Read Ask Me Online

Authors: Laura Strickland

Tags: #Holiday,Contemporary,Humorous/Romantic Comedy

Ask Me (7 page)

She avoided the library, ridiculously convinced they might bump into each other the way they had that first night. When, on a blustery mid-March day spitting rain, she came home from work and gathered up her mail, she saw with some surprise an envelope from the library nestled among the others.

Her foolish heart leaped. Was this somehow connected with Leo? Just thinking his name made longing to see him flood through her, and she tore into the envelope.

An overdue notice. But she didn’t have any books checked out right now. The last time she’d set foot in the library had been that fateful night, looking for something to take to bed with her.

She’d found it.

The book! The one they’d agreed to share—it had been checked out on her card.

Her eyes scanned the apartment. What had she done with it? Given everything else that had happened between them, they’d never got around to unwrapping it. And during her attempted purge of the place, she’d stuck it somewhere.

There, on the bottom shelf of a table, nearly out of sight and quite surely out of mind. Gerri took the volume in her hands, and memory invaded her even more strongly, piercing her heart. She sank onto the sofa, clutching the book to her chest.

Had she truly done the right thing, sending Leo Rankin out of her life? Sure, she wanted to protect herself. And yes, many of her past relationship choices had been disastrous. Was she prepared to risk her heart? Because every instinct told her if she gave her heart to Leo, it would be for good.

She trembled, staring into a possible future that terrified her—and took her breath away. What to do? Continue trying to chase him from her mind, or take one more chance on love?

With unsteady hands, she tore the brightly-colored paper from the book and stared at the title. She began to laugh, softly at first and then till the tears came.

She had her answer; it had lain here in her apartment all the time.

Now she had only to convince Leo.

****

Leo’s phone rang when he’d corrected less than half the papers in the pile at his elbow, and his heart made a sickening leap into the back of his throat.

Not her
. It wouldn’t be her; it never was—not all these interminable, joyless days since she’d pushed him out of her life. Why couldn’t he, in turn, push away his persistent hope?

No question that Gerri Webb had stolen all the light and warmth from his days—and nights.

He snatched his phone from the table beside him and scrutinized the number. Tom.

“Hey, buddy,” his colleague greeted him when he answered. “A bunch of us are going out for drinks. Thought you might like to drag yourself from that cocoon of yours and join us.”

“I have papers to grade,” Leo protested.

“We all have papers to grade. Man cannot live by grading alone. And I don’t think it’s healthy for you to keep yourself shut away from the world.”

Probably not, Leo thought. But what he sought at a basic level wouldn’t be found even in this group of good friends, and he didn’t know if he could stomach watching Tom and Allison, their new faculty member, bill and coo.

“Thanks for asking,” he told Tom sardonically, “but I’ll have to decline, with regret.”

Tom called him an idiot and ended the call. Leo returned to an essay that purported the First World War had been triggered by taxation without representation.

His phone rang again, and he snatched it up without bothering to check the number. “I said I’m not interested. Can’t you take a hint?”

A lengthy silence met his outburst, before he heard Gerri Webb’s voice.

“I can, actually. Sorry I—”

“No—wait!” Leo sprang to his feet, upsetting the pile of papers. “Gerri, I thought it was somebody else.” He added in a voice like a caress, “I want to talk to you.”

“Sure?”

“Never been more sure of anything.”

She exhaled. “I hoped we could meet.”

“Where?”

“The library. I’d like to show you something.”

“When?”

“Well, when’s good for you? If you’re busy…”

“I can be there in fifteen minutes. Ten.”

She laughed softly, and fire flared in his blood, warming him for the first time in weeks to something approaching human. “Fifteen’s good. See you then.”

“Gerri, I—”

“I’ll explain when I see you, okay?” she appealed.

“Okay.”

She ended the call, and he stood staring at his phone like a man in a trance. His tormented heart rose on a wave of mingled joy and longing. All he’d wanted was another chance with her. It seemed he’d get at least one.

****

A March wind chased litter and pedestrians down Waterbury as Gerri stood waiting by the library steps. Her heart pounded in an uneven rhythm that quickened when she caught sight of Leo hurrying up the street. She didn’t know where he had parked, but he came loping with a lithe, long-legged stride that snagged her attention and didn’t let go.

She stood with the book clutched to her chest and wondered if he’d understand. She’d sent him away for what she’d considered all the right and practical reasons. Would he think her crazy, inviting him back in on a flight of fancy?

Ask me
, his voice whispered in her mind even as he reached her and paused on the sidewalk.

“Hi.”

“Hi, Leo. Thanks for coming.”

He tossed his head but didn’t reply. The wind caught his brown hair and tousled it on his forehead, making him look boyish. Nothing childlike, though, about the way she felt toward this man.

“Let’s go inside,” she suggested.

The interior of the library bustled with patrons and staff. A meeting of the book club had just broken up; the circulation desk looked crowded.

Gerri took Leo’s hand. Just as on their first night together, his fingers laced through hers and their palms met effortlessly.

“Come on. There’s a reading nook—”

“I know the one.”

Gerri’s pulse began to beat in a dizzying rhythm. How had she imagined she could live without Leo in her life? The mere sound of his voice affected her, as did the deep comfort of his presence.

In a corner behind the stacks, two leather chairs nestled together. She sat in one and Leo took the other, their fingers parting but his gaze all over her, like a touch.

“It’s good to see you, Gerri. So good.”

“And you. How have you been?”

He shrugged, and for an instant misery swam in his eyes. “You?”

“Crazy,” she answered honestly. “I think I went crazy for a while. I’ve been up, down, not knowing left from right or bad from good. Then I got an overdue notice for a book. Our book.”

She juggled the volume in the crook of her arm, and interest quickened in his eyes. “We never read it.”

“I never even unwrapped it—till now.” A crooked smile spread across her face. “You remember that night, that mad night?”

“I’m not likely to forget.”

“I think there might have been a little magic in the air—and in this place. Leo, I’ve been struggling since I sent you away. I’ve asked and asked for an answer. I didn’t receive one till now.”

Silently, she presented the book to him. His hands rose instinctively to accept it.

Would he get it? Would he go with it? His reaction in the next seconds might well determine the future of their relationship.

Behind his specs, his eyes widened. He shot Gerri an incredulous look before a big smile broke on his face.


Leap of Faith
,” he read the title, his tone buoyant and joyous.

A corresponding smile came to Gerri’s face. “Want to renew the book? Do you want to take that leap with me, Leo Rankin?”

His expression turned serious. “It’s all I’ve wanted for weeks. But, Miss Webb, I have a couple of stipulations: if we agree to this, we go in wholeheartedly. I want you to know you’re no passing fancy. If we have problems, we talk them out. If we have difficulties, we work through them. I’m in this for the long run.”

“Me too,” Gerri whispered and leaned toward him. Their lips met with a little flurry of heat and magic.

When the kiss ended, a tactile pledge given, Gerri said, “Want to go renew the book and come home with me?”

“Ah,” Leo said, a soft laugh in his voice, “I thought you’d never ask me.”

A word about the author...

Born and raised in Western New York, Laura Strickland has pursued lifelong interests in lore, legend, magic and music, all reflected in her writing. Though her imagination frequently takes her to far-off places, she is usually happiest at home not far from Lake Ontario with her husband and her “fur” child, a rescue dog. Author of Scottish romances
Devil Black
and
His Wicked Highland Ways
as well as The Guardians of Sherwood Trilogy and two steampunk romances (
Dead Handsome: A Buffalo Steampunk Adventure
and
Off Kilter: A Buffalo Steampunk Adventure
), she’s pleased to say that
Ask Me
is her first contemporary romance for The Wild Rose Press.

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

 

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