After the midnight dance routine, I take a quick shower before heading over to the bar. Before I went on stage, I checked the CCTV screens. Just as Cat predicted, all the guys in the club seem to want a drink from our new girl. Brooke appeared to be keeping up at the time, but Cat went home thirty minutes ago and my two remaining bartenders are more than likely pulling their hair out trying to serve everyone.
This is the one disadvantage of having a long bar. It works fine when we’re fully staffed, but today it’s extra real estate that needs to be covered. If I could go back in time and change one thing about my club, the bar would be it. We need four staff members to cover it, and right now we have two.
Tomorrow, I’m calling the recruitment agency. I’ve put it off for financial reasons, but Kane has picked up the slack for too long. Even if I’m working the bar every night – something I’d rather not do, even if it will help me get to know Brooke better – we need more staff.
Kane’s look of relief is the first thing I see when I open the door to the bar. The next thing I see is how frantically Brooke is working. There are more men than women buying drinks tonight and they all want a piece of Brooke. And who can blame them? I nearly swallowed my tongue when I saw Brooke earlier. Seeing how well she filled out her uniform had me so hard I had to walk up to the bar just to hide it. I didn’t miss the way Brooke’s eyes devoured me when she first saw me, either. She’s attracted to me, and the feeling is mutual.
If she was just a regular employee, my attraction to her would be inconvenient. But the fact that I need her help makes it a hundred times more problematic. If she agrees to help me, we’ll be spending a lot of time together; I’ll be trusting her with more than I’ve trusted anyone in my whole life. Which poses the question, how do I get to know her the way I need to without blurring the lines between us? Without making it seem as if I’m interested in more than just a professional relationship?
At the moment she’s so busy that she hasn’t realised I’m here. Both Brooke and Kane are due a break, but I can only let one go at a time. Since Kane is used to this rush – and I’m pretty confident he wouldn’t take a break if I offered him one now anyway – I walk up to Brooke and tap her on the shoulder.
She whirls around, clearly startled. She looks exhausted and I instinctively put my hand on her shoulder, just like I would with anyone of my employees having a rough day. Immediately, I feel goose bumps break out underneath my hand, and I see rather than hear her quick intake of breath as she looks up at me. Her cheeks flush as her gaze collides with mine.
Damn this girl is responsive.
I can’t afford to think of her as anything other than my employee, and yet instead of moving away from her, I lower my head so she can hear me better – my lips just a breath away from her ear. There are goosebumps all over her skin now, I can see them. And I can smell the perfume she’s wearing; a delicious combination of flowers and fruit. It’s unique, and instead of removing my hand and taking a step back, like I know I should, I lean in closer.
“Finish up with this customer and then take a thirty-minute break. You’ve earned it.”
She shakes her head. “We’re too busy.”
“Brooke, I owe you a break.”
What was it she said when I interviewed her? That she’d work as hard, if not harder, than anyone else behind the bar?
“Why doesn’t Kane go?” she asks. “He was here before me.”
I like the fact she’s a team player. I also like the fact she’s worked her arse off all night and she’s ready to keep going.
“Kane will go in a bit. He and I have got this. Why don’t you just take a short break if you’re worried? Go find Jemma. She’s usually got a stash of snacks for the staff.”
I tell myself that I should remove my hand and I lift my palm up, but my fingers linger on her shoulder and I inadvertently caress her with my fingertips. She trembles from my touch, and that is my undoing. All the blood in my body rushes south when her eyes meet mine and I see the hot awareness in them.
“I’ll take a short break,” she tells me, then bolts for the door.
Note to self, don’t touch Brooke Masters again. The girl is too fucking hot and totally off-limits.
I take over serving Brooke’s customers straight away, grateful for the distraction from my raging libido.
“She’s a star, our new girl,” Kane yells at me.
“I thought she would be.”
“She kept up with Cat and me easily. Actually, she may have us beat since her queue was longer than ours at all times.”
Brooke is as good as she promised, and just as diligent and reliable as Jemma said. Now, I just have to find a way to establish a rapport with her – meaning I need to forget about how good she looks in the club uniform and how her body reacts to my touch.
Yeah, easier said than done.
Brooke returns fifteen minutes later, assuring both Kane and I that she’s ready to get back to it.
“Kane, you want to take ten?” I ask.
“I’ll grab a quickie when it gets quiet.”
“It gets quiet?” Brooke shouts, her voice full of disbelief.
I can’t help but chuckle. “Not the same way other bars do, but it does get quieter than this.”
Clearly keen to get back to work, Brooke picks up right where she left off, taking control of her area as if she’s been working here all her life.
I can’t help but admire her. I also can’t help but notice she’s touched up her make-up. She looks less stressed than she did before she went on break.
“Hey, guess what?” Kane yells after a minute. “Like me, Brooke thinks it would be cool to have the bar staff dance.”
When I look at her and raise an eyebrow, she nods and gives me a self-conscious smile.
“She doesn’t know how to dance,” Kane continues. “But who better to teach her than the Lord of the dance?”
“Lord of the dance?” Brooke asks after taking money from a customer.
I shake my head at Kane’s stupid nickname for me. “Kane’s been calling me that since we used to go clubbing together back in our heyday,” I explain.
“Eff you, Linc,” Kane yells. “I’m still in my heyday. And you’re twenty-five, so quit acting like you’re an old man.”
Brooke unsuccessfully tries to smother her smile. “I think it’s pretty safe to assume you’re still in your heyday at twenty-five.”
“You think?” I ask her mock-seriously.
“That’s a relief.”
There’s a small smirk tugging at my lips and I can’t help but notice that she’s staring at my mouth.
After a second she turns away to serve the next person in line, as if she wasn’t thinking about something she shouldn’t be.
As if she hasn’t gotten me started on thinking about how good she’d taste if I kissed her.
“So, what do you say?” Kane asks. “Will you teach Brooke how to dance?”
On the day we met, I told her she should come to my class, but she didn’t turn up yesterday and I was immensely grateful for that. I don’t want to watch Brooke trying to dance. I don’t want to teach her. I don’t want to struggle not to put my hands on her. If she wants to learn, she would be better off taking lessons from someone else.
However, saying no will invite a host of questions from Kane, so instead I shrug, “If that’s what Brooke wants.”
Hopefully it isn’t.
Kane grins. “It is, right, Brooke?”
“Um, yeah.” She shoots me a quick look, her eyes not quite meeting mine. “I mean, I could come to your classes, couldn’t I? Jemma said she’d come with me.”
I curse Kane for putting me in this position as I nod in response. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that if she does come to my class, she’ll bring Jemma, and hopefully there are enough people around us to keep me focused on dancing instead of on the woman who has given me a hard-on twice this evening.
“That’s settled then,” Kane says. “She could barely keep her eyes off the stage when you lot were up there dancing.”
Brooke shrugs, but the way her flush deepens reveals her quiet discomfort. I remember her first words to me. I remember the way she looked at me as she told me she liked the way I danced. The absolute sincerity and wonder in her voice hit me as hard as her beauty, and in that moment I knew I wanted to dance with her. Spending time together in an office or behind the bar is one thing; dancing, however, is physical and can be intimate. As soon as I knew who she was, I took the idea of dancing together off the table.
“I love dancing. I watch all the dancing shows and dance movies. I’ve never seen a live performance like that one before and I liked it a lot.”
Kane is looking at Brooke as if she’s just told him she’s an alien. “Are you serious? You’ve never seen live dancing before?”
I see a flash of defensiveness flicker across Brooke’s features, even as one of her shoulders moves up in a dismissive gesture. “I’ve been busy.”
“Clearly,” Kane says.
“Why did you stop?” I ask. “I mean, why did you stop dancing? You said life got in the way?”
I know it’s a personal question, but I want to get to know her better. I need to get to know her better. I’m building rapport here. But even if I wasn’t, I’d want to know. If she loves dancing as much as she says she does – as she seems to – why didn’t she keep at it?
“Mum got sick and I needed to be there for her and my sister. Not to mention we didn’t really have the finances to pay for classes.”
“Classes can be kind of expensive,” I agree, adding this information to the picture I already have of her.
She’s sacrificed so much to take care of her family. I don’t know anything about her father, or whether he’s around, but it sounds as if she’s taken care of everything and everyone in her life for a long time. Who takes care of her?
“That’s why Linc teaches for free on the weekend at one of the local community houses,” Kane offers. “He helps troubled teens find other shit to do than shoot up and steal crap.”
I’m shooting Kane a shut-the-fuck-up look, but it’s too late. Brooke is looking at me as if I’m the alien now.
I hate people talking about how I spend my Saturdays. Kane knows because he’s a friend. Well, he is my friend when he’s not being a dick and spilling all my secrets. The stuff I do at the Chelsea Community House is not for public consumption. It’s one of the few things the media doesn’t know about me and that’s the way I want to keep it. The young people I teach don’t need cameras stuck in their faces while people spout off about me being a saint. I’m not a saint, but monetarily I’ve had a blessed life. Teaching dance is just me doing my bit. Sure I can donate money, and I do, but this is different.
My parents weren’t exactly around much while I was growing up. They’d leave me with a nanny at least five nights a week because of their “duties” as one of the most influential families in Melbourne. And when they were at home with me, they spent their time fighting behind closed doors and jumping on me for my failures the rest of the time. Dancing was my way of escaping all of that, and it still is.
If dancing can give other people the same sort of escape from whatever it is that weighs on them, I’ll never stop teaching it. Dancing helps me defy gravity. It helps me channel my strength into something positive, and it clears my head of all the messed-up expectations my parents have of me. Instead of beating shit up, like I’ve been tempted to do on numerous occasions, I jump and spin and somersault. It works for me. And it works for the kids I teach.
My students have real passion and some of them are amazing dancers. Providing they stay on the straight and narrow, I’ll happily offer them a job in my club when they turn eighteen.
That’s if my club starts making the money it needs to.
“That’s really cool,” Brooke says, her gaze filled with admiration.
“It’s nothing, really,” I say dismissively, not willing to accept her praise. “I do it for me, so really it’s selfish. It makes me feel good to teach, and I don’t want it spun any other way.”
Brooke nods slowly. “I think that might be the same way I feel about my little sister. I hate it when people tell me I’m noble for taking care of her, because I don’t feel noble at all. I couldn’t have left her to go into foster care. I couldn’t lose her. She’s my family, and taking care of her is just something I do. She’s everything to me. Looking after her is definitely not something I want praise for.”
My eyes lock with Brooke’s, and even though we’re talking about two completely different scenarios, I think we understand each other completely. It makes me like her even more.
And I think she’s wrong. I think what she’s doing with her sister is noble. I have two parents, and neither of them are as dedicated to my happiness as Brooke is to her sister’s.
“Shit, Brooke,” Kane says. “Is that why you haven’t seen live dancing before?”
Brooke turns away from me to look at Kane. “Yeah.”
How can I possibly begrudge Brooke dance lessons now? Yes, it’s going to test my willpower to the billionth degree, but after everything she’s just told me, I’d feel like an absolute dick if I didn’t help her. I’m just going to have to tough it out. She wants to dance. I know she’s short on cash after being made redundant from her last job, and I have the time and means to teach her. And if teaching someone who is as passionate as I am makes me nervous, at least I know it will be rewarding.
“You should definitely come to my class next Tuesday,” I tell her.
Her whole face lights up. “Really?”
“Yeah. My class for beginners is full of bored housewives because of its early start, but you’ll probably be able to make it before your sister gets home from school.”
She nods excitedly. “What time?”
“Two o’clock. Sandringham Dance Studio.”
“And then can we start putting together a routine for the bar staff?” Kane asks.
“We’ll talk about it.”
“Yes!” Kane exclaims as if I’ve already agreed.
“Don’t get ahead of yourself,” I warn him. “I know Cat can dance a bit, and Brooke wants to learn, but we really need at least two more bar staff. Are you telling me I have to put ‘dances’ down as a prerequisite for the job?”
The insurance will be a nightmare. I’m already imagining my accountant’s reaction. But again, I love what I do. I live for my work. I want my employees to feel the same way.
“Why not? Versatile staff members are always welcome. Flexible staff members, too,” he says with a laugh.
I shake my head and point my finger at him. “Brittany and her sister left because of your appreciation for flexible women.”
Kane’s expression turns serious as he looks at Brooke. “Linc is talking out of his arse. Brittany left because she got another job where she could use her degree in business and marketing. Bianca left with her because those two do everything together.” His grin is smug. “And I do mean everything.”
I chuckle at Brooke’s wide-eyed expression before turning my attention back to Kane. “Yeah, and the fact you slept with both of them and didn’t want to do it again had nothing to do with their sudden decision to find new jobs.”
“How do you even know about that?” Kane asks, not bothering to deny it.
“My employees talk to each other, which is why-”
“Why you don’t shit where you eat. Yeah, yeah, I got it. Jesus, man, you used to be a lot more fun when you weren’t the boss.”
When I sneak a look at Brooke, she’s smiling while making someone a cocktail. She leans over the bar to hear one of her customers better, and I can’t help looking at her arse in those tight shorts that are part of her uniform. It’s a great arse and quick as a flash I’m imagining myself behind her, her cute little shorts around her ankles and my hands on her hips as I bury myself deep inside her.
Frustrated with my complete lack of control and my suddenly too-tight pants, I wrench my gaze away from her arse.
I conjure up a picture of Claudia Henley, my wife to be if I don’t get this business with my club sorted. My gut tells me Brooke’s a game-changer. She could be the reason my club succeeds – and the reason I’m not chained to my parents and to Claudia, but she could also be the reason it fails. There’s something about Brooke that draws me in. I wish I could say it’s because I think she can help me, but I don’t think it is. She presents the kind of distraction that could make me weak and mess with my head. The way she responds to my touch tempts me to cross lines I need to keep drawn.
Which is why I’ll be keeping my hands to myself from now on.