The Secret Library

“I smell fabric softener,” Jade announced. She strained against his hold, tipping her nose up in the air and sniffing. Riley smiled as he kept his hands over her eyes and refused to let her see–that and he enjoyed the way doing so kept her close. She inhaled deeply once more. “Do you use lavender fabric softener?”

“I do,” he said with a laugh. “But only for the towels. I feel like it makes them snugglier after a hot shower.”

“That’s so true,” she agreed. “Are we doing laundry?” 

“No!” Though he could understand why she thought so. “No, we’re not doing laundry.” 

“We’re not taking a shower, are we?” she asked. He faltered at her words, his neck and ears burning hot. Was that really the message he was sending her? That was absolutely not what he wanted her thinking. 

“Library!” Riley exclaimed, his voice cracking. She gasped dramatically and clapped her hands together happily. 

“Are you showing me the secret library?” Jade practically shrieked with excitement. 

“Yes.” He smiled, her enthusiasm contagious. He dropped his hands, and she rounded on him. “I wanted it to be a surprise… I was going to do some big reveal, but I guess that’s not needed.” 

“You put the library in the towel closet?” Her nose scrunched up with confusion as her dark eyes roamed over the shelves of towels. “I can’t tell if that’s brilliant or silly.”

“It really doesn’t matter if it’s either because I didn’t build the house. I found it when I was kid,” Riley said. His hand slipped to her lower back as he made his way around her to the back of the tiny closet. As he spoke, he pushed the shelf as far to the side as possible. He purposefully made sure nothing heavy ever went on that shelf. “The back wall is a fake wall. There’s a staircase back here.”

“How in the world did you find this?” 

“I’m the house’s reigning champion in hide and seek,” he told her with a grin. “Granted, my parents did have to call the police. I was missing for five days.”

“Five days!” she squeaked out. “And you didn’t get hungry?”

“I took hide and seek very seriously as a kid,” Riley admitted. His fingers trailed along the edge of the wall until he found the tiny hook and slid the wall back on its track. The dark stairwell would’ve been intimidating if he wasn’t used to it. Would she be scared? He glanced at her, finding nothing but building excitement on her face. “I took a backpack of snacks and water with me. The library has a bathroom. And there’s couches. I stayed there for five days.”

“Can you challenge Nate and Sam to hide and seek?” Jade asked. “I’ll make you all the snacks. I would pay to see them lose their shit over being unable to find you.”

“I’m game if you can get them to play,” he said with a shrug. He tipped his head toward the stairs. “Be careful. The stairs spiral.”

“I’m so excited!” she squealed. 

In the darkness, her hand sought out his. Her fingers threaded through his, and he held on tight. The feel of her hand in his was comforting, something he could get used to. He knew it was so she could navigate the stairs, but he could enjoy it while it lasted. 

As Riley hit the top step, he rotated before she could enter the library.

“Can I still surprise you?” he asked, tentatively broaching the idea. “I know we’re already here, but I–”

“Yes!” She clapped once more, and his heart damn near doubled in size. She was absolutely adorable. The fact that she willingly brought him into her world astounded him. Her fingers tightened around his, and she closed her eyes. “Lead on, handsome.”

His cheeks flushed hot when she called him that, his heart hammering harder in his chest. 

Deep breath in. 

Exhale slowly. 

He could do it. 

No anxiety was going to stop him. 

At least Riley was going to keep telling himself that. 

“Right!” He cleared his throat. Maneuvering her carefully, he led her in front of him and slipped his hands over her eyes once more. He whispered, “One more step… we’re just going to round this rail right here–you can’t see it, but the railing stops here. You know what? Not a big deal.”

The hidden library in the house was nothing more than a giant room filled with bookshelves. Two of the four walls were lined floor to ceiling with ancient books, leather bound and begging to be read. The other two walls housed maps, journals, and other magical oddities housed on shelves between tall windows. Stained glass flooded the room with a myriad of beautiful colors. It spilled over the soft couches, anchored shelves, and long tables scattered throughout the room. 

The little library smelled of dust and old books, magic and wonder. He’d spent many hours of his childhood in that room. Even after his mother found it, she never truly bothered him there. It’d become his sanctuary. It was one of the few places in the world he felt safe. As he stood there with Jade, he was apprehensive about sharing it with her. 

He wanted her to love it as much as he did. 

Riley dropped his hands. He stepped to the side quickly, trying to catch the look on her face as she took everything in. Her pretty eyes widened while she clasped her hands over her chest. The tiny gasp she let out was ridiculously audible in the quiet room. 

The sheer joy on her face was worth every bumbling second of his attempt to surprise her. 

In one swift movement, Jade twirled on her toes and threw her arms around his shoulders. He caught her, landing strong on his back foot to brace them both before they took a tumble down the stairs. 

She kissed him. 

Lord and Raguel help him, she kissed him. Her lips were soft while his eyes drifted shut. The world faded in a sweet cloud of citrus and something floral he couldn’t place. His anxiety trickled away with the warmth of her body against his. 

Cradling her face in his hands, his mouth moved against hers as he kissed her deeply. Her fingers dug into his shoulders as she stepped closer, her tongue brushing against his. His hands slid down her back, and he wrapped her up tight in his arms as his lips broke from hers. 

“It’s perfect,” Jade murmured. 

“You are.” Riley’s nose brushed against hers as he nodded. “I mean, yeah… it’s perfect.”

While he’d had every intention of wowing her, Jade took the prize for the best surprise of the night.