“I’ve seen you at continental breakfast three times this week,” he said. “At three different hotels . . .”
There was no reason to panic. Maybe I’d misunderstood the question. Maybe he’d said something other than what I thought I’d heard. “Excuse me?” I said with forced pleasantness to the handsome guy wearing khakis and a white shirt who had slid—without invitation—into the chair across from me at breakfast.
“You’ve been at breakfast at three different hotels this week.”
My heart dropped. That’s what I thought he said. I tried to quiet the alarms going off in my head. Why had this guy been at all the same continental breakfasts as me? How had I not noticed him? No, really. How had I not noticed him? He was ruggedly handsome—dark brown hair, brown eyes framed by cool glasses, dark stubble on a strong jaw, in decent shape, and definitely in my target age range. At the very least, he would have been worth a second look. Honestly, this guy hit all the marks so well he might even have warranted a Continental Breakfast Club question of the day: Do you mind if I share your table?
Not that any of that mattered at this point. What really mattered was: who was he, what did he want, and why, oh why, hadn’t I given more credence to Megan, Allie, and Bree’s warnings?
“Most important meal of the day,” I said with a spindly laugh.
I could almost hear Megan adamantly saying, “Kristin, when you’re sneaking into continental breakfast at nice hotels, stay alert. You don’t want the staff figuring out you slipped in the side door when someone else exited.”
To which Allie had added, “The last thing you need is the manager discovering you’re not even staying at the hotel—that you’re there trying to meet single men.”
After which Bree had put the cherry on the sundae: “Whatever you do, don’t let security discover you’re hanging with the paying guests and eating for free. Because to them it’ll be theft, plain and simple.”
“I have a purpose for being here . . .” I began slowly. My thoughts started to sprint the interior perimeter of my skull, picking up speed with each passing micro-second. Oh God, could Bree have been right? Could this guy be security? In khakis and a white shirt?
Yes, of course, my mind screamed. Security at upscale hotels wouldn’t be decked out in blue, police-style uniforms with big, black leather holsters. That would be too conspicuous. At places like this, security probably dressed to blend in to maintain the illusion of privilege and privacy. But if he was on security detail here, then why had he been at all the other hotels? My brain skidded to an abrupt halt as the answer exploded like a single firework in my frontal lobe.
Of course. It made perfect sense. The hotels were outsourcing their security. Everything was outsourced these days. Why not security? It was probably the ideal way for hotel management to ensure they had perfectly-trained, razor-sharp response teams.
I eyed the man across from me again. My stomach fluttered. He did look razor-sharp, I granted him that. Maybe he was a supervisor from the security firm. Maybe even the owner. Either of those totally explained why he’d been at three different hotels this week. He’d probably been making the rounds to do things like . . . assessing his employees and ensuring security at each hotel remained, well, secure.
“A purpose?” he pressed, no doubt expecting to hear a rational explanation for why I’d apparently stayed at a different hotel every night this week and, thus, was at a different continental breakfast every morning. As I frantically searched for any remotely believable reason to give him, I counted myself lucky that he’d only seen me at three breakfasts because, in reality, I’d been at four.
Yes, I know it might sound a bit obsessive, but when I joined the Continental Breakfast Club, I decided to go in big. Figured that increasing the number of breakfasts I visited each week would exponentially increase my odds of meeting a man who actually had his act together.
I was just so sick of dating guys who needed saving. My brothers say it’s my own fault, that I have the save the world gene. And they may be right about that. But I’m happy to report that I’m truly ready to find a stable guy and leave saving the world to someone else.
After the silence had gone on too long, and I accepted the fact that a good excuse wasn’t going to magically insert itself into my head, I raised my chin and went on the offensive. “And you are?” I asked, inserting a hint of offended snootiness into my voice.
“Oh, sorry. I’m Drew.” He smiled and reached across the table to shake my hand.
His manner was open, his brown eyes friendly and unthreatening. He seemed like just a regular guy, albeit very, um . . . attractive and masculine. I could see how easily he could use his charm and looks to suck people into liking him. A perfect skill for a security expert.
But he wasn’t fooling me. Anyone could affect a demeanor that made them seem nice—didn’t mean they actually were. As head of security, he probably trained his employees on how to disarm people’s mistrust: act approachable and put on a big, sincere smile.
“Nice to meet you.” I purposely avoided introducing myself, figuring the less he knew about me, the better. Tearing off a piece of the chocolate frosted donut on my plate, I popped it in my mouth so I had an obvious reason for not saying more.
“Good donuts?” he asked, obviously trying to put me at ease so I’d give up the information he wanted.
I was so onto him.
Wait. Did he say donuts, plural? As in, more than one? Was he asking a general question—or did he know this was my second donut today? My face flushed. Did he know I’d had two at every continental breakfast this week? Okay fine, yesterday I had three, but the third one hardly counted because I took it with me to have later.
Did continental breakfast have limits? Fair share rules? Donut allotments? Did the rich do continental breakfast differently than the rest of us?
I nodded and swallowed the bite of donut. “Delicious. Best donuts in the world,” I said, as though it totally explained my gluttony just in case he was aware of it. I almost added, I can’t stop eating them, but realized in the nick of time that it made me sound a bit unhinged even though it was the truth.
Let me clarify. These donuts weren’t those boxed, store-bought numbers you get at cheap motel breakfasts. You know, the kind with frosting that looks and feels like sprayed-on wax, especially the chocolate ones. No, these were obviously made fresh every morning. Sometimes they were still a little warm. Each one was light and pillowy, covered in buttercream frosting or sweet sugar glaze that made it impossible not to lick your fingers afterward in a desperate quest for just one more taste.
“So, I have to admit . . .” Drew said. “I’ve been trying to figure out what you’re up to. I came up with a couple of theories . . . But when I spotted you going in the side door this morning, well, that clinched it.”
My heart thudded against my ribcage. My hands started to sweat. He knew? He knew I was sneaking in? Shit, next he would want to know why I was doing it—and no way was I telling the truth. It would be too humiliating, not to mention, potentially illegal. I had to come up with a really good excuse, one that would make him shake his head in sympathy, pat me on the arm, and send me along with a simple warning not to do it again.
“I’m just having breakfast,” I said in a thin voice, trying to appear unfazed as I debated what response would garner the most empathy.
“At a different hotel every day?” His gaze sharpened on mine.
Should I say I’d lost my job and didn’t have any money to buy food? Or that I was a college student and used every penny to make rent? Or, or—how about that I’d committed too much of this week’s paycheck to charity and had nothing left for myself.
Okay, so that last one might be going a bit far.
My heart felt like it was about to crash through my chest wall, and for some reason, my mouth was refusing to work. I closed my eyes a brief second to regain control. Theft. You’re stealing from these hotels. What was the penalty for stealing? A monetary fine? Jail? Was taking breakfast considered grand theft? It didn’t seem to be on the same scale as stealing cars and boats and million dollar jewelry.
Although these donuts, I had to admit, were pretty damn grand.
Drew sat back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. “I know exactly what you’re up to.”
I stared back at him, feeling like a guillotine was about to land on my neck. How could anyone so handsome be an executioner?
“It’s because of my job,” I began, intending to explain how I was out of work and out of food. Once I made my case, I would get up and leave before he had time to check out my story.
A slight smile turned up the corners of his mouth, and he held up one hand to stop me. “I know what you’re doing,” he said in a low voice. “You’re writing a review. You’re a reviewer.”
It took a moment for my brain to register his words. A reviewer? He thought I was a reviewer? A reviewer! Giddy joy surged through me and I suppressed the urge to laugh. He thought I was reviewing the hotel—maybe even the breakfast. And yes! I was! Of course I was! I wrote reviews! I was a reviewer! A reviewer!
“Guilty,” I said, beaming at him.