Home > Open Season(9)

Open Season(9)
Author: Linda Howard

“Anyone here?” a deep voice boomed, before she could step out of her small office behind the checkout desk.

Daisy took two hurried steps into view, a little outraged that anyone would shout in a library, even if there weren’t any other patrons present at the moment. Seeing who the newcomer was, she checked briefly, then said briskly, “Yes, of course. There’s no need to yell.”

Chief of Police Jack Russo stood on the other side of the scarred, wooden checkout desk, looking impatient. Daisy knew him by sight, but had never spoken to him before, and she wished she wasn’t doing so now. Frankly, she didn’t think much of Mayor Nolan’s choice for chief. Something about him made her uneasy, but she didn’t know exactly what. Why couldn’t the mayor have chosen someone local, someone already on the force? Chief Russo was an outsider, and from what she’d seen in town meetings, he wasn’t averse to throwing his weight around. It was easy to dislike a bully.

“I wouldn’t have yelled if anyone had been in sight,” he said tersely.

“The door wouldn’t have been unlocked unless someone was here,” she replied just as tersely.

Stalemate.

Physically, Chief Russo was a good-looking man, if one liked jocks with thick necks and broad, sloping shoulders. She wasn’t silly enough to automatically assume anyone athletic was also stupid; still, Daisy had never cared for the type. There had to be something basically narcissistic about a man who worked out enough to maintain that sort of muscularity, didn’t there? She didn’t know how old he was; his face was unlined except for a few squint lines around his eyes, but his short-cut hair, while still mostly dark on top, was gray everywhere else. At any rate, he was too old to be devoting hours to lifting weights. Nor did she care for the cocky arrogance in his eyes, or the way his full lips always seemed to be on the verge of sneering. Who did he think he was, Elvis? Moreover, he was a Yankee—he had been a cop in either Chicago or New York, she had heard both—with a brusque, abrasive manner. If he’d had to run for office, as the county sheriff did, he would never have been elected.

Daisy stifled a sigh. She was in the minority in her opinion of the chief. Mayor Nolan liked him, the city council liked him, and from what she heard around town, most of the single women thought he was the cat’s pajamas. So maybe she was wrong in her instinctive dislike of him. Maybe. She reminded herself it was only neighborly to keep an open mind, but she was still glad she had the checkout desk between them.

“May I help you?” she asked in her best librarian’s voice, both brisk and friendly. Working with the public was a science, especially in a library. One had to encourage people, because of course you wanted them to read, but at the same time you had to impart a sense of respect for the library and other patrons.

“Yeah. I want to sign up for the virtual library.”

He couldn’t have said anything more likely to bring a beaming smile to her face. His stock automatically went up a few points. She was justifiably proud of the state’s virtual library; Alabama led the nation in that category. Any citizen of the state could register at any library and have on-line home access to thousands of newspapers, magazines, articles, encyclopedias, research material, medical journals, and the like. Some of the categories were targeted to specific age groups of children, for work in the classroom and for help with their home-work, or as general interest. Other states had virtual libraries, but Alabama’s was by far the most extensive.

“You’ll love it,” she said enthusiastically, lifting the hinged countertop that allowed her to step out from behind the security of the checkout desk. “Come with me.”

She led him to the reference section, where their on-line computer sat quietly humming, always ready. She took the chair in front of the computer and gestured to him to pull up another. He hooked a chair over, positioning it much too close to hers, and settled his large frame on it. He immediately leaned back and hitched up one long leg, crossing his right knee with his left ankle. It was the automatic position of a dominant male, that of a man accustomed to physically commanding the space around him.

Daisy frowned and mentally deducted those points he had just gained. Didn’t he know he shouldn’t crowd people? She scooted her chair a couple of inches away and chalked up “bad manners” in his debit column.

She took the required information from him, entered it into the system, and gave him his password. All the time she was aware that he was still too close; she glanced several times at that muscular thigh right beside her. If she scooted any farther away, she wouldn’t be able to reach the keyboard. Irritated, because he had to know he was crowding her personal space—cops in big cities studied things like that, didn’t they?—she shot an exasperated look at him and almost jumped, because he was staring at her. He wasn’t trying to hide it, either.

She felt a blush heating her face. Ordinarily she would have finished as soon as possible and scurried back to the safety of her office, but today was a new day, a turning point in her life, and she decided she’d be damned if she’d let herself be intimidated. She’d already been rude to Mrs. Simmons, so why not the chief of police, as well?

“You’re staring,” she said bluntly. “Do I have a smudge on my face, or do I look like a dangerous criminal?”

“Neither,” he said. “Law enforcement officers stare at people; it’s part of the job.”

Oh. She supposed it was. She ratcheted her indignation down a few notches—but just a few. “Stop it anyway,” she ordered. “It’s rude, and you’re making me uncomfortable.”

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