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Christ, he needed another drink.  But it was probably that second one that made him shove a knife in his chest, carve himself open and spill his guts all over Bree.  She was looking at him as though he was a combined dose of Bali belly and leprosy, and continued contact with him would rot her gut first then make her limbs fall off, one by painful one.

He looked over his shoulder.  “Where’s a jumpsuit when you need one.”  Bree’s hand on his arm made his head snap back like a ringpull.

“You need a medal, that’s what you need.”

She gripped him firmly.  She didn’t look like she was having a lend.  “Yeah, right.”  His bitterness burned his own ears.  Fuck knows how she felt about his whinging.

“No, Ant.  I mean it.”

He took her hand in his and squeezed it.  “I shouldn’t have said all that.  I didn’t mean to make a big deal of it.  I’m sorry.  I caused a scene and ruined your victory dinner.”   He looked around at the room full of people not having a fucking awkward moment like this.  “I hauled you down here for a drink you don’t want.  I crossed the line with that stupid comment about you being beautiful, then I whinged at you like a flaming five year old.”

“You forgot the fact you bet against me with your shithead mates.”

“You got the better end of the stick when we ignored each other.”  He didn’t want to see revulsion in her eyes.  He let go her hand and tried to get some waitress eye contact happening.

“Look at me, Ant.”

“Do you want another drink?”  She’d barely sipped the last one.

She put both hands on his face, framing it, turning it so he had to look in her lovely eyes.  “You have nothing to be ashamed about.”

“I’m not ashamed.”  Never.  There was nothing shameful about doing things the hard way.  He was annoyed he’d reframed her achievements in the light of his disadvantages.  As though what she’d done was less amazing.  He tried to pull away, but she scooted closer.  She was looking at him as if he was some goal she had to capture and hold. 

“You don’t think I’m beautiful?”

“Shit, yeah.  I think you’re gorgeous.”  Since day one.  She’d had those red shoes with the stripy heels on.  And he’d known he wasn’t supposed to be attracted to her.  Made it easy to paint her all kinds of wrong in his head.

“Are you going to ask me out properly?”

He peeled her hands away, but kept them in his and she didn’t shuffle back across the lounge.  What was going on here?  From the minute she’d taken his hand back at the restaurant, he’d been fantasising about getting closer to her.  But that was a whole lot of bullshit, because she was way out of his pay grade and postcode, so there was no chance that was ever going to happen.  Even if they weren’t work colleagues, and work colleagues weren’t totally out of bounds for a whole bunch of good reasons, least of all hysterics in the office when things inevitably went south because he screwed up.  The best he could ever hope for from a classy chick like Bree was some hasty tasty drunken favour, never referred to again.  So what the fuck was she asking him to ask her out properly for?

“I told the guys you were a colleague and it wasn’t right to involve you in this.”  He could chew out his own tongue for every shitty thing he’d said to the boys about Bree.  He did not need to subject her to their scrutiny.

“Hang on.  You bet if I won I’d get grovelling and a free feed and now you’re reneging.”

“It’s not like that.”

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