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This scene I’m providing you today is actually the scene RIGHT before the current opening chapter of DHN. So you may even recognize what’s happening in the last few paragraphs. 😉 Enjoy!
Copyright © Isabelle Santiago, 2008
A fly on the wall. To everyone else, Chase Branton wasn’t even there. That’s how he liked it. He worked hard to ensure that when he left a room, not one soul could remember if he’d even been there.
He could do that just about anywhere. Even here, in the very public, very busy lobby of The Winmont Hotel. He sat completely still, his face covered by the large, open newspaper he held between his hands. He kept his legs crossed, the way most wealthy men of the time did when busy with something that gave them great comfort. And every once in a while, he peeked over the paper’s edge, to watch the frenzy of activity at the reception desk.
He restrained the need to roll his eyes. In the thirteen years he spent watching people, he was absolutely certain he’d never met someone with more ‘tells’ than the fumbling, nervous woman who just walked past him toward the dining hall.
He closed the paper, careful to keep the noise to a minimum. He stood, with the ease and grace of a man confident in all his steps. Not that that was a cover. Chase knew exactly where he was going. Knew exactly where she was going as well.
Thanks to hotel gossip, Chase knew Alexis Grant lacked the poise and control to run an establishment that demanded such secrecy. Unlike her cousin. Charles Witmore wore one of the best poker faces Chase had ever seen. He highly doubted, however, that Alexis Grant even knew what poker was.
Which, of course, worked to his advantage. Quietly, he crept into a rhythm behind her, down the long hall toward the Parthenon. Her face, when given instruction regarding lunch for a particular guest, told him everything he needed to know. He’d found her. Finally, after nearly three days of searching. Miss Valerie Price, Hollywood ’s most expensive commodity, was staying in the Grecian Suite.
Chase admired her determination to remain hidden. He’d checked several of the top notch hotels in the area and come up short. When he came to The Winmont, he assumed she would be in the penthouse. He was wrong. The penthouse, it seemed, was inhabited by hotel owner Charles Witmore. The Grecian Suite was the next logical choice.
Only problem with that was, a woman by the name of Lucy Pickens was registered to that room. He grinned. Miss Georgina Laroux had been generous with that information. He played the game well. A little wine, a little music. Women generally found him easy to talk to.
Over dinner, she just about promised him the world. But once she got behind that gold plated desk, it was a different story. Charles Witmore commanded respect and loyalty from his staff. Chase gave in to the spark of admiration. The man deserved it. After all, he’d managed to win over the likes of Bridget Phillips. He had to be doing something right.
In the confines of the dining hall, Chase fell back into the crowd. Music from the piano caused slow vibrations on the wooden floor beneath his feet. A trumpet player blew his horn into the easy hum of conversations. Some people sat at round tables, others enjoyed drinks at the bar.
Alexis cut a path through the room. Chase took an alternate route, parallel to hers, but still lagging behind. He kept his eyes on her with each turn of her body, each fumble of her ungraceful footsteps in the direction of the swinging kitchen door. He frowned. For such a petite body, she took such heavy steps. Instead of looking straight ahead, her eyes ate up the floor right in front of her feet. Paper thin tendrils of jet black hair fell from the messy knot that sat at the nape of her neck onto the creamy ivory of her face.
She was a pretty little thing, though terribly simple. She hardly wore any makeup. Her clothes were dull and devoid of the sharp fashion sense most women in Los Angeles eagerly sported. The most redeeming quality he’d seen so far was the inhumanly vibrant blue of her eyes. Against her dark hair they practically glowed on her face, large round eyes, full of intelligence. He wondered why that didn’t resonate more in the way she carried herself.
Distracted by his thoughts, he swore under his breath when she hurried her steps. He stopped, sat at an empty table and dropped his gaze to look engulfed in whatever the menu said. Through his peripheral vision he watched her push open the door, glance back at the dining hall with a suspicious glare, then disappear into the kitchen.
He counted off. One second. Two. Three. He stood back up when her face didn’t appear in the round glass window of the door. He removed his suit jacket, tossed it on the chair beside him. White button down shirt exposed, he removed his tie and opened the top button, to give himself a more approachable air.
Back straight, one hand angled in front of him, he took the white napkin neatly folded on the table and hung it easily over his forearm. With no question of his authority he headed straight for the kitchen. One glance to either side of him read the area clear. Feeling victorious, he pushed past the swinging door and stopped short.
Piercing blues stared at him. Accusation lay written all over her features. “Why are you following me?”