Room Service Read online

  As if he’d read her mind, he grinned. “I’ve been known to escape here now and then.”

  “Isn’t there a bar right in the hotel? Erotique, right?”

  “Yes, but I feel more at home here.” He pulled her up to the bar.

  A woman came out of the back, sixtyish, with hair the color of a bright red crayon piled high on top of her head. She wore jeans and a T-shirt, with an apron that read, If Your Order Hasn’t Arrived Yet, It’s Probably Not Coming.

  “Jacob, my love,” she said with a heavy Irish accent and a surprised wide smile. “You came to cook up me day’s special again!”

  “That was for your birthday, Maddie.”

  “Damn.” She sighed mightily. “I had a real hankering for one of your omelets…” Only someone with great love for someone else could lay on the guilt so thick.

  Jacob looked at Em. “Em, meet Maddie. She owns this place and runs it with an iron fist, so watch out.”

  Maddie tossed back her head and laughed. “I’ll iron fist you, boy. And don’t think I can’t.” She hugged him hard, her head barely coming up to his chest. Then she pulled back and smacked his chest. “Now how about that special?”

  Arm still around Maddie, Jacob looked at Em.

  “I don’t mind,” she said, curious at the obvious great affection between the two of them.

  “See, the girl doesn’t mind.” Maddie smiled innocently. “And then there’s the added bonus of letting her see your soft side.” She laughed again, and so did Jacob, as if they both found the possibility of Jacob having a soft side extremely funny.

  “Come on, then,” Jacob murmured to Em, leading her behind the bar, to the back. “Since you’ve let her get her way, there’ll be no living with her.”

  Making himself right at home in the postage-stamp-size kitchen that had to be poorly equipped compared to what he was used to, he grabbed a pan and set it on the stovetop. Then he opened the refrigerator and said, “Heads up.”

  Em barely caught the red pepper he tossed her, and then the green one. And an onion—“Hey.”

  He straightened, his hands full with a carton of eggs and a hunk of cheese. Before her eyes, he chopped and diced and mixed it all up, hands moving quickly and efficiently, like a well-honed machine. God, was there anything sexier than watching a man in the kitchen? He caught her looking, and flashed her a dimple and a wink as he tossed the ingredients into the sizzling pan. And in less than two minutes, he was flipping an omelet in the air and then back into the pan.

  Em couldn’t tear her eyes off him. He wasn’t just regular sexy, but beg-him-to-take-her sexy.

  Maddie came into the kitchen in time for Jacob to hand her a loaded plate. Her carrottop hair wobbled as she leaned over the plate and took a bite, then grinned broadly. “Jacob, me boy, you’ve outdone yourself. I don’t suppose you’re going to do the dishes?”

  Jacob laughed and led Em back to the front to her bar stool.

  Maddie followed them out, still chewing. “Well, hell. I suppose I have to serve you now.”

  “We’ll have two coffees,” Jacob said. “Unless I need to brew that, too?”

  “Smart-ass.” Maddie moved back into the kitchen.

  Jacob looked over at Em, his eyes full of laughter and mischief and memories of their kisses, maybe? Just thinking about them made the heat rush to her face, and to other parts of her body. “Jacob.”

  “Em,” he said with mock obedience.

  “I, uh, might have given you the wrong idea back there.”

  “Back there…”


  He just looked at her.

  Damn it. “When we kissed.”

  “Ah.” He nodded seriously. “And what idea would that have been?”

  “That I intend to sleep with you.”

  He arched a brow. “And you don’t.”

  “No. I’m sorry.” No matter that you’ve made me so hot my skin is steaming. “I don’t.”

  Maddie came back with two mugs of coffee. Jacob didn’t say anything while Em doctored hers up with sugar, lots of it, and cream. Not sure what to say, or how to get back to broaching the subject of her TV show, Em looked around her. The place had mismatched chairs and flooring that had probably been there for fifty years, yet was scrubbed to a shiny clean, as were all the surfaces. The crowd was much older than Hush’s, and most were eating, not drinking. Two men past retirement age were playing cards in the corner. Others hunched at the counter over their mugs, some talking, some not. All the while Maddie ran the show with her boisterous voice and easy laughter. It was curious to Em that Jacob came here.

  “Taste your coffee,” he said with that uncanny way he had of reading her mind. “It’ll make better sense to you.”

  She looked into Jacob’s eyes, which matched the color of her coffee, thinking it’d be nice if he would read the rest of her mind, at least regarding the hosting gig. She took a sip of her drink, and the brew melted a delicious path all the way to her belly. “Oh. Perfect.”

  “Yeah.” He smiled.

  “No, I mean it. This is almost better than your food.”


  She laughed. “You been coming here a long time?”

  “Oh, yeah.” He looked at Maddie. “A long time.”

  It occurred to her how much she wanted to know him. Not the chef, but Jacob Hill, the man. “Tell me,” she said quietly.

  “The first time I showed up here, it was raining. Pouring, actually. It seemed like the skies had just opened up. I was cold and wet and hungry and, quite frankly, lost.” His mouth twisted wryly. “At night, that hanging sign out front flashes like a beacon. Maddie harassed and badgered me, but she finally let me in.”

  “Why wouldn’t she have?”

  “I was fourteen.”

  Em gasped. “Fourteen? What was a fourteen-year-old doing alone on the streets of New York?”

  “Ah.” He sipped his coffee.

  “Ah? What does that mean?”

  “You probably had a curfew at fourteen.”

  “Well, of course I had a curfew at fourteen.”

  “And a bunch of rules.”


  “And you followed them.”

  “Well, not always.” But mostly. Her parents had been wonderfully warm and loving, and yet even she had done her share of chafing at the teenage bit.

  “Which means what?” he said. “That maybe you didn’t always do your homework, or once you stayed out an extra five minutes?”

  “I was basically a good kid,” she admitted. “Big surprise, huh?” Their worlds couldn’t have been more different, and yet those differences fascinated her. “Kids need boundaries. Where were your parents?”

  “Never really had any.”

  Em couldn’t even imagine, and her heart squeezed.

  “Typical story,” he said. “Young girl grows up in a trailer park outside of Nashville, dreams of getting out, gets herself knocked up by the first sweet-talker, who then vanishes at the special news. The unwanted baby grows up to be a kid who looks just like his daddy and the girl can’t handle it.”

  He spoke easily enough, but Em’s throat tightened at all he didn’t say about those young, impressionable years when he’d thought of himself as the “unwanted baby.” “What did you do?”

  “Oh, I had a thing for cooking, even back then, and a wanderlust spirit that made the whole thing an adventure. I left when I was ten. Never went back.”

  “Ten. My God, you were just a kid,” she breathed, unable to even fathom it. “On your own like that…no one should be alone that young.” She could hear the angry tears in her voice. “You should have been taken in by—”

  “Social services? Hell, no.” He let out a harsh laugh. “Happened once. It didn’t work so well for me.” Reaching out, he ran a finger over her temple, pushing her bangs from her eyes. “You have such beautiful hair.”

  She caught his hand. “We were talking about you.”

  “Then get that pity out of