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Saturday afternoon, Alex, tired but glowing from the spa, shopping, dining and partying they'd crammed in to their weekend, dashed downstairs for a souvenir menu from Sparkle, the rooftop restaurant. Tomorrow she and her friends would leave Las Vegas, and who knew if she'd ever return? But one look at the heavily pregnant concierge's face and she knew something was wrong.
Still, the woman pasted on a weak smile. "May I help you?" she asked, her voice a thin thread.
Alex hesitated. The woman's smile was fake, but it would be intrusive to ask questions, wouldn't it? Alex reminded herself that in the past her habit of rushing in to help without being asked had resulted in her being told to mind her own business. Or worse. She tried to bar the painful memory of what had happened some of the other times she'd overstepped the boundaries. But dwelling on her past mistakes wasn't helping this situation. The woman still looked distressed, and…
"I'm sorry," Alex said. "I don't mean to be nosy, but I can tell something's wrong. Is there anything I can do to help? Someone I can call?"
The woman's eyes widened. "No! You're a guest! I mean… I'm fine. Just a little tired."
Instantly Alex felt both guilty that she'd made the woman uncomfortable, and chagrined that she'd once again made the mistake of pushing too hard. So many of the painful moments in her life had begun with her trying to help too much. The memory of her latest doomed relationship nagged at her.
Stop it, she ordered herself. Apologize for making this woman uncomfortable and go. Don't think about the mistakes you've made.
The concierge suddenly let out a gasp, pulling Alex back to the present. She glanced down and realized that with her attention elsewhere, she'd missed something major. Pressed close against the desk with her arms folded in front of her, the woman had managed to—mostly—disguise the fact that she was pregnant. Immediately every other thought Alex had vanished. This woman was in real distress. That was a total game changer. No hesitating allowed.
"Forget that I'm a guest," Alex said. "Who would you like me to call?"
The woman looked like a Vogue cover model, her hair and make-up perfect, but her eyes were incredibly round and scared. "I—I don't know. I—" She had risen and was looking at her belly. "It's not supposed to be happening. I have four more weeks, and—I'm not ready. We 're not ready. I need someone to watch my son, and I promised my boss, Wyatt, that I had weeks before he'd need a replacement. It can't be time yet."
But it was, and clearly something needed to be done.
"I'm sure Wyatt will understand," Alex said.
The woman looked at her as if she were insane. "Wyatt likes things orderly. No messes or craziness."
Well, then, Wyatt certainly wouldn't like her, Alex couldn't help thinking. She ignored that thought. Wyatt, whoever he was, wasn't her concern. "Are you in pain?"
"No. Yes. I feel strange. Different than last time. Things feel… faster. But I have another hour to work. Lois, the night concierge, isn't due back from her vacation until tomorrow, so Wyatt can't even find a sub for me today. I really need to stay." She gasped and put a hand on her back.
Somehow Alex hid her own distress. "Don't worry— Belinda," she said, reading the nameplate on the woman's desk. "I'm trained in basic emergency procedures and I'll help you. Would you feel more comfortable sitting? You don't have to stand for my sake."
The woman's eyes grew wider. "I…can't sit. I'll get the chair wet. My water…"
"Don't worry about the chair," Alex said, circling the desk. "You need to get off your feet."
The woman sat. Her perfect skin turned pale.
"Do you have your doctor's number?"
"In my wallet. In my purse. In the drawer."
In mere seconds Alex had the information and placed the call. She spoke to the receptionist, gave her Belinda's name, and received instructions. She called over a young man from the registration desk and asked him to locate his boss.
"Your boss will need to find someone to take Belinda's place. She's going to the hospital."
The young man looked at Belinda's stricken face.
"Randy, I know how important these next few weeks are to Wyatt," the woman said, her voice breathless and strained. "It's awards season. Reviewers will be visiting. A whole series of them. And they'll be anonymous. We can't let down our guard."
"I'm sure Wyatt will understand," Alex said, even though she didn't know any such thing. She sent the young man scurrying to call his boss.
The woman let out a cry. "Breathe," Alex instructed, her voice gentle but firm. "Forget the hotel. Breathe out."
Belinda obeyed. Alex knelt at her side, held her hand, and began to coach her through the pain.
An expensively dressed woman appeared at the desk, her expression uncertain. "The Bistro Lizette?"
Belinda was bent over. Alex reached out and grabbed a map off the desk, glancing at it. "Second floor, west wing. I've been there. You'll love it." She smiled, sending the woman away.
In the distance an ambulance could be heard. Alex wondered what her friends would think of this.
As another person appeared, she gave him instructions and sent him on his way, but she couldn't help noting that the man at the front desk looked concerned.
"Wyatt's on the way," he said, appearing at Alex's side as she began to coach Belinda through another contraction. "Maybe you should move out of the public eye. This hotel is Wyatt's baby. No pun intended."
"Leave Wyatt to me," Alex said. "She's in pain. I'm not moving her until the ambulance arrives."
She certainly hoped this Wyatt person didn't give Belinda grief for not timing her baby's arrival better. She also hoped he wasn't that tall, gorgeous, intimidating man in the suit who had just entered the lobby and turned in her direction.
Wyatt headed across the lobby toward the concierge's desk. There, two EMTs were placing his very pregnant concierge on a stretcher. A slender woman with long dark hair smiled at her, took her hand, and turned to a man who had neared the desk. The man nodded, took the map the woman had obviously given him, and backed away from the area.
"I've called your husband and directed him to meet you at the hospital. Your neighbor will watch your son. I'll handle things until someone comes," the woman told Belinda, her calm, clear voice softened by distance. "Don't worry. Everything's under control."
At that moment Randy at the front desk saw Wyatt and headed him off. "Wyatt, I tried to get the woman to move Belinda to somewhere less public. People are staring. But she told me that if you were upset she would handle you—just as cool as you please."
Wyatt raised an eyebrow. Because of his height and his high expectations of himself and others he had a tendency to intimidate. Women—people—didn't offer to handle him, as a rule. The fact that this one had made her… interesting.
As he watched, a woman in a flowered blouse started toward the empty registration desk, frowned, and turned in his direction. But after one look at Wyatt, and at Randy's scowl, she headed toward the woman with Belinda. The still smiling, calm woman, Wyatt couldn't help noting.
He should step in. Help. It was what he would have normally done, but…not yet. The EMTs were questioning Belinda, and the woman taking her place… He had to see what happened. If necessary, he would do damage control.
As he watched, the guest in the flowered blouse began to apologize profusely, explaining how she had overflowed the bathtub, but the dark-haired woman smiled sweetly, took one fleeting look at Belinda and picked up the phone.
"Please don't worry," she told the woman, writing down her room number. "It's being taken care of. Please let us know if you have any other problems."
The woman with the plumbing problem clutched her savior's hand, thanking the dark-haired beauty.
Correction, he thought. Beauty wasn't the right word, exactly. The woman wasn't classically pretty, but there was something in her manner that gave the illusion of beauty. Despite this odd situation, she acted as if she did this kind of thing every day. And when Belinda moaned, she offered soothing words with what seemed like genuine concern.
Belinda's moan had an effect on him, too. She was too pale, suffering. He had to help. "Call the main office and have them send anyone who can spare a few minutes to help during their breaks," he told Randy. "I will, of course, pay them double time for the minutes they give up. We'll manage to cover. For today, anyway," he said, striding toward Belinda.
"Wyatt, I'm sorry," Belinda said as he reached her, and took her hand.
"For creating a life? Nothing to be sorry for."
"But my replace—" A long, anguished moan escaped her.
Wyatt's whole body reacted to her pain. "She's all right?" he asked one of the EMTs.
"She's having a baby, man, but everything looks good," the man said. "Pain's part of the process."
"Do not think about McKendrick's," he told Belinda. "That's an order. I found a replacement this morning."
At his words Belinda smiled weakly. "You found someone? Good. I can go now," she told the EMT Then she turned to the dark-haired woman. "Thank you for keeping me sane."
"Thank you," the woman said. "It's not every day I get to do something so satisfying."
As the EMTs pushed Belinda away, the woman started toward the elevators.
Wyatt reached her in three long strides. "Excuse me, but who in blazes are you?"
She stopped, staring up at him with eyes the color of sky. With her full attention concentrated on him, he felt as if a great big fist of awareness had hit him square in the chest. Who on earth had eyes that blue?
"No one," she said.
For a moment Wyatt thought she was answering his question about her eyes… until he realized that she was telling him who she was. "I'm just a guest who was in the lobby when Belinda's labor pains started. No big deal." She started to leave.
"No big deal? Sorry, but… no. I own this place, and it was a very big deal to me. Whoever you are, you're not 'no one'. You handled a woman in labor, a very flustered Randy, the concierge desk of an unfamiliar hotel, and you managed to soothe a nervous guest all at the same time. No guests were harmed or inconvenienced, and the flow of the hotel was largely uninterrupted. Tell me, Miss… no one, do you do this kind of thing often?"
For some reason that finally seemed to fluster her. "Not exactly this kind of thing, this baby thing, but unfortunately, yes, I have a tendency to jump into these kinds of situations. I once tried to give someone CPR, only to discover that the victim was part of a group of amateur filmmakers making a movie. It was embarrassing for me and frustrating for them."
Her voice was low. She frowned. "I don't regret helping Belinda. The worst kind of ogre would have stepped in. But that other stuff…interfering with your customers…I really didn't even stop to think. I may have given out some incorrect information, and you probably already have some emergency system set up. Some protocol that should have been followed. No wonder that guy at the desk was so irritable."
She looked up at him, those sky eyes looking slightly vulnerable. An intense awareness of her as an attractive woman, not just as a woman who had helped his employee and his hotel, swept through Wyatt. He frowned. Guests were off-limits.
He shook his head. "I'm glad you didn't hesitate. You kept things running and helped Belinda cope. From what I could see, and what Randy said, you took charge of a difficult situation with calm efficiency." His tone brooked no argument.
She gave a low, delicious laugh. "Do you think I could get that in writing? I know I got rather bossy with Randy, and other than getting medical help for Belinda, some people would call what I did sticking my nose in where it didn't belong. Did I really act as if it was perfectly normal for me to field a question about plumbing? I hope that problem got taken care of by the right people. If it did, then I'm just glad that things worked out and nothing too terrible happened. Anyway, now you can get back to making your guests happy," she said with a smile. "It really is a beautiful hotel."
She patted his arm, as if he was another guest who needed soothing. For some reason that bothered him. Which was ridiculous. What this woman thought of him was immaterial. He never let others' opinions of him matter. Except where McKendrick's reputation was concerned.
Which brought him full circle to what was really important. This woman had kept things from getting out of control. She'd impressed him in a way none of the temps he'd interviewed had been able to. How had she managed it so effortlessly?
Wyatt didn't know, but he intended to find out. With Belinda's departure, the time for contemplation had passed. In his line of work, the difference between a good businessman and a mediocre one was knowing when to be bold. The door opportunity had opened could suddenly slam shut.
"Excuse me, Miss…?"
"Lowell. Alexandra Lowell. But almost everyone calls me Alex."
Almost everyone. For half a second he wondered if those who didn't fall into that category were men. No matter. He cleared his throat. "Alex. All right. If you don't mind my asking, what do you do for a living?"
Those big blue eyes blinked. "I work the front desk of a chain hotel and run a Web site promoting the sights and sounds of San Diego."
"Ah." That explained things a little. She already had some of the skills a good concierge possessed. While he, he reminded himself, had an empty concierge desk and no prospects in sight.
That was a problem. McKendrick's was known for its opulence, its attention to detail and, above all, its service. This hotel was the project that had saved Wyatt's life. He'd built it from the ground up and poured his soul into it during the dark days, when he'd come to a fork in the road and realized that if he didn't channel his anger into a meaningful goal, he would destroy himself.
These days the resort was a well-oiled machine, but even well-oiled machines could break down without care. A few customers without access to a competent concierge to pamper them could flood the review Web sites and do a lot of damage. Losing Belinda left a hole in customer service that needed to be filled immediately. He could run interference and handle some of her duties, but not all the time. Besides, some guests found him intimidating. He needed to take action. Now.