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Any Luck at All first two chapters!

Any Luck at All 
Asheville Brewing #1
September 22, 2020

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“How much longer is this going to take?” Prescott Lee Buchanan said in a condescending tone, his fingers drumming on the conference table.

Georgie Buchanan knew that drumming all too well. She’d lived with it for her entire childhood.

“The attorney said we’re waiting on something,” she told her father.

“I don’t understand why we’re even here for the will reading,” Georgie’s baby sister, Adalia, moaned. “I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen Grandpa Buchanan. The last time was over a decade ago. He’s not going to leave us anything. I heard his brewery’s basically worthless.”

Georgie’s brother, Lee, who was the middle child but always acted like he was the most important one, shot Adalia an irritated glare. “Unfortunately, Adalia, life isn’t a free-for-all. Sometimes there are duties and obligations, and they’re not always fun and games.”

Adalia slapped her ink-stained hand on the table and leaned forward. “I know you don’t think much of my life, Junior, but at least I’m not Dad’s puppet.”

“That will be enough, Adalia,” Prescott snapped. Then he turned to Lee. “Junior, go and see what’s taking so long.”

Irritation flickered in Lee’s eyes. Georgie knew how much he hated to be called Junior, and if he jumped up to do their father’s bidding, he’d be proving Adalia’s point.

Lee’s girlfriend, Victoria, stood with a grace that made Georgie feel like a backwoods hick, which was saying something since Georgie had created and built a company that she’d just sold for five million dollars. Of course, her father would argue that a company that sells feminine products was nothing to brag about.

Victoria gave Prescott a smile that suggested a comradery Georgie had never shared with her father. “I’ll get answers,” she said in a commanding tone that was probably reassuring to her clients but was grating on Georgie’s nerves. “Professional courtesy.”

The woman, a corporate attorney who was tall and skinny enough to be a supermodel, walked out of the room, her gray pencil skirt so tight Georgie wondered how she could walk at all.

“They have high-priced call girls here?” Adalia asked in a dry tone.

One of the men sitting at the opposite end of the table covered his mouth with his hand, but Georgie could tell he was trying to hide his laughter. He’d walked in after she was seated and she’d let her gaze linger on him for longer than was polite. Tall, dark, and handsome was definitely Georgie’s type, and it had been far too long since her last boyfriend. Still, the reading of her grandfather’s will hardly seemed like the place to pick up a guy.

“Have you no impulse control at all, Adalia?” Lee demanded, the veins in his neck bulging.

“There’s something to be said for saying how you feel instead of keeping it all bottled up inside,” Adalia said with a smirk. Then she glanced back at Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Handsome and the people around him. “Am I right?”

There were a handful of people Georgie didn’t recognize at the table. A man wearing jeans and a button-down shirt who looked to be in his late fifties. A middle-aged Latina woman wearing a simple floral dress. The smirking man, who looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties, wore a black suit that was obviously off the rack and not tailored like Prescott’s and Lee’s. The man who sat next to him was around the same age, dressed in khakis, a button-down shirt that still had creases that hadn’t quite been ironed out from the packaging, and a cheap black tie. He sat stoically in his chair, mostly watching her father but occasionally sneaking glances at her and her siblings. And in the center of them all, at the head of the table opposite Georgie’s father, sat the one non-Buchanan person Georgie recognized, an elderly woman with short, curly lavender hair, who had on a bright pink business suit that looked like it was straight from the 1980s, shoulder pads and all. Dottie Hendrickson was dressed just as colorfully as she had been when Georgie had met her a few weeks ago at her grandfather’s brewery.

When Georgie had asked the legal assistant about all the nonfamily newcomers who’d shown up for the reading of the will, the woman had said, “He bequeathed a few odds and ends to them.”

They’d all sat at the opposite end of the room, as if Prescott had sectioned off a kids’ table for them. Of course. Prescott was flanked by his three children in their finest black attire: Georgie and Adalia on one side—with an empty chair between Georgie and her father—and Lee and Victoria on the other, Lee glued to his father’s side, of course, and Victoria’s vacated seat next to him.

Of the Buchanan contingent, Georgie was the only one who’d seen Beau at all in recent years. She’d paid him a visit a few weeks ago, at his request. He’d called to congratulate her on the sale of her company, something her own father had still not done, and invited her to come to Asheville in the near future. Something in his voice had told her the visit should come sooner rather than later, and with no new project yet in the works, she’d made an impulsive decision (not her usual) and hopped on a plane. He hadn’t looked like the picture of health, but then again, he’d been in his late eighties. Still, she hadn’t expected him to die so quickly.

During her two-day visit, he’d taken her on a tour of Buchanan Brewery, the oldest brewery in Asheville, North Carolina, a city which had become a hotbed for beer brewing…and apparently left Buchanan Brewery in its dust. The equipment was old, some of the staff even older, including the woman currently holding court opposite Georgie’s father. Dottie was the tasting room manager.

Dottie smiled at Georgie now, her eyes twinkling as though she was privy to an amusing secret.

Georgie’s back stiffened. Wait. Was she?

She was about to say something to her father, but Victoria and an older man with salt-and-pepper hair—Georgie’s grandfather’s estate attorney—walked in arm in arm, smiling and laughing as though they’d been close for ages.

Georgie wanted to gag.

She’d been in the business world long enough to know a woman could get ahead either by flirting her way to the top or becoming a hard-ass who took no crap.

She’d gone the latter route.

So why did she still let her father and brother walk all over her?

Georgie didn’t have time to think about it because the attorney walked in with Victoria and escorted her to her leather chair, pulling it out for her to sit down.

“Thank you for your patience,” the man said as he moved to an empty seat in the middle, standing behind the chair. “For those of you who don’t know, I’m Henry Manning, Beau Buchanan’s attorney, and everyone present has been mentioned in the will. Again, thank you for your patience, but we had to be certain we had everything in order before we began.”

“I still don’t understand the need for all the pomp and circumstance,” Prescott grumbled. “Just hand us a copy of the will and be done with it.”

The attorney gave Prescott a tight smile. “These were the wishes of your father, Prescott. I am merely his instrument.”

The way he held Georgie’s father’s gaze suggested the two men had already made an acquaintance and it hadn’t gone well.

The assistant Georgie had spoken to earlier walked in, carrying a legal box with a lid. She set it down on the console table behind Mr. Manning.

“Before we begin,” the attorney said, “can I get anyone anything to drink? Water? Coffee?”

Will you just read the damn will already?” Prescott demanded.

To his credit, Mr. Manning ignored him and turned to the people at the opposite end of the table.

“Water sounds like a good idea,” Dottie said, getting to her feet. “Everyone needs water.”

“We don’t need water,” Prescott said, tugging at his tie. “We need to find out what the old man said, and then get out of here so I can start making arrangements to sell off the brewery.”

Dottie’s smile momentarily froze, then got bigger. “Nonsense. You’ve all had a very long day, what with your mourning at the funeral and all. Water’s just what you need.”

The mourning comment was a not-so-carefully concealed jab. Georgie had been the most upset, but to be fair, none of her siblings had really known the man. Their father had made sure of that.

For some reason, her gaze shot to the handsome man in the ill-fitting suit. His jaw had a firm set, and all vestiges of humor had fled from his face. Their eyes met for a moment, and Georgie shifted her gaze, unnerved by the judgment she saw there.

Dottie turned to face the attorney. “Henry, I’ll just go fetch some glasses.”

Henry, Georgie thought. Interesting. She clearly knew him as more than a passing acquaintance. Either that, or she was at an age where she didn’t stand on ceremony. Georgie suspected it was some combination of the two.

“We don’t need water!” Prescott shouted, his face turning red.

“Just let the woman get some water,” Lee groaned, pushing his chair back from the table.

Dottie headed for the door but stopped and pinched Prescott’s cheek. “Patience, my boy. You never really understood the concept, but you’re not too old to learn it now.”

She walked out of the room as every member of the Buchanan family stared at her in shock. She’d dared to touch the Prescott Buchanan.

Georgie couldn’t remember the last time she’d physically touched her father, and she struggled to hide a grin at the woman’s outrageousness.

“This is ridiculous,” Prescott sneered. “No one needs water!”

“I need water,” Adalia said, tilting her head and giving her father a mischievous look.

“I could use some water,” the Hispanic woman said in a small voice.

“Who are you again?” Georgie’s father demanded.

“You’ll find out soon enough,” Mr. Manning said, a fine sheen of perspiration covering his forehead. He pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed at the sweat, then stuffed it back into his pocket. Another second ticked by, and he lifted his arm to look at his watch even though there was a clock on the wall next to him.

Georgie’s father glared at everyone while Lee was visibly annoyed, and Adalia looked like a cat who’d not only eaten the canary but a couple of chickens too. Victoria appeared bored, but she arguably always looked that way. Georgie just wanted this over with. Her family was definitely showing the rest of the room how they put the fun in dysfunction.

Dottie returned a couple of minutes later carrying a pitcher of water, while a woman trailed behind her with a tray full of glasses.

“Now, give everyone a glass,” Dottie instructed. “Everyone, whether they say they want one or not.”

The woman began to set them in front of people, starting with Georgie, then Adalia, and moving around the table. Dottie followed her, pouring water into each glass. She’d gotten halfway around the table and was just about to run out when a man walked in with another pitcher.

“If you had to insist on water,” Prescott sneered, “couldn’t you at least have gotten water bottles?”

“Water bottles?” Dottie asked with a chortle. “Well, aren’t you the funny man?”

Georgie burst into laughter, drawing shocked looks from both of her siblings. But she couldn’t help it—she’d never once heard anyone refer to her father as funny.

“See?” Dottie said, taking the pitcher and continuing to pour. “Even Georgie knows how silly that was.”

Georgie continued to laugh. The idea of someone calling Prescott Buchanan both funny and silly was too preposterous to bear.

Or maybe the stress of it all was getting to her.

“Georgie,” Adalia said in a concerned tone as she rested her hand on Georgie’s forearm. “Are you okay?”

She nodded as she wiped tears from her face.

“Look what you’ve done, Prescott. Now the poor girl’s crying.” Dottie tsked, continuing to move around the table. “She’s grieving over the damage those bottles do to the earth.” She stopped and shot Prescott a glare. “Plastic is the devil’s mischief. Don’t you forget it.” Then she gave Georgie a knowing look. “Georgie girl gets it.”

“Georgie girl?” Lee asked. “Just what were you doing down here to earn a nickname, Georgie?”

“You were down here?” Adalia asked. “In Asheville?”

Georgie cringed. “Grandpa Beau asked me to come visit.”

“When?” Adalia demanded.

“A few weeks ago.”

The hurt look on Adalia’s face said she was upset Lee had known and she hadn’t. Not that she ever picked up any of Georgie’s calls.

“Now, now,” Dottie said, pouring water into Lee’s glass. “All this squabbling isn’t healthy.” She set the pitcher down on the table, then reached into her pocket and pulled out a crystal. Setting it on the table, she began to wave her hand over it, as if wafting its essence toward Prescott. “Let’s get rid of some of that negative energy.”

“What the hell are you doing?” Prescott demanded, rolling his chair back so hard it hit the wall. The clock overhead fell off and landed in his lap.

Dottie pursed her lips and shook her head as she eyed him with a worried look. “That’s a bad omen. I told you that you should learn more patience.”

Then she walked back to the end of the table and resumed her seat, leaving the pitcher on the edge of the table between Prescott and Lee.

Prescott picked up the wall clock and stared at it as though intimidating it to give him an explanation for daring to jump off the wall and into his lap. Pushing out a breath of frustration, he put the clock on the conference table. “Can we please get this going?”

Mr. Manning’s entire face was red and covered in sweat, but he nodded to his assistant.

She opened the lid and handed the attorney several pages stapled together.

“Beau had a trust,” he said, loosening his tie, “but he thought it might be easier for some of you to digest the terms if they were delivered in his own words.”

That suggested the will might not be as straightforward as her father expected. Georgie wasn’t sure whether to be thrilled or horrified. Her father’s narrowed eyes suggested he wasn’t expecting good news. The excitement in Dottie’s suggested she was fully aware of what was about to happen.

Oh mercy. Had her grandfather gone and given everything to his employees?

A little voice in the back of her head said they were probably more like family to him than his own family had been. She’d seen it herself when she’d toured the brewery. They’d loved Beau Buchanan, and it had made Georgie acutely aware of how much she didn’t know about him. She’d spent the rest of her visit asking him everything—about the brewery, his late wife, raising his only child. He’d shown her photos and told her stories that had made her sides ache with laughter. He’d been a charming man, and she’d found herself wondering how she had gone thirty-three years without getting to know him better. His conflict with her father was theirs, not hers, and despite not knowing all of the details, she suspected she knew who was at fault.

When she’d left, she’d promised to keep in touch and return soon. She’d called him last week, and he’d told her that he had a cold but not to worry. He’d be fine.

Three days later he was dead. Her heart ached with the loss.

Mr. Manning pulled a pair of reading glasses from his jacket pocket and perched them on his nose. He shot Georgie a forced grin. “Eyesight’s not what it used to be.”

She gave him a tight smile, her stomach doing flips.

If Henry’s reading this to you, that means I’m dead, but don’t mourn me. I’ve lived a long, full life with few regrets, and those few I do have I’m hoping to rectify with this will.” Mr. Manning picked up a glass of water and swallowed several gulps.

“Good boy,” Dottie said. “Flush away the bad karma.”

Bad karma? That didn’t bode well.

He set down the glass and continued to read. “I’ll start with my work family first. To Tom Magee, my plant manager, my fishing buddy, and dear friend, I leave my fishing equipment. You won’t be able to tell me any more whoppers, old boy. I’ll be watching over you, keeping you honest.”

The middle-aged man grinned and nodded his acknowledgment.

To Rita, you were a joy and a treasure. I’ve left you fifteen thousand dollars for not only cleaning my house but watching over me. Now I’ve finally gotten my way and can buy you a decent car.

Tears ran down Rita’s face and Dottie pulled another crystal from her pocket and put it in the woman’s hand, whispering something into her ear. Idly, Georgie wondered how many crystals she had in there.

To River,” Mr. Manning continued. “You’ve become like a son to me. To you, I leave my father’s pocket watch. It should go to someone who appreciates the meaning of such things.”

The man in the off-the-rack suit looked stunned at the announcement. His eyes turned glassy and he cleared his throat before he said, “Thank you.”

Dottie reached over and patted his arm.

“And now on to Prescott,” the attorney said.

Georgie noticed that the letter hadn’t yet addressed two of the people at the end of the table—Dottie and the young man with dark hair and brooding eyes. What was the significance of that?

Dread filled her gut.

The attorney dabbed his face again before continuing. “Dear Prescott. We’ve had our differences, son, some of them my doing and some of them yours. I wish I’d spent more time with you when you were a boy, and I wish you’d corrected my mistakes, rather than following my lead when it came to raising your own children.”

Georgie’s gaze shot to Lee, who was already giving her a questioning glance. Did he think she’d spilled the family secret during her visit with her grandfather? Although it wasn’t much of a secret that Prescott Buchanan had devoted far more of his life to his business than his family.

The attorney continued. “You built your own life, and I confess that was partly my doing, but now I want to give your children the chance to make different choices.

Adalia perked up at that, turning to Georgie with a questioning look, her short blond curls bouncing around her shoulders.

Georgie made a face that suggested she was just as clueless.

Mr. Manning took a deep breath, as if he were a soldier preparing for battle, then enunciated each word carefully. “The brewery, the house, and everything in it, other than what’s already been stated, goes to Prescott’s four children.”

Mass chaos broke out, everyone shouting at once.

“This is outrageous!” Prescott shouted as he got to his feet. “I will fight this!”

Lee jerked his gaze to the attorney. “How could this happen?”

Victoria was already patting Lee’s arm. “Don’t worry. We can fight this.”

Georgie just stared at them in shock. Was Lee such an ass-kisser that he’d give up his inheritance to placate their father?

Adalia sat back in her seat and turned to Georgie. “Four children. Why did he say that? Dad only has three children.”

Because it turned out Beau Buchanan had somehow known Prescott’s dirty little secret.

Horror filled Georgie as she turned to face the young man at the end of the table. And she wondered why she hadn’t seen it before. He shared her father’s cheekbones. And dark eyes. His hair was the same dark color her father’s had been. Georgie and her siblings’ coloring had come from their mother.

“Georgie?” Adalia demanded.

“There are four,” Georgie said quietly, unable to take her eyes off her younger brother. While she’d known of him, she’d never seen him. Not even a photo.

“What?” Adalia screeched. “How?”

“Come now, Adalia,” Victoria sneered. “You’re a grown woman. You know how these things work.”

Adalia turned to Georgie. “You knew?”

“We both did,” Lee said quietly. “We found out a few years ago by accident.”

“And no one thought to tell me?” Adalia asked, her voice so full of pain it hurt Georgie’s heart. She wanted to reach out and comfort her sister, to tell her they hadn’t meant for it to go so long. Adalia had been going through a bad stretch, and she and Lee had decided it wasn’t a good time to tell their baby sister. And then there had never been a good time after that. Oh, by the way, Lee and I found out that Dad cheated on Mom, and we have a brother only a few months older than you. How’s the weather?

But now this was a huge mess, and Adalia’s hurt feelings were entirely justified.

“Addy,” Lee said, his voice full of apology.

“Don’t you even try to explain it!” Adalia said to her brother, then turned her icy stare on Prescott. “And you! How dare you cheat on our mother!”

“Here, dear,” Dottie said, getting up and putting yet another stone in front of Adalia.

“I don’t think a crystal’s gonna fix this, Aunt Dottie,” River said in a dry tone.

“Nonsense,” Dottie said, her eyes burning brightly. “Nothing’s broken that can’t be put back together.”

Georgie wasn’t so sure about that.

 

 

 

Watching the Buchanan family made River feel like a rubbernecker checking out an accident by the side of the road. It was more uncomfortable than the suit he was wearing, which was saying something.

He caught the eye of the pretty blonde again, the one with her hair pulled back in a bun so tight it looked like it hurt. Georgie. Beau had told him a little about her visit, although he hadn’t mentioned a damn thing about passing over his son and giving the brewery to his grandkids. Prescott had been pretty upfront about wanting to pawn Beau’s legacy, and probably Beau had expected that. Maybe the kids wouldn’t sell, although he suspected four strangers could run a business together better than this crew.

He doubted any of them knew jack about beer.

There were tears in Georgie’s eyes, which made his stomach wrench a little. Beau’s son and grandson were obviously blowhards—well, Junior, at least—but the granddaughters seemed okay. Still, he felt worse for the guy sitting next to him. The secret son. For everything that had been said around and about him, he hadn’t said a word. He’d just soaked it all in like he was used to listening, to reacting rather than acting.

River knew what it felt like to be the kid who got left behind—literally, in his case—and it sucked. Now, this guy had become the sideshow in this hoity-toity circus, through the mere act of being born. The look in his eyes said he could take it, though—that maybe this was something he’d been waiting for, his chance to claim whatever piece of the Buchanan pie he felt he was owed.

In this case, a fourth of Beau’s estate.

It was time for the rest of them to leave.

“Maybe we should get out of here,” he said, to which all of the other non-Buchanans eagerly nodded. “Give the family some space. You’ve already addressed the parts of the will that relate to us, right, Henry? Any reason for us to stay?”

Henry gave him a panicked look. His handkerchief was as wet as if he’d soaked it in one of Aunt Dottie’s water pitchers. He clearly didn’t enjoy the thought of being left with the Buchanans, and really, who could blame him.

“Good idea, dear,” Aunt Dottie said. “But if I remember correctly, I’m supposed to stay until the end.”

Adalia had picked up the crystal his aunt had given her and was turning it around in her hand as if she might hurl it at someone—who the target would be was anyone’s guess—but her eyes flew up at his aunt’s comment. “You knew I had another brother before I did!”

Her tone was shrill, and Prescott picked up his glass of water, untouched, of course, and banged it down on the table. “You will stop acting like a child this instant, Adalia. We’ve had enough of your display.”

She’d been saucy enough earlier that River expected her to throw back a comment, but she didn’t. She just sat back in her chair, her mouth in a thin line, like she was forcing herself to hold back all the things she wanted to say. Or maybe she was just trying not to cry. With her short curly hair, she looked every bit the part of the little sister. Somehow that made it worse. He didn’t think much of men who intimidated women.

The door closed, and River realized Rita had already left the room. Smart lady.

“See,” Aunt Dottie said brightly, although River knew her well enough to see beyond it, “aren’t you glad I got the glasses? A plastic bottle would never have made such an authoritative sound. You would have crushed it.”

“Who is this woman?” Prescott asked Henry. “Is there any reason for her to stay?”

The words were said with such distaste, River felt the urge to bite back, but this was his aunt’s moment too, and if anyone knew how to stand up for herself, it was Dottie Hendrickson. A man had attempted to mug her once, and she’d reduced him to tears in the space of five minutes, and not because she kept a can of mace in her purse. She’d engaged him in conversation, and he’d spilled his life story to her. She’d invited him home for tea, and he still sent her a card every Christmas. That was Aunt Dottie for you.

“Dad…” Junior said, likely the first time he’d done anything to stand up to his father, but he needn’t have bothered.

“Oh, bless your heart,” Aunt Dottie said. “I’m the woman who’s shared your father’s bed for the last twenty years.”

And that was his cue.

As voices rose on the other side of the room, River nodded to the guy next to him, whose name he still didn’t know. “Good luck, man. You’re going to need it.”

For a second, he wondered if maybe he’d pissed the guy off, but then a corner of his mouth lifted up.

“Thanks, I guess.”

River got up and slapped Tom on the back. “Ready?”

They walked away, River closing the door behind them, but as they left the room, he felt compelled to look back. He met Georgie’s eyes again, drawn to her despite himself, but she looked away as if embarrassed. He couldn’t blame her for that. He had a feeling everyone in that room would be talking about this will reading for years to come.

Once they left the office and stepped onto North Market Street, River turned to Tom. “If they sell to one of the big companies, let me know, man. I can put in a word for you with Finn. No one wants to work for the corporate overlords.”

Tom gave him a weird look. Had he overstepped? They’d always gotten along well, so the possibility hadn’t occurred to him.

Before he could ask, Tom shook his head. “I’ll see how it plays out. I guess we know why Beau never talked about his family much. I feel like we just walked out of a reality TV show.”

River went home to change out of the suit, something he was grateful he had time for before he met up with Finn. Finn had gone to the funeral too, but he’d ducked out afterward, saying something about a business meeting. Although they’d worked together for five years, River was happy to leave that kind of stuff to him. The business angle wasn’t something that spoke to him; brewing was what he loved. There was a certain kind of magic to brewing beer—you never knew exactly how it was going to turn out. Small differences could end up being big in the end. A little more of this, a little less of that, and suddenly you had a new flavor, the kind that kept people coming back.

River didn’t have any official training—he’d never taken any classes—but he’d started when he was a teenager, schooled by Beau, who maybe should have known better. And Finn had taken a chance on him after they met at a local beer festival. Together they’d made Big Catch Brewing the go-to craft brewery in Asheville. And that was something to be proud of.

About a month ago, Beau had invited River over for a drink. They’d sat on the back porch with a couple of brews—some of Big Catch’s stuff River had brought over—and shot the shit. It wasn’t so unusual for Beau to ask him over, even if Aunt Dottie wasn’t around, but something about Beau’s energy had seemed off—and wouldn’t his aunt have had a field day if he’d told her that—so it hadn’t surprised him when the tone turned serious.

Beau had set his beer down and turned to look River in the eye. “Son,” he said, “you’re happy, aren’t you? Working with Finn? I didn’t know what to think of a man named after a fish appendage, but he seems like a good enough sort of fellow.”

A little uneasy about where the conversation was going, River had nonetheless fallen into the joke. “Sure, once I got used to the smell.”

But Beau’s expression had stayed serious, and so he’d responded in kind.

“Yeah, Beau, I’m happy there. Who would have thought I’d have all of this after…well, you know.” He tapped the bottle in his hand. It was their Lake Trout Lager. Given their respective names, River and Finn, they’d gone in hard with the whole fishing theme—a joke that probably seemed funnier after a couple of drinks.

“Good, good,” Beau had said distractedly.

River sat up straighter. “Are you having trouble with the brewery?”

Beau swatted the air, although they both knew Buchanan Brewery needed a major overhaul. The equipment was outdated, and it had been at least three years since the brewmaster, Lurch, had come up with anything new. Five years since he’d come up with anything good. Still, Beau was nothing if not loyal, and Lurch had once helped him out of a lurch (hence the nickname). He refused to replace the man, even though they were both far past the normal age of retirement. With as much competition as there was—a new brewery popping up every few months like a mushroom—they couldn’t keep skating by forever.

“Don’t you worry about that,” Beau said. “I was considering some plans for the future, and I want to be sure you’re taken care of.”

“We’ve talked about this before. You’ve already given me everything I could possibly want. As far as I’m concerned, the only plan you should be making is when you’re getting a haircut, because you’re starting to channel a serious Einstein vibe.”

“Consider the source,” Beau had said with a smile. “Before long you’ll be able to pull that into a ponytail”—he winced—“and then one of those man buns.”

“Oh, don’t worry, I’ll never let it go that far. Now, will you stop being morbid?”

“Only once I die,” Beau had said, picking up the beer again. He took a long sip, looking off into the distance, and then said, “I’m thinking of asking my granddaughter to visit. It’s time.”

Beau’s family had always fallen on the do-not-discuss list, or rather the do-not-discuss-unless-Beau-brings-it-up list. Not because he was the sort of man who kept secrets, or at least not until this whole will disaster, but because it had broken his heart. That was something River understood. He didn’t talk about his mother either.

So he’d just nodded.

Now, he wished he’d asked more questions. He wished a lot of things.

After a stop at his loft on North Lexington—the suit went into the back of his closet until someone else died or got married, and he checked on the fermentation of his new test batch—he walked to Buchanan Brewery, feeling a whole hell of a lot more like himself in jeans and T-shirt. The South Slope location, which had been kind of iffy fifteen years ago when they’d first moved to this spot, was now ideal. They had the street, just not the street appeal. There was a kind of hominess to the tasting room, though, like your grandparents’ somewhat mildewy basement. But maybe he just thought that because Beau had been the owner, and Aunt Dottie was the tasting room manager.

The place was packed tonight, with so many people standing he couldn’t edge his way to the bar. Annoying from a logistics perspective, but it made him proud of Beau. Everyone wanted to raise a glass to him. A few people waved at River and slapped him on the back, some of them mutual acquaintances with Beau, others locals who patronized Big Catch, and then he caught sight of Finn sitting at a small two-top, chatting with a couple of pretty tourists, a blonde with pigtails and a brunette drinking a hard lemonade. Leave it to Finn to wheedle his way into a seat—and female company.

“Over here, buddy!” Finn called. “Already got you a beer.”

He wrestled his way over to the table, nearly tripping over a Chihuahua in an emotional support vest—his friend Maisie was so hearing about that—before he finally grabbed the seat across from his buddy.

Although River had ditched his suit the first chance he got, Finn was still wearing his. Of course, Finn was the kind of guy who wore suits well, just like Junior from earlier, only not an asshole.

“I’ll call you later,” Finn said to the blonde with the pigtails, and the two women took off, Finn’s date looking over her shoulder.

“Let me guess,” River said, waiting for them to be out of hearing, “you told her you’re a big catch.”

“Ha. Ha,” Finn said. “Very funny. You’re lucky that, loss of Beau aside, I’m in a very good mood.” He slid a pint across the table to him. “Beau Brown. I thought it only appropriate.” He picked up his own drink, a pint of the same, and they clinked glasses.

“To Beau.”

River’s throat felt a little thick at that, but he took a swig. Beau had been eighty-seven, for God’s sake. They didn’t have much reason to complain, did they?

Somehow that didn’t matter like it should.

“Sorry, buddy,” Finn said, some of his good humor deflating. “He was one of a kind.”

River’s mind shot to the will reading again, to the spectacle of it. Part of him wanted to tell Finn, who would surely laugh at the Buchanans. Joking around was what he did best. But he didn’t want to talk about it yet, and in a weird way, he didn’t want to laugh about it either. Which was why he changed the subject instead. “So the meeting went well, I take it?”

Finn’s grin would have been answer enough. “Better than well.”

“What was it about, anyway? Wider product placement? I know you’ve been chasing that down lately.”

“No, man. It was a rep from Bev Corp.”

Bev Corp, as in the largest multinational beer company in the world.

Bev Corp, as in where creativity went to die.

“Why the hell did you meet with them?” he asked, already bristling.

“Now, River, I know how you and Dottie feel about big corporations and all that noise, but wait until you hear what they offered me. Us. They want you too. They’re going to give you a huge bonus once I sign.”

Once I sign. He’d already made the decision.

This meant Big Catch wasn’t theirs anymore, except the fact that Finn had made this decision without even talking to him first—hell, he’d accepted the meeting without telling him—meant it had never been his at all. This likely wasn’t the work of one meeting either. How long had Finn been talking to them?

All of the emotions River had been trying not to feel since Beau died seemed to pour into him at once, only he felt pissed off instead of sad.

“Was I the last one to know about this?” he asked, not caring that his voice had risen. Hadn’t Tom acted weird earlier? As if he knew something River didn’t?

“It’s not like that,” Finn said. “I wouldn’t agree to anything that wasn’t in your best interest too. You know me better than to think that. Come on, just hear me—”

River stood up then, pushing his chair back a little harder than he’d intended. The emotional support Chihuahua yelped and jumped into the arms of its owner—a huge tattooed man with a bald head.

“Hey, back off!” the man shouted. “You scared Princess Leia!”

“Dude,” he said, staring the guy down, “we all know that’s not an emotional support dog. The little vest isn’t fooling anyone.”

The guy took a step toward him, a threat that was somewhat undermined by the Chihuahua cuddled in his arms. She was wearing a pink tutu beneath the vest.

River burst out laughing at the absurdity of it, at the absurdity of life, which apparently offended the guy because he came barreling toward him. At first he thought the dude would try to punch him, which he’d maybe even welcome, but Princess Leia was still cradled in his arms. Instead, Baldy tried to kick him in the shins, and River jumped over his huge feet as if he were a girl playing double Dutch, which was when Finn intervened.

“Leia’s not much of an emotional support dog if you’re kicking my friend while you’re holding her, now is she? Why don’t you sit down before I find Dottie. I have a feeling she won’t be too pleased with your behavior. You do know River’s her great-nephew, don’t you?”

The fear on the guy’s face indicated he was a local because he obviously knew better than to piss off Aunt Dottie. Not that she’d rage at him or bonk him over the head or anything like that—violence wasn’t her style. But he might find himself suckered into an hour-long meditation session in the back room, which smelled like dank hops and stale bread. Her cleansing tonics were also infamous. Although not on the menu, she offered them to guests who seemed unduly upset or angry. No one made that mistake twice.

Baldy set down Princess Leia with an affectionate pat, then lifted his hands palm up. “Sorry, man. I had no idea you were related to Dottie. Only good energy here. Namaste.”

As he turned away, looking over his shoulder as if he feared Aunt Dottie might be onto him, Finn gave River a tentative smile. Normally, he would have smiled back and they would have laughed about all of this later. But the trust they’d had was broken, and for River, trust was everything.

He shook his head and said the one thing he’d never imagined saying. “I quit.”

 Releases September 22!

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