Tessa yawned hugely as she raised the gate and unlocked the front door. Juggling her laptop case, purse and a large Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, she backed her way into the store. She punched the security code in and dumped everything on the back counter.
Nic was due in an hour, but she liked this time to herself, opening up and walking through her store. Perhaps just to make sure it was hers…that it wasn’t a dream. Chapters had been a fantasy that she’d never thought would see the light of day.
She ducked into the tiny corner room off the registers lovingly referred to as the cash box and opened the safe for a starting drawer then plugged her way through her morning rituals. Counting and tallying figures from the night before against plan, reviewing the orders that needed to be called in, and organizing the special orders for Nichole to call for pickups.
By the time the front door buzzed she had a mouthful of cold coffee left and a good start to her morning. She hurried to the front knowing the breeze off the river was wretched that day. “Hey, Nic,” she smiled warmly.
She held up two cups of coffee and chattered her way inside. “Damn it’s cold out there.” Nic handed her one.
“Bless you my child.”
Nic grinned and unwound her scarf from a sweet face with deep dimples and shining brown eyes. “Ready for a crazy Saturday?”
“Always,” she said and flipped the lock open. It was nine in the morning and she was ready to face the masses. She’d picked a prime spot in the area where there was lots of foot traffic. She had a pretty decent return customer base already and word of mouth had doubled her sales already. Not to mention her Sunday Kid’s Corner was coming into its own.
She’d loved children’s books as long as she could remember, but didn’t want to devote an entire store to them. So, she’d compromised and created a day totally for the kids and researched to find various readers that would come in to entertain.
“I’m going to work on the window, okay?”
Nic just waved her on. “Sure, I’ll holler if I get too busy.”
She gathered her props and headed for the front window. The theme this week was pirate’s treasure.
She lifted the Christmas tree out of the window and set it on another table, arranging a few presents under it. Dragging around a few chairs she cozied up a corner to read in and enjoy the tree.
Now, with an empty window bay she lifted an oversized chest and plunked it in front of the window. Using extra packing peanuts and blocks to fill the bottom of the chest, she stacked different titles that had to do with pirates and treasure from pre-k reading through junior high just inside the lip of the wide brass enclosure. By the time she was done it looked like it was overflowing with book treasure. She draped a few of her own costume jewelry pieces and some toy beads to make the booty look plentiful. A few strategic books piled beside the treasure chest and a box of chocolate coins dumped around the rest completed the look.
She changed the cotton batting that was her snow to a sheer blue material that let the twinkle lights shine through to look like water. She spread dark brown burlap material to make sand along the back of the window. Taping up Pirates of the Caribbean posters and a couple of props from a high school play she was able to make a lively window.
Making her way to the front of the store, she automatically shifted a few shelves and faced out books to fill holes as she went. “Can you hand me the digital camera from the cashbox?” she called out to Nic. Tessa dropped onto one of the few seats that weren’t taken and took a breather. She blotted her forehead with her sleeve.
She loved creating the window scenes every week, but she almost always went overboard. She stretched her back. It would be worth it though. She knew the kids appreciated it.
Nic tapped her shoulder with a bottle of water and handed her the camera. “Take a breather before you fall down. You’ve been working for three hours straight.”
Cracking the seal of the bottle she greedily sucked it down. “Thanks. I’m almost done,” she said when she could breathe again. “I’m just going to go out and take a quick picture of the storefront for the website.”
Nic grinned. “All that pirate stuff you ended up with was so cool. I’m dying to see what you did with it.”
“Gotta get the parents in here somehow,” she said with a happy sigh. “Okay, here I go. You can go look after I take the pictures.”
“Hey! Put your coat on!”
“I’ll be just a minute, Mom,” she shot back.
“Pain in the-“
Nic swallowed the rest of her words. “Yeah, yeah.”
Jon wished for the stroller as he reined in Romeo for the tenth time. “Hey! Jakey step back, man. I don’t want you to get hit with the swings.”
They had wanted to play in the park and he’d spent the morning chasing them around the playground. His two youngest were more exhausting than a three hour show. He dropped onto the bench and hauled Romeo onto his lap. “Give Daddy a break for a second, okay buddy?”
Romeo squirmed to get down and yelped when Jon held firm. “Until you listen to me and not run for the road it ain’t happenin’ buddy.”
Romeo sighed and said, “Juice?”
Jon dug in the diaper bag and found his sippy cup. “Here you go, bud.”
Romeo happily drew on the cup of apple juice and leaned back on him. Jon lowered his chin on top of his head. It was times like this that he was reminded why he wanted kids. Romeo kicked his feet and the sole of his hiking boot smacked him right in the knee. Jon winced and then there were those times…
With a parent’s eagle eye he caught Jake moving past the green of the park to the sidewalk. “Jakey, back here, man,” he called.
Jakey was too busy watching the woman in the window across the street. “Dad! Look at the window. There’s pirates!”
Jon huffed out an impatient breath. “That’s cool.”
“There’s even a skeleton and treasure!”
He glanced across the street and saw a woman crawling around the display window of Chapters. He couldn’t get a good enough look to figure out if it was the same one that he’d seen on the ladder the day before. “Pretty cool.”
“Can we go look at it?”
Jon pushed his fingers under his glasses and rubbed. This was his hometown, but there was still the occasional gawking fan that went a little nuts when he went into stores. Jakey turned around and watched again.
“Hey the lady’s gone!”
Jon had to admit he felt a bit of disappointment himself. Then he shook his head. He did not have time to flirt with a woman today. Romeo squirmed off his lap and started running toward the slide.
“Hey Jakey c’mon over here and we’ll go see the window in a minute okay?”
Jon sighed, his voice resigned. “Promise.”
“Yeah!!” He scrambled back to the slide behind his brother.
Jon glanced over his shoulder, this time he was certain it was the same woman from before. She stood outside with a camera in hand. He immediately crowded around his kids, standing in front of them, but relaxed when she didn’t turn his way. She focused on the store and the window.
She wore brown pants today with knee high flat boots in the same fawn color. Her sweater was shorter today in a deep green, but still covered her from shoulder to thigh. She wore a thin belt the same tone as her boots showing that she had a lean shape.
Her hair was a gilded copper color that blew around her face. She crouched down and the curve of her body was obvious now as her sweater pulled with her position. He felt his gut tighten and frowned.
“Can we go see the pirates?” Jakey asked again.
His face smoothed. “Sure, why not.” He took a hand each and maneuvered them to the crosswalk. If it had been only him he’d have crossed already but teaching these two monsters the correct way to do things was very necessary.
By the time he’s gotten across the street she was back inside the store. The disappointment was a surprise to him. Jakey broke away from him and suction cupped himself to the window. “Cool! Is that a real skeleton, Dad?”
Jon peered inside. A jumble of bones sat on the chair with wire hooks keeping the skeleton together. He couldn’t be positive, but it looked pretty real to him. “I don’t know buddy, sure looks real huh?”
A stack of books and an easel held a book in the front. “Pirate Girl,” Jon read aloud. “Hey look at that Jakey there’s a chick Pirate.”
Jake frowned. “A girl?”
Jon took his hand. “Hey girls can be anything now a days.”
“I guess,” Jake said but his tone was doubtful.
“C’mon we’ll take a look inside and see what it’s about.”
Tessa unrolled the small poster that showed who would be reading this Sunday. Pirate Girl would be read by a local actress named Jayne Connelly. She leaned over to get her tape and gave a disgusted snort to see the one measly piece of tape on the roll.
“Be right back, Nic,” she called out. “I have to go back to the store room.”
“Huh?” Nic came around the desk and caught a flash of her boss chatting with customers as she made her way through to the back of the store. The door twinkled and she instinctively turned with a smile.
“Hi-“ her words died in her throat when recognition kicked away her customer service sense. “Holy shit!” She looked down at the two kids in one clasped to each set of fingers and slapped her mouth shut with both hands. “I’m soo sorry,” she mumbled.
Jon ducked into the store with a smile and a raised brow. “Hey,” he let the kids go and rubbed his hands together before stuffing them in his pockets. “My kids have been going crazy to get in here with the Pirate stash in the window.”
“Uhh…pirates?” Nic stammered.
Jon’s grin kicked up a notch. “You know…the window?”
Nic blinked and shook her head. “Oh yeah, my boss just finished the display.” She looked over her shoulder and saw the back door close. “Shoot!”
“She just went into the store room for a minute.”
Evidently coming inside to meet the mysterious redhead was not going to happen. He was a big believer in fate. And it wasn’t on his side today. The kick of disappointment was hard and a bit more potent than the one outside.
Nic grabbed a flyer that was piled on the small table. “Here, bring the kids back tomorrow. We have an amazing time every Sunday in here.”
“Sunday Kids Corner,” Jon read aloud.
“That’s the one. We’ll be reading Girl Pirate. There’s snacks and juice for the kids and twenty percent off the book that’s read.”
Jon glanced at the wall of children’s books that lined the side of the store. Beanbag chairs and small tables ran the length of the room and primary colors dotted the tiled floor. The area wasn’t large at all. “How are you going to get all the kids in here?”
“Oh that.” Nic stood next to him and her heart rate doubled, but she managed to continue like he was any other customer. Damn, he smelled good though. Clean with something else. Woodsy? “The bookcases are on rollers and we push them out of the way and there’s a small stage hidden in the back of the room. Tessa was very clever when she designed the store.”
So her name was Tessa. Maybe he would come back after all. Curiosity tugged at him. Jon filed that information away and turned to the woman beside him. He glanced at her tag. “I’m interested, Nichole. What’s the age group for the book?”
“Three to seven,” she answered her heart thundering because Jon Bon Jovi said her name. He wasn’t her dream man, but there was something about him that screamed wow in Hollywood lights.
Jon bit his lower lip. Romeo was two but his reading was relatively advanced. Jesse had started reading him Harry Potter books the day he’d been born. “Okay, I’ll be here.” He looked at the glossy flyer. “One o’clock?”
“It gets pretty crazy you may want to come around noon to get a seat.”
He smiled absently when he heard the loud screech of his youngest. “I better go see what they’re doing over there.”
He turned back to Nic and took her hand. “Thanks, you should tell your boss you’re a great saleswoman.”
Nic was fairly certain her heart stopped because she just nodded and mumbled, “Thank you.”
She heard a throat clear near the front of the store so she dashed up front to ring. “I’m sorry to keep you waiting, sir.” She ducked under the desk and logged into her register. There was a line ten deep when she got situated.
By the time the line cleared Jon Bon Jovi had left the building.
Her boss appeared and stopped at the front door to tape up the poster for Jayne Connelly’s performance. She gathered up the small mess along the floor and headed her way. “Hey why don’t you take a break? I’ll run the register.”
“I can’t believe you were in the back this whole time?!”
“I had to make a few phone calls,” Tessa said absently.
“You’re never going to believe who just came in the store.”
Tessa blew her bangs out of her face, not really in the mood for Nic’s celebrity sighting. “Is this a multiple choice or do I just guess?”
”I’m serious!” Nic grabbed her hand. “It was amazing. HE was amazing.”
Tessa folded her arms and cocked her hip against the counter. “Tom Cruise?”
”Not that psycho.”
”I said a guy!”
“Way better than that.”
“I don’t know, just tell me.”
“Jon Bon Jovi.”
Tessa’s heart stopped. “You’re lying.” He friends were always ragging on her about her love for Bon Jovi and her fan club membership and the concerts she went to, hell that she traveled to.
“I swear to God, Tess.”
Tessa rolled her eyes. She wasn’t falling for that joke again. “Oh really? What was he wearing?”
Nic paused. “Sunglasses of course, a baseball cap and a Giants sweatshirt with jeans and hiking boots,” she finished.
“Wow, how perfect. Too perfect if you ask me. It’s not funny, Nic.”
“I’m not lying!”
“You had your fun, go to lunch.”
“You think I’m going to believe you after the stunt you pulled with the backstage passes to the last show?”
“C’mon, Tess, that was just funny.”
“Uh huh, a laugh riot.”
“He’s coming to the Kids Corner tomorrow with his two youngest.”
Tessa rolled her eyes. “Sure, and I’m suddenly the poster child for gullible. Scoot!”
“Okay, but you’ll see tomorrow.”
“Sure I will.”
Jon lay face down on the carpeting, he could hear the football game playing in the background but he was too tired to pick his head up and watch. The boys had dragged him out of bed at six in the morning for breakfast. He’d generously given Lottie the day off.
“I’m so stupid,” he mumbled into the Berber carpeting of the living room floor. He felt hot breath on his face with just the faintest wisp of grape fruit roll up. They couldn’t want something else, could they?
“Yes Jakey,” Jon mumbled, still talking into the carpet.
“It’s time to go to see the pirates.”
Jon lifted his head, blinked and yawned. A pair of blue eyes with sandy brown hair falling into them was about two inches from his face. He rolled onto his side and propped his head up with his hand. “Hey, how about we go next week?”
Jakey folded his arms stubbornly, “There’s no pirates next week. And you aren’t here next week. You said you gotta go to Nashville again.”
He frowned at his son. “How do you know my schedule?”
Jakey started to smile, laughter lurking. “You told me.”
He lunged and tackled him, the laughter bursting into giggles as he stood up and tossed him over his shoulder. He didn’t want to break any promises to his kids that he could help. “I guess we’re going then. Yo! Romeo where are ya, bud?”
Romeo crawled out from under the table. “Here I am!” He popped up and cracked the top of his head on the lip of the table. The shock on his face immediately melted into ripping screams.
“Oh, shit!” he flipped Jakey onto his feet and hit his knees, tugging Romeo out from under the table where he was shrieking. “Hey buddy, you okay?” Romeo had his hands firmly clasped over his hurt. He pried the small fingers away. “Shh, I gotta see Romeo,” he said gently.
He curled his legs Indian style and tucked Romeo on his lap.
Jakey crawled over to them. “Dad? Is he okay, Dad?”
He was used to his boys rough housing and the bumps and bruises that came with it, but damn that smack had been pretty hard. He managed to pry Romeo’s fingers off of his owie. He parted the hair where a small lump had formed. The screams finally subsided to hiccupping sobs.
He rocked him, crooning low in his throat with no words just a low humming. “How you doin’?”
“Kay,” Romeo said with a small voice.
Jon held up two fingers. “How many fingers?”
Romeo laughed. “Seven!”
Jon hugged him close. “No!” he laughed in response, “How many?”
“That’s my guy!” He carefully stood from the seated position and unfolded his legs, turning Romeo around to face him. Well, if that didn’t wake him up. Shit. He lowered Romeo, sighing when the toddler sped off, sneakers clomping from carpet to tile. “Sure! Scare ten years off my life then walk away like it’s nothing. Thanks a lot!”
With a resigned groan he chased after him and corralled them into the hallway to get them into their winter coats, hats and gloves. He looked down at his stained t-shirt and winced, grabbing a sweater from the laundry room.
With only a minimum of fuss he had them out the door in a record breaking ten minutes. Piling them into the Beemer was another matter. He really needed to get another more kid friendly vehicle for himself.
Rolling into Chapters parking lot five minutes later his jaw dropped. The little bookseller he’d talked to hadn’t been kidding. There wasn’t a spot to be had. He grabbed the ball cap off the seat next to him and tucked his hair under it. He swapped out the small aviator glasses he preferred to drive in with his wide lensed ones that hid his face. He pulled around the building and turned into the gift shop on the next strip of stores over.
“Are you sure girls can be pirates, Dad?”
“Sure, why not?” Jon climbed out, tucking his shirt in, pulling down his sweater and adjusting his peat coat against the biting wind. He opened the door, tugging on his leather gloves, adjusting the right one with his teeth as he nabbed Romeo before he could leap from his seat. “You’d think that after one lump on the head you’d possibly slow down for one day, huh?”
Romeo grinned up at him. “Down!”
With a firm grip on his mittened hand he led Romeo around the front of the car where Jakey stood nearly vibrating. “C’mon Dad! We’re gonna be late!”
“We’ve got half an hour,” he said and clasped Jake’s hand starting across the parking lot and cutting through a small path between the bushes bisecting the two storefronts. Parents and kids milled about the front door oohing over the window much as they had the day before. He put his head down a bit and slipped inside.
“Dad! I want to see the skeleton again!”
He kept his voice low so no one would notice them. “Hey, we want good seats right? We can look at the skeleton on the way out. Deal?”
Jakey tugged off his gloves and pushed them into one pocket, doing the same with his hat in the other. “Yeah, that’s a good idea.”
“I have a few of them,” Jon said as he watched his son mirror him in every way. God, that was eerie he thought absently, stuffing his own gloves together in one pocket.
“You’re funny, Dad.”
Jon sighed. “Only if you’re four, buddy.” He scanned the room amazed at the change. True to her word, Nichole wasn’t kidding when she said it would be totally different. The bookcases were pushed aside and stacked together along the back wall. The spacing was clever leaving the bookshelves open for browsers but out of the way to give the kids and the stage plenty of room.
He spotted a place to sit and maneuvered his way over to a corner of the room where he’d least likely be spotted. He nabbed two books on the way through to keep the boys interested enough to sit and wait out the fifteen minutes they had to kill.
He crouched in and smiled to the people around him as he folded his denim clad legs Indian style dumping Romeo in his lap in a fit of giggles. Jakey dropped next to him his smaller legs in the same position.
He glanced at his older sun and smiled when he went right for the book. Jakey had a love for books that he’d never had as a child. He wanted to be outside and to run. Jakey was happy doing either. Romeo squirmed, wanting to run around the room.
Jon flipped open a book with the electronic flashing and noise buttons along the side panel. He pressed down the school bus hoping to distract Romeo and not get killed by the surrounding parents.
The room was filled with people of all ages, talking and laughing but when a hush fell over the room Jon’s attention was diverted from the Magic School Bus book to a pair of legs in thigh high black suede boots with jet black skin tight pants. The heels on the boots were sharp and wicked looking.
His eyes drifted higher to the filmy white blouse and a wide black buckle cinched low on the woman’s waist. A sword hung from her hip and he couldn’t be sure if it was plastic or not. Her hips were cocked arrogantly and her lean body had all the right curves to it under the oversized silk shirt with billowing arms.
Startling green eyes shown out of darkly kohled eyes that mimicked the Jack Sparrow look with gypsy sized hoops in her ears and a saucy grin showed gleaming white teeth to finish her startling face. Her red hair was scooped back in a scarf that trailed over her shoulder and down her back with little braids twinkling with beads.
The black pirate’s hat from the window was perched on her head. She looked every inch the girl pirate of the books that she held in her arms. And hell if that outfit wasn’t going to follow him into dreams tonight.
Jon shifted under Romeo, suddenly uncomfortable in his favorite weekend jeans.
“Welcome everyone. I can’t wait for you to see what Jayne Connelly has in store for you today with Pirate Girl.” She scanned the crowd and winged an eyebrow up lowering her voice to that of a whispery growl.
“Did you know that women and girls could be pirates?”
Boys and girls replied out of the audience. “No!”
“Well yes, they can!” She leaned forward and made sure to make eye contact with the children in the crowd. Jake was kneeling forward totally involved in what she was saying.
She came closer to Jake, her nose almost to his. “But yes! Girls can be some of the…” she faltered and nearly fell into his lap when she locked eyes with him.