- Series: Konigsburg, Texas , Book 9
- Release Date: August 10, 2021
- ASIN: B0994VCYK8
- Genre: Contemporary Romance
- Available Formats: eBook
So Happy Together: Two new novellas from Meg Benjamin’s beloved Konigsburg, Texas, series.
In Shelter From the Storm, Chico Burnside and his beloved Andy Wells are being driven slowly crazy by Chico’s wedding-mad mom. Andy’s ready to call off the marriage, but then she’s trapped in a low-water crossing during a flash flood, and it’s up to Chico to rescue her. Can the two of them find a way back to Konigsburg and a way out of the Wedding From Hell? Maybe— with the help of some backcountry neighbors.
In Going Up In Flames, Jorge Delgado can cook anything, and now he’s running the Barbecue King’s food truck for the Sapphire Falls Town Festival. But his new assistant has him feeling some heat that doesn’t come from the firebox. And as if that weren’t enough, someone’s trying to sabotage his smoker and keep the people of Sapphire Falls from discovering the delights of Texas barbecue. Can a couple of cooks beat the odds and stir up something sweet together? We’ll see. For now, they’ve got a vandal to catch—and barbecue to cook.
A bolt of lightning tore through the sky, followed by an explosion of thunder as rain pelted against the plate glass windows of Siemen’s Men’s Wear, Konigsburg, Texas. The rains had come to the Hill Country with a vengeance, although the people at Siemen’s didn’t seem to be paying attention.
Chico Burnside studied his reflection in the mirror. Normally, he didn’t look at himself in the mirror much. He knew what he looked like, and since he wore basically the same thing every day, he didn’t see the need to go beyond a rudimentary check. Now, he took his time, sighing.
The tuxedo was the largest Siemen’s had been able to find through their contacts with other men’s stores around the state. It was okay as far as length went—the pant legs reached to the top of his shoes and the sleeves extended to his wrists—but it wasn’t doing his shoulders any favors, and the jacket looked like it was supposed to be worn by somebody with a sizeable gut. Which Chico decidedly did not have.
He sighed again. His body wasn’t made for tuxedos. Or dress shoes. Or anything related to formality and tradition. He was, in fact, opposed to formality and tradition.
His main reason for being at Siemen’s was sitting in a chair at the side of the room, regarding him with narrowed eyes. “We’re almost there,” his mother said. “The jacket just needs a few tucks to take in the looseness.”
Chico sighed once more. No matter what his mother said, the tuxedo would never fit him well. Suits didn’t fit him. That was one of many reasons he didn’t wear them. He hadn’t had on a formal outfit since he’d left the army and given up wearing dress blues. Which he’d hated as thoroughly as he did this tuxedo.
He was thirty-six years old, well beyond needing his mother’s approval for his wardrobe. He’d stopped getting that approval sixteen years ago, and he had a hard time believing he needed to start doing it again.
He glanced again at his mother’s face. She was smiling that misty-eyed smile she’d worn for the last month. He thought of it as the Wedding Smile. She’d started doing it when he’d told her he was marrying Andy Wells, and it had gotten worse since he’d let her bully them into going for a formal wedding with all the trimmings rather than a quick visit to the county clerk at the courthouse.
He now wished fervently that he’d stood his ground. If he and Andy had followed through with their original plan and gone to the county clerk’s office, they’d have been married by now and happily moving forward. Instead he was mired in the torture of decisions about wedding attendants and venues and cakes and even flowers. What in the name of everlasting hell did he know about flowers? Or care? He would’ve thrown up his hands and retreated to his stool at the Faro bar where he worked six nights a week if it hadn’t been for one thing.
Andy. Every time he looked at her, he got a pain in the general vicinity of his heart. The closer the wedding date came, the more haunted she looked. He knew she wasn’t sleeping well. She was eating regularly only because he made sure she did. Some of her misery came from the same source as his—the constant harassment from his mother in the form of the numerous decisions that had to be made immediately. But some of it was Andy’s usual reaction to anything that was likely to make her the center of attention.
Total panic, accompanied by a deer in the headlights look that tore his heart in two. She wasn’t shy around people she knew and worked with. And she was a whiz at her job, able to explain the most difficult environmental problems to experts and concerned citizens alike.
But put her in a crowd, and she withered.
Lately, she’d done more than wither. She’d been irritated and snappish, very unlike herself. Chico worried about her. Actually, he worried about the two of them. How much longer could they keep up this routine without an explosion? And who was most likely to get singed in the fallout?
Still, there was no help for it. Becoming his bride had put Andy squarely in his mother’s crosshairs. Ma was so happy that her baby boy was finally getting married that she was paying no attention to the wishes of either the bride or the groom. This was the last wedding she’d be able to plan, and she wanted it to be the most elaborate one yet. Every member of the family turned to his mom for event planning because she was good at it and she enjoyed it. But sometimes, she enjoyed it so much she didn’t notice anybody else standing in the way.
Chico wasn’t sure she’d noticed Andy’s distress. Most likely not, or she would’ve done something about it. He probably should have pointed it out himself, but he didn’t want to risk making his mother think he was being critical. At this point in the game, he just wanted it all to be over quickly.
Siemen’s tailor gave him a critical look, apparently trying to find the easy fix his mother was sure existed. Chico could’ve told him he wouldn’t find one, but he’d given up trying to counter his mother’s determined march to the altar. “I have to get to work,” he muttered.
“You can spare a few more minutes.” His mother gave him a fierce smile, and he gritted his teeth. Over the past month, he’d come to know that smile well. It meant that his attendance was mandatory, whether he liked it or not.
The tailor pulled the coat of the tuxedo in at the sides so that it no longer hung around his waist like a shroud. Unfortunately, pulling it in at the sides also increased the tension across his already straining shoulders. Win some, lose lots. Chico couldn’t see any improvement in the mirror.
Across the room, his mother was nodding. “Yes. That’s it. Perfect. He looks perfect.” She gave him another of those glistening smiles. Her baby boy. In a tuxedo. Getting married. Finally. She pulled a tissue from her purse and dabbed at her eyes.
Chico sighed. Again. He hated weddings, even his own.
Rain trickled down the windows at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality regional office. Lightning flickered in the distance, along with receding detonations of thunder. The storm was weakening but definitely still around.
Andy Wells stared down at the printed sheets in her hands. Price lists for flower arrangements. Blanca had made checkmarks next to three or four, the ones she thought were the best centerpieces for the reception.
At the moment, Andy was alone in the office. No one could accuse her of slacking off on her duties as the agent in charge. Unfortunately.
Also unfortunately, the price lists included only written descriptions of the bouquets, not pictures. Andy could’ve pulled out her phone and gone to the florist’s web site, but she’d hoped she could make her decisions quickly without looking anything up. She couldn’t remember what most of the flowers looked like. Stephanotis called up no mental image. White. That was all she could recall.
She was tempted to just close her eyes and jab a finger at the page, letting chance make the final decision, but she knew Blanca would be coming over later to discuss the centerpieces. Andy would have to come up with a reason for preferring stephanotis to gardenias or gladiolas, which were in some of the other centerpieces.
And she knew by now that saying, “Why don’t you pick something? I just want it to be over” wouldn’t win her any points with her future mother-in-law.
Blanca cared about everything. Passionately. And she wanted Andy to share in her delight at the whole idea of the wedding.
Which Andy had, at least in the beginning. She’d been delighted—more than delighted, overwhelmed with joy—to be marrying Chico. She’d never been in love before. Even though she’d already been married once, that didn’t count. Whatever she’d felt for Lew Burke when she’d married him, it hadn’t been love. Her feelings for Chico were the real thing; he was her one and only, and he loved her back. And they were getting married.
Lately, however, she’d found Lew Burke worming his way back into her mind. She’d thought she’d been in love with him, too. Granted, she’d never felt anything like the connection she felt with Chico, but she’d been happy enough. Still, marrying Lew had changed everything. He’d turned into a controlling jerk. Of course, now Andy suspected that Lew had always been a controlling jerk, and she’d simply refused to acknowledge it. But there was no denying that getting married to Lew had made things a lot worse.
As usual, her stomach began to ache. Over the past couple of weeks, the entire getting married idea had begun to make her queasy. Doing it in front of a couple hundred people—the Burnside family, the remnants of the Wells family, and most of the residents of Konigsburg, Texas—made her pulse speed up and her palms grow clammy.
And the details of planning that wedding were driving her insane.
If only Blanca would do everything herself. If only she didn’t need the constant consultations, the decisions, the discussions. Oh Lord, the discussions. If Andy had to go through one more session about choosing her colors, she’d start gibbering. She’d been tempted to go with purple and black just to give Blanca something to rise above. But in the end, she’d gone with cream and blue because that was the color scheme Blanca favored.
To make the situation even more infuriating, Chico didn’t have to make any of these decisions, even though he was paying for them. Once the decisions had been made, Blanca announced them to him. From her point of view, this was Andy’s wedding no matter who was paying for it. All Chico had to do was show up.
In a tuxedo. Which he hated.
Blanca was even trying to get him to cut his shoulder-length hair. Andy hoped that demand failed. She loved Chico’s hair just the way it was. She loved the way he dressed, the T-shirts and leather vests, the well-worn jeans, the high black boots. He looked like an outlaw biker or a renegade come down from the hills. She loved everything about him. But she didn’t love what was happening right now.
Why do we have to get married? Why can’t we just go on the way we are? Andy immediately jammed those thoughts to the back of her mind immediately, but she knew they wouldn’t stay there. More and more lately she’d been considering the possibility of not getting married. Of continuing to live together the way they were already. Of not taking the chance that marriage would change everything.
Why couldn’t they do that? Why shouldn’t they?
Because it would break Blanca’s heart.
That was true, but more and more lately Andy had wondered how important that was in the big scheme of things. She liked Chico’s mom a lot, but Chico’s mom was driving her crazy. Andy had begun to think maybe she should get off this marriage merry-go-round before it whirled her to pieces.
She tucked the price list back into her briefcase. A decision would have to wait until after work. Blanca had wanted her to take a leave of absence for the duration of the wedding planning, but Andy had adamantly refused. Running the Konigsburg field office for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality was the only thing that was keeping her sane. Plus, she loved her job, although she planned on taking two weeks for her honeymoon, assuming she and Chico ever got around to deciding on a destination.
Assuming we actually have a honeymoon. Assuming we actually have a wedding.
Andy’s jaw firmed until it was almost painful. Right now, she had all of her field samplers out checking on runoff from the rains. Hurricane Delia had come through the Gulf three days ago, and the accompanying weather systems were still pounding the Hill Country. They’d gotten at least seven inches of rain over the past couple of days, and it was still coming down intermittently. The rains weren’t a deluge, but they were way above average, and the samplers were making sure the runoff into the Hill Country water system wasn’t contaminated with anything nasty.
Andy was just monitoring the sample collection. The samples themselves would go to the lab in Austin for analysis, and she’d keep track of the results once they started coming in. She might need to go to Austin sometime, which she was looking forward to. There’d be no wedding discussions at the main office. She could be blessedly free of flowers and colors and tulle tiebacks.
Maybe she could stay at the main office for a couple of days. They might need some help in the quality assurance division.
Absolutely. At this point she was looking for escape. From everybody except Chico. And maybe even him. That showed how far gone she was.
As if he’d answered some subconscious call, her fiancé chose that moment to open the door to her office. “Hi.”
She gave him a smile that wasn’t the least bit forced. Not a bit. “Hi. Wet outside, isn’t it?”
She took a moment to appreciate him. It had been a decade since he’d been an Army Ranger and a pro wrestler, but he still had the muscular physique, not to mention the broad shoulders and slightly menacing air. Menacing to everybody except her, of course. She knew he was really a sweetheart.
He nodded at her. “It’s coming right down. How’s the sampling?”
“No problems so far. At least none I’ve heard about.”
He squinted out the window at the slate gray sky and the rivulets running along the windowpane. “Low water crossings are getting dicey. Your guys may have to come back.”
Andy shrugged. “The forecast says the weather will clear up in a couple of days. They should be okay.”
“Water levels stay high for a few days even after the rain stops. It’s not a great time to be in the back country.”
Andy felt like groaning. They were both avoiding the elephant in the room—the elephantine wedding. On the other hand, she’d done little but talk about the wedding for the past two weeks. Talking about sampling was a relief, even if it didn’t mean she could stop thinking about the wedding altogether. Unfortunately. “Are you on your way to work?”
He nodded. “Had a session at Siemen’s with Ma, but that’s done. I’m thinking it’s the last one I’ll do.”
Andy frowned. “They finally got the tuxedo to fit?”
He shook his head. “They finally accepted that there is no fit to be had. Tuxedos don’t work for me. I’ll show up in the damned thing, but there’s no way it’s going to look like it was made for me.”
Andy gave him a commiserating smile. She’d prefer he wore the clothes he had on now. Jeans and a vintage Aerosmith T-shirt, along with his black leather vest. She loved that outfit. He shouldn’t have to worry about wearing clothes he hated. “You’ll look fine no matter what.”
He gave her a slightly sardonic smile, as if he disagreed but wasn’t going to argue. “You want to meet me at the Faro tonight for dinner?”
“I don’t know if I can. I may need to stay late if reports start coming in.”
“Just come have dinner with me,” he coaxed. “Won’t take long. Then you can come back here if you have to. Or maybe you can forward everything to the house.”
Andy smiled. She knew what he was doing. He thought she didn’t eat enough, and he had a point. When she was stressed, she lost her appetite, and right now, she was definitely stressed. Still, it might be nice to have an evening away from the office and the wedding. At least Chico wouldn’t want to talk about it any more than she would. “Okay. I can probably be there around seven.”
He nodded. “Good enough. I can come pick you up. That way you won’t have to drive yourself.”
“Oh,” Andy began, “you don’t need…” Her cell phone chirped insistently.
She almost felt like letting it go to voice mail. It might be an emergency: somebody from the Austin office or one of the samplers in the field. But she had a feeling it wasn’t. She knew only too well who was calling. She glanced at the screen. “It’s your mom.”
Chico closed his eyes. “You could let it go to voice mail.”
She could, but she wouldn’t. She picked up the phone. “Hi, Blanca.”
“Hello, sweetie, I’m glad I caught you. Mrs. Cartwright at the caterers said they could give us a quick tasting tonight. They just got done with a wedding in Marble Falls, and they have some samples of their chicken curry and their tournedos with mushroom sauce.”
“Oh.” Andy licked her lips. “I need to stay here for the rest of the afternoon. I’ve got samplers out in the field, and I have to be available if they call in.” It was true, although since the samplers would be calling her cell if they called at all, she didn’t need to be in the office to help out.
“No problem,” Blanca said airily. “It’s not until seven o’clock. Surely TCEQ doesn’t need you to stay after hours.”
“Oh.” Andy glanced up at Chico and sighed. He couldn’t come to a tasting when he had to work at the Faro. He was part owner, and his partner had a pregnant wife at home. His excuse was solid. Hers wasn’t. “Well, I guess that will be okay.”
“Sure, it will. I’ll come by your house and pick you up. That way you won’t have to drive and we can talk about the centerpieces on the way over.” Blanca sounded relentlessly cheerful, as usual.
“All right then, I’ll see you at seven.”
Chico narrowed his eyes. If she didn’t know him so well, she might have been intimidated. “Your mom wants me to go to a tasting with her. At the caterer’s place.”
His eyes stayed narrowed. “Will this ‘tasting’ mean you get a full meal?”
She shrugged. “Maybe. They’re going to show us a couple of main dishes and some sides to go along with them. If I don’t have enough at the tasting, I’ll grab a sandwich when I get home.”
“Okay.” He ran his fingers along the edge of her cheek. “Make sure you do.”
Andy felt a brief pinch of exasperation. She really didn’t need both Chico and Blanca telling her what to do. She didn’t need anyone telling her what to do. She was a big girl. She could take care of herself.
Almost immediately, she felt guilty. He wasn’t telling her what to do. He was telling her he cared—which was completely different. She was glad he cared. She needed to calm down.
She placed her hand over his. “You take care of yourself, too. Make sure you get something from Clemencia before it gets too busy.” Clemencia was the chef at the Faro. Andy could depend on her to make certain Chico got a decent meal.
“Well, all right then.” He smiled a little grimly. “We both promise to eat, and we both promise to take it easy on the wedding craziness. Drop by if you get a chance after this tasting thing. Otherwise, I’ll see you when I get home tonight.”
“Right.” She forced herself to smile back. This might be the only time she saw him all day since she’d most likely be asleep when he got home. Thanks to the wedding and all its madness, they didn’t spend much time together these days.
She watched him walk back across the street, headed downtown toward the Faro, his dark head bowed against the rain. The most annoying thing about this wedding was that it seemed to be pushing them apart rather than bringing them together.
That struck her as absolutely the wrong way to go about a relationship. But she didn’t know what she could do about it as long as she was caught in the momentum of the celebration train. She just hoped it wouldn’t end up in a train wreck.
If you didn’t have to have this wedding, you wouldn’t have this stress.
Once again, she pushed the thought to the back of her mind. They were having the wedding. And she needed to accept it.