Authors: Mia Caldwell
© 2016 by Mia Caldwell
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
To all my readers, To my family members, To my friends
Thank you for believing in me.
I hope all your dreams come true, because you’ve helped make mine happen.
Never love anybody who treats you like you’re ordinary
,” Raina yelled from the bottom of the stairs. “If you don’t come down this minute, you’ll go to school without any breakfast, you hear me?”
“Coming.” Crystal yelled back.
With a sigh, Raina returned to the dining room to check on the progress of the other two children. Chantal had finished her cereal, which was no surprise to Raina, while Jeremiah was playing idly with his spoon. Rather than urge him to finish, Raina pulled out the chair next to his, and took the spoon from his hands.
He looked up at her and gave her a toothy grin, which melted her heart as it always did. Jeremiah reminded her of why she had chosen to go from being a single woman, focused on her career, to a mom of three overnight.
“I know, manners.” he said. Raina nodded and raised an eyebrow at him. Within a few minutes, he had finished his breakfast, but Crystal had not yet come down.
She strolled in just as Raina was contemplating marching upstairs and dragging the tween away from the mirror. Crystal had become a narcissus overnight; she loved the mirror and spent ages looking at her reflection. Raina rolled her eyes, but she remembered she had been much the same at Crystal’s age.
“Finally. Took you long enough. You have one minute to wolf down your cereal before the bus is here.”
“Yes, Aunty Raina.” Crystal said sweetly. Again, Raina rolled her eyes, but she knew she could never stay mad at these kids. They had been through so much already; she could never stand to be harsh with them.
Minutes later, the three children were on the school bus, with Raina waving at them from the side walk. The bus disappeared and Raina half ran back inside, knowing already she was late for work. She hated to leave the house in a mess, but it was what it was, she tried telling herself.…
Just picking up a few stray toys and books got her started on a roll she couldn’t stop. Her background in housekeeping kicked in and she found herself giving the carpet in the living room a quick vacuum, tiding up the cushions, and she regretfully looked at the pile of laundry that had yet to be folded. With three kids in the house it seemed like there was
laundry to be folded.
There was no time to sort it though, Raina thought as she rushed to the kitchen and rinsed off the breakfast dishes in the sink. Satisfied with the state of the house, she grabbed her shoulder bag, slipped on her sensible black heels, and shut the door. It was a beautiful spring day, with the sun reflecting a yellow light on the blossoming leaves.
Raina saw none of that as she took the stairs two at a time. She gave a last admiring glance at her house. The worry that constantly hovered at the back of her mind reared its ugly head.
She had been so proud when she’d bought this house right after she’d been promoted. But now? Now, she was barely making the mortgage payments. It felt like she was scraping by month-to-month, walking a tight rope to survive. What had been an ample salary for a single woman just didn’t cut it for a family of four. And the Social Security survivors benefits the kids got hardly covered their food and clothing, never mind all the other essentials growing kids needed.
She would hate to lose the house and go back to the never-ending cycle of paying rent. Buying the house had been such a huge step and at the time, the mortgage payments at the edge of what she could afford had not deterred her. Who knew that two years later, her costs would spiral and almost quadruple. Raina had underestimated how expensive it would be to take care of three children – clothing, food, and other necessities were only the tip of the iceberg. There were always more school fees, music lessons, dance lessons, after school programs, summer camps--never mind all the latest gizmos and gadgets kids wanted. She hadn’t even considered the cost though when she agreed to take her nieces and nephew in. They were family—all the family she had—it was just what she had to do.
But the last time she had bought anything for herself was more than seven months ago. She paused and looked at her black skirt suit and brushed down a few creases as she walked past a store window. It was still in good condition, she thought; one of the benefits of spending a few more dollars to buy quality clothes. The types of clothes she couldn’t let herself buy anymore, she thought ruefully.
She jerked her mind away from the depressing thoughts of her financial status. The bus was a ten-minute walk from her house, another advantage of living on Westmore Street. If she had to sell her car, she could always go back to public transit. It was a practical thought. She prided herself on being practical. All the while, she glanced at her watch, hoping that she would not be late for the weekly staff meeting. It set a bad example for her staff to see her walking in twenty minutes late.
* * *
he barely made
it with two minutes to spare.
The front of the Del Mar Hotel never failed to lift her spirits. The striking building was made up of twin towers comprised of blue and green glass. A world class entertainment and resort facility for some of the world’s wealthiest and most connected members of society.
And she was responsible for it all.
Raina swiped her badge at the security door and went in. Further down the hallway, she popped her head into the warm kitchen that smelled of freshly baked bread, bustling with activity, and said hello to the chefs and cooks. From the moment she stepped through the entrance of the Del Mar she held herself a little straighter, walked a little more confidently, and laughed a little more easily. The hotel was where she belonged most in all the world.
She scrutinized the floor as she walked, looking for any stray dirt or smudge, just as she did the walls and the fixtures. An unlit bulb up on the ceiling reminded Raina that she desperately needed to find a new maintenance man.
Reliable ones seem to be scarce in Palm Beach, especially when you actually needed them, she thought wryly. The last man she had interviewed a day earlier had been qualified enough, but his attitude stunk. She would much rather hire a person with less experience, who could learn on the job, and had a positive attitude. After all, how hard was it to change light bulbs and unclog toilets? Someone who was discrete and good with the guests was more important.
Raina knew more than anyone else that attitude is what mattered in the hotel business. It had gotten her to where she was today.
She had started as a room attendant cleaning several of the resort’s eleven hundred rooms, along with other housekeepers, while attending community college in the evenings. It had been a hectic schedule, but she had done it and gotten her business degree.
Her diligence and kind way with guests hadn’t gone unnoticed and she had quickly been promoted to housekeeper, then head housekeeper, and then to an assistant manager, and now, she was the manager of this magnificent property.
Still, she had her sights set even higher. Attitude did matter, Raina thought to herself, remembering her ideas on improving the standards of the housekeeping department. She was especially proud of how her idea on motivating the staff had caught on. She knew how much everyone hated “forced fun” get-togethers and motivational seminars. Instead she offered bonuses and incentives for catching employees performing random acts of kindness or exceptional service.
Still, every month, a large portion of the housekeeping staff and other service people went out for dinner or bowling together. It was impossible not to grow close to the people who worked in such close quarters for so long together.
The management offices were off a heavily carpeted hallway, away from the noise of the kitchen but close to the lobby. Her office was through a medium-sized room, furnished with a lone desk that should have belonged to a secretary, but which was currently vacant.
Another of Roger’s cost cutting measures
, she thought with a heavy sigh. As far as Pervy Rog was concerned, Raina did not need a secretary. Or someone to manage billing and invoices. Or a new handyman.
Roger believed she could run the hotel single handedly by waving a magic wand, apparently, she thought with a tinge of bitterness. She was now doing the job of three people, but her salary hadn’t budged one penny.
While she understood that sometimes a business needed to cut back, the lack of a secretary meant that Raina wasted a lot of time on tasks that a secretary would have handled. She eyed the piles of papers stacked precariously throughout the room. She would get to those.… Someday. Eventually. Really, she swore to herself, she would. Maybe tomorrow.…
Raina just had enough time to drop her bag in her office and read the agenda that they would be discussing that day on her phone. She left a minute later and headed to a small conference room that they used for their meetings.
“Good morning everyone,” Raina called cheerfully as she walked into the room filled with the heads of the various departments, from the head of sales to the front office manager.
She looked to pour herself a cup of coffee, but noticed none of the breakfast pastries, fruit, or beverages had been laid out. “Eddie, can you have the kitchen send up our usual spread?”
Eddie, an older gentleman who had been at the Del Mar since the Kennedy administration just shrugged and shook his head. “Mr. Roger says no more. It’s too—"
“Expensive.” Raina finished the words for him and sighed. He just shrugged and nodded.
Raina gritted her teeth and sat at the head of the table. How a hotel whose cheapest room was one thousand dollars a night couldn’t afford some rolls and coffee for the staff was beyond her. To her right was Kelly, her oldest friend as well as the head of housekeeping and customer service of the Del Mar, and to her right, was Mathew, who was the restaurant manager.
“Good morning, everyone.”
“Good morning,” they dutifully echoed back.
“It’s good to see you all looking chirpy this morning,” Raina said and grinned. “Let’s get straight to business. I saw a few complaints from yesterday’s guests.”
Her tone changed from playful to serious. Her day started better when there were no complaints whatsoever, but that was a rare morning. Rich people liked to complain a
whole damn lot.
“Yes, we had a guest checking out in the evening who complained that her room was too close to the fire exit and she heard noises all night. Don’t ask me from what.” Kelly said. “However, we did sort it out by giving her a complimentary night and she left quite happy.”
That’s what Raina loved about Kelly; cool headed and efficient, she sorted out the complaints swiftly and usually had a positive outcome with the guests. Raina went through two more, one from the restaurant and another from checkout. They were minor issues but their effects spread far as Raina drilled her staff about procedures and how to improve guest relations. Word of mouth was very powerful and if one guest bad-mouthed them to five friends, those were five potential customers lost.
“Right. Let’s move on to today’s banquet schedule, Mathew?”
As the restaurant manager, Mathew’s duties included organizing the menu for any events at the hotel.
“We have the Deputy Mayor’s State of the City Banquet Luncheon today and a black tie charity dinner for the ‘Wonders of Uplifting Children Charity’ in the evening.”
Raina watched Mathew as he spoke. He dressed immaculately, in black or dark blue suits and matching ties but it was his face that caught your attention. He had eyes which were blue and sometimes green depending on which direction they caught the light. He was handsome in a good-guy sort of way that made women swoon. He was also very, very gay. She’d learned that the hard way many years ago, much to her disappointment. Still, she could admire the view from where she sat.…
She wound up the meeting fifteen minutes later and everybody left for their various stations. She and Kelly lingered behind. They hadn’t caught up in the last week except to consult on professional matters.
“How are the kids?” Kelly said.
“They’re fine, growing too fast.” Raina said. “Crystal spends hours at the mirror and getting her to be on time is turning out to be a nightmare every morning.”
“Ah,” Kelly said with a smile. “The joys of motherhood.” She nodded sagely.
“How would you know?” Raina said with a raised eyebrow, looking at her friend askance.
Kelly flopped back into a conference chair and moaned. “I know, I know. I don’t and at this rate I probably never will. Honestly, Raina, I can’t remember the last time I went on a date!”
“You and me both. At least your evenings are free. Look at me—after work, I have to rush home and see to the children. And who’s gonna want to take on a single woman who is responsible for three young kids?! Still, I’m not complaining. They are totally worth it.”
“I know and they are all so sweet and different—difficult to believe that they are from the same parents.”
“Yes, I know,” Raina said, momentarily saddened by the circumstances that brought her nieces and nephew into her life. “But what happened to the guy you went out a few times with last month? He seemed promising” Raina said, steering the conversation away from the children.