Excerpt from No Gentleman by Francesca Hawley
Copyright © Francesca Hawley, 2014
Whitewolf, Colorado, December 1905
“All the books have been shelved, Mrs. Kelly.” Lizzy Redwolf pinned on her hat. “With it being Friday night, you’d best be leaving shortly. You know how those men at the saloon can get.”
“Yes, I certainly do, Mrs. Redwolf.”
Abigail Kelly straightened her shoulders as she finished cataloging the newest books for the library. It wouldn’t be long until the noise of her nearest neighbors took over the night and brawls would spill out the doors and into the streets. So far she’d managed to avoid all of it.
All of it but the saloon owner himself. William Goldwolf made his disapproval of the new town library—and by extension, the new librarian—perfectly clear. The kindest thing he’d said was that the library was a waste of taxpayer’s money. Abigail fought her habitual scowl when thinking about that man. Unfortunately, she found herself thinking about him far too often.
“Well, now. I’m off to feed my husband and young’uns.”
“I’ll walk you out and lock up.” Abigail stood and took her keys off the ring at her waist. “Did you lock the back entrance?”
Lizzy stuttered to a halt and put her hand to her mouth. “Oh no. I’m sorry. I forgot.”
Abigail smiled and patted her shoulder. “I’ll get the door after I lock up the front. This is where all the rough types are, after all.”
“Right you are, and it’s early yet,” the other woman laughed, “Now, in an hour…”
“Night, Ma’am.” Lizzy opened the door and headed out into the late afternoon sunlight.
Abigail carefully adjusted the evergreen wreath hanging there, locked the door and tested it. The last thing she wanted was some hooligan coming in and spilling beer or worse, on her fine marble floors. She went directly to the rear entrance of the library and locked that door as well.
She’d leave by the back when she’d finished her business. The further she was from the saloon, the happier she’d be. Drunken men brought back unpleasant memories of her late husband. Drunk or sober he’d been charming, but when he was drunk he gambled and when he gambled, he lost. She hated having her hard earned wages lost to the turn of a card or the roll of the dice. In spite of it all, she missed him and she missed their loving even more. Just the thought of a man’s strong arms around her caused her breath to catch and her body to tremble.
Abigail sighed, then set about tending the fireplaces, putting out fires and laying a new one for the morning. It was growing colder, and it had snowed that morning. She was used to snow, but not quite so much as fell in the mountains of Colorado. Christmas was less than a week away and the countryside looked like a painting. Peaceful. Beautiful. It would be her first all alone. She was pleased she’d accepted this position, but she wished for some friends to share her time.
She returned to the main desk and began to put away her work for the day. The cards she’d created for the card catalog would need to be filed in the morning and the new books shelved. So many things to do.
A battered snow-dusted hat landed on her desk and she jumped with a shriek. Her gaze flew upward. Straight into the ice blue eyes of William Goldwolf. She couldn’t contain her growl of exasperation.
“How did you get in?”
He dangled a key in front of her.
“I see. Well, good evening, Mr. Goldwolf. What brings you into this useless house of worship for slow minds?”
He chuckled as she quoted him verbatim from the last library board meeting. She still couldn’t understand why he’d been asked to be a member of the board. He didn’t support their mission to educate the citizenry. She’d yet to meet a more quarrelsome man and she utterly refused to acknowledge the thrill that went through her whenever they were in the same room.
A smile tilted the corner of his mouth as he sat down on her desk, knowing how she hated it. Abigail bit the inside of her cheek to keep from chasing him off her desk, aflutter like an angry wet hen. An epithet he’d used to describe her on more than one occasion. She clutched the back of her chair, hoping to keep her temper…this time.
“Maybe I want to check out a book, Mrs. Kelly.” She raised her brows but kept her mouth closed. Abigail could do without further provocation this evening. “Isn’t it your job to help me find somethin’, what did you call it? Ah yeah, improving to the mind,” He chuckled as he quoted her, eastern accent and all.
She clutched the chair harder because she refused to get into an argument with this man today. “I can recommend a number of possibilities. Perhaps the Bible might be fitting.”
“Improving to the mind, sure enough, but where’s the fun in that?”
“Fun?” Abigail’s mouth fall open.
“Yeah, shouldn’t readin’ be fun?” He leaned over, set a single finger under her chin and pressed. She closed her open mouth and pulled her head away from his touch. Exasperating man! She would absolutely ignore that his touch had set her heart fluttering in a way she’d forgotten she could feel.