I don’t have many memories of my father.
Not only did he die when I was young, but even when he was alive, he was often deployed. Despite that, some memories occasionally find their way to the surface.
Like when he came into my room and woke me up with an offer to make pancakes in the shape of my favorite animated character.
Or the way he’d tell me he loved me out of the blue, something I longed to hear from anyone after he died.
Or the way I can’t look at a book without thinking of his passion for the written word, memories of the hours I spent with him at the library as clear as if it were just yesterday. Instead, over twenty-five years have passed since I watched his flag-covered casket being lowered into the ground.
As I run my fingers along the spines of the hardcover novels while perusing the shelves of my favorite Manhattan bookstore, I feel his presence. Then again, I feel him whenever I walk into a bookstore or library. Maybe that’s why I was drawn to this place today when I have a long list of things I should be doing instead.
Maybe I wanted to feel my dad’s presence again.
When my hand glides over a familiar title, I stop, a nostalgic smile curving my lips.
Everyone remembers the book that sparked their love of reading. For some, it was Nancy Drew. For others, the Babysitters Club series. For others still, it was V.C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic.
But for me, it was something else entirely.
I fell in love with Maxim de Winter from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. I don’t know what attracted me to the story about a young woman who married a wealthy older widower, only to discover the happily ever after she thought she’d have would come at a steep price. But ever since my teenage years, I often return to the tragic tale.
How did the unnamed narrator feel when she went from being a lady’s companion to the lady of an English manor? Such a drastic change, one she never fathomed happening to her. Yet Maxim fell for her, regardless that she was an ordinary girl, at least in her eyes. In Maxim’s, she was fascinating.
Maybe that’s why I’ve always loved this story.
Because Maxim made her feel extraordinary, not the stupid little girl her employer made her out to be.
For the longest time, it gave me hope I’d find something remarkable, too.
Sliding the book off the shelf, I flip to the first page. A warmth rushes through me as I read the opening line. It’s like seeing an old friend after spending years apart.
“‘Last night, I dreamed I went to Manderley again.’”
I stiffen at the deep, guttural voice reciting the first sentence. It sends a shiver down my spine, the subtle British accent the perfect inflection to set the tone.
Slowly, I turn around. A tiny breath manages to escape in response to the pair of blazing blue eyes staring back, the corner of his full lips quirked up into a mischievous smirk. I trace my gaze over his face…the scruff along his jaw, his chiseled nose, his smoldering stare. My pulse kicks up, skin tingling with a vulnerability I didn’t think possible from a look alone.
“It’s quite refreshing to meet a woman who appreciates a physical book,” he continues smoothly when I remain mute. “Most people these days seem to prefer the convenience of an e-reader.”
I swallow. “While I can understand that…” My tone turns sultry, “there’s no replacement for the feel of a real book.” I close Rebecca, running a lithe finger along the cover.
Emboldened by the raw hunger covering every inch of him, I curve toward him, acting incredibly out of character for me. But isn’t this every woman’s fantasy? Or at least every bookworm’s fantasy? Running into a handsome, well-dressed man in a bookstore, one who appreciates books for the gift they are?
“Or the scent,” I continue in a low voice, “of a real book.” I linger near his neck for a moment, inhaling deeply. “It’s incredibly…intoxicating.” I pull back, eyes locking with his.
Silence stretches between us as he focuses on me in a way that pierces my soul, as if able to read my thoughts, learn my deepest, darkest desires.
With that one look, everything else disappears. Gone is the background chatter, nearby sirens, whirring of the air conditioning. I’m in a vacuum, an alternate universe where nothing exists outside of me, this man, and this arresting lust rioting through me, leaving me mindless, breathless…and perhaps a bit reckless.
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