There was something about the man and woman who walked into the Holiday Inn Select in Chantilly early Sunday to rent a room that bothered the desk clerk.

It just felt wrong, the clerk would later tell police, explaining how the man had one arm held tightly around the woman's shoulders, his fingers on her neck. He smelled like alcohol, and their ages just didn't compute, she said, describing her as an older woman and him as a much younger man.

"I could tell she was in fear," said the clerk, a 19-year-old Herndon woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, explaining through her supervisor that she wanted to remain unidentified for her safety.

"I got that she was scared."

The woman, a 40-year-old Sterling resident, was scared, police said. She was abducted along with her 3-year-old daughter at 1 a.m. from an apartment building parking lot in Herndon. Police said things might have ended differently if it weren't for the acts of the desk clerk, who spotted trouble and followed the couple to the elevators, silently mouthing to the woman, "I'm going to call the police."

Fairfax County police officers arrived a short time later and arrested Jannay E. Cabrera-Morel, 23, of the 1800 block of Fort Pulaski Court in Dumfries. He was charged with abduction with intent to defile, abduction, carjacking and possession of cocaine.

Investigators said yesterday that credit for the arrest and a possible foiled succession of crimes belongs to the hotel clerk.

"We're very proud of her," said Officer Bud Walker, a police spokesman. "So many people say to themselves, 'I'm not going to get involved.' This clerk did get involved when she saw something didn't look right."

Police said the drama began Sunday morning when mother and daughter were getting into their car in the 2400 block of Merrybrook Drive in Herndon and Cabrera-Morel forced his way into the driver's seat. Investigators say he threatened both the woman and her child with harm before demanding sex.

Investigators said Cabrera-Morel then drove them to the Holiday Inn Select Dulles Expo at 4335 Chantilly Shopping Center, where he forced them to accompany him into the hotel and ordered the woman to rent a room.

"It just didn't seem right to me the way they appeared," the clerk recalled. "She kept looking at me and telling her baby, 'It's going to be okay.' That's when I said to her, 'Everything is going to be okay.' "

Next the clerk made three calls, first to her general manager, then to police. Then she rang the couple's room, concocting a story about the woman's credit card in order to check up on them.

"I asked to speak to her, and he said, 'Oh, she's tired. She's asleep,' " the clerk recalled. "He said they'd come downstairs in 10 minutes."

But in just a minute or so, the man came to the front desk, threw the victim's credit card down on the counter and said they were going to another hotel.

But the clerk said she persuaded him to stay, intent on stalling until the police arrived, which they did minutes later.

After a brief interview, Cabrera-Moral was arrested. He was taken to the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center, where police said he is being held without bond.

Yesterday, Stephen Pence, one of the Holiday Inn's owners, praised the quick, intelligent response by his clerk.

"We're just so proud of how [she] handled it," Pence said. "We had the right person at the right time."

The clerk, who had been on the job at the hotel for only a month and a half, said she appreciates the praise but considers it unnecessary.

"It's something I should have done," she said. "Anyone else who was in that situation would have done the same thing. . . . If the police hadn't gotten here, I would have taken action myself."