I mix the next drink as I dial Greg, my second husband of two years. Our conversation is short and about nothing but the basics. I don't tell him that my clients have bailed on me because, well, it isn't the picture of myself I want to paint. Greg doesn't ask me why I sound so down because that isn't the man he wants to be for me...though I believed he did, once. I confirm I am alive. He tells me the same. I remind him that the giving gala is in two days. It's kind of like an adult prom, the university's biggest fund-raiser of the year, and Greg is a no-brainer choice for my date, not that I'm exactly looking forward to it.
My phone pings shortly after I hang up with him. When I look down, it's a text from an unlisted number.
That's all it says. Frowning, I write back: Who is this?
No answer. A chill runs up my spine. Get ready for what?
A loud horn honk outside startles me. I turn and notice that my window curtains are flung open, affording me a view of the rooftops and the bridge beyond. A pigeon flaps from a nearby roost. I have a tingling sensation that I'm being watched.
I leap up and yank the blinds closed. I need out of this hotel room. I want company, noise, and maybe another drink. The closest place is the hotel's rooftop bar.
"You should try a naughty mule," says a voice beside me after I slide onto a barstool.
A man sits catty-corner to me on one of the gray couches, half- hidden behind a large marble post. I'm irked that he's been eavesdropping. I've been debating with the bartender—a discerning, fiftyish man with half-mast eyes who is pretentiously overdressed in a three-piece suit—between a Moscow mule and a gimlet. After that strange, anonymous, cryptic text I'd received in my room, the last thing I want are random eyes on me.
But my eavesdropper smiles jovially enough. I twist around to get a better look at him. By the way his legs stretch from the couch, I can tell that he's quite tall. His face is square and friendly, and his dark hair curls over his oxford collar. The corners of his eyes turn down in a way that seems trustworthy, and he has a big, wide, straight smile, with good, square teeth. He looks like a preppy, naughty schoolboy, as if he might be hiding a slingshot behind his back. I notice he's wearing Vans sneakers instead of loafers with his suit. Still dressed for my meeting, I am wearing Yves Saint Laurent pumps that paralyze my toes.
"It's vodka mixed with jalapeño and cayenne pepper," Schoolboy explains, holding up a copper mug. "If you like spicy, you won't find anything better."
My eyelashes lower, then lift. "What makes you think I like spicy?"
One eyebrow rises. His eyes drift down to my exposed legs, my high heels. "'Do' you?" he asks, in a voice that, unless I'm crazy, oozes with flirtation.
"Wouldn't you like to know," I shoot back. Then I chastise myself. Kit Manning-Strasser is not a woman who flirts with random men in hotel bars. I catch the bartender's eye. "Just a Tanqueray and tonic, please."
The bartender turns to mix it up, with a smirk on his face. He sets down my cocktail silently, and I swear I hear him snicker. My cheeks are on fire; even a sip of the drink can't extinguish the heat.
As the bartender turns away, there's a voice behind me: "Don't mind Bertram. He's a judgmental prick."
Schoolboy again. I can feel his gaze on my back as though it's a heat lamp. "You know him?" I ask nonchalantly.
"Nope. Just met him today. But I can tell. I'm good at reading people."
I pretend to be interested in the flickering votive candle on the bar. I'm still trying to process why this man thought I like spicy things. Or perhaps this is his line to every woman he meets.
Schoolboy interprets some tiny movement I've made as a cue to slip off the couch and take the stool next to mine. "I'm Patrick," he says, those crinkly, downturned eyes slow, careful magnets drawing me toward him.
"Kit," I answer.
He does not offer his hand to shake, so I don't offer mine, either. "So are you here on business?" I coolly ask.
He holds up a palm to say, Halt. "Come now. We're going to have that conversation?"