Hidden in Pages
Adelle Bradbury doesn’t like adventure—in books or real life. As a quiet librarian who hides behind reading glasses, she doesn’t expect to be swept into a dangerous mission to recover one of the world’s most famous lost treasures. But that’s exactly what happens when a mysterious history buff enlists her help to recover a treasure map—A map he insists is concealed in one of the library’s old books, its contents revealing the secret location of King Solomon’s missing wealth. Suddenly, mild-mannered Adelle is thrust into a world of treasure hunters, secret societies, and thieving profiteers. In a mad dash to protect the treasure, she finds a courage she never expected and something more—the possibility of true love.
“There’s something deadly in the mist,” the elderly woman whispered. “And it keeps anyone from leaving the jungle…alive that is.”
“How exciting.” Adelle Bradbury managed a polite smile as she stamped the due date for Dangerous Mist.
After all, Mrs. Crabel was one of Lindstone Library’s frequent patrons, checking out multiple novels each week.
“Don’t you love adventure stories?” The older woman tapped the cover to the latest D.E. Hensen novel—a rugged hero crawling from plane wreckage in the wild.
“Oh, not me,” Adelle laughed, tucking a strand of blonde hair back in her bun. An unusual style for a woman in her twenties, but Adelle considered it professional. “Jungle fever isn’t really my idea of fun,” she added.
She blushed, remembering her own tame hobby: scouring book fairs for rare copies of her favorite novels. The only event besides church volunteer work on her otherwise blank social calendar.
This love for old books had earned her the nickname of “Marian the Librarian” among her co-workers. That and the fact she saw nothing creepy in the historic library’s gothic architecture, the only staffer who didn’t feel an aura of shuddering romance in its halls.
“See you next week,” she said, returning Mrs. Crabel’s goodbye wave. Slipping on reading glasses, she began the evening task of cataloguing new arrivals. Except instead of hot-off-the-press editions, these came from a private collection, the possessions of one recently deceased Professor Anderson Hymer.
“Pristine volumes,” claimed the woman who donated them, the professor’s secretary, now in charge of dispersing his estate. “He was the only living direct descendant of Blaine Hymer,” she emphasized. “You know—the architect and garden designer behind the Temple Gardens?”
“Of course,” Adelle nodded.
Designed in the late 1800s, the local attraction was renowned the world over for its unique floral landscape patterned after the blueprints to King Solomon’s Temple. Even the hedges and flowers had been coordinated to emphasize the treasure theme, with blossoms in colors of ruby, ivory, and gold.
Curious, Adelle popped the seal on the cardboard box and rummaged through its contents. Faded hardbacks and leather copies, a few nice soft covers. One large clothbound volume with gold lettering caught her eye, Blaine Hymer himself listed as the author.
The Quest for the Temple Gardens was the title emblazoned across the cover in elaborate swirling font. It sounded like an adventure novel, though she suspected it was merely a nonfiction account of Mr. Hymer’s horticultural masterpiece.
“First edition,” Adelle noted, turning the brittle pages to the copyright information.
The room was quiet, occupied only by herself and Dr. Ravenwood, a kindly, white haired gentleman conducting architectural research in the magazine stacks. He’d visited the library every day this week, often disappearing among the shelves until closing time.
“So many rich sources of study,” he would explain with a hearty chuckle that made her smile. His clipped goatee and neatly pressed suits suggested he might have been a rather dashing figure in his youth.
She could hear him paging through articles even now, his grey flannel jacket visible through an empty slot in one of the shelves.
Five more minutes and she would begin the process of clearing the floors, shutting off lights, and closing blinds. Which was why the trill of the entrance bell inspired an automatic frown. Adelle pictured a pile of overdue books or a college student in need of help for a last-minute paper.
But as she glanced at this newest customer, the usual reprimand froze on her lips.
Dressed in a rumpled evening suit, his tie was loose and trailing with tattered ends. A purple bruise stained his jaw line and his dark hair was tousled in a wild manner, as if fingers had been raked through it both ways.
He all but collapsed against the desk, his gaze roaming wildly around the room before concentrating on her with strange intensity.
“I’m looking for a book,” he began, his tone slightly breathless. “A volume from the 1800s with—” he stopped, gaze lighting up as he spotted the volume in her hands. He reached for it eagerly, his fingers closing around the cover before she could snatch it away.
“Excuse me,” she said, knowing her voice sounded flustered, “but this one isn’t available for customers to check out.” She pulled gently on the book, attempting to dislodge it from his grasp without damaging the fragile binding. His grip tightened in response, his fingers brushing hers in a moment that sent shivers up her spine.
With a gaze that seemed more pleading than threatening, he said, “I don’t want to check it out. I want to buy it. For whatever price you’ll take.”
Was this a joke? Adelle fumbled for an answer amidst her confusion.
“I need this book,” he continued, “and as soon as possible.”
He might be drunk, yet there was no trace of liquor on his breath. If this were a novel, he would be a spy on a mission to save civilization as she knew it. As it was, she hoped he wasn’t toting a weapon somewhere on his disheveled person.
“I’m afraid it’s not possible,” she managed in her firmest tone. “And unless you intend to check something out from our collection, I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
Digging frantically in his pocket, he yanked out a wallet and emptied its contents. “Here’s two hundred dollars; I can write you a check for the rest, however much it is. Please, just let me have it.”
She shook her head, her eyes widening as they met his deep brown orbs. The intensity in his gaze made her tremble. “I—I can’t,” she stammered. “It’s the property of the library. And at the moment, it’s not for sale to anyone for any price.”
His shoulders slumped, defeat creeping into his features as he collected the scattered bills.
It was enough to make her pity him. She softened her tone. “If you come back in the future, perhaps it will be available. But it’s almost ten o’clock, which means the library has to close.”
This was a good excuse, and she prayed he would take the hint. Part of her was frightened by his behavior, the other part intrigued by his interest.
“Right,” he murmured; his gaze still on the book as she slid it inside her shoulder bag. Something about his fixation with the volume made her hesitate to leave it in the pile of donated books, where it might disappear into this patron’s pocket the moment she was distracted by something else. Better to safeguard it — and maybe peruse it a little — before making her recommendation to the library director about its future.
“Later, then.” With this reluctant statement, the stranger slipped out the door, his figure vanishing in the darkness.
She flinched at the sound of a chair scraping the floor, then breathed a sigh of relief as Dr. Ravenwood appeared from the darkness. Placing a stack of journals on the counter, he offered her an inquisitive smile. “You seem pale, my dear. I hope that gentleman didn’t upset you too much?”
“Not at all,” Adelle assured him, scanning the card he handed her.
“Quite a fuss he made. I could hear every word from where I sat. Do you mind if I look at the book?” he asked, his tone casual. “I have some experience in the antiquarian world, so I could tell you if it has any value.”
She pulled it from her bag and watched him examine the binding and pages, his features growing excited. “Ah, yes, this is a very fine item, especially to a local historian like myself. Two hundred dollars is hardly an adequate price. Perhaps more like eight hundred.”
“That much?” The library had never been so lucky; most antique donations were too damaged to interest a collector.
“It’s quite valuable,” Dr. Ravenwood assured her. “In the right hands, it might be worth even more. I would be willing to pay you my estimated figure to become its owner.”
Her mouth dropped open, her first impulse to laugh.
The little volume was strangely popular for an unknown work.
“That’s very generous,” she said, “but I’m afraid the final decision lies with the library director.”
Secretly, she felt the director would jump at the chance to sell it, given how badly the building needed funds. Adelle was naturally cautious, her instinct telling her to seek a second opinion.
“Yes, of course.” He seemed reluctant to return it, his fingers still stroking its cover as she reached to take it. “You’re quite right to wait. Although, if I were you,” he advised softly, “I shouldn’t leave this volume unguarded.” With this final warning, he collected his coat and pushed open the door, leaving her alone in the silence of closing hour.