It was the time of day Claire liked best. The library was quiet. All of the patrons had departed and she was alone with the books. Her books. That was the way she thought about them anyway, and to a degree they were. She was the librarian. Except for the two young women that helped her out during the afternoons when the library was at its busiest and, of course, their patrons, the library and all its wealth of books were entirely her domain. She was the one who kept up with the books, took care of them, and primarily the one who made certain they were kept orderly. There wasn't a single book in the library, she was certain, that hadn't passed through her hands at least once in the five years since she'd taken over the position of librarian in the tiny library that belonged to the tiny hamlet of Folkston.
Loading the last of the returned volumes to her cart, she pushed the book trolley from behind the returns desk and headed to the nearest shelf. She was tired, but pleasantly so. The hour or so that it took her to set the library to rights after it had closed was her time to unwind before she went home to her empty house.
Well, not entirely empty. She had her cats, of course. It was almost a prerequisite, she mused with a touch of self-depreciating humor, for a woman living alone to have a passel of cats. She certainly hadn't set out to. The old tabby had come with the quaint little Victorian she'd bought when she'd moved to Folkston. To his way of thinking, she supposed, it was his house. The realtor had told her he'd belonged to the woman who'd owned the house before her and advised her to get rid of him since he was such an unpleasant and unsociable old man, but she hadn't had the heart.
He wasn't pretty or cuddly by any stretch of the imagination, but she'd felt that he'd earned the right to live out his days in the house he considered his home. He'd obviously seen more than his fair share of battles. One ear was mangled, as if the tip had been chewed off. A section of his tail was missing and a scar ran across one eyelid that hadn't healed as it should, making it seem as if he was always squinting one baleful, yellow eye at her. He'd never allowed her to touch him or even come closer than three feet of him, but he was always at the back porch demanding to be fed at meal times, watching her suspiciously as she doled out his food, letting out a low, threatening growl if she encroached any closer than the distance he allowed.
She called him Tom. She thought of him as the old bastard, though--for a number of reasons--mostly because the old bastard had impregnated her prized Abyssinian, damn his hide! She'd had no notion Sugar was even old enough to think about humping. It seemed that one moment she was only a kitten herself and the next, while she was still trying to decide whether to have her fixed or breed her so that she could sell the pure breed kittens for a little extra cash, a mommy with three half Abyssinian half mongrel tabby kittens of her own.
She still hadn't figured out how the old bastard had managed to get his dick into her darling Sugar--the little slut! But she strongly suspected it was Sugar who'd figured out a way to get out to old Tom, not Tom who'd figured out how to get inside to get hold of her precious. She was a clever girl, very good at opening doors, which was why Claire always made sure the doors were locked when she left for work. She didn't think Sugar could unlock doors, though, just turn the knobs, which meant it was still a mystery as to how the pair had managed to get together for romance.
Regardless, she now had Sugar, Old Tom, and three kittens--which she hadn't had any luck finding homes for.
Reaching the first row of bookshelves, Claire dismissed her thoughts and picked up the first book, scanning the shelf until she found the spot where the book belonged. Naturally enough, she found a half a dozen other books that were out of place. As much as everyone seemed to love the books--and the library, as one of the few sources of local entertainment, saw a lot of use--no one wanted to be bothered with putting them where they belonged.
She'd worked her way almost halfway across the library and emptied the biggest portion of her cart when she spotted the book that didn't belong--totally didn't belong. It was tilted slightly, as if someone had tried to push it into a spot too small for it and only managed to partially wedge the book in, but she would've noticed it immediately anyway. The spine was not only far more worn than the spines of any of the other books, but, aside from being roughened from age and probably handling, it was smooth. The title should have been tooled into the leather at the very least. Beyond that, if it was a library book someone had either removed the label she always very carefully attached to each and every book with the identifying code, or it had never been tagged at all.
Finding the spot where the book she was holding went, she pushed it into place and then grasped the stray book and pulled it off the shelf. The softness of the leather was her first impression, but even as a pleasant jolt of surprise went through her at the texture against her hand she was distracted by the craftsmanship of the book itself. Regardless of the plainness of the spine, the front of the book was anything but plain. Some intricate, unidentifiable design had been tooled into the leather, framing the title of the book--Bless the Beasts.