“Yes. To the Redwood Hotel, please.”
The older man nods pleasantly, and then we pull into traffic. Manhattan’s humming on this Friday evening, and I can sense the electricity in the air. But when we pull up to the Redwood, I let out a small gasp because I’ve lived in the city for a long time, but I’ve never seen anything quite like this gem.
It’s small, but not tiny. It’s a boutique hotel in the heart of Tribeca and has all the bells and whistles of an exclusive, discreet retreat from city life. A fully-uniformed doorman stands outside before helping me out of the car, and when I step inside, the lobby is lit beautifully with hundreds, no thousands, of dangling pendant lights forming a constellation across the arched ceiling.
“My, my,” I breathe to myself, my heels clacking softly across the marble floor as I make my way to the arched entryway of the hotel bar. Meanwhile, the furniture in the lobby looks astonishingly luxe and straight out of a designer magazine. There’s a massive oak coffee table in front of an electric fireplace flickering with orange and yellow flames. Leather furniture is scattered about, and when I reach the bar, I can see that it’s more of the same. The dimly lit space is filled with lots of dark oak, velvet seating, and portraits of old people in eighteenth century dress looking down from the walls. Okay, that’s a little spooky, but I can live with it. Besides, glancing at the crowd, I can tell the patrons here are discreet. It’s the type of place where no one questions why a man with a wedding ring walks in with a girl half his age who is clearly not his daughter. Not that I condone that of course, but this is Manhattan and it happens.
The hostess looks up as I approach and shoots me a genuine smile. The pay here must be good.
“Good evening,” she burbles. “Can I help you?
I nod. “I’m supposed to be meeting friends here. My name’s Mara Hoffman. Have they arrived yet?”
The hostess looks down and then smiles up at me again. “Oh yes. Your guests are in the VIP lounge. Follow me please,” she says, turning to lead me away. But I hesitate because this isn’t standard procedure. The agency preaches that we should always meet a client for the first time in a public setting. Hell, even when meeting a date through a dating app, they always say to meet at Starbucks. So this VIP lounge area is a little weird, especially if it’s sequestered from the rest of the bar.
Then again, it’s not going to be locked or anything, so I suppose it’s okay. Besides, the hostess knows I’m here and Clarissa is aware of my location too, along with all the waiters and bus boys who will be running the VIP area. I should be okay, despite this breach of City Girls best practices.
I take a deep breath and smooth the skirt of my dress down before following the hostess towards the back. Ugh, my nerves are getting the best of me because it’s been so long since I’ve been on a date, period. Squaring my shoulders, I step forward with a smile on my face, hoping I look confident.
Meanwhile, once we get to the back of the room, the young woman leads me to a spiral staircase lined with the same beautiful carpet from the lobby, and then we come to a second level that overlooks the main area. I stop for a moment to take in the view of the floor below. The ambience is elegant and lush at once, with handsome men in sharply cut suits and ladies in cocktail attire.
“This way,” the hostess smiles again. “The VIP rooms are just back here.” She steps to the back and pulls open a thick, velvet curtain revealing a secluded area decorated with potted plants and small standing tables.
“Your party is through here,” the hostess says, pull aside another curtain, this one a deep red. “Please enjoy yourself, Miss Hoffman.”
I nod before stepping inside.
But then, the air evaporates from my lungs because two men stand when I arrive, and they’re startlingly handsome. They have black hair, blue eyes, and square jaws that befit a movie star. Both are at least six three, making me feel tiny despite my four inch heels.
“You must be Mara,” growls the one on the left, his blue eyes gleaming with amusement as he looks over my curvy form.
“Yes,” I say faintly. “It’s nice to meet you.”
The man on the right chuckles, a low, harsh sound.
“Don’t be rude, Casper. I’m Clay and this asshole is my brother Casper. It’s a pleasure.”
Then, he takes my hand and kisses the back. I hope he doesn’t feel how my pulse races, although of course, that sly smiles tells me he knows everything. “Won’t you sit?” he asks, gesturing to the velvet couch.