Home > Mr. Notting Hill (Mister #6)

Mr. Notting Hill (Mister #6)
Author: Louise Bay

 

One

 

 

Parker


Only two things in life were better than chocolate-covered raisins: Dressing up in high heels to go with your beautiful—but rented—pillar-box red evening gown, and raising money for a charity that helped sick children and their families. Combining all three was pure bliss. As I shook more chocolate-covered raisins into my palm and surveyed the cavernous ballroom before me, I allowed myself to bask in exactly three seconds of bone-deep contentment. After all, I needed to go through the auction lots one more time to make sure everything was in order. Then I’d check on the kitchen, and finally, when everything was ready, I’d change.

One of the large ballroom doors creaked as it opened and my best friend, Sutton, who I’d roped into helping, slid inside. “It’s huge in here.”

“More people means more money.”

“This is the auction table?” she asked. I’d put her in charge of showing off the lots as guests arrived and encouraging people to bid.

“Yes. If the items are really expensive or they can’t be put on the table because it’s a holiday or something, there’s a picture. But full details are in the auction catalogue. There’s one on every seat and a back-up pile under that table.” I pointed to a side table draped in a floor-length cloth and topped with a slightly over-the-top floral arrangement. When I’d been put in charge of the gala, I’d tried to think of everything, including where to hide necessary administrative materials. For an event this critical to our success, the details mattered.

“I’ll put some out here so people can grab them.” She pulled out a handful and put them on the corner.

I was aiming to raise fifty thousand from the auction tonight, plus another fifty from ticket sales. My stomach churned at the thought of how much was on the line. The blissful contentment I’d basked in just a minute ago was shunted aside to make room for a pit of dread in my stomach.

“How did I let you talk me into this?” I asked Sutton, regretting the fact that I was going to be one of the auction lots—up on stage like a spa gift basket.

“I was being entirely practical. You’re beautiful. Every man at this charity will want to bid on you and take you to dinner. That means more money for the kids.”

I took a breath. She was wrong and she was right. I had no doubt people would bid on the chance to take me on a date, but not because of their desire to spend an evening in my company. No, people would bid to please my father. As head of one of the biggest investment banks in the world, my dad had been a titan of the financial world for decades and wielded a kind of power that never really made sense. To me he was just my dad. Sutton was right—we were about raising money tonight and it shouldn’t matter why people bid on the lots. It was just important that they did.

“When are you getting changed?” Sutton asked, glancing at me from head to toe.

“What do you mean? You don’t like my dress?” My hair and makeup were done, but I was wearing my lemon Zara shirt dress. I grinned at her. “There’s no way I’m getting into my dress until the last possible moment. Not until I’ve done everything I need to do. I’m bound to throw something over myself. Speaking of, I’m going to check on the kitchen.” I glanced at the clock. Any minute now people would start to arrive.

“Go,” Sutton said. I was already across the room when she added, “And good luck!”

I took the stairs at the side of the stage and slipped behind the curtain. It was chaos. People carrying stuff from left to right and right to left, someone up a ladder doing something with electrical wires. Another person testing microphones that let out intermittent high-pitched squeals. I stepped back as someone with a radio mike on rushed toward me and then past me as if I wasn’t even there.

I caught the eye of the hotel events coordinator across the room and she gave me a sharp nod and a thumbs-up. It could only mean this pandemonium was all part of her plan. If she’d needed to deliver devastatingly bad news, like the band was stuck in traffic or the chef had walked out, I’d given her the opportunity and she hadn’t taken it. I called that a win. Next stop, the kitchen.

I navigated my way through the hustle and bustle and out to the corridor. As I opened the kitchen door someone screamed, “Get out!” The chef was a little temperamental, to put it mildly, but his food was amazing. I sidled up to the maître d’, Metual. “Is everything going as it should?”

“We’re just out of space. And the desserts are melting because it’s so hot in here. We’re having to move them over to the empty conference room.” Waiters holding metal trays whizzed past me.

“Let me take a tray. I’m going to get changed and it’s on my way.”

“Thank you,” Metual said, handing me a tray.

The desserts looked impossibly delicious. All pastry and cream and hazelnuts. Would anyone notice if one went missing?

He held the door open and I followed the snake of waiters heading toward the conference room.

“Parker,” Paddy, one of my team said, as he approached me from the opposite direction. “Do you want music on as people arrive?”

“Yes, the big band stuff we talked about.”

Paddy thrust his hands into his hair like I’d just asked him to conjure up a marching band of giraffes and scurried off.

The parade of waiters carrying the rest of the trays had disappeared down a corridor that, for all I knew, led deeper into the bowels of the hotel. I decided to take a short cut through the hotel lobby with my tray. I needed to focus or we’d be halfway through dinner before I sat down. I picked up my pace and headed for the conference room.

I didn’t want to greet anyone before I was dressed so I kept my gaze trained on the tray, avoiding eye contact with anyone in the lobby in case they were guests of the gala.

Then slam, I walked into a wall.

The tray tipped up and hit me in the chest, narrowly missing my face—thank goodness. I didn’t have the time that it would take to reapply my makeup and fix my hair.

When the tray fell to the floor, I was left with every dessert I’d been carrying stuck to me as if I was a Christmas tree decorated with choux pastry and cream. “And that is why I don’t get changed until the last minute.”

I glanced up to find it wasn’t a wall I’d walked into but a very tall man. A very tall man who felt like a wall.

“Are you okay?” he asked, peering down at me with sparkly blue eyes that looked full of mischief. “Sorry, I didn’t see you down there.”

Down there? Okay, I was only five foot two, but he was talking like I was Lilliputian.

“It’s fine,” I said, peeling a pastry bun from my boob. It was squashed but it still looked delicious. No one else would eat it now, right? And there was no bad time for a snack. I mean, it might help settle my nerves. I held the dessert to my mouth and took a bite.

“Mmm.” It was heavenly. I swallowed and offered the man in front of me a bite. “You want to taste?”

He chuckled, and I got the urge to smear the crinkled skin at the corner of his mischievous eyes with cream and then lick it off. “As much as I want to say yes, I’m going to pass.”

Made sense that he wouldn’t eat dessert. No one got a body like his eating pastry and cream. It was tall, hard muscle I’d hit.

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