Her Last Night of InnocenceBy: India Grey
A HAZE of heat hung over the tarmac. The air was thick, acrid with the smell of hot rubber and high-octane fuel. The starting grid was thronged with reporters brandishing microphones and news crews shouldering cameras, as well as pit crews wearing overalls in their team colours and promotions girls carrying flags and wearing hardly anything at all.
Cristiano picked up his helmet and gloves and stepped out of the shade of the garages into the blazing Côte D’ Azur sunlight. The noise of the crowd instantly doubled and reporters swooped, holding out their microphones to him. He kept his head down.
His body felt loose and heavy with the memory of last night’s pleasure. It wasn’t unusual for him to work off the residual adrenaline and testosterone from the qualifying session in the willing arms of one of the paddock club hostesses or pit lane beauties the night before a big race; sex was a good way of easing both the mental and physical tension of a Grand Prix weekend.
But last night hadn’t just been sex.
‘Ciao, Cristiano. Good of you to join us.’
Silvio Girardi, Campano team boss, came forward, perspiring heavily beneath his baseball cap as he slapped Cristiano’s shoulder. A stocky, grey-haired Neapolitan, rapid-fire sarcasm was his default setting. Right now the dial was turned to maximum. ‘Why you not take an extra half-hour in bed, huh? Make sure you were really rested for the race?’
Cristiano took a mouthful of water and grimaced. ‘If I’d had an extra half-hour in bed the last thing I would have been doing is resting.’
Silvio rolled his eyes and threw his hands in the air in a gesture of elaborate exasperation. ‘I hope that whichever cocktail waitress it was last night knows better than to kiss and tell. Our new sponsors were most particular that they don’t want any scandal. Clearspring—it’s water, Cristiano, not bourbon. Clean living, wholesome, for kids—comprendo? Did you see the guy from their marketing department yesterday?’
‘It wasn’t a guy.’
‘Huh?’ Silvio frowned. ‘They said they were sending their head of marketing—a Dominic someone. You’re telling me Dominic isn’t a guy’s name in England?’
‘His wife went into labour unexpectedly. They sent his as sistant.’
A ghost of a smile touched Cristiano’s lips as he pulled on his gloves. ‘A girl.’
Oh, yes. Kate Edwards was very definitely a girl.
Nervously repositioning his baseball cap, Silvio gave a snort of contempt. ‘Well, I hope you were nice to her—no funny business. I need the money. You get paid millions just for showing up and sitting in a car it costs me millions to build for you. Think about it—how is this fair?’ He was pacing around the low emerald-green car with its Clearspring banners. ‘Now—time for you to do some work and show what this beauty can do. You’re in pole position. You can’t lose.’
With another slap on the back, he moved off to talk to the mechanics and engineers. Cristiano turned round, combing the crowd for a honey-coloured head amongst the peroxide blondes and polished brunettes.
Slim, brown arms twined around his neck, and he was enveloped in a familiar musky perfume.
‘Good luck,’ his PA whispered huskily in his ear.
Fighting irritation, he pulled away and looked over her shoulder. ‘Thanks, Suki.’
Where was Kate?
‘How was the interview yesterday evening with the girl from Clearspring? I hope it didn’t drag on too long. She looked a little bit…’ Suki’s glossy lips twitched into a smirk ‘…serious.’
‘It was fine.’ As far as he was concerned, it hadn’t dragged on nearly long enough. ‘Have you seen her?’
Suki raised one dark, perfectly arched brow. ‘This morning? Why would I have? Is she here?’
‘Si.’ Cristiano’s gaze moved restlessly over the PR girls, posing and pouting for the cameras in their team colours, and the journalists jostling for last-minute interviews. The excitement of the crowds of people packed into the grandstands and on every balcony and rooftop overlooking the street circuit was reaching fever-pitch, and the yachts sounded their horns plaintively out in Monaco harbour.