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Worth the Wait (Kingston Ale House)
Three months earlier…
Jeremy Denning strode right past the hotel desk clerk, which was saying something because she was a freaking knockout, and headed straight to the elevator. He couldn’t muster the energy to jog up the stairs to his second-floor room. His back was sore. His legs were stiff. Shit, even his brain hurt. He’d considered going for a run in the hotel’s workout room, but now he was mentally crossing that item off his list.
“Science is stupid,” he mumbled to himself like a frustrated child, even though he knew science was very, very important to the art of brewing beer. He’d admit that in thought, just in case his boss had somehow wiretapped his brain.
Shit. He was delirious.
The elevator doors opened and welcomed him in.
A host of other hotel patrons, who were nowhere to be seen seconds ago when he pressed the up button, flooded into the small compartment, pinning him against the back wall. The man in front of him was wider than he was tall, and although Jeremy could see over his balding head, he found no feasible exit route around the guy, who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with a fragile-looking elderly woman with salmon-colored hair on one side and a young father wearing a baby in some sort of front backpack on the other. Would you call it a front pack? Why did everyone wear their kids, by the way?
Actually, Jeremy wouldn’t mind if someone was wearing him at this point. And no. Contrary to popular belief, his thoughts did not tend toward euphemism, regardless of today being a day that ended in y.
He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes. He just wanted the hotel bed. A nap. Possibly some room service. Then he’d consider the whole wearing situation from the euphemistic perspective.
Seconds later, the elevator came to a stop at the second floor. The only other button lit on the number panel was six, and as if the doors were in the rear of the packed sardine can of a vessel, the sixth-floor residents all turned to see who the asshole was who took the elevator to the second floor.
“That’d be me,” Jeremy said aloud. And because there was no possible way for the folks in front of him to part in order to let him through, they all just stood there and stared at him. Even the baby.
He half expected one of them to spout, “None shall pass,” and then challenge him to a bloody duel where he’d either end up limbless or the victor. But instead the salmon-haired woman gave him the slow head shake before backing out of the elevator. The rest of the occupants followed until finally he was able to walk free.
“I have no quarrel with you,” Jeremy said to the whole lot, all with judging, narrowed eyes. Not one of them even hinted at a smile. It was like they were channeling his mother or sister.
“Black Knight?” he asked, backing down the hall as the last of them filed back into the elevator. “Monty Python? Anyone?”
A woman brushed past him from the opposite direction, a flurry of flailing arms as she speed-walked toward the elevator while simultaneously pulling her golden waves into a ponytail.
“Excuse me. Sorry. Hold the elevator, please. Going up!”
He saw nothing other than the ponytail’s near miss as the elevator doors closed behind her. Yet she left something in her wake, the scent of fresh lime. And although salmon-haired lady couldn’t see him, he mimicked her controlled head shake and laughed quietly to himself. He’d worked in a brew pub so long everything smelled like either food or beer to him.
“I’ll take the damn stairs next time,” he called out to the empty vestibule, then spun back toward the waiting hotel room doors.
“Helloooo, two-eleven, you sexy, sexy beast,” he said when he stood before his door. “We meet at last.”
It only took one swipe of his key card to open the door and approximately four seconds for him to barrel into the room and face-plant onto the bed.
“Fucking finally,” he groaned into a pillow.
Eight hours of lecture on the chemistry of brewing was enough to drive even the biggest beer enthusiast mad. Okay, fine. His boss, Jamie—and soon to be partner, if Jamie had anything to say about it—would have gotten off on a forty-minute PowerPoint detailing the humulene hop compound and isocohumulone, the isomerized hop alpha acid. And yes, Jeremy could remember those ridiculous words because the professor had droned on about them for forty minutes.
Did he mention the forty minutes? And that wasn’t even an eighth of the day.
Jamie had been hinting at wanting to dial back his hours ever since he proposed to his girlfriend, Brynn. With the wedding only three months away, the hints were getting less hint-like and more straightforward.
“Jeremy, have you ever thought about taking some serious brewing classes?” Jamie had asked a couple months ago. Because yeah, he’d dabbled. That was pretty much the story of his life: dabbling. Jamie was the brewmaster and the ale house owner, one of his sister’s oldest friends and therefore a surrogate big brother. Jamie was the grown-up. Hell, he was almost thirty. But Jeremy? Well, twenty-six was still a kid. Still time to dabble. Still waiting to figure it all out.