Presenting themselves at the front desk, Jack and David were struck by the immensity of the foyer. The Palace of the Lost City did nothing by halves. Full-size statues of elephants were dwarfed by the wooden vertical beams which seemed to hold the place up. Overstuffed couches with zebra-print cushions were almost lost in the sunken lounges which invited guests to relax while expectant bar staff hovered nearby.
Leaving David to complete the paperwork, Jack flung himself over the back of a couch. To his consternation the cushion was not as soft as he had imagined.
‘There are plenty more sofas to sit on,’ an indignant voice sounded from under him. He scrambled to his feet to find that he had landed on a petite redhead, who was now wearing the remains of a Pina Colada. Trying unsuccessfully to hide his amusement, he placed his hand on her shoulder and offered to buy her another drink. She didn’t shrug him off and he felt the old yearning for human touch. Just in time he reminded himself that he was off women.
She glared at him and plonked the glass down on a table. ‘So that you can spill that one on me too?’ she shouted, on the brink of tears. Before he could say anything she grabbed her sandals and stormed off.
‘I see you’ve found an admirer already,’ David teased from behind him.
‘Yeah,’ said Jack, ‘an admirer. That was my first thought when she stormed off!’ There was still humour in his voice, but there was something else as well. He seemed lost in thought as he watched Juanita’s long legs carry her into the lift.
As the doors closed, Juanita leant against the side wall and wondered why she had reacted so strongly. Her nerves were still on edge from the note she had received the night before and she had found it impossible to engage in playful banter with the handsome stranger. Instead of storming off she had wanted to throw herself into his arms and ask him to make everything okay. She sensed compassion in his laughing eyes and concern in his touch. And for some reason it had made her want to cry.
She ran into her suite and threw herself down on the bed like she had done when she was a teenager. She was still berating herself for refusing his offer of a drink, but so many conflicting emotions had presented themselves that she had been incapable of thinking straight. In any case, his offer had not seemed like a date, just a replacement of the drink he has caused her to spill. How could she even think he would be interested in her with her hair scrunched up and not even mascara on. She was plain when not in the persona of Nita Strange.
Her red hair had been a constant source of teasing when she was at school. However, she refused to dye it because then she felt she would be conforming. At the age of 16 some of the ‘popular’ girls had told her not to bother trying to look pretty with make-up because her hair would always be her downfall. This comment had cut to the quick and she had turned all her energy to singing rather than trying to impress the boys.
It was rather ironic that Juanita Estrange’s golden mane of shame had become Nita Strange’s trademark and the most envied hair colour of all her young admirers.