“Remember to breathe slow and steady, Sarah,” Willard says. “If anything, he’s probably going to offer you a promotion. You’re the best in the building; everyone knows that.”

Annie and Willard aren’t just my friends, they’re my coworkers here at Concordia Library. Willard works downstairs in Restoration and Preservation, Annie in the Children’s department, while I spend my days in Literature and Fiction. Everyone thinks library science is all about shelving books and sending out overdue notices—but it’s so much more.

It’s about fostering community and information technology, organization, helping others find the needle in whatever haystack they’re looking in. In the same way emergency-room physicians must have diagnoses and treatments at their fingertips, librarians, at least the good ones, need to be familiar with an array of topics.

“I’ve got the flask I stole from Elliot down in my locker,” Annie says.

Time: three minutes, forty-two seconds. And the record of nine minutes, seven seconds continues to hold strong.

“You want a nip before you head over?” Annie offers sweetly.

She’s a good friend—like Helen to Jane in Jane Eyre. As kind as she is pretty.

I shake my head. Then I pull my big-girl knickers up all the way to my neck. “I’ll let you know how it goes.”

Annie gives me a thumbs-up with both hands and Willard nods, his brown, wavy hair falling over his forehead like a romance-novel rogue. With a final wave to them both, I leave the small outdoor stone patio where we meet each day for lunch and head inside.

In the cool, shadowed atrium, I close my eyes and breathe in the familiar, comforting scent of books and leather, paper and ink. Before Wessco was its own country, this building was a Scottish cathedral, Concordia Cathedral. There have been updates through the centuries, but wonderfully, the original structure remains—three floors; thick, grand marble columns; arched entryways and high, intricately muraled ceilings. Working here sometimes makes me feel like a priestess—the strong and powerful kind. Especially when I track down a hard-to-find book for someone and the person’s face lights up. Or when I introduce a reader to a new series or author. There’s privilege and honor in this work—showing people a whole new world, filled with characters and places and emotions they wouldn’t have experienced without me. It’s magical.

Mark Twain said, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

At Concordia Library, I’ve yet to work a single day.

My heels click on the stone floor as I head toward the back spiral stairs. I pass the circulation desk, waving to old Maud, who’s been volunteering here twenty hours a week since her husband, Melvin, passed away two months ago. Then I spot George at his usual table—he’s a regular, a retiree, and lifelong bachelor. I grab two of the local papers off the stack, sliding them in front of him as I go.

“Good afternoon, George.”

“It is now, darling,” he calls after me.

Along the side wall are a row of computer desks, lined up like soldiers, and I see Timmy Frazier’s bright red head bent over a keyboard, where he’s typing furiously. Timmy’s thirteen years old and a good lad, in the way that good lads still do naughty things. He’s got five younger siblings, a longshoreman dad, and a mum who cleans part-time at the estate on top of the hill.

My mother’s estate.

Castlebrook is a tiny, beautiful town—one of the smallest in Wessco—an old fishing village that’s never thrived, but is just successful enough to keep the inhabitants from leaving in search of greener pastures. We’re about a five-hour drive from the capital, and while most of the folks here don’t venture too far, we often get visitors from the city looking for a quiet weekend at the seaside.

St. Aldwyn’s, where all the local children attend, is just a ten-minute walk away, but I bet Timmy could make it in five.

“Is there a reason you’re not in school, Timmy Frazier?”

He smiles crookedly, but doesn’t take his eyes off the screen or stop typing. “I’m goin’ back but had to ditch fourth and fifth periods to finish this paper due in sixth.”

“Have you ever considered completing your assignment the day—or, God forbid, a few days—before it was actually due?”

Timmy shrugs. “Better last moment than never, Sarah.”

I chuckle, give his fiery head a rub, and continue up the steps to the third floor.

I’m comfortable with people I know—I can be sociable, even funny with them. It’s the new ones and unpredictable situations that tie me up in knots. And I’m about to be bound in a big one.

Damn it to hell.

I stand outside Mr. Haverstrom’s door, staring at the black letters of his name stenciled on the frosted glass, listening to the murmur of voices inside. It’s not that Mr. Haverstrom is a mean boss—he’s a bit like Mr. Earnshaw from Wuthering Heights. Even though he doesn’t get much page time, his presence is strong and consequential.

I take a breath, straighten my spine, and knock on the door firmly and decisively—the way Elizabeth Bennet would. Because she didn’t give a single shit about anything. Then Mr. Haverstrom opens the door, his eyes narrow, his hair and skin pale, his face lined and grouchy—like a squished marshmallow.

On the outside, I nod and breeze into the office, but inside, I cringe and wilt.

Mr. Haverstrom closes the door behind me and I stop short when I see Patrick Nolan in the chair across from Mr. Haverstrom’s desk. Pat is the co-head of the Literature and Fiction department with me. He doesn’t look like the stereotypical librarian—he looks more like an Olympic triathlete, all taut muscles and broad shoulders and hungry competition in his eyes.

Tags: Emma Chase Royally Erotic
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