Riley's Love Connection
A Mossy Oak Reader-made romance
There’s nothing better than listening to a handsome man read.
I take that back. There’s nothing better than Josh Killian, dressed in his firefighter station wear blues, reading. His voice alternates between a low rumble and a high-pitched cackle, depending on which character he’s voicing. The kids hang on his every word, leaning forward to hear what comes next.
The kids aren’t the only ones staring. Mrs. Witherspoon and I are guilty, too.
Josh is gorgeous. He has the best smile and the softest brown eyes framed by dark, thick lashes. I’ve been in love with Josh Killian since pre-school.
Back then, he’d been small and skinny. I’d protected him from Jenny Sanders, the class bully, when she’d tried to steal his teddy bear. Now, Josh is a six-foot-three firefighter with muscles for days who rescues old ladies from burning buildings.
Mrs. Witherspoon plants her elbows on the counter and sighs dramatically. “He makes me wish I was twenty years younger.”
I bite my lip to hold back a smile. Mrs. Witherspoon is seventy-five if a day. She has a puff of hair as white as cotton and bright chubby cheeks. She might need to knock off a few more decades before attempting to seduce Josh Killian.
“He’s a wonderful reader,” I say. It’s hard not to stare at his biceps as he turns the page. “The kids love him.”
“They aren’t the only ones. Why do you think I’m always here on the first Friday of the month? I skip my painting lessons just to be here. And it’s not for your company, sweetie.” She pats my hand in a comforting bless your heart gesture that needs no words.
Josh finishes up his story, his voice rising and falling dramatically. I could listen to Josh’s voice all day. He could read the menu at Hawthorne’s Pizza and I would hang on every syllable.
We’d gone to school together our whole lives, and he’d never taken any notice of me then. I was the shy girl with her nose buried in a book. I didn’t have a lot of friends, and I was voted “Quietest” my senior year.
I’d gone away to college, but had always dreamed of coming back to Mossy Oak someday to work at my favorite place—the library.
Growing up, the library had been a place of love and light that beat with the lives of a million stories. I’d lived in the bean bag chairs, devouring whole shelves of authors at a time.
Back then, there had always been something going on at the library. There were book drives, holiday parties, and fundraisers. The bookmobile made a weekly appearance to switch out books.
But things had changed. People didn’t come to the library anymore, and the sense of community had suffered because of it.
When I moved back to Mossy Oak and got my dream job, I made it my mission to bring fun back to the library. Now, nearly a year later, we have reading clubs, themed story nights, and a romance author’s book signing planned for Valentine’s Day.
That’s only the beginning. I have so many plans to make our library the best place to be in town.
Friday evenings are my favorite. Every Friday at 5:30, a volunteer reads to the children in the young readers section. The volunteers are some of the most influential people of Mossy Oak, including the mayor, the principal of the elementary school, and my childhood crush, Josh Killian.
Josh finishes the story with a flourish and closes the book. The parents clap, and the children grow restless. They know what’s coming next. Every week, the children get to vote on the next book. They are supposed to pick their favorite book or character in the entire library, and the volunteer will choose one of their suggestions.
I pass around baskets filled with scraps of paper and pencils for the children. Those who can write do it themselves, others get help or draw pictures.
While the children scribble on their papers, Josh waits patiently on his stool, holding out his firefighter’s hat for the kids to place their scraps of paper.
When I pass by him, he smiles. My heart flips, and I can feel my face flushing. I try to smile back, but my lips won’t cooperate. He makes every cell in my body go haywire.
His clean, woodsy scent reminds me of sitting in my treehouse after a summer rain, reading Harry Potter.
“You look pretty tonight,” Josh says.
The deep rumble of his voice catches me off guard. I glance behind me to see if one of the moms is standing there, but there’s no one but Mrs. Witherspoon in her cat sweater, passing out the remaining scraps of paper.
She does look nice tonight. Her “Happy Meowentine’s Day” sweater is festive, and she’s done something different with her hair.
Josh chuckles, and I turn back to look at him. He’s shorter than me perched on the stool, and the height advantage gives me a view of him I’ve never seen before. Even the top of his head is gorgeous. He has thick, short hair a shade darker than dark brown but not quite black. It springs from his head in unruly waves that my fingers itch to comb.
“I was talking about you,” Josh says. “Although Mrs. Witherspoon’s hair does look extra shiny tonight.” He lifts his hand and waves at Mrs. Witherspoon. Then those brown eyes are back on me again. “Do you have any special plans tonight?”
I push my glasses up on my nose and try to appear nonchalant. “Just the usual Friday night.” My standing date with Netflix and bowl of noodles.
His brow creases. “A hot date?”
The flush in my chest spreads up to my cheeks. Not unless Henry Cavil counts. “Not tonight.”
Josh smiles, and butterflies take flight in my belly. “You ever go up to Sky Valley on Fridays?”
Josh’s grin quirks, and the butterflies in my belly go crazy. “Yes, you, Riley.”
I hadn’t been to Sky Valley since my oldest sister had her wedding there ten years ago. Sky Valley Resort is for tourists and fancy people who make a lot more than I do on my librarian’s salary.
I shake my head. Sky Valley isn’t exactly my style.
“I know what you're thinking.” Josh pushes his hair off his forehead and looks up at me. “It’s not as try-hard as it used to be. A lot more locals go now since the new management took over.”
I watch his mouth move, mesmerized by his crooked smile. Josh Killian makes every muscle in my body tighten, my skin tingle, and my core pulse.
“Here’s mine, Mr. Josh,” says a little boy, adding his paper to Josh’s hat.
“Thanks buddy.” Josh shakes the hat to ruffle the papers. “That’s the last one. Time to pick.”
I move as if to give him space, but Josh snags my wrist and pulls me back. “Stay here,” he says. “You can help me interpret.”
My skin tingles from his touch, and my heart melts. I shift closer, peering over his shoulder as he unfolds the first paper.
The kids gather around as Josh reads their suggestions one by one. Some of them are barely legible, others are crude drawings which I help decipher.
“Mouse on a Motorcycle,” I say, smiling at the drawing of a large rodent on a tiny bike.
Josh smiles gratefully and pulls out the next scrap of paper. He unfolds it and shows it to me. I look down and see my name printed in bold, masculine letters.
“What about this one?” His voice is pitched low and husky.
I clear my throat, my eyes jumping up from the paper to meet his gaze. His brown eyes twinkle mischievously.
“It says ‘Miss Riley,” I say.
“Miss Riley isn’t a book,” one of the kids says, giggling.
“No, she isn’t,” Josh agrees. “But she’s somebody’s favorite thing in the library.”
He smiles at me, leaving no doubt who wrote my name on the scrap of paper in his hand.
See how the readers voted
Chocolate Shop: 28%
Hair Salon: 6%
Childhood Crush: 37%
Enemies to Lovers: 35%
Best Friend’s Sister: 12%