Renee Wheatley had been ready to make any excuse to avoid the days in the kitchen during the management program at the hotel. She didn’t have any restaurant experience other than as a customer, and didn’t feel at all qualified to manage the kitchen staff. But the brisk bustle was so efficient and well-run by the head chef, her presence was inconsequential.
Like others before her on these rotations, she was provided a stool out of the way where she could observe without obstructing the fast pace. Now and then she was also given samples of this and that to ensure the food’s excellent quality. Not only was the hotel the city’s most prominent but this restaurant was considered one of the best in the world.
Free to sit and sample, Renee was also responsible for answering the phone. Although it was possible for guests to dial the kitchen directly, she would have been surprised if any ever had. Most called the concierge desk, and the others dialed the front desk or room service for whatever they wanted. It was then be up to the kitchen staff to decipher requests and get it delivered.
On her third day of kitchen rotation, Renee was manning the phone while nibbling on the superb raspberry crème brulee that the pastry chef had brought over with a wink and a grin. It didn’t matter to her if any there thought she should skip the desserts and stick to salads. Her weight might have been an issue if she had any time for a social life. But as it was, her career was her number-one priority and she wasn’t going to deny herself these small pleasures.
When the phone rang again, Renee reluctantly pushed the plate aside and answered it. When the concierge mentioned the order’s destination, her heartbeat quickened and she sat up. The pen in her hand had become unsteady, and her writing, usually so clear and precise, had trailed into an untidy scrawl. Renee forced herself to take a slow breath as the concierge paused.
“Okay,” she said into the phone. She read the order back just as if she wasn’t feeling feverish, as if her stomach hadn’t been filled with a million frantic butterflies. “For the Presidential Suite.”
“Right,” the concierge said. “And hurry.” He paused again, then continued in a lower tone. “It’s the owner’s son in there. So, top priority.”
“Will do,” Renee replied, letting her eyes close, proud of how level and normal her voice sounded. The hotel owner’s son. Of course. She opened her eyes and looked at the scrawled mess, then took another steadying breath and quickly rewrote the ticket.
The head chef seemed to notice something in her face. “Something wrong?” he asked, pausing as he reached for the ticket.
“Everything’s fine,” Renee assured him. “That’s a rush, though. Presidential Suite. Top priority, concierge said.”
The chef regarded her a moment longer, then looked at the ticket. “Okay. Need about twelve.”
“Is that rushed?”
The chef nodded, turned to call out the order, then turned back. “Can’t cook things any faster than they cook, you know. Laws of physics still apply, I don’t care how much you pay for your room.”
Renee nodded in return. If the order took twelve minutes to make, then it took twelve minutes, and there was nothing to be done. But that seemed like an awfully long time to keep anyone waiting, especially the owner’s son. She picked up her fork and poked at the remains of her dessert. She didn’t eat any more. Her stomach was still quivering too much.
When she had been coming off break, she had seen the owner’s son in the lobby. She hadn’t known anything about who he was, of course. In that first glimpse it didn’t matter who he was. All that had mattered was what he was. And what he was, was gorgeous.
It was a moment like those in the movies she had always scoffed at. Across a crowded room, the couple sees each other and the spark is felt, not just by them, but everyone watching. Renee didn’t know if anyone else saw her moment. But she did know that as she had stared at him transfixed, he had tossed his long, black hair over his shoulder and their eyes had met.
It had only been a moment, but in that moment her heart had leapt into a gallop and her whole body had warmed with yearning. His gaze had captured something within her and he accepted her attention like a king collecting the adulation of his people. No, it was more like a god than a king. In his gaze, he looked like a pharaoh embodying divinity on earth. He knew that every gaze was worship and the wildest expressions of adoration barely scratched the surface of his emotions.
‘The owner’s son,’ she concluded. ‘No wonder he had looked around the lobby like a king surveying his castle while the clerk checked him in. Everything under his gaze was his property. Perhaps, in his mind,’ she considered, ‘even the employees.’
Renee had felt possessed in the brief instant that their gazes had touched. His dark eyes had almost felt like a physical force, pulling at her with a debaucherous appetite behind them. Their imperious hunger had left her weak but thrilled, almost dizzy and giddy.
“Who runs the orders up?” she asked as she stood, nervously brushing crumbs from her slacks.
No one answered her. With the priority order on, and other orders also needing attention, everyone was too busy to spare a moment. Renee fretted a few seconds, then resolutely turned and hurried into the locker room behind the kitchen.
Before she could think better of it, she found a spare set of chef’s whites and scooped them up. Stepping around the corner, she found an empty locker, stepped out of her heels and stripped off her slacks. The uniform pants were a tight fit, but the jacket was long enough to cover the pinching at her waist. Putting her shoes back on, she hoped no one would notice her heals. They were a dead giveaway that everything else was just a masquerade.
She returned to the kitchen just in time. The order for the owner’s son was just being checked over on the tray.
“I’ll take it,” Renee said, her voice hiding the terror she felt inside.
The head chef looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “Usually Tony –”
“Sure. Usually,” Renee said. “But he’s on another delivery, and this is a rush, so I’ll just run it on up. It’s no problem.”
“Okay,” the chef said with a shrug.
Renee grabbed onto the cart as if she was trying to stop her hands from trembling. She knew what she had said to the chef, but pushing the cart through the lobby, she wondered how many others would see through her deception. She knew that Tony would be back soon enough. She was taking the order herself, because the owner’s one had possessed him in that moment. And in that possession, she connected to a suppressed desire that screamed to satisfied.
It seemed to take forever for the elevator to arrive. Each extended second filled her with dread that Tony, the delivery man, would be there and demand to take the cart instead. Or perhaps her boss would see her so ridiculously dressed and see through her façade.