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First pages

∞1∞

The exterior of the bookshop didn’t look promising, not that Molly McKinley had expected much from the Beemer Lane address in Queen Anne. They had followed the clue of an aging bookplate, glued to the free endpaper in a first edition copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, and now stood before a forgotten warehouse, staring dubiously at a weathered wood sign hanging from a decorative iron bracket by chains:

GERARD’S RARE BOOKS

721 Beemer Lane

“I’ve never heard of this place.”

Her twin, Magnus, snorted in response.

“Seriously, Magnus, we’ve been collecting books most of our lives. How is it we’ve never heard of this place?”

“I don’t know. I saw the bookplate and thought we should check it out. Maybe Mom and Dad knew about it but just never brought us here.”

It was Molly’s turn to snort. “If they never brought us here, that should tell you something.”

“Are we going in or not? The wind’s going right through me.” He turned up the collar of his wool pea coat as a gust of March wind hit them from behind, laced with tiny darts of icy raindrops.

The wind curled around the shop sign, making it sway and the chains creak. Molly stepped onto the first crumbling concrete step and jumped as the shop door burst open and a tall, thin man barreled out, glancing furtively around. He glowered when he saw them and stuffed his brown paper-wrapped package into the depths of his overcoat and hurried away.

“That’s a good sign.” Magnus sounded relieved.

“How do you figure?”

“Only a true bibliophile would be so annoyed that his favorite shop was discovered by others. That”—he motioned to the man—“was a true bibliophile.”

Molly watched the man with narrowed eyes as he strode across the parking lot and around the corner, hunched against the wind. Odd. He hadn’t seemed annoyed as much as he had seemed afraid to be seen.

Magnus took the steps in three strides and opened the door, waiting with a grin for his sister to precede him. Another odd character, Magnus was, and entirely unreadable despite the fact that he was her twin. As he was prone to black, depressive moods and unfathomable melancholy, his good cheer today made her swallow her suspicions about the shop. The door closed behind them without even the benefit of a tinkling bell to alert the shopkeeper of their presence. The sales desk to their left was vacant. A large brass hand bell sat beside an antique iron register, waiting to summon help should they need any.

Magnus motioned to the desk and said in a hushed voice, “Is it just me, or are you curious about all the books on shelves behind the counter?”

There were many, wrapped in brown paper, waiting for their new owners to claim them.

“Not really. If I saw what they are, I’d probably want them, and that would just be pointless, since it appears they’re already sold. Come on, let’s have a look at what’s not sold.”

Unlike its dilapidated exterior, the interior of Gerard’s Rare Books was cozy and immaculate. Thick carpet patterned in rich brown-and-gold tones cushioned their footfalls. The gold hue carried to the wall, making the rows of walnut stacks stand out. As if they needed anything to highlight them other than the selection of books crammed cheek by jowl upon each shelf. And what a selection: Coptic bound, long-stitch bound, limp vellum bound. Even, unless her eyes deceived her, a secret Belgian binding.

“Molly!” Magnus elbowed her in case his whisper didn’t carry to her. “I think those books over there are bound with skin. Do you think it’s human?”

She leveled her best now let’s not over-react look at him. “I doubt it. Usually only witches’ grimoires that are bound in human skin. I don’t think you’ll be finding grimoires in a respectable shop like this.”

“Oh, so now it’s a respectable shop?” He gave the shelf a wide berth as they ventured further inside.

The warehouse had no exterior windows to let in damaging light. Instead, handsome copper piercework shaped like Gothic lancet windows hung at even intervals. In between each, in an effort to ward of claustrophobia, arched insets in the wall were painted with incredibly detailed scenes: pastoral landscapes, mountain views, castles in the clouds. Can lights in the ceiling lit the space between the metal stacks, coming on automatically as they entered a row. Wall sconces over each of the painting arches lit the main aisle so that they could see the tastefully engraved signs that labeled each section. Each stack was capped with a small table to leave discarded selections.

“Where do we even start?”

Magnus didn’t reply. Molly looked up to find him halfway down the main aisle. He paused at a stack, read its label, and disappeared into the row.

Not as picky about the topics of her collectibles, Molly stepped into a row. The natural oils from her fingers could damage delicate, precious bindings, so she let her eyes peruse the volumes as she pulled on a pair of white cloth gloves. Here and there she spied a familiar title, which relieved her – she hadn’t recognized many so far. If a title was too obscure, she would have no idea what a fair price would be without intensive research.

She read titles, waiting for one to pique her interest. None had when Magnus appeared at her side and tugged on her arm.

“Molly, come look at this.”

“In a minute. I’m still looking.”

He scanned the titles in front of her. “I don’t recognize any of these. Come on – you have to see these. You won’t believe it.”

He looked so earnest and excited, and because it was finally a happy day for him after weeks filled with dark despondency, she followed him out of her row and down the aisle to where he’d amassed a generous stack of books on the discard table.

“You shouldn’t have taken so many off the shelves.” The seven slim volumes appeared to be a series. Six were bound in gold-embossed emerald green leather; the seventh in rich red.

He cast a covert look around the shop and gestured at a selection of slim, similarly bound volumes. “These are the only ones I’ve been able to take off the shelves, period.”

At the skeptical purse of her lips, he reached past her shoulder and hooked a sturdy spine with his finger, tugging gently. The book didn’t move. Molly tried the one next to it, and the next one. Neither of those budged. Finally, she laid her hands on the tops of several and tugged. None even wiggled. Were they glued? But what rare book expert would treat such valuable artifacts so shabbily?

She stared at the books, fear coiling through her, mingling with anxiety as she looked at the books he’d been able to remove. “What are those about? Who wrote them?”

“Apparently – no one. See for yourself.

Molly lifted the cover of the topmost book. No end paper, no frontispiece, no title page. Gold leaf embossed the covers in decoration, but no words identified title, author, or publisher. She fanned the pages, stopping at a random one, but the words inside made no sense to her.

“Turn to the back,” he whispered, fearful as well as excited.

Obediently, Molly turned the book over and opened the back cover. Her breath caught in her throat as she brushed her finger over her name, printed in the back in a perfect Garamond-style font. She raised her gaze to meet her twin’s. His eyes were huge in a face that suddenly looked ill.

“Open the others.”

By the last volume, she practically ripped open the covers, unmindful of causing damage. Why was her name in all of these, printed on the glued half of the back endpaper? Savagely, she yanked open the back cover of the red book. MAGNUS MCKINLEY.

“Why are six mine and only one yours?’

“I don’t know. Why are our names in any of them?”

She laid the red book down on top of the green volume, resting her gloved hand on them. Her mind whirled. Simple curiosity dictated they should take them home. Not only should they take them home, they should go through every row in this shop to see if there were other volumes with their names in them. It wouldn’t take long, not if none of the other book would even come off the shelves.

Her decision made, she said, “I think we should buy them and go,” just as Magnus said, “I think we should leave them and get the hell out of here.”

They stared at each other, and then at the stack of books upon which Molly’s hand still rested. The other books on the small table, discarded by previous patrons, seemed to lay as a warning: Someone was able to remove us as well, but they left without claiming us. Do the same. Leave your books and don’t look back. Some journeys are not worth the price of travel.

Molly scooped the books from the table and marched to the sales counter. Magnus trailed behind her, his whispered protests all but inaudible for all the attention she gave them. She more than desired these books; she needed them. Needed them more than air to breathe or water to drink, more than food or shelter or safety.

The shopkeeper stood at the sales counter, an older man with a face one forgot the moment one looked away. He wrapped the books without speaking – the six green volumes together and the red one separate. He named a price and Molly said, “That’s fair,” even though she couldn’t remember what he said.

Magnus hovered at her elbow, tugging at her arm, trying to pull her away from the books, until the shopkeeper said in a quiet, stern voice, “You chose this, Magnus.” Magnus fell still and quiet beside her.

The books delivered to them – six to Molly and one to Magnus - Molly tucked her purchase into her purse and looked up, surprised to find they had left the shop and were standing in the drizzling Seattle rain. Had she paid for the books? Had she even thanked the shopkeeper? The memories wouldn’t come.

Magnus tucked his paper-wrapped book under his arm and looked as though he were going to be sick. “Can we go home now, Molly?”

One glance at his face and her mental fog dissipated. His skin was cold and clammy under her hand. She stared at her bare fingers for a moment. Where had her white gloves gone? And then Magnus shuddered. She tucked his free arm through hers and led him away to the car.

She convinced Magnus to take a bath to help him relax and sent their housekeeper Annis up with a cup of peppermint tea to settle his stomach. While he was engaged, she took her books to her armchair by the fire, unwrapped them, and stood them on the accent table beside her chair. In the bright lamplight, she could now make out the gold-embossed numbers on the spines of each book. A serialized novel, perhaps. But when she flipped through the pages, the words seemed to swim in her mind, sentences fragmenting, clauses scattering, letters and punctuation a whirling chaos of curling marks on the page.

She closed the cover and laid the books down. The strange compulsion to own the books had faded to a pulse of distant desire. Now she was able to speculate on the books’ origin. Perhaps they were gifts that their parents had commissioned before their deaths, and when no one came to claim them, they were given away or sold. The elder McKinleys had been notable collectors, and as each came from a family of wealth, they’d had the resources at their disposal to not only procure an extensive collection of rare books, but to have special editions custom made as gifts.

Their parents were more than a year in their graves now, taken in an automobile crash that had almost claimed Molly as well. Sometimes she wondered if her worry for Magnus’s well-being had singlehandedly brought her back from the brink of death. Her injuries had been extensive and dangerous, and her recovery had taken months, although she couldn’t remember the worst of it, as she’d been burning with fever caused by severe sepsis. Taking care of Magnus was her most important task now. Keeping his daily routines free of stress and strife kept him on a cheerful, even keel and drove back the ever present depression he suffered. What she had suffered for a brief period of time didn’t seem significant compared to her twin’s lifelong mental illness.

Magnus came down a while later, clad in casual clothes and looking better. Really, peppermint tea worked wonders, although he always threw a fit about drinking it. He sat on the sofa adjacent to her chair and set his still-wrapped book on the coffee table in front of him, staring at his hands, which dangled between his knees.

“I think we should return the books to the shop.”

The distant drumbeat of desire pulsed into flaring need. Molly lay a protective hand over her stack of books. “I really want to keep mine.”

“Why? Is the story that good?”

“I don’t know. When I open them, I can’t seem to read them. I must be tired; a good rest will set things right. I can never read when I’m overly tired; the words just never make sense.”

“I have a bad feeling, Molly. They feel like a trap. They make me sick. I don’t want to have them here.”

She scrutinized him closely. His restored health had been a trick of the dim light. Here in the lamplight, aided by the glow of the gas fire behind her, his face was wan and drawn.

“All right,” she agreed quietly. A disquieting anxiety gnawed at her stomach.

He smiled in relief. “Thanks, Molly.” Glowering at his book, he snatched it from the table. “I wonder what it’s even about.”

“Do you think maybe Mom and Dad had custom gifts made for us and when they never came to claim them, they ended up in that bookshop?”

“I suppose. Although, you’d think something this expensive in terms of time, craft, and materials, would be paid for in advance. Whoever made them would have shipped them to us after they…after they died.”

He still had a hard time with it, Magnus did, dealing with their parents’ deaths. Aware of the burden his illness solely dropped upon his sister’s shoulders, he struggled with guilt and shame.

“They are handsome books,” Molly agreed. “Here, let me see yours.”

He handed it over. Molly carefully removed the paper wrapping and turned it over in her hands, examining the cover. Fine leather, dyed blood red. Gold embossing, but no numbers on his. Like hers, there was no title or author’s name, either. The front and back endpapers were plain but fine paper. Perhaps twenty pages made up his book. She paged through, looking for words.

“It’s blank.”

“What?” He uncoiled from the sofa and moved behind her chair, leaning over her shoulder to see.

As though on cue, Molly’s heartbeat sped up and her breath quickened. Her yearning for a normal twin relationship always made her nervous and uncertain around her untouchable brother. So closed off, so tormented. She longed to smooth the worry from his face, to reach inside him and soothe the anxiety in his soul.

“Well, that’s that,” he said after she had shown him several blank pages. “I’ll just stick it on the bookshelf and if you run out of things to write in, you can use it.” He sounded relieved. He crossed the room and stopped abruptly.

“There should be room on one of the higher shelves.”

He turned back toward her, the relief replaced with dread, the book held open. “There are words on this page.” His fingers shook as he leafed through the rest of the book. “Only on this page. But…they make no sense, Molly.”

“The sentences aren’t coherent?”

“There’s just one, and it’s coherent. It just makes no sense.” He came back to his sofa, perching on the edge of the cushion, the book bent open so wide the spine had to be cracking. Molly winced mentally, keeping the scowl off her face with superhuman effort. It seemed like she was always censuring Magnus for one thing or another, and if you listened to him tell it, it was more than just “seemed.” Haranguing, he called it, or, when he was in a particularly dark mood, “always believing the worst of me.”

“Are you going to read it, or are you going to leave me burning with curiosity?”

His hand smoothed over the open pages – leaving behind damaging oils, no doubt. But she bit back a reminder which, depending on Magnus’s mood, could be considered a censure, and tried not to envision a slick of body oil soaking into the paper as he sat, lost in thought, the weight of his hand bending the spine further.

“I get weary of being so difficult.”

“Oh, Magnus.” Her heart wrenched. “You’re not always difficult.”

“I am.” He looked up from the book, pinning her with tortured eyes. “Even when it’s a good day, I am difficult in here.” He touched his forehead. “I’m weary of having thoughts in my head that I don’t know where they came from or why. Sometimes, Molly, I am just plain weary, period.”

Oh, to be able to run to him and fling her arms around him and comfort him. But Magnus didn’t like to be touched unless he initiated it, and the impenetrable wall between them, present since birth, did not allow for that kind of intimacy. All things considered, she’d been shafted where twinhood was concerned.

As though having read her mind, he said, “You deserve a better twin.”

“I like you just fine.” She kept her voice brisk; he had no patience for mushy sentimentality. “You’re my brother; I love you, Magnus.”

A tiny smile curled his mouth – a sad, wasted smile that signaled an oncoming mental hurricane. That was okay; they’d weathered them before.

“Maybe you can make sense of this.” He held the book up to the lamplight to better see the words. “I do this of my own free will. Magnus McKinley.”

The book burst into flame.

∞2∞

Molly screamed, jumping up from her chair, as the flames appeared to engulf his hands. Then he dropped the burning book into a hammered copper dish on the coffee table, staring at his hands in disbelief.

“The flames weren’t hot.”

The pages burned fiercely for only seconds, until nothing remained but ash. A knot of anxiety clenched in her chest as a flare of fire claimed even the ash. Magnus’s face turned a greenish hue; oh Lord, he was going to vomit into the bowl. The last spark faded.

Molly stared at the bowl until Magnus sat back down. Then she gave herself a little shake, reclaimed her chair, and said, “What were we talking about?”

“Ah…” His forehead scrunched as he struggled to remember. “Oh, we were talking about the books you found in that shop, the ones with your names in them.”

Her confusion cleared. “Oh yes. I lost my train of thought for a moment. It’s really a shame we couldn’t find any with your name.”

He waved away her regret. “That’s more your kind of thing. I’m going to turn in; I’m not feeling very well.”

“I’ll send Annis up with some more tea.”

She raised her cheek for his goodnight kiss, but he only gave her a perfunctory hug with as minimal bodily contact as he could manage. Ah, Magnus. Affection warred with anxiety for dominance as she watched him hurry from the room. Now what had she been doing?

Oh yes – the books. She plucked from the top of the stack the volume with the gold “1” on the spine, opened the cover, and began to read.

Someone was watching me. I could feel eyes on me all the time – as I walked from the house to the car and back again, as I browsed through shops, as I ate lunch at the little café around the corner. I could never see him, I just always had this sensation of being observed. A secret admirer, perhaps too shy to approach. It gave me a warm feeling to know that someone watched over me, that someone cared. It was so lonely growing up in my house sometimes, with my father always gone and my mother always busy, and – well, there really was no one else, was there? So my secret watcher, he was like my friend, right? An unseen friend, holding danger and loneliness at bay. Who wouldn’t like feeling wanted and protected?

Molly set aside the book when the crash of breaking china sounded from the hallway above, following by shouting, stomping footsteps, and a slamming door. Annis huffed down the stairs, not pausing to clean up the contents of the tea tray Magnus had knocked from her hands.

“I don’t think I can take much more o’ this, Molly. He’s mad, he is.” Thirty years in America hadn’t erased her English accent.

“I’m so sorry. He didn’t hurt you?”

Annis’s scowl softened. “He’d never. But he’s bloody rude, if you don’t mind my saying so.”

“I don’t mind.”

“I thought he was seeing a psychiatrist.”

He was: every other week, as well as group therapy every Wednesday night. The word Asperger’s had been thrown around in more than one conversation before her parents’ deaths, but Magnus’s psychiatrist had dismissed their armchair diagnosis.

“Autism is not your brother’s issue,” he’d said as recently as last month. But before she could ask what the issue was, he’d been interrupted with a phone call. She reminded herself before every appointment to ask again but always seemed to forget once she was there.

“Ah, well.” Annis softened even further, despite the hard tread of agitated feet pacing back and forth above them that made the floorboards creak. “Perhaps the solar storm affected him in a different way than most other people, poor lad.”

Annis’s generous disposition could not hide the fact that Magnus had been difficult all his life, long before the solar superstorm that had fuzzed a year from the memories of the entire population on earth. The car accident that killed Molly and Magnus’s parents was thought to be the result of the coronal mass ejection that hit the planet just as they were taking Molly back to university. Hard to keep a car on the road when your brain was short-circuiting.

Molly remembered nothing of the accident; nothing, in fact of the several months preceding and following it. Just suddenly she had awakened one day and was shocked to find that her parents were buried in the local graveyard and her body bore the healing scars from the accident that had taken their lives.

“I wish it were just the solar storm that caused him to be like this. It would be much easier to blame a freak natural occurrence than it is to accept whatever is really wrong with him.”

“Ah, but mental illness could be considered a freak natural occurrence as well, couldn’t it?”

“I suppose it could.”

Annis hustled off to the kitchen. Molly didn’t stop her, although the confession hovered on her tongue as it so often did: The solar storm had caused no end of havoc – death, insanity, and memory loss – but Magnus had actually improved since the event, as though the inability to clearly remember that year of his life had laid to rest some of his inner demons.

His footsteps ceased. The floorboards fell silent. When they didn’t start up again, Molly opened the book again.

I’m naïve. I know I am. I grew up too sheltered, in a neighborhood of tasteful brick mansions a respectable distance from each other, manicured lawns and immaculate gardens. Not too ostentatious, but enough to impress and inspire envy. I had it all, right? Yeah, sure. I had everything – except friends who liked me for who I am. I had yet to have a suitor – are they still called suitors? I find it a very old-fashioned word, but my parents use it. It suits the purpose, I guess, so I’ll use it. I had yet to have a suitor who didn’t show up in a suit and tie, shoes polished to an obscene shine, and who didn’t arrive half an hour early so he had a chance to schmooze the boss.

Oh that lifestyle was familiar. Her own parents each came to their marriage with a level of affluence that, while not overly impressive by itself, when combined vaulted them into the realm of the moderately wealthy. She herself lived in one of those brick houses, although it wasn’t precisely what she would call a mansion. The fake friends were familiar, however, as were the young businessmen she’d dated who arrived in suits, reeking of ambition and Tom Ford Oud Wood that must have set them back a few hundred bucks and which, she was certain, was not meant for the sole purpose of tantalizing her nose.

So I didn't mind the wildflowers left on my car windshield – wildflowers for a rich girl. Who but someone with a lot of nerve would ever even think of it? So my secret admirer didn’t care about impressing. He cared about what I liked. It was no hard task if he were watching me to discover I preferred the wild, untamed beauty of the cottage garden at my tiny little house to the prissy cultivars in the formal beds of the family abode.

Alarm bells rang in her head. Secret admirer, this unnamed narrator called him. Molly had another word for someone who followed you around, observing you from around corners and behind shrubs, never seen, never acknowledging, but always there: stalker.

I watched for him. I watched diligently, but I never saw him. He was good at staying hidden. I suspected he was from a lower-class neighborhood and therefore didn’t want to be seen in mine for fear of being removed. And I was flattered enough to keep my mouth shut. Why ruin a good thing? He was the only man who showed up with a daisy rather than an expensive bouquet. He knew me. He had taken the time to get to know what I liked.

And soon it wasn’t just daisies he left on my car. Or on the doorstep. Or in places he knew I would be at certain times. Pretty rocks from the sea, polished like glass – did he somehow know I had a huge glass jar filled with sea glass? Whole sand dollars, dried and cleaned. A turtle made from large glass balls. A Skinny Cinnamon Dolce latte from Starbucks.

This attention to my favorite things made me reckless. I placed myself in locations and situations where he could easily come meet me face to face, where we could have that Skinny Cinnamon Dolce latte face-to-face, where I could assure myself he wasn’t doused in cologne he couldn’t afford and that his only ambition was to spend time getting to know me.

He didn’t show his face, although I could feel him watching me. I had made myself available, but he declined to join me. Was he disfigured, then? Or simply unattractive and embarrassed that he was courting me? Did he think my parents would disapprove? Does anyone really even care about parental approval these days anyway? The worst that would happen if I became involved with someone they didn’t like is I might be written out of the will. The money, a modest inheritance, I didn't care about. Their love, I would always have. The , though – I could never leave them, and they would be the price I’d pay for a new start.

Molly made a face. Love? That wasn’t love; that was the Stockholm Syndrome, or something very near it. And what did her dimwitted narrator regret leaving behind? The word was blurred so much it had nearly been obliterated from the page. She held the book closer to the light and took a magnifying glass from the drawer of the accent table. The fibers of the paper were unbroken, and the ink showed no sign of smudging.

I resolved to meet my suitor, regardless of his shyness. I watched from my windows, but he was too wary to be caught that way. He must have seen me, for the flowers and coffees and presents stopped for a while. I hid in my garden in the early morning, hoping to catch sight of him, only to wind up late for work after finding a clutch of sea glass on my back door mat on the opposite side of the house. Once I even slept in my car, thinking I’d wake up if someone approached it. I woke when the sun was high – late for work again – to find the windshield covered in asters and daisies and petals from the spent peony blooms in my garden. I’d missed him again. He knew my routines, how to avoid me. He probably even watched me set up my traps. I wonder if it amused him, or if he was delighted I was playing back. I looked forward to this strange repartee, looked forward to it like I’d never anticipated anything before. I began leaving gifts for him, things I thought he might like even though I knew nothing about him. And after a while, he began accepting them.

Molly read the last sentence twice, blinked in disbelief, and closed the book. She now knew its title and author, even if they weren’t printed in the books: How I Seduced My Creepy Stalker, penned by Idiot Woman.

The night passed without Magnus’s expected emotional hurricane. Since he seemed so pleased that his black mood hadn’t spilled out over the house, Molly took him to breakfast. Afterward, he begged off a ride home.

“I’m going to bum around some antique shops and maybe get a coffee or something. I’ll take the transit home.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Magnus. The nearest transit stop is half a mile from the house. Go do your thing and text me when you’re ready to go home. I’ll browse some bookshops or something. I need to read the CliffNotes for that atrocious book Genevieve selected for the book club; I can’t make my way past the third chapter and we’re meeting tomorrow night.”

“Just tell her it’s an awful book, and you didn’t waste your time with it.”

“Sure, if I want to hear about it for the rest of my life.”

“Quit the book club, then. You don’t like any of them. Except Lydia.”

“Lynda,” she corrected, “and I do like them. Why would you think I don’t?”

“Because you don’t. I can tell.”

Molly digested this silently. Infrequently, her self-absorbed brother noticed things that Molly herself never saw – or refused to acknowledge. It was true she didn’t like most of the other ladies in her book club, although at one time she must have seen something appealing in them. Lynda and Joyce were the only ones with true personality; the others were simply tired clichés of upper-class girls, carbon-copies of each other, punched from stiff and boring cardboard.

“Text me when you’re ready.”

He smiled sourly. “Stop coddling, Molly.”

She stuck her tongue out; she hated the word “mollycoddling,” which was why Magnus frequently needled her with it.

“Fine. Make your own way home. But if you miss the last bus and have to walk home in the rain, don’t blame me.”

With not so as much as a peck on her cheek, he veered away from the car and headed down a side street toward one of his favorite antique shops. He wasn’t an invalid, but letting him go off on his own unsupervised took monumental effort. Even now, the compulsion was strong to follow him, make sure no trouble found him, make sure he caused no catastrophes. Once, when they were teenagers, their parents had let him go downtown to the theater alone, only to be summoned to the police station when he’d been detained for causing a disturbance. Overwhelmed by some emotion triggered by the film, he’d tucked himself under the theater seat and screamed until the film had to be stopped and the authorities summoned.

He’s a man now, Molly. You’ve got to let him go. If he gets picked up by the police for freaking out, that’s the price he’ll have to pay.

She peered in the direction he’d gone, but he’d disappeared from sight already. Although she watched, hand over her eyes to keep out the drizzling rain, he did not reappear. After a few minutes, her flesh prickled. The sensation of eyes crawling over her skin made her glance surreptitiously around. The city moved around her, not caring that Molly McKinley had a class-A case of the creeps, and likewise not giving up her unseen observer.

A troubled frown creasing her brow, Molly got in her car, started the engine, and pulled out of her parking spot, ignoring the angry horn of the person she’d cut off. The sensation of eyes faded, and she berated herself as she aimed the car toward home.

“Idiot. If you can’t read a simple story without it affecting your real life, you shouldn’t be reading anything at all. Now go get those CliffNotes, or go home and read that loathsome book.”

So she drove to Beemer Lane in Queen Anne and parked in front of the warehouse, which looked even more dilapidated than it had yesterday. The wind picked up a considerable pace during the night and must have blown the sign from its moorings, for the iron bracket was empty. No CliffNotes would be found here, but maybe she could get some answers about the books she’d bought.

Molly belted her coat more securely and crossed her arms over her chest to keep her scarf pinned as she dashed through the rain puddles collecting in the ruts decades of cars had carved into the blacktop. Her feet tried to shrink away from the icy water that seeped in through the zipper and soaked the foam insole. She squelched up the steps, grasped the knob, and mentally prepared herself for the strange experience that was Gerard’s Rare Books.

She stopped short in the doorway, wind pelting rain against the backs of her legs. The bookshop hummed with conversation as people shopped tasteful walnut-veneered shelves of popular paperback novels, new hardback releases, and a section of tattered, used books offered at discount prices.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Independent author, writer of relationships, monsters, and demons. Amateur connoisseur of dark beer and scotch. Cat-herder and would-be squirrel-tamer. Sharon lives on the dry side of Washington State with her family, three cats, and a city full of squirrels to be conquered.

Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
The whole premise was rather horrifying to me, but the last chapters with the big reveal were brutal to write.
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
Embrace your past. Accept the things that have happened to you. Your life experiences build your character. Don't trade them for oblivion, don't pretend a different reality, or you deny yourself growth and good mental health.
Q. Why do you write?
A.
All my life, there have been so many ideas and people bouncing around inside my head that it became apparent I was either insane or a writer. Since the choice seemed to be mine, I chose writer.

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Between Love and Fear
Will protecting her save him from himself?
One More Moon
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Christopher Marlowe In The...
Teenage lovers find historic diary in attic.