Carolyn Brown brings her unique voice to this tale of twin sisters finding love in a small Texas town
Cathy Andrew's biological clock has passed the ticking stage and is dangerously close to "blown plumb up". While her twin sister Marty thinks settling down with one man is just a waste of good cowboys, Cathy wants it all: the perfect husband, the baby, and a little house right there in Cadillac. But even as the town is laying bets on whose wedding will be next, Cathy doesn't see happily-ever-after happening anytime soon.
Fortunately, Cathy and Marty have best friends who aren't afraid to stir up a ruckus-and if it means Cathy's got to bust out and set the town on its ear they'll back her up-no matter how hot things get.
(Originally published as The Blue-Ribbon Jalapeno Society Jubilee.)
"Carolyn Brown's storytelling is humorous, heartwarming, and full of sass and spunk...the chemistry sizzles." -RT Book Reviews
"Ms. Brown has written some of the best dialogue I've read in a while...completely believable." -Fresh Fiction
"I know when I read a book by Carolyn Brown, I'm in for a treat." -Long and Short Reviews
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What Happens in Texas
By CAROLYN BROWN
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2016 Carolyn Brown
All rights reserved.
If Prissy Parnell hadn't married Buster Jones and left Cadillac, Texas, for Pasadena, California, Marty wouldn't have gotten the speeding ticket. It was all Prissy's damn fault that Marty was in such a hurry to get to the Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society monthly meeting that night, so Prissy should have to shell out the almost two hundred dollars for that ticket.
They were already passing around the crystal bowl to take up the voting ballots when Marty slung open the door to Violet Prescott's sunroom and yelled, "Don't count 'em without my vote."
Twenty faces turned to look at her and not a one of them, not even her twin sister, Cathy, was smiling. Hell's bells, who had done pissed on their cucumber sandwiches before she got there, anyway? A person didn't drop dead from lack of punctuality, did they?
One wall of the sunroom was glass and looked out over lush green lawns and flower gardens. The other three were covered with shadow boxes housing the blue ribbons that the members had won at the Texas State Fair for their jalapeño pepper entries. More than forty shadow boxes all reminding the members of their history and their responsibility for the upcoming year. Bless Cathy's heart for doing her part. She had a little garden of jalapeños on the east side of the lawn and nurtured them like children. The newest shadow box held ribbons that she'd earned for the club with her pepper jelly and picante. It was the soil, or maybe she told them bedtime stories, but she, like her mamma and grandma, grew the hottest jalapeños in the state.
"It appears that Martha has decided to grace us with her presence once again when it is time to vote for someone to take our dear Prissy's place in the Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society. We really should amend our charter to state that a member has to attend more than one meeting every two years. You could appreciate the fact that we did amend it once to include you in the membership with your sister, who, by the way, has a spotless attendance record," Violet said.
Violet, the queen of the club, as most of the members called it, was up near eighty years old, built like SpongeBob SquarePants, and had stovepipe jet-black hair right out of the bottle. Few people had the balls or the nerve to cross her, and those who did were put on her shit list right under Martha, aka Marty, Andrews's name, which was always on the top.
Back in the beginning of the club days, before Marty was even born, the mayor's wife held the top position on the shit list. When they'd formed the Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society, Loretta Massey and Violet almost went to war over the name of the new club. Loretta insisted that it be called a society, and Violet wanted it to be called a club. Belonging to a club just sounded so much fancier than saying that one belonged to a society. Loretta won when the vote came in, but Violet called it a club anyway and that's what stuck. Rumor had it that Violet was instrumental in getting the mayor ousted just so they'd have to leave Grayson County and Loretta would have to quit the club.
Marty hated it when people called her Martha. It sounded like an old woman's name. What was her mother thinking anyway when she looked down at two little identical twin baby daughters and named them after her mother and aunt — Martha and Catherine? Thank God she'd at least shortened their names to Marty and Cathy.
Marty shrugged, and Violet snorted. Granted, it was a ladylike snort, but it still went right along with her round face and three-layered neck. Hell, if they wanted to write forty amendments to the charter, Marty would still do only the bare necessities to keep her in voting standing. She hadn't even wanted to be in the damned club and had only done it because if she didn't, then Cathy couldn't.
Marty slid into a seat beside her sister and held up her ballot.
Beulah had the bowl in hand and was ready to hand it off to Violet to read off the votes. But she passed it to the lady on the other side of her and it went back around the circle to Marty, who tossed in her folded piece of paper. If she'd done her homework and gotten the numbers right, that one vote should swing the favor for Anna Ruth to be the new member of the club. She didn't like Anna Ruth, especially since she'd broken up her best friend's marriage. But hey, Marty had made a deathbed promise to her mamma, and that carried more weight than the name of a hussy on a piece of paper.
The bowl went back to Violet and she put it in her lap like the coveted jeweled crown of a reigning queen. "Our amended charter states that only twenty-one women can belong to the Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society at any one time, and the only time we vote a new member in is when someone moves or dies. Since Prissy Parnell got married this past week and moved away from Grayson County, we are open for one new member. The four names on the ballot are: Agnes Flynn, Trixie Matthews, Anna Ruth Williams, and Gloria Rawlings."
Even though it wasn't in the fine print, everyone knew that when attending a meeting, the members should dress for the occasion, which meant panty hose and heels. Marty could feel nineteen pairs of eyes on her. It would have been twenty, but Violet was busy fishing the first ballot from the fancy bowl.
Marty threw one long leg over the other and let the bright red, three-inch-heeled shoe dangle on her toe. They could frown all they wanted. She was wearing a dress, even if it only reached midthigh, and had black spandex leggings under it. If they wanted her to wear panty hose, they'd better put a second amendment on that charter and make it in big print.
God Almighty, but she'd be glad when her great-aunt died and she could quit the club. But it looked like Agnes was going to last forever, which was no surprise. God sure didn't want her in heaven, and the devil wouldn't have her in hell.
"One vote for Agnes," Violet said aloud.
Beulah marked that down on the minutes and waited.
Violet enjoyed her role as president of the club and took her own sweet time with each ballot. Too bad she hadn't dropped dead or at least moved to California so Cathy could be president. Marty would bet her sister would get those votes counted a hell of a lot faster.
There was one piece of paper in the candy dish when Beulah held up a hand. "We've got six each for Agnes, Trixie, Anna Ruth, and two for Gloria. Unless this last vote is for Agnes, Trixie, or Anna Ruth, we have a tie, and we'll have to have a runoff election."
"Shit!" Marty mumbled.
Cathy shot her a dirty look.
"Anna Ruth," Violet said and let out a whoosh of air.
A smile tickled the corner of Marty's mouth.
Saved, by damn!
Agnes was saved from prison.
Violet was saved from attending her own funeral.
The speeding ticket was worth every penny.
* * *
Trixie poked the black button beside the nursing home door and kicked yellow and orange leaves away as she reached for the handle. She heard the familiar click as the lock let go and then heard someone yell her name.
"Hey, Trixie. Don't shut it. We are here," Cathy called out.
Trixie waved at her two best friends: Cathy and Marty Andrews. Attitude and hair color kept them from being identical. They were five feet ten inches tall and slim built, but Cathy kept blond highlights in her brown hair and Marty's was natural. In attitude, they were as different as vanilla and chocolate. Cathy was the sweet twin who loved everyone and had trouble speaking her mind. Marty was the extrovert who called the shots like she saw them. Cathy was engaged, and Marty said there were too many cowboys she hadn't taken to bed to get herself tied down to one man.
Marty threw an arm around Trixie's shoulder as they marched down the wide hall. Trixie's mother, Janie Matthews, had checked herself into the nursing home four years before when her Alzheimer's had gotten so bad that she didn't know Trixie one day. Trixie had tried to talk her mother into living with her, but Janie was lucid enough to declare that she couldn't live alone and her daughter had to work.
"Congratulations, darlin', you did not make it into the club tonight. Your life has been spared until someone dies or moves away and Cathy nominates you again," Marty said.
"Well, praise the Lord," Trixie said.
"I know. Let's string Cathy up by her toenails and force-feed her fried potatoes until her wedding dress won't fit for even putting your name in the pot." Marty laughed.
"Trixie would be a wonderful addition to the club. She wouldn't let Violet run her around like a windup toy. That's why I keep nominating her every chance I get," Cathy said. "Anna Ruth is going to be a brand-new puppet in Violet's hands. Every bit as bad as Gloria would have been."
Trixie stopped so fast that Marty's hand slipped off her shoulder. "Anna Ruth?"
"Sorry." Cathy shrugged. "I'm surprised that she won and she only did by one vote."
Trixie did a head wiggle. "Don't the world turn around? My mamma wasn't fit for the club because she had me out of wedlock. And now Anna Ruth is living with my husband without a marriage certificate and she gets inducted. If she has a baby before they marry, do they have a big divorce ceremony and kick her out?"
"I never thought she'd get it," Cathy said. "I don't know how in the world I'm going to put up with her in club, knowing that she's the one that broke up your marriage."
Trixie paled. "Who's going to tell Agnes that she didn't get it again? Lord, she's going to be an old bear all week."
"That's Beulah's job. She nominated her. I'm just damn glad I have a class tonight. Maybe the storm will be over before I get home," Marty said.
Cathy smiled weakly. "And I've got dinner with Ethan back at Violet's in an hour."
"I'm not even turning on the lights when I get home. Maybe she'll think I've died." Trixie started walking again.
"You okay with the Anna Ruth thing?" Marty asked.
Trixie nodded. "Can't think of a better thing to happen to y'all's club."
"It's not my club," Marty said. "I'm just there so Cathy can be in it. I'm not sure Violet would let her precious son marry a woman who wasn't in the al-damn-mighty Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society. I still can't believe that Violet is okay with her precious son marrying one of the Andrews twins."
Cathy pointed a long slender finger at her sister. "Don't you start with me! And I'm not the feisty twin. You are. I can't see Violet letting Ethan marry you for sure."
"Touchy, are we? Well, darlin' sister, I wouldn't have that man, mostly because I'd have to put up with Violet." Marty giggled.
"Shhh, no fighting. It'll upset Mamma." Trixie rapped gently on the frame of the open door and poked her head inside a room. "Anyone at home?"
Janie Matthews clapped her hands and her eyes lit up. She and Trixie were mirror images of each other — short, slim built, light brown hair, milk-chocolate-colored eyes, and delicate features. Trixie wore her hair in a chin-length bob, and Janie's was long, braided, and wrapped around her head in a crown. Other than that and a few wrinkles around Janie's eyes, they looked more like sisters than mother and daughter.
"Why, Clawdy Burton, you've come to visit. Sit down, darlin', and let's talk. You aren't still mad at me, are you?"
Marty crossed the room and sat down beside Janie on the bed, leaving the two chairs in the room for Cathy and Trixie. It wasn't the first time Janie had mistaken her for Claudia, the twins' mother, or the first time that she'd remembered Claudia by her maiden name, either.
"I brought some friends," Marty said.
"Any friend of Clawdy's is a friend of mine. Come right in here. You look familiar. Did you go to school with me and Clawdy?" Janie looked right at her daughter.
"I did," Trixie said.
Janie's brow furrowed. "I can't put a name with your face."
Janie shook her head. "Sorry, honey, I don't remember you. And you?" She looked into Cathy's eyes.
"She's my sister, Cathy, remember?" Marty asked.
"Well, ain't that funny. I never knew Clawdy to have a sister. You must be older than we are, but I can see the resemblance."
"Yes, ma'am, I didn't know you as well as" — Cathy paused — "my little sister did, but I remember coming to your house."
"Did Mamma make fried chicken for you?"
"Oh, honey, I've eaten fried chicken more than once at your house," Cathy said.
"Good. Mamma makes the best fried chicken in the whole world. She and Clawdy's mamma know how to do it just right. Now, Clawdy, tell me you aren't mad at me. I made a mistake runnin' off with Rusty like that, but we can be friends now, can't we?"
Marty patted her on the arm. "You know I could never stay mad at you."
"I'm just so glad you got my letter and came to visit." Janie looked at Trixie and drew her eyes down. "You look just like a girl I used to know. It's right there on the edge of my mind, but I've got this remembering disease. That's why I'm in here, so they can help me." She turned her attention back to Marty. "You really aren't mad at me anymore?"
"Of course not. You were in love with Rusty or you wouldn't have run off with him," Marty said. They had this conversation often so she knew exactly what to say.
"I did love him, but he found someone new, so I had to bring my baby girl and come on back home. How are your girls?" She jumped at least five years from thinking she and Claudia were in school to the time when they were new mothers.
"They're fine. Let's talk about you," Marty said.
Janie yawned. "Clawdy, darlin', I'm so sorry, but I can't keep my eyes open anymore."
It was always the same. On Wednesday nights, Trixie visited with Janie. Sometimes, when they had time between closing the café and their other Wednesday evening plans, Marty and Cathy went with her. And always after fifteen or twenty minutes, on a good night, she was sleepy.
"That's okay, Janie. We'll come see you again soon," Marty said.
Trixie stopped at the doorway and waved.
Janie frowned. "I'm sorry I can't remember you. You remind me of someone I knew a long time ago, but I can't recall your name. Were you the Jalapeño Jubilee queen this year? Maybe that's where I saw you."
"No, ma'am. They don't crown queens anymore. But it's okay. I remember you real well," Trixie said.
* * *
Less than half an hour later, Trixie parked beside a big two-story house sitting on the corner of Main and Fourth in Cadillac, Texas. The sign outside the house said Miss Clawdy's Café in fancy lettering. Above it were the words: Red Beans and Turnip Greens.
Most folks in town just called it Clawdy's.
It had started as a joke after Cathy and Marty's mamma, Claudia, died and the three of them were going through her recipes. They'd actually been searching for "the secret," but evidently Claudia took it to the grave with her.
More than forty years ago, Grayson County and Fannin County women were having a heated argument over who could grow the hottest jalapeños in North Texas. Idalou Thomas, over in Fannin County, had won the contest for her jalapeño cornbread and her jalapeño pepper jelly so many years that most people dropped plumb out of the running. But that year, Claudia's mamma decided to try a little something different, and she watered her pepper plants with the water she used to rinse out her unmentionables. That was the very year that Fannin County lost their title in all of the jalapeño categories to Grayson County at the Texas State Fair. They brought home a blue ribbon in every category that had anything to do with growing or cooking with jalapeño peppers. That was also the year that Violet Prescott and several other women formed the Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society. The next fall, they held their First Annual Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society Jubilee in Cadillac, Texas.
The Jubilee got bigger and bigger with each passing year. They added vendors and a kiddy carnival with rides and a Ferris wheel, and people started marking it on their calendar a year in advance. It was talked about all year, and folks planned their vacation time around the Jalapeño Jubilee. Idalou died right after the first Jubilee, and folks in Fannin County almost brought murder charges against Claudia's mamma for breaking poor old Idalou's heart. Decades went by before Claudia figured out how her mother grew such red-hot peppers, and when her mamma passed, she carried on the tradition.
Excerpted from What Happens in Texas by CAROLYN BROWN. Copyright © 2016 Carolyn Brown. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
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