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Hot buttered rum standal.., p.19
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       Hot Buttered Rum: Standalone Romance (Silk Stocking Inn Book 4), p.19

           Tess Oliver
 

  David took hold of my arm as we headed down the block to his Audi. Actually, hold was the wrong word. It was more of a pinch and a harsh one at that. I scowled down at his hand.

  “David, you’re hurting me.”

  He released me immediately. “Sorry,” he said gruffly. “What’s wrong with you lately, Emmie?”

  “I’m not following,” I said curtly. Of course I knew exactly what he was referring to, but I decided to let him spell it out to see if he could figure out the source of my discontent. He was, after all, the psychologist.

  “You know exactly what I’m talking about. When we’re out with my friends, you’re aloof and disinterested. Hell, you fell just short of disdainful tonight.”

  “Maybe I’m just bored of always doing the same thing and always being with your friends.”

  He took hold of my arm this time but was mindful not to pinch. He did, however, yank me just sharply enough to snap me around to face him. Months ago, when we’d started dating, I thought he was the most handsome man in the world, the ultimate catch for any girl. But lately his always neatly combed hair and smoothly shaved jaw were losing their appeal.

  Before he could spin off into one of his lectures, where he resorted to talking to me like some silly, immature girl, I reached up and brushed my fingers along his baby smooth face. “Have you ever thought about growing a beard? Even just an impressive five o’clock shadow might do the trick.”

  “Do what trick? And you’re changing the damn subject.”

  “I don’t know—the trick that will rekindle that spark we used to have.” I pressed my body closer. “I know. Let’s not go back to your place. Let’s drive to the shady side of town, find some really gritty bar and make out in the back booth.”

  David shook his head and continued toward the car.

  I hurried to keep up with his long legs. “It wouldn’t have to be a full make out. You know, just some really heavy petting and a lot of kisses.”

  “Can never have a serious conversation with you anymore, Em.”

  I stopped just five feet from his sparkly luxury sedan and thought if I had a fairy godmother, I’d have her turn the sedan into a motorcycle and put a beard and leather jacket on the polished man standing next to the car. “Are you fucking kidding?” I asked. “Serious conversations are the only thing we ever have. What I want to know is when does the fun, the excitement, the spontaneity start?”

  He ignored me and opened the passenger door. I stood there for a very long moment and then shook my head.

  “You go on ahead, David. I’m going to find a cab or an Uber ride.” I turned and started walking away.

  “Emmie,” he called.

  For a fleeting second, I thought he’d capitulate and agree to go to some unhip, off the beaten path bar, like I’d suggested. At the very least, I expected for him to try and make amends.

  I turned around. There was a look of concern on his face. I almost patted myself on the back for waking him up to the idea that this relationship needed a major overhaul. But then he opened his mouth.

  “But you’ll still make sure I get that table near the reference desk for my research Monday? There’s too much glare on that table by the window and too much noise at the one near the children’s library.”

  I blinked at him and wondered just when I’d ever found him the slightest bit interesting. I think my mind had concocted the check off list for the ideal man, only my mind had had it all wrong.

  “It’s first come, first served for those tables. You’re on your own.” I rolled my eyes as I turned back around, thinking I’d just wasted six damn months of my life with that man.

  Chapter 2

  Lois, the librarian in charge of the reference section, met me as I walked past the circulation desk. She was breathing hard from scurrying so quickly from reference, which was located at the back of the building.

  Lois held her hand on the edge of the circulation desk, leaned forward and gulped in several deep breaths.

  “Lois, what on earth? You look as if you’ve seen a ghost or run a marathon or maybe run one with a ghost.”

  “No ghost,” she said on the tail end of another long breath. It seemed her heart rate was finally returning to normal. “It’s David.”

  “Oh, I don’t want to see him.” That comment garnered the complete attention of all the people behind the circulation desk. Lois was rendered speechless for a moment. After our fiasco of a Saturday night, I’d gone home to my apartment and reflected on the whole relationship with David. And I’d decided I wasn’t happy. He didn’t seem too enthralled with the thought of us anymore either. I’d been upset enough to find another way home, but his main concern had been that his work table would be reserved on Monday.

  I sighed. “Is this about the table?”

  Lois nodded and her glasses slipped down to the tip of her tiny nose. She pushed them back up. The thick lenses made her eyes giant. “Two women were sitting at the table he likes, the one near the—”

  “Yes, I know which one you mean.”

  “Well, he asked them to move. And it wasn’t in a gentlemanly fashion, otherwise I think they would have acquiesced. But since he was rather rude about it, they told him no.”

  “What did he do?”

  “He just piled all his things on the table next to them. Then he grabbed all his reference books off the shelf and placed them next to the women, totally encroaching on their space, of course.”

  “Jeez, what a pompous ass. I’ll go talk to him.”

  “Actually, it’s all over now. The two women were angry enough at him that they wanted nothing to do with sitting at the same table. So they moved.”

  “Sounds like the spoiled brat got his way. What did you need me for?”

  “Need you for?” She blinked at me.

  “Lois, you just came running through the entire library as if Mark Twain himself had stepped out from between the stacks. What did you need me for if everything was already resolved?”

  A pink blush covered her cheeks, and she shrugged her rounded shoulders. “Just thought you’d want to know.” The people running the circulation desk all snickered behind their computer monitors.

  “All right then. Thanks, Lois. I haven’t been to my office yet, and I need to check all the acquisition orders.”

  I headed off in the direction of my office, relieved that I wasn’t going to have to talk to or, for that matter, see David. He’d texted twice since Saturday night, but I never responded. There just wasn’t anything to say.

  I walked into my office and closed the door behind me. I circled behind the steel desk, shoved my purse into the drawer and plopped down on the chair. It was a small, unimpressive office, but I’d covered it with art and photos and books to make it my own space. I was so thrilled to make it to head librarian, they could have put me in a crate and I would have been fine with it.

  I turned on my computer and waited for the desktop to appear. My phone rang. It was the reference desk. “Yes, Lois?”

  “Just wanted you to know that the two women stopped by my desk to say that they would be lodging a complaint with the library director because of what happened with David this morning. Apparently, one of them is Ursula’s acquaintance, neighbor of some kind.”

  “Damn that David. What an inconsiderate ass. Have the women left already?”

  “They walked out just now.”

  “All right, thanks, Lois. I will call Ursula and explain to her what happened. And I’ll be over there in a few minutes to give David a proper ear chewing.”

  “Boy, this has been one of the more interesting days behind the reference desk,” she said with just a little too much enthusiasm before she hung up.

  I took my anger out on my computer mouse, tapping it harder than necessary. An unbidden website popped up.
A pink and gold banner with the words ‘Silk Stocking Inn—where every heart’s desire is filled . . . and then some’ scrolled across the top in an old-fashioned font. A picture of a cool, early century house complete with roses climbing up its exterior was splashed on the corner of the site. It was clear I’d inadvertently clicked open some random website. I clicked the corner to close the site. It stayed glued to my screen.

  “Argh, what a morning.” I ran through my list of spam removers, including task delete and turning the darn thing off completely. But the moment my computer powered up, the Silk Stocking Inn popped back up with it.

  A text box appeared, and I nearly fell backward on my chair as letters filled the box. “Well, Emmie, it seems you need my help. You need a man who will make you happy. David is definitely not that man.”

  I laughed. Julia, my extremely tech-minded roommate, was up to her tricks again. This was an elaborate one too. I had no idea how she’d managed to create a website that couldn’t be closed, but she was talented. I’d spent a better part of Sunday morning whining to her about what a dud David was turning out to be. She knew how I was feeling about him.

  I sat forward and placed my hands over the keys. “Oh really, and you think you can help me with that?”

  “I would like to give it a try. What kind of man are you looking for?”

  I, of course, had no time for goofing around, but a small, amusing diversion was what I needed on a morning like this. “Oh, my list isn’t too lofty, just a guy who looks like Charlie Hunnam and rides a Harley. You know, the fearless, dangerous and completely irresistible type.”

  “You wouldn’t be the first to want that. However, completely dangerous might be a little out of your league, don’t you think, librarian, animal shelter volunteer, all around nice girl? I mean, just this morning, you swerved to miss a moth that was heading toward your windshield.”

  I stared stunned at the screen. “How on earth did you know that, Julia?”

  “Who is Julia?”

  I shook my head. I needed to get on with my morning. “Right. Who is Julia. Hey, I’d love to mess around like this for the rest of my morning, but I’ve got to get started on my work day.”

  I clicked out, but the site remained.

  “Just one more question. What is your favorite kind of cupcake?”

  A laugh shot from my mouth. Julia’s baking skills were the exact opposite of her tech skills. But maybe my thoughtful roommate was going to stop by a bakery on her way home. She knew sweets were a perfect way to brighten my mood. “Well, I have a few but I’d say anything salted caramel is high on my list. See you later.”

  “Yes, you certainly will.”

  The site disappeared. I had to hand it to her, she’d definitely helped cheer me up. My phone rang as I opened up the folder of acquisition orders. It was Julia. I picked it up. “Well played, my friend. I will be looking forward to that cupcake tonight. And if you can swing it where Charlie Hunnam is the one delivering it to me in a cute pink box, then you’ll get bonus points.”

  “What the heck are you talking about, Emmie? I just called because I was stuck in traffic. Big accident on the freeway. It’s like a parking lot.”

  “Sure you are.” A car horn blasted in the background. “Jeez, nice sound effects.”

  “Whoa, roomie, you are sounding a little nutty. Maybe we should go out to dinner tonight, so you can talk about it. This David thing has you more upset than I thought.”

  “It’s not the David thing, Julia, and you know it. It’s that crazy ass web site you just sent to me. The Silk Stocking Inn? Remember?”

  “Seriously, Emmie, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m sitting on the freeway. I’ll send you a picture. We can talk more tonight.”

  Seconds later a photo of the gridlocked freeway came through.

  I stared at the picture. She had to have been behind the mysterious website. There just wasn’t any other explanation for it.

  There was a knock on the door. Tyler, the children’s librarian, popped his head inside. He pointed to his throat and tried to speak. “Laryngitis,” he rasped. “I need you to take the story time hour this morning.”

  “That’s fine. Pull a book for me. I’ll be there in a few minutes.” Tyler left and I sat back in my chair and stared at my computer. My usual desktop gleamed back at me. It had to be Julia.

  I brushed off the bizarre morning and got to work.

  Chapter 3

  A long work week, a disgruntled, now ex-boyfriend and a Saturday craft faire at the library had left me feeling exhausted. I’d been able to avoid any real confrontation with David, but it seemed in his mind that this was just a temporary lover’s spat. I felt it much more like the conclusion of our relationship. I’d lost interest in him, plain and simple. Of course, I didn’t look forward to the singles’ scene again. I’d decided a little down time from men would be just what I needed to revive my enthusiasm for dating.

  I turned my car onto the freeway on-ramp, not realizing that there had been some kind of accident up ahead. It was Saturday evening traffic. People were heading to the bars and restaurants in the social hub of the city. Unfortunately, my apartment was a few exits past that very popular hub. I’d hoped to get home, soak in a tub, overdose on grilled cheese and cookies and spend the rest of the night watching television. But with the line of traffic and sea of red brake lights in front of me, it seemed I’d be spending most of my evening on the freeway.

  Trying to drive around traffic on side streets rarely seemed to shave time off of the commute, but the traffic snarl seemed to be extra solid. I could see flashing lights of emergency vehicles in the distance, which meant a long wait.

  With some strategic maneuvering, I managed to make it to the slow lane, which, ironically, was moving a good deal faster than the fast lane. I took the first exit off. I’d taken it only once before when a helicopter had landed on the freeway and the police had diverted all traffic off on that one exit.

  I got to the bottom of the ramp with only my mental compass to direct me home. My nice phone with all the fancy tools and map directions had fallen on the tile floor in the library atrium, where I usually took my breaks. I’d been using an ancient flip phone that my mom had had in her kitchen drawer until I had money and time to buy a new one. I wasn’t one of those people who wore a phone as an appendage, so it hadn’t really been a problem. Until now.

  To complicate matters, an oddly thick fog was rolling in from the coast. Visibility was dissolving fast. I clicked on my windshield wipers, but they were of little use. Long tails of fog curled up on the hood of my car, almost like pointing fingers, coaxing me to keep moving forward. I had no real choice except to muddle my way through the gray haze.

  I passed several streets and shops of which none of them looked the least bit familiar. It was as if I’d pulled my car off into a completely different city, one I had never seen before.

  I turned a corner that seemed as if it was in the general direction of the city. A giant shadow moved toward me through the almost opaque fog. I turned my car sharply to avoid it. The front of my car dropped and my butt popped off the seat. I slammed on the brakes. My heart was nearly in my throat as I grappled with the terrifying possibility that I’d hit something or someone. It was too hard to know with the dense fog clouding my vision.

  My car was tilted at a funny angle. The nightmarish scenario that I’d landed my car on something made my heart race even faster. I was close to throwing up by the time I found the courage to open up my car door.

  The clammy mist drifted into the car and circled me like a ghost. With a considerable amount of trepidation, I made my way to the front of the car. My face was chilled by the cold moisture, but my chin was trembling for different reasons. I leaned down to look at the front of my car. My left front tire was completely flat. I breathed a sigh of relief that ac
tually sounded closer to a sob. I hadn’t hit anything more than a terrible pothole on the side of the road. And it had neatly taken out my tire. The rubber was shredded, and the tire was beyond repair.

  I didn’t need to walk to the trunk to know darn well that I had no spare. It was something that David, who was always prepared for emergencies, had lectured me about more than once. So, in that instant, at least, he’d been right.

  I would have to call a tow truck to take my car to the nearest service station. I turned around with a spring in my step, thrilled that it had only been my tire and that I hadn’t found some mangled body or animal under my car. An added bonus was that the fog seemed to be lifting.

  I reached inside the door for my purse and phone. As I straightened, a tall, dark figure was standing in front of me.

  I gasped as the phone slipped out of my hand and bounced under my car. I backed up in fear, but he didn’t move to follow me. Dark brown eyes peered out from under the brim of his black motorcycle helmet. It was hard to tell where the thick, black motorcycle jacket ended and the man began, but there was no way he was anything except massive, no matter how much padding was in the jacket. A dark brown moustache and beard covered what appeared to be an extremely handsome face. A black ink snake was just one of an entire mosaic of tattoos creeping up above the collar of his coat. Common sense and everything I’d ever learned growing up should have made me run. But something about the man’s magnetic gaze kept me standing in the spot.

  “Looks like you’re down one tire.” His voice was even deeper than I’d expected. It was the kind of voice you’d want speaking low and quiet to you in the middle of a dark stormy night in bed. Jeesh, that thought just came the hell out of nowhere. I must have still been shaken by the flat tire incident.

  “Yes.” I cleared the dryness from my throat. “I was just about to call a tow truck when you walked up—” I glanced around. The fog was lifting as fast as it had rolled in. Nothing looked familiar. In fact, other than an old Victorian style house and a small stretch of buildings across the street from the old house, there was nothing. I’d ended up in some off the beaten path small town. How on earth could that have happened with just one exit from the freeway?

 
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