Authors: Carolyn Brown
ALSO BY CAROLYN BROWN
A Falling Star
All the Way from Texas
The Yard Rose
The Ivy Tree
Lily’s White Lace
That Way Again
Trouble in Paradise
The PMS Club
The Ladies’ Room
Long, Hot Texas Summer
Daisies in the Canyon
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2015 Carolyn Brown
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of
, Inc., or its affiliates.
Cover design by Laura Klynstra
Welcome to Cadillac, Texas, where the jalapeño peppers are the hottest in the state and the gossip is even hotter. As you drive into town, take a look at the sign on the church lawn that says, “Pray for My Daughter. She Needs a Husband.” Then stop by Clawdy’s Café to get lunch. I’m sure they’ll tell you what daughter needs a husband and who had the audacity to put her on the Prayer Angels’ list.
While you are there, be sure to go into Bless My Bloomers and take a peek at their blinged-out lingerie, and they’ll tell you more about Stella Baxter, the lady who needs a husband.
But above all, don’t forget to go down to the Yellow Rose Beauty Shop, where all the action is right now. Stella and her two friends own the beauty shop, and she’s not a bit happy with her mother or with the sign at the church. But it’s there and the gossip is flying about the newest scandal in town, whose name is Stella Baxter and who is no stranger to the hot seat where gossip is concerned! Before the week is over the whole thing will blow up bigger than a class-five Texas tornado, so you might want to stick around for the action.
It takes a village to produce a book. And I’d like to thank the Montlake staff for all their hard work in taking this book from my dream to a reality. To my editor, Kelli Martin, my absolute undying gratitude for the hard work she put in on this to make it a better, stronger book. She deserves a crown made of great big sparkling diamonds. To the publicity crew, y’all are the best of the best. To the folks who designed the cover, OMGoodness, you have outdone yourselves. And to all the behind-the-scenes staff who helped to put this book into my readers’ hands, hats off to you all! To my darling husband, who brings hot tea to my office in the mornings and shuts the door behind him without uttering a word, you are special beyond words. And to all of my readers, who continue to buy my books, talk about them, share them with their friends, and write reviews . . . please know that you are appreciated.
As I finish this, the Christmas season is upon us, but
The Yellow Rose Beauty Shop
is set in July and you will be reading it in the heat of the summer. So find a nice cool spot, grab a glass of ice-cold sweet tea, and enjoy!
All my best,
To my editor, Kelli Martin.
It’s been said that people come into your path for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.
I’m hoping you are in my path for all three.
f Nancy Baxter had known that she was turning loose a major shit storm, she would never have put Stella’s name on the prayer list down at the church in Cadillac, Texas. But she hadn’t had the benefit of hindsight that hot southern night, and she really did want Stella to get married. So when Heather, the president of the Prayer Angels, asked if anyone wanted to add a name to the list, Nancy had spoken right up and said, “Pray for my daughter. She needs a husband.”
The Angels took their spirituality seriously, so the praying began in earnest, and before they were done God had been petitioned by a dozen women to send a husband to Cadillac and to earmark him special for Stella Baxter. No one dared to ask why she needed a husband, but they did have their ideas, which turned into juicy gossip by the next morning.
Stella hummed a song from a Pistol Annies CD when she opened the door to her beauty shop, the Yellow Rose, that Friday morning. She set the control to the air conditioner back a few notches and swept up a few dead crickets from the waiting area in the front part of the shop.
Hair dryers heated up the small room, though customers liked to be cool. If it was this hot the day before the official first day of summer, then by the end of July it would be even hotter than the famous jalapeño peppers they grew in Cadillac, Texas.
The Yellow Rose Beauty Shop had started out fifty years before as a small clothing store, so it had a big display window in the front. It had taken lots of planning when they were designing the shop, but they’d finally decided to use yellow carpet in the display area and put a white cast-iron bistro set in it. A mason jar with three yellow silk roses and Queen Anne’s lace sat in the middle of the table.
They’d left a wide expanse of floor open from the front to the three styling stations at the back. Covered in light-brown tile that shone like glass, it was easy to clean. A soft leather sofa the color of freshly churned butter on one side with a coffee table in front of it took up space on one wall, and a glass-topped table with four chairs around it was across the area on the other wall. Hairstyling magazines were scattered on both tables. Stella stopped long enough to arrange them before she went on back to her station.
To the right of the styling stations, three shampoo sinks with chairs had been installed with a small bookcase separating them from the front area. Above the sinks were posters of her, Charlotte’s,
and Piper’s three favorite movies:
Gone with the Wind
Something to Talk About
. A door led into a back room that had
once been the place where shoes were stored on shelving. Now it held a weathered wooden table with four mismatched chairs around it. The table was used for folding towels, doing paperwork, and/or having lunch. A washer and dryer sat in the corner with a dorm-size refrigerator topped with a microwave beside it. And the shoe shelves now served for perms, hair dye, shampoo, and racks of towels and capes.
Stella checked her reflection in the mirror while she waited on her first customer of the day. Thank God, only her droopy eyes gave away the fact that she’d slept very little in tangled-up, sweaty sheets after a long night of sex in a motel up in Durant, Oklahoma. If someone could look into her face and see both the happiness and the fear, she’d be in big trouble.
If anyone did notice her tired eyes, she’d pass it off as allergies. She would never, ever admit that she’d only slept a few hours between the time she’d gotten off work the day before and that morning when the alarm went off. Not even to her two best friends and business partners, Charlotte and Piper. She pulled her naturally curly red hair up into a messy ponytail and tied a bright purple scarf around it, hoping that Charlotte and Piper would fuss at her for not fixing her hair and not notice her baggy eyes.
“Hey, are you the only one here?” The bell above the door dinged when Trixie Matthews pushed her way inside. “Ahhh, cool air. We’re in for a scorching-hot summer. I love what y’all did with this old building, Stella. It’s light and airy and I feel like I’m in an uptown salon every time I walk in here. I know I’ve said it before, but I wish more businesses would refurbish the old part of town.”
Stella waved her over to a chair. “Maybe they will, but this is just a beauty shop.
sounds like a big-city place. It takes time to rebuild a town when it’s got one foot in the grave and the other on a pod of boiled okra. I was just thinking the same thing about this summer.”
Picking up a cape and shaking the wrinkles out, Stella went on, “We’re due a long, lazy old summer, but it will pass fast and then it’ll be time for the jubilee. Tomorrow is the official first day of the season and the weatherman says that today it’s going to reach the three-digit mark for the first time this year.” She motioned Trixie into the chair. “Have a seat and we’ll get you all fixed up. Cut and highlight, right? So what’s going on with you and your doctor fellow? Have y’all set a date yet? Oh, and speaking of the jubilee, how’s the jalapeño pepper crop coming along?”
Trixie had to hop to get settled into the chair. She pulled off a baseball hat and set her light-brown hair free. She’d always reminded Stella of Ashley Judd in size and looks, but maybe with a few more pounds on her curvy body. “We’re taking it slow. Besides, I don’t have time to plan my own wedding what with all these other ones going on in town. And Cathy keeps those peppers watered every day. I think she might tell them bedtime stories and that’s the secret as to how they get so hot. She might be reading them those erotic romance books that she reads all the time. I read one, and believe me, if she’s reading those to the pepper plants, they’ll be plenty hot this year.”
Stella whipped a black cape around Trixie’s shoulders. “You’ll be the prettiest bride Cadillac has ever seen when you do decide to get married again. And I wouldn’t doubt anything that Cathy does to make those peppers hot. Daddy says they’re the best in the whole world.”
“That is so sweet, but darlin’, I had that big wedding thing once. I don’t want it again. A trip to the courthouse is more down my alley. I hear that you’re on the way to the altar, too. The gossip is hotter than the peppers this morning up at Clawdy’s.”
Stella’s heart stopped and all the color left her face. The purple scarf didn’t even put color into her ashen cheeks.
Trixie reached out from under the cape and touched her arm. “Hey, you look like you saw a ghost. I was just teasing.”
After a couple of good solid thumps, Stella’s heart went back to pumping and high color filled her cheeks. She’d been so careful the past six months, mostly because she didn’t want to jinx something that was so perfect and yet so wrong.
“Why would you think such a thing?” Stella whispered.
“It was the gossip from the breakfast crew at Clawdy’s this morning. They said that Nancy put you on the prayer list last night.”
“I’m not sick. And what does that have to do with marriage?” Stella gasped.
“Maybe you are lovesick.” Trixie laughed.
“I can’t imagine why she’d do that,” Stella said.
“Gossip has it that she just said to pray for you, that you needed a husband, and they prayed. But this morning everyone is speculating about why you need a husband, and if it’s safe to breathe in all these fumes if you are pregnant, and who the father is.”
Stella leaned against the counter. “Oh. My. God.”
The business. Dammit! The beauty shop would fold. They’d only been open a year. “Everyone in town knows?”
“Probably. Didn’t you drive past the church on your way to work this morning?”
Stella shook her head.
Trixie flipped open her phone. “I took a picture.”
“Of the church?” Stella asked.
“Of the sign. See.”
There it was, right on the big white wooden sign located at the edge of the church lawn in black lettering: “Pray for My Daughter. She Needs a Husband.”
Stella blanched then blushed.
“It doesn’t say whose daughter or why, but someone put it out there for the whole world to see. I bet the church is packed this next Sunday so everyone can see for sure who is at the top of the list. Preacher Jed reads it every Sunday before the sermon, remember?”
Stella tried to speak, but words wouldn’t go from brain to mouth. Her face burned. Her hands shook so bad that she laid the scissors down and ran a comb through Trixie’s hair. No way would she trust herself to cut hair until she settled down.
“I’d be pissed if I was you,” Trixie said.
Piper came through the back door into the shop. “Who’s pissed? They can join my club since I’m permanently pissed. Hey, Stella, have you seen the billboard in front of the church? I saw it when I took the boys to day care. Who’s got a pregnant daughter in town?”
Instead of a hairdresser, Piper could have been a plus-size model with her height, sexy curves, and big brown eyes. She pulled off a baseball hat and shook out a thick mane of gorgeous honey-blonde hair that fell into soft curls around her face without a bit of styling. She sat down in her swivel chair, threw one long leg decked out in bright-yellow leggings over the other, and adjusted the collar of a flowing sleeveless blouse printed with huge sunflowers.
Piper looked from Trixie to Stella. “What’s going on? I don’t think it’s ever been this quiet in the shop. The crickets are even quiet.”
“Shhh.” Trixie put a finger over her lips. “She’s about to explode. I can feel it.”
“What happened?” Piper whispered.
Trixie adjusted the cape over her lap. “Nancy put Stella on the prayer list down at the church last night. She’s the daughter who needs a husband.”
“Holy shit! I told you it was a bad idea to come back here. And what happens when we do? Gene divorces me. Charlotte gets all serious about her knitting again. And now you are pregnant. I bet Nancy is ready to do more than shoot you.” Piper finally took a deep breath.
“I am not pregnant!” Stella raised her voice. This could not possibly have happened at a worse time. What in the hell was her mother thinking?
“Then why would Nancy think you need a husband? Not that she and I are in agreement on that issue. God only knows if I’d known then what I know now, I damn sure wouldn’t have married Gene Stephens when I got pregnant with the twins. Hell, no! I would have just raised them by myself and saved myself the misery. Okay, fess up. Why did Nancy do that?”
Trixie answered, “Morning gossip up at Miss Clawdy’s Café says that Nancy wants a grandbaby by Mother’s Day, which means that Stella should have a husband by the first week in August. Evidently she wants a legitimate grandbaby.”
“That’s right before your birthday, Stella,” Piper said.
“Who’s getting a grandbaby by Mother’s Day?” Charlotte called out from the back door.
“Did you drive past the church this morning?” Piper asked.
Charlotte tucked her purse into the cabinet in front of the chair where Stella sat and carried her knitting bag to the sofa. She pulled out a set of circular needles and six inches of pale-yellow baby blanket. “Yes, I did, and what does that sign mean? Who’s pregnant? Who is getting a baby by Mother’s Day? Boone and I’ve decided to wait two years to get pregnant. Mama says that I shouldn’t start a family when I’m past thirty, but if we wait two years then I’ll only be twenty-nine when the baby comes. Now, would somebody please tell me whose daughter needs a husband because she’s pregnant?” Charlotte asked.
“Nancy’s,” Piper said.
Charlotte flipped around, wide-eyed, and slapped a hand over her mouth. “You are pregnant? You didn’t tell us you were dating. Dear Lord, you are as pale as a sheet. Have you had morning sickness yet?”
Stella stood up and started to pace. “Some friends you are. I’ll say it one more time—I’m not pregnant. I can’t believe Mama did this. She’s lived here her whole life and she knows how folks talk. This could ruin our business. You know what small-town gossip can do. We don’t need a scandal like this.”
“Settle down. It’ll blow over in a couple of days,” Piper said.
Stella kept pacing, fighting back the tears welling up behind her eyelids. “The town is barely big enough for two beauty shops as it is, and we’ve just now got things built up and . . .” Her voice got louder with each word. The lump in her throat was bigger than a grapefruit, and no matter how hard she swallowed, it would not go down.