I bounced my pencil up and down on the blank paper in front of me. I liked being old school. I liked jotting things down. My iPad was on the table as well, but my big, meaty fingers made it difficult to push the ridiculously small buttons. I jotted things down, and my secretary took care of making it into a document.
I reached my hand up, tugging at the tie choking me. It wasn’t anything I would ever get used to. I liked the look, but damn, I hated the feeling.
“Will you stop?” my friend and right-hand man, Richie, growled.
I looked up at him and grinned. “Was I bugging you?”
“You know you are,” he said. “Why in the hell do you insist on writing stuff down? Welcome to the twenty-first century. Grab that damn tablet and put it to use.”
“Technically, I haven’t written anything down,” I retorted.
“We need to get this figured out,” he said in a serious tone. “Shit is about to get real. If we beat last year’s occupancy levels like we’ve predicted, we need to be ready. We can’t afford to have things go wrong. You know it only takes one of those stupid Yelp reviews to tank our business. It’s like a domino effect. When one hits, others quickly add their two cents.”
I nodded. “You’re right. Both hotels are booked solid. We could hire more staff, just temporarily to get through the first rush of the season when all the college grads are out looking to sow their wild oats. We need extra maintenance on hand as well—I don’t want a repeat of last year. Overflowing toilets is not something I ever want to encounter again.”
He winced. “We have hired more maintenance full time, but the temporary thing?” He shook his head. “That always backfires. Temps don’t have the same commitment as our full-time staff.”
“Do you have that list from the head of housekeeping?” I asked, deciding it was better to rely on the people who worked in the trenches and knew firsthand what it would take to make the job easier.
He nodded, sliding his finger over the tablet he was using to make notes on. “We talked about linens. Should we do it?”
I shrugged. “If that makes it easier, let’s do it. There will be less wait on laundry to come back.”
“Done. Next?” His blue eyes stared at me.
I let out a sigh. “I don’t know. We need to take care of our staff. They are going to be working their asses off. Why don’t we have breakfast catered for them every day? Breakfast and dinner,” I quickly amended.
“That’s going to cost you,” he advised.
“If I don’t have a happy staff, it’s going to cost me more,” I told him. “I want them to enjoy their jobs. It took too much time and money to get them trained to the level they are at now. This season could really put us on the map as a destination getaway.”
“Got it. You’re right.”
We talked a bit more about what we could expect for the coming weekend. Lake Tahoe was a destination for college kids all across the country. It was also a family destination. My hotels tried to cater to both. We had a system worked out that put families on the upper floors on one side of the hotel, with the louder, more likely to party young adults on the ground floors.
“It’s going to be a success,” Richie said confidently. “I know it.”
I smiled, nodding. “It better be. I’m going to get going. We’ve got a long couple weeks ahead of us, and I want to enjoy one last quiet night.”
He chuckled, shaking his head. “You mean you’re going to go home and hang out with your dog.”
I grinned. “Maybe.”
He sighed, shaking his head. “You’re a nerd. You’re the only single billionaire I know who prefers to hang out at home with his dog. You should be out living it up, looking for a sexy Mrs. Billionaire. You’re Trent Gilroy, war hero turned billionaire. Everyone wants to know you. You could have any woman you want.”
“Not saying I’m not looking, but nothing I’ve seen has interested me. I’m in no hurry. I’m not going to hop from one bed to the next. You know that isn’t my style. Besides, that invites trouble, and I don’t want trouble. I like neat and tidy.”
“Neat and tidy is overrated,” he said dryly. “You’re thirty-two. You’re halfway over.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Halfway over? If you’re calling me old, I will remind you that you are about a minute younger than I am.”
“You’ve lived four lifetimes and probably used up at least eight of those lives you started out with during your time over there,” he said solemnly. “Don’t let this last one pass you by.”
He was always getting philosophical like that. He was my best friend in the world and knew things had been rough for me during my time overseas. I had lost a lot of good friends over there and had come back a broken man, literally and figuratively. A few savvy investments had saved my life. I was one of the fortunate ones and had something to build and money to do it.
“I’m out of here,” I said. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Prepare to be your most charming self, and wear your good suit.”
He scoffed. “All of my suits are custom. I don’t wear anything less than great.”
I raised an eyebrow. “They’re custom and like new because you rarely wear them.”
“I know good fashion,” he said, flicking invisible lint from his suit jacket. “It’s my skilled eye that made that lobby what it is. I wear what appeals to the masses. It’s summertime. We’re on a beach. It’s okay to dress the part.”
I rolled my eyes. “Your feminine side is showing through, bright and sparkly,” I teased.
He burst into laughter. “Women do not doubt my masculinity when I take them to bed. I’m comfortable enough in my own masculinity to talk fashion and good design. You wouldn’t know good fashion if it hit you upside the head. Men were not meant to wear jeans, T-shirts, and combat boots all the time.”
“It’s functional and comfortable,” I retorted, referring to my usual style. “And I wear shorts sometimes.”
“Rarely,” he muttered.
We both knew I avoided wearing shorts at the hotel because of the scars. I didn’t want to scare little kids and horrify guests. I also didn’t want the looks of pity. I hated pity.
He got to his feet and walked out of my office. I grabbed my things and left shortly after. It was going to be a wild summer. I was looking forward to the business.
I walked through the grand lobby of my hotel, smiling and nodding at the guests. The doorman opened the door for me, and my car was waiting. I got into the backseat, still smiling and looking like the well put together man I was supposed to be.
“Home, sir?” Bentley asked from the driver’s seat.
“Yes, please,” I murmured, rubbing my right knee. The damn thing had been acting up again. I hated letting anyone know I was in pain.
“Doing those exercises?” Bentley asked, his eyes meeting mine in the mirror.
I considered lying but knew he would know better. “No.”
He shook his head. “Man, you know you need to do the exercises.”
“I know. I will. It’s just been kind of a busy few weeks.”
I hated complaining to someone like Bentley. I rubbed the knee again before leaning back against the headrest. I looked out the window, watching the tourists roll their luggage, wrangle kids, and take pictures, all at the same time. I liked living in a town where people loved to visit. It made me feel lucky to be alive.
With the choice to live anywhere I wanted, I chose Lake Tahoe. I made it my home, and I hoped, through the businesses I was running, I could make it a little better place for people to visit and the people that lived there.
The car pulled through the gated entry, driving past the palm trees lining the circular driveway to my house on the lake. He parked and jumped out, running around to open my back door.
I shook my head as I got out. “I’ve told you I hate when you do that.”
He grinned, giving me a wink. “Which is exactly why I do it, Guvnor,” he said in a horrible British accent.
I used my left hand to shake his left hand—his only hand. The prosthetic right hand looked real enough and functioned well enough, but he’d told me long ago, he wanted a real handshake, and that meant using our left hands. It worked for me.
“I’ll see you in the morning,” I said and headed up the walk.
I walked inside and waited for it. It took about ten seconds before I heard the nails on the marble floors. “Come here girl!” I shouted, knowing she was making her way to the foyer via the doggie door.
She rounded the corner in a full gallop. Her ears bounced and her tongue lolled to the side as she ran. I dropped to my knees, waiting for her to maul me with her tongue. The beautiful brown boxer leaped at me, nearly knocking me on my back with all of her eighty pounds.
“Hey girl, how’s my sweet girl?” I asked, rubbing her ears and happily accepting her exuberant kisses over my cheeks, eyes, nose, and wherever else her tongue could reach.
She barked once. In my mind, she was talking to me. I gave her a good belly rub as she rolled to her back. “Good girl, Leia. Did you have a good day?”
I spent a few minutes with her before very slowly getting back on my feet and heading into the kitchen. I was hungry but had no inclination to go out anywhere. I knew I should go out, shake hands, advertise the hotel, and be a man about town, but I really liked being home.
Richie couldn’t understand it, but I liked the peacefulness of sitting on the patio with my dog, watching the gorgeous sunsets. I didn’t need noise. I’d had enough noise in my lifetime.
Richie was the type who liked chaos and noise and people. I used to before I joined the Army. The Army changed me. It was why I’d joined. I needed the changing. That was for damn sure. I pushed the thoughts to the back of my mind. I didn’t like revisiting those years any more than necessary.
“Should we order some dinner?” I asked Leia, who was walking alongside me.
Her answer was to wag her tiny cropped tail. I pulled out my phone, hit my food app, and quickly scanned through the regular options.
“Chinese, it is,” I said, quickly pushing the buttons to order before putting the phone on the counter and grabbing a cold Heineken from the fridge.
Leia knew the drill. She ran through her doggie door and was waiting for me on the patio. I sat down in one of the deck chairs and looked at her. Her tongue was hanging with what could only be described as a smile on her face as she waited for me to give her the go ahead.
“All right, up,” I said.
She leaped into the chair beside me and turned around a couple of times before dropping down on the nominal free space in the chair. She was the biggest lap dog.
I rested my head against the chair, staring out at the water. I idly rubbed her head with one hand, the beer in the other. It was my idea of a good time. I didn’t need the clubs or the women. I just needed a good woman, who happened to love dogs and appreciated a quiet night with nothing more than the lapping of the lake for music.
I reasoned it was wise to stay in for the night. There would be plenty of late nights ahead as I worked the crowds over the coming months. I needed to recharge. I had been working around the clock for over a month getting everything ready, crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s. There was no room for error.
I wanted everything to be perfect, not just because it was good business, but because I wanted people to have a good time. They were spending their hard-earned money at my hotel. It gave me a great deal of pride to know they chose my place over all the others.
Or my place was the only one they could get a reservation at. Either way, I wanted them to keep coming back.
I wanted them to look back on the vacation to Tahoe and think it was better because of where they had stayed.
Ali, what I read was good, another winner for you.