By the time Tuesday rolls around, I’m exhausted. I thought the club had been insanely busy on Wednesday, but the crowd on Thursday, Friday and Saturday put it to shame. Working at S.T. Meeks & Associates was far less exhausting. Numbers were easier on the brain. Despite the pace and the endless exhaustion, however, I have to admit I’ve had fun this past week. I didn’t know it was possible to enjoy myself so much and still get paid. Midnight Frenzy is just…magical.
I love the club. I love the dance performances I get to see every night I work there. And yes, I can admit it: I also love working with Linc. This past week, whenever he wasn’t dancing or looking after club business, Linc worked behind the bar. Listening to him and Kane wind each other up had me laughing so hard that my sides hurt.
There are so many things to like about him. He teaches underprivileged kids in his spare time. He’s a great boss, according to his employees. He has everyone’s respect. He’s dedicated to his club and his staff. Everything I learn about Lincoln Rivers impresses me. Which leaves me where?
Nowhere, that’s where. My sister has to be my top priority until she turns eighteen. I can’t ever forget what I risk by losing focus. It doesn’t matter how much I respect Linc, or how attracted I am to him; I can’t jeopardise my job working for Linc by forgetting myself and saying or doing something stupid.
And even if I didn’t have to worry about Belle – if she was an adult – and Linc did engage in relations with his employees – I doubt I could compete with all the women vying for his attention. They threw themselves at him as he worked beside me. I thought my customers were flirtatious, but they had nothing on the women who went after Linc.
Yesterday, I made the mistake of googling him. After reading a few articles about his family and his club, and flicking through photos of him with a wealth of gorgeous women, including model and socialite Claudia Henley, I shut the lid on my laptop and reminded myself he’s completely out of my league. Then I reminded myself I have better things to do than obsess over my unobtainable boss and scroll through gossip about him online. Like looking for an accounting job that doesn’t keep me out of the house until all hours.
So why hadn’t I done more than give a cursory glance over available accounting jobs on the major job sites?
A knock on the door reminds me I’m supposed to be ready to go to my first dance class in eleven years, not including Zumba classes. Half the contents of my closet are scattered on my bed. I don’t have a great deal of workout gear, just the stuff I go to Zumba class in – a black, white and grey Adidas t-shirt and a pair of baggy grey sweat pants. Comfort has been my top priority, and although today shouldn’t be any different, I’m aware that what I’m wearing isn’t exactly up there with my Midnight Frenzy uniform in terms of hotness.
“Hey,” Jemma says when I open the front door. “You ready?”
“Ah…” I take in Jemma’s leggings and fitted tank and look down at what I’m wearing. “Maybe I should change?”
Jemma’s expression is amused. “Why? Are you hoping to impress Linc?”
“No!” Maybe. “I just don’t want to look…gross.”
“You don’t look gross.”
It’s not exactly a glowing review, but I don’t have anything better to change into. “I need to put shoes on and then I’m ready to go.”
Minutes later we’re heading down the freeway in Jemma’s car, windows down, the two of us singing along to the radio between bursts of conversation. It’s been too long since we’ve done something together, just the two of us. Outside of my interview at Midnight Frenzy a couple of weeks back, I can’t remember the last time. We talk and sing the whole way and I feel happy and relaxed despite my tiredness.
Then Jemma tells me we’re nearly there and the same butterflies I feel every time I’m around Linc swarm as I think about the fact I’m going to see him for the first time in a few days.
You are such an idiot. He’s just a man. And you don’t have time for one of those, remember?
“Why does Linc teach here, anyway?” I ask Jemma, trying to take my mind off the butterflies in my stomach. “I mean, he can’t need the money, and it can’t pay that much to teach. I would have thought he has his hands full with managing the club.”
When I asked Jemma how much the lessons were, I was amazed to hear they’re free for anyone who works at the club. I’d been prepared to pay however much to have him teach me to dance. I still can’t quite believe he’s going to teach me for free.
“I don’t know, to be honest.” Jemma flicks me a quick look. “Why don’t you ask him?”
“Hmm, maybe I will.”
Though I probably won’t. It’s none of my business. I might know he teaches underprivileged kids on his weekends, but I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to. From what I could tell, he wasn’t happy when Kane shared that with me and I don’t want to overstep by bringing up something else that might make him uncomfortable.
“We’re here,” Jemma announces, pulling into the parking lot of the Sandringham Dance Studio.
“Thanks for driving,” I say to Jemma as we climb out of the car. “And thanks for coming with me.”
“Hey, you don’t need to thank me. It’ll be fun.”
I stare at the large grey brick building in front of me. “But you’re not exactly going to learn anything in a hip-hop class for beginners, are you?”
“No, but I still wanted to come. Make sure you didn’t chicken out. It’s really good to see you taking a chance and emerging from your work-sister cocoon to do something like this, Brookey.”
Study, work, Belle. For years, they’ve been the only things I’ve focused on. For the first time since Mum passed away, however, I feel like I might want more than that. And these dance classes are a step in that direction. I can spend thirty to forty-five minutes a week learning to dance without worrying I’m going to drop the ball when it comes to my sister.
“I’m glad, too,” I tell her. “Thanks again for getting me the job.”
“It works for me. I get to see more of my best friend.”
We smile at each other before she tugs at the sleeve of my T-shirt. “Come on. We don’t want to keep Linc waiting. By the way, he’s hired two more people to work the bar, so it shouldn’t be as flat out for you next week.”
The club needs the extra bar staff and Kane will probably be relieved. I should be, too, I guess. Instead, I’m thinking about the fact this means Linc likely won’t be working the bar with us this week. Disappointment stabs through me. I’ll have to content myself with watching him dance on stage and being in his dance class. Not working behind the bar with him might even be for the best, considering how much I’m starting to like him.
We open the large glass door at the front of the studio and walk through the reception area before opening and walking through two more doors. Finally, we’re standing in a large white room with twenty or more other women. There are two walls of floor-to-ceiling mirrors. The third wall has a ballet bar along it. The fourth wall is all windows.
“Brooke, Jemma, you guys made it.”
Linc is walking towards us, wearing a tight black T-shirt that shows off every perfect chest muscle and a pair of sweatpants that are as baggy as mine. Even in his super casual outfit, my heart is beating faster at the sight of him.
“I hope that’s okay,” I say, suddenly uncertain.
When Kane had brought up the subject of Linc teaching me, Linc hadn’t seemed thrilled with the idea. Even when I’d suggested I go to his classes and take Jemma with me, he hadn’t seemed happy. But then he’d changed his mind. At least, I thought he had at the time.
His eyes are steady on mine. “Hey, I told you to come. How can I ask the bar staff to perform a number when you don’t dance?”
His smile is easy and I relax slightly.
“Hey, Linc, I was wondering if I could talk to you about something later?” Jemma says. “Brooke mentioned you might do a bar number and I started coming up with some ideas. I know Nate does a lot of the choreography, but I thought I could, um, run some ideas past you later.”
“I’ve got a couple of minutes now. Come talk to me.”
Jemma looks beyond ecstatic.
“Go,” I mouth when she looks to me.
I didn’t know Jemma was interested in choreography until I told her about the possibility of a bar routine and she started talking about all the possibilities for the dance. I’m thrilled Linc is giving her a chance to share her ideas.
I put my towel and water on the floor at the back of the class and begin stretching, doing my best to subtly study the other women in the room. There are a few in their late twenties, some in their thirties. Most are in their forties and fifties.
Some of them shoot me curious glances. Others glare at me, as though I’m one more person competing with them for Linc’s attention.
When Jemma walks back over to me, she looks less cheerful than she did a few minutes ago.
“How did it go, Jem?”
“What did he say?”
“He liked my ideas. He wants to use them, but he wants me to work with Nate.”
“And the problem with that is…?”
She shakes her head. “Nothing. It’s fine.”
It obviously isn’t. I want to find out why she looks so unimpressed, but Linc is standing at the front of the room, waiting to start the lesson.
“All right, ladies. Who’s ready to dance?”
The room buzzes with excitement.
“Now, you may have noticed we have a couple of new faces here today.”
Every woman in the room turns around to stare at Jemma and me.
“Brooke is the newest bartender at Midnight. We’re thinking about putting together a routine for the bar staff, but Brooke needs to remember how to dance. Jemma already knows how to dance, but she’s decided to tag along with Brooke. Please make them feel welcome.”
Some people say hello, others smile. The few that glared at me before now glare at Jemma, assuming she’s also competition. These women clearly have no idea how strict Linc is about his no-dating-employees rule.
“Right.” Linc grabs a remote off a table by the door. “Is everyone ready to learn some new steps?”
He pushes a button on the control and an R&B-Pop song starts playing through the overhead speakers. It’s a favourite of mine, and I’m more than ready to move as he begins leading us through a warm-up. The steps are simple and easy to follow which means I have plenty of time to concentrate on the way every move he makes showcases Linc’s strength, technique and power. I’m a little too distracted by the play of muscles underneath his clothes. The tracksuit pants that seemed loose on him earlier pull tight every time he squats or bends. I don’t know first-hand what it feels like to be with a man, yet I can’t seem to stop imagining what it would be like to be with Linc – what it would feel like to have him on top of me, inside of me. A visual of him naked on top of me, my hands grabbing that perfect butt as he thrusts into me leaves me gasping for breath and heat coiling low in my belly.
His gaze lands on mine suddenly, causing my heart to bang harder than the bass in the song. Thank God he can’t read my mind. I need to start focusing or I’m going to trip over my feet and embarrass myself before we’ve even finished the warm-up. I can only be grateful he’s up front and away from me. If he put his hands on me…
The next song is faster and the steps are a little more complicated, forcing me to pay attention.
After a couple of run-throughs, it feels easy enough, and every time I catch Linc’s gaze on me, I’m sure I see approval. I’ve always enjoyed my Zumba classes, or just dancing around the house while cleaning. I’m dancing again, and I love it. Even Jemma looks like she’s having a blast.
She grins at me and I grin back.
“Let’s keep going, ladies.”
Turning my attention back to the front of the class, I see Linc start to move around the room, studying everyone’s form.
“That’s it, Tracey,” Linc says to one of the women in the front row. “Relax those hips a little.”
“Light on your feet, Janine. Good.”
He stops in front of me. I’m self-conscious enough as it is, but when he frowns I start worrying I’ve missed a step.
“When was the last time you took a class?” he asks.
I stop to answer him. The steps may be simple enough, but I’m still working hard enough to make talking and dancing at the same time difficult. Plus, I’m now convinced I must be doing it wrong.
“I was fourteen.”
“She’s been doing Zumba,” Jemma chimes in next to me.
“You’re a natural at picking up choreography,” he says.
His praise leaves me in danger of glowing.
“Do you feel up to trying a few new steps?”
I nod, then eagerly watch as he shows me some different moves. The sequence is a bit more complicated than the one we’ve put together this session, but I’m more than willing to give it a shot.
As soon as he stops, I try to copy what he did. The first time I attempt it I miss a step, but quickly go back and correct it. On the second run-through, the same thing happens. I nail it on my third attempt, and he nods and gives me a few more steps to add on.
“Not bad,” he says when I’m done. “Do it for me again?”
I repeat what I did last time.
“Okay, you need to relax your shoulders and arms a little more and tighten up your core. Try it again.”
A few steps into my third attempt, he shakes his head. “Pull it in here.”
The moment he puts the palm of his hand flat on my stomach, I can’t concentrate on anything else because his hand is on me. He’s touching me. I suck down a lungful of air, miss my next step and stumble.
“Steady,” he says, putting both of his hands on my hips.
Any closer and I’ll be pressed against him. The intensity and heat in his green gaze scorches me, but not as much as the feel of his hands still at my waist. My breath catches in my throat as I register the fact both of his thumbs are ever so slowly and softly caressing my stomach. Lust spears through me where he’s touching me. My knees are too weak and I want to lean into him and feel his body against mine.
I’m a second away from actually acting on the impulse when he takes his hands off me and steps back.
“One more time for me.”
His voice is a little abrupt, and his expression is a mixture of confused and unhappy as I look at him, and I’m left feeling mortified over my reaction. Not to mention short of breath and completely shaken by the strength of desire I feel for him.
Doing my best to shake off my reaction, I repeat the routine he’s just shown me, putting everything into it and tightening my core as I move.
“Good, Brooke,” he says once I finish. “We’ll talk after class.”
Leaving me shell shocked from his touch and my reaction to him, he begins walking around the room again. Gradually, I become aware of my surroundings enough to feel Jemma’s gaze on me. When I turn to look at her, her eyes are concerned. Great. My lust was probably so obvious the whole room felt it. Jemma certainly saw it.
I turn away from her and focus on the beginner’s steps, relieved when Linc starts warming us down and the session finishes.
“Did you enjoy that?” Jemma asks.
Is she asking me about the dance lesson or the brief meltdown I had when Linc touched me?
“The lesson was great.”
“Hmm. You did well.”
“I had fun.”
“Hmm,” she says again.
“Shall we go?” I ask, putting the towel around my neck.
Jemma shakes her head. “Linc said he wants to talk to you.”
I’m not sure I can face him right now. “Probably just about work or something. I’m sure he’s busy now.”
She breaks off when we spot Linc making his way over to us.
“Can you make it to the intermediate class next Tuesday?” he asks.
“I think you’ll pick up the steps easily enough. It’ll be a bit of a challenge, but I think you’re up for it. And then we can start working on the bar routine.”
“Okay,” I say, trying not to let on how excited I am.
Despite my screw-up when he touched me, I did well enough to move up to the next class, where hopefully I’ll learn more steps.
“What about Belle?” Jemma reminds me. “Don’t you pick her up from school at that time?”
She’s right. I always pick Belle up from school. Before I was let go from Meeks & Associates, she took the bus home, but these days I insist on picking her up. I’ve turned down her offers to catch the bus until today, wanting to spend as much time with her as I can.
“Belle and I will figure it out, Jem.”
She gasps and feigns shock. “You’re going to let your fourteen-year-old sister on the bus?”
Heat climbs my face. She’s accused me of being over-protective in the past, and I’ll admit I am. My mother is dead. My father died a long time ago. Is it so wrong that I want to take care of my sister?
“Don’t glare at me like that,” Jemma says, nudging me softly. “You know you’d wrap her in bubble wrap if you could.”
“I would,” I agree. “But she’ll understand. She offered to take the bus today.”
“Yet you probably told her you’d pick her up, despite the fact you’re going to be late.”
“So? Next week she can ride the bus. She’ll be fine.”
One of the blonde ladies from the front of the class walks over to us, putting a halt to our conversation.
“Linc.” She puts her hand on his arm. “Can we talk for a minute?”
He turns to look at the woman. “Of course, Tracie. Please give me a moment and I’ll be right over.”
Thank goodness he’s not going to be around to witness Jemma embarrass me further. I doubt he wants to listen to the two of us arguing about what an over-protective sister-bear I am.
Giving us an apologetic smile, he says. “I should go.”
I pick my bag up off the floor. “Thanks for the lesson.”
“She’ll be back next week,” Jemma says cheerfully.
“Okay, well, I’ll see you at rehearsals, Jem. I’ll catch you tomorrow at the club, Brooke.”
His eyes lock with mine for a beat and I feel my heart bang against my ribcage in response before he turns and walks away.
Jemma grabs my hand immediately and starts leading me out of the studio. “Only you, Brooke.”
“Only me what?”
“Only you decide to leave the house to have a life and start jonesing after the first son of a billionaire you meet.”
I push through the door that leads outside, flushing at the inference I’m some naïve recluse who has finally ventured out of my bubble only to start fixating on the first rich boy I meet.
“I’m not ‘jonesing’ after him.”
“Oh please,” she starts, walking backwards towards her car so she can look at me. “That stumble? The way you looked at him that first night at Midnight Frenzy, and then again today?” She shakes her head. “You’ve got it bad.”
“I’ll admit he’s hot and I love the way he dances, but-”
“Come on, Brooke. It’s me you’re talking to. I watched you drool over Aaron Amos for an entire year. I watched you doodle Brooke Amos all over your pencil case. I know when you’re into someone, and you’re into Lincoln Rivers. You want little Linc babies.”
“Oh my God, you’re ridiculous.”
“In all fairness, though,” she says when she reaches the car, her back leaning against the side of it. “Linc is a fine person to crush on in the I’m-never-going-to-hit-that-but-he’s-so-damn-fine kind of way.” She opens the car and starts to climb inside. “Just…don’t let it become any more than that.”
I slide into the passenger seat. “I won’t. He doesn’t date staff and-”
“And I don’t think he does girlfriends, either. I’ve seen women come to the club, looking for him. He might disappear with them for a while but he never leaves with any of them.”
Despite the fact it shouldn’t surprise me – I saw picture after picture of him online with different women – I’m disappointed.
“I’m not looking to be his girlfriend, Jem. I have my hands full with Belle.”
“I know.” She turns the key in the ignition, starting the engine before turning to look at me. “And I get that you’re busy with Belle and that she’s everything to you, but a boyfriend wouldn’t be the end of the world.”
“Just not Linc.”
“Exactly! Put him in your spank bank and move on.”
I burst out laughing at the old movie reference. We used to watch 10 Things I Hate About You every time we had a sleepover. It’s a classic, after all.
She laughs with me for a moment, but her eyes are earnest as she stops and nibbles her bottom lip. “I’d hate for you to get your heart broken by the first guy you’ve shown an interest in for years.”
And anything more than a crush on Lincoln Rivers is going to get me hurt. I hear her loud and clear. I need to pull back. I need to get my head on straight. Nothing good can come of this attraction to Linc. Luckily, he will be back to being the boss next week, and not the hot guy working behind the bar with me, making me laugh when he isn’t turning me on by dancing on stage.
“I have no intention of getting my heart broken.”
The look on Jemma’s face says she’s not sure she believes me, but I change the subject before she can say anything more.
“So, what’s up with you and the choreographer?”