“I’m done! I’ve had it up to here with that spoiled little rich girl. Find yourself another crew chief!”
Brock Williams looked up from the engine he was tinkering with at the sound of Ray’s voice. Ray was the current crew chief for the hottest young NASCAR driver on the circuit this year, Rikki Renard.
Rikki was the oldest daughter of well-known oil man, Richard Renard, and already had built quite a reputation for herself, in more ways than one. She was fast becoming one of the big names on the track, with several wins under her belt and a good chance at a championship. But, in the pits, her name caused many a man to shudder. Rikki wanted things done her way and her way only. She had gone through more crew chiefs in the past couple of years than most drivers do during an entire career. Her wealthy daddy was her sponsor and the team owner, and growing up, Rikki had been indulged by both Richard and his wife, Joyce. Richard was an avid racing fan. Having no sons, he’d been thrilled when his oldest daughter began to share his interest in the sport. Rikki’s younger sisters, Alissa and Maris, couldn’t have cared less about engines, cars and tracks.
Richard had groomed his namesake from an early age, and when she was old enough and experienced enough, he sponsored her endeavors. It had paid off, because she was wowing everyone with her skill behind the wheel.
Everyone but her crew chiefs, that is. Ray was not the first to walk out on the job. Now, it seemed there was a position to fill again. Brock knew he wanted to apply for the job, but had he been at this line of work long enough to even be considered a viable candidate? There was no time like the present to find out. He marched right up to Richard, who was in the garage today, shaking his head.
“Sir, may I speak to you for a minute?” Brock asked bravely.
“Can it wait, son? I have to get on the horn and find a replacement for Ray, ASAP. Never thought he’d walk out on us.”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I’d like to throw my hat in the ring for the job.”
Richard looked at him in surprise before finally answering with, “Are you sure about that, boy?”
“Very sure, sir. I’ve worked closely with the last two crew chiefs and I paid close attention. It’s something I’ve had in the back of my mind ever since I took this job.”
“Come into the office,” Richard said as he ushered him away from prying ears.
Once inside the large office, Richard offered him a drink.
“No, thanks, sir.”
Richard helped himself to a beer and sat down behind his massive desk. “Now, what makes you think you can handle this job? Sell me.”
Brock cleared his throat, determination in his voice when he spoke, “This has been a longtime dream of mine. I’ve eaten, breathed and slept engines and cars for as long as I can remember. I’ve followed NASCAR since I was a boy. It was a dream come true when I landed this job and I made up my mind the first day, I would one day become the chief of a good crew.”
“That’s all well and good, son. I do know your work is excellent. However, there is another part of the job that concerns me.”
“Sir?” Brock asked.
“Oh, come now, boy. You’ve been around long enough to know my daughter isn’t the easiest person to work with. I’m sure you’ve seen the tantrums, heard the screaming; hell, I’m certain you’ve heard the guys talking. Why do you think Ray just stormed out of here? Not to mention the five crew chiefs before him. I will admit, all three of my daughters are spoiled rotten. Do I like Rikki’s attitude? No, I don’t, but it’s a little late in the game for me to change it. She needs a man in her life to do that. So far, she’s not found one that fits the bill. In the meantime, we continue to go through crew chiefs like water. Now, tell me why you think you are any different from the rest?”
Brock straightened up in his chair and leaned forward. “I have three sisters. I’ve dealt with tantrums; I’ve survived screaming matches. I’ve had things thrown at me, doors slammed in my face and been given the silent treatment. Through it all, I knew one sure fire way to settle ’em down.”
“Oh?” Richard asked with interest. “Care to share that wisdom?”
“When things got out of hand, over my knee they went. Worked like a charm.”
Richard chuckled. “Now, that’s exactly what my darling Rikki needs but I’m not so sure you’d survive if you tried it with her. As far as the job itself, I have no qualms about your ability to do it and do it well. Getting along with Rikki is my biggest concern.”
“Why don’t we give it a trial run? Say, six months?” Brock suggested.
Richard studied him for several minutes while he finished his beer. Finally, he said, “Okay, boy. Six months, it is. Why don’t you take the rest of the day off, while I break the news to Rikki? Be back here at seven sharp, tomorrow morning, for training.” He scribbled something on a piece of paper and slid it across the desk. “I’m assuming this will suffice for salary.”
Brock’s eyes nearly popped out of his head as he opened the slip of paper and read the figures. “Y-yes, sir.”
Brock went back out into the garage and began putting away his tools.
“What’s up, man? You walking out, too, cuz Ray did?” one of the crew members, Randy, asked.
“No, just taking the rest of the day off to take care of some things.”
“I saw you talking to Renard. You didn’t apply for the job, did you? Any man who takes that job is crazy. Rikki Renard is a first-class bitch to work for.”
“So what if I did? You all know that’s my dream. Hell, any one of you should have done the same.”
“No way!” Dave, another crew member said.
“Me, neither,” Randy agreed. “You sure you want to tackle that?”
“I want the job. If Rikki Renard’s attitude comes with it, then so be it. I’ll deal with it.”
“How? No one else could, apparently.”
Brock grinned. “I have my ways. Ms. Renard may have just met her match. Wait and see.”
“Well, more power to you, man. I’m happy for you, and I’ll be proud to have you as the chief but I don’t envy you one bit,” Dave said.
“You ain’t sweet on our little wildcat, are you?” Randy asked.
Brock chuckled. “She is a looker, but that isn’t why I want the job.”
“Wonder how she’ll take the news?” Dave asked with a laugh.
“Daddy will break it to her. That’s why you’re out of here for the day, huh, Brock?”
“Got things to take care of, bro. I’ll see you in the morning.” Brock waved and walked out to his truck, leaving the others shaking their heads.
* * *
“You’re joking, right? Ray will be back. He just needs to cool off.”
Richard looked at his daughter and frowned. “No, Rikki, he will not be back. I’ve already replaced him. As of tomorrow morning, Brock Williams is your new crew chief.”
“Brock Williams? That tall guy on the crew?”
“Tall, sandy-haired, yes, that’s him. He’s good at what he does, Rikki. You need to give him a chance. You can’t keep running good chiefs off. Sooner or later, the word is going to get around and no one is going to want to work with you.”
Rikki rolled her eyes. “These guys need to grow some balls. I’m not that bad.”
“I would appreciate it, if you didn’t talk like one of the guys, Rikki. You may be a driver but you are still a lady.”
“Oh, Dad, really?”
Richard raised an eyebrow and Rikki relented, “Okay, okay, I’m sorry. So, tell me about this Williams kid.”
“He is hardly a kid. He is older than you, my dear, by two years. I’ve been looking over his file. He has a lot of experience, even before he joined our crew. I think he can handle the job quite well. The question is whether or not he can handle you.”
“I hardly need handling. If he listens to me, we’ll get along just fine.”
“Rikki, I know you are well versed in mechanics and cars, but do me a favor and let Brock do his job.”
“I’m calling it a day since my crew chief isn’t here. I’ll see you tomorrow, Dad.” With that, Rikki turned, flinging her long brown hair over her shoulder.
“Get some rest. No partying, young lady. You have a lot to do tomorrow. I want to have a meeting first thing in the morning to announce Brock’s promotion. After that, you will need to spend some time with him, discussing things.”
“Whatever. Same old thing. I wish these damn crew chiefs would stop being such divas and just do their job. Male divas are the worst.”
“Language! And I wouldn’t be throwing that word ‘diva’ around too much. Many could describe you that way. Have a good night, Rikki. I love you.”
She sighed. “Love you. Later.”
Rikki walked out of the garage and unlocked her fancy red sports car. She spun the tires as she left the lot and headed down the road to the local eatery the racing gang liked to frequent.
Might as well grab some dinner before I go home, since I am under orders not to party tonight ,” she thought as she wheeled her vehicle into the parking lot. Honestly, you’d think I was a teenager.
She got out of the car, careful to lock the door, and walked into the tiny sports bar. As her eyes adjusted to the dimly lit room, she spotted a few people she knew and made her way to their table.
“Mind if I join you?” she asked.
“Pull up a chair, Renard,” one of the guys said. He was the other driver on the team her dad owned.
“Thanks, Johnny,” Rikki said as she joined the group.
“Heard Ray walked out today,” Johnny said as he watched her face.
Rikki shrugged. “Seems that way.”
“I heard Williams wants the job,” another man, Damon, who was Johnny’s crew chief, said.
“So I heard. What do you guys think about that?” The server came over to the table and Rikki ordered a light beer.
“Brock knows his shit,” Damon said. “He’s a good guy, too, from what I’ve seen.”
Johnny nodded. “Rikki, you gonna go easy on him?”
Rikki snorted. “I don’t know why I get the blame for all these pantywaists who can’t handle the job.”
The group around the table laughed in unison.
“What?” she asked innocently.
Johnny wiped his eyes as he tried to control his chuckling. “Oh, my dear Rikki, you have no idea, do you?”
The server returned with her beer and Rikki ordered a burger and a salad before turning back to her comrades.
“I expect a certain degree of respect for my knowledge. Is that too much to ask? It would seem that, because I happen to be a woman, I’m not supposed to know anything about engines and tires. I probably know more than most of the guys on my crew.”
“True, you do have a vast amount of knowledge and experience. No one is disputing that. But you have to learn to trust your crew chief, hon,” Damon said solemnly. “You can’t have them walking out on you all the time. Word gets around. You’re lucky Williams wants the job. I’m sure he has seen you in action, as well as heard about some of your tirades.”
Rikki rolled her eyes. “If he doesn’t know what to expect, that’s his problem. He’ll find out soon enough that I run a tight ship. My dad may provide the money and he may know his business, but he’s too easy on his employees. I’ve always thought that.”
The others shook their heads and exchanged glances. It was no use trying to reason with this particular female. Woe to the man who finally tried to tame her. Rikki didn’t date much, even though she was one hot female. Her attitude took care of that. She was a petite little thing, with long, brown hair and big brown eyes. Most men couldn’t handle more than two or three dates. Once they got a glimpse of her smart mouth and stubborn ways, they were done. Rikki didn’t seem to care, either.
“Speak of the devil, look who just walked in,” Johnny said.
Rikki turned to look at the door. “Is that him? Brock?” she asked. Damn, he was one fine specimen of male. All man, tall, built, with sandy colored hair and golden tan skin. Rikki normally wasn’t impressed by looks, but this man—she wouldn’t mind getting up close and personal with him.
“Yup, that’s the man, your new crew chief,” Damon said. “Draw in the claws, kitty cat.”
“Play nice,” Johnny added.
She shot both of them a look before smiling at the man walking toward their table.
“Ms. Renard, care to join me? I think we have some things to discuss before tomorrow,” the hunk said when he reached their table. He nodded to the group. “You guys don’t mind if I steal her, do you?”
“I suppose I can do that,” she said. She looked at Johnny and added, “Please tell the waitress where I am when she brings my food.”
“Will do,” he replied with a grin. He whispered to Damon, “This could get interesting.”
Rikki gave them both a dirty look before standing up and walking with Brock to an empty table in the corner.
To her surprise, Brock pulled out her chair for her before taking the seat across from her.
“So, you’ve already ordered?” he asked.
“Yes,” she answered curtly.
A server came to take his drink order and he ordered a beer, along with a burger and fries. “The lady was sitting over there. When her order is ready, please bring it here and put it on my tab,” he said.
The server nodded.
“My, my, buttering up the boss already, I see,” she said when the server left to put in Brock’s order.
He grinned. It was a lopsided grin and Rikki’s tummy did a little flip flop. She admonished herself sternly in her thoughts.
“I see you’ve heard. As for buttering you up, no. I asked you to join me for dinner. That generally means I intend to pay.”
“And to what do I owe this invitation to dinner?” she asked sarcastically.
He grinned again. Damn, that was a delightful sight.
“I thought it would be nice if we could chat a bit, get to know each other before we meet with the others in the morning,” he explained patiently, ignoring her attitude.
“Really,” she commented drily.
“Okay, what do you want to know? I’m sure you’ve heard all the stories. I run a tight ship. You do your job and respect my opinions and we’ll get along just fine.”
“I have no doubt that we will,” he said in a low tone. “Just seems to me when we meet with the crew tomorrow to make the announcement, we should put forth a unified front. Any dissention between a driver and her chief can cause the troops to lose respect for authority.”
“The troops? Tell me, Mr. Brock Williams, were you, by chance, in the military at one time?”
“United States Army, four years. I studied mechanics while I was there.”
The server brought Brock’s beer and Rikki’s meal.
“Could I please have a glass of ice water with lemon?” she asked as she picked up the small cup of dressing and drizzled it over her salad.
“So, the lady really does have ice water in her veins,” Brock joked.
“You shouldn’t listen to gossip, you know,” she said with a laugh.
“You should laugh more often,” he remarked. “I like the sound of it.”
“Flirting with the new boss now?”
“Not at all, just making an observation. I take my job very seriously.”
“Okay, truce. Look, Brock, you seem like a nice guy. As for your work, you came highly recommended by my dad. Time will tell if we can work well together and if you really ‘know your stuff,’ as everyone seems to think you do.”
Brock nodded. “Truce it is, then. Now, how do you wish to conduct the meeting tomorrow?”
The server brought his meal and Rikki waited until they were alone again before answering his question. “I am sure Dad will make the announcement and give a little speech, welcoming you and all that. Next, I will talk. After that, you can say your piece. You and I will meet in my office, with Dad, most likely, when the meeting is over.”
He saluted her. “Yes, ma’am. Guess you’ve done this a few times.”
She looked up from her plate and said, “You know damn well I have. And, if you don’t do your job, I’ll be doing it again.”
“So much for the truce. Simmer down, boss lady,” he said, throwing his hands up in the air.
“Did you just tell me to simmer down?” she asked.
“Yes, and I’ll do it again, if need be. Gonna fire me for that?”
She glared at him. “Not today.”
“How about we start over? Only, this time, we table the work discussion and talk about other things. Tell me what you like to do when you aren’t working.”
“When would that be? I’m either on the track, practicing or racing, traveling or in the office or garage.”
He shook his head. “You know what they say.”
“What do ‘they’ say?”
“All work and no play makes Rikki a dull girl.”
“Well, so what if I am dull? I have been eating, breathing and sleeping cars and racing for as long as I remember.”
“Everyone needs a break, Rikki. At least once in a while. That may explain some of your stress.”
“Stress? Who said I was stressed?”
“Mmm, the attitude maybe.”
“I can’t believe you think you can talk to me this way!” she exclaimed in disgust.
“Maybe someone should have, a long time ago. Think about it, Ms. Renard.”
They finished their meal in silence. Rikki was fuming. And to make it worse, Brock was smiling and digging into his food as if no hostile words had been spoken between them. Just who in the hell did he think he was?
When she was finished eating, she picked up her purse, ready to leave.
“Leaving so soon?” he asked.
“I need to go home. I’ll see you in the morning, bright and early. Thanks for dinner.”
Brock stood to help her up. “If you wait a few minutes, I’ll walk you out to your car.”
“I guess I can do that. After all, you treated me to a burger.” Her tone was slightly more friendly than before. She’d decided, during their silence, it did no good to remain miffed at him. Not if they were going to work together. She had plenty of time to train him to her ways.
Brock took one last swig of his beer, paid the tab and walked around to pull her chair out for her.
They walked out of the bar together, his hand on the small of her back. This gesture did not go unnoticed by Johnny and the others who winked at Brock as they passed their table. Rikki saw it, ignored them and noticed that Brock did the same. Score one for the new crew chief.
Outside, he waited for her to unlock her car door, helped her inside and made sure she was safely buckled in. “Drive safely and sleep well. Busy day tomorrow.”
“I’ll see you then, Mr. Williams. Be prepared to dive in on your first day.”
Rikki backed up her car and pulled onto the road, leaving her new chief in the dust.