Bettie Page Presents: The Librarian

BOOK: Bettie Page Presents: The Librarian
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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Thank you to my extraordinary editor, Lauren McKenna, who pushed me on every single scene in this book. Lauren, you not only changed the way I looked at this story, you changed the way I look at romantic storytelling: I'm grateful. Alexandra Lewis, thank you for all of your help and hard work keeping the train on the tracks!

Clare Neumann at CMG Woldwide Inc. was instrumental in making this project happen. Thank you for being such a passionate reader. A big thank-you to the Bettie Page LLC for supporting this novel, and for keeping Bettie alive in the hearts and minds of people all over the world.

My questions about the day-to-day work of librarians were patiently answered by librarian and blogger Wendy Crutcher (aka Wendy the SuperLibrarian) and author Jessica Rozler. Talented photographer Ellen Stagg generously shared her experience in the field of erotic photography. Thank you to publishing guru Matt Schwartz—our conversations always leave me inspired, and one in particular led to this book.

Finally, I must give credit where credit is due: To Adam Chromy, my agent and partner, it was your idea to shamelessly desecrate a library. Thank you, as always, for the stroke of genius.
 

Love is a great punishment for desire.

—ANNE ENRIGHT

AUTHOR'S NOTE

While the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue is an actual (and awe-inspiring) place, I have taken liberties with the depiction of the layout, room names, and room numbers in telling this fictional story. For anyone interested in factual details about this magnificent building, I recommend the book
The New York Public Library: The Architecture and Decoration of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
by Henry Hope Reed and Francis Morrone.

CHAPTER 1

Regina Finch stopped on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Forty-second Street. On either side, people jostled her in their hurry to get by, the crowds moving like waves breaking over a rock. After a month in New York City, she still wasn't used to rush hour.

She didn't let the crowds distract her. This was her first day of work at her dream job, and she was going to savor every minute of it. Just one month after graduating with her master's degree in Library and Information Science from Drexel University, she was on her way to the most magnificent library in the country.

Regina gazed up at the Beaux Arts building, a stunning piece of architecture in white limestone and marble. If there was a more perfect place in the world than the New York Public Library, Regina certainly couldn't imagine it.

“You looking at the twins?” an old woman said to her. She had hair so white it was almost pink, and wore a robin's-egg-blue suit with shiny gold buttons. She held a crystal-studded leash, at the end of which was tethered a small white dog.

“Excuse me?” asked Regina.

“The lions,” the woman clarified.

Oh, the lions. On each side of the wide stone steps leading up to the library was a white marble statue of a lion. They were regal-looking creatures, perched on stone pillars, as if watching sentry over the knowledge inside the building. “I do like the lions,” Regina said. Her roommate had admonished her that she didn't have to answer every nut who talked to her on the street. But Regina was from Pennsylvania, and she couldn't be rude.

“Patience and Fortitude,” said the woman. “Those're their names.”

“Is that true?” asked Regina. “I never knew that.”

“Patience and Fortitude,” repeated the woman, and she walked away.

•

Regina didn't know how to tell her new boss, Sloan Caldwell, that she didn't need an orientation tour of the library—that she had been visiting it since she was a young girl. But Sloan, a tall, cool, Upper East Side blonde, had been intimidating during her interviews, and was somehow even more so now that Regina had the job.

“Don't you want to take notes as we walk?” Sloan asked. Regina opened her bag and scrambled for a pen and paper.

Regina followed Sloan down the white marble hallway, its Franco-Roman design always reminding her of the photographs of the great buildings in Europe. But Regina's father had often told Regina that there was no point in comparing the Main Branch of the New York Public Library to anything; as a piece of architecture, it stood on its own.

“And this is the Public Catalogue Room,” said Sloan.

The grand room, officially called the Bill Blass Public Catalogue Room, was lined with low, dark wood tables dotted with the library's signature bronze lamps with metal shades finished in dark bronze. The computers seemed out of place in a room that otherwise seemed reminiscent of the early twentieth century. “These computers do not access the Internet,” said Sloan, clearly bored with the speech she had no doubt given countless times. “Their only purpose is to enable visitors to look up the books they need, and to get the call numbers and other information for retrieval.”

Regina, of course, knew this system better than she knew her way through anything else in life. (If there was anything Regina loved, it was a good system. She craved order above all else.) After visitors looked up their books, they wrote down the titles and call numbers on little slips of paper with the small pencils provided in cups on either end of the long tables. Regina was comforted by the fact that in the age of texting and e-mailing everything, the New York Public Library was the one place people actually had to take pencil to paper.

Sloan kept walking, her high, wing-tipped heels clicking on the marble floor. She wore her straight hair pulled into a neat, low ponytail, and dressed head to toe in Ralph Lauren. Like Regina's roommate, Sloan Caldwell looked her up and down and could barely conceal her verdict: wrong, wrong,
all wrong
. Regina wondered if there was some secret Manhattan dress code that everyone was privy to except her. Ever since she'd moved to the city, she felt like one of the aliens in
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
—she
almost
passed as a person who belonged, but anyone who looked closely enough could see otherwise.

“And here we have the heart of the library, the Main Reading Room.”

Regina's father had often traveled to New York on business, and he would take Regina along. They rode the Amtrak train together, a ritual of bonding that included lunch at Serendipity and a visit to the New York Public Library Main Branch on Fifth Avenue. To this day, the faintly musty smell of the Rose Main Reading Room brought back memories of her father so quick and sharp, it always took her a minute to recover.

Regina paused to read the inscription over the door, a 1644 protest against censorship from Milton's “Areopagitica”:
A good Booke is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, imbalm'd and treasur'd up on purpose to a life beyond life
.

The room was breathtaking; the sheer size of it never failed to dazzle her. The ceiling was over fifty-one feet high—only about ten feet shorter than a brownstone. The room was seventy-eight feet wide and two hundred ninety-seven feet long—about the length of two city blocks. The enormous, round-arched windows were filled with sunlight, and then there was the ceiling, a canvas of sky and clouds painted by Yohannes Aynalem, surrounded by ornate wood and gold-colored carvings of cherubs, dolphins, and scrolls. But her favorite parts of the room were the four-tiered chandeliers, dark wood and brass, carved with satyr masks between the bulbs.

Sloan paused in front of the Delivery Desk at the front of the room. It was more than a desk: the ornate, dark wood fixture ran half the length of the room and was essentially the command center. It was divided into eleven bays with round arched windows, each bay separated by a Roman Doric column.

Sloan leaned on one of the bays.

“Here it is . . . your new home,” she said.

Regina was confused. “I'm working at the Delivery Desk?”

“Yes,” said Sloan.

“But . . . I have my degree in archives and preservation.”

Sloan looked at her critically, one perfectly manicured hand on her hip. “Don't get ahead of yourself. You're smart, but so was every candidate for this job. You can work your way up like everyone else. Besides—the library has archives covered with Margaret. Have you met Margaret? She's quite well preserved herself. I think she's been here since the cornerstone was laid.”

Regina felt a sinking feeling in her stomach. Working at the Delivery Desk was not very challenging work. All she would do is sit at the desk, take people's slips of paper, enter their requests into the computer, and then wait until someone retrieved the books from the various rooms and floors, which Regina would then hand over to the visitor, who had been waiting at a table with a number.

Regina tried not to panic. Everyone had to start somewhere, she told herself. And it could be worse: she could be working at the Returns Desk.

The important thing was that she was there—she was finally a librarian. And she would prove herself worthy of the job.

CHAPTER 2

Regina took her brown-bag lunch and sat outside on the top stairs of the library. She opened her thermos of milk and stared out at Fifth Avenue.

“Are you the new librarian?” an older woman asked, pausing on her way down the stairs.

“Yes, I'm Regina,” she said, covering her mouth as she chewed.

“Welcome. I'm Margaret Saddle.”

It was awkward to be sitting while the woman stood over her, so Regina got to her feet, brushing off her pleated cotton skirt.

“Oh, yes—you work in the archives room, right?”

Margaret nodded. “For the past fifty years.”

“Wow. That's . . . impressive.”

Margaret had jaw-length white hair and pale blue eyes. She powdered her cheeks but otherwise wore no makeup. Her pearl necklace was large, and if Regina had to guess, she would say it was real.

The woman gazed back at the building. “This is a place worth devoting one's entire professional life to,” she said. “Although, it's all been downhill since we lost Brooke Astor. Well, it's nice to meet you. Come visit me on the fourth floor anytime. You might find you have questions, and Lord knows that other one won't be in a rush to answer them—if she even knows the answer. All right then—enjoy the sunshine.”

Regina wanted to tell the woman that she had her degree in archives and preservation, but she didn't want to appear to be jockeying for a position. But she could tell already that she'd much rather spend her days working with Margaret Saddle than Sloan Caldwell.

Margaret shuffled off, and Regina sat back down on the steps, forgetting the open thermos behind her. She knocked it over, sending milk trickling down the stairs and the heavy lid bouncing away like a ball.

Regina was horrified. She didn't know what to attend to first—the expanding pool of white liquid or the lid picking up speed as it careened toward Fifth Avenue.

She straightened the thermos to stem the flow of milk, and then headed down to chase the lid. But before she could make it two steps, she saw a tall, broad-shouldered man intercept the lid with one swipe of his hand.

He looked up at her, his eyes a velvety dark brown, almost black. As he headed toward her, she was surprised to feel her heart begin to pound.

“Does this belong to you?” He held up the lid, a hint of a smile on his face, a face that was so ruggedly handsome it was embarrassing. He had high cheekbones, a chiseled nose, and the smallest cleft in his chin. His hair was shiny and dark and long enough that the edges curled around his shirt collar. He was older than she, maybe thirty.

“Um, yes—I'm sorry. Thank you.” Even though she was one step above him, he still towered over her.

“No need to apologize. Although now that I see that mess up there . . . maybe.”

Mortified, she followed his gaze to the milk puddle.

“Oh, I'll . . . I'm going to clean it. I would never leave that . . .”

But his grin told her he was just kidding. “Take it easy,” he said, handing her the black plastic lid. His fingers grazed hers, and she felt actual heat at the contact.

And then he walked past her, past the puddle, and disappeared into the heavy front door of the library.

•

Regina climbed the five flights of stairs to her apartment on Bank Street, her bag heavy with books she couldn't resist checking out of the lending library across the street from the main branch.

She lived in a small apartment in a quaint building on the most perfect block in the most perfect neighborhood in the city. She thought of it as her Great Escape—not only from the limitations of her hometown but from the far-reaching, needy arms of her mother. There, tucked away in a neighborhood that was once home to literary greats such as Willa Cather, Henry James, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Edgar Allan Poe, Regina was truly on her own for the first time in her life.

The only blight on this otherwise perfect landscape of newfound freedom was her roommate, Carly. Carly Ronak was a tragically hip Parsons student who cared about only two things: fashion and men. And the men changed more often than her jeans. It seemed every week there was a different guy in the rotation.

Regina had never had a roommate before. During college, her mother had insisted that she live at home rather than in one of the Drexel University dorms in Center City, Philadelphia—a twenty-minute drive from their house in the suburbs. She realized, now that she lived with Carly, that her mother had had maybe too much influence over her social life in the past few years. As daily witness to Carly's whirlwind dating life, Regina had to wonder why she hadn't ventured more into that arena herself. It was partly her mother's fault—she was so negative on the issue of Regina's dating that sneaking around hardly seemed worth the effort. The few dates Regina had gone on were so disappointing, they weren't worth the lies to or the arguments with her mother. But now Regina had to wonder if she had missed out on something important.

As for Carly, it took Regina a few weeks to figure out why she even bothered having a roommate. She appeared to have an endless supply of cash, at least when it came to clothes. Shopping bags from Barneys, Alice and Olivia, or Scoop were ubiquitous in the apartment. Regina didn't know much about clothes, but she knew these stores were a far cry from Filene's and Target, where she did all of her shopping. And then there was Carly's constant maintenance of her long, highlighted hair at Bumble and Bumble, and her seemingly endless meals out. Regina had never seen Carly so much as pour herself a bowl of cereal. She even ordered in scrambled eggs on the rare weekend morning when she woke up in their apartment.

The mystery was solved when she was once awakened by Carly and her hookup du jour banging around the kitchen at two in the morning. Carly admonished the guy for all of his loud moaning (which had awakened Regina an hour earlier). “My roommate will be traumatized,” Carly had said. To which the guy replied, “I don't get why you even have a roommate. Your dad is Mark Ronak.” Carly told him that it wasn't a money issue; her parents insisted she have a roommate for “safety reasons.” They had both laughed over this, and the guy had said, “Good thing you have someone around here to keep you under control. Otherwise, you might be a bad girl.”

Of course Regina had Googled Mark Ronak and learned that Carly's father was the founder of the country's largest hip-hop record label. This little background detail served to widen the gulf between Regina and her roommate; the idea of either of
her
parents ever listening to hip-hop—or even pop music—was unimaginable to her. Regina's father had been in his mid-thirties when she was born, and he had died eight years later. He had been an architect, and the only music he had listened to was opera. Regina's mother was a classically trained cellist who listened only to classical music, and insisted
Regina
listen only to classical while in the house. Alice Finch worked as a docent at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and as far as she was concerned, the only acceptable forms of music, painting, and literature were the classics: in her household, there was no “pop” in music, no “modern” in art, no “pulp” in fiction.

“How was your first day?” Carly asked, looking up from her copy of
W
magazine. She was sitting cross-legged on the couch, wearing a pair of perfectly faded bell-bottom jeans and a cropped cashmere sweater, her honey-blond hair in a messy knot. “Did the other library kids play nice?” The room smelled of her Chanel Allure perfume.

“It was fine, thanks,” Regina said, dropping her heavy bag onto the floor and walking into the kitchen to get a Coke. She could never tell if Carly was genuinely interested in talking to her or if it was just a reflex since she was the only other person in the room. Regina knew that Carly didn't understand how “shelving books”—as she put it—could be the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. But that's exactly what it was to her; from the time when she was six and her father had started taking her to the library every Saturday afternoon—not even the New York Public Library, just their small library in Gladwynne, Pennsylvania—Regina had known it was where she belonged. She never went through a phase of wanting to be a schoolteacher, or a veterinarian, or a ballerina; for Regina, it had always been about becoming a librarian. She wanted to be surrounded by the smell of books; she wanted to be responsible for the rows and rows of tidy shelves, for the meticulous cataloguing; she wanted to help people discover the next great novel they would read, or the book that would help them do the research that would earn them a degree or solve an intellectual riddle. She knew this from the time she was little, and she never lost focus.

And now her dream had come true, as small and ridiculous as it might seem to a woman like Carly Ronak, who had spent her girlhood dreaming of becoming the next Tory Burch.

“Good to hear,” Carly said. “Listen, I'm having a friend over tonight. I hope we won't be in your way.” What she really meant was that she hoped Regina would have the decency to stay in her bedroom and not get in
their
way.

“Don't worry about me. I have a lot of reading to do.”

“Oh, and your mother called—twice,” Carly said, handing Regina a purple Post-it note with the message scribbled illegibly in Sharpie ink.

In an attempt to cut her expenses for the move to New York, Regina had gotten rid of her cell phone. This had the welcome consequence of making it impossible for her mother to contact her twenty-four/seven. Unfortunately, anyone in Regina's life who happened to have a landline was now paying the price.

Regina crumpled the note and stuffed it in her pocket.

•

Regina woke to the sound of someone breaking into the apartment. At least, that's what it sounded like to her. And then she realized it was just Carly's headboard banging into her wall.

This was accompanied by moaning, and Carly's no doubt unnecessary cry of “Fuck me!”

More moaning, this time a man's voice. The sound of the headboard hitting the wall got harder and faster, and the tenor of their voices seemed indicative of violence rather than pleasure. And then it was silent.

Regina found herself breathing heavily. She didn't know whether it was from being startled awake, or from the nature of the sounds she'd been hearing. It was disturbing and arousing at the same time, and this bothered her more than the fact that she was literally losing sleep as a result of her roommate's sex life.

She knew she was behind the curve as far as the whole sex thing went; to be a virgin at her age was unthinkable to most people. But it was her reality—a reality that hadn't bothered her until she moved to New York and realized she was the last one to the party.

It wasn't as if she
planned
never to have sex. She hadn't taken a chastity pledge or anything. It was more that the opportunity hadn't presented itself. Her friends back home told her that she walked around oblivious—that guys were always checking her out and would ask her out more often if she made an effort to get out and do things. “You're so serious all the time,” her friends told her. It's not that she didn't want to have fun. It's more that she was painfully aware that every party she went to was a night of missed studying, and every guy she had a crush on threatened to take her away from what was important: studying. Working hard. Preparing for her future.

Focus
. It was her mother's mantra. She was quick to tell Regina that boys were nothing but a distraction—“a surefire way to derail your future.” It had
happened to her,
Regina's mother warned her solemnly. Regina had heard the story dozens of times: her mother spoke about how she had “given up her dreams” to support Regina's father as he went through architecture school and during the early years of his career—and then she got pregnant with Regina. “And your father died and left me holding the bag. No one thinks about worst-case scenarios, Regina. The only one you can depend on is yourself.”

Regina looked at the clock. It was two in the morning. Five hours until her alarm went off.

Laughter, and then another moan.

Regina rolled over on her back, desperate to find her way back to sleep. Her nightgown, a gray cotton shift from Old Navy, was twisted around her waist. She loosened it but kept it above her hips. She stroked her stomach, trying to relax herself, to recapture sleep. And then her hand, as if moving of its own volition, drifted to the edge of her underwear.

She paused. From the next room, silence.

Regina moved her hand into her underwear, her fingers touching herself lightly between her legs. The thought of the man just a few feet away on the other side of the wall both excited and distracted her. It had been a long time since a guy had touched her, and her few experiences had been fumbling and unmemorable. Now it was almost impossible for her to imagine someone else's hand in this exquisitely private and sensitive place, stroking her until she was wet, then pressing inside, moving in and out in just the right way to trigger that powerful release. She moved her hand quickly, the walls of her vagina pulsing against her own finger, her hips moving in tandem. She felt the familiar rush of pleasure, and then lay still against her rumpled comforter. Her heart was pounding.

What would it be like to have someone else next to her at that moment of climax?

She was beginning to wonder if she would ever know.

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