'... Press this button. That is what it says, yes?'
Leah glanced up from her sitting position on the lift floor, pausing as if the question might not have been for her, before finally nodding.
The man stopped pacing (such as it was, the lift floorspace being only two by two metres). 'But it's not doing anything!'
Leah pulled a tattered handkerchief from her pocket and mopped her brow. 'Yes it is. It's sending a signal to the engineer's office on the ground floor, to reset the duty cycle switch and get the lift going again.'
The man pointed at her, a barrister catching out a witness. 'Then where's the damn engineer?'
Leah smiled and held up her own hands in surrender. 'Surprise.'
A hope more akin to a child rediscovering Christmas brightened his eyes. 'Then you can get us out of here!'
Leah nodded again, but didn't move. 'If I wasn't in here, I probably could.'
Hope turned to disbelief, as he pointed towards the ceiling hatch. 'Then climb out and take care of it!'
Leah blinked. 'You frigging climb out and take care of it; they don't pay me enough here to risk my neck.'
'Damn it!' He thumped the lift doors in frustration and began pacing again, as Leah continued watching him. He was a tall, broad bear of a man in his early twenties, with a gorgeous rugby player's body, square chin, a lovely tanned face now blemished by pique, and crinkly copper hair. Of course, the garish Hawaiian shirt, baggy shorts and flip-flops, de rigueur for every British male holidaymaker, reduced his Tastiness Factor in Leah's eyes by several points, as did his subsequent remarks. 'Typical: hiring a woman to do a man's job.'
Leah ran a hand across her raven hair, ponytailed out of harm's way. 'What's your name?'
'My name's Leah, Brendan. And if you think this job needs a man's touch, then by all means, climb through to the lift roof, then shimmy up the cables to the next floor. A big, strong man like you should have no problem.'
That shut him up. He said nothing, for about a minute - a record for him, so far. 'How long will we be trapped in here? Aren't there other engineers in the hotel?'
Leah forced the breath from her body; the air, humid and still, felt like soup. 'Pepito works the day shift; he's out tonight trying his luck. And it would take the Caribbean equivalent of the Towering Inferno before Reception would call the Emergency Services, not without the manager's permission. And before you ask, he's also out for the evening with the wife.' She shrugged, uncoupling the straps of her coveralls and letting the front flop onto her lap, revealing more of the dirty, sweat-patched T-shirt hugging her ample chest. 'Could be a while.'
Brendan started to reply, then gave up and slid to the floor, back pressed against the wall to Leah's right, their feet almost touching. Leah stared ahead, to her diffuse reflection in the polished lift doors: a blurred image of a short, stocky brunette in her late twenties staring back, revealing nothing of her deep chestnut eyes, rosebud lips, or blushed skin. She may not have been a supermodel, but she didn't fare too badly in the looks department.
Brendan broke the silence. 'What were you doing in the lift anyway? Sciving?'
Leah patted the battered toolbox beside her like it was a faithful cat. 'I was going up to 503 to fix the air conditioning. What were you doing in the lift?'
Brendan ticked the air with his tongue. 'I was going out on a Last Night Pub Crawl with my mates; the Airport Bus is due in the morning. But I came back for some more money. And now... '
Leah nodded, not particularly sympathetic. 'C'est la vie; still, a holiday's only as good as you make it. When I came here three months ago, I thought I'd be having a great time. But here, a "working holiday" means more work than holiday-'
'I'm really not interested.'
She bit back a retort, mopping her face again; the sweat seemed to be winning the war of attrition, and not just on her head. She watched him draw his knees up to his chest and wrap his strong, muscular arms around his legs. He seemed distracted, edgy, and not from just missing out on a final island piss-up with his mates. 'Are you okay?'
He made a half-hearted sound, a laugh that didn't quite reach his eyes, now glancing about, scanning every inch of the lift interior. Silence hung between them for a heartbeat, not helped by the distant, tantalising music of nightlife in St. Brigid. Just when she thought he might be feeling claustrophobic, and was preparing herself to do something about it, he finally added, 'I'm sorry I snapped at you before. Probably just the heat.'
Leah offered him a smile and a lazy dismissive wave. 'Forget it. Still, if it gets much hotter in here, the emergency sprinkler system will kick in.' She nodded to the showerhead-like appendage in the ceiling. 'Won't that be fun?'
He followed her glance upwards. 'I can't wait.'
Silence returned. Leah continued to look him over, the lines and curves of his calves, as they rose and fell into his thighs, which themselves fell into his shorts. His legs weren't particularly hairy, and she began wondering what his chest looked like, as it expanded and retracted within his shirt.
'We'll be fine, ' she assured him. When this prompted only an indecisive nod, she added, 'Why not take your mind off it? Tell me about yourself.'
He stared with near-suspicion. 'Like what?'
Leah smiled. 'Like, anything you want.'
And he did. Very little was substantial, or even interesting. But it was honest, as if the heat had forced him to shed the macho armour men usually wore to impress their mates or women, leaving only the naked truth. Leah let him ramble, nodding and responding in the right places, until finally, something like a relaxed smile lightened and brightened his handsome features.
Then Leah took a breath, leaned forward and began undoing the laces of her steel-capped boots, her throat sounding parched. 'I don't know about you, but I'm beginning to feel like an oven-ready turkey in all this. I'm stripping off before I pass out.'
She felt Brendan's eyes as she cast aside her boots and socks, only looking away when she rose just enough to slide her coveralls down her body and legs, setting them with her boots. Once clad only in white cotton knickers, T-shirt and bra, all damp, Leah resumed her hunkered position against the wall, the relative coolness of the metal walls and floor of the lift better appreciated by her now-bare skin. She locked eyes with him again. 'It's a little too tropical in here for modesty. You should take your shirt off.'
His tanned features seemed to flush even further. 'No, I'm fine, thanks.'
'Go on, ' she urged with a smile. 'You'll feel better. I promise.'
He looked away, his lips pursed as if for further argument, before relenting. Leah did her best to act casual, trying not to over-stare and spook him, and noting how little movement he permitted his body while he set his shirt aside. Then she caught a glimpse of the bulge, large and firm and undeniable, in his shorts, and understood.
She watched him lean backward and sigh at the touch of the walls on his spine. His chest was as she imagined, muscular but not overly so, with dark cherry curls clustered in a rough diamond in the centre.
Very nice. 'There. That wasn't so bad, was it?'
Brendan closed his eyes and sighed. 'I suppose not.'
Leah smiled again, long after it stopped being necessary; even his sweat smelled pleasing. She mopped her face until her handkerchief was damp, then discarded it. It was getting hotter, and there was little point in waiting any longer. 'Brendan, I need your help.'
He opened his eyes, blinking the sweat away as he watched her rise to her feet and stand over him, her crotch at his eye level. Confusion reigned in his expression. 'What's wrong?'
She held out her arms, as if for a hug. 'My hands are too wet now to wipe the sweat away. Could you help me... please?'
He blinked again, stammering, 'Oh, yes. Sure. Of course, ' as he helped himself to his feet, standing nearly a head taller than Leah. He held out his own hands, open, large, strong-looking, but unsure of where to start. Then Leah twisted her body, offering him her left arm.
His hands enclosed around both sides of her bicep, his touch like warm supple leather as they slowly skimmed down to her elbow, then her forearm, before stopping and shaking the collected perspiration to the floor.
'Again, ' she urged, her voice tissue soft.
.... There is more of this story ...