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Just One Taste Part 29

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December

"What do you think?"

Lyra looked over his shoulder while Ben looked at the panels. Her rough drawings were remarkably good, but the hero and heroine looked suspiciously like two people he was very well acquainted with. She had lettered his words in the balloons.

"They're fantastic. But a little too close to home. What if this graphic romance novel actually gets published? People will think we're the shape-shifters."

Lyra kissed the top of his head. Since he wasn't teaching anymore, his hair was almost as long as hers was. She said she loved a guy with long hair. Her cartoon hero was a regular Samson before Delilah. Soon Ben would look exactly like him.



"Silly boy. They'll just think we're two vain newlyweds with overactive imaginations. This is going to work, I just can feel it. Can't you? I see a movie franchise!"

Ben pulled her into his lap and rubbed her nose. "It must be your animal instincts."

Out of Time

This is for all the wonderful librarians out there. I wrote this when I was a library clerk in a high school, but sadly, no hot time traveler of legal age ever asked to borrow a book. Maine has a bunch of wonderful local libraries, and I based Alice's on a combination of Dover-Foxcroft's and Dexter's.

Daniel's good news: He's psychic.

Daniel's bad news: He's cursed.

Daniel Merrill has a job to do, and plenty of time to do it, since he's perpetually thirty-two. Unless he can rewrite his hometown's history book, he'll be doomed like Moses to wander, popping up in Merrills Mills every forty years to try to get it right.

Alice's good news: There's a hot guy in the library.

Alice's bad news: There's a hot guy in the library.

Librarian Alice Roy doesn't quite know what to do about the man who's not reading in the Reading Room. Is he homeless? Unemployed? Just her luck that the handsomest man outside of a romance novel seems crazy, too. Alice has read every plot imaginable, and a cursed, time-traveling psychic with telekinetic powers seems a bit far-fetched. But one night with Daniel changes her mind. Now Alice is prepared to do anything to help him-even if it means destroying a book.

Chapter 1.

Alice Roy took her traditional giddy morning spin in the swivel chair, straightened up and entered the password to open up the library's database. She checked the clock. 8:57 already. She felt a little dizzy, and it wasn't because of her vestibular system's encounter with revolving office furniture. If this Thursday was like Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, Daniel Merrill would be the first person to cross the threshold, give her that shy smile of his and disappear into a wing chair in the Reading Room. And he'd be the last to leave at 5 P.M., too.

No, wait. Tonight the library was open until nine. Could the man possibly stay still for twelve hours? She'd find out. Alice had volunteered to pull a twelve hour shift today since it was her assistant Jamie's anniversary.

She was tired already just thinking about the long day ahead. She never knew exactly how busy she'd be, but at least Daniel Merrill had boosted their patron visits this week, whose informal tally she kept in pencil on a sticky note by the computer.

It wasn't like he was coming in to do research. No bulging briefcase or stacks of notebooks for him. Alice and Jamie had taken a peek at him on their rounds, and there he sat, his hands folded in his lap, his eyes closed, not even reading in the Reading Room. The only reason Alice even knew his name was because his wallet had fallen out of his pants pocket on Tuesday. Jamie had found it wedged between the cushion and the back of the chair. There wasn't a thing in it besides his driver's license, whose picture really didn't do justice to the hunk that was Daniel.

He was exceptionally good-looking, if you liked a thirty-two-year-old apparently unemployed organ donor who was 6'3" and 180 pounds, with dark brown hair and hazel eyes. Who happened to look fine in his threadbare jeans. The license didn't say that, of course, but Jamie had.

Alice had slapped Jamie's arm and reminded her that she was about to celebrate her thirtieth anniversary, so Jamie let Alice take the wallet home with her Tuesday night. Alice tried to call him, but either Mr. Merrill was unlisted or didn't have a phone. She was relieved when he turned up again Wednesday morning so she wouldn't be tempted to stare at his DMV photo another day and night. She had work to do after all, even if seemed like he didn't.

Sure enough, the man walked through the beveled glass door from the street entrance at the stroke of nine and gave Alice that smile. He headed straight to the oak-paneled Reading Room, with its forbidden-to-fire fireplace and a donated painting of a clipper ship-even if the library was entirely inland-over the mantel.

She was a little nervous to be completely alone in the building with Daniel Merrill, who so far hadn't said anything but "Thank you very much" when she handed him his wallet. She'd wanted to ask him if he was related to the Merrills, the family that had founded the town, but her tongue had stuck to the roof of her mouth like there was leftover peanut butter up there.

She also wondered if he were homeless as well as jobless and phoneless, although he didn't appear to be sleeping in the chair, just thinking. His license did have an address on it. He seemed clean. He smelled good. And his jeans were fresh every day, no baggy knees and saggy ass.

Alice had looked.

The library had no policy as to what to do with patrons who came in off the street and sat in a chair all day. Alice knew big city libraries had issues with vagrants who came in for shelter and warmth, but she wasn't quite ready to call Chief Osborne to complain that the handsomest man she'd ever seen was hanging out in the next room.

So she tried to put Daniel Merrill out of her mind, ignoring the virtual waves of testosterone that emanated from the Reading Room. She spent the morning processing and covering some books that had been donated and rounding up toddlers from the children's section who'd escaped their mothers, shrieking in glee.

By noontime, the library was quiet and empty, so it seemed like a good time to break for lunch, if you could call peanut butter crackers and a diet Dr. Pepper such a thing. Alice was saving the big guns, the peanut butter and fluff sandwich, for dinner later. She stepped into the tiny room she and Jamie used for their office, then stepped out again.

Jamie worked part-time some afternoons and the one evening a week, and was usually there to cover for Alice when she ate lunch. What if Mr. Merrill wanted something? It wouldn't hurt for Alice to tell him she was in the office just in case he varied from his previous routine and developed an urge to use the one nearly-obsolete patron computer. Or look at sixty-odd years of National Geographic in the basement.

Or talk.

Alice moved quietly across the fake Oriental carpeting and stood in the archway of the Reading Room. Daniel Merrill sat in his usual chair, eyes shut, his chiseled lips pursed as if he were lost in a confounding conundrum.

Good grief. Chiseled lips. Alice was obviously reading way too many romance novels, but she had to keep abreast of trends in fiction. At least that's what she told herself. It had nothing to do with the fact she hadn't had a date in seven months. Or her broken engagement two years ago. Or that she was a bespectacled spinster librarian with an actual cat in her bed every night instead of a hot guy like Daniel Merrill, who probably wouldn't look twice at her if his eyes ever opened, because all he'd see was a jilted, underpaid thirty year old woman who ate way too many peanut butter products and needed a good haircut and less comfortable shoes.

The chiseled lips twitched. If Alice didn't know better she'd think Daniel Merrill was laughing at her. With his eyes still closed, he said, "How may I help you, Ms. Roy?"

Alice was stupefied that he knew her name, until she realized she had been wearing her little plastic badge pinned somewhere conspicuously on herself for the past four days. It was the selectmen's edict for all town employees, supposedly a way to combat terrorism in the very static and unstrategic Merrills Mills, Maine, population 3,880 according to the last census.

In Alice's opinion, it was ridiculous to spend precious tax dollars on useless nametags in a town where everyone knew everybody's names and far too much about them and their grandparents besides.

Alice had tried to escape. She'd moved away after college but came back when her lovelife turned to crap and her mother sent her the Wanted: Library Director clipping. She and her new MLS had been hired for a pittance, and now she was right back where she'd spent afternoons and summer vacations immersed in Sweet Valley High books and helping old Mrs. Hussey put books away. Old Mrs. Hussey had finally died, and now Alice was on her way to being old Ms. Roy.

At least she wasn't still living at home. Not exactly. Her mother had fixed up the garage apartment for her and pretty much left Alice and Felicity-the cat-alone, even if Alice knew her mother longed to leave her nutritious casseroles and extra rolls of toilet paper.

Her mother always called first to see if it was convenient for her to "drop in," too, as though she was afraid she'd find Alice naked in bed with some guy. Like Daniel Merrill.

Actually, her mother dated more than she did. It was lowering to realize one's own fifty-three year-old mother had more sex than one did, if one didn't count the battery-operated kind.

Alice pulled herself together. So, Daniel Merrill knew her name. But how did he know she was standing there? Her ugly rubber-soled shoes made no noise on the rug, the better to catch middle-school boys drawing pornographic pictures in the margins of the Harry Potter collection. What they had done to poor Dobby was a disgrace. Alice had felt justified cutting Dylan Coleman's library card neatly in half and suspending his borrowing privileges for a year.

She swallowed nervously.

"You are standing right there, aren't you?"

His voice was a velvet burr. It made her think of brandy and Regency rakes. Mentally she removed the moth-eaten plaid scarf he still had around his neck and pictured him in a pristine white cravat. Tight breeches, even tighter than his jeans.

Yum. She willed her goose pimples to subside and swore again she was not going to be tempted by that Amazon one-click again. She could save her money and reread the old Victoria Holts that were right here on the library shelves. Just because there were no explicit sex scenes in them didn't make them bad.

"Um, yes." Why wouldn't he open his eyes? Was he in some kind of trance or something? Surely she wasn't that hard to look at. Sure, her hair was stuck up in a tortoise shell clip that matched her glasses, but she was wearing her best peach-colored twin set and had on matching lipstick. Not that she had gotten dressed this morning to impress him or anything.

Daniel frowned. So much noise was coming from the direction of the doorway. The words bounced randomly through his head, not making a bit of sense. Stuff about peaches and turtles. Geese. Tall women. Neckties, for chrissakes. He never wore one unless he had to.

She wanted to tell him something. He sighed, disengaged. It was pointless to go further with her staring at him as if he were a bug under a microscope, and he looked directly at her pretty blushing face.

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