“Hello?” Livvy tried not to sound over-the-top excited even though she’d been waiting three days for Slade to call and confirm their date. Or Dr. McKinney, as he was known to his patients. Thankfully the Pine Valley library was empty since it was five minutes to closing time, and Livvy didn’t have to put him on hold for an annoying patron needing to check out a book at the last minute.
“Liv?” Slade said into the phone, his voice rich, deep.
The way Slade shortened her name made goose bumps stand on Livvy’s arms. It was like he had his own personal nickname for her. Okay, so Liv wasn’t really all that unique. Her mom called her Liv; so did her brother and her roommate... But that was beside the point.
She leaned against the reference counter, where she’d been putting in the recent book order on the computer. “Hi, Slade,” she said in that light, breezy tone she’d perfected just for Dr. Slade McKinney, aka Mr. Dreamy Doc. She didn’t want to creep out Slade and let him discover that long before they had gone on their first date she’d been stalking him. Well, stalking was too strong of a word. Maybe light stalking, or being extremely observant.
But who could really blame her? It had been her girlhood dream to marry a doctor. Even Ken from her Barbie-playing days had been a doctor. And it was only natural that Livvy had dated a pre-med student in college. And when that relationship didn’t work out, she had dated another one. She had eventually graduated in library science, unmarried, but she didn’t let that deter her from her goal of marrying a doctor.
Only her best friend, Felicity, knew about Livvy’s goal. Some things were better kept to one’s self, because she didn’t really have an answer to the why of it. She could possibly, potentially, blame it on her days of sitting on the upstairs landing, peeking through the banister, and watching the television show ER, which her mother had forbidden her to watch. Thursday nights her mother made doubly sure that Livvy went to bed early.
Livvy had gone to bed quite happily, knowing that in twenty minutes she could sneak out onto the landing and watch anyway—albeit a slightly skewed and muffled version of ER.
And one of the families on their block had a doctor for a father and a mother who dressed beautifully and was always heading up local charity events.
Then there was the rash of medical thrillers that Livvy had gotten hooked on a few years back. Authors like Joe Monsun, Collette Burrows, and Mason Rowe all topped her must-read list. As the librarian for Pine Valley Library, Livvy made sure the new releases were on her annual budget list.
“So, uh, Liv,” Slade said in that low, melodic tone of his. “I’ve got to reschedule tonight after all.”
The stab of disappointment was sharp in Livvy’s gut, and she closed her eyes and exhaled to gain her equilibrium back. It’s okay. It’s fine. This is what it is like dating a doctor.
Slade was still talking. Saying something about having to switch with the on-call doctor at the hospital because the other doctor had to go out of town for his anniversary . . .
Livvy tried not to pout, but inside she was definitely pouting. She didn’t want to be a high-maintenance girlfriend, but she and Slade had been dating for five months and three days, and still... they only went out every couple of weeks. Texts had replaced phone calls in the interim, and texts were way less exciting than phone calls from Slade.
“Okay, no problem,” Livvy said, an unwanted squeak in her voice. She was not going to cry. “Maybe we can change our reservations for tomorrow night.”
“Uh, tomorrow I’m on my regular on-call shift,” he said. “Sorry, sweetheart.”
The sweetheart endearment meant she forgave him everything and anything in an instant.
“I understand.” Her voice sounded faint to her ears. Had he noticed? She had to be more upbeat, more confident, more like the kind of woman a successful doctor would propose to because she was his better half. She kept the home fort down, raising their children while he was saving lives.
“Do you still want to go hiking Sunday morning?” he asked.
Livvy found herself hesitating. Unbelievable—I’ve never hesitated before. So what if he hiked like a possessed mountain goat and she had to live on Advil the next three days after an excursion with him? He never missed his monthly hikes, and if she were to fit into his busy schedule then she had to take opportunities where she could. Besides, on their last date, two weeks before, he’d kissed her goodnight. A toe-curling, face-fanning kiss. Their relationship was definitely moving forward.
Okay, so the kiss had been a little too brief for her liking, and his hands had been strangely clammy, but she’d decided to ignore that. Because, hello, doctor.
But would he kiss her when she was panting like a hyena and her nose was frozen pink on the top of the Pine Valley ski resort?
“Sure, what time?” she asked.
“Same time as always,” he said. “Pick you up at 5:30?”
“Yep,” Livvy said. “I’ll be ready.”
“Great,” Slade said. “Dress warm. It might snow.”
He said something else about how he couldn’t believe it was November already, but Livvy heard nothing after snow. Yes, she might live in Pine Valley, a known ski-resort town, but she hated the cold. Snow. Wind. Ice. All of it.
Somehow she ended the conversation in a perfectly cheerful tone. When Slade hung up, Livvy stared at her phone for a moment. What had she agreed to? She’d swapped out a perfectly nice evening of a cozy dinner at an Italian restaurant for a freezing-cold trek up a snowy mountain.
She slipped her phone into her pocket, then leaned forward and let her head drop onto the reference counter. Gripping the ends of her hair, she let out a groan as she imagined how the cold would penetrate her very bones. Her feet would be like blocks of ice, and her hands would be numb for a week. Her nose and chin and lips would be colder than popsicles.
“Are you okay?” a male voice asked.
Livvy jumped away from the desk and gasped. When she saw a man, who was staring at her like she’d lost her mind, she backed away. He looked like one of those men straight from a lumberjack contest that she used to watch on TV with her little brother. The guy wore a thick red-and-navy plaid shirt and ripped jeans, complete with heavy boots. His dark hair reached his collar, and he had a beard that actually looked quite good on him—if she were into beards on men—which she wasn’t.
If the man’s eyes had been dark and eerie she might have called 911. But they were a surprising light blue, and his mouth had curved upward as if he were about to laugh at her. Still, she pulled her phone out of her pocket just in case.
“You shouldn’t creep up on me like that,” she said.
“It’s impossible to creep with these boots on,” he said, lifting a foot as if to demonstrate. She looked down again at his boots, then back up. Oh boy. He was tall. And sort of hunky. The broad-shoulder-slim-waist type. Which only proved her lumberjack theory.
“Besides, you looked a little... distressed.” He narrowed those blue eyes of his. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Of course I’m okay,” she said. “I received some bad news, that’s all.”
He continued to stare at her, and she wondered why he was in the library in the first place. Looking for a book on trees? Wow. That would be ironic. It was then she noticed he had a legal pad and pen in his hand. Had he been taking notes from an encyclopedia?
“Okay, not bad news, exactly, but disappointing.” She waved a hand. “On second thought, it was really nothing. I just overreacted.”
His mouth quirked again.
She placed a hand on her hip, wondering why she felt like she had to explain anything to a stranger. “You startled me, all right? I’m not usually a jumpy person, but the library is closed. I thought I was alone.”
“I was on my way out,” he said, taking a step back. But he didn’t turn around, and he didn’t look away. It was like he wanted to ask her something yet didn’t know how.
Oh... “We don’t have a homeless shelter in Pine Valley, but the cops will help out if you need something. I can make a phone call for you.”
He didn’t say anything for a moment, then he chuckled. “You think I’m homeless?”
Livvy’s face heated. “I—I guess not?”
He scratched at his beard. “I knew I let myself go, but I didn’t think I looked homeless.”
Well, now that she had a closer look at him, she realized she might have rushed to assumptions. He didn’t smell, and the ripped jeans could be more of a fashion statement. He wasn’t hauling around a giant backpack full of his life essentials, and even though he was of a lean build, he didn’t have that gaunt look.
“It’s been a long day,” she said, then cleared her throat. “But the library is closed, sir. I need to ask you to leave.”
He nodded. “Sorry I scared you.” Then he turned around and strode to the front doors.
Livvy stared after lumberjack guy until he’d disappeared through the entrance. It was dark outside, so she couldn’t see how far he went into the parking lot. She remained at the reference counter, and moments later she saw headlights move through the parking lot and a dark-colored Jeep drive out.
So... not homeless then. She crossed to the front doors, locked them, then turned out the main lights. The night lights would stay on, and since she was curious about what the man had been doing, she walked to the study area to see if anything was out of place. A chair was slightly askew—perhaps he’d been sitting there. But no reference books were on any of the tables, and it didn’t look like anything had been touched since she’d last made her rounds.
Lumberjack man must have come into the library when she was busy helping the group of seventh graders who’d been assigned to do a group project. Otherwise, she couldn’t imagine how she’d missed noticing a man of that stature in her library.
Her phone buzzed with a text. It was from her best friend and nearly next-door neighbor, Felicity Miner. Have fun on your date with Slade tonight.
The reminder made Livvy’s heart sink again. She texted back that Slade had cancelled on her again, and did Felicity have a winter coat she could borrow?
Don’t tell me you’re going hiking, Felicity texted.
I am. I’m weak.
Haha. You must really be in love.
Livvy laughed, then she paused. Was she in love with Slade McKinney? The short answer was yes. The long answer was not something she really wanted to analyze right now. She was still feeling put out by the cancelled dinner date. She supposed that in her Barbie and Ken playacting, she hadn’t really thought that being a doctor’s girlfriend would be so... lonely.
A woman never gives away all her secrets, she wrote to Felicity. Please tell me you have ice cream in your freezer and no plans tonight.
I’m 100% free and YES on the ice cream.
Great, I’ll be there in twenty minutes.