Rob Cunningham finished his to-do list and sat back, studying it. The original plan for the Brody Hotel had indicated a six-month deadline for the whole thing, but the client, Andrew Brody, had requested a change to that plan—opening up the main part of the building as soon as possible, and then moving forward with the rest of the build. It could be done—it just meant some creative rearranging.
In the middle of all that, he’d been surprised by a shift in his career. He hadn’t planned on going into business with a partner, but when Griffin Baker approached him, it made sense on so many levels, he knew he’d be an idiot not to go for it. Griffin was a talented architect who was looking to add a construction branch to his company. Rob enjoyed construction, but wanted more of a challenge, more complex and creative projects. Together, they’d be able to build some amazing buildings and set their mark on the industry.
Not only had the offer come out of the blue, but Rob had been startled at how quickly Griffin arranged for the paperwork to be generated. It had only been a couple of weeks since they’d made the decision, and they were already well on their way to being fully incorporated. It was a good thing that Rob didn’t like letting the grass grow under his feet either. The Brody Hotel project was obviously their top priority, and it would look very nice on their resume. After that . . . well, they both had big dreams and a lot of drive. Who knew what would happen next.
Rob finished touching up the paint on the office wall and stepped back, surveying his work. Andrew Brody stood next to him, arms folded across his chest.
“Looks good,” Andrew said with a nod. “I still can’t figure out why anyone would want to plaster over that old wall safe, but it looks great now.”
It had taken a little effort to chisel the layers of plaster away from the safe and to shore up the wall on all sides so the aging beams wouldn’t crumble under the weight of the cast iron, but now everything was as it should be, and the safe was now accessible and functional again. “Maybe whoever did it was hoping to keep the contents of the safe a secret,” Rob suggested. It was the only thing he could think of. If he had a wall safe and didn’t want it anymore, he’d have it removed—he wouldn’t cover it up like that.
“There wasn’t a lot in there, but you could be right—I’ll give each thing another look and see if there’s something that would merit being hidden away like that. It’s definitely an interesting mystery.”
“You’ve had your share of those since you started this project,” Rob commented as he gathered up his painting supplies.
“I have to say, I’m enjoying it a lot,” Andrew replied. “I thought I was just renovating a hotel, but every time one of these little things pops up, I feel more and more . . . I don’t know. Intrigued? Obsessed?”
“Obsessed is a good word,” Marissa said from the doorway. “I’ve hardly seen you away from the hotel all week.”
“I’m sorry about that.” Andrew crossed the floor and gave her a quick kiss. “Florence is starting interviews this week, and we’ve spent a lot of time deciding how many people we need to hire and on what schedule. How about dinner tonight?”
“Perfect. And no hotel talk, okay? For at least thirty minutes?”
He chuckled. “I promise. And I could probably stretch that to forty-five minutes, but I’m afraid that’s the best I can do.”
“I appreciate the effort.” She looked over his shoulder. “Oh, hey, Rob. How are you?”
“I’m good. You?”
“A lot better now that my boyfriend is taking me to dinner. Jimmy was looking for you when I came in.”
“He was? Okay, I’ll go find him.” Rob carried his supplies out of the office and took them to his truck, then walked around the side of the hotel, looking for Jimmy. The most recent Brody Hotel hire, Jimmy was a young man with Down syndrome who had worked at Andrew’s house, but had been brought over to the hotel to manage the landscaping here as well. He had an understanding of horticulture that blew Rob’s mind, and after their first conversation, he’d understood totally why Andrew had hired him.
He found Jimmy standing in front of the old stables, clutching a binder to his chest.
“Hey, Jimmy,” he said as he walked up. “Marissa said you were looking for me.”
“Yeah. Are we getting new horses?”
“In a while. We’re going to fix up the stables so they’re safe first.”
“That’s a good idea.” Jimmy turned and handed Rob the binder he’d been holding. Rob recognized it as the same sort of binder Marissa and Tabs used to present their interior design ideas.
As though Jimmy could read Rob’s mind, he said, “Tabs gave this to me. She says I deserve to look . . . professional.” He said the last word carefully, succinctly.
“I agree. You do deserve to look professional.” Rob opened the binder to the first page and saw a collage of pictures cut from magazines. “What do we have here?”
Jimmy pointed as he spoke. “These flowers are going right up there, next to the building,” he said. “And those flowers will go in front.”
Rob nodded. “That’s going to look nice. How can I help?”
Jimmy turned the page and showed a picture of a concrete curb that had been laid to edge the flower beds. “Can you do that?”
“Sure. We do concrete all the time.”
“Okay. Because the dirt will wash away if we don’t hold it in. It’s a . . .” He paused again. “A retaining wall.”
“That’s a great idea. Do you want it just like this picture?”
Jimmy nodded. “Yes. All the way around. I’ll show you.”
He led Rob across the yard toward the hotel and indicated where he wanted the curb to stop and start. Rob nodded, clearly seeing the need. The slope of the ground was such that a wall was needed to hold in the moisture—otherwise, the plants would die before they could even grow properly.
“I like your thinking, Jimmy. When will the plants be coming?”
“A week from Thursday.” He held up both hands. “Ten days.”
That would be enough time for the concrete to cure. “Okay. I’ll have Danny get started on this tomorrow morning.”
Jimmy nodded, a grin on his face. “Thank you, Mr. Rob.”
Rob clapped Jimmy on the shoulder. “You’re welcome.” It would cut into some of the other tasks they were doing, but he could bring in another guy to help out if needed. The main building of the hotel had to be perfect within the next couple of weeks, and that included the landscaping. They were all feeling the crunch. Thankfully, the addition on the back of the hotel wasn’t scheduled to open quite yet, giving them a tiny bit more breathing room, although not a ton.
Rob told Jimmy goodbye, promised him again that Danny would get right to work on it, then rounded the edge of the hotel to head back out to his truck. He needed to get to the lumber supplier to approve some samples, and he only had twenty minutes before they’d be placing the order.
In his hurry, he nearly plowed down a young woman who was walking up the pavement from the parking lot to the hotel.
“I’m so sorry,” he said, taking a step back. “I wasn’t watching where I was going.”
“Neither was I,” she admitted, holding up her phone. “Is this the right place? I was just Googling—the Brody Hotel?”
“That’s right. It’s not open for guests yet, though.”
“I’m not here as a guest—I’m here for a job interview.”
“Oh.” Rob lifted an eyebrow. “I thought Florence was starting the interviews tomorrow.”
The young woman pushed a few buttons on her phone, then rolled her eyes. “Are you kidding me? It’s Tuesday?”
“Yup. All day.”
She either didn’t notice his joke or didn’t appreciate it. “I can’t believe this. I’ve been a day off all week so far. Okay, I’ll come back tomorrow.” She shook her head. “I’ve just got to calm down or something. Trying to do too much.”
Rob could almost hear a clock ticking in the back of his mind, telling him to hurry, but he couldn’t just walk away. There was something about this girl—her aura or something, if he was going to get hippy drippy about it—that spoke to him. He wanted to know more about her. “Are you all right? You seem a little frazzled.”
“Yeah, I am. Frazzled, I mean. But I guess I’m also all right. In a way.” She leaned against the hood of the car he supposed belonged to her. It was an old Hyundai Sonata, probably held together on the inside with duct tape and a prayer. “Have you ever had your entire life just change overnight, no warning?”
“I’ve had surprising things happen, but not my entire life.” He held out a hand. “I’m Rob Cunningham. I’m the head of construction here.”
“Sorry. I’m Maggie Childers. I should have said that from the start. I’m applying for the head of housekeeping job. But that’s not until tomorrow, apparently.”
Rob smiled. “Listen, I know this is kind of weird, but can I take you to lunch? I need to hit the lumber warehouse for a second first, but then we could grab a burger or some pasta.”
She studied him for a second, but seemed to make up her mind fairly quickly. “Yeah, that sounds good. I’d like that.”
“Great. Can I meet you at the diner in about twenty minutes? You go down this street, turn left at the stop sign, another right on the next road—”
She held up a hand. “I’m already lost. Why don’t I just run your errand with you? That way, I won’t be wandering all over this place trying to follow your completely confusing directions, and we’ll both get to eat faster.”
“My directions weren’t completely confusing,” Rob protested.
“Oh, trust me. If you’d been the one receiving them, you’d think they were completely confusing.” She grinned, and he couldn’t even pretend to be annoyed. That was the cutest grin he’d seen in a long time. “I should tell you, though, that if you’re planning to murder me and throw me in a culvert, I have pepper spray in my purse.”
“That’s good to know,” he replied. “A definite deterrent.”
“I should hope so. Otherwise, the label lies.”
Rob held out his arm and motioned for her to walk toward his truck. He was glad he’d taken the time to clean it out the day before—the front seat was usually covered with hamburger wrappers and Coke cans, but now it actually looked pretty decent. It was still a work truck and he wished he was driving his smaller, nicer car, but at least Maggie wouldn’t be fighting clutter to find a place to sit.
He closed the door behind her and walked around to his side, asking himself what he was doing. He’d been in a serious relationship for a while which had ended not long before, and he hadn’t thought he was ready to start meeting new people yet. Something about Maggie was changing his mind, though, and he was more than curious to see what that might be.
Maggie tried to hide a grin as she climbed into Rob’s truck. It was one of those oversized monster things with giant wheels, and she’d almost had to get a running start to make it up to the bench seat. The size of it wasn’t for show, though—this was definitely a work truck, and she could tell that it got put through its paces every single day.
As Rob walked around to climb into the driver’s side, she glanced around. Not as messy as she would have expected, but a faint smell of hamburgers and fries lingered in the air. He must eat on the run quite a bit. She wouldn’t have guessed it to look at him, though—he seemed pretty fit. Okay, really fit. Okay … if she was going to be absolutely honest with herself, the guy was ripped. And amazingly good-looking. But she wasn’t going to go there. She didn’t have time for flirting or whatever this might turn into if she was lucky. She needed to get a job, find a place to live, and figure out what the next phase of her life was going to be. Rob would buy her lunch, that would save her a couple of dollars, and that would be that.
“I didn’t even ask if you like hamburgers,” he said as he buckled his seat belt. “We can go somewhere else, if you’d rather.”
“I love hamburgers. Actually, I’m more of a bacon cheeseburger girl.”
He chuckled. “Then you’ll love the diner. It’s definitely not upscale, but you can’t beat the food.”
She watched him as he backed the truck out of the parking lot and pulled it onto the road. He moved with quiet confidence, and she liked that. Here was a guy who seemed to know who he was. She was still trying to figure that out for herself—maybe she could learn a thing or two from him.
“So, tell me about the hotel,” she said as they headed down the street. “I tried to do a little research online, but there wasn’t a lot there.”
“Well, it was first established back in 1875. It had been some rich guy’s mansion before that, but then it was bought by a man named Adam Brody, and he turned it into a hotel that served the railroad passengers that came through Topeka. They served fast meals to the train passengers so they could eat before getting back on their way. Adam passed it to his son, who passed it to his son, and over time, it fell apart a bit and wasn’t used as a hotel for a while. Now it belongs to Andrew Brody, and he’s bringing it back to its former glory days.”
Maggie nodded. That was a pretty cool history. “The ad said that the housekeeping staff would be in charge of a large number of rooms, but the hotel doesn’t look that big to me.”
“The main building of the hotel has ten rooms currently, but we’re building a wing onto the back that will be six stories tall and have a ballroom, conference rooms, and many more guest rooms. You’d be starting out with just those first ten.”
“And you’re building all that?”
“My guys and I, yeah. We’ll be pretty busy for a while.”
“And what are we doing right now? You said something about lumber.”
Rob slowed the truck and made a right-hand turn. “The supplier wants me to come approve the product he’s ordering for me. I’m getting quite a lot, and if it’s not right, returning it would be a nightmare.”
“Oh? What is it?”
“Two by fours.”
Maggie raised an eyebrow. “Two by fours? Like, pieces of wood? What’s hard about that?”
Rob smiled, but it wasn’t condescending, even though he probably thought she was a dork for asking. “I’m just very particular. Two by fours are pretty much the same to anyone else, but not to me.”
“So, you’re like . . . some kind of wood expert or something?”
“No, just particular.”
They pulled up in front of a building that looked like a giant warehouse, and Rob helped her step down onto the ground. She was more than happy to take the hand he offered—the truck was so high up, she’d likely break her ankle or something getting down from that height. Then they walked into the building and found a tall, thin man wearing a hard hat.
“Just in time,” he said, shaking Rob’s hand. “I was about to phone in this order. Won’t be here on time otherwise.”
“Yeah, I’ve been running a little late today. I decided to go with the second option.”
“The second one, huh?” The man shook his head. “They look pretty much the same to me.”
“Well, you know how I am.” Rob took the clipboard the man offered and signed a form that was secured on top. “Let me know when you expect this to arrive, okay? I’ll need to have all my guys on hand to offload it.”
“Will do.” The man nodded at Maggie and headed off to the other side of the building, where she could make out a cubicle that looked like an office.
“That’s all I needed to do. Let’s go eat,” Rob said, motioning the way they’d come.
“That’s all? Didn’t take long.”
“Nope—I already checked everything out yesterday and just needed to sign off on it today. I do have a question for you, though.”
She glanced at him. Wow—his eyes were gorgeous. Like puddles of melted chocolate. “Yeah?”
“Fries or onion rings?”
“All depends on the rings. Are we talking, circular-shaped onion paste, or real-live sliced onion?”
“Real live. Best batter around, too.”
“In that case, I’ll give them a try.” She grasped onto the doorframe of the truck and hoisted herself up. It was harder the second time, and Rob chuckled.
“I’m sorry about that. I haul some pretty massive amounts of stuff in this thing, and it’s not easy to get into. I do have a smaller car—we can use it next time.”
“Next time?” She waited until he was seated to continue. “Is there going to be a next time? Shouldn’t we see how this time goes first?”
“For starters, you’re a bacon cheeseburger eater. Second, you know what makes a good onion ring. Third, I like your smile. I’m pretty sure there’ll be a next time.”
She looked at him, noticing the dimple in his left cheek. “Yeah, I think there will be too,” she said at last, deciding that maybe getting to know this guy a little bit wouldn’t be the end of the world. She could work hard and still have a good time, couldn’t she? And shutting herself off to all possibilities seemed a little foolish. Either that, or she was being foolish in giving in. But the dimple. How could she say no to the dimple?