Little Green Dreams
Sometimes, Joe Franchetti hates his job at the National Informer. Especially, when he’s sent on assignment to cover a UFO story. When he is sent to investigate the story of a woman in rural Arkansas who claims her husband was abducted by aliens, he vows to debunk her story, no matter how much the truth might hurt her attractive daughter.
Sandra Billingsley has a problem. Her stepfather is missing and her mother is the prime suspect in his disappearance. In addition to protecting her eccentric mother from a possible murder investigation, now she must contend with a national tabloid reporter set on exposing her mother as a murderess or a madwoman.
While the investigation turns up more suspects and the local townspeople scheme to profit from the “alien invasion”, Joe and Sandra work together to unravel the mystery, knowing their attraction is doomed to end in pain when the truth is revealed.
Read an Excerpt
As soon as he passed the city limit sign, which read Gurdon, population: 1,845, the writer in Joe collected impressions and began to sift through sentences for the opening paragraph of his exposé.
Gurdon sat amid a tall pinewood forest, still lush and green in sharp contrast to the sunburned, grassy landscape he’d flown over that morning as he’d departed Dallas. The town’s buildings reflected a shabby Southern gentility, choked by vegetation. Old white clapboard houses sat atop pier foundations with mysterious, shadowy crawlspaces beneath them. Newer brick buildings, anchored on concrete, showed signs of the weathering of seasons in the cracked, peeling paint around the windows.
Turning onto Front Street, Joe slowed the rented sedan and looked for the restaurant that would be his first stop. Dee’s Diner sat on the corner of Front and Joslyn. It wasn’t much to look at, just a squat building with a slanted, shingled roof and large windows on three sides. A sign taped to the glass next to the door boasted home-style, country-fried steaks and catfish.
At three in the afternoon, the parking lot was nearly deserted. A glance through the restaurant’s windows revealed only a handful of customers. That suited Joe just fine. He hoped to learn as much as he could about the daughter, Sandra Billingsley, before the town got wind that a reporter was asking questions about her stepdaddy’s abduction.
Joe parked his car at the side of the building and grabbed his notepad. Flipping through the pages, he quickly reviewed what he’d learned about the disappearance and his preliminary theories about what had really happened that night in June.
So far, Joe had three likely explanations for Bobby Carruthers’ disappearance. First, Amelia Carruthers had murdered her husband and invented her improbable story to cover up the crime. Second, Bobby staged his own disappearance with the help of his wife and would reappear, then go on the talk show circuit to sell his tale of alien abduction to the world. Third, Bobby deserted his crazy wife.
Keeping in mind that Pat expected him to consider one more scenario, Joe jotted down a fourth—an actual alien abduction.
He opened his car door to a blast of humid heat that plastered his shirt to his chest in an instant. Why couldn’t aliens have visited Nome, Alaska, in the summertime?
Cool air greeted him as he pulled open the restaurant’s glass door. Two men dressed in mechanics’ coveralls sat in one of the booths that lined the long window. Joe chose a bench seat behind them and slid gratefully across the cool, red-vinyl upholstery.
“You know, Coy, if we play this thing right, Gurdon could be the next Roswell,” the younger of the two men said.
Joe’s attention was snagged in an instant. He surmised the two men were related. Both shared the same tall, broad frame. The older man wore his light brown hair in a short, military-style haircut. The younger man’s hair was the same shade but brushed the collar of his coverall.
“There’s certainly money to be made in aliens,” the one called Coy replied. “Could be a real boost for tourism.”
“Why wait for ’em to come to us? We could set up one of them websites and sell pictures and T-shirts. We’d never have to leave the house to do it.”
It was then Joe noticed a young waitress in a pink uniform slowly rubbing a countertop with a dishrag. She was staring at the two men, two spots of angry color on her cheeks.
Coy nodded his head. “Just have to get Amelia to go on The View and tell the world what she saw.”
The waitress slapped the counter with the cloth. “Now, that’s enough, you two. You know better than to involve my mother in any of your schemes.”
“Ah, Sandy,” the older of the two men said. “Loy here didn’t mean nothin’ by it. You know the boy don’t have much sense.”
Joe felt a sucker punch to his gut. Sandra Billingsley didn’t look like the daughter of a killer. But then, what did a murderer’s daughter look like? Hell, she’d probably helped Mama bury the body.
“Mister, can I bring you coffee or tea?”
Joe started when he realized “Sandy” had addressed the question to him. As ferocious as her bite had been when directed at the two mechanics, her voice held nothing but Southern honey with a touch of tart for him. He felt its caress all the way to his toes and cleared his throat. “Iced tea, please. Lots of ice.”
“Comin’ right up.” Sandy reached for a glass from a shelf on the wall behind the counter.
The older man, Coy, twisted in his seat to face Joe. “Don’t look like you’re from around here.”
Joe smiled politely. “I’m not. I’m from Dallas.”
Joe cast a glance at the waitress. “No, I’m exactly where I want to be.”
Coy chuckled and looked over at Sandy, who made her way around the counter, a glass of tea in one hand and a menu in the other. “The boy’s lost, Sandy. No one comes to Gurdon on purpose, ’less’n they have family here.”
“Don’t scare him off,” Sandy said with a cute wrinkle of her nose. “We haven’t had a new face around here in ages that wasn’t attached to a salesman.” Her eyes widened. “Mister, you sellin’ anything?”
Joe couldn’t resist teasing her a little. “And if I was?”
“I’d wish a big ole hole would swallow me up so I could hide my embarrassment.” A crooked smile played at the corners of her lips. “And we’re not buyin’ anything.”
Joe realized with a start he was flirting with his subject. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected, but it hadn’t been this leggy, sun-kissed blonde with an enchanting sprinkle of freckles across the bridge of her nose and forehead.
Sandy set the glass on the table in front of him and handed him the menu.
As he reached for it, he noticed more golden freckles and fine golden hairs on her arms.
“Well, are you?”
Joe jerked his gaze back to her face.
Sandy cocked her head to the side.
Coy’s sly chuckle sent a flush of heat across Joe’s cheeks.
“Am I what?” He’d lost the thread of the conversation.
Sandy’s blond hair glinted copper in the sunlight washing the cafe’s interior. His gaze dropped to her mouth. The bow of her upper lip wore a swipe of rose-colored lipstick. The bottom was its own natural pale pink—due no doubt to her habit of chewing it, as she was doing now.
“Are you a salesman?” she repeated, yet to let go of the other end of the menu.
Loy snorted. “You know, I almost feel sorry for him.”
Embarrassed that his attention had wandered again where it had no business going, Joe said gruffly, “No, I’m not a salesman.” He tugged the menu, but she didn’t let go. “I’m here to do some research.”
Sandy released the menu instantly, suspicion clouding her face.
“You here to find the aliens?” Loy asked, excitement in his voice.
Joe knew he had to lie or risk Sandy clamming up. “Actually, I’m here to investigate a phenomenon called The Gurdon Light. But what’s this about aliens?”
Before Loy could respond, Sandy interjected, her expression worried, “Never mind those two. Are you hungry?”
Relieved she’d changed the subject rather than halting the conversation altogether, he replied, “I wouldn’t mind a snack. What do you recommend?”
“Dee’s cookin’ a fresh batch of fried apple pies—”
“I’ll take one,” he said, not waiting for her to finish.
“Good. I’ll be right back.” She threw him a quick smile, scowled at the mechanics, and left, the skirt of her pink uniform twitching enticingly.
Joe heaved a sigh of relief. He needed a little space to sort through his first impressions. His hands itched to reach for his notepad and pen.
“So, mister, are you some kinda scientist?” Loy asked, bringing Joe’s gaze around to the grinning pair.
“No, I’m a writer.” Joe preferred to stay as close to the truth as possible. He’d be here for a while and didn’t want to risk slipping up later. “For a scientific journal,” he added as an afterthought.
“You another one tryin’ to prove the Light ain’t real?” Coy asked. A frown creased his forehead.
“I don’t believe in ghosts if that’s what you mean. There’s usually a scientific explanation for this sort of phenomenon.”
“Good luck to you.” Coy snorted. “But if Unsolved Mysteries couldn’t figure it out, how do you expect to do it?”
“Well, their angle was entertainment.” Joe eyed the two guys and wondered how much information he could get. “I’m sure they didn’t look very hard for a natural explanation.”
“Now we’ve had our share of college boys out here, too,” the younger Loy scoffed. “Takin’ pictures. Usin’ devices to try to prove the Light ain’t real—that it’s just swamp gas—but they never could.”
“I didn’t bring any devices with me.” Joe cast out the bait and watched for a reaction. “But I’d be interested in hearing opinions from the locals about the source of the Light…as a starting point to my investigation.”
“Oh, people ’round here have plenty of opinions, stranger.” Coy’s wry smile grew wide. “How much time you got?”
Joe’s narrowed gaze looked toward the kitchen door through which Sandy had disappeared. “As long as it takes.”