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Room Service, Page 2

Jill Shalvis

  Which meant either Chef Jacob Hill was relatively new to his field, or he had a past he didn’t care to advertise.

  An enigma.

  And the last piece to the puzzle of Em’s success.

  Hopefully he had one element common with the rest of the human race, that he could be coaxed, by either the promise of money or fame, all the way across the country to L.A.

  “Look at this place,” Liza said in awe. Liza was Em’s oldest friend and newest assistant. That she looked like Barbara Eden circa I Dream of Jeannie had turned out to be invaluable in the industry as far as getting things done her way. Which was good, as Liza, never a warm, fuzzy sort, never one to back off from a good fight, liked to get her way. This made her an extremely efficient assistant, if a rather fierce one.

  “They sure take the art deco theme seriously, don’t they?” She looked all around them. “This stuff is all museum quality.”

  “Yeah, I’m sure that’s why the male guests come here.” This from Eric, Em’s second-closest friend, and new location director. He was looking at a bold, bright painting of a very beautiful and very nude woman stretched out on a luxurious daybed for all to see—and he was enjoying the view greatly, if the smile on his face was anything to judge by. “The quality.”

  Liza rolled her eyes. “We’re here for the restaurant.”

  “Yeah, and trust me, as a chef, good restaurants hold a special place in my heart, but we’re really here to save Em’s ass—Oomph.” Rubbing the ribs Liza had just elbowed, he glared at her. “What? It’s true.”

  Liza shook her head in disgust. “It’s not true, and you’re not a chef.”

  “Am so.”

  “Are not.”

  Em sighed. The two of them possessed a unique talent for getting a reaction out of each other, be it annoyance—or sexual tension.

  Eric went back to ogling the nudes.

  “You’re a dog,” Liza said to him. “Men are dogs.”

  “Woof, woof,” Eric said.

  If Eric was a dog, he was a good-looking one—tall and very Californian in his casual chinos, untucked polo shirt, tennis shoes and sunglasses shoved to the top of his blond mop. He had eyes the color of an azure sky, and could stop traffic with a single smile.

  Also handy when it came to getting his way.

  Em couldn’t do this without either of them.

  “I’m going to check in,” Liza said. “I’m getting a room as far from yours—” she pointed at Eric “—as possible.”

  “Works for me.” Eric gave a careless shrug. “Last chance, Em. Save yourself all the trouble and use me as your chef. You know I’m good.”

  He was good, but not formally trained, and such a goofball that no one ever took him seriously. She was afraid that would be apparent on the TV screen. “Eric—” Emma said.

  “Yeah, yeah. I’m going to the bar.”

  “Works for me,” Liza snapped, and with a mutual growl, both of them were gone, leaving Em standing in the lobby alone. “Well,” she said to herself. “This is going to be fun.”

  The three of them together had always been fun before. They’d made their way through college, existing on fun.

  That is, until last year. That had been when Eric had been stupid enough to tell Liza he loved her, then given her a diamond ring and married her.

  The marriage—based on fun and lust—had lasted for two wild, sexually charged months before they’d had an explosive fight. And because neither of them had ever had a real relationship, neither of them had known what to do with real love. Now, with all that emotion still pent up inside them, with no way to deal with it, they snarled and growled and bickered.

  Em loved both of them, but if they didn’t realize that they just needed to trust themselves—and get back in the sack—then she was going to lock them together in the same room until they figured it out for themselves.

  Another time, though. Because right now, Eric was right. She had to save herself. To that end, she walked toward check-in. The front desk had the same sexy sophistication as the rest of the lobby, with its chest-high black marble counters. The wall behind matched, broken only by the neon-pink HUSH blazing in the center.

  The check-in process was handled by a pretty woman wearing a black tux with a pink tie and a friendly smile. “Twelfth floor, same as your friends. Room 1212 for you. It’s got a great view of the city and should have everything you need. Feel free to call us for anything.”

  If only it were that easy. Just call the front desk for Chef Jacob Hill…She took the room key with a wry smile and caught up with Liza and Eric at the elevators.

  Eric held out a beer, lifting it in a toast. “This place is really something. You can actually smell the excitement in the air.”

  Liza inhaled and shrugged.

  Eric laughed. “This place is for people who want a rush, who want to feel cosmopolitan, exotic. I feel it.”

  “Since when did you ever want cosmopolitan, Mr. Beer-on-the-couch-with-the-remote?” Liza asked.

  “Since two women in Erotique practically lapped me up just now.”

  Liza’s eyes fired with temper but she merely inquired, “Erotique?”

  “The bar. You should have seen me in there. Hot stuff, baby.” He waggled his eyebrows. “You should have kept me while you had the chance.”


  Appearing happy to have irritated the thorn in his side, Eric smiled at Em. “Here’s to phase two,” he said and lifted his beer in another toast. “To getting our TV chef.”

  Liza nodded. “To Em’s success.”

  “Absolutely.” Eric’s eyes locked on hers and went warm, his smile genuine.

  Liza’s slowly faded.

  “What?” he asked. “What’s the matter?”

  Liza shook her head. “Did we just…agree on something?”

  He laughed. “Doubt it.”

  “No, we did.”

  “Mark the calendar,” he said softly. “Hell must have frozen over.”

  “You’re a funny guy.”

  “No, it’s true.” He stepped closer to her. “When we were married, you’d disagree with me no matter what I said. I’d say, ‘honey, the sky is blue,’ and you’d say, ‘nope, it’s light blue. Maybe dark blue. But not just blue, because I wouldn’t want to agree with you on anything, even a frigging color thing.’”

  Liza took a step toward him this time, her body leaning forward. “That’s not what I did.”

  Their noses nearly touched. “Truth hurts, doesn’t it, babe?”

  The two of them were breathing heavily, tension dripping off them in waves, and not all of it anger.

  “Guys,” Em said.

  “You know what’s the matter with you?” Liza asked Eric.

  “No, but I’m guessing you’re about to tell me.”

  “Guys?” Em said again.

  “You think you’re God’s gift to women,” Liza said to Eric. “It’s obnoxious.”

  “I’ll try to keep it to myself then,” Eric said lightly. “Thanks.”

  “This was stupid,” Liza said. “Being here, the two of us.”

  “Right. Em, you want to give up on this whole chef search and just use me? Seeing as I’m God’s gift and all? Then we can all go home.”

  “We’re doing this,” Em said. “You guys can do this. Please.”

  Eric looked at Liza. Liza looked back. Both sighed and nodded.

  Em let out a breath. She’d done her research. She was as prepared as it got. They needed Jacob Hill, and she intended to get him.

  Her way.

  As they waited for the elevator doors to open, Liza scoped out a gorgeous man walking through the lobby.

  Eric watched her, eyes shuttered.

  Em sighed, then bent to pet a sleek black cat who’d showed up out of nowhere, wearing a bright pink collar with a tag that read Eartha Kitty. With a purr, Eartha Kitty wound around Em’s ankles until the elevator doors finally opened.

  Em stepped on. The inside was as plush as the r
est of the place, lined with mirrors and decorative black steel. As she contemplated the row of glowing pink buttons, the doors began to close—without Liza and Eric, who were facing each other and once again bickering over something or another.

  Fed up, determined to do this with or without them, Em pushed the twelfth-floor button. The doors slid all the way closed, and blessed silence reigned. With a sigh, she leaned back against the mirror, closing her eyes. If Liza and Eric didn’t kill each other by sunset, she’d happily do the deed herself.

  No, better yet, she’d lock them up in one of the rooms here and let them work out their frustrations.

  Unfortunately, Em had no outlet for her frustrations. Most of the men in her life had turned out to be toads. Okay, all of them had turned out to be toads, and though she’d kissed quite a few while looking for her prince, he hadn’t yet showed up.

  Opening her eyes, she caught a glance of herself. Yikes. Hair wild, eyes tired…if a prince showed up today, he’d go running at the sight of her. She closed her eyes again, opening them only when the doors slid back, revealing…the second level?

  How had that happened?

  A man stepped into the elevator. He wore black Levi’s and battered boots, and a black long-sleeved shirt with the pink HUSH logo on his pec. His eyes were covered with mirrored aviator sunglasses, and when he shoved them to the top of his head and looked at Em, her heart stopped. Not because he was drop-dead gorgeous. No, that description felt too neat, too pat, too…GQ. In fact, he was the furthest thing from GQ she’d ever seen.

  He was tall, probably six-four, all tough and rangy and hard-muscled. His hair was cropped extremely short, and was as dark as his fathomless eyes, which were set in a face that could encourage the iciest of women to ache. And that face told the tale that he’d lived every single one of his years as fast and hard as he could.

  Which wasn’t to say he wasn’t appealing. In truth, she couldn’t tear her eyes off him. But she could tell he was the kind of man who would worry his mother, the kind of man who would worry a father with a daughter. He seemed…streetwise, tough as nails, edgy, possibly even dangerous.

  And then he smiled.

  Yeah, big and rough, and most definitely badass. This was a man who’d seen and done things, the sort of man who could walk through a brawl, give as good as he got, and come out unscathed.

  A warrior.

  Em would have sworn her heart gave one last little flutter before it stopped altogether.

  But the most surprising thing was what he said.

  “Good, you’re here.”

  Um…what? Her? Em looked behind her, but they were alone. Me? she mouthed, pointing to herself, nearly swallowing her tongue when he nodded.

  “You.” His voice wasn’t hard and cold, as she might have expected, but quiet and deep, and tinged with a hint of the South, which only added to the ache in her belly.

  What was it about a man with a hint of a slow, Southern drawl?

  Before she could process that thought, or any thought at all actually, he slipped an arm around her and turned to smile at the two women who followed him onto the elevator. “See?” he said to them. “Here she is.”

  Both women were very New York, sleek and stunning, and…laughing? Whatever the man had been referring to, they weren’t buying it. “Come on, Chef,” one said, shaking her head.

  Em stood there, not quite in shock, but not quite in charge of her faculties, either, because the man had her snug to his body, which she could feel was solid muscle, and warm, so very warm. Her head fit perfectly in the crook of his shoulder. At five foot nine she’d never fit into the crook of anyone’s shoulder before, not a single one of her toads, and feeling—dare she think it?—petite and delicate made her want to sigh. The feminist in her tried to revolt, but was overpowered by her inner girlie-girl.

  Then the man holding her tipped his face to hers. He had a day’s growth of dark stubble along his jaw, a silver stud in one ear and the darkest, thickest eyelashes she’d ever seen. He could convince a nun to sin with one crook of a finger, Em thought dazedly.

  He was still smiling, only it wasn’t a sweet, fuzzy smile but a purely mischievous, trouble-filled one.

  My, Grandma, what big teeth you have. Really she needed to get herself together. But he was so yummy she hadn’t yet decided whether to smack him or grab him. And then he leaned in, brushing that slightly rough jaw to her ear, the friction of his day’s growth against her soft skin making her shiver.

  “Do you mind?” he whispered, his voice low and husky. “If I kiss you?”

  Kiss her? She wanted to have his firstborn!

  “Just for show,” he murmured, drawing her in closer as if she’d already agreed.

  Em’s mind raced. He didn’t look like the toads she’d been with lately. He didn’t feel like a toad. But would she ever really know unless she kissed him…?

  No, it was crazy; it was beyond crazy, letting a perfect stranger touch her, much less kiss her, but something about his mocha eyes, about what she saw in them—places and experiences she’d never even dreamed about—made her let out a slow, if unsure, nod.

  He rewarded her with a smile that finally met those eyes of his. And then he lowered his mouth.

  The two women behind him, the ones who’d been laughing at him only a moment ago, both let out shocked gasps.

  That was all Em heard before her mind shut itself off and became a simple recipient of sensations. His lips were firm yet soft, his breath warm and delicious, and on top of it all, the man smelled so good she could have inhaled him all day long.

  As a result, her lips seemed to part by themselves, and at the unmistakable invitation, her prince let out a rough sound of surprise and deepened the kiss, his fingers massaging the back of her head at her nape, his other hand sliding down, down, down, coming to rest low on her spine, his fingers almost on her butt, anchoring her to him.

  Oh, my.

  And the kiss…it didn’t make any sense. She didn’t know him from Adam, but somehow she felt as if that weren’t really true, as if maybe she’d always known him, as if her body recognized the connection even if her brain couldn’t place him. Confusing, bewildering, but she held on to him as if it didn’t matter. And he kept kissing her, kissing her until she felt hot everywhere, until she was making little sounds in the back of her throat that would have horrified her if she could have put together a single thought.

  It was as if he knew the secret rhythm that her body’s needs responded to, as if they’d been lovers before.

  And yet it wasn’t real. Logically Em knew this, even through the sensual, earthy haze he’d created, but it also seemed shockingly profound. And nothing, nothing at all, like a simple toad’s kiss.

  Then he lifted his head, her perfect stranger, and for one beat in time looked every bit as flummoxed as she.

  But the moment passed and he smiled—a smile that was sin personified. She tried to respond in kind, she really did, but all she managed was to open her mouth, and quite possibly drool.

  With one last stroke of his hand up her spine, a touch that conveyed a carefully restrained passion, he pulled his arm free, and when the elevator doors opened, he pushed his gaping friends off the elevator.

  Then turned back to Em.

  She stood there blinking like an owl, unable to shift her tongue from drool mode into talk mode.

  “Thank you,” he said.

  Thank you?

  “I’m in your debt.” His voice was far tighter and more tense than it had been before the kiss. Interesting.

  And then, just like that, the shockingly sexy, charismatic man walked away.

  Still gaping, body still pulsing, Em became vaguely aware that the elevator doors closed again. Her heart pounded, her knees shook, and she stood there like a stunned possum until the elevator doors once again opened.

  A few people got on.

  At least she finally managed to close her mouth, then leaned back against the mirrors, happy for the support.

  There was some talking around her but her brain couldn’t process the words.

  When the doors opened again, everyone got off and she had to laugh at herself.

  She was back on the lobby floor.

  “Get it together, Harris,” she told herself, and even hearing her voice seemed funny. She sounded shaky, a little off her axis.

  A little? She’d fallen right off her world, that’s what she’d done.

  Shrugging, she once again hit the button for the twelfth floor, wondering when the doors had opened there and she’d missed it.

  During the kiss?

  Or after, when she’d been rendered a mass of sensual nerve endings incapable of doing anything but reacting?

  Because of that kiss. The mother of all kisses. The kind of connection a woman dreamed about but was never really certain even existed, except in romance novels or the movies.

  How did a man learn to kiss like that?

  Given her reaction to it, that sort of ability should be registered as a lethal weapon.

  And she didn’t even know his name…

  When the doors opened on the twelfth floor, again, she stopped hugging herself and stepped off, still in enough of a daze to do so without her roll-on luggage.

  She ran back onto the elevator and grabbed her belongings.

  Then she headed toward her room, unable to help but wonder if the rest of her trip was going to prove as adventurous as the first few minutes had been.

  And that’s when it came to her, what the women had called her glorious stranger.

  They’d called him Chef.


  To: Maintenance

  From: Housekeeping

  Check the air vents and temp regulator on elevator 2A. Guest seen coming out of it today looking dazed and flushed.

  JACOB HILL walked through the employee quarters, located on the second sublevel. Employees were treated well at Hush, probably because the creator of the hotel, Piper Devon, was a genuine, caring people-person, no matter that the press liked to call her the original Paris Hilton. That was because they saw only a gorgeous blond trust-fund baby. But anyone who’d ever worked for Piper knew the truth. She worked her ass off, especially on Hush.