Best of Texas Book Award for Historical Romance: Comfort Plans by Kimberly Fish

Letters may hold the secret to buried treasure, and she has to decide if she has the courage to fight for her future.

Comfort Plans by Kimberly Fish has received the Best in Texas Book Award for Historical Romance. The award is presented by the Texas Association of Authors.

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Kimberly Fish

The Story:

Colette Sheridan is being remodeled. As a San Antonio architect, she’d have vowed her career was to investigate the history and create new functions for the structures everyone else saw as eyesores.

The old German farmhouse in Comfort, Texas, might be the screeching end of that dream job. The assignment seemed so ideal at the start; generous clients, a stunning location, and a pocketful of letters that were surely meant to explain the ranch’s story.

All that goodness crashed louder than a pile of two-by-fours when her grandfather announced he’d lured Colette’s ex-husband back to San Antonio to take over the family architecture firm.

Now, not only does Colette have to endure the challenges posed by Beau Jefferson, the client’s handpicked contractor, a house that resists efforts to be modernized, and letters that may hold the secret to buried treasure, but she also has to decide if she has the courage to fight for her future.

Sampler from Chapter 1:

This particular February Saturday started as any other ordinary Saturday, and almost all of Colette Sheridan’s Saturdays were ordinary. Coffee on the ruler wide deck of her cozy apartment, a thorough read of the San Antonio Express News, enough housekeeping to keep her living room from soliciting rude comments from her relatives, and the brunch buffet at La Fogata’s with her mother. This afternoon was an almost perfect example of the equanimity one could enjoy when one had few responsibilities.

So, it took immense focus as she latched onto the remnants of that bliss while pinning pearls to her ears and listening to her grandfather repeat his disappointment.

“Colette, there isn’t time for shenanigans anymore. You spend hours telling me why you can’t be president of our family firm, and I need to hear you tell me why you can.” He wheezed. “It’s now or never.”

He wasn’t going to be cajoled with her usual list of numbered and sub-pointed reasons detailing why a junior architect, who never actually took her Architectural Registration Exam, was ill-suited to run a fifty-year-old, architecture firm on the riverbanks of downtown San Antonio. She checked her watch—not that she didn’t already know that she was late for her DuPaul cousin’s wedding, but sometimes Nathan Sheridan needed an object lesson. “I am leaving in ten seconds.” She turned on the tea-stained heel, dyed to match the chiffon dress that made her look anemic and sleep deprived. “There’s no time to get into another round of this now. You know the legalities.”

“And you could still take the test!”

Though her grandfather’s face flushed with color, that wasn’t the reason she hesitated in rehashing familiar terrain. Not entirely, though she had seen him hesitate after crossing his manicured lawn and measuring the stairs up to her door above his three-car garage, and that was a red flag regarding a man who’d perfected stair-master before it was chic. She didn’t want to argue with him about becoming president of the firm because, in typical Sheridan fashion, her grandfather had glossed over the significance of this week.

His twig-like fingers clasped her arm with a strength that belied his eighty years. “I’m bringing in someone else.”

If only, she wanted to mutter. He’d been teasing this moment for two summers and she’d long since accepted that, despite his age, her grandfather didn’t make a choice because he didn’t really want to retire. Colette stepped away from his grasp as she reached for the evening purse she’d bought on her honeymoon. “Goodbye, G Daddy. Don’t forget to lock the door behind you.”

Probably the only reason she’d kept the little satin bag with the bejeweled clasp was that it was the most glamorous souvenir she’d ever bought. With no time to reminisce, she stuffed in the bride’s choice of a lilac lipstick—a shade destined to make her look ghoulish—and added breath mints, tissues, keys, and her phone. The sapphire-and-garnet clasp pinched her finger, and she winced with the sting to both her skin and her memories.

Glancing at her grandfather from under her lashes, she gave him a wide berth as she made for the door. “Don’t wait up for me either. Aunt Cissy has planned a reception that includes a midnight breakfast.”

He groaned. Whether at the name of her mother’s sister or her general lack of regard for his news, she wasn’t sure. Her mother’s people were something of a sore subject for a man who could trace his lineage back to the Tudors. Holding the chiffon from snagging on the wooden railing leading down to the lawn, she smiled. Maybe she’d gotten to the point in her life where she could let her grandfather’s bias roll off her back. She’d matured.

“Colette,” her grandfather called from the deck. “This is important. I need you to go with me to the airport tomorrow to meet him. It’s the least you can do. And it would be better suited to ease you into the shock of my hiring someone else.”

“I believe I mentioned that there will be mimosas at midnight. I’m not going to be in any shape for a meet and greet.” Reaching for the door of her old, box-styled Volvo, she added with some hopefulness, “You could ask Raul to go with you.”

“Raul is an imbecile.”

She couldn’t imagine what the firm’s accountant had done lately, but it must have been serious.

“Okay, well,” she stalled, thinking of another way to get out of meeting the candidate who was destined not to make the cut, if for no other reason than his last name wasn’t Sheridan. The real reason this was all an exercise. As her foot landed on the pebbled driveway, she knew she was either going to irritate her grandfather or be late to the wedding. She’d take her chances with her grandfather. Brides had a better grip on their memories. “I’ll see you on Monday.”

Daggers radiated into her back. There’d be a series of colorful text messages between now and the time her cousin said, “I do.”

Scooping up a handful of chiffon, Colette scooted across the leather driver’s seat and wondered if her grandfather followed-through with a candidate, if a new president at Sheridan’s would gain much traction in the market. The boutique firm specialized in historical restoration and had a niche in South Texas. Since Nathan Sheridan was the guru of that style, she doubted anyone would ever replicate the success her grandfather had maintained in an industry that could change on the whims of the stock market.

Point number twelve for why he needed to groom a stronger replacement.

She backed out of the driveway but stole one last glance at the man who never went a day without Brylcreem. His custom-tailored shirt was rolled at the sleeves, and he was wearing his dress slacks on a Saturday night. The Big Ben of her world—he was classy, reliable, and just as unbending as any national monument London had ever produced.

He was flagging her to roll down her window.

Colette cranked the window below her nose. “Yes?”

“Aren’t you at all curious who I’ve finally selected to manage my empire?”

Empire was a bit of a leap. The last quarter-profits weren’t anything to get excited about. “Knowing that you would scour the face of the earth to find someone worthy of the Sheridan name and that it’s taken you years since the last serious candidate, I’m hopeful this man is capable of carrying your legacy forward.”

“That’s a lot of faith from the girl who questioned me about the wisdom of maintaining my breakfast ritual at Earl Abel’s.”

He did have a nasty habit of smothering all forms of nutrition with sausage gravy, which was another reason to force him into a doctor’s appointment.

“I’m looking out for your general health because I want you to hang around and torment me for years to come.” Which was true. She adored her resident curmudgeon and delighted in being one of the few people in the world who could make him laugh.

His lips turned down even more than usual. “I’m one of the short timers, which is why I want to know that you and my firm are going to be in good hands.”

She shivered. “Don’t talk like that. You know what Momma says about positive thinking.”

“Your mother is a flake.”

Colette sighed and knew she’d be even later to this wedding than was acceptable. “I can see you want to tell me who you’ve hired, so what’s his name? Or am I supposed to guess based on last month’s Architectural Digest article about the ‘it guy’ from Los Angeles?”

She’d seen her grandfather poring over those pages like they were printed in gold leaf. She hadn’t seen anything brilliant when she’d snatched the article from the breakfast table, but her inability to see modern trends was another excuse she’d offered as to why she’d make a lousy president of the firm.

He stuffed his fists into the pockets of his wool trousers. “I just don’t want you to be blindsided on Monday. That’s why I wanted you with me at the airport. In my own way, I’m looking out for you.”

She studied the set to his eyes. There were new grooves in the lines fanning out from his mouth. He was practically an edifice for Piccadilly Circle.

“It’s Julian,” he said with the barest hint of a stutter. “I’ve brought Julian to the firm.”

Julian.

Only one Julian was on a first-name basis in this family, and that was the man she’d married during a crazed spring break her last semester of college.

And divorced eight years ago to the day.

This had to be a joke. The worst joke, no less, and one she’d make her grandfather pay for—but still, why mention Julian’s name now? Wasn’t her ex-husband fawning over clients in Singapore or Bangladesh or somewhere far, far away from San Antonio? She’d like to think she could remember, but a red haze had formed over her eyes, and she wasn’t confident she could control her reactions.

“He’s the most logical choice, Colette. No one knows the restoration business better than Julian.” Nathan drew in an uneven breath. “Except for you.”

“That’s not true. Even Raul knows as much as me. He’s been here longer.”

“You know I need a top-drawer candidate to lead this firm into the future.”

HaDouble haha! There were other words Colette knew she should latch on to, but looking at the resolve on her grandfather’s face made conversation irrelevant. A Sheridan didn’t make rash decisions and certainly didn’t announce it without it being fait accompli. Hadn’t that been drilled into her every time her choices landed her in trouble? What she didn’t know, couldn’t even begin to fathom, was why her grandfather would say something so ridiculous, so radical, so . . . heartless. Today.

Julian.

Of all the people, in all the world, in need of an executive position, why did it have to be him?

She threw the transmission into reverse, spewing crushed gravel from the drive like she was at Indianapolis. The face she hadn’t seen since he’d signed his name to their legal demise beamed onto her windshield. She ran the red light at Wiltshire and New Braunfels Avenues.

Eight years.

Colette hoped Julian had lost his glossy hair and gained fifty pounds. Maybe he was married to a shrew.

Eight years! She squeezed the life out of her steering wheel as she screeched onto Broadway and nearly sideswiped a minivan.

This was most definitely not an ordinary Saturday.

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