Dove Ledbetter turned in a slow circle, blinking as she took in her surroundings. Beyond an enormous picture window, the northern lights put on a spectacular Christmas show. Next to it, a huge stone fireplace warmed the huge room despite its cathedral ceiling.
Somehow, and she wasn’t sure exactly how it had happened, she was in a fancy hunting lodge. A moment before, she’d been binge-watching Hallmark Christmas movies and drinking the eggnog laced with rum she’d received the rum from her Secret Santa at the library where she worked.
At home she could indulge in all the romance she liked. At the library, they despised romance novels—the entire collection consisted of a single shelf of tattered Harlequins.
“Can I take your coat, darling?” An extravagantly handsome man in a tuxedo gave her a seductive smile.
She dragged her winter coat, which was missing two buttons and had a sticky spot where she’d spilled eggnog on it, more tightly around her.
“I’m good.” She was going to need her coat when he figured out she wasn’t his darling and tossed her out into the snow.
He touched the tip of her nose and chuckled. “You’re such a wit.”
“My father was a wit,” she said, repeating an old joke Dad had loved, “and I inherited half of it.”
He belly-laughed like she’d just delivered the funniest punch-line in the history of wherever this was. No guy had ever thought she was amusing before.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Maximilian Tropes,” he said. “King of Romancelandia and your soon to be fiancé, I hope.” From the pocket of his tux jacket, he produced a small velvet box. “If you won’t let me take your coat, perhaps you’ll accept this bauble?”
He cranked back the lid. Inside, a ring with a gem the size of a jawbreaker winked in the firelight. He reached for her hand. Nerveless with shock, she didn’t resist as he slipped the ring over her knuckle. For the first time, she noticed a huge spray of roses behind him. The ribbon read, “Congratulations, Maximilian and Dove.”
“This is the most romantic thing that’s ever happened to me,” she said, awed.
He lifted his chin, emphasizing his noble profile. “Real men aren’t afraid of romance.” Then he drew her to him and kissed her.
The world whirled around her like a freshly-shaken snow globe. When he lifted his head, the room had filled with people dressed in evening gowns and tuxedos. They were all holding glasses of champagne.
“I know your aversion to social events,” Max said apologetically, “but since I am the ruler of this kingdom, I had to issue an invitation to my court to celebrate our engagement. Particularly since you are carrying the seed of the next generation of Tropes.”
Dove looked down. Somehow, she was no longer wearing her ragged peacoat. It had morphed into a double-breasted scarlet Burberry. And, sure enough, it mounded gently at her waist. She had given up on ever having a child when her fortieth birthday came and went this year.
Despite her natural introversion, she accepted the challenge of dancing and chatting with everyone who approached her. After what felt like hours, the last person finally left.
“Now to bed with you,” Max said. Her heart began to thump.
He swept her into his arms, carried her to a room at the end of the hall, and set her on the bed. She tried to draw him toward her, but he gently placed her hands at her sides. “The mother of the heir needs her rest.”
“I’m not tired,” she protested.
Chastely, he kissed her on the forehead and left.
With a bittersweet feeling of disappointment, she drifted off to sleep, waking to the clamor of her alarm. A little hung over from eggnog, rum, and Hallmark, she showered and dressed for work.
When she arrived, the head librarian waylaid her before she could even remove her stained and threadbare coat.
“Come meet our new acquisitions librarian.” She pointed to a man standing with his back toward them.
She stifled a groan that was part hangover, part frustration. Here was another acquisitions guy who would resist buying romance novels.
“Dove,” said the head librarian, “this is Maximilian Tropes.”
He turned to face her and her mouth fell open. It was Max from her dream.
“He thinks we need to expand our romance collection,” added the librarian.
“You’re kidding. Men hate romance.” The words were out before Dove could stop them.
He lifted his chin. “Real men aren’t afraid of romance.” Then he smiled at her. “I understand you’re the library’s expert in the genre.”
She nodded wordlessly.
“Perhaps after work I could buy you a cup of coffee and you could give me advice on what to acquire.”
Dove gulped for air. “How about making it eggnog instead?”
“Eggnog it is.” He smiled down at her. “I predict we’re going to make a great team.”