Chasing Lights

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Chapter 40: Reminisce

Florence

I was still trying to process Connor’s return. Not only was he back; he was back in a top team.

It felt weird knowing he was here when I hadn’t even seen him yet. Not that I made any effort to.

My attention was valuable, and at the moment it was focused on one thing and one thing and one thing only:

My team.

Right now, my heart was thundering as I watched Phoenix pull out of the garage for the first practice session, nervous anticipation filling my veins. I couldn’t even remember the last time I was this excited, afraid, and insecure at the same time. Neither of those emotions were traits I’d recognize within myself, but leading a team with a car as catastrophic as this one had notched my arrogance.

I wasn’t used to failing, because I never did.

“Alright Phoenix, strat eight, brake balance position five please, and let me know what she feels like today.” Chris eyed the screen just as intensely as I did, voicing his engineering commands to Phoenix whenever needed.

Drivers sometimes had to change settings on their steering wheels, which sounded ridiculous considering they had to do it while driving the fastest racecar in the world, but that’s how it worked. All those orders sounded like gibberish to anyone outside of the racing world, but to drivers, they made complete sense.

We watched how Phoenix tapped on his steering wheel, which looked more like a game controller than anything, before he floored the gas pedal. “So far so good,” his voice vibrated in my ears as he drove the first corner.

Outwardly, the car looked good. The rear seemed more stable and Phoenix had no issues taking the hairpin corner of the track, decelerating and then getting back on the gas easily.

Picking my black-polished nails behind my back, I waited for further comments or complaints.

“First two laps look good from here,” Chris said into the radio. “What do you say, Phoenix?”

He didn’t respond, though. Instead, Phoenix drove lap after lap, not once responding to his engineer’s requests.

“Phoenix?”

Silence.

I rolled my eyes. Count on Phoenix to put on a show.

“Phoenix, let me know you can copy. We need to hear the radio work.”

More silence. And more nail-picking behind my back.

“Copy,” Phoenix’s voice rang through the headphones while he was on his fifth lap, flying around the track like Superman himself.

His times were incredible, though none of the other top teams were out on track yet, meaning we couldn’t compare.

“We need a report, stat.” Chris rolled his eyes, watching the different screens on the pit wall. “And go easy on the brakes. Temperatures are high.”

I’d been in this industry all my life, and yet the technology behind it never ceased to amaze me. Engineers and mechanics knew more about the car than the driver themself, microchips collecting all their data and displaying it right onto their screens. It was wizardry.

“It’s driveable,” Phoenix finally said, and my heart soared. “Much better than last week. The rear is still sensitive, but not nearly as bad…”

I almost dropped to my knees from the news. It wasn’t what I’d wished for, but it was progress.

“The guy’s never sugarcoated things.” Jin’s voice made me turn around, realizing he must’ve joined us without me noticing. “So hard to get a compliment out of him, too,” he quipped with a smirk, tapping his hand against my nervous ones behind my back.

I untangled my fiddling fingers and moved them to the front, shooting him an appreciative but thin smile. “Yeah. It’s not what I wanted.”

“You gotta take it.” He shrugged, glancing away from the screens and to the track, where Phoenix just sped past the start and finish line. “Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all.”

“This isn’t Rome we’re building, though. It’s a car.”

“A car that fights with everything it has to throw our drivers into the gravel.” The smirk on his lips had a mocking edge to it, and I couldn’t help but reciprocate the notion. This car really did not want us to succeed.

“I bet building Rome was easier than this.”

Jin nodded, a low chuckle vibrating in his chest. “I bet it was, Flo. I bet it was.”

***

By the time Qualifying rolled around, the car was ready for greatness. The three practice sessions helped implement changes and system upgrades that would improve performance, and during the last twenty minutes of our last session, both Phoenix and Felipe drove brilliant lap times.

“Come on… Come on!” I bounced my leg off the ground while Felipe and Phoenix drove their last Qualifying rounds. They’d both made it into Q3, meaning they were fighting for their spot in the top ten. Considering last week’s disaster, this should’ve been a success for me.

But something stopped me from celebrating. There was a feeling deep inside my gut that told me this wasn’t enough, that both cars could do way better than scraping to get past Q2.

The clock ran to 00:00, meaning the drivers could only finish their laps now.

Felipe came in first, positioning himself as P2. With five more cars to set their lap times, this was only a preliminary position, but the worst that could happen was P7. That’s good. Good enough for this weekend, at least.

Rafi came in right after Felipe, and, as expected, stole his spot by putting himself into second place, pushing Felipe down to third.

A golden car was the next one over the finish line, and only when the computer told me that said car just took the first place, did I realize who it was.

Connor Williams. And he just secured pole position.

What the fuck?

But there was no time to wonder, because while Felipe got pushed back into fifth position from other cars finishing their times, Phoenix was flying through his lap, setting purple sector after purple sector, meaning he was faster than anyone else on track. Being the last car, he sped through the last corner, taking it just a smidge too wide and causing his time to turn yellow — meaning he was slower than anyone else on track in this sector — before he sped past the finish line.

My eyes went to the top-three lineup.

P1 - WIL

P2 - NYX

P3 - MCC

Well… This was bound to get interesting.

I grabbed a headset from my chair, putting it on as I made my way over to the pit wall. Chris glanced over at me, and I thanked him with a smile when he adjusted the radio so I could hear what he said. I was pretty damn sure he didn’t like me very much, but I was also the head of the mechanical department, and he knew all the info he got could be of interest to me.

“Alright Phoenix, that is P 3 — I repeat, P 3. Fantastic job, mate. Well done.” His voice was elated but clinical, a trait all race engineers shared that I’d always adored. It was truly a talent to stay calm and registered amid this chaos. Maybe it was his Australian accent?

“P3?” Phoenix asked, his voice mixed with excitement and anger. “Fuck.”

And even though I could tell he was frustrated as hell, his green irises blaring with fury as he opened his visor to wave at the spectators in the stands, I couldn’t help but smirk at his response. It was typical Phoenix fashion to be frustrated with a result that was twelve places better than his last one.

He was a race driver, after all. This sport ran in his blood.

“Who’s one and two?” His question made my smirk disappear. He’d not be happy about this.

“That would be Williams as P1 and Nyx P2.”

Silence.

The screen showed how Phoenix focused back on the track, both hands slapping the steering wheel before he shook his head. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Unfortunately not, mate. You’ve done brilliantly, though. Don’t forget, you’re on the clean side of the track, and who knows what’ll happen tomorrow.” Chris’s calm voice even made me feel a little better; despite our differences, he really had a great way of communicating with his driver. I had to respect that. “They got fast cars. But we got a fast driver.”

Yeah, okay. Maybe he wasn’t that bad after all.

I’d even let his jab at my car slide if his pep talk made Phoenix feel a little better.

“Stop being nice, man. It’s weird.” Phoenix’s comment made me laugh out loud, earning myself a few amused glances from my mechanics. “You’re right though. We’ll crush them.”

“Damn right we will…” I muttered, taking off my headset and hanging it on the pit wall. With a quick wave, I said goodbye to the engineers and Michael before I made my way back into the garage.

My team was already waiting, all twelve of them lined up and staring at me expectantly.

“Boss.” Jin approached me with a straight face, standing still beside me.

“Stop calling me that,” I hushed, but he shrugged in response.

“What’s the plan?” he asked, and the rest of my team looked at me as if they were asking the same.

I stepped closer to them, glancing behind to make sure we were out of earshot for anyone outside of our crew. “Realistically, Phoenix won’t be able to hold that position tomorrow.”

“Why?” Marius, one of my front-end mechanics, asked with a raised brow.

I shot them a smile, not wanting to hear the answer myself. “’Cause the car isn’t good enough.”

Some of them nodded, some blinked, some shook their heads… But none of them seemed happy.

That was the fucking worst.

“So what do we do?” Jin inquired, though the smile on his lips told me he already knew the answer.

Glancing over at my team, I knew there was only one thing we could do, one thing we all deserved.

“We’ll make the damn thing better, of course.” My team countered that response with excited glimmers in their eyes. “Call your partners and take a break now, but get ready to work your asses off so this car is ready for tomorrow, you hear me?”

Hollering filled the garage, and even though it felt like my drums would burst from the battle call my mechanics let roar through the garage, I grinned widely, feeling their excitement tingle in my fingertips.

They were ready to fight, and I couldn’t wait to lead them.

***

There was only so much one could do overnight, considering I had meetings and press conferences, as well as responsibilities toward Felipe’s car.

I was head mechanic, not number one mechanic, meaning my job was knowing the structure of both cars, while number one mechanics were assigned to one car. Originally, I’d been number one mechanic of Phoenix’s car and head mechanic, but with the rising issues, I’d asked Jin to take my position as number one mechanic and thus give me more time to explore.

My condition was that I still could act as number one while having the freedom of tapping my brain into the team’s mechanical pool to help figure out issues with both cars. It was a hard balance and held a shit ton of responsibility, but I loved it with every inch I had.

The FIA was very strict when it came to overnight changes on cars, their rulebook looking like the damn bible itself. You could only work on a previously set time, could only change so much, should only replace certain parts… It was a bureaucratic hassle above everything, but we’d made it work.

Fortunately, we had a little more time than usual in Bahrain. The heat was so unbearable during the day that the race started at six p.m. local time, not three p.m., as it did on normal race tracks.

That’s why I was lying beneath the car at ten in the morning today. I’d sent my team to take a nap and get lunch, making sure they were fit for the long day ahead of us.

As for me; I found shelter beneath the heavy machinery, enjoying the cool breeze running across the garage floor. When I’d first started working with cars, Rafi had always made jokes about the car falling down on me — cruel big brother jokes, I guess — but that had never scared me enough to stay away from them.

Quite the opposite; it’d made me more aware of my surroundings and taught me to trust my tools and instincts.

Those instincts got me where I was now, so I had to have done something right… right?

The closing of a door made me glance around. I turned my head to the left, watching how a pair of dark sneakers walked into the garage and stopped right next to the car.

“Flo?” Phoenix’s voice echoed through the garage, and I smirked at the thought that he had no idea I was even here. I stayed silent, watching his feet move across the blue floor until they stopped on the other side of me.

“Nyx!” he called out again.

Planting a hand on my lips, I tried to suppress the chuckle that bubbled in my throat. I felt like a teenager hiding from a teacher, for some damn reason.

Suddenly, Phoenix’s face appeared right next to mine, eyes dancing with amusement. He was bending over, scanning me. “You know I can see your feet, right?”

I glanced downward.

Oh.

My laughter echoed in the garage as I released my hand from my lips, shaking my head. “Sorry. I don’t know why I did that.”

Phoenix’s lips curled into a breathtaking smirk as he studied me intensely, eyes roaming up and down my overall-covered body. Nothing about me could be appealing right now; clothes stained with oil and unwashed hair messily clipped to the back, I was nothing but a supermodel. And yet, his gaze lit me on fire, making the already confined space feel smaller and smaller.

Damn. Right now, the car did seem dangerously close to my face.

“Are you coming out?” he asked, and I shook my head.

“No. I like it here.”

“Okay then…”

I frowned when he got back up, leaving me alone with his sneakers again. But then his palms met the ground and he lay down next to me, a plain black shirt and dark jeans now appearing in my vision. It was weird to see him outside of the Azure merchandise, but I appreciated the change.

Even something as simple as a black shirt made him devilishly handsome.

“Want me to scoot over?” I moved to my left, making space next to me underneath the car.

He blinked a few times, looking up at the bottom of the car, studying his surroundings.

“It can’t fall, don’t worry.” I answered his unspoken questions, deserving myself a smile from his lips.

Gently shaking his head, he muttered something unintelligible before he moved closer, his left arm brushing against my right shoulder as he glanced up at the car. His brows furrowed as he took in the different components, studying every inch. “Why are you lying under my car again?”

I shrugged, glancing up. “’Cause life is what happens beneath the hood… And your car doesn’t have one. So this’ll have to do.”

“So you took off the floor?” he crooked a brow, gesturing at the naked bottom of his car.

“There’s no other way to see the full picture, right? You need to look deep inside, remove layer after layer to comprehend what you’re dealing with.” My voice quieted as I looked over at him, taking in his changed appearance.

His green eyes glimmered with a mixture of appreciation and wonder as they pierced into my being, straight into the pits of my soul. He didn’t make any move to be subtle about it, either; he never had. But today, his gaze felt so raw, so vulnerable and exposed, that it made my heart twist in the most dangerous of ways.

Trying to distract my mind, I glanced down at his inked arm. It was the first time I had the chance to pay close attention to them, and I fought the itch in my fingers that wanted to trace the outlines of his dark tattoos.

Peeking out from his shoulder, I saw a black-grey swing, though his t-shirt covered what its ropes were attached to. Right beneath it was an ocean that reflected light from what must’ve been the moon hiding beneath his sleeve, the reflection showing that the swing was fixed to the moon. On its mirage in the water sat an owl, glancing up at the reflection of the moon. The ocean ended right beneath Phoenix’s elbow and then turned into a bright blue (or gray, but I liked to think he’d imagined it to be blue when he’d gotten it) sky, whose sun shone onto a forest of trees that surrounded his entire forearm.

I didn’t even realize I was touching him until he flinched slightly, my fingers moving around his arm so I could explore. He obliged, turning his arm so I could see more and more trees. It was one of the most stunning and thoughtful tattoos I’d ever seen, and I suddenly found myself in awe of this man.

“This is beautiful,” I whispered, letting my index wander up his skin.

It wasn’t just beautiful; it was thoughtful as hell, too. My heart lurched trying to make sense of it, but my mind told me to halt. If Phoenix was anything like he’d been in the past, he’d tell me about it when he felt like it, not when I asked.

As expected, he didn’t respond; he just swallowed deeply, and I felt his piercing gaze in my skull as he watched me with intent.

My fingers couldn’t stop moving, couldn’t stop discovering every inch of his arm as I traced the roots of the trees on his wrist, their strands looking like veins that stopped at the bottom of his hand. It was hypnotic, almost; tracing the lines of black ink beneath his skin felt like writing our very own symphony.

Or maybe it was a simple overture, introducing me to this new version of Phoenix McCoy next to me — I wasn’t sure.

All I knew was that I wanted more, and so I ran my fingertips over the edge of his tattoo, startling when he moved his wrist to capture my hand with his own. My gaze flicked up to his, and our souls instantly intertwined.

His forest-green irises had become a roaring storm, with violent thunder threatening to uproot my very being, and lightning potent enough to zap my heart.

He stared at me in silence, begging me to read between the lines of the turbulent soul.

And I did.

His chest heaved with heavy breaths, and the way his gaze focused on my lips told me he wanted something, something I didn’t know I could give to him.

I wanted it, too. Fuck that — I didn’t want it. I craved it like a primal desire, raw want and need settled in the depths of my being.

“Go out with me,” he said, shattering my last resolve.

My eyes widened and I blinked a few times, processing what he’d said. My brain was on fire, and the way he squeezed my hand definitely didn’t help the chaos erupting in my soul.

“Phoenix—”

“Don’t say you can’t, Florence, because I know you do.”

I’d always loved that Phoenix used my full name more than anyone else. It gave his words meaning, like he was approaching the entirety of me with respect and care.

But right at this moment, it came back to haunt me. Because it was really damn hard to resist him when he talked to me like that, when he was assertive and straightforward, and especially when he knew exactly what I was thinking…

“I’m your boss,” I said, tugging at my hand, which he held firmly in place.

“We have no policies in place that would make that an issue,” he retorted, giving my fingers a firm squeeze as he searched every inch of my face.

I raised a brow at him, studying his chiseled features like I’d never seen them before. A newly found masculinity lingered in this new version of him, in his sharp jawline and the edge that lay beneath his dark irises. They’d always been stormy, but it’d seemed as if he’d seen more now, like he’d learned how to peek through the clouds to see reality for what it was:

Vulnerability.

“And you know that because…” I asked, instantly cursing myself.

That’s not what you’re supposed to say, Flo.

The crooked grin on his lips made it so much worth it, though. It warmed my heart to see him content like that, with a mischief simmering beneath the surface that was about ready to blow my mind away.

“Because, Florence…” he hushed, inching closer to me until his breath fanned my neck, “...I made sure.” He finished his statement with a wink, the crooked grin growing smug now.

And even though my cheeks filled with involuntary heat, I couldn’t deny that I both loathed and adored that new look on him.

It rendered me speechless, staring at him like a deer in headlights while trying to find a way out of this predicament. Had he planned this even before he signed the contract? Did he have an ulterior motive? Why was he asking me now?

All of those questions were futile, though. Because I knew I couldn’t agree to a date with him.

Going out with Phoenix was a horrific idea, especially given the reaction I already had to him. I was here to focus on my job, to make my career. That would always come first.

I hadn’t worked this hard for all this time to throw it away because my heart steered me in the wrong direction.

“Look,” he interrupted my train of thoughts, untangling our hands so he can trace the creases inside my palm with his thumb, “I’m not saying marry me,” he halted after saying the words, cringing before he composed himself again, “I’m saying go out with me. Let’s talk. Catch up. Just… I don’t know. Be us.”

It was so damn hard not to give in to those green eyes when they begged me the way they did right now. It’d been a while since Phoenix spoke as much as he did right now, which only showed how serious he was about his endeavors.

Phoenix wasn’t an unsolvable mystery, like the press always claimed. All it needed was observation and understanding, and you’d see pretty quickly how and why he acted the way he did.

“Why?” I asked, genuinely curious. It was the one part I couldn’t figure out, couldn’t see between the clouds of his storm.

“Why not?” he fired back with a smirk.

“Because you’re insufferable.”

The smirk on his lips broadened, and I wondered if he remembered the same moment I did, when we’d hidden in that stairwell of the hotel before he’d taken me out to dinner.

“So, you wanna leave?” he asked, answering my mental question.

Say yes, Florence. Say yes. It’s easy. Just say yes, and you’re good.

“No,” I replied, repeating eighteen-year-old Flo. “Doesn’t mean I’ll go out with you, though.”

A frown played on Phoenix’s lips, though I didn’t miss the appreciative glimmer in his irises. “I liked your response better the first time around.”

I couldn’t help but laugh, eliciting a way too beautiful and genuine smile on Phoenix’s face as he studied me intently, his fingers now back to clasping my hand.

“I’ll win a race for you,” he whispered, silencing any hint of amusement in my being. “Agree to go out with me when I win a race.”

My eyes widened.

“Are you insane?”

Phoenix smirked, the corners of his mouth twitching into a way too handsome dimple. “Must be if I’m asking Florence Lucia Nyx on a date, huh?”

My middle name sounded like music on his tongue, the faint foreign pronunciation settling straight into my semi-Spanish heart.

“Really, though.” I cleared my throat to focus back on reality, on his unexpected request. “I won’t bet my time for a race, Phoenix.”

“It’s not a bet, Flo,” he whispered, sincerity lingering in his voice. “It’s a promise. I’ll win a race, and you promise to go on a date with me when I do.”

I didn’t miss how he didn’t say if he won a race. He said when, as if it was already set in stone that he’d win at least once this season. His self-assuredness had always drawn me to him, but now it was about to be my demise.

Because the problem was… I had the same confidence in him. Phoenix was destined for great things, and there was no doubt in my mind he’d be able to fight for the championship if the car allowed him to.

“You’re full of yourself,” I muttered, deserving myself yet another smirk from his full lips.

“I am. I take that as a yes?”

“No. I can’t, Phoenix. You know why.”

“I do.” He nodded. “You refuse because you think it’ll interfere with your career or because it could stir up drama, but we both know that’s bullshit, too.”

Yet again, I was speechless. How the hell did he read my mind like that?

“This is not about your job, and you know that,” he pressed again, not even giving me time to breathe as he rubbed his thumb over the back of my hand, leaving faint electric sparks under his touch. “It’s an incentive for me more than anything else, Flo.”

My heart bled at the insinuation beneath his statement, at the realization dawning on me.

This wasn’t about a bet, or his ego needing a stroke.

This was about Phoenix showing me he was serious about his request. It wasn’t a game to him, like it could’ve been in the past. We were in the present now, and he’d changed a lot, had found his standing in the sport like no one else had over the past decade. His name meant something, and so did his word.

He wasn’t trying to make me believe something that wasn’t true.

He just wasn’t afraid to challenge my beliefs.

“Okay,” I said without realizing the word left my lips.

Well, great fucking job, Flo.

I stretched out my free hand, eliciting another smirk on his lips. “When you win, I’ll go out with you. One date.”

Phoenix’s smirk widened as he shook my left hand, leaving us awkwardly and yet perfectly connected.

“That’s all I need.”

“All you need for what?”

“You’ll see.” He winked.

I narrowed my eyes at him, trying to ignore my thundering heart as he inched closer, his hot breath tickling my neck. All it’d take was an inch or two, and I’d taste his lips, feel the warmth of his body after a decade of being deprived. My breathing picked up when his mouth curled into a crooked smirk, one that made me want to forget all about my inhibitions and rules, that made me want to do unspeakable things in the secrecy of our confined space.

“You really have to stop,” he hushed, his voice low and heavy. Glancing up at him, I burned from the fire in his eyes, unabashed desire aimed straight at me.

“Stop what?” I barely heard my voice. What the fuck was even happening?

His gaze landed on my mouth, igniting every inch of me. With my throat as dry as the desert, I licked my lips, enjoying the cold sensation as I exhaled a deep breath.

“You know what.” He looked back up at me again, the fire in his irises turning predatory now.

And I did know what. I just didn’t want to stop.

“Well…” Summoning every inch of confidence I had buried deep inside of me, I forced the corners of my mouth into a smirk, inching closer to him so that I could trace the ghost of his lips on my own. “You better win soon, then.”

His breath hitched as he glanced down at our almost touching bodies, his unabashed need slamming right into my ignited body. When he reached up and captured my chin beneath his index and thumb, I almost gave in, almost forgot about any useless promises we’d made.

But he surprised the hell out of me when he leaned over, letting his lips brush against my ear while he whispered, “I said it once and I’ll say it again…” His dark voice vibrated through every inch of me, its core determined and full of heat.

“I’ll race my heart out for you, Florence Nyx.”

Author’s Note

Well, I mean... Yeah. These two really fuck with my brain. :D

Hope you enjoyed this one -- We’re making progress!

I’ll be having a stressful week, but am trying to make up for it by writing my heart out when I can. No promises, though. I know you guys are amazing and patient as hell either way ;)

Lots of love as always, and please stay safe.

xx Jane

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