Molly Sarah Prescott wasn't given to morbid premonitions even when one crawled down her spine and bit her in the ass, but tonight was different.
"I'm not spooked out," she muttered to herself, shuffling the books she'd just checked in. "I'm way too practical to give in to imagination."
Beyond the darkened library windows, lightning rent the night sky, making her start and she wasn't even afraid of thunderstorms. In fact, she liked them, most of the time.
"Did you say something?" Linda Weaver, her assistant asked, raising her head to stare at her. Linda was at least ten years older than Molly but wouldn't admit to it. Age was irrelevant. That was her story, and she was sticking to it. Now, she stood regarding Molly with a wide nervous gaze that darted around the abandoned library. "Is something wrong?"
"Nothing," Molly grunted and tried to refocus on the computer screen in front of her. She wasn't having much luck. "I'm just feeling a little jumpy right now. Must be the storm."
Outside the solid brick walls, thunder, ominous and foreboding, sounded its deep-throated threats, adding to the ambiance of impending danger. Despite the rain hammering relentlessly against the skylights, an eerie uneasy stillness had settled over the empty library.
"Something bad is about to happen," Linda said and clicked her teeth nervously.
"Oh, please, not tonight," Molly muttered. Linda did not like thunderstorms either, and she dealt with a whole load of superstitious beliefs that ruled every nuance of her existence. Sometimes, her paranormal predilections spilled over onto her friends and family, much to their dismay and annoyance. Molly liked Linda for all her irrational fears and tried to be open minded and patient, but now her good intentions were sorely tried when the other woman's eyes widened melodramatically.
"Something bad is about to happen," she said in a hushed stage whisper.
Molly wanted to reject Linda's words, but a sense of dread swept through her--of what, she had no inkling. The feeling had dogged her all day, and now, as the fury of the August storm increased, she wondered at the wisdom of staying open late on such a night.
Lightning flashed again, making her flinch.
"You feel it, too," Linda observed, her words punctuated with another roll of thunder. She was a big woman with faded blonde hair and comfortable lines in her moon-shaped face, but now, her ruddy color had paled, and she licked her lips nervously.
"It's just the weather," Molly said, stacking a load of books to be shelved. "Or that time of month,"
"I tell you it's more than that. I can feel something in the air, like..." Linda paused dramatically. "Like danger and," she rolled her eyes before uttering the final word in a whisper, "and death."
"Come on, this is not the night for this," Molly said loud enough for the other woman to hear.
"Don't laugh like everyone else. You've never done that before, and I can't tell you how much I've appreciated that about you, but this time, somehow, the feeling I have is tied up with you."
"Me?" Molly forced a laugh, but it came out high pitched and nervous. So much for curbing your irrational fears.
"Don't laugh," Linda repeated, retrieving her duffel-bag sized purse and digging inside. Triumphantly, she came up with a little clay object strung on a piece of leather. "I want you to wear this," she said, fluffing the bit of feather stuck in the top.
"What on earth is it?" Molly bit her tongue to keep from blurting out her true thoughts on the pathetic looking thing.
"It's an amulet. I've been dreaming about you a lot lately, so I made this just for you. So you just take it and wear it," Linda insisted, placing it around Molly's neck. "It'll protect you from just about anything."
"I don't need protection," she said. "What I need is some excitement, something new in my life." She glanced at her friend's pudgy, lined face and felt a pang of remorse. Molly didn't want to hurt her feelings, but neither did she want to walk around with a lump of clay and bird feathers bobbing on her chest. It looked like something made in kindergarten art class. Linda was more inspired than she was artistic.
"Promise you'll wear it."
Looking into her worried face, Molly nodded. She'd hide it beneath her top until Linda was no longer around then she'd ditch it.
Sighing, she began shelving the books they'd just checked in.
"If no one comes in the next fifteen minutes, I'm going to break my own rule and close early."
"You never close early," Linda observed, wandering over to lend a hand.
"There are, after all, some perks to being the head librarian," Molly reminded her.
A chilly draft raised goose flesh on her arms. She suppressed a shiver and couldn't resist a glance over her shoulder.
"Did you hear something?" Linda whispered, peering around nervously.
"We would have heard if someone came in." Molly shrugged. Had there been a footstep? Of course not, silly goose. To divert her unease, she concentrated on her task.
"You know what?" Linda's voice was all high pitched with false cheeriness. "We need to lighten things up in here. Tell me about your date with Brad last night."
"It was just the same old, usual date," Molly said, reaching for a cookbook and moving down the aisle.
"Good lord, that'll put us to sleep!"
"Linda!" Molly sounded a warning although her assistant was right.
"Well, it's true," Linda continued, undeterred. "Let's see, on your normal Thursday night date, there's the usual 'all-you-can-eat' spaghetti supper at Jan's Eatery, two hours of bowling and five minutes of less-than-inspired copulation. Am I right?" She grinned without one bit of remorse.
Molly rolled her eyes and sighed. Linda was right. Brad hadn't raised her temperature in...well, never. Steady, plodding, dependable, he gave a whole new meaning to the phrase "safe sex".
"Brad is a nice and dear man in his own way," she said defensively.
"Hmm?" Linda looked at her knowingly.
"All right." Molly gave up. "At times, I do feel this monumental restlessness that just sends me running for the tequila bottle."
"So the truth comes out. He's boring."
"Maybe, a little."
"I don't mean to put him down," Linda said reflectively, following Molly a little more closely than she needed to down the aisle of shelves, "but he just seems so old for you."
"He's only thirty-three, and I'm going to be thirty my next birthday." She paused. She'd been bothered a lot by her approaching birthday and begun questioning her well-ordered life.
"That's what I mean, you're so young, and with Brad, you act, well, old and," Linda hesitated a half a second, but she never held back, "dare I say, boring?"
"Look, I'm content with my life." Molly shoved the book into its space with a little more snap than was needed, which required the straightening of other books around it.
"Are you happy settling for content?" Linda asked the question Molly had been afraid to ask herself. "Or are you just being mentally lazy, impassive and easily satisfied. Brad, you know, is certainly not a world shaker."
Molly stopped pushing the books into perfect alignment and cast a look of accusation over her shoulder at her well-meaning friend. She didn't like any of those descriptions of herself.
The sound of thunder came again, and she was grateful for the diversion, except that her heart was hammering and she dropped a book. Linda leaped forward and grabbed her arm. Her hands were icy and sweaty at the same time.
"Is anyone here?" Molly called, her voice startlingly loud in the cocoon-like silence. Had it wavered with fear? Of course not. She wasn't afraid. She wasn't the sort to get all flighty and nervous. That much she liked about herself.
No one answered, but she thought someone should check things out. Since Linda had a death grip on her arm and was making little squeaky sounds in the back of her throat, Molly was pretty sure the task was left to her. Taking courage in hand, she walked along the fiction shelves, glancing down each aisle. Linda hung back, her fists balled against her lips as if to hold back a scream.
The library was empty.
Molly jumped and pressed a hand to her heart. The masculine voice had come from the front of the library.
"Someone's come in," she whispered, peering back at Linda. "Nothing to get antsy about. You finish shelving, and I'll see who it is." She hurried to the checkout desk, grateful for the prospect of talking to someone who didn't fall apart at every clap of thunder.
A tall, dark-haired man waited, looking around with an air of impatience. She'd never before seen him and guessed he must be a newcomer to town. Smiling, she automatically took in the details of his appearance. He was well-dressed and good-looking in a dark, brooding way with a strong, craggy face. Water glistened in his black hair that came to a widow's peak above a wide brow.
At five-nine, Molly had never considered herself vertically challenged, but he towered over her. And he was gorgeous. She tucked a strand of hair into the chignon at her nape.
"May I help you?" Her smile was probably less reserved than she'd meant it to be, but she was just happy to see another living soul besides Linda.
His lips curved into the facsimile of a smile, but it didn't quite reach his eyes, and she guessed it was no more than a polite reaction. Besides...something in his gaze made her pause, a sad weariness that made her want to ease his melancholy.
My god, I'm getting as fanciful as Linda. He's a total stranger. But that didn't stop her libido from stirring with interest. She tried to think of Brad, but some wayward part of her brain thought, Brad who?
She gazed at the stranger because he was so easy on the eyes.
"Did you find what you were looking for?" She blinked, trying to break the spell his presence generated, but it didn't help. She felt the impact of his glance clear down to her toes. For a minute, she forgot what she was about then common sense reasserted itself.
Handsome men did not easily turn Molly's head. In her limited experience, they seldom lived up to their hype. This hard-won wisdom had left her wrapped in a protective layer of cynicism and made her totally immune to good-looking men. Well, nearly immune. This man was in a class by himself. Not only was he incredibly virile and sexy, he exuded danger and mystery, a powerful draw for a woman in her state. He took a damp, wrinkled pencil drawing from his pocket and held it out to her.
"Have you seen this man?" His voice was deep and husky, its rich timbre humming along her neurons, so it took her a moment to focus on the drawing. She had a wild impulse to throw herself into his arms and beg him to take her right there on the library floor. Wouldn't the rest of the library board be shocked at that image?
Taking the sketch, she forced herself to concentrate as she studied it. A chill ran up her spine, for the rough drawing clearly revealed features of a dangerous nature.
"Have you seen him?" The stranger's tone was alarming in its urgency.
Molly drew back a little.
"Who is he?"
At first, she thought he meant not to answer, then he shrugged. "He's my...brother."
She sensed it was a lie, but he didn't try to persuade her.
"Have you seen him?" he repeated harshly.
"Sorry, I haven't." She handed the sketch back to him. The man's shoulders slumped. "Why are you looking for him?"
"He...uh...he had some car trouble, and I came to pick him up."
"He may have gone off to phone a tow truck." Suddenly, Molly wanted this man gone from her safe world. She wanted to close the door behind him and lock him and his sinister pencil drawing out in the rainy night. She wanted to join her friends at the pizza parlor, laugh and be content again with the mundane things of life, while the dark night and all its implied threats disappeared without touching her.
"I'm sorry, I can't help you." She turned toward the door, an unspoken invitation for him to leave.
"Maybe he came in to use your phone or something?" He was stalling, she realized, loathe to return to the cold, dark night. She felt ungracious, but her instincts screamed a warning.
"I'm afraid not. Now, if you'll excuse me--"
The man tapped the sketch against his hand. "Look, if he comes in--" He glanced around. "Are you here by yourself?"
His intensity and the question made her uneasy. Even if he was handsome, he might be a serial killer or something like Ted Bundy.
"My assistant is shelving books."
"Good. That's...good." He glanced around the seemingly empty library as if he thought she'd lied. She was almost tempted to call Linda forward from her hiding place, but he shrugged and backed toward the door even as he uttered his words. His intense blue eyes turned black in the shadowy light. He was leaving. There was nothing to worry about.
"When do you close?" He halted his retreat and looked at her, hard, as if she were not to be trusted in whatever she might answer.
"I was just about to." That certainly was no lie. She couldn't get out of here fast enough.
"Good?" she suggested with just a touch of mockery and moved toward the door. She would lock it the instant he was gone.
His grin caught her unawares. She made a quick grab for her cynicism, but it was too late. There was nothing for it, but to gaze at him and blush like some schoolgirl, her fear momentarily forgotten. Her mouth gaped open with all the finesse of a guppy at feeding time. Every part of her body tingled with awareness, and she wondered what he looked like under that raincoat. A vision of a broad chest, slim hips and huge cock flashed before her eyes, and she was grateful he couldn't read her mind. His expression changed, his eyes darkened and, for a moment, she thought she read an answering lust in his gaze.
"It's a bad night to be out," he said finally. "Take care of yourself and thanks for your help." He gave a little half salute and was gone into the slashing rain.
Drawn to the front door, she stood staring after him, thinking irrationally about the erotic sensuality of rich, dark chocolate, the kind one could wallow around in and have someone special nibble off in all the right places. Someone dangerous and mysterious with a sexy accent. Hell, as long as she was indulging herself, her thoughts could leap way beyond dark chocolate to a wicked strip tease that revealed everything from broad shoulders and a beautiful, fully erect cock. Highly improper thoughts for a librarian. Must be a full moon under all those rain clouds! She shook herself and locked the front door with trembling fingers.
"Who was it?" Linda asked, and Molly jumped as if she'd been caught doing something wrong. Thoughts didn't count, she reminded herself.
"Just a man looking for his brother."
"And you don't know who he was?" Linda asked disbelievingly. The concept that she might not know every person who stepped through the door was alien to the other woman. If Linda didn't know them when they came in, she made sure she knew them and most of their life story before they left.
"Sorry," Molly said bitingly. "He didn't tell me his name, in fact, he said very little except what I've told you." To forestall anymore questions, she continued quickly, "Let's close up now. No one's coming out in this weather."
"All right," Linda said with enthusiasm. "I can get home in time to have dinner with Raymond." She grabbed up her huge bag and took out a compact, fluffing her hair and checking her makeup. "Do you need me to help you close?"
"Go ahead. I'll finish up. Say hi to Raymond."
Linda beamed. "He's not a man to be kept waiting. See you tomorrow. I may be a little late." She didn't wait for Molly's answer. She was too excited at the prospect of getting extra time with her boyfriend. For a moment, Molly envied her then she thought of Raymond with his superior attitude and inferior intellect.
Her thoughts turned back to the handsome stranger and remembered the unease he'd evoked. How pathetic. Here she stood alternately lusting after and fearing a total stranger who'd come in to ask about a missing brother. Nothing he'd said or done had threatened her. She was just being paranoid. No, she was being absolutely menopausal silly, and she hadn't even turned thirty yet. Oh help!