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Hawke Madison listened absently to his manager enthusiastically reading the names of important guests for the summer, his mind only half on the conversation. His hooded gaze was wandering around the sumptuously appointed lobby, flickering with satisfaction at the restful yet luxurious atmosphere which he had painstakingly created.
Skimming over the marble floor, dotted here and there with lush greenery and comfortable chairs and divans, his gray eyes fell at last on the wide glass doors and the doorman who was standing stiffly outside them. He watched Max step forward to greet someone—apparently another guest—and smiled inwardly as he mentally went through the routine greeting. Max would be coolly polite, stiffly British, easily upholding the high-class air of the establishment.
Max was a good doorman, Hawke thought to himself. And a first-rate bouncer, although his haughty, intimidating manner rarely made physical force necessary. Yes, Max was a good employee. Max was … smiling. Smiling? Max?
Curiously, Hawke waited to see who would come through the doors. Max, Hawke was sure, wouldn’t smile at the queen of England. But he was smiling now. And it was a peculiar smile at that. Shy, bemused, like a ray of sunshine emerging. Impatiently waving his manager to silence, he stared at the door.
First through the door was a cabdriver, huffing under the weight of a ton of luggage that bore labels from every country in the world Hawke had heard of, and a few he hadn’t. The cabdriver’s face was wearing the same bemused smile as Max’s. Hawke had never, in his five years as the owner of this hotel, seen a cabdriver even offer to carry luggage.
Next through the door was Max, leaving his post and apparently not even aware of it. His graying head was bent attentively to catch the bubbling conversation of the vision who had one small, delicate hand resting confidingly on his arm.
Everything about her was an odd combination of sweet helplessness and exotic mystery. Her silver-blond hair was styled in a smooth pageboy, framing a heart-shaped face as delicate and lovely as that of a porcelain doll. Huge, innocent blue-green eyes dominated the face, and gave her the unguarded look of a newborn kitten. A lime-green silk dress hugged a figure that had heads turning all across the large lobby; it was slit on one side almost to her hip, exposing a seductive length of golden thigh with every step.
And there was a stole draped around her neck—a live stole. Hawke’s first thought was that the yellow-and-black-spotted creature was a baby leopard, but then the word ocelot popped into his mind. It was about the size of a very large housecat, with yellow eyes blinking detached interest at the commotion all around it.
Feeling anything but detached, Hawke watched bemusedly as his new guest walked gracefully across the lobby on the arm of an obviously ensnared Max, and just barely caught a fragment of her soft conversation.
“… and it was such a crush at the airport! Is it always like that, Max?” she bubbled sweetly, her voice filled with music. “I’ve never been to the Bahamas before.…”
Chaos reigned all around her. Two bellboys were arguing fiercely with the cabdriver, who was loath to give up the luggage. One guest walked into a potted palm in an effort to get a better view of the enchantress, while another ran smack into the argument going on over the luggage … and promptly became the target of blue-tinted invective from the cabdriver. Both the desk clerk and Hawke’s manager stood openmouthed with astonishment. Or awe.
And through it all walked the new guest, with an indifference that was apparently the product of innocence rather than arrogance.
She paused to speak sweetly to the cabdriver and, though Hawke didn’t hear what she said, it was apparent that the big, beefy man would willingly have killed for her. He abandoned the luggage finally, backing out the door with his hat literally in his hand.
Reaching the desk at last, she went through the formality of registering, still talking a mile a minute to both the desk clerk and Max—both of whom were patently captivated. A little boy came barreling around from in back of the desk just then, running into the new guest with a force that staggered her. Instead of being annoyed, she knelt down to be on eye level with the boy, speaking to him and smiling gently.
A beautiful, ultrafeminine woman, Hawke was thinking delightedly, who obviously loved kids. God—he had believed that type of woman to be an extinct species! Heaven knew it was a change from the coolly sophisticated, ambitious women he was accustomed to, and a far cry from those who were so wrapped up in the women’s lib movement that they fairly bit a man’s head off for opening a door for them!
He watched as she patted the boy’s cheek and rose, seeing the adoring look on the child’s face and not surprised by it. He was still watching moments later as she was escorted to the elevator. Then, leaving his silent manager without a word, he walked over to the desk and checked the register. Kendall James. Miss Kendall James. He glanced thoughtfully toward the elevator, a definite gleam in his gray eyes.
Kendall closed the door at last as the bellboy left and leaned against it with a weary sigh. God, but she was tired! The flight from Paris hadn’t been too bad, but the week before had been hectic. She’d kept herself too busy to do more than tumble into bed at night and sleep dreamlessly—exactly as she’d wanted to do. It was a sort of therapy for her.
Like the performance downstairs. After twenty-five years, she had the routine down pat. It was a rare talent, her father had once humorously remarked, a peculiar ability to be exactly what people—particularly men—expected her to be. So … if an uncertain smile or a helpless look got her the best tables in restaurants or a seat on a supposedly booked-solid flight to wherever … terrific.
Kendall was a realist. She looked like the proverbial dumb blonde and she knew it. She didn’t resent that fact, nor did she go through life aggressively demanding that people realize she was no such thing. She used it. Men bent over backward to do things for her: They certainly enjoyed it, and she didn’t have to carry her own luggage. A fine arrangement all around.
Absently setting her ocelot on the plushly carpeted floor, she watched the cat begin to explore, her mind still on her masquerade downstairs. Not that it was really a masquerade. It was more a part of herself that she allowed to take control for a time. She was a very feminine woman. Men instinctively wanted to watch over her, to protect her, thinking her touchingly innocent. That was fine with Kendall. She had nothing to prove to anyone; she felt neither inferior nor superior to any man—or to anyone, for that matter.
Besides … there was a certain devilish enjoyment in watching men fall over potted palms.
Kendall smiled as she remembered the poor man who had caused that hilarious display in the lobby, then wondered vaguely about the dark-looking man. He’d watched her, she remembered, the entire time she’d been in the lobby. There had been several men around, but he stood out in her mind for several reasons. First because of his clothing. He’d been wearing a black suit—the color unusual for the tropics, and the formality unusual for afternoon attire even in this classy hotel.
He was a hard-looking man, she’d noted, a man who looked as though he’d seen a few of life’s more than usually unpleasant truths. The strength beneath his well-cut clothing had been apparent, and the harshly drawn features attractive in an oddly primitive, compelling way. It would not be possible, she thought, to ignore such a man. He would be either loved or hated—and possibly both at the same time.
Frowning, Kendall pushed the absurd thoughts away. She was here to rest, to allow her nerves to unwind after those harrowing months in South America. Her father would join her in a few weeks, and they’d be off again. Probably to the Middle East, although her father hadn’t been sure about that. In any case, she had a few weeks to laze around in paradise.
So. She’d work on her tan, write letters to friends, and act like a scatterbrained tourist. Heaven knew, she didn’t need another emotional upheaval in her life. When one had a great deal in common with a rolling stone, it hurt too much to form attachments. And Kendall hated saying good-bye.
The sound of the bathroom faucets being turned on full force distracted her suddenly, and Kendall flung her purse on the huge bed and headed hastily for the bathroom. “Gypsy! Drat you, cat—turn that water off! I’ve told you before …”