Late Bloomer


  • Series: Konigsburg, Texas , Book 10
  • Release Date: May 31, 2022
  • Available Formats: eBook

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Strong Blooms Take Time

Gray Temple is an angry man. He’s been suspended from the family law firm over a disputed divorce settlement, and he’s hiding out in Konigsburg, Texas, working at his brother’s BBQ joint and living in his cousin’s old apartment. Even as he nurses his fury at the injustice of it all, Gray suspects he needs to pull himself together. He just doesn’t exactly know how.

Amanda Sunderland is a little angry herself. She’s short two employees at her garden store and trying to deal with the possibility that her son’s wealthy father may want custody for himself and his new fiancée. When Gray offers his services as temporary help, Amanda’s happy to grab him.

As the two get to know each other better, grabbing takes on a whole new meaning. The heat between them makes Gray begin to see Konigsburg’s charms and Amanda begin to rethink the advantages of staying single.

But when Amanda’s son Vic and his best friend Daisy Toleffson disappear, panic hits Konigsburg. Can Gray and Amanda find the kids? Can Gray win back his reputation? And can he stay with Amanda if he goes back to the family firm?

It’s Konigsburg, y’all. Anything can happen.


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Excerpt

Chapter 1

 

“Billy Ray, you scratch that felt again and you’re paying for it in blood, so help me.”

The massive man sitting at the side of the Faro tavern regarded the pool players with an expression that should have curdled their blood, to say nothing of their other bodily fluids. Gray felt a chill just looking at him, and he wasn’t anywhere near the pool table. Chico Burnside was one terrifying guy—at least six-five, over two hundred pounds, shoulder-length black hair pulled back and tied with a leather lace.

The pool players didn’t seem suitably impressed. “Aw, Chico, come on man. It was an accident,” one of them, Billy Ray probably, whined. The pool players were brothers, the Steinbruners, and showed a certain family resemblance in their general cluelessness.

Chico narrowed his eyes. “Of course, it was an accident. If it had been deliberate, you’d already be picking your teeth off the floor. What I’m telling you is, don’t let it happen again.”

Sitting beside Gray, his brother Harris snickered, which struck Gray as a well-nigh suicidal thing to do. Or it would have been suicidal if Chico hadn’t been Harris’s partner in the barbecue place across the street. Chico was also part-owner of the Faro, which Gray assumed gave him a special interest in the state of the pool table. For a guy who resembled an outlaw biker, Chico was a surprisingly successful businessman.

Chico glanced at Harris and gave him something approaching a smile. “Lunch rush over?”

Harris shrugged. “Such as it was.”

“How many customers?”

“Maybe fifty, seventy-five, somewhere in there.”

“Not bad for midweek this time of year.”

Harris nodded. “We’re getting there.”

Gray knew his brother was worried about the long-term success of the Barbecue King restaurant, although nobody else seemed as worried as Harris was. He himself knew nothing about what constituted a good midweek crowd at a barbecue joint in Konigsburg, Texas, but the Barbecue King had seemed to be doing a good business so far as he could tell—very few empty seats and a continual flow of customers picking up orders. Today they’d run out of sausage by one-thirty, which struck him as a good sign.

He supposed he should be making more of an effort to understand how the restaurant worked, since it was currently his sole source of income apart from his savings. Not that he was in anything like financial difficulties. At least his quarter stake in the restaurant gave him somewhere to go after what he’d started to refer to as Black Wednesday. He could’ve stayed in Houston, but what would have been the point? At least in Konigsburg he’d have something to do.

Not much, though. Harris had the Barbecue King running like a well-oiled machine. His wife, Darcy, managed the front of the house. Harris ran the three smokers in the back with part-time help tending the fires. They even had a cook named Kirsten in the kitchen who handled the potato salad, coleslaw, and pinto beans.

They really didn’t need any assistance from a lawyer turned part-time barbecue cook. But Harris wasn’t about to admit that. He’d welcomed Gray with open arms, literally.

So Gray had spent the past three days trying to find things that needed doing around the restaurant while simultaneously trying to stay out of the way of the people who already knew what needed to be done and were doing it. He’d scrubbed pots and hauled firewood and helped keep the service line supplied with sides and hotel pans of sliced meat. He’d even worked the cash register one day, and he hadn’t made a mess of it. Harris was talking about setting him up with an electric carving knife and a brisket so he could cut meat to order like they did at places like Cooper’s.

Gray figured he could do that, assuming he could concentrate on the meat long enough to avoid cutting off a finger. At least he might feel like he was accomplishing something useful. And the more tasks he found, the less time he’d have to brood about the events of the previous week.

Now here he was, three days after arriving in Konigsburg, having a beer at the Faro and trying not to show the white-hot rage he still felt burning in his gut now and then. Someone dropped into the chair beside Harris, and Gray saw Tom Ames, the other owner of the Faro.

“Chico kill any Steinbruners yet?”

“Nope,” Harris said. “But the night is young.”

Ames took a swallow of his beer before turning to Gray. “So how were your first few days as a barbecue intern?”

Gray felt like wincing. It was an accurate description, but it still stung. First in my class at UT Law, now interning as a pot scrubber. “I’m getting the hang of it.”

“Well, if you decide you’d rather learn the bar business, come on over. I can always use another weekend bartender.”

“I already know something about the bar business. I tended bar in college.” Might as well lay claim to some limited expertise beyond lawyering.

“No kidding?” Ames grinned. “I’m serious about needing somebody. We have indoor and outdoor bars on Friday and Saturday nights. Another bartender would be welcome.”

“Hey, I have first dibs,” Harris cut in. “I need Gray on the line.”

“You’re not open for dinner. I’m talking about the evening shift.”

Gray decided they could argue it out between them. He took a quick pull on his beer and watched the pool game. He’d been careful up to now about not drinking much. It would be all too easy to slide into a bottle, particularly late at night when he lay awake trying to relax enough to sleep.

Fortunately, he’d never been much of a drinker. The idea of drowning his sorrows didn’t appeal. The idea of raining down vengeance at The Firm, however, made his heart beat faster.

“So how about it?” Ames said.

Gray blinked. Apparently, he should have been paying attention. “Tending bar?”

Ames nodded. “Friday night. We’ve got a band coming to the beer garden.”

Gray blew out a breath. “Sure. If I can remember how to mix a margarita.”

Ames grinned. “We’ve got a machine that does frozen margaritas, which is what most people want. They want that and beer. It’s thirsty out in the garden.”

“Sounds good,” Gray said absently. At least it would keep him from brooding. And feeling pissed. Music might also drown out all the second-guessing he’d been doing over the past week. Nighttime was the worst, after all, and working bar might help tire him out.

He was aware of Harris watching him, his forehead crinkled in concern. It’s fine. Let it go, bro. He finished his beer, placing the bottle carefully on the table in front of him. No slamming the bottle down. No displays of any kind.

He had a feeling everybody was waiting for him to melt down, although that was probably his own paranoia at work. Harris and Darcy knew why he was there in a general way, but he wasn’t sure anyone else in Konigsburg did. He hadn’t asked Harris to keep it quiet, but he figured his brother wouldn’t be eager to share the story around town. Harris had enough to do finding some kind of work for his baby brother at his pride and joy barbecue place.

That’s not fair to Harris.

It wasn’t, but Gray wasn’t interested in fair at the moment. He was trying hard not to slide into real bitterness. He didn’t want to become a people-hating pest if he could avoid it, but some nights were harder than others.

“I guess I’ll head back to the apartment,” he said finally.

Ames glanced up at him. “Okay. See you Friday. Maybe around five…?”

“Right.”

“I’ll walk with you as far as Spicewood.” Harris pushed himself to his feet.

Gray felt like telling him to stay put, but he didn’t bother. Harris was still playing mother hen. Ironic, given that their own mother hadn’t felt similarly inclined. But then, she’d never been the maternal type.

They headed out the front door of the Faro, up Main toward the bookstore where Gray was currently living. Well, he wasn’t living in the bookstore itself. Harris had located an apartment for him above the shop. The bookstore owner was both a friend and a relative, and the apartment was vacant. It was also largely unfurnished, but Gray didn’t need much beyond a mattress and a kitchen table, which was currently doing double duty as a spot for his computer and briefcase.

Behind him, Harris cleared his throat. “Heard anything from Houston?”

Gray shook his head. “It’s too soon for that. Mom will let me dangle for a while.”

“You feel ready to tell me more about what happened?”

No, actually. Gray sighed. “I’m on ‘informal suspension’.”

“Is that like double secret probation?”

Gray found himself smiling. Dryly. “Very much like it.”

“Why?”

He sighed again. “You remember Diane Braddock?”

Harris frowned. “Vaguely.”

“Mom’s friend from Stephensville? They went to high school together.”

“Right. So?”

“So she wanted a divorce, and Mom asked me to handle it.”

“You?” Harris frowned again. “I thought you were strictly corporate. Why didn’t Maxwell do it?”

“Maxwell was too busy.” Gray’s mouth twisted. “Allegedly.”

“Meaning?”

“Diane’s husband is Luke Corwin, the real estate developer. As you may remember, Maxwell has a special fondness for real estate developers, hence a special reason for staying on Corwin’s good side.” Gray worked on keeping the bitterness out of his voice. Sumner Maxwell was a partner at The Firm. Also, his mother’s Significant Other. Also, a gold-plated sleaze. “Plus, Diane didn’t like Maxwell any more than we do. He did their prenups.”

Harris gave him a quick grin. “Discerning woman. So you handled Diane Braddock’s divorce. I guessing things went south?”

“Decidedly south. In the end, Mom gave the case to somebody else and told me to get lost until she’d decided whether I was fit to be a member of The Firm.” The Firm his great-grandfather had founded. The Firm he’d served faithfully for almost a decade. That Firm.

Harris paused as if he was debating what to ask next. “Did you do anything wrong?”

Gray shook his head a little more vehemently than he’d meant to. “No. I did not.”

“You could always talk to Diane herself. Maybe get her to talk to Mom.”

 “Now there’s a really bad idea.” Gray gritted his teeth. “Diane’s still trying to find a way to get rid of Corwin. I imagine by now she’s almost as sick of me as she is of him.” He had another of those waves of exhaustion he’d been fighting off for the last week mixed with the usual tight ball of fury in his gut.

“Can you tell me what happened to get you in trouble? Or is it confidential?”

Gray paused to study the way the street lights seemed to glisten in the early spring night, surrounded by little clouds of moist air. “I can tell you most of it. I don’t want to right now.”

“Why not?”

God, I’m tired. “Because I’m worn out and pissed. Let me pull myself together first.” Assuming that was going to happen sometime soon. He wasn’t entirely sure it would. He started walking toward the apartment again.

“So now, Mom is deciding what to do with you?”

He nodded. “In a nutshell.”

“Better than the bar association, I guess.”

“Maybe.” Of course, the bar association would’ve just considered the evidence and made a decision without subjecting him to a forty-minute lecture on his shortcomings as a lawyer and a son. Being disbarred might have been easier. It probably wouldn’t have left him with this permanent case of heartburn to go with the ball of rage.

He headed up Spicewood, toward the street door that led to his apartment stairs.

Harris walked after him then stood by while he unlocked the door. “I’d invite you up, but I only have one chair,” Gray said. That sounded more pathetic than he’d expected.

“That’s okay. Darcy’s waiting.” Which gave Gray one more reason to envy his brother. He’d made a clean break with the law business, and he had a very cool wife waiting at home.

Harris took a breath, and Gray steeled himself. He really, really didn’t want any more pity.

“I’m glad you’re here, Gray,” his brother said slowly. “I’m glad you came to me. It means a lot.”

Gray stared at him. Of all the things Harris could’ve said, that was probably the most unexpected. “Thanks. I appreciate all you’ve done.” He hadn’t been able to think of anyplace else to go. Konigsburg was it.

Harris reached out to pat him on the shoulder. “Hey, you’ve got barbecue and bartending. If you’re not going to practice law, maybe you could consider the hospitality business.”

Gray forced himself to grin, ignoring the sudden surge of resentment. “Maybe. It’s a thought. See you tomorrow.” He closed the door behind him as his brother hiked up Spicewood toward his house. He ignored the ache across his shoulders that came from holding himself too straight all day.

He knew Harris was only trying to help. But not practicing law was not an option.

Or at least he’d never seriously considered it an option before.

And he wouldn’t now. He was going to wait out his exile, but eventually he’d head back where he belonged. Eventually his mother would see reason.

Konigsburg was charming. Its citizens were friendly, its entertainment first-rate. And he couldn’t wait to get out of there.