“So you never did tell me. How did the big date go? You know, that night I covered your shift and you were all dressed up in the monkey suit?”
One side of my mouth curled up as I regarded Marc. “Fine. It was fine. Now listen up, because I want you to be familiar with this new list of cocktails. The holidays are just around the corner, and you know we’re going to have a shit ton of tourists in the city, staying at our hotel, hitting up this bar. That’s not even counting all of the corporate parties, weddings, and other social events.” I tapped the paper on the bar. “Read it. Learn it. Live it.”
“Uh-huh.” Marc picked up the menu and let his eyes wander down the list. “Don’t worry, boss. I’ll have time to study tonight. Looks like it’ll be pretty quiet.”
“Probably,” I conceded, tossing a used bar towel into the bin under the counter. “I’ll leave you to get down to business. I’ve got a date at home with a cold beer and Sunday Night Football.”
“Doesn’t sound like as much fun as your last date, but whatever, dude. You do you.” Marc grinned. And then, as an older couple wandered over to sit down at a nearby table, he winked at me. “Time to get to work.”
I’d just clocked out and was about to head out when Sherri, one of the restaurant servers, nearly ran into me.
“Oh, Dax! You’re exactly the man I need.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Not the first time I’ve heard that, but I have a feeling you mean it in a different way.”
She shot me a look of mock reprimand. “And you’d be right. Listen, we’re in the weeds tonight. We’re down two servers and a sous chef, and we’ve got two big parties coming in.” She lifted a small slip of white paper. “Then this guest up on the twentieth floor ordered champagne and strawberries to be delivered to her suite. Since you’re going to have to prep the bubbly anyway, would you mind taking it up along with the berries?”
I hesitated. Normally, I’d have been happy to help out my co-workers. One of the things I loved about this job at the hotel was that we all pulled together when the place got busy. I didn’t mind coming in early or hanging around to make sure the job got done. But I’d been feeling mopey and grumpy lately, and I honestly just wanted to be at home right now where I could be miserable on my own.
It was stupid, and I knew it. I didn’t even really know Coral Jennings, and we’d just shared that one kiss. Why was this bothering me so much? Why had I made an ass of myself by showing up at her signing? She’d snidely accused me stalking her, of wanting a piece of her fame pie—which was an asinine thing to say, by the way—but maybe I’d had it coming by pushing when she’d made her position clear.
Sherri was still waiting for my answer, her toes tapping impatiently. I bit back my initial inclination and nodded my head.
“Sure. Did the guest ask for a specific kind of champagne?”
Sherri lifted one eyebrow. “As a matter, they requested Cristal. 2005. Two flutes, strawberries and cream.” She rolled her eyes toward the kitchen. “Come see me when you’ve got the wine ready, and I’ll have everything else set to go.”
“Okay. Will do.” I turned to go back to the special cooler where we kept our high-end liquor.
“Appreciate you, Dax!”
I sighed and focused on the job at hand.
I didn’t make many room service deliveries. Most people came down to the bar when they wanted a drink, and when they ordered booze with a meal, the kitchen servers popped over to the bar to retrieve what was necessary and then added it to the cart.
Consequently, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d taken the service elevator upstairs. I was heading up to the penthouse suite now—swanky, weren’t we—with a wheeled cart beautifully set for two lucky someones to enjoy pricey bubbles and luscious red strawberries grown in a year-round garden within a biodome outside the city.
There were times when I felt as though I was doing okay in my life, paying my rent on time, owning my car outright, and even putting away a little something for the future. But when I came face-to-face with the luxuries we offered here at the Gwynne, I realized that I was still just a good ol’ boy from North Carolina, and I was never going to understand people who lived the high life.
The elevator dinged softly, announcing my arrival on the twentieth floor. I waited until the doors slid open and then wheeled my cart over the plush carpet to the suite’s door, where I knocked.
The door swooshed open as though the occupant had been waiting for me, and when I saw who was on the other side, I understood why.
She stood with one hand on the doorknob, fidgeting a little as she gazed up at me. My mouth dropped when I took in the full picture.
Her small and curvy body was covered in sheer white cloth, some kind of nightgown deal, I thought. It was the kind of thing I’d seen on television or in the movies, but none of the women I’d ever dated wore stuff like this.
But damn, Coral wore it well. The neckline plunged between her full breasts, revealing her creamy skin, and through the thin material, I could make out the dark circles of her nipples. Her short hair was tousled the same way it had been the night of the premiere, but this time, her face was bare, no makeup in sight. She didn’t need it; her gray eyes were luminous as she watched my gaze consume her luscious body.
“Hello, Dax.” Coral’s voice was husky.
“I—I didn’t know it was you. I mean, who ordered the—the room service.” I eased the cart further into the room.
“No, I specifically asked the woman downstairs to send you up without letting you know it was me. She told me you were about to go off-shift, and so I thought . . .” She shrugged, the movement causing the nightgown to ripple over her skin. “Maybe this was a good way to tell you that I’m sorry.”
“Well.” I cleared my throat. “It’s, um, the most unique and promising apology I’ve ever gotten.”
Her lips twitched, and she lifted her chin. “Dax, I’m sorry about what happened at the bookstore. I don’t . . . I shouldn’t have said that to you. I never really thought you were trying to—you know. Cash in on my fame. That was stupid. And hurtful. I think I was just reacting to—um, you pushing me. Not that you were—I mean, I know you didn’t mean to. You couldn’t know—you can’t understand. But anyway, I really am so sorry.”
“All right.” My voice sounded hollow. “Apology accepted.” I swallowed, not sure what to do next. I felt as though I’d fallen into some bizarre dream.
Coral sighed and clasped her hands behind her back, unintentionally—I thought—thrusting forward her chest. “Okay. Phew.” She smiled up at me. “I’m so glad we straightened that out.” She reached for the bottle of champagne. “Let’s celebrate by pouring some of this fine champagne and sitting down over here. Can you close the door, please? I know this is the penthouse, but I’d still like some privacy.”
“Coral.” I couldn’t believe I was doing this, but I shook my head. “What is this?”
Her hand holding the champagne flute shook a little. “What do you mean? I thought that since we cleared the air, we could . . . well.” She took a deep breath. “Like I told you, I don’t do dating or anything like that, but I like you, Dax. And I’m thinking that we could have some fun.”
“So you came up here, booked this suite, ordered room service, and met me with this—” I swept my hand in her direction. “This get-up. And you think that by saying you’re sorry, I’m going to be okay with jumping into bed with you, no strings attached.”
Coral crossed her arms over her breasts, her cheeks going pink. “I thought we could talk—I thought you were interested in me.”
“I am interested in you,” I almost bellowed, then lowered my voice as I remembered that we were in the fucking penthouse. “But for more than just a casual fuck. God, Coral, I’ve lived most of my life going from woman to woman, from bed to bed. It’s fine. It’s been fine. And then the first time I meet a woman I think could be more—a woman I want to be more to me—you won’t even think about it. You won’t even give us a try.”
“I explained all of this. I told you why.” Coral’s lip jutted out stubbornly.
“And I told you that I didn’t accept that. You threw some ugly words at me, and then you came here to, uh, apologize—” I gave the word air quotes. “—which was really just an excuse to try to seduce me.”
“Dax—” Coral began, but I cut her off, shaking my head.
“You said you could never love anyone else. You said you had your one shot at love when you were a teenager, and now you won’t even consider that maybe you’d get a second chance. You won’t think about it. I think you’re a damn coward, Coral Jennings.”
Her eyes flared. “The fuck I am.”
“You heard me. A damn coward who’s too chickenshit to take a chance on love.”
“How can you say that?” Tears filled her beautiful eyes, and I almost lost it right then, fighting the desire to sweep her into my arms and kiss her, make her feel better, take back the words I knew had stung. But if I touched her, I’d be a goner, and I wasn’t going to give in. Not when I knew we had the potential for so much more.
“I’m sorry, Coral,” I said, gentling my tone. “I really am. I didn’t mean to hurt you. But you have to know my truth, too. I’m tired of meaningless fucking. I’m tired of not having someone special in my life. Sure, I want the hot sex, but I also want long talks over meals. I want walks in the woods where we find out more about each other. When it comes to you, Coral, I want the whole package.” I took one step backward. “And because for the first time in my life, I know I want more, I’m not going to settle for anything less.”
Before I could look at her again and lose my resolve, I pivoted and walked out the door, shutting it behind me.
Want to know what comes next?
Episode Eighteen is coming next Friday, December 24th!
Tawdra Kandle writes romance, in just about all its forms. She loves unlikely pairings, strong women, sexy guys, hot love scenes and just enough conflict to make it interesting. Her books include young adult and new adult paranormal romance, new adult and adult contemporary romance and adult paramystery romance. She lives in central Florida with a husband, kids, sweet pup and too many cats. And yeah, she rocks purple hair.
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