Well, Dotty owns this place, and she’s Sugar’s friend, so why wouldn’t she give Jolene a job? Melanie was back in his head.
Dammit! He should have asked Jolene for more details. He racked his brain trying to bring back the conversation he’d overheard. She’d said that she worked in a bar Friday and Saturday nights. She didn’t say which bar. He had made a rookie detective mistake and assumed it would have to be a club and not the Gator. He started to slide off the stool and simply leave, but it would seem awkward, and besides, he liked this place.
But what about next week? Melanie’s voice whispered. I’ve told you that you shouldn’t be using liquor for an escape.
“Now you talk to me,” he mumbled.
That’s all he got from Melanie, and after another whiskey and Coke from Dotty, he gave his barstool to a guy who’d just arrived. He nodded at Mickey on his way out and bypassed the house when he got home. He sat in the truck for several minutes before he got out, went inside the cold trailer, and slumped onto the sofa.
He finally dumped a dozen pens from a mug that Melanie had given him and poured it full of whiskey. “Who needs a bar?” he muttered.
Sometime after midnight he staggered from the trailer to the house. The key went into the lock, but it wouldn’t turn no matter how many swear words floated away on the cold wind. Finally, he figured out that he was trying to open the door with the key that went to the trailer.
“Well, dammit!” He found the right one and the door swung open.
Sassy met him in the foyer and followed him into his bedroom.
“It’s been a helluva night, Sassy girl,” he slurred as he kicked off his boots. “Did you know that the trailer can be a bar? Well, it can. I got whiskey. I played music on my phone until the battery ran out, and I didn’t even have to plug money into the jukebox. I hate that Jolene is working at the Gator. She’s way too classy for that.”
With one jump the cat was on the bed and curled up on the pillow where Melanie should have put her head. Tucker threw himself backward on the bed and shut his eyes.
When he opened them again, bright sunshine was pouring into the room. Both of his hands went to his face to block out the pain. He flipped over on his stomach and covered his throbbing head with a pillow. It was going to be a long, long day for sure, and he needed coffee—lots of it.
He tossed the pillow away and slung his legs over the side of the bed. With something between a groan and a grunt, he stood up and reached for his jeans, only to realize that he’d slept in his clothes. He padded toward the kitchen for his first cup of coffee with Sassy right behind him.
“Good mornin’,” Jolene said cheerfully.
“What’s so good about it?” he grumbled.
She pulled out a chair. “Sit down.”
“Not before I get a cup of coffee.”
She pointed at the chair. “Coffee is not first. Sit!”
“I’m not a dog,” he argued, but he eased down into the chair.
“One time only,” she said, “you get my famous hangover cure. But only once—so write it down or suffer from now on. The ladies are coming for lunch, and we’re going to have a talk with Lucy about the way she’s acting. You don’t need a headache.”
She picked up a bottle of honey and squeezed it out into a tablespoon until it was almost overflowing. “Open your mouth and take this like medicine.”
“I’ll gag,” he protested.
She moved the spoon toward his lips. He could either open his mouth or honey would drip all the way down his shirt. Not sure if he had another clean one until he did laundry, he opened his mouth. The honey was so sweet that it did almost gag him, but he got it down.
“That’s supposed to work better than coffee?” He didn’t need her bossing him around, and he had his own hangover cure—black coffee and lots of it, and then a couple of aspirin.
“That’s just step one.” She handed him two aspirin and a cup of coffee. “Drink that while I get step three ready.”
“This I can believe in.” He picked up the coffee and downed the aspirin with the first sip.
She folded her arms across her chest and eyed him from toes to nose. “Three will do,” she said.
“Scrambled eggs. You got to figure them by size. Mama took one, but you’ll need three,” she answered as she cracked eggs into a bowl. “You’ve got to be sober because the ladies are having an intervention thing with Lucy today. They were worried about bringing out booze since you drink on weekends, but I told them it would be fine. So it’s going to be.” She raised both eyebrows.
“Yes, ma’am.” Sarcasm coated each word.
There was no way he could eat eggs. They wouldn’t stay down, and he didn’t need to be there while those women had—what was that word she’d used? He tried to think of it, but his head pounded. He almost snapped his fingers in victory when he thought of the word intervention.
“You think you’re magic, do you?” he asked.
“Nope, I’m not magic, but I lived with a drunk long enough to know how to take care of a demon hangover. I did this lots of times for my mother, but you’re not kin to me, Tucker, so I’m only doin’ it once. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for drunks with hangovers, but I want you to be your charming self for my friends this afternoon.”
By the time he’d finished his first cup of coffee, she’d put a plate of eggs and two pieces of toast in front of him. One bite and it was all going to come right back up—he had no doubt. But to prove himself wrong, he shoveled one bite after another into his mouth.
“More coffee?” he asked when he finished.
“Not yet,” she said.
“I need at least one potful, maybe two,” he groaned.
She laid a banana on the table. “Last step. You eat every bite of that and then go take a warm shower. When you come back, you can have another cup of coffee.”
He could feel his nose curling in disgust at the thought of taking even one bite, much less eating the whole thing. “You’ve got to be kidding me—a banana?”
“When the dance ends, it’s time to pay the fiddler. You had your night, and now you need potassium. Eat the banana and then go to the shower. I usually just lined all this stuff up for my mother on the cabinet Friday night. If she wasn’t up by the time I had to go pull a double shift on Saturday, she knew how to do it.”
“So if it works for me, will I find everything on the counter next time?” Dammit! She was beyond cute that morning with her take-charge attitude. Melanie might be right about her being a strong woman who didn’t need his protection.
“No, like I said, this is a onetime deal,” she told him and changed the subject. “Did you sleep in those clothes?”
“Yep.” He peeled the banana and took a small bite. It wasn’t nearly as bad as he’d thought it would be. “And once I get out of them, I’ve got laundry to do. Want to do it together or separate?”
“Might as well save on the water bill and do it together. Mine’s already in the utility room. Bring yours, and we’ll get it sorted after your shower,” she said.
He finished the banana and pushed the chair back. “That is the last step, right? You’re not going to make me eat a toad when I get out of the shower, are you?”
“Never thought of that. It might put more drunks on the wagon than my remedy,” she said. “But to answer your question, yes, that’s the last thing on the list. You can have coffee when you get out. Our ladies will be here with our Sunday dinner in an hour, and believe me, you’ll be hungry by then.”
“We’ll see.” He headed toward the bathroom.
He turned on the water in the shower and laid his clothing on the edge of the sink as he removed each item. By the time he was ready to pull back the curtain and get into the cramped space, the water was hot. He adjusted it, wondering the whole time just how warm he should leave it. So far that crazy remedy of hers was working pretty good. His headache was gone, and he didn’t have a bit of nausea.
Once he finished, he wrapped a towel around his waist and stepped up to the mirror that covered a medicine cabinet above the sink. After he’d shaved, he poured a little Stetson aftershave in his hand and slapped it on his face. Then he combed his dark hair back.
“Time to get it cut or else start wearing a ponytail,” he said. “I’ll be damned! That crazy routine works. I feel good.”
He peeked out the door and made a quick little jog to his bedroom, where he threw off the towel. He put on a pair of jeans that could’ve used a good pressing and found a clean shirt in his duffel bag.
“You think it’s time to bring all my stuff from the trailer, Sassy?” he asked the cat, who’d come back to the extra pillow on his bed.
She opened one eye and then closed it slowly.
“Not even a little meow? I got a partner who can cook and who knows how to cure a hangover. That’s pretty damn good.” Tucker vaguely remembered telling Sassy about his feelings the night before. No wonder she was pissed. She’d been Melanie’s pet, and she sure wouldn’t want to hear about another woman in his life—even if Jolene did let her lie on the kitchen table.
He left his boots behind and carried a basket of dirty clothing through the foyer and the dining room and was headed across the living room floor when he noticed tears running down Jolene’s face. The basket made a thud when he dropped it.
“Is it your aunt Sugar?”
She shook her head and turned her back as she wiped at the tears. “No, just a song on the radio that . . .” Her voice cracked.
He took her by the shoulders and turned her around. “What song? What memory?”
She pulled her phone from the hip pocket of her jeans and hit a few buttons. “It reminds me of my mama. She was in a hotel room when she overdosed, and this was playing on her phone when they found her—over and over again. I should’ve cut her some slack, but I was just a kid and I didn’t understand the darkness or the sadness.”