“Better Than Your Dreams” by Dee Ernst
Blurb: In this follow-up to “Better Off Without Him”, Mona Quincy once again faces life’s tough moments with good friends, lots of laughs, and a cold, dry martini. For the past eighteen months, Mona has had a long-distance relationship with the man of her dreams, Ben Cutler. She’s been in LA working on a screenplay, while he’s been keeping the NJ home fires burning. But now she’s back, and she needs to answer a very serious question – will she marry Ben?
Mona doesn’t think she ever wants to get married again – not even to someone as practically perfect as Ben Cutler. But before she can think about her own marriage plans, she’s got a few other weddings to deal with. Her Aunt Lily doesn’t think that being almost eighty should deter her future happiness, and has met her perfect partner in Vinnie DeMatriano, who just happens to be the uncle of a slightly notorious crime boss. True, they’ve only known each other three months, but they want to tie the knot – in Mona’s back yard. Then Miranda, Mona’s oldest daughter, announces that she’s ready to get married after a three month long courtship of her own – to Ben’s son, David.
Ben believes in love at first sight, and is thrilled for Miranda and David. Mona – not so much. She doesn’t want her daughter to marry anyone after such a short time. As they find themselves at odds for the very first time, Ben thinks they should step back and take some time away from each other. Mona is still unwilling to commit fully to Ben, and can only stand by as Carmella Ciavaglia, Vinnie’s wedding-planner daughter, circles Ben like a great white shark. Will Mona finally get her Happily Ever After? Or has she learned her hardest lesson just a little too late?
* * * * *
In the eighteen months that I had been flying back and forth between LAX in California and EWR in Newark, New Jersey, I had never quite gotten the hang of it. I didn’t mind the flight out to LA. For some reason it seemed shorter and easier. But coming back—very tough. Maybe it was because I always took the first flight out at six in the morning. Which meant being at the airport by five in the morning, which meant I had to leave my house at—never mind. It’s too depressing to think about.
Then there was the time difference. I was actually flying forward in time. Now, maybe a sci-fi aficionado might find that exciting, but to me it just meant I’d lost a few hours of my life that I would never get back. I’d leave before breakfast and land midafternoon. Where did lunch go?
The flight itself was long. Very long. Five and a half hours. After being in a plane for that amount of time, I wanted to land in an exotic locale where people spoke a different language—or at least had a cool accent—and there were lots of fruity drinks with umbrellas sitting around. It was a bummer getting off the plane and everyone spoke English, and the most exotic thing I could look forward to was Stewart’s root beer.
But every time I got off the plane at Newark airport, at the end of the seemingly endless walk from the gate, was Ben Cutler.
I had known Ben for a very long time. He had been my plumber. Four years ago he became something more. Much more. And as long as I’d known him, my first glimpse of him always took my breath away. He was by far the handsomest man I’d ever known. Usually that was all people saw, which was a shame, because he was so much more than that. He was kind. He thought about things beyond his own small circle. He cared about other people, and what they thought or felt. I had found that, by and large, kindness had always been very underrated.
He was also funny and charming and smart as a whip. He loved me. I loved him. And I always ran those last few yards through security just so he could sweep me up into his arms.
This last flight, in the cold and gray of November, was no different. I threw my arms around his neck, and he lifted me off my feet in a hug, then kissed me long and hard before setting me back down.
“Welcome home, Mona. And this is it, right? No more commuting?”
I shook my head. “Nope. I’m done. I’m home. And I’m all yours.”
He grinned as he picked up my tote bag and carry-on. “Good. Let’s get you out of here.”
We walked down toward the luggage carousel. When I had flown home in the past, I’d just carried on some makeup and my laptop and wore what I’d left in my Westfield, New Jersey, closets. But this trip, this last trip, required the purchase of two more pieces of luggage to accommodate my expanded wardrobe. The new pieces were initialed MQ, for Mona Quincy. The older suitcases still bore MB, even though I had legally ceased being Mona Berman four years ago.
“I hope you brought your truck,” I said to Ben. “I bought a few things in California.”
He laughed. “Of course you did. I have the pickup. Or should we get a U-Haul?”
“Ha, ha. Very funny. Well, maybe.”
We stood and waited. I leaned against him, partly because I loved the feel of him—lean and strong—and partly because I liked letting all the other women waiting for their luggage know that this particular man was all mine.
He put his arm around me and kissed my hair. “So, how did you leave things?”
I had published the book four years earlier, after my then-husband Brian left me. For another woman, of course—younger, blond, and French. I was a writer of historical romance, and a very successful one at that, but I found my happily-ever-after switch had frozen in the off position. I ended up writing a very non-historical, nonromantic book about a woman of a certain age—like me—who got dumped by her lousy husband—also like me—but found herself much happier. It was called Better Off Without Him, and it not only became a best seller, it also won a few awards and got optioned by a Very Famous Hollywood Personage for film development.
It took a while for the whole option thing to go anywhere. After the papers were signed and the first check arrived, my assistant, Anthony, and I churned out a terrific screenplay in record time and sent it off to the Very Famous Hollywood Personage. Who read it, loved it, and promptly went on to another project. So I returned to writing, concentrated on raising my three daughters, and had generally gone about my life pretty much as I had done before.
Then, eighteen months ago, I got the Call. From Hollywood. Was I interested in working on a new screenplay for Better Off Without Him? Would I be willing to move out there for at least six months and work with “the team”?
Well . . . yeah.
The Very Famous Hollywood Personage had found a producer, director, and two experienced screenwriters who wanted me to work with them. My original screenplay had been looked over several times, and was now found wanting, but they wanted me “on board.” Was I willing to get “on board?”
That’s how I ended up in the land of the Beautiful People.
I rubbed my head against his shoulder. “I won’t know a thing for at least a few months. There’s this strange phenomenon out there called development hell where all screenplays seem to land. If it can work its way up to the top of the pile, then maybe it will be a movie after all.”
He laughed. “That’s a very odd business.”
“Oh, Ben, you have no idea.”
My suitcases began to appear. Ben, because he was such a sweet man, did not even flinch as he hauled them all off the belt. He just rounded up a skycap, who neatly arranged all the pieces on a long cart and followed us out into the parking lot, where the luggage was then thrown into the back of the truck, and money discreetly changed hands.
The last time I’d been home was three months ago, when I’d flown in for the twenty-fourth birthday party of Ben’s son David. I’d managed to drag two of my three daughters with me, and we all had a great time. Ben flew out to LA three weeks ago, and we spent the weekend skinny-dipping in full view of the entire downtown Los Angeles area. We hadn’t been together since then.
“So,” I said as we pulled onto the parkway, “should we stop somewhere for a bite, or just go right to my house and get naked?”
He laughed. His teeth were slightly crooked. Thank God, because I couldn’t stand it if he were perfect. As it was, the dark hair, amazing blue eyes, and dimples were almost too much to take. Almost.
“I think,” Ben said, “there are some other people who are also eager to welcome you home.”
Probably true. Not my children, who were scattered up and down the East Coast in various colleges. Although any of them were close enough to come home at any time, even just for a day in the middle of the week to see their beloved mother, all three of them had declined my invitation, saying they’d see me on the weekend. Fair enough. They were in college. They were all grown-up, with lives and things.
“Patricia?” I asked.
Ben nodded. “And Anthony. He really missed you. And there’s something up with Lily.”
That was not good.
Lily Martel was seventy-eight, my father’s only sister and my beloved aunt and godmother. She had been living with me since she sold her Park Slope co-op—luckily before a planned alien invasion that would have caused the bottom to drop out of the Brooklyn real estate market. Aliens never actually invaded, by the way, and she ended up very rich. She had, coincidentally, arrived on my doorstep the same day that Brian announced that he was leaving me. Lily’s arrival seemed to be a sign, and she never quite left. Her position in my home was vague and ever changing. The past several months she’d kept things running smoothly during my long stretches in California, keeping the house for when the girls came home, and making sure the dog and various cats were well cared for. It was a situation that worked well for all of us. But Lily had also managed to involve herself in a few of the more, shall we say, questionable political organizations around the town of Westfield. One, I knew, supported the idea of no central government at all, but rather a series of city-states. Another had something to do with redistribution of corporate wealth. I was always afraid she’d end up in jail, or at least on a watch list somewhere.
I sighed. “Hmm. Well, okay. We’ll say hello to everyone, hear what Lily has to say, then get naked?”
He glanced over at me. “Why, Ms. Quincy, are you suggesting that perhaps you missed me?”
“Ben, for the past year and a half, we’ve spent a small fortune flying back and forth to see each other. Before I left, we were together every other night.”
“I knew it.” He sighed, shaking his head. “You only love me for my body.”
I laughed. “Yes. And your heart. And your soul.”
“Ah, now, that’s more like it. So . . . I was thinking. . . .”
“Oh, Ben, you know that only gets you into trouble.”
“Yeah. I do know. But I think you and I should, maybe, you know, talk about getting married.”
Something hit me in the stomach, and I couldn’t breathe for a second. “To each other?” I finally asked.
He swore softly. He usually didn’t do that. “I’m sorry. I should have waited. I should have gotten down on one knee or something.”
“No. I mean, don’t be sorry. It’s just . . .”
“Ben, you and I have been getting along just fine.”
“I know. But it’s time, don’t you think? We should take the next step. Listen, this really wasn’t fair to you. I know how you are after these flights. Just think about it, okay? We’ll talk later.” He shot me a look, the kind of look that made my knees turn to water. “Maybe after we get naked?”
I nodded. That immediately put me back in my happy place.
But married? Not so much. I had been married. For twenty years. And I never, ever wanted to repeat that experience again.
* * * * *
**NOTE: While this book is a follow-up to Better Off Without Him, it is a stand-alone novel.
**Contact Dee Ernst: