A romance at midnight, but happily ever after at dawn? Complicated…
Hunter Jones is stalling. One day, he’ll be a lawyer in his family’s prestigious firm, but just not yet. Instead he is working the nightshift at the Burlington Inn. It’s the perfect place to hide from everything that’s wrong with his life. Once—just once—he did something out of character and it has haunted him ever since. Romance is the last thing he needs. But then a tall, dark, and sexy stranger checks into the hotel...
Detective Cole Sawyer’s life is a complete clusterfuck of his own making. His lies have ruined his chances at a fresh start, and his anger and insomnia constantly get the better of him. Cole has no business getting involved with the honey-sweet night auditor. But with every late night encounter staying away gets more and more difficult.
When a dangerous stalker targets Hunter, Cole realizes just how far he’s willing to go to protect the man he never should’ve been with in the first place—and Hunter starts to wonder what it’ll take to rescue Cole from himself.
Night Watch, the first book in The Burlington Inn series, is a contemporary hurt/comfort romance.
I stole another glance at the man across the front desk in the dimmed light of the entrance hall. I didn’t get many check-ins during the night shift. The Burlington Inn focused on extended stay business travelers. Most of our rooms and small apartments were rented monthly to companies along the Route 128 corridor. Of course, sometimes we had late arrivals, but a guest walking in after midnight was unusual.
The guy’s skin tone was ashen. He looked like he hadn’t shaved for two, maybe three days. Dark shadows hid under his bloodshot eyes and deep lines etched into his face. There was a faint bruise on his left cheek. He’d barely looked at me since he came in. His gaze seemed to focus on a spot on the counter, and his hand kept pushing through his dark hair as if it was the only way to keep his eyes open. I knew the feeling too well, but six hours of sleep earlier today had helped a lot to restore my usual balance. And then, work was my happy place right now, so all was good again.
If I had an overactive imagination, my mind would jump straight to one of those vampire movies Skyler had been so crazy about for a while. They always started with a pale, hunky-looking stranger, all dressed in black. I verified with a quick glance. Oh my God. Dark, washed-out jeans and a black t-shirt stretched tight over his broad chest and shoulders. He was tall, too, at least six feet. If Skyler were here, he would probably be freaking out right now. The guy was total sexy vampire material.
Just that my pale stranger didn’t show up mysteriously and unexpected in the middle of the night—Cole Sawyer had a reservation. Impatiently he tapped his ID on the counter. I tried to shut down my runaway imagination and focused on my job.
“Did you ask for a room on the ground floor, sir?” I asked.
He looked up for the first time. “Huh?”
“Do you have a preference regarding the floor—for your room?”
“No.” His voice was low and all gravelly. “I don’t care which floor, but I prefer windows that can open.”
“All our windows open. That’s not a problem.” I checked the reservation again. Tilda had preselected a room during her shift to expedite the late check-in: Room 124—right next to the elevator. The whole place was more or less empty, but she picked one of the smallest rooms. Tilda was real cheap sometimes. Well, Sawyer was my check-in.
“Tell you what. I’ll give you one of the Executive Suites on the second floor. It’s a small apartment, two rooms, kitchenette, and a balcony with a large screen door. All guestrooms in the back are away from the main road, so it’s nice and quiet. This one faces west and can get a little warm in the afternoon, but there’s a tree in front, so it doesn’t heat up too badly, and you can always open the balcony door. Does that sound okay?” I always babble a little when I’m trying to impress somebody, just until now, I hadn’t realized I was trying to impress him.
“Okay, sure.” He nodded like a man who really didn’t care much.
“It has a King-size bed. More space for—”
Cole Sawyer looked up. His eyes shimmered icy gray.
Shit. I wasn’t even sure myself where I’d been going with that sentence. “You’re tall and…” I was about to say built but caught myself in the last second and ended lamely, “…there’s more space for legs.”
Mission accomplished—I had his full attention now. He slowly raised an eyebrow, and I could practically see him trying to decide if I was drunk or was just missing a few marbles. But then, he grinned, and my heart skipped a beat. Not only did my tall, dark stranger have a sense of humor, he also looked gorgeous with his slightly crooked smile.
“Thanks. I appreciate it,” he said.
Appreciate what? The upgrade. The compliment. My face on fire.
Luckily, I inherited my mom’s Italian complexion. I moved to the other side of the counter to program the keycard for the room. That gave me a minute to recover.
“One or two keys, sir?” I asked.
“One is fine.”
“Okay, this is your keycard. I can really recommend Katie’s Café next door. It’s a nice place. They’ve got a great selection of sweet and savory breakfast pastries. Two coupons for free coffee are included with your stay.” I handed everything over and after quick directions to his room, Sawyer strode down the hall. I checked out his broad shoulders and nice ass when he waited in front of the elevator. Why not? This was probably the last I would ever see of him. I worked at the hotel from eleven to five thirty in the morning, not really a good time to socialize with any of the guests.
I wasn’t even sure why my boss Mr. Slater, the owner of the Burlington Inn, still employed anybody for the night shift. There were only a few things I had to do. Stuff like running reports for the register, restocking the towels in the gym, printing out invoices for all guests checking out in the morning, and washing up glasses from the small bar behind the reception area.
The hotel had a full liquor license—another thing that didn’t make sense. Besides a bag of peanuts, you couldn’t get anything to eat, but we had a fully stocked bar. There was a big screen TV to catch a Red Sox game or any of the other Boston sports teams. Not that it was ever busy, but usually every night a few people stopped by before going up to their rooms. Unless it was Thursday when Mr. Slater had his chess night, he stood behind the bar pouring drinks until eleven. Then he shut everything down, gave me my list of things to do for the night and went home.
Today, my list had been short, so by two am when Cole Sawyer had rung the bell and staggered in, I was pretty much done with everything. I pulled out my books and started studying. I had just settled down with the history of American law when I heard the low ding of the elevator again. My favorite vampire lord walked back into the light of the reception area.
“Something wrong with the room?” I asked, slightly concerned, because I had given him one of our nicest suites.
He shook his head. “No, it’s perfect. More modern than I expected. I was thinking frills and fake flowers. From the outside the building looks rather old.”
“Old?” I quaked. “Sure, the Burlington Inn is a historic place. The original structure”—I pointed around the lobby—”is Georgian, the prevalent style in the English colonies throughout the 18th century. It was the home of a wealthy businessman. The Alcott family owned most of the land around Burlington. Back when it was built, the Inn was surrounded by orchards.”
“Oh yeah. Orchard Road, right?”
“Most people ask about it when they’re here for the first time. The place has been here for over two-hundred years.”
“Yeah, as I said… old,” he replied.
“What? No, no, I mean, yes, but only this building is part of the original structure. The wings were built much later, so they aren’t old at all. You probably didn’t notice it when you walked in, because they were added in such a clever way that keeps the classy, symmetrical impression. Both sides of the front are a mirror image of each other with the entrance as the center point.” In my justified outrage, I almost missed the little quirk Cole was making with his upper lip. Oh shit.
“You’re messing with me,” I grumbled and then immediately was horrified. Mr. Slater would have a fit if he’d heard me make that comment, but when Cole rewarded my statement with a warm laugh, relief swamped me, and I couldn’t help but smile back.
“Aw, I wouldn’t dare.” My stomach made this little swoop at the drawn-out vowels of a Southern drawl. “I’m impressed. You know a lot about this place.”
“Yes, sorry, I got carried away. I’m—I’m glad you like your room.” It made me realize that I still didn’t know why he was here. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“I just saw the bar down here and I was wondering if I can still buy some beer tonight.”
“The register is shut down, but I can sell you a bottle or two. I’ll book it to your room.” I wasn’t really supposed to give out alcohol after eleven, but Mr. Slater never said anything when I did. I rattled down the selections. Cole, as I’d started to call him in my head, picked Samuel Adams.
While I pulled the bottles out of the fridge, I asked what I usually ask guests when I meet them for the first time. “Are you here for business?”
Cole pushed his hair back out of his face again. He hesitated as if it was a difficult question he had to think about. “No, my partner is at the hospital up the street.”
That stopped me dead in my tracks. “I’m sorry to hear that. I hope…he is okay.” Cole didn’t notice my slight hesitation, which only confirmed I had gotten it right.
“No, not really.” He looked even more tired than before.
I was a little lost for words, but when I handed over the bottles, I said, “I’m sorry. I hope he gets better soon.” After a quick good night, Cole walked back to the elevator. I stared at his backside again and immediately demolished myself. Gay, but taken with a loved one in the hospital. Banning Cole Sawyer from my mind, I went back to my books.