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Juliet Rose Astor Lowell paused in the shade of the marble columns outside the Eighth District Police Station and discreetly blotted her forehead with the back of her wrist. Drawing in a deep breath, she softly expelled it. Lord, it was hot. And so humid. just the short walk from the airconditioned limo left her feeling limp. She peeled a clinging yard of voile away from her thighs and gave her dress a delicate shake to promote air circulation. She'd been in New Orleans less than an hour, and already things were entirely different than she'd envisioned when she left Boston.
But that was mostly due to this unscheduled stop. She had thought to have the tiniest bit more freedom down here; it seemed a small enough thing to wish for. After all, she was away from Grandmother's rigid constraints, in a city whose name was synonymous with enjoyment, and whose inhabitants certainly had no preconceived expectations of her as an Astor Lowell. And it wasn't as if she'd planned a wild spree of dancing naked across tabletops, for heaven's sake she'd simply wanted to loosen the ever-present restraints a bit. just enough to take a really deep breath.
But even that was to be denied her. Once again Father had arranged matters without bothering to consult her, dropping this little bombshell as a fait accompli over the limo phone. Crown Hotels had received a letter protesting the opening of the New Orleans Garden Crown. He'd read it to her over the phone, and if it had struck her as more an ardent treatise against the bastardization of a historic landmark than a threat, that simply didn't signify. Father wanted police protection for her, so hereshe was, all choice removed from her control. She pulled open the door and entered the building.
Her ears were still attuned to the crisp accents of New England, so the slow, soft drawls of the officers manning the counter sounded almost foreign. As she turned away from the desk and followed their directions to the captain's office, she inconspicuously but avidly observed everything around her. She'd never been in a police station before, and it felt both exotic and fun of energy.
The man who rose from behind his desk when she tapped on his door was neither. He had the prosperous, well-fed look of a politician Father's kind of person; exactly the sort she was accustomed to dealing with. The man's brown hair was expensively barbered, his ruddy cheeks shone from a close shave, and his suit was cleverly cut to minimize the appearance of a middle that had begun to spread. Police work must pay better than she'd thought.
"Captain Pfeffer? I'm "
"Ms. Juliet Lowell," he overrode her enthusiastically. His voice, at least, was exotic, dripping elongated, honeyed vowels. He rounded the desk and extended a smooth, manicured hand.
Astor Lowell. She swallowed the impulse to correct him, though the desire to do so was automatic after years of conditioning at Grandmother's knee. Smiling politely, she shook his hand.
"Please," he said, patting her hand avuncularly as he led her into the office. "Do c'mon in and have a seat. Your fawtha and I had a long talk, and I've been expectin' you."
"Yes, I know." Juliet sat. Though it was most likely futile, she insisted quietly, "Father was a bit precipitous, I fear. There's truly no need for me to monopolize the services of an officer whose time could be better employed elsewhere."
"Nonsense. Sergeant Dupree is happy to, be of assistance. Don't you worry your pretty little ... well." He cleared his throat, undoubtedly seeing something in her expression that warned him he was heading down an unpopular avenue. "The New Awleens Police Department is always happy to assist a pretty lady," he substituted heartily, which was not a great improvement in Juliet's opinion. "We believe in assigning the best to the best. I was personally handpicked by the commissionah himself to be acting captain when Captain Taylor left on an extended vacation. And I in turn have handpicked the detective best suited to be your escort."
Juliet's polite smile froze, and her brows drew together. "Detective? Oh, but ... I thought you said he was a sergeant." This just kept getting worse and worse. Bad enough to usurp the services of an officer; now she had visions of taking a detective away from a murder investigation.
"There is no official rank of detective in the NOPD. Most of 'em hold the rank of Police Officer III or Sergeant." He waved the distinction aside. "I must say we're all verra excited that Crown Hotels has decided to grace our fair city with one of their fine establishments. Why, society has hardly talked of anythin' else."
Somehow she doubted that, but she was proud of the Garden Crown. She'd waited years to be in charge of one from conception to start-up, and the New Orleans hotel was her baby. "Yes, we're also quite excited," she agreed.
"As well you should be. And you needn't be concerned for your safety while you go about your business, because we're heah to see to it that you aren't left alone and unprotected for a single moment."
That's exactly what Juliet was afraid of.
"I understand y'all have quite a roster of excitin' pre-opening events planned," the captain continued.
"Yes, we do." Juliet briefly summarized the upcoming social schedule. When she finished, Pfeffer looked at her so expectantly that she said with automatic courtesy, "You and your wife must join us for one."
"Why thank you, Ms. Lowell, I know she'd like that. She's a Collier, you know. From the Savannah Colliers."
"Is she." Juliet had no idea who the Savannah Colliers were, but she supposed it explained his apparent wealth. Long-standing instincts decreed it unlikely he was the descendant of old Southern wealth, for he had the too-eager-to-impress unctuousness she associated with Father's sycophants. Manners instilled from the cradle, however, dictated the only acceptable reply.