Read an Excerpt
With No Reservations
by Joan Bramsch
Can you take care of me, please? I'd like to check in."
Ann Waverly looked up from her work at the registration desk and stared at the man through her large tortoise-shell-framed glasses. Good heavens, she thought. Someone should take care of him!
The man was bedraggled, unshaven, and almost asleep on his feet. What terrible hardship had he endured? His sandy hair was tousled, his clothes rumpled and torn. Most astounding of all, how had he gotten here, to the middle of urban America? It wasn't every day that a man in his condition strode into the River Regency, the most exclusive hotel in St. Charles, Missouri.
All these thoughts tumbled through Ann's mind in a matter of seconds. She schooled her features sedate, tranquil-then smiled and asked the first question any reservation clerk-worth her salt should ask.
"Do you have a reservation, sir?"
The man leaned heavily against the counter; his glazed blue eyes stared across the lobby. "The name's Jeffrey Madison. The reservation was confirmed yesterday."
Ann rapidly punched his name into the computer. Gazing at the screen, she was dismayed by what she saw printed there. "I'm very sorry, Mr. Madison, but your room was released when you didn't arrive before eight o'clock this evening."
And she was sorry. Jeffrey Madison appeared to be dead on his feet. Then he turned to her, and his gaze seemed to chill and boil at the same time. She forgot her compassion because the hair on the back of her neck suddenly stood at attention. Unable to break away from his furious glare, she was glad that a high marble counter separated her body from his.
Jeffrey Madison studied the womanwho was keeping him from his bed. Her dark hair was pulled back into a neat, smooth bun and her blue eyes were shielded by expensive-looking glasses. She used a minimum of makeup, and her navy blue uniform was adorned only by her name tag. Ann Waverly, it said. He intended to remember that name. Forever!
"What the hell do you mean, Ms. Waverly?" he asked. Pushed beyond his endurance, he raised his voice and gestured broadly. "A room was reserved. Yesterday. I need sleep. Tonight. Just find me another room in this damn place so I can get some rest."
His performance did nothing to reassure Ann. She didn't think the hotel needed to cater to a madman. Not on her shift anyway. "Perhaps the Lasta Motel down the highway has a vacancy, sir. I'll be glad to make the call."
"Are you kidding?" he exploded. "The Lasta Motel?"
He looked at her as if she'd just dropped in from Mars, Ann thought, when in reality it was his bloodshot eyes that were beginning to radiate an otherworldly glow. Any second now he'd send a zap across the counter that would melt the silver in her back teeth. Imagining she could already feel that menacing heat, she took one small step backward ... for her own good health.
"Look, lady, I had a reservation. I'm staying here tonight." He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "Even if I have to sleep in the damn potted palms."
Ann kept smiling, although she felt like sticking out her tongue at him. She told herself she had to get the man to leave before he attracted a crowd. It was ten-thirty and quite a few guests were still in the garden lounge in the center of the huge lobby. Just as she was about to speak, Mr. Gillian, the night manager, appeared at her side.
"What seems to be the problem here, Miss Waverly?"
Oh, he would have to come out now, she fumed to herself, grimly accepting his condescending tone. He pronounced the word "Miss" as if it were a sin to be single. Before she could explain, he brusquely excused her, then aimed an effusive smile at the disheveled man on the other side of the counter.
"Perhaps I can help you, sir," Mr. Gillian said.
"Please overlook the night clerk's lack of understanding. She's a trainee."
Ann stalked to the back office. She glanced at her watch and realized her shift was over. Checking to make sure she still had her room key in her jacket pocket, she trudged to the elevator. It was glass on three sides, and as it lifted her to the second floor, she could see the registration desk. She sighed when she saw the night manager give the seedy Mr. Madison a key and another simpering smile.
"That little fiasco was not an auspicious beginning, Annie," she muttered.
When Jeffrey took the key, he experienced a pang of conscience. "Look," he said. "I don't want Ms. Waverly to get into trouble. This wasn't her fault. She was undoubtedly following house rules."
Mr. Gillian stopped smiling, but assured Jeffrey that Miss Waverly had nothing to fear. "After all, Mr. Madison, she's only a trainee. Thank you for being so charitable."
Jeffrey grunted unintelligibly, then wearily found his way to his room. He paused in the bathroom for a long, cool drink of water. When he realized he was still holding his battered knapsack, he tossed it into the corner of the bedroom.
Yawning and groaning on the same breath, he dropped his jacket inside the closet, bent to untie his hiking boots, then staggered toward the welcoming oasis of his clean bed, dropping clothes and boots along the way. He sank onto the foot of the bed, pulled off one remaining sock, and collapsed across the mattress. Slowly he turned and crawled under the covers like a bear about to hibernate.
His last thought as he drifted into unconsciousness was that the manager had acted like a grade-A jerk, and that he would check the next day to make sure the attractive Ms. Waverly had not been hassled.
In her own room, Ann was getting ready for bed. For the hundredth time she thought she probably should have her head examined. What had she been thinking when she'd accepted the unorthodox challenge from Vanessa Cummings, owner of the River Regency?
"I must have been out of my mind," she mumbled, brushing her teeth with unrelenting vigor.
She lifted her head and peered at her reflection in the mirror. Large blue eyes, the irises outlined with indigo, stared back. Her small, straight nose was shiny. When she looked at her mouth and saw the foaming toothpaste bubbling from her pursed lips, she burst out laughing.
"See?" she said, leaning over to finish her chore. "You've gone mad!"
She pulled the pins from her hair, and the sable locks fell to her waist. As she brushed her hair, she reassessed the reasons that she'd decided to come to St. Charles in the first place.
For the last seven years she had worked for a Chicago hotel, part of an international chain. And though she'd risen from clerk to public relations associate during those years, she had known it was time to find a position with more authority. Personal assistant to the owner of a four-star hotel had seemed like the right move.
She couldn't deny the attraction of the new job, but there had been a catch to the offer. Before she could begin her formal duties, she would have to sample all the diversified jobs executed by the general staff on a revolving daily schedule. It would take a month.
Vanessa Cummings believed her strange request was logical. "If you know the jobs, you'll be in a better position to handle complaints," she had told Ann.
But Ann quite frankly believed Vanessa Cummings wanted to test her mettle, though her new boss had sweetened the pot by providing this lovely room until Ann could find an apartment near the hotel. She also thought the job was an opportunity she couldn't afford to pass by, no matter how kooky this idea seemed. Anyway, it was right up Ann's alley. She liked to gamble, so long as it involved risking only her own skin.
She turned out the light and crawled into bed, then released a long sigh and relaxed. As she drifted to sleep, she wondered where Mr. Gillian had put the wild man. She pictured the unlikely guest in her mind. He was tall, and although he was obviously exhausted, he looked as if he might wrestle bears or bulls, or even mountain lions, for a living. Shuddering, she decided she was glad she'd been dismissed. Another minute under that sizzling stare and she would have gotten a free perm.