"I loved this book when I was your age." Callie turned over a worn copy of Go, Dog. Go! and ran the bar code under the computer's scanner. "It's due back in two weeks, on Friday, August fifteenth." She smiled at six-year-old Tiffany as she handed her the slim volume.
"Thanths, Callie," Tiffany lisped. One of her front teeth was missing.
Callie watched the girl's braids bounce as she skipped out the front door of the Henry Dorsey-Smythe Memorial Library. That was me twenty years ago. She sighed. Her love of books had probably ruined her eyes-just as Grandma had warned her-and now she wore thick glasses. But she still read every chance she could get.
Pulling the tail of her green Dorsey-Smythe polo shirt over her jeans, Callie perched on the tall stool behind the checkout counter. The library was housed in an old Victorian mansion, and the wooden front door had a beveled oval window that Callie loved. She often gazed through it at the main street of Ft. Lob, Wyoming.
The door closed behind Tiffany and opened a moment later as Agatha Collingsworth stepped inside. Agatha was tall, and her pink-tinted beehive hairdo barely cleared the horizontal beam of the doorframe. She wore her usual outfit-stonewashed jeans, which puffed out at her thighs, and an oversized T-shirt. Don't Mess with Texas was emblazoned across her ample bosom.
"Howdy, Callie!" Agatha's husky voice resounded against the high ceiling as she approached the checkout counter. "How ya'll doing, sugar? I'm here to collect my book."
"Okay, Aggie." Callie turned to the shelf of reserved books behind her. "Your order came in yesterday."
"Yeah, Lucille called last night after I got home from The Beauty Spot and told me to pick up that booger as soon as possible. She don't like folks leaving their books."
"Here it is." Callie pulled it off the shelf and glanced at the title-Fixing Big Hair the Texas Way. The model on the cover, who had hair bigger than Aggie's, must have posed for that picture in the mid-1960s. "Looks like your kind of book."
"Oh, I was so excited when I noticed this book in an old catalog." Aggie's gold bangle bracelets clinked as she handed Callie her library card. "Folks around here have such flat hair, and I never could get anyone interested in real style. When I saw this little gem, I had Lucille call the Casper library right away. Wouldn't you know it? They had a copy in their old books section."
Callie ran the bar code under the scanner. Not many people could get away with calling the head librarian Lucille. A person had to be at least sixty. "I'm glad Miss Penwell found it for you."
"Lucille can find anything." Aggie took her book. "I have to hustle back to The Beauty Spot. I left your sister minding the store all by her lonesome, and we usually have a crowd on Friday afternoons."
Callie tried to keep a straight face. "I bet you'll have two or three customers wanting their hair done for the weekend."
Aggie's dark eyes danced as she let out a throaty chuckle. "Oh, Callie! Sometimes we have eight! And that's almost more than Tonya and I can handle in one afternoon." She strode back outside, her big hair safely clearing the doorway.
Smiling, Callie placed her chin in her hand. She loved working at the library. When she was a little girl, she pretended this mansion was her home. Mildred Dorsey-Smythe, the maiden daughter of Henry, had willed the house to the town of Ft. Lob for the specific purpose of providing a library for the residents. The front entrance alcove made a perfect place for the tall wooden counter that served as a checkout desk. It was tucked next to the sweeping staircase that accessed the reference rooms upstairs.
But Mildred had died almost fifty years ago, and now the house was over a hundred. The wooden stairs, scuffed by generations of children, competed with the old chipped banisters, which had been repainted a dozen times.
Grabbing the cart laden with books to be reshelved, Callie wheeled it past the staircase into the main room of the library. She glanced up at the ceiling molding that ran around the perimeter of the room. A chunk had fallen out last week. Even though Chance Bixby, the janitor, cleaned it up, he had not fixed the hole yet. If only the town council would spend some money on this place, they could restore the mansion to its former glory.
Passing several rows of bookshelves, she counted seven patrons. Miss Penwell's voice played through Callie's mind. You should know how many people are in the library at all times.
Mrs. Anderson looked up from her reading. "Hello, Callie, dear."
Callie smiled and waved at the older woman, then moved her cart to the gigantic fireplace. The white limestone hearth was blackened with soot when the fireplace had been used years ago, but now skeletal radiators heated the room in the winter. Those radiators sometimes clicked and hissed alarmingly, making more noise in the library than a group of excited schoolchildren.
Callie selected a book from the cart called Cowboys of the Old West and displayed it on the wide mantle. She just finished it last night. Such a great read. No wonder the author, Herbert Dreyfuss, was so famous. Of course, having a weekly syndicated newspaper column that was read all over the nation helped his fame, too.
She glanced at the other volumes on display. Two history books and three fiction, all published years ago. She sighed. If only she could fulfill her dream of owning her own bookstore, she could have new books all the time. And I would read every single one of them.
Behind the main room, the former dining area had been remodeled as a children's book nook. Callie wheeled her cart through the wide archway. She greeted a young mother with two children who were seated at one of the small tables.
After reshelving a dozen books in the children's section, Callie pushed the empty cart back to the front of the library. On the other side of the mansion through doublewide French doors, she glanced into the conservatory. It ran the width of the house with tall windows and plants-a comfy place with sofas where people liked to sit and read.
A loud guffaw drew her attention.
She frowned. Bruce MacKinnon and Vern Snyder were making way too much noise. You must keep the patrons quiet so others are not disturbed. Miss Penwell's voice again.
Callie walked into the conservatory, folded her arms, and stared at the two old men. They didn't notice her scowl. It was probably because her glasses, which her sister called "coke bottle bottoms," made her eyes look big and round. Tonya said Callie looked like she was always about to say, "Huh?"
She did not appreciate her sister's opinion.
Bruce held an open newspaper and pointed to the article he was reading. "Listen to what Herbert Dreyfuss says." His r's rolled slightly. "Wyoming is the best place in the United States to raise kids."
"Now ain't that a hoot?" Vern had a thin, high voice, but it was loud-probably because he seldom wore his hearing aid. "That Dreyfuss is a smart one."
"Aye, that he is."
"He's so famous, and here he says Wyoming, our grand old state, is the best. Too bad his column's only in the paper once a week."
Bruce turned a page. "I enjoyed that article last Friday on the history of golf. Dreyfuss does good research. Made me feel like a boy again, before I left bonny Scotland."
Callie cleared her throat. "Excuse me, but you two need to keep your voices down." She motioned around the conservatory to the other library patrons-ten of them, some sitting on sofas and others studying at tables near the back of the room.
Vern looked at Bruce. "What'd she say?"
"Are you trying to tell us how to live, Callie Brandt?" Bruce spoke in a loud voice. "Why, I remember the day you were born, and here you are, reprimanding me about talking too loud in the library."
Vern laughed. "Shoot! I remember when her daddy was born."
Callie rolled her eyes. "If you want to talk, go upstairs to one of the conference rooms." Several of the bedrooms had been modified into study rooms with soft lighting, tables, and chairs.
"A conference room!" Vern patted the sofa. "But the chairs up there are hard. We want to be comfortable."
"That's the truth." Bruce shook the paper with a rattle. "All right, Callie, we'll be good."
Vern perused his paper. "You won't hear another peep from us."
Callie stood there a moment, but the two men didn't move. Bruce MacKinnon had always reminded her of Clark Gable. He had a commanding presence and was still a handsome man, even in his seventies. As president of the town council, folks looked up to him.
She walked to the checkout counter, remembering another pet saying from the head librarian. I would love this job if it weren't for the people!
Callie moved behind the counter and turned her back to look at the reserved books on the shelves. If some of these people didn't pick up their interlibrary loans, she would have to send them back to Casper.
Behind her, a patron placed books on the desk. "I'll be right with you," she said, shoving a reserved book back in place.
"Take your time."
Callie didn't recognize the bass voice. Must belong to that new guy in town. What was his name? It was an unusual name, nothing common like John or Tom. He had visited the library yesterday, and Miss Penwell informed her the man was an insurance salesman.
What is he doing in a little town like Ft. Lob? Young people didn't move in-they moved out. The shrinking population, now fewer than 500, was predominantly made up of older folks, many retired.
She turned around. "Hello. Thanks for waiting."
He smiled. "Sure."
My goodness, he's handsome! She adjusted her glasses. This was the first time she had seen him up close.
Callie pulled the stack of five books toward her. His library card lay on top, and she glanced at his name before she flashed it under the scanner. Lane Hutchins.
While she checked out Lane's books, Callie checked him out. He was tall-at least six feet-with brown hair and eyes and no glasses to cover his good looks. Nice hands-tanned and clean with trim nails, and no wedding ring.
No wedding ring! Her heart leaped at the implications. But as she slid another book under the scanner's laser, her shoulders drooped. Why should she get her hopes up? Her sister would probably snag him. Tonya just glanced at a man with her beautiful 20/20-vision eyes, batted her thick lashes a few times, and he would ask her out.
Callie pasted a smile on her face, determined to be friendly. "There you go, Mr. Hutchins." She pushed the books across the counter toward him.
"You're new in town. Didn't you just move here?"
"Uh, yes." He picked up the heavy volumes and stowed them under one arm. "About three days ago."
"I've lived here all my life, except the few years I was in college. The University of Wyoming, of course."
He nodded and moved toward the door.
Callie didn't want him to leave. "Do you have family here in Wyoming?"
He turned. "I grew up in Cheyenne. Have a good day."
"So, where are you staying right now?"
He pulled on the doorknob. "Down the street." The door shut behind him.
Callie frowned. Down the street could be anywhere in this small town. He must be renting an apartment at The Stables, Mrs. Wimple's place. Didn't she have an extra one available? Callie would ask her at church on Sunday.
She turned back to the reserved books. Evidently Lane Hutchins was the type who kept to himself. But time would tell why he was here. A person couldn't hide in a small town like Ft. Lob, Wyoming.
* * *
Lane blew out a breath. What a nosy girl. A warm, dry breeze lifted his hair as he walked the four blocks to The Stables. Why couldn't he move to a small town without people asking questions? He had lived in other small towns, and most people didn't pay any attention to him.
But Ft. Lob, Wyoming, was the smallest town he had lived in during the past five years. It was number sixteen in his venture to live in every state in the union. The thing that surprised him about this town was its fantastic library. What a find!
The rumble of a muffler sounded behind him, and he turned as a black 1972 Ford Mustang thundered by. The kid behind the wheel bopped to loud music. His car backfired twice as he hit the brakes at a stop sign, and when he took off, the Mustang protested with a screech of tires.
Lane shook his head. Had he ever craved that much attention when he was sixteen?
Arriving at his new place, Lane opened the door beside the garage and took the inside stairs two at a time to his second-floor apartment. Mrs. Wimple had informed him that her apartment building used to be a horse stable, built by James Thomas Lob himself in 1878. Now the stables on the first floor formed the garage for the residents' cars, and the rooms upstairs had been divided into apartments.
That's what I like-living history.
In the tiny kitchen, he set his books on the table and looked out the window. From here he could see Main Street, which dead-ended at the imposing Victorian mansion that housed the Dorsey-Smythe Library. The mansion was built on a small hill and towered over Ft. Lob. Between the library at one end and the post office at the other, Main Street was lined with shops, including a grocery, a Laundromat, a hardware store, a newspaper office, and three restaurants. The residential streets-with names like Elk, Bison, and Bighorn-spread out from Main.
And that was the extent of Ft. Lob, Wyoming.
A smile touched his lips as he thought back to the conversation he overheard in the library's conservatory. Those old men sure liked Herbert Dreyfuss. In fact, everywhere Lane stayed in America, people spoke highly of the author and his articles in the newspaper.
He took a seat at the table and opened one of the books. "People enjoy your writing, Uncle Herb. Especially the old people." He chuckled.
Then his mind drifted to the girl with the curly dark hair who had checked out his books. She certainly asked a lot of questions. But she had a pretty smile, and he liked the way her mouth moved when she talked. She might be attractive if she didn't wear those thick glasses that magnified her eyes.
One of the old men had called her Callie. Callie Brandt. Pretty name.
Lane sighed, thinking of the lonely life he led. It was nice to have someone take an interest in him for a change. Maybe he would spend more time at the library. . .
But no, he should avoid Callie Brandt and her questions. He planned to stay only three months in Ft. Lob gathering information, and then he would move on. Hopefully, no one would find out who he really was.