Chasing Lights

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Chapter 38: Control

Phoenix

The Australian weekend had always been special. It was the first session of the season, after all.

Teams and fans had been waiting for months to finally get a glimpse at the new car, the new drivers, and the new possibilities. That’s also why this weekend’s practice session was one of the most intriguing. It was the first time we could compare ourselves to the other teams.

Considering our testing days hadn’t gone as well as I’d liked, the entire team knew it was crucial for us to sort things out in the next two days.

No pressure or anything.

My phone rang, making me glance at the screen on the breakfast table. I read the name and instantly silenced it, ignoring Idir’s disapproving stare that bore into my skull.

“How are you feeling today?” His question made me look up. He chewed on a chicken sandwich with a raised brow, waiting for my response.

“Sore,” I responded while circling my neck, letting the vertebrae snap back in place. A shudder ran down my spine, and I shook out the sensitive feeling by straightening myself up. “The car’s been a bitch to me.”

He nodded, letting my change of topic go by unnoticed. “Yeah, I could see that. The practice sessions yesterday didn’t seem very promising.”

“No, they didn’t...”

I hated to even think it, but he was right. The car was a damn nightmare right now, even Felipe agreed to that. With the understeer, you had to put a lot of effort into every movement of the steering wheel, and you felt every damn corner like someone slammed right into you. The G-forces in place in a car like this took a toll on your body, hence why every muscle felt like it was on fire.

“That guy seems familiar,” Idir interrupted my thoughts, nodding to the other end of the hotel restaurant.

I followed his gaze, watching how a man with caramel hair and an attitude you could smell from miles away marched into the room. A tall redhead stuck to his side, glancing around like she was actively looking for someone.

He was right; I felt like I’d seen the man before, though I couldn’t tell where. All I knew was that he had one of those faces you just wanted to punch into.

“Oh, look!” The redhead shamelessly pointed in our direction, and the man followed her gaze. A grin broke out on his lips when she took his hand and marched over to us, and I instantly turned around, somehow hoping I’d disappear like that.

I hated when fans approached me out in the open.

“That’s why I don’t go out to eat,” I muttered, shaking my head at Idir. It was his idea to come here, after all.

He didn’t seem to mind, though, his grin directed at the people who now approached us.

“Are you Phoenix McCoy?” the woman asked, but I kept focusing on the blueberry yogurt in front of me.

Don’t engage, and they’ll leave.

That’s how it usually worked, at least. This time, however, the silence stretched forever until Idir kicked my leg, obviously asking me to answer them. I shot him a quick glare and shook my head — no way in hell would I start a conversation after the day I’d had.

“Dude, she asked you a question,” the guy chimed in now, but gasped a second later. “Ow! Don’t pinch me!”

From the corner of my eye, I saw the redhead scowling at him. “Then shut up. I’ll make him talk if I want to.”

“But he’s being rude.”

“And you’re undermining my authority,” the woman fired back.

“Venus, there’s no authority to undermine here. You’re—” She pinched him again. “Ow, what the fuck? Stop!”

“Stop interrupting me. I want to—”

“For fuck’s sake...” I muttered, dropping the spoon in my bowl before I looked up at them. “What is it?”

The redhead met my gaze, her blue eyes blinking wildly as she studied me up and down. There was nothing suggestive about the way she looked at me; it was almost scientific, like she was trying to rate my appearance.

“Damn, you really are rude.” She shook her head with a smirk. “But you look hotter in real life than you do in that weird picture at the top of your garage, Phoenix McCoy."

I didn’t like the way my name sounded on her lips — like a weapon she was getting ready to fire. Who the fuck were these people?

“Oh, you’re Kilian Rogers.” Idir seemed to have read my mind. I glanced over at him, furrowing my brows in question when he met my glance. “Wide receiver for the Saints,” he explained, and the penny dropped.

Unlike Idir, I wasn’t much of a football fan. I’d watched a few games with him, just to make him shut up about me not getting out enough, and it worked. Those games usually involved Idir screaming at the TV while I sat in silence and wondered what the hell I was even doing with my life — so nothing new.

The star-struck expression on Idir’s face made me hide a smirk, though. For someone who’d been around a bunch of celebrities, he surely didn’t know how to hide his excitement.

“That would be me,” the guy confirmed with a wide grin, stretching out his hand to Idir. “Kilian fucking Rogers. Nice to meet you.”

“Idir Owusu,” he responded while shaking the man’s hand, who then released it to wave to the woman next to him.

“That’s my wife, Jas—”

“Jasmine Watson.” She shot her husband a glare before stretching her hand out to Idir, who shook it with another smile.

“Nice to meet you.” He nodded, glancing over at me. Silence filled the atmosphere as they released their handshakes, all three of them waiting for me to say something, yet again.

People didn’t understand that a huge part of being a race driver was being mentally prepared for the day. With only one last practice session in two hours, my nerves were on high-alert, especially with the disaster of a car waiting for me. There was no way Qualifying could go well this afternoon if the car kept behaving the way it did, and I didn’t need strangers to add to my frustration by pestering me about things I didn’t care about.

“Uh, this is Phoenix,” Idir finally responded for me, his gaze disapproving but empathetic. He’d known me for a decade now and knew how I felt about situations like these. After all, he was my personal assistant as much as he was my physical therapist. “Excuse us, it’s been a rough few days,” he explained. In my eyes, he didn’t have to make excuses for my behavior, but he kept insisting it wasn’t normal.

“Normal” was a human-invented construct to make those who fall out of line feel like outcasts. I didn’t need to apply to that, nor did I have to apologize for being anything but binary.

The couple nodded, still unabashedly gaping at me. It was like they were trying to provoke me with the way they watched my every move.

“Staring doesn’t help,” I muttered, not even looking up at them.

“Neither does being rude.” The woman’s statement made me glance up at them. Her curious gaze was replaced by a frustrated but amused one, eyebrow raised in defiance.

There were tons of things I wanted to say to this strange woman. She shortened my fuse, and with one more comment, she might just make me go off, but I reeled myself in. I couldn’t afford to lose my temper right before an important session.

“Alright, thanks for saying hi, but we really need to go,” Idir interrupted our exchange, a worried gaze set on me before he glanced over at the couple. It was nice to meet you. Enjoy your time here.”

I got up without a word, squeezed past the couple, and waltzed out of the restaurant. Idir caught up with me quickly, his disapproving glare burning into my skull.

“You know, it wouldn’t hurt if you stopped acting like a dickhead from time to time.”

Ignoring his complaints, I stopped in front of the elevator, pressing the button. “I’m already on edge,” I responded, watching how the numbers on the display climbed down.

“I know you are, but you need to calm down. You can’t be this irritated during the practice session.”

Easier said than done. Way, way easier said than done.

Not only did I have to deal with a terrible car, I also had to live with the fact that Liam Drexler, of all people, was lurking around the corner, waiting to make some stupid remark to set me off. It’d work, too, probably.

And like the universe wanted to mock me, my ringtone echoed through the lobby once more, letting the phone in my pocket vibrate. I pulled it out with a sigh, noticed the name on the screen, and put it on silent.

I didn’t need that right now.

“Phoenix, don’t you think—”

“Don’t.” I shot him a swift glare. This wasn’t the time to talk about it, and he knew that.

Idir nodded, following my gaze until the door opened for us. “We have to talk about it, though. You can’t run—”

“Please.” I glanced over at him as the door opened. “Just don’t. Not now.”

We entered the elevator, and he stared at me for a long moment, reading my mood. I could tell he wanted to say more, but was relieved when he finally took a deep breath and pressed the button for our floor. “Fine. Not now.”

Or not ever, I added in thought.

Good thing I was still a great liar...Florence

Adrenaline and exasperation ran through my veins. The past days had been the most frustrating I’d had in a while, and even though this morning’s practice session had been a tad better than yesterday’s, I didn’t get my hopes up for Qualifying.

When I’d started this job, my goal was to win a championship. Not to pray our car would get in the top ten...

Qualifying was divided into three parts: Q1, Q2, and Q3. The five slowest cars would stop in Q1, while the fifteen others would continue in Q2, until the five slowest of that session would have to stop, too. What’s left was ten cars in Q3, fighting for their position on the track.

Right now, I was staring at the screen, watching how my brother’s green car sped around the corners during Q1. It’s looking great for him; he was currently in fifth position, and if the others didn’t speed up exponentially, he’d slip into Q2 with no issues.

Our cars, on the other hand... Well, it didn’t look good.

“I don’t know how to keep this son of a bitch on track,” Felipe cursed through the radio, and I pinched the bridge of my nose, inhaling a deep breath. I’d worked so damn hard on fixing the issues that showed during testing, but nothing seemed to help.

Our entire team of race engineers and mechanics was clueless why it was so damn hard to fix this car up. The data from the simulator was so different from what we saw on track that it was hard to pinpoint the exact issue. Usually, we could replicate the issues we had on track and see how the simulator responded to it, helping us find solutions without actually having to disassemble the entire car.

“This isn’t working,” Phoenix’s voice rang through my headphones now. “The car is undriveable.”

Standing between Alain and Chris, Felipe’s and Phoenix’s race engineers, I could only stare at the small screen in the pit wall as Q1 came to an end. There was nothing I could say that would make this situation any better.

MCC — short for McCoy — finished at position 16.

GON — Felipe Gonzalez — at P18.

NYX — my brother — entered Q2 at P12.

And I swear I was happy for him. I really was.

But fuck, was I devastated at our own results.

Watching how the cars drove into the pit lane, I felt the anxiety knot in my stomach. This was the last thing I wanted to happen on our debut weekend. It must’ve been one of the worst results Azure Racing had ever had, and I was the one leading this entire mechanical team. How the fuck did that happen?

“We’ll have a meeting in thirty where we can go over the data, figure out what’s causing this,” I said without looking at anyone, tuning the radio so our mechanical and engineering team would hear me.

Multiple ′copy’s muttered through my headphones, all from disappointed employees who’d worked weeks, some of them months in the factory beforehand, to get this car on track. It wasn’t fair to them to let it start this way.

Felipe was the first to park. Within seconds, he got out of the car and gave it a pat on the top of the cockpit before he glanced over at me. I walked over to him and squeezed his arm, waiting until he had his helmet off to say, “Thanks for your efforts. It’ll get better.”

He winked and slapped my shoulder before running a hand through his thick, damp hair that was flattened by the helmet. Inhaling a deep breath, he bent his neck left and right, letting it crack with an appreciative sigh. He looked like he just ran a marathon.

“I know. You’ll figure it out, I’m certain,” he finally said.

I nodded, even though I had no damn clue how I was supposed to do that.

The sound of another engine roaring in the garage made me look up, and I watched how Phoenix parked on the other side. He got out immediately, pulling off his gloves before he threw them into the car and then walked to the rear. Looking at it for a moment, he shook his head.

Even through his racing suit and helmet did I feel just how pissed he was, the anger practically rolling off of him as he finally kicked the tire in front of him.

Because that’ll make the car go faster...

“Hey!” I called out, storming over to him. Idir already made his way over to us, but I put up my hand, telling him to stop. Surprisingly, he did as I asked, coming to a halt a few feet away.

Phoenix turned, his visor lifted so I could look directly into his stormy green irises, and I realized I was wrong. He wasn’t just pissed.

He was absolutely livid.

Well, tough shit.

“Don’t kick the damn car,” I said, standing right in front of him. “That won’t solve your problem.”

Phoenix blinked a few times, and I could tell he didn’t expect me to react this way, his anger thrown off for just a moment.

“Then fucking find out what does,” he seethed. I almost couldn’t hear him between the noise of the garage and his helmet, but I got the message loud and clear.

Phoenix was not happy with my work.

“You do not talk to me that way,” I shot back, trying to keep my voice low but loud enough for him to hear. “Respect this team, or leave. You’re not walking around here with an attitude like that.”

He stepped closer to me, leaving his face only inches from mine. I could see the strain in his eyes, could watch the storm dance in his irises as he took a deep breath and studied me intently.

“I know you’re frustrated, but so am I. Acting like a dickhead won’t fix the issue, though.” Keeping my voice calm, I tried to reason with the unreasonable man in front of me.

And maybe it was wishful thinking, but I swear I saw the way he fought a smirk beneath that thick helmet. Maybe that approach was getting me somewhere, after all.

But then, just like that, he spun around and left.

Both Idir and I stared at him as he left the garage through the back door, never taking off his helmet or looking back.

“He’s exhausted,” he told me, making me glance over. It was obvious the two had a close relationship, closer than Salim and Phoenix back then. I was glad Salim left Azure Racing on his own after everything had happened a decade ago, considering our history. I wouldn’t have started here if he’d still been in the picture.

“That’s no excuse to act like an asshole.” I raised a brow at Idir, who nodded in response.

“Believe me, I know. It’s...” He studied me for a second, almost as if he was debating whether he should tell me something, but then glanced back at the hallway Phoenix had disappeared into. “It’s just been a lot for him.”

Part of me wondered what was going on with Phoenix, what made him react the way he did today. The other part knew that it’d been a decade since I’d seen the mystery of Phoenix McCoy, and even though it might’ve felt like not much changed, I hadn’t even gotten to know this version of him better yet.

And right now, I didn’t have the time to.

“We have a meeting at four to go over the issues to figure out how we can fix them. I expect him to be there.”

Idir nodded, still glancing out into the hallway. “Well, wish me luck, I guess.”

***

“I have a headache.” I groaned, rubbing my temple in a circular motion.

“Vodka helps,” Kilian suggested, leaning back as he put his arm over the back of Jasmine’s chair.

“In what universe does vodka help a headache?”

Jas laughed, pushing the bottle of ginger ale in my direction. “Kilian Rogers lives in his very own world. Thought you knew that by now.”

Opening the bottle, I smirked at my friend before I took a large sip of the sweet liquid.

“I’m serious, though. It’ll be good.” Kilian chimed in again, waving his beer bottle around.

“Thanks, but no thanks.” I glanced at the clock at the other side of the hotel bar.

Ten p.m..

The damn meeting took four hours, and I’d been sitting at this bar for another two, trying to process everything.

Felipe had been there from four p.m. sharp, while Phoenix had strode in five minutes later. Usually, I would’ve made a comment about his delay, but I hadn’t been the one leading the meeting. Our head race engineer was, and he’d seemed more relieved than anything else to get the info we needed from our drivers.

We still hadn’t found a solution, but we’d come up with some ideas that we could implement before the race tomorrow.

I’d insisted on doing so tonight, but Michael vetoed that decision, telling us to get rest and start early tomorrow.

And so here I was, drowning my sorrows in, well... ginger ale.

“Stop frowning like that, Flo. It doesn’t suit you.” Jas brought me out of my thoughts, and I tried my hardest to muster up a smile as I glanced over at my friend.

“I’m sorry. I’m just frustrated as fuck.”

“Well, what can you do to change that?” she asked, taking a sip of her beer. Neither Kilian nor Jasmine were huge Formula 1 fans, but I appreciated their interest in my life and career.

And yet I couldn’t help the shame coursing through my veins from knowing these two had come all the way out here just to watch our team fail. It definitely wasn’t what I had in mind this weekend.

“I don’t know. That’s the whole fucking issue. I don’t know what’s wrong with the damn car...”

Kilian shot me a sympathetic look. “Is there someone else who could help?”

“Well...” I shook my head with a sigh. “I’ve been talking to an old friend over the phone, and his insight has already helped, but I don’t know...”

“Don’t know what?” Jasmine chimed in now.

With my gaze directed at the bottle, I spun it in my fingers, trying to explain why I hadn’t asked him to come here yet.

“You got an ego the size of Kansas, that’s why,” Kilian answered my unspoken question, making me look up at him.

“What? No!”

He laughed. “Of course. I know what that feels like, believe me.” The wink he shot me almost made me laugh, but I refrained and kept looking at him, trying to understand what he was saying. “The team would know you had to ask someone for help. That hurts, especially being who you are. And especially being a woman. And more so, being as proud as you are.”

I blinked at him a few times. Was he right?

I’d already talked to Michael about getting an assistant, someone who could be my right hand and coordinate things with the engineers when I was busy with the car. Having both an engineering and a mechanical degree, I wanted to work closely with the engineers, but my heart would always be in the garage.

The work I did on site with the car itself was what had always drawn me to this job. Yeah, the data and knowledge behind my degrees helped get shit done, but nothing would ever feel as great as solving the puzzles this job offered.

Michael had agreed to my request, even if reluctantly so. His only condition was that the person had experience and could work alongside the rest of the team as well.

I knew just the guy. But a part of me was hesitant to make that one important call.

“Can we change the topic?” Sighing, I ran a hand through my hair and tried to fix the entangled knots on my head. “I should really get to bed soon anyway,” I said with a yawn, hiding my mouth behind my hand.

“Man, you’ve gotten old.”

“Says the woman who has a nanny cam for her dog.” I laughed, pointing at the phone she propped against the wall when we’d sat down. It showed Cheeto, Rimmy’s sister, sleeping peacefully in their friends’ house.

“What? Mila said she didn’t mind if I tapped in for the time we’re away. It’s just their living room, and I like to make sure she’s doing fine.”

Shaking my head, I watched how Kilian rolled his eyes, even though his gaze was planted on the screen as well. He liked acting like he didn’t care, but he was as obvious as they came.

“How’s Rimmy doing?” he asked, unsurprisingly.

“He’s good. Keeping my dad busy.” I laughed at the memory of the picture my mom had sent me last night, showing how Dad was pulled around the garden by Rimmy’s leash.

“Well, that’s what — oh, look.” Jasmine grinned, nodding at the other end of the bar. “It’s mister tall, dark, and handsome.”

“And rude,” Kilian added, narrowing his eyes at the person in question.

I turned around, and even though I’d somehow already known it was him, I couldn’t help but hold my breath at the sight of Phoenix McCoy. He looked exhausted; Tired eyes and a slow walk showed just how much the car’s issue must’ve affected him.

During our meeting earlier, Felipe had said every corner felt like having the weight of the whole damn car on their shoulders, that’s how heavy the steering had gotten. It was a huge issue, considering they had to drive fifty-eight laps tomorrow.

“What the hell do you see in that guy?” It was Kill who made me focus back on reality, his brown eyes still aimed at Phoenix.

“I mean, he’s hot,” Jas chimed in, making me roll my eyes.

“Yeah, but also a dick.”

“A hot dick.”

“Still a dick—”

“Guys,” I hissed, interrupting their exchange. “Could you stop, please? There’s nothing to talk about here.”

They glanced at each other before looking straight behind me again, and I almost laughed at the way they both broke out into massive grins.

“Well, with the way he’s looking at you, I beg to differ,” Jas commented, wiggling her brows.

Every fiber of my being fought to not turn around, to not give my friends the satisfaction. But it was no use; I ended up turning my head, instantly meeting Phoenix’s gaze.

He was casually leaning against the bar, holding a bottle of water in his hand while Idir talked to the bartender. Dressed in a white shirt and jeans with dark, wet, disheveled hair on his head, he looked like temptation itself, especially when I noticed the damn tattoos. I couldn’t make them out in the dim light, but his left arm was covered completely, the ink visible beneath the light fabric before it broke out over the uncovered left side of his collarbone.My fingers itched to trace his tattoos, to figure out what he’d painted on his body.

I watched how he opened the cap of his bottle and took a large sip, never breaking our gaze. There was something dangerous, something predatory and threatening in his eyes, that only pulled me in more.

He’d always been a mystery, but this new and unabashed version of him had an edge that I was longing to step toward.

“Yeah, nothing going on my ass,” Kill chimed in.

His words made me turn around. “Fuck you,” I muttered, taking a swig of ginger ale.

“Nah, you can fuck him.” Jas nodded toward Phoenix, a wide grin on her lips. “I know you want to.”

“Oh my god, shut up!” I threw a coaster in her face, but Kilian caught it before it could strike, eyebrows raised incredulously.

“Don’t attack my wife just ’cause you can’t handle the truth.”

A sigh fled my lips, and I buried my face in my hands for a second. This was very unlike me, but I was exhausted as hell. “For fuck’s sake... Can we not? You guys are ganging up on me and I don’t appreciate it.”

“Hey, hey... No gang-anything in this household...” Kilian glanced over at his wife, who laughed out loud at his remark.

“Oh my god, shut it.”

“That’s what I keep saying,” I said with a wink, earning myself an eye roll from Jas.

“Fine.” She glanced back behind me once more before her gaze settled on me, a mischievous smirk on her lips. “I’ll let it go, but only because you got work to do tomorrow.”

That reminder sent a sigh down my lips. “Thanks...” I muttered, tugging at my hair.

“You know what to do, right?” Kilian raised a brow.

No, I have no fucking idea, I wanted to respond, but my ego stopped me.

I was Florence Nyx, for fuck’s sake.

It was unlike me to dwell in misery, to let life twist my fate in cruel ways. I’d always been stronger than that, and I’d fight until my very last breath to remain in control over what happened around me.

But maybe, just maybe, remaining in control also meant sharing some of it.

Now I just had to take the leap.


Hey folks!

Well, I know this one took a while, but I’ve had a lot going on and some chapters just don’t flow as easily as others. It’s part of the writing process, I guess. The next one should be a little easier!

So, how are we all doing?

Any thoughts on who Flo will bring into Azure Racing?

And what is bothering Phoenix?

So many questions! But for now, have a great Wednesday, and please stay safe.

Lots of love,

xx Jane

P.S.: Let me know if the pictures worked on here - Inkitt is a mystery in that department lol!

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