ONE OF THE advantages of being freakishly tall was easy access to those upper kitchen cabinets. The disadvantages…well, those were probably summed up by the word freakishly.Courtney Watson folded her too-long legs under her as she tried to get comfortable in a chair incredibly low to the ground. Adjusting the height wasn’t possible. She was only filling in at the concierge desk while Ramona hurried off for yet another bathroom break. Apparently, the baby had shifted and was now reclining right on her bladder. From what Courtney could tell, pregnancy was a whole lot of work with an impressive dash of discomfort. The last thing she was going to do was change anything about the chair where Ramona spent a good part of her day. Courtney could pretend to be a pretzel for five minutes.
Late on a Tuesday evening, the lobby of the Los Lobos Hotel was quiet. Only a few guests milled around. Most were already up in their rooms, which was where Courtney liked the guests to spend their time at night. She wasn’t a fan of those who roamed. They got into trouble.
The elevator doors opened and a small, well-dressed man stepped out. He glanced around the lobby before heading directly to her. Well, not to her, she would guess. The concierge desk at which she sat.
Her practiced smile faltered a bit when she recognized Milton Ford, the current president of the California Organization of Organic Soap Manufacturing, aka COOOSM. Mr. Ford had arranged for the annual meeting to be held in town, and everyone was staying at the Los Lobos Hotel. Courtney knew that for sure—she’d taken the reservation herself. But the meetings, the meals and all the income that flowed from them were taking place at the Anderson House.
“Hello.” He looked at the name plate on the desk. “Uh, Ramona. I’m Milton Ford.”
Courtney thought about correcting him on her name, but figured there wasn’t much point. Despite his giving all that pretty catering money to one of their competitors, she would still do her job—or in this case, Ramona’s—to the best of her abilities.
“Yes, Mr. Ford. How may I help you this evening?” She smiled as she spoke, determined to be pleasant.
Even if Mr. Ford had decided to hold his stupid awards luncheon at the Anderson House instead of in the hotel’s very beautiful and spacious ballroom, Courtney would do her best to make sure his stay and the stays of his colleagues were perfect.
Her boss would tell her not to be bitter, so Courtney returned her smile to full wattage and promised herself that when she was done with Mr. Ford, she would head to the kitchen for a late-night snack of ice cream. It would be an excellent reward for good behavior.
“I have a problem,” he told her. “Not with the rooms. They’re excellent as always. It’s the, ah, other facility we’ve booked.”
“The Anderson House.” She did her best not to spit the words.
“Yes.” He cleared his throat. “I’m afraid there are…bees.”
Now the problem wasn’t a lack of smiling but the issue of too much of it. Joyce, her boss, would want her to be professional, she reminded herself. Glee, while definitely called for, wasn’t polite. At least not to Mr. Ford’s face. Bees! How glorious.
“I hadn’t heard they were back,” she said sympathetically.
“They’ve had bees before?”
“Every few years. They usually stay outside of town, but when they come into the city limits, they like the Anderson House best.”
Mr. Ford dabbed his forehead with a very white handkerchief, then tucked it back into his pocket. “There are hundreds of them. Thousands. Entire hives sprung up, practically overnight. There are bees everywhere.”
“They’re not particularly dangerous,” Courtney offered. “The Drunken Red-nosed Honeybee is known to be calm and industrious. Oh, and they’re endangered. As a maker of organic soap, you must be aware of the issues we’re having keeping our honeybee numbers where they should be. Having them return to Los Lobos is always good news. It means the population is healthy.”
“Yes. Of course. But we can’t have our awards luncheon in the same house. With the bees. I was hoping you’d have room for us here.”
Here? As in the place I offered and you refused, telling me the Anderson House was so much better suited? But those thoughts were for her, not for a guest.
“Let me check,” she told him. “I think I might be able to make room.”
She braced herself to stand. Not physically, but mentally. Because the well-dressed Mr. Ford, for all his dapperness, was maybe five foot six. And Courtney wasn’t. And when she stood…well, she knew what would happen.
She untangled her long legs and rose. Mr. Ford’s gaze followed, then his mouth dropped open a second before he closed it. Courtney towered over Mr. Ford by a good six inches. Possibly more, but who was counting?
“My goodness,” he murmured as he followed her. “You’re very tall.”
There were a thousand responses, none of them polite and all inappropriate for the work setting. So she gritted her teeth, thought briefly of England, then murmured as unironically as she could, “Really? I hadn’t noticed.”
Courtney waited while her boss stirred two sugars into her coffee, then fed half a strip of bacon to each of her dogs. Pearl—a beautiful, blond standard poodle—waited patiently for her treat, while Sarge, aka Sargent Pepper—a Bichon-miniature poodle mix—whined at the back of his throat.
The dining room at the Los Lobos Hotel was mostly empty at ten in the morning. The breakfast crowd was gone and the lunch folks had yet to arrive. Courtney got the paradox of enjoying the hotel best when guests were absent. Without the customers, there would be no hotel, no job and no paycheck. While a crazy wedding on top of every room booked had its own particular charm, she did enjoy the echoing silence of empty spaces.
Joyce Yates looked at Courtney and smiled. “I’m ready.”
“The new linen company is working out well. The towels are very clean and the sheets aren’t scratchy at all. Ramona thinks she’s going to last until right before she gives birth, but honestly, it hurts just to look at her. That could just be me, though. She’s so tiny and the baby is so big. What on earth was God thinking? Last night I met with Mr. Ford of the California Organization of Organic Soap Manufacturing. Bees have invaded the Anderson House, and he wants to book everything here. I didn’t mock him, although he deserved it. So now we’re hosting all their events, along with meals. I talked him into crab salad.”
Courtney paused for breath. “I think that’s everything.”
Joyce sipped her coffee. “A full night.”
“Nothing out of the ordinary.”
“Did you get any sleep?”
At least six hours, Courtney thought, doing the math in her head. She’d stayed in the lobby area until Ramona’s shift had ended at ten, had done a quick circuit of the hotel grounds until ten-thirty, studied until one and then been up at six-thirty to start it all again.
Okay, make that five hours.
“I’ll sleep in my forties,” she said.
“I doubt that.” Joyce’s voice was friendly enough, but her gaze was sharp. “You do too much.”
Not words most bosses bothered to utter, Courtney thought, but Joyce wasn’t like other bosses.
Joyce Yates had started working at the Los Lobos Hotel in 1958. She’d been seventeen and hired as a maid. Within two weeks, the owner of the hotel, a handsome, thirty-something confirmed bachelor, had fallen head over heels for his new employee. They’d married three weeks later and lived blissfully together for five years, until he’d unexpectedly died of a heart attack.
Joyce, then all of twenty-two and with a toddler to raise, had taken over the hotel. Everyone was certain she would fail, but under her management, the business had thrived. Decades later she still saw to every detail and knew the life story of everyone who worked for her. She was both boss and mentor for most of her staff and had always been a second mother to Courtney.
Joyce’s kindness was as legendary as her white hair and classic pantsuits. She was fair, determined and just eccentric enough to be interesting.
Courtney had known her all her life. When Courtney had been a baby, her father had also died unexpectedly. Maggie, Courtney’s mother, had been left with three daughters and a business. Joyce had morphed from client to friend in a matter of weeks. Probably because she’d once been a young widow with a child, herself.
“How’s your marketing project coming along?” Joyce asked.
“Good. I got the notes back from my instructor, so I’m ready to move on to the final presentation.” Once she finished her marketing class, she was only two semesters away from graduation with her bachelor’s degree. Hallelujah.
Joyce refilled her coffee cup from the carafe left at the table. “Quinn’s arriving this week.”
Courtney grinned. “Really? Because you’ve only mentioned it every morning for the past two weeks. I wasn’t completely sure when he was getting here. You’re sure it’s this week? Because I couldn’t remember.”
“I’m old. I get to be excited about my grandson’s arrival if I want to.”
“Yes, you do. We’re all quivering.”
Joyce’s mouth twitched. “You have a little attitude this morning, young lady.”
“I know. It’s the Drunken Red-nosed Honeybees. I always get attitude when they take over the Anderson House. Gratitude attitude.”
“Quinn’s still single.”
Courtney didn’t know if she should laugh or snort. “That’s subtle. I appreciate the vote of confidence, Joyce, but let’s be honest. We both know I’d have a better shot at marrying Prince Harry than getting Quinn Yates to notice me.” She held up a hand. “Not that I’m interested in him. Yes, he’s gorgeous. But the man is way too sophisticated for the likes of me. I’m a small-town girl. Besides, I’m focused on college and my work. I have no free boy time.” She wanted her degree within the next year, then a great job and then men. Or a man. Definitely just one. The one. But that was for later.
“You’ll date when you’re forty?” Joyce asked humorously.
“I’m hoping it won’t take that long, but you get the idea.”
“I do. It’s too bad. Quinn needs to be married.”
“Then you should find him someone who isn’t me.”
Not that Quinn wasn’t impressive, but jeez. Her? Not happening.
She’d met him a handful of times when he’d come to visit his grandmother. The man was wildly successful. He was in the music business—a producer, maybe. She’d never paid attention. On his visits, he hung out with Joyce and her dogs, otherwise kept to himself then left without making a fuss. Of course the fuss happened without his doing a single thing other than show up.
The man was good-looking. No, that wasn’t right. Words like good-looking, or handsome, should be used on ordinary people with extraordinary looks. Quinn was on a whole other plane of existence. She’d seen happily married middle-aged women actually simper in his presence. And to her mind, simpering had gone out of style decades ago.
“You really think he’s moving to Los Lobos?” she asked, more than a little doubtful.
“That’s what he tells me. Until he finds a place of his own, I’ve reserved the groundskeeper’s bungalow for him.”
“Nice digs,” Courtney murmured. “He’ll never want to leave.”
Although to be honest, she couldn’t imagine the famous, Malibu-living music executive finding happiness in their sleepy little central California town, but stranger things had happened.
“I’ll check his arrival date and make sure I’m assigned to clean it,” she told her boss.
“Thank you, dear. I appreciate the gesture.”
“It’s not exactly a gesture. It’s kind of my job.”
While she was considered a jack-of-all-trades at the hotel, her actual title was maid. The work wasn’t glamorous, but it paid the bills, and right now that was what mattered to her.
“It wouldn’t be if you’d—”
Courtney held up her hand. “I know. Accept a different job. Tell my family about my big secret. Marry Prince Harry. I’m sorry, Joyce. There are only so many hours in a day. I need to have priorities.”