From ghost town to growing community, it’s been a few years since a group of strangers inherited property in tiny, deserted Fat Chance, Texas. And besides creating businesses, they’ve developed friendships and romances too. But plans to pave the town may put Dymphna Pearl and her beau, Professor Johnson, on opposite sides of Main Street. In his zeal for the project, he’s making great decisions for Fat Chance, but not for them as a couple. Disgruntled, Dymphna heads back to Los Angeles to collect the rabbits she’s created a special place for in the hot Texas climate. But the professor is in for another surprise…
Professor Johnson didn’t even know about Dympha’s sister, Maggie, and when he meets her in a most unexpected way, he begins to understand why. In the meantime, Dymphna is off pursuing an exciting venture to let the world know about Fat Chance—one that will bring a talented new crew to the eclectic group. The kitschy little place they call home is clearly destined for bigger, better things—-but with so many changes a-coming will the same be true for everyone in Fat Chance, including the professor and Dymphna?
Praise for Celia Bonaduce and her novels
“A bingeworthy triology about smart, quirky women who feel like friends. In Much Ado About Mother she shows us just how strong (and funny) the
mother-daughter bond can be. Loved it!”--Clare O'Donahue, author of The Kate Conway Mysteries
“Celia Bonaduce writes well rounded, real life characters straight from the heart. I loved this book!” —Phyliss Miranda, New York Times bestselling author on A Comedy of Erinn
“The Merchant of Venice Beach has a fresh, heartwarming voice that will keep readers smiling as they dance through this charming story by Celia Bonaduce.” —Jodi Thomas, New York Times bestselling author
About the Author
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Livin' Large in Fat Chance, Texas
By CELIA BONADUCE
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Celia Bonaduce, LLC
All rights reserved.
The clang clang clang of the dinner triangle zapped the morning air. Dymphna looked down the hill to see Fernando, the café's proprietor, standing, hands on hips, staring up at her and Professor Johnson as they made their way from the farm into town. "Breakfast is served, Your Majesties," Fernando yelled, then stomped back into the café.
"Why ring the bell when we're in shouting distance?" Professor Johnson asked. "Why does everything have to be some sort of drama?"
"Where would Fat Chance be without drama?" Dymphna asked.
"Probably a lot further along than we are now," Professor Johnson said.
Dymphna took in a deep breath. She wondered if the country's Founding Fathers were this exhausting.
At first glance, the town looked much as it did when Dymphna first saw it three years ago. The buildings still leaned to the left. Tumbleweeds still convened on Main Street. The creek that ran behind Main Street, around to the front of the Creakside Inn and through the lower portion of Dymphna's farm, continued to glint in the sunshine. The town still sat in the confluence of several hills.
She looked up at those hills, rising like fingers above the town. She remembered how they looked when she first saw them ... wild like the rest of this territory. Unfriendly. Forbidding. Nothing like the lush green acres now covered in grapevines that marched in perfect rows as far as her eyes could follow. She felt sure she could detect the faint aroma of the wine that was expected to follow soon.
Her eyes shifted to the newly paved road that ran from the county highway down into Fat Chance. That, she thought, might be the biggest change of all. She remembered her own first encounter with the crevice-riddled ravine that was the gateway to her future when she and her little group arrived.
She thought back to the feeling of dismay when they reached the turnout on the highway that ran above town. Dismay turned to anguish as they carefully made their way down the ravine and into Fat Chance. She remembered thinking: How was anyone supposed to live in a place like Fat Chance when you couldn't even get there from here?
But get there they did.
The townspeople always called the ravine "the trail," a subtle signal that no matter how awful things were, they were going to look on the bright side. Now, in place of the ravine there was an honest to goodness road with shining asphalt glowing in the morning sun. It looked to Dymphna like a lava flow, pouring into the town before stopping abruptly at the bottom of the hill.
She never said it, and neither did any of the others, but she really believed that the road signified to all the survivors of the original group that they'd gone the distance. They'd made something of themselves.
There was no denying that Fat Chance, Texas, had come a long way since the small band of strangers made their way down the battered trail, hoping to muscle through six months in the ghost town in compliance with the will — and the Will — of dead billionaire Cutthroat Clarence, who decided he needed to make amends to some of the people he'd wronged in his life. While he never felt he'd actually stolen money from any of them, when push came to shove, he didn't want to die without righting a few of the many wrongs he'd committed on his way to building a financial empire. His goal was to return the opportunity to make something of themselves. And so he gave them Fat Chance, Texas. The inhabitants had been through their baptism by fire, and now were reaping the rewards of their own American Dream.
As Dymphna and her boyfriend, Professor Johnson, made their way down the hill they held hands and stared at the new road in the distance.
"It's a thing of beauty," Professor Johnson said, giving Dymphna's hand a gentle squeeze.
"I don't want to be rude," Dymphna said. "But if I hear one more word about asphalt, I'm going to scream."
"I thought you were happy about the new road."
"I was," Dymphna said. "I am. But I think paving the trail is enough. You know I think paving Main Street will ruin the esthetic of the town."
"Fat Chance has an esthetic?" Professor Johnson asked.
Dymphna said nothing. This was very old, very familiar territory. She and her boyfriend were on opposite shores of this murky issue.
In the year and a half since she and Professor Johnson had declared themselves a couple, she had never been so harsh with him. Professor Johnson didn't let go of her hand, but they continued their walk in silence. Dymphna watched Thud, Professor Johnson's bloodhound, zigzagging through the banks of the little creek. She tried to think of a way to smooth things over without apologizing for her throw-down about the road. She was sorry they'd had a disgruntled moment, but it would be wrong to act contrite. She was sick of talking about asphalt.
Thud resembled an energetic ghost in the cloud of dust he kicked up on his way down Main Street. At the sound of the triangle, the zigzagging had come to an end. Thud made a beeline to the café, where breakfast was waiting.
"You know," Professor Johnson said, as they watched the dog climb the stairs through the haze. "If we extended the asphalt all the way down Main Street, we wouldn't have all this dust."
"I know," Dymphna said, trying to keep her tone even. "You've mentioned that."
A thousand times!
Professor Johnson held the door to the café open for Dymphna. When they were first figuring out how to be a couple, it took a while for Dymphna to get used to Professor Johnson's manners. He held doors, pulled chairs from tables, and walked curbside. The first time he leapt around her to get to the edge of Main Street's boardwalk, she'd bumped into him, almost falling into the street.
"What are you doing?" she had asked.
"Walking on the outside," he said.
"To protect you."
"Your petticoat getting splashed by a runaway buggy?" Professor Johnson finally said.
Dymphna had looked down at her jeans and cowboy boots as if expecting them to have morphed into ruffles and high-buttoned shoes.
Dymphna smiled at the memory. Professor Johnson could be exasperating, but he was certainly one of a kind. She touched his arm in what she hoped was a conciliatory gesture before heading inside.
She squinted inside the doorway, adjusting to the dim light.
"Get on in here," Pappy said irritably. "You know Fernando won't serve breakfast until we're all accounted for."
Dymphna shot a quick look at Professor Johnson. Pappy and Professor Johnson had been butting heads since the group first straggled into Fat Chance. Pappy was, inexplicably, the one to greet them and show them the ropes. He was a huge man with wild white hair and beard, and a cranky disposition, giving the impression of a polar bear perpetually emerging from hibernation.
Thud had already settled at Titan's feet when Dymphna and Professor Johnson took their seats between Titan and Powderkeg. Powderkeg roared a greeting and fell into immediate conversation with Professor Johnson about the fledgling vineyard that now sprouted on the hills. The two men were full of plans for "growing the town," an expression Dymphna couldn't stand. Dymphna felt herself relax as she sat next to Titan.
Like Dymphna, Titan tried to steer clear of town politics, even when the town consisted of only eight people. Professor Johnson and Pappy had enough views for all of them. And Powderkeg was loud enough for all of them.
"Glad you finally decided to waltz down the hill before the food got cold," Old Bertha said.
When the group had arrived in Fat Chance, Pappy said he'd "set his cap" for Old Bertha. As Dymphna reached for a buttermilk biscuit in the center of the table, she wondered if Pappy would ever give up. He'd gone so far as to buy Old Bertha a miniature mule, but Old Bertha continued to play hard to get.
"You have to keep the mystery alive," Old Bertha, the queen of unsolicited advice, once told Dymphna.
Dymphna wasn't one to express these things, but she did question the soundness of Old Bertha's philosophy. Dymphna guessed Pappy and Old Bertha had to both be upwards of eighty. Dymphna wondered which would go first — the mystery or one of them. But Dymphna had to admit, Pappy's pursuit never seemed to lose steam.
Dymphna looked around. Less than a year ago, the original band of Cutthroat Clarence's beneficiaries were the only people in the café at any hour of the day, let alone seven thirty in the morning. Now the place was buzzing with cowboys from the neighboring Rolling Fork Ranch. Once Fernando Cruz set foot in Fat Chance, bringing with him his culinary wizardry, the town started to come to life. At first, it was a slow trickle of cowboys and ranch hands stopping by for a quick meal. Dymphna remembered the first time she walked into the café and saw a stranger sitting at one of the tables. She stopped dead in her tracks and stared. Polly, the town's hat maker and part-time waitress at the café, had snapped Dymphna out of her trance.
"What are you staring at?" Polly hissed.
"Who is that?" Dymphna asked, pointing a finger at the ranch hand's back. It was incomprehensible that there was a new, breathing human being in Fat Chance.
"It's a man," Polly said, cheeks reddening as she went to refill the cowboy's coffee mug.
Dymphna had forgotten that Polly worked at the café solely to meet guys. There were very few men in Fat Chance. One was old enough to be Polly's father, one old enough to be her grandfather, one was taken, and two were gay. Slim pickins indeed. When Polly talked Fernando into giving her the job, Dymphna thought it was a very kind gesture on Fernando's part. But now, Dymphna viewed Fernando as a visionary. With Polly in the picture, there were men at every table.
The sight of a cowboy was now commonplace. The new challenge was trying to get Polly's attention. Dymphna looked over at Polly, coffeepot perched sassily on her hip as she flirted with a tableful of long-legged men in jeans and cowboy boots.
"We'll never get more coffee now," Old Bertha groused, following Dymphna's gaze.
"Oh, let Polly have her fun," Titan chided. "I can put on another pot."
Titan half rose from his chair before sitting back down. Dymphna smiled at him sympathetically. When it was just the handful of locals who ate at the Cowboy Food Café, meals were a little more relaxed. If you needed butter, you went into the kitchen and got it. If you needed coffee, you put on a fresh pot. But Fernando put a stop to the casual approach once the place started attracting customers from out of town.
"I have a reputation to keep," Fernando had announced.
"Oh?" Powderkeg said, coaxing the ancient coffeemaker into producing one more pot. "Since when do you have a reputation?"
"Since now," Fernando growled, his voice bouncing around a nearly empty room. "Stay out of my kitchen."
Within weeks, Fernando had his reputation and a full restaurant. Word spread that Fernando's food was the best for miles around.
Until the new road was put in, anyone driving to Fat Chance had to park at the turnout at the top of the hill and walk down. After a meal at the Cowboy Food Café, few diners wanted to immediately climb the steep, gouged trail. As the café gathered a following, the reputations of the other Fat Chancers grew. Powderkeg's leather shop now had a backlog of saddle orders. Titan's forge was busy night and day making shoes for horses and mules. Old Bertha's B & B took in guests of the ranchers. Cowboys consulted Polly for gifts for their girlfriends, mothers, and wives, and Dymphna's knitwear and fruit jellies sold briskly at the grocery store. Although Professor Johnson's museum wasn't a hot ticket, visitors to town often stopped in to see the professor and to discuss the vineyard's progress. The promise of a new winery in a year or so had captured the imagination of the whole area.
The only downside to this new prosperity had been the lack of a decent road into town. As more and more cars and trucks clogged the turnout, the county, which had conveniently ignored Fat Chance's existence for centuries, miraculously and suddenly decided to put in a road from the turnout to the bottom of the hill. The locals were divided on whether they should take up the challenge of extending the asphalt all the way through town. Pappy, Powderkeg, Fernando, and Professor Johnson were in favor of extending the road while Dymphna, Polly, Titan, and Old Bertha wanted to retain the charm of the town with its sun-bleached boardwalk and dirt road. It was certainly not the biggest calamity to face the people of Fat Chance, but it was dividing them.
"I say we pave Main Street and just be done with it," Pappy said to Professor Johnson.
There appeared to be no getting away from the topic.
"I agree," Professor Johnson said, although this was no surprise to anyone.
Although she was tired of the topic, Dymphna was happy that Pappy and Professor Johnson had finally met on common ground. Bolstered by Professor Johnson's vote of confidence, Pappy continued, raising his voice so the rest of the table could be included, whether they wanted to be or not.
"I think I'm more qualified than the rest of you to make this decision," Pappy said. "We're putting in the road."
Dymphna sighed. So much for common ground.
"What exactly qualifies you?" Professor Johnson asked.
"I'm the mayor, aren't I?"
"No, you're not," Professor Johnson said. "How many times do I have to remind you that no one elected you mayor?"
"Remind me all you want," Pappy said. "I came with the place."
"He did come with the place, Professor Johnson," Titan added. "You can't deny that."
"I'm not denying he was here when we arrived," Professor Johnson said. "I'm just pointing out that he's not the mayor."
"So you're saying we shouldn't put in the road?" Pappy asked.
"No," Professor Johnson said. "I'm just saying you're not the mayor."
"If it helps to get the road put in," Powderkeg said, "I have no problem calling Pappy 'Mayor.'"
"You can call Pappy whatever you want; nobody can put in a road unless we vote," Professor Johnson said.
"Whose side are you on?" Powderkeg asked Professor Johnson.
"Here they go again," Titan said to Dymphna.
Dymphna looked around the table just as Polly arrived with more coffee. Of all the changes Dymphna had observed in the years they'd been in Fat Chance, the 180-degree shift in Polly's personality was probably the most marked. Polly had been little more than a teenager when she set her black-and-lace tie-up boots on Texas soil, her kohl-rimmed eyes observing everything and everybody with suspicion. In New York City, where she had been raised, Polly fought hard against rules. In Fat Chance, there were no rules. Polly, like all of them, was free to decide who and what she wanted to be as the mood struck. The big difference between Polly and the rest of them was her age. She could shrug off convention more easily than the rest because she hadn't adhered to it as long.
"Hey guys, anybody need a fill-up?" Polly's eyes shown from the exertion of flirting with the ranchers.
"Warm-up," Old Bertha corrected. "Does anybody need a warm-up? This is not a gas station."
It drove Old Bertha crazy that Polly couldn't get her automotive and waitressing terms straight.
Dymphna felt tears fill her eyes.
She would sure miss her band of misfits now that she was leaving Fat Chance.CHAPTER 2
Cleo could afford good lighting.
In the last decade, she'd had several lighting specialists customize her bathroom, her walk-in closet, and bedroom. Now, catching a glimpse of her determinedly preserved face in an upstairs hall mirror, she made a mental note to soften the hallway lights as well.
Cleo knew Wesley was down in the library, but she made no attempt to rush. She was rich and he was her attorney. He had arrived without an appointment. Therefore he had to wait. It was the unspoken rule.
Well, it was one of the unspoken rules.
As she made her way down the curved double staircase — she always walked down the left one as it featured her good side — she saw her butler, Jeffries, standing outside the library door. He looked up at her impassively. When Cleo was a girl, her mother taught her to navigate stairs without ever looking down. Now that Jeffries had caught her gaze, she couldn't break eye contact by looking down at the marble steps.
It was another damn unspoken rule.
Cleo's life was riddled with them.
As she reached the bottom step, Jeffries gave a brief nod and opened the door to the library. Cleo stood ramrod straight as she walked through the door. She was always on her guard around Wesley, and being on guard required good posture.
"There you are!" Wesley said, standing up to greet her.
"Yes," Cleo said, accepting a light kiss on the cheek. "Here I am."
He smelled like expensive bourbon — her expensive bourbon — which he made a habit of drinking whenever he waited for her. Cleo went to the Waterford decanter and poured a small amount of bourbon into a glass for herself. She raised it in a toast. Wesley had settled back on the couch. He raised his glass silently and checked his Rolex.
Excerpted from Livin' Large in Fat Chance, Texas by CELIA BONADUCE. Copyright © 2016 Celia Bonaduce, LLC. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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