Saturday, December 11, 2010

Festive Frenzy: The Night Porter by Sue Brown

The Night Porter
by Sue Brown
Bittersweet Endings at Dreamspinner

Blurb: The first time Max lays eyes on Robert Armitage, he knows exactly what he wants to happen. Tall, broad, and gorgeous, Robert pushes all his buttons. When Robert asks Max to show him around town, the attraction between them only intensifies. But Max is just a night porter and Robert a guest at his hotel before his wedding, and Max knows even as they sleep together that in the morning he'll have to send the groom on his way.


The early hours of Wednesday morning

HE’D seen many of them walk through the door of the hotel, travel weary, their eyes tight and shoulders hunched. Some of them looked relieved to have arrived, some positively excited, and a few looked as if this were the last place they wanted to be. For most of these guests, it was just a cheaper place to stay before the main event.

This man, though, this man Max couldn’t place. For a start, he’d not seen one who was so tall and—he struggled to think of an alternative word and gave up—Texan. Definitely Texan. He concealed a grin at the cowboy hat partially obscuring the face of the new guest. He’d seen a few Stetsons come through that plate-glass door, but very few carried it off like this dude, tired and bone-weary as he looked on. Yeah, Max was Texas born and bred, not that he ever let it slip, especially not to the Curly the Ranch Hand clich├ęs he had to be polite to. Texan he might be, but stupid he wasn’t.

Which led him to the tall drink of water looking around for someone to help him. And that someone would be Max. At this time of night, he was the only one on duty. In most hotels they would call him the concierge, but in this tiny, backwater London hotel he preferred to call himself the night porter. He stepped forward out of his cubbyhole.

“May I help you, sir?” he asked politely.

The stranger’s eyes appraised him, and even in the dim evening lighting Max could see the slight tilt of his gaze, giving him a strangely fox-like quality. A weary smile spread across his face, showing the dimples. Max unconsciously licked his lips. The new guest was young, maybe a little younger than Max’s own twenty-seven, tall, broad, and frankly gorgeous—just Max’s type.

“My name’s Armitage. Robert Armitage, A-R-M-I-T-A-G-E,” he recited in a tone obviously borne of many a frustrated attempt on his name. “I have a reservation until Saturday.” He had a warm Southern drawl to go with the hat.

Max checked the computer screen in front of him. “Certainly, Mr. Armitage. We have a double room waiting for you. Room 304.” He processed the new guest’s details swiftly, not wanting to keep him from his bed any longer than necessary. “What time will you be wanting breakfast in the morning?”

The man grimaced. “I think I might just skip breakfast and head on right into lunch.”

“If you call down in the morning, we can provide room service when you’re ready,” Max said as he handed Robert a room key. The hotel was old-fashioned enough to provide solid keys for each room. Some guests thought it was out of date, but Max appreciated the quaintness of this hotel. It gave it a personality that was lost in many of the big hotel chains.

He came around the desk and gestured to his luggage. The man obviously traveled light. There was one small case at his feet and a suit bag over his arm.

“Would you like me to take your case?”

Armitage looked amused. “I think I can manage,” he said and picked it up.

Max was hard put not to stare. Robert Armitage was huge, towering over him by several inches. At nearly six foot, Max wasn’t exactly short, but this guy made him look like he was auditioning for one of the seven dwarfs. Which one would he be, Max wondered? Probably Grumpy tonight, he thought, and then realized the man was waiting expectantly, case in hand, for him to lead the way.

Muttering a brief apology for keeping him waiting, Max led the way to the elevator and jabbed at the up button. It opened immediately, getting little use at one thirty in the morning beyond the odd inebriated guest.

The elevator—lift, he reminded himself, still caught out by the differing terminology in London—took them swiftly up to the third floor, the journey punctuated by barely suppressed yawns from the new guest. Max stopped outside room 304 and opened it, leaning inside to turn on the light and then standing back to let him go in. It was a pleasant room, large and with a view over the quiet street of the hotel. Not that Armitage seemed much interested in his surroundings. He looked ready to fall face first onto the bed.

“Can I get you anything from room service, Mr. Armitage? Would you like anything to eat or a nightcap?” It was a standard offer. He could put a light snack together if necessary. Most people declined, anxious to fall asleep. This man was no exception.

“No thank you.” He patted himself down, and Max assumed he was looking for his wallet.

“Goodnight, sir.” Max backed out swiftly and left him to sleep, not waiting for him to find a tip.

He thought about the new guest as he rode the elevator to the foyer. Max was human; he looked, especially if they were as pretty on the eyes as this one. The guest was muscular as well as tall, if the way his lightweight summer jacket stretched across his back was anything to go by. Robert Armitage had a pleasant manner, exhausted or no. Some clients were terse to the point of rudeness, but this one, he was all Southern politeness and “yessirs.”

Max wasn’t entirely surprised to see his new guest emerge from the elevator an hour and a half later, a frustrated look on his face. He was wearing a T-shirt and baggy sweatpants, and he looked a little tousled, as if he’d just got out of bed. Sometimes a body’s weary but so wound up it just can’t relax enough to sleep. He searched around the foyer for Max, looking relieved when he found him.

“Is it too late to ask for that nightcap?” he asked.

“Certainly, sir. What would you prefer?”

“Jack, straight up.”

Max came back with the drink. “Would you like me to bring this up to your room, sir?”

Mr. Armitage hesitated, hand outstretched for the glass. He bit his lip, and Max waited. “Is there somewhere I could sit down here? I’m just not ready to sleep. Jet lag’s a bitch.”

The foyer had comfortable sofas and chairs, but this man looked a little lost and a lot like home, and Max was always a sucker for a taste of home.

“If you don’t mind the squeeze, I’ve got football on in the back,” He motioned toward the glorified office barely visible behind the desk. In reality, it was a closet with a tiny sofa and a small TV. The real work took place away from the foyer. Max used the cubbyhole at night, so he was readily available for any guest who needed him.

The guy’s eyes lit up. “You have?”

“It’s the one time of day I can get anything other than endless soccer,” Max said, leading the way. It was strictly against hotel policy, but no one was around, and it would be nice to have some company, especially someone so easy on the eyes.

“Is it last week’s game? That was a doozy. And call me Robert. I keep thinking you’re talking to my dad,” Armitage said enthusiastically, his excitement momentarily dispelling the lines of weariness.

Max nodded. Being informal at this quiet time of night would be fine; he’d just have to remember to address him properly later when others were around. “Certainly, sir—Robert. I’m Max. It’s an old game, but it’s kinda nice to be watching something from home.”

“Max, is there any chance of another shot?” Robert waggled his glass at him.

He settled his unexpected guest on the small sofa and went and got the bottle. He unpaused the game and poured out another shot.

Robert took the glass and paused. “Will you join me?”

Shaking his head, Max pointed to the burgundy button-down and black pants that made up his uniform. “Can’t. I’m on duty. I’ll stick with the coffee.”

“Maybe another time, then.”

Max nodded noncommittally, and they watched the game for a while, their bodies almost touching in the confined space. Both of them had seen it before, and spent much of the time analyzing the moves and criticizing the ref for some stupid decisions. As the game progressed, Max could feel the tension leaving Robert’s body. Once or twice Max got up to deal with another guest or a telephone inquiry. The last time Robert was dozing and didn’t stir as Max moved.

When Max returned, he looked at the small clock on the wall. It was four thirty. The morning staff would be making an appearance soon. He shook Robert’s arm. “Robert, time to make a move.”

Robert snorted and snuffled a little. “Wahh?” He tried to bury himself back down into the sofa.

“You need to go back to your room.”

“Yah, Mommy, soon.” Robert said drowsily, not moving a muscle.

Max tried hard to suppress his grin as he shook Robert a little harder. He could see how hard it was for Robert to force his eyes open. “Come on. You really need your bed, and I need a bit of cooperation from your body. You’re too big for me to carry you, dude.” He cursed himself for the informality, knowing that his Texan accent was slipping in response to Robert’s easy Southern drawl.

Grumbling under his breath Robert heaved himself to his feet, swaying alarmingly as he got his balance. “Guess the jetlag caught up with me,” he slurred.

“You’ll feel like shit tomorrow,” predicted Max as he guided him to the elevator.

“Gonna go clubbing tomorrow with Jason ’n’ Dave. Last nights as a free man. Doesn’t matter what ’m feel like, be worse then.”

“Yup, you probably will,” agreed Max as he guided/pushed/shoved Robert to his door. He opened the door for Robert and pushed him through, figuring that was really the extent of his assistance. “Night, Robert. Sleep well.”

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