Deep in the heart of Texas is a small town where secret wishes have a funny way of coming true . . .
With a nine-year-old daughter, an overdue light bill, and a job slinging burgers while zooming around on roller skates, Cassidy Roby is not living the glamorous life. But Cuervo, Texas, has its charms: quiet streets, loving family, and the down-home familiarity of knowing which of your neighbors are mean as snakes. With Cassidy’s reputation, she knows what will happen if she steps a foot out of line. But how can she help it now that Mason Hannigan’s back in town?
As Cuervo’s high school quarterback ten years ago, Mason was all rock-hard abs and yes-ma’am manners. Now that he’s living the glitz and glory of the NFL, he’s all that plus a couple million bucks. The desire blazing between them is too hot to hide. Cassidy has some experience getting her heart broken by the hometown hero—and having the whole world watch her try to pick up the pieces. Will adding fame, fortune, and paparazzi be a playbook for disaster—or lead to the biggest adventure of her life?
4 1/2 stars on Amazon
“This book was a fantastic story of true love of the “one that got away” and getting second chances. I loved the down to earth characters and country charm personalities. I loved that a big time star NFL quarterback came back to his hometown and got his high school sweetheart back.”
“An impossible book to put down. This author is way above the norm. I will search out everything she has written henceforth. Her ability to captivate the reader, her ability to command your presence is undeniable. What a great find we have here.”
“Can’t wait to read the next book. I would highly recommend this book.”
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
“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 wait staff 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 and 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 from 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 watching the 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 a 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 can’t. 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.
“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.
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.
About the Author
Award-winning author Stacey Keith doesn’t own a television, but reads compulsively—and would, in fact, go stark raving bonkers without books, most of which are crammed into every corner of the house. She lives with her jazz musician boyfriend in Civita Castellana, a medieval village in Italy that sits atop a cliff, and she spends her days writing in a nearby abandoned 12th century church. But the two things she is most proud of are her ability to cook pasta alla matriciana without burning down the kitchen, and swearing volubly in Italian with all the appropriate hand gestures.
Interview with Stacey Keith by Holly Hewson for TRS
HH: Thank you for talking with us at TRS. Please tell us about your featured book, DREAM ON.
Stacey: I’m happy to! DREAM ON is the ultimate Cinderella story, one that’s been updated to reflect some real-world issues. Fame, for instance. How does a small-town girl like Cassidy—a single mother, no less—deal with the repercussions of dating a celebrity athlete? Cassidy is no fame chaser. She wants the security of knowing she is truly loved and won’t be abandoned (again). Only how will growing up in the hot glare of the spotlight affect her daughter Lexie? How do you deal with beautiful women coming on to your boyfriend all the time? Or the insecurities that are part of the whole celebrity package?
Mason, who is a very centered guy despite being America’s most drool-worthy quarterback, knows exactly what he wants: the real deal. No fake tans, fake boobs, fake personalities. He wants a woman who wanted him before he was famous. He wants Cassidy. So his feelings are established early on in the story. It’s Cassidy who is understandably slower to come around, and a lot of that has to do with her daughter.
HH: What do you like best about Cassidy and why will readers identify with her?
Stacey: DREAM ON is the first book in the “Dreams Come True” series, which is about three sisters in Cuervo, Texas. Maggie, the oldest and the feistiest, is featured in SWEET DREAMS, which comes out this March. April, the youngest and the sweetest, reigns supreme in DREAM LOVER, which comes out in July. Cassidy occupies the middle child space in all respects, but her life got turned completely upside down when she became pregnant at fifteen. She was forced to grow up fast—and to deal with the kind of small-town pettiness that anyone who’s actually lived in a small town is familiar with. Your business is everybody’s business, and everybody gets to make sweeping pronouncements about you based on what they think they know. It’s not easy for anyone, let alone a shy, loyal, self-effacing girl like Cassidy. But that’s what makes her a worthy heroine in my eyes. How do you fight an unseen enemy when you don’t believe you’re carrying any weapons?
HH: What do you like best about Mason and why will readers identify with him?
Stacey: Mason is the definition of hero. Committing to Cassidy is part of his hero’s journey. And he hasn’t necessarily had it easy. Sure he’s drop-dead gorgeous, athletic and charming. But his dad has been a bitter disappointment, even a cautionary tale about how not to conduct a relationship. His mom leans on him the way a child leans on a parent, which forces Mason to grow up in ways he wasn’t expecting to just yet. So Mason’s parents didn’t exactly blaze a trail for him to follow. Everything he learns about love he learns by his association with Cassidy.
In a way, Mason’s own family is a casualty of his fame—and he is determined not to let history repeat itself again with him, Cassidy, and Lexie.
HH: This is the first book of your “Dreams Come True” series. What can you tell us about this phenomenal series?
Stacey: I loved every minute of writing Cassidy’s, Maggie’s, and April’s stories! The characters are as real to me as my own family. And each sister is loosely based on a classic fairytale heroine. Cassidy’s story is a modern take on CINDERELLA. Maggie from SWEET DREAMS is Belle from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. And April from DREAM LOVER is a riff on SLEEPING BEAUTY. The small Texas town of Cuervo is almost like another character, a recurring one that lends a downhome feel to all three narratives, anchoring them firmly in the here and now.
HH: What can you tell us about the other books in the series?
Stacey: SWEET DREAMS, the second book in the “Dreams Come True” series will be released on March 6th. Maggie, who owns a bakery in Cuervo, may be all sugar and spice on the outside, but she takes guff from no one—not her cheating rodeo cowboy ex, and certainly not the hot billionaire she meets at her sister’s wedding. In fact, it’s safe to say that she and Jake Sutton do not hit it off right away. She wants kids; Jake is allergic to them. She wants someone who’s in it for the long haul; Jake can’t think past the next ten minutes. And then there’s Jake’s nightmare past, which is determined to make a second appearance in his life. Thank goodness Maggie isn’t easy to frighten off.
In July comes DREAM LOVER with April and Brandon. April is a social worker and Brandon McBride is the biggest Harley-riding badass this side of the Rio Grande. I love, love, love bad boys, and Brandon is the baddest of them all—long hair, ripped abs, the whole glorious nine. The problem is Brandon has a lot of trouble saying no to temptation, and for someone with his kind of sexual wattage, there’s plenty of temptation to be had. April has no choice but to say no because her job prohibits her from dating a client. So the stakes are possibly higher for April and Brandon than they are for any other couple in the series. Brandon is certainly the most elemental of my heroes, but he is still a hero. And April is the only woman on earth who can tame him.
HH: How did you get your start as a writer?
Stacey: I’ve always been a writer—even when I didn’t want to be. I never chose writing; writing chose me. When I was twelve, I played hooky from school so I could stay home and write my first novel. I was obsessed with Tudor history, so the novel was an account of Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Kathryn Howard. He chopped her head off before her nineteenth birthday, which meant she and I weren’t that far apart in age. Like all first novels, it was perfectly awful.
Being awful didn’t keep me from writing though. By the time I was nineteen, I had a bestselling nonfiction that actually went to auction. It was a fluffy little meringue of a book that got me on all the talk shows. The best thing I can say about the book is it’s unintentionally funny. I have no idea why it sold as well as it did.
The nice thing about starting off behind the eight ball is you’ve got nowhere to go but up. When you keep writing though, guess what? You get better. But for a long time my career was a series of near misses. One time, an editor my agent had just sold my book to left her publishing house the next day. My book deal? DOA. Another time I sold an erotic romance to a boutique publishing house—two weeks after the release of my book, they went out of business. Heartbreaking losses, right? It doesn’t matter. You just have to keep going.
HH: What is your writing schedule like?
Stacey: INTENSE. This past year, I wrote three novels, one of them in 76 days. I was so strung out on cappuccinos and no sleep, I could smell colors. Fortunately, I live in Italy and my office is a little glass house that sits on top of the terrace. Can’t tell you how much sunrises I’ve watched as I scrambled to crank out pages. The view is lovely. There’s a 12th century church right outside my windows. It’s very inspirational.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about production, it’s this: don’t trust your feelings when it comes to knowing whether you want to write or not. I’ve sat down at my desk practically rabid with loathing for the whole process … and still managed to turn out decent material. Even when you think you can’t write another page, you can and you will. You are capable of amazing things if you know to get out of your own way.
HH: What are you working on right now?
Stacey: I’m working on La Dolce Vita, a new women’s fiction series that’s set mostly in Italy. The first book, SWIRL, is like THE CHOCOLATE THIEF, only with wine. I’m crazy excited about it because the book, the characters, the Italian backdrop are lush, sensual and brimming with authentic details. I am determined to make every paragraph delicious!
HH: What are you reading?
Stacey: I have some wildly eccentric reading habits, anything from Emile Zola’s NANA to THE YOUNG ROMANTICS: the Shelleys, Byron, and Other Tangled Lives by Daisy Hay. I’m also slogging through Thomas Piketty’s CAPITAL, which is about economics and admittedly dry reading, but it’s important to read books so far outside of your wheelhouse, you actually learn things.
HH: What appearances, online and in person, will you be making this year?
Stacey: There will be plenty of online hijinks, that’s for sure. Kensington Books does a great job of promoting all my books, but I was also asked to contribute a novella to a Janet Dailey/Lori Wilde/Allyson Charles anthology called A WEDDING ON BLUEBIRD WAY, which comes out this May in paperback, ebook and audiobook. We’re all really excited about it.
I look forward to seeing you throughout 2018. For additional information, please visit my website: www.StaceyKeithAuthor.com. Can’t wait to see how the year unfolds. Thank you for joining me on this crazy wild adventure!