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The Barbecue isn't The Only Thing Heating Up!
Marci Hamilton loves her hometown of Port Serenity, but life's been a little dull lately. So she enters a barbecue-sauce cook-off with her flamboyant sister, Sissy Aguirre. The events are held all over Texas and sponsored by country music superstar J. W. Watson. Marci's heard of J.W. but she sure wouldn't recognize him, so when their car breaks down on the way to the first cook-off and Marci gets some unexpected help from a handsome ...
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The Barbecue isn't The Only Thing Heating Up!
Marci Hamilton loves her hometown of Port Serenity, but life's been a little dull lately. So she enters a barbecue-sauce cook-off with her flamboyant sister, Sissy Aguirre. The events are held all over Texas and sponsored by country music superstar J. W. Watson. Marci's heard of J.W. but she sure wouldn't recognize him, so when their car breaks down on the way to the first cook-off and Marci gets some unexpected help from a handsome cowboy, she has no idea that 'Johnny Walker' is none other than J.W. himself!
After a previous relationship disaster—with a guy featured on America's Most Wanted—Marci is understandably cautious. But the battle against falling in love with Johnny is a losing one. This time around, Marci isn't sure if she's going to get burned or if she's cooking up a Texas-size happy ending along with that award-winning barbecue sauce!
Uh-oh! Marci Hamilton resisted the urge to cross herself or wave a clove of garlic in the air for protec-tion. When the words fantastic and idea appeared simul-taneously in one of Sissy's sentences, it meant trouble.
Marci loved her sister, really she did, but sometimes the woman was a disaster waiting to happen. So in the interest of self-preservation, she silently continued to fix supper.
Exercising her right as firstborn, Sissy grabbed the potato Marci was peeling. "Stop that."
"Stop ignoring me. You know it makes me crazy. And don't you dare say what you're thinking."
The sisters had this annoying mind-reading skill they called their psychic episodes. Some people would call it second sight. Whatever it was, Marci knew when to pick her battles and when to concede gracefully, not that she'd ever agree to one of Sissy's wild ideas.Yeah, right.
"Okay, what is it?" Marci asked in an attempt to be polite.
In response, Sissy pulled a bottle of chilled Chardon-nay from the refrigerator and held it up. "Wine?"
Good Lord! If this harebrained scheme required alcohol it had to be a doozy. "Sure." More than likely she'd need it.
"Harvey and I have come up with a great way to make money and we want you to help us."
On that note Marci marched to the cabinet and ex-changed her wineglass for a large tumbler. "Fill 'er up," she demanded.
Although Harvey Johnson and Sissy had been divorced for almost twenty years, they were inseparable. They even bickered like an old married couple. He sup-posedly lived in Houston; however, for the pastfive years he'd spent most of his time at Sissy's house in the Texas gulf coast community of Port Serenity.
"Before we get into the details of this current plan, I have a question. Why did you two get divorced?" They were perfectly suited and obviously loved each other, so why had they called it quits?
Sissy stared at the golden liquid in her glass as if it held the secrets of the universe. The woman was stalling—highly unusual, since Sissy was never at a loss for words, or actions, for that matter.
"He put a ton of money into De Lorean."
"What in the world is a De Lorean?"
"It's a sports car some dude came up with in the eighties. They built about three hundred of them and then the company went belly up."
Of all the transgressions Marci expected her to reveal, that wasn't even on the radar screen. "Are you telling me that Harvey, our CPA Harvey, put money into an experimental car?"
Would wonders never cease!
Sissy nodded in agreement. "And that's not the worst of it. The final straw was when he invested in a wildcat oil well. Can you believe it?" She shook her head. "Talk about throwing good money after bad."
Harvey was about as fiscally conservative as Alan Greenspan. Still,
"You're telling me you divorced a man because of the way he invested?"
Although she and Sissy looked enough alike to be twins, Marci periodically had to wonder whether they really had come from the same gene pool.
"You got it."
"Did he make some profitable decisions?"
"Absolutely, he made money when other people were losing their shirts."
"So what was the problem?"
"The problem was I told him not to go with those stupid deals, and he did anyway."
"You are the biggest fruitcake on the face of the earth." Wouldn't you know it—the insult didn't bother Sissy. They'd been sisters for sixty-odd years and Marci had never seen her back down from a decision. It was a darned good thing she was delightful, charming and zany because she was incredibly stubborn.
But back to the subject at hand. As much as Marci didn't want to do it, she had to get the details on the latest ditzy plan. Maybe, just maybe, she could waylay the insanity. Although the chances of that were probably slim to none—and everyone was familiar with what had happened to "slim."
"Okay, spill it."
Before Sissy could utter a word, the screen door flew open with a bang and a little blond whirlwind danced in.
"Hi, Mee Maw. Hi, Aunt Sissy." Marci's thirteen-year-old granddaughter, Amanda Delacroix, gave everyone a hug, then went straight for the cookie jar.
"Mama's putting the babies in the stroller. She'll be here in just a second," she said around a mouthful of chocolate. The mama in question was Lolly Delac-roix—wife, mother and Port Serenity's police chief. The babies were Amanda's half sisters, Dana and Renée.
Sissy put her arm around the young girl's shoulders. "Swear to goodness, child, you're getting prettier every day. You're the spitting image of your mother, isn't she, Marcela?"
As she spoke, Lolly struggled through the door with a tandem stroller.
"Hi, Mom. Hi, Aunt Sissy," Lolly said as she maneu-vered the unwieldy baby buggy around the table.
"How are my snookums doing?" Marci lapsed into baby talk as she leaned over to kiss each infant.
"And to answer your question, Sissy, she's definitely pretty as a picture. All my grandbabies are beautiful, even Bren," Marci said as she tugged her granddaugh-ter into her lap. "And don't tell Bren I said that," she whispered to Amanda. Bren was Lolly's seventeen-year-old son—a high-school super jock—and well past the "I want to kiss Mee Maw" stage.
"Yeah, he wouldn't like it," Amanda agreed with a giggle.
But it was true. The entire clan was blessed with the same Nordic good looks—platinum hair, cornflower-blue eyes and the height of their long-ago Viking ancestors.
"Something smells delicious," Lolly commented as she lifted the lid of the frying pan. "Smothered pork chops. I love smothered pork chops." Then she opened the oven door. "And corn bread. Gosh, my mouth's already watering. Thanks for inviting us to supper."
"Domino's is on our speed dial, you know," Amanda said. "When Daddy has a night meeting or Mama's tired, we have pizza."
"Really?" Marci asked, and Lolly responded with a shrug.
"Sometimes it feels like I'm chasing my tail, I'm so busy, and pizza contains all the major food groups. I haven't heard any complaints from Bren or Amanda, and these two—" Lolly indicated the twins "—don't have an opinion, yet. Not that they eat anything solid."
"What's Christian doing tonight?" Marci asked as she set the table.
Rénee started to fuss, so Lolly took the baby out of the stroller and handed her to Sissy. "They're working on a big case in the Rio Grande Valley. I hope it's finally coming to an end."
As the district director for the Texas Highway Patrol Narcotics Services, Christian was responsible for drug busts all over South Texas—and with the growing number of drug smugglers, pot growers and crystal meth cookers, he was a busy man.
"How's it working out with the day care at the station?" Marci asked. On one level, she missed baby-sitting the twins. On another, she was ecstatic. The full-time kid detail was exhausting.
"Ella Burbank is our head nanny now. She's Poochie Burbank's wife. You remember Poochie from when I was in high school, don't you?" Lolly asked her mother.
"He's the one who toilet papered the principal's house and had to mow Mr. Granger's lawn for an entire spring and summer."
Sissy was bouncing the baby. "She's in my book club. I didn't realize she was doing child care."
"Yes, thank goodness. She's great with kids." Lolly turned to her mother. "Mama, is there anything I can do to help?"
Marci handed her the plates and utensils. "We were lucky to get her. Now I don't feel so guilty when I have to work." Lolly sighed and continued to set the table. "Even though I have a great situation, being a working mom is tough."
The town council had allowed Lolly to create a mini-nursery at the police station, and Renée and Dana were now the darlings of the department. Lolly was thinking about haranguing them to fund an enlarged version of the nursery, so more employees could take advantage of it.
"Supper's served," Marci announced as she dished up the mashed potatoes. The scrumptious smell of home cooking wafted through the kitchen.
For a few minutes everyone ate silently while they savored the delicious meal, then Lolly introduced a new topic. "Aunt Sissy, I love your new do."
"Do you really?" Sissy ran her fingers through her spiked red hair. "For a second I was afraid it was too young-looking. Now I love it. I tried to get "Miss Chicken'—" she pointed at Marci "—to go with a color but she claims blondes have more fun. We'll see about that."
"I want to get some of those cool streaks," Amanda said, picking up strands of her blond hair for a better view. "I'm not sure if I want purple or blue. What do you think?" She addressed her question to Sissy—smart girl—although her mother answered.
"I think no."
"Mo-o-o-om!" She'd mastered the teenage ability to turn a monosyllabic word into a polysyllabic whine.
Lolly wasn't buying the pubescent angst. "We'll talk about it when you get into high school."
Without missing a beat Sissy changed the topic. "I was about to tell Marci about an idea that's pee-in-your-pants exciting."
Amanda giggled in response to the middle-school potty humor while Marci suppressed a groan.
Oh, dear! Sissy was so persuasive that once she aired her proposal, the entire family would jump on the bandwagon.
"What?" Amanda was always ready to try anything billed as new and exciting.
"You've all heard of J. W. Watson." Sissy paused until they nodded in unison. J. W. Watson was South Texas's contribution to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Anyone who'd ever done the Texas two-step was familiar with his songs.
"He has a new company that makes products like barbecue sauce and picante. J.W.'s doing the Paul Newman thing." Sissy fanned her face. "Paul Newman has the most gorgeous eyes I've ever seen. And J. W. Watson is pretty darned handsome, too. Not that you can really tell what he looks like. He has that mysterious thing going, but he is sexy as all heck. Don't you think, Marci?"
"Can't say I have an opinion. Andrea Bocelli is more my speed." Her comment obviously fell on deaf ears because Sissy kept yammering. It was tempting to inter-rupt her segue from picante sauce to sexy men, but when you were dealing with Sissy, patience was a virtue. Or, more to the point, a necessity. Eventually she'd get back on track.
"Anyway, he's sponsoring a series of barbecue sauce cook-offs. And he's offering big money for the best recipe. Really big money!" she exclaimed.
Marci could tell where this was going. Their mother's sauce had won multiple blue ribbons at the county fair.
"I submitted Mama's recipe in the preliminary contest and our team's one of the twenty finalists." Sissy jumped up and plucked her purse from the counter. "It's official!" She waved a piece of paper in the air. "Nash-ville Network, here we come. TV—can you imagine it? We're gonna be on TV." Sissy was positively beaming as she shared her good news.
"TV?" Amanda joined in on the excitement. "That's way cool. Don't you think so, Mee Maw? I can't wait to tell Leslie." Leslie was her best friend and the keeper of all her secrets.
Marci could see that Lolly was trying to suppress a bout of giggles. Merciful heavens. What had Sissy gotten them into this time?
"I hate to encourage you, but why don't you share the details? And don't gloat because I haven't agreed to anything," Marci said. Not that she had a chance against her steamroller sibling. Unfortunately, Sissy was aware of that particular weakness.
"Here's the deal." Sissy did a little tap dance across the linoleum. "The cook-offs will feature teams of con-testants." She stopped dancing long enough to throw Marci a smirk. "One of which will be you and me. And Harv has volunteered to man the barbecue pit, even though he won't be an official team member. Isn't he a sweet man? Anyway, they're holding these culinary es-capades at dance halls and rodeos all over Texas. The TV folks will be there, front and center. The first week we go to Gruene, and the next week we head off to Luckenbach. The third weekend we all move to the Ozona rodeo and the last event's at the Festival of Lights in Marfa." She did another pirouette. "Doesn't that sound like fun?"
Not really. "Think money, lots of money. You could buy that VW convertible you've been wanting." Sissy waved the ac-ceptance notice under Marci's nose. "The teams accrue points at each contest, and when all's said and done, the guys and/or girls with the most points win. At the end of the day, I'm planning to walk off with that man's hundred thousand dollars."
Sissy certainly didn't need the money, so Marci sus-pected her motivation leaned more toward the thrill of being on TV.