The Chicago Hamilton was just one of Aiden’s babies, but he used it as the model for other ventures. Customer service was the number one priority, and because of the staff’s attention to detail, the hotel had won every prestigious award possible since the year it had opened. The operation of all the hotels ran very smoothly because Aiden took pains to hire people who shared his commitment.
Henry Portman was waiting for Regan when she entered her office. Her young assistant worked part-time while he attended college. The young African-American man had the body of a lineman, the heart of a lion, and the mind of a young Bill Gates.
“The dragon’s looking for you,” he said in greeting.
She laughed. “I ran into Emily in the hall. She’s going to take over the ten o’clock meeting. Anything else going on I need to know about?”
“I’ve got good news and bad news.”
“Give me the good news first.”
“The supplies are on the way to two more schools for their art programs, and there are sixteen more letters waiting for your signature.” Grinning from ear to ear, he added, “Sixteen very worthy high school seniors are going to go to college now, all expenses paid.”
She smiled. “That is good news. On days like this, I do love my job.”
“Me too,” he said. “Most of the time anyway.”
“Which leads you to the bad news?”
She sat down behind her desk and began to sign the letters. As she finished each one, she handed it to Henry, who folded it and put it in an envelope. “There was a problem this morning. Well … actually, the problem’s been ongoing for about a month, but I thought I could handle it. Now, I’m not so sure. Do you remember a guy named Morris? Peter Morris?”
She shook her head. “What about him?”
“You turned him down for a second grant about a month ago. When he received the denial letter, he immediately reapplied. He thought it was some kind of clerical error or that he hadn’t dotted all his i’s or left a line blank or something on what he called the automatic-renewal application, and that’s why he filled out another one. Anyway, he called several weeks ago and asked when he could expect the money. He had this crazy notion that, once he’d been approved for the first grant, it was gravy from then on. I straightened him out on that score,” Henry said. He shook his head as he continued. “Then he calls me again and tell me he doesn’t think I understand what an automatic renewal means.”
“He sounds tenacious.”
“He’s a pain in the … you know. I didn’t want to bother you about it, but the guy just won’t go away. Since you left for Rome, he’s increased his calls. It’s like he’s got this campaign going. Maybe he thinks that if he keeps bugging me, I’ll give in just to get rid of him.”
“If he’s that much of a nuisance, I should talk to him. Would you pull his paperwork? I must have had a good reason for turning him down.”
“I already pulled it,” he told her, pointing to a file on the edge of her desk. “But I can save you some time and tell you why you denied his request. He misused the money from the first grant. The grant was specifically targeted for the purchase of new supplies for the community center.”
“Oh, yes, I do remember him now.”
“Morris told me he had purchased new materials. He just misplaced the receipts.”
“And what did you say to that?”
Henry laughed. “I said, okay, that’s good to know, and then I asked him when it would be convenient for you and me to swing by and see for ourselves. He did some fancy dancing then. You should have heard him stammering and sputtering.”
She shook her head. “In other words, no new supplies for show-and-tell.”
“That’s right. I don’t think he has any idea how much trouble he’s in. When his employers find out he misused the grant money, they’ll want to prosecute. I would.” He added, “I didn’t tell him that, though.”
“How did you end the call?”
“We’re not best friends, if that’s what you were wondering,” he said. “It was hard being polite to the jerk, but I managed. He wants to come down and talk to you personally. Before he hung up, he assured me that he could get you to change your mind.”
“My thought exactly. It was odd, though. He acted like he had some kind of personal connection to you. I think he’s a worry. He’s got this edge about him. I don’t know how he got past the initial screening the accountants did for all the applicants, but he somehow managed. I really don’t think you should waste your time talking to him. But if you insist, and he threatens you, I think you ought to tell Aiden about him.”
It was the wrong thing to say. The look she gave him made her six-foot-three assistant wince.
“I’m not going to involve any of my brothers, Henry. Are we clear on that?”
“Yes, ma’am. We’re clear.”
“If Morris becomes a threat, I’ll notify security, and I’ll call the police. Now enough about him. I’ve signed the last letter. They’re ready to mail.”
Henry scooped up the envelopes and turned to leave. “One more thing,” she said. “Will you print out Aiden’s e-mail. There are notes for the meeting Emily’s going to handle.”
“You want me to take the printout down to her?” he asked. His expression was pathetic.
She laughed. “You’ll survive.”
He cleared his throat and took a step back inside. “About Aiden …”
“I’m not supposed to tell you, but the way I see it, I work for you, not your brother. Right?”
She looked up. “That’s right.”
“A couple of weeks ago he stopped in. You weren’t here, and he told me that if there was ever any problem, I was supposed to call him.”
She tried not to get angry. “Aiden’s got a father complex.”
“I told him there weren’t any big problems and that we’re doing great. We are doing great, don’t you think? And we’re making a difference.”
“That’s right. We are.”
He was pulling the door closed when he remembered one other bit of news. “I forgot to mention it, but last week I found the dragon in here.”
“In my office? What was she doing?”
“She said she put some papers on your desk, but after she left, I looked and I didn’t see anything new. I think she was snooping. I also think she messed with your computer.”
“Are you sure about that?” she asked, wondering what Emily had been searching for. The longer Regan thought about it, the angrier she became.
“I’m pretty sure. You always turn your computer off when you leave for the night, and I had only just gotten to work when I walked in and found her in your office. She’s got some gall, doesn’t she?” That was an understatement. Before Regan could respond, Henry said, “I think we should start locking this door so the dragon can’t get in.”
“You’ve got to stop calling her dragon. One of these days it will slip out in front of her.”
He shrugged, letting her know without words that he really didn’t care.
Regan worked until eleven-thirty, then ran upstairs to her suite to freshen up.
Since it was only seven short blocks to The Palms, Regan decided to walk. On the way back, she would drop off the grant reports at the attorney’s office, and she wanted to stop by Dicker-son’s Bath Shop to buy a bottle of Sophie’s favorite body lotion. Her friend’s birthday was just around the corner. Regan had already purchased a gorgeous Prada bag Sophie had admired, and she was going to fill it with all the things her friend loved. If there was time, she would also stop in Nieman Marcus and buy a bottle of Vera Wang’s perfume. It was all Sophie wore these days.
Regan decided walking would do her good. The exercise would hopefully help her get rid of her bad mood. Finding out that Emily had been snooping around her office was infuriating, and she wasn’t able to get past it yet.
She was thinking about the invasion of her privacy as she crossed the lobby. She spotted Emily heading toward the concierge and decided to confront her.
“Emily, have you got a minute? I’d like to speak to you.”
Emily turned, a look of irritation on her face, and said, “Yes, of course.”
“Henry mentioned that he found you in my office last week.”
Regan expected a denial and was shocked when Emily said, “Yes, that’s correct.”
“What exactly were you doing?”
“I placed some papers on your desk.”
“Why didn’t you give them to Henry or leave them on his desk?”
“I didn’t want them to get misplaced.” Emily was looking over Regan’s shoulder instead of directly at her, letting her know how unimportant the conversation was.
“Henry doesn’t misplace things.” She was going to launch into a litany of praise for her assistant, but Emily didn’t stay around long enough to listen.
She walked away and without a backward glance said, “Henry misplaced Aiden’s report, didn’t he?”
“No, he did not,” she said emphatically.
“Then I must assume you did.”
Emily kept going. Regan wasn’t about to get into a shouting match with the woman or go chasing after her, but trying to get along with her was becoming more and more impossible. Something had to be done, and soon. Count to ten and concentrate on something good, she told herself. Something positive.
She stepped outside of the hotel and immediately noticed what a beautiful, clear day it was. The gray haze had already burned off the city, and the sun was shining brightly. The sky was a perfect shade of powder blue. Spring flowers were budding out of giant earthen pots along the street. She took another deep breath and promptly started sneezing. The pollen count must not be too bad today, she thought. Her eyes weren’t burning and she only sneezed six or seven times.
Things were looking up. She was staying positive. Mind over matter, she told herself.
Then she encountered her first sleazebag of the day on the corner of Michigan and Superior while she was waiting for the light to change. A late-to-middle-aged man, who didn’t seem to care how many people watched, groped a petite redhead Regan estimated to be around eighteen years old. The silly girl obviously loved the attention. Her squeaky laughter could have broken glass. Regan gripped the leather strap of her purse and strode past the lovey-dovey couple, forcing herself not to say anything judgmental out loud.
She ran into another early May-late December couple as she was striding past Nieman Marcus, and by the time she reached the restaurant, she was hopping mad and nauseated.
Kevin was on duty today. Tall, lanky, and painfully thin, the twenty-year-old had spiked black hair and almond-shaped eyes. He was Henry’s best friend. His smile put her in a much better mood.
“Looking awful good today, Regan,” he said after giving her a quick once-over. “That fitted suit sure accents your …”
She raised an eyebrow. “My what?”
“Curves,” he whispered, and had the good grace to blush.
Before she could answer, he leaned over the podium to look at her shoes. “Hey, are those Jimmy Choo?”
She laughed. “What do you know about Jimmy Choo shoes?”
“Not from nothing,” he admitted. “But my girlfriend lusts after them, so I figured, you being so classy and all, you’d have a couple hundred pair.”
“Kevin, I don’t have a couple hundred anything, and no, these aren’t Jimmy Choo shoes. Is that a new earring?”
He nodded. “Carrie gave it to me for our six-month anniversary. Dad hates it, but he’s so happy about my grades he isn’t making a big deal about it. Carrie’s trying to talk Henry into getting one too.”
Kevin noticed Mr. Laggia, the owner, heading their way. “Uh-oh,” he whispered. “Here comes Laggia. Be sure to rave about the ferns. The guy’s obsessing about them.”
Regan smiled as the owner approached. “I love what you’ve done with the place, Mr. Laggia. Those ferns are wonderful.”
He beamed with pleasure. “You noticed?”
How could she not notice? They were everywhere. “Oh, yes,” she said.
“You don’t think it’s too … jungle?”
“No, no, of course not.”
The restaurant did have a bit of a jungle theme going, but it wasn’t overwhelming, and the ferns above each booth gave the customers the feeling of being in a private room.
“How many today?” Kevin asked.
“Three,” she answered. “Sophie made the reservation for twelve-thirty. I’m a little early.”
“Show her to section four,” Laggia said. “I’ve just put in some ficus. They’re quite robust.”
Kevin stood behind the squat man, rolling his eyes and grinning. He showed her to a booth that was completely surrounded by ficus and palms and ferns. Cordie and Sophie were both late. Regan sipped Sprite, hoping to settle her stomach, and she was actually beginning to relax when, lo and behold, in walked another disgusting couple. Regan tried to think positive. Maybe the gray-haired gentleman was the girl’s father or grandfather. When Kevin led them past her booth, she noticed the old man’s hand moved down the girl’s spine. Was he fondling her or guiding her?
Regan knew she was obsessing now but didn’t care. She was determined to find out if the overly endowed girl was the man’s grandchild or girlfriend. She leaned out ever so slightly and tracked them as they turned the corner. She tilted farther and farther to watch them. She lost her balance and would have landed on the floor if she hadn’t grabbed hold of the edge of the table.
She felt like a fool. She sat up straight, adjusted the white tablecloth she’d nearly ripped off the table, and sat back. Let it go, she told herself. Just let it go.
She could just see the top of the man’s head. She had to know, and so she got up on one knee to watch the pair, but the leafy plants that lined the top of the booth were in her way. She parted the springy leaves. One got loose and smacked her in the face. She wasn’t deterred. She spotted the girl sliding into a booth on the far side of the restaurant. The old man didn’t sit across from her. Regan pushed the leaves farther apart just in time to see him slip into the booth next to the girl. Kevin handed each one a menu. He hadn’t even turned to go back to his station before the old man put his arm around the girl’s shoulders, leaned down, and kissed her.