RUSH (City Lights_ New York City Book 3)(8)

By: Emma Scott

He hesitated but Maxine waved her hand at him, and he looked at me helplessly, mouthing I’m sorry. I watched him walk up to my table, in my section, to wait on my Neil Patrick Harris.

Maxine pursed her heavily painted lips. “This is the Lake delivery. I know it’s not the same as a Broadway star, but all of our customers are equally important, aren’t they?”

“But the big party…it’s my section. Why not send Anthony? Or Clara?”

Behind us, Anthony said something and the entire NPH table burst out laughing. Maxine arched a pencil-thin eyebrow at me knowingly. I sighed and nodded. Anthony was warm and personable and could make ten people—including a famous entertainer—laugh in a heartbeat. I would have done an adequate job but I was ‘tense’ as Maxine was fond of telling me.

“You need to hurry,” she was saying now, handing me a slip of paper with an address, her rings and bracelets clanking. “It seems Mr. Lake has lost another assistant but let’s not lose his business, hmmm?”

I nodded dully. Mr. Lake, whoever he was, ordered from Annabelle’s at least once a week, and some surly or bored-looking assistant—they seemed to change every few weeks—came to pick it up. Judging by the angry young man’s outburst, Lake had lost another one.

I took up the sack of takeout, cast a last, lingering glance at Neil Patrick Harris’ party, and went out. I tried to look on the bright side: maybe this Lake guy was a fantastic tipper.

Yeah, dream on.

From what I’d heard, he was some kind of temperamental shut-in. Even if he was a twenty-percenter, there was no way the tip on this delivery would match the gratuity on a party of ten. The best I could hope for was to make the delivery and hurry back before the lunch rush.

The address was a townhouse at West 78th, about a ten-minute walk. I hurried out at a brisk pace. If the guy had ordered eggs, they were already cold and the last thing I needed was Lake calling up Maxine and bitching that I’d been too slow.

I walked down Amsterdam Street and took a right on 78th. It was a gorgeous spring day. The air was warm but not yet sticky with summer humidity, and the sky was bursting with sunshine. 78th was a clean-swept, tree-lined street with typical New York buildings rubbing shoulders, one to the next, and the Lake residence a red brick three-story townhouse wedged tight between two brownstones. I walked up the three steps to the front door and rang the bell.

No answer.

I rang again, and was about to ring a third time when a hard, young man’s voice answered over the intercom, his tone brittle with sarcasm. “What, did you come back for a reference?”

Is this Lake’s son? I wondered. I cleared my throat and pushed the button. “I’m not him. The assistant? He quit. I think.”

“I’m aware,” the voice replied. “So who the hell are you?”

I scowled. I did not just lose Neil Patrick Harris’ table to put up with some rude shut-in’s even ruder son, if that’s who he was.

“I’m from Annabelle’s,” I snapped, and then tried for a more neutral tone. “I have your order, if you want it.”

Another pause, and just when I thought there wasn’t going to be another reply, the door buzzed.

It opened on a lovely foyer with a small chandelier glittering above me. A staircase immediately on my left led up. Straight ahead was a small hallway and what looked to be a very small living area—darkened and cluttered with boxes and furniture. Despite the fact it was being used for storage, the first floor was clean, and had expensive hardwood flooring below and crown molding up top.

I took the stairs, which were of the same rich hardwood, passing a light fixture hung on the wall in a sleek, modern sconce, and several expensive-looking paintings. The second floor opened on a kitchen—all elegant quartz counters and stainless steel appliances. The living area beyond—that which I could see—was also elegantly furnished primarily in beige with various shades of blue to accent it. Tasteful art hung on the walls and crystal vases—empty of flowers—rested upon classy end tables in rich mahogany.

The entire room bore the signs of clutter too, but not filth, and didn’t look much like the home of an old man. Especially the glass coffee table in front of the TV, which held the remains of a Big Gulp, potato chips, and ropes of red licorice.