“Bienvenue! Welcome to the Gilded Lily.” Josephine Jacobson, J.J., said automatically as she heard a customer approach the front desk.
Merci! J.J thought as she looked up from the elegant front desk of the New Orleans hotel and fell head over hormones into lust.
“Checking in.” said the object of her affliction, “Name’s Rhett. Rhett Butler.”
“Rhett Butler?” J.J. asked, raising an eyebrow. She blew a lock of hair out of her face and hit some keys on the computer keyboard. J.J. looked up at him. Again, she was hit with a white-hot wave of lust that she felt all the way to the tips of her fangs. Her tongue trailed along the tips, willing them not to show themselves.
His head was shaved underneath a black ball cap. Black tribal tattoos wrapped around arms the size of Amazonian anacondas. He wore a simple black t-shirt and fashionably tattered blue jeans. His eyes were deep brown as was his five o’clock shadow. He was just her type, masculine and ragged around the edges. And somehow very familiar.
“What can I say, my dad was a Gone With the Wind fan.” he replied.
“Is that right?”
“Yes ma’am.” He said leaning in over the desk, closer to J.J. “You look like a woman that should be kissed. And often….” His smoky voice trailing off.
“And by someone who knows how.” J.J. finished for him breathlessly. She took a deep breath and stepped back. “You are in the Red Light Suite, Mr. Butler. Are you here for the Voodoo Music Festival?”
“Yes, I am.”
Her eyes met his and the air between them sizzled. The flame seemed to burn the oxygen out of the air, leaving her feeling light-headed and half giddy. She sucked in a breath, catching a whiff of his woodsy cologne. She closed her eyes as the floor seemed to shift.
She exhaled a breath and choked out, “This key unlocks both your room and the gate to your private courtyard. Enjoy the festival and your stay with us. If you need anything,” J.J’s voice broke on the word anything. “Don’t be afraid to call the front desk.”
J.J. held the key out, and Rhett’s fingers brushed hers as he grabbed it. His fingers moved slowly and deliberately over hers as he took it.
Anaconda Arms, aka Rhett Butler, pocketed the key. “If I need any….thing,” he winked at her. “You’ll be the first one I call, Miss?”
“Jacobson,” she replied, “J.J.”
“J.J.” he said, then nodded toward the brass plated sign over her shoulder, “Complimentary Happy Hour?” he asked.
“Yes. At eight.”
“That’s a little late for happy hour isn’t it?”
“Well, Mr. Butler, all the fun in New Orleans starts after dark.”
“Will you be there?” he asked.
“Maybe.” she said smiling. Damn right she would be, she thought, it had been too long.
A smile flashed across his face, “Maybe I’ll come down then.”
J.J. watched as he disappeared into the elevator. Something about him seemed familiar. Who was he? He was not Rhett Butler, and he wouldn’t be the first person to
check in under a fake name.
“J.J.” someone was calling her name.
“What?” she snapped. She shook her head and looked to see who it was. It was Zoey and J.J. instantly felt bad. The twenty-something bartender, was smiling at her from the adjoining door of the hotel’s lounge.
“I’m sorry, Zoey.” J.J. said “What is it?”
“He was hot, huh?” Zoey teased, flashing a pierced eyebrow in the direction of the elevator.
J.J. frowned at her and started needlessly straightening the top of the Queen Anne desk. “Isn’t it time for your shift? What did you do to your hair?” J.J. asked Zoey, gesturing to the streak of burgundy in her dark hair.
“I dyed it this morning. Do you think Dean will notice?” she asked.
J.J. smiled, “If he doesn’t, he’s blind.”
“I hope so.”
“It looks good.” J.J. said.
“About tonight, you can handle the delivery from Jagneaux’s. Just leave the invoice by the register. I’ll pick it up after happy hour.”
“No problem. Are you coming down for happy hour tonight?”
J.J. thought of Rhett. She wouldn‘t miss happy hour tonight for the world. “Yes.”
“Good. Tobias has been unusually rowdy lately.”
“He’s probably fussing with Lucy again. You know how they are. I’ll come down and keep my eye on things.”
“Good. He doesn’t listen to me. He almost broke the beer mugs last night.”
“Tobias doesn’t really listen to anyone. But, I’ll come down and check it out.” J.J. said and turned her attention to the couple walking through the door.
“Bienvenue! Welcome to the Gilded Lily.” J.J said.
As the desk clerk returned from her break, J.J. checked the time on the slim gold watch on her wrist. Seven o’clock. She had an hour to go to her room, shower, and change for happy hour. J.J. started mentally rifling through her closet. What would she wear?
J.J. gave the lobby a last look. Every detail from the elaborate crystal chandelier, to the tapestry wall hangings, to the tall white and blue flower arrangements had been chosen by her. Two centuries ago, it had been a bordello, she Madam Josephine. Later, she opened it as a hotel.
Satisfied that everything was as it should be, J.J. smiled and headed to her suite.
After her shower, J.J. donned a soft, white, robe and stepped out of the bathroom. Her blonde hair was wet and floating around her shoulders. She thought again of Rhett, or
whatever his name was.
“What do you think we should wear tonight?” she asked as she stared into her closet.
Silently, a slinky black little number slid off a hanger and onto the floor.
She picked it up, “No, not this, not yet. It’s just happy hour.” She said. “Something else.”
A tight black shirt covered in silvery sequins was next to fall to the floor. J.J. sighed and put it back on the hanger.
“Lucy, seriously.” She said. “Something less dramatic.”
A red sweater was next to fall. It was one of her favorites. It hugged her curves and showed a slight tease of cleavage. “This is perfect. Thanks, Lucy.”
She smiled as she laid the sweater and a pair of slim black slacks on her bed and crossed back into the bathroom. With the sliding glass doors open to the courtyard, she could hear music. Someone was strumming a guitar in the courtyard. The melody hit J.J. in the stomach. As he began to sing, J.J.’s knees went weak. It was a voice she hadn’t heard in almost a century. J.J's knees went weak.
“No, it can’t be.” she said and inched toward the courtyard balcony.
She now knew who Rhett really was.
Rhett, aka Archer Grayson, surveyed the lounge as he walked in looking for J.J. The hotel’s small lounge was decorated much like the rest of the hotel. It was simple, classic, and elegant.
Along the dark wooden bar, there were already seats taken. There was a couple seated near the end, who must be involved in a spat. They sat staring at their whiskey glasses, silent. A mug of beer sat in front of an unoccupied seat. A small group of people were beginning to gather in a corner of the bar.
Archer decided on a seat that was on the far side of the bar. A little darker, more quiet, and where he could watch the door. And one that had an empty seat next to it.
“What can I get for you?” the bartender asked.
“Gentleman Jack and water is fine.” he said.
He settled into his bar stool to do one of his favorite things. People watching. Most of the time the inspiration from his songs came from just sitting and watching. You never knew when an expression, or the whisper of a conversation would lead to an idea, and that idea would lead to a lyric, then to a melody.
Suddenly, the volume of soft music that had been unobtrusively drifting through the bar went up, startling the people in the bar.
The bartender grimaced and grabbed the remote. “Sorry about that, guys. Must have been a power surge or something.” She glared at the empty seat with the beer mug in front of it. As she glared, the music went up again. And again, the bartender turned the music down.
Archer sipped his drink. He had this one night off. Tomorrow night would be sound checks and set lists, and Saturday night he would perform. In between, he would be scouting the area for undiscovered talent for the record company he was starting.
He took another sip, pausing the glass at his lips as J.J. walked in. Gorgeous before, she was a knock-out in a simple red sweater and black slacks. Her blue eyes scanned the bar. Their eyes met and Archer gulped. The unintentional action had a fire burn down his throat. A fire that matched the one he saw in her eyes.
Her eyes narrowed as her red lips curved into a smile. She gave him a nod, acknowledging him before she stepped behind the bar. The bartender spoke to her in a low tone, gesturing toward the speakers and the empty seat with the still full mug of beer.
“Zoey?” J.J. said, smiling and glancing up at the ceiling and saying a little loud. “I’m thinking of switching from Abita to Heineken.”
Instantly, the volume on the music went silent. J.J. grinned and handed the bartender the remote. “That should do it.”
The bartender glanced at Archer and turned her back to him. She said something to J.J. J.J.’s eyes connected with his again.
She said something to the bartender and the bartender turned and looked at him and smiled. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that they were talking about him. Archer watched as J.J. checked on the still unattended mug of beer. He watched as she poured the full mug out and refilled it.
She smiled at the bartender and said something Archer didn’t hear. The bartender nodded and J.J. looked at Archer. She smiled and raised an eyebrow. She quickly fixed herself a drink, and made her way from behind the bar to the empty stool beside his. Her perfume wafted up, and his stomach dropped. It was a light, clean, citrusy, scent. Nothing flowery or overbearing for her. He also liked the fact that she drank her whiskey neat. This was no fussy, high-maintenance woman.
“Hi again.” she said as she sat down.
“Hi there.” he nodded toward the bar, “Got the bugs in your system worked out?”
She smiled, “I guess you could say that. These old buildings can be quite…cranky sometimes.”
“I’m sure they can be.” he agreed.
“So, you’re here for the Voodoo Festival?” J.J. asked.
“Yes, I am.” The Voodoo Music Experience was a major music festival held in New Orleans every year around Halloween.
“I haven’t been in years.” J.J. said. “Not since I was a teenager.”
“It’s been awhile for me as well.” Archer said. He had performed there with his band several years ago, just when they were breaking out. This year, they would be one of the headliners. Seemed like he was coming full circle. He just wished he didn’t feel so jaded about the whole thing now.
“I keep saying I’m going to go, but that’s always a busy weekend for us here so I usually miss it.”
“That’s too bad.” Archer said. “Maybe this year.”
“Maybe so.” J.J. said. “You never know. I have a great staff, so maybe I can sneak away for a little while, at least.”
“What did you do?” J.J. and Archer’s attention was drawn to the couple at the bar that Archer had seen earlier. The woman was standing next to the guy, with a drink dripping down the middle of her shirt, down her jeans, and onto the floor.
“I didn’t do anything!” the guy yelled back. He was awkwardly wiping at the mess with bar napkins.
“You poured your drink on me!”
“I did not!”
“Are you calling me a liar?”
J.J. touched his arm, “I’ll be right back.”
J.J. approached the woman. She spoke to the woman quietly, and soon had the woman calmed down. She walked with her to the elevators, then returned to say a few words to the gentleman. Soon, she was back beside Archer, and he was again on fire.
He sipped his drink, hoping it would put out the flame. He was wrong.
“So, Mr. Butler. What is it you do when you aren’t traveling around to music festivals?”
“Pharmaceutical sales.” he told her, smiling. She looked him up and down.
“Yeah, right.” she said and he laughed.
“I’m in the music business. I’m scouting out new talent for a record label.” he told her. If she hadn’t figured out who he really was yet, he wasn’t going to tell her. Not yet. He wanted to sit here and enjoy a drink with a beautiful woman, without the hundred questions he’d heard thousands of times. Besides, he’d never been one to flaunt his fame anyway.
“How are you enjoying your stay so far?” J.J. asked.
It was his turn to look her up and down, “It’s looking up.” he said.
Her blue eyes turned the color of a darkening sky. And Archer had to look away. What he wanted to do at that moment was not at all socially appropriate. And considering the fact that she obviously ran the hotel, she probably wouldn’t appreciate being mauled in the lounge by a customer.
“How would you like the grand tour of the place?” J.J. asked. “It’s got quite a story.”
“I think I would like that. Lead on.” he said, and finished off his drink.
J.J. stood up on unsteady feet. This guy definitely had her off balance. She almost wished she hadn’t gone with the sexy heels. The thin spiky heel on them did nothing to keep her stable.
She watched as Archer Grayson stood up. So, he wanted to play at being Rhett still? She’d go along with it. For now. Archer Grayson, lead singer of Epiphany, was in her hotel. He was in her presence. Archer Grayson wanted her. It was the stuff dreams and Penthouse letters were made of.
J.J. was glad he was walking behind her so he didn’t see her blush. He followed her through the lounge doors and out into the lobby.
J.J. led him through the halls of the hotel, telling him the stories of the hotel. Soon, they were in front of his suite.
“And, Mr. Butler. This is your suite, The Red Light Room. This is where Lucy lived, the former lady of the night.”
“Is that right,” Archer asked.
“Yes, it is.”
“Bet if the walls could talk, they could tell some stories.” he said.
“I bet they could.” J.J responded.
Archer slowly closed the distance between them. J.J.’s breath caught in her throat. Slowly, he inched forward, gently pushing her until her back was against the hotel room door. He rested his palms on the door behind her, closing her in. He lowered his head and kissed her. He lips were firm against hers. As his lips touched hers, the fire that had been kindling all night long ignited into a slow burn.
His lips moved slowly, and she could taste the lingering whiskey on his lips. It left her feeling dizzy and intoxicated.
With one last slow kiss, he raised his head. His brown eyes were dark, smoky, and heavy lidded. His lips were curved into a slight smile.
“Nice.” he said.
J.J.’s brain was too scrambled to form words or even syllables. She simply nodded.
“Happy Hour tomorrow night?” he asked.
He ran a finger down her arm, and she shivered. He pulled his room key out of his back pocket and reached to open the door.
“I’m going to make you one very happy woman.”