Not all distractions are bad....
Celeste tried to fade the barmaids’ conversation into the background and find the anomaly that kept her spreadsheet from balancing, but there was no tuning them out. Tish was slagging off her boyfriend again.
“…and Rick turns round to me and says, ‘Tish, I can’t meet you at eight,’ which properly pissed me off, right? ‘Cause Friday nights are supposed to be like our ‘thing’, yeah?”
“Arse,” Sandra agreed. “Told you he was all about him.”
“So I says, ‘Rick, I’m not having this.’ Then he turns around and says...”
Celeste tried to massage some concentration powers into her brain through her face, but doubted it would work. While she appreciated that constantly having to shout above music was going to have a long-term impact on their volume control, the barmaids’ voices had a piercing, insistent quality that suggested they’d always been that loud. It was like working with graduates from the Brian Blessed School of Shouting. She locked her screen for a moment to rest her eyes and rolled some kinks out of her shoulders in an attempt to relax enough to jump-start her brain again.
Of course she’d known that working in a nightclub would subject her to a constant stream of background noise, but she’d presumed it would be of a musical kind. She thought the job would be cool. She’d also assumed she’d get an office to work in—not have to share the staffroom.
“… but he’s still banging on about this course he has to go on, right? Like he can’t do it any other night?” Tish rolled her eyes and flicked a strand of honey-streaked hair over the back of her shoulder with a square-tipped nail, painted gunmetal grey.
Celeste glanced at them as they yakked away, trying to keep her envy on the harmless side of jealousy. They weren’t mean girls, after all. They were just infuriatingly pretty, slender, and their hair so glossy they looked as if they’d spent a couple of hours upside down in a keratin tank.
Celeste sighed at her reflection in the black screen of the laptop.
Whereas she looked like she spent her days being back-combed by elves.
She couldn’t blame Matt for her low self-esteem anymore. He’d been out of her life a good nine months, and her family had done a good job of reassuring her that his parting shot about her being ‘timid and boring’ said more about him than her. Yes, so Matt had been a dick, and it had hurt, but truthfully… she’d just let herself go. Perhaps it was time to start making an effort again. Right after she’d got some bloody work done.
She pushed her glasses back up her nose and started from scratch again. She picked up the pile of vendor receipts which were supposed to tally with the bar inventory, took a swig of coffee, and flipped her pad to a fresh page, drawing a grid to help her check things off. A faint ‘ting’ from the laptop alerted her to a new email.
Please explain the delay with the accounts reconciliation report.
The temp bouncer is starting tonight to cover Colin’s paternity. Put Steve Hennessey on payroll and mirror Col’s pay-pack on pro-rata basis.
Steve is a BIG guy. He’s wearing his own suit for now, but you’ll have to special-order one from ‘Big & Tall’. Or whatever you guys call that store.
How about ‘please’, you charmless amoeba?
Celeste stifled her first urge to send a defensive response; her rehearsed speech about how badly he was coming across might have more impact if she also had something concrete to give him. One point she particularly planned to make was that she was an abused accountant. Not an abused PA. Poor Lisa had that particular cross to bear.
“…so he turns around and says I’m being self-centred, so I says we need to take a break for a while.” Tish paused, pinching her lower lip between her fingers, her eyes filling. “Then he says it’ll be a really long while. Like, forever.”
“Oh babe!” Sandra squealed. “C’mere!”
Well, Celeste knew what being dumped felt like. She hunted for a tissue while Sandra hugged Tish. She’d just retrieved her pocket pack from the bottom of her rucksack when the staffroom door swung open and a guy she hadn’t seen before—presumably Big Steve—ducked in under the doorframe, letting in a blast of Blondie’s Heart of Glass. He had his locker key clamped between his teeth as he grappled his bomber jacket off his shoulders.
Tish and Sandra stared at him.
Celeste put the tissues on the table in a daze, trying to take in the sheer size of him. ‘Big and Tall’ seemed pedestrian. He was huge. His red, long-sleeved thermal coasted over solid shoulders, biceps and triceps with a hint of bagginess but adhered to his torso, nipping cleanly into the ridge under his pecs. The thermal rode up a little at the waist, giving her a flash of toned gut and glossy black hair. Desperately wanting to know how tall he was (but not wanting to be the prat to ask) Celeste opened a browsing window and found a page on standard door sizing on the Building Regulations website. He’d had to duck coming in—which put him somewhere around six-foot-eight.
Heat burst across her cheeks and thighs as he crossed his arms and peeled his top up over his head. She gave her pile of bar vendor receipts total, dedicated attention.
Crates of J20, £60. Correct. Tick.
A flash of tanned skin encroached into her right peripheral.
Becks — 62 units logged at the Electronic Point of Sale, 4 units of 20 ordered, 18 in fridge stock.
Her gaze skittered helplessly back to him as he tugged his jeans off and stooped to pull his suit out of his locker, hanging it on a coat peg by the door. The long planes of his back were beautiful, as were the high, toned shoulders and smooth lines of his lats. He was no ‘Men’s Health’ model—the lines of his muscle tone were fluid and defined rather than rigid and cut. He looked more like a fireman or rugby player than a guy that spent hours in the gym.
Celeste stared at the lager list before she could start thinking about what he did with the rest of his spare time. He padded around in soft, clingy black boxers as he pulled the suit trousers from the hanger. A clear, chunky ridge pressed out the material from groin to left hip, intimidatingly solid, even while at rest. Her temples prickled with sweat and the heat in her face swarmed down to her neck and chest.
Tish giggled suddenly and aimed a mock punch at her shoulder. “So that’s what it takes to put you off your paperwork!”
Steve suddenly shot a glance their way, catching them ogling him, and his face took her breath away. His eyes were hard and hazel, the shards of bronze reflecting the light in his hostile glare and drilling mortification right through her. She wrenched her gaze away as he yanked his trousers on, wondering how expensive it would be to replace the laptop she was about to bash over Tish’s head. But Tish didn’t hang around to make herself a target. She sashayed over to Steve to introduce herself, Sandra following closely on her heels.
Why couldn’t she do that? Just chat, like nothing bothered her?
Steve was striking rather than handsome, but Celeste couldn’t see much because his face kept going into hiding behind a thick curtain of hair. She felt the weird need for those hard eyes to smile at her, to tell her that the leering was forgiven. He didn’t look her way again.
Her only consolation, as she worked through the bar invoices, was that—for all their flirting—Tish and Sandra could barely get more than one grunt at a time out of him. He locked up, ducked back under the doorframe, and disappeared into the loud darkness of the club.