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By Mary Baxter
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe wheels on the cleaning carts squeaked as they lumbered along the otherwise silent hallway. Once the carts touched noses, the two housekeepers grinned at each other.
"How many more rooms you got to clean today?" Myrtle Tittle, short and plump, reached up and straightened her askew blond wig.
Clara Means, equally plump but taller in stature to Myrtle, pursed her thin lips, deepening the Howdy Doody lines around her mouth. "A lot. How 'bout you?"
"I'm in the same boat."
"Me and my old man are supposed to go dancing tonight," Clara said, "but it don't look like that's gonna happen. After today, I'll be ready to drop. I'd sure like to know where all these folks come from."
Myrtle scratched under the wig. "Me, too. This hotel ain't ever been this crowded. Something going on we don't know about?"
"Probably something to do with Elvis and that great big old house of his." Clara gritted her teeth. "I just wish they'd let him rest in peace."
"That's not going to happen," Myrtle replied with a sigh. "The poor man's been dug up and replanted so many times, he'll never get no peace."
"Good thing it's not our problem. Guess we'd best get to work before we get caught visiting. You know how Connie hates for us to stop and talk."
"Maybe if she had a man, she wouldn't be so up-tight."
Clara chuckled, then sobered. "She can have mine. He'll whip her into shape real quick-like."
"So would mine. Look, I'll check you later."
Clara nodded, then shoved her cart on down the hallway. "See ya," she threw back over her shoulder.
The blonde turned and knocked on the door, then called out, "Housekeeping."
No answer. She pecked again. When another silence greeted her, Myrtle breathed a sigh of relief. There was no Do Not Disturb sign visible, so at least she wouldn't have to return. Not only was the hotel full, but the visitors were plumb lazy.
Once she had propped the door open and walked inside, she pulled up short, her feathers wilting. The woman occupant was sitting at the table with the side of her face resting on the top. Must've tied one on last night, the maid thought to herself, disgust charging through her.
"Ma'am," she said in a soft tone. When she received no answer, Myrtle upped her volume.
Not only didn't the woman answer, but she didn't so much as twitch a muscle. The maid stepped closer. "Ma'am, it's housekeeping."
Still no reaction. Frowning, Myrtle did something she'd never done to a guest. She touched her on the arm, then watched in horror as the woman slid off the chair onto the floor.
Stumbling backward, Myrtle muttered, "Oh sweet Lord." Then turning, she ran back out into the hall. "Help! Someone help!"
Jackson Cole started his day off with a five-mile run. He'd need the stamina the run provided to get him through the grueling hours that lay ahead. More than anything, he enjoyed his morning ritual.
Fall in Memphis was glorious, and he made every effort to take advantage of it. Mother Nature usually chose the last few weeks of October to start painting the leaves their brilliant colors. This year was no exception.
He jogged in a park near his home, where the trees had exploded into fiery colors; his favorites were the huge red oaks. A cool front had blown in last night, and his shoes slapped the fallen leaves. He guessed he could run all day. Only because his desk at the club had been piled high with work did he quit.
Now, hours later, as he stood at the window in his plush office and stared out on to Beale Street, he felt the afternoon sunshine on his body. It radiated through the glass with warmth and light. He moved his tense shoulders up and down, feeling the heat relax him. As predicted, his day had been a mother.
He loved Elan, his upscale restaurant and bar on Beale Street, with a passion. But lately, things had not been going his way, and the timing couldn't be worse. He'd been well on the way to scaling back on his work, trying to get a life outside the club, when the trouble had started.
The problem was, he didn't know what to do about it. So far, he'd kept his mouth shut and tried to deal with things on his own. How long that ploy would work was anyone's guess. But he knew he was taking a chance by playing such a dangerous game.
A sigh filtered through Jackson as he moved his shoulders again, keeping his muscles loose. He turned and stared at his desk, relieved to see that some of the paperwork had been dealt with even though he'd been mentally distracted.
The only item on the day's agenda left hanging was searching for a new band. The dance floor at Elan was one of the largest and best maintained, which allowed the club to attract top-notch entertainers. Without them, the floor would be empty, thus greatly reducing his clientele. He couldn't allow that to happen.
However, his assistant and friend Terrance Mayfield, could take care of finding the perfect group. All Jackson had to do was give the final okay.
"You got a minute?"
Jackson swung around and faced his assistant as Terrance sauntered into the room. He motioned for him to take a seat. "Your timing's on the money."
"How so?" Terrance asked, plopping down in one of the fine leather chairs adjacent to Jackson's desk.
"Looks to me like you've tackled the pile of papers like you were fighting a war." He paused with a grin. "A war you've obviously won."
For a minute, Jackson didn't speak, thinking how lucky he was to have Terrance. His body was toned but solid, bearing testimony to his long hours in a gym. His groomed mustache and beard surprisingly didn't detract from or hide his charming smile. When it came to fraternizing with the customers, he was a smooth operator.
Although Jackson paid him out the kazoo, money didn't necessarily buy loyalty. And loyalty was Terrance's trademark. When he left Terrance in charge, Jackson never worried about the day-to-day operations.
"I didn't quite cover everything," Jackson finally said.
"Anything I can handle?"
"Yeah, finding us a new band ASAP."
Terrance's dark eyebrows rose in a question. "Aw, hell, don't tell me The Jammers quit?"
"They did. Apparently they had a squabble that couldn't be resolved."
"Damn, what a crock. They were the best we've had in a long time."
"I agree, but we have no choice but to move onward and hopefully upward."
"I'll get on it pronto."
"When you've narrowed the choice to two, let me know."
Excerpted from Without You by Mary Baxter Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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