[chapter three]

"Fiona, hi. Come on in." Jade smiled as he stood from his desk and waved her into his office. Fiona grinned back and sat across from him, notebook and pen in hand.

"Hi Jade. How was LA?" She asked. Jade had returned from a personal appearance with Drakkar and Dale Earnhardt, Jr the night before.

"Exhausting." Jade replied, sitting down. "Junior and I were getting on each other's nerves there at the end. That only happens when we're really worn down or really having a fight."

"Anything I can do?" Fiona asked earnestly.

"Fi, I'm glad you said that." Jade said with a smile. "I'm supposed to be the publicity manager for all of DEI's drivers, as you know. Lately, I'm sure you've noticed me being pulled in one direction more than the rest."

Fiona nodded knowingly. Since Dale's arrival on the circuit, his father's unfortunate death, and his popularity with the younger NASCAR fans, Jade had spent most of his time working for Dale's publicity - even though fingerprint, inc (Jade's company) was under contract to publicize and work with all the DEI drivers. Michael Waltrip, Kenny Wallace, Steve Park…they simply didn't demand the same level of attention that Dale did everywhere he went.

"I've made an executive decision. I'm going to take the reigns of fingerprint, inc again. I'll start working the top level stuff again, and I'm going to assign my staff to the different drivers. I can't pull this triple and quadruple duty anymore. I'm too old for this." Jade grinned.

"Just tell me what to do, boss." Fiona said, pen at the ready.

"I want you to work with Junior. I'm going to put Sarah on Mikey, Alex is taking Steve, and the rest of the staff are going to start strategizing the best ways to promote the other guys. From here on at, you are Junior's right hand man. You'll set up all his appearances, and go everywhere with him. You've been wanting to go to more tracks - sweetie, now you're going to all of them. Every minute that Dale's not in a car or sleeping, you'll probably be with him, just like I have been." Jade said.

Fiona sat silently. She looked down to her notepad and wondered what to write. 'Babysit Dale'? 'Hound Dale'? 'Hang with Dale'?

"I'm also giving you a raise, and travel expenses, as always, will be covered by DEI or fingerprint. I'm having all the details drawn out for you in print, and I'm also having all the key phone numbers and contacts assembled for you. What am I forgetting?" Jade asked. "Fi, you okay?"

"Jade, wow. This is…this is great, but I have a few questions." Fiona stammered. "Are you sure you want me to cover Dale? I'm not the most senior here, and I…"

"You're the most qualified, and I think you would work best with him. I know you can do this, Fiona. You're a natural." Jade replied, unconcerned.

"But I've only met him a couple of times! He doesn't even know who I am!" Fiona exclaimed.

"Pshew. You'll get along fine - don't worry about it. You tell him what to do, he does it. It's a great relationship, trust me." Jade grinned. "In fact…"

Jade got up to look out his office window down to the garage floor. "Junior's here now. Let's go say hi and get y'all acquainted. He knows about the change, so I'm sure he's looking forward to meeting you too."

Fiona stood up, suddenly nervous. What if she and Dale didn't hit it off? Or she made bad decisions for his marketing? Or…

"Fiona, stop it." Jade said, walking out of the office.

"Stop what?" She asked.

"Stop second-guessing yourself. You're ready for this. Let's go meet your new charge." Jade said. Fiona straightened her tailored shirt, smoothing it over her charcoal pants. She fiddled with the scarf around her neck for a moment, and prayed that her hair wasn't looking too wild this morning. She and Jade walked downstairs and out onto the garage floor where the Budweiser cars were lined up. Fiona saw Dale leaning over one, a wrench in his hand. "Junior!" Jade's voice called.

Dale straightened at the sound of his friend's voice, then nearly dropped the wrench. Walking with Jade was the girl from the bar last night - the cute one with the short hair. 'Idiot', he thought to himself. 'No wonder she looked familiar'. Dale blushed slightly at the idea of meeting this cute girl, and looked down at his ratty t shirt and baggy jeans. She looked impeccable in her work clothes, and he looked like…some guy off the street.

"Junior, I'd like you to meet your new partner in crime. I've assigned Fi here to do all your publicity." Jade said, smiling.

"Mr. Earnhardt, it's a pleasure. I'm Fiona Collins." Fi said in a smooth, professional voice as she extended her right hand. "I'm looking forward to working with you."

"Call me Junior." Dale said, taking her hand in his. She smiled as their eyes met, and he smiled in return. "Nice to meet you."

"And you as well." Fiona said, pulling her hand away lightly. Dale blushed again, realizing he had kept hold of her hand for too long. "I'm afraid Jade here as thrown me into the deep end of the pool, but give me a day or two, and I'll be on top of everything." She said with a smile.

'I wish', he thought silently, before realizing his completely inappropriate thoughts and telling his brain to cease and desist. "No problem. I think we actually have a couple of days with no major appearances, until we head to the Loudon. Maybe we can…um, get together and talk things over before we go to the track." Dale said, uncertainly.

"Fantastic." Fiona said. Jade smiled, knowing that the two of them would get along fine. And he knew if anyone could rein Junior in, it was Fiona. She wouldn't stand for his antics anymore than Jade himself would.

"I'll be done here in a little while…I'll stop by your office when I'm done." Dale said easily.

"Great. Nice meeting you." Fiona answered, turning away and following Jade back upstairs.

"You too." Dale said softly.

chapter four