“Most sincere,” Mr. Lufton chimed in. “You are the answer to our prayers. We wish you and Mr. Rutledge every happiness.”
Slightly taken aback by their enthusiasm, Poppy smiled and nodded to each of them in turn. “Thank you, gentlemen.”
They proceeded to show her the office, which housed a long row of arrival ledgers, managers’ logs, books containing histories and customs of foreign countries, dictionaries for various languages, maps of all kinds, and floor plans of the hotel. The plans, tacked on a wall, were marked in pencil to indicate which rooms were vacant or under repair.
Two leather-bound books had been set apart from the rest, one red, one black.
“What are these volumes?” Poppy asked.
The men glanced at each other, and Mr. Lufton replied cautiously. “There are very rare occasions on which a guest has proved so . . . well, difficult—”
“Impossible,” Mr. Myles chimed in.
“That regrettably we must enter them in the black book, which means they are no longer precisely welcome—”
“Undesirable,” Mr. Myles added.
“And we are unable to allow them back.”
“Ever,” Mr. Myles said emphatically.
Amused, Poppy nodded. “I see. And the purpose of the red book?”
Mr. Lufton proceeded to explain. “That is for certain guests who are a bit more demanding than usual.”
“Problem guests,” Mr. Myles clarified.
“Those who have special requests,” Mr. Lufton continued, “or don’t like their rooms cleaned at certain times; those who insist on bringing pets, things of that sort. We don’t discourage them from staying, but we do make a note of their peculiarities.”
“Hmmm.” Poppy picked up the red book and cast a mischievous glance at the housekeeper. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the Hathaways were mentioned a few times in this book.”
Silence greeted her comment.
Seeing the frozen looks on their faces, Poppy began to laugh. “I knew it. Where is my family mentioned?” She opened the book and glanced over a few pages at random.
The two men were instantly distressed, hovering as if searching for an opportunity to seize the book. “Mrs. Rutledge, please, you mustn’t—”
“I’m sure you’re not in there,” Mr. Myles said anxiously.
“I’m sure we are,” Poppy countered with a grin. “In fact, we probably have our own chapter.”
“Yes—I mean, no—Mrs. Rutledge, I beg of you—”
“Very well,” Poppy said, surrendering the red book. The men sighed with relief. “However,” she said, “I may borrow this book someday. I’m sure it would make excellent reading material.”
“If you are done teasing these poor gentlemen, Mrs. Rutledge,” the housekeeper said, her eyes twinkling, “I see that many of our employees have gathered outside the door to meet you.”
“Lovely!” Poppy went to the reception area, where she was introduced to housemaids, floor managers, maintenance staff, and hotel valets. She repeated everyone’s name, trying to memorize as many of them as possible, and she asked questions about their duties. They responded eagerly to her interest, volunteering information about the various parts of England they had come from and how long they had worked at the Rutledge.
Poppy reflected that despite the many occasions she had stayed at the hotel as a guest, she had never given much thought to the employees. They had always been nameless and faceless, moving in the background with quiet efficiency. Now she felt immediate kinship with them. She was part of the hotel just as they were . . . all of them existing in Harry Rutledge’s sphere.
After the first week of living with Harry, it was clear to Poppy that her husband kept a schedule that would have killed a normal man. The only time she was sure to see him was in the mornings at breakfast; he was busy the rest of the day, often missing supper, and seldom retiring before midnight.
Harry liked to occupy himself with two or more things at once, making lists and plans, arranging meetings, reconciling arguments, doing favors. He was constantly approached by people who wanted him to apply his brilliant mind to some problem or other. People visited him at all hours, and it seemed a quarter hour couldn’t pass without someone, usually Jake Valentine, tapping on the apartment door.
When Harry wasn’t busy with his various intrigues, he meddled with the hotel and its staff. His demands for perfection and the highest quality of service were relentless. The employees were paid generously and treated well, but in return they were expected to work hard and, above all, to be loyal. If one of them were injured or ill, Harry sent for a doctor and paid for their treatments. If someone suggested a way to improve the hotel or its service, the idea was sent directly to Harry, and if he approved, he gave a handsome bonus. As a result, Harry’s desk was always laden with piles of reports, letters and notes.
It didn’t seem to have occurred to Harry to suggest a honeymoon for himself and his new bride, and Poppy suspected he had no desire to leave the hotel. Certainly she had no desire for a honeymoon with a man who had betrayed her.
Since their wedding night, Poppy had been nervous around Harry, especially when they were alone. He made no secret of his desire for her, his interest in her, but so far there had been no more advances. In fact, he had gone out of his way to be polite and considerate. It seemed as if he were trying to get her accustomed to him, to the altered circumstances of her life. And she appreciated his patience, because it was all so very new. Ironically, however, his self-imposed restraint gave their occasional moments of contact—the touch of his hand on her arm, the press of his body when they stood close in a crowd—a charge of vibrant attraction.