Adam Verlain loves his careful, cloistered world of rare and antiquarian books. But when an American celebrity offers her very valuable 1865 copy of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” to his university, he has to be forced to travel from London to Los Angeles to close the deal. Then after a disastrous flight, he is taken aback when the actress refuses to give up the novel unless he escorts her to her latest film premier for reasons that seem…well, rather odd.
Subjected to a radical Hollywood makeover, Adam is mistaken for a British actor, dragged to a goofy party, has to dodge an overly affectionate guard panther, and is shocked to learn the actress does not have the book.
Can he escape the spotlight shenanigans to find a true treasure and keep it from falling into the wrong hands…and keep himself from falling for a woman who is way beyond his reach…in this zany quest to protect a priceless classic?
Targeted Age Group:: General Trade
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
When I first started working at Heritage Book Shop, in Los Angeles, I was handed an 1865 copy of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" to send to a client. I had no idea of the book's value, at the time. A few years ago, that same book went up for auction at Christie's and brought in two-million dollars. The story sort of exploded, from there.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I know a great many antiquarian book dealers in the UK, and living in Los Angeles had also met a number of well-known actors. Adam Verlain became a composite of four younger book dealers I knew while Casey Blanchard developed from a slight run-in I had with Wynona Ryder and, three days later, watching Keanu Reeves behave as her polar opposite.
Had Adam Verlain known what was planned for him, that Monday, he would have stayed home the entire week. But since one never can tell what the day will bring, he dressed in his usual suit and tie, made certain his Oxfords were bright and polished, slipped into his Mackintosh to ward off the morning chill and headed for the train at his normal time of 7:35. His russet hair had been neatened by the monthly visit to his barber, his pleasant face was clean-shaven, his brown-frame glasses were freshly washed, and his black rucksack held a notebook, sandwich, apple, bottle of water and a new copy of Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter to read on the Underground, all of which gave off the impression that he was still at university and not someone approaching thirty.
He caught the 7:46 at Epping Station, changed for St. Pancras at Liverpool Street, then headed straight for Merryton College, where he was a cataloguer of antiquarian books. His specialty was incunabula and manuscripts in German, Latin and Greek, and while Merryton was neither the oldest nor the best-known university in England, he saw it as the perfect fit for himself. To begin with, it had a good reputation in the liberal arts and sciences. Secondly, their library of rare volumes was in the process of being expanded, thanks to the recent addition of one Sir Robert Butterworth to the Board of Governors, who brought with him a tradition of valuing things based on how well they reflected on one’s public image…or, in this case, the university’s. Third and foremost, Merryton had one of the best libraries of research materials on the subject of antiquarian books, anywhere, half of which had yet to be digitized for Internet access. Adam could track down when a particular volume had been written or printed, by whom or for whom, who had first owned it, who its binder was, who its later owners were, when and how often it had sold at auction — everything one might ask for, all without leaving the comfort of his department’s building. So far as he was concerned, this was heaven.
Of course, there was one downside to the research library — it allowed him to become so engrossed in his investigations that were someone to ask him a question…well, first they would have to ask it twice, then he would take a moment, look at them with the expression of a curious kitten, remove his glasses, look at them a moment longer and finally say, “Sorry? What was that?” It was as if he had been in a separate world and had to go through a twelve-step process to rejoin this one.
His desk was situated in what was once the school’s chapel, a shadow-riven room whose flagstone floor was partially covered by a well-worn Persian carpet and whose wooden ceiling was held in place by four-hundred year-old beams and braces. A wrought-iron candelabrum hung in the center, its electric bulbs twisted into the shapes of little flames that offered the barest illumination. Another fraction of light passed through tall slim windows of colorful leaded glass along two walls. It made more for darkness, true, but Adam loved how it bestowed upon the room a gentle aura of mystery, a feeling marred only by the set of four bland chrome and grey cubicles in the center of it all.
Adam’s was number three.
On that Monday he entered at 8:54, as usual, to fire up his computer. He planned an easy start for the day — completing the provenance on a copy of Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando furioso. It was a special edition that had been translated into Latin, for some reason, and presented to King Victor Emmanuel in 1866. Adam’s research had led him to believe it might actually have been transcribed for Pope Pius IX, who then passed on to the king. If true, that would greatly enhance its historical value, despite the last quire missing a leaf.
Adam had worked on nothing else for three days, spending more time in the basement, where the research materials were located, than at his desk. When Vincent, the department head, a man with the age and appearance of a Victorian ghost, had learned of this, he had stormed up to Adam, his face almost filled with color.
“We've a dozen books to catalogue, with more on the way,” the old man had snapped in his harshest headmaster tone, “yet you're still working on this one inconsequential volume?”
Adam had huffed. Granted, the book’s red morocco binding was rather ostentatious in its use of gilt and design, but the possibility of a pope having presented it to a king at a time of major political upheaval was more than worth the effort. So he had responded with a simple, “Sir, I have never believed any book to be inconsequential.”
Causing Vincent to jolt ramrod straight and snarl down at him, “Nor is this one more consequential than any other waiting to be cataloged. Be done with it.” Then he had stormed off.
That was on Friday, last. Adam had already decided he’d dug as deep as he could into the book’s history, finding nothing but hints and suggestions about its transfer from pope to king, so if Vincent thought he was ending his research due to his order it was of no consequence. Still he felt he was letting the Ariosto down. He picked her up and sighed, “You'd be just the right item for a pope to give a king before a war, so don't think I'm giving up on you; I'll unlock the last of your mysteries, eventually.”
He set the book back on his desk and saw his computer was still thinking about waking up, so swiveled in his chair to look around as he rubbed a scrape on his chin, evidence of a rough rugby match with his mates, on Saturday. The opposing team had been most emphatic about winning; Adam was happy to say they almost had not.
He stopped turning when he noticed a nearby beam of colorful sunlight illuminating some sparkling dust dancing on the edge of a shadow. This was such a gentle, elegant room, so full of history and wonder; it should have tables and cases of books and manuscripts to boast of, not these hideous blocks of walls in its center. Removing them and putting in a simple row of desks would provide it much more respect.
He was about to make a note for Vincent to suggest as much when Elizabeth, the lovely young woman in cubicle four, swirled in. She removed her coat and slung it over the top of her half-wall, every movement brisk, controlled and beautiful in a slim, blonde, London sort of way. Off came her high heels, which brought her down to Adam’s height, and on went a pair of slippers as she said, “Bloody Eurostar; never runs on time when you need it.”
“Were you in Paris?”
She held up a Chanel bag. “Weekend. Has Vincent been in, yet?” Then she pulled her hair into a ponytail.
Adam took a deep breath, catching the hint of a garden from her perfume, and shook his head. “You're safe. It's just gone nine.”
“Thanks.” Then she vanished behind her wall. A moment later he heard her cry, “Bloody hell, my computer won't wake up.”
That is when Adam's computer flashed that it would now allow him access to the database.
“Mine just has,” he said. “Took its time.”
“But you shut yours down; I let mine sleep.”
“Best do a restart.”
“Well, Vincent can't say anything if I don't have access to the server.” Then she headed for the kitchenette.
Adam smiled, shook his head, and turned to his computer to finish with the Ariosto. After that, he dove into a copy of Erasmus' Morias Enkomion, which had been sitting on the incoming shelf for several days. He broke for tea at 10:55, had his lunch at one, and completed the provenance by three, just as his mobile phone chirped a thirty-minute warning of a meeting Vincent had scheduled with him.
He stood and stretched, still a bit sore from Saturday’s scrums, then neatened his tie and carried the Erasmus to a short side hall while singing to her, in Greek —
I see a book
Who's going to be took
For Jeremy to photograph and put with all the rest.
She's a lovely little book
Who soon will find her nook,
And she will be considered to be one of our best.”
He’d sung the same song to the Ariosto, in Latin. It helped make the book feel welcome to her new home.
He took the Erasmus into a room they called The Dark Chamber, a smallish square with thick shelves on the walls and two freestanding units in its center. Its bare illumination came from sconces fixed high above and a single oval window of colorful glass up near the ceiling. Here, newly arrived books waited to be archived or photographed, after which they were set on the center shelves for their journey to a climate-controlled vault.
The photography room was down a short hall from The Dark Chamber where a half-punk, half-Eastenders, much-tattooed lad named Jeremy had jammed his computer, table, camera, tripod and light kit into a space little larger than Adam's cubicle. He consistently whined about being cramped — which was no surprise, considering he was also four inches taller than Adam — and more than once he’d suggested swapping with The Dark Chamber. But Vincent always refused, making Adam very happy; he loved the room’s tender play of dust and light and darkness, like it was wrapping the antiquarian volumes in the safety of shadows and silence. Jeremy would have destroyed that.
He placed the Erasmus on the To Be Photographed shelf then checked his phone to make sure of the time — and that his alarm was still set to remind him of his appointment; he had done it wrong more than once. But it looked all right. In fact he had time for an early cup of tea, so he popped across the hall to a kitchenette. After all, who knew how long this meeting would last?
He set the kettle to going and pulled down his mug — a black one with A room without books is like a body without a soul (Cicero) wrapped around it in white lettering. As he filled it, he caught a glimpse of Elizabeth slipping into The Dark Chamber with a neat drop-back box that contained a set of handwritten letters from Henry James to someone in the south of France. He thought it funny she was cataloging them since she had read none of his books.
“I tried Washington Square,” she’d told him, “but his style is so arch. I prefer Virginia Woolf.”
Adam was shocked. “But how could you not have read him?”
“Have you read every book in German?” she’d snapped. “Or Greek? Or Latin? Or made prior to 1501?”
“That's not the point, Elizabeth.”
“Don't patronize me, Adam. I know Henry James well enough to make even himself sound ill-informed.” Then she had worked on the letters all day without another word to him.
He had let it pass because it was now obvious that, while her specialty might be eighteenth through twentieth century literature, she was not a book person. He doubted she ever would be…though he was open to helping her learn, if she were interested.
He pulled down her mug and plopped a bag into it, calling, “Cup of tea, Elizabeth?”
“Tea?” she called back.
“Water's hot. Set in a flash,” he said, pouring in hot water.
“Quarter milk, no sugar?”
“Just the way you like it,” he said, dolloping milk into both mugs.
“Mmmm…no, thanks,” she called back.
Adam froze. He now had two mugs of tea and only time enough to finish one. And they had to be drunk in the kitchenette; to take any sort of food or liquid back to your cubicle raised too great a risk of an irreplaceable book being damaged.
That is when Jeremy popped his head around the door and growled in his happy-puppy way, “Tea? You never make me any.”
Adam blinked and responded, “Didn't know you drank it.”
“So what about that bloody Erasmus? Been on the shelf a week and you're the Greek-meister and — ”
“She's set to photograph.”
That is when Hakim, their unctuous, fastidious, self-proclaimed office manager, popped in to snap, “The provenance better be right, this time.”
Adam huffed. Once, when researching a manuscript copy of Richard Wagner's Die Nibelungen for The Arts Council, he'd neglected to put an umlaut over a “U” in his transcription from the German. Never mind it was he who realized it and informed Hakim before the provenance was sent over, the man now acted as if Adam's work was constantly riddled with errors.
Adam meant to respond with an off-hand, Of course. Instead he shot Hakim a glare — and noticed Elizabeth passing with a thick volume bound in vellum. He bolted over.
“Wait, that is Die Schedelsche Weltchronik,” he said, in German. “The one found in Romania.”
The book had caused quite a stir around the department — an original Nuremberg Chronicle by Hartmann Schedel, created at the end of the fifteenth century and considered the first and most exquisite example of how illustrations could be integrated into printed books. This copy had been discovered in some attic in Bucharest and was being offered to Merryton for sale. Photos had been sent and most of the staff thought it was a legitimate copy, Vincent included.
This had been good enough for Sir Robert, who was more than a little perturbed when Adam insisted the binding did not look original and the photographs were of leafs too easily reproduced. Sir Robert had overruled him and now the book had arrived, for consideration.
“I planned to work on this, tomorrow,” Adam continued, still in German.
“Adam — English,” Elizabeth sighed.
He was so used to being reminded he was speaking another language, he merely asked, “Why're you taking her? She’s outside your area of expertise while mine is perfectly suited — ”
“Vincent asked me to,” she replied.
“Why would he do that?”
Hakim snorted. “You disagreed with him.”
To which Elizabeth added, with acidic sweetness, “And Sir Robert, neither of whom likes being contradicted.”
Adam huffed. Sir Robert had also put down a substantial deposit to guarantee the purchase because he felt it was too good an opportunity to pass up. He would not like being made to look foolish, but if the book did turn out to be a later facsimile and not a first impression, she would be worth a fraction of the owner's asking price.
“Elizabeth,” Adam said, taking the Schedel from her, “you must already see the binding is not contemporary to the book. More like eighteenth-Century, at earliest, and — ”
He looked inside and huffed, again.
She had put her initials EB on the front endpaper, in soft graphite. It was meant to show by whom the book was catalogued so Jeremy could note it in his log before he shot photos of it; then it was to be carefully erased. But it was not supposed to be done until the book had been catalogued.
Adam cast her a glance of reproach then tenderly shifted to the title page…and saw that he was right; it had been slipped into the volume with such expert care only one tiny crinkle barely showed in the paper. “Here you go; her title page is affixed — ”
“Adam,” Elizabeth moaned, “it's a thing, not a person.”
He cradled the book in one arm and carefully held the page up for her to see what was blatantly obvious, to him. “But look at the base of — ”
“Oh, give it here!” she snarled, whipping the Schedel closed, clipping his nose with a corner of the front board and making him yelp. She yanked the book away as she snapped, “Hakim's right. Half the time you've got no idea what you're talking about.” Then she stormed off.
Jeremy snickered as Hakim glared at Adam, obviously thinking him fully incompetent. This was not to be borne. When he was right about a book, he was right, and he knew a massive mistake was being made.
He strode into The Dark Chamber, aiming for an ancient lift situated in a back corner…and rubbing his nose to keep from sneezing. While the lift was brutally slow and barely large enough for a man and a book cart, it was still the best way down to the research library. But its door and gate were manual and loved to catch your fingers, so one had to take extra care when getting in and out. Still, if the book he needed was down there he’d have no trouble proving his concerns about the Schedel, now that he’d looked inside her, so he yanked the lift’s door and gate open and —
“Now, Jere, one of those is mine.”
He turned to look past the shelving to see Jeremy framed in the doorway with both mugs of tea in hand. His expression was as innocent as the angels on high as he said, “Sorry, duchess. Last I heard, no means no.”
“And I'm sure you heard it just last night,” Elizabeth sneered, appearing in the doorway with him. “Here, it's my cup.”
“Come and take it,” he cooed.
Before he could even think to try and stop it, Adam sneezed, causing Jeremy to cast him a sly glance…and a wink…as he backed down to his room. She followed him.
Adam sighed and absently closed the lift’s outer door. He was not surprised a woman like Elizabeth would fancy Jeremy. She could look him straight in the eye, when in heels. Plus, you never knew what he might do from one moment to the next, while the track of Adam's future was straight and obvious till the age of death. Deviation not allowed.
Adam shook his head and closed the inner gate — and it pinched into his left thumb. He yelped and saw he was bleeding, so he pulled a handkerchief from his suit pocket and wrapped it around his finger. He had clean bandages in his rucksack, so he would get one when he came back up. Then he set the lever to basement and started down.
Oh, well, he told himself, at least the day couldn’t get any worse.
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