On Wednesday, my first day working as the club’s secret accountant, I walk into Midnight Frenzy with a new lease on my feelings for Linc. It’s been two days since he asked me to help him out with the books. Two days since he made it clear we’ll never be anything more than friends. Having him spell it out for me in painstaking detail was mortifying enough to make sure I never forget it.
Meaning, when I went to my first intermediate dance class yesterday, I managed to keep from making a fool of myself by falling into his arms. I still got butterflies when he looked at me, and I was still far too aware of him and every move he made, but I was better able to keep things in perspective. He doesn’t want a relationship, and neither do I. It’s never going to happen between us. I can’t allow myself to fantasise about him anymore.
I hurry through the empty club, coming to a stop at the heavy metal door that Linc messaged me the code for this morning. When the text came through, I saved his number and made a conscious decision not to dwell on the fact I now have Lincoln Rivers’ phone number.
Having already memorised the code, I enter it into the keypad and wait for the door to spring open. Then I walk through the backstage area, trying to remember how to get to Linc’s office. Eventually, I find the right hallway. I hear the gentle tap of his fingers on the keyboard as I walk in his direction.
The door to his office is ajar. I knock on it, then poke my head inside. “Linc.”
He looks up from the keyboard and gives me a smile full of warmth. “Brooke. Hey. Come in.”
The first thing I notice as he stands up is that he’s in business attire – grey pants and a white silk button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He’s clean shaven, and I can smell the expensive scent of his cologne.
Friends, I repeat to myself as butterflies explode in my chest and stomach.
“You came dressed for our dance lesson,” he says, looking me over.
I’d taken far too long deciding what to wear today. Did I come dressed as an accountant, or as a dance student? In the end, I’d decided on an outfit of gym leggings and fitted Lycra top under a white t-shirt. Now that Linc is studying me, however, I’m second-guessing myself.
“Ah, we didn’t discuss what I should wear for the few hours I’m here. I do have a business suit in the car. I just thought I’d save time by not having to change before our dance lesson later.”
“It’s fine. It’s not like you’re officially here as my accountant yet. I mean I wish you were, but…”
I won’t take money for my time. This bothered him when we spoke about it on Monday, and I can see it’s still bothering him now. But even if I’m not taking his money, he’s still giving me something of value. He made sure of it. We have a trade.
“As far as I’m concerned, you are paying me; it’s just in dance lessons instead of cash. I know this is your future and your club at stake, Linc. You can count on me.”
He could count on me even if we didn’t have a trade.
He offers me a small, tight smile as he shoves his hands in his pockets. “I know I can count on you, Brooke. I knew it almost straight after meeting you. It’s just that you’re my last hope and I’m asking so much of you. I don’t feel like I’m giving you enough.”
“Linc, you’re giving me back what I missed out on when I was a teenager. That’s far more valuable.”
He shakes his head. “I guess I just don’t believe I’m this lucky. I honestly don’t know what I would do without you. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t come along.”
“Well, we can both be grateful I wound up working here, then,” I tell him.
His eyes are so full of intensity as they search mine that my heart lurches.
“Shall we get down to business?” I ask, wrenching my gaze from his and ending the moment of connection before he sees everything I’m trying so hard not to feel for him.
“Right.” He clears his throat.
“Do you have the profit and loss statement from the accountant?”
“No. I asked Mervyn for it yesterday, but he started grilling me about why I needed it, and I backed off. Now that you’re working here, I can’t afford to raise his suspicions. The best I’ve got to offer you is the computer program I mentioned on Monday.” He steps out from behind his desk then runs a hand through his hair. “But none of the figures I have marry up with the numbers Mervyn has given me.”
“Well, the program will get me started, but I still might need you to push him for the statement later.”
It’s going to be damn hard to find the discrepancy without seeing Meryn’s assessment. I need to run through line after line of expenses for eight, nearly nine, months. It could take me weeks, maybe even months to find anything suspicious – and that’s with the statement from the accountant.
“See what you can do first,” Linc tells me.
“The contract ends in January, doesn’t it?”
That gives me just over three months. I nod and try to swallow the trepidation I feel. It’s not long at all considering the amount of work that lies ahead of me, especially when I’m not going to be working on this full time.
What if I can’t find the problem?
What if I run out of time?
Linc is relying on me, but it’s not just him I’m helping. It’s Kane, and Jemma, and Cat, Layla and Saxon. Everyone who works here.
“Maybe, I should come in earlier in the morning,” I say. “To give us some extra time.”
“I’m tempted to agree, but I need a few hours of sleep every night, and so do you.”
The club doesn’t close until two in the morning at the earliest. I know Linc doesn’t leave until after four some mornings. Anything earlier than eleven am – the time both of us agreed I should start – is too early. Unfortunately, Linc’s accountant works at Midnight Frenzy two mornings a week, cutting further into the time I can work during the day.
Basically, I’m left with Monday afternoon, after Mervyn leaves, and Wednesday, Thursday and Friday mornings. Tuesdays are out altogether because Mervyn works at the club in the morning and I have dance class in the afternoon.
“I could always ask my sister to catch the bus home every afternoon,” I muse aloud. “So I can stay later.”
Linc shakes his head. “Let’s stick to what we worked out on Monday. That way you can still pick your sister up and have dinner with her before you come back.” He motions to his desk. “Do you want to have a seat at the computer? I’ll take you through things, then I’ve got some stuff to do.”
“Does Mervyn work in here?”
“No, his office is the room on the other side of the hallway. It’s the more comfortable office, but I want you as far away from him as possible.”
I nod, since this makes sense, before walking over to his desk and sitting in his chair. I’m hyper-aware of him as he stands behind me and moves to close a program he had open. I sit there rigidly, trying not to breathe in the scent of his cologne or think about the fact his arms are practically around me right now, and I’m caged in by his body. His arm brushes against mine as he moves the mouse and I nearly gasp. Electricity zaps along my skin, causing my nipples to tighten and desire to tug low in my belly.
I take a deep breath, but all I breathe in is him. It’s enough to fill my head with visions of my body spread out over his desk, his lips on my skin, his hands on my body. My hands reaching out to pull him closer as he moves inside of me.
My skin feels flushed all over, yet I have goose bumps. My clothes feel too heavy and hot. I’m in danger of yanking off my t-shirt just to cool down.
And when he pulls up his accounting program, I realise I have yet another problem. At least, this problem is a distraction from the painfully arousing fantasies running through my mind. I hate his program.
“What is it?” he asks, catching a glimpse of my expression.
“This program isn’t one of my favourites,” I tell him, hoping he assumes I’m flushed because of my feelings for the program ad not because of him.
“It’s supposed to be the best.”
“It is supposed to be, and it does have some great features.” Which do not compensate for things it gets wrong. I turn around to look at him and try not to think about how close his face is to mine, or how full his lips are. “But are you opposed to trying different programs?”
His mouth is turned down, but he nods. “It’s not like I’m particularly attached to this program, but it’s where I’ve put all the numbers. Some things are sent to the accountant directly, but I still try and make a record of it here.”
“So, how accurate would you say these records are?”
“Well, I’d swear they’re accurate. But from what I can see, I should be making money. Okay, I know businesses don’t make money in their first or even second year, but I shouldn’t be losing the amount of money Mervyn thinks we are.”
“I agree. And you should be making solid repayments to your parents.”
I would hate having to use someone in my business I didn’t trust. Especially when they’re looking after the finances.
“Give me some time to look through this today, and I’ll let you know what we’re up against,” I tell him, seeing the frustration etched it his features.
“You’ll be okay on your own?”
I’m still breathing him in, and I still feel slightly feverish. It’s distracting. The best thing he can do is leave the room.
“I’ll be fine.”
“I have copies of everything in the filing cabinet,” he says. “I unlocked it before you got here. Feel free to look through anything you might want to, and if you need anything, yell out.”
“Will do,” I say, too ready for him to leave, so I do what I came here to do – help Linc, not lust for him.
Around an hour and a half later, I’m trying not to pull my hair out over what I see on the computer screen. I’m so engrossed in the problems before me that I startle when Linc walks back into the office.
“I was thinking about ordering Chinese food for lunch. Do you want to share some with me?”
My stomach growls at the thought, making me aware of just how hungry I am. I haven’t eaten since breakfast, and I didn’t bring lunch with me. I don’t want to stop working, but I’ll start feeling lightheaded if I don’t. Besides, I need to talk to Linc about the books.
“Ah, yeah. That would be good.”
I reach for my handbag, unsure how much cash I have on me.
“My shout,” Linc says, reading my mind. “And don’t even think about protesting. You’re working for me; I’m paying for lunch.”
Reluctantly, I nod. “Thanks, then.”
He passes me his phone, which has the menu open on the screen. Once I’ve told him what I want, he rings through the order and then leaves to pick it up.
Around twenty minutes later, he returns. I smell the food before I see him.
“I’m back,” he says, popping his head into the office. “Come and eat.”
I follow him into the massive staff kitchen and sit down at one of the four large brown tables that have been pushed together in the middle of the room.
He takes plates and cutlery out of the cupboards and then sits down opposite me, shooting me a quick grin before pushing the containers of food towards me.
My heart picks that moment to start racing uncontrollably. This is just a work lunch, yet somehow it feels intimate – sharing a meal, no one else in the building.
This isn’t a date. You’re friends. And you have to talk to him about the books.
“So,” he begins as I start serving myself. “How’s it going?”
His desperation pulses through the question, and my chest tightens as I imagine what will happen if I can’t help him.
“It’s going,” I tell him. “But I’ve only been looking through things for an hour and a half. I haven’t solved the problem yet, Linc.”
I smile, trying to soften my words because I know he’s going to like what I say next even less.
“I need to talk to you about exactly what you need from me,” I say, pushing the containers of food back to him.
His eyes lock with mine when I look up.
“I know we talked about it on Monday,” I go on. “There’s an issue and you want me to find out if the club should be making money. From what I’ve looked at today, you’ve done a great job of putting together what you can, but there’s information missing. What I want to know is if you just want me to find the problem and balance your spreadsheets, or whether you want me to make my own profit and loss statement for you.”
He puts down his fork he’s holding and studies me. “I want you to be my accountant. Ongoing. I want someone to take care of the books, permanently. And I want that to be you. But I need to understand the books, too. Not understanding what’s going on is giving me a giant headache. I have no power or control over my club while my finances aren’t in order and I don’t know where the money is going.”
“In that case, I need to start from scratch. I want to go through every expense for the nine months you’ve been open and even longer. And I have an accounting program that’s much easier to use. If that’s okay with you.”
“Okay, but you need to take me through it. I’m used to the one I’ve got.”
“Of course.” He looks so worried that I reach out and cover his hand with mine. “I’m not going to leave you in the dark. This is to get you out of trouble and give you control back of the club and everything else. You’ll be able to see better the money coming in and going out when I set it up.”
“Then do it.”
He looks down at our hands touching, turns his hand over underneath mine and runs his thumb across my skin, causing me to shiver. We both pull away at the same time.
“I still don’t feel right about not paying you.”
I suspect he intended his words to snap the professional boundary between us back into place. Mission accomplished. Even if we’re friends, I’m here to do a job, not offer physical comfort.
“Linc,” I say, waiting for him to meet my gaze. “You need to stop worrying about that. I’m doing this because I want to. I love this place and the people who work here. All of them would be devastated if the place had to shut down.”
He studies me so intensely that I feel like he can see everything going through my head – including how much I’ve come to care about him, too.
Finally, he nods. “If you’re sure the dance lessons will be enough.”
Actually, I’m pretty sure they will be too much. We’re going to be dancing together five days a week, and four of those days will be here at the club where there is no one else to act as a buffer. But Linc won’t let me help him with the books if I don’t agree to let him teach me. There’s no way around it. While we’re dancing together, I must make sure I focus on the reason he’s teaching me, and not on how it feels to have him touch me.
At two o’clock, Linc comes back to the office dressed in workout clothes and tells me it’s time to dance. My heart rate skyrockets as I save and close what I’ve been working on. By the time I stand and follow Linc out, my legs feel like jelly, and I’m a bit lightheaded from nerves.
I expect Linc to lead us out to the club’s main dance floor. Instead, we go to the back of the stage – to the very spot I stood watching him put his T-shirt on the night I came in for my interview.
“We’re going to dance up there?” I ask as he bounds up the stairs carved into the stage.
Linc grins down at me when he reaches the top. “Is that all right?”
I can’t help but grin back at him. “Yes.”
“Come on up, then.”
He doesn’t need to tell me twice. As soon as he steps back, I take the stairs two at a time. When I get to the top, I pause, taking it all in – Linc’s kingdom. The curtains are open so that the stage is visible from the back, as well as from the empty dance floor at the front. I can picture the excited and overflowing crowd gyrating against each other. I can hear their excited wolf-whistles as Tease take the stage, and I can feel the base of the music below my feet.
I’m full of adrenaline and glee as my gaze snags on a boom box sitting at the front of the stage.
I walk over to take a closer look. “Wow, I haven’t seen anything like this in a long time. Can you still buy tapes?”
Linc’s expression is amused when I look at him. “I have my ways. I love music. The stereo doesn’t have the greatest sound, but I had to have it when I saw it. Music and equipment like this are the only things I’ll splash out on.”
I nod, filing away the information for future reference. “What sort of music?”
“Everything. Classical, hip-hop, rock. If you can dance to it, I’ve probably got it. Though I’m especially partial to 80s rap.”
So, he likes the old school stuff.
“What are we listening to today?” I ask, unable to keep the excitement out of my voice.
How many times have I imagined dancing on this stage with Linc? Okay, so usually I’m up here with Linc and Tease in my fantasy, and the club is full of people watching me, but this is still awesome.
“It’s a mix for our first session. One of my favourite combinations to dance to.”
Linc bends down and presses the play button on the boombox, filling the empty club with music. I’ve heard the hip-hop/rap song by P. Diddy and Christina Aguilera before.
We begin by stretching together, and when Linc starts making some warm-up moves, I follow his lead. It’s like I’m in his dance class, really, except it’s far more intense with just the two of us working together. There’s no one else to focus on but him. No one to distract me from the power and grace behind every move he makes, or the hard, lean lines of his muscular body, all of which set me drooling.
“Is there anything you want to try or work on today?” he asks once we’ve warmed up.
I have a few ideas. More than anything, I want Linc to teach me what he does up here with Tease, but I can’t bring myself to say that. The thought of being here on the stage with his arms around me, him grinding against me, shoots a hot bolt of lust straight through me.
His eyes lock with mine, making my stomach drop and my breath catch.
I need another idea. Stat.
“I want to be ready for whatever kind of bar routine Jemma comes up with,” I say.
He nods, looking pleased with my suggestion. “That’s a good idea. I’ll show you the moves Jemma showed me the other day. Are you okay to try a couple of lifts?”
Automatically, my mind goes to Dirty Dancing, and the way Baby takes a giant run up so that Johnny can lift her over his head.
“We’ll start slow,” he says, seeing my hesitation.
“Okay,” I say, swallowing hard.
We start off with him showing me footwork which is more complicated than I’ve attempted before. Probably because of the small space we’ll have to occupy on top of the bar when it comes time to dance the routine for real. After I’ve got the footwork down, he moves beside me and we practice it side by side until we’re in sync and Linc is happy with it.
“Okay, let’s try the first turn and lift,” he says. “Watch me.”
I study him as he runs through the footwork I’ve just mastered and then introduces the turn.
“Now you try.”
Surprisingly, I get it right on my first attempt.
He nods. “Do it again, and this time slow down halfway through the turn.”
I do as he asks, only to stop when I feel his hands on my hips.
“Keep going,” he instructs.
Suddenly, I’m facing him. He’s close, too close. In my space. There are less than a few inches between us. My hands go to his chest. Whether it’s to stop him from coming closer or to stop myself from launching myself at him, I’m not sure. I feel his muscles flex underneath my hands. The power of his body, his heat and his scent leave me feeling intoxicated and off balance. My eyes lock with his, and it’s the most intense moment of my life as he stares down at me.
“Put your hands on my shoulders.”
His voice is so low that goosebumps break out all over my body. He holds my gaze as he tightens his grip on my hips and he brings me even closer. My breasts are nearly pressed against his chest, and when he moves his thumbs ever so slightly, caressing my stomach, heat pulses low in my belly and my nipples harden inside my lycra top. There’s no way I can hide how affected by him I am. Not when his gaze drops down to my breasts. The knowingness and awareness in his eyes when his gaze meets mine makes me feel as see-through as glass.
“I’m ready,” I say, desperate to move on.
Yup, I couldn’t have picked anything worse to say.
His eyes smoulder as he says. “Are you?”
My stomach turns itself inside out at the gravelly tone of his voice, but fortunately, I don’t have much time to dwell on it because he’s lifting me.
“Push down on my shoulders,” he instructs.
My feet are off the floor, and he’s holding me up. He looks up at me, and I look down at him for a moment before my breath slams out of my lungs as he lowers me, sliding me down the length of his incredible body in a move so erotic I want to moan from the sheer goodness of it.
Total. Body. Orgasm.
I don’t want to fantasise, but I can’t help it. This is what I want. Him and me, our bodies sliding against each other. My overactive imagination is convinced he was hard in all the right places on my way down, but I must have imagined it.
I’m still holding onto him, my arms around his neck until my brain kicks in and I remove myself from him.
“That wasn’t bad,” he says, his voice rough – his face flushed. “But maybe we should stick to footwork for the rest of the day.”
“Yes,” I agree quickly.
Any more time with his hands on me and I might combust into flames. Worse still, there’s absolutely nothing I can do to avoid showing him how much he turns me on while he’s touching me.
So, how am I going to survive this torture of dancing with him daily?