The Magnolia Inn Page 4

“You got yourself in trouble by picking on me, and Uncle Jasper is the fairest man ever, so don’t blame him,” she said.

Reuben’s torment of her had gone from simply pulling her hair to breaking Aunt Sugar’s dishes and blaming it on her—and even uglier things. She remembered an incident when they were twelve and thirteen. He’d backed her up into the utility room, put a hand on her throat, and run his hand up under her skirt. He’d told her if she ever told on him, he’d catch her down by the bayou and drown her. But she’d told Aunt Sugar, and that was the last time they’d visited the inn at the same time.

“You remember it your way. I remember it mine. At least we won’t be partners in this crazy venture, so we’ll never have to see each other again.” Reuben’s smile radiated meanness.

That’s when Jolene’s touch of evil surfaced—she would have loved to strangle him right there in the IHOP or else throw him in the bayou behind the inn. How did this despicable little rat-faced son of a bitch share DNA with her kind, softhearted uncle Jasper?

Reuben leaned forward and hissed, “Sell your half or live with it. I’m not going into debt for a loan to fix up that old trash heap. I hated the time my folks made me spend there in the summer. I hate fishing, I hate mosquitoes, and most of all, I hated being bored out there in the country. Give me the city and the sounds of civilization rather than owls hooting and tree frogs makin’ noise. I contacted a Realtor the minute I signed the papers, and I pity the fool who has to work with you.” He tilted his chin up and looked down his nose at her. “But don’t worry. You’ve got a place to live until some fool comes along with enough money to buy me out.”

“You’ll regret this someday,” she said.

He slid out of the booth, getting in one last dig before he strutted out of the restaurant. “No, I won’t. Goodbye, Jolene. When my half sells, I’m taking my department on a cruise over spring break. I’m glad that I never have to see Magnolia Inn or talk to you again.”

She shot another drop-dead look toward him. If it had penetrated that ugly black overcoat, he would have been sprawled out right there in front of the cash register. She hoped that he’d get such a case of motion sickness that he couldn’t eat a single bite of food the whole time he was on the ship or, better yet, that he’d fall overboard and not one of his precious friends would miss him. She was glad that they weren’t blood kin, but she wondered how Uncle Jasper would feel when he learned that Reuben had thrown away his half of the Magnolia Inn.

When she left, she wished the restaurant doors would slam like the screen door on the back of the Magnolia, but they didn’t even make a squeak. She stomped across the parking lot to her truck, but her athletic shoes didn’t make a sound, either. So she slammed the truck door and slapped the steering wheel hard.

Her stomach growled—she always got hungry when she was angry, but she and Reuben had met only for coffee. Thank goodness they hadn’t ordered food, because he’d left her with the check as it was. A bowl of leftover beans and a chunk of corn bread back at the inn would have to do for her lunch.

“Happy New Year to me,” she grumbled. “I’ve got a bed-and-breakfast that has barely broke even for the past year because it needs remodeling. I can’t get a loan with no credit in my background, and Reuben is a jackass.”

She started the truck, and the engine purred like a kitten. She kept it maintained even if it did look like crap. It got her from point A to point B with dependability, and that’s all that mattered right then. Maybe the Magnolia would be turning a profit in a couple of years, and that money could replace the old truck.

With the dozen or more bed-and-breakfasts in Jefferson, she’d have to really bill the Magnolia as quaint and quiet since it was five miles out of town. Dozens of catchy phrases came to mind for advertisements, but that took money, and right now, Jolene was so close to broke that she had to pinch every penny twice.

When Aunt Sugar had called to tell her she was going to have half of the inn, Jolene had been so excited that she could hardly sit still. She’d given her notice at the Twisted Rope, the bar she’d worked in since she’d turned twenty-one. Now she had less than a hundred dollars in her checking account, and Aunt Sugar had left enough food in the house to last only two weeks.

She could hope and pray that someone would see the potential in the old place, but until that happened, she had to find a job in order to eat. She knew how to do two things—waitress and tend bar. And she knew of only one bar in Harrison County, Texas, the Tipsy Gator. Dotty’s own property.

“I just hope that she’ll hire me, even though she’ll catch flak from Aunt Sugar if she does. If not, I’ll have to start applying for waitress work.”

She drove north out of Marshall, right past the lane leading back to the inn, and on toward Jefferson. She’d seen the Tipsy Gator only once, and that had been back when she was sixteen, so she had a tough time finding it now. Her folks had let her stay with Aunt Sugar for a whole month that year. The last Sunday she was there, Uncle Jasper put the boat into the bayou and they went fishing.

“What is that?” Jolene had pointed at a blue building trimmed in yellow. She could see a huge sign above the entrance, and it had an alligator propped up in a lawn chair with a beer in his hands.

“That is the Tipsy Gator. It’s a honky-tonk, and I don’t ever want to hear that you went in there. It’s not fit for proper girls, even if Dotty does own it,” Aunt Sugar had answered.

Prev page Next page