Dream On Dreams Come True
LYRICAL PRESS Kensington Publishing Corp. www.kensingtonbooks.com
Lyrical Press books are published by Kensington Publishing Corp. 119 West 40th Street New York, NY 10018 Copyright ÂŠ 2017 by Stacey Keith All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews. All Kensington titles, imprints, and distributed lines are available at special quantity discounts for bulk purchases for sales promotion, premiums, fundraising, and educational or institutional use. To the extent that the image or images on the cover of this book depict a person or persons, such person or persons are merely models, and are not intended to portray any character or characters featured in the book. Special book excerpts or customized printings can also be created to fit specific needs. For details, write or phone the office of the Kensington Special Sales Manager: Kensington Publishing Corp. 119 West 40th Street New York, NY 10018 Attn. Special Sales Department. Phone: 1-800-221-2647. Kensington and the K logo Reg. U.S. Pat. & TM Off. LYRICAL PRESS Reg. U.S. Pat. & TM Off. Lyrical Press and the L logo are trademarks of Kensington Publishing Corp. First Electronic Edition: eISBN-13: 978-1-5161-0387-4 eISBN-10: 1-5161-0387-4 First Print Edition: ISBN-13: 978-1-5161-0388-1 ISBN-10: 1-5161-0388-2 Printed in the United States of America
Chapter One Nobody in Cuervo, Texas drove a car like that. Cassidy Roby crowded around the service window along with everyone else who worked at Artie’s Burger Express and stared at the thing as it idled next to a backlit speaker menu. Artie’s was shaped like a horseshoe, with the fast-food restaurant perched on a concrete slab in the center and car stalls angled along the outside. Each stall had its own speaker menu so the driver could call in his order. Cassidy couldn’t see who this driver was because the restaurant’s bright overhead lights blanked out the windshield, but the car was— “Sex on wheels,” sighed Darlene Fischer, Cassidy’s best friend since grade school. She hip-bumped Cassidy aside so she could get a better view, but until the driver opened his window, all anyone could do was admire the lines. “Like hell,” Artie muttered, clutching his spatula. “It’s a BMW M6 convertible. That beauty ain’t been out the showroom but maybe a month. Two, tops. She can do zero to sixty in—” “Nobody cares about that,” Darlene said. “I just wanna know who’s driving it.” Cassidy decided she didn’t want to get caught staring. Anybody who drove a BW6… whatever it was… in a town with a population the size of Cuervo’s—what were they up to now, three thousand?—probably got sick of being gawked at. She went to the back, picked up a clean spatula and then slid it under a meat patty sizzling on the grill. Besides, she thought idly, chances were pretty good that the driver was an arrogant, self-important— “Omigod!” Darlene hollered from the window. “Omigod, it’s him!”
Beth, the other waitress, cupped both hands over her mouth. “What if he orders something?” she said in a muffled, horrified whisper. “Of course he’s going to order something,” Darlene snapped. “You think he’s here to buy car parts?” Cassidy bided her time. She poked the patty with the corner of her spatula and tried to think who could have put the waitstaff into such a state. Artie made a sound of disgust and shuffled back to the grill. With his white paper cook’s hat, bushy eyebrows and splotched white apron, he reminded Cassidy of one of the characters on “Sesame Street,” a show her daughter now proclaimed she was too old for. Oscar, if he worked in a restaurant. Same disposition. “Why aren’t you out front?” he asked, pushing the meat around with his spatula. “Who’s out there?” “Mason Hannigan. We’ll never hear the end of it now.” Cassidy’s heart gave a strange sideways lurch and she put one hand on the bread rack to steady herself. What on earth was Mason Hannigan doing here? He’d left Cuervo behind years ago in his souped-up Ford truck, with his full-ride football scholarship to the University of Texas. Even before he’d left, Mason had been a quarterback legend. Now he was a national one. With Mason at the helm, the Dallas Lone Stars had two Super Bowl wins and maybe a third one on the way. Not that she’d followed him, of course. Well, not on purpose. If her dad left the sports page open on the breakfast table or a TV sports anchor waxed poetic over Mason’s stats, she could hardly be accused of actually caring. Never mind that Mason was pretty much all anyone talked about here: Local boy makes the big leagues, insert your “I knew him when” story here. But there were other reasons her heart was bucking and wheeling like a rodeo horse. Personal ones. Mason had changed everything there was to change about her life. Because of him, she rarely dated. Because of him, she’d had Lexie. At fifteen. While she was still a freshman at Cuervo High. She and Mason had never so much as kissed under the bleachers or held hands or gone to the movies. Yet he had directed the course of her life in ways she rarely let herself think about now. By the time Lexie was born, he was long gone and she’d been left with nothing but regrets. Sweet, lovable Lexie had never been one of them. That was over ten years ago. Mason’s whole family had relocated to Dallas to be closer to their superstar athlete. So why was Mason back in Cuervo? “What’s keepin’ you?” Artie growled. “Go on now. I ain’t payin’ you to stand around.”
“Yes, sir.” Cassidy could barely get the words out. She wiped her damp palms on the half-apron of her carhop uniform and glided to the front on Day-Glo purple inline skates. Unlike the shorts and the Artie’s Burger Express T-shirt, the skates weren’t a requirement, but Cassidy found that she got around a lot faster that way. Darlene was still jumping up and down and squealing. “He brought friends. They’re in the car with him.” “We think they’re football players, too.” Beth’s eyes were glassy, as though the idea of all that beefcake in one vehicle might make her faint. “Omigod,” Darlene said. “They’re ordering!” Cassidy mustered the courage to look. She felt lightheaded, like maybe she’d be the first one to crash to the floor. With the driver’s side window rolled all the way down, she could clearly see it was Mason. A terrible heat surged beneath her skin. It traveled north at an alarming speed, setting fire to her chest, her neck, her cheeks. She was boiling like a lobster in a pot, and the only reason Beth and Darlene hadn’t noticed was because they were boiling, too. “Hi,” came Mason’s familiar voice over the speaker. “We’d like six Artieburgers, two with extra onions, pickles and mustard, six fries, and a grilled chicken sandwich, dressing on the side.” Since the mic was still on, they could hear Mason’s friends issue disparaging remarks about the sandwich and what that meant about Mason’s sexual orientation. She heard him laugh, which killed her just a little. “If one of you gals don’t take that order—” Artie yelled from the back. Darlene snatched the mic, all business now despite her obvious terror. “What size fries with that?” “Large,” Mason replied in the sexy Texas drawl that seemed like home to Cassidy, that reminded her of evenings spent on the porch swing and watching lightning bugs. Most people craned their necks and got mildly agitated speaking to a screen instead of a person. Not Mason. He’d always had the cool alpha confidence that life would go his way. So far, it had. “Would you like anything to drink with that?” Darlene asked, her voice going up an octave. See if they have any beer, someone said inside the car. “Don’t be a dick,” Mason told him. Politely, into the speaker he said, “Four Cokes.” Cassidy skated over to the soda fountain and the stainless-steel ice maker beneath it. She pulled four large wax-coated cups from the dispenser, lined them up, and dug them one by one into the crunchy ice. Her movements seemed odd and jerky to her, but she managed to fill the cups with soda,
fit the lids snugly, and remember to leave the paper sleeve on the top half of the straw. On impulse, she grabbed tongs and picked out half a dozen lemon wedges, which she arranged on a paper napkin. Okay, so she might have remembered that he liked lemon in his soda. It didn’t mean anything. Now that Darlene had finished taking their order, she was clearly in the midst of crisis. Ordinarily, Cassidy would have given her a big hug and told her everything was going to be okay, but it was possible that she was having a crisis, too. Things didn’t feel right. They felt eerie and—what was that word Pastor Jim used? Portentous. Like a storm was coming. Like everything was about to be pulled up by the roots and then dashed to the ground in a million pieces. “I’m not going out there,” Darlene said. “I have a zit on my chin.” “Well, I can’t go out there!” Beth wailed. “Are you kidding?” Cassidy said. “They’re just a bunch of guys. They’re not going to bite you.” “You have to do it,” Beth pleaded, her face pale and earnest. “You’re so pretty, and all the boys like you. If I go, I’m just going to drop the tray.” Cassidy swung her gaze from Beth to Darlene and then over Darlene’s shoulder to the parking lot. Two other cars pulled into service stalls, one of them a minivan full of boys in baseball uniforms. In about two minutes, Artie’s was going to be slammed with food orders and screaming kids. What other choice did she have? “That’s my Cassidy,” Darlene said approvingly when she drew back her shoulders and smoothed her ponytail. “I’m only doing this for you,” Cassidy told her. “Absolutely.” “I am.” “I know.” Darlene winked at her and then tucked a #2 pencil inside her messy-on-purpose topknot, which dislodged a long spiral of brown hair. “What’s past is past,” Cassidy said. “Yep.” She loaded a tray with the sweating soda cups and the lemons. “If I have a stroke and die, it’s up to you to make sure Lexie finishes her English homework.” “Will you stop jawin’ and get the hell out there?” Artie yelled. Cassidy took a deep breath. I can do this, she thought. My folks didn’t raise a fool. She re-balanced the tray and skated out the door. ****
“Damn,” Mason’s friend and linebacker, Jasper, said after a low whistle. “That is one sweet little hometown honey.” In the back seat, Mason’s two other teammates leaned forward expectantly. “Where?” Temple demanded to know. “Sit your bitch ass down,” Brian, his seatmate, told him. “I can’t see.” “I told you Cuervo was the bomb,” Mason said, but then as the honey drew closer—on skates, no less— his hands tightened around the steering wheel. It was Cassidy Roby. Mason blinked. Refocused. He’d forgotten how much his type she was. He’d forgotten… well, a lot of things. She hadn’t changed one bit. Same glossy ponytail, all sun-streaked and blond. Same perfect little body. The skates made her taller, but he knew that without them, she barely reached his shoulder. Why her type had always appealed to him, he didn’t exactly know, but petite and wholesome did a whole different number on him than the women he found himself dating these days—beautiful, yes. Models, yes. But they were all cheekbones and sharp shoulders. Give them a salad and they’d push away the croutons. Yet these were the women who traveled in his circle now. After a while, it seemed they all wore the same hungry look, and it wasn’t a look that warmed a man’s blood. Mason felt that blood thicken as Cassidy wheeled her way to the car. He also felt a little tongue-tied, which was ridiculous. Since when did he not know what to say to a girl? Jasper’s elbow dug him in his ribs. The other two were laughing at him. “Better wipe that drool before she gets here,” Jasper said. For a split second, Mason wondered if he was drooling. Cassidy turned to wave to someone and he saw the sweet round shape of her ass. Jesus. “Hey, Mason,” Cassidy said, bending over so she could see him. “Nice car.” If she wore makeup, he didn’t see any. She looked exactly the same as she had in high school, with the light sprinkling of freckles over her scooped nose and those big blue eyes. He heard sniggering and Temple actually punched him through the back of his seat. “Yeah,” he said, stifling a grunt. “Just got it. Had to buy a four-seater so I could haul these…” He’d almost said assholes. “Guys around.” She bent lower and peered inside. Mason didn’t need to turn his head to know that his teammates wore their most ingratiating grins. Brian actually said, “Ma’am.” But now he could see right down the gap of her Artie’s Burger Express T-shirt, two scoops of creamy vanilla cradled inside a pink lace bra, and this view of the forbidden made his palms sweat.
“So what brings you back to Cuervo?” Cassidy slid a corner of her tray inside the car and began off-loading the drinks. Behind him, there were more “Ma’ams” and “Thank yous.” Jasper actually said, “I bet it’s gonna be extra sweet because you were the one who brought it,” which made Mason cringe, but the others howled with amusement. Even Cassidy grinned. “Well,” she said. “I brought you boys some lemons to balance the sweet, just in case you like them as much as Mason does.” She’d remembered. What did it mean? And how much of a girl had he turned into for trying to read something into the gesture? Get a grip, he told himself. “I’m here for Coach Winston’s award ceremony,” he said. “You know how much Coach did for me. These dillweeds just decided to come along for the ride.” “He’s always talking about Cuervo,” Temple explained. “We had a few days off, so we figured why the hell not?” “You miss Cuervo?” Cassidy looked directly at him, just as casual as though he hadn’t been away since forever, and Mason felt the effect of those blue eyes right down to his groin. “Well, sure,” he said. “I grew up here, same as you. Why wouldn’t I miss it?” “Two stoplights and a water tower and you’re pretty much done taking in the sights.” Cassidy tucked the empty tray under her arm. “I love Cuervo, but that doesn’t mean everyone else does.” “Lot of memories here,” Mason said. Her eyes flickered. A curtain seemed to drop over that pretty face, and when the curtain lifted, some part of her had gone with it. “I’ll go check on the rest of your order.” With a curious sense of loss, Mason watched her skate away. He remembered then that Cassidy had a child—a daughter, right?—and that the father was Parker Nolen, former captain of the basketball team and grade-A asshole. Was he still a part of their lives? “You got no game,” Jasper said, grinning. “Brian would have had that one bagged and tagged ten minutes ago.” “Damn straight, I would have,” Brian agreed. “That was pathetic.” “Looked to me like you said something that pissed her off.” Temple ducked his head so he could check his hair in the rearview mirror. Since he wore a crewcut, there wasn’t much to check. Just to fuck with him, Mason flipped up the mirror, which earned him another punch through the seat. While his friends argued over who had the most game, Mason squeezed a lemon into his soda, recapped the lid and let his gaze wander over to the service window. Although he couldn’t hear them, it appeared that two
women were bouncing around inside and screaming. Of course, Cassidy wasn’t one of them. Cassidy didn’t bounce. Cassidy worked. In high school, she and her two sisters had all worked at the school library with Mrs. Jenkins, and Mrs. Jenkins was a terror. One time, Robbie Burdaine had returned a heavy photobook on the NFL two weeks late, and Mrs. Jenkins slammed his fingers shut inside of it. If Cassidy Roby had survived four years with her, she was one tough cookie. But what was a hottie like Cassidy doing in a place like this? Mason took a long draft of soda and let the tart sweetness wash over his tongue. He watched her move around inside the prep area, wrapping burgers, assembling condiments. Of course, Cuervo wasn’t exactly cranking out job opportunities. There were maybe two sit-down restaurants that kept odd hours, and Artie’s, which might be thought of as the Saturday night hot spot. She did have a kid to support. That alone should have been enough to make him turn the page on his inner Rolodex. But his old feeling of nervous excitement swept over him when she came skating out with their trays, one balanced expertly in each hand. The seating area in the center of the horseshoe was swarming with Little Leaguers now, making her near-misses and semi-collisions all the more breathtaking to watch. Another minivan pulled up, disgorging more kids in baseball uniforms. They were everywhere, shoving and yelling. Mason had an uncomfortable awareness that when he and his friends got together, they didn’t act a whole lot better. “Here you go,” she said, gliding up to his window. “Sorry about the racket.” “They’re all right.” Mason purposely ignored the shit-eating grins on the faces of his teammates. He practically hurled Temple’s hamburger at him. “Remember what your dad used to say? ‘A boy ain’t nothing but a noise with some dirt on it.’” For the first time, Cassidy gave him a smile that didn’t seem at least partially professional. It transformed her wholesome face into something that made him feel as though he’d been sacked by a three-hundred-pound defensive lineman. Mason knew then that a grace had been given. Somehow he’d pulled away the mask. Beneath it lay an intense love for her family, her roots, her history. It was a woman’s love, and Mason didn’t know what to call it right away because he never saw it on the faces of the girls he knew. She kept the smile as she continued to deal out hamburgers, fries, and ketchup packets. “My poor dad. All he wanted was at least one boy to play ball with. What he got were three girls instead.” “I doubt he’s complaining,” Mason said, more confident now. “How are Doak and Priscilla? She ever manage to park her car in the garage?”
Doak Roby, a retired fire chief, had motorcycle parts strewn from one end of his garage to the other. Priscilla always bickered with him about it, although never too seriously. Mason figured she mostly did it to keep things interesting. “Nope. And he bought a new Skil-Saw last week. Mom knows it’s a lost cause.” Cassidy retrieved her trays and tucked them under one arm. She moved with the grace of an athlete, and Mason had a sharp, heated fantasy of her naked body under his, of hearing her gasp when he entered her juicy little— “I’d better get back,” she said, killing his buzz. “Looks like Beth and Darlene are in the weeds.” ‘In the weeds’. Mason frowned. Must be shop talk. He didn’t want her to go, not yet. “Listen,” he said. “I’d like to visit your dad, you know, catch up, say hi. I wouldn’t be bothering anyone, would I?” Like Parker Nolen. Who may or may not be living with you. She leaned over again. Mason could feel himself drowning a little in the clear blue of her eyes. She bit her full bottom lip, pink like he imagined her nipples would be, hidden inside that flimsy bra. He couldn’t think clearly when she was this close, and he had to set his sandwich on his lap to hide a growing erection. Christ. What was wrong with him? Ten years later and he was still panting after her like a big dumb dog. “Dad would love that,” Cassidy said. “You know he thinks the world of you. And I’m sure Mom would invite all y’all to dinner, so don’t be shy.” “Home cooking sounds too good to pass up,” Jasper said around a mouthful of burger. “Mason here tried to cook us dinner once and set the kitchen on fire.” Cassidy looked up and her smile evaporated. “Uh oh. Hate to tell you, but it looks like you’ve been spotted.” Mason dragged his gaze away and saw at least a dozen yelling boys descending on him with pens, pencils, markers, receipts, and napkins that meant he’d be swamped for autographs. They were herded by a phalanx of parents whose indulgent smiles never hid the fact that they’d sent their kids in to do the dirty work. Before he could say anything to Cassidy, she’d coasted away and the first of his fans had lined up by the side of the car. So much for eating. At least Cassidy spared him an amused and not-unsympathetic smile. Brian slapped him on the back. “Go be a hero. Don’t forget to roll up your window on the way out.” “Oh, and leave your sandwich,” Jasper said. “You guys are the biggest dicks on the planet,” Mason told them.
Temple reached over the seat to help himself to Mason’s fries. “Yeah, but at least we know how to get laid.”
Deep in the heart of Texas is a small town where secret wishes have a funny way of coming true...