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Only In His Sweetest Dreams

By:Dani Collins

Dear Reader,

Around the turn of the century, I wrote a manuscript called Hot Beds, Cold Feet. It was a murder mystery romance with a Wrong Girl/Golden Boy, Romeo/Juliet vibe that I particularly loved. It also has that small town gossipy-ness that I also adore.

In the first book, the heroine had a ne’er do well brother the hero reviles. Lyle is a serious piece of work, was quite irredeemable in those early versions, yet somehow earned his own story, tentatively titled Sweet Dreams. The agent I had at the time read it and said, “I was surprised I liked him,” since Lyle was so awful in the early drafts of Hot Beds.

When I came to re-write both, I had learned a lot about storytelling and how to create characters with ‘rooting interest.” That’s writer talk for ‘likeable.’ The first book is no longer a murder mystery, and you learn why Lyle is the train wreck he is. In this one, a much-revised version of the original Sweet Dreams, he gets his chance at happily ever after.

I’m so excited to (finally!) bring you Not In Her Wildest Dreams and Only in His Sweetest Dreams! I hope you enjoy both of them!

Hugs,

Dani



Chapter 1



Her phone vibrated as Mercedes Kimball had finally settled her niece and nephew and was turning in herself. Reaching from her sister’s futon to the coffee table, she muttered, “That had better be you, Porsha.”

She knew it wouldn’t be. Porsha would text, not wanting to risk an actual conversation. And texting would be a miracle at this point.

When Mercedes saw the call display read Coconino Vista, she hurried to accept the call. “Hello?”

“Mercedes?” an aged, female voice asked. “Boys have broken into the empty Fairmont unit. The police are here. I know you asked Harrison for another week, but we need you back immediately.”

“Mrs. Garvey,” Mercedes breathed in recognition and pinched the bridge of her nose, trying to snap her overloaded brain into work mode. The Fairmont unit. Vandals.

“Is everyone all right?” She thought of heart conditions and little dogs barking an alarm. Brittle-boned legs stumbling down dark hallways to investigate.

Mrs. Garvey didn’t answer. She was speaking to someone, saying, “I have Mercedes on the phone now.”

Ayjia came to the end of the hallway, rubbing her eyes. Porsha’s nightgown slid off her bony shoulder and the hem puddled around her feet. “Is it Mommy?”

“No, sweetie.”

“Pardon?” Mrs. Garvey asked, coming back.

“I’m just speaking to my niece,” Mercedes said. “The phone woke her.”

The fact that the five-year-old had been so on guard for voices that she’d come out right away told Mercedes how distressed Ayjia was at her mother’s prolonged absence.

“The sirens have awakened the entire community,” Mrs. Garvey said stiffly. “The boys were caught, thank heavens, but they had matches. They could have burned us to the ground.”

“There was a fire?” Mercedes sat up and flattened a hand over her T-shirt, trying to contain the leap of her heart.

“Where?” Ayjia’s eyes widened.

“At my work.” Mercedes forced a calm tone. She didn’t have the luxury of freaking out right now. Waving Ayjia to come sit beside her, she asked Mrs. Garvey, “Is the fire still burning? Where are you?”

“The police caught them in time.”

“So there’s no fire?” She should have known Mrs. Garvey was exaggerating. She was an alarmist, always thinking the worst.

Mercedes hugged Ayjia anyway, needing the comfort of her warm, wiry body. If anything had happened to anyone—

“So everyone is okay? Is the complex damaged? The unit?”

“The unit needs repair, as does the back fence. That fence should have been rebuilt long ago.”

Mercedes bit back a huff. She’d been trying to get the budget for the fence repairs past the board for months. “I’ll see to it the minute I get back.”

“Later tomorrow is fine,” Mrs. Garvey said. “It needn’t be your first priority. Other matters will require immediate attention.”

“Right. Um...” Mercedes glanced at the girl snuggling into her side, the weight of her head leaning against the side of her breast. “But as I told Harrison, the kids have school this week.”

Mrs. Garvey’s silence held such thick censure, Mercedes cringed.

“You were supposed to be back last week,” Mrs. Garvey said in her schoolmarm scold. “You should be the one speaking with the police right now.”

“Porsha assured me she was on her way.” But that had been Thursday and here it was Sunday. What were vandals doing out on a school night? At least on a Friday she could have packed up the kids and gone straight back to Flagstaff.

“You’ve used all of your holiday time, Mercedes,” Mrs. Garvey reminded.

“I know. I’m taking this week without pay.” Mercedes held her breath, hoping that would appease Edith Tightfist Garvey.

“But you’ve used all your time. This isn’t another situation like Christmas, is it?”

“Of course not.” Porsha wouldn’t do that to her. Mercedes cuddled her niece closer so Ayjia relaxed and her eyes drifted shut. Porsha wouldn’t do that to her kids. She wouldn’t dare. Mercedes had made it clear that once was too much, especially on top of all those weekend disappearances.

In her ear, Mrs. Garvey spoke to someone else again, her thin voice muffled. Mercedes imagined the senior pressing the receiver to whatever sweater set she’d chosen for a consultation with the police. Never mind the record temperatures Arizona was setting this March, or that potential arsonists had pulled her from her bed at half past nine. She would still be dressed in a light wool skirt, nylons, and orthopedic shoes.

A male voice roughened by a lifetime of whiskey and cigarettes came on the line. “Mercy?”

Oh, no. Was the entire Administrative Board standing there? Some of these people she just couldn’t say no to.

“Hi, Harrison.” She sounded like a sheepish teenager who’d missed curfew. She cleared her throat. “Sounds like a bit of a circus there.”

“Three rings, my girl. Wish you were here.”

Code for Get your ass back home. Ouch.

“Wednesday?” she pleaded. Surely she’d be able to track down her sister by then. If she couldn’t, she was calling child welfare. This time she really meant it.

No, she didn’t, she decided just as fast, cradling a protective hand over Ayjia’s fine hair. After a really scary bout in foster care herself, she’d sworn her niece and nephew wouldn’t experience anything like it. But she dreamed of threatening her sister with it. Porsha needed to wake up.

Harrison filled her ear with a deeply pained sigh. “That the best you can do?”

In the background, she heard Mrs. Garvey working herself into a lather. “She needs to be here now.”

Mercedes winced. “It’s that bad?”

“It’s not that it’s so bad, Mercy-girl. It’s that we’re so damned old. The coppers want us to inspect the damage, but I left my glasses back on the counter and really can’t be bothered walking all that way to pick them up. Pete ought to bring his notes from that inspection we did last fall, but he took one of his nappy pills. Shirley is barely getting a pulse out of him. Mrs. Yamamoto says the little shits seem like nice boys and ought to be given a second chance, but Edith wants ‘em castrated and stewed in oil. We could use your steadying presence.”

Guilt and concern weighed heavier. “I could drive down after school tomorrow.”

More silence, the ominous, disapproving kind.

“Harrison, they’re children.” Mercedes begged for understanding. The seniors were adults. She knew who couldn’t survive without her.

On the other hand, she couldn’t exactly buy groceries for herself or her sister’s children if she didn’t have a job. She would need her life at Coconino Vista when Porsha finally decided to be a mother again. That was home and those people were like family. She hated letting them down.

“I’ll be there by late afternoon, I swear.” She wouldn’t even try to imagine how she would get the kids back for school on Tuesday.

“Can’t your mother take them?” he asked.

“I pick them up from Mom when Porsha leaves them there because—”

Like mother, like daughter, she’d been about to say, but cut herself off as six-year-old Dayton showed up from the hall, his hair sticking up, his cheek wearing the print of his dinosaur pillow.

“Is that Mom?”

“No, hon. It’s my work.”

“What do they want?”

“Mercedes?” Harrison asked. “The police want to talk to us again, but listen. We need you here.”

“I know.” And she wasn’t Porsha, she wasn’t. “I’ll come back tomorrow,” she promised, silently adding, Please don’t fire me.



L.C. Fogarty had just fallen asleep in the hard, college dorm bed when his cell phone hummed.

He was too old for midnight calls. It had to be a wrong number. Or his son. Might be his sister. Their father had been doing all right since his latest heart attack two years ago, but still smoked like a chimney and drank like a fish.

Reaching for the phone, he opened one eye to see the lack of photo and his ex-wife’s initials. A cement-like weight hit his gut, heavy and sloshing with foreboding.

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