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By AMY GARVEY
BRAVA BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Amy Garvey
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOlivia Callender was fed up with Monday even before she stepped outside her family's hundred-year-old hotel and found the brass nameplate above the door listing to one side like a drunken sailor. From now on, she thought to herself as she frowned at the tarnished sign, Monday was on notice.
What she needed was a time machine. Really, it was sort of amazing that no one had invented one yet when you could watch TV on your cell phone and your refrigerator could talk to you. At any rate, a time machine would certainly solve a lot of her problems.
If she had one, she mused as she backed away from the hotel's revolving door, she could skip today altogether and avoid lunch with her uncle. She could spend the crisp September day walking around Manhattan instead. She bit back a smile as two businessmen strode by like a pair of matched horses in their gray suits and black briefcases. If she had a time machine, she could spend the day walking around the Manhattan-or the hotel-of her childhood.
Poor old thing, she thought as she tilted her head to glance up at the building's eleven sturdy red brick floors, and the gabled windows on the top story. She was no Eloise, and Callender House certainly wasn't the Plaza, but this hotel was home, and had been since Olivia was born.
It wasn't thehotel's fault it had begun to resemble a faded old dowager whose stockings were bagging around her ankles and who had lipstick on her teeth.
She patted the rough brick beside the revolving door fondly. And it wasn't the hotel's fault the nameplate had come loose on one side. The thing had to be nearly as old as the hotel. Still, she wished it hadn't come loose today. Maintenance would fix it, but whether or not it would get done before Uncle Stuart arrived for lunch wasn't what she would call a sure thing.
What was certain was that he would notice it, and remark on it, and roll his eyes, and exude condescension the way some men left a cloud of aftershave in their wake. And she would have to soldier through it, the way she always did, until he'd reached his quota of criticisms and taken off again.
A time machine was looking better and better.
She didn't understand why he insisted on seeing her in the first place. For the first twenty years of her life he'd barely acknowledged her existence. But now that her father was dead, he called like clockwork, every six months, to schedule lunch with her right there in the hotel restaurant.
Family loyalty was out, and so was affection. Olivia couldn't remember the last time he'd even hugged her, and if he tried it she'd have to make a superhuman effort to keep from shrinking away from him. Stuart Callender was about as snuggly as a rattlesnake. With a porcupine hide.
As for loyalty ... Well, Olivia's father was the one who inherited Callender House, not Stuart. Apparently even her grandfather hadn't much liked his younger son. Then again, Stuart had always made it clear that the hotel business was not for him.
Which made these twice-yearly lunches as difficult to understand as they were to sit through. Especially when Stuart's primary aim seemed to be pointing out every one of what he believed were Callender House's flaws.
The lobby, for instance. Every time he stepped through the door he had something to say about the faded marble floor, the circular red velvet banquette, and the dark leather settees. "Scratched," he'd say, pointing to a tear in the leather. "Stained," he'd say, raising his eyebrows at the banquette. "And the ferns? It's the twenty-first century, Olivia. This isn't Casablanca."
Well, she liked the ferns. There were a lot of them, true, and they were a little bit old-fashioned, yes, but they were part of the lobby's charm. There had always been ferns in the hotel's lobby, and she had hidden behind the extravagant green fronds more than once when she was a kid.
The ferns weren't going anywhere, she thought to herself as she ambled away from the building. Her father had entrusted Callender House to her, and she intended to preserve it just the way he had when he inherited it from his father. Callender House was a New York institution. Just like hot dogs, and Central Park, and traffic.
She frowned at that thought. Okay, traffic wasn't exactly a good institution, but New Yorkers were used to it. Without traffic they would have one less excuse for being late to work.
"Morning, Ms. Callender."
As if on cue, Declan Sweeney arrived, nearly-Olivia glanced at her watch-two hours late for work as the daytime doorman. At least he was always charming about it.
She'd hired him mostly because of the pure Ireland in his voice. His face didn't hurt, either. He had the dark hair and blue eyes of the black Irish, and he'd come to the States only this spring to be an actor. Or was it to paint? No, to study photography. That was it. She was almost sure, anyway. Not that it mattered. He was only twenty-four-or was it twenty-two? He'd probably change his mind about his career a dozen times in the coming year.
"You're late again," she informed him, but she couldn't hold back a smile.
"I'm in love, I am," he announced happily, pausing to stare with fondness into middle distance. "Althea's her name. I'm doomed."
How this explained him being late to work, Olivia wasn't sure she wanted to examine. And since Herb, the night doorman, had left hours ago, she urged Declan inside for his uniform with a wave of her hand.
"Sign's crooked, you know," he said with a cheery smile, and pushed through the revolving door.
She frowned at his back.
So the sign was crooked. It wasn't a tragedy. It wasn't a crisis. It required a ladder and possibly a screwdriver. Or a drill. She wasn't sure about that part, but she was sure that the lopsided nameplate hadn't required an urgent call from Angel, the head of maintenance, before she'd even had her first cup of coffee.
The same went for all of the discussions about replacing the carpet upstairs. Olivia liked that carpet, even if it was getting a bit worn. Okay, threadbare. Still, you couldn't find carpet like that anymore.
"And I don't know why you'd want to," Josie Gallo, her guest services manager, had responded to that with raised eyebrows. "There are no avocado-colored flowers like that in nature. It's mutant foliage carpet. It's awful."
It was sort of awful, but it had been there forever. And the avocado-colored flowers matched the avocado-colored stripe in the wallpaper. She'd run down those halls, on that carpet, when she was a kid.
No one appreciated tradition, she thought with a spark of mutiny as she stepped backward toward the curb. Her gaze was trained on the hotel, counting floors and picking out the windows of the suite where she had grown up. Everyone wanted everything to change, all the time. Newer, improved, bigger, better. It was absurd. Some things deserved to stay just the way they were. And Callender House was one of them. Her father had entrusted her with it, and she wasn't going to let him down.
It was a little disconcerting that she couldn't pick out the old suite's windows automatically, however. Once upon a time, she'd been able to do it in her sleep-she'd spent the first eighteen years of her life there, after all. She took another step backward, craning her neck as she counted up each floor, then over five windows-or was it six? The perspective was a little different now that she was taller.
She stepped backward again, squinting now, trying to remember-until a pair of very strong hands thrust her forward and a cab blared its horn.
She was still stumbling for balance when she heard something else hit the pavement with a wet splat, and then an irritable, "Oh, bloody hell."
She grabbed hold of a parking meter to right herself and turned around to find a cabbie giving her a one-fingered salute as he drove off-and a rock star covered with what looked like a mocha latte, an exploded suitcase and a dropped backpack at his feet. The sidewalk was littered with jeans and T-shirts.
He looked like a rock star, at least. First there were the faded jeans and what looked to Olivia like motorcycle boots, black leather that had seen better days and plenty of wear. Then the layered shirts, a long-sleeved gray one under a short-sleeved dark blue one with Mick Jagger's luscious pout on the front. Finally there was his hair, dark and shaggy around his face-and splattered with creamy white foam, just like his face. And the white snakes of his iPod, which he pulled from his ears and shook over the sidewalk, spraying foam and coffee.
She swallowed hard. "I'm so sorry. So sorry. You don't even know ..."
"I can imagine well enough," he said with a dry smile, shaking latte out of his hair like a wet dog. His eyes were gray, she noticed. Deep, stormy gray, and fixed on her face. "You and that cab would have ended in blood and tears, now wouldn't you?"
"Um ..." She knew, vaguely, that her mouth was hanging open, but she couldn't seem to close it, much less find an intelligent response. She hadn't expected the British accent. Something inside her melted into a warm puddle.
She'd dreamed about men like him. Well, fantasized was probably more accurate. In her sleeping dreams, men tended to be a strange combination of Cary Grant and that guy from the Verizon commercials.
But men like this one, those were the kind in her daydreams. Except this one was possibly better.
And she'd ... splattered him.
"You're all right, yeah?" he asked, wiping his face. "I didn't mean to shove you quite so hard."
"You ... Well, you saved me from being hit by a cab." She shrugged as a heated blush spread over her cheeks. "I'm fine. You're ..."
"A bit of a wreck at the moment, I know." He grinned at her then, a sudden flash of mischief and sunshine. Licking his upper lip, he added with a wink, "Brilliant latte."
Completely cool. Completely confident.
Completely unlike any man she had ever met.
In her head, there was no problem. She would say something witty, or smart, or maybe even flirty. He would lean in and flirt back, invite her to dinner. She would give him a mysterious little wave when she left, maybe flip her hair a bit. In her imagination, hair-flipping got them every time.
But this wasn't her imagination. This was real, right here, right now. This was overwhelming.
Especially when he pulled up the hems of his T-shirts and wiped his face off, revealing a lean, muscled abdomen.
So much for offering him a towel from the hotel. So much for any hope of getting her racing pulse under control.
And he wasn't even going to give her a chance to try. "Bit of a trick, walking backward, yeah?" he said, letting his shirts fall and wiping his hands on the back of his jeans.
"Oh. Right." Her cheeks were on fire. She wouldn't have been surprised to see an actual flame lick at the tip of her nose. "That was ... dumb."
"Not in an empty meadow, maybe." His grin was as lopsided as the hotel's nameplate now, and a lot more appealing. "On a Manhattan street now ..."
"I know. I am sorry." She gestured helplessly at his ruined shirts, at the empty cup on the pavement.
"No worries, love. Pleasure to meet you ...?"
"Olivia." She put her hand in his when he offered it, and an actual thrill of excitement raced through her. Which was silly, because he was simply being nice. It was probably a British thing. Nothing to do with her at all.
"Rhys," he said, and she realized he was still holding her hand. His was nice, firm and warm and stronger than she would have imagined for a man with such long, lean fingers.
But she couldn't stand here all day holding hands, mooning after him like some teenager, even if she wanted to. It was time to step away. Get back to work. Take her tattered dignity back to her office and mend it with a big fat muffin.
Right. She was stepping away now. Yes, now.
Except for the fact that it wouldn't be polite to leave him to the scattered contents of his suitcase all by himself, would it?
She untangled her fingers from his and knelt down to pick up a pair of jeans-and found a jumbled pile of boxer briefs beneath them. She dropped the jeans with a little gasp of embarrassment, and looked up to see Rhys grinning at her.
"I'll take the unmentionables, love."
If she kept blushing like this, she was going to have to stick her face in the freezer to cool off.
When Rhys had crammed the last of his shirts and a scuffed dop kit into his suitcase and zipped it up, Olivia straightened up and took a step toward the curb. "It was very nice to meet you, Rhys." Her cheeks were still flushed with heat, but she managed another smile before she said, "I have to ... well, I have things ..."
There was no denying it. She couldn't flirt if her life depended on it. She sounded as if English wasn't even her first language. Finally, tearing herself away from the amused grin that still lit up his face, she ended with, "Well, goodbye."
Then she turned around and started for the hotel, pretending she couldn't feel him watching her go, and trying not to wonder what her butt looked like in her old gray trousers. Not sexy, she was sure. Definitely not cool.
Not that it mattered. She could dream about guys like Rhys, but that was where the sentence ended. Guys like Rhys were all rock and roll and straight-up whiskey and motorcycles. She was Top 40 and hot tea and the occasional bicycle. Some things definitely weren't meant to change.
Guys like Rhys were what daydreams were for.
And as she pushed through the revolving door of the hotel, she figured daydreaming about Rhys could happily take her right through lunch with Uncle Stuart.
If nothing else, she did daydreams like a pro.
Not what he'd expected from New York, Rhys Spencer thought as he righted his battered suitcase and slung his backpack over his shoulder again. All right, yeah, getting knocked over and splattered with latte was a bit what he'd expected, but Olivia whatever-her-name-was? Not in a million.
If you believed the movies and the telly, which he usually didn't, New York women wore black like a bloody uniform and were about as likely to be caught woolgathering on a sidewalk as they were to be wandering alone through Central Park after dark.
But Olivia, whoever she was, had been doing just that, hadn't she? Daydreaming, staring up at that old hotel as if it were a castle, completely oblivious to the traffic gunning down the street behind her. If he hadn't looked up from his latte when he did, she would have backed right into that sodding cab.
He glanced at the building. Callender House. A hotel, it looked like. He'd never even heard of it. A bit down at heel now, if you asked him. All faded old brick and stained brownstone. Even the sign over the entrance was crooked. Olivia needed a better travel agent.
She wasn't wearing black either, was she? Wouldn't suit her, he decided as he stared at the revolving door of the hotel, where a young doorman was whistling under his breath. She was too ... dreamy. As old-fashioned as her name was. All that curling brown hair, and those enormous brown eyes, like something out of a Kate Greenaway illustration. She'd blinked so prettily at him, her cheeks blooming with mortification, and that lush mouth ripe for a kiss. He smiled, despite the sticky remains of his drink on his shirts and hands. The woman had him spouting poetry.
He should have asked for her number. Or at least her last name. But he'd found himself staring into those sleepy eyes instead, and then she was gone. Funny, that she was so shy. She looked about near nervous collapse when he'd simply asked for her name.
Which made following her into the hotel a truly bad idea. Not at all the thing. She wouldn't like it, he'd lay money on that.
But in his head, he heard her tentative voice. Olivia.
And he realized his feet were already carrying him through the hotel's revolving door, which groaned as if he'd wakened it, and into the dim hush of the lobby.
Of course she wasn't there, conveniently waiting for him. So he strolled off to the right, in search of the bar, running an idle finger along the red velvet banquette in the center of the lobby's marble floor as he passed it.
The bar was empty. It was a bit early, of course. And Olivia didn't seem the type to swill down a cocktail before noon. When he walked back into the lobby, no one was waiting at the pair of lifts, either, both of which looked as if they'd come straight from a theatrical props department, filed under "obsolete."
Excerpted from ROOM SERVICE by AMY GARVEY Copyright © 2007 by Amy Garvey. Excerpted by permission.
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