Read Ask Me Online

Authors: Laura Strickland

Tags: #Holiday,Contemporary,Humorous/Romantic Comedy

Ask Me

Table of Contents

Title Page

Praise for Laura Strickland

Ask Me

Copyright

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Thank you for purchasing this publication of The Wild Rose Press, Inc.

“Be a gentleman,” the black-haired woman told
Leo, “and let me have the book.” She already had her library card out, clutched in her other hand.

“Why don’t you share it?” the clerk suggested impishly. “See what happens.”

The black-haired woman laughed a bit nervously. Before Leo could speak, the clerk snatched the library card from her hand and wanded the book. “There you go. Oh, and every book comes with a little bag of candy hearts. Have a happy Valentine’s Day.”

Leo frowned and snatched the small red bag the clerk pushed across the counter at him. Elsewhere in the building, lights dimmed. They had little choice but to leave.

Yet the woman still clutched her side of the book.

“Who gets to take it home?” she asked.

Leo smiled suddenly. “Pretty ridiculous to be negotiating over an unknown book for company tonight, isn’t it?”

“Pitiful,” she agreed.

Leo hesitated, impulse nibbling at him once again. He could suggest they get a coffee or a drink together. Sure, she was a far cry from the kind of woman he usually dated, almost diametrically opposed. But it beat being alone, right?

She gave him a provocative look. “Maybe the candy hearts hold the answer to who gets the book first.” She dug into the bag in his hand to draw forth a single heart, and Leo saw her fingernails were painted black. She opened her palm with the heart on it, words facing upward.

Ask Me
, Leo read. Well, then. He drew a breath. “Want to go somewhere for coffee?”

Praise for Laura Strickland

“The world building is phenomenal.”

~Daysie W. at My Book Addiction and More

~*~

“Laura Strickland creates a world that not only draws you in, but she incorporates it…seamlessly. …the kind of book that keeps you awake well into the wee hours, and sighing with satisfaction when you've finished the very last page.”

~Nicole McCaffrey, author

~*~

“As I read I became so involved with the story, I found it difficult to put down the book. …Definitely …an author to watch.”

~Dandelion at Long & Short Reviews

Other Books by Laura Strickland

available from The Wild Rose Press, Inc.

Dead Handsome: A Buffalo Steampunk Adventure

Off Kilter: A Buffalo Steampunk Adventure

Devil Black

His Wicked Highland Ways

Daughter of Sherwood

Champion of Sherwood

Lord of Sherwood

The White Gull

~*~

Christmas Stories:

Mrs. Claus and the Viking Ship

The Tenth Suitor

Ask Me

by

Laura Strickland

A Candy Hearts Romance

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.

Ask Me

COPYRIGHT © 2016 by Laura Strickland

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press, Inc. except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

Contact Information: [email protected]

Cover Art by
RJ Morris

The Wild Rose Press, Inc.

PO Box 708

Adams Basin, NY 14410-0708

Visit us at www.thewildrosepress.com

Publishing History

First Champagne Rose Edition, 2016

Digital ISBN 978-1-5092-0287-4

A Candy Hearts Romance

Published in the United States of America

Chapter One

The sign in front of the library on Waterbury Street lured Leo Rankin in out of the cold February night, only minutes before closing time.

BLIND DATE WITH A BOOK

His wire-rimmed glasses steamed up in the warm air of the library; he blinked and pulled them off. Patrons streamed toward the exits in ones and twos, arms piled with books and DVDs. The impulse that had brought him in wavered; he didn’t usually follow impulses, even his own. But the sign intrigued him and, anyway, if he could think of one thing worse than spending the evening of Valentine’s Day alone, it would be doing so with nothing to read.

He straightened the lapels of his coat, polished the specs on his sleeve, and made for the circulation desk. The clerk on duty, clad in red and wearing a heart-shaped pendant, smiled at him.

“Happy Valentine’s Day!”

“Same to you.” Leo tucked his briefcase under his arm. “May I ask how the ‘Blind Date With a Book’ works?”

The clerk gestured to a nook nearby, which had been set up with a number of comfortable chairs and a bookshelf, now nearly bare.

“You choose one of our wrapped books. You’re not allowed to unwrap it till you get it home, and there are no hints about the plot, storyline, or even the genre. The idea is to step outside your comfort zone, take a chance on something new. You just might like it.”

“I see.” Leo raised his eyebrows. He usually stuck to historical fiction with an emphasis on naval adventure. Horatio Hornblower and he were old friends. But for a late-twenties single male to go home and share yet another conversation with Horatio—especially on Valentine’s Day—stuck in his craw.

“Maybe I’ll check it out.”

The clerk hurried off to help another patron, and Leo strolled toward the alcove, only to find someone there before him. Dressed all in black from her knee-high boots to a well-cut frock coat trimmed with faux fur, she appeared to contemplate initiating a blind date of her own. Leo smiled slightly; at least he wasn’t the only one.

At this late hour, however, just one lone book remained on the shelf, sitting wrapped in red-and-pink heart-spangled paper, aloof and mysterious.

Well, he who hesitated was lost. Leo reached a long arm past the black-clad woman with a minimal, “Excuse me.”

She reached for the book at the same moment. They snatched it up together, fingers clamped on opposite edges.

“Excuse
me
,” she emphasized. “I was here first.”

Very politely, Leo said, “But I think you’ll find I reached for the book first.” Damned if he was going home alone tonight—without even a book for a date.

She tossed her head and scowled at him. Long, straight black hair slapped her back, and eyes of a startling blue engaged his. “I was clearly ahead of you.”

“And, clearly, still making up your mind.”

She had a tattoo on her right cheek, a graceful filigree that somehow suited her delicate features: not the sort of woman who usually attracted Leo, yet he felt a sizzling thrill of response, enough to keep his fingers firm on the book.

He added, “You don’t even know what kind of story this is.”

“I think that’s the point. Take a chance on something new, right?”

“Right.” Leo, a man who rarely took chances, liked his life well-ordered and his events anticipated. “But you might not like it. What do you usually read?”

“Steampunk, mostly. Maybe a little straight science fiction.” She tossed her head again, and Leo caught a whiff of a delectable scent. “What do you usually read?”

“Historical fiction, maybe a little swashbuckling adventure.”

“Ooh—adventure.” She gave him a roguish smile, and the blue of her eyes deepened. “Well, this is probably erotic romance—you know, for Valentine’s Day. You’d hate it.”

Leo drew himself up. “What makes you think I’d hate erotic romance?”

She flicked him with a discerning glance, head to foot. “Just a hunch. You look pretty buttoned-down to me.”

“Don’t judge a book by its cover. Anyway, that particular book could be a treatise on early settlement in the colonies. You’ll be bored.”

“I might well be interested in early settlement. Listen, why don’t you ask the clerk if there are more books?”

The same impulse that had brought Leo in from the street kept his fingers fastened tight. “I’m not letting go. You ask.”

“We’ll go together.”

Connected by the mysterious tome, they sidled to the circulation desk, where the clerk gave them an appraising look.

“Are there any more blind-date books?” Leo asked.

“I guess that’s the last one. The event was a big success this year. The library’s filled with other books, though I must warn you we’re about to close.”

“Be a gentleman,” the black-haired woman told Leo, “and let me have the book.” She already had her library card out, clutched in her other hand.

“Why don’t you share it?” the clerk suggested impishly. “See what happens.”

The black-haired woman laughed a bit nervously. Before Leo could speak, the clerk snatched the library card from her hand and wanded the book. “There you go. Oh, and every book comes with a little bag of candy hearts. Have a happy Valentine’s Day.”

Leo frowned and snatched the small red bag the clerk pushed across the counter at him. Elsewhere in the building, lights dimmed. They had little choice but to leave.

Yet the woman still clutched her side of the book.

“Who gets to take it home?” she asked.

Leo smiled suddenly. “Pretty ridiculous to be negotiating over an unknown book for company tonight, isn’t it?”

“Pitiful,” she agreed.

Leo hesitated, impulse nibbling at him once again. He could suggest they get a coffee or a drink together. Sure, she was a far cry from the kind of woman he usually dated, almost diametrically opposed. But it beat being alone, right?

She gave him a provocative look. “Maybe the candy hearts hold the answer to who gets the book first.” She dug into the bag in his hand to draw forth a single heart, and Leo saw her fingernails were painted black. She opened her palm with the heart on it, words facing upward.

Ask Me
, Leo read.

Well, then. He drew a breath. “Want to go somewhere for coffee?”

****

Outside, wet snow splashed down to strike the pavement. Geraldine cast another look at the man beside her—tall and lean, he had a thatch of well-cropped brown hair and, as she’d seen in the library, eyes the color of warm chocolate. Gerri liked chocolate, but he definitely wasn’t her type—far too clean cut and, as she’d said, buttoned down. She usually went for the wild-child variety of man, off-leash and slightly dangerous.

And how’s that working for you, Gerri girl?
She’d been notoriously unlucky in love, witnessed by being alone on Valentine’s Day, reduced to a blind date with a book.

“Is the coffee shop down the street all right?” she asked, casting another look at him. He appeared nearly as uncomfortable as she felt. Why had he asked her for coffee, anyway? Just because the candy heart suggested it?

“Yes, fine.” He had a nice voice, well-modulated, even cultured. A bit sexy. “What’s your name?”

“Geraldine Webb. Yours?”

“Leo. Leo Rankin.”

He’d surrendered the book to her as soon as they reached the sidewalk, and she tucked it into the crook of her arm.

“And, Leo, what series of sad and wrongful events brought you to the library on the evening of Valentine’s Day?”

He laughed, and it sounded nice in the frosty dark. “I’ve learned books make decent, steady companions. They rarely let you down.”

“Don’t say that till you’ve read old Spiney, here. He was the last one on the shelf—might be a real stinker.”

They reached the brightly lit coffee house and he opened the door for her. Gerri couldn’t remember the last time that had happened.

The place—busy and fairly noisy—offered few empty tables.

“What will you have?” Leo asked. “I’ll put in the order; you try and find some seats.”

Gerri gave him her best smile. “Surprise me. Isn’t that what this night is all about?”

He went off, and she managed to score a table from a departing couple who went out arm in arm. Gerri experienced a pang. What wouldn’t she give to be with someone tonight!

She saw Leo approaching, a tall, bespectacled hawk among a flock of exotic macaws. He set a frothy mug in front of her and announced brightly, “Chai tea.”

She began to laugh.

“What’s funny?”

“I always have Chai tea.”

“Well, I don’t.” He slid into the chair opposite her and set down the red bag of candy hearts. “Want to unwrap the book and see what we’ve got?”

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