By the next morning, the snow has stopped, but many of the back streets are still sporting a sheen of black ice. Tommy’s picked up a cold somewhere, and so I wrap my head in a scarf to protect myself from the wind whipping between the buildings, and head out to Claire’s Patisserie for croissants. After taking a single step into the street, I dash back inside to grab my camera. The grey overcast hemming us in for weeks has blown away overnight, and the sun is rising through low fog like a ripe red dragon’s egg, way down the end of our street.
I’ve been taking pictures as long as I can remember. My dad was a photographer before I was born, and there were always cameras around the house when I was small. He shot for AP overseas–Falkland Islands during the conflict, and Ireland too–but after I came along, he mostly freelanced. And when I made it into NYU, I majored in photography. I’ve always planned to take it further, but–well, you know. Life gets in the way. With this news about the bookshop, the chance of returning to film school is looking increasingly unlikely.
These days I mostly scratch the photo itch by posting to Instagram, almost exclusively in black and white. I live in the best place in the world for fascinating subject matter, so why not? I’ve always got my phone at hand, so it’s my go-to, but I still like to pull out my dad’s old Canon, for the special ones.
Freezing my fingers, I take shots of the sun, being careful not to look straight at my subject. Only when it vanishes behind the towers of Stuytown do I sling my camera back around my neck and head off to the patisserie.
Claire is as French as I am, but her baking skills are top-notch. I go through a mental checklist of favorites I need for the tea shop–the croissants, of course, both almond and chocolate; a dozen Danish pastries; and maybe some petit fours, if they aren’t sold out already.
About halfway down the block, the wind swirls, blowing my scarf off my head. I pause beside a light standard to readjust. As I’m tucking in the ends, a page flapping on the pole catches my eye. The flyer reads:
OPENING THE BOOK ON ADVENTURE
Help Wanted: Special Projects Planner
Apply in Person
The text of the flyer has been done on a computer, but the phone number is repeatedly handwritten on little pull-off tabs at the bottom.
I finish tucking in my scarf and dash into the patisserie, but while I’m selecting the day’s choices, my mind keeps going back to the flapping flyer. Aside from photography, the one thing I’m really good at is organizing. This is inevitable, after all my years toiling at an independent bookshop. It takes a lot of work to keep Uncle Merv together. I’ve never heard of ExLibris Expeditions, but if it involves planning, I’m their girl. I’ve been planning things my whole life.
Planning to go to film school. Planning to get out more.
Planning to meet the perfect boyfriend.
I’m so distracted by this last thought, Claire has to ask me twice to pay for my purchases. I hand over the money, and step back into the wind, clutching my brown paper bag of deliciousness.
I aim straight for the light standard.
Someone has seen the flyer before me, because one of the little tabs is missing. As I yank another one off, the whole page comes loose and sails away down the street.
I tear the seam under the arm of my coat chasing after it.
When I finally corral it, the flyer has blown up against the brick wall of Jonah’s call center building. It’s completely crumpled, and I dismiss the idea of reattaching it to the pole. For one thing, I don’t have tape or staples or anything of the sort. And for another . . .
The little tab has the phone number, but the address for ExLibris Expeditions–which, what even is that?–is printed in a tiny font on the bottom of the flyer. Clutching the page, I glance upward at the hideous orange, blinking logo for Jonah’s company, Digi-Dial. Inside, deep underground, a grey office decorated with dusty, sagging flags awaits me. Making up my mind, I jam the page into my coat pocket, and fight the wind all the way back to the bookshop. Nothing–I mean nothing—–an be worse than accepting a job with Call Center Jonah.
The rest of the day is taken up with helping customers and alphabetizing the new inventory. After closing, as I’m giving the cash desk a last tidy before heading up to my place, Uncle Merv calls me from the back.
Merv and Tommy’s apartment behind the bookstore is bigger than mine, and rightly so, seeing as it houses two men and a cat. The living room is filled with overstuffed chairs that are threadbare with age, and awash in the smell of Tommy’s homemade potpourri. I’ve spent many happy hours here over the years, but I settle into one of the chairs feeling worried at the expression on Merv’s face. I can hear Tommy in the kitchen, alternately coughing and singing along to his favorite aria from La Traviata. Smells of basil and garlic come wafting out, strong enough to almost defeat the potpourri.
Merv clears his throat, his expression serious. “I’ve had several calls today,” he says. “From Jonah Dross.”
Shit. “Listen, I’m really sorry. He’s been bugging me for months to come work for him, and I only went over there to get him to quit bothering me about . . .”
Merv holds up a hand. “It’s not a bad idea,” he says quietly, which silences me completely. “I can certainly arrange to cut back your hours at the shop so you can go to work for Jonah, if it’s what you want.”
“Uncle Merv,” I stammer. “I’m not–not even really considering it. You’ve got to know my whole heart is here at the bookshop, with you and Tommy.”
Merv reaches forward and squeezes my hand. “I can’t afford to pay you anymore, love,” he says, and the tone of his voice causes something in my heart to break.
Neither one of us can speak for a moment, and we both sit and listen to a paroxysm of coughing coming from the kitchen.
Somehow, I recover my voice again. “I’ll find a job,” I promise my uncle. “Do not worry about me.” A feeling of panic, pure and raw, is firing adrenaline from my gut right through me. I jump to my feet.
He sighs. “Will you stay for dinner?” he asks. “I don’t think Tommy’s contagious.”
Jamming my hands into my pockets so he can’t see them shake, I plaster on a fake smile and shake my head. “There’s something I’ve got to do,” I say.
“Sure thing, honey,” he answers mildly. “Wrap up warm.”
(C) K.C. Dyer, Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Random House), 2020. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.
Born and raised in New York City, Ramona Keene dreams of attending photography school and traveling to Paris, but her reality never quite catches up with her imagination. Instead, she works at her uncles’ quaint bookstore, where the tea is plentiful and all the adventures are between the covers of secondhand books. But when the new landlord arrives with his Evil Nephew in tow, Romy’s quiet life comes crashing down. He plans to triple the rent, something her uncles can’t afford.
In order to earn the money to help save the bookstore, Romy applies for a job at ExLibris Expeditions, a company that re-creates literary journeys. Romy snags the oddest internship ever: retrace Phileas Fogg’s journey from Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days and plan a suitable, contemporary adventure for a client. The task is close to impossible; sticking to the original route means no commercial aircraft permitted, and she’s got a lot less than eighty days to work with. Shaking off her fear of leaving home, Romy takes on the challenge, only to discover she’s got competition. Worse, Dominic Madison turns out to be the – unfortunately hot – nephew of her family’s worst enemy.
Can Romy win the race and circle the globe in time to save the bookstore? And what happens when she starts to fall for the very person who may just be the death of her dreams?