Chasing Lights

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Chapter 42: Need a Ride?

Phoenix

I could barely remember the last time I’d been this determined to win.

Racing was my life, and I’d always wanted to stand at the top of that podium, feel the post-race adrenaline of a victory. It was what every single driver in the paddock fought for, what made us sacrifice as much as we did.

But this season, things were different.

With every victory I couldn’t secure, with every point I’d lost to my opponents, my frustration grew. I’d been on the podium for six of the seven races since Bahrain, but none of them had felt real. None of them had felt like I’d deserved them.

And it wasn’t just because of that promise I’d made to Flo.

It was seeing how hard everyone worked, how much effort went into improving the car from weekend to weekend.

After twelve weeks, the racecar with the number 7 on top had been at a whole different level than at the beginning of the season. Flo and her team had done some miraculous work, work that I’d seen with my own eyes a few times when I’d spotted her in the garage in the middle of the night. She’d been working her ass off to get me to the top of that podium, sacrificing her time and energy every hour of every day.

This wasn’t just a full-time job for her, it was her vocation, her passion, her life.

And now that the car was up to the others’ standards, it was my responsibility to bring this win home.

“Dude, at least try and look like you want to be here,” Idir snapped me out of my thoughts.

I glanced over at my friend and smirked when he fiddled with the black bow tie around his neck. This ridiculous tuxedo looked good on him, even though it was weird seeing him in anything other than gym shorts and a tank top.

“But I don’t want to be here,” I finally retorted.

Leaning against the bar, I took a sip of the lemonade Idir had ordered for me. It was lemon-rosemary flavored and tasted like absolute shit.

“Well, grow up. It’s part of your job. You knew that before you signed the contract.”

He was right, but that didn’t make things better. When I’d signed with Azure Racing, I knew they couldn’t force me into sponsorship deals. They couldn’t make me do anything I didn’t want.

But they could make me follow up with obligations originating from my contract with the Formula 1 industry itself. There were things no driver could get out of, such as interviews, press conferences, or any and all events hosted by the FIA.

Today we were at one of those. The watch company sponsoring most Formula 1 races held a gala for the rich and famous, trying to gain new clients and make an even bigger name for themselves.

Obviously, this was exactly where I wanted to be…

“And don’t even think about faking food poisoning to get out of here,” Idir warned. “We ate the exact same thing at lunch, so don’t test me.”

I couldn’t help but laugh at his ability to read my mind; maybe I’d been eyeing the bruschetta tray a little too obviously. I’d do anything to get out of this hellhole.

“Fine.” I rolled my eyes while running a hand through my hair. It came back with a bunch of wax sticking to my fingers, and I frowned at the work Idir had done to my head. “I’ll never let you in my hair again.”

“You wouldn’t let the stylist go at it, so what the hell was I supposed to do?”

I studied myself in the glass front of this obnoxiously tall skyscraper, my all-black tuxedo almost disappearing in the sea of sparkling decor around me.

“Not make me look like a member of NSYNC, maybe?”

Idir’s laughter made me glance up at him, his short black curls shaking on his head. “You don’t look like…” He eyed me with a grin. “Well, yeah, okay, maybe. Next time, just let the woman do her job. ’Cause every other time… It’s gonna be me.

“Oh my god.” I couldn’t help but laugh now, almost spitting out the disgusting drink I was just taking a sip of. “I hate you.”

“Nah, you don’t.” He winked while sipping his sparkling water, eyes now scanning the area until they stopped at something in the corner of the room.

I followed his gaze; Connor Williams and Rafael Nyx stood at the buffet table, not even regarding the fancy appetizers waiting behind them. They were deep in conversation; deeper than you’d expect the world championship’s first and second to be in the middle of the season.

With Connor leading the rankings ten points ahead of Rafael, who had a five-point advantage to me, you’d think they hated each other’s guts.

“Well, these two are oddly close.” Chris joined us at the bar, his surfer-blond hair combed to the side.

“Yeah. They are.” I narrowed my eyes at the pair, but it was almost like they felt they were being watched, both of them now parting ways with a final nod.

“Do we need to worry about that?” Idir voiced my concerns as Connor disappeared in the crowd.

“I don’t know,” Chris responded. “I’ll keep an eye on it, though.”

He better did, because I was in no position to fight against two allies. It’d been hard enough to keep the third position in the championship rankings. I really didn’t need them to work together to keep me behind.

“Well, anyway, we need to—”

“Rimmy!” The whisper-yell coming from our right interrupted Idir, and I turned to scan the area, wanting to see the face belonging to that voice. I couldn’t find her anywhere, though, and instead watched how the dog on wheels sped through the room, aiming straight for us.

The second he spotted Rimmy, Idir jumped aside and hid behind me. But it was almost like the French bulldog could smell his fear, the blue wheels now appearing right by my feet.

“Woof!” He barked and looked up at us — or, well, at Idir. Poor thing had a crush on the man who hated his guts.

“Is he wearing a tuxedo?” Chris asked while studying the dog, who, in fact, wore black pants and a suit jacket.

“Seems like he is,” I retorted with a laugh.

“Go and take his leash, Phoenix!” Idir said. “I don’t want him to maul me.”

“He won’t maul you, brother.” I rolled my eyes, but leaned down and slipped my hand through the loop of his leash. “He’s friendly, see?”

“Woof!” The dog either supported my statement or told me to shut up. I couldn’t tell.

Either way, it almost felt like he smiled at me as I stood up straight again, his snout now brushing against my leg.

I’d gotten used to him over the past weeks, especially since we’d arrived in Europe. Florence had him around wherever she went, whether it was a team dinner, the gym, or our weekly Saturday breakfast together. He’d just been there, by her feet, taking all her attention.

Sometimes I was even jealous of the damn thing.

“Rimmy, what the fuck?” A pair of black high-heeled boots appeared in my sight, Flo’s voice now standing out above the background chatter.

I looked away from Rimmy, already expecting my breath to be taken away by her appearance, as it always was.

But holy fucking shit.

I did not expect this.

Her ankle boots led to a dark red jumpsuit that highlighted her legs and then perfectly wrapped around her waist, showing off those tempting curves in the most dangerous of ways. She had little skin on display with the long sleeves of her outfit, but when she bent over to pet her dog, I spotted frail outlines of a tattoo peeking out from the large opening on her back.

It took a lot of willpower to not ask her if I could see what the ink was right here and now. She delivered mystery after mystery every damn time I saw her, and I kept wondering how she managed to stun me like that just by appearing in my peripheral.

“I’ll have to build a braking system into your wheels if you keep running off, Rim…” Flo muttered, but still ruffled Rimmy’s fur. I envied the goddamn dog. “What are you even doing here?”

She straightened herself up again and glanced at Idir, who I barely noticed held onto my shoulders like his life depended on it. Mine depended on watching this woman move, speak, just simply fucking exist.

Flo was taller than me now, and her lips burned in the same fiery red as the rest of her outfit. I was certain she was trying to burn down the last shreds of my sanity with the way she looked tonight, confident and igniting as purgatory itself.

“Your hellhound is obsessed with me,” Idir said from behind my back, pointing at the French bulldog on the ground who was still smiling up at his owner.

“He’s not a hellhound,” she responded with a laugh, a hand now stretched out to me.

I stared at her fingers, blinking a few times.

Did she want me to take it? Was she taking me somewhere?

Was I dreaming?

I couldn’t decipher the way she looked at me; it seemed as if she couldn’t understand why I didn’t just go with her, follow her lead, let her take me away to wherever she wanted to go.

One thing was certain: I’d go wherever she wanted me to.

“The leash, Phoenix,” Chris said with a laugh, ripping me out of my daydreams. “She wants the leash.”

“Oh… Yeah. Right.”

I ignored my friends’ chuckles and focused on Florence’s hand as I placed the leash in it. Dark red fingernails wrapped around the fabric, scraping my palm as she tightened her grasp.

“You painted your nails,” I stated, still gaping at her hand while trying not to faint from the sizzling sensation of her touch on my skin.

For fuck’s sake… She really did turn me into a teenager.

“They’re always painted.”

The response made me glance up at her. She didn’t wear any makeup apart from the red color on her lips, and it did all kinds of things to my soul to see her natural beauty in an environment as polished as this one.

Extraordinary as always.

“Not red, though. They’re black, usually,” I reminded her.

She blushed.

She actually fucking blushed. It was barely noticeable, but potent enough for me to lose my damn mind and think of so many other ways I could make her look like that, flushed and breathless…

I really needed to win that fucking race.

“They are,” she responded with a clearing of her throat, glancing away from me and at the men behind my back. “Sorry about Rimmy, Idir. I don’t want to trigger your fears or something like that. He’s just a little… impulsive.” The smile she shot her dog made me envy the damn thing again, and I frowned at the change of topic she so effortlessly weaved into the conversation. “That’s no excuse, though. I sincerely apologize.”

“It’s okay.” Idir came out of hiding the second Flo picked the dog up from the ground. “I’m not that scared, really.”

Yeah, of course not.

“Okay.” Flo was kind enough to not call him out on his lie, though the hint of a smirk on her lips told me she’d picked up on it. “Well, uh… It was good seeing you here.” Her gaze landed on me, and the way she swiftly studied my appearance, pupils going wide for just a split second, filled me with so much complacency that I felt like I could burst.

I wasn’t the only one affected by tonight’s attire, it seemed.

“I have to meet up with Jin now, though… I’ll see you at the after party?”

“Maybe. I’m not sure we’ll be there,” Idir responded, squeezing my shoulder with a wink.

Way to blame it on me, asshole.

Flo chuckled, eyes dancing with amusement. “I get it.” Of course she did. “I wouldn’t go there if I didn’t have to, either.”

“Oh, it’s not about me.” Idir responded with a grin, nodding toward me. “It’s about NSYNC here.”

“Dude,” I muttered, shoving my elbow in his ribs.

Idir snickered, joined by Chris, who was now shaking his head with a laugh.

“Florence, you have to understand, my friend here is a little afraid of looking like Justin Timberlake.”

“Justin Timberlake?” Chris chimed in. “You mean Lance Bass. Phoenix is definitely a Lance Bass.”

Flo released a very unladylike snort which evolved into laughter that was melodic enough to drain out the pop music playing in the background, and again, all I could do was stare at her.

She was so fucking beautiful, it sometimes felt like she wasn’t even real.

“Wow.” Flo laughed. “The many talents of Phoenix McCoy…”

The smile on her lips made me swear to all the gods up there… I’d dress up as fucking Shrek if it made her feel like that again. It was almost as beautiful as watching her react to a compliment of her work.

Goddamn breathtaking.

“Yeah, he’s quite a discovery, this one.” Idir wrapped his arm around my shoulders, a wide grin plastered on his face now that the dog was under control.

“Oh, I’m sure he is,” she quipped, eyes still sparkling like New Year’s Eve. “Well, I better get going. If I don’t see you later, I’ll see you tomorrow at Practice.” She waved at the three of us, not even aware of the effect she had on probably any sentient human being in the area.

I watched how she stepped away from us, hands wrapped around her pup, until she stopped after just a few feet.

She turned, eyes sparkling with amusement and mischief as she dramatically waved her hand in the air while whisper-singing, “Bye, bye, bye!”

Both Idir and Chris broke into a fit of laughter, and even I couldn’t hold it in when she shot us a wink and then marched off without so much as a second glance.

“Man, I get why you like her,” Idir said while calming himself, wiping a stray tear from his eye.

My gaze instantly wandered to Chris, gauging his reaction. There was no need for anything to become public knowledge — I surely wouldn’t repeat my past mistakes, and even though I liked Chris and had known him for a long while… I wasn’t sure just how much I could trust him.

“Dude, relax,” Chris chimed in, taking a sip of his beer. “You keep forgetting I got you in my ear every weekend. Kinda hard not to notice how you want her opinion on everything.”

I shrugged, trying to act nonchalant. “She’s doing a great job.”

“So am I, but you don’t stare at my ass the way you do at hers.”

“Are you saying you want me to stare at your ass?” I raised a brow at him.

“That’s not what I said.”

“It’s what I heard, though.”

“I don’t — you know what? Fuck you.” He rolled his eyes.

I grinned, happy about this change of direction. “Dude, I mean, I don’t mind. I’ll stare at your ass if it makes you happy.”

“I’m married!”

“And I didn’t stare at anyone’s ass,” I retorted. “This is the twenty-first century. Real men don’t objectify women anymore.”

It was the truth; I knew it was close to impossible to keep my eyes away from Flo, but I tried my best to do so. Not because I didn’t want to look at her — really, that’s all I wanted to do — but because I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable. I knew what it felt like to be stared at, and could only imagine how it must’ve felt for her.

So yeah, sometimes I couldn’t help but watch her, just because seeing her go about her life was the most fascinating thing to me. But I’d tried to be respectful.

“Well, I wasn’t the one forgetting time and space just now when she showed up here.” Chris raised a brow. “But I guess that’s beside the point. All I want to say is that I don’t mind what you guys are up to. You work great as a team, and that’s all that matters to me. Even if that means I’ll have her breathing down my neck every fucking race.”

Truth be told, I hadn’t even thought about how this must’ve looked like to Chris. He was the man listening to my every word at every weekend, working as a key point between me and the rest of the garage. Every time I wanted Flo’s opinion on my tires, engine capacity, or the general feeling of the car, it had to go through him.

No one apart from Chris saw just how close Flo and I worked together. He knew that getting the car to the point it was now had been hard work for both Flo’s team and mine.

“Anyway,” Chris chugged the rest of his beer and returned the empty glass to the bartender. “I’ll have to go and find Michael, or else I’ll have my ass handed to me in German, which, let me tell you, is no fun.”

He disappeared with a quick wave, aiming toward our team principal at the other end of the room. I watched how he joined the conversation Michael was having with a man I didn’t recognize, the three of them now sharing a laugh.

“That’s weird,” Idir said, following my gaze.

I raised a brow, waiting for him to elaborate.

“That guy with the black ponytail. That’s Cem Alir, a private investigator.”

Again, I glanced over at him, wanting to hear more. But when Idir just kept staring at the man in the suit, I couldn’t help but wonder what was going on inside his head.

“A private investigator?” I finally asked.

“Yeah. I used him before. He’s good at his job.” Idir shook his head, almost as if to rid a thought that crept into his mind. “I have no idea what he’s doing here, but I guess you know what that means, right?”

My friend finally met my gaze, squeezing my shoulder.

“I don’t know what it means, but I bet you can’t wait to tell me,” I said.

The smirk on his lips broadened as he slipped his arm around my shoulder, gaze now focusing on a certain brunette in a red jumpsuit who was deep in talk with Jin.

“Well, Cem being here either means that he has some very rich friends, or that someone in the paddock hired a private investigator. With him walking around here, you have to be careful.”

He nodded toward Flo, who was now laughing out loud at something Jin said, her dark curls dancing on her head.

Fuck, she was beautiful.

“And that, brother, ultimately means…” He glanced over at me, eyes sparkling with amusement. “...that you have to stop staring at her damn ass.”

***

The night sky sparkled with stars by the time I’d left the venue, much later than I’d anticipated. Idir and Chris were long gone, but I’d craved a walk after an evening as draining as this one.

I’d never been the most social guy out there, and after thirty years of living this life, I’d realized that wasn’t a bad thing. My therapist had once said it was just who I was as a person, no judgment whatsoever. I learned to deal with it, learned how to charge my battery when needed.

Tonight, even though I hadn’t really spoken to anyone I didn’t have to, exhausted me.

And so I’d taken a walk, just to let my thoughts wander.

Austria was a beautiful country, and the landscape I could watch on my way to the hotel definitely helped calm my mind. With summer right ahead of us, the temperatures were cozy, but still chilly enough to allow my lungs a fresh breeze of Spielberg wind.

As I inhaled the crisp night air, I recapped the past weeks, tried to figure out where I went wrong and why it was so damn hard for me to win a fucking race. The car hadn’t been easy to maneuver around, meaning overtaking was a huge issue, depending on the tracks.

I either had to get pole position during Qualifying, or manage the car during the race well enough so that I could overtake when no one expected it. None of those were things I could see happening soon…

The roaring engine of a sports car erupted in the area, and I couldn’t help but spin around, wanting to see what beast had interrupted my thoughts. I spotted a dark red car in the distance, headlights now aiming for the bridge I was walking on.

I waited until it was close enough so I could see what make and model it was, considering it was the middle of the night and my curiosity got the better of me. It didn’t take long to realize a red Ferrari F8 Spider made its way toward the bridge, the unique hood of the car appearing close to me now.

To my surprise, the Ferrari slowed down and then stopped right next to me, hazard lights turning on. When the window rolled down, I got ready to face one of those old guys who usually drove cars like these, but when I leaned down to look inside… a dog greeted me in the passenger seat.

“Rimmy?” I asked, leaning down even further to look into the driver’s side.

Florence sat behind the wheel — neither old, nor a guy — and bent over to meet my gaze. She studied me with a smirk, arm leaning over the passenger seat.

“Need a ride, princess?”

I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. “You already got a passenger,” I quipped, nodding to her dog.

“Ah, he’ll sit on your lap if you ask nicely.”

Hot damn. I almost choked on air from the mere ambiguity of that statement, but Flo either didn’t realize, or fully stood behind what she was insinuating. She’d become frustratingly hard to read.

“Alright then…” I opened the passenger door and shot Rimmy a questioning look, who, surprisingly, jumped out of the car without another word.

Flo handed me his leash before I sat down and secured my seatbelt, the dog still staring up at me. Did he want me to pick him up? Was there some sort of command I—

“You have to pat your lap, Phoenix. Have you never been around a dog?” Florence laughed, interrupting my thoughts.

“I have,” I responded, remembering our neighbor’s dog from my childhood days. It hadn’t liked me very much.

“Well, go ahead, then.” She glanced behind us, probably scanning the area for other cars since we were obstructing the traffic by parking in the middle of a bridge.

I patted my lap, glancing down at the dog, who just cocked his head to the side. He was just as hard to read as his owner.

“Rimmy, come on. He won’t bite.”

“Woof!” he responded, obviously wanting to be the one doing the biting.

“Don’t fight with me. Come here,” she urged, leaning over and waving the dog inside.

Fuck. I could smell the cinnamon scent on her hair.

“Here, Rim, come!” she said, patting my leg.

Fucking hell.

I couldn’t help but stare at her as she made weird noises and patted my thigh once more, always animating the dog. When all that didn’t work, she bent over my lap, sending the back of her dress further down and thus revealing more of the ink covering her spine.

Don’t look at her tattoo, Phoenix. Don’t look.

“Woof!” Rimmy finally gave up and jumped into the car, his paws digging into my thigh just as Flo leaned back again.

Damn. Missed my opportunity.

“You’re such a child, you know that?” she muttered, turning off the hazard lights and focusing back on the road.

Something about the way she weaved back into the street, glancing in the mirrors and over her shoulder with one arm leaning on the door, was dangerously sexy to me.

Everything she did seemed so effortless, practiced to perfection.

“Woof!” Rimmy’s bark vibrated through my lap, and I glanced over at Flo, who just shot her dog a swift glare, eyes barely leaving the road.

“Don’t you talk back to me. You know better than that.”

“Grrr…” He huffed and then spun in my laps a few times until he found the right position, chin leaning on my thigh and facing the middle console.

“Grrr yourself,” she retorted while shifting into fourth gear, but Rimmy just exhaled a deep breath in response.

I swear, it almost sounded like he sighed in defeat. The entire exchange was weird to watch, but amusing as all hell.

“Stop smirking, McCoy,” Flo said, but smiled all the same.

“Sorry.” I cleared my throat, glancing down at the dog in my lap.

“You can pet him, you know. That’ll make him like you more.”

I wanted to ask if it would make her like me more as well, but swallowed that question for another occasion. For now, I focused on the dog, scratching his ears and watching how he finally closed his eyes.

He got more comfortable the more I ran my fingers through his fur, and I couldn’t help but smile when he tilted his head a bit before he fell asleep. Damn thing was cute.

“See?” she said, the smile on her face even brighter now.

Note to self: Petting the damn dog makes her happy. Do it as often as you can.

“He’s cute.”

“He’s an asshole,” she retorted with a laugh, signaling and switching lanes while I chuckled as well. “But yeah, he’s cute.”

“How long have you had him?”

“I got him shortly before I signed the contract.” She smiled while taking a turn, glancing over at me. “What were you doing out here?”

“I took a walk,” I responded, patting the shiny dashboard of the Ferrari. “Is this yours?”

Her laughter filled the confined space of the sports car, its roaring engine not even close to drowning out her voice. “Are we playing twenty questions or something?”

I couldn’t help but grin. “I don’t know, are we?”

We stopped at a red light, and Florence glanced over at me with a smirk. “It’s not mine,” she finally responded. “Do I look like I’d own an F8 Spider?”

“You don’t,” I responded truthfully. She really didn’t. I’d expect an electric car or a Jeep for a woman as versatile as her. “Whose is it, then?”

“It’s Rafi’s. He took a cab, so I volunteered to drive it home, ’cause, you know…”

I glanced over at her, waiting for an elaboration.

“I mean, I’d never buy this thing. But… like…” she rambled, hands gliding over the steering wheel in awe. “It’s a fucking Ferrari.”

To prove a point, she downshifted and then floored the gas pedal, letting the engine roar beneath our feet. I closed my eyes for a second, allowing the sound and atmosphere to seep into my bones as six hundred horsepower pushed me into my seat.

“I mean, there’s just nothing like it.” Flo sighed while leaning back, cheeks flushed and chest heaving with heavy breaths as she slowed down again.

This really exhilarated her. Fuck me — that just made her even more appealing. She loved what I loved, lived for what I lived for, and it was the sexiest thing ever.

“You know, that’s why I fell in love with cars. Not because of the speed or the shiny look or the sound…” she whispered, eyes focused on the dark street ahead. “It’s feeling the power beneath the hood, understanding how thousands of pieces come together to make you feel like you’re shot into space with a single tap of your foot.”

I couldn’t help but stare at her yet again. The way she moved the car through the streets, expertly shifting and braking when needed, blew my mind for some goddamn reason. Never had watching a person drive been so mesmerizing.

“So, what made you stay?” she suddenly asked, glancing over at me.

“Made me stay?”

“Yeah. I mean, I figured you wouldn’t be interested in all that party crap. There must’ve been a reason you stayed.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “You figured, huh?”

She weaved into the hotel’s underground car park, the roaring engine echoing even more now. “It wasn’t exactly hard to tell, you know. You spent the entire night by the bar drinking that awful lemonade — that’s not what I’d do if I was enjoying myself.”

With a tap on the hotel key fob, a gate opened and led us to the VIP parking area.

“Are you saying you watched me?” I couldn’t help but ask, trying damn hard to hide my smirk from the mere thought of that.

Flo rolled her eyes before turning the car, one arm leaning over the back of my seat as she drove backward into her designated parking spot. It took all but three seconds before she checked both mirrors and then turned off the engine, a satisfied smile on her lips.

Why the fuck was this manoeuvre so damn sexy to me?

“Maybe,” she said and leaned back against the driver’s window, eyes sparkling with amusement and heat.

Goddamn.

“But, you know…” Flo unbuckled her seatbelt and crossed one leg on top of the other, relaxing casually into her seat.

How did she look so damn natural but extraordinary at the same time?

She swirled one dark lock around her finger, gaze darkening as she whispered, “I wasn’t the only one watching tonight, so I guess we’re even.”

I couldn’t help but stare at her for what must’ve been the hundredth time tonight. How the hell she managed to get into my head like that was beyond me, but I couldn’t say that I minded.

I enjoyed it way too fucking much.

“Don’t know what you’re talking about.” It was the only thing I knew to say.

“Right.” She laughed, but I had the feeling she wasn’t amused by what I told her. My assumption got confirmed when she shook her head and sat up straight, gathering her keys and phone before throwing it into a large handbag. “You know, Phoenix… Lying really isn’t a good look on you.”

Fuck.

“Sorry,” I blurted out. “I uh… I didn’t think.”

“Didn’t think I’d notice you watching me all night, or didn’t think I’d catch you in a lie?”

“Both,” I answered without hesitation. Better go for the truth.

Flo nodded, watching me with a curious sparkle in her eyes. She had a unique energy around her tonight; one that was enchanting, mesmerizing, and so damn lethal that I feared for my own life just watching her lips move.

“Is that why you stayed? Because I was there?”

Her question should’ve been surprising, but it wasn’t. With the mood she was in, I was expecting the unexpected.

I felt like I was on trial. Sinfully hot and life-changing trial, but trial, nonetheless. “Maybe. I don’t know, honestly. Something told me not to leave tonight. And when I did, I was so frustrated that I had to take a walk.”

“Frustrated because of what?” She cocked her head to the side, green-blue eyes sizzling with emotion.

Emotion that came dangerously close to what I’d been sensing deep inside me as well.

“Because there are so many things I want to say to you, so many things I have to know, need to ask, and I just… I just don’t fucking know how to.”

Silence settled in the confined space of this luxurious sports car. The way she looked at me just then, gaze soft and so full of empathy that I felt my heart bleed, took my breath away.

“I just want to win that damn race,” I admitted. My eyes wandered to Rimmy in my lap, who was slowly waking up from his slumber.

“You know I don’t care about that, right?”

I glanced back up at her, curiosity getting the better of me.

“Well, I mean, yeah I care about our team winning,” she clarified with a laugh, “We both know I’m a perfectionist like that… But I don’t care about it in the way you think I care about it.”

Part of me knew all of that. Part of me knew she’d told the truth when she said she wouldn’t bet her time on a race. Part of me knew this damn promise was way more significant to me than it was to her.

But another part of me, and that part was a lot more present, told me that winning was all I could do to make this work.

It’s what had determined my life for the past decade, what had driven me to dedicate my life to this sport with everything I had.

“I’ll win the race, Flo. The team is ready. The car is ready. I’m ready…” I glanced down at Rimmy, who now looked up at me. “Even your damn dog is ready.”

Her soft chuckle was followed by Rimmy’s approving bark, who now pushed his snout into my stomach. I ruffled his fur in response, somehow enjoying the way he leaned into my touch.

“He doesn’t do that because he wants you to win,” she clarified tenderly. “He does it ’cause he likes you. There’s a difference.”

My gaze met hers just as she reached over, her hand now covering my own on top of her dog. “You’ll win,” she said and intertwined our fingers. My breath hitched when she looked at me with so much conviction that it flowed straight into me, her entire being radiating a sense of calm and determination. “You’ll win, Phoenix, but not for me. Win for yourself, for everything you’ve achieved and still can accomplish. You’re made for extraordinary things; you just have to believe it. I certainly do.”

I didn’t know what to say. She’d stunned me yet again.

“I can take you out to dinner tomorrow if that’ll make you believe me more,” she said with a smile. “Because I strongly believe that whatever it is you have to tell me, you can do it without having a victory to back you up.”

She was wrong. So damn wrong.

“But I know you don’t think so.” She blatantly read my mind. “So I’ll be patient. That’s fine. Just do me a favor…”

I completely froze when she leaned over and brushed her lips against my cheek, sending an involuntary shiver down my spine — or, well, any sentient organ in my body. Her breath fanned my neck when she came even closer, close enough for me to smell the cinnamon shampoo in her wild hair.

“Whatever you do… Don’t lie to me.” She moved back and faced me properly, her lips only inches away from mine.

Fuck me.

“I won’t,” I responded, swallowing hard. “Pretty sure I’ve learned my lesson…”

The smile on her face held a sadness that pierced into my heart, and it took a lot of willpower to not reach over and run my thumb over her lips, just to see them twitch up even further, to rid of any heartache she’d endured.

“Good… Then go and race your heart out, McCoy.”


Author’s Note

Hey, folks!

I know it’s been a little over two weeks, and I’m very grateful for your patience. I’ve been working two jobs while also taking care of my mental health, and after I’d come down with a cold, my body just refused to let me be creative.

It’s been a lot to deal with, and will stay that way for the next few weeks probably, so don’t expect too much of me, please. I’d love to write all day every day, but that’s not how real life works for me, unfortunately. I’m giving you all I can.

To make up for lost time, I brought you a super duper long chapter with some great Flonix action! Hope you enjoyed it.

So -- who’s Cem? Who hired him? What is he investigating??? So many questions!

I hope you’re all hanging in there and staying safe, considering the world seems to go to shit again at the moment. Yay to that!

Lots of love as always,

xx Jane

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