Hello, folks, I’m Dotty Beauchamp—half Texan, half Louisianan and all sass. I own the Tipsy Gater bar that sets right on the Big Cypress Bayou near Jefferson, Texas. When my good friend, Sugar, told me that she was going to give half of The Magnolia Inn, the bed and breakfast that her family had owned for generations, to her niece, Jolene, I thought she was bat crap crazy. When she said that her husband, Jasper, was giving the other half to his wimpy nephew, Reuben—well, I figured Reuben would sell his half the minute the ink dried on the papers.I was right! The little weasel sold out his part of the inn to Tucker Malone. We—that would be Lucy and Flossie and me since Sugar was already off in that big ass RV touring the United States—had heard that he was a tortured soul. And dear hearts, we damn sure believed the rumor. He was the best of the best when it came to carpentry work, and from what we heard he only hit the bottle on weekends, but still we didn’t want our precious Jolene in living in that inn with him.I really didn’t want to hire Jolene when she came to the bar looking for work, but I needed help and she sure enough needed a job. I figured I’d take some flack for it from Sugar, Lucy and Flossie, and I did—believe me I did. But Jolene and I both lived through it.When we met Tucker for the first time, we were sure that the rumors had been right. His wife had died in an automobile accident a few years back. She’d gone to our church so we all knew her very well, and we’d met Tucker a few times when he showed up at church with her. When she died, he turned to the bottle and lost his important job on the police force over in Dallas. It was rumored that he came to our part of the world to be near her grave site. Poor man, he wore the guilt like a heavy shroud and just couldn’t seem to get past it.But I’m digressing. When we met him we found out that he was also a Prince Charming. He didn’t have a white horse or a white cowboy hat, or a crown, but he was so sweet and kind, and he had such a sweet nature, that pretty soon, we fell in love with him as much as—well, she didn’t know it then, being as how she had plenty of baggage of her own—but as much as Jolene could it they’d could get past all the obstacles life kept throwing at them.I see that my time is up. So let me thank you again for inviting me sit a spell and visit with all y’all. And if you’re ever in Jefferson, Texas, come on down to the Tipsy Gater and I’ll give you a free drink if you tell me that you’ve read The Magnolia Inn.
“Why is Tucker a tortured soul?”
“He lost his wife, Melanie, a couple of years ago. She was his whole life,” Lucy whispered. She clucked like an old hen gathering in her baby chickens. “I just can’t believe he bought half interest in this place. It takes a people person to operate a B&B, and from what I hear, Tucker is almost a hermit.”
“I guess we’ve all got our own emotional baggage,” Jolene said.
“Wait until he hauls his damn sorry ass home drunk and you’ve got guests in the place,” Lucy declared.
“She loves Jesus, but she still cusses a little,” Dotty said with a wicked grin.
“He’s a fantastic carpenter. He’s got money to put into the inn. And I’ll cross the drinkin’ bridge when it happens. And . . .” She glanced over at Dotty, who shrugged and winked.
“And just so y’all know.” Jolene took a deep breath. “I’ll be working at the Gator starting Friday night.”
“Lord have mercy,” Lucy groaned. “Have you talked to Sugar about this?”
“Visited with her last night and was going to tell her, but . . .”
Lucy threw a hand over her forehead in a dramatic gesture and then shook a fist at Dotty. “You’re leading our sweet girl down the path of unrighteousness. Jolene, I’ll give you a job in my place of business. Full-time with benefits if you’ll quit the Gator right now.”
“I know bartending, and I can only handle part-time work with the inn, but thank you,” Jolene said and tried to change the subject. “Do I have the recipe for these cookies in Aunt Sugar’s files?”
“I’m sure you do, chère,” Dotty said. “But now let’s talk about the Easter Tour of Homes. Surely Sugar mentioned it?”
“Oh, that.” Jolene was glad Dotty had changed the subject. “She always wanted to be included in it but figured the Magnolia was too far out of town.”
“It might be, but we want to add it this year,” Lucy said.
“It’s, what, like three months from now?” Jolene asked.
“Yes,” Tucker said from the doorway. “We’ll have it ready by then.”
Jolene felt heat rising from her neck to her cheeks. How much had he heard? She motioned to the coffeepot and then to the cookies. “Come on in and meet my friends.”
“Always ready for cookies and coffee. I’m Tucker Malone.” He stuck his hand out toward Lucy.
Her expression said that she’d rather be sticking her hand in a rattlesnake pit, but she put her frail hand in his. “You probably don’t remember us, but we remember you from when you used to come to church with your wife. I’m Lucy Rogers. I own Attic Treasures, an antique store in Jefferson.”
“Jolene told me that a couple of you ladies own antique shops. That’s wonderful.” Tucker brought her hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles. “I’m right glad to make your acquaintance, ma’am. I hope to do some business with y’all as we work on this place. We’d like to keep the antique ambience but use modern things like tubs and showers to make things nice for our guests.”
From Lucy’s expression, Jolene could’ve sworn she’d rather have been shaking hands with the devil. “Well, I’ll be sure to give you a real good price on anything that you can use.”
He turned to settle his crystal-clear blue eyes on Flossie.
“I’m Flossie Simmons, and I own Mama’s Place in Jefferson. My antiques are better than Lucy’s.” She winked. “And since Jolene is like a daughter to all of us, I can beat any deal Lucy would give you.”
“And I’m Dotty Beauchamp.” Dotty’s southern accent thickened. “I’m a Louisiana girl from the other side of the Big Cypress Bayou, and I own the Tipsy Gator. I’ve seen you a few times in my bar. You always sit on the last stool in the shadows, right, chère?”
“Yes, ma’am, I sure do,” Tucker said.
Jolene was totally blown away. One minute they were ready to crucify her for letting Tucker live there, and the next they were flirting with him. Good glory! They had to be seventy or older, and he wasn’t a day over thirty-seven.
“We should let you two get back to work,” Dotty said with a broad wink toward Jolene. “And since you’re going to be out of pocket on Friday night, then Sunday afternoon will be our meetin’ time.”
They pushed their chairs back and paraded toward the foyer. Lucy stopped at the hall tree for her coat, and Tucker hurried over to help her into it. “Thank you for the cookies.”
“You’re welcome. Good luck with all this remodeling.” Flossie gave Jolene a quick hug and whispered, “I hope you know what you’re doin’.”
Tucker picked up the last coat from the hall tree and held it out to Dotty. “It’s been a real pleasure to meet you ladies.”
Jolene sank down on the bottom step of the stairs and sighed when Tucker shut the door behind the ladies. Tucker sat down beside her and propped his forearms on his knees. “So you work in a bar?”
“Ever since I was twenty-one. Until then I did waitress work,” she answered. “How much did you hear?”
“I got there when Lucy was offering you a job to quit working in a bar,” he answered.
“Sounds like you heard most of it, then. I’ll be working at a bar on Friday and Saturday nights. I understand that you drink a little on weekends.”
He got to his feet. “I’m going to get a couple more cookies and another cup of coffee to take upstairs with me. And, honey, I drink a lot on Saturday nights.”
“Just so long as we understand each other.” Jolene stood up and headed toward the kitchen. “Right now we could take fifteen minutes off and call it a midmorning snack.”
“Got chocolate syrup?” He followed her into the kitchen. “For the cookies, the coffee, or the milk?”
“Milk, and then I dip my cookies in it,” he answered.
The ladies had called him a tortured soul. Jolene stole glances at him as she got out the chocolate syrup. It was a shame that he’d lost his wife so suddenly. He might never get over it, but she sure wasn’t looking forward to dealing with another weekend drunk—like her mother or that last worthless boyfriend.