His footsteps echo against the perfectly cobbled pavement in a light, rhythmic way-almost musical, he notes wryly to himself-he, dipping in and out of the streetlights like some wily, puckish spirit.

The sadder but wiser girl...

He's never wrong about women. Never. It's all a matter of types, of categories and strategizing. Of saying precisely the right thing at precisely the right time, all finely tuned, taut strings plucked by expert fingers until she bows. Bends. Succumbs. Like clockwork.

They always do. Every town. Just the same. He smiles, cajoles, wins them over. Gets what he wants.

But this is just-

He honestly believed he would have succeeded by this point. The instruments on their way, everything falling into place.

Oh, Mister Madison, what have you wrought...

It's an unkind thought spreading through his mind. The younger Marian, eyes wide and full of stars. Before she evidently became sadder. Wiser. Touched. That degree of wilt, of knowledge, of being hurt. That startling lack of innocence he can see in her eyes. Of course. It all makes sense.

The older Mister Madison, head buried in a book-

-Marian there, by his side-

"Brazen overtures..."

-cozy over Chaucer. Romantic over Rabelais.

Breathless over Balzac.

He admits he would have liked to have seen that.

That kind of woman.

He knows that kind of woman well.

It's only a matter of time-

A Cheshire Cat-like smile spreads on his lips as he walks up the steps of the River City Library and across the threshold.

He spots her instantly in her yellow-and-green dress at her desk, back stick-straight and in classical profile, a tendril of gold curling against the back of her neck. Like a perfect picture he'd like to muss.

He briefly imagines what that lock of hair would feel like wrapped around his thumb as he approaches the desk, ever quietly, joining the line of fuddy-duddies in their brightly-colored suits and matching ties.

The asssembly line of young men advances, grows shorter as she stamps each of their books in turn, his small smile vanishing in favor of a carefully orchestrated, earnest look.

Electricity courses through his veins as her stamp connects with his hand, her motion nothing more than a reflex, finding giving flesh where she expects the solidity of paper and linen.

He bites back a grin as her eyes widen briefly, like she's been pinched, before that lovely brow furrows in a most appealing way. Those full lips twisting in some expected expression of scorn as they stand there, separated by wooden panels and a what feels like a million feet of reluctance.

His meaning ever so clear as his gaze holds hers like a fluttering dove.

I can play this game as long as I'd like to, Miss Paroo.

He keeps his eyes fixed on hers, looking up at her in what he imagines is a most charming manner. Incorrigible. Irresistible. And so very persistent.

-as long as I'd like.