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Authors: Katie Lane

Tags: #Fiction / Romance - General, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #Fiction / Romance - Western, #Western, #Erotica, #Fiction / Romance - Contemporary

Trouble in Texas (9 page)

BOOK: Trouble in Texas
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Without the slightest hesitation, Sunshine answered. “Minnie had the lawyer give it
to her.”

It wasn’t hard to figure out how a lawyer had played into it. “So she inherited the
house?”

Sunshine nodded.

“But inherited it from whom?” Beau directed the question at Brant. “Kenny Gene told
me that her mother was a retired schoolteacher in Amarillo.”

“Oh, but she didn’t inherit it from her mama,” Sunshine said. “She inherited it from
the hen.”

Beau and Brant exchanged glances before looking back at Sunshine.

“The hen?” they both said simultaneously.

“The head hen.” Sunshine beamed. “Elizabeth is the great-great-granddaughter of Miss
Hattie Ladue.”

Chapter Eight

Henhouse Rule #26: Seduction is a weapon. Wield it carefully.

“I
JUST CAN’T BELIEVE
that you would do something like that, Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth adjusted the cell phone to her ear and continued to alphabetize the books
in Miss Hattie’s library.

“It’s not the end of the world, Mother. It’s only a bouquet,” she said as she moved
John Steinbeck to the “S” shelf behind Shakespeare and Shelley. “How did you find
out about it, anyway?”

“I have my sources,” her mother huffed, and Elizabeth figured she was doing her morning
calisthenics, which included exactly twenty-two minutes of jogging in place, followed
by three sets of jumping jacks. “And believe me, it’s not the bouquet as much as the
act of catching it. The entire town of Bramble now thinks that you want to get married.”
The word “married” came out sounding like the worst form of torture a person could
endure.

And according to Harriett Murphy, it was. Only vapid ignoramuses wanted to participate
in an institution thought up by men to ensure they always had a sex partner and slave
on hand. Unfortunately, men were controlled
by their baser instincts—hunting and procreating—and those weren’t stifled by a wedding
band and vows. In fact, in most cases, marriage only exacerbated those instincts.

Thus the popularity of places like Miss Hattie’s Henhouse.

Elizabeth didn’t blame her mother for her beliefs. Growing up in a house of ill repute
would taint just about anyone’s views of men and marriage. Elizabeth was just getting
sick of hearing about it. Although this time, as her mother went on and on about the
animal instincts of men, a perfect example popped into Elizabeth’s mind.

Branston Cates.

If any man was a hunter and procreator, it was Branston. Testosterone seeped from
the man’s pores like honey from a hive, and it was hard not to want to lick it off
like a starving bear cub. Which explained her behavior where the man was concerned.
Having never been around such a virile man, she’d lost her head.

And her panties.

But she wasn’t about to let either happen again. Branston Cates might not be through
with her, but she was more than through with him. Fortunately, the hens had ensured
that Branston wouldn’t be staying long. What man in his right mind would want to stay
in a rundown old house with a bunch of crazy old women?

“Are you listening to me, Elizabeth?” her mother asked.

“Yes, Mother,” she said. “Men are the scum of the earth. Now I better go so I can
burn Shirlene’s bouquet before it works its voodoo.”

“I’m not amused, Elizabeth,” her mother huffed. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

After she hung up, Elizabeth continued to organize the books. Not that she was afraid
of leaving the library and running into Brant. She just happened to like organizing
books. The front door slammed, and she raced over to the window in time to see Brant
and his brother heading down the front steps.

There was no denying the Cates brothers were a handsome lot. She had met the youngest
brother, Beckett, at the wedding, and he was just as good-looking as Billy, Beau,
and Brant. They were all tall and lean with broad shoulders that filled out a western
shirt to perfection. Although there was something about the way Brant’s starched shirt
fit that made Elizabeth’s stomach feel like she’d swallowed a herd of butterflies.
She watched as he disappeared around the corner of the porch. Suddenly, the butterflies
were gone, leaving behind a hollow emptiness.

She turned from the window and went back to the books, but not even discovering a
first edition F. Scott Fitzgerald made her feel any better. Thinking she was only
tired and needed some sleep, she left the library and headed for the kitchen to say
her good-byes.

Except the hens weren’t in the kitchen. Or their bedrooms. Or in any of the rooms
on the main level. She had just started up the staircase when the elevator caught
her eye—and not the elevator so much as the lit arrow above it—an arrow that pointed
down.

Elizabeth wasn’t surprised that there was another level in the house she knew nothing
about. After discovering Miss Hattie’s room, it was obvious that she needed to have
Minnie give her a full tour before the Realtor arrived in the morning.

The ride down to the bottom floor in the rickety elevator
could only be described as hair-raising. Relieved to be alive, Elizabeth pushed back
the metal spring door and stepped out. She had expected to find a room as empty as
the ones on the main floor or as filled with antiques as Miss Hattie’s. What she didn’t
expect was a Seventies jungle-themed nightmare.

Purple shag carpeting was the canvas for fake-fur and animal-print furniture, brightly
colored pots with artificial plants, and Art Deco end tables that held slow-blobbing
lava lamps. A huge Andy Warhol painting hung over the leather and chrome bar, a bar
that stood just to the right of a small dance floor. Strobe lights flashed and reflected
off a disco ball, causing dots of light to bounce around the room as if dancing to
the beat of the Bee Gees’ song that blasted through the overhead speakers.

Between the noise and the lighting, Elizabeth felt more than a little disoriented,
and it took her a moment to locate Minnie. The old woman was sitting in an orange
fur chair that clashed with her purple negligee. Or not sitting as much as sleeping.
The cigarette that hung from her mouth had a three-inch line of ash.

Weaving her way between a ceiling-high, plastic ficus tree and the zebra-print couch,
Elizabeth reached out for the cigarette. But before she could take it, Minnie’s eyes
flashed open.

“What the hell!” Minnie sat up. Surprisingly, the cigarette remained on her lip. Along
with the ash.

Exasperated, Elizabeth grabbed an ashtray off the end table next to Minnie’s chair
and held it out to her. “If you’re not careful, you’re going to wake up in flames
one day,” she yelled above the music.

Minnie snorted. “I’ve never doubted that for a second.”

Once the cigarette was out, Elizabeth set the ashtray back on the table and sat down
on the couch. What she thought was print turned out to be actual zebra, the hair stiff
and very horselike. Since she was an animal lover, this discovery was more than a
little disconcerting. “How come you didn’t tell me this room was here?” she asked.
Minnie cocked her head, and Elizabeth repeated the question louder.

“Because you weren’t a hen until last night,” the old woman yelled back. “This part
of the house is hens only. Our break room, so to speak.”

Elizabeth looked around. The basement was about as far from an office break room as
she was from a hen.

“Who decorated it?” she yelled. “This certainly isn’t late eighteen hundreds.”

The song cut off abruptly, as did the strobe lights. But the refracting lights of
the disco ball remained, dancing over Minnie’s wrinkled face.

“Your grandma,” she said. “She had an interior designer come all the way from Dallas
to do it.” She shook her head. “That man was as queer as a three-dollar bill. But
I’ll tell you what. He was the best damned dance partner I ever had.” Her eyes grew
distant as if picturing herself dancing with the gay designer from Dallas.

It was the first time Elizabeth had ever thought of Minnie as handicapped. The woman
was such a tyrant that it was hard to think of her as being human. The image of a
younger, dancing Minnie had Elizabeth feeling sympathy for the woman. Unlike her own
mother, who when she wasn’t nagging Elizabeth was quite content reading or watching
birds through her binoculars, Minnie had a zest for life. Being confined to a wheelchair
had to be the worst form of torture.

“I’m sorry, Minnie,” Elizabeth said.

Minnie’s eyes refocused, and she reached for the cigarette that was no longer there.
“No need to feel sorry for me, Lizzie. I’ve lived more than any human has a right
to. And I ain’t done yet.”

Elizabeth released her breath. “Minnie, we’re not going to keep—”

Another song came through the speakers. Instead of loud and disco, this one was soft
and jazzy. Elizabeth started to tell her that she’d called the Realtor and asked her
to come back out in the morning, but Minnie shushed her.

“Shhh. You need to watch and learn.” She pointed across the room.

To the left of the dance floor sat a bright blue baby grand piano, and on top of the
piano sat Baby. Elizabeth didn’t know how she’d gotten into the room without her noticing.
Or how she had gotten up on the piano for that matter. But there she sat, her legs
crossed in the slit of the long white dress, one bright red high heel teasingly keeping
time to the beat of the music. From that distance, she looked exactly like Marilyn,
her platinum-blond hair gleaming in the disco lights.

She lifted the microphone to her ruby-painted lips and in a breathy voice started
to sing.

“There’s a somebody I’m longing to see. I hope that he… turns out to be… someone to
watch over me.”

The words brought a heaviness to Elizabeth’s heart as Baby put all her emotions into
the beautiful, and surprisingly talented, rendition of the song. But it turned out
that Baby wasn’t the only one who had slipped into the room unnoticed. Suddenly Sunshine
danced out of the
shadows, two feathered fans covering her from neck to knee. She danced as she walked,
her legs moved gracefully to the beat of the music while her arms manipulated the
fans like a swan stretching his wings. Elizabeth caught glimpses of bare skin, but
never enough to know if Sunshine was completely naked beneath the trembling feathers.

“It’s a lost art,” Minnie said, her voice low and filled with awed reverence. “It’s
fallen prey to a bunch of pornography and vulgarity. Everyone’s in such a hurry to
get to the act of sex that they completely forgo the best part,” she paused as Sunshine
manipulated the fans, “seduction.”

Elizabeth was too caught up in the dance to say a word. Minnie was right. The dance
was like a form of art. A moving art that left the viewer as speechless as the sight
of a priceless Monet. Every sweep of the feathers was like the stroke of an artist’s
brush, painting a picture that was breathtakingly beautiful.

And yes, totally seductive.

It didn’t matter that it was being performed by a woman twice Elizabeth’s age. The
painter was only a faceless genius completely hidden by the beauty of the canvas.

Elizabeth had never been much of a crier, but she couldn’t help the emotion that welled
up in her throat. There was something about the dance that spoke to her and her alone.
Something that touched her like nothing else ever had. When it ended in a swirl of
feathers, Elizabeth was left wanting more yet, on the other hand, relieved that the
emotional torture was over.

“It was Hattie’s dance,” Minnie whispered. “The
music has changed over the years, but never the movements.” Her gaze took in Elizabeth’s
flustered state. “You can’t sell the henhouse. It’s part of your heritage. Part of
who you are.”

There was a moment when Elizabeth started to believe Minnie’s words, but then the
dance floor lights shut off and someone switched on the bright overhead lights. When
Elizabeth’s eyes finally adjusted, she found herself sitting on a zebra-skin couch
in the most famous whorehouse in Texas.

Seduction might be a lost art form, but what happened after the seduction was still
cheap when it was being paid for.

She turned to Minnie. “As much as you sugarcoat it, Minnie, you’re still exchanging
sex for money.”

Minnie’s eyes filled with disappointment. “You don’t get it, Lizzie. You see Miss
Hattie’s as a sex store, and I’m not going to argue that sex took place here. But
sex isn’t what Miss Hattie’s is about. And until you figure it out, you’ll never find
happiness.”

“I’m selling the house,” Elizabeth stated.

“Over my dead body,” Minnie countered just as Baby came tiptoeing across the shag
carpeting in her high heels, followed by Sunshine, who was wearing a tan leotard.

“So what did you think, Lizzie?” Baby asked.

It was hard to answer when she was struggling with the strong desire to wrap her fingers
around Minnie’s throat and take her up on her offer. “The song was beautiful and the
dance breathtaking.”

Baby beamed while Sunshine shot her a sullen look. It seemed she still hadn’t forgiven
Elizabeth for getting to Brant first.

“I can’t wait to perform it for Brant,” Sunshine said.

Surprisingly, the thought of Sunshine performing the dance for Brant didn’t exactly
set well with Elizabeth. Which was silly. Especially when Brant was long gone.

“I’m afraid that the Cates boys have already left, Sunshine,” she said.

Instead of looking disappointed, Sunshine looked smug. “No, they haven’t. Beau is
taking a nap in Miss Hattie’s room, and Brant is out in the lilac garden looking for
his great-grandfather’s bones.”

Elizabeth thought she had been mad at Minnie, but it was nothing compared to how she
felt about Mr. Cates wandering around the henhouse. She had made a mistake not releasing
him last night, but that did not give the man the right to snoop around her property
without her permission.

She jumped to her feet and headed for the elevator.

BOOK: Trouble in Texas
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