Meredith Woods stretched, feeling the satin sheets under her back. As she opened her eyes, she looked up from the bed to a vaulted light yellow ceiling with a ceiling fan hanging from it.
"Where am I? What's going on? This isn't my bed." She grabbed the sheets, but they were too nice for what she was accustomed to.
As soon as she sat up, a hand touched her arm. "Sweetheart, you were in a deep sleep. Don't you remember? We're on our honeymoon. Can't you hear the waves?"
She turned, seeing a man she didn't know sitting beside her on the bed wearing nothing but dark blue boxer briefs. He was very handsome—dark brown slightly curly hair and the bluest eyes she'd ever seen. But she didn't know him.
She reached out, seeing her naked arm. Yikes. Was she naked all over? She had to look. Once she lowered her eyes, she saw her naked chest covered only in a sheet. "Who are you?" She pulled the sheets from the bed, and hopped up, wrapping herself in the silky cream-colored material. "What am I doing here?"
The man chuckled, the waves crashing in the distance. "Dear, come back to bed. You're just having a dream."
"I am?" Her hand flew to her forehead, covering her eyes while she closed them. "Right now? I'm asleep?" She moved her hand to see him, but the room suddenly darkened.
Merry sat straight up in her bed—her childhood bed in her parent's home. She must've been dreaming. Reality set in and she remembered. She was staying at the house with her fiancé, Billy, for Christmas.
What a dream she had, and that man was really good looking. She was married to him? She wanted to go back to the dream world, to see his face again and to find out who he was. But it was only a dream and she knew she had to come back to reality. That dream seemed so wonderful, the light filling the room. And the man—she'd never seen a man so gorgeous and naked in her life.
Yes, she was engaged to Billy, but she wanted to wait for marriage to get to know a man in that way. Otherwise, the honeymoon would just be a vacation and nothing special. From the look of that man in her dreams, special was an understatement.
She wondered if Billy would look that good to her on their honeymoon. Considering he was six-feet tall and weighed well over 250 pounds, he was nothing like the man in her dreams.
Was she having second thoughts? Was it because she couldn't talk to Billy about current events or her job? He just didn't understand anything that made him think. He'd be okay as a father, she guessed, but she worried because all education and common sense would be up to her.
After throwing back the blue blankets and pink sheets, she got out of her childhood bed and tiptoed to the bedroom door, so as not to wake her sister. They were forced to share a room once again, even though they'd both grown up and moved away.
Her brother was in his old room with his wife, and their three children slept on blow-up mattresses in one guest bedroom, beside her parent's bedroom. Her sister's boyfriend and Billy were in the other guest bedroom.
The house was large, because her dad owned a toy company and was rather wealthy. This year, her mom forced everyone to come home for the holidays, since Merry and Billy's wedding was to take place on New Year's Eve.
The thought of her wedding gave her a chill as she walked down the stairs of the huge home. Was she doing the right thing? Billy said he loved her—but did he, really? Did he even know what love was? Yes, he gave her the obligatory kiss when appropriate, but she didn't feel that excitement or rush when his lips touched hers. Why was she marrying him again? Was it because his last name was Christmas and she'd become Meredith—or Merry—Christmas? No, it was because he kept her car in good condition since he worked at his dad's garage.
Was that the best she could do and the real reason she was marrying him? Did she even love him?
As she reached the bottom of the stairs, she noticed a light on in the kitchen and the smell of coffee in the air. She walked through the doorway, seeing her brother, Brad, pouring half-and-half into a mug while standing at the kitchen bar, near the stove.
"Good morning," she said.
He turned slightly. "Hey, squirt. Whatcha doin' up at five in the morning? You do know you don't have to go to work today."
"I know. Even though I took off a few weeks from the firm, I wanted to get a few things done anyway. I have a case coming due at the end of January and it's bugging me." Lies got her everywhere.
He poured her a mug of coffee and put it down on the bar. "Are you sure that's it?" He moved the half-and-half toward her, along with the sugar.
She got the milk, sugar, and a spoon from the kitchen and then fixed her coffee, taking her time to answer. She then sat down on the other side of the bar from Brad, knowing she was about to be grilled.
"I asked you a question," he said. "What really woke you up?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
"Try me. I'm not a psychiatrist for fun. I like hearing about dreams."
"Psycho." She chuckled and lifted the coffee to her lips, taking a sip before returning it to the counter. "I had a dream that I'd married a different man and he was hot," she whispered. "What does that mean?"
"That you're making a mistake marrying the brute who snores up there." He pointed toward the stairs. "We could hear him snoring and mumbling all night, even through the walls." He leaned closer to her. "Why are you marrying him? Do you have to marry him?"
"No. You know I don't sleep around. I'm marrying him because…" She stopped talking and met Brad's face with her gaze. "You're going to think I'm nuts."
"Yep. I'll probably stick you in a mental ward for two years, keeping you strung out on medications." He chuckled and shook his head. "Don't be an idiot. Of course you're not nuts. You think this is your last chance because you're pushing thirty. Being a criminal lawyer, you don't want to marry the clientele or any of your underlings since you're in charge. Instead, you want stability and someone boring, and man, is Billy boring. You know you can do better. Why are you marrying him? It's not too late to stop the wedding."
"Yes, it is. The invitations went out and everything. Aunt Vicki is even planning to come and you know that's not easy."
He took a sip of his coffee. "Call the nursing home out West and tell her not to come. It's easy and she might even appreciate it."
Merry sighed. "She wanted to see everyone before she died. She grew up around here and misses the Midwest."
He rolled his eyes. "She misses the family, not Iowa. And she definitely doesn't miss Cupid City. We're an hour and a half away from anything fun. Besides, fun is in the eye of the beholder. If Dad hadn't built his dream company northwest of Des Moines, we'd never have gotten to where we are. Think about it, because this is a dream town in the summertime. Someday soon, I want to retire up here and take over the company."
She had no idea he was so fond of the Cupid City area. "Why don't you do it now?"
He glanced toward the stairs. "Well, you know Mrs. Socialite up there has to have her diamonds and superficial friends to feel 'whole.' She'll never listen to me unless I offer her a wonderful package of what life could be like. That's my goal on this trip."
"Why did you marry her?" Merry whispered.
"For the same reason you're marrying the snoring brute—she could give me something I wanted. You do realize your name will be Merry Christmas when you marry him, right?"
She lowered her eyes to her drink and stirred it with a spoon. "Yeah. I'll definitely go by Meredith then."
"What do you want from him, anyway?"
Merry was so embarrassed and knew it showed on her face, so she kept her eyes lowered. "My car runs really well."
Brad laughed so hard, she thought he'd wake the rest of the household. "You're marrying him for car maintenance?"
She looked up at him and put her finger to her lips. "Shhh! He doesn't need to hear this and neither does Abby."
He waved her off. "Abby won't care. She'll always be the middle child and in a world of her own. Have you talked to her about this? I thought sisters stuck together."
It made her wonder if he even knew his own sister. "Abby? The wrestler with her head in the clouds while going braless? Are you nuts?" She took a big sip of her coffee. Fortunately, it wasn't that hot.
"Probably, or I wouldn't have gone into psychiatry." He chuckled. "Want to talk to my socialite wife? She'll know what to tell you."
It was a shame he'd married that woman. "Rachel's a witch and you know I think that. I'm just glad you've taken over raising your kids. They're more normal than I ever thought they'd be."
He sipped his coffee. "She's not a witch. She needs to be stuck out in the woods to bond with nature. That would be the best thing for her—no electricity for her hair dryer or anything for her manicures." He glanced toward the stairs. "If we didn't have kids, I'd be out of our marriage."
Merry rubbed the smiley face on the side of her coffee cup. "You're a good man for sticking it out with her. When the kids are older, maybe she'll figure it out." She lifted it to her lips and drank some more.
He chuckled. "Yeah. When I'm broke because she put me in the poor house." He sipped his coffee. "What do you want for breakfast today?"
"Something nostalgic. Whatcha making?"
He laughed at her. "I'm no cook and you know that. But you're right. Nostalgic. Twinkletoes pudding?"
It brought back fond memories of her childhood. "You do know that's nothing more than spiced up oatmeal with sprinkles, right?"
"Yeah, but the kids would love it. We'll tell them it's magical fairy dust that's only used at Christmas."
She glanced at the stairs to make sure they were alone and then leaned closer to Brad. "If you say that, Billy will think you're talking about him. His ears really perk up at the word Christmas."
"Are you sure you want to marry him?" Brad whispered. "Your kids wouldn't be that bright."
"But they'd be loved."
"By you." Brad kept his tone to a whisper. "I don't think he knows what love is. You'd also end up with your children plus one big child. He's not an adult. You have to consider that. Do you want to be a mommy to your husband?"
She lowered her eyes slightly, staring into her half-empty mug. "No. Children throw temper tantrums." She paused and looked back up at him. "You're very right about that. But what am I to do now?"
He reached out and touched her arm. "Let it up to your big brother." He winked. "I have a few things up my sleeve and you'll even be the victim, which makes him the bad guy."
"No one would believe it."
The footsteps on the stairs sounded like Brad's kids running toward them. "And so the day begins," she said. "Ready for the twinkletoes pudding?"
"Only if you'll help me."
She chugged the rest of her coffee, stood up, and straightened her sweatpants as she walked around the island and into the kitchen.
Candy Cupid sat in the corner, staring down at the children sitting at the kitchen table waiting for their twinkletoes pudding. Beside her sat her partner in crime, Chester, looking like he was asleep.
They were both part of the race of cupids, invisible beings to humans, whose sole purpose was to make people do things in the name of romance and love. They worked year-round with a wand, bows and arrows, and even fairy dust—but only in extreme circumstances.
Quite a few hundred years before, one cupid was only allowed to work on Valentine's Day. But he was overworked. Because he was sick of doing it all himself, he decided everyone should be in love with everyone else, casting a wide net over the entire population on that day. When the couples found out their true loves had other romances, fights broke out and the powers that be decided to give the work to more than one cupid. The incident was called the Valentine's Day Catastrophe, and it was horrible. Therefore, cupids were forced to work year-round, creating dreams for couples one at a time, while working in pairs to make sure no one took catastrophic liberties.
Candy shook her head. "I can't believe she didn't run out and find that man in her dreams we planted in her head. He's perfect for her. We have to do something." She grabbed Chester's collar with both hands and shook him. "Think of something."
Chester grunted and pushed her away. "Woman, leave me alone. I'm too old for this stuff."
"Too old for romance? Are you dead? You're never too old for romance as long as you're breathing. Now help me. What can we do to get her with the man of her dreams?"
Chester yawned. "I was up all night giving them the mutual dream. I'm tired. You figure it out." He disappeared in a flash, leaving Candy sighing.
Why did she have to do all the work? She needed a new partner—maybe a good-looking cupid. A chat with the boss would help, but before she left the Woods' home, she waved her wand toward the refrigerator, using her magic. That would keep Merry busy for a while and might even help their cause.