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Hooked
Author: Brenda Rothert

Chapter 1

Miranda

Of course it’s raining. My L train stop is only a quarter of a mile away and I’m actually having a good hair day. Karma is laughing at me as I pull the hood of my sweatshirt up over my head, because this is one of those downpours that will soak through my clothes in a matter of seconds. And thanks to the biting late October downtown Chicago wind, I’m also freezing.

“Damn it,” I mutter as I duck to keep my face out of the pouring rain. Tony’s already going to be pissed that I look like a drowned rat—I don’t need to add rain-smeared makeup to the visual.

I work in housekeeping at Dupont Tower, and yeah, it’s a swanky hotel, but still. You’d think I was posing for a magazine spread for the place by the way my boss, Tony, expects the staff to look every day.

“Are you a clean-cut, polished ambassador for the Dupont?” he always asks us with his well-groomed brows arched. If we can’t say yes, we’re written up and sent home without pay. It already happened to me once when I spilled coffee on my uniform and didn’t have a spare to change into.

Tony’s a real prick, but even he can’t fault me for getting rained on while walking to my train stop.

On the bright side, I was dragging ass when I woke up at six-thirty this morning to get ready for work, and this icy rainstorm has me feeling wide awake. Hopefully with the help of another strong cup of coffee I can stay this way. I was up studying for an exam until two A.M.

Chemistry is the hardest college class I’ve taken so far. It doesn’t help that I’m twenty-five and haven’t even thought about science since high school.

My exam is this evening, and when I finish it I’m going to cook myself the cheesiest grilled cheese ever and sleep hard. I’m only taking two classes this semester, but between working forty hours a week at the Dupont and tending bar on Friday nights, it’s all I can do to keep up.

At this rate I’ll have my bachelor’s degree in…six more years. Hopefully then I can get a job that pays enough for me to stop scraping by and eating peanut butter sandwiches the last few days of every month.

Not having to clean other people’s pubes off hotel bathroom floors would be a bonus, too.

I think the rain’s gotten heavier and now I can hardly see where I’m going. A guy passing me on the sidewalk bumps into my shoulder and doesn’t even apologize. Asshole. I encounter plenty of them on my L train commute every day. My plain gray housekeeping uniform draws plenty of condescending looks from people in business suits. Some of them even assume I don’t speak English. Again—assholes.

It’s a good thing I’m looking at the ground, because that’s the only way I realize I’ve made it to the curb. I look up at the light and stop, pulling my soaked coat around me tighter.

Eye makeup stings one of my eyes and I cringe. I only have lipstick in my purse, so hopefully Tony will settle for a fresh face today. Wiping off the mess that’s running down it will be the best I can do.

The light turns and I’m about to step into the crosswalk when a taxi flies past, its tires skidding through a huge puddle and splashing me.

“Nice, asshole!” I yell after the cab as it cruises through the red light.

I look down at myself and groan as people walk around me to cross the street. Mud and bits of soggy leaves are splattered on the skirt of my uniform.

If I show up at work like this, Tony’s more likely to just fire me than write me up. I’m still in my probationary period, and I need this job.

This means I have to go home and change clothes, and I don’t have time for that. I’ll have to take a cab to work to make it on time.

“Shit,” I mutter.

I can’t afford a cab. I’ll have to use the money I’ve been saving for new work shoes. And even then…I’ll barely make it.

I jog the whole way home and I’m panting and sweating when I reach the top of the third flight of stairs to my apartment. I throw a dry work uniform, makeup, and a towel into a bag, grab the cash I have stashed in a coffee mug in a kitchen cabinet and run back downstairs.

Once outside, it takes me five minutes to get a cab to stop. On the ride, I use the towel to dry my long, dark hair and then I wrap it back into a bun. Then I wipe off and reapply my makeup.

Traffic makes for a long trip to the Dupont, and it’s 7:59 when the driver pulls up to the back entrance. I don’t even care about the $32 I have to pay for the ride—I just hand over the cash, get out of the car and run in the back entrance.

I frantically change into the dry uniform and stuff my wet one into my bag. It’s 8:04 when I walk into the room for our shift meeting. My shoes are still soaked, and they make a squishy squeak with every step.

Real stealthy.

“Miranda,” Tony says in his fake pleasant tone. “Nice of you to join us.”

“Sorry I’m late.”

“You can stay after your shift to sign your written warning. And please tell me you don’t intend to work in those shoes.”

My forty co-workers turn to look at my wet, black shoes.

Shit.

“No, sir,” I say with a smile. “I have dry ones in my bag. I intend to be a clean-cut, polished ambassador for the Dupont.”

Tony loves it when we repeat the stupid phrases he uses. He nods at me and continues his talk about the new linens the Dupont will be switching to.

Like it matters. It’s our job to change the sheets, not know their thread counts. Tony says we should all feel like we have an ownership stake in the hotel. I say he should stop yapping so much and let us get to work.

Finally, he claps once, his signal for us to get our assignments for the day. I look over the paper he hands me and force myself not to groan.

Miranda Carr: Penthouse suites.

The Dupont has three huge, high-dollar suites, and making them immaculate takes an entire shift. Tony often inspects the rooms after they’re cleaned, and he marks us down if the Dupont logo on the bars of soap isn’t positioned correctly. Every little thing has to be perfect.

I wait for the chatter to pick up and cover the sound of my squeaking shoes, and then I grab my housekeeping cart and stock it with everything I’ll need.

My wet shoes are still squishing through the carpet in the hallway. Fortunately it’s dark so you can’t see any footprints. I’ll have to figure something out when I clean the rooms, because they have cream-colored carpet.

   
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