If Sarah Anne Miller Canon ever decided to write down a list of things she thought would never happen, being a newlywed at age sixty-two would be at the top. Of course, after a twenty-eight-year career at a major accounting firm, she never would have imagined that she’d have a whole new career as a bookmobile driver, either.
It seemed the Lord was giving her surprises when she least expected them.
After she and Pete had had their small ceremony, they’d gone to Niagara Falls for their honeymoon. Pete’s daughter had been appalled and had even come up with other options for them. But while both Paris and Mackinac Island did sound lovely, Sarah Anne and Pete had decided months ago to stop listening to everyone’s well-intentioned advice and make their choice based on what they wanted. Sixty years of living meant they’d earned that right.
Their honeymoon had been wonderful, and they were settling into married life. To Sarah Anne’s surprise, they’d also experienced a few bumps along the way. It turned out that when two independent people decided to move in together, a period of adjustment had to take place. She hadn’t known that her new husband loved to watch so much football, and Pete hadn’t known that she was such a messy cook. She was slowly learning that marriage the second time around meant even more compromises than it had with the first.
When the door of the bookmobile clicked open for the first time since she’d parked on Mill Street forty minutes ago, all thoughts of her life evaporated.
Because Atle Petersheim had just arrived, bringing in a burst of cold air with him.
Pleased to see the shy, stalwart, handsome man for the second time in two weeks, Sarah Anne walked over to greet him.
“Gut meiyah, Atle. How are you on this chilly morning?”
As it often happened, his cheeks turned pink when he turned to face her. “I’m all right. And you, Miss Miller?”
That reply was typical Atle. His voice was always controlled, and he always spoke to her in a formal way. She’d given up attempting to make their conversations more personal. But she couldn’t resist teasing him a little bit, either. “I’m all right as well. Though I am Mrs. Canon now, remember?”
“Ack!” He rubbed a hand across his scruffy jaw. “Jah. Forgive me. I don’t know why I keep forgetting you got married.”
“You know I’m just joking. Is there anything I may help you with?”
“Nee. I just came in to look around for a spell.”
“That sounds like a nice plan. Would you care for a cup of coffee?” She pointed to her trusty Keurig machine. “It is a bit chilly out this morning, you know.”
It was now near the end of November, and the brisk mornings never failed to make her yearn for a second or third cup of coffee.
Atle gazed at the coffee maker for a long moment before nodding. “Danke. I will take you up on your offer this morning.”
“You will?” She tried to cover up her shock, since this was truly a first. “I’m so glad. Do you take it black or with cream and sugar?”
“Black, with one cube of sugar, please.”
“I’ll bring it to you as soon as it’s ready.”
“That’s kind of you.”
“It’s no bother,” she said as she watched Atle wander around the bookmobile, every so often running a finger along the title of one of the books. She wondered what was on his mind. Atle seemed to be thinking really hard today, which was saying a lot, given that he wasn’t the type of man to say much about anything.
When the machine clicked off and she had added his cube of sugar, she handed the cup to him. “Here you go.”
“Your cup of coffee. Remember?” she asked.
“Oh. Jah. Forgive me.” He smiled sheepishly. “I’m afraid my mind was out walking.”
“Atle, is there something you’d like to talk about?” She tried to smile in an encouraging way. “Anything at all?”
He blew on his cup, then took a tentative sip. “Nee. I am finding the state of the bookmobile to be in good shape and the selection of books to be… adequate.”
Adequate? She was a little miffed by the descriptor but shrugged it off for the moment. “I’m glad you’re pleased with the bookmobile, but I wasn’t actually talking about books and the condition of the vehicle. I was wondering if there is something you’d like to get off your chest. People say I’m a really good listener.”
Atle sputtered a bit on the sip of coffee he’d just taken. “Nee. I mean, I have no worries to share.”
“Oh. Of course not.” She backed up a step. “I’m sorry if I offended you.”
“I only came in here for books.”
“I understand. I’ll go sit down and leave you to your browsing.”
This time, he didn’t even bless her with a reply. Instead, he kind of harrumphed before turning away.
Sarah Anne felt like harrumphing herself. She usually got along with all of her patrons. She was chatty by nature and found most of the folks who stopped by enjoyed visiting with her or discussing books. Atle was a bit different, however. He was continually guarded and pensive. Oh well; she should have been prepared for that. After all, one couldn’t expect to win over every patron.
Sitting back down at her desk, she checked her phone, then pulled up the library’s database. With Christmas coming, she was going to need to order lots of holiday-themed picture books, cookbooks, novels… and even some DVDs for her English patrons. Immediately her spirits brightened. It really was going to be such a fun Christmas season this year. She had so much to celebrate with Pete.
Humming to herself, she started writing down lists of materials to order, all while envisioning Pete’s expression when she presented him with her special gift—a trip to see his daughter’s family. They’d recently moved to Colorado, and Pete missed them terribly. Now they could plan a Colorado Christmas vacation. Snow, sleds, and lots of fun family time. She couldn’t wait.
Glancing up, she realized Atle was standing in front of her. His hands were empty, and he had a disgruntled look on his face. “I’m sorry, Atle. Have you been standing there very long?”
“Only a minute or two.” He was gazing intently at her list. “What is that?”
“I’m making a list of Christmas and Hanukkah books and materials to order.”
He pointed to one of the titles she’d just jotted down. Love’s Christmas Courtship. “What is that?”
“That one? Oh. Well, it’s a romance novel. Some of my patrons really enjoy them.” She did, too.
He narrowed his eyes. “What are they about?”
She would have thought that was obvious. She shrugged. “Usually boy meets girl, there is an attraction, then a reason the couple can’t get together, so they have to work through it.”
“Then what happens?”
“There’s a happy ending. The couple resolves their problems, gets engaged or married, and lives happily ever after.” She braced herself for another grunt or maybe a derisive comment. Some folks, especially some of her male patrons, just didn’t understand the appeal of romance novels.
“Do any of those books take place at other times of the year?”
She pointed to a row of short paperback romances from a popular publisher. “Oh, sure. We’ve got lots of them here.”
Atle stared at the novels for a long time. At the title written on her notepad. At her. Then, at long last, he seemed to come to a decision. “I think I might be needing one of those books to help me with my courting.”
“Pardon?” It was taking everything she had not to gape at him.
Looking even more serious, he nodded. “I’ve decided it’s time I took a wife, Sarah Anne.”
“Do you have a special lady in mind?”
“Jah. She’s… she’s someone special.” He frowned. “The problem is that I don’t know much about courting. I don’t know much at all.” He paused before lowering his voice. “I think I need to figure out how to add romance into my life.”
“Jah. I mean, women like flowery things. Ain’t so?”
Sarah Anne found herself nodding before she thought the better of it.
“I started thinking that it ain’t like one can take lessons on wooing and such.” He looked at her intently. “Have you heard of men going to courting classes or the like?”
Atle might as well have just asked if she believed in UFOs. She really was that caught off guard. It took a minute, but she found her voice. “No, no, I have not ever heard of classes like that.”
“Well, then.” He rolled back on his heels. “A book is what I need. A courting book for middle-aged men. Can you find me something like that?”
“Yes—I mean, I’ll do my best to find you a suitable book.” When his eyebrows rose, she fumbled through another explanation. “I mean, I’ll do my best to select a book that you might find helpful.”
Breathing a sigh of relief, Atle nodded. “Gut. I’ll be in next week, if that suits you?”
“It suits me just fine.”
He finished his coffee, carefully disposed of the paper cup, then, with a nod, exited the vehicle.
Only then did Sarah Anne realize she’d been standing there with her mouth wide open. It was a wonder she hadn’t let in flies!
She had been driving the bookmobile for a while now and she’d thought she’d seen and heard everything.
It turned out she had been very wrong.
Returning to her desk, she leaned back in her chair and started thinking about self-help books that focused on relationships. None of them seemed like the right fit for Atle, though.
Just as she was about to fire up the search engine, she remembered a different sort of book altogether. It was an older novel, originally published in the mid-1970s, featuring a dashing businessman and his lovely secretary. It was all before cell phones and computers, definitely old-fashioned compared to today’s dating apps. But, though everything was rather over the top, the hero was truly romantic, and the heroine did give him a run for his money.
Making a sudden decision, she clicked through the library’s database and ordered Finding Love’s Fortune to be sent to her right away. Now all she had to do was figure out how to get a man like Atle to open up an old romance novel.
She had a week to figure that one out.