Mercury, the first novel in the Daughters of Texas series

Now available on Amazon in eBook and paperback formats. Here’s the link:  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N5FE1GW

If you like Mercury, I would so appreciate a REVIEW.

Thanks.  -EF

Texas born and bred Mercury Fordson was through with love. She’d spent years rebuilding her life with her daughter, Remy, after losing her first love to the eight-second thrill of a bull ride.

Jep “Doc” Monroe, the new veterinarian in town, is a handsome, charismatic cowboy in the bulls-eye of every single woman in Buckle, Texas, but a chance encounter with Mercury changes everything. Can Doc compete with the memory of a lost love?  Can he thaw her frozen heart and make her his?

When Mercury and Doc first come together in an instant, sizzling connection on the dance floor at Dixie’s Crystal Chandelier, she makes a snap decision that may have surprising consequences for them both.

With the help of her cast of compadres, Tin Lizzy, Aunt Kay, Remy, B’Faye, Ruth and Jericho, and to the soundtrack of the greatest country love songs, Mercury meets the new challenge that is Doc with the grace and wit of a true Texas girl.

 

Excerpt #1 Urban Cowboy, Mercury-Style

“There you are,” he said softly. “You got a name to go with this mean two-step of yours, Darlin’?”
– Jep Allard Monroe

“Of course, but we’re nowhere near the point that you need to know it,” I responded with a little sass . . .
– Maelyn Mercury Fordson

# # #

I surveyed the room as I leaned against the bar at Dixie’s Crystal Chandelier, looking for my people. I spotted Momma and Ban, and Uncle Joss and Aunt Kay on the dance floor, boot scootin’ to “Head Over Boots for You,” and felt more like a fifth wheel than ever.  What was wrong with me? I had done fine by myself for years, but these past couple of months, the loneliness had started to creep in, and I couldn’t shake it.  Maybe I should just order another drink and go put my quarters on the pool table, where my daughter and Cash Dallas could probably be found.  Be next up after Remy Lou spanked Cash Dallas at eight ball, but I didn’t really want to move from my perch at the bar.

I gave a cursory glance at the two guys to my left, both in John Deere caps and the requisite jeans and button-downs, buttons straining on said button-downs across beer guts hanging over their belts. They caught my glance and grinned in tandem. I shook my head in what I hoped conveyed a “nice, but not interested” message. To my right, an older couple discussed whether the song playing was too fast for the only dance step they knew. They decided to go for it, and when they vacated their spot at the bar, I saw him.

Where had he come from? Was he new to town or just visiting, I wondered. I hadn’t seen him around town; I would have remembered. I continued to sip my drink and study him out of the corner of my eye.  He leaned casually against the bar, a long neck bottle of beer gripped negligently between his thumb and forefinger.  Tall, dark, with longish wavy hair flopping carelessly over his forehead, in a faded tee-shirt showing off some impressive arms. Though I couldn’t see the butt full-on, I appreciated the side view. He slowly turned and flashed me a smile as he uncoiled his lanky form from the bar and started towards me. My usual instinct to run kicked in and I straightened, ready for flight, but he was at my side before I could take a step.

“The view suit you, Darlin’?” he asked, deep voice matching the dark good looks.

“You’ll do, but I’m sure you already knew that,” I said, turning to motion Memphis Mixon Gage, the bartender and a good friend, for another drink.  The view was nice, but my auto-reflex for avoiding men kicked in, and I knew I needed to send this cowboy on his way.  I took my drink from Memphis’ outstretched hand, then decided to take the bull by the horns.  “Look . . .” I started, then realized the cowboy was not looking at me, but at two young things that had just bellied up to the bar.  A blonde and a brunette, stick thin like I hadn’t been since before Remy was born, sporting Daisy Duke shorts and crop tops, their belly button rings flashing in the neon light.  I felt a small, surprising stab of what I thought might be jealousy as the girls edged closer to the cowboy.

“Ken we get a light?” the blond of the twosome asked, both of them extending their cigarettes towards the cowboy. What were they doing in a bar?  And smoking! They looked like they might be at least twelve, I thought, uncharitably.

“Sorry! I don’t have a lighter on me, and I’d help you find one, but my lady and I were just getting ready to hit the dance floor.”  He turned that killer smile my way.  His lady?  I realized he meant me. Yeah . . . no.  To my relief, the BFFs twittered and moved on.

“Your lady?” I asked, bemused.

“Have to let the girls down easy, you know.  I believe they were what we called ‘jailbait’ in my younger days,” he said, with a wink.  “I do think they are playing our song, Darlin’.  Shall we?” He extended his hand.  I hesitated for a long minute, then took an uncharacteristic leap of faith and laid my hand in his.

The Tracy Byrd classic, “Keeper of the Stars,” filled the bar as the cowboy led me to the dance floor and took me in his arms. It was quickly apparent he’d done this a time or two, smooth moves and a warm hand on my back with just enough pressure to guide me around the floor.  Looking over the cowboy’s shoulder, I spotted Aunt Kay in Uncle Joss’ arms. Tracy Byrd was a favorite of hers.  She was smiling and flashing me a thumbs-up sign over Uncle J’s back. Great. When this song was over, she’d spread the word and my whole family would decide they needed to sidle up to the bar and get a drink, and in the process, gain an introduction to the mystery cowboy.  In other words, be their usual nosy selves about my personal life.

We danced on in perfect rhythm, but still, I didn’t meet his eyes.  It was just a dance.  I wasn’t looking for anything more.  I could feel him looking at me, so I finally relented and returned his gaze.  “There you are,” he said softly.  “You got a name to go with this mean two-step of yours, Darlin’?”

“Of course I have a name, but we’re nowhere near the point that you need to know it,” I responded with a little sass, my long-dormant flirting gene kicking in.

“I can live with that, for now,” he smiled, then lapsed into silence once more.

As the song ended, I started to move back a step, but he held fast to my hand, leaned in close and whispered in my ear.  “Yeah, thanks to the keeper of the stars.”  My heart beat a little faster as he led me back to the bar.

“Can I get y’all anything?” Memphis asked, popping the tops of long-neck beer bottles with unbelievable speed.  “I’ll have another Jack and Coke,” I said.  “I’ll have what she’s having,” the cowboy answered, as he waved his hand in my direction.

I glanced behind Memphis and saw them coming.  Right on cue.  My nosy family, Momma and Aunt Kay leading the pack, Uncle J and Ban bringing up the rear, which is how that group usually travelled. I did a quick step to head them off, leaving the cowboy at the bar to settle up with Memphis for our drinks.

“Move along folks. Nothing here to see,” I said, flapping my hands in the universal “move along” gesture, though a fat lot of good it would do me when dealing with my mother and my aunt.  A steamroller couldn’t stop them when they were on a mission.

“Honey, who’s the cowboy?” Momma got right to the point.  “Yes, who’s the hunk?” Aunt Kay seconded, craning her neck to try and see the cowboy over my shoulder. Uncle J and Ban waited patiently, not having a dog in this fight.

“He’s just a guy who asked me to dance, y’all. That’s it,” I said. “No big mystery, no big romance here.” I hoped that would be enough to shut them up and move them along. I wanted to go back to the bar, enjoy my drink and continue my conversation with the cowboy.

“Well, if you say so, Hon,” Momma said, but she didn’t look convinced.  Aunt Kay was still giving the cowboy a once-over with a critical eye. “We’re gettin’ ready to head out. You gonna’ be ready?” Momma asked me.

“I think I’m going to hang around a bit, probably catch a ride home with Memphis,” I said.

Momma gave me a hard look. “You take care of yourself, Maelyn Mercury,” she said, giving me a hug and a buss on the check. My Momma was no dummy, and there were rare times she surprised me. Relented, and let me live my own life, without the burden of her expectations.

“You go girl,” Aunt Kay chimed in. “Doesn’t she go, Joss?” Aunt Kay looked to Uncle J for confirmation. “If you said it, Cher’, it’s right,” he responded, spoken like a husband who hadn’t heard a word she’d said, but always knew the right answer.  Responding to the silent plea in my eyes, Uncle J had gently started the process of herding Aunt Kay towards the door when Remy and Cash Dallas walked up.

“Remy, your Momma found herself a cowboy,” Aunt Kay said, a wide grin splitting her face.  Remy looked at me then at the cowboy, eyebrows raised, then with a nod and an approving smile, she hooked her arm through Cash Dallas and said “Let’s go, y’all.”  Remy’s announcement had the desired effect, and miraculously, they all headed towards the door.  Thank goodness, finally, a little privacy, I thought, and turned back to the bar, my fresh drink and the cowboy.

The night wore on, the liquor flowed and the dance floor became our home. The cowboy and I waltzed, two-stepped to some of the finest country songs every written, and finally, at last call, settled in to a slow two-step to Chris Stapleton’s dripping sex version of “Tennessee Whiskey.”

“Come home with me,Darlin’,” the cowboy asked for the third time.

Did I say “the liquor flowed?”

“No, no, I couldn’t,” I said, but my “no” was getting weaker, and he knew it.

“Come on, babe. We’re both unattached,” he continued.

How had I let slip the little morsel that I was “unattached?”

“Tonight’s been great.  I don’t want it to end,” he pressed.  “There’s something between us and I want to see where it goes.  No one needs to know, if you’d rather keep it on the down-low,” he said, holding me closer and making “no” seem harder than ever.

The cowboy’s thought process seemed so simple, while my mind was on fire with contradictions.  Horror warring with desire.  Horror that a woman who could be found on a pew at the First Methodist Church of Buckle almost every Sunday morning was contemplating a one-night stand, and a fierce desire for what he was offering. I’d been alone, without a man in my life, in my bed, for longer than I cared to admit.  And besides, who would know, or care for that matter?  He lived in town, I had learned that.  But I was a big girl, and if I did say ‘yes’ and ever saw him again, I could pull off that “oh, hey, how ya’ doin'” thing as good as the next girl.  At the rate my love life was going, a nunnery might as well be my next step, if I didn’t take drastic action and soon.

The music had been silenced, our bar tab had been paid and the moment of truth was upon me.  Did I keep running and hiding from an attraction that may hurt me, like Quade had hurt me?  Or take a chance.  It was only one night, and my lonely heart yearned for what he was offering.  This guy – he was nice.  He smelled good, looked great, and I liked the feel of being in his arms.  He was looking at me, waiting for my answer. “Whether it’s ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ I’ll still be around tomorrow,” he said.

Tomorrow? Who said anything about “tomorrow”? I let that comment slide, threw caution and good sense to the wind, linked my arm through his and shamelessly gave in. “Let’s go, cowboy,” I said. He led me to his truck, opened the passenger door and helped me inside before going around to his own side, getting in and firing up the engine. He looked at me and grinned. “My place or yours?” he asked.

Excerpt #2 In a Little Bit, My Name Won’t Matter

“Yours, and you can wipe that smirk off your face. You won. That ought to be enough for tonight,” I said.

“Oh, Darlin’, that’s not nearly enough for tonight,” he said, as he put the truck in gear and headed away from Dixie’s.

The cowboy lived out in the country, north of Buckle proper, in an old barn that was in the process of being converted to a house.  Now that I was here, and had dismissed my fears on the drive over that he could be a stalker or a serial killer, I realized I was enjoying myself. The cowboy’s barn-slash-house was just at the stage I loved. Enough work had been done so you could see that the finished product would be stunning, and I itched for my sketch pad. I had so many things in my shop that I knew would be done justice in this house. I reined in that line of thought. He hadn’t brought me here for my decorating advice.

“You want another drink?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said, following him into the kitchen area and taking a seat at a makeshift table, as he turned his back to me and began to make our drinks, giving me a perfect view of his butt. It did not disappoint.  He sat my drink in front of me and leaned against the counter.  “So, you’re doing the renovation all by yourself?” I asked. Is this what he did for a living? If so, he was successful at it, by the looks of it.

“I’m doing a lot of it myself, but I contract out the big stuff.  I’ll be right back,” he said. “I’m going to turn on some music.”

He disappeared towards the front of the house and in seconds, Florida Georgia Line’s “H.O.L.Y.” filled the room.  He returned to the kitchen, took up his place against the counter, sipped his drink and studied me in silence.

“I don’t even know your name,” I finally spoke, sounding bewildered to own my ears.

He sat down his drink and was at my side in seconds, scooping me up in his arms.  “In a little bit, my name won’t matter,” he whispered, and started for the stairs.

He gently deposited me on a big sleigh bed that took up most of the room, and went to light a collection of candles arranged on an antique sideboard.  A man with candles?  I’d have to think about that, some other time, of course.  I had half struggled to a sitting position as candlelight and the scent of jasmine filled the room, and to the beat of high on loving you, he approached the bed and bore me back down, the sweet taste of his lips meeting mine for the first time sending me into a tailspin.  He held my arms immobile at my sides, gathering me beneath him and continuing the assault with him mouth.  “Stay with me, Darlin’,” he said.  Nowhere else I’d rather be, I thought, as “H.O.L.Y.” gave way to Dierks Bentley’s “Come A Little Closer” and the cowboy proceeded to remind me of the pleasure to be found in a man’s arms.

Excerpt #3 The Walk of Shame

I awoke in a panic, wondering where I was. The memories came rushing back and I chanced a look beside me. The cowboy was sleeping soundly on his back, arms thrown above his head, with a very attractive, scruffy five o’clock shadow gracing his strong jaw.

Oh crap, I thought, what have I done. I need to get out of here. Now. Where were my clothes? I made a slight move to test the waters, trying hard not to wake the slumbering beast. Well, he was a beast, last night, anyway.

Pulling a blanket off the bed and moving inch-by-inch, one foot on the floor and the other one almost there, I was stopped mid-movement by the sound of his voice. “Going somewhere, Darlin’?”

I chanced a glance back to see him laying with his arms propped behind his head, comfortable in the rumpled sheets, a big smile on his face.

“I need to get home,” I murmured, as I tried to wrap more of the blanket around me.

“What’s your big hurry? It’s Saturday,” he said, as if this wasn’t awkward as all get out. “I thought we’d mosey down to the kitchen for some coffee, maybe bring it back to bed, and pick up where we left off in the wee hours.“

“Thanks, but I really do have to get home. Things to do and all that,” I said.  Why wouldn’t this fool be a gentlemen, pretend he was asleep and let me start my walk of shame in peace?

My mind, now that I had both feet on the floor, was firing on all cylinders and I remembered that he had brought me here last night and I was going to have to get him to take me home. How to finesse this? I managed to fully extricate the blanket, cover myself and make it to the haven of the bathroom.  I cautiously approached a mirror propped up on a temporary garden-style sink.

“Ughhh . . .,” a groan escaped my lips. My hair definitely had a mind of it’s own, giving new meaning to the word “bedhead.”  At least my mascara was mostly still intact.  I touched my puffy lips. Those kisses . . .   Focus, girl, focus.  I had to get serious about finding something to cover myself with, other than the blanket, until I could find my clothes.

Doing a 360 degree turn, I spotted a white shirt hanging on the back of the door. Perfect! After splashing water on my face, running my fingers across my teeth in lieu of a toothbrush, rinsing my mouth, and finger-combing my hair as best I could, I slipped into the shirt.  Mmmm. The softest cotton and still holding the man-smell of the cowboy.  I exited the bathroom with as much dignity as I could muster in my morning-after state and approached the bed. The cowboy was still reclining, eyeing me hungrily.

“Not no, but hell no,” I said, the sun slanting through the big window across from the bed giving me my first look at him in the broad light of day. Great looking guy, no doubt about it, but no matter, I had to get home and he had to take me. “I see that look in your eyes, and it won’t work. You’ve had your fun, and admittedly, I’ve had mine too, but there is no repeat here. Understand? I have to go home and you have to take me, NOW. I appreciate last night and all . . .”

Before I could finish my sentence, he was out of the bed, panther-like and graceful in his nakedness, and at my side, picking me up before I knew what hit me.  He dived onto the bed with me in his arms, fastening his lips to mine.  “Whoa, whoa,” I half-heartedly tried to protest against his mouth, ineffectively pushing against his broad chest.  He stopped his assault, but did not release me from his arms.

“Go ahead, babe, get it out. I see we will never get to the good stuff until you do,” he said, laying back on the pillows with a sigh and taking me with him.

I tried again to extricate myself from his arms, but he held me fast. It felt good to be in his arms.  “What part of ‘not no, but hell no’ don’t you understand?” I asked him wryly.

“Your mouth says “hell no,” he said, “but give me a chance.  I can change your mind.  Just settle for a minute, Darlin’ and we’ll talk about it.  No need to cut and run.”

I stopped my struggling and reveled in the feel of being held.  Might as well enjoy it while it lasted. “OK, look. Last night was great, better than great, but I’m not interested in repeating it. And, I need that ride home,” I said firmly.

He gave me a searching look, as if choosing his next words carefully. “Just stay a while, Darlin’. . .   I held up my hands in the “stop” position, but he gathered my wrists and gently lowered them between us.  “We’ve already done the deed,” he said softly.  “What’s once more.”

I was doing some serious wavering, as he leaned away from me, picked up an iPad from the nightstand, punched a few buttons and filled the room with the Jason Aldean and Carrie Underwood duet “Don’t You Wanna Stay.”  The good-looking cowboy really knew the way to this woman’s heart. I gave up the struggle and relaxed in his arms once more.

Excerpt #4 First Look

I dressed carefully for the meeting, choosing sexy, but business-like black cigarette slacks, a white, fitted tunic that revealed a little cleavage, and my favorite pair of sky high black Manolo Blanik stilettos, the ones with the red bottoms. Subduing my wavy hair with a blow dryer, then setting it on big rollers had yielded me classic “Texas big hair.” I spent more time on my make-up than I normally did, doing a smoky eye, heavy on the mascara, a little contouring and some rose lip gloss. Adding a pair of silver chandelier earrings, and finishing off with a spritz of Alfred Sung, I declared myself ready for battle.

Mayor Buckle, my chief adversary, would be chairing the town council meeting tonight. The Mayor was a dirty old man, and I needed all the leverage I could get. The right look, one calculated to distract, was important.

Arriving early so I could get a seat in the front row, and, give Mayor Buckle an early glance at my cleavage, I laughed when I saw Momma and Aunt Kay. It was obvious that they, too, were betting on Mayor Buckle’s weakness for a pretty face, and equally pretty assets further south.

Taking the seats I had saved for them, I saw they had both brought their “A” game, dressed in dark, figure-hugging business suits with skirts showing still-spectacular legs, silky blouses revealing their own hints of cleavage, and their best stilettos. I hugged them. “Hi, Momma, Aunt Kay. Y’all are looking good. Dressing to distract the good Mayor?” I said.

“That ol’ skirt chaser. He can’t keep a thought in his head when there’s a little cleavage and a lotta’ leg anywhere near him,” Momma said, laughing.

“Well, I hope it helps our cause,” Aunt Kay said, giving me a once-over. “You look beautiful, honey. His honor will be blown away.”

“That’s what I’m hoping for,” I said. Have y’all seen Arnie Starnes yet?

Arnold Starnes, “Smarmy Arnie” to me, was the cause of the present mess. A developer that blew in front South Florida a month or so ago, he wanted to buy out the leases of seven historic buildings in the 700 block of Main Street, one of which housed my beloved Junk Chic Boutique, tear them down and replace them with a three-story hunk of cinderblock that he could rent out as office space. His crappy plan would not only spell the end of the Junk Chic Boutique as I knew it, but it would ruin Main Street. Some of those buildings dated way back. They had all been restored at some point, their windows bearing each establishment’s name in gold calligraphy lettering, serving as a backdrop for the detailed architecture and brightly colored canvas awnings, the buildings having been further enhanced by each storekeeper’s aesthetic attention-to-detail – brightly painted doors, with window boxes, terra cotta pots, half-whiskey barrels, and in the case of Mr. Winslow’s Home Emporium, a claw-foot bathtub, overflowing with vivid flowers and delicate greenery.   Our block of stores, they looked straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting for The Saturday Evening Post. We, the shopkeepers in the 700 block of Main, had poured our heart and soul into our buildings, and I hoped we were all of one mind about not losing them.

The Junk Chic Boutique, my legacy from Momma and Aunt Kay, had provided a needed income over the years for all of us, and allowed us to work together at what we loved – making old stuff new again. It would break my heart to lose it and have to start over in a new place.

Tonight’s town council meeting would be the first to address the issue. The town of Buckle owned the buildings in the 700 block of Main Street, but had leased them to the shopkeepers on long-term leases. If the council voted for re-development, then Smarmy Arnie would be allowed to buy out the remaining terms of our leases, and build his eyesore office building. Theoretically, the town council would have a big say in the planning of Smarmy’s new office building, but it had long been rumored that Mayor Buckle could be induced to “look the other way” if enough money was under the table.

The town council consisted of six members and the mayor – seven of the best and worst citizens that Buckle had to offer. Brenda Randell, “B’Faye” to those of us who knew and loved her, was the head librarian at the Buckle Public Library, and a fast friend to me and mine. Mooney Lee Jones, the owner of Shooters, an almost-dive bar one street over from Main frequented by most of Buckle when a quick cocktail was in order, he was also the long-time beau of B’Faye.  Moses Lambert, the oldest and longest-serving town council member, used to own the long-closed feed store in Buckle.  Mr. Lambert was an old coot with an absolute lack of patience for just about anything, especially Mayor Buckle.  Betty Sue Mason, a slightly trashy young woman who sold real estate, among other things, according to B’Faye, was known to be having a totally inappropriate relationship with the long-married Mayor himself. Then there was Junior Haggard, who owned a used car lot south of town, and rounding out the line-up, Mayor Aldous Buckle himself, an unethical third-generation Buckler, a dirty old man and a skirt chaser who was richer than God and always looking for ways to get richer still.

I knew there was a new town council member, one who was sworn in when old Mrs. Higbee died, but I didn’t know who it was or what their opinion might be on re-development. I hoped there would be an initial vote tonight, so I could better see where matters stood, but I feared I already knew. B’Faye, Mooney and Mr. Lambert would be on the side of the shop-keepers, I was sure, but I was equally sure that Junior Haggard and Betty Sue would side with the Mayor and vote to let the re-development proceed. I had a sinking feeling all of our daring baring of cleavage would be for nothing.

To be fair, and it just about killed me to do so, Smary Arnie’s buy-out of our leases would bring us enough money to re-locate, but to tear down our buildings would be a sacrilege, and anyway, where would we go? Our block of buildings, across the street from the small but historic courthouse on the square in the center of town could not be duplicated. Our best hope if we had to move, would probably be a strip mall – a poor second to the buildings we now occupied.

The room was filling up, people milling about helping themselves to coffee and donuts, when Mayor Buckle finally took his place on his throne and the other council members began to fill the lesser chairs on the dais. I turned to see who all had come for the meeting and spotted Smarmy Arnie and some of the other store owners, as well as some of the townspeople, the usual ones who came to every council meeting for the entertainment value they offered. There was always a brouhaha – sometimes verbal, sometimes more.

I turned back to the dais and got my first look at the newest council member.

“Him!,” I gutted out. “What, honey, who?” Momma asked, trying to follow my gaze. Aunt Kay was busy chatting with Ruth Montgomery, the owner of A Baker’s Dozen, the shop next to the Junk Chic Boutique, and had not yet turned her attention to the town council. Once she did, she would see him. Eagle-Eye Aunt Kay did not miss a thing.

 

Excerpt #5 Room With a Helluva’ View

I was one big hot flash – furious, embarrassed, and worst of all, besieged by fractured memories of candlelight, bourbon, country love songs and one sexy cowboy. Him. Him. Him. How could I have been so stupid. I had a one-night stand, a very recent one-night stand, with Buckle’s newest town councilman. I knew he had not seen me yet, but that small blessing would not last long.

“What on earth is wrong with you, Maelyn? You’re fidgeting. Nice southern girls don’t fidget,” Momma pronounced like it was gospel, still looking around, trying to find the source of my fidgeting. Nice southern girl. Yeah, if she only knew.

“It’s nothing, Momma, I’m fine,” I lied. I just saw someone I wasn’t expecting to see, that’s all. “Well, who the hell are you talking about?” Momma demanded.

Before I could try to hush Momma, Aunt Kay had turned her attention from Ruth Montgomery and had eyes on the cowboy. “Ohhhh, I see now,” Aunt Kay purred. “Him, indeed. The hunky cowboy you tried to hide from us at Dixie’s. Right, Miss Mercury?” she asked, Cheshire cat grin in place.

“Oh him, well damn,” Momma said, “I hope we get to meet him this time. “Fat chance of that, I thought. When this meeting was over, I was gone.

“Shut it, y’all. The meeting is about to start,” I said in a stage whisper, eyes straight ahead.

“Our first order of business,” Mayor Buckle started, “is to welcome our newest resident and town council member, Dr. Jep Monroe. Dr. Monroe just joined old Doc Mohr’s veterinary practice” the Mayor finished, waving his hand towards the new guy.

Well, at least I knew his name now. Did that make it any better? Probably not. Councilman Monroe. This was getting worse by the damn minute. A vet. At Doc Mohr’s, where I regularly took my dog, Rosie. The full extent of the cost of “that night” was quickly becoming apparent.

I knew the minute he recognized me, saw the double-take, then the slow smile, a smile that conjured up a cool morning, hot coffee, tangled sheets and, well, lust – might as well call a spade a spade. Despite my best efforts, I could not fully tear my eyes away from him, so I surreptitiously glanced a him when I thought he wasn’t looking, all under the scrutiny of Momma and Aunt Kay.

I was valiantly trying to pay attention to what was being said at the meeting, but my mind kept slipping back.  Back to the cowboy.  I jerked back to attention when Councilman Lambert’s voice boomed. “I vote we take a straw poll now, jest to see where we all stand,” he said. “I second,” councilwoman B’Faye said.

“So moved,” Mayor Buckle said, happily banging his gavel. “All in favor of allowing the re-development of the buildings situated on the seven hundred block of Main Street, raise your hand.” I held my breath then let it out in a defeated whoosh. Of the six council members, three raised their hands – Betty Sue Mason and Junior Haggard, like I expected, and sadly, I thought, Buckle’s newest town council member, Dr. Jep Monroe.  He had just voted to raze my beloved store to the ground, killing the wish I hadn’t even known I’d had to kiss him one more time.   Mayor Buckle paused a minute and leered straight at Momma, his dirty old man gene kicking in. “Tin Lizzy Fordson, always delightful to see you. Help a fella out, will you, and count the hands, as a neutral party.”

“Help a fella’ out, my ass, old man,” Momma mumbled. Then louder, “Why Mayor Buckle, I’d be so pleased to help you out,” she purred, the Texas twang strong in her response. She stood, giving Mayor Buckle a good look at her outfit, just in case it furthered our cause. “That’s three in favor of the re-development,” Momma frowned, making sure the Mayor registered her displeasure.

I tried to leap to my feet, but was restrained by Aunt Kay’s firm hand on my arm, and a quick “sit back down, for God’s sake” glance from Momma. “Not now, Mercury, not now,” Aunt Kay said.

“All right, all opposed to re-development, raise your hand” the Mayor said. B’Faye, Mooney and Mr. Lambert raised their hands. Tied, but not really, since the Mayor would have the deciding vote. In light of his relationship with Smarmy Arnie, I knew which way the Mayor would vote. My stomach dropped. It was over before it had even begun.

“Well, Tin Lizzy, what say you?” the Mayor asked, leering at Momma again. “Three opposed,” Momma answered. “Looks like you’ve got yourself a tie, Mayor.”

Excerpt #6 My Chickens Have Come Home to Roost

After the straw poll, near pandemonium erupted, with both sides airing (shouting) their points of view.  “Order, order, I say” Mayor Buckle thundered.  “I can see there’s a lot to discuss about this matter.  I, myself will abstain from the straw vote until I’ve had time to study the issue more closely, so I motion we table the issue until our next scheduled meeting.”

“Motion gladly seconded, Aldous,” said councilman Lambert.  “Anything to shut you up.”

The Mayor, red-faced from Mr. Lambert’s short spanking, pressed on.  “I appreciate everyone coming tonight, especially our special guest, Mr. Arnold Starnes,” he finished.  If I didn’t already know in my heart that we had lost, I knew it then, after the Mayor’s ringing endorsement of Smarmy Arnie as his “special guest.”

# # #

I wanted to confront the cowboy, but my anger was burning white hot, and what rational thought I had managed to hold on to told me it was a bad idea. I turned to go and felt a hand on my arm, heard a deep, familiar voice. “Darlin’ . . .”

“Let go of me,” I hissed under my breath.

“Do you want to disappear right about now?” he asked, chuckling. “Disappear here,” he said, and opened his arms.  Just as Momma and Aunt Kay walked up, his arms closed lightly, familiarly around me.

“Mercury, honey, do introduce us to your friend?” Momma said, knowing I was trapped.

“Yes, Mercury, introduce us, why don’t you,” the cowboy said.

Begrudgingly, I made the introductions, thanking God I had the good sense to listen when Mayor Buckle said his name. “Jep Monroe, meet my mother, Etienne Fordson, and my aunt, Kay Broussard,” I said.

“Ladies, the pleasure is entirely mine, and please call me Doc; everyone does,” he said, southern honey dripping from each word.

Momma and Aunt Kay swiftly sprang into action, Momma hooking her arm through his, determining his family tree and inviting him to dinner before he knew what hit him.  Aunt Kay, not to be outdone, managed to ask him his intentions towards me in a way that made it sound like a compliment.

He looked stunned, like he didn’t know what he’d unleashed, and slowly released me from the circle of his arms. Good for him. Let him sit on the hot seat for a while. Teach him to be so smug.

Momma and Aunt Kay finally let up and I could see the cowboy … Doc, I mean, exhale.

“We’re gonna go powder our noses then head for Shooters.” Momma said. “Gotta’ have a cocktail to get the nasty taste of this meeting out of my mouth.  Doc, see you soon for dinner. Hope you like fried chicken. Mercury, Momma loves you.”  And with no mention of how he had voted, they were gone.

“You look . . . “ He began.

“Beautiful, I know. Can we move on?” I said.

“Mercury . . .” he began.

“Oh, shut up,” I said.

“You shut up,” he said.

“Make me.” I stuck my tongue out at him.

‘I will, but you might moan a little,” he finished.

Excerpt #7 Are You Gonna' Be My New Padre?

My beautiful girl, she brought the sunshine in with her, though she looked like a commando.  Dressed all in black, mock turtleneck, tactical pants, boots and her long blond hair threaded through a cap-hole in a messy pony tail, I could tell she had come straight from the gun range.  Remy was what some would call a gun nut, but she was a seriously good shot.  Despite her dark attire, her sky blue eyes were shining with mischief as she took in Doc and I on the sofa together.

“Hey, Momma, comment ca va?  How’s it going?” she asked.  She had picked up some of her Uncle Joss’ Cajun expressions over the years.  She reached down to give me a quick hug then turned her baby blues on Doc.  “Soooo,” she said, an innocent look on her face.  Oh no, I thought.  I knew that look. Katy bar the door, she was about to embarrass us both. She did not disappoint.

“Are you gonna’ be my new Padre?” she asked Doc.

“Remington Louise Fordson-Kesson, what are you thinking?” I asked, as I quickly unfurled myself from the sofa and turned to look at Doc in horror.

“Chill, Momma, just chill,” she said. “There’s scuttle-butt going around Buckle about you two,” she said, wagging her finger back and forth to encompass us both.

“Oh my God, what are they saying?” I asked.

“Oh nothing much.  Just that almost-old maid Mercury Fordson caught the eye of some slick cowboy out at Dixie’s the other night and . . . well, you know, I shouldn’t say anything more; I don’t like to spread gossip,” she said.

“Don’t like to spread gossip, my foot, young lady,” I tried to sound stern, but it was a losing battle. “You probably started the gossip, right along with your Granny and your Aunt Kay.”

“If I’m the slick cowboy, then the Buckle gossips got it right,” Doc said, a wide smile on his own face.  “By the way,” Doc said, getting up and extending his hand to Remy, “I’m Jep Monroe.  Pleased to meet you.”

“I’m Remy, the almost-old maid’s daughter.  Pleased to meet you, too. Well, guys, I gotta run. I’m doing a cut and highlights on B3 in a few.”

“B3 – Brinn Baylee Brooks, Remy’s best friend.  Cut and highlights, that’s hair talk,” I translated for Doc.

“Hope to see you again soon, Padre,” Remy told Doc.  “I love you more, Momma,” she said, blowing a kiss in my direction and turning to go.  She took a few steps then turned back.  “Padre, go canny with my Mom.  She’s got some sharp edges.”  She was still laughing as she hit the door.

Excerpt #8 Plop

Maelyn Mercury, if you’ll pardon some crude advice from your Momma . . . you need to hear the plop,”  Momma said.

 I looked up from the sanding I was doing on an old rocking horse.  “The plop . . .?” I said, confused.

 “The plop of your head coming out of your ass.  Doc loves you.  The rare kind of love that seeps into your soul and never leaves.  Quade loves a memory; he’s looking for something to replace the eight-second ride,” she finished, turning back to her own project, a pair of large, tin angel wings, pitted and rusted, but still showing some life.

 “Tin Lizzy, I am always amazed at your gift for subtlety,” Aunt Kay offered.

Excerpt #9 Prom Night

Road Trip. We were going on a road trip.  My women and I were headed to Round Top, Texas to shop for junk at Texas Antiques Week, and, the highlight of our trip, to attend the Junk Gypsy Junk-O-Rama Prom, hosted by the Junk Gypsies themselves, Amy and Jolie Sikes, where women deck themselves out in throwback prom dresses, top hats, crowns, tiaras, and boots to dance, drink, and visit the famous photo booth.

We were a party of five.  Myself, Momma, Aunt Kay, Remy and Cash Dallas, and I don’t know, for the life of me, how Remy got Cash Dallas to agree to take our posse to the Prom, let alone drive us there in the relative luxury of his motor home, but I was glad for it all the same.

The day dawned clear and sunny with a light breeze, the dog days of the Texas summer not yet upon us.  We had all spent the night before at Aunt Kay’s house, staying up late packing our prom dresses and discussing what we hoped to find for the Junk Chic Boutique, so it was a bleary-eyed bunch of women in sleep pants, sweat shirts, pony tails and flip flops that greeted Cash Dallas the next morning.

Cash Dallas, way too cheerful for our slightly hung-over bunch, greeted Remy with a hug, a kiss and a discreet slap on the behind, bussed checks with the rest of us and loaded our many bags into his RV’s luggage compartment while we were still standing around on the porch inhaling our coffee. He got us settled on the bus and unveiled a pitcher of mimosas for the ride. A true southern gentleman, or maybe he just thought the mimosas would keep us somewhat comatose for the next three hours and not likely to unexpectedly screech “Oh there’s a garage sale.”  Cash Dallas had his talents I’m sure, but he wasn’t up to turning his forty foot bus around on a dime.

Remy was riding shotgun, looking quite a bit better than the rest of us, owing to the fact that she’s younger and doesn’t have a fondness for bourbon.  Momma, Aunt Kay and I were lounging in the living room of the bus, enjoying our mimosas and singing along to Blake Shelton’s “I’ll Be Your Honey Bee  when the conversation turned to Doc.

“So, Doc didn’t want to come?” Aunt Kay asked, between sips of her mimosa.

“I did ask him,” I said “and he seemed interested at first, then begged off later, saying he had to help Doctor Mohr with an adoption event in Tyler.  I’m sure Uncle J and Ban got to him with their horror stories about the one time they brought us to the Prom.  He did ask me three times if I was sure Cash Dallas was going.

“Oh those boys got to Cash Dallas, too,” Momma said.  “Ban told me all about how they warned him off it.  Our Cash Dallas, he’s a smart boy, though.  Remy probably looked like a better bet in the long run.”

I was glad to have this time with my women, though I did wish Doc was along for the ride.

After our first round of mimosas, we had to make a pit stop, and we’d only been on the road forty-five minutes. A nice, if small, bathroom existed on the rolling house on wheels, but none of us were up to doing the deed while hurtling down the road at seventy miles per hour, so we informed our chauffeur of the need for a pit stop.

“Already?” Cash Dallas muttered, his southern gentleman persona slipping just a little.  Remy patted him on the arm and said  gently “They all love you so, Cash Dallas,” and he was smiling and singing along with Jason Aldean’s “Tatoos On This Town” by the time Momma, Aunt Kay and I had used the necessary, refilled our mimosas and got belted back in our seats.

“Ready ladies?” Cash Dallas called out.  “On behalf of all of us, press on,” I said. After only two more pit stops, we were pulling into the RV park at Round Top.  My posse and I, we were awake and excited.  Cash Dallas was merely awake.

Momma, Aunt Kay, Remy and I emerged from the RV into a stunning world of junk, right there for the taking.  Vendors were strung out for miles and we couldn’t wait to get started.  We were all in our junkin’ clothes of jeans, sneakers, tee shirts, caps, and in Momma and Aunt Kay’s case, a little concealer to keep them from looking like corpses, they’d said.

We slipped on our large hobo bags cross-body style, and set out.

# # #

Later that evening . . . at the Prom

I was helping my plate full of BBQ brisket and trying to keep the sauce off my prom dress when Aunt Kay rounded the corner shaking her head and laughing.  “Mercury, we need to find Cash Dallas.  Your Momma is about to beat the brakes off some guy for kicking a dog.”  Oh shit, shit, shit. It was never a good thing to mess with Momma when she was riled up, and a dog kicker would sure as hell rile her up. We passed a pool table on the way out and Aunt Kay grabbed a pool stick.  “I can poke Tin Lizzy with it – from a distance,” she said.

We came up on a crowd gathering at the back of Zapp Hall, Remy among them, clapping and yelling, and Momma muttering “How dare you kick that dog, you sumbitch…see how you like it.”  She had her high-heeled cowgirl boot planted on the neck of a whale of a man, who was surely eating some dirt. “Tin Lizzy” Aunt Kay hissed, get your ass away from that man.  At the sound of Aunt Kay’s voice, Momma turned, and Cash Dallas was in position.  He bent down, bumped his shoulder into her midsection, lifted her up in a fireman’s carry, and brought her over to me and Aunt Kay.  She was cussing something awful.  I looked over at the fat man.  He was trying to sit up, muttering “Wha … Wha happen?  I need ‘nother drink,” dirt and spit making mud tracks down his face.  OK, good, he didn’t remember Momma’s right hook.  “Tin, what the hell were you thinking? You’re gonna ruin your prom dress before we even make it to the photo booth,” Aunt Kay cried, “and if the Junk Gypsies happen upon this mess, they are never gonna’ have us back here again.

I was getting Momma’s prom dress and hair straightened out, and surreptitiously checking her thigh to make sure her little derringer was still safely tucked in her garter when Cash Dallas put a hand on Momma’s arm.  “Miss  Etienne, on behalf of dogs everywhere, I salute you'” he solemnly stated, followed by a West Point-worthy salute and a killer smile. “Please allow me to buy you a drink.”

# # #

The Prom was in full swing, the dance floor and surrounding area a swirl of pouffy prom dresses as Aunt Kay and I navigated the pouf to make our way to the bar, bellying up as close as our own skirts would allow. 

“God, these petticoats are itchy,” I complained. “I know, right?  And they’re hot too,” Aunt Kay said.  Aunt Kay ordered a Corona from the harried bartender and I asked for my usual Jack and coke.

“Where is everybody, Mercury?” Aunt Kay asked.  “They’re on the dance floor, I think,” I said, as we both peered at the crowded dance floor trying to spot our people.  “Oh, there’s Cash Dallas and Remy, see them, Mercury?”  Aunt Kay said, a fond look on her face.  Remy and Cash Dallas were a vision as they floated by, Remy in a white prom dress with black rosettes from the 70s and a black top hat, and Cash Dallas decked out in a 90s black western-style suit and roach killer boots.  They were a picture of TBT for sure, as they glided around the dance floor to Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s “It’s Your Love.”

A few minutes later, Momma sashayed up to us in her red prom dress festooned with black ruffles and three petticoats, fanning herself with a paper plate.  “Lord, it’s so damn hot in here.  I’m gonna get some food. Y’all wanna’ come?” she offered.

“I’m going to pass, I need the ladies room, “and it’s going to be iffy trying to hover and not get pee on these petticoats,” Aunt Kay said.

“I think I’ll just hang here and finish my drink,” I told her.  They wandered off and I was left alone, elbows propped up on the bar in a very un-ladylike fashion, lost in pleasant musings of Doc.

I turned with a start when someone touched my arm and came face-to-face with Quade Kesson.  Remy’s dad.

Excerpt #10 Auction

“I bid one-thousand dollars, for a date with Jep Monroe,” Arlene Runnels shouted out. You could’ve heard a pin drop in that room.  I was shooting daggers at Arlene from across the room, when she started towards the stage. Did the idiot think she was supposed to claim her prize now?  She reached the stage and held out her arms to Doc, who was standing there with a perfect deer-in-the-headlights look on his face. As she started to wrap her arms around him, my redneck switch flipped.

I took off towards that stage like a bat outta’ hell, Jericho and B’Faye close on my heels. I would’ve made it too, if not for Uncle J.

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