Los Angeles, California
“Baby, the alarm already went off.”
She looked over her shoulder at Mano, who appeared to be wearing nothing more than a lazy grin.
“It went off already?” she croaked, shutting her eyes against the morning sun.
He nodded. “Yep. I let you sleep in a little, but I knew you’d kick me if I let you miss work.”
The morning sun streamed through the small window in the bedroom. Mano must have propped it open the night before, and she could smell the Meyer lemon tree blossoming on the patio.
“Why am I so tired?”
“Apparently, it was a scotch night last night,” he snickered. “I came over and let myself in, but you were already asleep.”
Beatrice rolled over and blinked at her gorgeous boyfriend. “You came over and crawled in my bed looking like that, and I missed it?”
She groaned and burrowed into his warm chest. “Why did I drink the Laphroaig? It was not my friend last night. And I have to work late because Dr. Stevens asked me to help her close.”
His low voice rumbled in her ear as she pressed her cheek to his chest. “How late? You want me to come over and cook dinner?”
She sighed and rubbed her eyes. “We’ve got that group visiting from USC right now and they’ve been staying as late as she’ll let them, so…I don’t know, probably not till eight-thirty or so.”
“Leaving from work? So you won’t be home till after nine.”
She cuddled closer to him and reached up to brush the long, black hair out of his eyes. “Probably not. Can you come over anyway?”
“I can tonight, but not tomorrow night. We’ve got a group leaving early for an all-day dive, so I’ll have to be at the boat by six.”
She moved to lay kisses along his stubbled chin. “You know, we should be environmentally conscious this morning. There’s a water shortage.”
“Oh yeah?” he asked with a cocked eyebrow. He pulled her closer and hooked her leg over his hip. “Shower together, huh? You up for being environmentally responsible after last night?”
“Yes.” She smiled. “Are you?”
Mano hugged her to his chest and rolled them out of bed before he stood and walked to the bathroom, his strong arms supporting her as she clung to him. “I’m always up for you, baby.”
Beatrice giggled as he carried her to the bathroom, glancing at the bottle of scotch and the small book bound in red leather that lay on her desk in the corner. She hugged Mano closer and breathed in the scent of sun and ocean that clung to him.
She waved as he stood on her front porch, still shirtless and wearing a lazy smile, while he held a cup of coffee as she sped away on her bike. She hopped onto Interstate 5 and gunned the engine, cutting lanes on her way to the 110 Freeway.
She’d bought the new Triumph Scrambler after Carwyn convinced her a motorcycle with a British pedigree was superior to an American bike. Since the Welshman had been the one to teach her to ride, and she liked the look of the matte-black bike, she’d relented and had it customized for her short frame.
Beatrice loved the freedom of being on the back of the bike, along with the ability to cut quickly through the Southern California traffic. While some moaned about their daily commute, for Beatrice, it was one of her favorite parts of the day.
By the time she arrived in San Marino—a small, wealthy enclave in the middle of South Pasadena—she’d made up for her late start that morning. She didn’t know why she’d given in to the temptation to read Giuliana’s sonnets the night before, but going down that road never led to a happy night.
She pulled off her helmet as she walked through the alley of jacaranda trees leading to the entrance of the library.
Beatrice waved at one of the guards as she climbed the white stone stairs leading to the grand entrance.
“Hey, Art. How are you today?”
The jovial man grinned and gave her a wink. “Oh, you know…just hangin’,” he laughed. “Get it? Hangin’? ‘Cause my name is ‘Art?’”
She snorted and shook her head. “Yeah, good one.”
“You closing with Dr. Stevens tonight?”
“Yup. You going to be here?”
He nodded and smiled, his brown eyes crinkling in the corners. “You betcha. I’ll see you later then.”
She turned before she reached the black glass of the library doors. “Yeah?”
“This is probably out of left field, but do you know a kid around twelve or thirteen named Ben?”
“Ben?” She frowned. “I don’t think so, why?”
He shrugged. “Just a kid poking around the front of the gardens the other day. He was riding a bike and asked if I knew a librarian named Beatrice. That’s your name, right?”
Beatrice’s mouth dropped open. “Yeah, that’s my name, but I don’t know any kids that age. I don’t really know any kids, period. I mean…maybe one of the school groups? That take the tours of the public exhibits? I’ve led a few of those.”
Art nodded. “Yeah, that’s probably it. Maybe he came last year with his class and remembered you or something.”
“Huh.” She frowned. “I guess. That’s the only thing I can figure. Did he look…I don’t know. What did he look like?”
“Just a kid. Hispanic, I think. Kinda skinny. He seemed smart, said his name was Ben, but didn’t say anything else.”
She paused, searching her memory for any hint of recognition. There wasn’t one. “Well, if you see him again, let me know, okay?”
He nodded and gave her a small salute before he turned to help a guest that was signaling for attention. “You got it.”
Walking into the cool of the library, Beatrice tucked her helmet under her arm, smoothed back her hair, and thought about what classes she might have led for that age last spring. She couldn’t remember any that stood out.
The Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens was given to the city of San Marino by railroad magnate Henry Huntington when he passed away. While the gardens and house of the former estate were open to the public, the library, containing over six million rare books, manuscripts, and archived materials, was restricted and only open to special guests and Ph.D.s with recommendations. Beatrice had been more than fortunate her adviser at UCLA was willing to recommend her to Dr. Karen Stevens, a friend and colleague who happened to be the curator of the Western American archives.
The assistant’s job didn’t pay all that much, but it had decent benefits, and since Beatrice was independently—if quietly—wealthy, money wasn’t her chief concern.
“How’s it going?”
She waved and smiled at the quiet morning greetings of her coworkers as she made her way to the small office where she spent her days. She was currently using her rather extensive knowledge of Spanish and Latin to translate early documents from the California missions. Many of the old papers were just storage records or letters between priests, but occasionally, she came upon something in the jumbled records that gave insight into the complicated political workings of California’s early Spanish settlements.
“Good morning, Beatrice.” Dr. Stevens poked her head into Beatrice’s small office and smiled. An attractive blond woman in her mid-fifties, she wore a heather grey suit and a pair of stylish black glasses that framed her blue eyes. “Can you still help me close tonight?”
Beatrice nodded at her boss and grabbed her coffee cup, preparing to get a refill in the lunchroom. A headache from the night before started to gnaw at the space between her eyes.
“Morning. And yes, I can. I was wondering if I could take an extra hour at lunch today since I’m staying late. I’m supposed to meet a friend downtown, and if I had some extra time I’d appreciate it.”
Dr. Stevens thought for a moment, then shrugged. “That shouldn’t be a problem. I need you to finish those letters, but you’ll be able to work late tonight. I really just need an extra body here to meet staff requirements. The group from USC doesn’t need much help, and we’ve just got one other late appointment who’s looking at some of the Lincoln archives.”
She snorted as she turned on her computer. “Lincoln, huh?”
“Have you worked with those at all? The bodyguard’s papers are particularly fascinating. Some of the letters—”
“Yeah, I did a whole project on some Lincoln documents as an undergrad. Not really relevant to what I’m doing now.”
Dr. Stevens cocked her head. Beatrice immediately regretted her curt tone and looked up at her boss with an embarrassed smile. “Sorry. I’m feeling rotten this morning. Please excuse me. I appreciate the information.”
The curator smirked. “Late night with the boyfriend?”
“I wish. No, just some…stupid stuff. And I think I might be getting sick.” …of thinking about a man I’m never going to see again and regretting words in a journal he’ll probably never read.
“I hope not. You just got back from vacation.”
Two months ago. Beatrice offered her a tight smile and stood, brushing her hands along her slim-cut, black slacks. She picked up her empty mug and walked toward the doorway.
“I’m going to grab some coffee, can I get you anything?”
“No,” Dr. Stevens said. “I’m fine. I’m supposed to be giving a talk with a visiting lecturer at ten, so I’m going to go prepare, and I’ll let you get back to work. Take the extra hour at lunch, and I’ll see you this evening.”
Beatrice nodded and walked down to get more coffee, glancing at the framed art along the walls.
“Hangin’ around, Art.” She snorted. “Just hangin’ around.”
When she finally broke for lunch and sped down to Colorado Street to meet Dez at their favorite Spanish restaurant, she had moved past headache and into starving. She sat at one of the sidewalk tables and ordered a small plate of oil-roasted almonds to nibble on until her friend arrived.
Desiree Riley, or Dez as her friends called her, was the quintessential California girl. She’d grown up in Santa Monica and—if not for her parents insisting she leave for a few months to tour Europe after she graduated—would have happily stayed in Southern California her entire life. She’d gone to UCLA for both undergraduate and graduate work, completing her Masters in Information Science the same year as Beatrice.
They had become unexpected friends, the blond surfer girl and the quiet Texan in black boots and even blacker eyeliner; but as the years passed, they found their own friendly equilibrium. Beatrice stopped dying her hair pitch-black in favor of her natural, dark chocolate brown, and Dez had learned how to ride a motorcycle and even had a few piercings that mom and dad didn’t know about.
She heard her name shouted from a passing car and looked up to see Dez’s silver Jetta slowing as cars honked behind her.
“Dez, stop blocking the road!”
“Oh,” she waved a careless hand. “I will, but parking is crazy today. Order that sangria pitcher for two, okay?”
“I’m working today, you lush.”
The honking behind the Jetta only got more persistent.
“Who says I’m sharing? I’ll be there as soon as I find a spot.” She lifted her hand to daintily flip off the driver behind her, who was shouting out his window.
“Red wine sangria for two, please,” Beatrice said to the waiter, who had been staring at the commotion. He nodded with an amused smile and walked back inside. Dez huffed up the sidewalk a few minutes later and plopped down in the chair across from her friend, blowing a kiss to the waiter who dropped off the drinks.
“Okay, I’m drinking and so are you.”
“No ‘buts.’ You have been in a mood ever since you got back from Chile, and it’s irritating. This is the first chance we’ve had to talk without Mano around, so spill. Everything.”
Beatrice sighed in defeat and poured herself a glass.
An hour later, Dez was leaning on the table and staring raptly as Beatrice finished the story. Her best friend knew a very carefully edited version of the tale of Beatrice and Giovanni, as Dez liked to call it. But she knew that Beatrice went to Chile every summer only to return weeks later, alone and usually in a bad mood.
“So you think he was there? Watching the house?”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I saw him.” And smelled him. She didn’t really feel like explaining that part.
Dez sat back and frowned as she took another bite of her tortilla española. “Don’t you think that’s kind of creepy?”
Beatrice had never told Dez that Giovanni broke into her house at least once a year to leave plane tickets and occasionally grab a photograph. “Um … no, it’s not really. I mean, it is his house. It’s not creepy to me. I was mostly just pissed off that he didn’t come to the door.”
“Yeah, I can see that.” Dez took another sip of the sangria and silently munched on an olive.
“What what?” Dez asked, the picture of innocence.
“You have something to say, I can tell.”
She didn’t deny it but folded her hands on her lap and sighed a little as she looked across the table.
“You need to stop going there.”
“I am. I told you, I’m done.”
“I know you have friends there, and I know how much you love it, but it just…you’ve got to move on from this guy.”
Beatrice rolled her eyes. “Did you not hear me? I told you, I wrote him in the journal and told him—”
“Yeah, you told him you were done. Got it. You told me that, too. Remember?”
Beatrice pursed her lips and looked away, biting her lip as Dez continued in a quiet voice.
“You told me you were done with him three years ago. And then you went back. And then two years ago, you said the same thing. And you still went back.”
She bit her lip to keep the tears at bay as her friend recounted the last five years of an obsession she knew she needed to abandon.
“And then last year, even though Mano practically begged you not to go, you went again.”
“I’m not sure you do, B. Because he and I are the ones who have to put up with your moody-ass, depressed behavior for a month afterward every time you go down there and get your heart broken again.”
“My heart is not broken. You’re being melodramatic,” Beatrice muttered and took another sip of her water.
“Fine,” she rolled her eyes. “Whatever you want to tell yourself. But stop, okay? For real. When you get the ticket in the mail next time, toss it. Donate it. Change it to a flight to the Bahamas and take your boyfriend, but do not go chasing that ghost again.”
Beatrice swallowed the lump in her throat and clenched her jaw as she contained her tears. “I know,” she whispered.
“Do you? Really?”
“Yes, I’m done. I’m…moving past it.”
“You know I love you,” Dez whispered. Beatrice could see the concerned tears in her eyes.
“And I’m only saying this—”
“It’s fine.” She nodded. “I get it. Really, I do.”
“You have an amazing man in your life, one who wants a future with you. That wants to move forward. Not everyone gets that, you know?”
Beatrice sniffed and brushed at her eyes. “And some people never know because they won’t ask the person who’s perfect for them out on a single date.”
Dez straightened up and a flush rose in her cheeks. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Beatrice De Novo.”
“Oh,” she said with a smile, happy that the conversation had turned. “I can’t imagine. Did I mention I saw my lovely neighbor, Matt, yesterday? Yeah, he was sitting on his front porch working on his mountain bike. It must have been hot, because Ken—I mean Matt—wasn’t wearing a stitch more than a pair of little biking shorts. It was quite the view, I’ll say that.”
“He is not a Ken-doll,” Dez muttered and threw an olive at Beatrice. She caught it and popped it into her mouth.
“You do some investigation about whether he’s anatomically accurate, and I’ll consider changing my opinion of him. Until then? Ken-doll.”
Dez huffed, “Why do you even—”
“And you’re a total Barbie. Librarian Barbie. Do you know how many naughty fantasies poor Ken—I mean Matt—has probably had about you already? You’d be putting him out of his misery. Besides, Ken and Barbie belong together,” she said with a wicked grin.
“I hate you,” Dez said in a prim voice, “and I hope someone scratches your ugly black motorcycle in the parking lot.”
Beatrice snorted and threw an olive at Dez, but this time, her friend caught it and threw it back, hitting Beatrice right between the eyes. She snorted and then belly laughed at Beatrice’s shocked expression.
“Forget Librarian Barbie,” Beatrice muttered. “I’m going to go with Big League Barbie instead.”
The two friends finished lunch and made plans to meet the following weekend for brunch at one of their favorite hangouts near the beach. Beatrice hopped on her bike and returned to the Huntington to finish the translation of the mission letter she’d been working on before lunch.
As the hours passed, she fell into a steady rhythm, speeding through not one, but two complete letters before Dr. Stevens called her to the reading room.
She packed up the document she’d been working on and moved it to one of the library tables in the quietest corner of the room. Dr. Stevens had asked her to be available if the group needed help, but she didn’t really expect to be interrupted.
She was looking up a Latin noun she thought might have been misspelled when she heard the quiet footsteps. The smell of smoke reached her nose before she could look up into the green eyes that had haunted her for five years. An enigmatic smile flickered across his face before he spoke.
“I’m looking for Miss De Novo.”