Thanks to Greeneyedsigma for the feedback; glad you're enjoying the story so far.
And as always, thanks to Hubby for the edit.
"Oh my god. He said yes. We're going out for coffee after work." Maria's voice cut through the chatter of the canteen as she bounded into the breakroom, grinning from ear-to-ear.
She down on the sofa beside me, and let out a dreamy sigh. "I just spoke to him. I said I'd had fun with him when we went out to Twenty-One, and it'd be nice if the two of us went out, without everyone else around, and he said yes."
"Aww. That's fantastic news." I smiled and took a swig of coffee. "I just saw Kelly, things with her and Carl seem to be going well. I think they're seeing each other again tonight. It's great everything is working out for you guys."
Maria beamed at me. "I know! And Chloe and Jon seem to be getting along all right. She was telling me they hooked up on Saturday."
"Just don't go getting any ideas about me and Mike now everyone else is paired off."
Maria pouted. "Oh but I think he's going cold on that redhead of his. Maybe he wants something more serious? And you'd look so cute together."
"We would not. I'm at least three inches taller than him, and that's without heels." I scrunched up my nose imagining it. "Tell me more about your and Rich's date. Where are you going? What are you wearing? Are you going to kiss him?"
"Well, it's just for coffee after work, so it's nothing too fancy. I figured I'd just wear what I've got on. I want to keep it casual, you know?" Maria watched a canal boat sail by.
"Makes sense. Hopefully, if you don't make a big deal out of it, there won't be loads of pressure, and you can just enjoy getting to know each other outside of work."
"That's the plan. I mean, we never really chat properly when we go to a bar or whatever, so this will be a good way to test the waters."
"I can't wait to hear all about it."
Maria gave a little squeal and flapped her arms about. "I can't believe this is really happening."
Boyed by her excitement, I returned to the makeup area after my break in a great mood, only to have it quickly deflated as I saw Courtney Sinclair sitting in my booth, waiting for me to prep her for filming.
"You're late," she said as I wrapped her in the protective cape. "Charlotte said your break ended at one."
I glanced at my watch – it was two minutes past.
My lips formed a tight line as I bit back a retort, and instead I focused on priming her face.
Thankful she couldn't speak while I applied the rest of her makeup, I got to work contouring her face, then added blush, eyeshadow, and lipstick. Finally, I picked up the straighteners, and with a comb in my other hand, ran them through Courtney's long dark hair.
"All done," I said, handing her the mirror.
"You're getting sloppy." She blotted away a non-existent smudge and scowled at me.
Just stay professional, I reminded myself.
"It must be all those late nights drinking. I heard about your escapades last week."
I stiffened at her comment, unable to not defend myself. "What I do in my free time is none of your business."
"It is when it effects the reputation of the company we both work for."
"Oh my god. Have you heard yourself? You bang on about the company's reputation, but weren't you caught by the paparazzi just last week getting out of a taxi and flashing your knickers?"
Courtney stood up from the stool, yanked off the cape and threw it on the floor. "That's completely different. And how dare you speak to me like that. I'll be reporting this to management."
I rolled my eyes. Courtney wheeled out this threat every few weeks when our arguments got a little more heated than usual. "Of course you will. You have a wonderful day now."
Without another word, she turned on her heel and stalked off.
"Dumb cow," I muttered, picking up the cape, and then tidying up my work area.
Despite knowing Courtney's threats were empty ones, I was on tenterhooks for the rest of my shift, and when Charlotte told me to clock off, I felt the tension leave my body. I'd made it to home time without any more problems.
Hopefully, by the morning, the whole thing will have blown over and the stupid idiot will forget to report me.
I grabbed my stuff out of my locker and headed to the breakroom, hoping one of my friends were around. I could do with an after-work drink, and didn't fancy heading to the pub alone.
When I pushed open the heavy metal doors, the scene that greeted me was like none I'd seen before.
Chloe and Jon, and Maria and Rich were standing in a line next to each other, the guys with their arms around the girls, while Mike paced opposite, looking murderous.
"You guys are so whipped," he said. "You can't have a decent poker match with just three people."
"Hey look, here's Jade." Maria said, stepping forwards and grabbing my hand to pull me into the group. "You'll go to Mike's poker match, right?"
I smirked. "Hoping to get your arse kicked and give me fifty quid again, are you?"
Mike turned to me, his eyes blazing. "That was a fluke. You couldn't beat me again."
"Oh yeah? How much do you wanna bet?"
"And extra hundred to whoever wins." He extended his hand so we could shake on the deal.
I grasped it firmly. "You're on."
"Okay. Be at mine for seven-thirty. Pick up some pizzas and beers on the way over?"
"Sure. You can just add it to what you'll owe me at the end of the night."
As Mike left the canteen, and I turned to my friends to see why they weren't coming along, I found Maria beaming at me.
"Why do I feel like I've just been set up?"
Her smile widened, and in a sing-song voice, she said, "Jade and Mike, sitting in a tree-"
"Finish that sentence and I'll never speak to you again."
It turned out the reason Maria and Rich weren't coming to the poker game was because of their coffee date. Rich, who'd never been that good at poker anyway, insisted he didn't want to change their plans at the last minute, and would prefer it be just the two of them. It was obvious Maria had no objections to that plan, as her eyes lit up when he said he was series about getting to know her properly.
Chloe and Jon had already agreed they were heading back to his place, and even without him having to clarify, 'just to watch Netflix and chill,' it was obvious they were going to shag. The sexual tension between them had been mounting for a few days, and by the time we headed to the carpark, they couldn't keep their hands off each other.
After saying goodbye, I jumped in my car and headed home. I had just enough time for a quick shower, and to change into fresh clothes, before I had to be out the door again. Mike lived on the other side of the city from me, and I had to visit the pizza place and off-licence on my way there. God only knew why he couldn't have done it himself, but I didn't care. If he picked the pizza, they'd have anchovies on, and they were gross. Instead, I ordered four different pizzas, making sure I had a good variety, so it would work for whoever else was coming.
With a six pack of beer in one hand, and the boxes of pizza balanced in the other, I carried the whole lot up the flight of stairs to Mike's flat. Having already buzzed me in at the front door Mike let me in to his place.
"All right guys, prepare to get your arses kicked," I said, as I dropped the refreshments down on the table.
They landed with a soft thud, and I looked up to see who else Mike had invited. Keith, the sound engineer, was shuffling a deck of cards and next to him sat Seth.
"Hey," he said with a smile.
I waved back awkwardly.
I hadn't intentionally been avoiding him since our last weird encounter, but we hadn't seen each other much, as our schedules were different. Plus, this was the first time since the night in Bar Twenty-One I'd be in a social setting with him.
Heat blazed across my chest, and my stomach swished about oddly.
Head in the game, girl, I told myself.
He held my gaze and I returned his smile so I wouldn't seem like a complete bitch, but then I had to look away. To give myself something to do, I pulled out a beer and gave it to Mike.
"What's everyone else drinking?" I asked.
"Got any soft drinks?" Keith said. "Me and Seth both drove over."
"And me," I said.
Mike pulled three cans of coke out of the fridge, and handed them out, then dropped into the chair to the right of where I was standing, leaving me only one seat available, the one directly opposite Seth.
Damn, I hope my poker face is good.
"Okay, Keith is dealer. First round is a fiver buy-in," Mike said.
"I'm in," I said, throwing a chip on the table.
"In," said Mike, adding his own chip to mine.
"And that makes three," said Seth, adding a third.
Keith dealt, and I kept my eyes focused on my cards, only daring to look up when I was sure no one else was. Mike was trying to act blasé, but I could tell by his posture he had a crap hand. Seth was reclined back in his chair, the legs almost tipping, looking like he didn't have a care in the world.
Damn smug bastard.
I bit the inside of my cheek as I considered my cards. I had a pair of queens. I thought I could outplay Mike's hand, but I had no idea if Seth had something great or was just bluffing.
Risking it, I threw down another chip. Mike matched me, then Seth did. Keith dealt the three board cards, revealing the nine of spades, the two of hearts and the four of diamonds. Keeping my face impassive, I glanced at the others. Mike was now sitting straighter, acting like he'd just found a winning lottery ticket. I remembered from the last time we played, this is what he did when his hand sucked, but he was trying to convince everyone he had a sure thing. Seth hadn't moved, his expression or posture hadn't changed at all. He just sat there, gazing off into the distance, like he was simply chilling out.
It was bloody unnerving.
"I'm in for ten," I said, throwing down two red chips.
"I see your ten, and raise you twenty," Mike said, throwing down four reds.
I matched him, and we both waited for Seth to make his play.
Barely moving, he threw down three red chips to match Mike and me.
Keith revealed the final two cards. Another queen and a second nine. The additional cards had boosted me to a full house, and a quick scan of the board told me it was unlikely the others could best me.
But before I had a chance to speak, Mike said, "I raise by fifty," and threw down ten red chips.
I knew he didn't have shit. He'd done this last time, trying to act like he had something spectacular, and scare everyone else into folding. Idiot.
Seth gazed at me, never breaking eye contact, and matched Mike.
I scanned the cards again. The board cards were the nine of spades, the two of hearts, the four of diamonds, the queen of spades and the nine of clubs. That meant all four suits were on the board. I had the queen of hearts and the queen of diamonds. What were the chances Seth had a hand that would beat mine?
I threw in ten red chips.
"Show me what you've got, boys."
"Bollox." Mike turned over an ace and a seven.
I tried to hide my smirk.
Seth looked at me. "On three?"
I smiled, and managed to maintain eye contact. "Sure. One, two, three."
We both flipped over our cards, revealing he had the nine of diamonds and the queen of clubs. We both had a full house.
"Three queens and two nines beats out three nines and two queens," Keith said, holding in a laugh. "Jade wins."
I let out a laugh, grinned and pulled the chips towards me. "Come to momma."
The next round didn't start up immediately, as we all grabbed slices of pizza before they went cold.
Wiping my hands on a nearby piece of kitchen roll, I took a swig of Coke, and idly played with my chips as Mike turned on his MP3 player, and Keith shuffled the deck.
"So, how did Mike rope you into this?" Seth asked.
"Oh, he enjoys me wiping the floor with him. Don't ya, Mike?"
Mike scowled at me, and muttered "A one off, I'll win it back this round."
"Sure. Sure. Did he tell you we have an extra hundred to the winner riding on this?"
Seth smirked. "Can I get in on that? The two losers could pay the winner fifty pounds each."
I rolled a chip over my knuckles. "Reckon you can hang with the big guns, huh?"
He gazed at me steadily. "Bring it."
Mike's vow proved true, and he won the next round, though we all had rubbish hands, and he only picked up the buy-ins. The third round went to Seth, and though he won, it still wasn't enough to match what I'd picked up in the first round.
We paused again for more pizza and drinks.
"So, what happened to Jon?" Keith asked, as he finished off his Coke, and crushed the can.
"Him and Rich sodding ditched me, didn't they? Now they've both got birds on the go. Which is no excuse. I managed to squeeze Melissa in before you guys got here."
"Oh my god, is that why you had me pick up the pizza and beer, so you could have a quickie?" I said.
Mike shrugged as though it was nothing.
"And that explains why Jade's here," Seth said, one eyebrow raised. "Because Jon and Rich are with Chloe and Maria."
"An unfortunate side effect of my mates being loved up, yes, but I couldn't pass up an opportunity to play a little poker." I grinned and grabbed the last slice of pizza.
"How about Kelly?" Keith wiped his hands on the kitchen roll.
"Oh, she met this guy a few weeks ago, when we all went to Twenty-One and they've been inseparable ever since. We hardly see her anymore."
Keith took another swig of Coke and dealt the forth hand.
"How come you don't want in?" I asked him, as he passed my cards across.
"Oh, I don't like gambling. I just like it for the skill and psychology. I'm happy to deal and spectate."
"Fair enough." I threw down my buy-in chip.
Both Mike and Seth matched me. By this stage I could see Mike was getting antsy, and his plays became more erratic, as he tried various different tactics to seem like he had something good. Seth, however, remained as chilled out as ever. Between hands he was just like always; chatty and quick to smile. But when we were playing, his focus zoned in on the cards. It was actually pretty interesting watching him, and I still couldn't figure out if he had any particular tells.
After another three rounds, Mike was down to fifty pounds' worth of chips. I had two-hundred and fifty, and Seth had three-hundred and twenty. I knew Mike would have to fold soon. He'd realised he wasn't going to claw anything back, and was playing more cautiously. The question was, could I outplay Mr Stone-Face opposite?
"I'm going for a slash," Keith announced after the sixth round. He laid the cards on the table, stood up, and crossed Mike's kitchen to the bathroom.
With the pizza boxes empty, and a pile of beer bottles and Coke cans mounting up, Mike started tidying up, leaving me and Seth alone at the table. I was arranging my chips into a flower pattern when I felt a pair of eyes on me, and looked up the see him gazing at me.
"I haven't seen you much at work," he said.
"Yeah, I've been on sodding earlies all week."
"Too bad, I wanted to grill you about the latest episode of Playing With Fire."
"Oh my god, when Esmir was revealed to be The Junker. What the fuck?"
Seth laughed and took a sip of his drink. "Right? Where did that come from?"
We began rapidly discussing the show, and what this twist meant for our much-loved characters, and the rest of the season, until Mike and Keith returned.
Keith sat down and started shuffling, but Mike dropped into his chair with a thud. "Is there even any point me continuing?"
His scowl had returned, and he drank slowly from his beer.
"How's this for a proposition; one final hand, we all go all in, winner takes all?"
Mike's head snapped up and he grinned. "What do you say, Jade?"
I gazed at them both. This was Mike's only chance to save face, and I didn't want to end the night with him in a bad mood because he'd lost.
"What the hell … I'm in."
We piled out chips in the centre of the table. Six-hundred and twenty pounds' worth of chips, and as previously agreed, whoever lost would have to pay the winner an extra fifty quid each, adding another hundred.
I held my breath as Keith dealt the cards. As we'd all gone all in, he gave us our two each, and then laid down the five board cards.
"On three," he said, and nodded to me.
"One," I said.
"Two," Mike added.
"Three," Seth finished.
Keith flipped over the board cards.
"Holy freaking shit," I exclaimed throwing down my cards for everyone to see. "Another full house."
I had a pair of sevens, and on the board there was another seven, and a pair of fives, along with an ace and a jack.
"Just my luck, huh?" Mike revealed a jack and ace of his own, making it two pairs for him.
We both gazed at Seth expectantly, who for the first time all night had lost his chilled-out demeanour. His face was impassive, and I had no idea what he was going to reveal.
He threw down a third five and a two.
I'd just won six-hundred and twenty pounds!
Keith howled with laughter. "Your guys' faces!"
"I cannot believe you won, again," Mike said, pulling out his wallet and counting out his share of what was owed.
Seth grinned, and fished his own wallet out of his jeans, adding his money to Mike's. "You're definitely paying for coffees the next time we have a break together."
"I'll even throw in a cake." I winked at him, and Keith laughed harder.
"Where did you learn to play like that?" Keith asked.
I tucked the money into my purse and smiled. "Would you believe me if I said in maths class when I was at school?"
"You're shitting me?" Seth said, now joining in with Keith's laughter, while Mike sulked.
"The teacher wanted to teach us about probability, so we held a tournament that spanned the term. I was below the overall year target at the time, because I sucked at algebra, and if I wanted to make sure I got my projected grade at the end of the year, I had to ace the probability unit. So I studied, hard. I watched videos of poker games. I forced my family to play with me. Anything to ensure I won."
"No way. You're a poker genius because you got your nerd on in school?" Mike's voice came out as an incredulous squeak.
We helped Mike clear away the last of the rubbish, and then Keith said he was heading home. Seth and I stayed, sitting on either end of Mike's couch, with Mike in the leather recliner opposite us, as we all finished our drinks.
"So, you reckon Rich and Maria will last?" Mike asked me over the rim of his bottle, as it hovered by his lips.
"They seem pretty into each other." I took a sip of my own drink. "I've got to admit though, it's kind of weird, two of my best friends hooking up with two of our mates."
Mike shrugged. "We spend a lot of time together. It was bound to happen eventually."
"I guess. So, this bootie call earlier, the redhead you met at Twenty-One? Or someone new?"
Mike smirked, but shook his head. "A gentleman never tells. Which reminds me, you two need to piss off. She said she'd be coming back later."
I rolled my eyes, downed the last of my Coke, and stood up from the couch.
Seth finished his drink, and I took the empty can from him, and threw it in the bin along with mine.
"Come on then," he said, standing, and pulling his jacket on. "We'll leave lover boy to it."
I put on my coat and headed for the door. "Thanks for letting me kick your arse again," I said, pulling Mike into a one-armed hug.
He huffed but then smiled. "You're lucky you're cute."
"Charmer." I stepped out the door and waited as Seth said goodnight to Mike, then the door closed behind us.
"That was fun." I swung my handbag back and forth as we walked down the stairs in Mike's block, made our way out the front doors and to the carpark.
"Watching you hustle Mike was definitely worth it," Seth said with a smirk.
We reached our cars, and he leaned up against his black SUV.
"What shift are you working tomorrow?" I asked as we stood in the carpark outside Mike's. "I figured if we're in at the same time, I could make good on that promise to buy you a coffee."
"With an extra six hundred quid in your purse, I expect at least a doughnut, too."
I laughed. "Well, as it's you asking, I'm sure I can stretch to that."
Seth stood straight and took a step towards me. As our bodies moved closer together, I held my breath. He raised his hand, and booped my nose.
"You're going to be trouble, aren't you?" He was grinning again. God damn the man, and his perfect smile.
I took a step closer, so our chests were no only inches apart. "Only if you ask nicely."
Seth laughed, shook his head, and stepped back. "I'm on the morning shift. They've got me filming something about some popstar's European tour. See you around one?"
I gripped my bag, trying to keep my heart from racing, and stop my head from spinning. "Yeah. I'll see you at one."
Seth turned to his car, clicked the little button on the electronic key fob so the door unlocked, and then turned back to me. "Night, Jade."
"Night," I said, unlocking my own car.
Seth got into the driver's seat, closed his door, and started up the engine. Once he'd pulled out of the carpark and driven out of sight, I laid my head on the steering wheel and sighed.
Okay, more than just a dumb crush.