Texas & Tiaras by Melissa Storm & K.M. Hodge

  • Women's Fiction
  • 72,000 Words
  • Drama & Mystery

Nobody in Herald Springs can believe that their small town served as the scene for a major criminal showdown. With the events of the annual gala behind them, they just want to get back to their normal lives, but the members of the local “drink and gossip club” know the drama is far from over.

Brooke’s got a stalker, Annabeth has a criminal mastermind bent on her destruction, and even Vi is being taken for a ride by someone she thought was her friend. If only they could turn to each other for help, things might not be so bad—but with the women at odds with one another and only Jesse in good graces with the rest of the group, that isn’t likely to happen any time soon.

Their world is going to hell in a hand basket, so why not throw a party to brighten everyone’s mood? With Ligia’s help, Brooke arranges a charity beauty pageant the town won’t soon forget, especially when the bad guys show up and attempt to finish what they started earlier that year…

Read an Excerpt

The cool metal revolver felt light in Brooke’s hands, far too fragile a thing to claim a life. But here they were—again—the sinister man threatening two of the people she loved most in the world. Her shooting without a moment’s hesitation. 

Bang! Swack! Thud!

First the bullet, then the spray of blood, then the sickening thump of two bodies falling to the earth. He was dead, which was good. But Vi had gotten caught in their crossfire, which was bad. Ligia lay passed out on the ground, and Brooke couldn’t tell whether she was still breathing. Oh no…

Brooke had always delighted in power, having it, taking it from others, showing off all that she could accomplish with a simple flick of the wrist.

But now that power took on a whole new gravity. She could take a life, and she had. He was the bad guy. He wanted to hurt her friends, and she had stopped him. So then why did she feel so guilty? Why couldn’t she escape this single moment in time that haunted her night after night, stealing the rest she so desperately needed for both herself and the child growing within her womb?

She’d made it to the second trimester now. Twelve weeks and counting, which meant it was time to tell the world. Only she couldn’t even bring herself to tell her own husband. For as much as she feared herself these days, she feared him even more. Brian hadn’t raised a hand to her again since the night of the gala, but the sting which had long faded from her cheek couldn’t be erased from her memory. If he’d hurt her before, would he definitely hurt her again, or was it possible that it had truly been a one-time thing?

She wished she could ask her social worker friend Vi, but Vi hadn’t spoken to her since the shooting. Why couldn’t her BFF just accept that the stray bullet had never been intended for her? Understand that without Brooke’s fast action, Vi would have gotten hurt much worse or killed even?

Nothing about the fallout from that night had been fair. Sure, Brooke had emerged as a local hero. Once word had spread that she would do anything to make sure a party went off without a hitch, including bringing any would-be bad guys to their knees with a well-placed bullet or two, Parties by Brooke built up a waiting list a mile-long.

On top of all of this, reporters staked out her front lawn for weeks after the big showdown, hoping to score some new scoop or soundbite and thus boost sales of their flagging publications. Brooke was more famous than she’d ever even hoped she could be. But instead of basking in the spotlight, she’d found herself shunning the attention the press and the residents of Herald Springs lavished on her. As much as she wanted to scream that she wasn’t quite the hero they all thought her to be, she just couldn’t confess how much her foolish bravery had cost her.

And all that had led to now, this moment in time. Brooke snapped awake, just as the bullet crashed into Vi a second time. Her friend had only taken a single hit that night, but the truth had little bearing on the nightmares that Brooke had relived ever since. She rolled over in bed with her eyes squeezed shut, afraid to open them just in case it all hadn’t been a dream, in case somehow she’d returned to that hellish moment, had to see the look of betrayal on Vi’s pinched features all over again, to realize that, in that single moment, she’d lost more than she ever realized she could.

How many times must a woman repent? Brooke didn’t know, and Vi wasn’t exactly jumping at the chance to tell her. A month—more than thirty days—had passed since then, and her friend still hadn’t forgiven her. Heck, Brooke hadn’t even forgiven herself. She knew how to handle a gun. She shouldn’t have clipped Vi when going for the assailant.

Finally, she eased her eyes open and noted the glowing red four on her alarm clock. Four-something in the morning had become her new wake-up time, and she hated it. The dark circles under her eyes couldn’t be hidden by even her best makeup tricks, and since she was pregnant she was limited to one measly cup of coffee and zero sweet, life-saving glasses of wine each day.

This baby had been something she wanted so much—for her, for Brian, for their marriage. But now that a baby was actually on the way? She felt terrified of the possibilities. Would Brian calm down and be good to her again? Would he make a caring and responsible father? And did she even want to be a mother anymore? She wasn’t entirely sure, and she knew better than to pull at that particular thread, lest her whole world begin to unravel. 

Thread, hmm… Maybe she could pick up sewing or knitting or quilting or some other sickeningly pedestrian hobby to help keep her mind busy. She couldn’t drink, she didn’t enjoy her work or home life, and her best friend wouldn’t talk to her. What else was there? At least with a craft she could measure her day in stitches rather than times she felt like breaking down in tears from sheer disappointment.

Go to Jo-Ann Fabrics. Pick up knitty stuff, she typed into her task list for the day. Always look busy, she reminded herself. Don’t let them know you’re drowning. Just keep swimming.

Oh, that reminded her—Princess Tiara, her prize Pomeranian, had run out of water last night, but Brooke had been too tired to fill her bowl then. Spotting the little gold dish across the room and confirming it was still empty, she began to search around for her furry bestie.

“Ti-Ti,” she whispered as she lifted up the cover that lined the dog bed. But Tiara wasn’t there.

“Ti, Ti!” she called a little louder, praying that it wouldn’t wake Brian or Ligia. If she accidentally woke her husband early on a court day, there would be no forgiveness. And while she didn’t think he’d hurt her again, she also didn’t want to test that theory. As for Ligia, well… waking her up any time before noon always proved disastrous. As much as Brooke loved her goddaughter, she knew the girl needed her beauty sleep both for her face and her personality.

“Tiara!” She clicked her tongue playfully. “Where’s Mommy’s princess?” That’s when she heard a soft whimper and scratching at the back door. Brooke padded through the house and slowly creaked the door open. In ran her little floof, who immediately stood up on her hind legs and stretched her front paws on Brooke’s knees, begging to be picked up and cuddled.

She was slightly chilly to the touch, as if she’d been outside for a long time. But Tiara had been in the house when Brooke went to bed, and Brian generally liked to pretend the little dog didn’t even exist, so wouldn’t have let her out. What was going on? She thought briefly about waking Brian to ask him, but then decided that she’d just make sure Ti had her electric collar on before bed.

She hated making her wear that stupid, ugly collar for the shock fence, which is why most of the time Brooke accompanied Tiara whenever she wanted to go out. But Tiara loved to feel the earth under her paws and routinely burrowed under the fence to run down to Vi’s or Jesse’s house for extra pettings. Brian had suggested adding the electric fence as well, because he didn’t want to risk any possible suits should “that little mutt of yours” go feral. Which made it that much stranger that he had left her outside for the night.

Brooke cried as she fastened the ugly red collar beneath Tiara’s pretty pink one. “What would I do if I lost you, Ti?” she sobbed. “I’ve already lost Vi. You’re the only friend I have left.”

As if to disagree, her phone buzzed from its perch on the counter. 

Hey, toots. You up?

Jesse. She still had Jesse.

Couldn’t sleep, she texted back.

Wanna go for a run? Today’s a 6k day.

Brooke’s stomach roiled at the suggestion, but she had promised to help Jesse train for his first Ironman triathlon, and she didn’t want to let him down. Of course, he didn’t know she was pregnant or he wouldn’t push her so hard toward their shared fitness goals.

Meet you at the stop sign?

See you in 5.

Okay, so she had Tiara, she had Ligia for the latter half of each day, and she still had Jesse, too. Now she just needed to make sure she hung on to them as hard as she could, no matter what she had to risk, to keep from losing everything. 

She thought about shooting a quick text to Vi, but knew it would break her if Vi still refused to answer. So how could she make herself Vi’s knight in shining satin? A smile curled on her face as she thought of the perfect solution to her problems. Because, after all, if she could win Vi back, her life just might return to normal. She just might be able to make it through a day without breaking down again.

Your move, Vi.

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