The Red-Hot Chili Cook-Off

BOOK: The Red-Hot Chili Cook-Off
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Copyright © 2014 by Carolyn Brown

Cover and internal design © 2014 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover design by Jessie Sayward Bright

Cover images © Alena Rozova/Shutterstock.com; Bea Kraus/iStockphoto.com

Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

All brand names and product names used in this book are trademarks, registered trademarks, or trade names of their respective holders. Sourcebooks, Inc., is not associated with any product or vendor in this book.

Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data is on file with the publisher.

To Margaret A. Brown

For all the encouragement and love

Dear Readers,

Welcome back to Cadillac, Texas!

It's Cadillac at its best…jalapeño peppers, undying friendship, and blistering hot rumors.

I'd like to extend a huge thank-you to Sourcebooks for allowing me to write two more books about the goings-on in Cadillac.
The
Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society Jubilee
came out in 2013 and
The
Yellow
Rose
Barbecue
Ball
will finish the trilogy. And there are no words important enough to express my thanks to my fabulous editor, Deb Werksman, for her awesome help and expertise. Also thanks to my agent, Erin Niumata, who pushed me to try my hand at writing women's fiction. Again, I have to thank my husband for putting up with me while I write
one
more
chapter
. Being the spouse of an author is not an easy job.

I'd also like to thank each of you readers who continues to support me, tell your friends about my books, and share them with other folks and post reviews. Y'all are truly awesome!

So settle in, enjoy the fun, and stir up some chili. Be careful with the cayenne pepper, now.

Until next time,

Carolyn Brown

Chapter 1

Some men are just born stupid. Some don't get infected until later in life, but they'll all get a case of it sometime. It's in their DNA and can't be helped.

Carlene could testify with her right hand raised to God and the left on the Good Book that her husband, Lenny, had been born with the disease and it had worsened with the years. Proof was held between her thumb and forefinger like a dead rat in the form of a pair of bikini underwear. They damn sure didn't belong to her. Hell's bells, she couldn't get one leg in those tiny little things. And they did not belong to Lenny, either. Even if he had become an overnight cross-dresser, his ass wouldn't fit into that skimpy pair of under-britches, not even if he greased himself down with bacon drippings.

They were bright red with a sparkling sequin heart sewn on the triangular front. They'd come with a matching corset with garter straps and fishnet hose. Carlene recognized them, because she'd designed the outfit herself at her lingerie shop, Bless My Bloomers. They belonged to a petite, size-four brunette with big brown eyes who had giggled and pranced when she saw herself in the mirror wearing the getup.

Carlene jumped when her cell phone rang. The ring tone said it was Lenny, but she was still speechless, staring at the scrap of satin in her hand.

She dropped to her knees on the carpet and bent forward into a tight ball, her blond hair falling over her face. She felt as if someone had kicked her firmly in the gut and she couldn't breathe. In a few seconds she managed a sitting position, wrapped her arms around her midsection, and sucked in air, but it burned her lungs. The noise that came forth from her chest sounded like a wounded animal caught in a trap. Tears would have washed some of the pain away but they wouldn't flow from her burning green eyes. Finally, she got control of the dry heaves and managed to pull herself up out of the heap of despair. Dear God, what was she going to do?

The brunette who'd bought the red-satin outfit had told her that she and her sugar daddy were going to Vegas, and she wanted something that would make him so hot he'd be ready to buy her an engagement ring. What was her name? Bailey? Brenda? No, something French, because Carlene remembered asking her about it. Bridget…that was it! Bridget had been to Vegas with Lenny. On how many other trips had he taken a bimbo with him and how many of them had been ten or fifteen years younger—and a size four, for God's sake?

In seconds, the phone rang again. She picked it up and said, “Hello.” Her voice sounded like it was coming from the bottom of a well or, maybe, a sewer pipe.

“Carlene, I left my briefcase in my office. I slept on the sofa to keep from waking you, since I got in so late last night. Bring it to me before you go to work, and hurry. There's a contract in it that I need and the people will be here to sign in ten minutes. I'll hold them off with coffee until you get here.”

No good-bye.

No thank you, darlin'.

Not even a please.

Did he talk to Bridget like that?

Anger joined shock and pain as she dropped the panties back in the briefcase and then removed the little card she'd made for him to find that morning. She'd written that she was sorry she had fallen asleep before he got home and that she'd make it up to him that night with champagne and wild sex. She stood up, straightening to her full statuesque height of just a couple of inches under the six-foot mark. Damn that sorry bastard to hell. How could he do this to her?

Ripping the note into confetti-sized pieces and throwing them in the air did nothing to appease her anger. Dozens of questions ran in circles through her mind. Had Lenny brought his twenty-something-year-old bimbo to her house for a romp on her bed while she was at work? Did that sorry sucker have sex with his mistress at noon and then with his wife that same night? Just how long had the affair been going on, anyway?

Among them all came one solid answer. She was not living in the same house with a lying, cheating, two-timing son of a bitch. She was leaving his ass and nothing or no one could convince her to stay another night under the same roof with him.

Five Red-Hot Chili Cook-Off trophies looked down from the mantle at her. She picked them up one by one and hurled them across the room. Not one of the damn plastic things broke, which made her even angrier, but she didn't go to the garage and get a hammer to work them over. Instead, she turned into a feverish packing fiend. In less than half an hour her van looked like an overflowing Salvation Army donation hut. Clothing and shoes were stuffed into the back like sardines. Plastic grocery bags filled with items from her dresser drawers were stacked in the backseat, and the briefcase sat right beside her on the front seat.

She gave it looks meant to fry holes through the leather, but it just sat there as cool as Lenny. Damn his black soul to hell for all eternity. She hoped that he was given a place sitting naked on a barbed wire fence and every time he fell off the devil shot him with a cattle prod.

From their house in Cadillac, Texas, to Lenny's car dealership in Sherman was exactly seven miles and she made it in a little less than five minutes. If it hadn't been for good brakes on her van, she would have plowed right through the plate-glass windows and rammed into that pretty brand-spanking-new red Corvette in the showroom. Some days started off bad and got worse as they went along.

Tears begged to be turned loose but she blinked them back. Be damned if he'd see her cry or reduced to a heap on the floor, either. It might happen, but he wouldn't bask in the glory of seeing it.

Her hands shook and her jaw ached from clenching her teeth. She took a deep breath and pushed open the door of her van, remembering to grab his briefcase before she slammed the door shut. Her bravado left when she looked through the window and caught sight of him through the glass windows in his office right off the showroom floor. Her stomach churned and nausea set in again. Could a person love and hate someone at the same time?

Her legs felt like they were filled with steel when she pushed open the glass door and headed toward Lenny's office. He looked up from behind his desk and with a flick of his wrist motioned for her to come on in.

She was still staring at him trying to figure out whether to beat him to death with the briefcase or just set it in the middle of the floor and get the hell out of there before she started weeping, when she saw a movement in her peripheral vision.

“Well, hello!” Bridget appeared from behind the Corvette parked just inside the doors. “It's good to see you again.”

Either the woman did not know Carlene was Lenny's wife or she was a fool who'd caught an acute case of stupid from Lenny Joe Lovelle. Either way, she was crazy as hell and didn't value her hair or eyeballs. Anyone with two sane brain cells in their heads could see that Carlene Lovelle was a time bomb with a lit fuse.

Bridget's eyes twinkled and she lowered her voice to say, “The red outfit drove my sweet sugar daddy right up the walls. Honey, we had the honeymoon suite and we didn't hit the blackjack tables one time all weekend. He didn't even leave to go to his business meetings. We spent the whole two days in that big round bed or else in the heart-shaped hot tub. It was our five-month anniversary and he said that he got luckier in that room than he ever did at the gambling tables. I'll be back in to buy something else for the sixth month. We're going to Florida to celebrate my twenty-second birthday as well as our anniversary. I'm thinking naughty nurse so get the bling out and I betcha I get my ring on that trip. Oh, and guess what else? We are both members of the mile-high club now.”

Carlene plopped the briefcase down on the hood of the Corvette and wished that she'd bought one of those shiny metal ones for Lenny's birthday instead of one made of soft kid leather. Hell, if she had a metal one, she really could beat him to death with it, but that fancy leather thing wouldn't even leave bruises.

Bridget's eyes widened out to the size of saucers when she saw the LJL initials on the top of the familiar case and had trouble staying in their sockets when Carlene popped it open. Right there on the top of a big manila envelope were the red panties.

Using a pen with the car dealership logo, Carlene picked up the underpants and threw them at the woman. Then she dumped documents, pens, sticky notes, and everything else in the briefcase onto the tile floor and stomped holes in the papers with her spike heels.

Bridget caught the scrap of red satin and all the color drained from her face. “What are you doing with my panties? And why do you have Lenny's briefcase? Who in the hell are…oh, my, sweet Jesus!” She slapped a hand over her mouth. The panties hung on her pinky finger, and it looked like she was trying to swallow the evidence.

Carlene picked up the empty briefcase and lobbed it like a rocket toward the window between her and Lenny. It lost momentum and didn't even crack the glass but it made him drop like bird shit behind his desk.

“I…I…” Bridget stammered.

Well, praise the Lord, her vocabulary now had two vowels. Maybe by the end of the day, she could add a consonant or two and be able to speak in whole sentences again.

Lenny must've jumped up as fast as he dropped because suddenly he was beside her. “My God, Carlene, what in the hell…oh!” He stopped dead.

His eyes darted from Bridget to Carlene. “I can explain. Bridget, honey, tell Uncle Sam to close the deal with Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds. He'll have to reprint the contracts. And would you please clean up this mess before anyone sees it? Carlene, we'll go discuss this over some coffee in the lounge.”

Then he proved just how damned stupid he was by reaching out and touching her shoulder as if he could charm her into forgiveness. Well, Lenny Joe Lovelle wasn't charming jack shit out of her that morning, and it would be a cold day in hell before she ever forgave him. Even Alma Grace, with all her religion and praying, would agree that the Good Book did not condone adultery or fornication—even though it didn't mention skimpy under-britches.

She doubled up her fist and landed a good right hook in his left eye. He went down on his knees and yelled, “Why in the hell did you do that?”

“Because you touched me, you son of a bitch. If you ever lay a hand on me again, I will snatch you baldheaded and then start on your bimbo over there,” she yelled.

Shit! Had she really raised her voice right out in public like that? Carlene Carmichael Lovelle was a lady who did not air her dirty laundry, but dammit, he'd broken her heart, twisted it up into a pretzel, and now he was acting like it was nothing. She glared at him, hands on hips and back as straight as steel.

Bridget instinctively covered her hair with her hands, the panties now looking like dangly earrings as they floated down from fingertips to shoulders.

He stood up and narrowed his eyes. “Come on, Carlene, we have to talk.”

“You can talk to my lawyer.”

He laid a hand on her shoulder and smiled. “Darlin'…”

She slapped him with her open hand hard enough to put a blaze of red on his cheek, but he didn't drop to the floor. “Dammit, Carlene. You are making a scene.”

“A scene. You want a scene? I'll give you a damned scene that a sugar daddy can appreciate.” She placed the toe of her high-heeled shoe on the bumper of the Corvette and marched up across the hood, leaving dents that looked like hail had peppered down on the pretty red car. When she was standing on the top of it, she looked right at Bridget.

“Bridget,
honey
, you had better never show your face at Bless My Bloomers ever again.”

“Get off that car. You've already done thousands of dollars worth of damage. Sam is going to sue the hell out of you for this,” Lenny shouted.

Sam, a robust man with a rim of gray hair, a belly that hung out over his belt, and five-thousand-dollar eel cowboy boots, rushed out into the showroom. “My God, Carlene, have you lost your mind?”

“She's gone crazy, Uncle Sam,” Lenny said.

“You want to see freakin' crazy? I will show you crazy.” She stepped down to the hood and did a stomp dance. By the time she finished, the showroom was full. She took a deep bow and hopped down from the hood. “When I'm done, you'll be damn lucky to have potatoes with your beans once a week, much less plan little weekend trips to honeymoon suites where you wallow around in a round bed with office girls rather than going to meetings. Dock his pay for the damage, Sam. You'd be wise to fire his ass, but since he's your nephew, that won't happen, will it?”

“Come on, Carlene, it was just a fling. It only happened one time and I'll never do it again,” Lenny whispered.

“Fling! Just a fling?” Bridget's voice was as loud as a fire siren. “You promised me that you were leaving her. You promised me an engagement ring with a two-carat diamond as soon as you left your fat wife. You promised me we would have our own apartment by the time the chili cook-off happens and I could be your cheerleader for the event and you'd hang our picture above all those trophies in your office.”

“Well, he's not leaving his fat wife. I'm leaving his cheating ass and he's all yours. Better keep him on a short leash. He charming, but he's a two-timin' son of a bitch.” Carlene's high heels sounded like fire crackers as she stormed out of the dealership.

She drove until she reached the outskirts of town, pulled over, and laid her head on the steering wheel. That lyin' cheating bag of shit didn't deserve her tears but they flowed down her cheeks anyway as she sat there with the engine running and the air conditioner turning her warm, salty tears as cold as her heart felt.

***

Monday morning was Josie Vargas's favorite time of the week. She'd cooked all weekend, put up with whining grandkids and great-grandkids, sons in her living room arguing about football on the blaring television set, and daughters-in-law sipping iced tea at her kitchen table while they gossiped about people she didn't even know. The most beautiful sight in the world was the taillights as they all went home Sunday night after supper. Maybe by Friday she'd be glad to see them again, but right then she rolled her eyes toward the ceiling and gave thanks that she'd only birthed two sons.

BOOK: The Red-Hot Chili Cook-Off
10.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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