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“One step at a time,” Sister Gladys said, taking one step up onto the jungle gym. She was terrified of heights, even low ones, so she was about the worst person for this job. But she was the only adult here. She couldn’t leave, even to ask for help. It was up to her.

Lily, meanwhile, giggled, showing no signs of concern at all. Her pale golden hair glowed almost like a halo, though this child was not always an angel.

“Come on, dear.” Gladys held a shaking hand out toward the child. Fortunately, Lily began climbing down. “Good girl. That’s a good girl.”

“Lil,” a little voice called. It was Lily’s more cautious sister, Rose. She frowned up at Lily, the sun bouncing off her copper hair. “Come down, Lil.”

“I coming.” Lily climbed confidently down the metal rungs.

“Careful,” her other sister, Laurel, said. Then she became distracted by a butterfly. “Flutterby!”

Good, Sister Gladys thought, as Lily took the last step down onto the safety of the ground. The fewer witnesses, the better. If Virginia found out about this, she’d—she’d—

“Let this be a lesson to you,” a voice said sharply from behind her.

Sister Gladys turned to see an angry Virginia scowling at her. “This is exactly why we have the rule requiring adult supervision for all the children when we go outdoors.”

“I know. It was just such a beautiful day.”

“It could have turned into a terrible day.” Virginia picked up the blond child and gave her an affectionate squeeze. “Especially with this one around. You know she’s always up to something.” She smiled at the girl. “You have too much energy, little one.” She sighed. “And way too much determination.” Lily ran off as soon as Virginia put her down.

“But she’s a good girl,” Sister Gladys objected. “She’s such a sweet little thing.”

Virginia raised an eyebrow. “True, but she is as headstrong as they come. Once she decides she wants something, she won’t let anything stand in her way.” She shook her head and looked at the child. “It’s almost uncanny how she always gets her way.”

“Like when she got the cookies off the top shelf in the kitchen?”

“Exactly.” Virginia smiled. “We kept telling her no, but the minute she got her chance she went for the cookies and got them. To tell you the truth, I almost admire her for it. I just hope it doesn’t get her into trouble some day.”

Chapter One

“The Belvedere Suite is for Prince Conrad of Beloria. His stepmother and stepsister, Princess Drucille and Lady Ann, will be in the Wyndham Suite.” Gerard Von Mises ran his fingertip down the ink-stained register of the Montclair Hotel, listing the guests that concierge Lily Tilden would be in charge of. It was old-fashioned, but that’s the way Gerard, the owner of the hotel, preferred it. Computers, he said, were too impersonal.

Lily didn’t tell him that she kept the records on her laptop in the office as well, just in case there was a conflict that they didn’t notice on paper. Tradition was great, but a girl had to be practical as well.

“The prince and his entourage will be here tomorrow,” Gerard said. “And I’ve arranged to have the full staff here to greet him, as his stepmother is quite…exacting about such things.”

Lily nodded. She had already taken several calls on behalf of Princess Drucille. Requests were for pink towels and verbena-scented soap, and a particular brand of French spring water that Lily had paid hefty customs taxes to acquire.

“Mrs. Hillcrest leaves the Astor Suite tomorrow,” Gerard continued, looking over the book. “Which leaves us with just Prince Conrad, Princess Drucille, Lady Ann, Samuel Eden and, of course, Mrs. Dorbrook for you on the executive level. The rest of their party will be on the lower floors.” He sighed and turned to Lily. “It is good clientele, but business could still be better.”

“Things have been tough all over the city as far as tourism goes,” she assured him, though she knew the situation was serious. “It’ll pick up. Especially with Prince Conrad coming. The Post gossip column has been positively filled with stuff about him.”

Gerard gave a smile. “He’s popular with young ladies, that much is true.”

“Well, popular playboys tend to get a lot of photo ops. So you see? We’ll probably get lots of business from that alone,” Lily said, but she wasn’t so sure. They had hosted popular celebrities before, but it usually resulted in more autograph-seekers and paparazzi hanging around outside rather than clients checking in. Still, the fact that Prince Conrad was coming would undoubtedly raise the profile of the hotel and she knew the Montclair needed that pretty desperately.

“All right.” Gerard closed the book. “You’ve almost convinced me.” He smiled. “You’ve worked a long day. Go home.”

“You’ve got it.” Lily had been on her feet for nearly ten hours, and it wasn’t the first time this week. Since Gerard had cut the staff back, she’d had to sleep at the hotel more often than any of the guests, except for Bernice Dorbrook, who had been a resident since her oil-rich husband had died in 1983.

Now all Lily wanted to do was go home and soak in a nice hot bath, maybe with some Epsom salts thrown in. Lately there had been more long days than short ones at work, and although it was getting to her, she knew Gerard couldn’t afford to hire another concierge. Between herself and Andy, they would have to handle whatever came up. “See you in the morning.”

She went to the back office to collect her things. She would take a cab home tonight. She just didn’t have it in her to wait for the bus and make transfers. Fortunately, Samuel Eden had given her a generous tip after she’d gotten him tickets to a sold-out Broadway show his wife had been wanting to see, so she could afford a few extra bucks to get home faster.

“Good night, Karen, Barbara,” she called to the women working the front desk. “See you tomorrow!”

Karen laughed. “It’s almost tomorrow now.”

“Don’t remind me.” Lily smiled and made her way across the rich Oriental carpet that Gerard had centered proudly on the marble lobby floor. It represented his only foray into the twenty-first century—he’d won it from an online auction after Lily had seen it there and persuaded him to bid. Even stubborn Gerard had been unable to resist the bargain.

She was about two yards from the gilded revolving door when it creaked to life and two dour-faced men walked in, wearing black suits and expressions that made her think of mobsters in old movies.

“The royal party is arriving in five minutes,” one of the men said.

“Tonight?” Lily asked, glancing quizzically back at Gerard and Karen at the front desk.

Panic had frozen Gerard’s features in something of a grimace. “But—but I was told Prince Conrad and his family were arriving tomorrow.”

“We’ve had a change of plans,” the other man said, his accent thick with guttural Germanic tones. He frowned. “Are you saying you cannot accommodate them?”

“Of course not!” Gerard burst. “It’s just that—that we wanted to greet them properly and we are short-staffed at this hour of the night.”

The men exchanged knowing glances, and Lily imagined they were both anticipating the reaction of Princess Drucille.

“I have some requests from Her Highness.” The man produced a sheet of paper from his pocket. “This is what she would like. Dinner from Le Capitan as well as some champagne and a certain kind of flower.” He looked at the paper and frowned. “Birds of Paradise.”

For Gerard, it probably couldn’t have gotten worse. Everyone knew Le Capitan was the new hot spot in Manhattan. It was so popular that even some A-list celebrities had been turned away at the door. The food was extraordinary, but the main reason people wanted to go there was to be seen. If Lily were to ask them to deliver a meal, they would laugh at her.

However, she knew a bartender there and she was pretty sure he could put together a take-out order for her to pick up.

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