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Authors: K.G. MacGregor

Just This Once

BOOK: Just This Once
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Just This Once

By

KG MacGregor

© 2003

KG MacGregor

Disclaimers
:
Here we go again. They might look familiar, but then again, that could just be your imagination. We’ve got girls here…girls in love…girls who know how to have a good time. Adults only, please; and if you live in one of those places where your politicians say stupid things about the evil homosexual lifestyle, you’d best not be taking this to your government job.

Many thanks to my beta reader, Tami. I recently learned that she reads my stuff on her PDA while she drives. Btw, the first four lines were her idea. Thanks also to my Sweetcakes, who really sharpened her pencil this time and made this story a lot better.

Thanks very much for reading, and please feel free to drop me a note at
[email protected]
.

Chapter 1

Flick. Flick.

Plop!

Flick.

Plop!

“Great! Now I’m going to smell like onions all night,” the blonde woman groused as she picked the unwanted condiment from her sandwich. “Why did you even bother asking what I wanted if you weren’t going to listen?”

“I got distracted,” the man whined, taking an oversized bite from his roast beef sandwich.

He had offered to run to the gourmet deli to pick up their dinner, both of them having grown weary of the menu from the restaurant downstairs.

“Yeah, I bet I know by what…or rather by whom. What’s her name?” she teased amiably.

“Juliana,” he sighed.

“I bet Juliana smells like onions.”

“Careful,” the red-haired man cautioned, “that’s my future wife you’re talking about.”

“Right! What’s her last name?”

Rusty Wilburn looked away sheepishly. “Don’t know yet,” he admitted. “But it doesn’t matter, because you’ll be calling her Mrs. Wilburn.”

Paula McKenzie chuckled at her boss. In the three years they’d been paired up on the night shift, the two had gotten to know each other pretty well, and she knew that Rusty could fall in love at the drop of a hat. Too bad he hadn’t fallen for someone who worked at a Thai restaurant. Chicken salad on rye was getting old, especially with onions.

From 3:30 p.m. to midnight, Paula and Rusty were the designated adults at the Weller Regent Hotel in Orlando. Situated only a block from the downtown convention center, the four-star hotel catered to upscale business travelers who wanted something quieter, something with a more personal touch.

At the Weller Regent, or the WR as it was called by the staff, there was no player piano in the entryway hammering out a mindless loop until the wee hours of the morning; no open cocktail bar in the lobby; nor a towering fountain or waterfall whose roar forced people standing next to one another to shout. Instead, the hotel possessed a calmer, more distinguished ambience that was perfect for those who needed a respite on the road.

Everything about the WR was plush, almost decadent. The feathered pillow-top mattresses were the finest anywhere; the towels and robes were soft and luxurious. The guest rooms were spacious, tastefully adorned with deep rich colors on cherry framed furniture. Elegant Tiffany style lamps took the place of the more generic light fixtures for a homier feel.

The WR was more expensive than most of the other downtown options, but worth it in the eyes of a weary upscale business traveler. Management kept a database of preferences from previous stays and tried to anticipate customer needs. The level of service from the well-trained staff was second to none.

While earning her hospitality degree nine years ago at the University of Florida, Paula had landed a coveted summer internship at this, Weller’s oldest hotel. Immediately upon graduating, she had come on board as a night desk clerk, moving through all the departments — catering, business services, meetings, training — to the position she now held: Shift Manager. Two more rungs remained before she could move into the coveted role of hotel operations — daytime management — but it was likely she would have to relocate to move up in the chain, since Rusty, the Senior Shift Manager, had been here four years longer than she, and was next in line here in Orlando. That was her career goal, though: hotel operations and one day, her own hotel.

“Damn it!” Rusty sat up and reached for his napkin, a futile gesture against the mustard stain on his dark blue shirt.

“You did that on purpose!” Paula accused.

“I did not!”

By mutual consent, tonight was Rusty’s night to deal with emergencies and customer complaints while Paula did paperwork in the second floor administrative offices. But with his shirt prominently sporting a bright yellow stain, she would have to be the one to venture out if the need arose.

Sunday nights were moderately busy, the weekend convention goers giving way to those road warriors headed for another week of business meetings. The housekeeping staff had turned over virtually every room in the last 12 hours, and Paula had spent the entire afternoon conducting inspections and completing employee evaluations. Thanks to Rusty’s prolonged trip to the deli — during which she had to help out at the front desk —

she was way behind with her weekly reports.

Rusty had his own pile of paperwork to resolve. Maintenance logs, inventory sheets, and vendor invoices filled his desk. If they were lucky, the staff on hand would find a way to deal with problems so both of the managers could catch up.

“Hey, look who’s back.”

Paula glanced at the security monitor positioned between their desks. Every five seconds, the image rotated automatically to a different camera, from the main entrance, to the front desk, to the elevator lobby on the main floor, and to the pool area. Rusty grabbed the remote and froze the angle immediately upon recognizing the woman they had watched twice before as she checked into the WR on Sunday night.

“Too bad you’re practically married,” Paula chided. “What would Juliana No Last Name think of you ogling someone else?” For her own part, the blonde set her work aside for the moment to watch the tall beauty exit the taxi and direct the bellman to her bags.

Indeed, Paula too had noticed this guest on her first visit a month ago. Who wouldn’t?

“I’m looking for someone for you now,” he kidded.

Paula laughed. “While I happen to applaud your tastes in this case, I hereby relieve you of your mission. This tape will self-destruct….”

“Wonder what her story is,” Rusty mused. When they had a rare moment of down time, the two would entertain one another with their made-up background stories of the anonymous guests.

“I don’t know. I guess she’s just your typical business traveler.”

“No, I mean the limp.”

The pair studied the dark-haired woman as she paid the cabbie, gathered her purse and briefcase, and hobbled toward one of the small glass entryways that framed the hotel’s massive revolving door. Both managers were inwardly pleased to see the bellman respond quickly to hold the door open as she disappeared from the camera’s view.

“She doesn’t act like it bothers her that much,” Paula observed casually. She wasn’t interested in making this woman a subject of their game…that is, at least not aloud. But she had wondered silently about this beautiful enigma, going so far on her last visit as to pull her reservation record.

Her name was K. Wynne Connelly, and she was from Baltimore. She had the standard corporate rate, billed to Eldon-Markoff, a travel and tour company headquartered a block and a half from their hotel.

Rusty advanced the controls to watch the action at the front desk. Jolene Hardy and Matthew Stivich worked efficiently to check in the short line of guests, the former in the final week of her probationary period.

“Jolene’s done a great job, hasn’t she?” Paula asked, changing the subject as she searched the video for sight of the woman in line.

“Yeah, she caught on quick. You’ve really brought her along well.”

Paula had mentored the new hire since her first day as a college intern. Once Jolene cleared probation, she’d be given more authority to appease guests. As it was, she still needed supervision, requiring a manager’s okay to waive a charge or to make special accommodations.

“Looks like she needs a hand with that one,” Rusty offered, knowing full well that Paula would have to go downstairs to take care of the obviously irate gentleman at the counter.

Without the sound on the video, they relied on facial expressions, and this man was about to blow his top.

The blonde woman groaned. “I guess I should wash my hands first, since your future wife put onions all over my sandwich.”

Paula stopped quickly in the ladies room to wash up and check her appearance. Today’s suit — taupe linen with a navy silk top — was her favorite combination from among the four WR uniforms. In her closet hung its complement, a navy suit with a cream-colored silk blouse, and several coral tops that were worn on certain days with either suit. From time to time, the hotel updated its worker fashions, but conservative attire was the rule.

After nine years of being told what to wear to work, she’d grown accustomed to it, and was grateful that the corporate directors at least had a sense of style.

From the ladies room, she proceeded down the back stairs to emerge behind Jolene at the check-in counter. A quick glance told her that Matthew had things under control on his end of the counter, but the man in front of her newest clerk was growing louder by the second.

“How can I help here, Jolene?”

“I’ll tell you how you can help,” the red-faced man stormed. “You can get me the kingsized bed I specifically reserved!”

Paula looked over the shoulder of her harried clerk. “Mr. Thomason, is it?”

“That’s right.” He was infinitely pleased to be getting special treatment from the person in charge. What he didn’t actually realize was that the Weller Regent judiciously avoided “assistant manager” labels, hoping to provide assurance that their needs warranted attention from the hotel’s top personnel.

“Our reservationist probably didn’t make it clear at the time, but we aren’t able to guarantee all room types for guests traveling alone. But let me see what I can do.” In fact, it was standard practice for the reservationists to read a disclaimer that many guests simply ignored. But arguing with Mr. Thomason wasn’t going to solve the problem. The manager searched a moment, then used her code to manually override the system. “I can upgrade you to the Concierge floor and waive the extra fee for this stay. In the future, if you’re traveling alone, you can reserve a specific room type by booking directly onto the Concierge level,” she advised with quiet authority.

Paula stepped back and allowed Jolene to complete the transaction. Spotting a familiar face next in line, she immediately shifted to an open terminal. “I can help you here.”

The tall woman stepped forward and proffered her credit card. “I’m Wynne Connelly.”

Oh, I know who you are
. “Yes, Ms. Connelly, I have your reservation right here, a single room, non-smoking, three nights.”

“That’s correct.” Smiling slyly, she leaned across the counter and lowered her voice. “So if I act like an ass, can I get upgraded to the Concierge floor too?”

Paula chuckled and shook her head without looking up. “I tell you what, Ms. Connelly. What if I just do the upgrade anyway and save us both the bother?”

“Oh, you don’t have to do that. I was just being silly. But I appreciate the thought,” the brunette said sincerely, a little embarrassed to have evoked such a generous offer. “I promise not to misbehave,” she whispered.

Paula laughed, finally looking up to see the smiling blue eyes. “That’s okay. We like a challenge,” she joked. “I’d be happy to do it, though. I see that you’re making a habit of staying with us, and we’d like to reward that.”

“Well, thank you. I suppose I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, eh?”

“I wouldn’t if I were you,” the Shift Manager advised. “It’s really a nice deal if you can take advantage of the extras. You’ll have two phone lines and a fax machine, and highspeed Internet access. Breakfast is served in the private lounge from six a.m. until 10; cocktails and hors d'oeuvres are available after five; and if you want to stop by before turning in tonight, they’ll have coffee and dessert until midnight.”

“I’ll be sure to check that out.” Wynne scribbled her name on the signature card and initialed the rate and departure date.

“Did you have a nice trip into Orlando this evening?” Paula asked that question of all her guests at check-in — to be polite, of course, but also to kill time while the computer processed her commands. Tonight, though, she was also enjoying the chance to make conversation.

“It was delightfully uneventful, like all flights should be,” the brunette replied. “And it was wonderful to arrive someplace where it was warm. It was snowing in Baltimore when I left.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re enjoying our weather, at least for tonight.” Paula turned to indicate the placard behind her that displayed weather icons for the next three days. “It’s supposed to rain all day tomorrow and the next day.”

“That figures. I didn’t bring an umbrella.”

BOOK: Just This Once
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