“Um, Emma?” our new hire, Ruth, pipes up as she follows me down the plushy carpets of the hotel hallways on her short legs, her ponytail bouncing behind her with the effort to keep up with my pace. She’s going to have to learn to walk fast, if she wants to work here.
“Why do they call it the Hotel of Love?” she asks me.
I figure there’s no sense watering down the truth, so I tell her straight up. “Because it’s a favored spot for escorts.”
“What?” she hisses, coming to an abrupt halt in the middle of the hallway.
I spin around to hook my arm with hers, forcing her back into motion at my side, and chuckle at her stunned expression. There’s no denying that she’s cute, in a wholesome sort of way, with blush-stained cheeks, a rosebud mouth, and big doe eyes.
She continues to gawk at me as I drag her along, her expression caught between being appalled and wanting to laugh, apparently unsure of whether or not I’m joking. “You can’t be serious.”
“These hips don’t lie, babe,” I drawl, shimmying my number one asset. “Why did you think they make us wear these?”
I gesture down to the French maid uniforms we’re both wearing—pastel pink with little white aprons cinched tight around our waists.
Those doe eyes of hers widen. “I did think they were a bit—”
“Slutty?” I interrupt cheerfully. “Costume-esque? Better suited for a porno?”
“Short,” she finishes lamely.
I laugh aloud, then swish my hips around some more, so the tiny skirt flutters suggestively around my thighs. In reality, the uniforms aren’t that bad. But they are definitely a bit shorter and a bit more form-fitting than the uniforms I’ve seen in more respectable institutions.
I pull us to a stop when we reach our destination and wave her through the door before me.
“This is where I come to cry,” I joke as we enter the staff breakroom, with its crystal chandeliers and velvet couches and overall vintage vibe.
She isn’t listening. Her attention has been stolen by the complex piece of machinery sitting on the kitchen counter, gleaming beneath the glittering chandeliers in all its gold-plated glory.
“We have our own coffee machine?” she squeals.
“It doesn’t work,” I announce, not even trying to mask my bitterness.
I watch the fresh hope drain from the new hire’s face, and have to laugh, because I understand the sentiment all too well. Before working here, I personally never cared much for coffee, but it has become a bit of a lifeline.
“Why don’t we get a new one?” she asks weepily.
“Because this one is so pretty, look at it!” I cross the room to pet the shiny gold exterior.
“Seriously?” She scrunches her nose. “That’s why you keep it?”
“Of course not.” I laugh. “They can’t afford to get us a new one. Don’t let all the pretty shit around here fool you… This hotel might look aesthetically pleasing, but everything is cheap, down to its core.”
To prove my point, I stand beneath the chandelier that hangs over the center of the room and tug on a string of pearls. Pieces of faux-crystal come undone and clatter to the floor.
“Oh my,” Ruth chuckles. “I had no idea.”
I shrug before bending down to pick up the pieces, then stretch onto the tips of my toes to hang them up again. They stay, but just barely. Like most things around here, it’s on the verge of falling apart.
I turn to face her again. “It’s like I’ve been telling you, it’s a sleazy place.”
“And there’s no coffee,” she states sadly, her shoulders drooping.
“Oh no. They serve coffee downstairs in the restaurant, you just have to walk a bit of distance to get there. But they usually always have a pot going for the employees.”
It’s like telling a kid there is a Santa Claus, after all.
She gasps and slaps a hand over her heart, declaring, “We’re saved!”
I laugh at her theatrics. “Come on… I’ll show you where it’s kept.”
I wink at her, and she grins, pleased, as I lead the way out of the breakroom and head towards the elevators. Two other staff members are just coming off the elevator when we get there, wheeling a cart of fresh towels while wearing platform heels, their faces 3 inches thick with makeup. They offer us smiles when we move passed, before we ourselves climb into the tiny, claustrophobia-inducing contraption of death.
As soon as the doors push shut, my throat tightens and my lungs squeeze painfully inside the constraints of my ribcage.
“That was Chanel and Angelica,” I explain, pushing the button for the ground floor. Then I brace myself against the gold bar on the wall as we began to descend, all the while trying not to hyperventilate. “They were hired for their looks, like most of the employees around here…” I make boob-grabbing gestures to indicate busty chests and roll my eyes. (I swear they only hired me under the strict agreement that I would wear super-stuffed bras to enhance my A-cups.)
Ruth lets out another one of her melodious giggles. “Do they actually work in those heels?”
“Of course not,” I bite out between clenched teeth, trying to push down the panic rising up my throat like bile. “They take their heels off as soon as they’re inside the rooms. Nobody wants to clean in platforms.”
She smiles at that, but her amusement is overshadowed with worry. “Are you alright?”
“Yup,” I squeak breathlessly. “I just really, really, really hate small spaces… But I’m fine.”
My reflection in the mirrored walls betrays how unconvincing I look. People tend to assume I’m tough, because of the tattoos and resting bitch face, but the girl in the mirror doesn’t look it. She’s trembling like a scared chicken in her powder-pink panties while staring back at me with fear-stricken eyes, her freckled cheeks drained of color, turning her skin almost ashen next to the angel blonde of her braids.
Not exactly cute.
When the elevator pings and the doors finally swing open, I sigh with relief and launch myself across the marbled floors of the lobby, eager to put some distance between myself and the torture chamber. It’s while we’re on the way to the restaurant that we pass the main entrance, with its massive revolving doors and small posse of security guards all dressed in black from head to toe, and Ruth leans in closer.
“The intense security makes way more sense now,” she whispers.
I nod. “We definitely have our fair share of drama around here.”
I stop briefly to introduce Ruth to the lobby boys—all hired for their pretty faces, of course—then steer her behind the set of marble pillars that lead into the restaurant. As soon as we cross the threshold, the ambiance changes from chic to cheesy. The restaurant and bar are bathed in dim lighting, with crooner music playing over hidden speakers, and ceilings as lows as the necklines on the waitresses’ outfits.
Not what you’d call family-friendly, that’s for sure.
“Where do they get all the hot lobby boys?” Ruth asks, hustling to keep up with my fast-paced steps towards the kitchen.
“Honestly, most are wannabe actors or models, working for some spare cash while they await their big glamorous breaks...”
“Who’s the blonde one?”
I stop to arch an eyebrow at her, planting a hand on a popped hip. “Not wasting any time, are we?”
“Nope. So, spill.”
I sigh. “His name is Kenny, he wants to be an actor, and all the girls just love him.”
I make sure to insert as much venom as possible into the word “love”, just so she knows how unimpressed I am. First day on the job, and she’s already fallen prey to the golden boy? Ha. How typical.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a good set of abs and perfectly-symmetrical chiseled features as much as the next girl, but what most people fail to realize about Kenny is… He’s just a normal guy, working hard for his money. He doesn’t ask for all this attention. In fact, he’s actually pretty sweet, once you get to know him. I don’t think he deserves to be treated like sex-on-a-stick… Because, you know, nobody does.
My trainee’s eyes shine brightly as she licks her lips, completely oblivious to my simmering disapproval.
I sigh again. This could be a problem. “The manager did explain the rules to you upon being hired, did she not?”
Ruth seems taken aback by the seriousness in my tone. “You mean, the no-dating thing?”
I nod and cross my arms over my push-up bra.
“Yeah, she mentioned it,” she says, surveying me with uncertainty. “But, I mean… most places I’ve worked at before had similar rules, it’s just they were never really enforced. At least, not too strictly. The way Madam Dee explained it, I thought it was more of a warning than an actual rule...”
She trails off into silence and bites her lip when she sees my expression.
“They take it very seriously here,” I explain. “No dating what-so-ever. Any romantic involvement would lead to immediate termination of employment.”
“But why?” she whispers. “I would have thought… In a place like this…”
I have to fight not to roll my eyes. The Rosewood might have been nicknamed the Hotel of Love, but it isn’t meant as a dating pool for its employees.
“It’s because we work in a place like this that they need things to remain strictly professional amongst their staff,” I explain. “They don’t want any unnecessary drama, or people sneaking off into dark corners, or people quitting because of breakups. They have enough of a hard time keeping their staff already, since most people think of this place as a temporary job.”
She appears disappointed, just for a second, before her eyes light up with mischief. “Of course, they have a hard time keeping their staff, with rules like that.”
I grin, still enjoying her sense of humor. “Perhaps. But for now, no romance, okay?”
She nods, and I’m grateful that she doesn’t seem too crestfallen. It’s happened before, where I’ve come across young hopefuls who think of work as a form of socializing more than anything and are going through life with the constant expectation of romance—even making a point to seek it around every corner. But thankfully, Ruth doesn’t seem the type.
Anyway, now that we’ve had the talk, I steer her towards the kitchen and show her where the staff supply of coffee can be found… And, since we’re already here, I make us each a cup. We sit down in an out-of-the-way corner as the chaos of the kitchen swirls around us, and chat while we drink our human fuel.
“So, do we offer room service here?” she asks conversationally.
“No, we’re too cheap for that,” I say, chuckling.
“Huh,” she says. “Weird.”
“I know, but the people are nice. I pretty much like everyone who works here… We’re like our own little family.”
“That’s cool,” she smiles, and I can see a flicker of excitement in her. She’s actually looking forward to this job. Poor, unsuspecting soul… “So, have you worked here long?” she asks me.
“Almost two years.”
“And you’re already a supervisor?”
I shrug. “I just supervise the housekeeping department. Besides, like I mentioned before, employees come and go, since it’s not exactly a long-term place for most people... Two years is kind of a long time for a place like this.”
She nods, and she starts asking something else, but our conversation is suddenly cut short by the ear-splitting sound of porcelain shattering against a tile floor. A lot of porcelain. All heads turn in the direction of the disturbance, where a tower of plates that had been stacked high has been knocked over and crashed to the floor in a disastrous landslide, pieces flying everywhere and covering the floor in a minefield of sharp debris. It’s the ultimate massacre of dishware, and a stunned silence fills the kitchen as everyone stops what they were doing to stare in horror at the wreckage.
My eyes shoot to whoever is the dishwasher for the day, and my heart just sinks.
“Excuse me for a moment.” I abandon my trainee and push to my feet, cutting a path out of the kitchen.
I don’t look back as I slam through the swinging doors and aim myself towards the other end of the restaurant, where the kitchen manager is manning the bar. Chester spots me coming at him like a heat-seeking missile, and his expression hardens visibly, but I don’t care.
“I swear to God—” I start as soon as I’ve reached him.
“What now, Emma?” he hisses under his breath, putting down the glass he was just polishing.
His eyes dart across the room, as though checking to see if anyone has heard me, and my temper flares. I mean, honestly. At this time of the day, there are only a few occupied tables, and none of them are in the bar area, so there’s no viable reason for him to give me that attitude.
Nonetheless, I fight to keep my voice low and lean in closer, the spicy scent of him burning my nostrils. Does the man bathe in fucking cologne? Because a girl could drown in that shit. I shake my head to clear it.
“How long are you going to keep protecting him, Chester?”
His brow furrows slightly over his blue eyes, but besides that he’s cool as a cucumber. Barely any emotion at all. “Who? Jon? Is this about Jon again?”
Determined not to be deterred by his impenetrable composure, I launch forward, “Yes, it’s about Jon, again, because you insist on keeping him on our staff even though he continues to show up at work hungover as all hell and sometimes even drunk and—”
He puts his palms up to silence me, and I have to bite off the urge to scream. Chester is always frightfully calm and polite. Always. No one has ever seen him lose his temper in all the years that he’s worked here, and that just bothers me to no end. I can’t explain it. It just seems so unnatural to me, you know? I mean, how can he manage to keep a lid on it all the fucking time?
“You have no authority here, remember?” he reminds me, his voice almost gentle, while also slanting me a look that’s supposed to serve as a warning.
I suck in a sharp breath and turn my gaze skyward, seeking patience.
Chester and I actually get along. Usually. We’re both supervisors, so we try to work together as much as possible, and we regularly consult one another on important matters. I knew he wasn’t thrilled when I first got promoted, being young and not all that experienced, but in time I’ve proven myself more than capable, and he isn’t so prideful as to deny a hard worker the respect they deserve. And I happen to respect that.
But this Jon thing has been getting between us lately. Chester used to be friends with him, and although they wouldn’t go so far as to call each other friends now, not since Jon started struggling with alcoholism—at least, I’ve heard that’s the reason—Chester still insists on cutting him some serious slack. Despite Jon’s obvious bad habit of falling off the wagon every second weekend and showing up to work in his inebriated state.
I start again, teetering on the edge of control, “I realize the kitchen is under your strict management—”
“Exactly. You have nothing to worry about.”
My frown deepens. “But it is both of our jobs, equally, to ensure that all of the staff is treated fairly, and frankly I’m getting really worried about Jon. He’s not doing good, and we can’t keep letting things like this slide. He won’t get any better if we continue to turn a blind eye.”
I know my words hit home the second his eyes harden to an icy blue. It’s only a small change in his manner, but since Chester isn’t the expressive type, even the smallest changes mean a lot.
“I will take everything you’ve said under advisement,” he says curtly. “Thank you.”
He’s dismissing me.
I ball up my fists and open my mouth to argue some more, but he cuts me off.
“Don’t you have a new girl that needs training?”
His eyes drift over my shoulder, and I reluctantly follow the direction of his gaze to find Ruth standing a few feet behind me, looking sorry for having wandered over here and interrupted us.
I hate being dismissed by Chester in this way—I hate being dismissed in general—but I know I’ve said all that can be said for now. Plus. he’s right, I do still have plenty of training to do with Ruth. So, with a quick bite of my tongue, I incline my head in Chester’s direction, signaling my surrender…and then basically storm away like a sulky child with Ruth following obediently at my heels.
“Well, I can see they didn’t hire him for his looks,” Ruth teases once we’re on the elevator again, riding up to the second floor to start the next step in her training: The “fun” part where we clean everything within an inch of its life while inhaling life-threatening chemical fumes… Good times. Good times.
“He’s not bad looking,” I argue, surprised by her statement.
“Maybe not, but compared to the yummy lobby boys…” She fans herself.
She’s right, I guess. Chester is older and bearded and serious, and not at all pretty like the beloved lobby boys. He wouldn’t seem attractive to a young and bubbly thing like her.
I don’t say anything, else, though, since I’m not about to admit that I frequently fantasize about becoming Chester’s whore and letting him ravish every centimeter of my body for all that I’m worth.