Real food. Not day-old muffins and cheap donuts, but eggs and toast. Molly slid into the line for the hotel’s hot-breakfast buffet and grabbed a couple pieces of fruit and a glass of juice, to top off her meal. The hotel she was staying in next week wouldn’t have anything like this. She was going to enjoy this leg of her business trip for all it was worth.
Shrieks and giggles echoed from the adjoining lobby, bouncing in her head and making her eardrums wince. Maybe she should take her food back up to her room, but this was her favorite way to mentally prep before an all-day meeting at a client site. She scanned the dining room for an empty table. She spotted a free chair and cut straight for it.
The girl who checked her in last night had mentioned something about a convention, but Molly assumed it was some kind of business function. If she’d known she was walking into an anime convention, she would have adjusted her travel schedule. Or purchased a booth in the Dealers’ Room. This was what happened when she let someone else do the research.
Her employer made lingerie based on Japanese cartoons, and she’d been trying to convince them that places like this were a reasonable sales channel. She’d never been to one before—didn’t know anything about the cartoons outside of what work required—but if this was a place packed with fans, it had to be a viable outlet.
She trailed her gaze around the room, as she picked at her food a group of three girls, dressed in cosplays made of less fabric between them than Molly’s T-shirt and yoga pants were made of, brushed by, giggling and draping their arms over each other.
Some of the businessmen nearby scowled into their newspapers, leered, or snarled and pointed as they talked to each other. The stuffy old suits needed to chill. Contagious energy surrounded the costumed girls. An entire lobby filled with people having fun. What a novel idea.
“Is anyone joining you?” A smooth tenor interrupted Molly’s people-watching.
She snapped her attention to the owner of the voice and struggled to keep her expression impassive. Drool worthy. Nice. It was tough to tell while she was sitting, but he was probably at least six inches taller than her five-six. A black T-shirt hugged a narrow waist, defined chest, and solid arms, and it might be illegal in some states for a guy to wear jeans that well. She forced her gaze to his laughing brown eyes and spiky hair. No less distracting.
“No.” The single word scraped through her suddenly dry throat. “Help yourself.”
He dropped into the seat across from her, instead of dragging it to another table to join someone else. She hadn’t expected that. Wait. Was he there with the crowds of people in bright colors or with the businessmen?
“Thanks.” He plopped a plate of eggs and a Styrofoam cup onto the fake-wood surface. “Can’t believe it’s already so packed in here.”
“It’s a little nuts.” She found her voice. No reason to stare. It wasn’t like she didn’t see gorgeous guys in every airport and half the sales presentations she walked into when she traveled. She wiped her fingers on the napkin draped over her knee and extended her hand. “I’m Molly.”
His calloused palm was warm and firm, without gripping too tight. “Brandon. Thanks for the seat.” His touch lingered a moment longer, before he returned to his coffee. “It’s a silly ritual, but I enjoy the people watching. Wait. That makes me sound creepy. There’s an energy about it, you know?”
“It doesn’t sound creepy at all. I get it.” She relaxed, as her surprise at being approached ebbed. The view was still incredible, as was the twitch of the corner of his mouth when he smirked. “I didn’t realize events like this drew such an enthusiastic crowd.”
He raked his gaze over her, lingering long enough to raise her skin temperature. “That answers that.”
“You’re a suit.”
“Guilty as charged. In about forty-five minutes I’ll be stuffed into a room full of buyers, convincing them our product will be their next big hit.” She’d learned a long time ago it was best not to mention she sold sexy underwear if she wanted the conversation to stay neutral. She might not mind it veering off course in this case, though.
He furrowed his brow, and the lilt vanished from his voice. “Sounds like… fun?”
Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to slide in a few details. “It’s not bad. There are worse things than being paid to see the country, and sell panties to strangers.”
He almost choked on his coffee. “Didn’t expect that. Not that I’m complaining. It’s not often an attractive and reasonable woman opens the conversation with underwear.”
She ducked her head, heat rushing under her skin. At least she wasn’t the type to blush visibly. The problem with a line of conversation like that was she didn’t know where to go next. She forced herself to meet his gaze again. “Are you here with them?” She nodded at a group with gravity-defying hair. “What kind of costume do you have?”
“What I’m wearing is as close as it gets for me.”
She didn’t know if she was disappointed or grateful he dropped the other topic so easily. Now seemed like as good a time as any to start her market research. And learn more about her gorgeous breakfast companion in the process. “Do you do it a lot? Go to these things?”
“Probably more often than I should admit if I don’t want to scare you off.”
She smiled at the implication that he was enjoying the conversation as much as she was. “It’s not scaring me off. I spend seventy-five percent of my life on the road because I wanted to see the world when I was younger. I don’t judge anyone else’s hobbies. Especially if you enjoy it.”
He furrowed his brow, and studied her for a moment. The corner of his mouth pulled up. “It is a lot of fun.”
What a gorgeous crooked smile. She could imagine swapping stories with him, for both professional and personal reasons, for hours. Listening to that voice, watching that mouth move…
A motion behind him caught her attention. The hotel elevators were glass, rising up the open center of the building. The most vibrant array of hot pink, neon blue, and lime green she’d ever seen filled the glass box heading up. She was familiar with the artwork Too Goode based their lingerie on, but they kept their offerings neutral to reach a wider market. The rainbow in front of her was stunning.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him shift in his seat to follow her gaze. She turned to him, studying the line of his back as it led to his shoulder. It would be nice to have those strong arms pin her to a wall and… She pushed the thought away. Probably not the best direction to let her mind drift before she walked into a room to share pictures of underwear with businessmen.
He raised his brows as he met her gaze. She turned to her breakfast, but not before she caught the hint of a smile tugging up his lips.
“So you like to watch?” Teasing lined his question. “People, I mean.”
Say it or keep it to herself? What the hell. It wasn’t like she’d ever see him again, and the flirting was fun. “I could go either way.”
He chuckled. “I like that. Would you let me watch?”
Was she really having this conversation first thing in the morning, in the middle of a crowded room? “I might.”
“What do I have to do to make that a yes?”
“You specifically?” The attention was more fun than she’d had in a while. Not a bad way to start a morning even if it was all talk. “More of the same.” She glanced at her watch and frowned. She had a schedule to keep. Damn it.
He leaned in, and settled his forearms on the table. Lines creased his forehead. “Did I say something wrong?”
“Definitely not. But I have to get ready for work.”
Every time his attention lingered on her, it heated her skin further. He worked his jaw up and down, he shook his head, and snapped his mouth shut.
She blinked at the conflicting body language.
He stood when she did. “I’ll keep you company on the elevator ride up to your room.”
She wouldn’t mind spending the rest of the day in her room with him.
She tried to keep her gait casual when he fell into step beside her on the short path back to the elevator. His arm occasionally brushed hers and the soft scent of soap and cinnamon teased her. The group waiting for the next available car grew, and he pressed closer, resting his arm against her back, to make more room for the people around them.
“So.” His voice was low enough she was certain only she could hear it, his warm breath brushing her ear. “You don’t mind being the one on the other side of the glass?”
The tentative rein she had on her imagination snapped, allowing images and possibilities to dance through her thoughts. She kept her response soft. “If the situation is right.”
The doors slid open, and waiting people spilled into the car. He maneuvered himself behind her, his chest close enough to her back to brush her shirt, but not quite touching her. His question was hot against her skin, as the car rose. “For instance, someone directly behind you, where the only thing anyone on the outside sees is a glimpse? A hint?”
She didn’t know what was more enticing, the fantasies he was evoking or how close he stood. The elevator slid to a stop. He settled a hand on her hip. “My floor. Enjoy work.”
He stepped around her and was gone, the doors closing behind him.
Too much fun. The conversation lingered in her thoughts as she reached her floor and made her way to her room. She stripped off her tank top, pausing in front of the bathroom mirror. Too bad she didn’t have an extra few minutes, to enjoy the fantasies he’d left her with. That would have to wait. At least the memories would make the day go faster.