eBook ISBN 9781847399526
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, events or locales, is entirely coincidental.
Typeset by M Rules
Printed by CPI Cox & Wyman, Reading, Berkshire RG1 8EX
For inspiring me, for encouraging me, for believing in me . . .
This one’s for you, Dad
‘YOU SON OF A . . . Figlio di puttana!’ That jerk in a yellow Ferrari just cut me up! ‘Yeah, that’s right, you heard me, you testa di cazzo!’ I shout at him as he pulls into the petrol station opposite me. His window slides down.
‘What the hell are you saying to me, you crazy bitch?’
How dare he! He nearly squished my scooter and me to a pulp with his fancy car!
‘You nearly ran into me, you coglione!’
He gets out of his car, looking cross. ‘Cogli-what?’
‘Coglione! Dickhead!’ I shout at him from across the street.
‘Why don’t you speak in English?’ he shouts back.
‘Because we’re in BRAZIL, cretino!’
‘I’m Brazilian! And that’s no language I know!’ He throws his hands up in the air.
Well, okay, it’s Italian, if he’s going to be fussy about it. I always swear in Italian. But that’s beside the point.
Oh no, he’s coming over here.
‘You almost ran over me, you arsehole!’ I plaster my angry face back on.
‘That’s better,’ he says sarcastically. ‘At least I can understand what you’re saying to me, now.’
It’s then that I notice he’s quite good-looking. Olive skin, black hair, dark-brown eyes . . . Don’t get distracted, Daisy. Remember where you’re at. And where I’m at is mightily annoyed.
‘You almost killed me!’
‘I didn’t almost kill you,’ he scoffs. ‘Anyway, you didn’t put your indicator on. How was I supposed to know you wanted to go over there?’ He points to the petrol station.
‘I did SO have it on! Va fanculo!’
‘Did you just tell me to fuck off?’ He looks incredulous.
‘Ah, so you do speak Italian?’
‘Hardly any, but I know what that means. Va se lixar!’
‘Piss off!’ he says, angrily, and starts to cross the road to get back to his car.
‘Piss off? Is that the best you can do?’
He casts a look over his shoulder that implies he thinks I’m seriously deranged and then opens the door to his Ferrari.
‘Hey! You!’ I shout. ‘I haven’t finished!’
‘I have,’ he calls.
‘Get back here and give me an apology!’
‘An apology?’ He laughs. ‘You owe me an apology. You almost scratched my car.’ He gets into his Ferrari and slams the door. ‘Silly woman driver!’ he shouts through the still-open window.
‘How dare you! You, you, you, STRONSO!’ Translation: bastard. ‘I hope you run out of petrol and get car-jacked!’ I scream after him, cleverly realising he didn’t fill his Ferrari with juice. But he can’t hear me. He’s long gone.
Some people. Argh!
How dare he imply I can’t drive! I’m still angry. Not angry enough to forgo my hotdog, mind. I pull out of the lay-by and cross the road to the petrol station, ignoring the stares from onlookers who witnessed our altercation.
Stupid five-star hotel . . . It doesn’t do junk food, so I borrowed one of the team’s scooters and sneaked out.
I shouldn’t have to sneak out, but I work in hospitality and catering for a Formula 1 team, and we don’t do junk food either. I’m supposed to be setting an example, but I’m American, for Christ’s sake. How can I live without it?
Partly American, in any case. I was actually born in England. As for the rest of me, that’s hot-blooded Italian. That’s the side you just witnessed, there.
I arrive at the hotel fifteen minutes later and my friend and colleague Holly is waiting on the front steps. She hisses at me to hurry.
‘Sorry!’ I hiss back. ‘Had to run an urgent errand!’
‘Doesn’t matter!’ She beckons me towards her.
It’s then that I catch a glimpse of yellow in the car park. Yellow Ferrari. Oh, no.
‘Quick!’ she urges, as my heart sinks.
I knew I recognised him from somewhere. He’s a driver. A racing driver.
‘The rumours must be true,’ she says, gleefully pushing me into the lobby.
And at that moment, I see the Ferrari Fucker walking in the direction of the hotel bar with the team boss.
‘Luis Castro is signing with the team!’ Holly squeaks as I dive behind a potted palm tree.
Shit, damn, fuck, tits.
Not even Italian is going to cut it this time.
‘Don’t you dare,’ Holly warns, as I suppress an unbearable urge to crawl under the nearest table.
We’re in Melbourne, Australia, for the start of the season, and Luis Castro has just walked into the hospitality area. I’m desperately hoping he will have forgotten all about me during the last five months, because until early November when we end up back in Brazil for his home-town race, we’ll be seeing a LOT of each other.
There’s no getting away from it – I’m going to have to face him sometime – but just not now. Please, not now.
‘Daisy!’ Frederick barks. ‘I need you to run an errand.’
My boss! My saviour! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
‘The look of relief on your face,’ Holly comments with wry amusement as I scuttle away in the direction of the kitchen.
‘Where are you going?’ Frederick asks in bewilderment as I duck under the arm he was resting against the doorframe.
‘Just in here!’ I reply brightly, waving my hands around to denote the kitchen, which is excellently out of Luis’s line of vision.
Frederick looks perplexed, but continues. ‘Catalina wants some popcorn. And I don’t have any goddamn popcorn. Go and get some from one of the stands.’ He hands me some money.
‘Yes, boss!’ I beam.
He gives me an odd look as I hurry out of the kitchen and back through the hospitality area with my head down.
Catalina is Simon’s wife. Simon Andrews is the big boss and he owns the team. But Frederick – Frederick Vogel – is my immediate boss. He’s the head chef.
Frederick is German, by the way. And Catalina is Spanish. Simon is English and Holly, while we’re at it, is Scottish. What a multi-national bunch we are.
The Australian Grand Prix takes place in Albert Park, and yesterday I spotted a popcorn stand being set up on the other side of the shimmering green lake. I grab one of the team scooters and start it up.
It’s Friday, two days before race day, but the track is still packed with spectators, here to watch the practice sessions. I drive carefully, breathing in the fresh, sunny air. It’s the end of March, and unlike Europe and America which are swinging into spring, Australia is well into autumn. We’ve been told to expect rain this weekend, but right now there’s barely a cloud in the sky. Melbourne’s city skyscrapers soar up in the distance ahead of me, and behind me, I picture the ocean sparkling cool and blue.
I can smell the popcorn stand before I see it, salt and butter wafting towards me on a light breeze. Mmm, junk food . . . I wonder if I could also squeeze some for myself in the scooter’s storage box? I consider it while the guy behind the counter scoops the fluffy, white kernels into a bag, but eventually decide it’s a no-go.
I pay for the popcorn and stuff Frederick’s change into my pocket, then unlock the box under my seat. Hmm, this popcorn is going to spill out – the bag’s full to the brim and I need to be able to fold the top over. I suppose I could ask for another bag to wrap over the top . . . Or . . . I could eat some! Yes, that’s the only logical conclusion.
I lean up against the scooter and delve in. The guy at the popcorn stand is watching me with amusement. What the hell are you staring at, buster? My glare wards off his gaze, but he’s still grinning. I stuff another handful into my mouth. It’s so warm and so . . . perfectly popped. I’ve probably eaten enough, now. Maybe just a little more . . . Right, that’s it. Stop, now. Now! Regretfully I close the bag and store it under my seat, then start up the scooter.
If there are this many people here now, it’s going to be packed on race day, I think to myself as I swerve around a group of slow-walking pedestrians. All of a sudden I spot two men wearing our team’s overalls up ahead, and just as I go to turn a corner in front of a set of grandstands, I realise they’re racing drivers, one of whom is Luis.
My back wheel catches some grit and slides out from under me as I take the corner. Suddenly the whole scooter is skidding and I can hear the grandstand half-full of spectators gasp in unison as I shoot across the gravel in front of them.
‘Whoa!’ Will Trust – the team’s other driver – jumps out of the way, but Luis stays put, frozen in a crouch as though expecting to catch me.
‘JESUS CHRIST!’ I hear an Australian woman cry as my bike comes to a stop right in front of him. ‘She almost ran over Luis Castro!’
She pronounces the name, ‘Lewis’, not ‘Lew-eesh’, as she’s supposed to. I may not like the jackass, but it still bugs me when people can’t say his name properly.
‘That’ll make a nice change from him running over me, then,’ I snap, getting to my feet.
I immediately realise my mistake. That woman’s mispronunciation error distracted me and I’ve idiotically just reminded him about our altercation. Maybe he wasn’t paying attention. I quickly brush myself off as I feel his eyes boring into me.
‘You,’ Luis says.
‘You. The girl on the scooter.’
‘Er, not anymore,’ I say sarcastically, indicating the fallen vehicle. I bend down to try to stand it up.
‘Hang on, let me get it.’ Will Trust appears by my side and lifts up the scooter. ‘Are you alright?’ he asks, clear blue eyes looking searchingly into mine.
I almost jump backwards. ‘Yes, yes, I’m fine,’ I reply, blushing furiously. Actually, I’m not fine. My right hand is stinging like crazy from where I put it down on the gravel, and my knee feels horribly tender beneath the black pants of my black, white and gold team uniform.
‘Let me see that.’ Will takes my hand in his, pressing down on my fingers with his thumb to straighten my palm. He leans in and studies the graze and I feel jittery as I, in turn, study him. His light blond hair is falling just across his eye-line. I have a strong compulsion to reach over and push it off his face. . .
‘It is you,’ Luis says again.
Is he still here? Bummer.
I look around to see that quite a crowd has gathered to watch me and revel in my embarrassment. At least they’re more interested in the drivers than me. Speaking of which. . .
‘The girl in Brazil. The petrol station,’ Luis continues.
Will lets me go and looks at us, questioningly. ‘You know each other?’
I flex my hand. The feel of him is still there.
‘Yeah, she almost crashed into my Ferrari in São Paulo last year,’ Luis says.
‘I almost crashed into YOUR Ferrari?’ I come back to my senses, outraged. ‘You nearly killed me!’
‘Ha!’ He laughs in my face. ‘You’re ridiculous. And you can’t drive. I said you were a silly woman driver at the time and now you’ve just proved me right.’
‘You, you, you . . .’ I glare at him, lost for words.
‘You’re not going to call me a coglione again, are you?’
‘No, but you are a testa di cazzo,’ I mutter under my breath. It means the same thing. Literally, ‘head of dick’. I smirk.
‘What did you say?’ Luis demands. ‘What did she say?’ he asks Will.
Will shrugs in amusement and bends down to dust off the scooter. I suddenly remember what I’ve done.
‘I haven’t scratched it, have I?’ I bend down beside him and scrutinise the bike.
‘It’s not too bad,’ Will says.
‘I hope Simon doesn’t fire me. . .’
‘Simon won’t notice. He’s got too much else on his mind.’
‘Simon notices everything,’ Luis helpfully interjects.
Will rolls his eyes at me and my heart flutters, despite my fear of being axed.
‘Will, are you coming or what?’ Luis butts in.
‘Sure, yeah. Will you be okay, er . . .’ He looks at the name embroidered in gold on the front of my white team shirt.
‘Daisy,’ I say before he does. ‘Yes, don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.’
‘I’ve seen you around. You’re a front-of-house girl, right?’ he checks. ‘You help out with the catering?’
‘Jesus, that’s all we need,’ Luis grumbles.
Will and I look at him in confusion.
‘She’ll probably give me food poisoning,’ he points out.
‘Don’t flatter yourself,’ I can’t help but say. ‘I wouldn’t go to the trouble of trying.’
I spot a so-tanned-he’s-orange marshal running over to us. ‘Are you okay, miss?’ he asks in an Australian accent.
‘We’ll leave you to it,’ Will says, winking at me. I feel my face heat up again so I quickly turn my attention to the marshal.
Orange Man eventually deems I’m not a danger to myself or others and lets me go on my way, so I carefully drive back to our hospitality area, resisting the urge to speed. I’ve been gone ages.
I park up and locate the, well, it’s not really a bag full of popcorn anymore, and go inside to look for Catalina. I scan my eyes around the room. There are a fair few people here today, considering it’s only Friday. The tables are peppered with guests: sponsors, wives or girlfriends and the occasional friend or family member of someone in the team. Bigger teams than ours often invite the odd celebrity, too, but Simon doesn’t seem to know anyone famous.
Aah, there she is.
Catalina is sitting at a table next to a skinny, tanned brunette, with medium-length, wavy hair. They look alike and, as I approach, I realise they’re speaking Spanish. I wonder if they’re sisters. Holly will know. Holly knows everything.
‘Hi, Catalina, Frederick said you wanted this?’ I offer it to her.
‘What is it?’ Her tone is as horrible as the look she gives me. ‘Oh, popcorn,’ she says, spying the crumpled packaging. ‘Where’s the rest of it?’ she demands to know.
‘Um, I couldn’t fit it in my—’
‘Have you been eating it?’
‘I couldn’t fit it—’
‘Put it there,’ she huffily interrupts, pointing to the tabletop in front of her.
The catering here is excellent, so why she’s demanding popcorn in the first place is beyond me. Actually, I take that back. Nothing beats popcorn. But unlike her, if the rumours are to be believed, I won’t be throwing it up in the toilets later.
I finally return to the kitchen.
‘Where the hell have you been?’ Frederick shouts.
‘I had a bit of an accident,’ I explain.
‘You smell like you’ve been eating . . .’ He leans towards me and gives a single loud sniff through his extremely large nostrils. ‘Popcorn!’
He looks like a cartoon gangster, Frederick. Big nose, greasy black hair. And he’s very tall and extremely lanky. I glance back at him to see him eyeing me suspiciously.
‘Um, do I?’ I ask innocently. He has an annoyingly good sense of smell. I guess it’s useful if you’re a chef, but in situations like these. . .
‘What sort of accident?’ he snaps.
I anxiously lead him outside to the scooter.
‘It could be worse,’ he grumpily concludes after he’s inspected the damage.
‘What happened?’ Holly appears around the corner, full of concern when she sees us kneeling on the floor studying the scratches.
I fill her in, her eyes widening when I tell her who my audience was.
‘Right, enough,’ Frederick interrupts. ‘Back to work. There are three bags of potatoes for you to peel, Daisy.’
I notice that Holly gets to decorate a cake. I always get the shittiest jobs.
‘Hey,’ Holly says later, when Frederick pops out of the kitchen. I’ve been watching her distractedly for the last ten minutes as she’s cut a sponge cake into large cubes and plastered them with chocolate icing. ‘A few of the lads have been talking about going out tonight. Fancy it?’
‘St Kilda,’ she says, dipping one of the chocolate-covered cubes into desiccated coconut.
‘What the hell are you doing?’ Curiosity gets the better of me.
‘With that cake.’ I nod at the furry-looking cube.
‘Lamingtons,’ she explains. ‘They’re Aussie cakes.’
We always try to cater according to the country we’re in and it sometimes makes for an ‘interesting’ menu.
‘Anyway, back to tonight . . .’ She leans against the counter and wipes the coconut off her hands.
‘Where’s St Kilda?’ I ask.
‘It’s a really cool suburb on the other side of the park.’
‘Will we be able to get away in time?’
‘Yeah, should be fine. We did the early shift and half the team is going to that sponsorship event anyway so we don’t really need to be around after eight thirty. I’m gagging for a drink.’ She puts her hands up to her head and tightens her high, bleached-blonde ponytail.
‘I need a drink, too. Especially after earlier . . .’
‘I still need to hear all about that,’ she says. ‘Not now, though,’ she adds, as Frederick walks back in, so we both put our heads down and crack on.
‘You called him a dickhead again? In front of Will?’ Holly claps her hand over her mouth in wide-eyed shock, then starts laughing through her fingers.
The air is hot and humid and we’re seated outside a pub in St Kilda. We walked here straight from the track, along Fitzroy Street’s dozens of cafés, restaurants and bars, all spilling out onto the pavement with rowdy revellers.
‘He deserved it,’ I say flippantly.
‘Who deserved what?’ Pete, one of the mechanics, plonks himself down on a recently vacated chair next to us. A few of the ‘lads’, as Holly likes to call them, have joined us for a drink. It’s ten o’clock at night and they’ve only just come from the track, although they swear they’re heading back to the hotel by midnight. Last time they said this, we were in Shanghai towards the end of the season, and they were out on the town until three a.m. When Simon got wind of it, he was not happy.
‘She crashed one of the team scooters in front of Will and Luis earlier,’ Holly tells him.
‘Holly!’ I erupt. She’s had a few too many beers.
‘They’re going to find out sooner or later,’ she says to me, giggling at Pete.
‘Oh, I’ve already heard about that,’ he says dismissively.
‘You’ve heard about it?’ I ask, humiliated.
‘Yeah, yeah, Luis was going on about it earlier. Said you could have broken his legs.’
‘Broken his legs?’ I explode, humiliation swiftly transforming into irritation. ‘Figlio di puttana!’
‘Son of a bitch,’ Holly casually explains to Pete. She knows as many Italian swear words as I do. One of the undeniable bonuses of working with me.
‘Actually, it literally translates to “son of a whore”,’ I point out pedantically, before continuing with my rant. ‘I can’t believe that!’
Pete just laughs and raises his eyebrows, taking a swig from his beer bottle.
‘Don’t worry about it,’ Holly soothes. ‘No one will remember it by tomorrow.’
‘Eeeeeeeeeeeeee . . . BOOM!’ Another mechanic makes a loud crashing sound as he pulls up a chair and joins us at the table. ‘Way to go, Daisy!’ he laughs.
‘Thanks, Dan. Appreciate your support,’ I answer, glumly.
Dan is quite short compared to Pete, who’s enormous at six foot four, but both are broad and muscular, unlike Luis and Will who are about six foot and slim-built. You have to be to fit in those Formula 1 cars.
Two more mechanics zoom past the table, pretending to screech to a stop.
‘Haven’t you guys got anything better to do?’ I call after them.
I lean back in my seat and watch as a group of gorgeous girls in their late teens strut by. I feel old, and I’m only twenty-six. I know I look older. People tell me it’s the way I carry myself. I think it’s because of the size of my heels. I’m five foot nine, but I never go out in less than three inches. Well, that was back in America. I’ve started wearing flats since I got this job. I’m on my feet all the time and I’m not really a massive fan of torture. Plus, Holly is tiny at five foot one and I look enough like a giant next to her as it is.
‘Wicked!’ Dan interrupts my thoughts. He’s looking down at his mobile phone. ‘Luis is coming by for a drink. He’s just left that event.’
Oh, for God’s sake. I was enjoying myself. Now we’ll have to find another venue to drink at and everywhere is so busy around here.
‘Staying true to form, then,’ Holly comments.
What she means by that is, Luis has a reputation for being a hard-partying ladies’ man. This is his first year in Formula 1. Prior to that he raced in the American IRL – Indy Racing League – series and won the infamous Indy 500 three times in a row, which is why I vaguely recognised him – not that I’ve ever been that interested in racing before. Anyway, everyone speculated that he would have to calm down his wild ways and slot into the fold once he started working for Serious Simon, but he’s clearly sticking his fingers up at that idea.
‘I thought you guys were having an early night?’ I say.
‘He’s a driver.’ Dan shrugs. ‘I can’t blow him out. Another round?’
‘Er . . .’ I’m about to make our excuses about moving on, but Holly’s response is too quick.
‘Sure!’ She lifts up her glass of beer dregs. ‘Same again!’
‘What did you go and do that for?’ I complain as soon as Dan and Pete have left the table. ‘I don’t want to stay here if he’s coming.’
‘Aw, come on, Daisy, we’re having fun. Maybe it’ll do you good to get to know Luis socially.’
‘I don’t want to get to know him socially. He’s a dick. I want to go somewhere else.’
‘Just one drink? I wonder if Will might join him,’ she muses.
A strange shiver goes through me at the sound of Will’s name.
‘I doubt it,’ I answer, albeit slightly hesitantly. ‘Isn’t he a bit too committed to go out drinking the night before qualifying?’
‘Maybe. But perhaps he’ll take some time off for a change. Have a few beers with the lads, you know, good for team morale . . .’
A tiny glimmer of hope starts to flicker inside me. Dan returns with our drinks and then goes off to chat to Pete and the other mechanics standing on the pavement.
Unusually for a racing team, our previous drivers both retired at the end of last year, so we started this season with two newbies. Will, unlike Luis, has been in Formula 1 for a couple of years. The British have gone bananas over him, because he’s young, good-looking and talented, so it was a quite a coup for Simon to scoop him up. I’ve seen him around the track a bit in the past, but have never been in close proximity to him. Until yesterday.
‘Do you ever see him at team headquarters?’ I turn back to Holly.
‘Who?’ she asks.
‘Oh. Yeah, occasionally, yes. He’s been in to use the simulator a few times.’
‘It’s like a car-sized PlayStation racing game. They use it to learn the different track layouts. It’s wicked, actually. Pete let me have a go on it a few weeks ago.’
‘Why are you asking about Will?’ She remembers my initial question.
‘Um, no reason . . .’
‘You fancy him, don’t you?’ She slams her hand down on the table.
‘No!’ I deny.
‘You bloody do! You’ve gone all red!’
‘I have not!’
‘You have! I thought you were sworn off men?’
‘I am,’ I respond.
‘Are you ever going to tell me why?’
I shake my head and take a sip of my drink.
‘Why not?’ she asks for about the zillionth time. At least, that’s what it feels like to me.
‘I can’t,’ I reply.
‘Why? Are you worried your ex will hunt you down and kick your arse?’
I don’t answer.
She looks stricken. ‘That’s not it, is it? Oh God, Daisy, I’m so sorry if it is. I would never make fun of—’
‘I’m not a victim of domestic violence,’ I wearily interject. ‘I just don’t want to discuss it.’
‘Huh. Fine.’ She looks put out, then she adds, ‘Well, Will’s got a girlfriend anyway, so he’s off-limits.’
‘Does he?’ I try to keep my voice light, but the disappointment is immense.
‘Of course he does. How can you not know that? They’re always in the tabloids together.’
‘I don’t read the papers.’
‘Still, how can you have missed them?’
‘Why? What’s their story?’
My heart sinks.
Holly carries on, oblivious to my pain. ‘They grew up in the same village together. The press back home love it how Will has stayed with her through thick and thin and has never been tempted by all the bimbos on the racing scene.’
This is getting worse.
‘She works for a children’s charity.’
‘Are you making this up?’ I look at Holly, incredulous.
She laughs. ‘No, it’s true. Sorry.’
‘Well, like you say, I’m sworn off men.’
And yes, I am. I had my heart broken in America and felt like I had to leave the goddamn country because I couldn’t go anywhere without bumping into the bastard.
Repeat: I am okay on my own. I am okay on my own. I am okay on my own.
And I am sure as hell not going to chase after someone who has a girlfriend. That’s not my style.
I notice Holly wiping some of the lipgloss off her beer glass and smudging it back onto her lips.
‘That is such a good look,’ I say.
‘You are really quite sarcastic for an American, aren’t you?’ she answers wryly, as Pete plonks himself back down at the table.
‘I was born in England,’ I remind her.
My mother is Italian and my father is British, but when I was six, he moved the whole family to America. I’d been there for almost twenty years when I relocated to the UK and secured a job working as a waitress for Frederick and his wife Ingrid’s catering company in London. Then last October, Frederick asked me if I’d like to come along to the final three races as a front-of-house girl. That title means working in hospitality and making sure the team and its guests are looked after, but I also help out in the kitchen whenever it’s required. Opportunities like this – to see the world and get paid for it – don’t come along very often, so naturally I jumped at the chance.
Holly and I hit it off immediately. When we’re not racing, she works in the canteen at the team’s headquarters in Berkshire, England. I say canteen, but it’s actually more like a Michelinstarred restaurant. We met for the first time in Japan last year where we got through several jugs of sake in the hotel bar one night. The jugs are only tiny, but boy is rice wine strong. We were shit-faced by ten p.m, and you don’t even want to know what we consumed a week later in China.
After Brazil, Frederick asked me to stay on for another year to do a full season. I don’t know what came over him, but yay!
Holly has been rummaging around in her bag for ages and now she finally emerges with a tube of pink lipgloss. She reapplies some, giving me an overtly smug look.
I could do with some of that, actually. Just in case Will does deign to join us. What am I thinking? No, no, NO!
Damn it. ‘Can I have some?’ I have very little willpower. I slick some over my lips, then tuck my long, dark hair behind my ears and wait.
A few minutes later, a taxi pulls up outside the pub and the high-heel-clad feet of a woman gracefully step out of it onto the pavement.
I recognise her. It’s the woman Catalina was talking to in the grandstand . . . Her sister?
Then Luis climbs out of the car behind her. I crane my neck, but there’s no Will. I feel momentarily crushed, but firmly tell myself it’s for the best.
‘Oi, oi, oi!’ I hear a few of the lads behind us shout. Luis grins at them.
‘Who’s that he’s with?’ I ask Holly.
‘Alberta. Catalina’s cousin,’ Holly answers.
Sister . . . Cousin . . . Close enough.
‘Getting in with the boss’s family, is he?’ My tone is wry as I watch Luis put his hand on the woman’s lower back to steer her through the crowd.
‘Clearly,’ Holly replies.
He reaches our gathering and is enthusiastically welcomed by the mechanics, most of whom are standing on the pavement behind our table. Holly and I remain seated, while Pete stands up and leans across us to clap Luis on the back. Holly smiles and lifts her hand in a half-wave of hello, but I can’t bear to look at him so I busy myself pretending to pick a fly out of my wine glass.
‘Hello!’ I hear him pointedly say in my direction.
‘Oh, hello!’ I reply, as though becoming aware of his presence for the first time.
‘Written off any scooters lately?’
The boys around him crack up laughing and a couple of them make loud crashing noises.
‘Ha ha,’ I reply sarcastically and turn back to the imaginary insect in my glass.
One of the lads lifts a chair over the heads of the people drinking at the table next to us and plonks it down beside me, waving his hand with a flourish to Alberta. Pete immediately offers his chair to Luis.
‘No, it’s okay,’ Luis says. ‘I’m happy to stand.’
‘It’s alright, I’m going back to the bar,’ Pete says. ‘What are you having?’
Luis produces a wad of notes. ‘My round,’ he says.
‘That’s too much, mate!’ Pete waves Luis’s money away.
‘No, no, take it!’ Luis insists. ‘Put it in the, what do you call it? Kitty?’
Pete eyes it sceptically.
‘Take it!’ Luis forces it into his hand.
‘Do you want a bottle of champers?’ Pete asks Luis.
‘No, no, a beer for me.’
‘Saving the champagne for race day . . .’ Alberta comments in a husky voice.
Luis just laughs. ‘Will you have some?’ he asks her.
‘I wouldn’t mind,’ she replies, sexily.
‘Go on then, Pete, get a bottle. Do you need some more?’ He reaches for his wallet.
‘No, mate, no!’ Pete practically shouts, holding up the wad in his hand. ‘I’ve got enough here to buy a house! Girls? Same again?’
‘I’m fine, thank y—’
‘We’ll help out with the champers!’ Holly shouts. ‘Daisy, stop being such a lame-arse,’ she whispers to me when Pete has departed.
‘So Frederick let you come out to play?’ Luis looks straight at me.
I nod. ‘Uh-huh.’
I feel Alberta’s chocolate-brown eyes fall on me and am taken aback by how cool her gaze is, considering her eye colour is so warm. It’s the same with her sister. Cousin, I mean. Whatever. The silly Bs are related, that’s all I need to know.
‘I heard he’s a ball-breaker . . .’ Luis continues.
I don’t answer.
‘I’m Holly!’ Holly puts a stop to the awkwardness and offers her hand to Alberta, followed by Luis.
‘Do you work with this one?’ Luis asks Holly, nodding my way.
‘As a front-of-house girl, yes.’ She smiles warmly, cutting short whatever sarcastic comment I’m certain Luis was about to make. ‘How was the sponsorship event?’ she asks, her tone bubbling over with friendliness. I don’t know how she does it.
‘Boring,’ Luis answers.
‘Oh, thank you very much.’ Alberta pretends to be upset.
‘With the exception of the present company, of course.’
I’m about to put my fingers down my throat and make gagging noises when I notice her hand on his leg and am rendered speechless.
Pete returns with a tray full of drinks for the lads, plus glasses, champagne and an ice bucket. Holly and I help him unload it before he heads back to the bar to return the tray.
I hear a cork pop as Luis deftly pours champagne into three glasses, handing one to each of us girls.
‘No, thank you,’ I say, fingering the stem of my wine glass. I still have a few sips of Shiraz in there somewhere.
‘Don’t waste it,’ Luis states.
‘I’ll drink yours, Daisy,’ Holly offers, so I push it across the table to her.
‘There’s plenty to go around.’ Luis pushes the glass back in my direction and turns to Alberta.
I give him a look of such distaste that he must surely feel my eyes branding the back of his skull, then I inadvertently glance down and am greeted with the sight of Alberta sliding her hand in the direction of Luis’s crotch. Dirty cow! I look at Holly in shock. A split second later I hear the sound of a chair scraping on the pavement and turn back to see Luis standing up.
‘Where are you going?’ Alberta asks, her brow furrowed with annoyance.
‘The men’s room,’ Luis tells her.
‘I wouldn’t mind going, too,’ she says silkily, making me feel as invisible as that fly in my drink.
‘I need a piss,’ Luis says firmly, putting to a halt whatever naughty things Alberta had planned for their cubicle excursion. She slumps back in her seat and watches his departing backside.
‘Have you been to a Grand Prix before?’ Holly tactfully changes the subject.
‘Of course,’ Alberta answers dismissively.
‘Do you enjoy the racing?’
‘That’s not what I’m here for.’
‘Oh. What are you here for?’
‘The fun! The glamour!’ She casts her arms around her in an extravagant manner.
Glamour? I decide against pointing out the wasted youth who has just vomited on the kerb.
She takes a huge mouthful of champagne and reaches for the bottle.
‘Let me do that for you,’ Holly offers, making use of her hospitality skills. Alberta takes the refilled glass without so much as a thank you and sits back in her seat, crossing her legs so her mini skirt rides even further up her thighs.
I look away, bored and unable to play the game like my friend, and see Luis emerge from the pub doors. Alberta sits back up in her seat, but is visibly deflated when Luis stops to chat to the lads. I know how she feels. I’d give anything to be able to gossip freely with Holly instead of watching my words in front of this beacon of bitchiness.
‘Have you been Catalina’s cousin for long?’ Holly asks, in all innocence.
I look at her and crack up with laughter. She realises what she’s said and joins me in hysterics.
‘I’ve had too much to drink!’ she squeals, lifting up her champagne glass in one hand and her beer glass in the other.
Alberta glares at us both before standing up, plucking the champagne bottle out of the ice bucket and going to join Luis.
‘Come on, Holly, please can we go somewhere else, now?’
‘Yeah, okay,’ she agrees, knocking back first her beer, followed by her champagne and then rising to her feet.
We wind our way out towards the pavement, squeezing past the revellers already swarming to occupy our recently vacated chairs.
‘We’re off! See ya, lads!’ Holly calls to the group of mechanics.
‘Lightweights!’ Pete shouts.
‘We’re not going back to the hotel, we’re going partying, you pussy!’ Holly shouts, and I pull on her arm, laughingly trying to ignore Luis’s dark-eyed stare as we back away from the crowd.
‘I feel like a porcupine has rolled onto my eyelids,’ Holly moans.
‘I feel like a porcupine has lifted up my eyelid and stuck one of his spiky pine things into my retina,’ I reply.
‘I feel like a porcupine has lifted one of my eyelids and scraped five of his SPINES, I think you’ll find they’re called, into my—’
‘Girls!’ Frederick barks.
We abruptly fall silent. The pain is worth it – we had such a laugh last night. We bumped into a couple of girls who work in hospitality for another team and they talked us into going on the rickety little rollercoaster in Luna Park, St Kilda’s oceanfront amusement park. It was seriously scary – I thought we were going to come off the rails – but damn, it was funny. Then they wanted to go to the beach to go night swimming, but Holly and I thought we’d better get to bed as we were only going to get three hours’ sleep as it was.
Right now it’s the ludicrous time of five a.m. and we’re already at the track prepping food for the day’s menu. Holly’s mixing muesli with a variety of fruit and nuts, while I’m trimming bacon fat. I told you I always get the crappiest jobs.
‘I wonder how Luis is feeling this morning,’ I muse, when Frederick leaves us alone for a moment to harass a couple of other front-of-house staff, a husband and wife team from Germany called Klaus and Gertrude. They’re weird as hell when you chat to them socially, but scarily efficient at their jobs.
‘Concerned for Luis’s welfare now, are you?’ Holly raises one eyebrow at me.
‘No,’ I answer, annoyed.
‘I imagine he’s feeling on top of the world after his shag last night,’ she says.
‘You reckon they did the dirty deed?’ I struggle to keep my tone light.
‘I know they did the dirty deed,’ she says, ominously. ‘Alberta came out of Luis’s room at three o’clock this morning looking very much like the cat that got the cream.’
‘How do you know these things?’ I shake my head in awe.
She just smiles secretively. ‘Never give away my sources. Anyway, Luis will be in for a tough time with Simon if he doesn’t pull out all the stops in qualifying today.’
‘Haven’t you finished yet?’ Frederick snaps, coming back over to us.
‘Yes, Chef!’ we chorus.
‘Then get outside to the serving table, both of you!’
Ten minutes later, I’m trying not to let the smell of frying bacon turn my stomach when a dishevelled-looking Luis walks through the hospitality doors. He’s unshaven and wearing sunglasses, and everyone knows Simon likes his drivers to be well turned out.
He comes straight over to us.
‘What can I get you?’ Holly asks, ever-chirpy.
‘Just a coffee. Strong,’ he adds.
‘Get lucky last night, did you?’ I give him a dry look.
‘You have got such a mouth on you,’ he answers, not amused.
I should be careful, actually. I shouldn’t really speak to a ‘revered’ driver like this, but when it comes to Luis, I just can’t help myself.
‘You look a bit worse for wear yourself,’ he adds, still staring at me.
‘Why, thank you very much, sir. You sure know how to please a lady.’
‘That’s what I was told last night.’
I look at him, open-mouthed. He takes his coffee and wanders off, nonchalantly.
‘Did you hear what he just said?’ My voice has risen an octave.
‘Yes, yes, I heard it. You don’t half ask for it, though.’ Holly rolls her eyes.
‘I knew Alberta was a Screwdriver the minute I clapped eyes on her,’ I say hotly.
A ‘Screwdriver’ is a term we use in the business for women who chase after racing drivers. Or, to put it another way, for women who screw drivers. Nice, huh?
‘Why should you care, anyway?’ Holly asks. ‘You can’t stand the guy.’
‘He’s a jerk,’ I respond, just to reaffirm my feelings if they were at all unclear.
‘Freakishly good-looking though,’ she says.
‘Good-looking?’ I scoff. ‘How can you say that?’
She just laughs. ‘Ooh, look, it’s Prince Charming.’ She nods towards the door and I glance up to see Will walk in.
He heads over to the serving table, looking different to how I remembered him. I could have sworn his face was rounder.
‘Alright?’ he says.
Holly gives me a discreet shove when I don’t immediately find my voice. ‘Hello! What can I get you?’ I ask him sweetly, coming to life.
‘That looks good,’ he says, eyeing up the bacon. ‘But I’d better go for some of that.’ He points to Holly’s muesli instead.
I feel dejected as I watch her serve him.
‘Out last night with the lads?’ Will looks straight at me.
‘How did you know . . . Oh, looking a bit rough, am I?’
‘No, I just heard from a couple of the guys that you were out on the town. Good night?’
‘Great,’ I respond, delighted from the top of my head down to the tips of my rose-coloured toenails. He was talking about me!
‘Where did you go?’
‘St Kilda. It’s just on the other side of the—’
‘I know it.’
‘Skimmed, semi or full fat?’ Holly interrupts, indicating the silver milk jugs.
She pours some milk into his bowl and he takes it from her.
‘Would you like a coffee or anything to drink?’ I ask.
‘An orange juice, thanks.
’ I pass him a glass, my hand shaking ever so slightly.
He grins and nods at it. ‘Is that a result of your scooter accident or alcohol withdrawal?’
Actually it’s because I’m so nervous about being this close to you. But I lie and tell him it’s probably alcohol related.
‘You should have come out with us!’ Holly gushes.
‘Nah,’ he replies.
‘Too dedicated.’ I smile at him warmly. I can see Holly out of the corner of my eye and just know she’s on the brink of cracking up.
He raises his eyebrows in amusement and backs away, holding up his bowl of muesli and glass of juice. ‘Better get this down me. See you later.’
‘Absolutely.’ I beam at him.
‘Way too OTT, Daisy!’ Holly exclaims when he’s gone.
‘Was not,’ I grumble.
The hospitality area is situated directly behind the team garages, otherwise known as the pits, so later, when qualifying is already in full swing, Frederick allows us time out to go and take a look.
The garage is a hive of activity. Mechanics in black, white and gold overalls are swarming all over Luis’s car. I think I can spot Dan hovering over the front wing, but it’s hard to tell. All the mechanics have to wear protective clothing from head to toe, so you can barely tell one from the other. But Dan sees me watching him and gives me a wave, before busily getting back to work.
Will is out on the track at the moment, so we stand at the back of his garage and watch from every angle as six television screens broadcast the action.
I glance up to see a big, tall mechanic looking down at me. He’s wearing a helmet so I peer into it and realise it’s Pete. He’s the chief mechanic on Will’s car.
‘How’s it going?’ I shout over the thunderous noise of the cars zooming down the straight on the other side of the pit wall.
‘Great guns!’ he shouts back. ‘WHOA!’
His exclamation is mirrored by several other mechanics watching the TV screens. I glance up to see Will has taken first place, known in the industry as pole position.
‘Cool!’ I shout.
‘Got a little way to go yet,’ he shouts back, then to the lads, ‘He’s coming in!’
They all swarm outside to the pit lane.
As Will pulls up, Luis’s car zooms out of the garage next to us.
The on-car camera is riding with Luis, and we watch as he speeds around the corners, car bumping over the kerbs as he takes the fastest racing line.
Usually the drivers stay inside their cars for the duration of qualifying and watch the on-track action on a television stationed above their heads, but today Pete asks Will to climb out so they can make some adjustments. I stop watching Luis’s lap for the moment to focus on him. He takes off his helmet, a navy blue and silver design, and then tugs off his fireproof balaclava. His blond hair is damp with sweat, and as he pushes it back off his face, I’m hit by an image of him in bed with me.
I shake my head involuntarily and force my gaze back up to the screens. Luis’s helmet is bright green, and I have to admit it does stand out, gaudy though it is.
I feel someone’s presence beside me and turn to see Will standing there. Warmth radiates from him and the arm of his overall brushes against my elbow, freezing me to the spot. I watch him out of the corner of my eye as he studies the TV screens. His jaw is rigid with tension, then he seems to relax. I look back up and notice Luis is currently in fifth place on the grid, but the positions are changing all the time, and suddenly another driver takes pole position.
‘We should go back,’ Holly says.
Will glances down and acknowledges us with a nod, before checking the screens again to see he’s currently in third place for the start tomorrow.
‘Will!’ one of the mechanics calls.
‘Daisy . . .’ Holly urges as I distractedly watch Will return to his car and pull on his helmet before climbing back in. ‘Frederick won’t let us watch the race if we take the piss too much.’
‘Okay, okay, I’m coming.’ I desperately want to stay and see if Will can win back pole position when he next goes out, but I guess we’ll have to wait for news after the event.
Frederick isn’t even in the kitchen when we return and I can’t help but feel grumpy. I wasn’t that bothered about the racing last season, so it’s funny how much more riveting it’s become since Will joined the team. Holly ignores my mood and gets on with loading canapés onto a silver tray.
‘Are you coming?’ she asks me, raising a perfectly plucked eyebrow. ‘You know you can watch it while you work, yeah?’
I completely forgot about the big screen in the hospitality area. I hurriedly load up my own tray with kangaroo kebabs and mini burgers.
As we approach the overexcited guests we realise that Luis has just scored pole position and Will is out on the track completing his last lap. I can’t hold the tray steady and no one’s interested in food at the moment anyway, so I pull back and focus on Will as he speeds around the final corner on to the pit straight. Can he do it?
Everyone cheers as he swipes pole back from under his teammate’s wheels, leaving us with a one/two start tomorrow. For two new drivers and a team that usually ranks fourth or fifth in the championship, this result is outstanding.
I’m on edge as I wait for the drivers and team to return to the hospitality area. Frederick has instructed us to make sure champagne flows freely throughout the afternoon and evening and I’m just hoping that Will is going to join us for the celebrations. I soon spot him outside talking to the press along with Luis and Simon, but then I’m distracted with work and when I look back, all three of them have gone.
‘Off for a post-qualifying meeting, I guess,’ Holly says, reading my mind.
I plaster a smile on my face and carry on with work, while waiting for them to return. When Luis emerges my heart lifts, but there’s no sign of his teammate, and hours later when we finally call it quits for the night, I go to bed feeling oddly flat.
‘That was Kylie Minogue!’ Holly excitedly points outside the garages.
‘Come on, let’s stalk her!’
It’s race day and the buzz is electrifying. All our most important sponsors are in the pits and Frederick has allowed some of his crew to watch the start. The build-up is just as exciting as the actual race because there are gazillions of celebrities and camera crews traipsing around. Holly and I really want to see who else we can spot aside from Kylie, so we squeeze our way through all the people to get to the pit wall. The drivers and their cars are already lined up in their positions on the starting grid, but earlier they took part in a parade around the track on the back of a truck, and we could hear horns and whistles blowing from far away as they passed thousands of cheering spectators in the grandstands.
I look for Will, but only catch a glimpse of his car at the very front. Luis’s bright green helmet comes into view and I realise he’s surrounded by grid girls having their picture taken with him. What an idiot. Grid girls – or brolly dollies – are the models who stand on the grid holding umbrellas to keep the drivers out of the sun. Sometimes they just hold placards with the start numbers on them. It doesn’t surprise me that Luis is lapping up all the attention he can get from them; most of the drivers do. I spot Emilio Rizzo, an Italian driver in his mid-thirties, pretending to grab one of the girl’s boobs.
‘That’ll be nice for his wife,’ Holly comments, seeing what I’m seeing. ‘Crazy flirt, that one.’
Most of the drivers have got wives or girlfriends. I’ve seen a fair few since I’ve been working here. Some of them are supermodel-stunning – in fact, Benni Fischer from Germany is going out with quite a famous actress – but others are just nice, normal girls. Almost all of them attend the races to support their boys.
I wonder if Will misses his girlfriend. . .
‘If she loved him that much she would be here, wouldn’t she?’
‘If who loved who?’ Holly asks, confused.
Holly whacks me on the arm. ‘Stop it, you. Anyway, I think Laura is organising a charity ball in London this weekend.’
Laura. So that’s her name. ‘Have you seen them together? You know, in person?’
‘Er, yeah, she came to the British Grand Prix last year. His parents were there too, actually. Very cold and aloof. His dad is high up in banking or something, and his mother is a society wife.’
‘Oh, right. What’s Laura like? Is she aloof, too?’
Holly gives me a look. ‘No. She seemed really nice. Blonde. Sweet. Very pretty, too.’
‘Okay, okay! Enough!’
She grins and looks away.
It’s overcast today. It rained this morning, but the weather is supposed to hold out for the race. There’s little need for the Factor 30 I applied this morning. Yeah, yeah, I know UV rays can still get you and all that, especially down here where the ozone layer is so thin, but I’m just pleased Simon doesn’t make us wear hats.
Today our uniform is skirts, not trousers. All the teams have uniforms created by top fashion designers, and different outfits are provided for different days. When we’re travelling we have to wear black and gold trouser suits, on Friday practice days we wear black trousers and white shirts, and on Saturdays and Sundays we wear black skirts with white trim and gold silk shirts. The outfits look better than they sound. And if you lose an item of clothing or sell it on eBay, you’re in serious trouble. In fact, one girl last year got the sack for it.
The other things you must absolutely not lose are your race credentials. They’re a bit like ski passes. They hang around your neck and you have to swipe them to get through the security gates into the paddock area. The paddock is where the hospitality suites and garages are situated – areas which are strictly forbidden to the general public – but our passes are access-all-areas. They’re like gold dust – each team only gets a certain number of passes like this, so I know how lucky I am.
The people on the grid are thinning out because it’s almost time for the race to start. I take one last look at Will’s car and manage to spot his navy blue and silver helmet in the cockpit. He’s already strapped in. Holly and I hurry back to the garages along with swarms of team members vacating the starting grid and stand in front of the television screens. The sound of the engines is deafening as the twenty-odd drivers set off on the warm-up lap, zigzagging from side to side along the straights to heat up their tyres. Finally they file around the last corner onto the pit straight and take their positions on the grid. The atmosphere is tense as the five traffic lights above the starting line glow red, red, red, red, red, then they go out and it’s GO!
Will has a good start and takes the first corner without too much trouble, but the driver in fourth place – a Canadian called Kit Bryson – nips up the inside and swipes second place from under Luis’s nose, relegating him down to third. Over the next few laps, Will starts to pull away from the pack, but then there’s an accident halfway down the field and the safety car is brought out as a cautionary measure. The safety car slows the drivers down so the track can be cleared of crash debris and consequently the gap between Will and Kit Bryson is closed as the pack tightens up. When the flag goes green and the racing kicks into gear again, Will manages to keep his lead, but there’s a problem a few laps later. Smoke is coming from the back of Will’s car and the sight of it makes several of our mechanics curse. They hurry outside to the pit lane, but Will doesn’t even make it around the last corner before his engine gives up. He pulls into one of the gravel pits – designed to slow down the cars that have run off the track – and we watch on the screens as he gets out of the car and track marshals swarm over it.
Simon is sitting at the control desk on the pit wall in front of a bank of computers and one of the television cameras zooms in on the side of his stony face. Another screen shows Will starting the trek to the pits.
Holly tugs on my sleeve. ‘We’d better get back,’ she says, ever the professional.
I follow her reluctantly, wishing I could be there when Will arrives.
Twenty minutes go by in the hospitality area and Holly and I are kept busy serving drinks and canapés to the guests watching the race on the big screens. Luis hasn’t managed to overtake Kit, but he’s given it a good shot a couple of times. I’m standing there watching the action when Will walks in. The crowd applauds him and he waves his acknowledgement, then makes his way towards his private room.
He’s all alone. No girlfriend, not even his parents to comfort him.
I wonder if he needs anything?
My feet are walking in the direction of his room before I can properly stop to think about it. Even when I start to doubt my actions they just keep moving and finally I’m outside his door and my hand is lifting up to knock. . .
What am I doing?
The door opens and he’s standing there, his overalls stripped down to his waist and his naked chest gleaming with sweat.
‘Er, hi.’ He regards me warily.
‘Sorry to bother you,’ I quickly tell him, the words stumbling out of my mouth. ‘I was just wondering if you wanted me to get anything for you. A drink, some food, some clean clothes . . .’
‘Actually, I can’t find my team shirt. There was a whole stack of them here, somewhere.’ He glances around his room.
‘Shall I take a look?’ I ask.
He stands aside and waves me in. The drivers’ rooms at the various tracks around the world are not big, but they’re big enough for the drivers to relax in and get some peace and quiet.
My fingers tremble as I open drawers in a small cupboard and hunt out Will’s shirts. There’s a small black team carry case identical to mine sitting at the bottom of one cupboard.
‘Could they be in here?’
He shrugs, so I pull it out and unzip it. It’s full of team clothing.
‘Aha!’ he says. ‘I hadn’t got that far, yet.’
‘Such a boy,’ I tut. I unpack the shirt he should be wearing today and hand it over. ‘What about your pants?’
He tugs on the elastic of his boxer shorts, poking out from beneath his overalls. ‘What about them?’
My face immediately starts to burn. ‘I meant your trousers! We call them pants in the US . . .’
He chuckles. ‘I know, I’m only teasing. Don’t worry, I can take it from here.’
‘Okay, well, good.’ I back out of the room, trying to regain my composure. ‘Is there anything else I can get for you? A drink? Something to eat?’ Yes, that was good, Daisy. Keep it professional!
‘Nah.’ His face becomes serious again. ‘I should probably get out there and show my face to the sponsors.’ He points his thumb in the direction of the hospitality area.
‘Okay, then.’ I turn and make a run for it.
‘Thanks!’ he calls after me.
‘Where have you been?’ Holly asks when I reappear. ‘Have you just been in Will’s room?’ She looks at me with disbelief.
‘What were you doing?’
‘Don’t get excited, I was just helping him find his team shirt.’ She casts her eyes heavenwards as I hasten to explain. ‘You know, since Jennifer got the sack, the drivers don’t have a dedicated person on hand to look after them.’
Jennifer was the front-of-house girl assigned to look after Sandro and Marcus last year – Will and Luis’s predecessors. She’s the cretina who sold her stuff on eBay.
‘Hmm,’ Holly says, jokily suspicious. ‘Fair enough.’
‘Better attend to that lot.’ I hurry to the kitchen and load up another tray of canapés.
A few people clap as I approach them watching the race on the big screens. I’m confused for a moment because they can’t be that hungry and then I realise Will has come out of his room behind me. That could have been way embarrassing; I almost smiled and curtsied. I stand back and let him shake hands with the sponsors, and the air is full of the sound of their commiserations. A bullish American man turns to me and shouts, ‘Give the man something to eat, for Christ’s sake!’ before cracking up laughing at his own non-wit. Will smirks at me as he relieves my tray of a prawn skewer.
The laps count down towards the finish and Luis is still running in second place, although Kit has managed to put some distance between them. The pit stops have come and gone, but Luis hasn’t managed to close the gap and it looks like he – and the team – will walk away from Australia with eight championship points. We would have received ten for a win, and as it is, Will gets nothing.
I pause for a break to watch the cars go round the last few laps. It must be hard for Will to sit here and watch his teammate walk away with the glory. It’s Luis’s first year in Formula 1 and this result is going to create a real buzz around him.
Will stands up in front of me. Most of the spectators turn to stare at him.
‘I’d better go join the team in the pits,’ he says.
The most important sponsors are in the garages already, so the majority of people stay put in their seats, looking sorrowful at the sight of the team’s most famous driver departing. He spins around and comes face to face with me.
‘Daisy, are you coming to the pits?’ I hear Holly call, and look over my shoulder to see she’s just come from the kitchen, which means Frederick has given us the go-ahead.
‘Er, yeah, sure!’ I call back, distractedly side-stepping to let Will past. But he calmly indicates for me to go first, so I nervously lead the way out of the hospitality area. The three of us walk across the grass and asphalt to the pits while I desperately try to think of something to say. The garage looms just metres away and I want to kick myself because nothing comes to mind.
He. Has. A. Girlfriend.
Yes, yes, apart from that. Too late, we’re here.
A few mechanics call Will over to the television screens. Holly and I tag along to watch the last couple of laps. Finally the black and white chequered flag waves to denote the finish and everyone in Luis’s side of the garage cheers and embraces, delighted with their second-place result. Will’s side of the garage is more restrained, but they all clap politely.
We run outside to watch the victory lap and wait for Luis to pull in. He leaps out of the car and bounds over to the waiting mechanics for a massive group hug. I’m in the middle of the throng, getting pulled this way and that, and it’s easy to get swept away in the mood of the moment. The thought occurs to me that if Luis hadn’t messed up his start, he would have won. Maybe he should cut out the late nights and partying . . . I wonder if Simon is also thinking the same thing.
We go excitedly en masse to witness the handing out of the trophies and Holly and I squeal as the drivers on the podium spray champagne over us and the crowd below. Finally they file inside for the press conference. I look around but can’t see Will, then I notice him being interviewed by a camera crew. He looks serious. Professional. At that moment he glances my way, and as our eyes meet, he seems to falter for a split-second. He quickly turns back to the interviewer and continues, but as Holly and I return to the garages to watch the press conference on the TV screens, I’m too caught up in my thoughts to concentrate.
Hours later, when we’re in the middle of a mass clear-up session, Simon calls me in to the directors’ suite. Holly and Frederick look at me in alarm as I hurry after him, terrified he’s going to fire me for damaging one of the scooters. Inside the suite, he motions for me to sit down on the sofa as he takes the one opposite.
‘How are you finding things?’ he asks, blue-grey eyes studying me. He’s quite attractive, Simon. In his mid-forties, with a tanned, weathered face and short, sandy-blond hair.
‘Fine, fine,’ I stutter.
‘Not planning on jumping ship anytime soon?’
‘No, no, of course not.’
‘Good,’ he says brusquely. ‘Daisy, as you know, last year we had Jen to look after the boys.’ He means Jennifer, the girl I mentioned earlier. I nod, both intrigued and relieved this is not about my scooter crash. ‘This year I was after a more hands-on approach with everyone helping out.’
‘But one of the boys has asked if we can revert to last year’s setup.’
One of the boys?
‘Right . . .’
‘I’m wondering if you’d be up for doing the job.’
I’m speechless with surprise. Will asked for me? It can’t have been Luis.
‘It’s the same sort of thing you’re doing now,’ he continues. ‘Helping out Frederick and looking after the rest of the team as usual, but you’d also have more direct contact with Will and Luis – and me, if I need help with anything. Does that sound okay?’
He doesn’t expect me to say no.
‘Yes! That sounds great!’
‘Good.’ He stands up and it’s clear our meeting is over.
I walk back into the kitchen and Holly and Frederick know right away that I haven’t been fired.
‘What is it?’ Holly asks, smiling.
‘I’ve got Jennifer’s job,’ I reply, still feeling a little dazed.
‘Jen’s job?’ she checks suspiciously.
‘Yes. Looking after Will, Luis and Simon . . .’
‘Oh!’ She seems surprised. ‘Well, good for you,’ she says, and carries on cleaning down the surfaces.
I was expecting her to be happier for me than that, but perhaps it’s because Frederick is around.
Speaking of whom. ‘You’re not above washing the dishes,’ Frederick says gruffly, pointing to the sink.
But as my promotion sinks in, not even the Eiffel Tower of plates in front of me can wipe the smile off my face.
I can’t remember what Will looks like. I’ve had intense crushes before, when the same thing has happened. It’s been this way ever since I was a teenager.
I concentrate hard and try to focus on Will’s face in my mind. Those blue eyes . . . Yes! There he is! And almost as suddenly he’s gone again.
I switch on my bedside lamp and climb out of bed. On the dressing table there’s a pile of magazines and I riffle through them until I come to an old issue from a few weeks ago. Will’s face graces the front cover, but no, it doesn’t look right. Something’s missing.
‘Daisy, switch off the bloody light!’
I quickly put down the magazine and climb back into bed, doing as Holly says.
‘Sorry!’ I whisper.
She just groans and pushes the sheet off her body in the bed next to me.
It’s so hot and humid here. We’re in Kuala Lumpur and it’s been four days since I last saw Will. Holly and I flew straight here on Monday afternoon and we’re sticking around after the race for a week’s holiday on the island of Langkawi. Pristine beaches, crystal-clear water and palm trees galore . . . When you’re coming to a location as beautiful as Malaysia, it would be stupid not to make the most of it.
A couple of days ago we met up with Frederick to help source local produce and set up the hospitality facilities at the track. The mechanics arrived yesterday, and today the drivers do. I can’t sleep from the anticipation of seeing Will again. It’s only three thirty in the morning and we have to be at the track for five. I’m going to look a right state, but there’s nothing I can do about it.
Will has been in Kuala Lumpur himself for the last few days with his personal trainer, acclimatising himself to the environment. I’ve been on tenterhooks in case I bump into him, but it’s unlikely in a city as big as this. He’s staying in a different hotel along with Simon and the directors. And Luis, of course.
Eventually, Holly switches the light back on.
‘Can’t sleep?’ I ask.
‘No thanks to you,’ she grumbles.
‘It’s too hot here,’ I say, for want of an explanation that doesn’t involve a certain racing driver.
‘Well, why did you switch off the damn air-conditioning in the middle of the night?’
‘It was too cold, then,’ I reply innocently.
She just humphs and gets out of bed, heading in the direction of the shower.
An hour later we arrive at the track and I’m jumpy with adrenalin.
‘Have you been drinking too much coffee?’ Holly asks, when I jolt at the sight of a team member entering the white-tented hospitality suite.
I walk back into the kitchen and she follows. I’m about to ask Frederick what needs doing when someone calls my name from the door. Holly and I both turn to see Simon standing there. He beckons for me to go over to him.
‘Hi, Simon, what can I get for you?’
‘Nothing at the moment, but Daisy, it’s no good if you’re not staying in the same hotel as us. We’ll have to get that sorted for the next race.’
‘Okay . . .’
‘Speak to Ally,’ he calls over his shoulder as he walks off.
Ally is Simon’s PA back in the UK. She liaises with the team’s travel agent among many, many other things.
‘What was that about?’ Holly is immediately on my case.
I fill her in.
‘Oh. That means we won’t be able to share a room.’
‘It’s only for Bahrain. We’re all staying in the same hotels once we hit Europe, right?’
‘I guess so.’
‘It’ll be okay.’
‘At least you’ll be happy.’ She gives me a small smile.
‘I’d rather be with you, actually.’
‘Yeah, right!’ she exclaims. ‘You’ll be well within stalking distance of Prince Charming.’
‘Shh!’ I warn. ‘Anyway, stalking distance?’ I ask huffily.
‘I saw the magazine you were looking at in the middle of the night . . .’
‘It wasn’t the middle of the night; it was this morning. Will you quit teasing me?’
‘Sorry.’ Then she whispers, ‘Consider yourself lucky. I’ll probably have to share with Klaus and Gertrude.’ She glances at the German couple diligently working away at one of the counters. Klaus is de-heading fresh prawns and passing them to Gertrude to finish shelling before he hands her the next.
I give Holly an ‘aren’t they weird?’ look before adding, ‘Threesome?’
She groans distastefully and swipes me on the arm with a wet tea towel.
‘Ow!’ I shout.
‘DAISY!’ Frederick snaps, so I wipe the smile off my face.
I head out to the serving table just in time to see a black-haired, olive-skinned figure walk in.
‘Hi, Luis, what can I get you?’ I ask in a deliberately bored-sounding voice.
I glance over at Frederick, who’s just about to sit down for a meeting with Tarquin, Will’s nutritionist/personal trainer. Luis looks over his shoulder and spots the scene before glancing back at me with amusement.
‘And I’ll have some bacon and eggs, too,’ he says.
‘Shouldn’t you have a nutritionist?’ I ask, serving up the greasy food onto a plate.
‘Don’t need one,’ he says, taking the coffee and blowing on it, his dark eyes watching me over the rim of his cup.
I raise my eyebrows disapprovingly and hand him his plate.
‘So,’ he says, not taking his plate from me. ‘I hear you’re our designated bun tart?’
‘Your what?’ I splutter.
‘Bun tart. Haven’t you heard that term before? That’s what we call you girls.’
‘You call us bun tarts?’ I ask in horror.
‘Sure.’ He shrugs. ‘Don’t shoot the messenger,’ he adds calmly.
‘Hey, Luis.’ Holly comes out of the kitchen. ‘Whoa, you must be hungry.’ She looks at the plate I’m still holding. ‘I can’t believe you’re not going for some of my nice muesli.’
He glances at it. ‘Hmm,’ he decides. ‘Maybe I will have some.’
‘So you don’t want this?’ I interrupt, nodding at the plate in my hand.
‘No, thanks.’ He actually has the audacity to wink at me.
I irritably spin around and sweep the bacon and eggs from his plate into the bin behind the serving table. When I turn back, Holly is spooning muesli into a bowl.
‘Extra nuts?’ she asks.
Luis nods pleasantly.
‘Did you hear what he just called me? Us?’ My voice sounds squeaky with annoyance.
‘No, what?’ Holly flashes Luis an apologetic smile.
‘Bun tarts!’ I explode.
She laughs. ‘That’s our nickname, Daisy.’
‘What, yours and mine?’ I’m now very unpleasantly surprised.
‘No,’ she waves her hand dismissively. ‘All of us. All of the front-of-house girls. It’s the same in every team. It’s a term of affection.’
‘Well, I don’t know about that,’ Luis mutters.
Holly hands him a bowl filled to the brim. ‘Do you want a protein shake to go with that?’ she asks.
Luis glances down at his coffee and then cocks his head to one side. ‘Go on, then.’
I stand there and glare at him.
‘What?’ he asks innocently.
At that moment Will walks into the hospitality area and my expression must have changed dramatically because Luis sharply spins around to see who has caught my attention. I quickly try to cover up by tidying the serving table in front of me as I notice Will taking a seat with Tarquin and Frederick. I glance back at Luis and see a twinkle in his eye.
Later that afternoon, I’m hard at work when I hear someone shout.
‘Oi, Daisy!’ Pete pops his head around the door.
‘What do you want?’ I shout back cheekily.
‘Are you coming out tonight?’
‘Why, what’s the plan?’
He looks comically from side to side to make sure no one is within earshot. ‘We’re going for a piss-up in the city.’
‘Another one? Shouldn’t you be setting an example?’ I joke. ‘You’re the chief mechanic.’
‘Yeah, well, you’re the chief bun tart.’ He grins at me and I notice a couple of catering staff surreptitiously smirk at each other.
‘What is it with that term?’ I explode. ‘I heard it for the first time today and now everyone’s saying it!’
Pete cracks up laughing. ‘Yeah, Luis told me your face was such a picture this morning.’
‘He’s not coming out, is he?’
‘Nah, he’s got some sponsorship event to attend.’
‘Yeah. All the bloody time. He hates them.’
‘Too bad for him. I’ll come, then,’ I say, snootily. ‘As long as he’s not coming.’
‘I can’t guarantee he won’t turn up later . . .’
We’re staying at a hotel in the city – all the mechanics are in the same one as us so we arrange to meet at the hotel bar later. Once again, Holly and I did the early shift, so Frederick lets us leave soon after we’ve helped out with dinner. Luckily, Klaus and Gertrude are not really party animals so that works out just fine.
We go to a bar with a perfect view of the soaring Petronas Twin Towers, glowing white in the night. Even after an hour, I’m finding it hard to tear my eyes away from the strange Islamic-looking skyscrapers with their interlinking bridge, but when Dan gets a text from Luis demanding to know where we are, my attention is immediately diverted.
‘Don’t tell him!’ I beg.
He just laughs while typing out a reply. ‘Why don’t you like him?’ he asks afterwards.
‘I don’t know how anyone can like him!’
‘What’s he ever done to you?’ he persists.
‘He almost ran over me and then called me a silly woman driver, for one thing.’
‘He’s only teasing . . .’
‘He is not!’ I respond hotly.
‘Okay, okay.’ Dan gives up.
Later, when Luis emerges, I’m still in a mood. I don’t see the person behind him until he’s almost at our table.
‘Will!’ Pete shouts.
I feel dazed, jittery, sick with excitement. While the lads all jump up to shake the drivers’ hands, I flash a glance at Holly. She rolls her eyes at me.
‘Budge over, will you.’
I look up to see Luis standing by my side. I must have a delayed reaction because he pushes my arm and indicates the chair next to me. I reluctantly move across to it.
‘How’s it going, bun tart?’ he asks, when he’s seated.
I glare at him. ‘You really expect me to answer?’
He leans back in his chair and grins at me, smile sparkling in the low-level lighting.
‘You don’t like me, do you?’ he asks.
‘Where on earth did you get that idea?’ I reply sarcastically, flashing a look at Will amongst all the mechanics.
Luis glances up at him and then leans towards me and whispers conspiratorially, ‘But you like him, don’t you?’ He laughs when he sees my horrified face. ‘Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me.’
‘Fottiti!’ I hiss at him.
‘Now, what does that mean?’ He’s still smiling and I want to slap him.
‘It means go fuck yourself!’
‘Nossa Senhora . . .’ Luis looks disturbed and leans back in his seat again.
I don’t speak Portuguese – the language of Brazil – but I recognise his words as being simply, ‘Our Lady’, as in the virgin mother.
‘You really are a piece of work, aren’t you?’ he adds.
I instantly regret being so snappy. The look on his face tells me he really was only teasing and I’ve just been a complete bitch, but I still can’t help folding my arms in defiance.
Luis taps his fingers on the table and stares across at Holly, unsmiling.
‘Is she talking dirty to you again?’ Holly calls, trying to clear the air.
‘If she were talking dirty, I wouldn’t mind,’ Luis calls back.
I should apologise, but the words just won’t come. A few seconds later, Luis stands up.
‘I need a drink,’ he says unhappily, heading over to a few of the lads at the bar.
Holly gives me a disapproving look.
‘I know, I know,’ I say crossly.
She lets it drop, but the jittery sickness I felt earlier has been replaced with another kind of sickness, and it’s not pleasant.
I glance at Will again, and at that moment, he catches my eye and joins us at the table.
‘Alright?’ he asks.
‘Hi!’ I immediately perk up.
‘Can I get you a drink?’ He looks from Holly to me.
‘Um . . .’ Holly considers his question.
‘No, no, we’re fine!’ I interject. Sorry, Holly, but I don’t want him to go off again. ‘Have a seat!’ I point to the one recently vacated by Luis.
‘We don’t usually see you out and about,’ Holly says as he sits down.
‘Mmm, Tarquin wouldn’t be too impressed,’ he replies wryly. ‘Luis dragged me along. Promised me we’d just stay for the one . . .’ He looks down at his watch, then casts his eyes over to Luis and the lads at the bar.
‘What are you drinking?’ I ask, just out of curiosity.
‘Water,’ he replies, holding it up. ‘Got to keep my fluids up in this heat.’
‘It was like, 70 per cent humidity today, wasn’t it?’ I grimace.
‘Something like that,’ he replies.
‘Do you ever drink alcohol?’ Holly chips in.
He grins. ‘Sometimes.’
‘Just champagne on the podium?’ I ask, then inwardly cringe when I remember Alberta said a similar thing to Luis in Melbourne last week.
‘I might pop to the bar after all,’ Holly interrupts, distracting Will from the look of mortification on my face.
‘I’ll go.’ Will joins Holly on her feet, but Holly shoots him down.
‘No, I will,’ she insists. ‘I’m a feminist. I don’t like men to buy me drinks.’
Which is utter rubbish, but it does the trick.
Will settles himself back in his seat. An awkward silence ensues where I’m completely lost for words, but finally he speaks.
‘You’re not staying at our hotel, are you?’
‘No,’ I reply. ‘I will be in Bahrain, though.’
Why is it cool? Do you want me there? Why?
Girlfriend, Daisy, remember his girlfriend!
‘Is your. . . Laura coming out this weekend?’ Her name almost sticks on my tongue, but I manage to say it.
‘No, she’s attending some do in London.’
‘A charity event?’
‘Do you miss her?’
‘Course.’ He eyes me steadily. ‘It’s been like this for years, though, so we’re pretty used to it.’
I look away uncomfortably.
‘Have you got a boyfriend?’ he asks offhandedly.
‘Er, no, not me.’
‘Really?’ He looks surprised.
‘Why? Should I?’ Did that sound too defensive?
‘Not if you don’t want one, no.’
‘I mean, I could get one if I wanted one . . .’
‘I’m sure you could.’ He sounds amused.
‘But I don’t want one.’ Will you shut up, Daisy?
‘Fair enough.’ He glances at his watch again. Cazzo, I’m really messing this up.
‘Do your parents come to many races?’ I ask quickly. I don’t want to do small talk. There’s not enough time.
‘No. They don’t.’ His reply is blunt.
‘Why is that?’ I so want to get to the bottom of him . . .
He rests his heel up on the edge of his chair and casually wraps one arm around his knee. When he doesn’t immediately answer, I start to regret my line of questioning, but then he speaks.
‘We’re not that close.’ He rubs away some of the condensation that has formed on the outside of his glass.
‘Has it always been like that?’ I swivel to face him, willing him to look at me.
‘Pretty much,’ he replies, glancing my way. ‘Ever since I was a kid and they sent me off to boarding school.’ He pauses. ‘Aah, there were moments . . .’ His voice trails off.
‘Like what?’ I prompt.
‘Oh, I was just remembering how one of our horses broke free and almost trampled me when I was very little. My mother was nice to me, then.’ I hold my breath because I can’t believe he’s opening up to me about this. But then his voice hardens. ‘On the whole, though, she kept me at a distance. My father has always done that.’ He takes a sip of his water.
‘That’s sad,’ I murmur, staring at him.
‘It’s okay,’ he says flippantly, putting his foot back down on the floor. ‘You come to terms with it.’
‘No, you don’t,’ I reply firmly. ‘You never come to terms with it.’
He meets my eyes for a long moment. The hurt on his face is hurting me too, but I can’t look away. ‘They must be proud of you now,’ I say hurriedly. I want to make it better.
His expression turns to confusion and he shakes his head slightly then turns away and laughs a brittle laugh. ‘I don’t know why I’m telling you this.’
I fall silent. He looks over at the bar again. ‘I should hunt out Luis.’ He starts to get up.
‘He’s probably picked up a screwdriver somewhere,’ I say bluntly.
Will chuckles. ‘I’ll tell him you said that.’
‘No, don’t,’ I plead. ‘He hates me enough as it is.’
He smiles, clearly thinking I’m joking. ‘Are you coming?’ he asks, pointing towards the bar. ‘I don’t want to leave you here on your own.’
I look over and spot Holly doing shots with Pete.
‘Sure.’ Holly has left her handbag on her chair so I pick it up and we go to join the team.
‘Daisy!’ Dan shouts. ‘Come and do a shot with us!’
‘I’ve got to be up in a few hours!’ I laugh. ‘So do you for that matter.’
‘Where’s Will?’ Holly yells.
Where is Will, actually?
I look around frantically, but he’s nowhere to be seen. I feel out of it, separated from the crowd. If Will’s not here, I don’t want to be here. Where is he? Has he really—
‘He’s gone.’ Luis interrupts my thoughts and it’s like a shotgun has gone off in my head.
I don’t look at him.
‘It’s alright, bun tart, you’ll see him tomorrow.’
‘STOP CALLING ME THAT!’ I shout at the top of my voice. Everyone turns to look at me.
‘Daisy!’ Holly jumps in surprise.
‘That’s it, I’m off!’ And with a look that could surely kill everyone around me, I storm out of the room.
Luis appears first for breakfast. I refuse to look at him so Holly takes over.
‘What can I get you?’ she asks warmly.
‘Muesli. And a couple of hash browns.’
Nice, healthy mix there, Luis. I don’t vocalise my thoughts.
‘Coffee? Juice? Shake?’ Holly enquires.
And that’s it. He walks off. I watch his departing back with confusion.
‘What?’ Holly asks me.
‘He didn’t say anything to me.’
‘Are you surprised after the way you spoke to him last night?’
Hmm. I go into the kitchen to bring out some more toast and have a quick tidy up and when I return, Will is walking away from the serving table. I look after him in dismay. Holly, thankfully, doesn’t make a point of noticing.
The next time I see him is after I’ve clawed my way through the humidity to get to the pits. I have to stock up the food supplies for the team members too busy to take a break. There’s a drivers’ room in the garages at Kuala Lumpur’s Sepang circuit and as I’m about to return to the hospitality area, Will comes out of it, wearing his racing overalls.
‘Good time last night?’
‘Great!’ Until you did your disappearing act, that is. ‘All set for qualifying?’ I ask the obvious question.
‘Yep.’ He pats the helmet under his arm.
‘Good.’ What else to say, what else to say?
At that moment Luis emerges from the drivers’ room behind him. He glances in our direction, but quickly looks away again, heading over to his car on the other side of the garage. My eyes follow him distractedly.
‘Catch you later,’ I hear Will say.
I quickly return my attention to him. ‘Of course, yes. Good luck!’
He doesn’t reply and I hurry back through the outside heat to the blissfully air-conditioned hospitality area, heart pounding ever so slightly faster than it was before.
In Melbourne, Will and Luis qualified on the front row of the grid, a result which surprised everyone in the industry. So all eyes are on our team today. Can Will swipe pole position again? Will Luis beat him to it?
Luis does end up in the running for pole, but against another driver, Nils Broden from Sweden. Luis comes second in the end, followed by Kit Bryson in third, while Will only just manages to pull fourth out of the bag. It’s still a good result, but not good enough for Will it seems. He leaves the track early on Saturday afternoon, while Luis sits around, happily chatting to the sponsors in the hospitality area.
Holly and I don’t go out that night. Her hangover is still raging inside her head so she persuades me to stay in our hotel room and watch a movie. I don’t take much persuading, to be honest. I know Will won’t be out on the town again and I’m quite happy to avoid Luis or any teasing that might come, probably quite rightly, from the mechanics.
The Malaysian Grand Prix the following day passes by with barely any incidents. Will has a good start, managing to overtake Kit Bryson to nab third place, while Luis keeps his second-place position, and this is pretty much how it stays until the end. With both drivers taking home trophies, we’re once again the centre of attention. But Luis is the driver most people are talking about. He now leads the championship – an impressive feat for someone in his first ever season. Will, on the other hand, has been in Formula 1 for two years and is yet to win a race.
I wonder how he feels seeing team boss Simon give Luis a pat on the back following the press conference. Even I feel quite bizarrely like I want to congratulate Luis, but he’s always surrounded by people, and I’m too afraid he might snub me after my behaviour on Friday night.
Early that evening as we’re well into the swing of tidy-up mode, I come out of the kitchen to see Simon chatting to the team’s technical and financial directors. Will and Luis are talking behind him, with Will making swerving motions with his hands as though describing a manoeuvre he made during the race.
Simon turns around and sees me. ‘Ah, Daisy. We’re off, now.’
I presume he means to Bahrain. It’s two weeks until the next race, but the drivers once again need to acclimatise themselves to the hot conditions.
‘Did you speak to Ally?’
He’s talking about his PA.
‘Yes, I did. She managed to switch my hotel.’ I’m aware that Will and Luis have finished their conversation and are now listening to this exchange. It’s making me nervous.
‘And when do you arrive?’
‘Um, on the Wednesday before the race. Is that okay?’
‘Not really, no. I think we’ll need you out there before then. Does that interfere with your plans?’ His tone is brusque.
It does, actually. Holly and I were going to Langkawi this week.
‘When were you thinking?’ I ask, my heart sinking as the image of us drinking cocktails together on white, sandy beaches slips away.
‘Later this week would be better.’
‘Okay,’ I reply a touch hesitantly. At least I’ll be able to spend a couple of days with my friend. ‘I’ll speak to Ally again.’
Still, she’s not going to be pleased. But as Will flashes me a smile, suddenly Holly is no longer at the forefront of my thoughts.
That’s it, I am officially bored. Don’t get me wrong, it is beautiful here. Warm, sunny days . . . A five-star hotel overlooking the sparkling waters of Manama Bay . . . Our own private beach and palm trees aplenty by a stunning outdoor pool. I know I shouldn’t complain, but dammit! I miss Holly!
I flew in straight from Kuala Lumpur and instead of the usual fun I’d have on the plane in business class luxury with my pal, I had to sit next to Frederick. Holly and I spend most of our flights gossiping and knocking back free drinks, but my boss slept most of the way and I could hear his snores even through my headphones. Aeroplane films just don’t have the same impact when the sound of a chainsaw is going off in the background.
At first I didn’t realise Frederick was coming too, and since I’ve been here, my days have been spent with him, preparing the drivers’ and core crew members’ meals in the penthouse suite of our über posh hotel, after which I scuttle back down to my room a couple of floors below. Will and Luis, on the other hand, spend the majority of their time with their personal trainers, Tarquin and João – Luis flew João in from Brazil on Simon’s insistence.
I’ve barely seen Will. Luis is being mildly pleasant, but on the whole acts like I don’t exist, and I’m sick to death of Catalina’s demands. In fact, anyone would think I’m her slave. ‘Get this! Get that! I need water! WATER!’
I can’t wait for Holly to get here in a couple of days so we can check out the souks in Manama City. I haven’t had anyone to sightsee with and I’m dying to see the Al Fateh Mosque, plus, apparently, there’s this crazy tree, all alone in the middle of the desert, which is kept alive by an underwater spring! It’s called the Tree of Life, or something.
Yes, I’ve had a lot of time to read the travel brochures in my hotel room, can you tell?
By day five, though, I’ve had enough, and head down to the hotel bar for a change of scenery. Alcohol may not be illegal in Bahrain – unlike neighbouring Saudi Arabia – but I haven’t had anyone to drink with here, anyway. Will’s practically tee-total and Luis, well, Luis is Luis. But after several lonely evenings by the pool followed by solitary television viewing in my room, tonight I’ve decided I’ll get drunk on my own if I have to. Call me an alcoholic if you must.
The bar overlooks the swimming pool and blue ocean beyond. I stand and look out at it for a moment while slurping my cocktail through a straw. And then I notice a dark-haired man sitting alone at a table by the window. Luis.
The wave of relief is enough to make me bite the bullet and take my drink over to his table. It occurs to me as I reach it that perhaps he’s meeting a woman, but it’s too late to turn back. He’s seen me.
‘Hello, bun tart,’ he says.
I take a seat, too much in need of company to mind.
‘Hello, testa di cazzo,’ I reply with a smile.
‘Fair enough. Cheers.’ He leans across and chinks my glass.
‘What are you drinking?’ I ask.
‘Does your personal trainer know about this?’ I raise one eyebrow.
‘Not unless you plan to tell him.’
‘I’ll see how I feel later.’
He grins at me and I relax back into my chair.
‘So what are you doing down here?’ he asks, swirling the ice around in his glass.
‘No one to play with?’
‘No. I miss Holly.’
‘You’ll just have to play with me instead.’
‘I think you’ve got more than enough women to play with.’
‘Not tonight, though, bun tart.’
‘Piss off. Or how do you say it? Va se lixar?’
‘Well remembered. Do you speak any Portuguese?’
‘Afraid not. Just Italian.’
‘How’s that, then?’
‘My mother is Italian,’ I explain. ‘Although I’ve spent most of my life in America.’
‘So you grew up bilingual?’
‘Funnily enough, no. My mother never spoke to me in Italian. I learned it when I was a teenager.’
‘Wanted to get back to your roots?’
‘That’s right.’ Hmm. Actually quite perceptive. For an idiot. ‘My grandparents on my mother’s side live in Italy and I went to stay with them one summer when I was eleven. They didn’t speak much English so I started to teach myself Italian with books. Then I studied it at school when I returned to the States. Sorry, this is really boring.’
‘Far from it,’ he says. ‘What about your name? Daisy Rogers doesn’t sound very Italian.’
‘No. That’s my father for you. My middle names sound more Italian: Paola Giuseppe. I was named Paola after my grandmother. Giuseppe is my mother’s maiden name.’
‘Paola. There’s something feisty about Paola. I think it suits you more than Daisy.’
It’s not the first time I’ve heard such words and I shudder as a memory comes back to me.
‘And where did you learn to swear in Italian?’
I laugh. ‘Well, that was from an Italian boy I went out with.’
‘Aha! I see.’
‘Much to my father’s disgust,’ I add.
He leans forward with interest. ‘That’s a bit hypocritical considering he married your mother.’
‘You don’t have to tell me my father’s a hypocrite,’ I reply. Hang on, why am I opening up to him about all of this?
‘What about you?’ I change the subject. ‘Do you get along with your family?’
‘There are a lot of us, but yes.’
‘A lot of you?’
‘Mum, dad, three sisters and four brothers.’
‘No way, that’s humungous!’
‘Thirteen cousins, five uncles and four aunties.’
‘Alive and well.’
I sigh. ‘Wow. I’m jealous.’
He leans back in his chair again. I lean back in mine and rest the tips of my silver-grey ballet pumps on the low table.
‘Do you want another?’ Luis motions towards my drink and clicks his fingers for service.
A waiter comes over and takes our order. A few minutes later he returns with our drinks.
‘So,’ Luis says, crossing one leg over the other so that his ankle rests on the opposite knee. He’s wearing a red T-shirt and dark-denim jeans. ‘What’s going on with you and Will?’
‘What do you mean, what’s going on? Nothing’s going on!’ I can feel my face heating up.
‘You can tell me, I won’t tell anyone.’
‘Oh, sure,’ I reply sarcastically. ‘Just like you didn’t tell anyone I nearly broke your legs.’
He cracks up laughing and almost spills his drink. ‘I was only joking.’ He waves his hand dismissively.
‘If Simon had heard you say that, I could have been fired,’ I point out, pedantically.
‘Simon did hear me say it.’
‘Keep your bra on, bun tart, I didn’t know he was behind me.’
‘Keep my bra on? You are such a chauvinistic pig!’
‘Thanks.’ He flashes me a grin with his annoyingly white teeth.
‘How did he react?’ I push.
‘He just asked me if I was alright, if I’d been hurt, and I laughed and said of course not, you weren’t trying hard enough.’
‘Please tell me you’re joking . . . Oh my God, I can’t believe he hasn’t fired me.’
‘Far from it. You got a promotion.’
‘No thanks to you!’ I snipe.
‘Actually . . .’
‘What do you mean?’
‘What, you thought Will had requested you?’ he asks, smirking.
The disappointment is crushing. I look down at the table.
‘God, you crack me up. Have you met his girlfriend?’ he asks.
‘No. Have you?’ Now, I’m curious.
‘Yeah, at a do in London before the season started. Pretty.’
I fall silent and study my drink.
‘Not as pretty as you, though,’ he adds. I look up at him and there’s a familiar twinkle in his eye.
‘Shut up.’ But I smile at his teasing. ‘What about you? Have you got a girlfriend?’
‘No. It would be cruel to limit myself to just one girl. I need to share myself around.’
I shake my head at him in mock disgust. ‘How old are you?’
‘That’s the same age as me!’ I exclaim. I was about to tell him he’s immature, but I’m easily distracted.
‘And Will,’ he adds.
‘No shit? What a coincidence!’
‘Yes, what a coincidence.’ He’s being mildly sarcastic. He knocks back his drink and holds up his empty. ‘Another?’ I nod and he raises his hand for service.
‘Can we get a bottle of champagne, please?’ he asks the waiter who has just arrived at our table.
‘Certainly, sir,’ the waiter replies.
I start to protest, but Luis interrupts. ‘As soon as possible, thanks.’
‘I thought you didn’t drink champagne?’ I’m confused as I watch the waiter rush away.
‘I don’t, but I want to freak Will out.’
‘Don’t look!’ Luis hushes me, but I’m already sitting up in my chair like a hare in the headlights. ‘You are so obvious,’ he chides, half hiding his face with his hand.
‘Where is he?’ I demand to know.
‘Where?’ I can’t bear the thought of him going upstairs to his room without seeing me.
The waiter comes out from behind the bar area with a bottle of champagne and at that point, Luis stands up.
‘Will!’ he calls.
I still can’t see him, but I don’t have a clear line of vision towards the reception desk.
‘He’s coming.’ Luis grins at me as he sits down.
‘Are you winding me up?’ I ask, as the waiter pops the cork and starts to pour the fizzing liquid into two tall flutes. I can’t see now because he’s blocking my view.
‘That’s fine, thanks,’ Luis says to the waiter. He leans across the table and hands me a glass.
‘Hi!’ Will appears at our table and my heart flips. ‘Oh, hello!’ he says in surprise, looking down at me. His eyes flit from Luis to me and I have a horrible feeling that he’s getting completely the wrong idea.
‘Hi!’ I say warmly, trying to undo the damage. ‘Sit down, sit down! Can we get another glass?’ I call after the departing waiter. My voice sounds slightly unhinged.
‘No, no,’ Will brushes me off.
‘Oh, that’s right, you don’t drink.’ I start to giggle. It’s my nerves – and the fact that a few days without alcohol means it’s gone straight to my head.
‘I was just off to bed,’ Will says.
‘Don’t! Stay!’ I stand up and try to drag one of the really quite deceptively heavy chairs over to our table.
‘I don’t want to gatecrash,’ he says.
‘You’re not gatecrashing!’ I insist. ‘Is he, Luis? He’s not gatecrashing?’
‘Hmm?’ Luis calmly lazes back in his chair and sips his drink.
‘Tell him to sit down!’ Okay, now I’m sounding a bit scary.
‘Sure, take a seat.’
He does, and I immediately adjust my body language so I’m leaning forward to talk to him. ‘Where have you been?’
‘You’re working late,’ I comment, impressed.
‘Yeah, I’m knackered.’
‘Just have one drink with us,’ I plead. ‘I’ve been bored shitless here.’
A waiter comes over with another glass. ‘I’ll just have a soda water,’ Will tells him. He’s wearing a baseball cap with one of the team sponsors’ logos on the front and when he takes it off, his blond hair has a slight dent in it. ‘So why have you been bored?’ He looks at me. ‘Are we not keeping you busy enough?’
‘No,’ I reply.
‘We might have to rectify that situation,’ Luis chips in.
‘You seem to be rectifying it now,’ Will tells him. Am I imagining the frosty tone in his voice?
‘I’m doing what I can,’ Luis replies.
‘Have you been out today?’ Will asks him.
‘Couldn’t be arsed.’
Will raises his eyebrows. But Luis did go out! I saw him leave with his personal trainer earlier.
‘You—’ I start, but Luis interrupts me.
‘Top up?’ His dark eyes look like they’re warning me. I shut my mouth again and obediently hold up my glass.
‘Thanks,’ Will says to the waiter returning with his drink.
Now I can’t think of anything to say. At the moment, Luis knows more about me than Will does. It’s strange how the people you care about least, sometimes know you the best. You let your guard down with them because you don’t mind that they see you, warts and all. If your personality malfunctions scare them, so what?
But I don’t want to waste this opportunity to get to know Will. I just don’t feel comfortable talking in front of his teammate. We need a subject that’s safe. I know! I look across at Luis and smirk. ‘So where’s Alberta this weekend?’
Luis shrugs. ‘No idea.’
‘What, you didn’t call?’ I ask, mock innocently. ‘You didn’t write? You didn’t text? That’s not very boyfriendly of you.’
‘Boyfriend!’ He stiffens in horror.
‘I can’t believe you’d treat the boss’s sister-in-law with such disdain.’
‘She got what she wanted,’ Luis replies, with a wink.
‘I doubt that,’ I scoff, looking him up and down.
He chuckles good-naturedly. ‘She used and abused me. Then ran back to her husband in Spain.’
‘She’s married?’ I interrupt, looking at Luis in shock.
Luis laughs. ‘I’m joking. I would never steal another man’s girl.’ He gives me a sly look that says, ‘Unlike you.’
‘Neither would I!’ I reply crossly.
‘Isn’t she Catalina’s cousin?’ Will asks, seemingly oblivious to whatever’s going on between Luis and me.
‘Oh, yeah,’ Luis says.
‘Who cares?’ I ask.
Luis laughs. Will leans back in his chair and stretches his legs out under the table. He runs his hands through his blond hair and yawns.
‘Are we keeping you up?’ Luis asks.
‘I should probably hit the sack,’ Will replies, making to stand up.
No! ‘Have another drink,’ I plead.
‘No, really,’ he says, rising to his feet.
‘Got to run off and call his girlfriend,’ Luis says.
Will winks at him and smiles at me. ‘See you in the morning.’
I slump back down against the soft leather as I dejectedly watch him walk away.
Luis whistles low under his breath. I follow his gaze and see that two leggy blondes have just pulled up stools at the bar. I look back at Luis, but he’s still staring in their direction. My eye catches something on Will’s chair.
‘Hey, Will left his cap here.’ I reach across and pick it up. I could take it to him before he settles in his room.
‘Hmm?’ Luis asks, distracted.
‘I’m going to bed.’ I get to my feet.
He looks up at me. ‘You’re going to bed?’
‘Yes.’ I hide the cap behind my back.
‘Okay. I might go to the bar.’ He stands up lazily and I roll my eyes at him. ‘After you,’ he says.
‘No, after you,’ I reply. I don’t want him to see what I’m holding in my hands. He shrugs and leads the way out. ‘Night,’ I call, quickly moving the cap to my front as I turn away.
‘Bye,’ he calls back, but doesn’t even look in my direction as I walk up to the lifts and push the call button. Inside, I watch the numbers above the lift door glow red as we pass each floor. Finally we reach my destination as it comes to a smooth stop. The doors swish open and Will is standing on the landing.
‘Hi!’ he says in surprise.
‘Hi!’ I reply with equal surprise. I step out. ‘I brought you your cap.’
‘Aah, thanks.’ He reaches out and takes it from me, turning it over in his hands. ‘I was just debating whether to come back down for it.’
‘I saved you the trouble. Why were you debating? Too tired to make the long journey?’ I ask, jokily.
He puts his cap back on and leans against the wall, crossing his arms. ‘Er, no, I didn’t know if I should interrupt you and Luis again.’
‘Ha! You’ve got to be joking, you’d hardly be interrupting anything.’
His face is dark under his cap, but I can see him watching me in amusement.
‘Seriously,’ I hurry on to explain. ‘I was bored out of my brains. That’s the only reason I’d go drinking with that moron.’
He laughs. ‘That’s a relief,’ he says.
‘Is it? Why?’
‘I thought I was going to have to warn you off him, big brother-style.’
I ignore the use of ‘brother’. ‘You don’t have to warn me about him. I know what he’s like. I think he’s just pulled a couple of Screwdrivers at the bar, actually.’
He grins. ‘Well, you’re welcome to come and watch a movie with me next time you’re bored.’
‘Really?’ My heart starts to pound faster.
I want to ask when, but don’t want to seem desperate. Now? Please, God, please, now.
‘Tomorrow if you like,’ he says, pushing himself away from the wall and standing up straight.
That’ll do! I’m a bit trashed at the moment anyway.
‘It’s a date!’ I tell him enthusiastically. ‘I mean, it’s not a date, but, oh you know what I’m saying.’
‘What shall we watch?’ I change tack. ‘It better not be a war movie.’
‘I can’t promise anything,’ he says as he sets off down the corridor to his suite. ‘But as long as you don’t make me watch any of that chick-flick crap, we’ll be alright.’
‘Okay!’ I call after him.
‘Thanks for my cap,’ he calls back, sliding his electronic key card into the slot and going inside.
‘Sure thing!’ But the door has already closed behind him.