Read Chapter 1
Some people stock up on milk, bread and eggs when a storm is coming, but book people stock up on books.
Betsy checked out another library patron with a stack of books and wished she’d had more of a lunch break. She’d wanted to get her tire fixed. It was low, but the tire place hadn’t been able to promise to have it ready in time for her to get back to work at the Bartlett Public Library inTennessee.
Now, she’d have to drive home on that low tire in rain that had been falling all day and had now turned to sleet, which would then turn to ice as the temperature continued to drop
Wondering if it was starting to get bad out there, she pushed her glasses back up on her nose, tucked her dark blonde hair behind her right ear, a nervous habit of hers, and sent a worried look to the glass doors. She caught her breath and her mouth froze into an Oh.
Stomping into the library onto the floor mat, wearing boots and a fatigue jacket, stood a tall, broad shouldered man who took her breath away. Handsome, with long dark bangs that fell onto his face, he brushed the hair back impatiently with his right hand, fully revealing an eye patch over his right eye. His good left eye, a deep brown, bored with intensity into her.He carried a stack of books under one arm.
“Are you going to check me out or what?” The cranky elderly lady who was next in line brought Betsy back to what she should have been doing.
“Yes, ma’am.” She reached for the first book with a shiver.
That man let all this cold air in, that’s why I have goose bumps. Was he born in a barn? And stamping there like that with his big boots drawing attention and then giving me that look. What is that look about?
She could still feel that look. As if he’d seared it into her soul. She shivered again and finished checking out Mrs. Geraldine E.Watson. “Be safe driving home.”
The woman harrumphed. “Would have been gone by now if you hadn’t been googly eyeing that man. I just hope I make it home in this sleet.”
I’m not googly eying anyone. Betsy frowned.
Betsy did not google eye men or flirt with them. Her shyness prevented her from talking to men she didn’t know, unless they initiated the conversation. Though she might check them out beneath lowered lids if she knew they wouldn’t see her. A handsome man was a fine sight indeed.
This man, though,where had he gone? She glanced over to the door and then scanned from the door to the end of the line of patrons waiting to check out.
Oh. She took in abreath. There he is. Right at the end of my line.
Tension filled her. The library closing in ten minutes announcement came over the speaker, making her jump. She’d heard it so manytimes before, knew it was coming and yet she jumped.
Because of him. I’m jumpy because of him. It’s a good thing he’s not looking at me right now. I need to settle down and finish my job.
Processing the patron’s books, she worked, refusing to look over at him again. But the tension did not ease.
Then he was there before her, with that dark, mysterious eye patch and strong intense deep brown eye looking at her as if he had x-ray vision and could see inside of her all the way to her soul.
They say losing one of your senses makes the others stronger. Is that why his gaze makes me feel so strange? What is he seeing? I have to say something now. He’s just standing there looking at me.
This handsome stranger would have made her feel shy even without his eye patch. The patch added a mysterious, raffish quality to his look. The frown he’d sent her way when he’d entered the library still resonated with her. Now that intense eye was focused on her with a direct intensity she was not used to. Her words came out in a stammer. “D…did you enjoy the books?”She gave him a small, shy smile.
He met it with a growl. “Hell no, I did not enjoy these books.” He pointed to his eye patch. “What do you think?”
“I…I surely don’t know.” She turned beet red. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t think.” She reached out for them. “Here, I’ll just take them.”
He handed them to her, still keeping that intensity focused on her.
Wanting to help him, she said, “We have audio books if these are too much.”
“I’m not blind,” he growled.
“Oh, of course not. I didn’t mean to imply—” Flustered, she turned pink and patted the stack of books, her voice coming out in a squeak.“If the type on these are too small, we have large print.” Her voice squeaked high on the word print as he impaled her with his gaze.
“My eyesight is fine,” he ground out the words.“
“Oh.” Totally flustered now, she put one hand to her mouth,turning even redder and said, “I am so sorry. I was just trying to help.”
He blinked once, his gaze changing as he seemed to catch himself, pulling back just a tad from whatever foul mood he was in, but not enough to appear friendly. “Don’t worry about it.” He shook his head and growled again. “Where are the audio books?”
Wordlessly, she stood pointing to the right in the direction of the audio books. She could have stepped out of Dickens’ Christmas Carol as she stood so still and solemn like the ghost of Christmas future, afraid to speak, for when she spoke, it only seemed to make things worse. He gave her a curt nod and took off in that direction.
Shakily, she let out a breath.
Less than ten minutes now and everyone will go home. I hope my tire makes it.
She carried his books to the rolling cart behind her and added them to the stack of returned books piled up.
I’ll get caught up on those tomorrow. He couldn’t drop the books in the return slot while the library is open because we lock it. Why people think it’s funny to put their trash in that slot I’ll never know. It’s like unscrewing the saltshaker. Some people don’t have enough interesting things to do.
Did he simply want to return the books, or had he stopped at the desk because he wanted something? He looked like he wanted something. But if so, he hadn’t said what. Yet, he didn’t seem like a man who had trouble speaking up. Why is he looking at me like that?
She kept checking out patrons and then with one minute to closing, there he stood before her again with two audio books in his hand. A Tom Clancy, and one of Barry Eisler’s John Rain books. So, he was obviously a military man who liked action adventure stories.
You can learn a lot about a person by noting what books they check out.
He handed her the audio books without speaking, and she checked him out. His name was Nash. Nash Ware.
Ware. Be wary. He might be a werewolf.
She mentally shook herself.
Enough of the wordplay. I scare myself sometimes. My mind is too often in the world of fiction. He’s just a man.
“Thanks.” He gave a brief nod and headed for the door.
He was the last patron out and she locked the door be hind him.
After shutting down lights and computer systems and putting the phone on the answering machine, she put on her coat, slipped out of her work shoes into her new black suede boots, grabbed her purse and headed for the back door.
June had left five minutes before in a hurry to pick up her baby and to get them home as soon as she could to be off the roads before the ice got worse. The library was quiet, dark and securely locked.
Walking to her car, Betsy nearly slipped on the sheets of ice that had formed. Her new boots proved to be more decorative than useful. Fortunately, she righted herself with some fancy footwork. Her car stood alone beneath the light, layered in a covering of snow and ice. Taking her glove, she brushed off the window and door of the driver’s side and unlocked her door.
A QB big black Jeep was at the parking lot entrance. It backed up, and then turned around and headed her way. The Jeep had big black tires, tinted windows and was the largest Jeep she’d ever seen.
Oh no. Who is that and what do they want? It looks like something out of the movies, like a dark government vehicle. Why are they coming toward me?
She jumped into the car quickly and locked the door, her heart racing. Putting her key in the ignition, she cranked the engine. It wouldn’t start.
She gasped and then turned it over again. This time it started. The stereo blasted Celtic Woman, Betsy jumped and turned it off. She couldn’t see through the other windows, which she hadn’t cleared off yet, so she strained to see where the Jeep had gone.
A knock on her door made her jump with a shriek and flipher head around.
The man with the intense eye and eye patch stood looking down at her.
Oh, my God. What does he want?
He held out an ice scraper and shouted through the window.
“I’m going to clear your windows.”
Oh. That’s nice. I didn’t expect that. But that doesn’t mean I should trust him.
“Thank you,” she shouted back, not willing to roll that window down even a crack.
He moved to the front of the car and started working on clearing it. Then he moved all the way around the car, scraping the ice off and soon all the windows were cleared. She could see out again. His Jeep was large,dark and rugged looking, parked beside her in the blind spot she hadn’t cleared on the windows at first.
Just the sort of vehicle a military man or veteran would drive.
He came back to the window and looked in. Nice as he had been, she still wasn’t rolling down the window.
“Thank you,” she shouted again.
He nodded and touched his hat, his dark eye watching her. He walked back to his Jeep.
She watched him go wondering why he’d still been here when she locked up. If he hadn’t done such a nice thing and then walked away, she would have assigned a bad motivation to the fact he was still here when she went to get into her car. She slowly backed out of the parking space.
Something is wrong.
Pulling out of reverse to drive she headed for the street, but the car slid and her rear tire hit something.
His Jeep pulled up beside her. Faster than she could workout what was wrong he was out the door and knocking at her window.
“You have a flat,” he shouted.
Oh no. I should have guessed. I should’ve gotten it fixed at lunch, late to work or not. Now what am I going to do?
She unlocked the door, opened it and got out of the car. As she stepped onto the icy parking lot her foot slipped.
His hand shot out and grabbed her elbow before she couldfall on the ice. “Careful.”
“Oh.” She gasped at the contact. “Thank you.”
“My pleasure, ma’am.”
So, he had manners after all.
They walked to the side of the car together with him holding her arm until they stopped and stood looking down at her flattened tire.
“It’s not safe for you to drive,” he said. “I’ll give you a ride home.”
Flustered by all that had happened, and happened so fast, she looked up at him.
Her capacity for words strung into a full sentence seemed to have left her.
Tall and strong.
She stared at him wide-eyed.
And close. Very close.
If she’d had to describe him in one word, she would have chosen intense. This man was intense.
“I…I’ll just go back inside. I can call…” her voice trailed off.
Who could she call? None of her girlfriends were going to come out in this weather, and she had no family in town.
“Don’t be afraid. You’re safe with me.” His calm, deep tone was reassuring, as well as his presence. “We haven’t been introduced properly. I’m Nash. Nash Ware.”
She came back to herself enough to speak. “Nice to meet you, Nash. I’m Betsy Bobbin. Thank you for your help.”
“You’re welcome, Betsy Bobbin.” His tone was both a caress and a reassurance, which held a note of humor as a slow grin spread across his face when he spoke her name. The grin and the twinkle in his eye began to dashaway the misgivings she had about accepting a ride from him. His was a kind eye, now that the intensity had eased, and the eye patch didn’t make him appear as sinister without that intensity.
“Yes, that’s me. One of three Bobbins sisters.”
He continued to grin.
“I’m the oldest.” Huge snowflakes were now falling and one splattered on her nose making her blink and adding spots onto her glasses.
“Well, Betsy Bobbin.” Again that grin appeared as he spoke,“Let’s get you home and warm and we can deal with your car later.”
She hesitated. “All I know about you is your name. That’s not enough to get in a car with a stranger. What do you do, Nash Ware?”
“I’m a Marine veteran. Been back about eight months. Going to college now on the G.I. bill.”
“Thank you for your service.”
He nodded. “You’re welcome.” He spoke in a quiet tone.
She stood watching him, not sure what to do. He seemed nice enough, but still, she had only his word that he was who he said he was.
“Here.” He reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet, flipping it open to his I.D.
She looked from him to the I.D. and nodded. “Okay. I’m justgoing to make a phone call first.”
“Whatever makes you feel more comfortable.”
She took her phone out of her coat pocket and dialed June who answered on the first ring. “Hey, June. You get home okay?” June answered that she had. “Good. Listen, I have a flat. And I’m still at the library. But one of our patrons, Nash Ware, was still here, and he’s offered to give me a ride home.” June said he seemed like a reliable enough man, but to call her the minute she got home. “Yes. I’ll call you when I get there. Thanks, June.” She hung up and then nodded at Nash. “Okay. Sorry, I just…” she shrugged.
“Do not apologize for taking precautions for your safety. Never apologize for that.” He held out his hand for her again and she took it, then stepped gingerly over to the driver’s side, reached in and turned the car off.
“Take anything out that might tempt a thief.”
“Oh, right.” She nodded with a frown. She hadn’t thought of that, but who knew when she could get back to get her car if this storm continued.
She gathered her purse, closed the driver’s side door and opened the back door. Taking a bag, she stuffed the pile of books into it and went to set it on the ground beside her as her purse slid off her shoulder and down her arm.
“Here, let me take that.” He reached out his hand and she handed him the bag of heavy books. His expression showed amusement. But what did he expect? She was a librarian and loved books. Her car and her house were always full of books.
From the pile of stuff in the back seat, she extracted another bag and began looking for her puppets. Puppy, kitten and bear all went into the bag. “Oh good, there’s lion,” she said, and then realized she was talking to herself.
“Lion?” he asked in that amused tone of voice.
She slipped lion on her hand and turned to face him,holding the bag. “Yes, lion. See? Grrrr.”
He threw his head back and laughed which lit up his whole face. He was beautiful when he laughed. She’d never thought a man beautiful before. Eye patch be damned, the man was perfect.
She gave him a huge smile in return and said, “For when I read to the children.”
“Right.” He nodded. “Gotcha.” And that left eye gave her aslow wink.
That is the sexiest wink I have ever seen.
“Is that all of them?”
“All of? Oh. Yes. The puppets. Yes, it is.”
Why can’t I think straight when I’m around this man? How hard is it to string a simple sentence? I probably sound like a dimwit.
He held out his hand again. She handed him the bag and said, “Just a few more things.”
He nodded, and she turned back to the car digging for the blue dress with the white ruffled apron and the blonde curly wig that went with it all. She stood again with the items gathered into her arms.
He gave her another grin. “Halloween costume?”
“Mother Goose.” Her cheeks heated. “Or Bo Peep. Depending on the occasion.”
“There’s a, um, shepherds crook. In the trunk. But I can leave that.”
“If you’re sure now,” his voice was teasing.
“Okay, hand them over and I’ll load them in the back of the Jeep.”
She silently handed the items to him, her cheeks still warm. Strange how warm they were with how cold it was outside, and it was terribly cold. She shivered as she realized how chilled her toes now were and looked down.
Apparently these new suede boots are not waterproof. Damn it.
“I just need one more thing.” She turned back to her car and dug through papers, a couple sweaters and a sweatshirt on the floor of the car where she found her slippers.
Her pink bunny slippers.
Turning, with her cheeks blazing, her toes freezing and the snow that had now turned back into sleet falling down into her face, she stood facing him, holding the slippers.
He let out a hearty laugh. “Now why am I not surprised?”
She hung her head a little sheepishly, feeling like a twelve-year-old. But he took them from her and opened the passenger door on his Jeep. “Get in, it’s getting worse out. I’ll lock your car.”
She climbed in; he placed the slippers in the back and then he said, “Do you have your keys?”
“Yes.” She patted her coat pocket, and they jingled.
“Good.” He closed her door, locked her car, and then came around to the driver’s side and climbed in. Closing his door and turning up the heat, he pulled toward the street. Then he turned to her and said, “Where to?”-.
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