Chapter 17: Turbulences
It was Sunday morning and Florence and I sat at the hotel café, enjoying our breakfast before we headed to the race in Monaco. This was one of my favorite race tracks, so saying I was excited to be here would be an understatement. It’s turbulent enough in an F2 car, but seeing the live action in a Formula 1 setting was just undefeatable. The thrill was insane.
Florence was scribbling something into her notebook while I ate the rest of her blueberry yogurt, which, apparently, was too sweet for her.
I’ve gotten to know more about her tastes over the past days and noticed that she paid meticulous attention to what she ate and drank, but not in an unhealthy, calorie-counting way. She wanted to be cautious about what she gave to her body. It sounded like something I should do more often too, admittedly.
My trainer had a meal plan for me during the time I raced Formula 2, but at the moment I was living day by day, enjoying what I could before I hopefully needed to get back into the seat.
The church bells ringing outside of the hotel reminded us of the time, and Florence glanced up with a groan. “Fuck. Now I can’t even finish my notes…”
“What the hell are you even writing in there?” I raised a brow before I got up and packed my bag. “We’ve been here since Thursday, and you still haven’t finished your notes on the workshop?”
“It’s not just the workshop. It’s about Qualifying, too. I barely had the time to make notes of anything with how hectic it was yesterday.”
Hectic was an understatement. Monaco was always unpredictable and adventurous, but our Qualifying day had topped everything I’d seen before. From engine failure to tyres bursting and sudden rain showers, we’ve had it all. It was a miracle we were able to start in the top ten today.
“Do you really learn that much from just watching them?” I asked, interested in her train of thought.
Florence got up and followed me out of the cafe, straight onto the road adjacent to the paddock. I loved that this race track was literally right next to the hotel, but hated that it meant I’d had to spend yet another night with Connor in one room. Salim said it was the last time, but with Monaco being Monaco, it was impossible to find a room on such short notice.
“Well, obviously.” Flo’s shrug pulled me out of my thoughts. “And I don’t just watch them. I ask questions, too. I work on the car. I work with the engineers. It’s a whole process.”
And even though I knew all of that, I sometimes forgot just how much she did already, given that she was just an intern, after all. The staff didn’t treat her as such, though, not even at the security check before the paddock. They let her in without hesitation, which is a privilege some drivers didn’t even get.
Most of the employees knew her — and liked her, too — which also stated how much work she must’ve put into her reputation, only four weeks into the whole thing.
“Alright, blueberry.” She grinned when we reached the locker rooms, ignoring the hectic pre-race atmosphere. With engines revving and wheel guns working, it was hard to focus on anything but yourself most of the time.
Not for me, though.
“Blueberry?” I asked with a raised brow, ignoring the fact that I wasn’t looking forward to race preparations with Michael and the engineers. It was usually one of the things I loved doing, but something told me I would’ve much rather spent more time inside the garage than outside of it.
“Yeah. It suits you.” She shrugged, not even attempting a more detailed explanation. Now, I’ll see you after the race!” The grin on her lips was contagious, but I forced it down as she marched into the dressing room. I wasn’t even surprised when she glanced back at me right as she turned toward the door to her left, her blue-green eyes instantly meeting mine, even from a distance. “And try not to be a dickhead, will you?”
Flo winked and disappeared into the room, not once looking back. All I could do was stare into the now empty hallway, her cinnamon fragrance still lingering in the atmosphere.
That scent stuck with me the entire morning and afternoon, not that I minded. There was something exhilarating about it, like an electric cloud that sparked up my being for most of the day. I barely saw her throughout the afternoon, apart from the occasional glimpse of her on the TV.
Our team did a spectacular job today, though. The pouring rain halfway through the race gave us an advantage, given our cars had more traction on wet tracks than most others did, and by the time the last few laps rolled around, it actually looked like we could win this thing.
Salim was on the edge of his seat next to me, both of us watching the race from the drivers’ room to avoid the chaos in the garage. Usually, he’d pester me about showing my face in the camera, but this was Monaco. A race we both loved enough to see past any misunderstandings or missions.
“Come on, Felipe..” he muttered, watching the screen closely.
Felipe and Lucien had worked their way up the grid, leaving them both in second and third place. This was a success already if the boys could bring the cars home safely.
Felipe Gonzalez is catching up to Mark Anderson, and right behind him is his teammate Lucien Arron, who also doesn’t waste any time in catching up with the race leader!
I had to give it to Felipe — he knew how to put on a show, but today he raced his heart out. Monaco was a hard track to overtake on, but he used every possibility, even though he knew most of them wouldn’t pull through. It wasn’t just about getting past him, it was about making Anderson nervous, playing with his emotions.
And it seemed to work, too. Because Mark Anderson was starting to make mistakes. Minor mistakes, sure, but mistakes didn’t scale like that in Formula 1. The smallest mistake could cost you your win, your car, or worse — your life.
Luckily, the latter wasn’t part of the agenda today. We had about seven cars out of the race by now, most of which were the drivers’ mistakes as they tried to acclimate to the wet conditions on a very sinuous track, but no one got hurt.
And Gonzalez is right at Anderson’s heels again, and his front wing almost touched the rear of his opponent! This is why we love this sport so much! Wow! But Anderson gets past yet again, and defends his position once— And oh no!
There it was.
That one tiny but fatal mistake.
Anderson braked into the next corner just a split second too late, which caused his wheels to lock and gave him little control over his car. It sent him right toward the emergency exit at the end of the straight and Felipe and Lucien rushed past him effortlessly. While Anderson tried backing out, he almost ran into Lanson, the driver who until now was in fourth place. They touched, but Lanson pushed past him and back onto the track, leaving the former race leader right behind him.
“Fuck yeah!” Salim cheered, jumping up from his seat. He put his hands on my shoulders and shook me, almost as if he was reminding me of the win we probably just secured. “We’re on the podium, Phoenix! The podium!”
And even though Salim and I hadn’t been talking as much as we did before, I still felt his happiness like it was my own. He was still a friend, after all.
“Yeah, we did.” I laughed and slapped his back, watching how Felipe and Lucien drove their hearts out. It was just a matter of a few more laps until we could watch them cross the finish line, past the checkered flag in the pouring rain, and toward their victory.
The crowd erupted in cheers and they played a part of Felipe’s radio, where he emotionally thanked the entire team as he drove home this win.
I didn’t hear much of it, though, with my friend next to me losing his mind. “This is history, Phoenix. We’re making history!” Salim muttered, wide eyes displaying just how unbelievable this must’ve been for him.
We hadn’t won a single race this season, so I could only imagine how much this one meant to the team, especially with first and second place on the podium.
Azure Racing had never won in Monaco, ever, and securing a double podium like that… It meant a lot.
“This is on you, too!” I got up and threw my arm around his shoulders, trying to give this man the appreciation he deserved. Salim lived and breathed this sport as much as I did, if not more, considering he literally dedicated his entire life to this team. He played a huge part in recruiting the drivers and staff that worked so brilliantly together that they could even ensure a win. It wasn’t a given, especially with the games and backstabbing we’ve seen over the years.
He definitely had the right mindset for success.
“Thank you,” he muttered and pulled me in for a quick hug. “This is huge. Wow…”
His speechlessness was contagious, and so we both ended up just staring at the screen in silence. This was monumental news and only heightened the team’s reputation. They’d been a rising star from day one, but this was groundbreaking for them.
“Hey, guys!” Connor called out, popping his head through the open doorway. “Come on, we have to go!”
“Fuck yeah!” Salim cheered.
I couldn’t even blink at how fast Sal had pushed me out the door and into the corridor, leading me straight outside. The paddock area was filled with people rushing toward the princes’ lounge, where they expected the top three to drive in.
The crowd rushing around had my head spinning, but I followed the army of blue overalls in front of me, who now also succumbed Salim into their mess. Some mechanics hugged me as they hurried past, and others just pulled me with them, but there was really only one person I was on the look-out for.
I couldn’t find her anywhere though, and so I followed the crowd of umbrellas and helmets until we reached an open area at the other end of the racetrack. From the corner of my eye, I saw how our two cars drove into their designated spots at 1 and 2, and I instantly hurried over. Pushing through the crowd, I ended up sandwiched between Michael and Felipe’s race engineer, both of whom threw their arms around me.
Felipe got out of his car and sat on top of it for a moment, burying his helmeted head into his hands. The rain kept pouring down on him, but he didn’t pay no mind to the pools of water beneath his feet.
It was a sight I knew I probably wouldn’t ever forget. The fragility and emotion displayed was one unmatched, and I could only imagine how Felipe must’ve felt at that moment. Winning was exhilarating and gave you the rush of a lifetime, which must’ve been what was happening to him now, too.
He clearly didn’t have a thought left to consider the pouring rain and wet overalls on everyone around us, not that they cared. No one did, I imagined.
After all, they all cheered when Felipe finally jumped off his car, giving it an appreciative pat before he ran straight in our direction. I could already tell what he was about to do. The way his arms flailed the second he knew we were there to catch him showed he had no fear of jumping straight into the crowd.
So that’s what he did, and we caught him to celebrate his win like it was our own — because in some way, it was.
He shot me a huge grin before he hopped to the other side, exchanging high-fives with the rest of the crowd. Lucien followed shortly after him, and even though he wasn’t as bold as Felipe was, the silence beneath his helmet spoke volumes.
The two soon made their way up to the princes’ lounge, where they held the award ceremony. Things went a little differently in Monaco, and it was good that way.
Prestigious and elegant decor adorned the platform; it was the celebration we all had been waiting for. But as everyone stared at the top of that podium, showing bold and golden 1, 2, and 3, my glance fell on something much, much brighter.
Florence stood there alone at the far end of the track, in the corner of an emergency exit no one occupied anymore. Her hair stuck to her face as she gazed up at the sky, arms wide open.
The sight took my breath away, and I couldn’t control myself as I marched straight over to her. She didn’t seem to hear me — didn’t seem to hear anyone, really, her gander directed at the dark clouds hanging above us.
Something must’ve given me away, because she spun away from the rain and toward me, spotting my presence even from a few feet away. Her entire appearance was so powerful that I forced myself to take a deep breath, watching her lips spread into a bright grin.
“Phoenix!” Florence called out to me. “We won!” She started sprinting toward me, and I barely had time to catch her before she jumped right into my arms. Our bodies collided, and her laugh seeped right into my bones as she clung to me.
“We did,” I chuckled, securing my grip on her.
Her excitement slammed right into me, and when she leaned back to let our gazes meet, my heart stopped for a moment. The look in her eyes was consummate and so damn stormy, I was convinced she herself caused the tempestuous rain falling down on us.
A smile danced on her lips when she ran a hand through my wet hair, sweeping it out of my face. Her gaze was dark and predatory, and I feared my legs would give away from me with every second that passed, with every moment she had to disarm me further.
And even though time always seemed to stand still around her, right now it raced right past me. Because while I was trying to form a coherent thought, or anything else that could save me from the storm I was about to face, Florence was already so, so far ahead of me.
She grasped the hair at the back of my head and gazed at me with a fire so potent that I knew what she was about to do, and yet I was so damn unprepared for what followed next.
Because when she leaned in and kissed me, it wasn’t romantic. There were no fireworks, and I saw no stars the second our lips touched.
Instead, I just felt her.
I felt her warmth, her energy, and all of what she never allowed me to see. It was exhilarating and heart-stopping at once, yet I never felt more alive. I tasted the cinnamon coffee on her tongue and bathed in her smell of oil and gasoline, a potion that might’ve been just as explosive as she was.
And as the world was drowning around us, I drowned right with it. Because I knew this was the point of no return, the rising action of the story that either brought me straight to the top, or pushed me off the ledge.
“Phoenix…” Flo muttered, slowly pulling back from me. I had a hard time focusing on her being as I caught my breath, only now realizing we’d wandered off to the hidden spot under a tree. Every inch of her was scorchingly wild, but the flames in her eyes started to waver. “We…” Her voice trembled, and she inhaled deeply before she glanced up at the tree, which then sent a few gentle drops onto her cheeks. She blinked a few times before looking back down at me, letting the water cascade down her skin. “We should probably dry up. The after party will start soon…”
I nodded, although the rest of my body didn’t fully cooperate yet. “Yeah.”
A drop fell from her nose and she licked her lips to catch it, which only made it harder to look at anything but that damn mouth and what it just did to me.
“You need to let me down, Phoenix…”
“Oh, right.” I cleared my throat and let her back on the ground, but she held onto me for another moment.
“We should really go to that party,” she whispered.
Fuck. I wanted her so badly, every inch of me was longing for her, even more than before.
“Good… I’ll go up to my room, then.”
“Yeah, same,” I nodded, following her through the emergency exit. We walked past the crowd in the street and into the hotel, where another wave of people rushed right past us. Florence grabbed my hand and pulled me behind her until we reached the elevator, which had just let a bunch of people off.
We slipped through the doors before they closed, but I didn’t even have the chance to bathe in the relief that we’re alone. A hand pushed the doors back open, and a tall man invited his entire family into the elevator. They regarded us with raised brows, probably wondering why the hell we were completely soaked, but entered still.
Florence and I got pushed to the back, fingers still intertwined as she gave mine a squeeze. I glanced over at her and almost went up in flames from the way she looked at me; fiery and confident as all hell.
Well, if this was hell, then I sure didn’t mind playing with the devil…
I was in trouble. Sinfully hot and delicious trouble, but trouble nonetheless.
Because as much as I fought him, fought us… I opened Pandora’s box, and now there was no going back.
When the elevator announced our floor, I could only push past the German Family who occupied most of the space. Phoenix’s hand tightly wrapped around my own until we got out, and even though I knew I should’ve let go of it before we reached my room… I didn’t.
I could feel his wet but scorching presence right behind me as I slipped the keycard out of my drenched overall pocket, stopping in front of my door. My whole body shivered when I turned around; whether it was the coldness of my wet being, or something far more dangerous, I didn’t know.
But as I leaned against the door, his flaming gaze met mine, and I just knew.
There was no way I was getting out of this without being burned.
“This is me,” I said, trying to regain some sort of control over the situation.
“Yeah.” Phoenix minimized the distance between us to brush a wet strand of hair out of my face, which he then tucked behind my ear. His fingertips felt like embers on my skin, and I caught myself sucking in a deep breath when he cupped my jaw possessively. “I know.”
His gaze was enough to melt right in front of him, but I held myself together as much as I could. “Okay. I’ll just… Go.”
I tried swiping my card over the reader to my right, but I was shaking so hard that I forced myself to look away from the thunderous man in front of me. My fingers were slippery and the card slipped right between them, but Phoenix caught it with ease.
“Need any help?” A smirk played on his lips as he presented the card in front of me, wedged between two fingers.
And I guess that was all it took — one act of dominant male behavior gave me the confidence of the woman I was.
“No,” I retorted, snatching the card from his fingers.
“Sure looked like it.” His gaze heated my skin as he watched me hover the card over the reader, which finally gave off a satisfying beep.
I walked backward, letting the door bump open with the heel of my boots. Phoenix didn’t move past the spot he occupied, right at the threshold of my room. It felt symbolical, almost, but I appreciated his distance.
“I’ll get ready for the party now.”
The way he nodded sent a few drops of water off his hair and down his face, but I didn’t miss how his gaze flicked to my lips once more. “Yeah. Okay.”
“Okay.” I cleared my throat, but the silence between us was so loud that I had a hard time concentrating on anything but him. Taking a deep breath, I took another step backward, bringing more distance between us. “I’ll see you at the party, Phoenix.”
He braced his hands on the doorframe outside, his gaze scorching and intense. “Yeah. See you there.”
When I looked at him, I saw so much of what I wanted to see, so much of what I wanted to discover, that I knew I had to tread carefully. I was in dangerous territory, and every step could mean one too far.
And so, without thinking twice, I pushed the door shut.
I wasn’t getting burned…. Yet.