Whew! It feels like I’ve been waiting forever for you all to read Heat Wave! This fun little novella is book 18 in the Magnolias & Moonshine project and book 3 or 4 (depending on how you look at it) in my Nerds of Paradise series! I’ve been bristling with anticipation, waiting for you all to read this, so why not get started now?
Atlanta, Georgia. Home. It didn’t matter that Dennis Long hadn’t lived in the burgeoning, busy city since he’d left for college when he was seventeen, or that Haskell, Wyoming was home now. Atlanta never really left a person’s blood. The sound of cicadas on hot nights, sleeping on the porch when his mom couldn’t afford to keep the air conditioning on, sweet tea after roaming around Grant Park with his buddies all afternoon, winters that teased without ever quite delivering…it was part of who he was. Those steamy streets and the humidity that turned his normally docile, brown hair curly, would always remind him of a happy childhood.
Well, an almost happy childhood. There were a few things that made his heart speed up when he thought about them. The way the kids on his block would tease him because of his height, pick him for the basketball team, then laugh at him when he tripped over his feet for one. Always being fawned over by teachers for being gifted, then called “brainiac” by the other kids as soon as those teachers’ backs were turned for another. Not to mention his complete inability to understand most people’s humor.
Oh, and her.
“Dennis, man, where are you going?” Dennis’s old friend Leon called to him as he veered down a side aisle in the massive Georgia Tech auditorium. “Friends and Family seating is down this way.”
Dennis snorted, but scooted back out of the row of seats he had started to slide down. “I’m not family, and I don’t know if I exactly qualify as a friend.”
Leon laughed and slapped him on the back as he came close. “Come on, man. If you’re not a friend, then I don’t know who is.”
Dennis sent Leon a sideways look, but followed him down the aisle to a section near the front of the auditorium, nearest the stage where the doctoral program graduates would be receiving their diplomas. He and Leon had been thick as thieves from the ages of ten to when Dennis left to take UC Berkeley up on their early admissions offer. Leon had been the only other kid in their Ormewood Park neighborhood who was tall enough not to make Dennis feel like the Jolly Green Giant. A fact which didn’t make Dennis feel at all easy about sitting together near the front of the audience. They were bound to block someone’s view.
“I can’t wait to see the look on Angie’s face when she spots you sitting with the rest of us,” Leon said as they edged their way down a row of seats with a “Reserved” sign on the end. “She’s going to straight-up trip when she sees you.”
That’s what I’m afraid of, Dennis worried. He had a plan, though. Angelica hadn’t seen him in more than a decade. Since then, he’d earned his masters and PhD in record time, worked on a government rocket program where he’d had top secret clearance, and had secured an important position at Paradise Space Flight, a company that was going to turn heads in the next few years. He’d grown up, worked out, lost his boyish chub, and aside from the fact that interacting with most people was a thousand times more complex than the equations he solved every day, he was well aware of the image he now presented. And if using the charm he’d learned how to fake to convince Angelica to come work for Paradise Space Flight would help, then he would turn it on as high as he could. Rubbing in how well he’d done would be icing on the cake.
At least, that was the plan.
“She knows I’m coming,” he told Leon, testing out his newfound confidence—and hoping it didn’t come off as too cocky. Although cocky might work if he was going to play up how much he’d changed. “Paradise Space Flight has been trying to recruit her for their propulsion development team for almost a year now. Nobody can figure out why she doesn’t have a job lined up already. I’ve been sent to help seal the deal.”
“You don’t say.” Leon grinned at him over his shoulder, not buying the suave act at all, as they reached the middle of the long row of seats. “You and Angie always were the two biggest brains on the block.”
Dennis laughed, but he couldn’t keep his smile in place. They were the smartest on the block, no question about it. But that hadn’t put them on equal footing. Not by a long shot. At least not until today. Today was the day he would show Angelica Jones that it was time she showed him the respect he had always deserved.
“Land sakes, is that Dennis Long I see?” A dark-skinned woman with grey hair and a fashionable, flowered dress stood from her seat in the row in front of them, joy in her eyes.
“Hi, Mrs. Jones.” Dennis raised a hand to wave at her, but Angelica’s mom twisted to wrap him in the biggest hug she could manage with a chair between them. A thousand memories of sunshine days, home-baked cookies, and all the love his mom hadn’t had time to shower him with swooped back on Dennis, and he smiled, blowing his cool guy image to pieces.
“Look at you.” She held him at arm’s length, raking him from head to toe. “Mmm! That California sunshine sure did do you good. Angie’s going to pop a gut when she sees what a tall drink of water you’ve become.”
Dennis felt his face go hot as slithers of embarrassment zipped through him. His smile turned sheepish. “Thanks, Mrs. Jones, but I’m not in California anymore. I moved to Wyoming last year.”
“Oh, that’s right.” Angelica’s mom squeezed his arms one last time, making a sound at the muscle she found there, then rocked back to study him with a smile. “That company of yours was smart to send you, of all people, to woo my Angelica.” Dennis blushed even harder at the word “woo,” his gut tightening. “But you’d better watch out for that NASA guy who keeps calling. He’s determined.” She added an expression that said she was being polite.
“Dennis can take him,” Leon said, nudging Dennis’s shoulder with a sly grin. “He’s got all sorts of advantages no one else has.”
“Such as?” Dennis sent him a doubtful look.
“History.” Leon nodded. “No one else in the world has the kind of history you’ve got with Angie.”
“You can say that again,” Mrs. Jones laughed. “You remember the time you followed Angie home from that picnic when the two of you were, what, eight?”
“Was that the time Angie decided she was a princess and Dennis here was her squire?” Leon asked.
“It was part of that,” Mrs. Jones laughed on. “You picked a whole mess of dandelions along the way, and when the two of you reached our porch and you handed them to her, why, Angie took those flowers with a smile and shut the door in your poor face.”
Mrs. Jones and Leon laughed. Dennis tried to laugh along with them, but his chest ached at the memory, making him feel eight years old and two feet tall again. “I don’t know if I remembered to thank you for the cookies you handed me out the window,” he told Mrs. Jones.
“Cookies were more than Angie got for those antics,” Mrs. Jones replied, shaking her finger. “That little princess got sent to bed without her supper for being so mean to you.”
“Probably not for the last time,” Leon added as an aside.
“That’s the truth,” Mrs. Jones laughed.
Want to read more? You can find Heat Wave now at all the places where eBooks are sold:
Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MZG2F6R