Love Beyond Reach(4)

By: Bethany Claire

Laurel looked self-consciously down at herself as she tried to make sense of their wide, questioning eyes.

“No. Everything is covered as far as I can tell. Maybe they recognized you.”

Laurel laughed and continued to move down the long hallway toward the last room at its end.

“Did you see how small that child was? There is no way he knows who I am. If his parents let him read one of my books at his age, then God help him. No, it definitely wasn’t that. Maybe they were staring at you, and I just mistook the direction of the boy’s gaze.”

“Because I’m black? Come on, Laurel. Surely you think better of them than that.”

Laurel couldn’t tell if he was joking, but it wouldn’t surprise her if he wasn’t. Marcus had so many wonderful qualities. While his humility was to be admired, it drove her crazy just how incapable he seemed of recognizing his own attractiveness.

“No, Marcus. I most definitely didn’t think they were staring at you because you are black. Perhaps they were staring at you because the only other human I’ve seen with your shape is the guy who plays Captain America.”

Marcus huffed and stepped into the room to their right.

“I can already predict what you are going to say about this room.”

Laurel remained just outside the doorway as she awaited his prediction.

“Oh yeah? What’s that?”

“You are going to say that out of all the castles and all the rooms you’ve seen, this is by far your favorite.”

She knew he teased her. Regardless, he was bound to be wrong. The room that lay ahead of her couldn’t possibly beat the tower room they’d seen in the castle two days before.

“Let’s just see about that, shall we?”

Determined to come up with a reaction opposite of what Marcus expected, Laurel stepped inside, looked around, and found herself completely unable to do so.

The room was perfect in every way. The things she loved most in all the world lined three of the four walls—books.

“It drives me crazy when you’re right. This beats the tower.”

“I knew you were going to say that. I knew it even before I stepped inside. I read about it in the guidebook and knew you’d love it. I can see by the happy, glazed expression on your face that you’ll be in here a while. I think I’ll go explore the dungeon while you do so. I’ll come back for you in a bit.”

Marcus nudged her playfully before leaving her alone in the room. Once he was gone, she inhaled deeply and smiled. The smell of books gave her the same kind of energy coffee did for some. She thrived off them, lived in them, made her living from them. In a room full of books, she felt at home.

She knew that the books lining the shelves didn’t quite fit the historical nature of the castle—the bindings and covers were enough to tell her that none could be more than a hundred years old. Still, that knowledge did not reduce her love for what surrounded her now.

She moved to the far wall and slowly trailed her fingers along the spines moving row after row, bottom to top. It was a game she often played in libraries—letting her fingers trail the spines of many books until she felt something draw her to one in particular. As her fingers moved, she glanced to her left and took notice of a lone book sitting on a side table. Her fingers moved toward it instinctively.

She only resisted sitting on the old piece of furniture for a few seconds. As she picked up the book, she sank into the soft, empty chair, eager to read.

The chair was old and for a moment she feared it would collapse underneath her, but as she settled in more fully, it seemed to wrap her up in a way that invited her to do nothing more than read.

Marcus would occupy himself for ages while exploring the castle grounds. It wouldn’t hurt anyone for her to take a moment to herself.

She opened the book gently. While it surprised her to see that the words were in English, it was the handwritten note inside that piqued her interest in a way nothing else ever had.

To whomever finds this book, you should know that it was meant just for you. Tuck it away in your bag, hide it beneath your shirt, but whatever you do, do not return it to the place it rested before. For many would read the pages contained within and dismiss my every memory and word as nothing more than fiction. But you, my first and last reader, will read these words and hear the truth in them.