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Beauty's Kiss

By:Jane Porter

Chapter One


Montana winters were never mild, and this winter felt even more brutal than normal.

Taylor Harris sucked in a sharp breath at the blast of frigid air as she and Jane Weiss, the new director of the Marietta Chamber of Commerce, stepped from the warm library into the night.

The frigid temperature and biting wind made her eyes water behind her glasses. Taylor fumbled with her key, blinking as she struggled to get Marietta library’s front door locked. She had to remove her mitten to punch in the security code on the wall.

Jane stood close by, shoulders hunched, teeth chattering. “You’re sure you don’t mind driving me to the airport?” she asked, drawing her suitcase closer to her feet.

“Of course not,” Taylor answered, shivering as she quickly tugged her mitten back on. Normally she’d be racing home on a night like this for a hot bath, a steaming cup of soup, and a great book in bed. Taylor had been a book lover her entire life and, even at twenty-six, loved nothing more than curling up and getting lost in a great story, reading until the early hours of the morning. So what if it meant she never got enough sleep? Books were her life, her passion. It’s why she’d become a librarian.

They set off for the broad, pale stone steps that led to the park and parking lot, Jane’s roller bag bumped along next to them.

Taylor glanced across Crawford Park to the tall, domed courthouse dominating the public park. Even though it was only a few minutes after six, the sky was already dark and the yellow glow of street lamps reflected off the snow heaped onto the sides of the city park’s paths. Larger, dirtier piles of snow lined Marietta’s streets, thanks to the diligent efforts of the city’s snow plows, and now a new storm was predicted to move in tonight, which would mean even bigger piles tomorrow.

Jane glanced anxiously up at the sky. “It’s supposed to start snowing later. You’re okay driving in a storm?”

Taylor nodded, smiling, amused. “Of course. I’m from northeastern Montana. All we do is drive in snow and ice. It’s you I’m worried about. You think your flight will get out okay?”

“I checked with the airline. So far, so good, and I have those alerts on my phone so I’ll know right away if there’s a change in status.” Jane lifted her bag, carrying it down the salted front steps, slightly breathless by the time they reached the sidewalk. “So what are you wearing to the Ball Friday?”

Taylor knew the Valentine Ball would come up, and she dreaded breaking the news to Jane that she’d decided not to attend. “I wanted to talk to you about that,” she said carefully. “I’ve—”

“Don’t. Don’t say you’ve changed your mind. You promised me!”

Taylor hated disappointing anyone, much less the best friend she’d made since moving to Marietta six months ago, but Jane enjoyed big events and Taylor did not. “It’s just not my thing, Jane, and it’s incredibly expensive—”

“You’re getting a free ticket for being on the Wedding Giveaway committee.”

Taylor adjusted her red and brown striped scarf around her neck, trying in vain to block the wind. “Things have been stressful with Doug and all the changes at the library. I’d honestly rather stay home and unwind. I’ve got a new book by one of my favorite authors—”

“You can read over the weekend. You don’t need to spend your Friday night in bed!”

“Why not?” Taylor exclaimed, as they darted across the parking lot. “We both know I’m not a Ball kind of girl. I’m a librarian. And boring as mud. Trust me, you’ll have more fun without me.”

Jane raced next to Taylor, teeth chattering again. “You’re only boring because you don’t go out and do anything!”

“I like being home. I like reading.”

Jane shuddered as the freezing wind whipped past. “You’re too young to become a hermit.”

Taylor peeled a long strand of hair from her lashes and tugged her knit cap lower on her head. “I’m not a hermit. I’m just an introvert, which means I like people, but I don’t find parties exciting. They tire me out—.”

“You sound like an old lady!” Jane interrupted, giggling. “But you’re young and beautiful and this is a once in a lifetime event. A historic event to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of Marietta’s 1914 Great Wedding Giveaway—” she broke off and glanced up at the sky as the first slow, lazy snowflakes drifted down. “It’s starting to snow.”

“We’ll get you to the airport,” Taylor said. “You’ll make it.”

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