Chapter 25: Hold Me
I’d spent all of Saturday negotiating contracts with Salim and Henry, who joined our conversation on speakerphone. We went all through midnight, which also meant I couldn’t stop by Florence’s room, either. It’d bothered me more than it should — but I just really wanted to feel her again.
By the time this morning had rolled around, I couldn’t wait to get my fucking hands on her. She’d been there for breakfast, but with all those people around, I knew it was a risk to go anywhere near her. Truth was, I just wanted her too fucking much.
Our little rendezvous just proved that. I still caught myself licking my lips to get a taste of the cinnamon coffee that lingered on her tongue when I’d kissed her just hours ago.
The door slamming shut behind me let me refocus on the task at hand: the contract.
“Long time no see, Phoenix,” Henry said as he entered the office, two hours late. The remainder of his grey-blonde hair was gelled but combed to the side and he wore a grey suit, looking professional as ever. I scrunched my nose from the smell of his citrus aftershave when he got closer, his hand stretched out to me. “Sorry for the delay, something came up.”
I shook his hand reluctantly, not saying anything as I scooted over with my chair to get more distance from the vacant one to my left.
“Hope you had a great flight, Henry.” Salim got up and reached out his hand as well, then gestured for him to sit down on the chair I just moved away from.
“Oh, yeah. A bit jet-lagged, but everything’s good.” He grinned a toothy grin at me and placed his briefcase on the desk, pulling out about half a dozen blue folders. “Now, let’s get down to business, shall we?”
By business, he meant an entire collection of contracts I had to read, understand, and sign. He somehow got the tech company’s sponsorship deal, which was a home run for both me and Azure Racing. They had some conditions like me being part of ads and commercials, which I didn’t exactly agree with, but I also knew there were sacrifices I had to make.
I specifically told him I’d be willing to promote their stuff lightly, but I wouldn’t be up for big productions like TV commercials. They agreed I’d mostly be on posters and short clips, so that was a relief. The whole ordeal was easier than I expected, given they’d seemed to be so reluctant beforehand.
“And there’s nothing else they wanted?” I asked, glancing over at Henry.
The grin on his lips was bright as ever as he shook his head. “Nope. I had some aces up my sleeve, but it seems like they weren’t necessary. Not yet, at least.”
Salim went quiet at the mention, and I couldn’t help but look between the two of them.
“Nothing bad, promise.” Henry laughed, though I didn’t miss the glance he shared with Salim. “And as I said, we don’t need to use them. If we do, I’ll get back to you.”
“You better tell me what they are. Now.” I was sick and tired of all those fucking games.
My manager sighed as he leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “We just gathered some info about the Williams family. But, again, we didn’t need to use it.”
That answer surprised me. I didn’t think the Williams’ had anything to hide, though I should’ve expected something like that with a man as sketchy as Sebastian. “Alright. I want to know before you use any of that shit, you got me?”
He stared at me for a long moment, but finally nodded. “Gotcha.”
We continued our talk, and a few hours into the meeting, my lawyer Tristan joined me. He’s got the contracts from Henry beforehand and looked them over, making sure my own management firm wouldn’t fuck me over.
You really couldn’t trust anyone these days.
“Alright, so,” Tristan spread the papers out in front of me. “It’s a one-year contract, pretty standard for Azure Racing and most of the other F1 teams, especially since you’re a rookie.” I nodded. “It’ll say here that any breach of contract with OnTech, your main sponsor, will allow Azure Racing to relieve you of their contract as well.”
Great. “I fuck with the sponsors, I’m gone,” I summarized.
Tristan smirked. “Basically. Now, let’s go over the exact details of both the sponsorship and the driver contract before we meet with the HR department…”
I was still brainfucked by the fact that this all went so quickly. Just two days ago, Michael offered me the seat, and now I was already signing the damn papers.
It was unusual, to say the least, but I didn’t mind enough. Henry told me he’d been talking to Michael throughout the entire season, so maybe their conversations helped to get me here. As much as I hated his guts, this idiot just knew what he had to do.
Six hours later, Henry and Tristan were deep in talk with the Azure Racing Human Resources team, making sure my contract stated everything we discussed earlier. I glanced out the window of the trailer, watching how the cars sped over the asphalt. I hadn’t even realized the race had started with how long we’d been sitting here, and I couldn’t help but get excited at the mere thought of driving that damn car in two weeks’ time.
I craned my neck when I saw one of the Azure cars go off in the second corner, hitting the wall. The driver got out of the car, luckily, and I sighed when I made out the number 17 from the distance. Lucien really had bad luck this season.
“Alright, Phoenix.” The woman who introduced herself as Melissa shot me a smile. “We’re all done. All we need is your signature.” She pushed a pile of papers in my direction, pointing at the blue tags layering on the side.
As I grabbed the pen handed to me, my brain stopped working for a moment, and I ended up just looking at the words staring back at me. This was it. Like, literally it.
I’d be driving in a Formula 1 car next season.
What the actual fuck…
“Oh, by the way,” Melissa chimed in, “That very first page is our standard confidentiality agreement. Nothing discussed in here can leave this room, not as long as we got confirmation for other drivers in the industry. We need to have our ducks in a row and cover our asses in case word gets out.” She winked.
I swallowed hard, but nodded. Add even more secrets onto the damn pile, I guess…
“Fuck yeah, Phoenix! We need to celebrate!” Salim threw his arms around my shoulders, squeezing me from the side as we walked down the hallway.
A grin spread across my lips as I nudged him back. “We will. The others are at the bar anyway, right?”
“Florence is, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Shut up.” I slapped the back of his head, but chuckled along.
“Ow, fuck.” He laughed while rubbing his head. “Okay, I just need to discuss something with Henry and then I’ll follow you to the bar, alright?”
“What do you need to discuss?” I furrowed my brows.
That sounded very important.
“Don’t lie to me, Salim.”
“I’m not lying, man. It’s not important to you, at least, okay? I’m honestly trying to help you here.” We stood in front of my room now, and he held my stare long enough to make me realize he was serious about this. “Trust me. Please.”
Trust was such a big, big word.
Florence trusted me by revealing her father’s secret to me. I trusted her as well with Mom’s issues, but I knew I never deserved her faith to begin with.
I just wanted to come clean to her, talk about everything so I could find a solution to this fucking mess I brought myself into.
“Fine,” I gave in. “I’ll take a shower and see you at the bar?”
He shot me a wink in response, watching me disappear into my room.
The shower was more for relaxation purposes than anything else, but even as I was dried and dressed again, I felt no relief from the constant weight on my chest.
It was a mixture of excitement, joy, and exhaustion. Keeping secrets from Flo has been such a pain that it even dampened what happened today.
I just signed a fucking contract.
“Fuck the contract…” I muttered, pulling out my phone. I had to talk to her. I had to tell her. I just wanted to share the news with her and see her be happy for me — it was the most beautiful thing in the world when she shared my joy.
But right as I opened our text conversation, I saw that she typed her very own message. I waited a moment, sitting on the bed, until her message came through.
We need to talk.
She added a link beneath that, and I furrowed my brows as I clicked on the page, watching it load.
My heart stopped when a picture of Florence and I appeared right at the center.
Oh no, he fucking didn’t…
“Where is he?!” I stormed through the office, instantly feeling a few dozen glances on me.
Fucking idiots thought looking would solve anything.
“I asked where the fuck he is!” My voice boomed through the space, and again, everyone just stared at me, this time while hiding behind something or shrugging like they didn’t know. Seeing that no one provided the answer I needed, I started opening doors left and right.
Salim must’ve known about this fucking publicity stunt. There was no other explanation for how anyone knew where we were and what we did.
Yeah, we’d been careless, but no one would’ve followed us if the news hadn’t gotten around already. He was the only one who suspected something between Flo and me, so this must’ve been his doing.
Or Henry’s, for that matter, but the dickhead was nowhere to be found, either.
When I couldn’t find Salim anywhere in the offices, I stalked outside and through the paddock, aiming for the bar I knew Azure Racing would have their after-race drinks at.
Pop music blasted through the speakers as I threw the door open, instantly raising yet another wave of stares on me. It was just the front of the bar who heard or saw me, though, and so I scanned the area yet again, looking for that one particular Moroccan in the crowd.
I didn’t see him — I just heard him.
His laugh came from the left of me, and as I waltzed in the direction, seeing that there was another whole area with booths in the back, I spotted him at the end of the counter leading into the new area, elbow resting on top.
And even though I knew he always looked out for the business, I couldn’t deny that it fucking hurt seeing him laughing like that when he knew he just fucked me over.
So that’s the way he wanted to celebrate?
I didn’t yell his name. I didn’t storm over to him. Instead, I took long, calculated strides until I was right next to him, waiting for him to recognize me. With my hands balled into fists, I glared at him, and only when he glanced up to meet my gaze did I remember to breathe.
“Phoenix?” he asked, still with that fucking grin on his lips. “There you are! I was beginning to think you were busy with—”
“Shut the fuck up.” I seethed. “Don’t you think you’ve pulled her into this game enough for today?!”
“What?” He blinked a few times, straightening up. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
I grabbed the phone out of my jeans pocket and unlocked it before I shoved it in his face, knowing that the damn article I’ve read about a dozen times in the last hour was still on the screen. “Don’t you?!”
His eyes widened when he read the headline, but they grew even wider with every word he registered. He even ended up with a hand on his mouth when he reached the end. “I swear, Phoenix, I didn’t—”
“Didn’t what?” I spat. “Didn’t think they’d tarnish her reputation like that?! Did you think they’d go easy on her when you fed them the fucking info?!”
“Are you insane? Do you think I’d be dumb enough to let Jeremiah Nyx’s daughter be pulled into a stunt like this? I’m not suicidal, Phoenix, and I actually try to make this team better, not destroy it.”
I stared at him. Unfortunately, what he was saying made sense. He wouldn’t let our team be associated with a stunt like this. Then again, the team wasn’t in jeopardy here. Florence was.
They painted her as the dumb rich girl who fell for the rookie. Obviously, I just wanted her for her name. A girl in this industry could only be stupid, right? God. It was infuriating.
“Then who the fuck did this?!” I snapped the phone back out of his hands.
“I don’t…” Salim started, but then his eyes widened. “Fuck. That motherfucker…” he muttered. “I told him not to go after the two of you.”
I reeled back a step, realizing who he was talking about. “Henry?! You fucking told him? Is that what you discussed with him earlier?” My body moved on its own when I walked straight into Salim’s face, leaving merely an inch between us.
“No, it’s not like that. You have to under—”
“Have to what? Understand that you told him about her when that’s exactly what I didn’t want you to do? I told you to stay the fuck away from her, goddamnit!”
Salim got up from his bar stool and leaned forward, challenging me as if I was the one who did something wrong here. “You need to calm down and let me explain, Phoenix. Don’t repeat past mistakes.”
His voice was calm but enraged, and I could tell he was trying hard to hold himself back. I studied the man I called a friend for a long time, figuring out what the hell I was supposed to do now. But as I looked at him, I felt worse and worse about myself, about him, about everything else in my damn career. “You fucking knew, Salim.”
“I didn’t know, Phoenix. I just told him it’d be a possibility to explore if we had no other options.” All I heard was him digging his own grave. “Phoenix, this is your time now. You need to think. Who knows what will even happen between you and her?” My hands were itching to be thrown into his face. I curled my fingers open and closed, trying to keep them from moving forward. “It’s not like you two have that big of a chance, to begin with.”
That was it.
That was the last fucking straw, and he knew it.
Salim moved backward the second he looked at me properly. I was guessing he saw what he did back then, that fucking one fateful day. My feet moved forward with him and pushed him against the wall, where we were now standing face to face, with nowhere to go for him.
While my fist got ready to strike, I just took a long moment to look at him, to fully look at my friend — well, fuck that. He wasn’t my friend anymore, probably never had been. And the longer I looked into his eyes, the more agitated I became. He betrayed me. He pulled the damn trigger himself.
It was time for him to pay.
I lifted my arm, and I could tell Salim already knew what was coming for him. But before I could even aim at him, my hand got pulled back.
“Phoenix. Don’t.” I didn’t have to look to know who it was. Her voice had already become so familiar to me, and the sensation of her skin on my own was what I’d been missing all fucking day.
“Stay out of it,” I groaned, pulling my hand back. She didn’t let me, though. Her fingers tightly wrapped around my wrist, which she then pulled down to my side.
“No, I won’t. I’m not watching you destroy your career now.” Determination was audible in her voice and I felt it with the tight grip she had on me, like it wasn’t even an option for me to do what I needed to.
“I don’t care.”
Flo huffed. “Yeah, but I fucking do, Phoenix.”
It took a moment for her words to sink in. I turned around the second they did.
There wasn’t much I could say to her. I didn’t even deserve a second of her attention with the shit I’d been hiding behind her back. And yet, here she was, standing up for me like the damn warrior she was, telling me she cared about me.
Her fingers dug into my fist and I opened them in response, letting her take my hand in her own as she just stared at me. Something sparkled in her green-blue eyes, an intensity and understanding I didn’t think I’d ever see in anyone suddenly reaching her gaze.
“Salim, I suggest you leave now,” she said without looking away from me.
I could feel how his stare flicked between the two of us before he finally muttered, “Fuck… Flo, believe me, I didn’t—”
“Shut up.” Her head whipped around, glaring at Salim. “Out of professional courtesy, I will not throw my fist in your face. But I swear to god I do not want to hear from you for the rest of my internship. Get someone else to do your work, or fire me, I don’t give a damn. Just don’t get anywhere near me. Do you understand?!”
Silence wrapped around the generic pop song playing in the background, and I could basically tell how hard he must’ve been looking at her. Florence always knew to defend herself, but never in my life did I think she’d say something like that to the man who got her this internship, to begin with.
Then again, he’s the reason her name got dragged through the mud like that.
He really deserved a punch in the face.
“I asked, do you understand?” she repeated herself, closing the distance between him and her, all while holding on to me.
Finally, Salim heaved a sigh. “Yeah. Sorry. I’ll leave…”
Flo watched him shuffle out of the bar, but all I could do was stare at her, trying my hardest to find the right thing to say. Only when the door fell shut did her gaze meet my own again, and when I noticed the rage in her eyes, I really wanted her to take it out on me.
That’d make things easier, right? I wouldn’t have to come clean about everything if she just hated me right now.
“Are you okay?” she questioned instead, and I loathed myself even more.
“I should ask you that, Florence…” My hand worked on its own when it found its way to her cheek, where my thumb drew circles on her skin.
Usually, we’d both glance around, making sure we’re hidden from curious stares. But right now, especially with everything being out in the open, I couldn’t give a damn.
She shook her head, the fire in her eyes now veiled beneath a watery curtain. I hated it. I fucking despised seeing her like that. It wasn’t her. “No, not really.”
“Fuck…” I muttered. “I’m sorry, Flo. I—”
“What?” she interjected. “It’s not your fault.”
“No, it’s not. I heard most of your conversation. I think I know what happened, so don’t put it on you now.”
A sigh fled my lips when I realized she wouldn’t end up hating me tonight, at least not on her own. Fuck. Never thought that was something I’d wish for…
“You don’t know,” I corrected her. “You don’t, Flo. It’s so much more, I can’t even explain it all, it’s so much—”
“I don’t want to hear that right now, honestly.” She sighed and surprised the hell out of me when her arms wrapped around my torso, pulling me into a hug that differed from anything I’d ever experienced. I mirrored the motion and embraced her tightly, letting myself feel every inch of our connected bodies. “Can we just go somewhere and lie down in silence? I’ve had enough words for today.”
It was unlike her to run away from things like that. Unlike her to not face the storm brewing in front of her.
“Are you sure?” I asked, hating myself even more, but she just tightened her arms around me.
“Yeah. When I wake up tomorrow, there’ll be a dozen hurricanes I’ll have to unravel. I at least want tonight. There’s nothing I can do right now, anyway.”
I hated that I put her in this position. I hated that being with me meant she’d have to fight her way out of a mess she didn’t even create herself. She’d always been so clear about her priorities, that she needed to focus on her career more than anything else.
It was incredibly selfish of me to sabotage that, even if this article wasn’t my idea at all. Quite the opposite, actually.
But as she glanced up at me, her green-blue eyes still holding a fire that would always burn me alive, even when it became as dim as it was right now, I knew that it’d be even more selfish if I didn’t give her this night.
One night. One peaceful night. It was all she asked for.
“Alright. Let’s go.” I pulled her out of the bar, not caring anymore about who was staring at us or not.
Florence just flipped the bird to the oglers, even those who ended up passing us on the way back to the hotel. Her fingers were tightly interlaced with my own, even when we found our way to my door, which I then unlocked with one hand.
Closing the door behind me, I slipped out of our shoes and watched how Florence glanced around the room before her hand left my own. “What are you looking for?” I asked, raising a brow as I sat on the edge of the bed.
She didn’t respond, though. Instead, she opened the closet next to the window and searched through it before she finally held one of my shirts and boxers in her hand. “I need to get out of these clothes…”
My eyes widened when she walked across the room, her heavy work pants scuffing over the ground. I had no idea how long I was sitting like that, but when she came back out, I almost felt my jaw hit the floor.
Even though there’s not really a height difference between us, my black shirt extended over her hips, connecting to the grey loose shorts she wore at the bottom. I had to swallow from the sight; She really didn’t know just how difficult she made things for me, sometimes…
“Creep,” she quipped with a smirk on her lips. I loved seeing her smile again, especially after tonight’s disaster.
Watching how she approached me, I couldn’t help my own grin when she stopped right in front of me. “Can’t help it…”
The smirk on her lips broadened as she lifted her legs, letting her knees frame my hips while she straddled me. “I like it when you look,” she whispered sheepishly.
“I know.” My hand found their way around her back, and for a second I forgot all about the mountain of sorrow in my heart. For a second, it was just her skin beneath my fingertips, her warm hands in my hair.
The longing in her eyes hurt so fucking much, because I knew exactly what she felt. It wasn’t enough contact, no matter how close we were.
“Kiss me,” she commanded, angling my head by gently pulling my hair. I was already so close to losing my grip on reality, and kissing her would definitely destroy any plans I had on coming clean to her. I knew that.
But the way she looked at me told me I had no choice. It was her I wanted, after all.
I reached behind her back and grasped her neck before I pulled her toward me, letting our lips collide. She gasped into the kiss before pushing me over, leaving me beneath her on the mattress as she steadied herself with her hands next to my head. Our kisses were urgent, hot, and full of desire I had no idea how to contain. It was like we both knew things would change after tonight, that after this there’d be a truckload of issues we’d have to deal with.
It was the calm before the storm, even though an earthquake of passion rippled through both of us. I felt every inch of her being when her hand slipped beneath my shirt, almost making me groan from the sensation of her soft fingers on my skin.
“Flo…” I warned, but she didn’t listen. She just grabbed the hem of my shirt and pulled it up, nudging me to follow her motion. Raising my arms and sitting back up, I let her pull it over my head and then throw it on the ground.
Her fingers roamed over my skin, and she watched every move she made almost rhythmically. When her gaze met my own again, I pulled her closer to me, and I felt her thundering heart thrum right against my own. “You’re beautiful, you know that?” she whispered, running her fingers through my hair.
My heart soared at her words. Not because I didn’t know I looked good, but because she said it with a confidence that was unmatched to anything I’d ever seen. The fact that I knew she was a terrible liar only added on to said effect.
“And you’re absolutely breathtaking, Florence.”
I ran my fingers over her cheeks when they filled with color, and as her lips twitched into a smile, I found myself falling even deeper for her.
Then she kissed me again, deep and hard. She tried to push me over once more, and we became a wrestling mess of entangled limbs, fiery touches, and feverish kisses. I breathed her in, tried to savor all of her as best as I could for as long as she wanted me to.
Because that’s just it. I’d do whatever she asked of me, no doubt. She had that control over me, and she probably wasn’t even aware.
I didn’t know how long we lost ourselves in each other, but after a while we ended up beneath the covers, with her head resting on my bare chest. Her fingers drew circles on my skin, and I was sure she must’ve heard the thundering heart in my chest the second she touched it. My hand glided over her back, trying to calm her the only way I knew how to: With my touch.
When she sighed, I couldn’t help but press a kiss on her head, combing back her dark hair. “What are you thinking?” I asked.
The movement on my chest stopped, and she put her flat palm on my skin, studying her dark fingernails. “I don’t know,” she admitted, swiftly glancing up at me before she focused back on her hands. “I think I disappointed a lot of people today.”
“How?” I didn’t want to know the answer, but I had to. If being with me with was a disappointment, then I had no business being here, anyway.
“Not like that.” She must’ve read my mind, her eyes now piercing into my own. As intense as her gaze was, it calmed my soul in the most pleasurable of ways. “I just wanted my dad to have a quiet last season, where the focus was mainly on him, not on his daughter who was fighting for her career…”
And again, the guilt crushed me.
She placed her hand on my mouth. “Don’t. Please. I know I said we need to talk about it, and we will, but…” A sigh fled her lips. “I don’t run from my problems, Phoenix. But right now, I just want you to hold me. Let the storm come our way tomorrow.”
I said it before… I’d do what she asked of me.
But as she leaned into me and let me hold her as tightly as I could, trying to give her as much warmth as possible, I wondered.
Maybe this time I shouldn’t have listened to her.
Maybe, just maybe, if I’d just defied her for once, things would’ve gone differently.
Dun dun dun! I know, you hate the foreshadowing. I apologize! I really do. I feel horrible just writing this chapter...
Hope you’re all hanging in there, though.
Lots of love!