Derek didn’t mind working Halloween night. It was notoriously dead (pun intended), lacking the usual pain-in-the-butt patrons, and gave him time to catch up on his year-end book orders. Cindy made him a double batch of her famous salted-caramel brownies as thanks for covering her shift, and proceeded to show him no less than thirty pictures of her one-year-old dressed in a bumblebee costume. “It’s her first time going trick-or-treating,” she said for the umpteenth time. “I’m so grateful I don’t have to miss it.” He hummed politely at the pictures (he liked kids, just, you know, not thirty pictures of the same one) and snatched the proffered plate of caramel-chocolate goodness, mouth already watering.
“Trick or treat, smell my feet. You look good enough to eat.”
At first, Derek thought the statement was directed at him.
The words echoed through the silent, almost-empty library like a tomb. The digital clock in the bottom right corner of his monitor read 5:39 PM . The only other staff working tonight were two elderly clerks clad in sparkly pumpkin sweatshirts and the teenage page who was too old for Halloween but still wore a cat-ear headband.
Derek glanced up from the computer, over the top of his black-rimmed glasses, mouth set in a firm, no-nonsense line. It was his best librarian face, the one he slid on to deal with censorship challenges and patrons who loved to loudly announce, “I’m a taxpayer!” when the movie they wanted to borrow was already checked out. But the guy—tall, wiry, with shaggy brown hair in need of a cut—wasn’t trying to sweet-talk Derek at all.
Shame . He was devilishly handsome, and just Derek’s type.
Instead, cute-guy was buttering up the bowl of candy corn sitting on the circulation desk, next to a festive sign with smiling black bats proclaiming, “Bat-ter take one before they’re gone!” A grin stretched his generous mouth, dimpling into pale cheeks dusted with tiny dark moles. He reached a long-fingered hand into the orange plastic dish.
“I wouldn't do that,” Derek warned, voice soft but commanding.
The patron tore his laser-focused attention away from the sugary treats, large teddy-bear brown eyes going wide when they landed on Derek’s face. His mouth opened, closed, opened again. He dropped a single tri-colored kernel back onto the heap, cleared his throat and slowly reeled in his hand. “Oh, uh…sorry? I thought the sign said they were free.”
“They are,” Derek informed him. “But they’ve been sitting here since my shift started at noon, and about a dozen kids have dug through them.” Derek inclined his head and lowered his voice, tone intended to strike terror. “And Dave, too.”
The candy corn caper’s eyebrows furrowed, and he leaned a little further over the desk. “Is Dave the monster who made you work on Halloween night?”
Derek took great satisfaction watching the guy’s reaction. “No. He’s a regular who always picks his nose.”
“Gross,” the cute guy said, looking at the bowl with a grimace. “These things are terrible, but they’re my favorite and I couldn’t resist. You really did me a solid.”
He stepped away with a sad sigh. Derek found himself not wanting to break the spell, so he added a flippant, “Trust me, you’re better off buying a discount bag in a day or two. Less chance of contracting the plague.”
The guy threw his head back and howled with laughter, the sound liquid and warm, hitting Derek’s veins like a double shot of espresso, giving his heart palpitations. “Well, thanks—“ big brown eyes slid down Derek’s face, his neck, catching on the magnetic name tag clipped to his tan cardigan—“ Derek , for saving my life. Unfortunately, there’s no corn-syrupy goodness lurking in my near future.”
He gestured to a young, brown-haired boy bedecked in a DJ Yonder outfit, quietly pulling puzzles out of the activity bin. “I’m Stiles, and that’s my son, Jordan. He has some pretty serious food allergies. I only have partial custody, but I don’t keep anything in my house that might cause a reaction. He’s anaphylactic to most nuts and has celiac disease.” Cute patron— Stiles —shrugged, holding his large hands away from his body in a what-can-you-do gesture. “Hence why we’re visiting the library on Halloween, instead of Trick-or-treating.”
Derek blinked, brain working overtime to absorb the information dump. Cute guy. Lickable moles. Pornographic hands. No ring on his finger. Sweet, well-behaved kid. Single dad.
“You guys didn’t want to hit up some Teal Pumpkin spots?” Derek asked.
Oh . Add adorable nose crinkle to the list. “Some... what?”
Derek spun forty-five degrees in his chair, kicked off the file drawer and rolled to the reference shelf, where he pulled down a green binder.
“Impressive.” Stiles raised an eyebrow as Derek glided back to the desk and stood, opening the binder and handing it to him.
“A lot of people are starting to provide non-food treats for trick-or-treaters since food restrictions are so prevalent. It’s called the Teal Pumpkin Project. You put a teal-colored pumpkin on your porch, and add your house to the online map.” Derek pulled a copy of the local map and an informational brochure out of a laminated sleeve. “This map was printed yesterday morning. You can have it if you want.”
Jordan looked up from his puzzle, eyes hopeful. “Can we go, Dad? Can we?”
Stiles turned toward his son, face softening, and Derek found himself wondering how it would feel to have such unadulterated joy directed at him. “Sure, dude. Let’s give it a shot.” Jordan hooted, fist-pumping the air.
“Thanks again,” Stiles said, waving the map between himself and Derek. “I can’t believe I’d never heard about this. You’re a lifesaver.”
Derek shrugged, half-satisfied at providing excellent customer service, and half-guilty for not wanting Stiles to leave so soon. “That’s what I’m here for, to help you find information.”
“And to protect me from contaminated candy corn.” Stiles winked, and Derek’s stomach swooped like he’d eaten one-too-many brownies. “Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear cardigans.”
“Have fun tonight,” Derek said to both of them in parting. It was the first time in ten years on the job that he didn’t want a reference interview to end. “And be safe.”
Jordan dragged his father toward the automatic doors, and Derek definitely did not lean over and covertly check out Stiles’ retreating backside from behind the staircase to the second floor.
If he hadn’t been paying such close attention, Derek might have missed Stiles halting them at the door with a soft, “Hey bud. I forgot one thing. Wait here for a second.” As Stiles turned and jogged back to the desk, Derek quickly grabbed some loose papers from the desk, shifting them around in his hands and burning holes in them with his eyeballs. Too late he realized one sheet was upside down.
“Hey, Derek?” Stiles asked, a little breathless.
Derek cleared his throat and laid down the paper armor. “Yeah?”
“I know stuff like this probably happens to you all the time, since you look, you know…” Stiles gestured to Derek’s face and broad, sweater-clad shoulders. “Like that . And I promise I’m not trying to be creepy here, though technically Halloween is the perfect night for creepy-”
“Stiles,” Derek expertly interrupted. “How can I help you?”
“I was wondering… I was hoping…” He took a deep breath. “I have to drop Jordan off at his mom’s tonight at 8:30, and if you’re free after work…”
Derek exhaled the manic butterflies tickling his ribs. “You want to go trick-or-treating?”
Stiles blinked, then burst out in a cackle loud enough to rival a witch. “As long as it involves you, me and some caffeine, I’m game for anything.”
Derek scratched at his bearded jawline. “Well, there’s a live ghost story reading happening at the coffee shop down the street. It starts at 9:00. I could meet you there?”
And oh . So that’s what it felt like to have Stiles’ soft, happy look directed at him. It felt frighteningly good .
“It’s a date,” Stiles said, backing away, smile big enough to make sweet little laugh lines crinkle around his eyes. “See you in a bit.”
Derek munched a brownie and watched the swing of Stiles’ slim hips as he walked away.
Yeah. Definitely good enough to eat.