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 filling in at the concierge desk only 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 nameplate on the desk. “Ah, 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 sprang 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 blonde 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.