Turning the corner and entering the back section of the library, which was closed off to the general public, Keirnan frowned at the condition of this part of the gorgeous historical building downtown. She’d been organizing the program, Read with Your Littles, for well over two years. At first it was difficult getting busy parents to take another hour or more out of their already busy weeks to bring their little children to the program; but it became an occasion to spend time together reading and talking about the stories and enjoying each other’s company.
But, her patience had paid off, and parents began pouring in. There were children with a single parent; some parents worked long or odd hours. So, she had encouraged not only parents but grandparents to join in, even babysitters. Low and behold, her small project, Read with Your Littles, began filling up. They’d grown to capacity at the Beachwood Elementary School library. So, after only one year, she’d received permission from the Friday Harbor Town Council to move the venue to the downtown library. As generous as it was that the town had been eager to accept Keirnan Vickers’ program, this old library building was in poor shape.
Many windows had been painted closed, which was a safety hazard. The handrails on the steps were loose, the flooring was sadly neglected and the plumbing, well the plumbing, was atrocious. That’s when she knew she had to do something. The town had agreed to pay the lion’s share of the repairs, but Keirnan had to initially raise donations to cover the first one quarter of the $500,000 repair costs.
With the help of her best friend and fellow teacher, Lexi, she organized a huge fundraiser to the detriment of her sleep. Did she invite the right people? Would they come with money, credit cards or checkbooks in hand to donate? Would the library be able to make many of the necessary repairs? Or would she look the fool? It was the last one that kept her awake into the wee hours of the morning.
Hearing a loud bang, she stopped and turned. Waiting to hear more or someone moving around, she hesitated to go investigate. The library was open now, but this wing was not. She was simply keeping her decorating stash here so she could bring it in small batches and not have to haul in carload after carload.
Another bang had her heart racing and the tiny hairs on the back of her neck prickling. Inhaling deeply, she slowly walked down the hallway and in the direction of the noises.
“Hello?” Waiting for a response, she could only hear her heartbeat thrumming in her ears. Swallowing, she called a bit louder. “Is anybody back here?”
Looking into the first room, grateful the sun was still high in the sky, she didn’t see anything but stacks of chairs on top of tables that had seen better days and bags of decorating supplies: pretty purple hanging decor, napkins, matching plastic wear and expensive looking, but not, plastic plates for guests at the fundraiser. She had wrestled with how fancy to make the event, opting for low budget, showing their future benefactors that they wouldn’t be squandering their money on needless frilly things.
An old portrait of Mr. Vandebrooke, the founder of the town and this library, hung askew on the far wall. The eerie look on his face, that vacant look that signified the artist was not quite able to capture the soul of the man, just the body, gave her the chills. Did his eyes follow her? Shaking her head, she chastised herself for her overactive imagination.
Turning to the hallway once again, she ventured down it further to the next door. “Hello?”
From the corner of her left eye she thought she saw movement. Jumping and stifling a squeal, she looked to her left and surveyed the area. What did she just see? Nothing seemed out of place, then again, how would she know? She rarely came back this far other than to make lists of the things that needed upgrading. Another sound came from further down the hallway.
Her heartbeat pounded, and her hands began to shake. She’d never been one to scare easily, and she’d seen her share of old buildings in her twenty-five years; it was likely a mouse or a broken window allowing the breeze to move items on the wall or a door closing. She continued to the next room and jumped about a foot off the floor when she saw a man sitting in a chair in the far-left corner of the room. She’d never seen him before, not in town or in the library, but he seemed as if he were waiting for her to appear.
“Hello. May I ask what you’re doing in this wing?” Proud her voice didn’t shake proving her fright.
“I’m a potential investor in this great building and wanted to see for myself during the day just how bad the condition is.”
Swallowing to moisten her dry throat she forced a smile. “Oh, I’m Keirnan Vickers, one of the fundraisers. I’m happy you’ve taken such an interest in the building and that you can see for yourself the poor condition it’s in.”
“Yes. That’s clear as day.”
“What is your name, please?” The way he stared at her made her skin crawl. The close to being a sneer on his face kept her from coming any further into the room.
“That’s not important. I’ll be on my way in just a moment.”
“But, I don’t think anyone is supposed to be in this area, Mr. ?”
“But then again, here you are as well.” He stood and she guessed his height as just under six feet. His sandy-colored hair was slicked back, and tied together at his nape in a short ponytail. He wore a clean, dark blue, short-sleeved, three-button, placket shirt, jeans and sneakers. He didn’t look like someone who had the money to invest, but a person could never know for sure.
“Yes, I’m storing some of the items for the fundraiser in this section to keep them out of the way.”
His hands tucked into the front pockets of his jeans, he began walking around the room, first looking at the windows, then at a photograph on the wall. As he neared her, she straightened her back fighting the urge to turn and run. If he actually was a benefactor, it was imperative that she leave him with a positive impression.
“Well, I’ll see you in two weeks at the fundraiser then, Mr.?”
He inhaled deeply, removed his hands from his front pockets, and looked toward the door as if ready to leave. She stepped aside and swallowed. Clutching her hands together in front of her, she hoped she didn’t look as scared as she felt. His whole demeanor seemed bizarre at best.
He walked to the door, then stopped in the doorway, turning to look at her. His eyes stared into hers for a long moment before trailing down her body. The dreadful feeling that plummeted to the pit of her stomach left her ready to run screaming from the room.
He simply smiled, though it looked scornful. He nodded as if dismissing her and left the room.
Allowing herself a moment to regain her composure, and let her knees stop shaking, she inhaled and exhaled a few times, nodded her head and began walking as quickly as she could to the main area of the library to tell, Bekah Dodson, the curator, that someone was in the closed section. Her skin crawled again and she looked back and forth into the rooms to make sure he wasn’t going to jump out at her or follow her. She scolded herself for being a scaredy-cat, but he was a creepy-ass man. The first thing she’d do is ask Lexi, if she had added to the guestlist.
Tucking his phone in his back pocket, Dane unlocked his gun safe, pulled out his 9mm, checked the clip for bullets, verified the safety was on, then he holstered his gun inside the back of his waistband. Closing his eyes for just a moment, he inhaled and let it out. He’d just gotten out of the service, after spending twenty years in, sixteen of those in Special Ops. Civilian life was an adjustment.
The past four years he’d adjusted a lot. First to losing his wife, Catherine, and being a single father to Emersyn, his smart, beautiful, funny, little five-year-old girl, with the help of his mother. She was a godsend. His father was gone, and his mother poured herself into helping him raise Emersyn. What would he have done without her? His missions were sporadic, and lasted for unknown periods of time; he would have had to leave his Special Ops Unit, which was his second family when Catherine died, had it not been for his mom. That would have made coping with her sudden death unbearable.
His phone rang and he dug it out of his pocket without looking at the screen. “Copeland.”
His mother’s laughing on the other end of the line caused his cheeks to burn red.
“I see you’re still in the military in your head. It’ll take a while.”
“Yeah.” Walking from his bedroom to the living room, he snagged his truck keys from the coffee table, headed to the front door and twisted the knob.
“Do you need directions to Emersyn’s school? Are you sure you want to go pick her up?”
Stepping off his front porch, he chuckled. “I think I’ve got this, Mom. I know where the school is and after a couple of errands, I’ll be on my way there.”
“Okay.” She sounded disappointed. Maybe sad. And he felt bad. It was an adjustment for her now, too.
“You could tell me which direction I go when I get to the school though.”
The cheer in her voice was instant. “Oh, of course. Once you enter the front door, you’ll need to check in at the office. It’s on the right. Then, when you leave the office, head straight down the hallway, all the way down to the end, and make another right. Her classroom is the first door on the right. Ms. Vickers is her teacher. She’s just the sweetest thing. Beautiful, great with the kids. Single, too.”
“Okay, I get it. This is not a dating call, I’m not looking. I have enough to worry about after retiring from Special Ops and not knowing what I want to do next. I feel like a damned teenager again trying to decide what I want to do when I grow up.”
“I know. I know. I just thought I’d throw that out there.”
Climbing into his truck, he set his phone in the holder on the dash, buckled his seat belt and turned the key in the ignition.
“So, Mom, I’ll call you after I pick up Emersyn. Do you want to go out to dinner with us tonight? I didn’t make supper but to be honest with you, I don’t even know what to make. I feel lost in some ways.”
He heard his mom sigh on the other end of the phone. “Let me make something here for you two. I was just feeling the same way. I don’t know what to do with myself without Emersyn around the house. And, it’s only been a day, but I already miss her.”
“It’s a deal, Mom. Emmy and I will be by around five-ish. Is that good?”
“Perfect. I’ll make a roast.”
“That sounds delicious.”
Tapping the end call icon, he pulled his truck from the driveway, and headed down the road to the hardware store, then to Beachwood Elementary School.
Just making them dinner cheered his mom up. Simple pleasures for sure.
For the first time in a long time, he paid attention to Friday Harbor. The buildings were neatly kept, and while older, they seemed friendly and welcoming. Each business planted flowers, which would bloom soon; though the temperature was still only in the high 60’s, it wouldn’t be long before it was sweltering. North Carolina could get plenty warm. Catherine had insisted they buy a house here when he was stationed at the base in town and she found out she was pregnant. Sometimes military towns brought some of the seedier side of life, like tattoo parlors and the military whores looking for a lay or a husband. And Friday Harbor had that, but they’d purposely looked on the opposite side of town for a house and the instant they’d driven into the North side of Friday Harbor, they knew they’d make their home here. Now that he was out of the military and Catherine was gone, he and Emersyn could go anywhere. But, first he had to figure out what he wanted to do on a day to day basis. He’d saved money, not a ton but he was good for a while.
Pulling into the parking lot of Beachwood Elementary, he found a spot, exited his truck and walked into the front door. Everything inside was painted in bright primary colors. He checked in, received a lanyard with “Guest” typed on it, then headed down the hall. The school bell rang, and instantly, the halls flooded with kids of all ages. He dodged, moved, pivoted and generally tried not to get run over.
Turning right at the end of the hall, he found Ms. Vickers’ room and stepped inside. Most of the kids were gone, only three remained and they stood at the back of the room looking into an aquarium. Glancing around he didn’t see a teacher, so he walked to the back by the kids.
“Hey Emmy, what are you looking at?”
Emmy turned, her dark curls bouncing, and her big brown eyes shined with delight.
“Daddy, we’re watching Thomas eat.”
She tugged him by the hand to the aquarium, where inside he saw a turtle munching on some leaves.
“So, this is the famous Thomas I’ve been hearing about?”
The other two girls, one a redhead with freckles all over her face and the prettiest blue eyes smiled at him, and he couldn’t help but smile back. The sweet little gal had a tooth missing in the front, but it didn’t keep her from smiling. The other girl had sandy-blond hair and blue eyes and giggled, too. “He’s really slow.”
“I’ve heard that. Why is his name Thomas?”
Emmy giggled, “Daddy, it’s from the book Adventures of Thomas Turtle.”
“Hello, can I help you?”
He turned to see a beautiful young woman with sandy-blond hair and mesmerizing dark green eyes staring at him. Her face seemed familiar in some way, but he couldn’t put two and two together. She was around 5’5″ and slender .
Remembering his manners, he stepped forward and held his hand out. “I’m Dane Copeland, Emmy’s dad.”
The smile she bestowed on him was breathtaking. “Oh, it’s so nice to meet you. I’m Keirnan Vickers. Usually Estella picks Emersyn up.”
“Daddy’s ‘tired’ now,” Emersyn happily added.
He chuckled. “Retired. From Special Ops in the Army.”
She shook hands with him and they locked eyes. His stomach flipped and he didn’t want to let go. She pulled away first, after giving his hand a squeeze. “My father and brother are both in the military. My father is here on base, my brother is deployed to Bosnia right now.”
“Who are your father and brother?”
She smiled. “Robert Vickers is my father and my brother is Gaige Vickers.”
He nodded. “I know your father, just a bit, we called him Auggie. We worked on a few missions together. Smart, dependable, knows his job. I’m sorry to say I’ve never met your brother.”
She giggled and it was like music. “Yep, that’s my father. He’s getting ready to retire next month.”
“Dana, come on, honey.” A woman called from the doorway and the little redhead ran toward her waving goodbye. “Bye, Ms. Vickers.”
Her smile was infectious and genuine. “Good night, Dana, Ms. Shallow. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Another woman stepped in. “I’m so sorry I’m late, Keirnan. Suzie, it’s time to go, sweetie.”
“No problem, Diane, I’ll see you both tomorrow.”
That left the three of them in the room and he just didn’t want to leave.
The silence grew long, and he cleared his throat, “Emmy, let’s get going, Gram’s making supper for us.”
“Yay.” She jumped up and down and clapped her hands. She ran to Keirnan and hugged her legs. “Bye, Ms. Vickers. See you tomorrow.”
He stepped forward and shook her hand once again, adding a bit of pressure and looking her in the eye. “Good night, Keirnan. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Walking to her desk seemed to be a chore. Her hands shook and her knees felt weak.
“Holy hotness. Who was that hunk of a hunk?” Lexi asked as she sauntered into the room and half sat on the edge of the desk. Her blond curls were the perfect frame for her petite face. Sparkling blue eyes and a curvy shape Keirnan had envied forever. She felt like the scrawny too-tall girl no matter how old she became.
Blowing out a breath she said a bit dazed, “That is Dane Copeland, Emersyn’s father.” And he was hotness. Tall, dark hair and dark brown eyes. And, OMG dimples! She struggled to chat with him at all she was so awed by his presence.
Fanning herself with her hand, Lexi replied, “The widower you mean. Hot and single. Holy moly.”
“Stop it. I can’t get involved with him, he’s the father of one of my students.” But, boy if that weren’t the case, she’d…
“You’re nuts if you let that stop you. He’s simply drool worthy. And, school will be out in a couple of months and Emersyn won’t be your student any longer.” She clapped her hands together as if dusting them off. “Problem solved.”
Laughing at her friend’s exuberance, “What do you think John would say to hear you talk about another man like that?”
Leaning in closer, Lexi whispered, “If he saw that man there,” pointing with her thumb over her shoulder, “he’d want him for himself.”
That had her laughing out loud. “You’re crazy.” Standing and pleased that her knees had found their strength, she walked to the whiteboard and began erasing the last two letters of the alphabet she’d drawn earlier today. “Ready to go over the final preparations for the fundraiser?”
“Yep. Just let me get my notebook. Your place or mine?”
Giggling, “You can come back in here, the sun is so nice today.”
“Okay.” Lexi practically skipped out of the room. Her personality was so vivacious. When they first met, Lexi had made her laugh out loud during an all-district school meeting and they’d been inseparable since. That was four years ago now.
Bounding back into the room with a well-worn notebook, Lexi plopped it on a little table close to the window and opened it.
Grabbing her own, even more well-worn notebook, Keirnan sat next to her friend, the ridiculously tiny chairs they sat in at the small table only added to the fun of their planning meetings.
“First, did you add anyone to the guestlist?”
Tapping her pencil on her notebook, “Nope. If I knew the kind of people your parents had put us in contact with, I’d probably not be a teacher.”
Looking at the names on the guestlist she either knew most of them or had looked them up on the internet, and the man she’d seen at the library was not on the guestlist. “You’re sure?”
“I’m positive. I’d probably be a trophy wife.”
Laughing at her silly friend, Keirnan said, “No, I mean sure about not inviting anyone?”
“Yes. Why do you ask?”
“When I dropped more items at the library yesterday, there was a man in the back area, which as you know is closed to the public, and he just about scared the bejesus out of me. But he said he was one of the potential investors in the library and wanted to come and see for himself its condition. The weird thing was he wouldn’t give me his name and I don’t recognize him from any of our research. And, he gave me the creeps.”
“Did you tell Bekah? She knows everything that goes on there.”
“No. When I left, she was busy helping some women with research and I didn’t want to bother her. I hung around waiting for the man to come out of the back area, but he never did.”
“Oooo, was he a ghost?”
“No. Gosh, Lexi, you just gave me goosebumps.” She rubbed her arms with her hands to knock down the gooseflesh that had risen.
“You’re the one always saying that picture of Vandebrooke creeps you out and you think his eyes move. Maybe it’s just like a Harry Potter area back there and the pictures all move and there are ghosts and goblins. Maybe we should change the fundraiser to a haunted library thing and make people go back there in the dark.”
Unable to stop her laughter, she nudged Lexi, “Stop it. I’m being serious.”
“Me, too.” Lexi looked at her notebook. “Can we get down to business? John will be home from work on time tonight, and well, I’d like to meet him at the door with nothing on.”
Keirnan’s cheeks burned and she could feel the heat climb up her body at the embarrassment her thoughts conjured. “Stop it. OMG, it’s been so long for me. I can’t believe it.”
Lexi, her best friend, her confidant, and sometimes her tormentor with the sparkling blue eyes and curvy shape leaned in close and whispered, “Dane Copeland.” Then she burst out laughing and the heat her body generated could have cooked supper.
Fanning herself with her notebook, she shook her head and tried, unsuccessfully, not to laugh with her friend.
Lexi shoved her shoulder with a soft push, then said, “Now, let’s really get down to business. Did you contact the caterer?”
They worked for an hour, going over final details, and by the time they finished the sun had hidden itself behind the building and their beautiful sunny spot in the room had dimmed.
Hugging her friend goodbye, she strolled to her car, impressed that the temperature was still in the mid-sixties and her light sweater was sufficient to keep her from getting chilled. One stop at the grocery store to pick up the order she had placed on the internet during lunch and she was on her way home.
Her little, but neat and clean house, was on the same side of town as her parents, away from the seedy, icky side of town where all the whores hung out made her smile. Checking her mailbox without leaving her vehicle, she grabbed the few pieces of mail and a magazine from inside and drove into her garage.
Carrying her groceries into the kitchen, she sighed, as she usually did at being home. There’s no place like home was so true. It felt calming and soothing after dealing with kids and fellow teachers, some great, some, well…
The newspaper she had taken from her front stoop this morning still laid on her counter and she flipped it open to scan the news. There on the front page was a large photograph of one of the library’s major investors, Zane Hanson, standing in front of a building, which the article said he owned. The headline in bold, black letters said, ‘Local resident, Zane Hanson, invests in Friday Harbor in a big way.
She started reading the article and it appeared that Mr. Hanson had begun investing millions of dollars in converting this old building into a weapons manufacturing business and factory. It was going to bring jobs, industry, new housing, more businesses, etc. A huge boon for Friday Harbor. The article continued that some citizens still were unhappy with the business of manufacturing of weapons coming to Friday Harbor. They had been outraged at the last Town Council Meeting when the Council voted to allow the building to be converted to a weapons manufacturing business and factory by Mr. Hanson. These disgruntled citizens continued to express their opinions.
Keirnan thought it was good news. Perhaps this would propel the investors to give more money for repairing and restoring the library in light of things progressing in town.
Maybe that man she saw at the library had something to do with Mr. Hanson’s business.