Read an Excerpt
Worth the Wait
The Kingston Ale House Series
By A.J Pine, Karen Grove
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 A.J Pine
All rights reserved.
Three months earlier ...
Jeremy Denning strode right past the hotel desk clerk, which was saying something because she was a freaking knockout, and headed straight to the elevator. He couldn't muster the energy to jog up the stairs to his second-floor room. His back was sore. His legs were stiff. Shit, even his brain hurt. He'd considered going for a run in the hotel's workout room, but now he was mentally crossing that item off his list.
"Science is stupid," he mumbled to himself like a frustrated child, even though he knew science was very, very important to the art of brewing beer. He'd admit that in thought, just in case his boss had somehow wiretapped his brain.
Shit. He was delirious.
The elevator doors opened and welcomed him in.
A host of other hotel patrons, who were nowhere to be seen seconds ago when he pressed the up button, flooded into the small compartment, pinning him against the back wall. The man in front of him was wider than he was tall, and although Jeremy could see over his balding head, he found no feasible exit route around the guy, who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with a fragile-looking elderly woman with salmon-colored hair on one side and a young father wearing a baby in some sort of front backpack on the other. Would you call it a front pack? Why did everyone wear their kids, by the way?
Actually, Jeremy wouldn't mind if someone was wearing him at this point. And no. Contrary to popular belief, his thoughts did not tend toward euphemism, regardless of today being a day that ended in y.
He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes. He just wanted the hotel bed. A nap. Possibly some room service. Then he'd consider the whole wearing situation from the euphemistic perspective.
Seconds later, the elevator came to a stop at the second floor. The only other button lit on the number panel was six, and as if the doors were in the rear of the packed sardine can of a vessel, the sixth-floor residents all turned to see who the asshole was who took the elevator to the second floor.
"That'd be me," Jeremy said aloud. And because there was no possible way for the folks in front of him to part in order to let him through, they all just stood there and stared at him. Even the baby.
He half expected one of them to spout, "None shall pass," and then challenge him to a bloody duel where he'd either end up limbless or the victor. But instead the salmon-haired woman gave him the slow head shake before backing out of the elevator. The rest of the occupants followed until finally he was able to walk free.
"I have no quarrel with you," Jeremy said to the whole lot, all with judging, narrowed eyes. Not one of them even hinted at a smile. It was like they were channeling his mother or sister.
"Black Knight?" he asked, backing down the hall as the last of them filed back into the elevator. "Monty Python? Anyone?"
A woman brushed past him from the opposite direction, a flurry of flailing arms as she speed-walked toward the elevator while simultaneously pulling her golden waves into a ponytail.
"Excuse me. Sorry. Hold the elevator, please. Going up!"
He saw nothing other than the ponytail's near miss as the elevator doors closed behind her. Yet she left something in her wake, the scent of fresh lime. And although salmon-haired lady couldn't see him, he mimicked her controlled head shake and laughed quietly to himself. He'd worked in a brew pub so long everything smelled like either food or beer to him.
"I'll take the damn stairs next time," he called out to the empty vestibule, then spun back toward the waiting hotel room doors.
"Helloooo, two-eleven, you sexy, sexy beast," he said when he stood before his door. "We meet at last."
It only took one swipe of his key card to open the door and approximately four seconds for him to barrel into the room and face-plant onto the bed.
"Fucking finally," he groaned into a pillow.
Eight hours of lecture on the chemistry of brewing was enough to drive even the biggest beer enthusiast mad. Okay, fine. His boss, Jamie — and soon to be partner, if Jamie had anything to say about it — would have gotten off on a forty-minute PowerPoint detailing the humulene hop compound and isocohumulone, the isomerized hop alpha acid. And yes, Jeremy could remember those ridiculous words because the professor had droned on about them for forty minutes.
Did he mention the forty minutes? And that wasn't even an eighth of the day.
Jamie had been hinting at wanting to dial back his hours ever since he proposed to his girlfriend, Brynn. With the wedding only three months away, the hints were getting less hint-like and more straightforward.
"Jeremy, have you ever thought about taking some serious brewing classes?" Jamie had asked a couple months ago. Because yeah, he'd dabbled. That was pretty much the story of his life: dabbling. Jamie was the brewmaster and the ale house owner, one of his sister's oldest friends and therefore a surrogate big brother. Jamie was the grown-up. Hell, he was almost thirty. But Jeremy? Well, twenty-six was still a kid. Still time to dabble. Still waiting to figure it all out.
It was only when he overheard Jamie telling his fiancée that he was considering taking on a partner that Jeremy found himself asking, "What about me?"
The words had flown out of his mouth before he'd considered the ramifications. And before he knew it, Jamie was signing him up for lectures to see if he was up to the task. This was his first one, and Jeremy was feeling anything but.
He rolled over to his back and grabbed the television remote off the nightstand. Tomorrow would be better. First of all, the class was only four hours instead of eight. Secondly, it would be hands-on ... in the lab. No more lecture. He just needed to relax and regroup.
Jeremy scrolled through the listing of cable channels, opting for halfway through the five o'clock news over the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon, especially since there was an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond following the news. He fucking loved that show.
It should have registered when the anchorwoman said something about Navy Pier that he'd stumbled on a Chicago affiliate even though he was sprawled like a starfish on a bed in southern Wisconsin. But exhaustion, both physical and mental, had gotten the better of him. So when the woman at the desk said, "And now we'll head over to Whitney Gaines with the weather," Jeremy thought he must have started dozing off. Because Whitney Gaines didn't live in Chicago anymore, not since she crushed him like he never thought was possible. No, she was off in some podunk town in Florida, chasing hurricanes and talking about what the humidity did to gators and shit.
"Thanks, Robin. It sure was unseasonably warm for September today!"
Jeremy sat bolt upright in his bed, those two sentences — ten little words, really — tugging him forward like a tether. There she was, that silky blond hair resting on her shoulders, a little longer than the last time he'd seen her. Then again, that was three years ago, and he'd heard that hair could do that — grow if given time. Florida must have agreed with her. She had that slightly sun-kissed look without actually being tan. Whitney Gaines cared too much about her skin to subject it to ultraviolet rays for long. And frankly, the thigh-high boots she wore with that form-fitting dress agreed with her, too.
"We'll be closing out the weekend with a cold front, though, and you know what that means for Chicago — temperatures dropping to the low fifties and rain. Let's take a look at the five-day forecast."
Jeremy held up the remote in an attempt to silence the voice that all too quickly brought his past to the present. But he froze, thumb on the power button. He didn't give a shit about the forecast. What he did give quite a few shits about was why she was taking a look at the five-day forecast. In Chicago. Where he lived. Because you don't just turn down a guy's proposal, move to Florida because you need to feed my ambition and find a guy who has ambition of his own, and then fucking move back and just show up on a hotel-room television.
He was dialing before he had his ear to the phone.
"Concierge, how can I help you?" a pert, female voice asked.
So many answers popped into mind.
Can you point me toward the bar and tell me the quickest way to giving zero fucks about what I just saw?
Have you ever seen that Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? Yeah, can you do that to me? Make my mind all spotless?
Call my friends and family and tell them I'm moving here. Where am I again? Madison?
But instead he settled on, "Can you connect me to the spa or tell me if they have any appointments open? I know it's last-minute, but I've been sitting in this lecture class all day, and I think I actually jacked up my back by not moving and —"
"Actually, sir, one of our massage therapists just had a cancellation. If you hurry up to the sixth floor, they should be able to get you right in. Shall I charge it to your room?"
Jeremy let out a long breath and shrugged. The room was on Jamie's business credit card. What would another hundred or so hurt?
"Yes! Charge me. Sixth floor. Got it. On my way."
He was out the door so fast, he might not have even hung up the phone. Several minutes ago he couldn't get away from the elevator fast enough. Now he needed to put as much distance as he could between himself and what he'd just seen, and that meant going to a place where there'd be no television, where he could close his eyes and shut it all out until the memories in his head decided to shut the fuck up.
The elevator was empty this time, and he smiled in appreciation at his couple minutes of peace. When the doors opened onto the sixth floor, those couple of minutes were not cut short as he stepped into what was, apparently, peace incarnate.
He walked out onto what looked like a bamboo floor. The walls were paneled with a darker, warmer wood — fat luxurious planks that ran from seam to seam. The air was warm but not hot, slightly fragrant but not intrusive, and soft tunes piped through overhead speakers — that Irish Celtic sort of music Brynn told Jamie he should play in the ale house for Sunday brunch. But Jamie opted for baseball games on the big screens in the summer and football in the winter.
He stood in the midst of this Zen-like setting, closing his eyes as he took it all in. He almost didn't need the massage. Just standing here would be enough.
"Yeah," he said, his eyes blinking open as he strode toward the check-in desk. "How did you know?"
She stood, her blond ponytail swishing across her shoulders as she did.
"Your appointment just came through on the computer with a note from the concierge saying you sounded like you really needed some help relaxing, and that's, like, what we're all about here. Relaxing. And then you got off the elevator and had that look — you know, the one that said you did want some help getting all ... relaxed. So I knew it was you." She reached for something behind the desk and held it out toward him. He willingly accepted. "Here is a robe and slippers and a lavender eye mask if you want to rest those pretty blue peepers while you wait." She gasped and covered her mouth. "I'm sorry. That was a little forward. You just have great eyes. And" — she leaned over the counter in his direction — "I'm totally into gingers."
Jeremy chuckled. "Sounds like you're still working on —"
"The whole relaxing thing?" she interrupted. "Yeah. I know." Her smile turned a bit devilish. "But I can't help myself when I see something I like."
Jeremy's eyes widened. Maybe he could forget about the blonde from his past by spending some quality time with one in the present.
"What time do you get off tonight, Kaylee?" he asked, thankful for her name tag.
She bounced on her toes and grinned. He liked her energy. "Eight," she said.
He grinned back. "Well, I just happen to be free at eight as well. Maybe I'll see you in the bar downstairs?"
She nodded. "Maybe you will."CHAPTER 2
Grace raced up to the sixth floor only to find that her next appointment had canceled. She went from being noticeably late to having almost two hours before her next client.
Dammit. She needed that tip.
She had just collapsed onto a chair in the break room, even poured herself a glass of carrot juice, relaxing for the first time she had all day.
"So, I know you were, like, so upset about that cancellation, so I just squeezed you in a client who needed an emergency appointment. He wants a full-body, hour-long massage. And I'm only saying this because he's not my client, so I don't think it's too inappropriate, but he's, like, gorgeous."
Grace rolled her eyes.
"He's a patron of the spa, Kaylee. So it actually is inappropriate."
She'd learned early on in her training the importance of distancing herself from her clients, no matter what they looked like. The past several months taught her how to distance herself from men altogether. She had he-who-was-not-worthy-of-being-named to thank for that.
She shuddered. Even thinking about her terrible lack of judgment — and how it made working to the point of exhaustion necessary just to make rent — was enough to send her spiraling back into that abyss of self-pity.
Kaylee simply shrugged, taking no note of Grace's inner turmoil. "He's only a patron for the next hour. I can handle sixty minutes of impure thoughts that will give me at least a few hours of pleasure later."
Grace groaned. God, what a difference there was between twenty-one and twenty-five. Had Grace been that bubbly and optimistic only four years ago?
She nearly snorted as she laughed to herself. She'd been that bubbly and optimistic four months ago. And where had it gotten her? That's right — driving across state lines for a second job to make ends meet — and to put distance between herself and a family that asked too many questions. Forget replenishing the eight grand that had been funneled out of her savings account. Life was what happened between paychecks, and there was no longer room for bubbly optimism when biweekly direct deposits were the happiest words she could think of.
"Is he on the table yet?" Grace asked, staring longingly at her juice.
Kaylee shook her head.
"I gave him a robe, slippers, and an eye mask and then sent him to change and rest in the waiting area. I poured him a glass of juice and told him his massage therapist would be there soon. And now I'm here to get you!"
Grace blew out a breath and put her juice in the fridge. Looked like she'd be getting that tip after all — unless Mr. Gorgeous was decidedly cheap. Not that she'd ever been stiffed before, but there was a first time for everything. She opted for the belief that she was taking control, though, that each step she took away from her old life was a step closer to something new. Something better.
She redid her ponytail, going for the partial bun on the last loop rather than pulling it all the way through. She brushed wrinkles out of her Madison House Resort and Spa white polo and made sure the zipper on her khaki shorts was, in fact, zipped.
"I guess it's showtime, huh?" she asked, but Kaylee bit her lip. "What?" Grace added.
The girl inhaled slowly, then let out her breath. It was the most Grace had ever seen her slow down, and she'd only been working with her for a couple of months.
"Anton said if I really wanted to go to massage therapy school, that I should maybe observe some of the therapists and see what it's all about, and —"
"No," Grace interrupted, with a little more edge in her voice than she meant.
Grace held up a hand to stop her this time, not wanting to come off too harsh. She was just a kid, after all.
"Look, Kaylee. You're sweet, and maybe if you hadn't made inappropriate remarks about the client, I'd have considered it. But I just don't feel right having you in the room now. I've got Mrs. Abelli at seven. How about you observe then?"
Kaylee wrinkled her nose. "The old woman who walks laps in the far lane of the pool?"
Grace nodded. "She has an artificial hip. The buoyancy of the water makes exercise easier for her. You'd like her. She's pretty sharp for seventy-eight."
She wrinkled her nose again.
Excerpted from Worth the Wait by A.J Pine, Karen Grove. Copyright © 2017 A.J Pine. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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