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An Order

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DANTE

"I will not allow a girl to change my tires. Absolutely not."

My engineer chuckled in response and my nostrils involuntarily flared. Scowling, my voice turned icy, my Italian accent thick with derision. "Dio Santissimo. I'm not going to dignify your laughter with a response. This is serious."

My engineer, a lanky Australian named Jack, sobered and plucked a small model of our team's red-and-white Formula World car sitting on the table and turned it around in his hands. "Look here, mate. I know you don't want a woman on the pit crew. But it's boss' orders. Might as well get used to it. She's part of the team now."

I snorted and raked a hand through my hair, the back of which almost curled over the crisp collar of my blue oxford shirt. I needed a trim prior to the next race. Like I had time for anything besides staying in top physical condition and the occasional, post-race dalliance with a model or three.

Boss' orders. A woman in the pit crew was a distraction I didn't need.

I swept my hand dismissively through the air. "There's never been a female tire changer in the history of Formula World. She'll ruin the team."

The engineer set the model on the table and ran it back and forth on its small wheels, avoiding my stare. I was pissed.

"Just because your sister—"

Now I was even more pissed and I interrupted with a growl. "This has nothing to do with Gabriella."

Jack sighed and pushed the little car across the table toward me. "It has everything to do with her. I've known you since before she...before the accident. And you didn't used to be so against women on the teams."

I slapped my hand onto the rolling car, halting its journey across the table as my eyes spit fire. Jack was my closest friend, my savior on the track, my wingman. But he could be so obtuse. Gabriella had been gone ten years and yet the pain of losing her in a paddock fire haunted me daily.

I'd sworn on Gabriella's grave to never put another woman's life at risk for my motorsports career.

"My sister shouldn't have thought she was a mechanic. She should have gone to school to be an engineer and gotten involved in the behind-the-scenes of racing. Or taken a job in the corporate offices of our family's business..." My voice trailed off.

Jack drummed his fingers on the table. "We've had this conversation a thousand times. But hey, we can have it again, I don't mind. I was on the track the day it happened. She didn't die because she was a woman. She died because of a faulty design in the fuel rig. She happened to be the unlucky one to be draining the rig after your race."

A familiar feeling of sadness churned in my gut at the memory of my older sister, and how I'd staggered out of my car, screaming her name. I reached into my pocket and touched the silver good luck medallion she'd given me the year I started racing, back when I was twelve and in go-karts. "And you never listen. Or agree with me. She didn't have the upper-body strength to wrangle the hoses on the fuel rig. Which is my point. Women don't have the capability or stamina to be part of this. Give them their own circuit with specially designed cars and equipment. But keep them off my team."

Dio. How difficult was it for people to understand? I was all for women's equality, but in Formula World, the physical demands were too great, both for racers and pit crew members.

I quickly steered the conversation away from Gabriella. "Also, a woman will distract us. Can you imagine how the guys will react to her? It won't matter what she looks like, someone will want to...you know." He waved his hand dismissively.

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