Take That Ride

  • Series: Konigsburg, Texas , Book 11
  • Release Date: August 1, 2023
  • Genre: Contemporary Romance
  • Available Formats: eBook

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They’ve only got a week. They need to make it count.

Coy Blackburn is an up-and-coming country singer, but right now he feels more like he’s down-and-going. He’s at the end of a long tour, and his band is dragging. A week-long gig at the Faro tavern in Konigsburg, Texas, may get them back on their feet or it may be a disaster. For Coy, it feels like it could go either way.

Lexi Markham is living life on auto-pilot at the moment. As the main driver at her family’s tour business, she spends her days taking tourists around the Texas wineries and trying to get over her breakup with her lying fiancé. Now her sister has booked her to drive a country band around town, and she’s definitely not feeling it.

When Coy and Lexi meet, sparks fly—and not it a good way. Still, trust the power of music (and a back country cloudburst) to overcome a few bumps in the road. But can they even think about the future when they’ve only got a few days together?

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Margaret Batschelet 2023

Chapter 1


Tom Ames leaned back against the bar at the Faro, the best bar in Konigsburg in his not altogether unbiased opinion, given that it was his very own bar. He was watching the Steinbruner brothers play pool. It was pretty much an every afternoon game, and there was something to be said for tradition, even though the Steinbruners usually limited themselves to a single beer each, which did little for Tom’s bottom line. This was his night to leave early, and he’d take off around seven now that Chico had come in.

Chico Burnside was his partner in the Faro. Once upon a time, a lot of people in Konigsburg had assumed Chico was nothing more than the Faro’s bouncer. Most of them knew better now, given that Chico also co-owned the barbecue place across the street, as well as several blocks of rental properties around town. He might look like an outlaw biker, but he was an outlaw biker with his own LLC.

Chico stood beside him at the bar, regarding the Steinbruners with his usual savage expression. People who didn’t know Chico well assumed he was perpetually irate. In fact, he was one of the most even-tempered people Tom knew. He just looked naturally terrifying.

He nodded toward the Steinbruners. “They buy anything?”

“The usual,” Tom said.

Chico’s expression stayed savage, but they’d both adjusted to the Steinbruners’ lack of custom a long time ago.

“So.” Tom blew out a breath. “The Coy Blackburn Band.”

“What about them?” Chico glanced at him for a moment, then returned to scowling.

“We’ve never had one act for an entire week before.”

Chico shrugged. “A residency. They do it in Vegas all the time. If this one works out, we can think about doing it with someone else.”

Tom narrowed his eyes. “We’re spending a lot of money on them.”

“Worth it.” Chico rested his elbows on the bar. “And it’s not that much in the long run. He’ll pull in bigger weeknight crowds, and we’ll likely be turning people away on the weekend. Having him for a week helps keep us on the map. He’s an up-and-comer, getting a lot of airplay on Sirius. We’re grabbing him for a week on his first solo tour.”

Chico was in charge of booking bands for the Faro, and Tom usually deferred to his expertise. Live music was one of their major draws. However, they were paying a lot more for Coy Blackburn and his band than they usually budgeted. And they were betting on his audience increasing over the course of the week as people talked about the band, so they’d make up for any thin crowds early on. “What about his opening act?”

“Marcia Mills?” Chico shrugged. “Got a couple of songs out that are doing okay. Blackburn’s manager vouched for her.”

Tom rubbed a hand across the back of his neck. “This feels like a big deal.”

“It is a big deal,” Chico agreed. “I figure we can afford to book semi-major acts every few months. Helps us, helps them, helps the other acts who play here. People get used to us being a reliable stop on the music circuit. We start building relationships with musicians like Blackburn when they’re on the way up. Then they’ll be willing to stop off when they hit it big. Like Willie Nelson and Floore’s Country Store down in Helotes.”

Tom nodded. “You’ll be here to keep an eye on them?”

“Sure, why wouldn’t I be?” Chico paused, then flushed slightly. “I’ll bring Andy along some nights. She’ll be okay.”

Andy was Chico’s wife. She was also four months pregnant—and Chico was a worrier.

“Where are they going to park their tour bus? Do we need to reserve some space in the parking lot?”

Chico shook his head. “No tour bus. They had a breakdown. They’re using Markham’s.”

“Markham’s Tours? Does Markham’s even have a bus?”

Chico sighed. “They’ve got a van or two. A van’s a van, far as I can see. June said they could handle it, so I recommended them to Blackburn’s manager.”

“June’s going to drive them?” Tom liked June Markham Morales, but she could talk the ear off a donkey.

“Lexi’s doing it.” Chico scowled harder as one of the Steinbruner’s popped a ball off the pool table.

“Lexi?” Tom paused to picture Lexi Markham. Hair the color of wildflower honey, legs that seemed to start at her armpits, Daisy Duke without the shorts. “That should be interesting.”

“I promised June I’d keep an eye on things. Prevent anybody acting like an asshole.” Chico folded his arms across his sizeable chest. It would take a seriously stupid man to challenge him.

“Lexi can take care of herself,” Tom murmured. “Word is she kicked Dennis Franklin in the nads when he tried to apologize to her.” Of course, that was just a rumor, although Tom devoutly hoped it was true.

“Yeah, I don’t figure I’ll have to do much. Just be around when needed. You taking off?”

Tom nodded. “I guess I’ll leave you to it.” He paused. He had a toddler of his own at home, and soon enough, Chico might also want to be at home a lot of nights with his wife and child. “Maybe we should start thinking about hiring a night manager a few nights a week.”

“Already on it,” Chico said without looking at him. “I’m checking the budget. I’ll let you know when I’ve got it figured out.”

“Okay.” Tom turned toward the door, nodding at the customers he knew as he left. That was the great thing about having Chico as a partner. You never had to worry about the details. Chico had it covered.

He just hoped Chico had the whole Coy Blackburn thing covered, too.

* * *

“You son of a bitch! I’ll fucking kill you.” Rick, Coy’s bass player, tried a running leap over the nearest folding chair and almost made it.

The moment it took for him to untangle himself from the chair gave Leon, Coy’s lead guitarist, time enough to trot several steps closer to the exit. “C’mon, hoss,” he called, “it’s no big thing.”

What the everlasting hell? Coy Blackburn pulled off his guitar and turned toward where the band had clustered around the combatants. Rehearsal was already a half-hour behind schedule since Leon had shown up late, as usual. This band would drive him to day drinking. Or possibly assault.

Or possibly a tour by yourself for the remaining month.

“No big thing? No big thing? I’ll show you a big thing, you asshole.” Rick charged through another chair before Delaney, Coy’s keyboardist, and Danny the roadie managed to haul him back.

Leon retreated a few more steps toward the door, trying a thin smile that seemed to make Rick even madder. “Dude, I saved you time and money. She’s not worth it.”

 Rick struggled against the men restraining him. “And you’re not worth a duck turd, you…” He surged forward again, stepping on Delaney.

“Come on, man, pull it together. This isn’t doing anything except wasting everybody’s time.” Delaney grimaced, probably nursing some bruised toes.

Coy rubbed his eyes. He had half a mind to let Rick keep going after his pissant lead guitarist, except he needed the asshole for the rest of the Tour From Hell. Leon might be a hound with the ladies, but he had some decent skills, and it was way too late to find a replacement.

Coy turned toward his amp, twisting the volume knob for a little ear-splitting feedback. “Knock it off. Shut the hell up. All of you.” He used his deadliest voice, the one that usually made people swallow hard.

Everybody froze, staring at him in surprise. Apparently, they’d forgotten all about the rehearsal they were supposed to be a part of, to say nothing of the singer they were supposedly working for. Not that the rehearsal had been all that great up to now, anyway. It was the end of the tour, and everybody was ragged. Too ragged to risk skipping a rehearsal. Or anyway that was what Coy kept telling himself. His first solo tour, and it was heading for the dumpster. Hell, it was already mostly there.

“Get up here. Now. We’ve got another paid-for hour in this rehearsal room and a show coming up.”

Rick pointed a shaking finger at Leon. “That son of a bitch slept with Sherry, my girl from the Rusty Spur. I was right there, and he took off with her. I won’t go on stage with him.”

Coy rubbed his eyes again. God save him from musicians with hard-ons. “Yeah, you will. If you want to get paid, you’ll be there. You got a problem with each other, take it outside. And if you decide to duke it out, don’t do any damage that would keep either of you from playing. We’ve still got to lock down the break on ‘Wild Rover,’ and we haven’t even started on the new stuff. Kill each other on your own freakin’ time. We got a week’s worth of shows to do.”

Rick pulled away from Delaney and the roadie, turning toward his instrument. “Jerk can’t play for shit anyway. Makes the rest of us sound as bad as he is.”

Leon arched a contemptuous eyebrow. “Hey, if y’all sound like crap, it ain’t my fault, hoss.”

Rick’s face turned a shade of red Coy associated with coronaries. And manslaughter. He spun around again.

“Screw it. Take a ten-minute break,” Coy snapped. “And everybody, calm the hell down and get your shit together. We need to lock those arrangements down this afternoon. I’m not going to work on this set more than another half hour, and I want it right, goddammit.”

Rick cast a killing glance in Leon’s direction before he stomped off toward the vending machines in the hall. He might return and beat the crap out of the asshole, but apparently, he wanted caffeine first. 

Leon shrugged, dropping his guitar in its case before he slipped out the other door toward the front of the building. At least  he’d left his guitar behind, which seemed to mean he’d be around after the break.

Coy dropped into a chair at the front of the room. “Jesus.”

“They need a break. We all need a break. Hell, you need a break most of all.”

Coy glanced up in surprise—he’d assumed he was alone in the room. Delaney sprawled in a folding chair at his side.

“What’s that you say?” Coy asked.

“You need a break, man. You’re running on fumes.” Delaney yawned. “We all are. You just saw a fight over a barmaid who went off with Leon because Rick had gone to the john. At the start of the tour, they would’ve shrugged it off. Now they’re so sick of each other that they’re ready for a duel at dawn.”

Coy wished he could disagree. The end of any tour was usually brutal, but this one, his first solo tour, had seemed harder than most. They were heading to a week-long stand at a bar in the Texas Hill Country in a couple of days, one that might become a recurring gig, according to his manager. Assuming they did a decent job. Right now, it looked like they were most likely going to be lousy, and he almost didn’t give a damn.

Screwing up a week-long gig toward the end of his first solo tour would definitely get back to the Nashville producers and could definitely make his life more difficult. Plus, it would be a stupid thing to do since week-long gigs weren’t all that common.

But Lord above, he was tired. Tired of the fighting, tired of the traveling, almost, God help him, tired of the music. And that was a very dangerous state of mind to be in. He’d worked for years to get here with two albums under his belt and his first solo tour. He couldn’t afford to let it go. Tired or not, he needed to recharge.

In reality, he needed to find his way back to where he’d started: the electric charge when he stepped out on stage, the adrenaline rush when he felt the crowd tune in, and the sheer joy of making music.

Christ, had he ever actually felt that way? He sure as hell didn’t now.

“No shit, man.” Delaney shook his head. “You need to kick back for a while. Get away from the band and get your rocks off.” He gave Coy a slow grin. “Metaphorically speaking, that is. Or hell, I don’t know, maybe for real. We haven’t had any time to ourselves in a dog’s age. This Texas gig had better be good.”

“At least the Texas gig gives us some time to stay in one place, no traveling for a week. Should give us all a chance to work out some of the rough spots.” Assuming they didn’t screw up the first night they played. Assuming they didn’t get canceled for being a crap band.

Yeah. Assuming we can actually get our act together again.

“Good thing we’re staying in one place since we got no bus to tour on anyway.”

The bus Coy’s manager had leased had broken down earlier in the week. Yet another element of the Tour From Hell. His manager was supposedly working on it. “We’ve got transportation lined up for this Konigsburg gig.”

“Good.” Delaney rubbed his eyes. “What we basically need is downtime. Days in the shade to recharge. Then we play our asses off every night.”

 “We need to rehearse,” Coy said, but his heart wasn’t in it. They’d been rehearsing. And it had gotten them damn all, besides some kind of blood feud between Rick and Leon. There was no guarantee that more rehearsal time would make them sound less ragged than they did right now. The way things had been going, it might even make them sound worse.

And for once in his life, he didn’t have a clue how to get it together again. He was too damn tired.

“We need to chill,” Delaney corrected. “We’ve been working hard for the last six weeks, and we’re starting to sound like shit.” He shrugged. “Sorry, man, but it’s the truth. We’re all tired. Everybody needs to take some time off. Then we get on it again and do it for real.”

Coy started to shake his head, but then he paused. Unfortunately, Delaney was spot on. The idea of kicking back for a while and letting himself relax had a lot of appeal. “I’ll think about it.”

“Think hard, dude. We’ve got another month to get through.” Delaney gave him a lazy grin.

Coy blew out a long breath. Another month. Ideally, a month without any homicides within the band and without him losing his shit over the crap he was hearing. Another month to get himself on track again. Wherever that track was. Right now he was worried he’d lost it for good.

Maybe they just needed some downtime. A little rest and recovery. Maybe in Texas they’d find some of the mojo they were missing.

Most likely, they wouldn’t, given the way they were falling apart. But they probably wouldn’t sound any worse off than they did already. With any luck.  

* * *

Lexi Markham had had a bitch of a day. The wine circuit was one of Markham Tours’ most popular offerings, and the passengers on this one had been all women, members of a club from San Marcos who were spending a couple of days hanging out in the Hill Country—piece of cake.

It should have been, anyway.

But then, one woman had seen a huge metal chicken lawn ornament and wanted to make an unscheduled stop at the garden store. If the traffic hadn’t been so vicious at that point, Lexi might have agreed, but there was no place to pull over without causing an accident. Plus, they were due at Cedar Creek Winery at eleven for their wine tasting and at Todos Santos for lunch at twelve-thirty or so. If they got off schedule, it would throw the rest of the day off, too, and Lexi would have been dealing with justifiably peeved winery and restaurant managers.

So she’d said no. Apologetically, but definitely no. The chicken lady hadn’t taken it well. She’d spent the rest of the day whining. At first, it had been about the chicken, but after a while it was about everything. She didn’t like the wine. She didn’t like the food at Todos Santos. She didn’t like the van—It smells like stale tacos in here. And most of all, she didn’t like Lexi, the woman who’d deprived her of her tin chicken.

The other women on the tour weren’t as bad, and they were thoroughly sick of the chicken lady’s complaints. But they hadn’t had a good time, and they didn’t want to stick around any longer than they had to. They’d left hurriedly, without pausing to express their gratitude.

As in, no tips.

Lexi had been thinking about dinner at Allie Maldonado’s place, but now she figured she’d better save her money. She’d grab a BLT at the Coffee Corral after she checked out.

She sighed as she hung the van keys on the board in the office. It had been a long afternoon, extra long thanks to the chicken lady.

“Good day?” Her sister, June, called from the front desk.

“It was okay.” No point in getting bogged down with details. Lexi grabbed the log to record the stats of the completed tour. Her dad wanted to be kept up to date on the number of customers and the condition of the vans. June sent copies of the log every couple of weeks to his place in Padre Island.

“Just okay?” June leaned into the room, smiling a little cautiously. Lexi’s sister was five years older and a lot more settled. Right now, she wore her office manager’s expression, a combination of sympathy and professional concern.

“Most of the people were fine, but there was one complainer who griped all afternoon.”

“Sorry to hear it, honey.” June’s forehead furrowed. “Did they give you a lot of trouble?”

Lexi shook her head. “I handled it.” Like she handled most things. Although she was sort of tired of handling stuff, truth be told.

She really wanted a day off, although she knew the chances of that were slim. Late September was the last of their high season before the fall slow down. They’d probably get a good weekend or two around Halloween for the special tours at the wineries and the decorations in Konigsburg and the other small towns around it, but then business would drop off until after Thanksgiving, except for the bachelorette parties and the occasional winery weekend.

“Well, I’m sorry anyway. But I’ve got something a lot better for you next week. In fact, I’m pretty sure you’ll just love this.” June’s smile spread wide, but there was still a bit of manager involved.

Lexi fought down a slight shimmer of anxiety. “What is it?”

“We’ve got a contract to provide transportation for a band,” June said triumphantly. “They’re going to be at the Faro for five days, and they’ll be in town for a day before they start their shows. You take them to and from the club and wherever else they need to go. If they want to go for tours, they’ll pay extra. They’re staying at Carmody’s Resort.”

Lexi stared at her. So far as she knew, Markham’s Tours had never been in the transportation business. They did, well, tours. “How did we end up with this?”

“Chico Burnside recommended us. I guess this band normally has a tour bus, but it’s broken down or something. Anyway, Chico said we could handle it. It’s a new possibility. Something we could do besides Hill Country tours to supplement our regular season.”

Lexi took a quick gut check. Was she excited about this possibility? Not especially, even if it did mean a new source of revenue for the company. “Okay, so I’m carting a bunch of musicians around town for a week. Why is this supposed to make my day?”

“Because it’s the Coy Blackburn Band.” June beamed at her.

Lexi ransacked her memory. She didn’t think she’d ever heard of Coy Blackburn. “And Coy Blackburn is…”

“Oh, come on, Lexi. You know Coy Blackburn. He had that song last year about his girlfriend and whiskey and, I don’t know, honky-tonks or something.”

This time Lexi did sigh. “June, most country songs are about women and drinking and honky-tonks.” June was a big country fan. Lexi was more into seventies rock.

“Well, maybe I didn’t remember it right, but you can go on the web and find his stuff for sure. Anyway, he’s sort of famous, beginning to be a big deal. And he’s hiring our van, so you’ll be driving him around. It’ll be fun.” June’s grin was getting that rock-hard manager’s quality again.

“You’re sure you don’t want Esteban to do it? Country musicians might not be crazy about a woman driver.” Lexi wasn’t sure why she wasn’t as enthusiastic as her sister. Probably because the job sounded like it would involve a lot of waiting around.

And maybe because the band was all male, or anyway, she assumed it was. Her point of view was still pretty anti-male at the moment, although she was trying to get over that.

June shook her head. “You’re our best driver, Lex. We both know that. And you’re more familiar with the area than Esteban, so you’ll be able to answer questions. Plus, we’ve got a bunch of women on a girls’ trip who want to go shopping in Marble Falls. Esteban is more their style.”

Esteban was six feet of luscious with a great sense of humor. He’d definitely spice up a girls’ trip. Lexi only hoped he wouldn’t get highjacked by his clients. She also hoped June wasn’t trying to set her up with a country musician or two. Her sister was convinced the cure for one lousy romance was another lousy romance.

Lexi disagreed. “Okay, when does all this start?”

“You pick them up at the Austin airport on Sunday afternoon. They’re flying in from Houston.”

Lexi resisted the urge to sigh once again. Bergstrom Airport on Sunday would be a zoo. “Okay, I’ll get the details from you later. Right now, I’m going off to the Coffee Corral for a BLT. Want to come with?”

June shook her head. “Barry’s due back tonight.”

Barry was June’s husband, a long-haul trucker who was also luscious in his own way. Or anyway, June thought so. “Have fun, then.”

“Oh, we will.” June gave her a grin that was a lot more sincere.

Lexi pushed herself up again, fighting down a touch of envy. Sometimes, she thought it would be nice to have somebody like Barry to come home to. Of course, her own experiment with monogamy hadn’t worked out that well, thanks to Dirty Dennis. “See you, Sis.”

“See you. And Lex?”

She turned for a moment. “Yeah?”

“Look up Coy Blackburn’s music online. You won’t regret it.”

“I will.” She’d do that. Right after she had her BLT and at least one beer.