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Driven to Distraction
By Olivia Dade
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Olivia Dade
All rights reserved.
Trouble came in a variety of forms, as Constance well knew.
A sobbing phone call from her younger sister, Pru? Obvious trouble.
Diminishing tread on the Bookmobile's tires? Subtle trouble.
The grave illness of a homebound patron? Trouble that worried her.
An infuriatingly hot IT geek with an attitude problem? Trouble that pissed her off.
The one constant: Trouble came. Always.
And right now, it was — he was — lounging against the doorway connecting the library's large garage to the main building. As if she'd summoned him with her thoughts, like the devil or that Justin Bieber song she kept hearing on the damn radio.
When she bent down to inspect a new scratch in Bertha's paint, the familiar, taunting voice drifted to her ears. "Good morning, Ms. Chen. Kicked any sensitive pieces of library equipment so far today?"
She refused to react to that voice, no matter how provoking she found it. No matter how much she wanted to stand up, get right in Sam Wolcott's face, and yell at him. Then grab his fine ass and —
Shit. She didn't have time for another sparring match with him. And even if she did, close contact of any sort only strengthened the reaction he always evoked from her.
Constance peered beneath the Bookmobile. No puddles to indicate a leak. No branches stuck anywhere. And Big Bertha's back tires appeared fully inflated, as did her front tires.
Rising to her feet, Con continued the daily inspection. No new cracks, dents, or bends, not even on the side mirrors. The awning remained neatly furled against the vehicle. So as far as Bertha's exterior, a good wash and a new paint job would take care of the obvious problems. The more troubling signs of age would have to wait for a larger Bookmobile Department budget.
Con walked over to the laptop resting on a nearby concrete barrier and tapped out a note to Maintenance:
Bertha's looking rough from the salt and sand on the roads. Can you wash her today? And buff out and repaint a few scratches before she starts to rust?
Within seconds, she had a response:
No problem. After you bring her back this afternoon, we'll get on it.
Thanks, she wrote.
Only then did she turn to face Sam. "Did you want something?"
His expression inscrutable, he hooked his thumbs through the belt loops on his olive-green cargos and met her stare. "No. You do."
And after a closer look at Sam, she had to agree. She did want something. Him.
No use denying that he pushed all her buttons. He was a hair over six feet tall, strong and fit without any unnecessary bulk. He was leaning against the doorframe, at ease in his body in a way she'd rarely seen with other IT guys. The only telltale sign of his job was his pale skin. So pale she couldn't help but wonder whether it'd taste like cream if she licked it.
Since she'd last seen him, some of that skin had disappeared from view. He'd grown a beard. Reddish-brown, just a shade lighter than the overlong hair he kept sweeping back from his face, only to have it flop forward again every time he inclined his head. Sometimes that hair swung over his deep-set brown eyes and nearly reached his jutting blade of a nose.
The beard suited him, counterbalancing the boyishness of that floppy hair and adding a certain lumberjack-y flair to his usual uniform of cargo pants and superhero T-shirts. Especially with that faded denim shirt he'd thrown on over top of the tee and the loosely tied boots on his feet.
She chose not to address his statement directly. "You stick way too close to me, Wolcott. Like a tick covered in Velcro."
"Like a ..." He looked to the side, and she could have sworn his lips twitched for some reason. But by the time he turned back to her, all traces of amusement had vanished. "Never mind. I'm here because you filed a report about your equipment. We have an IT department meeting later this morning, and I wanted to get up to speed before then."
"I thought you said you weren't handling my complaints anymore."
She hit the button to raise the garage door, and it rattled upward. Climbing the steps into Bertha, she started the engine. The gauges all looked fine, including the fuel level. The air brakes got up to the right pressure quickly too. She should check the oil, but she could do that later. Right now, she had to finish the most pressing morning tasks before heading to her first stop of the day.
When she glanced down at Sam, who'd come to stand outside Bertha's door, she noticed that his face — so expressive and relaxed around everyone but her — had somehow grown even more unreadable.
He shifted his weight. "We don't have enough staff for me to shunt your complaints to someone else."
"Whatever." She needed to get moving. "Can you check to make sure all the lights are working?"
After a quick circle around the Bookmobile, he returned. "Everything looks good."
As soon as he obeyed, she put the steps up and pulled out of the garage. Once outside, she parked and pushed the button for the generator that supplied their electricity inside the vehicle. If it wasn't working, she and the other Bookmobile Bitches were pretty much screwed. On a cold day like today, they'd freeze. In the summer, they'd broil. Without the generator's boost of power, the onboard lights remained dim and drained the battery. And the pair of laptops the staff used to check in and out books, place holds, and do everything else would run out of juice within an hour or two.
The laptops should stay charged for at least an entire four-hour shift. Which was just one of the many reasons she'd filed yet another complaint with the IT department.
Sam was standing outside the door again, his fists braced on his hips as he shuddered a bit in the frigid wind. Reluctantly, she lowered the steps to let him inside, and he climbed on board immediately. The generator was working fine, and welcome heat had begun to flow through the vents. Too much heat, in fact, given Sam's proximity.
Too close. He was coming too close.
She leaned back in her seat, as far away from him as she could get. "I don't know why your department can't seem to find me laptop batteries that stay charged more than a couple hours. And why the hell does my Wi-Fi keep cutting out? I'm not driving around all day for the fun of it, Wolcott. I need access to our catalog and circulation functions. And if a patron has a quick reference question, I should be able to answer it."
He gritted his teeth. "We know about those problems. You've alerted us to them before. Many, many times."
"So why aren't they fixed?" She raised her brows. "I thought fixing technical issues was your job. Or was I mistaken?"
"We've tried. But we can't seem to pinpoint what's causing them."
"I'm getting tired of having to hand-write information and barcodes like I'm some sort of cavewoman librarian. And in some spots, we can never get service."
He shoved his hair back from his high forehead, and her eyes followed the movement. That hair ... It burned in the sun, turning almost copper. Even on a cloudy day like today, though, its warmth drew her.
Unfortunately, it matched another head of hair almost exactly. A reminder, precisely when she needed one.
He counterattacked, as he always did. "Maybe if you and your staff took better care of your damn equipment, it would function better."
"Maybe you should take my laptops and shove them where the sun doesn't shine. Like a cave or a well."
She had no idea why, but he veered from their usual script at that point. He didn't fire back an insult. Instead, his look of stern aggravation cracked, and he suddenly started laughing.
"You —" He snorted. "You have the worst grasp on figurative language of anyone I've ever met."
Her eyes narrowed. "What the fuck does that mean?"
"Nothing." For once, his eyes had turned warm when they looked at her. "You're simply very ... creative with your metaphors and similes."
The Bookmobile had become warm too. Stifling, really. She shrugged off her parka and pushed up the sleeves of her thick sweater.
Still way too fucking hot. Lifting her hair from her neck, she coiled it into a loose bun and shoved a couple of nearby pencils through the slippery mass to hold it in place. "Who gives a shit about metaphors?"
"Not you, clearly." He must have been getting overheated as well, because he unbuttoned his denim shirt. The thin material of the Iron Man tee beneath revealed way too much about the breadth of his chest and the flatness of his belly. "And I salute you for it. I'll make sure to include your suggestion for the laptops when I report back to the department."
Her eyes caught on the nimble way he handled each button. No fumbling. Just a sure touch, able to please —
Oh, fuck. No looking at his hands.
But when she met his stare, the close confines of the Bookmobile only became more suffocating. Because those brown eyes, so familiar in such an unwelcome way, had fastened on her with the sort of heat and desire she craved. The sort of heat and desire she was attempting to contain every time she saw him.
Then he blinked and spoke hurriedly. "We should be able to get you new laptops when we win the Department of the Year award."
Oh, good. He'd taken the initiative this time in dredging up a contentious subject. They'd never discussed it, but they both knew the drill. Sublimate, sublimate, sublimate.
If they were fighting, they weren't fucking. They weren't risking their connections with his sister or her best friend. They weren't making their already-contentious work relationship even more awkward.
But some days, she wondered whether their arguments would continue to do the trick for much longer.
"If you think the IT boys are going to snag the Department of the Year award, think again, Wolcott. The Bookmobile Bitches are taking it." She snapped her fingers. "Easy as taking a bottle from a baby."
He stepped closer, right into her space. Until she couldn't help but breathe in the scent of his body wash, or whatever the fuck he used that made him smell better than chicken wings, beer, and potato chips put together. She couldn't identify it, but she could identify him by it. No one else smelled like Sam Wolcott. No one else smelled so goddamn delicious.
And it pissed her off for so many reasons.
"I think you mean candy, Ms. Chen." His eyes heavy-lidded, he crossed his arms across his chest. "Easy as taking candy from a baby."
Her brow furrowed. "That's not how my mom always said it. And what kind of shitty parent would feed a baby candy? They could choke on it. That's not safe at all."
His lips quirked. "I don't know much about babies, but I imagine you're right."
"I'm the fourth of nine children. My child-rearing days may be over, but trust me. I'm right." She made the mistake of meeting his gaze again, and this time she didn't see anyone but him in those brown depths. If she tilted her head up just a smidge ...
"Nine?" He blinked down at her, and she had trouble reading his expression. Something combining interest and ... sadness? "I had no idea. What was that like? I always wanted lots of brothers and sisters."
"Well, all you get is one. Me. Sorry about that, Sam."
Penny's voice came from the bottom of the Bookmobile steps. Constance had never closed the door, which confused her for a moment. How had the interior gotten so warm with an opening to the frigid winter morning only feet away?
But when she turned her head to look at Penny, the haze of confusion cleared in an instant. Small and slim and shivering in the cold, Con's friend — one of her closest friends — had wrapped her arms around herself. Her short brown hair ruffled in the wind, the pixie cut only becoming more adorable as it grew disheveled.
Penny quickly bounded up the steps. "I didn't expect to find you here, Sam. But I'm glad, since I need to talk with both of you. I wasn't sure I'd have time to track you down before my meeting with Tina."
Constance looked from one to the other, taking in the family resemblance as she'd done so many times before. Pale skin: check. Gorgeous brown eyes: check. Wide smiles: check.
But other than that, Penny and Sam didn't look too similar. Maybe because of their different fathers. In fact, if Con hadn't known better, she'd have bet that Sam was related to her redheaded BFF, Helen, rather than Penny.
At the thought, all the warmth in the Bookmobile seemed to dissipate. Constance edged around her two visitors to close the door and shut out the chill, then settled back in the driver's seat.
Penny tugged on her brother's beard. "I like this. Makes you appear wise beyond your years. Maybe even professorial, if you wore a corduroy blazer with elbow patches."
It did make him look older, which Con most definitely did not appreciate. She needed more reminders of Sam's status as Penny's kid brother, not fewer.
"But with boots and a faded shirt, I believe Angie would use the term 'lumbersexual' when it comes to you," Penny added.
He tilted his head. "Is that a good thing?"
"Well, it's apparently a new and growing subsection of her erotica collection, so ..." Penny shrugged. "I guess so. The most recent addition was an anthology. Lusty Lumberjacks: Handling Wood for Your Pleasure, if I remember correctly."
So much for that brief chill. Constance squeezed her eyes shut, blindly shoving another pencil into her sliding bun to halt its descent.
Her belly clenched at Sam's low chuckle. And even without seeing him, she knew exactly where he stood in relation to her. She could somehow feel him, which sounded dumb and impossible, but what the hell could she say? It was true.
"Are you okay?"
Con had a feeling Penny's question was directed at her, so she reluctantly opened her eyes. Don't look his way, she ordered himself. And don't imagine him as a lusty lumberjack handling his wood. Just focus on Penny.
Her friend was frowning, and she reached out a slim hand to feel Con's forehead. "Does your head hurt? Are you feverish?"
"I'm fine." Con smiled at her, despite her aggravation at the entire situation. "Just thinking about my schedule today."
Sam's eyes pinned her to the driver's seat, assessing her much too closely. "You were thinking about your schedule. That's why you're all flushed?"
His voice dripped with skepticism, and she glared at him.
"I'm already running late because of your brother," Con said, turning back to Penny. "So I need to leave soon. What's up?"
Her friend, usually so calm and measured, actually started bouncing up and down. "We got the site!"
"Huh?" Con and Sam spoke in unison.
"For the wedding!" Apparently spying their blank expressions, Penny elaborated further. "Have both of you forgotten that I'm getting married in less than a week?"
"Of course not," Con said. "But I don't understand. I thought you were getting hitched at the courthouse."
Penny nodded. "Yes. Unless we somehow scored the only location that really appealed to us, even though it was fully booked for the next year."
This time, Sam closed his eyes. "Oh, Jesus. I know where this is going. Penny, I've told you before that while I fully support cosplay, I don't need a reminder of what you and your fiancé do in the privacy of your —"
"Thornfield Hall!" Penny shouted, in an explosion of joy Con had never witnessed from her before. "They had a last-minute cancellation, and we got Thornfield Hall!"
Con grinned at Sam, relishing his discomfort. "Ah, Thornfield Hall. The stone manse built by our Nice County founders after their travels in Europe. What possible objection could you have to such an illustrious structure, Wolcott?"
His lips pulled into a sullen line, and his cheeks turned pink. "You know what."
"Who cares if your sister and her fiancé like to role-play in bed a little? Penny makes a fetching Jane Eyre, don't you agree?"
His eyes seemed to close even tighter, and if Con wasn't mistaken, he was humming to himself.
Penny shook her head at Con. "Stop tormenting him. And Sam, the mere mention of Thornfield Hall shouldn't embarrass you. It's not as if Jack and I are going to strip down and consummate our marriage in the middle of the mansion's library."
"You're my sister," he muttered. "It's gotten to the point where I don't want to hear about Jane Eyre ever again. It's creepy and gross."
Excerpted from Driven to Distraction by Olivia Dade. Copyright © 2017 Olivia Dade. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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