“Grandma! I’m going to be late for class.”
“One more shot, Mariposa, just let me … there. All done. The light was exactly right on that one.”
Isadora Alvarez De Novo set down the camera and smiled. Beatrice stood up from the small table near the windows and plucked her bag from the ﬂoor.
“Are you painting this afternoon?” she asked as she bent to kiss her grandmother’s wrinkled cheek.
“Yes, yes. I’ll be in the studio all day. Will you be home for dinner?”
“Nope. Wednesday, remember? Night hours.”
“Oh, of course, handsome professor day!”
She snorted. “He’s not a professor, Grandma. He just has a doctorate and does research at the library. I’m not sure what he is, to be honest.”
“Besides tall, dark, and handsome?”
Beatrice rolled her eyes. “You mean fastidious, formal, and silent?”
“Oh, you say that, but he’s probably just shy. Maybe it’s because he’s European.”
Beatrice shook her head before she ﬁlled her travel mug from the small coffee press her grandmother had prepared for her. “I don’t know. He is mysterious, that’s for sure.”
“He never talks to you?”
The young woman shrugged. “Sure, a little. He’s always polite. I’ve tried making conversation, but he’s very … focused. He always looks absorbed in his work. But, I could swear I’ve felt him watching me more than once.”
Her grandmother smiled. “You’re a beautiful girl, Beatrice. He would have to be blind not to notice.”
Beatrice chuckled. “I really don’t think it’s like that. No, it’s not like he’s checking me out, more like he’s … observing.”
The old woman’s eyes widened. “Could he be gay? Oh, what a disappointment. Though, maybe I could introduce him to Marta’s boy then—”
“Grandma!” she laughed. “I have no idea. It’s none of my business. I should be embarrassed gossiping about patrons like this. And I really have to go.”
“Fine, but you need to ﬁnd some nice boy to have fun with. The last one was so boring.”
Beatrice walked out the door. “I’ll see what I can do,” she called out. “Bye!”
She sped out the door and down the steps of the small house near Rice University where she had grown up with her grandparents. Passing the oak tree that shaded the driveway, her eyes caught the dark grooves cut near the base of the old tree close to forty years before.
Stephen De Novo. She climbed into her small car. Despite what she had claimed to the curious Dr. Vecchio, the hollow pang of his loss still marked her life. Despite his busy schedule, she and her father had been very close. With the passing of her grandfather, Beatrice and Isadora were all that was left of the tight-knit De Novo family.
She pulled into the university parking lot and grabbed the ﬁrst spot she found, running to her ﬁrst class as soon as her feet hit the ground.
In fact, Beatrice felt like she ran all day, and by the time she got to the library at four o’clock, she was ready to collapse. She took the cantankerous elevator up to the ﬁfth ﬂoor, and put her books in the small ofﬁce she shared with her supervisor.
“B?” she heard Charlotte call from the copy and photography room.
“Yeah, Char, I’m here. I’m sorry I’m late, it’s seems like—”
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Charlotte Martin said as she walked toward the reference desk. The young woman switched on the computer at the desk and logged into the library’s system. “It’s Wednesday today,” Charlotte said with a grin.
“Yes, it is.”
“Wednesday means night hours for you.”
“No!” Beatrice gasped. “I’d totally forgotten about that.”
“Liar.” Charlotte paused for effect. “So, have you had any luck with the mysterious Dr. Vecchio?”
“What? Why is everyone asking about him today? Did you and my grandma have a meeting?”
Charlotte laughed. “No! I’m just curious. You’ve seen him for what—three weeks now? I’m curious what you think. He’s quite the mystery around the library, you know.”
“Librarians have vivid imaginations and far too much time on their hands. I think he’s just a historian or something.”
“A really hot, Italian historian with a cute—but not indecipherable—accent,” Charlotte said as she wiggled her eyebrows. “And you’re a gorgeous, single almost-librarian. I see possibilities.”
“You and my grandmother are far too interested in my love life, or lack thereof. But thanks for calling me ‘gorgeous.’”
“You are,” Charlotte sighed. “You have the most perfect skin. I kind of hate you.”
“And you have the perfect husband and two perfect children, so I think you win. Is Jeff enjoying having you home every night?”
Charlotte smiled and nodded. “Yes, all joking aside, thanks for taking the evening hours. It makes a huge difference with the boys involved in so many activities now.”
“No problem. I could always use the cash.”
“Speaking of cash, did I tell you someone very wealthy and very generous just donated a couple of letters from the Italian Renaissance to the library? We should be getting them in the next couple of weeks.”
“Letters? What are they?”
Charlotte shrugged. “Not sure. I haven’t seen them. I guess they’re a couple letters from some Florentine poet to a friend who was a philosopher. Late ﬁfteenth century, supposedly very well-preserved. I should remember the names, but I don’t. They were in some private collection, from what I hear. Honestly, I have no idea why the university is getting them.”
“Huh.” Beatrice frowned. “We have hardly anything from that period. Most of the Italian stuff we have is late medieval.”
“I know,” Charlotte shrugged again, “but they were donated, so no one’s going to complain.”
“When do they get here?”
“A few weeks, maybe closer to a month or so.” Charlotte laughed. “I thought Christiansen was going to piss his pants, he was so excited when he told me.”
“And thank you for that mental image,” she snorted. “I’m going to go to check the dehumidiﬁers in the stacks. I’ll see you in a bit.”
Beatrice was still shaking her head when she entered the manuscript room, chuckling at her playful supervisor. Charlotte Martin’s enthusiasm for books and information was one of the reasons the young woman had decided to pursue a master’s degree in library science. Far from stuffy, Beatrice had discovered that most libraries were small hotbeds of gossip and personal intrigue. Intrigue that she enjoyed observing, but also tried to avoid by hiding in her own small department.
She checked the moisture readings in the stacks, tracking and resetting the meter for the next twenty-four hours. She walked to the center of the room to empty the plastic container from the dehumidiﬁer that pulled excess water from the thick, South Texas air, so it wouldn’t damage the delicate residents of the manuscript room.
After completing her duties in back, she pulled one of her favorite books from the shelves and opened it, poring over the vivid medieval illuminations in a German devotional. After a few minutes, she tore herself away to go help Charlotte with some ﬁling before she settled at the reference desk for the evening, and began to work on a paper for one of her classes.
At ﬁve-thirty, Charlotte waved good-bye, and by seven o’clock, Beatrice heard the familiar steps of Dr. Giovanni Vecchio—mysterious Ph.D., translator of Tibetan texts, and all around hot-piece-of-gossip-inducing-ass—enter the reading room.
“Good evening, Miss De Novo. How are you tonight?”
She heard his soft accent as he approached and saved the ﬁle she was working on before she looked up with a smile. He was wearing a pair of dark-rimmed glasses and a grey jacket that evening. His face was angular, handsome in a way that reminded her of one of the photographs in her art history textbook. His dark, curly hair and green eyes were set off by a pale complexion that seemed out of place on someone with a Mediterranean background.
Beatrice decided that no one should be that good looking—especially if they were smart. It simply put the rest of the population at a disadvantage.
“Fine, thanks. I’m ﬁne.” She sighed almost imperceptibly, and straightened her black skirt as she stood. “The Tibetan manuscript again?”
He flashed a smile and nodded. “Yes, thank you.”
Beatrice went back to retrieve what she had begun to think of as “his” manuscript, and walked out to Giovanni’s table in the far corner of the small room. Setting it down, she noticed he already had his pencils, notebooks, and notes from the week before laid out on the table. He was nothing, if not organized and well-prepared.
“Do you need the spiel?” she asked as she handed him his silk gloves.
He smirked. “Not unless you are required to give it every time I’m here.”
“I’ve seen you here a few weeks now. If you won’t tell, I won’t.”
“Your flagrant disregard of protocol will be our secret, Beatrice,” he said with a wink that set her heart racing. She hated her name, but maybe she didn’t hate it quite as much when it rolled off his tongue with that sexy accent.
She just smiled and tried to breath normally. “I’ll be at the desk if you need anything.”
“Thank you.” He nodded and slipped on the gloves to pick up the book. As always, she noticed the seemingly incongruent features which only added to the mystery he presented.
His ﬁngers were long and graceful, reminding her more of an artist than a scholar, but the body beneath his casually professional wardrobe looked like that of a trained athlete. He appeared fastidious in his appearance, but his hair always seemed just a bit too long. No matter how he was dressed, she always smiled when she saw his expression, his concentrated frown and preoccupied gaze were one hundred percent academic.
Suppressing a snicker, she went back to writing her paper.
They both worked quietly for another hour. When she finished her homework, she looked in her bag and realized she had forgotten the paperback she was reading that morning.
“Damn,” she whispered.
He looked up from his work. “What?”
She frowned and looked up, surprised he had heard. “Oh, I’m sorry. It’s nothing. Just forgot my book at home.”
She thought she heard him snort, just a little.
He couldn’t contain the small chuckle. “You’re in a library.”
“What?” She couldn’t help but smile. “Oh, I know, but I was reading that one. Besides, I can’t exactly go wander around in the ﬁction section looking for a new book. I’m working.”
“Unless you want to ﬁnish up early so I can go do that.”
He frowned and looked at the clock on the wall. “Do you really need me to?”
Beatrice laughed out loud. “No! Of course not, I’m just teasing. I don’t expect you to cut your research time short for me.” She chuckled quietly as she turned to the computer to check her e-mail and look at her stock report online. She took careful note of a few investments she had left from her father’s estate and emailed herself a reminder to move one of them when she got back home.
She glanced at the man copying the Tibetan book and realized he almost looked annoyed. She cleared her throat. “Thanks, though … for offering. That was nice.”
He cocked one eyebrow at her. “Far be it from me to keep a woman from her book. That could become dangerous.”
She snorted and shook her head a little. Giovanni smiled and returned to his transcription. They both worked in silence for a while longer before she heard him put down his pencil.
“What was it?”
“What?” Beatrice tore her eyes from the computer monitor.
“The book. The one you forgot?”
She frowned. “Oh … uh, Bonﬁre of the Vanities. Tom Wolfe.”
His lips twitched when he heard the title. “Oh.”
“Have you read it?”
His smile almost looked rueful as he turned back to his work. “No.”
“It’s good. It’s set in New York. I’ve never been, have you?”
He nodded as he took out a blank sheet of paper and started a new page of careful notes. “I have. It’s very … fast.”
“Yes, I prefer the pace of Southern cities.”
“I can see that.”
She looked up to see Giovanni staring, his blue-green eyes almost burning her with the intensity of their focus.
“I—I think so,” she said, glancing down to avoid his gaze.
He stared for another minute before she noticed him look back to his notes.
Beatrice let out a breath, oddly disturbed by their conversation. After another half an hour, he stood and began to pack up his materials to leave.
She watched him in amusement, his deliberate movements somehow reminding her of her late grandfather when he came home from work for the day. She ﬂashed for a moment to the image of her Grandpa Hector emptying his pockets and setting his old-fashioned pocket watch on the dresser in her grandparents’ room.
Beatrice walked over to collect the manuscript and return it to the locked stacks. By the time she came back, she caught only a glimpse of Giovanni as he rushed out the door with a quick, “Goodnight, Beatrice,” called over his shoulder.
She watched him walk out the door with an admiring look, reminded again that there was nothing haphazard about the way Dr. Giovanni Vecchio moved. He walked with a fluid and silent grace that seemed as effortless as it was swift.
Beatrice exited the room a few moments after him, locking up behind her and making sure all the lights were off. She no longer expected to see him waiting for the slow elevator, and she thought she heard the click of the stairwell door as it closed down the darkened hall.
“Five ﬂights of stairs?” she wondered quietly. “No wonder he has such a great ass.” The elevator dinged just as she pushed the button to go down.