Authors: Tamara Larson
“C’mon, Jess. He could be Mr. Right!”
Jessica Martin scowled down from her perch near the top of the ladder. Grabbing the wrung she was closest to, Jessie blatantly ignored her sister, at least for the moment.
It was a rainy Monday morning in July, and they were spending it feasting on cinnamon raisin bagels slathered with strawberry cream cheese while Jessie worked and Jamie lounged nearby. Jessie usually enjoyed this ritual, but today she wasn’t in the mood to hear about her disastrous love life. Again.
She’d heard this speech or a version of it as many times as she could count. On some level, she knew her sister meant well, but Jamie’s good intentions didn’t make the “you need a man” conversation any less annoying. Jessie stretched as far as her sensible shoes would allow, and finally slid the faded, blue copy of
into its allotted spot.
“Guido is a really nice guy,” continued Jamie, unmindful of Jessie’s lack of enthusiasm she moved away from the ladder and sat down in one of the colorful, overstuffed velvet armchairs they’d recently purchased to give the store a homey feel. She slung one long, slim leg over the arm of the chair and reached into her Prada bag for a nail file. “Don’t let the gold chains and the Camaro fool you,” Jamie said, holding her left hand outstretched in front of her and looking at her long magenta nails with a practiced and critical eye. She pointed the nail file at Jessie without looking up from her manicure. “He’ll show you a really good time, I swear. Lord knows, you could use some fun in your life.”
Jamie was right. Jessie did need some fun in her life. Ever since their parents had died in a car accident two years before, fun had been completely absent from Jessie’s life. She’d been close to both parents, especially their mother, and the death of Carl and June Martin had affected her deeply. While Jamie mourned quietly and kept her own grief to herself, Jessie allowed it to overtake her. For months after, she’d barely functioned, just went about her daily routine in a daze. Before the accident, it had never occurred to her that her parents might not be there someday. Without them to share her accomplishments and disappointments with, she felt completely and utterly lost.
Ten months after the senior Martins’ death, Jessie was still operating on autopilot. Jamie had finally had enough of watching her sister going through the motions of living, and had stepped in. She took Jessie to see a piece of real estate on
West Hastings Street
. It was just the jolt Jessie needed. Her grief receded enough for her to start thinking about how to go on without her parents.
Jessie had always dreamed of owning a bookstore, but had been too afraid to give up the security of her job as a librarian at the Vancouver Public Library. She decided to take a chance for once. Six months and many renovations later, she was the proprietor of Forgotten Treasures.
Looking around at the shabby-chic interior of the store, Jessie thought her parents would be proud of what she’d done with her inheritance. Forgotten Treasures was a light and airy space with high, sloping ceilings and several oddly shaped windows placed at irregular intervals in the walls. The dark walnut paneling throughout gave the place the welcoming feeling of someone’s den rather than a public retailer. With its bright Monet and Van Gogh reproductions hanging on every available wall space and eight long aisles of shelves stuffed with several thousands hardcover books it was a warm and friendly place for customers to look for books or just hang out.
Jessie took a moment to admire the way the weak morning light filtered through the half circle of stained glass over the entrance. June Martin had collected dragonflies all her life and Jessie had commissioned an artist to depict one in flight in honor of their deceased mother. Jamie thought it was morbid, but to Jessie it was a way of bringing June into her daily life. It never failed to give her a lift whenever she happened to glance up at it.
Jessie carefully stepped down onto the hardwood floor and started sorting through one of the many boxes of new stock surrounding her. New stock to their store, at least. Most of the items in the box came from garage sales and flea markets. Jessie spent the majority of her weekends scouring through similar boxes throughout the Vancouver area, looking for great finds like the fifty-year-old, hard copy of
she’d just put away. Most people thought of such things as garbage or doorstops, but to her they were like old friends.
“What does this Mr. Right do for a living?” Jessie asked her sister absently as she began leafing through the scruffy-looking copy of Mary Shelley’s
in her hand. The rasp of her sister’s nail file made her grit her teeth in irritation, but she could only handle one argument with Jamie at a time, so didn’t say a word about how the sound drove her completely batty.
“He works in the club,” Jamie said evasively, not looking up at her sister. Jamie was a featured performer at the most popular gentlemen’s club in the
area, the Kitty-Kat Lounge. Despite Jessie’s strident protests, Jamie had left college just a few credits short of a degree in fashion design to become an exotic dancer two years ago.
“What does he do in the club exactly?” asked Jessie warily, setting down the book and placing her hands on her hips.
Oh Lord, Jessie thought, she’s trying to set me up with a male stripper again. Phabio, the last victim of Jamie’s matchmaking efforts, had met Jessie for coffee the year before. It had been the middle of August and he’d shown up for their pseudo-date in matching brown suede jacket, pants, and high-heeled cowboy boots. Jessie was of average height, but even with the three-inch heels he sported, Phabio only came up to her chin. Apparently, being on stage made everything look bigger.
Jamie had been pressuring her sister for months to give Phabio a chance, so Jessie had spent an uncomfortable half hour learning about Phabio’s intense grooming habits, the women who’d slipped him their phone numbers, and his ambition to move to
Instead of being annoyed that Phabio monopolized the conversation, Jessie was actually relieved he didn’t expect her to participate. She never knew what to say to new people—especially men. It didn’t even faze her when he paid for his non-fat latte with silver dollars that she suspected had been fished out of his G’string the night before. She tried to keep an open mind until she caught him checking out his reflection in every single car window on the short walk to her apartment building. That was when she decided to abandon ship on future dates with Fabio’s mini-me, and any other social rejects Jamie decided to fix her up with in the future.
“He does security,” Jamie said quietly, intent on her nails.
“Security? You mean he’s a bouncer, don’t you?” Jessie said, flinging her arms up in exasperation. “My dream date throws horny drunks out of strip clubs for a living. Thanks Jay, he sounds perfect. When can we get married and start having hairy-knuckled, Neanderthal babies?” Jessie asked sarcastically.
“You’re being awfully judgmental, Jess,” Jamie said, pausing mid-file to give her sister a dirty look. “I hate to tell you this, but unless you plan on spending the rest of your life alone with about a dozen cats for company, you’re going to have to lower your standards. Prince Charming isn’t out there, and if he is, he’s more than likely hopelessly conceited and probably gay, so at least try and keep an open mind, okay?”
Jessie knew Jamie was right about this, she was right about most things, though Jessie would never tell her that. The problem was that Jessie couldn’t help thinking that there was a perfect guy out there somewhere—a very real fairy tale prince who actually would sweep her off her feet and make her forget about all her doubts and insecurities. She was lonely, there was no doubt about that, but how could she settle for Mr. Okay when Mr. Perfect could still be out there looking for her? She wanted to try and explain this to her sister, but didn’t want to sound hopelessly romantic. Jamie would just redouble her efforts to set her up, and Jessie couldn’t face any more meetings with hopelessly unsuitable strangers.
“I’m sorry,” Jessie said, moving another box out of her way to reach for the cup of spearmint tea she’d left on the coffee table beside Jamie. She took a fortifying sip from it. “You’re right. I just don’t think I have anything in common with a bouncer.”
“Just because he doesn’t have a Master’s degree in library sciences, or whatever it is you have, is no reason to look down on him,” Jamie said angrily, completely ignoring her sister’s apology. “Besides, he does more than that. He also escorts us girls out to our cars at night so we don’t get ambushed. And he stands around looking threatening, so the customers mind the ‘no touching’ signs.” Jamie looked up at her sister reproachfully. “Last week he practically took the head off some joker who wanted to look for change in my G’string.”
“That’s is just gross,” Jessie said, wrinkling her nose in disgust. It was hard for her to think of some guy groping her little sister without completely losing her mind. Jamie claimed to love the rush of being on stage, and said she found stripping empowering, but Jessie couldn’t imagine dancing in front of a bunch of strangers with practically nothing on. It sounded like a nightmare. Jessie couldn’t even bring herself to go to her sister’s show. She pictured beady-eyed, biker-gang types with drool running down their chins, wedding rings safely tucked away in their pockets, ogling her sister with outstretched hands.
Jessie’d been trying to convince Jamie to do something else, anything else, but Jamie stubbornly refused any and all of her sister’s well-meaning suggestions. Even working in the bookstore she partly owned didn’t appeal to Jamie. She always said it was too tame for her.
Jessie set down the teacup and approached Jamie, kneeling down so they were on eye level. She put a hand on Jamie’s furiously filing fingers, trying to get her undivided attention for a second. “Seriously, Jamie, why do you still work there exactly? Mom and Dad left you enough money to go back to school if you want. Besides, you’re such a talented dancer. I’m sure you could work someplace where a full body wax isn’t necessary. Let me talk to—”
Jessie was interrupted by the sound of the bell over the door. A man walked into the store and looked around for a second before focusing on the two women at the back. From the outside, the used bookstore had stood out from the typically dark, decrepit, and vaguely threatening store fronts on
West Hastings Street
. For one thing the name, Forgotten Treasures, was prominently displayed in gold letters on the huge window beside the door, and the door itself was painted a glossy violet.
Inside, Duncan Reinhold took in the clean, inviting interior of the store decorated in rich, jewel-toned fabrics and brightly colored artwork with a surprised eye. Forgotten Treasures was a remarkable contrast to the dilapidated pawnshops and seedy XXX-bookstores that populated this area of
Jamie and Jessie looked at each and then back at
. The store had been open for an hour, but customers before noon; especially ones that looked like
were rare. He was in his early thirties or late twenties, a few inches over six feet tall, and powerfully built with broad shoulders and a slim waist. His hair and leather jacket were both black and slick with rain, and he wore a white, button-down shirt and black tie beneath. Even from thirty feet away, Jessie and Jamie could see that his eyes were bright blue and thickly lined with thick, feathery eyelashes. As he moved closer, the girls noticed a jagged scar bisecting one thick black eyebrow, giving him a rugged, almost dangerous appearance. Other than that small imperfection, he was the kind of man that women turned to stare at when he passed by. Jamie licked her full, painted lips in appreciation while Jessie started to feel overcome with nerves. Unlike her sister, attractive men turned her into a blathering idiot.
stared at the girls for a second before gaining his composure. He felt like he’d walked into a centerfold shoot.
, he thought,
I never thought these letters were true until…
They were in their mid-twenties. Both had dark-red hair, and smooth, pale skin. The one sprawled in the chair was wearing shiny, black leather pants and a hot pink tank top that revealed glitter-covered arms and cleavage. Her vibrant hair was wild and long, curling around her large, unencumbered breasts. Hot pink toenails peeked out of matching strappy sandals with heels that could only be called ridiculous and inappropriate for the rainy day outside. Obviously, such mundane considerations as weather had little or no affect on this woman. She stared at him with eyes the color of cinnamon, thickly lined with black kohl. Then she smiled—a wide, knowing smile that was both sensual and friendly.
“So, what’s your opinion on full body waxes?” Jamie asked
with a deep, throaty laugh.
“Jamie!” Jessie sputtered at her sister, and gave her a look that should have frozen her to her seat. Jamie raised a finely arched, reddish eyebrow at
and looked at him expectantly. Jessie hurriedly got up from her spot on the floor, and brushed at the dust on her full, cotton skirt. “What can I help you find?” She asked, moving closer to block Jamie from his view. She gave him a tight smile, nothing like her sister’s inviting grin, and pushed her glasses up on her nose with a quick jab of her index finger.