Chapter Three

After visiting the beautiful church, and yes, the two half walls of the old castle, Diana had more information she had to look up about the town and her ancestors.  She checked her watch and looked at the sign on the bookstore she had passed earlier in the day.  "Still 30-minutes till they close."  

Diana pushed the door open, smiled as the chimes tinkled above her and was transported back in time.  Granted only a few months, but it felt ages ago.  "Ah the smell of books."  She closed her eyes, inhaled the perfect mix of paper, ink, fiber and glue.  Without opening them she knew the store would be her little piece of heaven, even if only for a few weeks.  

When Diana opened her eyes she was greeted by the most perfect book store she'd ever seen.  And she knew her book stores.  Not only had she visited at least one in every city she'd ever traveled to, but she had owned a little shop of her own for 12-years.  "The Bookends", just a corner shop in her home town.  But it was perfect for her.

Her place offered live music on Friday nights and a small coffee bar and several couches and bistro tables for those who couldn't wait to get home to read their newest treasure.  Or the few teens who couldn't afford the latest book.  But she didn't mind.  Watching their excitement as they read the latest teen series, no matter how silly, she was happy to see them putting down their gadgets and picking up a bit of imagination.  

Each week she read to the kids or if she was lucky enough a writer would pass through town and offer a book signing or mini lecture.  And as always, as soon as the store came to mind, her heart broke a little more.  It was just 6-months ago that she sold the place.  Even though sales were still good and the local college kids kept her busy wanting the latest trends in books, coffee and local bands, she just didn't have it in her anymore.

She was fortunate that she found a buyer so fast and for the price she was asking.  Truth be known she priced it a bit high in the hopes of delaying the sale and leaving some time in case she changed her mind.  But the store quickly sold and lucky for the local college kids the new owners weren't changing a thing.  It was a nice feeling knowing she had built the place up from nothing and was able to keep it trendy enough for the younger crowd but homey enough for the older ones.

"Okay, don't forgetting the whole declaration you made about moving on."  She pushed away from the door and only then noticed how empty the place was.  She looked over at the reading area.  No one there.  She could smell coffee wafting in from the back.  Not wanting any at the moment she drifted down the aisles looking for the books the tour guide had suggested.

Since the store was so well laid out it didn't take her long to find what she wanted.  But not one to rush through a bookstore  she decided to see what else they carried.  Surely a store located in what must be a building several hundred years old... "Was that possible?  Must be."  You could feel the history oozing through the walls.  She wondered who all must have walked through this little shop.  Or had it been housing at one time?  Oh now she'd have to research that too.  Which of course just excited her even more.  

As she continued her browsing she passed by the little coffee/tea shop.  The place was already tidied up with a few chairs on top of tables but no one in sight.  She checked her watch again, still 10 more minutes till closing time.  She figured the owner must be in the back and not wanting to rush them with their clean up she followed the back wall till she saw the old reference books.

Many of the tomes that looked ancient were on tall shelves that required a ladder to access them.  She glided her fingers across the spine of several old books, but her eyes kept drifting to the ones on top.  What on earth could they be?  Some of them were easily 12" thick.  Her curiosity was getting the better of her and after another minute of looking at the books within reach she decided she just had to get on the ladder and see.

Now mind you she knew the owner would not be too happy with her.  As she wouldn't have been happy with the idea of someone doing the same thing in her shop.  But, well, she could almost justify in her head that what she was doing was just saving the owner time and she was an "... expert at ladder book retrieval."  Yes, she said the last part out loud... and laughed.
  
Diana made sure the ladder was secured to the railing it slid along before climbing the few rungs it would take to get the top shelf.  As soon as the books were in sight she saw they were books about the local history of the town as well as some possible land surveys or maybe housing.  Hard to tell since many of the spines were worn off.  She pulled the most durable one out just to see.  Finding that it was mostly written in very hard to read calligraphy and much of the pages were filled with maps she carefully put the book back.

Not wanting to walk away disappointed she pulled out a few others.  The next few were more promising.  One looked like a copy of some old poems.  The other sketches of local landmarks.  "Oh I could spend days looking through these."  She let out a dreamy sigh and continued looking, not once noticing the man whose eyes were transfixed on her legs.

"Ladder Penalty"

Cleaning up and closing the store was never fun.  But doing it on a night when all his mates were watching the game and running the taps dry, that was worse.  But truthfully Mitch didn't mind it so much.  His folks had left him the store and he'd enjoyed running it these past few years.  But boy did it mess up his social life.

Just as Mitch was locking up the back he heard a soft sigh.  Quickly followed by what he could swear was the ladder sliding across the brass bar.  Telling the kids about the ghost supposedly haunting the three shops along this side of the lane was one thing, but being alone and hearing them... well that required some investigation.

After turning the back lights off and closing the coffee shop register he grabbed the shop keys and placed them in his pocket.  "Maybe I'll have one last look before I head out."  When he stepped around the divider that separated the coffee shop from the store he was greeted by the sight of a woman leaning precariously on the ladder.  There was no doubt she was real.  Heavenly perhaps, but of the flesh and bone variety.   

One leg was nearly horizontal to the floor with the foot perfectly pointed.  While the other was pushed up on its toes in a ballerina pose.  She was stretching out towards one of the large tomes on the top shelf. Why he had no idea, and neither did he care.  Where he was standing he had the perfect view of her legs from toe to... was she wearing thigh highs.  Really?  "Did women really wear those?"  

Mitch wasn't sure if he'd said the last part out loud so he decided to make his presence known before the woman either fell off the ladder hurting those perfect legs, or he embarrassed himself and hurt his pride.

"You in need of a door stop?  I've heard those tomes can hold great oak doors open in a pinch."

At his words the lady jumped.  She recovered just in time to catch the book she was holding but not in time to stop herself from falling.  Mitch sprang in to action catching her at the waist and pulling her against his chest.

"I'm so sorry.  I should have spoken softly.  I just felt guilty for standing back there admiring what might possibly be the best looking legs I've ever seen.  So to cover it up I spoke loud and fast.  Rude either way wasn't it?"  

While he spoke Diana was trying to get her breathing under control.  Not only was she caught and looking guilty, but she made a fool of herself by falling off.  "This might possibly be the most embarrassing thing I've ever done."

In the time they'd had this exchange of words he could have set her away from him, but he didn't release her waist and she didn't step away.  He felt good.  She knew he was strong, had to be to catch her the way he did. But he was gentle as well.  Not that she was often found falling in to men's arms, but she'd assume they'd grab without thinking and bruise a person.  But his hands, his very large hands, rested on her hip bones like he'd done this before.

"I'm so sorry for climbing your ladder and fondling your books.  Would you believe me if I said I couldn't stop myself?"  She looked over her shoulder to find him just inches away.  She had a good view of his jaw and had to look up to make eye contact.  Her breath caught, "Oh my..."  She was staring at the most attractive man she had ever seen.   

"I uh, I mean, again I apologize."  She could feel the heat rush to her cheeks.  How very eloquently spoken.  Oh heavens, did he notice?  As fast as her cheeks were reddening up he had to see it.  She turned her head and looked down to refocus on the book. 

Still he didn't let go.  "If by climbing my ladder and fondling my books I get the honor of catching you.  I'd be more than happy to reenact this moment over and over again."  With each word she could feel his breath against the back of her neck.  She couldn't control the shiver that followed.

Not knowing what else to do she turned around in his arms, which he still kept wrapped around her.  "I am steady now if you want to let go."

"And what if I don't want to let go?"  He smiled and winked, pulling her a bit closer with each word he spoke.

"Perhaps you think I'm stealing your book and want to keep me close till the authorities arrive?"  She was pretty sure that wasn't what he meant, but if she didn't change the mood soon she wasn't sure where this would go.  But she knew wherever it went it would be hard to stop once it was started.

"Seeing as it's past closing time and pretty much everyone in town is at the pub watching the game, I figure I'll have to take care of a thief myself." 

"What if I promise to put the book back, unharmed?"  She offered up her own smile and noticed his eyes shift from her eyes to her mouth.  The twinkle she saw a second before changed to desire in the next heartbeat.

"The problem is you've already fondled it without my permission.  The penalty for that is dinner and drinks.  My treat."  He winked at the last part.  

"That's a pretty tough penalty.  For you that is."  Her smile grew as did his.

"Oh, I deserve it after not being out here to help you find what you were looking for."

"Oh but I did."  She looked about the store trying to remember where she laid the books she originally came in the store for and found them on the register by the front door.  "Over there.  So see, you don't have to take me out.  I was able to find what I needed."

"Aye, but perhaps I just found what I needed."  No smile or wink followed his words this time.  Just a look that promised she'd regret it if she said no.

"Well then, I guess it would be rude to refuse then."  She smiled sweetly up at him, but inside she was jumping up and down.  Oh my this day did indeed get better.  So very much better.

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Still a work in progress, but thanks for reading.