Chapter One

Dear Constituents of Hartland, Wyoming:

A Hollywood studio has requested permission to shoot a movie here for three months. After making some inquiries, I’ve learned that the director attached to the film is rather infamous for making a lot of noise when things don’t go his way.

That said, the temperamental SOB is highly likely to feel offended and suspicious if we turn the studio’s request down.

In light of this, I propose we simply bite the bullet and see how things turn out. We’ve always known we’d have to deal with something like this sooner or later. We can use this as a learning exercise and make adjustments as we see fit.

Please contact my secretary if you would like to have her provide you suitable candidates to temporarily take over management of your respective establishments. Let others work in your stead whenever filming is scheduled in your area.

Your cooperation on this matter will be deeply appreciated.


Oliver Winterbourne II

Mayor of Hartland, Wyoming

The bookstore was a plain stone building with a well-aged look to it, and hanging on top of its porch was an equally plain white signage board. Painted on it was the shop’s name – HARTLAND BOOKS – in no-nonsense Times New Roman. The overall effect could’ve been excessively stark, but having colorful book spines pressed against its cut-up windows gave its simplicity a rather whimsical charm of its own.

All in all, Frankie could see why her bookish friend was so enamored with her weeks-old workplace, but…

“Oh my God, Blake. Will you please stop that?” Frankie complained in a groan.

“Stop what?” Blake pocketed her keys as she pushed the store door open and stepped aside to let her friend in.

“That.” Frankie made a vague, irritable gesture towards her friend’s face. Blake’s eyes were shining too brightly, and the idiotic grin hadn’t left her friend’s face ever since Frankie had accidentally let it slip about Thornton Blackwood being single for years.

“I really don’t get what you see in him,” Frankie grumbled. So, sure, Thornton and his twin Aidan were dead ringers for Keanu Reeves, but with the former it was having a more distinct likeness to John Wick.

He was just had this terrifying way of looking at a person, Frankie thought uncomfortably, like being dropped dead in the middle of a sniper rifle’s crosshairs.

Inside the shop were bookshelves standing a dozen feet tall and reaching all the way to the ceiling. Ladders on rollers were on every side, and in one corner was a reading area with mismatched chairs paired with wooden tables edged in black steel.

After placing her tote bag under the counter, Blake joined her friend at the table, where Frankie already had their homemade salad bowls out of her eco-bag and was already pouring coffee from a flask.

“Mmm.” Blake took an appreciative whiff of the salad, which was Frankie’s specialty. “I smell truffle.”

“All thanks to you,” Frankie answered.

“Me?” The answer bewildered Blake, and the ambivalent look on her friend’s face was an even greater puzzle.

“I got my recruitment bonus last Friday.” It had been twice the usual amount, too, and rightly so, considering how their local John Wick had rejected over twenty job candidates in just one week.

No. Next. She won’t do. He had Frankie climbing walls in frustration, with the way he wouldn’t even deign to explain what his darn criteria was. By the time Thornton threw Candidate #31’s resume into the rubbish bin, she had been ready to quit and was about to tell Mayor Winterbourne to find someone else for the job when her phone started to ring.

It had been Blake, whose mood at that time had erratically swung from tearful to panicky as she relayed her dilemma to Frankie in a choppy jumble of words. Apparently, Blake’s grandmother had suffered a mild stroke, and it had left Amanda partially paralyzed. The quickest and surest way for Amanda to regain full control of her limbs was to undergo therapy at a nursing home and enjoy round-the-clock medical supervision.

This, however, would cost a lot of money, and the only way they could afford it was to sell Amanda’s home. But her grandmother refused to even consider the idea, worried as she was about what would happen to Blake.

‘Do you know of any job that comes with lodging, Frankie? The job I have doesn’t pay much, and I’m hoping instead of paying rent I could use the extra money for Granny’s needs.’

And that when Frankie had her lightbulb moment. After promising Blake to call her back with hopefully good news, she had walked back into her office and heard herself say, ‘I have one last candidate for you to meet. Blake’s someone I can personally recommend—‘

‘He’s hired. Have him come up to my shop tonight.’

Frankie had almost wept in relief at that. If she had gone right ahead and quit as planned, Thornton would have been her first failure – the one and only time that she would’ve failed completing a task that Mayor Winterbourne had given her.

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