HIDDEN HEARTS by Olivia Dade
Mary Higgs could be the poster girl for the buttoned-up librarian. She follows the rules. Stays ʼtil closing. Her kindness and dedication to her patrons is legendary. But those patrons have no idea what she’s typing to the mysterious shut-in who emailed the library needing a library card three months ago . . .When the elusive Miles O’Connor show up, he’s no invalid. A year ago, he was the gleaming, ab-sational star of the small screen. Then came the accident. Now he’s a wounded recluse with a pizza habit and fears so unshakable that only the thought of losing Mary to an online date could lure him out of his cabin.Soon their email rapport has turned into weekends on the couch, watching tearjerkers and driving each other insane with red-hot makeout sessions. But as the desire grows and their horizons expand, the life that brought them together might not be enough for either of them . . .
“Angie, if you’re doing what I think you’re doing, please stop.”
“Oh, hi, Mary.” Once again, Angie minimized her browser window in one smooth movement. “I have no idea what you mean.”
“You want to find me a boyfriend, so you’re attempting to figure out what sort of man I’d prefer. His race. His height. His…um, other qualifications. Since you know I’d object, you’re going about it in a really roundabout and confusing way. And since you’re you, many of your questions have involved”—Mary lowered her voice from a whisper to a mere thread of sound—“personal endowments.”
“Personal endowments?” Angie kept her voice low, too. “That’s the most genteel euphemism for penises I’ve ever heard.”
With an effort, Mary resisted sharing the other terms she’d used for that area in the past. Such as, well, “that area.” Or “privates.” Or “man parts.”
“I’m not looking for anyone. And if I change my mind, I can conduct the search myself.” Pleased with both her restraint and her uncharacteristic assertiveness, she smiled at her boss. “But thank you for thinking of me.”
Angie’s eyes widened in appeal. “Come on, Mary. As far as I know, you haven’t been on a second date in months. Maybe a year.”
“Umm…” She shifted from foot to foot. “Two years.”
“And I know you. You’re not a one-night-stand sort of woman, so that means you’re experiencing an epic dry spell. Under the circumstances, what could a little online dating hurt?”
An involuntary flinch drew Mary up against the doorway. “Online dating? No. No online dating. I’ve heard so many horror stories, Angie, I can’t even tell you.”
“You’re a sensible woman. And I’d be happy to vet any contenders before you met them. So would all of our friends.” Angie clicked to maximize a window, and a colorful, half-completed form suddenly appeared. “Besides, it would be so easy. You already have a profile.”
Mary covered her face again and spoke through her fingers. “Angie. Please tell me you didn’t.”
“I thought you needed a little nudge.” A gentle hand patted her arm. “And I was delighted to be the bearer of good nudges. Especially since you’re the sweetest woman I know. You deserve an amazing man in your bed. Or an amazing woman, I suppose.”
“Man,” she mumbled.
“Oh, good.” Angie sounded pleased. “That’s what I chose for the profile.”
“Again, I appreciate your thinking of me.” She dropped her hands and did her best to appear stern. “But I’m not looking for someone in my bed.”
“How about someone across a dinner table? Or beside you at a movie theater?”
With a sigh, Mary admitted, “That sounds nice.”
“I know you’re a strong, independent woman who doesn’t mind being single. If you want me to delete your profile, I will.” Angie met her gaze directly. “But I’d love to see you give this a shot. I promise you, I wouldn’t encourage you to do anything unsafe. You’re my coworker and friend, and I’d never put you in harm’s way.”
“I know.” And she did know. Angie had a huge heart and endless reserves of loyalty for the people she loved. Also a strong streak of recklessness, but Mary had grown to love that too. As far as Mary was concerned, her boss should serve as a model for timid women everywhere.
“And have you considered the Singles Skydiving event we saw in the paper yesterday?”
Well, maybe not a model, exactly. More like inspiration, tempered by common sense. Heavily tempered, until death-defying feats were no longer involved.
“I might be willing to try online dating. But if you try to sling a backpack on me and shove me off a plane, I’ll haunt you from beyond the grave.” Mary raised her brows at Angie. “And you know I’m a woman of my word.”
Angie snorted. “So dramatic. You’ve been hanging out with Sarah too much.”
“Most likely.” A smile spread across her face at the thought of her best friend. “Her mannerisms were bound to rub off sooner or later.”
“So you’ll keep this profile?” Angie’s head tilted toward the computer screen.
“I’ll keep a profile,” Mary corrected. “Not necessarily yours. Heaven only knows what you said in it.”
“Not much. Just that you’re lovely, intelligent, hardworking, and sweeter than any of them deserve. Also that you appreciate men in a rainbow of delicious colors.”
She came closer to the monitor, curious what else her boss had entered into the form. “For pity’s sake, Angie. I have never, not once in my life, described myself as ‘Beyoncé’s more beautiful and talented twin.’ I don’t look anything like her!” If only. That sort of effortless glamour and polish had eluded Mary her entire life.
Angie shrugged. “Just trying to approximate your babeliness in a way most people would understand.”
“What about the ‘more talented’ bit?” Mary gaped at her. “Don’t you remember that program last year? The one where I sang Christmas carols?”
A small wince creased Angie’s forehead. “Talent doesn’t have to mean singing. Which is a good thing, in your case. I think we attracted feral cats from miles around that night.”
Leaning over Angie, Mary wrestled the mouse from her boss’s grip and exited the form without saving. “I’ll fill one of these profiles out on my break. By myself.”
Angie’s lower lip poked out. “But I was enjoying myself.”
proud—nerd, prone to ignoring the world around her as she read any
book she could find. Her favorite stories, though, were always
romances. As an adult, she earned an M.A. in American history and
worked in a variety of jobs that required her to hide her bawdy
interior under a demure exterior: Colonial Williamsburg interpreter,
high school teacher, academic tutor, and (of course) librarian.
Finally, though, she realized the call of the hussy could no longer
be denied. So now she writes contemporary romantic comedy with plenty
of sex, banter, and nerdery. When not writing, she cooks alongside
her husband, dabbles in photography, and tries to hide her collection
of throbbing-intensive romances from her curious daughter. Visit her
on the web at oliviadade.com.
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