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Monte Carlo, May
Hold on to your hearts, ladies, because racing driver Lothario Finn St George is back in the playground of the rich and famous.
After sailing into the Port of Monaco with a bevy of beauties only last eve, the man titled Most Beautiful in the World donned a custom-fit tux and his signature crooked smile and swaggered into the Casino Grand with all the flair of James Bond. Armed with his loaded arsenal of charismatic charm, the six-times World Champion then proceeded to beguile his way through the enamoured throng-despite the owner of Scott Lansing advising the playboy to 'calm his wild partying and tone down adverse publicity'.
Seems Michael Scott is still battling with threats from sponsors, who are considering pulling out of over forty million pounds' worth of support for the team.
True, Finn St George has always danced on the devilish side of life, but of late he seems to be pushing some of the more familyorientated sponsors a fraction too far. Indeed, only last week he was pictured living it up with not one but four women in a club in Barcelona-apparently variety really is the spice of his life!
Though, with only two days to go until the Prince of
Monaco launches this year's race, we suspect Finn's wicked social life is the least of Scott Lansing's worries, because clearly our favourite racer is off his game.
While Australia was a washout, earning him third place, St George barely managed to scrape a win in Malaysia and Bahrain, leaving Scott Lansing standing neck and neck with fierce rivals Nemesis Hart. But when he crashed spectacularly in Spain last month, and failed to finish, racing enthusiasts not only dubbed him 'the death-defyer', but he slipped back several points, leaving Nemesis Hart the leader for the first time in years.
Has St George really lost his edge? Or has the tragic boating accident of last September, involving his teammate Tom Scott, affected him so severely?
Usually dominating the grid, it appears our much-loved philanderer needs to up his game and clean up his act, or Scott Lansing may just find themselves in serious financial straits. One thing is certain: while Monaco waits with bated breath for the big race tomorrow Michael Scott is sure to be pacing the floors, hoping for a miracle.
With a flick of her wrist, Serena Scott tossed the crumpled newspaper across her father's desk. 'Well, she was wrong about one thing. You're not pacing the floors.'
On a slow spin the black and white blur landed in front of him, hitting the glass with a soft smack. Then the only sound in the luxurious office on the Scott Lansing yacht was Serena's choppy breathing and the foreboding thump of her heart.
'No pacing. Yet,' he grated, dipping his chin to lock his sharp graphite eyes on hers.
Well, now She had the uncanny notion that after hours of musing over the true genesis of her three a.m. wakeup call she was about to discover exactly why she'd been dragged from her warm bed in London to globetrot to the Cote d'Azur. And if the suspicion snaking up her spine was anything to go by she wasn't going to like it.
'I have no idea what you're worried about,' she said, perfectly amiable as she folded her arms across the creased apple-green T shrouding her chest. 'Finn is performing to his usual sybaritic standards, if you ask me. Fraternising with God-knows-who while he parties the night away, drinks, gambles, beds a few starlets and crashes a car for the grand finale. Nothing out of the ordinary. You knew this two years ago, when you signed him.'
'Back then he wasn't this bad,' came the wry reply. 'It's not only that. He's '
That familiar brow furrowed and Serena's followed suit.
'I can't even explain it. He goes on like nothing's happened but it's like he's got a death wish.'
She coughed out an incredulous laugh. 'He hasn't got a death wish. He's just so supremely arrogant he thinks he's indestructible.'
'It's more than that. There's something dark about him all of a sudden.'
Dark? A sinister shiver crept over her skin as the past scratched at her psyche, picking at the scab of a raw wound. Until she realised just who they were talking about.
'Maybe he's been overdoing it on the sun deck.'
'You're being deliberately obtuse,' he ground out.
Yes, well, unfortunately Finn St George brought out the worst in her-had done since the first moment she'd locked eyes with him four years ago.
Serena flung her brain into neutral before it hit reverse and kicked up the dirt on one of the most humiliating experiences of her life. Best to say lesson learned. After that, what with her engineering degree, working alongside the team's world-famous car designer in London and Finn's thirst for media scintillation-which she avoided like the bubonic plague-face-to-face contact between them had been gratifyingly rare.
Until--just her rotten luck-their formal 'welcome to the team' introduction, when he'd struck at every self-preservation instinct she possessed, oozing sexual gravitas, with challenge and mockery stamped all over his face. Hateful man. She didn't need reminding she was no femme fatale-especially by a Casanova as shallow as a puddle.
Add in the fact that his morals, or lack thereof, turned her stomach to ice, from the outset they'd snarled and sparked and butted heads-and that had been before he'd stolen the most precious thing in the world from her.
A fierce rush of grief flooded through her, drenching her bones with sorrow, and she swayed on her feet.
'Look,' her father began, tugging at the cuff of his high-neck white team shirt. 'I know you two don't really get along.'
Wow, wasn't that an understatement?
'But I need your help here, Serena.'
With an incredulous huff she narrowed her eyes on the whipcord figure of Michael Scott, also known as Slick Mick to the ladies and Dad when in private, or when she was feeling particularly daughterly, as he rocked back in his black leather chair.
Nearing fifty, the former racing champion reminded her of a movie icon, with his unkempt salt and pepper hair, surrounding a chiselled face even more handsome than it had been at the peak of his career. The guy was seriously good-looking. Not exactly a father figure, but they were friends of the best kind. At least they usually were.
'This is your idea of a joke, right?' It was hard to sound teasing and only mildly put out when there was such a great lump in her throat. 'Because, let me tell you, I have more of a chance to be Finn St George's worst nightmare than his supposed. saviour.'
The idea was ridiculous!
Visibly deflating, he shook his head tiredly. 'I know. But I find myself wondering if you have a better chance of getting through to him. Because, honestly, I'm running out of ideas. And drivers. And cars.' Up came his arm in a wave of exasperation and the pen in his hand soared over the toppling towers of paperwork. 'Did you watch that crash last month? Zero self-preservation. The guy is going to get himself killed.'
'Let him.' The words flew out of her mouth Serena-style-that was before she could think better of it or lessen the blow. One of her not-so-good traits that landed her in trouble more often than not.
'You don't mean that,' he said, with the curt ring of a reprimand.
Closing her eyes, she breathed through the maelstrom of emotions warring in her chest. No, she didn't mean that. She might not like the man, but she didn't want anything bad to happen to him. Much.
'What's more, I refuse to lose another boy in this lifetime.'
The hot air circling behind her ribs gushed past her lips and her shoulders slumped. Then, for the first time since she'd barged in here twenty minutes ago, she took a good look at Michael Scott-a real look. Her dad might be all kinds of a playboy himself, but she'd missed him terribly.
Inspecting the grey shadows beneath his eyes, Serena almost asked how he was coping with the loss of his only son. Almost asked if he'd missed her while she'd been gone. But Serena and her father didn't go deep. Never had, never would. So she stuffed the love and the hurt right back down, behind the invisible walls she'd designed and built with the fierce power of a youthful mind.
Yeah, she was the tough cookie in the brood. She didn't grieve from her sleeve or wail at the world for the unfairness of it all. Truly, what was the point? She was this man's daughter, raised as one of the pack. No room for mushy emotions or feminine sentimentality spilling all over the place.
So, even though she now had a Tom-sized hole in her heart, she had to deal with it like a man-get up, get busy, move on.
It was a pity that plan wasn't working out so well. Some days her heart ached so badly she was barely holding it together. Don't be ridiculous, Serena, you can hold up the world with one hand. Snap out of it!
'Anyway, you can't stay in London all season, fiddling with the prototype. I thought it was ready.'
'It is. We're just running through the final testing this week.'
'Good, because I need you here. The design team can finish the trials.'
I need you. Wily-that was what he was. He knew exactly what to say and when.
'No. You need me to try and control your wild boy. Problem is I have absolutely no wish to ever set eyes on him again.'
'It wasn't his fault, Serena,' he said wearily. 'So you keep saying.'
But exactly which part of Finn taking Tom to Singapore on a bender and Finn coming back first-class on his twenty-million-pound jet whilst her brother returned in a box wasn't his fault? Which part of Finn taking him out on a boat when Tom couldn't swim and subsequently drowned wasn't his fault? He hadn't even had the decency to attend the funeral!
But she didn't bother to rehash old arguments that only led her down the rocky road to nowhere.
'So you want me to what? Forgive him? Not a chance in hell. Make him feel better? I don't. So why should he?'
'Because this team is going down. Do you really want that?'
She let loose a sigh. 'You know I don't.' Team Scott Lansing was her family. Her entire life. A colourful, vibrant rabble of friends and adoptive uncles and she'd missed them all. But the entire scene just brought back too many memories she was ill-equipped to handle right now.
'So think of the bigger picture. Read my lips when I say, for the final time, it wasn't Finn's fault. It was an accident. Let it go. You are doing no one any favours quibbling about it-least of all me.'
He pinched the bridge of his nose as if to stem one of his killer migraines and guilt fisted her heart.
He was suffering. They were all suffering. In silence. Let it go
But why was it every time they spoke of that tragic day, when the phone had shrilled ominously through their trailer, she was slapped with the perfidious feeling she was being kept in the dark? And she loathed the dark.
It didn't matter how many times she asked her father to elucidate he was forever cutting her off.
'Tom wouldn't want to see you like this,' he said, irritation inching his volume a decibel higher. 'Blaming Finn. Doing your moonlit flit routine. Holing up in London. Burying your head in work. You've done all you can at base-now it's time to get back in the field. Quit running and stop hiding.'
'I haven't been hiding!'
He snorted in disbelief.
Okay, maybe she'd been hiding. Licking her wounds was best attempted in peace, as far as she was concerned. But honestly.? How far was solitude getting her on the heart-healing scale?
Serena's heavy lids shuttered. God, she was tired.
She'd lost her brother, her best friend, and she kept forgetting she was supposed to carry on regardless. This was tough love and she'd been reared on it. Admittedly the vast majority of the time she'd appreciated Michael Scott's particular method of parentage. You needed skin as thick as cowhide to trail the world for ten months of the year in the company of men. Not the best way to raise two children, but she'd genuinely loved her life. Honest.
If she'd often stared at other children with their mothers, wondering what it would be like to have one of her own, to live in a normal house and walk to an actual brick-built, other-children-present school every morning, she'd just reminded herself that her life was exciting. And if she'd prayed for a mum all those years ago when her adolescence had been shattered, leaving her broken and torn, she'd comforted herself that she had Tom. Tom had been her rock.
But now he was gone. Nothing was exciting any more and there was no one to hold her hand in the dead of night when the shadows loomed. You don't need your hand held. You're stronger than that. Snap out of it!
She swallowed around the lump in her throat, forcing the overwhelming knot of grief to plunge into her chest. Buried so deep her stomach ached.
' If what you say is true and there is a problem,' she said dubiously, 'how can I possibly help?'
'Get him to take an interest in the prototype or work on your latest designs I don't know-just get him to focus on something other than women or the bottom of a bottle.'
' I'm a woman.'
'Only in the technical sense.'
'Gee, thanks.' As if she needed reminding.
Then again, the last thing she wanted was to be like one of Finn's regulars. They were the skirt to Serena's jeans. The buxom bombshells to Serena's boyish figure. The strappy sandals to Serena's biker boots. The super-soft, twice-conditioned spiralling blonde locks to Serena's wild mane of a hue so bizarre it defied all colour charts.
Which was wonderful. Inordinately satisfying. Exactly the way she liked it.
'The last thing he needs is another bedmate,' he muttered wryly. 'He needs a kick up the backside. A challenge. And, let's face it, you two create enough spark to fire a twin-stroke. Therefore I am asking-no, you know what ? I am telling you to help. You're on my payroll. You move back in here and you chip in.' Tough love.
Then his graphite gaze turned speculative. Calculating. An expression she didn't care for that nailed her to the wall.
'Or you can kiss the Silverstone launch of your prototype goodbye.'
A gasp of air hit the back of her throat. 'You wouldn't dare.'
Yeah, he probably would. He didn't believe the racing car she'd designed would be anything special and she'd do anything to prove him wrong.
That prototype was her baby. Three years of hard work. Her and Tom's inspiration. Launching at Silverstone had been their dream. The only tangible thing she had left of him.
'Low, Dad,' she choked out. 'Really low.'
Averting his eyes, he scrubbed a palm over his face. 'More like desperate.'
Serena sighed. Nailed. Every. Time.
'Fine. I'll try something.'
Unease began to hammer at her heart-she had no idea how to handle the man. None.