Chapter 22: Recharged
“God, what a race...” Felipe plopped down on the chair next to me, his freshly showered self still looking exhausted as hell. “I need a beer. And then like twenty hours of sleep.”
And even though I wasn’t the one driving that day, I understood his predicament. Silverstone turned out to be tumultuous, to say the least. With a system failure shortly before the race, the entire garage focused on Felipe’s car and how to fix it. We got it back on the grid in time for the start, but Felipe had to race without a sixth and seventh gear, meaning he needed to work hard to not let the engine overheat when he got a better pace.
He only finished ninth, but with an issue like this, it was truly a miracle he saw the checkered flag without damaging the car.
A server brought the drinks to our table, and Felipe, Connor, Viola, Jin, and I all clinked our glasses, quietly celebrating this small victory.
“You deserve it. Cheers to you, Mr. Gonzalez,” I quipped, holding up my ginger ale.
“Thank you, Ms. Nyx.” He laughed in response and took a large gulp of his beer, then leaned back in his chair. “God, that’s good.”
Connor and Viola nodded in agreement, both holding up some weird cocktail that neither looked nor smelled enjoyable.
“I needed this, too.” Viola sighed, and even though we weren’t particularly close ever since that fateful night, I wondered what exactly had her so worked up. Lucien’s race was rather quiet, so I couldn’t see where she’d have to work more than usual.
The conversation flowed easily as we discussed today’s race and what would wait for us next week. Michael would probably be out of his mind, with us visiting Germany and all. He’d been hyped up all week already, telling everyone how excited he was to show us his home country. He was a sweetheart.
“So, Flo,” Connor addressed me cautiously, almost like he was waiting for me to correct him to use my full name. I didn’t, though. With everything going on, Connor was the least of my worries, and truth be told... He stepped up. Like, a lot. There was no use in setting him straight when he really tried to be better. “Has Salim talked to you about the revision meeting?”
“Revision meeting?” I raised a brow. “We have about three more weeks left, so when’s that supposed to be?”
“Oh, you didn’t know?” He blinked a few times, and even though I couldn’t have known, I wasn’t surprised by what he said next. “My dad told me they wanted some feedback two weeks before our last day. Meaning... Thursday coming week.”
Of course his father would try and jeopardize my life. No surprise there.
“I’m surprised it hasn’t been brought to my attention before,” I voiced my concerns, not caring about what it made me look like. Connor knew I wouldn’t treat him any differently for his father’s connection, unlike many others here. We were in the same boat, in that matter, and he was the last person I’d hold myself back with.
“I am too, honestly,” he replied with a sigh. And even though Connor could be a grade-a dick, I believed him. This wasn’t his style, and to be fair... He didn’t have the balls to think of a move like that. “We can just get together tomorrow and talk things through, just to make sure we’re on the same page? We were supposed to work together, after all...”
Something deep inside told me not to trust him, but I shot him a smile, nonetheless. He didn’t need to know what went on inside my head. And, in the end, he was right. We were supposed to work together. “That’d be great, thanks.”
Yeah, I was a terrible liar. But the last person who’d know how to read me was Connor, that much I was sure of.
With the conversation steering away from the internship and toward today’s race, I focused on my surroundings more than the talk. It was rather late and we already had our post-race meeting, so my body was allowing itself to get some rest.
It must’ve been obvious that I scanned the area for someone in particular. I’d seen him at breakfast this morning, but the place was crowded and we barely got to talk, so I’d been looking forward to tonight, just to get more time with him.
Fuck. Was I actively seeking his attention?
This was really going fast.
Truth was, I couldn’t stop thinking about him, trying to figure him out. Yeah, objectively, we barely knew each other. But he just had a pull on me I didn’t understand, and I didn’t have a choice but to give in.
Besides that... we were in the racing industry, so we’d ruin our names if we did anything half-assed, right?
And as if the universe knew how to prove my point, something I caught from the corner of my eye distracted me from the thought-race of my mind.
Phoenix leaned against the door frame with his arms crossed, gaze set straight on me. I had the feeling he’d been standing there a while, even though I hadn’t seen him before. The look on his face told me he didn’t want to join our group, which wasn’t exactly unusual, and yet I shot him a smile while nodding gently to my side, gesturing for him to sit down.
His glance fell on the chairs around me, and I could basically see how he tensed at Connor’s sight. But then he looked back at me, and something in his eyes just told me he’d give in, even if he didn’t know it yet.
A few short moments later, my intuition proved to be right, because Phoenix slowly made his way over to us. I scooted over, leaving some room between Felipe and me to let him sit, and he pulled up a chair just a few moments later.
The second he sat down next to me, closer than usual and closer than what would be appropriate, I knew something was up. His eyes had always been stormy, but today they held an entire hurricane of emotions, one that made my heart ache.
“Are you okay?” I whispered, not even caring if anyone heard us or not.
He shot me a thin smile and nodded before leaning back in his chair, instantly avoiding my gaze. From the way he was acting, one could’ve thought he was mad at me, or just pissed in general, but when he inched closer to the table and took his hand in mine, I knew he was just misunderstood.
Phoenix was complicated as hell. It was part of what made him so interesting. And yes, I knew that was unhealthy, dumb, and probably showed a lot about my own character. But I didn’t care — I was drawn to him like a moth to the flame, and as we already established... I longed for the fire.
Without saying much more, I rejoined the conversation, trying my hardest to cover up anything that happened beneath the large wooden table.
Phoenix barely said a word, and mostly responded with nods or shakes of his head when someone asked a question, but people didn’t seem to pick up on that. It was his usual behavior, after all.
“So, Flo, I’ll head up to bed soon. When do you want to meet up tomorrow?” Connor glanced over at us, and I was glad as hell that I just put some distance between the dark-haired mystery to my right and me.
Phoenix didn’t seem to like that, though, his fingers suddenly tightening around my own.
“Um, I don’t know?” I cleared my throat. “For lunch? We’ll leave after that, anyway...”
“Sounds good to me.” Connor shot up from his chair, and I quickly removed my hand from Phoenix’s, much to his dismay. If looks could’ve killed... Well, I’d definitely be six feet under.
“See you tomorrow, then!” Connor’s sing-song voice made me focus back on him, and I gave him a little wave.
“See you tomorrow.”
Phoenix watched Connor walk off, and the second he left the bar, his gaze fell back on me. I couldn’t quite tell what he was thinking, his entire being was so turbulent that I had a hard time catching my breath.
Luckily, the conversation around the table went back to business, and we were disregarded enough to not raise any suspicion.
“Is your battery running low?” I whispered, still glancing around the table with a smile. I just had to know what was going on in his head.
His confusion made me glance over at him, and from the display of exhaustion in his eyes, I just knew I was right.
“Your social battery. You know, that thing that tells you when you need to rest? Too much social interaction drains it,” I clarified with a smile.
He blinked a few times, pondering over my words. “I think it’s pretty much in the negatives right now.”
My heart soared at the fact that he was so open with me about things. Looking back to how he behaved just a few weeks ago, this was a whole new milestone. “Well,” I cleared my throat. “If you want to recharge, you need to do some self-care. Do things you love that make you feel better.”
Exhaustion turned into curiosity as his eyes skimmed my face for a moment that was almost too long to handle, but then he finally cracked a smile himself and leaned in. My gaze fell on the others around us, but they were still deep in conversation about the right configuration for the rear wing during the next race.
I could feel his breath on my neck before he spoke, but the words leaving his lips had a much more potent effect. “Does being alone with you qualify as self-care?”
My heart thundered from the weight of his words, but I couldn’t stop the smirk on my lips as I turned to face him again. We were close — too close —, and I fought the urge to just eliminate the distance between us. “If that’s what you want.”
The smile remained on his lips, but every pore of his being told me he was dead serious when he whispered in response, “What I want is to kiss you senseless right now, but I can’t do that here, can I?”
I shook my head, scrambling for the right words. That didn’t happen to me. Never.
“Your room.” I swallowed hard. “You go first.”
That’s all it took; Phoenix jumped from his chair and disappeared, just like that. The others didn’t seem too bothered by his lack of a goodbye — again, it was just too much like him to notice.
I stuck around for another excruciatingly long five minutes before I said goodnight, heading straight for the elevator. But as I got there, the tall, dark man who stole my dreams stood right in front of it, watching how a large group of people got off. They apologized profusely for taking so long, but Phoenix didn’t seem to care enough to respond.
He just stepped in when the family got off, but as he clicked the button and turned around, his gaze fell on me. For a second it was like time stood still; only when the doors threatened to close on him did we jump out of our trance.
Phoenix pushed the door back open, practically begging me to join him, and so I did. Jogging over to him, I slipped through the still open doors, and stumbled into his arms. His hands found my hips, and we both waited for the doors to close so we could—
And then he kissed me.
It was rough, determined, and laced with so much energy that I had a hard time catching my breath. My back hit the doors as he started his attack on my senses, and there was nothing I could do — nothing I wanted to do — that could stop him.
All I wanted was to return the favor, and soon we were a wrestling mess of limbs and hot, feverish kisses. His lips left my own and traced a path down my jaw, and I craned my neck to give him more access, to let me feel more...
I opened my eyes and saw us in the mirroring wall; my cheeks crimson and my eyes glassy from desire. It was a sight I wasn’t used to, one that almost startled me, and yet it just intensified the entire experience.
“Phoenix...” I whispered as I spotted the display to my right. “We’re almost there—”
And then he kissed me again, rough and hard. It was just for a second, short enough for us to be safe from the threat of the opened doors behind me, but I could practically feel my heart burst out of my chest from that kiss alone.
We were both breathing heavily, just drinking each other in, until the ding of the doors brought me back to reality. I stepped away from him, leaving enough space for reasonable doubt, although it was obvious where I belonged from the mere sight of our disheveled appearances.
Luckily, the floor was empty as we got out, and within a few steps we could disappear into Phoenix’s room. He flicked on the lights while I kicked the door shut, and only now did I see just how stormy he looked, his hair all over the place while his face screamed desire.
I stepped toward him and he mirrored the gesture, leaving the two of us standing just inches apart. He raked a hand through my hair and let his musing gaze follow the almost rhythmical motion.
And since there was nothing I could or wanted to do apart from feeling him, that’s what I did. My hands found his hips and I pushed him backward, letting him stumble into the bed right behind him. The obstacle made his gaze focus back on mine, but I didn’t waste much time before I pushed him over, jumped out of my sneakers, and straddled him.
The way he observed me made my skin tingle, and when he moved his hand to brush his thumb over my cheek, I gave his palm a kiss.
We didn’t say a word, and yet it felt like he talked to me, like he opened himself up simply by looking at me the way he did. That feeling only intensified when he sat up, one arm on my back now protecting my stance. He brushed some hair behind my ear and left his hand on my jaw, securing me in place.
“What the hell are we doing?” he asked in a whisper, his gaze pensive and calm.
“I don’t know. I just know I want it...”
It became hard to breathe with how thick the tension got between us, and yet I couldn’t have wished for anything else. This was a thrill unlike anything I’d experienced, and I was already addicted.
“There’s so much we need to discuss, Flo.”
“I know.” I nodded while running my hands through his hair. He closed his eyes in response, and I repeated my motion, giving him this moment until I added, “We have a lot to talk about.”
That was an understatement.
This, whatever it was we were doing, came with so many complications and conditions that it was hard to even name them. If we seriously wanted more than playful, stolen kisses, we’d have to have a conversation about it, as unromantic as that sounded.
He finally opened his eyes, and through all the outward hostility, the rage and anger, I just saw a man who was absolutely scared and tired. Of what? I didn’t know, it just became more and more obvious that Phoenix McCoy had a whole ocean of layers deep inside that murky facade.
“Do we have to do it today?”
I shook my head. “No. Recharge your battery first.”
A crooked smirk played on his lips, and he tightened his grip on my hair as he whispered, “That’s a great idea.”
And even though I expected it, he once again stole my breath when he kissed me deeply, leaving barely an inch between the two of us. This kiss was different, even though more intense than before. It felt like he wanted to tell me something, and with every stroke of his hand on my back, with every collision of our lips, I felt closer and closer to him.
Dangerously close, even.
But, as we learned... I lived for the danger, the fire that burned deep in my heart.
And with someone as igniting as him, I was only waiting to burn myself.
I woke up rested, but my entire body felt heavy, somehow.
Opening my eyes, I glanced around the room, and suddenly realized why my body felt like I laid under a rock.
Because I did.
Phoenix had his arm draped over me, locking me in place. His dark hair was all over the place, but I didn’t feel the need to brush it back in place. I liked the chaos he carried with him, the liveliness of a storm that just waited to wreak havoc on my life.
I’d been used to people looking peaceful when they slept, but Phoenix proved yet again that he wasn’t part of the norm. Even in his sleep the hurricane of his character was alive as ever, every inch of him emanating the energy I was missing in him yesterday.
“You’re a creep,” he muttered, slowly opening an eye.
“That’s my line.”
“Well, you’re watching me sleep, so I’m stealing it. Creep.”
I couldn’t help the smile on my lips. “You’re a weirdo.”
“Ditto, Nyx.” He finally opened both eyes and propped himself up on his elbow, restlessness still written on his features. “What time is it?”
I glanced at the phone on my nightstand, although I knew my inner clock worked perfectly (well, except for that one time...) “Five thirty.”
A yawn fled his lips. “And we’re awake because...”
“...because I need to get ready. I have a busy day.”
He narrowed his eyes at me. “With Connor?”
“Yup, with Connor. It’s intern stuff.”
“I’m part of the intern program, too.”
“Phoenix...” I raised a brow at the infuriating man next to me. His facial expression didn’t change, he just stared at me with an unimpressed glimmer in his eyes. I almost gasped when I realized what was going on, the grin on my lips now broadening. “Are you jealous of Connor Williams?”
Considering that we were nowhere near putting labels on whatever we were, he had neither the right nor a reason to be jealous of Connor. I couldn’t deny that it was cute, though.
Not something I thought I’d say about him anytime soon. Or ever.
And I knew Phoenix loved acting tough, but beneath that steely surface of his, I was sure to see a hint of a blush in his cheeks. “You know why I don’t like him.”
“The guy’s not his dad, and honestly... He’s not as bad as he seems. I don’t trust him, but he’s really just naive as hell,” I tried to calm him.
Uncertainty crossed his features, but it vanished as quickly as it appeared. “Yeah, I just don’t get why I can’t join you.”
“Don’t you have other stuff to do? Work in the simulator, or talk to your agent or something?” I knew Phoenix worked on getting a spot in F1. I wasn’t stupid, after all. But I had no idea how he wanted to do it, and which team he was aiming for. Sure, Azure Racing would be the logical choice, given his past, but those spots didn’t come as easily as it may have seemed on TV. It was hard work and dedication, both were things I’d seen in him before, too.
“Besides,” I broke the silence when he didn’t say much, just stared at me with an uncomfortable look on his face, “I already told Connor I had no interest in him. Just FYI.”
Just like that, the discomfort vanished from his face, and instead a bright smile played on his lips. “I know.”
He looked like I caught him cheating on a test, but his smile told me he didn’t mind. “Yeah. I heard.”
“I have my sources.”
“Of course you do.” I rolled my eyes and attempted to get out of bed, but Phoenix held me in place, suddenly staring me down with his intense gaze.
“Don’t go yet,” he whispered, his eyes pleading but confident.
On a normal day, I was the best at reading people. Mom always said she was scared of my ability to know what she felt at whatever given moment. I was an empath through and through.
But on a day where I woke up next to Phoenix McCoy, those abilities seemed to have evaporated into thin air.
Because I didn’t know what he thought, felt, or wanted. I knew there was more to him than met the eye, and I knew he was a lot kinder than he made himself out to be, but in the end... He remained a mystery.
“Have you talked to your mom yet?” I asked, suddenly remembering our conversation two days ago.
“I have. It’s complicated, though...”
“No need to talk about it now. You owe me dinner,” I reminded him. “We can talk about it then, if you’d like.”
His brows furrowed as he seemingly thought hard about that suggestion. “Friday after Practice. We’ll have some German potato salad.”
A laugh fled my lips. “No Bratwurst?”
“Huh.” I chuckled. Not what I expected, but fuck. It made him even more alluring. “Same.”
I raised a brow at him. “Why?”
He shrugged in response before reaching over, his index and thumb now capturing my chin. “’Cause you’re smart.”
“Good observation.” The grin on my lips was unstoppable. This guy has learned a thing or two since we met. “Alright. Potato salad it is, then.”
Almost a whole week until that day seemed like a long while, but I knew neither of us had the time or energy before that. Especially now that the intern stuff would take some as well, my week was fully booked. Formula 1 wasn’t just hectic on the track, it was the same outside of it.
Besides that, this also gave me time to discuss things with Dad. He wanted to tell Mom this week, which meant he’d tell the media shortly after that. Maybe, just maybe... I could share the news with Phoenix. Something within me wanted to hear his opinion about things, but I’d wait until I figured out how the talk with his mom went.
One thing was clear: I was looking forward to spending time with him, especially in a rather normal setting.
Well, as normal as it could get.
Because I had a feeling nothing about the two of us normal, not that I wanted it to be.
This man was pure chaos, after all.