beauty & the biker impossible dream
PRINCE CHARMING IS OUT THERE. SOMEWHERE.
Miracles happen every day. Even in Nowhere, Nebraska. That’s Bella Mooney’s philosophy and she’s sticking to it! A children’s librarian who writes fairy tales on the side, Bella has earned the reputation of fanciful Pollyanna. No surprise that she applied for her “ideal man” via ImpossibleDream.com, an Internet company designed to make dreams come true. However, even whimsical Bella has real-life issues, forcing her to take drastic actions in order to spin her dad’s life (and in turn her own) for the better. As fate draws her into the troubling world of her new neighbor—a cynical biker with a scarred soul and checkered past—Bella finds herself falling for the most unlikely man, twisting her perceptions of true love and testing her faith in dreams.
FATE LANDED HIM IN NOWHERE
Expect nothing. Anticipate the worst. As a detective with the Chicago Police Department, Joe Savage witnessed heinous crimes and acts of cruelty on a daily basis, obliterating his faith in humanity. When a personal vendetta cost him his job and a quirky inheritance offered escape, Joe packed it in and steered his motorcycle toward a small town bordering Tornado Alley and the Twilight Zone. Where better to lose himself than Nowhere? Resigned to a dark and lonely existence, Joe’s life is suddenly shoved into the sunshine when his eccentric neighbor offers him a chance he can’t refuse, especially after her kiss of hope rekindles his dead heart. Inspired and challenged by Bella’s infectious optimism, Joe dares to make the impossible come true.
What they’re saying
Read on for Chapter 1
impossible dream / book 1
bc ink, october 22, 2014
what people are saying
“Beth Ciotta has written another wonderful, uplifting romance novel. Complete with characters we quickly come to care about, and including her signature humorous style, Ciotta has gifted us with a truly romantic story which will warm your heart.” —Amazon reader review
“The story is fun, upbeat, optimistic, a little magical but with enough edge, drama, twists and turns to make me unsure as to how it was eventually going to play out! I found myself laughing out loud and choking back tears.” —Amazon reader review
“I want to sign up at ImpossibleDream.com! Oh, the dreams that come true! Beth proves that ALL your dreams CAN come true, even in Nowhere! Hold onto your hats as your tumble into love in the most unexpected places with the most unexpected person.” —Amazon reader review
“In a world where cynics often rule the day, Ciotta’s story is a breath of fresh air and an inspiration to the heart. I’m looking forward to more reimagined fairy tales as this promising new series continues!” —Amazon reader review
Once upon a Wednesday…
Thank God for story hour.
Some people meditated. Some indulged in massages. Others alleviated stress via exercise or by spewing their troubles to a shrink.
Bella Mooney, children’s librarian and resident Suzy Sunshine, achieved bliss via the wonderstruck expressions and giggles of impressionable and imaginative kids. Specifically the preschoolers who attended her weekly Fun-tale/Fairy-tale Hour. They ate up her animated storytelling like a scoop of chocolate ice cream, their sparkling eyes begging for more as she finished reading one book and teased them with another.
“We only have time for one more,” Bella said, dipping into her box of props and pre-selected tales. She flashed a wolf puppet and a worn copy of Little Red Riding Hood. “This one? Orrrrr…” She crooked an ornery grin as she swapped out her booty. “This one!”
The kids squealed and clapped as she presented a bright blue book and a tall, skinny, red-and-white hat. Since the library treated Dr. Seuss like a star, Bella wasn’t surprised that the children opted for The Cat in the Hat. Pulling on the comical headgear, she opened the picture book and launched into the rhyming tale. As always, she read with dramatic zeal. This longtime favorite was branded on her brain so she easily lost herself in her performance and the adorable faces of her riveted audience. They sprawled around her in a semi-circle, seven tiny people with humongous imaginations. Bella basked in their innocence and wonder.
Unfortunately, these days her usually effortless ability to disconnect with reality was often short-lived. As Bella read the pages of supreme cat chaos, her mind flashed to the chaos of her own life. Nine months of upset and turmoil. Nine months of juggling the devastating effects of heartbreak and loss. What she wouldn’t give for the Cat’s magical clean-up machine to suck up the emotional havoc resulting from the death of her mom.
Felled by a stroke at age fifty-five, Laura Mooney’s passing had left Bella grappling with bone-deep sadness and compromised judgment and focus. Even so, she’d coped better with the unexpected loss than her dad. At first he’d pressed on, stuffing down the grief, immersing himself in work. But then the post office had suffered cutbacks and Archie Mooney had been forced into early retirement. Losing his job a few months after burying his wife had been a queer and cruel twist of fate. He’d been on a downhill slide ever since.
Bella had taken extreme measures, moving back home in order to battle her dad’s demons. She’d believed heart and soul he’d find comfort in her company and benefit from her dogged optimism.
Thus far her efforts to restore his zest for life had been an exercise in frustration.
Bella pushed her dad’s drinking and financial problems from her mind as she turned the page and continued to read. “Have no fear of this mess,” she quoted and although Bella showed the kids an illustration of the Cat in action, she envisioned her mom battling worries with a smile and a proverb. Every cloud has a silver lining. Just one of the optimistic clichés that helped to shape Bella’s typically sunny mindset.
But even Bella had her limits.
Finishing the tale, she closed the book wishing she could end this depressing chapter of her own life as easily. Her pitfalls and challenges extended beyond her dad’s dilemma. Nothing earthshattering on an individual basis, but together they taxed her bullish spirit.
A disabled car. A persistent ex-boyfriend. A dwindling checking account and rumors of library budget cuts. Even her efforts to become a published children’s author had been derailed, hampered by rejection and, most recently, writer’s block. Swear to heaven, her life was beginning to resemble an eye-rolling melodrama. Mired in misfortune and crippled dreams, Bella grew more restless and irritated by the day.
Even now, frustration encroached on her measly hour of bliss. Dividing her focus, she provided the kids with art supplies, calmly explaining a story related craft while relaying a silent plea to the universe.
I’m desperate for something good to happen. Something unexpected and magical.
Her mind skipped to the whimsical fairy tales she breathed like air. Moral tales where good conquered evil and the deserving lived happily-ever-after. Where fairy godmothers and all-knowing wizards bewitched and bedazzled and empowered the chosen few. She loved the simplicity and the wonder these stories inspired. It’s why she gravitated toward writing similar tales herself. She wanted to breathe hope into the world. She wanted to champion goodness and love. If that made her a Pollyanna, so be it. The cynics of the world could stuff a sock in it.
Her ex, Carson Anderson, immediately came to mind.
The day Carson had read and scoffed at one of her original tales had been a turning point in their already dysfunctional relationship. His lack of support cut deeply. It also intensified the sting of past rejections. Although she’d only targeted a few publishers, all of them had passed on her work without offering an ounce of constructive criticism. She ended up comparing her raw manuscript pages to several published picture books and obsessing on the bold illustrations. Not for the first time, she wondered if her stories would have more impact were she to team ahead of time with an artist. Some of her favorite folk tales were accentuated by fantastical visuals.
While the children glued googly eyes on their cardboard unicorns, Bella glanced toward the shelved classics. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel. Her soul ached for a romantic adventure of her own design. One that started with love-at-first-sight, bypassed the drama, and segued into happily-ever-after. Given her dismal dating history and ever-hopeful heart, Bella was primed for true love. The kind that mangled your senses and swept you off your feet. The kind that melded souls and inspired ballads. The kind you couldn’t fake or force—like she’d tried to do with Carson.
A flash of movement stole her attention and her gaze shifted right. Bella flushed, her pulse tripping at the sight of a tall, handsome stranger—hot if you went for dark, ripped, and broody—standing next to the Dr. Seuss display. She would have been enchanted by his unexpected and seemingly magical appearance, except…
The man was frowning.
“What the—” Bella batted her drooping hat from her face, tempted to match his scowl. This room was filled with wondrous books and giggling kids. How could anyone look so intensely perturbed in the midst of whimsy and youthful glee? No mistaking him for Prince Charming.
Yet her libido revved.
Unsettled, Bella made a show of inspecting the artwork in progress, applauding the kids’ creativity while sneaking looks at the intimidating voyeur.
Who the heck was he? A grumpy electrician? An impatient deliveryman? An alien-shooting government agent?
Okay. That last one was farfetched. Still. Who could blame her vivid imagination for running amok? The man was dressed in head-to-toe black—tee, jeans, boots. And what was with the sunglasses? Were his eyes sensitive to florescent lighting? Was he incognito? Too cool for his combat boots?
Bella knew everyone in Nowhere, but she didn’t know him.
Or did she?
Mind racing, she swiveled in search of glitter paint. Her heart pounded as a disturbing thought rooted and thrived. Realizing how distracted she was, she kicked up the cheer factor, breaking into animated chatter as she offered the kids the means to make their craft sparkle.
When she glanced back to the Seuss display, dark, ripped, and broody was gone.
Tension whooshed from her body.
On reflection, she was pretty sure she’d gotten her first look at her new neighbor. Even though he’d moved to the region last month, Bella had yet to formally meet the Harley-riding recluse—but that was his fault. With the exception of frequenting Nowhere’s popular drinking holes, Joe Savage avoided the town and its residents like the plague. He’d peppered his property with “No Trespassing” signs and he’d rudely rejected Bella’s personal welcome. Her friend, Emma, had spied him swigging brew at Desperado’s Den and another friend, Georgie, had crossed his path at Tank’s Auto Repair. They’d both described the badass loner as scary gorgeous.
It had to be him.
Had Savage sought her out to make amends for his obnoxiously rude behavior? He’d returned her welcome basket, unopened, leaving it on her dad’s porch in the dead of the night. It was as good as saying, “Stick your friendly gesture where the sun don’t shine!”
Oh, yeah. He owed her an apology. Big time.
Then again, if that was his intention, why had he slipped in and out without a word? Why had he looked so menacing and miserable? She could scarcely wait to ask her co-workers if he’d registered for a library card. Had he checked out a DVD? A magazine? A book? Fiction? Non-fiction? Biography? Subjects and genres often hinted at an aspect of a patron’s personality, interests or world views. If dark, ripped, and broody was indeed biker dude and if he’d checked out, for instance, a cook book, it wouldn’t make him any less of a mystery, but it would make him less intimidating.
One thing was certain, the next time she saw him, she’d take the initiative and they’d have a discussion. They didn’t have to be friends, but they didn’t have to be enemies either. The last thing Bella needed was another dark force mucking up her formerly sunny world. Nope. She’d take the high road and pave the way for civility.
Negativity breeds negativity.
Another one of her mom’s sayings and just one of the reasons Bella had cooled her relationship with Carson. He maintained they were a perfect match, but her heart knew otherwise. In matters of love, she refused to settle for anything less than what her dad had shared with her mom. A passionate union. Respectful yet laced with secret smiles and stolen kisses.
Bella wanted a slice of that kind of happy.
Unbidden, Savage’s scowling—albeit gorgeous—face came to mind. Not a joyful bone in his sexy body. His dark aura was as unwelcome as Carson’s suffocating arrogance.
Cynics, manipulators, and stick-in-the-mud realists step aside or I’ll mow you down!
More than ever, Bella was determined to escape the missteps and misfortune of the last few months. If nothing else, she took Savage’s unsettling appearance as an encouraging sign. No denying he’d stoked some racy desires, just more proof that she’d been right in breaking off with Carson. Savage hadn’t swept her off her feet, but he’d knocked her for a loop. A teaser for the real thing? One could hope. And Bella hoped with all her heart.
As story hour came to a close, she focused on the future.
Instead of waiting for something good to happen, maybe it was time to give the universe a friendly shove. Not that she had anything in particular in mind.
Luckily, she had other brains to pick.
Bella glanced at the cartoonish clock on the wall, willing time to fly. Five-o-clock couldn’t come fast enough. She’d arranged a ride home with Georgie. Out of all the Inseparables, Bella’s close-knit group of friends, Georgina Poppins was the most resilient. No matter how many times she got knocked down personally and professionally, Georgie always came back swinging. She was also open-minded, exploring obscure options and coloring outside of the lines.
Since Bella had been trapped in a morose rut for the last several months, thinking outside the box seemed like a good place to start.
* * *
“Be warned,” Georgie said. “I’m in a crappy mood.”
Bella’s heart sank as she fastened her seat belt. Not quite the greeting she’d been hoping for. “What’s wrong?”
“What’s right?” Georgie snapped as she pulled away from the curb. “Tank said he fixed my car, but I still hear scraping every time I turn the wheel.”
“Oh. Well, maybe—”
“And did I mention I’m job hunting? Again?” Georgie ticked off her previous positions. Teaching assistant, tour guide, party planner, florist, the shall-not-be-talked-about stint as a lingerie model. “What’s left? Shoveling horse shit at the rodeo grounds? And on top of that,” she complained, “I’m in the market for a new man.”
Bella blinked at her beautiful, kind-hearted, uniquely interesting friend. “Jeremy broke up with you?”
“I’m the one who broke it off. I knew he had wandering eyes, but when his hands got into the act…” Wringing the life out of the poor, innocent steering wheel, Georgie let loose an irritated growl.
Bella imagined her friend curling those same slender fingers around Jeremy’s thick neck and squeezing. Hard.
“I know this is clichéd,” Bella said, “but in this case it’s true. You’re better off.” Truly she was. “Emma told you she saw Jeremy flirting up—”
“I know. I know.” Georgie blew out a disgusted breath as she made a right on Frontier.
“Damn scraping,” she complained. “Did you hear that?”
“If my tires fall off, I’m going to sue Tank’s ass. At least then I won’t have to worry about being unemployed. I can live off the settlement. Unless of course the tires fall off and I crash and burn. Then I’ll be dead. Although dead people don’t need money, so I guess there’s a bright side.”
Bella fidgeted with the shoulder harness, trying to ease the intensifying pressure in her chest. She’d spent the better part of the day, pulling herself up by the bootstraps. When she’d trotted down the steps of the Nowhere Public Library and hopped into Georgie’s battered four-door, she’d been ready to take on the world. She’d been primed for some sage advice, a supportive smile, and a “go get ‘em, girl.” Instead, Georgie was lamenting her own sucky life.
“I just… I thought he was the one.” Georgie sighed. “Then again, I think that about every man I fall for.”
“That’s because you lead with your heart,” Bella said kindly.
“Yeah, well, those days are over. Considering my track record, I’ve decided to muzzle Thumper.”
“Harness your big, soft heart?” Bella frowned. “You don’t mean that.”
Georgie mimicked turning a lock and throwing away the key.
“So, what? You’re giving up on men?”
“No,” Georgie said. “I’m giving up on love. Altering my mindset. Happily-ever-afters are highly overrated.”
Bella cringed. She expected cynicism from the other Inseparables. Her disenchanted younger cousin, Chrissy. Their jaded friend, Emma. And their seemingly jinxed friend, Angel. But from Georgie? Surely she’d spoken out of frustration. “Giving up on true love? You don’t mean that.”
“The hell I don’t.”
In Bella’s book, dissing the almighty happily-ever-after was akin to sacrilege, but instead of climbing on her soapbox, she reached across the seat and squeezed Georgie’s arm. “You’re just reeling because Jeremy fell off his white horse.”
“Same as every other man I’ve ever dated.”
Bella noted Georgie’s slumped shoulders as they sped along Marsh Creek Road. She also noted the bumpier than usual ride, although she kept that observation to herself. At least Georgie’s clunker was mobile, which is more than she could say for her own junked car.
“I go through men like I go through jobs,” Georgie railed. “I’m thirty, plagued with rotten relationships and unemployed—again. It’s seriously frustrating. I’m just saying I might be happier or at least more content if I lowered my expectations.”
Bella didn’t like the sound of that. She was still trying to escape her own less-than-ideal relationship. Carson, who owned and operated Anderson’s Auto Family—the most successful car dealership in the county—had charmed the bulk of Nowhere, including Bella, although not without diligent effort. He’d dangled marriage and the prospect of children beneath her nose. He’d offered her dad a job. He’d promised to right Bella’s world at a time when she was at her most vulnerable. Carson wasn’t perfect, but he was attentive. He’d filled a void and Bella had perpetuated the relationship, desperate for what he offered. Passion took a back seat to stability and companionship. She’d lowered her expectations. But then Carson had shown his true colors, shocking Bella out of her co-dependent daze. Marrying a rich, handsome, and successful businessman did not guarantee happiness. And, dang it, Bella wanted bone-deep, soul-searing happy.
She wanted the same for her friends.
“I’m thinking of adopting Emma’s motto,” Georgie plowed on. “Happy-for-now. Did you know she took Nathan up on his offer? A week’s vacation—all expenses paid, by him—in the Caribbean. The freaking Caribbean!”
“You do know Nat will expect sex in return for that tropical getaway.”
“Rumor has it he’s an amazing lover. Sounds like a fair trade to me.”
Bella squeezed the bridge of her nose. “It’s not that I’m a prude—”
“You’re a romantic.” Georgie crooked a sad smile. “I wish I had your optimism, Bella, but I’ve kissed a lot of frogs and I’ve yet to find my prince. Even though I know you’re dying to shake your true love pom-poms, please don’t. There’s no “rah” in my “sis-boom-bah”, although I’m sure I’ll rally. Eventually. But enough about me,” she said while making a right onto Eagle Butte Road. “How are you doing?”
Bella squinted toward the farmhouse up ahead. Her childhood home. She noted the empty driveway, which meant her dad had already left for another night of drinking. Though he rarely drove blotto, relying on a friend to escort him home, she’d still toss and turn until she heard him stumbling down the hall and into his room. Something had to break on that front. Bella hated confrontation, but a dose of tough love was long overdue. Not that she was judging. They’d both indulged in false comfort. He’d turned to drink. She’d turned to Carson.
As someone who internalized her darker thoughts, Bella steered the conversation toward brighter terrain. She smiled and answered, “I’m awesome,” giving Georgie a quick rundown of Fun-Time/Fairy-Tale Hour sans the mysterious visit from dark, ripped, and broody. But even as she rambled about the kids’ enthusiastic reaction to today’s program, her gaze skipped to the Cartwright’s lavender field and beyond. To the rambling property now owned by Joe Savage.
Because he had indeed applied for a library card, she was certain now that the man she’d spied in the library was Savage. For the life of her, she couldn’t stop thinking about him. Even though her experiences thus far, coupled with town gossip, pegged him as antisocial, he’d hooked her like a toxic reality show. Setting aside her shallow appreciation of his to-die-for body, she pondered his story. Where was he from? What did he do? Why did he push everyone to arm’s length?
Earlier today he’d looked fierce and intimidating. Definitely annoyed or disgusted. Trouble or troubled, she wasn’t sure which. However, the overall message was clear. Don’t mess with me. Similar to the implied message when he’d returned her untouched goodies. Buzz off.
It felt personal. She hated that she cared. She didn’t need Savage’s approval. She didn’t want to play social worker. She had a plan. Or at least a goal. It included silver linings and a white knight. Not a dark horse.
“Did you hear from Carson today?” Georgie asked as they rolled into the gravel drive.
Bella frowned. “Not yet, but the night is young. He had a dozen roses delivered last night around supper time.”
“He’s trying to win you back.”
“Only because he’s not used to losing.” And with that Bella swung out of the car, determined not to bad mouth Carson. She was partially to blame for their botched affair. She’d led him on and for that she was sorry.
“Call me if you need me,” Georgie said, before peeling back on to the road with a scrape and a grind.
Bella crooked a gentle smile. God, she loved her friends.
Her smile broadened as she focused on giving the universe a shove.
She blew into her parents’ house and up the stairs deflecting the uncertainty and gloom that had smacked her in the face as soon as she crossed the threshold. A lifetime of beautiful memories overshadowed by months of mourning.
“Mom would be royally peeved.”
Laura Mooney had been a vibrant and influential force, not only within the family, but for the whole of Nowhere. She’d never been one to whine or wallow. When it came to problem solving, she’d exhausted every possibility, rarely giving up or giving in.
Where there’s a will there’s a way.
There had to be a way for Bella to turn the tide. To spark good fortune. For her and for her dad.
Topping the stairs, she zipped into her bedroom, looped her messenger bag over her desk chair, and fired up her laptop. Plainly put, the Mooneys were in a rut and Archie—who’d bombed as a car salesman in less than a week—was sinking lower by the day. Booze bingeing aside, there were also mounting bills. Although she’d eased his financial burden by contributing to the household expenses, her personal funds were limited. Selling one of her stories to a publisher would help. At least it was a productive place to start. That meant researching houses that hadn’t already rejected her work or writing new stories and submitting those. But that meant reconnecting with her muse.
Knotting her long curls into a sloppy ponytail, Bella sat at her desk and took a deep breath. Staring at her whimsical computer background, she channeled her mom’s determination.
“Time to escape the bog of misfortune.”
She needed to believe in miracles. To reinforce her faith in happily-ever-afters. For Archie Mooney. For the Inseparables. She’d start with herself.
Fingers flying, she typed “Children’s Storybook Publisher” into the search engine then hit enter. Maybe she’d find hope and inspiration in a new list of viable publishers. There was also the matter of strengthening her already existing manuscripts, so maybe a critique service was in order. In addition, she couldn’t shake the feeling that her stories would benefit from breathtaking illustrations. Yes, she’d been advised to submit her tales without artwork, but that guideline wasn’t written in stone. And besides, she’d already taken the conventional route.
“Time to shake things up.”
Thoughts flew from her brain to her fingers as she exhausted several deep desires.
The words blurred as she scrolled search results.
“Talk about overwhelming.”
Miracles happen every day.
“Right. Thanks, mom.”
Bella focused on the screen, spirits lifting as she spied a fanciful company and its promising tagline.
“Making magic since 1956”
Bella clicked on the home page, devouring the information relayed on the sparse but visually appealing website. Impossible Dream was a matchmaking service. Not the kind that paired you with a possible life partner, although surely that was an option, but a boutique company that specialized in providing applicants with viable opportunities to achieve the seemingly impossible.
Yearning for the dream job? Dream vacation? Dream home? Our data analysts and researchers pride themselves on working magic.
Her skin tingled with giddy anticipation. And something else. Déjà vu. She’d never been to this site. Never heard of this site. Yet something about the concept struck a familiar chord. Although, duh, the whimsy factor resonated with Bella’s very essence and upbringing.
She eyed the wand logo with a grin. “So what are you, ID-dot-com? Some sort of techno fairy godmother?”
Shaking her head, she scrolled the particulars. “Too good to be true.” Then again, there were charitable foundations that granted spectacular wishes to ailing children. And Internet services that offered everything under the sun. Given today’s technological resources it probably was possible to make impossible dreams come true.
Because she was desperate, and hopeful, and determined to make magic, Bella registered with ID.com then opened the extensive data form. She toyed with applying for a six-figure contract with a Big Apple publisher, but what good was a contract without a spectacular product? Why not stack the odds? Or at least, buck convention and color outside the lines? The thought of partnering with an illustrator had her by the throat. A long term relationship. An exciting journey where every road led to a happily-ever-after.
Which ignited thoughts of Prince Charming.
If she was shooting for the impossible why not shoot for the stars? Partnering with an illustrator who also possessed the qualities of her ideal lover. What the heck? she thought as she typed a spontaneous wish list.
Sense of humor, generous heart, optimist, hard worker, kid friendly, magical kisser…
The more she mused, the greater her tunnel vision.
On a whim and with a wink to the heavens, Bella waved a mental wand and typed: Dream Partner.