The Bachelor's Perfect Match

By: Kathryn Springer

CHAPTER ONE

At nine o’clock on Monday morning, Maddie Montgomery brewed a cup of Earl Gray tea and opened the Castle Falls Library, ready for another quiet, ordinary day.

And then someone dropped a pirate off at her door.

A slightly disheveled pirate in flannel and faded denim, wearing a rakish patch over one eye and brandishing an aluminum crutch instead of a cutlass.

Although Aiden Kane, the youngest of the three Kane brothers, somehow managed to make the slightly disheveled part look good.

Through the narrow, two-inch gap that separated the poetry section from the biographies, Maddie watched Aiden limp past the circulation desk, each strike of his crutch against the hardwood floor fracturing the peaceful silence in the room. He lurched to a stop a few feet from where she stood and lifted his head to look around.

Fortunately, the bookcases that shielded Maddie from view also muffled the gasp that slipped from her lips.

Mottled bruises ranging in color from pale ochre to deep mauve bloomed on his jaw, reminding Maddie of the abstract painting above the fireplace in the conference room. A sling cradled the cast on Aiden’s left arm, and the bulky outline of a bandage distorted one leg of his jeans, making his knee appear double its normal size.

Maddie knew he’d been injured in an accident, but she hadn’t actually seen the extent of those injuries until now.

In a community the size of Castle Falls, which didn’t bother with a Neighborhood Watch program because everyone kept a close watch on their neighbors anyway, Aiden had been the main topic of conversation over the past week. According to the rumors, his pickup truck had left the road, sailed over the ditch and rolled several times before landing upside down—a hair’s breadth away from a towering white pine that had planted its roots in the soil of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula long before the town founders.

Aiden had a reputation for being a bit of a daredevil, so no one seemed surprised the accident had happened. Actually, based on the whispered comments Maddie had overheard in the reading nook, people were more surprised it hadn’t happened sooner.

Maddie studied the marks on Aiden’s handsome face, her stomach turning a slow cartwheel when she considered what the outcome might have been if his pickup had actually connected with that tree.

Aiden and his two older brothers, along with their adoptive mom, Sunni Mason, ran Castle Falls Outfitters a few miles outside town. When Aiden wasn’t testing the canoes the family built and sold, he hired out his services as an instructor and guide. From what Maddie heard, the man spent more time on the river than he did on land.

And it showed.

He was healthy and outgoing and strong…and, to be honest, more than a little intimidating to a girl who would have happily laid claim to even one of those three things.

Aiden reached up to bat at a swatch of black hair that had slipped over his eye, and Maddie heard an audible thunk when the cast connected with his forehead. For some reason that small but sweetly vulnerable gesture, coupled with Aiden’s quiet huff of frustration, made Maddie forget her own insecurities.

She straightened the collar of her black-and-white houndstooth dress and stepped out from behind the bookcase.

“Good morning.”

Aiden pivoted toward her, and the tip of his crutch caught the edge of the rug that divided the aisle from the children’s area. Maddie had never regarded it as a potential hazard until Aiden began to teeter. He tried to steady himself, and Maddie automatically reached out to do the same.

The muscles in Aiden’s biceps, sculpted from hours spent paddling canoes and doing other outdoorsy things, contracted beneath her fingertips.

Suddenly, he didn’t look so vulnerable anymore. He didn’t look like the Aiden whom Maddie saw at New Life Fellowship on Sunday mornings, either. The one with the mischievous blue eyes and a smile that charmed every female between the ages of one and one hundred as he sauntered into the sanctuary.

Maybe because he wasn’t smiling at all.

Maddie let go.

“Can I help you find something?” She tried not to stare at the jagged red scratches that fanned out from the gauze bandage over Aiden’s left eye like cracks on a windowpane.

“No. I’m…waiting for someone.”

Well, that explained a lot. His presence, for starters. In the five years since Maddie had taken Mrs. Whitman’s place as head librarian, she couldn’t remember Aiden ever once setting foot through the door of the library.

“The chairs by the window are pretty comfortable.” Maddie pointed to the reading nook in the corner. “And it happens to be prime real estate because it’s located right next to the coffeepot.”

Maddie had purposely set up the area to resemble a living room. Leather chairs with wide arms and generous laps circled the glass-topped coffee table. An oak buffet that had once belonged to Maddie’s maternal grandmother had been converted into a beverage station, the drawers containing everything from packages of tea to colorful, hand-stamped bookmarks.

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