Brooke Masters does not match the mental image I conjured of her a few days ago. When Jemma told me about her friend – an accountant who’d never stepped foot inside a club before – the picture I got in my head was of someone a lot less…sexy. Brooke is hands down the sexiest woman I’ve seen in the club tonight. The small amount of make-up she’s wearing highlights her hazel eyes, high cheekbones, and voluptuous mouth.
She’s smoking hot, which is the last thing I need her to be. I have plans for her – plans that don’t involve making her blush simply because she looks so good with colour in her cheeks. Plans that don’t involve fantasising about her kneeling naked in front of me, my hands tangled in her hair and her mouth wrapped around my dick as her glorious hazel eyes look up at me.
I shake my head, trying to clear out the far too exciting images dancing through my head. My blood feels too hot and pulses thickly low in my belly. This is exactly what I don’t need. I have too much at stake for any kind of distraction. I can’t afford to screw the staff. More importantly, I can’t afford to screw Brooke. Not when I need her help.
Not when the future of my club is at stake.
A quick glance over my shoulder confirms Brooke is following me. I lead her down a series of hallways until we reach my office. After opening the door, I step out of the way and let her through. Her obvious nervousness is replaced by surprise as she takes in the utilitarian furniture that fills the space. There wasn’t a whole lot of money left in the budget by the time I’d finished outfitting the club – not for the nice, luxurious office everyone expects me to have. About the only thing state-of-the-art in here is my computer.
Normally, I don’t conduct interviews in here, and Kane, my bar manager, could have easily interviewed Brooke. However I want to get a feel for this woman, get to know her a little. I need to know if everything Jemma told me about her is true. Is Brooke really the good and decent person Jemma promised me she is? More importantly, can I trust her with the financial situation of my club?
I shut the door behind us and motion to one of the empty metallic chairs Brooke is eyeing curiously. “Have a seat, Brooke.”
The moment she sits down her nervousness appears to return; her hands smooth her skirt down her thighs before she folds them in her lap. Her gaze darts around the room before landing on her resume which is sitting on my desk. Jemma passed it on a few days ago and I’ve already given it a thorough look through. Just as Jemma promised, Brooke is more than qualified to work the bar. But it’s her accounting experience I’m more interested in. The accounting firm she worked at is reputable, and the fact they offered her a job straight out of university speaks volumes about her abilities.
“You’re an accountant,” I state. “I guess that means I don’t have to test your basic maths.”
Her smile is the epitome of polite. “No. I passed maths with flying colours.”
“That’s a relief. You have no idea how many beautiful girls walk through the doors of this club not knowing how to add a few numbers together.”
Colour sweeps up her cheeks, and again I find myself admiring how gorgeous she looks like with a flush on her high cheekbones.
“Addition and subtraction aren’t problems for me,” she assures me.
“Want to tell me about what happened at S.T Meeks & Associates?”
Her smile slips a little. “It was a case of last one on, first one off. I have a letter of recommendation from my boss. He was more than satisfied with my performance. He simply didn’t feel right firing some of the people who had been with him for twenty years or more when I’d been with them for less than eighteen months.”
She shrugs. “I understand his thinking. Unfortunately, it doesn’t change the fact I’m now jobless.”
I lean back in my chair. “And now you want to work behind the bar here at Midnight Frenzy?”
She squirms in her chair. Jemma filled me in on Brooke’s background and I’m fairly confident I know the answer to this question already, but I want to hear what she says. I need to know whether or not she can be honest.
“I worked hard for my degree in accounting,” she starts cautiously. “And then I worked hard at Meeks & Associates. I did all that so I could put together the most stable and secure life possible for my sister. Working behind the bar lends itself to late nights, occasionally unpredictable clientele, and a rotating roster. So, if I had a choice between an accounting job and working behind the bar, I’d choose the accounting job. But right now I don’t have the luxury of choice. That said, I don’t think you should let my answer deter you from hiring me. I’ll work hard for you – as hard, if not harder, than any other bartender.”
She breathes out a large sigh and looks almost apologetic for her impassioned speech. If only she knew how much she just impressed me. There’s no doubt in my mind she means what she said about working hard. Plus, she was honest – a necessity if we’re going to be working together. Right now, I’m positive Jemma hasn’t exaggerated Brooke’s good points. Brooke Masters may just be the answer to all my prayers.
See, I really need a new accountant. Technically, the money that went into this place is my parents’, not mine. They’re the millionaires – billionaires if you want to be technical – not me. To get this place off the ground I had to borrow from them, and the strings that came with that transaction would shock the general public. Never borrow from friends or family; a great rule to follow if possible. Unfortunately, I didn’t exactly have another option.
Now my folks are waiting for me to fail so that I’ll take my place beside my father at Rivers’ Diversified Financials. That’s clearly stated in the contract. What else is stated in the contract? I have to marry Claudia Henley, the daughter of long-term family friends, if my club doesn’t succeed. Forget the fact I actually did date Claudia for a while, and forget the fact I never loved her. I give up my right to be a bachelor if my club doesn’t start making some serious coin.
The price of failure is too high. Signing a contract with my parents was a mistake, but every bank I visited looked at me like I was a rich playboy who’d never had a real job. I only had one choice. It wasn’t even a choice, really. I would have sold my soul to the devil for this dream. And now that I’m living my dream I can’t let it go. I won’t. I have to make my club a success.
“What did Jemma tell you about the position?” I ask.
“Just that I’d be working nights and that I’d be behind the bar.”
Jemma doesn’t know that I want Brooke for her accounting skills. It was simply fortunate Jemma told me she knows a bartender who lost her job as an accountant and desperately needs a job to keep a roof over her sister’s head. It’s a win-win scenario as far as I’m concerned. Brooke is desperate to find employment so she can continue supporting her younger sister, and I’m desperate for someone to have another look at the numbers the accountant keeps throwing me.
I was so sure when I did the projections for Midnight Frenzy that I’d be able to start paying my parents back within the year. Now the club is more popular than I expected it to be, yet my accountant keeps telling me we’re “haemorrhaging money.” Of course, I don’t believe him. I don’t trust him. But the contract I signed stipulates that my parents get to choose the accountant and they have full access to the books upon request.
Stupidly, I can’t straight up hire Brooke as my accountant because it goes against the contract, but there’s nothing that says I can’t hire a bartender with a background in accounting. I want Brooke to work for me behind the bar while I get to know her. If, after a few weeks, I’m still convinced I like her and trust her, I’ll ask her to look over the books. I’m so desperate, I’d like to ask her now, but since I’ll be relying on Brooke to keep the details of my family dynamics and contract confidential, as well as asking her to accept money on the down low, I have to be sure this girl can keep a secret. I need a few weeks just to be sure.
“How do you feel about leaving your sister alone four nights a week, Brooke?”
“I don’t like it, but I have a neighbour who will look after her. Still, I’d like to keep my phone on me during my shifts.”
“That’s not a problem.”
“Great. Thank you,” she says, rewarding me with a smile.
“Well, you’re more than qualified for the job. So, it’s yours if you want it.”
“You have no idea how happy I am to hear that.”
I can only imagine how stressed she’s been about not having a job. As part of my staff, I’ll make sure she’s well looked after.
“Does Wednesday through Saturday work for you shift wise?” I ask.
“You don’t have a rotating roster?”
“No, I think stability helps keep my employees happy.”
Her smile is so brilliant I can’t help but return it.
“Wednesday to Saturday suits me,” she replies. “When can I start?”
“This Wednesday, if that works for you. I know it’s fast, but-“
“It’s fine. Really,” she assures me. “Wednesday is great.”
It’s a relief she can start so quickly. I’ve been stepping up to tend bar, intent on keeping an eye on the casual staff I’ve been forced to use recently. I was planning to stop once I hired more permanent staff, but working the bar with Brooke could be the perfect chance for me to get to know her a little better. Not to mention, I like to be across all parts of my business. Even with Brooke working the bar, we’re still understaffed. No one will question me alongside her.
“Welcome to Midnight Frenzy, then,” I say. “Be here at six-thirty for your first shift so you can fill out the paperwork we need from you. Kane will take you through things.”
I stand up and she follows suit. As I open the door, she looks at me with a soft expression that makes my heart skip a beat. “Thank you, Linc. For everything.”
“You’re welcome. Jemma’s down that way I’m guessing.” I point towards the end of the hallway. “I can hear her laughing. See you next week, Brooke.”
I fail at not watching the sexy sway of her hips as she walks away from me. I have to admit I’m a little concerned over how attractive I find her. I never flirt with the staff. Never. True, I didn’t realise she was Jemma’s friend at the time, but I should have known something was up because she was backstage. Living like a monk these past few weeks has clearly done my head in. Dancing and making sure my club survives have been my top priorities, but after spending ten minutes with Brooke, I have some extra energy to dispose of.
Walking back to my desk, I pick up my phone and dial a number.
“Hey, baby,” Destiny’s voice croons down the line. “It’s been a while.”
“Too long,” I agree. “Are you free tonight?”
“You know I’m always free for you. Do you want me to come down to the club or do you want to come over?”
“I’ll come to you.”
“I’ll leave the door open,” she says happily. “See you later.”
I hang up the phone and stand up, ready to get back to work.
There are hundreds of women in my club tonight that would be willing to come home with me, but I don’t need or want more than a few hours of fun. The girls in my address book know the score. They don’t want anything from me that I can’t give them. I don’t need to pick up a woman here and have her stalk me later, hoping for some kind of commitment.
Since it’s in the contract I have with my parents that I must marry Claudia if my club fails, I have to be discreet. But even if I didn’t have to keep every hook-up on the down low, I wouldn’t pick up here. I refuse to do anything that puts my club in jeopardy, and that includes leaving a woman feeling scorned or slighted. My club comes first. Always. And nothing and no one will ever change that.
My thoughts drift back to Brooke. I hope to God she doesn’t take me up on the offer I extended to her before I found out who she is. I can’t think of anything more torturous than having her turn up to the dance studio I teach at on Tuesdays and watching her dance in front of me.
Well, other than giving her hands-on guidance, of course.
After quizzing me about my interview with Linc, Jemma drops me home. I walk up the driveway and knock on the door of Patricia’s unit before letting myself into her place with the key she gave me.
Patricia is sitting in her living room in a dressing gown, her long salt and pepper hair down instead of up in its usual bun.
She stubs out her cigarette in the ashtray beside her and says, “How was your evening, love?”
“Good. I got the job.”
“Of course you did. You’re beautiful and clever. Anyone not interested in hiring you needs their head checked. Your old boss certainly needs his head read.”
Patricia’s loyal words make me smile. In the two years after Mum passed away, Belle and I lived with my uncle, and he helped out where he could. As a bachelor, he didn’t know much about raising girls, but he was there to supervise Belle while I worked in the busy pub his friend owned. He met a woman through the internet a few years back, however, and moved to Queensland. Now Patricia is the closest thing we have to family in the state. There are two units on the block. We rent one and Patricia rents the other. Ever since we moved in, she’s always put her hand up to help.
“How was Belle tonight?”
“Fine. At ten o’clock she was passed out in front of the TV. Just as well, really. She had Sex and the City on and Samantha was talking about some man’s awful tasting ‘spunk.'”
Patricia sees me grimace and chuckles throatily.
“I’m glad she missed that.”
It had fallen on my shoulders to educate Belle about the birds and the bees. My sister was only nine when Mum died, and Mum had been too sick before then to explain anything about sex to her. Now I’m constantly challenged by how much to share with Belle, and how much she should know. I feel so lost sometimes. She’s fourteen. Hardly a baby or young girl, as Jemma keeps pointing out. I know she’s probably heard much worse at school, but I still want to protect her. She’s still my baby sister.
“So, when do you start?” Patricia asks.
“Next Wednesday. Are you sure you don’t mind keeping an eye on Belle four nights a week? It’s not going to be too much?”
“Of course I don’t mind, love. God knows what kind of neighbours I’ll wind up with if you girls have to move out. The young man who lived there before you two had parties until all hours of the night and a car that woke me up all the bloody time.”
I grin. She makes it sound like she only likes us because we’re quiet, but her son left home a few years ago and I know she likes having us to fuss over.
“Well, I should probably go check on Belle, make sure she’s gone to bed.”
“Of course. Night, love. Talk to you tomorrow.”
When I walk through the door of the unit I share with my sister, I can hear the television still going. Belle is passed out on the couch in the lounge room. She moans the moment I turn the lights on.
“I thought you’d be in bed, Belle,” I say quietly, using the dimmer switch to turn the lights down.
“Wanted to wait up for you.” She gives me a sleepy smile and then stretches. “I want to hear all about Midnight Frenzy. Ash is going to go mental when I tell her you met Lincoln Rivers.”
I sigh and she wriggles over so I can sit on the couch with her.
It’s a school night and it’s well after midnight, but I don’t mention this. I’m muddling through raising Belle the best way I know how to. Believe it or not, they don’t write books on how to raise your sister. I’ve had to make do with reading every parenting book I can get my hands on and adapting the information to fit my situation. I’m constantly trying to find the balance between being a friend, a sister and her guardian.
I’m just grateful Belle seems happy. She studies hard and gets good grades, and she doesn’t go out without telling me where she’s going. I’m going to call that a win. Of course, she’s only fourteen and we’ve got a long way to go, but I have to have faith in the relationship I’ve built with her. We’re close. We talk. And even though we’re a tiny family unit of two, we have our own traditions that mean a lot to both of us – like our Friday movie night and our Sunday chili night. I hate the fact that those traditions will be a thing of the past while I’m working at Midnight Frenzy, but we’ll make new traditions. We Masters sisters can be adaptable when we have to be.
“So,” Belle prompts. “What’s he like? What’s the club like?”
“Well,” I start, smiling as mysteriously as I can. “The club is amazing. I don’t know what I was expecting, but Midnight Frenzy is…I don’t know how to describe it. Everything is big and bold. The staff dance-“
“Oh my God, I bet you love that,” Belle squeals.
I nod. “Their routines are choreographed, and the dancing is really good – like the group numbers you’d see on So You Think You Can Dance.”
Way, way, way sexier.
“And Linc? Ash will kill me if I don’t tell her what you thought of him. She thinks he’s like…” Belle changes her voice and mannerisms to copy her friend’s over the top girly ones. “So dreamy.”
Before meeting Linc, I would have rolled my eyes. Now I just look at Belle and whisper, “I think he’s probably the hottest guy I’ve ever laid eyes on.”
Belle’s eyes are huge now and I can’t help but laugh. “Shut up! Is he really that good looking?” she asks. “Ugh, Ash is going to be so jealous.”
Linc Rivers isn’t at all the person I thought he’d be. He’s better looking than I’d ever imagined. He can dance well enough to be a professional. He teaches. He cares about his employees, and he doesn’t try to screw them over, or just plain screw them. The moment he knew I was going to be employed by him, he stopped flirting with me immediately.
And the surprises didn’t stop there, either. If I hadn’t seen it for myself, I never would have believed Linc’s office looked like that – a room devoid of the luxurious furnishings I would have expected a millionaire to have. No expense seems to have been spared when it comes to the rest of the club, but when it comes to his own personal space, he’s made do. As an accountant, I appreciate that. As his newest employee, I’m not sure what to make of it.
“Did you study for your maths test?” I ask Belle.
She groans at my question. “Yes, I studied and then watched TV.”
“What did you watch?”
“I flicked between channels. Caught the last half of Aliens.” She sits up and grins at me, clearly more awake now. “Tell me more about Linc.”
I sigh and look put out, but I’m anything but. Jemma already quizzed me about my first impressions, and I was careful with how I answered those questions because Linc is Jemma’s boss too. With Belle, however, I don’t need to be as guarded. After all, it’s doubtful the two will ever meet. So, I give into her blatant curiosity and spill all the details. She’s hysterical when I tell her I forgot my name while talking to him. After we’re done giggling and gossiping, I send her off to bed. I can’t deny I’m nervous about how my being away four nights a week might change things between the two of us, but I have to trust we can make this work, at least for a short time. If things become too much to handle, I’ll just have to leave Midnight Frenzy. This – what I have here with Belle – is all that matters. And nothing and no one will ever change that.