Authors: S. L. Scott
A Prior Engagement
A Personal Message
I’ve traveled a path—long and winding. Sometimes I had vast views of the ocean and sometimes I couldn’t see beyond the trees. You were there with me always, supportive and strong, like-minded and challenging, peaceful and inspirational. I will always remember and cherish you for taking this journey with me.
I give all my love, gratitude, and my forever to my amazing husband and best friend. My kids and my family are everything to me. Thank you for supporting me as I follow my dreams.
Thank you to the lovely fandom community that accepted me with open arms and embraced my stories. You have touched my heart, warmed my soul, and encouraged me.
Not only are the following women talented, but they are also smart, funny, and great friends. Thank you: Becca, Irene, Jada, Jenn, Marni, Marla, Mary, and Susi for all of your hard work on this book, but also for your friendship and support, and for suffering through the endless emails, DM’s, IM’s, tweets, texts, calls – yeah, you get the picture. Thank you. Special thanks to Wyndy and Sydney—you are wonderful friends.
There are people in your life that make it better just by being in it. These are those people to me: Flavia, Jennifer S., Kerri, Kirsten, Laura, Sonia, and Suzanne. You are all fantastic and I’m fortunate to know you. I treasure that we share so much of our lives like we do, and you make me smile.
“Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true.” – Leon Joseph Cardinal Suenens
Forty-five minutes into British Literature, Professor Lang unexpectedly dismissed his students. Everleigh Wright pushed her long brown hair behind her shoulders before piling her belongings back into her bag as a scruffy faced, wrinkled-shirted boy scooted past her. She stood and followed behind him as he headed to the end of the aisle toward the exit.
That scruffy face belonged to William Ryder, who had noticed the attractive brunette the prior week when the professor called on her to debate the issue of novels of the 1900s being over-romanticized because women writers had found a market niche. She said, “Women writing for women is not a niche, not then and not now. Back then, they were being practical. Women authors knew what they wanted to read and weren’t finding it in celebrated male authors of the time. When I think romance, I think Austen, not Dickens.”
William leaned forward to get a better look at the girl attached to the lovely voice. She was pretty and soft-spoken, but precise in her words, and held a conviction that deserved attention.
After her confident statement, she had captured William’s full attention. But he also knew Austen was an easy answer and he bet if challenged, she could also defend male writers of that era.
When he passed her by, he glanced down, not able to bring himself to speak to her. The atmosphere in the auditorium and prying eyes of the other students was intimidating. He knew she hadn’t paid him any attention anyhow, at least none he was aware of. Although, he was well aware the cute girl never spoke to anyone else in class either, and often appeared to be daydreaming in the middle of the lecture class.
As William walked down the stairs of the large auditorium, he glanced back at her one last time before he exited. He knew he wouldn’t see her again for two days and wanted a visual to carry with him.
Following the students out of the building, he tossed his bag over his shoulder, deciding to head to his favorite coffee shop.
It was a warm spring day, and he walked to campus today instead of riding his bike like he had all winter when he had to hurry for cover from the cold. While walking the two Manhattan blocks from campus to the locally-owned coffeehouse, Bean There, he let his mind wander back to the girl from class. He wondered what her name was and what she daydreamed about because she often seemed lost in her own thoughts. She likes to wear fitted cardigans and pants, not jeans. Did she always look so put together and proper? Did she ever run around in sneakers and workout clothes like most girls on campus? She made the effort for school, but what did she wear in other facets of her life?
He was smiling as he entered the coffee shop, but felt a little ridiculous as if his thoughts were visible for the world to see.
William ordered his usual—double espresso black and plain scone. The barista had started preparing it as soon as he opened the door. She set the coffee and scone down on the counter, and asked, “Would you like anything else today, William?” Leaning over the counter a little closer to him, she smiled.
Looking up for the first time since he had entered the small shop, their eyes met, and he said, “No, thank you. How are you today, Tracy?” Because Tracy was always friendly when she served him, he returned the smile and set his money on the counter, leaving the change as her tip.
“I’m really good. Um, so how are you?” She asked in a chipper voice.
“I’m good. I have a lot of reading to do and need a coffee boost. It’s gonna be a long day.” On that note, he turned and walked toward his regular table, but stopped when he saw the table was occupied. A wave of indignation rolled through him, but dissipated just as fast. The girl from class who had occupied more of his thoughts than he was comfortable admitting, had stolen his table.
William couldn’t hide the smile that erupted when he realized the opportunity presenting itself.
“Your table’s taken,” Tracy said. There was an edge of anxiety to her tone he picked up on. “But there are plenty of other ones, or you could try a seat at the counter today?”
He wasn’t deterred, he was hopeful. Before moving toward the table again, he mumbled, “Yeah, sure, another table. Good idea.”
After dropping his bag on the table closest to his usual spot, he settled into his chair.
Everleigh was startled by the bag landing loudly on top of the table next to hers. She glanced at the well-worn burgundy backpack and then around the small shop. There were only two other customers in the place and they sat on a couch together near the front window, which meant there were plenty of other tables available. She felt uncomfortable that someone had chosen to sit so close to her.
Looking up at the guy next to her, she was both cautious and intrigued. A straight nose led to a smile under eyes that were closer to navy than sky blue in color. She didn’t stare at him long, although she did notice his handsome features hidden under the days-old scruff he was sporting. His hair was unkempt, a lot like his clothes, and was disorderly and wild, which made her wonder if he was too.
She went back to reading the essay on her laptop, trying to ignore the guy who sat uncomfortably close. Picking up where she left off, she began typing again, but found her attention drifting back to him. Sneaking peeks at him out of the corner of her eyes, she noticed his textbook teetering on the edge of the table as he unloaded his laptop. With a quick swoosh, it landed with a bang on the floor between them, causing her to flinch. Her reflexes sent her hand to pick it up just as his did, and their heads hit in the process.
She grabbed her head. “Ouch!”
Without thinking, his hand covered the one she had pressed to her forehead. Angling his head, he said, “I’m sorry. Are you all right?”
She slipped her hand out from under his, which left his against her skin, putting pressure on the spot that hurt the most. Her skin tingled under his touch, and her heart started to race.
His lips parted and he sighed.
“I’m okay. It was an accident.” She smiled, returning her hand to her head, but was obstructed by his, which remained.
He was reluctant to remove his, but was unable to justify its place on her any longer without seeming like a weirdo.
“Are you all right?” she asked, and strangely already missed his touch.
When their eyes met for the first time, he was entranced by the deep, oceanic blue of her eyes. “Yes. I am now.” He smiled at the way she let a little laugh escape and then he laughed with her.
Feeling comfortable in this odd meeting, she tapped his textbook, and asked, “Are you taking this class?”
“No, I like to read college textbooks for fun.”
She didn’t get his joke and didn’t say anything more, feeling embarrassed for asking in the first place.
“No, I’m kidding. I’m in your class. Professor Lang’s class,” he said, making up for his bad joke.
“Oh. I… uh… I apologize. I haven’t seen you in there.” She felt rude for not recognizing him.
He reassured her, not wanting to lose her interest because of some stupid remark he made. “There are over a hundred people in the class. It’s okay.”
Everleigh opened her mouth to say something, but the words didn’t come. She didn’t know what to say to that, so she closed her mouth, and pondered his statement a moment longer. Pointing at her laptop, she felt sheepish. “I have a lot of work to do and not much time left to do it in.”
William found her reaction fascinating, not quite typical. He didn’t usually have trouble talking to girls, most of the time they even initiated the conversation. But this girl was given the perfect opportunity to continue the conversation she had started, and she didn’t take it. He began overanalyzing their entire exchange starting with how she flinched when his book fell. Her expression exposed a reaction he didn’t quite understand. It was just a book falling, after all, but she flinched. Then she seemed to shift back, and relaxed, enjoying their interaction. After a few minutes, she reverted back, and went to work as if nothing had happened. Maybe she’s telling the truth, and he’s over-thinking the situation.
As Everleigh pretended to read her laptop screen, she was thinking how nice it would be to have a friend who goes to the same college, even better that they shared a class. She spied on him, and thoughts of a ‘study buddy’ began to cross her mind. Knowing Tom would never consent to her having a friend he didn't know, she returned her gaze back to her own studies, trying to forget the crazy idea before it developed into a possibility.
They didn’t say another word, but every now and then she could feel the weight of his eyes on her and she
Over the next hour, she could feel something building between them, a heavy sensation—a tension of sorts. She didn’t have time to explore the feelings because she had to leave. After packing her bag, she stood up and glanced over at him. He was engrossed in highlighting his textbook as she walked around the table. Out of politeness and because she wanted to, she stopped, turned toward her neighbor, and said, “Good-bye.” Then she left without giving him an opportunity to say anything in response.