“I’ll let you borrow my old-fashioned bar of soap, though. It’s coming your way. Sound good?”
She giggled as she pulled open the door, and then her mouth drew into a straight line when her gaze clashed with mine. She had on a fuzzy pink bathrobe and my eyes darted to the area above her breasts, where the terrycloth parted, and then down to the tightly drawn sash. Was she naked beneath that wrap? I couldn’t help imagining what she’d do if I suddenly leaned forward and untied that knot.
“Thanks,” she said. I saw her swallow roughly at my inspection. “I’ll also bring home a thing or two for your bathroom.”
“Will it smell like you?” The words tumbled from my mouth before I could stop them.
Her nostrils flared briefly as her eyes zoned in on my lips and then flitted away. “Wou . . . would that be a good thing?”
“You always smell good, Turtle.” I turned and headed back down the hallway before I confessed something even more damaging. “Be right back.”
Rachel’s hair had been up in a messy bun, and I wondered what kind of shampoo she used, because her hair had smelled amazing the other night. I needed to rein in my thoughts before Rachel realized that I was focusing way too much on our one-time encounter.
I grabbed the Ivory soap from my shower, all the while cursing myself for not acting more normal around her. When I returned to her bathroom, the door had been left open and Rachel was leaning over the sink, cleaning her face with a washcloth.
I figured I needed to say something to redeem myself. “I think the stuff from Pure smells pretty good. You always wear that lotion.” A memory of her mother massaging hand cream into Rachel’s weak and trembling fingers at the hospital came to mind. That scent would linger in the room for hours afterward.
“You told me the name of it once. Something with rice or maybe wheat?” I knew damn well what the actual name was but no way would I let her know that.
Her head snapped up and her reflection met mine. “You remember what it’s called?”
“Pretty sure anyone would remember that it’s named after some kind of food.” I shrugged. “But it smells like flowers.”
A pretty rose hue stretched across her cheeks. “It’s rice flower.”
“That’s it,” I said, avoiding her gaze. I slipped behind her to place the new bar of soap on the tray in the shower. I tried not to rub against her, but damn, I so wanted to.
“I’ll get you some oatmeal soap,” she said. “It’ll make your skin nice and so . . .”
I turned just as she was taking a step back from the vanity. Our bodies aligned and we were practically on top of each other, in the same position as the previous night.
“So . . . soft,” she mumbled, finishing her sentence.
Our eyes met in the mirror, and for a split second I saw her pupils flash hot with desire. My hip bumped again hers on its own volition, pinning her against the vanity.
“Kai,” she whispered, as a tremble rushed through her. My lips came dangerously close to the skin on the back of her neck as I watched her reflection in the vanity.
I took a whiff of her scent, and then closed my eyes to revel in it. When my lids reopened, her breaths were labored, her chest moving up and down from the effort. Her robe had parted even farther from the exertion. In a subtle move, she pressed her bottom against my front, but there was nothing reserved about my hard-on growing steadily against her back.
“I probably shouldn’t be late for work,” I whispered against her ear. I wanted so badly to reach around and grab hold of her breasts, pinch her nipples, and make her come from my touch again.
Her lips parted in the mirror almost like she could read my thoughts. “I . . . yeah . . . I have to . . . shower.”
“Better get in there, then.” I dragged my nose along her hairline to her other ear as she whimpered. “Have a good one.”
Fuck, this was going to be a long-ass day. After I walked out of Rachel’s bathroom, it took several long minutes—including the car ride over—to get my breathing and raging hard-on under control.
What in the hell had I done that for? Call me overconfident, but it sure as hell seemed like she was feeling it, too. That inexplicable draw between us. The same one that had already existed, even in the friend zone.
We had always sought each other out—being comfortable enough to hang, swap stories, share secrets, without the expectation of anything romantic or sexual.
We simply liked being around each other. Sure, it had transformed into something deeper on my end throughout her recovery. We’d grown so close during that time, speaking from our hearts, sharing our vulnerabilities. Hell, I told her shit that went down after my gigs or arguments I’d had with my parents that had fucked with my brain.
And somehow, letting her inside had been like a salve to my soul.
I was pretty sure our hookup was only supposed to be a one-night thing, despite my open invitation for more. And now she definitely knew I was attracted to her. But it needed to end there, unless she sought me out again.
After a brief and curt hello from my father near his office door, I stepped onto the floor to find Stuart. I walked past housekeeping services and got an overexuberant wave from Meadow. I kept moving, because after that lecture from Dakota, I didn’t want to give any women around here the wrong impression.
I found Stuart near the entrance to the lobby, and upon seeing me he gave a brisk nod to someone over my shoulder. I turned to see my father stepping back inside his office as if he’d been making sure I’d gotten to my destination. As if he’d been checking up on me. Sure, I’d gotten to work late a couple of times already, but it wasn’t because of smoking weed. I’d already begun to curb my habit, taking only two or three hits on the nights I wanted to unwind and write some new music.
The frustration must have shown on my face because Stuart patted my back and said, “Don’t let your father fool you. He was just like you back in the day.” He and Stuart had grown up together and had even gone to the same high school.
“Somehow I have a hard time believing that,” I said, taking in how full the gambling tables seemed already. There was a poker tournament happening later tonight, so the casino was bound to become even more packed.
“He didn’t know what the hell he wanted to do, either, and then one day he found his passion for business,” he said, leaning down almost conspiratorially. “You’ll find your passion, too.”
“I think I’ve already found mine. Mostly,” I said, muttering that last bit. “I just don’t know how to make a living doing it yet.”
Stuart’s eyes zeroed in on two shifty-looking guys entering the lobby. They kept their heads down and refused to greet the attendant near the door. Based on their worn clothing, they looked like they could barely afford the penny slots, which probably spoke to my uncle’s argument against casinos. But there was a difference between being poor and being a criminal, as my father liked to point out.
“Too bad your father won’t include you in his plan to class this place up,” he said, keeping his eyes on the two strangers. “But it’s only a matter of time, so keep your nose clean.”
Great. Even Stuart thought I was a fuckup. I decided to ignore his comment. “What do you mean, class it up?”
It was true that upon entering the casino for the first time in a couple of years, I had questioned whether it was going downhill, even though my dad had spruced it up with new fixtures and carpets. The clientele appeared rougher around the edges. They seemed to be hardcore gamblers, as opposed to people out for a night of fun and entertainment. I wondered on more than one occasion if my father had had to beef up security due to thievery, card counting, or bar fights.
“Your father’s concerned about the riffraff coming through here lately, and he’s organized a committee to help us get back to our roots,” he said. “And since you know a thing or two about the entertainment industry, I bet you’d have some ideas.”
“Thanks, Stu,” I mumbled. “But I doubt my father would want me involved in any of that.”
“Hey, why the long face? You want to know what Chief Red Hawk once said?” Stu was spouting off again about the infamous leader of our tribal nation. He’d been his greatest admirer for as long as I could remember.
I actually liked hearing his quotes—mostly. If only to keep me grounded in my history. Usually the proverb had to do with returning to nature or finding your spiritual self, but I couldn’t imagine that type of quote would fit into our current conversation.
I nodded. “Sure.”
He cleared his throat. “Understand that you are essential to this world. To the laws of nature. Find your own way, make your own peace. For it is you who has to live with yourself.”
I contemplated that while he stalked off to handle a disagreement taking place near the employee lounge. My father frowned upon staff taking out their personal issues in public. Stuart would undoubtedly remind them of that and get their argument under control.
I’d always thought that I could sit back and allow things to happen in my life. For nature to take its course. But now, more so than ever, I’d come to realize that the world doesn’t work that way. I needed to take the steps forward, and even some backward, to get myself somewhere. To get what I wanted.
And right now all I wanted was some direction in my fucking life.
I wanted to feel alive.
For my nerve endings to buzz as deafeningly as they had the other night with Rachel when I made her feel good against my fingers. The same fingers I used to hammer away on the strings of my bass to create music. To mix sounds together.
As vibrant and dazzling as that feeling I got in my chest when I produced something good—for myself or somebody else.
Stuart returned looking flustered and worn. “So where do you need me today, Stu?”
So far, he’d plugged me in wherever I was needed throughout the shift. The other night I was a bar back and that kept me very busy, since the casino was packed. It also allowed me a good visual of the stage and the band.
I wasn’t sure how to tell my father that his acts sucked. Because there really wasn’t a way to put it delicately. If he wanted to make the place classier, he needed more professional musicians and he needed to be willing to fork over money to get them. The sound engineer was decent, so it wasn’t necessarily a reflection on that guy.
I knew that I needed to tread lightly with my father. I didn’t want him to think that all I cared about was music, since my dad obviously wasn’t interested in that being the path for me anymore. First, I needed to prove that I was a hard worker. At the very least, that was expected of me. It was a pretty safe assumption that he wouldn’t even entertain a conversation with me about the musical acts if he didn’t see that I was putting forth effort to make some kind of living.
Second, I needed to show up on time and lay off the weed.
“I need you at the elevators,” Stuart said. “Check the room keys of everyone who passes to be sure they belong in this hotel.”
Ugh, mindless and boring. “Will do.”
Two hours later, the only saving grace was that I got a direct view of the band setting up for their show. My fingers itched to play, and even though I’d met a few times with my former band mates—who were happy to welcome me back into the fold—I was pretty sure I needed to stay away from them. Why hadn’t I noticed what a bunch of losers they were before?
Sam had made a beeline for me about an hour earlier to talk about his grandson Micah. He said Micah was being moved to another facility and that he would let me know the visiting hours once the boy was settled. I promised him I’d visit Micah in the next couple of weeks, but I still didn’t understand his motives for seeking me out.
For all I knew, my mother had put him up to it or something.
She had always commented on how nurturing I had been to Rachel in the hospital. In reality, I think she knew how my feelings had changed. But she was cool enough not to mention it, outside of teasing me about living with two women for the summer. When she asked about Rachel, she’d get this softness in her eyes that I continued to ignore.
Regardless, I felt for the kid and would visit Micah if it made Sam happy. It might even make me feel better. Maybe I’d bring along my acoustic bass and play him some tunes.
Two women dressed in skimpy clothing now edged closer to the elevators, and I could already tell they would attempt to get by without showing their room keys.
“I need to see your keys,” I said in an authoritative voice.
“Oh c’mon,” the one in the red heels said, trying her best to use a seductive voice. “We . . . accidentally left them in our room.”
It bugged me when girls used their sexuality to get their way. But I supposed it worked on enough men to keep the practice in business.
I remained unflappable. “Which floor?”
She seemed surer of her answer to that question. “Fifth.”
“Mmm-hmm,” I muttered, reaching for my two-way radio. “Let me call the front desk and have them look up your names.”
“No, wait,” the brassy blond said, her eyes shifting guiltily. “We . . . we don’t actually have rooms here.”
“Yeah, thought so,” I said. “Nice try. Why do you ladies need to get up there?”
They side-eyed each other, and then the brunette said, “Our boyfriends are waiting for us.”
I’d heard this one before. These girls were probably supposed to meet some businessmen, away from home for the week, in their rooms. “Why aren’t they down here with you?”