“Huh? Oh! Sorry. I’m Dillon. Whattup?”
Vanessa laughed again. “Not much. Just getting ready for tonight. Denise asked me to help greet. Are you attending?”
“No,” JD interjected. “We’re … working for the Kileys. We didn’t know about the convention.”
“You sound disappointed, JD,” Vanessa’s expression matched the concern in her smooth, professional-recording quality voice. “Is everything all right?”
“You got one o’ them porn-chick-onna-phone voices,” Dillon blurted. Vanessa giggled.
“Dillon! What’s the matter with you?? … I’m so sorry –” JD turned purple, and fired daggers from his eyes at Dillon, who shrugged and blushed. “Sorry — yes. Yes, everything’s all right … but it’s a large group we didn’t know would be here. It might be more … difficult to do what we have to do.”
“Well, it’s an invitation-only event. Most of the writers are pretty harmless and will stick to the speakers like glue. There should only be about 60 people and the keynotes.”
“It’s like a who’s who of publishing.” Wendy craned her neck, tried to spy her favorites.
Vanessa stepped beside her and pointed over the jostling mass at the front desk across the lobby. “Julie Staples and her husband are over there. See the tattooed couple in black?”
“And Denise is at the front desk. See her? That’s Lindsay Elizabeth on her left and Tamara Rose on her right.”
“Oh wow!” Wendy’s grin broadened. “I’ve read all these people! This is awesome!” Vanessa laughed and Wendy touched her arm. “Where’s your husband?”
“Y’know, yer hot, and I’d love ta — husband? Awww!”
“Dillon!” JD glowered, jaw muscles dancing.
Dillon shrugged again. “What?? She is!”
Vanessa laughed hard and her eyes disappeared into her cheeks. “Why, thank you, Dillon. This crowd and chaos is waaaayy too much for my husband, Wendy. He’s waiting for it to thin out before he makes an entrance. And, as much as I’d love to tease Dillon unmercifully with my devastating good looks, I need to help Denise. Good luck with your efforts, gang. Bye.”
“It was nice meeting you, Mrs. Tyler,” Wendy called, still star-struck.
“Vanessa, please,” the older woman smiled over her shoulder and waded toward Denise Meiers.
JD, Wendy and Dillon watched her go. When she was out of sight JD punched Dillon’s arm and drew a yelp, grimace and tender massaging from him. JD shook his head in disgust. Dillon shrugged again.
They worked their way around the laughing, chattering crowd to the far end of the reception desk. They reached the concierge seconds ahead of another gaggle from the main desk.
“Hi,” JD smiled, “can you tell us … well, have you seen Hank?”
“Hank Kiley?” a petite young black woman grinned. “Of course.” Her waist-length silken hair smoothed back from her face framed milk chocolate complexion and dark, glimmering almond shaped eyes.
“I mean today — recently.”
She laughed. “He’s working with Adrianne, our head concierge. Can I help you at all?”
“Oh, no … no, I’m sorry, we don’t need help. I … we’re working for him and need to see him.”
She nodded once, dubious. Her favorable tone never faltered. “I’ll see if he’s available. Your name?”
She smiled and whisked through a doorway behind her to their left. A few seconds later, she reappeared.
“He’s on the lower level,” she said, and her smile beamed as bright as the ceiling lights. “He left a note in case you came looking for him. It’s probably faster to avoid the elevators right now. Just down those stairs –” she leaned across the desk and pointed to the half-log treads beside the main staircase going up, “– to the left at the bottom, then a right at the first corridor. The door’s open. You can’t miss it.” Her warm smile resurfaced.
“Is there anything else I can do?”
The staff’s near-mechanical efficiency continued to stun JD. “No, that’s all. Thanks.” He smiled and they turned to make their way back around the crowd at the front desk.
When they finally descended the stairs, the noise level dropped. Only a shadow of the din carried down the staircase. JD stepped off the stairs to his left, leaned back against the wall and blew a weary breath through drawn lips.
“What’s the matter, babe?” Wendy asked.
“Nothing. I’m just worried about this new wrinkle.”
“It’ll be fine, you can handle it.” She winked and took his hand.
“JD?” The baritone startled him and they twisted to face down the hall. Hank emerged around the first corridor corner. “I just got a call from up front. Did you need to see me?”
JD’s relief at the sight of him was counter-balanced with the accusatory feelings that Hank had abandoned Phoebe in a crisis time. He bit his tongue and smiled. “Hi, Hank. How are you?”
“Oh,” Hank chuckled, “well, I’m okay, thanks to you. Did JD tell you about his heroics for the second time in a day?” He arched his brows and smiled at Wendy.
She grinned and nodded. “He did. I was with Phoebe when it happened, I guess.”
Hank’s face softened into gratitude. “You were? Wendy, that’s so sweet of you. How’s she doing?”
JD shut up and watched. Wendy shrugged, turned one corner of her mouth down to indicate indecision. “She missed you. She thought you might be avoiding her.”
Hank’s head dropped. “I was.”
“Duuuuuude,” Dillon said, admonishment in his tone.
“Hank, why?” Wendy’s disappointment rose like vapor from her voice. “She’s really hurting right now, and needs you.”
“I know. I know,” he said, and choked on emotion. When he lifted his head again, his eyes welled. “I … I didn’t want to tell her what happened. I was going back to her — really, I was. But with these new guests arriving today — for the convention we’re having here, I don’t know if you knew — I didn’t want the problem with the fire stairs lights to be an issue. Phoebe and I talked about it, and she agreed. Of course that was before she …”