• Pauline gazed at the book she held in her hands with a mixture of amusement, horror, and an odd longing.

    It was entitled The Cowboy and the Countess and had the tagline ‘A love that could not be denied… a duty that could not be defied.’ The cover was of an attractive young man and woman in a starry field, with the woman bent over backwards into an uncomfortable looking position while the man, his shirt partly removed, nuzzled her cleavage.

    Pauline glanced around the book store. A few teenagers hanging around the front of the store, a middle-aged woman flipping through a comic book, and a bored looking cashier talking quietly into her cellphone. Nobody was paying any attention to Pauline.

    Feeling temporarily more confident, she read the blurb on the back (the Countess Aurelia disguises herself as a boy and goes to Texas to find her missing brother when she comes across this really cute cowboy named John) and deciding it hadn’t made her cringe yet, flipped to the first page.

    A few minutes later, Pauline realized she had finished the first two chapters and if she kept on going, she’d end up reading the entire thing. And while she doubted anyone would even realize, let alone press charges, she didn’t feel entirely comfortable with this prospect. On the other hand, she was genuinely enjoying the book, and knew it would bother her for weeks if she didn’t find out where the story was going.

    But if she didn’t read the entire book in the store, or just leave it behind, that left… buying it.

    Buying it would mean taking it to the cash register, hoping the cashier wouldn’t smirk, or make snide comments, or go tell their friends about the stupid ditz who bought a trashy romance novel. Then she’d take it home, and no doubt her sister Dawn would want to see what she’d bought. And Dawn would make fun of it, Pauline was sure. And even if she was able to survive that, she’d still have the book lying around her house, just waiting for somebody to find and incredulously ask Pauline how she could stand to read such tawdry chick porn.

    She’d go through the rest of her life as perpetually single Pauline, the ditzy frump who read tasteless pornographic books with Fabio pictures on the cover.

    OK, maybe it wouldn’t look be that bad. Sure, Dawn would make fun of her, and the cashier might smirk, but it wasn’t as if buying the book would ruin her life, right?

    Pauline clutched the book tightly, trying to hide the title from the sight of a casual glance, and she tried to look normal as she made her way to the cash register. An old man browsing the CDs gave her a fleeting look, causing Pauline to turn bright red. Despite this, she was able to make her way to the cash register without incident.

    The cashier put her cellphone down, and looked at the book Pauline had shame-facedly placed on the counter. Without a word, the cashier picked up the book, briefly put it through the scanner, and punched some keys on the register. “That’ll be six dollars and fifty cents.” She said in a bored tone of voice.

    “Here.” Pauline said, handing her the money.

    The cashier fiddled with the register, Pauline wasn’t sure what the cashier was doing because she was too busy staring at the book, and in a moment handed her some money. “And four-fifty’s your change. Would you like a bag for your book?” The cashier said.

    “Er, yes please.” Pauline politely said. The cashier dropped the book into a plastic bag and handed it over, along with the instructions to ‘have a nice day’.

    The moment Pauline had the plastic bag in hand, she hurried out of the shop as fast as she possibly could without actually breaking into a run. Once she was on the street outside, it occurred to her that Dawn was working late that day, so she wouldn’t be there when Pauline got home. Feeling much more cheerful, Pauline began to stroll down the street. It looked like she was in for a pleasant evening.