It’s been a year since an eccentric billionaire summoned seven strangers to the dilapidated, postage stamp-sized town of Fat Chance, Texas. To win a cash bequest, each was required to spend six months in the ghost town to see if they could transform it—and themselves—into something extraordinary. But by the time pastry chef Fernando Cruz arrives, several members of the original gang have already skedaddled…
Fernando’s hopes of starting a new life in Fat Chance are dashed when the town’s handful of ragtag residents—and a mysterious low-flying plane—show him just how weird the place actually is. His hopes of making over the town’s sole café into a BBQ restaurant for nearby ranchers threaten to turn to dust as a string of bizarre secrets are revealed. But just when the pickins’ couldn’t get any slimmer, the citizens of Fat Chance realize they might be able to build exactly the kind of hometown they all need—but never knew they wanted…
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
You can contact Celia at www.Celiab.name.
Read an Excerpt
Slim Pickins' in Fat Chance, Texas
By CELIA BONADUCE
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Celia Bonaduce
All rights reserved.
He was here.
From the boardwalk Dymphna Pearl looked up past the end of Main Street. She knew what that small cloud of dust rising over the town meant. Another chunk of road was giving way on the trail that wound its way up and out of Fat Chance. Her stomach knotted. Dymphna could only catch a foreign syllable or two coming from the trail. She might not know much Spanish but it was clear by the tone of the man's voice that he didn't know the ropes.
The dust settled and the tirade finally stopped. Dymphna heard Pappy say, "What the hell made you think wearing a pair of new four-hundred-dollar boots to a place called Fat Chance, Texas, was a good idea in the first place, Pilgrim?"
She didn't hear much else because suddenly the two men spilled off the trail and onto Main Street. Dymphna ducked back into the café, but watched from the window. The visitor was in his mid-thirties, with the solid build of a soccer player. His black hair sparkled blue in the hot Texas sun. It was good hair.
He'll never be able to get a haircut like that in Fat Chance.
The man was smaller than Pappy, but Pappy was a mountain. Dymphna thought Pappy must be at least eighty, but he carried the younger man's large suitcase as if it were filled with cotton balls. As they advanced, Dymphna saw that Pappy looked as grim as his companion. When the two men reached the café, Dymphna caught Pappy's eye through the screen door. From behind wire spectacles, annoyance radiated from his green eyes. His massive white beard twitched. In Spanish or English, these two guys were not happy campers. Dymphna yanked the café's screen door open and greeted them with as big a smile as she could manage. It was indirectly because of Dymphna that the man was here. He was Fernando Cruz, the possible gift from the gods who might save the town from slow death.
"You must be Dymphna," Fernando said accusingly.
"Yes," Dymphna said. "And you must be Fernando."
"And this is Fat Chance, Texas ..." he said, his voice trailing off as he looked up and down the street.
"After you," Pappy said, ushering Fernando into the café.
Pappy and Dymphna hurried after him, Pappy dropping the suitcase at the door. Fernando's deep scowl morphed into one of complete disbelief.
"Wow, this place is a hot mess," Fernando said as he surveyed the café.
Dymphna looked around the room. She tried to think back to the first time she saw the café, the first time she saw any building in Fat Chance, Texas, almost a year ago. She had come to love the town. But looking at the place through a newcomer's eyes, she could see how he might be a little stunned. The café, like every other building in town, listed to the left. The town had more animals than people. The trail, which came down a steep ravine from the highway, was impossible for any car, no matter how stalwart, to navigate.
"Yes, I guess it is a mess," she said. "But what did you expect from a café in the middle of a ghost town?"
"I guess my romantic nature got the better of me." Fernando shrugged. "I was hoping for the ghost of Wyatt Earp, cowboys panning for gold, tumbleweeds ..."
"We have tumbleweeds!" Dymphna burst out. She and Pappy followed Fernando to the kitchen. Fernando opened cabinets, cranked the burners on the stove, and studied the oven door. When he reached for the oven knob, Dymphna swiftly threw herself between Fernando and the stove.
"Stop!" she said, putting her hand on his chest. "Don't. Touch. That. Dial."
"Because ...," Fernando said slowly, as if speaking to a child — or a lunatic.
Dymphna hurried to explain that a mother mouse had chosen the oven as a safe place to have her babies. Once that was discovered, the townsfolk always slammed the oven door once or twice to let her know she should get the kids out for a while.
"You're kidding, right?" Fernando said, and smiled as if to let them know he was in on the joke. But Pappy had joined Dymphna at the oven, intent on saving the threatened mice, should Dymphna's diminutive stature and, at 29, her relative youth not prove enough of a threat. Fernando sighed and stepped back. Obviously, he found not only the entire idea of doing business in Fat Chance insane but also its inhabitants.
Fernando took off his conspicuously new cowboy hat and laid it on the scarred counter. He wiped the sweat from his face with a blindingly white handkerchief and folded it carefully back into his pocket. He took another long, silent look around him and, judging from his expression, saw no reason to change his first impression.
Dymphna made no move to speak. She was looking around the room with a growing sense of despair. He was right — this place was a hot mess!
"The whole damn place looks like it was left over from another century," Fernando said.
"The whole damn place IS left over from another century," Pappy said. "The town dates back to the eighteen hundreds, and you're standing right now in a bona fide 1958 café. And it's a damn good one too."
"If I promise not to disturb Mrs. Mouse, may I take a look at that stove, please?" Fernando asked.
Dymphna and Pappy exchanged a look. Dymphna wasn't sure if Fernando was humoring them or they were humoring him, but she and Pappy backed away from the stove. Pappy watched the newcomer carefully, waiting for one false move.
"When was the last time this oven was calibrated?" Fernando asked.
"In 1960?" Dymphna guessed. "You'd have to ask Cleo."
"Cleo?" Fernando asked, still poking around the tiny kitchen. "The woman who used to run this café? Isn't she a gazillionaire? What was she doing here? What are you doing here?"
"That's a long story."
"Honey, a cab dropped me off at the top of the hill two hours ago, and there's apparently no phone reception unless you're standing in the middle of what you euphemistically call a street — and then only if you're lucky. I've got plenty of time for a long story," he said, examining a dented kettle. "Shall I make us some tea?"
"I'm in," Pappy said. "Meet you in the dining room."
Pappy and Dymphna went into the next room and hurriedly selected three reliable chairs. The room hadn't been used in ages — not since Cleo left five months ago. But from the time the small group arrived in Fat Chance a year ago until Cleo gave up and hightailed it back to Beverly Hills, the tiny uneven space with five tables had been the heart and soul of the community. Dymphna shot a peek at Fernando. He didn't flinch at the reference to the "dining room."
"Do you think the fact that he's making tea for us is a good sign?" Dymphna whispered to Pappy as they sat and waited for Fernando to appear.
"A sign of what?" Pappy asked.
"A sign that he might stay and run the café."
"I have no idea." Pappy shrugged. "Why do you care?"
"I ..." Dymphna did care, but she couldn't think of a reason why. "Don't you care?"
"Of course I do," Pappy said. "I want a decent cook around here again."
Fernando, gingerly tucking his cowboy hat under his arm, came in with three chipped mugs and set them on the table. He laid his hat carefully on the table, took a seat, and stared first at Dymphna, then at Pappy. "OK," he said. "Tell me about this town."
"Now hold on," Pappy said. "We're the ones looking for a cook. We should be asking you questions, not the other way around."
"Nice try, old timer," he said. He looked at Dymphna. "So, about Fat Chance ..."
Dymphna had practiced telling the story to herself in front of a mirror. She wanted the events to sound casual and plausible instead of baroque and insane. No need to frighten the poor man at the onset. She launched into the proceedings that had brought her here: how the late billionaire "Cutthroat Clarence" Johnson had left Fat Chance, a ruined town in the Texas Hill Country, in his will to a group of six total strangers and two of his relatives, his daughter Cleo and his grandson Professor Johnson. Cutthroat felt he had robbed all of them or their relatives of their chance at the American Dream, and left them each a building in the town — with the proviso that they had to stay and see what they could do with the place in six months. At the end of the six months, there would be compensation, three years' salary, which made it an equal gamble for all.
"And then what?" Fernando asked. "I mean, that was over a year ago."
"Well, we failed miserably," Dymphna said cheerfully. "I mean, I guess there was a reason he was a billionaire and the rest of us are barely scraping by. Whatever his vision was when he looked at this place, we sure didn't see it. But most of us realized we were happier here than we'd ever been anywhere else, and decided to stay."
"Most of you?" Fernando asked.
"Yes," Dymphna said. "By the time the six months were up, we had the original eight beneficiaries, plus Pappy, who had been watching over the place, and before long, two guys from the next town over moved in. Twin brothers, who are champion-quality bowlers. Those were really great days! We really thought we'd be able to make something of the place! But within months, we'd lost not only Cleo and her nephew, but all the young guys."
Dymphna registered the slight disappointment in Fernando's eyes.
"No young bowlers?" Fernando asked.
"No. Rodney and Rock got an offer to be the faces of a new bowling alley in Austin called Rock 'n' Rodney's," Dymphna said. "It was a dream come true!"
"This place is full of dreamers!" Pappy snorted. "One more, two less, doesn't make any difference."
"So, you're not a dreamer?" Fernando asked.
"No, I'm not," Pappy said. "I'm also not one of the beneficiaries."
"He was here when we arrived," Dymphna said.
"I'm the mayor and the banker," Pappy added. "And the sheriff."
Dymphna cringed. She had hoped not to go down this road so soon. She knew Fernando probably thought Pappy was crazy. She remembered when they'd first arrived in Fat Chance — they all thought Pappy was crazy. They were all still pretty sure he was, but, well, now they loved the town — and Pappy was part of it.
"This has certainly been interesting," Fernando said, standing up. "But I'm not sure this is the right ... opportunity ... for me."
Dymphna felt her cheeks burning. She had never met Fernando before, but he was here because of her. When she first got to Fat Chance and discovered her farm was rampant with wild berries, she'd called her good friend Suzanna, who owned a tea shop called The Rollicking Bun ... home of the epic scone in Venice, California. Dymphna had remembered Suzanna always bragging about one of her childhood buddies, Fernando. Not only was he a lifelong friend, he was also the pastry chef at the Bun until he opened his own B and B on Vashon Island. Fernando apparently had the world's best jam recipes, and Suzanna was sure he would part with them for "family" or, in Dymphna's case, sort-of-adopted family. He had, and the recipes were as good as Suzanna said they were. Dymphna was now making jars of jam that added to her larder and her income.
Dymphna didn't want Suzanna — or Suzanna's sister Erinn, or their mother, Virginia — worrying about her, so she tended to embellish how well things were going in town when she spoke to them. No harm done, until Suzanna sent an e-mail to Dymphna, letting her know that the fabulous Fernando had sold his share of the B and B to his partner and was looking for a new place. Suzanna thought Fat Chance sounded like a ground floor opportunity, and Fernando was very excited about checking it out. Without admitting to her pack of white lies, Dymphna convinced herself that he might actually like the place.
Fernando, Dymphna, and Pappy turned toward the door as Thud, the enormous bloodhound that shared Dymphna's farm, bounded into the room. Thud sensed the new blood and raced to welcome Fernando to town. The dog reared back, then jumped. He put his front paws on Fernando's shoulders, knocking his chair over. Fernando and Thud landed on the floor, the dog looming over the man. Drool ensued. Dymphna hoped Fernando found this charming, but suspected by Fernando's involuntary yowling that he was not a dog person.
Dymphna pulled the dog off him and Pappy righted his chair. Fernando wiped the dog slobber from his face, this time stuffing his no-longer-white handkerchief into his jeans.
"Tell him how great this place is, Pappy," Dymphna said as she lugged Thud back outside.
"I won't lie to you," Pappy said, looking Fernando right in the eye. "Fat Chance is an acquired taste."
They all thought of the place as a ghost town, but it was actually a study in "arrested decay." The structures had been maintained, but only to the extent that they would not be allowed to fall over or otherwise deteriorate in a major way. That explained why the town was a mishmash of buildings from the turn of the twentieth century, with electricity, running water, a few 1950s appliances — and a faint Internet signal.
"I have to get up to the farm," Dymphna said to Fernando as they all stood in front of the café. "I've got to shear my goats. Do you want to come up?"
"Less than anything on earth," Fernando said.
"You go on," Pappy said to Dymphna. "He'll be fine here."
Dymphna hesitated, but realized there was nothing she could say or do to make Fernando decide to stay. She and Thud headed up to the farm, the two men watching them until they were two small specks on the horizon. The speck that was Thud bounced all the way up the hill.
"Who's maintained the buildings all these years?" Fernando asked.
"I have," Pappy said proudly. "Been here for more years than I can remember."
"Why?" Fernando asked. "Why have you been here so long?"
"Can't say. Probably same sort of reason you're here."
"Oh, I doubt that," Fernando said.
"You might not stay." Pappy shrugged. "But you could have gone anywhere. Back to Napa or Los Angeles. You could have gone to Chicago or New York. But you decided to check out Fat Chance. Not business as usual, you got to admit that. You were looking for something different. And you found it."
Pappy's words seemed to hit home.
"OK," Fernando said. "You may be right. I'm willing to try to find out what you see here that I don't."
"I'll be happy to show you the —"
"No, Pappy," Fernando said, looking a little uncomfortable calling a complete stranger "Pappy." "I don't want you to show me. I want to go find it. You know, the unvarnished truth."
"Unvarnished is pretty much business as usual around here," Pappy said. "As a matter of fact, you'll be hard-pressed to find anything varnished."
Fernando put his new hat back on his head, adjusting the angle just slightly until he felt it was doing its best for him. "I guess I'll mosey around," he said.
"Just watch out for the snakes and —" Pappy stopped abruptly. "Right. Get on with you."CHAPTER 2
Fernando looked up and down Main Street, hands on hips, as if daring the place.
OK, Fat Chance, show me something.
He took a few steps and dust kicked up all around him. He lifted one foot and rubbed his boot on his jeans — hadn't anyone around here in the last hundred years heard of asphalt? This dirt was killing his new boots. He rubbed his other boot clean and was relieved to see the dust didn't seem to have caused any permanent damage. He took a few more steps, then looked down at his boots once again — they were as dusty as before he'd tried to clean them.
He stumbled, but righted himself quickly, glowering at the ground where a large rock had deliberately found its way into his path. He kicked the offending rock with all the pent-up frustration he'd been feeling.
"Damn," he said, as pain shot up his ankle.
The rock was unmoved by the activity. Even the ground in this backwater town was against him. He looked around again. Fernando wanted to figure out his best approach to this scouting expedition and, more importantly, to make sure that his futile fight with a boulder hadn't been witnessed by any of the other inhabitants.
From the look of things, it appeared the café was pretty much in the center of the town. Any way he walked he would see — what? More dirt surrounded by a bunch of falling-down buildings?
He jumped up on the weathered boardwalk, which was smooth from years of sunshine and footsteps. Most of the buildings were on the boardwalk, but as he looked back toward the trail he and Pappy had managed to climb down, he remembered seeing an intriguing building on the other side of Main Street. He looked at the other end of town, where another building stood apart from the others. He flipped a coin — the far end of town won.
At least this way I'll be closer to the trailhead after I've looked around.
Excerpted from Slim Pickins' in Fat Chance, Texas by CELIA BONADUCE. Copyright © 2016 Celia Bonaduce. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Thoroughly enjoyed. Easy to read and follow along with the characters.
Great Book! This is a great book; this book is part of the Fat Chance, Texas series by Celia Bonaduce. It has been a year since an eccentric billionaire summoned seven strangers to the dilapidated, postage stamp sized town of Fat Chance, Texas. Fernando Cruz is a pastry chef and moves to Fat Chance in hopes to take over the town’s café and turn it into a BBQ restaurant. The quirky citizens need to work together to build the town that they all want. If you are looking for a great fun book then you need to read this one. I am looking forward to reading the next book in this series. A Review copy was provided to me in exchange for a fair and honest review. The free book held no determination on my personal review.
Fun book that continues the story of Welcome to Fat Chance, TX. I hadn't read the first book so there are some parts of the story that I'm lost in so I would recommend reading Welcome to Fat Chance, TX. Despite that I thought this was a quirky & enjoyable read. The townsfolk are a great group of unique characters & you get swept away in their escapades. I look forward to reading more by Celia Bonaduce. ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review