Peace and quiet. I breathed a sigh of relief. One would think the library would be noiseless all day. But the soft whispers of those reading aloud, the gentle pass of pages being turned, or even the slamming closed of a cover created a cacophony of sound you didn’t perceive until the last patron left and the door locked behind them.
I gathered the last of the scattered books and periodicals and placed them on the cart to be re-shelved. Some of the local high school kids waited until the last minute to do research for their projects due this week. A few decided it would be more fun to run around the library putting books in the wrong place or turning them backwards. I knew the offenders and made it a point to let them know I’d be having a conversation with their parents.
Lacy had already left for the evening. As a college freshman, she wanted to do an internship at the public library to see if it helped her decide on a major. She loved children but didn’t want to be a teacher. I often found her in the children’s room, reading stories to the little ones or suggesting books to their parents. I suspected she would announce her decision to become an elementary school librarian soon.
Once I had everything sorted and put away, I grabbed a book I’d put aside for myself. The chance to escape, if even for a short time called to me. I curled up in a chair out front and immersed myself in the words. I often got lost in one fictional world or another and would catch myself reading well into the night. It was my favorite time of the day. It was also when Officer Wilson made his rounds.
Gabriel Wilson settled here about a year ago. Rumor had it, he was a big-wig detective up north but somehow showed up in our town. I’d heard many stories about why—everything from he got fired for doing drugs to he got caught cheating with the chief’s wife. People in this small town loved gossip. I’d never actually spoken to the man himself. Not for lack of want.
From my perch in the chair, I watched him check the local businesses, looking for thieves or looters, and making sure doors were secure. Crime around here was often limited to squabbles between neighbors. But he took his job of protecting the town’s citizens seriously.
I admired his tall frame and muscles bulging under his uniform as he shook the door of the boutique across the street. A sigh escaped. He’d fueled more than one late night fantasy. I hadn’t worked up the nerve to talk to him yet. He usually had a trail of admirers following him and was hardly ever alone. Single women—or men—flitted about, trying to capture his attention. Mothers gushed about their daughters and sons, all with the hopes the new young deputy would become a part of their family. I didn’t blame them.
He would grace them with a smile and a thanks, but he wasn’t looking for a relationship right now—he’d keep them in mind if he ever did. I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell, but I could look.
We played a game, he and I. Every night, I pretended he couldn’t see me hidden in the shadows of the bookshelves, and he pretended he didn’t know I watched him patrol the street like a perverted voyeur. But tonight—instead of testing the doors and moving on—he knocked.
Worried something was wrong, I rushed to the door and unlocked it. “Everything okay, Officer Wilson?” I reigned in my breathlessness. He didn’t need to know the little thrill that ran through me at finally getting to talk to him.
“Can I come in?” He removed his black hat and ran a hand through his short hair until it stuck up in every direction. I itched to run my fingers through it and slick it back down. I didn’t—that would be wrong. Wouldn’t it?
“Of course.” I held the door and locked it behind him. As he sauntered in, I couldn’t help admiring the view. My cheeks heated when I noticed him watching me as I checked him out.
“Uh”—I cleared my throat—“is there a problem?”
“No, no problem. I thought I’d come in and check on you.” He glanced around the empty library.
“Oh, well, okay. Do you want to have a seat?” I rushed to pick up the romance novel I’d been reading and clutched it to my chest.
He followed me to the chairs and sat across from me. “You’re here late tonight.”
“Yes, I got caught up in reading.”
“What’s it about?” He pointed to the book still clasped in my hands.
My ears burned as a blush spread through my body. Would he judge me for my book choices? Only one way to find out.
“It’s a romance about a peasant boy whose village sacrifices him to the local dragon. He turns out to be a grumpy shifter, not just a dragon. The boy charms him, and they fall in love.” I held my breath, waiting for his reproach.
His eyebrows raised up into his hairline. “Sounds...interesting.”
“Do you have a problem with that?” Though our town was more liberal than some, there were always those few who decided it was their life’s mission to cause trouble for anyone different from them. I hoped he wasn’t like that.
“Uh no, actually I don’t. Maybe you could suggest a few for me.” A blush spread across his cheeks, turning him from hot to adorable in an instant.
“I’m sure I can find something that might interest you.” I started running through all the books on the shelves, mentally cataloging which ones would be good for a gay romance beginner.
He shifted in his seat, and I was afraid the stupid grin on my face was making him uncomfortable, so I changed the subject. “So put all the rumors to bed. How did you find our little town? You know the locals have made up some wild stories about you.” I waggled my eyebrows.
He chuckled and laid his hat on the small table beside him. “You’re one of the braver souls around here to ask. I hear the whispers behind my back. No, I didn’t get fired because of drugs. No, I didn’t sleep with the chief’s wife,”—he winked—“his husband would have been pretty upset to know he had a wife somewhere. Hmm...let’s see what else?” He tapped his finger to his chin. “Oh, I didn’t murder anyone. I’m still trying to figure out how that one got started.”
“My favorite is you’re really a spy for the government trying to take over the town for one of the big conglomerates looking to clear all the land and build a shopping mall.” His laughter boomed through the empty library. The deep, rich sound sent a wave of pleasure through me. I wanted to hear it all the time.
“I haven’t heard that one. Really, it’s nothing all that exciting. I got burned out from so much crime. It never ended. We were constantly responding to shootings, drug deals, murders. It weighs on you after a while.” He grew quiet.
“I can’t imagine. The worst around here is a parking ticket or disturbing the peace.”
“It’s exactly what I was looking for. What about you? Are you native or a transplant like me?”
“I’ve lived here my entire life. When I took this job, I had no intention of staying. I wanted to spread my wings and travel to places I’d never been, before settling down in a nine-to-five. The previous librarian begged me to help while she was out for surgery. I never left and don’t regret a thing. I get to meet new people and read all the books I want.” I purposely left out the best part was getting to watch him every night or how he fueled my lust filled fantasy. I fanned myself to get my libido under control.
“Checking on people and patrolling the streets, you hear things. You’ve caused an uproar with some of your book choices.”
I laughed and waved a hand up and down my body. “Oh, of that I have no doubt based on my looks alone.”
His eyes swept from my purple hair, down my pride flag t-shirt and over my skinny jeans. “I like the way you look.”
It was my turn to clear my throat and squirm in my seat. “One of the first things I did when I took over the library was making sure there were plenty of LGBTQ books available. A few had made their way over to the shelves before I came, but not nearly enough. I wanted everyone to be able to find something to read they could relate to.”
“That’s commendable. The naysayers are few and far between. Don’t worry about that.”
“I figure if there was a problem, they would have booted me out before now.”
He picked up his cap and fiddled with the brim. “You know the Spring festival is next weekend.”
“Yes, the library has a booth every year to sell old books.” The money we raised went to the LGBTQ youth shelter in town. It was one small way the library helped in the community. I already had Lacy and a few other volunteers ready to work.
He cleared his throat. “And there’s a dance afterwards down at the rec center.”
“Are you going?”
“I—” A crash in the back startled us both. We jumped up and Gabriel pulled his gun, pushing me behind him.
He put his finger to his lips and whispered, “Shh...stay here.” I was already shaking my head before he could finish.
“I’m not staying here by myself. You know the first one to get murdered is always the one who’s left behind,” I whispered back.
He rolled his eyes. “Okay, stay close then.” I trailed behind, clutching the back of his shirt in a death grip, almost pulling it from his uniform pants.
I’d had no trouble—other than a rowdy kid or two—in the three years I’d worked here. Why would someone be messing around now?
We crept along as Gabriel stepped up and swept each row before moving on to the next. He kept both hands on his gun and pointed down the aisle. On the last one, he called out, “Come out with your hands up.”
When no one responded, he pointed to a spot—hidden behind a shelf—and mouthed for me to stay. He moved forward and peeked around the corner. A chuckle left his lips as he lowered his gun and motioned me over.
An orange tabby cat sat in the middle of a pile of books, tail swishing as he licked his paw like he didn’t have a care in the world. Or like he hadn’t just taken a year off my life.
“How did he get in here?”
Gabriel holstered his gun and followed me to the back door. A book wedged between the door and frame kept it from closing. Someone had deliberately propped it open. “Those damn kids,” I grumbled as I grabbed the book, slamming the door shut. Moby Dick. Figures.
We made our way back to the cat. I eyed the books on the floor.
“Why don’t you let him back outside while I clean up this mess.”
I scooped up the books and placed them on the shelves, making sure they were in order and turned correctly. “Stupid cat,” I mumbled.
Gabriel strolled back in as I put the last book back on the shelf. “He ran off onto his next big adventure. He said the library was too quiet.”
We laughed as we made our way back out front. I walked him to the door and reached to unlock it. He grabbed my hand and clasped it in one of his, sending my heart fluttering away as if a thousand butterflies inhabited my chest.
“So, you never answered my question.” The shy smile on his face made him even more handsome.
“And what question was that?”
“Are you going to the dance after the festival?”
“I haven’t really thought about it.” I hadn’t planned on going. I didn’t want to be that one person there without a date, and since I didn’t have a line of suitors outside my door, I knew that’s what would happen.
He stepped in closer still holding my hand and trapping it between us. “Would you like to be my date?”
Darn butterflies again. “Yes, I’d love to.”
He bent down and brushed a soft kiss on my lips. When he pulled back, I restrained myself from reaching up and pulling him back down again. One kiss would never be enough.