Authors: Katie Lane
Tags: #Fiction / Romance - General, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #Fiction / Romance - Western, #Western, #Erotica, #Fiction / Romance - Contemporary
Kenny’s eyes took on a speculative gleam. “ ’Course,
I wouldn’t have to worry so much if some other woman caught it.”
He did an excited little hop that looked like he needed to go to the men’s room after
all. “You could catch the bouquet, Ms. Murphy, and then Twyla might think it was fate
and be willin’ to give me a little more time.”
“Oh, no.” Elizabeth held up a hand. “It’s bad enough that I’m forced to stand there
with all the young girls. I’m certainly not going to make an effort to catch it. I
have no desire to get married.”
“Well, of course you don’t,” Kenny said. “And you won’t have to. No one will expect
you to find a man.”
She ignored the insult and shook her head. “I’d love to help you out, Kenny, but I
don’t think that’s a very good idea.”
“Just think about it, won’t you?” Kenny begged. “All I’m asking for is another year
It was hard to ignore his plea, especially when she enjoyed her own single status
so much. “I’ll think about it.” She waved a hand toward the glass doors. “But for
now, you need to let me close up so we can get ready for the wedding.”
Exactly fifteen minutes later, Elizabeth stood outside the double glass doors of the
library. After checking them twice to be sure they were locked, she slipped the keys
in the side pocket of her tote bag and headed home.
Her house was not more than a few blocks from the library, a pretty little yellow
brick single-story with a picket fence and a festoon of colorful mums growing in the
flowerbeds. The front gate got stuck when she tried to open it, and she made a mental
note to buy some WD-40 at the hardware store on Monday. Once inside the front door,
she was greeted by a soft meow as a warm, furry body pressed against her legs.
“Hello, Atticus. Did you miss me?” she asked as she leaned down to stroke the cat’s
soft orange fur.
Atticus allowed her fawning for only a few seconds before he headed for the kitchen
cupboard where she kept the food. At a good six pounds overweight, he had always been
more interested in Meow Mix than her affection.
After feeding the cat and refilling his water dish, Elizabeth walked back into the
living room to get her tote bag. The wedding was hours away. She’d have plenty of
time to get in some reading before she had to get ready. Unfortunately, after deciding
on a book, she made the mistake of checking her cell phone for messages. There was
only one. One breathy message that completely obliterated her plans.
“Lizzie? You need to get out here. And quick.”
The drive that normally took her close to an hour took only forty-five minutes, during
which Elizabeth envisioned all kinds of catastrophes. Which explained why she was
so surprised when she walked into the kitchen of Miss Hattie’s Henhouse and found
three women calmly going about their business. Minnie was sitting in her wheelchair
playing solitaire at the table. Sunshine was sitting on the floor contorted in some
kind of weird yoga pose. And Baby was standing at the stove, stirring something in
a saucepan and staring up at the ceiling.
“What’s the emergency?” Elizabeth asked as she looked around for signs of fire, flooding,
“The Realtor came by on Tuesday,” Minnie said nonchalantly.
Elizabeth released her breath and dropped her tote bag to the floor. “That’s it? The
reason you had me drive all the way out here was to tell me that the Realtor came
She glanced over at Baby, but Baby quickly looked back up at the ceiling.
“That is an emergency.” Minnie took another drag of her cigarette, her eyes squinting
through the smoke. “I told you we weren’t leaving.” She gave Elizabeth the once-over.
“Where in the hell do you get those ugly suits?”
Elizabeth wasn’t the kind of person who lost her patience, but the last six months
of dealing with Minnie was more than anyone should have to endure. Still, she took
a deep breath and tried to remain calm.
“We can’t hold on to this house, Minnie. Your social security checks put together
won’t even cover the gas bills for the winter.” She waved a hand around. “Just look
at this place. It’s falling down around your ears, and it would take more money than
any of us have to fix it. So, yes, I’m selling it.”
The wheelchair zipped away from the table and straight toward her. But Minnie had
pulled the stunt before, and Elizabeth wasn’t falling for it. She stood her ground,
even when the wheels of the chair came within inches of the toes of her conservative
“Let me tell you something, girlie.” Minnie shook a gnarled finger at her. “You might’ve
inherited the house, but your ancestors would be rollin’ over in their graves if they
knew you were plannin’ on throwin’ out their sister hens!”
Hens. Elizabeth cringed. She had come to hate the word. So much so, that she’d sworn
off chicken, eggs, and feather pillows.
“So what do you expect me to do?” she said. “You want me to just let you live here
until they turn off the utilities? Until you’re forced to eat cat food—again?”
“That happened only once,” Minnie said. “And only because Sunshine mistook it for
a can of tuna.”
Sunshine giggled. “Cathouse. Cat food.”
“So are you telling me that you weren’t almost starving by the time the lawyer finally
located me?” Elizabeth asked.
“No.” Minnie rolled back over to the table and snuffed out her cigarette. “I’ll admit
that we were pretty close to eating the mice that have taken over the attic. But the
hens and I would’ve been just fine if you hadn’t showed up. In fact, we just came
up with a new plan.”
“A plan?” Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “Is this plan similar to the one about starting
your own line of lingerie?”
“That one would’ve worked,” Minnie said, “if I hadn’t let Baby come up with the slogan.
‘Nighties that will entice your man to take his choo-choo on a ride in your tunnel.’
What the hell does that mean?”
“Speaking of choo-choos…” Sunshine stretched a leg up over her head, something Elizabeth
was quite certain she couldn’t do now, let alone when she turned seventy. “Can I go
upstairs now, Min? You said I could do it later? It’s later. Right?”
Minnie shook her head. “In a little while, Sunshine. Right now we need to make sure
Lizzie is in.”
Elizabeth heaved a sigh and sat down in a chair. As much as she wanted to sell the
house and completely forget her connection to Miss Hattie’s, she also couldn’t stand
the thought of kicking the three women out of a home they loved.
“So what’s this great plan, Minnie?”
Numerous cards were played and another cigarette lit before the ornery old woman finally
spoke. “We’re reopening the henhouse.”
“Excuse me?” Elizabeth leaned closer, figuring she’d misunderstood. “Reopening as
in selling sex?”
Minnie’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t know what that crazy mama of yours told you, but
the hens never sold sex in their lives—that’s what prostitutes and whores do. The
henhouse was a place where men could come to be pampered and loved.” She shrugged.
“And if they wanted to show their appreciation with money and gifts that was their
decision. Miss Hattie never spoke of money. And neither did any of the hens.”
“Which might explain why you don’t have any now,” Elizabeth couldn’t help adding.
Taking another drag of her cigarette, Minnie flipped a queen of diamonds down on the
king of spades. “Did you realize that, unlike the Chicken Ranch, the henhouse was
never closed down? We remained open until the last rooster flew the coop. Age is what
screwed us up. Nobody wants an old hen when they can have a spring chicken.” She tapped
a crooked nail on the table. “ ’Course, the spring chickens can’t just be anyone.
Hen blood is either in you, or it ain’t.” Her eyes narrowed on Elizabeth. “And I’m
havin’ my doubts about you, Lizzie.”
With a roll of her eyes, Elizabeth got up from the chair. “I’m selling the house,
Minnie. But I give you my word that I’ll help you and the hens find a good place to
“You’re not leaving.” Baby turned from the stove with a desperate look on her face.
“You can’t go yet.” Her gaze wandered up to the ceiling.
“Let her go.” Minnie reshuffled the cards, the cigarette drooping from her lip. “We
should’ve never contacted her in the first place.”
Elizabeth wished they hadn’t either. Unfortunately, there was no going back. Ignoring
the hens would be like leaving three blind kittens in a burning building. Someone
had to watch out for the insane women. Elizabeth just wished it wasn’t her.
“The Realtor will be back next week,” she said as she headed to the side kitchen door.
“And stop smoking, Minnie. If you don’t kill yourself, your secondhand smoke is going
to kill Sunshine and Baby.”
“It will take more than a little smoke to kill us hens,” Minnie huffed.
She probably had a point. The three would no doubt outlive most of the population
The sun had just started to slip beneath the horizon as Elizabeth made her way around
the front of the house to her car. Sunsets in west Texas were spectacular, but she
didn’t take the time to enjoy the vibrant splashes of color. If she hurried, she would
have just enough time to change and get to the First Baptist Church before the wedding
started. She’d just as soon skip the festivities and go home and read. But if she
didn’t attend, questions would arise. And all she needed was the townsfolk finding
out about her connection to Miss Hattie’s.
Unfortunately, before she even got to her car, a thought struck her. Why would Sunshine
want to go upstairs when the only things upstairs were mice and empty rooms? Elizabeth
might’ve attributed the desire to a brain that had been fried by too many drugs in
the Sixties if Minnie hadn’t acted like she knew exactly what Sunshine was talking
And if Baby hadn’t acted so strange, looking up at the ceiling constantly.
An uneasy feeling settled in the pit of her stomach as Elizabeth glanced up at the
second story. A part of her brain told her to ignore the feeling and get out of there.
But the logical part of her brain reminded her that her name
was on the deed, which meant she was liable for whatever craziness the hens had come
up with. Not wanting to get in another argument with Minnie, Elizabeth decided to
slip in the front door and tiptoe up the long staircase.
She had never been upstairs before, partly because the hens lived downstairs and partly
because of Minnie’s mice stories. It was a creepy place, filled with dark shadows
and creaking floorboards. She didn’t find any mice, but she did find numerous rooms—all
of which were empty.
All except for the corner room.
Elizabeth pushed open the double doors, and her breath caught. While the rest of the
house had minimal furniture, this room was filled to the rafters. She didn’t know
a lot about antiques, but the items in the room looked like they would send the appraisers
into conniption fits. No wonder Sunshine had wanted to come upstairs. The room was
like stepping back in time. There were plush Oriental rugs, museum-quality paintings,
heavy brass lamps with stained-glass shades, and beautiful dressers and chests that
gleamed in the last rays of the setting sun.
But nothing compared to the huge four-poster bed that covered one entire wall. The
exquisitely carved headboard was made of dark walnut, as were the thick posts that
came within inches of the high ceiling. Red-and-gold brocade draped from the canopy,
partially concealing a mattress that had to be a good three feet from the floor.
Regardless of all the horror stories her mother had told her over the years, Elizabeth
found herself completely and utterly enthralled by the massive piece of furniture.
This wasn’t just a bed. This was
bed. The same bed where the most famous prostitute in Texas history had slept—or
not slept. A bed that had entertained outlaws and politicians
alike. A bed that some museum curators would give their eyeteeth to have. And there
Elizabeth stood not more than ten feet away from it.
Make that seven feet.
She slid a hand down the brocade curtains and stared in at the rumpled black satin
sheets. What kind of wickedness had transpired here? What kind of depravity? What
kind of fun?
Before Elizabeth knew it, she had pushed back the curtain and slipped inside the shadowy
cocoon. The mattress was not too soft or too hard, the sheets cool to the touch. She
eased down to the pillows and breathed deeply. The smell of lilacs wasn’t surprising.
Being Miss Hattie’s signature scent, it had been worn by all hens, past and present.
But the other scent baffled her. It was an earthy scent that she couldn’t quite place.
Attached to the canopy was a huge mirror. A mirror painted with a mural of a beautiful
woman in a seductive red dressing gown. The painting completely obscured the dowdy
old maid in the ugly gray suit, leaving only the other side of the bed visible. It
wasn’t hard to imagine the shape of a man’s body beneath the rumpled satin sheets.
Or hear his deep, steady breathing. Was he a filthy rich oil man? A lonely cowboy
fresh off the trail? Or possibly a handsome hero straight from the pages of a historical
As she gave her imagination full rein, a dark head separated from the black satin
of the pillow and a deep voice rumbled next to her ear.
“I’ve been waiting for you.”
Henhouse Rule #8: A man in the hand is worth two in the bush.
T TOOK A HAND SETTLING OVER HER WAIST
for Elizabeth to snap out of the fantasy her mind had conjured up. By that time,
it was too late. The strong fingers tightened, and she was pulled toward a man who
looked more like a villain than a hero. Hair as black and satiny as the sheets framed
a face of hard angles and sapphire eyes that gleamed with a look that could only be
described as dangerous and… hot.