?"
"Actually, procedure says I have to check the bag fully now..."
Rolling my eyes, I decided not to keep arguing with the guard. I knew I was acting annoying and unreasonable, but man... I had a whole marching band waltzing through my head. It was hard to think straight.
The guard slipped on some gloves and sifted through my bag, and I almost feared he'd find the aspirin bottles and accuse me of doing drugs, when really I just had a few glasses of OJ.
Granted, it wasn't just OJ, but still.
"Alright, you're good."
"Finally." I breathed a sigh of relief while throwing the bag over my shoulder.
"Yeah, we need to go. Like now." Phoenix nodded at the gigantic clock in the main hall.
Almost ten. Fuck.
"What are you waiting for? Go!" I pushed him away, rushing through the hallway and out into the main hall. We followed the signs for our terminal, and somehow even made it to the gate in time.
By the time we reached the plane, everyone else had been seated already. The business class consisted of mostly Azure Racing employees, most of which were already asleep. Guess a race weekend was exhausting.
Phoenix was right on my heels as I looked for my seat until I spotted 4A to my right, next to another empty spot. The prospect of sitting on my own made me want to jump like Super Mario, even with my headache. But then I realized...
"You're kidding me." I turned around and glanced at Phoenix's boarding pass.
4B. Of course.
"What?" he asked, glancing over. "Oh." I wasn't sure, but I thought there was a hint of a smile playing on his lips as he nodded at the seats. "Well... What are you waiting for?"
I slipped into the window seat, inhaling a deep and necessary breath. At least the seat opposite us was still vacant.
God, my head was killing me.
I should've probably taken the aspirin that was still in my bag, but I didn't want to give Phoenix the satisfaction. Instead, I buckled up and ordered some tea before I leaned back. Eyes closed and rubbing my temple, I waited for the pilot to do his thing and bring us up in the air. I just wanted to be anywhere but here.
"Just to be clear, you were meant to drink the water bottle. Not bring it to the airport with you..." Phoenix's whisper traveled down my neck as he leaned over. "But I mean, I would've been surprised if you'd listened to me, anyway." His chuckle sent a rush of heat through my body, and I squirmed in my seat as I tried to get comfortable enough to respond.
But somehow, I couldn't.
Somehow, the pounding in my head and heart made it hard to think. I could only feel, honestly... And I felt a lot. Embarrassed, mostly. Aroused, a little. And even a bit self-conscious, which was a trait I rarely saw in myself. I had a hard time wrapping my head around what was going on, especially when Phoenix was around.
"Thank you," I finally said. Slowly opening my eyes, I found Phoenix staring at me wide-eyed, obviously not expecting that response. "For last night, I mean."
"It was the bare minimum."
"True. I can still say thank you for that, though." Clearing my throat, I glanced away from him. I got uneasy when we held eye contact for too long. At least today. "And sorry if I made you uncomfortable."
Silence lingered between us, but I kept focusing on the oily stains on my jeans until he retorted, "You're really hard to read, you know that?"
I laughed. "Phoenix McCoy." When I looked at him, there was something in his eyes I couldn't quite grasp, something urgent and raw that made it hard to look away. "Are you telling me you're trying to read me?"
His gaze darkened, and images of last night flooded my brain. Unfortunately, I still remembered how soft he was beneath my fingers. Unfortunately, I still remembered how he looked at me, and how much I wanted him to want me at that moment. And unfortunately... I still wanted it now.
"Would that be such a bad thing?" His dark voice grumbled as he traced my lips with his gaze. Something about being so close to him had me on high-alert, and I suddenly regretted ever touching him before.
I wanted more. But I hated that I did.
"It would be futile." I finally came up with a response.
We stared at each other for a long moment, and I practically felt his gaze on my soul, as if he was trying to unlock a new piece to the puzzle. For a second that felt like an hour, it was just the two of us in this busy plane. A part of me, no matter how drunk or tired that part was, wanted to go back to last night. I just didn't know if I wanted to undo the mimosas and never let anything happen between Phoenix and me, or if I wanted to do so much more.
Maybe both. It was hard to tell, because my brain literally stopped working. The headaches, nausea, and Phoenix's proximity must have short-circuited my system.
"Maybe." His lips twitched into a crooked smirk. "Doesn't mean I'll stop trying."
Just wanted to say thank you for your patience! Exams are coming and I barely find time to write, but I'm trying.
Hope you're all doing well!
Lots of love
P.S.: anyone interested in seeing character inspirations for these guys?