Room Service Read online

  Standing there was a man holding a radio and a clipboard.

  Jacob recognized him as one of the two people who’d accompanied Em to dinner at Amuse Bouche two nights ago. “Eric,” he said, remembering.

  Eric looked up from the clipboard and raised a brow. “You want an audition?”


  “So then why are you here?”

  Hell if he knew. “Is Em inside?”

  “Yep.” But Eric stepped in front of him. “Sorry, man. Only people who are auditioning can get in there.”

  “I want to talk to Em.”

  “I don’t think so.”

  “Why not?”

  “Because whatever you’ve said or done to her already has left her feeling shaky. Now she’s in there trying to save her career and I’m not going to have you screw with her head.”

  “You do realize she’s the one who lied to me, right?”

  “Not lied exactly,” Eric corrected. “Just a slight omission is all.”

  Jacob raised a brow.

  “Look, just leave her alone to do this, okay?”

  “Are you her husband?” Jacob asked.

  “What? No, of course not.”



  “Boss, then.”

  “No,” Eric said, looking annoyed. “Not that it’s any of your business.”

  “Then I’m going in.”

  “I already told you why you’re not.”

  “Only if I was auditioning, right? Then you’d let me in.”

  Eric slapped the clipboard against his thigh as he studied Jacob. “If you wanted to audition, none of this would have been necessary.”

  “I don’t do performance cooking.”

  “Someone here in line today is going to be extremely thankful for that.”

  “I just want to talk to her.”

  Eric sighed. “You know what? Fine. Talk to her. But mess her up, and I’ll mess you up.”

  They sized each other up for a moment, then Jacob sighed. “I’m not going to do anything to hurt her.”

  “Sure it’s not too late for that?”

  What the hell did that mean? Jacob had no idea, and with a muttered “thanks,” he stepped inside the conference room. There was a long table set up, and behind it sat Em and a blonde, both watching the man standing in front of them.

  The man was short, fat, bald and toting a whip. Instead of a white chef’s hat and coat, he wore all black. “First, you must determine if the lettuce is dirty,” he said in a deep, strict voice. He snapped the whip through the air for emphasis. “Is it dirty? Is the lettuce dirty? If so, naughty, naughty.”

  Jacob, who’d seen it all, just shook his head.

  The blonde’s mouth fell open.

  Em looked equally flabbergasted.

  “Are the tomatoes bad?” the auditioning chef asked sternly. “Are they very, very bad? If so, you slice them up real nice, or no food for you!” Another swoosh of the whip.

  Em jerked to her feet. “Thank you,” she said quickly. “That’s enough.”

  The man pointed the whip at her. “You, quiet. I am not finished.”

  “Oh, yes, you are.” Liza jumped up next to Em. “Get out.”

  The man “hmphed,” then stormed past Jacob, his squat figure barely coming up to his shoulder.

  The blonde reached for her drink. “Well, that was interesting.”

  “Yes,” Em said, and looked at Jacob. Relief filled her gaze.

  She thought he’d changed his mind, that he wanted to be her chef.

  Jacob shook his head, and the disappointment in her eyes nearly killed him. It had been a hell of a long time since he’d disappointed someone he cared about.

  It had been a long time since he’d cared like this at all.

  Liza turned to see what had caught Em’s eye, and put down her drink. “Tell me this is our lucky day,” she said to Jacob.

  Again he shook his head.

  “You’re killing me,” Liza muttered. “Next!”

  The doors opened. A woman entered, dressed in nothing but a string bikini. A string bikini with strings sorely tested by her considerable girth. Her large breasts were pushing precariously at their restraints, and the bottoms of the bathing suit were strained to the point of being frayed. She’d topped this off with pink polka-dot stilettos.

  “My turn!” she cried, waving a carrot of all things. “I plan to be the Great Loss Chef! Together, me and America are going to lose twenty-five pounds!”

  Jacob thought she could have tripled that and been closer to the right number.

  She began gyrating, dancing to some music only she could hear, her body jiggling and shaking, and not in an attractive fashion.

  “Uh, thank you,” Em said. “But…”

  The woman didn’t stop. In fact, she kept dancing as she began to eat the carrot.

  “That’s all,” Em called out politely.

  “No, don’t say stop,” Bikini Woman pleaded. “I can do this! I’m your next amazing chef!”

  “I’m sorry.” Em shook her head. “I’m going to have to ask you to—”

  “Not yet! I’m not finished—”

  “Yes,” Liza said firmly. “You are. Next!”

  Bikini Chef threw her carrot to the floor. “This is nothing but a bunch of crap! I’m an excellent chef. You’re all making a big mistake. You hear me? I was meant to be a star—my mother told me so!”

  Em pressed her fingertips to her eyelids.

  “Look,” Em said firmly, dropping her hands. “You haven’t shown me what I wanted to see, which was talent for cooking.”

  “That’s because I can’t cook,” she cried.

  “Then try one of the other reality shows,” Em told her as patiently as she could.

  Bikini Woman sighed, nodded and headed toward the door. Once she was gone, Eric poked his head in. When Em shook her head to another contestant, he shut the door.

  “It’s going to be a hell of a long day,” Liza said. She came around the table and eyed Jacob. “Unless you want to…”

  Jacob shook his head.

  Liza sighed. “Right.” She glanced at Em, who hadn’t taken her eyes off Jacob. “I’ll give you two a minute. I’ll just go get a coffee, maybe torture Eric with my beauty and wit.”


  “Just kidding.” She grinned. “Sort of. In any case, don’t give me another thought.”

  When she’d left, Em said to Jacob, “Did you come for a good laugh?”

  “I don’t know, that S and M chef was…interesting.”

  She just shook her head. “God. I’m in big trouble.”

  “Maybe you should make a show of the auditions. A sort of preshow show. That’d be some good entertainment.”

  She laughed, only there wasn’t much amusement in the sound, and he walked around the table to stand close to her. “You didn’t really expect to find someone your first day.”

  She lifted her gaze to his and he saw the truth there. “You didn’t expect to have to audition at all,” he said.

  She slowly shook her head.

  “I’m sorry.” He was shocked to find his apology genuine.

  “I know.” She smiled. “And it’s okay. But if you’re not here because you’ve changed your mind, I need to get back to it.” She gestured with her head toward the closed door, and the line of people waiting. “Just tell me there are no more whips or bikinis out there.”

  “No, but I did see a monkey.”

  She closed her eyes.

  “And a set of triplets singing a cappella.”

  She opened her eyes again. “That’s not funny.”

  “Not even a little bit?”

  She tried to remain stern and unsmiling, but gave up. “A monkey? Ah, hell.” She pinched the bridge of her nose. “Okay, yeah, maybe it is just a little bit funny. But it won’t be next month, when I’m in the unemployment line.”

  Because he didn’t want to picture that, he kept it light, leaning in t