Working in a library is the best kind of a job a writer can ask for. It's always quiet, I'm surrounded by books - their adventures and mysteries and fantasies all wrapped up in the smells that hang between the pages - and it's hardly ever busy, which means I can put all that inspiration to good use.
I studied a degree in Language and Literature and I added Teaching by extending a year. A lot of my classmates had all gone on to become copy editors, linguists, people who believed their titles made them. I ended up in Branciforte Library in the triangle park in Santa Cruz. Of course, this place has internet access and wireless and printing options but that wasn't what drew me.
Sometimes I turned my back to all the modern technology and pretended it was still 1950 when the word 'library' was still what it defined and books were the key to life and the escape from it.
"How are things going, Selena?" Alicia's voice snapped me back to reality.
"Quiet, as usual, but I'm on top of things," I smiled. Alicia was one of those women who always looked immaculate. She only ate salad to maintain her waistline, wore two piece suits and went for a manicure at two o'clock every last Wednesday of the month during business hours. She didn't belong in a library - I wouldn't have been surprised if she'd never cracked a book in her life.
Her hair was an auburn this time with too much red in it - her hair dresser had probably convinced her it was all the rage now - and her lips were a shade redder than the hair was willing to tolerate.
"Of course, you're on top of it," she said with a smile that didn't reach her eyes. "I can always count on you."
I smiled back at her and liked to think I managed to make it more genuine than hers. I wasn't loyal because of Alicia. I was loyal because I loved my job.
Alicia turned and teetered back to her office on her high heels. I watched her until the door closed behind her and the blinds turned so no one could see what she was doing in there. I liked to think she dropped her perfect mask and a failure showed its face.
I minimized the window with the book lists and opened up my manuscript. I was the perfect nerd. Behind the scenes, when no one was looking at the shy librarian, I was working on a book I dreamed would one day make the big screen. Of course, it was all wishful thinking, but it was a fantasy I could lose myself in, day in day out.
My book was about a murder, a mystery, a man who was worth dying for. Thrillers were hard to write but I was sure I could do it. I'd read enough in my life. I'd titled it The Coroner's Wife and I was stuck with the climax. This was where everything was supposed to come together.
Instead, my main character, Kylee, was cornered in a morgue with a gun pointed at her head and only dead bodies as witnesses and I had no way out for her.
Go figure. Writer's block was a bitch. It had been a quiet day, it was almost closing time, and I still hadn't come up with any kind of resolution for Kylee's dilemma. There were times in my life where I asked myself What Would Kylee do? I imagined how she would react. Kylee was everything I wasn't, after all. Sexy, seductive, clever, hard to get, and good with a gun. Her intuition was beyond comparison. Her flaws were that of a woman who searched for love and found a murderer instead - trust, loyalty.
I couldn't ask Kylee what she would do next because I didn't know. That meant Kylee wouldn't know, and if I didn't think of something soon the only thing Kylee would know was a premature ending to her story.
I sighed and rubbed my face with my hands.
The door to Alicia's office opened again and she popped her head out.
"Jenny can't make it to her shift tonight. Are you all right to fill in?"
I nodded. Why not? I didn't have anything to go home to and I could work on my climax some more. Overtime never hurt, either.
"You're a star." She disappeared back inside.
"One day I will be," I muttered in response. I read over the action scene again. It felt tacky. I stuck my hands into my hair. I wanted to make it big one day but if my writing looked like this? I groaned.
The sun was starting to set and I got up to switch on the library lights. We were open until eleven. After eight very few people came in unless it was raining and then it was only to wait out the weather. This was the best time for me.
I sat down again, huddled in the yellow dim light of the library, surrounded by books and my imagination. It was perfect. I started typing. I felt the cold metal of the gun against Kylee's head, the shivers that ran down her spine. I could taste her heart in her throat. She'd been running after this guy for weeks and she knew what he was capable of, but having a gun to your head felt like nothing she'd been able to anticipate. Her mind had gone blank, perfect for a do-or-die situation. Not.
I took a deep breath and I wasn't in the warm library anymore but in the cold morgue with the drawers of human bodies all around me, the autopsy bodies solidifying under their plastic sheets. There was a scalpel to the side of the autopsy worktop I hadn't seen before. If Kylee could just reach out and curl her fingers around it before her brains were blown out maybe she could slice her way out of it.
The killer cocked his gun. The library door swung open with a bang and I jumped in my seat, snapped back to reality. My heart hammered in my throat and I swallowed hard, trying to steady myself. I was in a library, not a morgue. I was a librarian, not a mystery solver. God, I'd nearly died of fright.
He didn't look like he belonged in a library at all. He wore a sleeveless jean jacket that showed off a spectacular display of inked skin and pants that looked a lot like leather. He had metal studs on shit-kicker boots and a look on his face that said 'don't fuck with me.’ He glanced at me before walking past and disappearing between the shelves.
I wondered if I had to keep an eye on him – if he would try to torch the place or something. Libraries don’t have security cameras all over the place. Maybe it wasn't a bad idea to invest in something like that. I listened for a moment but didn't hear anything suspicious - like the sound of wood splintering or the horrific crackle of burning paper - so I carried on with my writing.
Kylee's fingers had, by some miracle, curled around the scalpel. It was thinner than she'd thought, smaller, but it would have to do. There wasn't time to think, to breathe. She sliced the scalpel through the air, catching the shooter's neck. Blood spurted out in a fountain of despair and he clutched his neck with one hand.
The scalpel was way too small to have done any real damage but it had bought Kylee time and she ran, taking the first turn she could find, getting lost in a subsection of drawers, all filled with corpses. The gun fired and a bullet whizzed past her head, ricocheting off the metal doors and flying in the opposite direction she dove.
His voice made me jump. He stood in front of the counter with a book. His eyes were dark and dreamy and his hair was messy. It was a dark brown matching the turmoil-black of his eyes. I let my eyes slide down to his arms. Under all those tattoos there was a hell of a lot of muscle, and it wasn't show-muscle, either. He looked like he could bench press a car. Or save a heroine in distress when she was lying, panting on the floor of a morgue, narrowly escaping death...
He really was good to look at. I realized I was staring and glued my eyes to his face. His mouth was curled up in a half-smile, his eyes knowing. Shit. He knew what I was thinking. And he looked like he liked it. Or maybe like he was used to it. I was willing to bet he got that kind of attention all the time.
"I want to check this book out, please."
He put the book down on the counter. I picked it up. It was a Motorcycle Repair book from a section that was so outdated it was ridiculous.
"Are you sure this is what you want?" I asked.
He leaned on the counter, the muscles in his shoulders rippling under the skin. "Do you think there's something else I'd like more?"
His eyes flashed and his tone suggested he wasn't talking about a book at all. I fought a blush and turned my head to the computer so my hair would cover my face.
"This isn't exactly our latest stuff. Maybe you'd like to check in with a magazine subscription for something more up to date.
"This is fine, thanks."
"Do you have your library card?"
He shook his head and looked at me expectantly like I was supposed to make that little error go away.
"In the future, you need to bring it with you. We can't let books go when we don't scan the code."
"But you'll make an exception for me, right?"
He asked it like he knew I would say yes. It made me want to say no, just to prove him wrong, but I'd already suggested I would let it slide.
I glanced at him. "That's backward."
He shrugged. "Tell my mom that."
It sounded like he should rather be called Frost Logan. Although the 'hunter' part seemed fitting. I typed it in and his profile came up.
"Well, what do you know? You exist."
He chuckled. "A lot of girls would be very unhappy if it turned out I didn't."
I flipped my hair over my shoulder. "You know, guys who love themselves too much aren't attractive."
He shrugged like he didn't care. I was willing to bet there were enough women out there who were willing to love a man like him in a heartbeat. There was something magnetic about him. Thank God I had a brain or I would fall for his ridiculous charm, too.
I scanned the book and a box popped up. I frowned and shook my head.
"I'm sorry, you've got outstanding fines. I can't let you take that out of here until you pay them."
He took out his wallet and opened it. "I don't have cash on me."
I shrugged. "I'm sorry. You'll have to come back when you do. Bring your library card while you're at it."
He narrowed his eyes. "Are you always such a pain in the ass?"
Something inside me hardened. "Only when customers are assholes."
He flashed another one of those half-cocked grins at me that made me feel unbalanced.
"If you'd like me to keep it for you until tomorrow I can do that." See, who said I couldn't be nice?
The door to Alicia's office opened and she stepped out. She had her phone in her hand.
"Are you okay to lock up, Selena?" she asked without locking up. She took two steps toward us before she looked up. Her eyes fell on Logan and her phone was forgotten. She looked him up and down, making no effort to hide her ogling, and smiled in a way I'd never seen her smile before. "Well, it's nice to see that other members of our community are joining the library."
"He's already a member," I said, irritated. She was smiling like a teenager. If her hair weren’t so short she would have flipped or sucked on it like those girls do in front of the middle school.
"Knowledge is power," Logan said and flashed the same grin he'd used on me a minute ago at Alicia. I swear she melted right through her panties.
"I'm sure there are other things that are just as powerful." She actually fluttered - fluttered - her eyelashes. Seriously? Was that flirting? A line that didn't make sense and googly eyes?
Logan glanced at me and smirked. He turned his attention back to Alicia. "Unfortunately, it's not happening for me tonight." He did the best rendition of a pout I'd ever seen on a biker.
"Why is that?" Alicia frowned at me.
"He has outstanding fines."
Alicia rolled her eyes. "Come on, Selena. This isn't necessary." She smiled at Logan again. "We can waive them for you."
Logan smiled broadly. "That's so kind of you. A compassionate woman is so sexy."
Alicia blushed and looked at me.
"It was five DVDs, all two weeks late." It was a hell of a fine for a library.
"No one will know. Mister..."
She smiled. "Mr. Frost won't tell if we drop the fines. Come now, Selena, don't be such a prude."
She just called me a prude in front of Annoyingly-Handsome. I stifled a groan, fought the urge to roll my eyes and clicked the button that said the fines were paid. Of course, the computer would have no way of knowing it wasn't paid. It wasn't a cash register.
"Thank you so much," Logan said to Alicia in a syrupy tone. Syrupy. On a biker. It sounded terrible but he made it look good. I had to remember that - maybe I could work it into my book somehow.
"It's nothing," Alicia said. She was gushing all over him. It made me sick. I liked to think I was down to earth. I knew where I belonged in life, I was under no illusion about my looks and I wasn't about to indulge anyone else in a fantasy about theirs. I was also not hard-up for a lay.
Alicia, on the other hand, was guilty of all of the above, especially the latter if her reaction was anything to go by.
"Will that be all?" I asked, scanning the book.
He nodded. "I'll be sure to have it back on time."
"Oh, don't worry," I said, mocking Alicia's flippant tone. "We'll just waive the fines again for you when you're late."
Alicia glared at me before smiling at Logan again. He nodded at me and smiled. I looked away. I wasn't interested. Especially not now that I'd seen manipulation at its best. I had no time for people who used their looks to get somewhere in life.
"I have to get to a meeting. Will you escort me out?" Alicia made her eyes big and batted her eyelashes again. Logan hesitated for a moment, that smile frozen in place as if he really wanted to say no. Of course, with all his charm he'd poured out a moment earlier, it wasn't like he could say no now. Karma was such a bitch. He nodded. Alicia smiled and turned toward the door. He looked at me.
I deliberately looked away. Logan turned and followed Alicia to the door, his swagger just a little less energetic than before. Good. I hoped Alicia made his life miserable for as long as he spent time in her company.
I turned back to my manuscript and paged back through it until I found the scene with the love interest that Kylee would end up with once she was divorced from her murderer husband. Right now Francis was a lawyer, the scatter-brained type with the scruffy suit and the skew tie and the ability to come up with genius resolutions in the face of adversity. I edited his sections, changing his character a little. He was still a lawyer, but instead of being scatterbrained he was witty and quick, charming, clothed in leather and driving all over the show on a Harley.
He was attractive but he didn't seem to think so, he liked Kylee because she was so down to earth, not because of her mind, and he had ways of getting answers and saving the day that didn't fit in an ordinary novel.
I read over it again. Francis was a lot more interesting now, except his name didn't fit, either. Now he seemed more like a Butch or a Duke or a Jack.
I looked at the door where Logan and Alicia had disappeared.
Or an Asshole.
I couldn't see them through the partial glass of the doors with the lights on inside and the darkness outside. Just as well - I wasn't in the mood to see my boss sucking face with the idiot biker who thought he had everything coming to him because he knew how to smile in a way that made woman rethink the purpose of their existence.