** Sabrina **
“You are not a sexy librarian,” I said to myself in the mirror.
There would be no hair-shaking, glasses-removing hot babe reveal in this girl’s life. I did not have an inner goddess. I had an inner band of nerds and they were all wearing headgear and geeking out to Reylo fanfic online. I didn’t have to worry about being a cliché because I wasn’t even a librarian. I was just an assistant.
I finished touching up my lipstick and put it in my pocket and stuck my tongue out at my reflection. I had spent ten minutes winging my eyeliner this morning only to hide all the effort behind my black cat eyeglasses.
I smoothed my black curls back with my headband, blinked, then rolled my eyes. Who wants to be a stereotype, anyway? What a waste of makeup.
Why do I even keep trying?
“Sabrina! There is a phone call for you, honey. It’s Harry’s school,” Mrs. MacIntyre called from behind the check-out counter.
I glanced at the bathroom door with a sigh. Probably another meltdown.
“Coming,” I called back. I turned away from the bathroom mirror and finished drying my hands with a paper towel, and then used it to open the door.
I once had wild ideas, a few friends, hope for the future—stuff like that. Now I was a small-town assistant librarian stuck in Green Valley, Tennessee. I was a twenty-seven-year-old virgin with no prospects in sight. Even if a prospect crossed my path, I wouldn’t be brave enough to flirt, or even speak to him, anyway. I hid in the horror section whenever I spotted a man heading to the check-out counter—because, yikes.
There was no shortage of male talent in this town; that was a known fact. But I would have to go into town for one of them to notice me. I was starting to lose hope and I was pretty sure I would die a lonely old spinster. In this town everybody knew everybody, but nobody knew me. I lived my life in this library and at home. I took care of Harry, Ruby, and Weston and nurtured my Kindle like the baby I would probably never have.
Mrs. MacIntyre held out the ancient cordless phone with a sympathetic smile. “Bring him here if you need to, dear,” she offered. I smiled and mouthed ‘thank you’ to her. She was the head librarian and the sweetest boss in the history of bosses.
“Hi, this is Sabrina.” I listened, then I sighed. “I’ll be right there.”
“Can I…?” I started to say, but Mrs. MacIntyre was already shooing me to the door with my purse and keys held out. Bless her heart—I meant that the nice way.
The brisk fall air ruffled my hair as I trudged through the crunchy leaves littering the parking lot on the way to my Jeep. Harry did not attend Green Valley Grade School; they did not offer the class he needed. I had to drive through the mountains to get to his school. I hated that drive. Even though I grew up here, mountain roads freaked me out. The drop offs, the treetops, the endless plunge into oblivion.
I managed though. I always managed.
I rang the bell and stuck my face in the security camera to get buzzed in. I was right. He had a meltdown and they weren’t sure what set him off.
I took in his angry little face and tear-streaked cheeks before he threw himself into my arms. I picked him up, but it was hard. He was growing up so fast and I was lucky he was small for a nine-year-old.
“Sabrina,” he said. “Sabrina. Sabrina.”
His teacher hooked his backpack over my arm with a sympathetic smile for me. “We’re not sure what set him off, but he seemed a little sad this morning during our social circle.”
“I’ll try to talk to him about it when we get home,” I told her.
“Let me know if you figure it out.” She patted Harry on the shoulder. “I’ll see you on Monday, Harry. I hope you feel better.”
“Bye, Teacher Allen. Bye,” he answered. At least the crying had stopped.
I thanked her and then we were on our way. Hopefully, he’d be okay to go back to work with me. I didn’t like leaving my shift early, even though Mrs. MacIntyre said it was okay. It felt irresponsible. I would always feel like I needed to prove myself, to prove to everyone I was worth hiring. I was sure they only hired me because of who my father was. I didn’t want to let anyone down.
I set Harry down and helped him into my Jeep. “Buckle up, Harry,” I instructed.
“Buckle up,” he repeated. When Harry started repeating everything people said with that monotonous tone of voice, I knew something was wrong.
“What’s wrong, Harry?”
“Wrong, Harry,” he repeated. “Where is the mountain Hood?” he asked without looking at me.
“It’s in Oregon,” I answered, hoping my knowledge of random mountain trivia would hold up until we got home. I shut his door and ran around to get in.
“Where is the mountain Rainier?” he said loudly.
“In Washington. Want to talk about it?”
“Where is the mountain Diablo?”
“In California, Harry.” I started the car and took off.
“Where is the mountain Le Conte? The mountain Clingmans Dome? The mountain Chilhowee? Oh. Oh. Oh. The mountain Guyot? Chapman? Old Black? Kephart? Collins?” He was just yelling out the names of the mountains by this point.
“Harry, where are we?” I stopped him. Sometimes giving him an anchor helped him come down from his agitation.
“Where are we? Green Valley, Tennessee. The Great Smoky. Appalachia.” He paused for a second. “Where are you? Sabrina?”
“Right here, sweetheart. Right here, like always.”
“Right here. Very good, Sabrina. Tickle hugs, please. Tickle hugs, Aunt Riri.”
“I’m driving, Harry. When we stop, okay?”
Please…just hold on a few more minutes, Harry.
He rocked into the back of his seat, hard. I could feel the car jerk with his movements and I frantically looked for a place to pull over. He rocked into his seat again and again until his seat belt locked. Then he screamed so loud it rang in my ears. He threw his shoe; it bounced off my shoulder onto the passenger seat.
“Harry, stop. Please, Harry. I’m trying to drive. I’ll pull over soon.”
We were on a twisty-turny backwoods Tennessee mountain road for crap’s sake. There was nowhere to go except over the freaking side.
“I’m looking, Harry. I’ll pull over as soon as I can. Shh.” I tried to soothe him.
He would not stop screaming. No matter how many times this happened, I had never become used to it. It was hard to concentrate. My knuckles were white on the steering wheel and I was afraid my panting breath would fog up the window. Finally, I found a spot to pull over. Thankfully, it had a guardrail on the side. I parked, turned the engine off, and climbed over the console into the back seat. I unbuckled Harry and pulled him into my arms. His red, sweaty, tear-streaked face burrowed into my chest as I pulled him closer and wrapped him up tight. After that drive, I needed hugs too.
“Tickle hugs, Aunt Riri. Tickle hugs, please.”
A hysterical laugh escaped me as I wiggled my fingers along his sides and rocked him. He was almost ten. How would we manage when he got older? I heard the brief sound of a siren, then saw red and blue lights reflected in the rearview mirror.
Just great. Exactly what I need right now.
“Harry, I have to let go for a minute,” I whispered.
He gripped my cardigan in his fists, burrowed further into me, and would not let go. I was stuck—pinned in the driver’s side corner of the back seat.
There was a tap on my window.
“Everything okay in there?” he said loudly.
I heard him, but I did not see him, on account of my being buried under a melting down nine-year-old boy. I reached around Harry to unlock the door and push it open. I found myself looking up into the concerned face of Deputy Sheriff Jackson James. I let out a sigh of relief. Jackson was handsome and nice—I wasn’t afraid to talk to him. He came into the library sometimes. I only talked to him that first time years ago because he surprised me in my horror section hiding place. Jackson is a big Stephen King fan, like me.
Jackson raised his eyebrows expectantly. “Are you okay, Sabrina?”
“This is my nephew, Harry. He is on the autism spectrum,” I explained. Harry would soon be my son—after the adoption went through, that was. I was waiting on his dirtbag biological father to sign the papers like he’d promised my father and our attorney. But I was keeping that news to myself until all the ducks were in a row, not wandering around in the street like maniacs.
Jackson nodded his understanding.
“He’s having a rough day. I just picked him up from school, and I had to pull over,” I continued.
“That’s understandable. But this isn’t the safest stretch of road to stop on, sweetheart.”
I nodded, because it sure as all heck was not. I wouldn’t drive it at all if I had my way.
“He threw a shoe. He was rocking my Jeep. I had to stop. I didn’t know what else to do,” I said. And to my mortification, tears filled my eyes. I tried to blink them back, but one fell anyway.
Jackson nodded decisively. “Stay here,” he ordered.
Well, that should be easy enough. I scrubbed the tears away after he walked off.
He returned with another officer following behind him. “This is Wyatt Monroe, one of our deputies. He’ll drive you home. Y’all buckle up back here.” Jackson tapped the top of my Jeep with a smirk and walked away.
Someone else replaced Jackson in my line of sight. My mouth dropped open as I watched him step toward my door. He was so tall, and broad—I had never seen muscles like that in real life.
Gah, don’t be such a creeper.
I snapped my eyes from his body up to his face and my tears dried up. Holy mother of hot guys. Wow. That body had nothing on his handsome face. Deep brown eyes the color of chocolate stared back at me, the best kind of chocolate. The kind where you could only eat one piece because it was so rich. Except, I was sure I would want more than one piece of him.
His eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled at me.
Smile back, dummy. I did what I said and smiled back.
“Who is there? Who is it, Aunt Riri?” Harry said, then pulled back from my chest to turn his head and look.
“My name is Wyatt. I’m a deputy sheriff.” He smiled and held his hand out to Harry.
Harry looked at it for a second, then shook it. “Like Wyatt Derp,” he said.
I couldn’t help it, I laughed. As did the hot sheriff. He had a sense of humor—bonus. Plus, the laughter made his eyes twinkle adorably, in addition to that spectacular corner crinkle.
“It’s Earp, sweetheart,” I gently corrected.
Harry twisted back and looked at me. “‘Destiny is that which we are drawn towards and fate is that which we run into.’ Top ten Wyatt Der—Earp quotes.” He had moved on from listing mountains. It was a good sign. Quoting was better than listing when it came to Harry’s coping mechanisms.
“Did he say that, honey?” I asked him.
“Yes. I had a bad day, Aunt Riri,” he sighed and cuddled into me. I hugged him back and kissed the top of his head.
“Is your name Riri?” Sheriff Hottie McOhMyGod asked with a smile.
A gorgeous smile from delicious looking lips…that were still smiling at me.
Holy Hufflepuffs—he is the most gorgeous man I have ever seen.
“No, my name is Sabrina,” I murmured, suddenly even more acutely aware of him and the effect he was having on me.
Quit it. He’s probably married. Or gay. Or has an epically awesome girlfriend that would actually know what to do with that body when she was lucky enough to get her hands on it.
I glanced down at his left hand—no ring. Niiiice.
“That’s a pretty name. It’s nice to meet you.” He held his hand out for me to shake.
I placed my hand in his and had to fight my instinct to squee out loud. His big, warm palm dwarfed mine.
“It’s nice to meet you too. Uh, I think we’ll be okay though. You don’t need to drive us,” I stammered.
He grinned at me. “Actually, I do. It seems Jackson left me here.”
“Oh, well. Okay then. The keys are still in the ignition. And thank you, but we’re not going home. I’m going to the library. I have to work until three.” Since Harry seemed to have calmed down, I decided to finish my shift. There wasn’t much left of it, but I’d feel better if I finished it out. Harry loved the astronomy section, and he adored Mrs. MacIntyre and Naomi Winters, who was on the schedule to close this evening.
“No problem. Are you a librarian?” he asked.
“No, I’m an assistant librarian. I help shelve the books and sometimes I clean the bathrooms.” Well, gosh, I’m sure he found that fascinating. I shut my eyes and shook my head.
Harry had fallen asleep on me. I wasn’t surprised, as he had been quite worked up and he usually took a short nap after an outburst. I tried to shift him to the side, but my arm was full of tingles from him laying on it and he was getting heavy.
“Do you live in Green Valley?” Deputy Monroe asked.
I nodded yes.
“I just moved back to town a few months ago. That’s probably why I’ve never seen you around before.”
Unlikely. He hadn’t seen me before because if I was not at the library then I was usually at home. Plus, I went to a private school—all girls—so even if he were near my age, we wouldn’t have crossed paths that way either.
“Let me help you with him. I’ll pull him over.” He crossed in front of the car, opened the door, and leaned in. He gently took Harry in his arms, slid him off me, and effortlessly propped him up in his seat. When Harry was out, he stayed out.
I leaned over to reach for the seat belt and came face-to-face with him.
“Poor little guy wore himself out,” he said. His eyes crinkle-smiled at me again. Up close, it was amazing.
I smiled back. “Thank you. My arm was asleep.” I inhaled. My God, he smelled good. So good, like clean laundry and all that was sexy in the world. He was so big. His shoulders took up the whole space in the doorway. I sighed.
He leaned over and patted my tingly arm.
My heart stopped. Then it started back up and pounded like a bass drum in my chest and I froze stock still in my seat.
“You’re welcome.” He smiled softly and winked at me.
There was no one else here. I fought the urge to turn around and see if there was someone behind me. He meant to do it.
Oh my gosh. I blushed furiously.
My eyes blinked at him and my mouth opened to say—something, freaking anything—but no words came out.
He chuckled, then stepped back and gently closed the door. I buckled Harry in and scooted to the middle seat to fasten my seat belt. Harry sank to the side with his head resting on my shoulder.
“Ready?” he asked after he finished adjusting the seat and mirrors.
I could see his eyes on mine in the rearview mirror. This would be an interesting ride into town.
“Yes, I’m ready.” I was such a liar. I was not ready. No way. Not one bit.
I worked in a library, surrounded by books all day long. And if I’m being honest, I lived my life within the pages of books. But I was not naïve enough to think books could give me all the answers. They couldn’t tell me what to say to Deputy Sheriff McOhMyGod. They couldn’t tell me how to act. And they sure as all heck could not tell me what was in his head. All I knew was my palms were sweaty, my knees felt weak, and I was sure my cheeks were as red as my MAC Ruby Woo lips. I mentally sorted through the many (many, many, many) romance novels I’d read over the years, because my symptoms were straight out of one of those. Not the Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy.
I smiled back at his crinkle-eyed hotness in the rearview mirror. Be brave, Sabrina. He is just a human. You can talk to a fellow human in your car and not die.
** Sabrina **
I couldn’t do it. I could not talk to a human in my car. I wussed out—hard. But at least I didn’t die.
The ride back into town was silent. But weirdly, it didn’t feel awkward. Harry was asleep; perhaps that was a good enough reason to justify not talking and eliminate the awkwardness silence can bring. I went with that and tried to shake off my embarrassment. He had parked my Jeep in the tiny lot in front of the library, and I swooned even more over him when he got out and turned to open my door for me. I lost my breath when I stood next to him and had to look up to see his face. I’m a tall girl at five feet ten inches. And today, like every other day, I was wearing heels. He was still taller. Plus, there was something about him—aside from his outrageously gorgeous looks—that made me want to be near him. I wanted to know more about him. He seemed kind. He seemed good. He was able to interact with Harry and that never happened on anybody’s first try. People shied away from Harry, especially when he was upset. Harry had a unique perspective on things and some people found him peculiar. Having Harry around was a good litmus test for determining who had asshole tendencies, or latent jerk face qualities. I quickly glanced through the window. Harry was still asleep.
“So…” Deputy Sheriff Monroe said and grinned down at me.
Ooh, he had a dimple, just one, and it was magical. I wanted to lick it. Wait, no I didn’t. Was it inappropriate to think this way about him? I had never wanted to lick a dimple before.
“It was very nice to meet you, Sabrina.” That eye crinkle was back and aimed right at me.
By now I was pretty sure that every time I looked directly at him my IQ lowered because I could not think of one stinking word to say to him. I opened my mouth anyway though, just in case the flirt fairy decided to bless me with a witty anecdote or some charming repartee. Nope. That was a big fat nothing coming out of my mouth.
Can I disappear now?
His right eyebrow cocked, and his grin got bigger as he studied my face. “I’d like to get to know you better. Can I take you out to dinner Saturday night?”
My eyes got huge. I felt them bug out behind my glasses.
“Or maybe a movie? Or both?” he added with another wink.
My mouth opened wider, then shut, and I blinked rapidly. Answer him. Say yes. Say yes, dammit—this is what you’ve been waiting for. But I just stood there and stared.
His smile shrank down to just a half grin, and my heart broke a little bit when he lost that irresistible eye crinkle and the dimple disappeared. I inhaled sharply, my eyes burned as they lowered to the ground.
“You’re adorable,” he said.
Hot guy, say what?
I snapped my eyes back to his. The crinkle was back. “Would it be okay if I come to the library sometime this week and try this again?” He finished talking, then boom, the dimple was back too.
Holy effing crap.
Nod your head, Sabrina. You nod it right now.
I nodded my head.
He chuckled again. “I’ll see you real soon, darlin’. Tell Harry goodbye for me.”
“I will tell him,” I said and smiled back. I finally found some words, and a small smile. Better late than never.
Darlin’… I let myself feel the top-to-toe tingle that word gave me. I sighed as I watched him walk away, admiring how each step made his uniform tighten across his glorious bottom and broad shoulders. I watched his hips move, and it made me think…things, thoughts—bad ones. I should really be ashamed of myself. I was objectifying the crap out of him. I sighed when he stepped off the curb and crossed the street toward the sheriff station up the road. I jumped when he turned around to wave and smile at me. At least I managed to wave back before I spun around to open Harry’s door. I also realized I was still nodding.
Good gracious, he might ask me out again. What am I going to do?
“Wake up, sleepyhead,” I said distractedly. I jumped again when I looked down at Harry to see he was already awake and staring up at me.
“He was nice,” Harry said, then yawned.
“He was,” I agreed. “Do you feel like going to work with me?”
Harry beamed. “Yes, Riri. Yes, I do feel like going to work with you. Can I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: The Illustrated Edition, by J.K. Rowling and illustrated by Jim Kay and sit in the purple bean bag? Is Miss Naomi here today?”
“Yes, yes, and yes. Then, after work we’ll stop at Genie’s Bar to pick up—”
“Fried chicken! It’s family dinner night! Pop will be home. And Ruby and Westie too! And we met a nice sheriff who looks like Superman. The worst day ever just turned into the best day ever. Isn’t that funny?”
“It sure is. Are you going to taste the chicken tonight?” Harry’s sensory issues became especially pronounced with food. “Maybe one tiny bite?”
His face wrinkled up in disgust and he gagged before he regained his neutral expression. “Maybe. One bite. I will ponder it and then tell you my decision at the table. Maybe it can be my amuse-bouche. But I don’t think dead chickens are amusing at all, unless they’re ground up in a dinosaur shaped nugget. I really will have to think about it.” He shook his head as he mumbled the last part. He was about to get lost in his thoughts.
I interrupted his mumbling by holding my hand out to him. “Deal,” I said. He looked at my hand and then up at my face for a second before taking my hand with a sideways grin.
I helped him out of the Jeep, and we headed to the library entrance. Harry stopped to admire the big picture window next to the book return slot. Naomi had finished decorating while I was gone. A colorful fall faux-leaf garland wound with twinkling fairy lights festooned the interior of the window, black cat silhouettes peeked out from each corner, and two smiling scarecrows stood on either side of a table she had piled with stacks of fall-themed children’s books. Pumpkins filled the area under the table and the tops of the short shelves in the front of the library beneath the side windows. This place was already magical, but the decorations added that extra something special. You could step inside, open a book, and go somewhere else—somewhere beyond the confinements of Green Valley. I loved this library, and thankfully, so did Harry. He was always at peace here.
“Riri, look at that. Look. At. That. It is the fall and the autumn. It is the orange and the black.” He turned to look up at me. He was jumping up and down by the time he got to “the orange and the black.” The smile that lit up his face was infectious; I grinned back at him and squeezed his hand.
“Naomi did a great job,” I observed as we shuffle-skipped through the leaves on the pathway to the double front door and into the library. My heels clicked on the old linoleum as I led Harry to the tiny children’s section in the back corner. He ran around the colorful bean bags to his favorite double-sized purple one and plopped into it with a sigh.
I waved to Naomi, who was busy shelving the latest additions to the children’s section. My father had donated money for those new books, and I couldn’t help but think he had done it so I could keep my job. Rumors of the library’s possible closure had been circulating, and I was dreading it. This is the only work I’d ever done. They’d hired me six years ago to replace the beloved Bethany Winston. I wasn’t even a real librarian, just an assistant who loved to read and had a vast knowledge of books. When you do nothing but read in your spare time, that could happen.
“Hi, Naomi. I hope you don’t mind that Harry is here.” Guilt crept over me as I greeted her.
“Of course I don’t mind. We’re buddies. Aren’t we, Harry?”
He nodded up at her with adoration. Naomi was special, beautiful and sweet, and full of light. Sometimes—okay, all the time—I wished I wasn’t so shy. I would like to be her friend. But something always held me back from talking to her about anything real. I could only manage ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ and library business. She sat down next to Harry and grabbed the illustrated Harry Potter book that was waiting on the low round table next to the beanbag.
“I’ll finish the shelving,” I offered.
She nodded at me with a smile, then chatted about the book with Harry. I smiled when they moved on to talk about the upcoming autumnal equinox. Harry loved astronomy and Naomi was an expert. I sighed and pushed the small book-laden cart further into the stacks. I adjusted my collar, undoing a couple of buttons. It was getting hot in here; I dabbed at my forehead with the sleeve of my cardigan.
I huffed out a breath as I rolled the cart to the self-help section. I had read most of these books and none of them worked on me—I was still as shy as ever. I laughed softly, quickly shelved them, and then continued walking down the aisle. Naomi had already sorted the returned books into order. All I had to do was follow the numbers. I felt terrible for leaving all this work for her to do. She was so sweet. Even if she secretly hated me for having to leave so often, I bet she would never tell me.
Had someone turned the heat up in here? I took off my cardigan and draped it over the handle of the cart. I felt my chest constrict as my heart pounded. I could hear it in my ears. My head throbbed at my temples. I took a deep breath and then a few shallow, panting breaths. I leaned against the cart for balance. The early afternoon sunlight shining through the windows felt like a spotlight aimed right at me. I felt conspicuous. I felt judged. Logically, I knew I was being silly. Naomi was a kind person; so was Mrs. MacIntyre. Jackson pulled over to make sure I wasn’t doing anything nefarious, and since I was not, he was nice to me like he always was. Wyatt was nice too.
I couldn’t get my mind off Wyatt. He said he would try to ask me out again. He was everything I always fantasized about. Truthfully, he was probably everything most women fantasized about. He should probably take one of them on a date instead.
My therapist had given me deep breathing exercises to do when I felt myself getting nervous. I inhaled deeply. I counted to five, then ten. I released my breath and thought of my bedroom and my bed with its white eyelet comforter and the soft gray blanket my mother had knitted thrown over the bottom. I wanted to crawl into it and not come out. I thought of dinner tonight with my family and going home where I was safe. I exhaled slowly until my heart rate returned to normal and my legs stopped shaking.
I hate this.
I had no business dating when I was such a ridiculous mess of insecurity and irrational fears. Why would anyone want to put up with this drama? I should say no. Or just say nothing, like I did earlier. Better yet, I should quit my job or call in sick until he forgot about me. I mean, I could call in sick tomorrow, and it wouldn’t even be a lie. I’d probably throw up tonight anyway from my nerves. Or maybe I should grow a pair and do the opposite of my usual instincts.
What would Sabrina do? Figure that out, then do the opposite. Forget that—what would Sienna Diaz do? My therapist said I should have a bravery mantra, something to get my mind out of an anxiety spiral. Sienna Diaz was my favorite movie star, filmmaker, and a total badass—she created the movie version of Smash-Girl for eff’s sake—the best comic book character in the history of comics. Sorry, Wonder Woman. So, like the extreme dork that I was, I used my girl crush on Sienna Diaz as part of my bravery mantra. What would Sienna Diaz do? I would die if anyone found out about it.
I jumped and let out a squeal when Naomi popped her head around the corner of the romance section where I was finishing up shelving the last books on the cart.
“I’m sorry I startled you,” she said.
I nodded at her and gripped the handle of the cart in my sweaty palms.
“Are you okay, Sabrina? You seemed to be a bit flustered when you came in,” Naomi asked.
“Oh, I’m okay. I’m fine, thank you for asking.” I returned her smile then quickly looked down at the cart and picked up another book.
“You know where to find me if you ever want to talk. We could all use more friends, right?” She looked disappointed for a second before covering it with a smile.
My eyes got big. She wanted to be my friend? I forced myself to stand there and not push that cart away and escape like I normally would have done. Like I had done almost every other time she tried to talk to me. She probably thought I was just rude. Everyone probably thought that about me, even though I would rather die than be rude to someone. I inhaled sharply and forced myself to look at her. Her smile was understanding. Her eyes shone with compassion.
I blinked back tears and nodded at her. “Yes,” I whispered.
Her jaw dropped for a second before she smiled radiantly at me.
I understood why Harry liked her so much. She could see beyond the stuff that makes most people dismiss others. Like Harry’s Autism or my stupid shyness. We had been working together for almost six years and she had never dismissed me; she had always kept trying to talk to me.
I smiled back. “Thank you, Naomi.”
“For what?” She laughed, like tinkling bells that spread her good nature around the library.
“For being a good friend to Harry. For making him feel special and safe here. There are not many people with that kind of patience. And, um…” Thoughts I usually kept inside had spilled out.
“You don’t need to thank me. It’s my pleasure,” she answered. “And also, it’s three o’clock. You’re off. Harry informed me it’s time to get the chicken, and he’s going to take half a bite tonight.”
“Wow, he did?” I asked. There was a lot to unwrap here. First, Harry was going to eat chicken. And second, he conversed with someone about something that didn’t directly involve what they were doing. Which would have been astronomy, Harry Potter, the purple beanbag, or the library itself. Holy progress, Batman.
She nodded. “And guess what else? I had a bag of M&M’s to snack on for my break, and he ate the blue ones! He said they tasted like chocolate sky. But he didn’t like the red ones. He said they were hot.” We both laughed. Then she hugged me. Most kids would inhale a bag of M&M’s if given the chance. But not Harry. Harry was very particular when it came to food. Occasionally, things other than taste and texture compelled him to try a bite of something. In this case it seemed to be the colors of the M&M’s.
I hugged her back. I hugged someone not in my family. Harry was not the only one making changes.
I stepped away from Naomi and smiled at her. A real one. Not the small excuse for a smile I always told myself would suffice.
“Sabrina, you’re lovely,” she said.
I blushed. I was fairly certain I turned as red as those hot M&M’s Harry didn’t like.
But, overwhelmed by the hope she inspired in me today I said, “Thank you, Naomi, I’ve always thought you were beautiful, and not just your face.” I felt my face heat with a blush. If I kept blushing like this, would it stay red forever? Gah, I’m so awkward. What if she thought I was talking about her butt or something? I meant her kindness was beautiful.
“You’re fine, Sabrina. I know what you meant,” she said knowingly. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Be careful tonight. It’s been getting dark earlier and earlier,” I said.
“Change is in the air.” She smiled and headed off toward the checkout counter.
Change indeed. Spirits lifted, I headed back to the children’s area to get Harry.
** Wyatt **
“Hey, Jackson! Thanks for leaving me on the road, man,” I called. I crossed the station to sit on his desk and bust his chops before I met my mother and one or more of my three brothers for lunch at Daisy’s Nut House. Jackson James had been a couple years ahead of me all through school. I’d known him since we were kids—he was the same age as my older brother, Everett. But Jackson never hung out with my brother or me. He was too busy hanging around with Ashley Winston back then to give anyone else the time of day. I didn’t blame him; if Ashley Winston had chosen me to hang out with, I would have ditched everyone else too. She was as sweet as she was pretty. Sometime after high school, Jackson had won the battle against his acne and braces and become a deputy sheriff. Now, all he had to do was win the battle against his father’s shadow. Jackson’s father, Sheriff Jeffrey James, was a legend in these parts. I was honored when he hired me to work for his department; it was a dream come true.
Jackson looked up at me with a grin and leaned back in his chair. “You should be thanking me—sincerely, Monroe—without the sarcasm. I did you a favor. I left you with a cute little librarian. Scared Sabrina Logan pulled to the side of a treacherous mountain road, just waiting for a big hero like you. Sightings of her in town are rare, unless you’re into books. But there are only so many times you can go into the library before it gets weird…so, uh, you’re welcome.”
“She shot you down, huh? Did she break your heart?” I grinned. For some reason I liked the idea that she shot him down and not me—not yet, anyway. I liked Jackson. He was a good guy, and I enjoyed working with him. But I had found myself really liking Sabrina this morning. Something about her shyness drew me in. She was like a mystery and I wanted to solve it. The thought of Jackson going after Sabrina—well, it didn’t make me happy and I’ll leave it at that for now.
Jackson chuckled. “Not quite. I wasn’t trying to hit on her, not the first time anyway. I don’t think she even realized it was me that first time, even though she knows who I am—if that makes any sense at all. I ran into her at the library a few years back when I was looking for the latest Stephen King. I think she was hiding back there in the horror section. She jumped about a foot in the air when I walked up and said hi to her. She’s a shy one. Completely oblivious to flirting of any sort, but sweet. She always holds the new Stephen King books for me when they come out. She’s gorgeous, but too much work for me. I gave up on that a long time ago. Don’t worry about me, Monroe. I always have more than one iron in the fire.” He smirked.
I shook my head at Jackson with a relief that I could not understand. I had no claim on Sabrina. But, unlike him, I liked a challenge—especially the kind that looked like a sexy librarian hiding behind a pair of glasses. What would it take to get her to go out with me?
“Hey, now. I do not want to know where you put your iron, Jackson. TMI.” I returned his look. “Wait a minute, back up. Her last name is Logan? Not one of Doc Logan’s daughters?”
“Yep. Cora, the older one, passed about nine years back. You were already at UT, remember?” I did remember; it was a car accident of some type, a terrible tragedy. “Sabrina went to that girls’ school in Maryville. That’s probably why you don’t know her. I know her because I know everyone,” he answered me with yet another smirk. I was glad to be back in Green Valley. Everybody knew everybody’s business in this town. If Sabrina was too shy to talk to me, I could most likely find out everything I needed to know from alternate sources.
“You’re a real man about town, Jackson. You know, Doc Logan fixed my knee when I was at UT,” I recalled.
“I saw that game.” He cringed. “How’d it feel to have your foot face the other way?”
“About as shitty as you’d imagine,” I replied and sat in the chair across from his desk. My last football game at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville had ended with a destroyed ACL, MCL, and other assorted injuries—fun times. I was pretty sure my dashed professional football trajectory is what led to the downfall of my marriage. My ex-wife needed a little more out of life. And that more looked a lot like money and mansions and a bigger diamond ring than the one I had given her after she got pregnant with our oldest daughter, Makenna. After our second daughter, Melissa, was born, Isabelle had started working as an assistant to Jefferson Hickson, a big-shot, jackass country music singer in Nashville. Which led to a lot of lying, cheating, and the eventual divorce. These days, if I ever wanted to see her, I could turn on the TV during any country music award show and watch the dollar signs flash in her eyes whenever the camera panned to her. I never admitted to anyone that it wasn’t a great loss. I didn’t love her like I wanted to love the woman I married. If she hadn’t gotten pregnant, I would have never asked. It was a relief when she left me.
“You feel like hitting Genie’s after work?” Jackson’s voice jolted me out of my thoughts.
“I can’t tonight. I’m supposed to have dinner with my folks. My mother is still trying to get my father to quit harping on me about joining the business. I’ll probably hear all about it at lunch, too.” My father ran Monroe & Sons, the family construction business that had been passed from father to son for over seventy years. The office sat in a huge old Victorian mansion smack dab in the middle of Green Valley. Old Papaw Monroe had built it to show off and it worked. Everyone went to my dad when they needed any kind of construction work done. All three of my brothers worked for my father. It pissed him off when I moved to Nashville after college with my ex and my oldest daughter and joined the police force.
“He started that up again? You’ve been a cop for over seven years.”
“Yeah, he thought when I moved back to Green Valley, I’d work for him. After dinner with the parents tonight, I’ll need a few beers. How about tomorrow?” I offered.
“Good deal. I’ll be your wingman. Trying to date Sabrina Logan will be an exercise in frustration.”
“I’ll catch you after lunch. Later, Jackson.”
He lifted his chin in response.
I got up and headed out of the station to meet my family at Daisy’s.
I was glad to be back in Green Valley. I’d missed my brothers. I’d missed my parents. I had always been close to my mother, and I wished my father would let the whole Monroe & Sons thing go and let me be.
I pulled into the lot and headed into the diner. Daisy’s Nut House was a Green Valley staple that had turned into a franchise. Miss Daisy was a friend of my mother’s and a sweet lady. But I needed to stay away from Daisy’s doughnuts. The fat kid that still lived inside me could eat a dozen of those suckers without blinking. I liked having abs and the ability to touch my toes. Plus, foot pursuits and manhandling drugged-up junkies into the back of my cruiser were sometimes parts of my job and I couldn’t do either with a big doughnut gut dragging me down.
I jogged across the parking lot and spotted my brother Everett near the door. Of all my brothers, I was closest to Everett. We were stuck in the middle of our group of four and closest in age.
He waved as I approached. “Dad is here. I’ve been instructed to not let you leave,” he informed me. Then he reached for my arm to pull me back when I turned around to leave. “Come on. Mom will have my ass if I let you go.”
“Fine, I’ll come inside.”
We entered the restaurant. I followed Everett as he led me to the table. They had already been seated and ordered for me. I only had an hour for lunch.
My mother waved at me from a table in the corner with a huge smile lighting up her face. “Wyatt, honey. I heard!” she cried.
I sat down and glanced at my father. He was already eating dessert. He had a piece of pie half-finished on his plate and was staring out the window. He turned and deigned to give me a small smile and nod. I returned his nod. When he was ready to talk to me instead of pout like my daughters do, then I would give him the courtesy of a proper hello. My mother elbowed him and shot him a glare.
“What did you hear?” I asked her and reached for my glass of water.
“About you and that darling assistant librarian, Sabrina Logan. The girls just love her story hour.” My eyes shot to hers and I choked on my water. She placed her phone on the table and gave me her full attention.
Everett laughed in his seat next to me. “It’s all she’s been talking about, bro.”
“How could you have possibly heard about that? It just happened.” I sank the lemon slice into my glass of water and took another sip.
“Is she okay? Was it an accident that made her stop on the side of the road?” She peered at me over the rim of her glass of iced tea. Her eyebrows were raised in expectation of a juicy story, I was sure.
I looked at her in amazement. “It wasn’t an accident—how? What?”
“I listen to the police scanner while I do my gardening. When I heard about you driving Sabrina Logan’s Jeep to the library, well, I called Julianne MacIntyre right away to see what happened after that. Those scanners only give you part of the story, you know.”
I just blinked at her until she continued explaining. Everett snickered and sipped his coffee. My father continued to stare out the window, studiously ignoring the conversation.
“Julianne was already at her office window, watching. She saw you two chatting and smiling at each other. So, did you ask her out? You should. Julianne told me she’s a good girl—shy and sweet and smart as a whip. She’d be much better suited to you than that disappointment you married, and the girls already adore her. They talk about her all the time. We never miss a story hour.”
My mouth opened, but no words came out.
“Just eat your lunch,” Everett advised. “She’ll do all the talking.”
“Hush, you,” my mother admonished him with an indignant huff. “I love all my boys and I want what’s best for you.”
“Speaking of that—” my father started to say.
My mother shushed him. “I finally have my grandbabies in the same town as me. I have my boy back, too. You will not ruin this for me, Bill Monroe. You will keep quiet and get over this.”
“I can’t help how I feel, Becky Lee. He should join the company with his brothers. All Monroe boys join Monroe & Sons. We’re a family company and this is what we have always done,” he argued.
“No, no. You have three of our boys working for you—that’s enough. So, yes. You can get over it and you will.” She stared him down.
He got up with a huff, said goodbye, and left.
My mother took my hand and held it. “He’ll get over it. You’ll see. I’ll be working on him. You can bet your bippy on that.” She turned away from me and shot one last glare at my father’s retreating back. I didn’t envy him. My mother was tough.
But despite my mother’s obvious determination, I was still not sure she could change his mind. I had three brothers. My oldest brother Barrett was an architect, and Everett was next—he was a carpenter. Then came me, and then Garrett, who was a foreman on one of Dad’s crews. They all worked at Monroe & Sons, for my father. They didn’t mind that I didn’t join them and neither did my mother. Why did my father hate my choices so much?
I picked up my turkey sandwich and took a bite. My mother was something else. I’d never be brave enough to cross her. I wondered how long she would freeze my dad out.
Becky Lee Monroe had managed to whip four obnoxious boys into shape. She could raise one eyebrow and we’d be shaking in our sneakers—her ‘mom look’ had always bent us to her will. I had considered getting my own ‘dad look’ to use on my girls, but they’d just laugh at me if I raised an eyebrow at them and told them what to do. Girls were too smart for that kind of thing; they always required explanations and logic, not just threats of time-out.
“So, did you ask her out?” Everett asked, breaking the tension left over from my father’s grumpy exit.
I laughed. “I did. She didn’t say yes, but she did say I could swing by the library and ask her again. You’re right, she’s pretty shy.”
My mother sighed. “Oh, that is so sweet. I raised you boys right. Such gentlemen, all of you.” She picked up her phone.
“Who are you texting?” Everett asked her.
“Julianne, of course,” she answered without looking up.
That’s just great. Would the whole town find out I’d attempted to ask Sabrina Logan on a date? I already knew enough about her to know that this would freak her out.
** END SNEAK PEEK **
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