I’m breathing fast and my stomach is churning when I arrive at work on Wednesday night. Kane looks up the moment I walk up to the bar. His relief is obvious.
“I’m so sorry I’m late, Kane.”
“I was beginning to worry you weren’t going to make it.”
“I wouldn’t do that to you. There was an accident on the freeway and everyone was rubbernecking.”
“I’m just glad you’re here.”
He grins. “You have no idea. You’re a great addition to this place, Brooke.”
His eyes are earnest and I can see he’s happy to have me here. I’m just as happy to be here. The stress of being stuck in rain and traffic for the past forty minutes might have muted my excitement about coming into work, but now that I’m here I’m already starting to relax and look forward to the doors opening.
“We’ve got two new bartenders, right? Does that mean we’ve got five behind the bar tonight?”
“Cat was scheduled to work, but she can’t make it because her boy is sick. Which means we’ve got four. Layla and Saxon are suiting up as we speak. We’ll have to see how fast they are when put to the test. You’d better go change, we’ve only got twenty minutes till we open.”
“What’s the code tonight?” I ask, making a mental note to get Cat’s number from Kane so I can check in with her later.
“I’ll be right out.”
“Hey, Brooke,” Kane calls out when I start for the large metal door that will let me backstage.
I look over my shoulder at him. “Yeah?”
“I’m really glad you came back. I know last week was insane, but it won’t be as bad this week.”
“I had fun,” I tell him. “Besides, I’m not afraid of hard work.”
The smile he rewards me with has me grinning the whole way to my locker.
Fifteen minutes later, I enter the bar area and nearly collide with who I assume is the new guy. With his styled light brown hair and pretty-boy features, he’s clearly more token eye-candy for the ladies in the club.
He whistles as his light blue eyes leisurely travel down my body. Heat climbs up my neck and face at his obvious interest. The way he’s staring at me…it’s like he’s picturing me naked and I have to fight the instinct to cover myself up and hide from his eyes.
“Well, who do we have here?”
Kane snaps the new guy in the back of the head with a tea towel. “Hey, knock it off. We don’t ogle our co-workers.”
“I’m sorry.” The new guy offers me a sheepish smile. “It might take me a while to get used to the way the women dress here.”
The uniforms we wear and the type of dancing that happens on the stage makes the club a very sexually charged environment. I was aware of it the moment I first stepped foot in the club, and it’s something I accepted along with the job. It hardly phases me anymore when customers leer at me, but I’m not used to it from my co-workers. Then again, unlike New Guy, everyone who works here is used to the uniforms.
“I’m still getting used to it myself.”
Kane puts his arm loosely around my shoulders, something he’s never done before. “Brooke, this is Saxon. Saxon, meet Brooke.”
“Brooke.” Saxon says my name like it’s the sexiest word he’s ever tasted. “Call me Sax.”
I smile politely. “Hi.”
“Brooke is awesome. You treat her with respect at all times,” Kane warns him.
Saxon’s smile transforms into something wolfish as his eyes lock with mine. “Got it.
“And this,” Kane says, keeping his arm around my shoulders and swinging me around to face the other way, “is Layla.”
“Hey, what’s up,” Layla says, giving me a chin tip.
Layla has tons of long black hair tied back in a ponytail, a very impressive bust line, and bright blue eyes surrounded by dark shadow and eye-liner. My first impression of her – other than that she’s gorgeous – is that she’s cool. She looks like she won’t break a sweat when the doors open. Which is a good thing because an instrumental version of a rap/hip-hop song begins playing through the speakers, meaning we only have a few minutes till open.
Kane takes his arm off my shoulders, steps back and looks at the three of us. “Right, let’s talk line-up. Brooke and Layla, you girls take the ends tonight and I’ll work between the newbies.”
If Saxon’s smile wasn’t wolfish before, it is now. Great. I try to smile as Saxon’s eyes meet mine, but I’m nervous about working next to him. He seems like a flirt and I’m not quite sure how to handle him yet. Yesterday, Jemma insinuated that I’m naïve, and while I hate that word I can admit that I don’t have the same experience with men and relationships that most women my age do.
For the past year, I’ve talked to guys about facts and figures. Before that, I was so focused on study and work that I didn’t know someone was interested in me until they asked me out. And when that happened, it was easy enough to say no because I had no interest in them. My priorities haven’t changed much, and I still don’t have time for dating, but since I started working at Midnight Frenzy, I feel like I need to relearn how to interact with the opposite sex, even if that’s just learning how to put them in their place. Nicely, of course.
“Brooke, you made it.”
I turn to see Linc standing there, wearing a white t-shirt and dark jeans. My heart thunders in my ears and chest as our eyes lock. Perhaps it’s not just the club that’s a catalyst for this desire to interact with the opposite sex. Sure, the sexy environment has to have some bearing, but the man who owns it has had me fantasising about things I shouldn’t be thinking about ever since I saw him up on stage for the first time.
As he leans his arms on the bar, I take note of the way his shirt pulls tight across his chest and biceps right before I force my gaze upwards to meet his.
“When I came in you still hadn’t arrived.”
I haven’t forgotten the fact I need to get my head on straight, but now that I’m standing here looking at him, I can admit I’ve been waiting for this moment – waiting to see Linc. And I can tell myself that it’s okay to lust after the guy – that it’s safe to appreciate his beauty from a distance (to put him in my spank bank, as Jemma said) – but it’s disconcerting just how much I like him as a person after the short amount of time we’ve spent together.
“I know, I’m sorry. It was raining and there was an accident. It should only take me twenty minutes to get here and I left more than an hour before my shift, but-“
“It’s fine, Brooke. I’m just glad you made it okay. How did you pull up after yesterday? Any soreness?”
“No. I felt fine. Great. No soreness at all.”
“You had your first dance class yesterday?” Kane asks, coming to stand beside me. “How did it go?”
I turn to look at him. “It went well. Most fun I’ve had in a long time.”
“She can move,” Linc tells Kane. “I doubt she’ll have any trouble picking up a routine.”
Kane nods, looking very happy. “I knew you were a star when I met you, Brooke.”
I shake my head. “I’m not a star. Linc is just a great teacher.”
The memory of nearly falling into his arms, his hands on my waist and his fingers stroking my stomach plays through my mind, causing me to feel flushed and tingly all over.
I can’t help but wonder if Linc is remembering the same thing as our eyes meet.
“Say all you want, I knew you’d be able to move,” Kane says.
“Can you bring the drinks backstage after the first performance?” Linc asks me.
“Yes, absolutely,” I rush out.
Last week it was Cat, Linc and Kane taking the drinks backstage for the members of Tease. I’m thrilled it’s my turn tonight.
“Great, I’ll see you then.”
I’m not even aware of the fact I’m staring after him until Layla comes to stand beside me.
She leans on the bar, and when I look at her, her gaze locked on Linc as he walks away, she says, “Cosmo lied. He should have been number one on the list of Australia’s Sexiest Men, not number three.”
My stomach drops at the thought I’m not the only bartender lusting after the boss. I can’t blame Layla for looking, though. He is so incredibly sexy. She’d have to be blind not to notice. And the way she’s staring after him isn’t predatory, merely wistful. Like me, she knows hooking up with him is not going to happen. She’s merely appreciating his beauty.
“Quit your drooling, ladies,” Kane says.
Embarrassed to be caught, both of us stand up straight and turn around to look at our manager.
“A word of warning to the two of you.” Kane sounds tired and looks weary. “Linc doesn’t sleep with the staff. Ever.”
Jemma has told me this more than once. Layla, however, probably hasn’t heard it before, which means I have to endure the lecture one more time.
“There’s one thing you need to understand about Lincoln Rivers. He has one love and one love only. This club. He won’t do a thing to mess with that.”
“Trust me, I have no intention of trying to sleep with him,” I say.
Kane nods approvingly before looking at Layla.
“Can’t blame a woman for looking,” she says. “But I have a serious girlfriend.”
“You’re bi?” Saxon asks, lust clear in his blue eyes.
“Oh brother,” Kane mutters.
Saxon looks like he’s died and gone to heaven. “Is she bi, too?”
“Okay, that’s enough of the personal questions, Saxon. I can’t afford to lose any more bartenders,” Kane says irritably. “No hitting on your co-workers or the boss.”
Saxon laughs. “Dude, I’m not going to hit on the boss. But the co-workers thing, is that a rule?”
“It is for you.”
I can’t help but laugh at the affronted expression on Saxon’s face. Kane winks at me and I grin back at him.
I know Kane slept with two of his bartenders, but he’s clearly tired of not having enough bar staff. I don’t think he’s going to put the moves on Layla or me. And I appreciate the fact he’s trying to save us both from Saxon.
The instrumental version of the hip-hop/rap song cuts out and the DJ begins spinning a top forty track. The doors are open and the night is starting.
It’s only my second week at Midnight Frenzy, but I still feel a huge thrill as the crowd rushes in, filling the place.
As I begin serving customers and watching everyone start dancing, and Kane, Saxon and Layla and I shout out to each other and laugh, I realise I’m having a lot of fun again. Unexpectedly, I’ve fallen into a job where I feel like I belong – like I’m part of a team. This place has had an impact on me. For the first time in my life, I’m excited about being at work. It’s not just a place I go to make money.
I know I have to keep looking for a new job. Relying on Patricia to keep an eye on Belle four nights a week for any length of time isn’t fair on her. But the thought of leaving this place for a job like the one I had at Meeks & Associates settles in the pit of my stomach like lead. I’m really going to miss this place when I have to leave.
While I’m here, I have to make the most of it.
The first performance of the night crops up quickly, and the beat has us all dancing behind the bar. Kane has me mirror his moves, insisting I need him and Linc to teach me how to dance. Saxon joins in with the impromptu lesson, taking advantage of every opportunity to put his hands all over me. I’m still trying to work out exactly how to handle him. He clearly doesn’t know the meaning of personal space.
“Brooke, you want to take these drinks back?” Kane asks when the first routine finishes.
I jump at the chance to slip away for a bit. The tray is laden with a variety of beers, shots and water as Kane opens the door for me to the backstage area. I’m guessing I’ll need to make a couple of trips to quench the thirst of the club’s dancers.
Jemma is the first dancer I see. My happiness to see her is replaced by concern when I see the scowl she’s wearing. As soon as she reaches me, she takes a shot off my tray and downs it. Then she takes another shot and throws that back. And then she follows it with a third. At this rate, I’m going to have to go back for refills before I’ve seen any of the other dancers.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” I ask.
There might be over an hour and a half before the next performance, but three shots in quick succession like that…she needs her coordination.
“Nate Grahame is an arsehole.”
Jemma gave me the lowdown on Nate yesterday. Apparently, the two of them do not get along – which is difficult considering their dancer/choreographer relationship. According to Jemma, Nate criticises her technique all the time and acts as if he hates her. I haven’t met the guy yet, but anyone who makes my best friend upset is not cool.
“Again with the name calling, Jemma. Anyone would believe you don’t like me.”
I look over my friend’s shoulder to see a very well-built, dark-haired guy with tats up one arm walking towards us. When he comes to a stop next to my friend, the message Jemma sends me with her eyes is that this is Nate.
“They wouldn’t be far off the mark,” Jemma returns.
“Is this you extending me the same professional courtesy you asked for earlier?”
Jemma glares straight ahead, but I know my friend well enough to recognise the flare of hurt in her eyes as she stands there. What the hell is going on?
I look at Nate, hoping to gain some kind of insight from him, but he’s not looking at me at all. His gaze is locked on Jemma.
“I need to talk to you, Jemma.”
“But I don’t want to talk to you.”
“I’m on break. I do everything you ask of me, surely I can have fifteen minutes to myself.”
She tries to walk away, but before she can he puts his hand on her elbow and guides her away from me.
I watch them go, worried about the fact my friend is clearly hurting, and also about the fact that Nate heard her call him an arsehole. What will Linc say if word gets back to him that Jemma is difficult to work with? Dancers and choreographers who don’t get along aren’t a great mix. Will Jemma lose her job here? She’d be devastated.
I’m so lost in my thoughts that I’m startled by the sound of Linc calling my name. He’s walking towards me, looking flushed and sexy after the stage show, and the butterflies that seem to wake up every time I’m near him start dancing in my stomach as his gaze holds mine.
“Is everything okay?” he asks once he’s standing in front of me.
He’s close enough for me to smell him – a combination of clean sweat and deodorant.
“Everything’s fine.” I hold up the tray and force a smile. “I have drinks.”
The way he’s studying me, as if he’s worried I might not be telling the truth – as if he’s concerned about me, causes my heart to thump in my chest much harder than it should. My grip on the tray tightens so I don’t reach out to touch him, to reassure him. I need to get out of here, and hopefully lead him away from wherever Jemma and Nate have gone to talk.
“Everyone must be thirsty. Lead the way?”
After another moment studying me, he motions for me to follow him. I’m far too aware of the heat and energy radiating from him as we walk towards the exit off stage. The group of dancers gathered there shout out something that sounds like ‘finally’ when they see me. A few of the dancers taking drinks I recognise as people I met when Jemma showed me around the night of my interview, but many of the faces are new to me. Linc reels off their names for me, and I say each one out loud hoping I’ll remember some of them that way, but there’s no way I’ll remember all of them. To make up for it, I smile and offer drinks.
As soon as the tray is empty, I go back to the bar and return with more.
Most of the dancers are friendly, but I do hear one girl comment that it’s not worth remembering the names of the bar staff because of how quickly they come and go. Maybe her comment isn’t directed at me personally, but I still find it in poor taste to say it when I’m standing within hearing distance.
Finally, the crowd disperses. I expect Linc to go with them, wherever they’re going – maybe to get ready for the next dance – but instead he stays with me, facing me.
I’m all too aware of the fact I’m alone with him as he smiles at me.
“So, we’ve got four behind the bar tonight. I hope you’re feeling less under the pump than last week.”
Easier, yes. But I wouldn’t say better. It’s not the same without him working by my side. Not that I can say this to him. He’s the boss. In any normal situation, he wouldn’t be working behind the bar with me.
“The new people working out okay?” he asks.
I nod. “Layla is fast.”
She’s also freaking hilarious to watch when the guys hit on her. She knows just how to put them in their place. I’m taking notes.
Linc raises an eyebrow. “Are you sure about that?”
I smile. “Mostly.”
He’s kind of a pain, but he makes me laugh. And even though his flirting makes me uncomfortable at times, he’s a fast server, and he knows how to dance.
“Well, when you make up your mind about him, let me know.”
“I have the feeling your judgement is pretty sound.”
I flush with pleasure at his compliment, which is my cue to get out of there. Standing here talking to him like this isn’t going to help me get my head on straight.
“I should get back to the bar,” I say.
He nods, but he’s suddenly distracted. I follow his gaze to see a woman walking towards us.
I know who it is. Claudia Henley. I’ve seen the photos of her with Linc. I wish I could say she’d been airbrushed in them, and that she isn’t as beautiful in person, but that would be a lie. She’s stunning. Her skin is flawless. The deep red colour of her dress sets off her pale skin and golden-wheat coloured hair. The colour of her lipstick matches the colour of her dress. She’s stylish, modern, but there’s also something very classic about her.
Eyes the colour of a cloudless blue sky take me in coolly before she turns her attention to Linc without a word to me.