Shannon Sue Dunlap
Maya ran her hand over the paperback spines and a spark singed her fingertips. Who should she date tonight? Someone new?
Mr. Darcy bored her. He always sat in the corner, staring down his nose.
Casanova was fun, but he couldn’t keep his hands to himself.
And forget broody Edward Cullen.
“Get a real boyfriend!” Her mom’s nasal drawl echoed from upstairs. “Your godmother ruined you with that so-called gift. Bringing novels to life? She should have bought you a toaster.”
Maya scanned the shelves and inhaled the tantalizing aroma of paper and newly-printed ink. Real life was overrated. She picked an unfamiliar story with a fog-enshrouded castle on the cover. Prince Charming might be nice. Her lips pursed in expectation as she slipped a finger between the pages.
Dropping the book, she pressed both hands to her heart. Had a bomb exploded? In the suburbs? Maya raced to the front door and wrenched it open. White smoke billowed from the street.
A dashing figure strode through the mist. All six-foot-two of him. Dressed in a frock coat, cravat, and velvet breeches with a streak of soot across his face.
This was a first. Usually, her literary dates just materialized in the front room.
He stopped at the porch steps. His lips quirked. “I beg your pardon.”
A yummy British accent? Thank you, Godmother!
He rubbed a large hand across the back of his neck. “This must appear absolutely mad, but I need help getting home.”
“Home?” Maya grabbed him by the brocaded sleeve. “You just got here. Come in.”
She dragged him into the house, shut the door, and blocked it with her body.
He backed up a step. “How … generous of you.”
“Who is it?” her mother shouted.
“Not sure,” Maya hollered back.
She studied her visitor again. His glance cut to the window as if contemplating a possible escape. Maya smiled in what she hoped was a non-stalkerish way.
“Where is home?”
“Technically, England. I can’t remember the last time I had a decent cup of tea.”
“Tea?” Maya clapped her hands. “What kind do you like? Earl Grey? Darjeeling? Tea is my lifeblood!”
His broad shoulders relaxed a little. “Anything would be lovely.”
She led her visitor to the kitchen and sat him at the small linoleum table.
Pot. Loose leaves. Strainer.
His gaze followed her as she collected everything and boiled the water. Placing the freshly prepared cup of tea in his hand, Maya sank into the chair across from him. He took a hesitant sip and his eyes widened.
Gulping the rest in three seconds, he heaved a sigh. “That’s the most decent brew I’ve had since I left London. I can’t thank you enough. Not many people would take a total stranger into their home. When my car broke down—”
“Car?” Maya’s eyebrows snapped together. Since when did fairy tales have automobiles? Had she dropped a steampunk novel?
She rose and hurried to the other room. The discarded book sat on the floor, closed.
Something was off. She had to open the book for the characters to appear. That meant the man in the other room was …
She raced to the kitchen. “What are you doing in my house?”
He paused with the newly-refilled teacup halfway to his lips. “You invited me. Remember? I asked for help—”
“But I thought … you looked like …” Maya pressed her palms to her temples. “Who are you?”
“Albert Bonner.” He set the drink down and stood. “I live at the Crestview Apartments.”
“Why are you dressed like,” she waved at his velvet pants, “that?”
“Sorry.” He tugged at his satin lapel. “I must look like a lunatic. I’m an actor. I was returning from a Hamlet audition when my engine blew. Smoke pouring out of the dashboard.”
And laughed again.
But it wasn’t funny. She buried her face in her hands. A gorgeous guy was standing in her kitchen, and she’d mistaken him for Prince Charming.
“Listen.” Albert’s voice moved closer. “I promise I’m not a nut case. I normally wear jeans and a t-shirt. I … I realize this is sudden, but … would you consider having lunch with me?”
Maya’s eyes met his. Was he serious? Things like this didn’t happen in real life. Reality was tedious, repetitive, miracle-bare. That’s why she preferred novels.
“What did you say?”
“You’ve been so kind. I thought … feel free to say no, but we could walk to the café on the corner. My treat.”
Maya’s focus strayed in the direction of the bookcase. Untold suitors awaited her.
Wealthy. Handsome. Heroic.
A living, breathing man stood before her, asking her out. Did she have the courage?
The awkward silence stretched. Albert shifted from one foot to the other. A hesitant smile lifted his lips.
Maya’s heartbeat quickened. “I-I’d love to have lunch with you.”
“Brilliant!” He looked down at his outfit. “I could change if you like.”
“No.” Maya held up a hand. “You’re perfect just the way you are.”
Albert gave a courtly bow. Holding his elbow out to her, he grinned. “Shall we go then?”
They strolled through the kitchen arm-in-arm, like two members of a wedding party. As they passed the bookshelf, her shoulder bumped a heavy paperback and knocked it over. They reached the front door when her mother bellowed from upstairs.
“Maya, where are you going?”
“I have a date, Mother,” she called as she watched her fantasy-come-to-life walk outside. “A real one!”
Albert waited on the porch, facing the street. A cough sounded behind Maya. She turned to see Casanova standing next to his open novel with arms crossed, an unhappy tilt to his brow.
“Sorry, Caz.” Crossing the threshold, Maya turned and whispered, “I don’t think I’ll be seeing you again.”
With a wink, she closed the door.