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Normally, I’m a good listener, I really am. But ever have the feeling something is about to go awry? The temperature in the room goes up a notch. The air thickens. The tiny hairs on the back of your neck stand up. That sort of thing. My marketing and publicity manager, Luna, is talking about ways to up the hotel’s wow factor this summer, and I can’t concentrate on a thing she’s saying.
We’re sitting at the lobby bar, an ocean breeze blowing in through open shuttered doors and beams of light glittering off the sun-drenched pool right outside, so in theory, the vibe is perfect Sunday morning chill. Fresh-squeezed orange juice sits in front of us. A steady stream of guests make their way to and from brunch at the restaurant across the foyer.
There’s no reason for my Spidey senses to be on alert.
It’s probably just the hangover I’m trying to ignore. Word of caution—Moscow Mules should not be consumed one after another after another, no matter how good the friend is you’re celebrating. I press a couple of fingers to my temple in hopes of pushing the headache away. Doesn’t do the trick.
Luna waves a hand in front of my face.
“Sorry. What?” I ask.
“Did you hear anything I just said?” Her sympathetic tone is appreciated. Her first words to me twenty minutes ago were: “You look like shit.”
“I did, but how about repeating the highlights?”
“I said we’ll continue with an upscale, luxurious feel rather than a wild party atmosphere and make the cabanas and daybeds available to non-hotel guests starting at one fifty. Lounge-style music by our house DJ will play Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from noon to eight p.m.”
“Sounds good.” To the best of my knowledge, no other hotel in the area is doing something like this, which means I’m all over it. The Surfeit is my baby. A Santa Monica Beach boutique hotel that caters to an affluent LA and out-of-town crowd. The pool deck is sophisticated and adult only, a magnet for singles and couples interested in family-free fun with a classy atmosphere.
I’ve worked my ass off the past eighteen months to make The Surfeit the place to be. Some of the best hotels in the world are here in SoCal, including those owned by my family. Auprince Holdings is at my back if I need them, but there’s nothing I want more than to make my first privately owned and operated venture a huge success without any extra assistance from my father.
“I also think themed social hours will give guests some great visual material they’ll want to post and share on their social media channels,” Luna says next.
“Do we need a designer for that?”
“Let’s try it one weekend and see how it goes before committing.”
“Done.” She types notes on her iPad while I finish my OJ then cover a yawn with my hand.
There’s a definite nap in my future, lack of sleep no doubt contributing to my inattentiveness. And by future I mean as soon as I stand up from this barstool and head upstairs. I don’t normally take residence at the hotel, but renovations at my house have made it necessary for the foreseeable future.
I’m ready to call this meeting and thank Luna when a flash of red catches my attention. I squeeze my eyes shut, thinking back to last night when my friend’s business partner’s sister decided I was next on her to-do list. We didn’t do it for a few reasons (all mine), but she did crash in my suite because I didn’t want her driving home or catching an Uber given how drunk she was.
“Hey, good morning,” she says, sidling up beside me at the bar.
“I’ll talk to you later, Drew,” Luna says, making a quick escape. Sisterly amusement is painted across her face as she mouths, Call me if you need me.
“Thanks for letting me stay last night,” Red Dress says.
“No problem.” I’m ashamed I can’t for the life of me remember her name at the moment.
“I also owe you an apology. I may have come on a bit strong last night.”
“Apology accepted. And I’ll forget I nicknamed you Octopus.” I give her a smile. The woman is attractive and nice enough, but as of last week I’ve taken an oath of celibacy. Until I find someone I want more with—and someone who doesn’t look at me with dollar signs and hollow stars in her eyes—I’m done messing around.
She laughs. “I was pretty handsy.”
“I understand the appeal,” I tease.
“Of course you do,” she says with lightheartedness. “You’re not the West Coast’s most eligible bachelor for nothing.” At my shrug she adds, “Take care.”
Not my most friendly conversation, but I’ve learned if I offer even a hint of encouragement, I’m bombarded with advances I didn’t mean to give a green light to.
I cut myself some slack given I was a gentleman last night and get to my feet. Light-headed from the sudden movement, I sway and grip the edge of the bar before turning to lean my back against the polished wood, elbows on the countertop. I’ll just take a minute before walking anywhere. It wouldn’t do to have the owner of the hotel stumbling through the lobby. Add abstain from alcohol to my recent pledge.
My gaze catches on a petite older woman impeccably dressed in her favorite shade of green, with dyed dark blond hair and bright blue-gray eyes zeroed in on me.
“You forgot we were meeting this morning, didn’t you?”
Rosemary Auprince is a freaking mind reader whether I welcome it or not. She’s always been super in tune to my two brothers and me, and being the youngest I feel like I get it the worst. Granted, I am her favorite, so she especially likes to mess with me. In the most loving way, of course.
“It may have slipped my mind.” I pull out a barstool for her. The bar isn’t open yet so we have the area to ourselves, which is exactly how she likes it. I’ll put a call into the kitchen to have breakfast brought to us here.
“You look a little peaked this morning. Feeling all right?” she asks as she takes a seat. “Because I forgot to take my vitamin C this morning so if you’re sick, I’ll catch up with you another time.”
Tempting, since I really do want to collapse back in bed, but lying isn’t my style. “I’m fine, just hungover.”
She gives me the look. The one that says she’s trying to piece together whether a woman was involved in last night’s festivities. This is because my grandmother has decided to play matchmaker for her only remaining single grandson. With Finn happily married to Chloe, and Ethan head over heels in love with Pascale and her daughter, Rylee, suddenly interfering with my single status is her favorite hobby.
It’s time to fill her in on my dating sabbatical so she quits with her meddling. The only person in charge of my love life is me. It’s a delicate situation, though. I don’t want to hurt her feelings. I don’t want her to think I don’t appreciate her, because I do. The fact that she’s 0 for 2 should discourage her, but instead it’s only spurred her on. She’s not a quitter. But it’s not like she personally knows the women she sets me up with. They’re granddaughters of friends or business associates whom she hears about and then believes might be my perfect match.
Good intentions aside, she’s got to understand she isn’t doing me any favors.
“So…” she says, “hook up with anyone while inebriated?”
Yes, my grandmother went there. Not for the first time. Not for the hundredth. And no doubt, not for the last.
I inwardly laugh at her use of the term “hook up.” She prides herself on being up with all the lingo. I really should have told her I had a fever or mouthed I’d lost my voice when she first asked about my well-being. Not that it would have mattered since she has a mischievous streak a mile wide and enjoys making her grandsons squirm with discussions related to sex, especially if she’s the only one talking.
“Mémère,” I say, watching her eyes soften at the nickname, and then because I have no intention of answering her question, I change the subject to another favorite topic of hers. “Did you get your invitation?”
She arches a brow. She’s on to me—she’s always on to me when I use that term of endearment—but she’ll let it slide for now. “It arrived yesterday and I loved it.”
“I’m glad.” Her eightieth birthday is next month and we’re throwing her a party. We can afford to hire the best event planners, but my mom enjoys things like this so she’s doing a lot of the planning herself. I won the coveted (not!) position of assistant to Mom. Finn is one of Major League Baseball’s best players and on the road for games much of the time so he gets a free pass on many family obligations. And Ethan is the oldest and thus gets out of things he doesn’t want to do by pulling the older brother card. “You hungry?” I ask, remembering we’d made plans to eat breakfast together.
“Starving. I’ll have my usual, please.”
I put our orders in—avocado toast for her, eggs and bacon for me—and then stare out across the lobby for a moment. I’m still not over the weird vibe causing a prickling sensation on the back of my neck.
“Now that invites are out, care to elaborate on the details?” she asks. It’s killing her that we’ve kept most everything about her party a secret.
“Nope. We want you to be surprised.”
“I hate surprises.”
“That’s why it’s not an actual surprise party.”
She tsks then pulls her cell out of her handbag. She scrolls up to unlock the screen, makes a face like someone ate her last hard candy, and takes a selfie. Next, she buries her nose in the phone like she’s a teenager who can’t be bothered with a face-to-face conversation.
“What are you doing?” I ask, curious and highly entertained. It’s never a dull moment with her.
“Posting to Insta.” She types something with superior speed for a grandmother. “Party pooped by my grandson. Hashtag grandma problems.” She puts the phone down. It immediately lights up with notifications. My grandmother has a ridiculous amount of followers.
I shake my head in amusement. I’ll comment later. She loves when I do that.
“So,” she says, “there is one thing I must discuss with you in regard to my birthday party.”
“Okay, shoot.” I can concede one thing for the matriarch of our family. She is, after all, the coolest grandmother out there. Plus, giving her this will hopefully keep her happy for the rest of the month so I can stay focused on the hotel. Sold-out rooms aren’t enough to get me where I want to be.
“I’ve arranged a date for you. Marin is—”
I lift a hand. “Stop right there.” Marin is someone we both actually know. She’s Grandmother’s best friend’s granddaughter, and the girl who tortured me as a boy with stories of monsters in the closet. Swear to God, I didn’t open mine for a month after that. And then only because my dad used his extinguishing powers (it’s a real thing when you’re seven) to obliterate said monsters. She tormented me with tales of people being buried alive when we were teenagers. And a few years ago she shared how she is psychic and can see dead people. These are traits I’m sure would make some lucky guy happy, but I’m not that guy. I literally break out in a sweat just thinking about having a conversation with her, which for the record, is always one-sided since she likes to talk. I’m man enough to admit I prefer romcoms to anything supernatural or creepy. So there is no way I’m agreeing to this.
No matter how unhappy my grandmother looks as our breakfast arrives.
End of Excerpt