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Enemies on Tap
By Avery Flynn, Stephen Morgan
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Avery Flynn
All rights reserved.
Miranda Sweet refused to admit she'd made a terrible, horrible, career-sinking mistake.
Even if it was true.
Dressed in her favorite secondhand Ann Taylor suit and shoes from the DSW sale rack, she stood in the shadow of a twelve-foot, dirt-smudged, stainless steel brew kettle at the Sweet Salvation Brewery and rubbed the squirrel-shaped medallion her sisters had given her for good luck. Forcing herself not to gag each time she inhaled the stink of mildew wafting up from the dirty vents, she pointedly ignored the graveyard of cracked bourbon barrels that lay abandoned in the corner and smiled as if she didn't notice the less-than-welcoming stares of the brewery's staff.
Too late to go back now, girlie. Let's prove the haters in this town wrong.
The brewery's twenty-five employees glared at her as they lounged against the concrete wall or leaned against large stacks of bagged pilsner malt. Wariness narrowed their eyes to slits.
She couldn't blame them. The only thing she knew about beer was how to drink it. Yet here she was, the only person standing between them and the unemployment line. If it were possible, she'd be giving herself the side-eye, too.
Miranda shoved her clammy hands behind her back, clasped them together to stop the nervous shakes, and attempted her best I-have-an-MBA-and-know-what-I'm-doing smile. "I know you're all busy, so I'll keep this as brief as possible."
No one cracked a smile or made any movement — except for the brewmaster, Carl, who spit chewing tobacco juice into a dented soda can.
"My sisters and I were as surprised as all of you were to find out that Uncle Julian had left the brewery to us in his will. They couldn't be here today, but they will be coming soon." Exactly when they'd get here was another question altogether. Miranda inhaled a deep breath and immediately regretted it. The brewery reeked like gym socks heated on the face of the sun until they were too funky for words. "I know it's been tough lately to make a go of the Sweet Salvation Brewery."
That garnered a round of dark chuckles.
"But I have a plan to turn the brewery around and make it profitable once again." They didn't need to know that as soon as the brewery stopped bleeding cash, her employer, DeBoer Financial, would add it to their vast holdings, and she'd finally get out of the cubicle farm and into the corner office she'd been working ninety-hour weeks to get. At twenty-seven, she'd be the youngest junior vice president in the company's history. "I give you my word."
"Yeah, we all know what a Sweet's promise is worth." Carl snorted. "Remember the Christmas bonuses we were promised? Or the extra paid days off? Should never have trusted the man who wanted to make beer that smelled like marijuana."
That sounded like Uncle Julian.
"You may not believe me. I understand that, but my sisters and I are different from the rest of our family." Her last name might be Sweet, but unlike previous generations of her family, she had a business degree instead of a criminal record. In place of fly-by-night ideas, she had a fully developed business plan. She didn't simply fight the power. She was determined to be the power. Her spine snapped straight. "I didn't come back here for the first time in ten years to fail."
"Why did you come back?" This from Carl, his teeth stained a yellowish brown from his ever-present cheek full of chaw.
These people didn't trust her. Fine by her. She didn't trust them, either. But they were her responsibility. Whether they realized it or not, they needed her to turn the brewery around and save their jobs. And despite what they and most of the town thought, she'd do it, and then she'd sell it and get the hell out of this shitty little town for good.
"It doesn't matter why I'm in Salvation." She planted her no-longer shaking hands on her hips. "What matters is that I am here and we're going to be making changes to make Sweet Salvation Brewery a success."
Miranda didn't let her backbone wilt until she'd made it safely back to her office, closed the door, and twisted the lock on the knob. She would have slid down the door into a puddle on the floor, but one quick glance around showed that the less-than-stellar cleaning habits of the brewery crew extended into Uncle Julian's old office.
Picking her way around the boxes stacked thigh-high and towers of paperwork, she crossed the small room and settled into the desk chair. Second thoughts crowded her brain. Making the Sweet Salvation Brewery profitable was supposed to be a sure thing.
She knew there would be challenges, but she'd forgotten just how little the people in this town thought of her family. No one took a Sweet seriously in Salvation. She stared at Uncle Julian's Live Free, Die High framed poster and sighed.
I can't imagine why the town thought we were a bunch of weirdos.
Well, she didn't fit that stereotype, and she'd promised herself a long time ago that she never would. Needing to hold onto tangible proof of that fact, she grabbed the legal pad she'd used to jot notes during the brewery tour. The list of repairs she'd compiled covered two sheets, front and back. She was going to need a significant advance from the DeBoer coffers to implement her turnaround plan. She powered up her laptop, grabbed the phone, and dialed up her office.
"DeBoer Financial. How may I help you?" Her cubicle mate's calm voice helped to steady Miranda's barely-keeping-it- together nerves.
"Hey, Barb, it's me."
"Thank God you called." Barb's voice dropped to a whisper. "He's on the warpath."
No question about who he was. Her boss was Patrick Bason, a guy most of the staff secretly called Patilla the Hun. He was infamous for hoarding work and dumping it off on an underling only days before it was due. If the project fell apart, he made sure the staffer took the fall. If it was a success, he took all of the credit. The man was a menace in a cheap suit and garish tie.
"He's pissed I went straight to DeBoer on this project, huh?" And for good reason. Patilla the Hun had temporarily lost one of his worker bees. Poor guy must be analyzing financials and outlining acquisition deals for the first time in years.
"That's putting it mildly. He yelled at me for about fifteen minutes about how you have no respect for the chain of command. He's itching to find a way to submarine you, so be prepared."
It sucked having a nemesis at work — especially when it was your boss. Miranda had tried everything short of blow jobs to get on his good side, but she'd finally had to admit that Patilla the Hun didn't have a good side. He was just an asshole. A big one.
So she'd buckled down and put in more hours than any other acquisitions associate in the firm and finished every extra project — no matter how tight the deadline — in an effort to get out from underneath the boss from hell. Making Sweet Salvation Brewery into a success was the key to getting her name on the door to her own corner office and out from underneath Patilla the Hun's control.
"Can you get me through to Mr. DeBoer?" Miranda asked.
"Shouldn't be a problem." Barb lowered her voice. "I plied his assistant with an extra cherry Danish this morning."
Miranda chuckled. Thank God the woman used her powers for good. "You are the best cubbie-mate ever."
"True. Now get this brewery thing out of your system so you can get back to the real world in Harbor City. Hold on, I'll patch you through to Mr. DeBoer's office."
Miranda hummed along to the on-hold music for half a bar.
"Miranda." The speakerphone made everyone sound far away, but Mr. DeBoer's deep baritone came through loud and clear. "I've got Patrick here in my office. He was just telling me how he's reorganizing the workflow in your absence. It seems he was expecting your input on a number of projects."
She rolled her eyes. More like he was expecting her to do his work for him. "Really? I finished everything in my inbox before I left this morning. All of the files are on the company drive."
The clacking of Mr. DeBoer's fingers plinking away at the keyboard echoed across the line. "And so they are."
"So sorry for any extra headaches." Miranda clamped down on the urge to sing out naner-naner-boo-boo. She'd busted her hump for too long to give up the high road now. Especially when she needed something extra to make everything work out according to plan. "Mr. DeBoer, I've had to reassess the situation here at the brewery. Before I can implement the turnaround I outlined prior to leaving, I need to shore up the existing operations. To do that, I'm going to need financial help."
"How much do you need?"
Relief loosened the tension pulling her shoulders up to her ears. She opened her mouth to give him the figure.
But before she could answer, Patilla's voice came onto the phone line. "You know, Mr. DeBoer, the mission you gave the acquisitions department is to spot diamonds in the rough, companies that only need proper management and a little elbow grease to turn a profit." He accented proper management, as though he was pointing out Miranda was anything but.
"True, but Mr. DeBoer mentioned limited financial support, also," she added.
Patrick said, "Yes, and one of the best ways to gain that support is to obtain local support for a turnaround project, as everyone here knows. Rather than provide funding to Miranda for her little project, wouldn't it be a wonderful opportunity for her to show if she has the chops to gain community funding? Of course, considering it's her hometown, it won't be that difficult. The Sweet family is so well known there."
His sickly sweet tone of false support told her he'd done his research and knew just what kind of reputation her family had in Salvation. If her life had been a prison movie, she would have looked down at that moment and seen a shiv sticking out of her aorta. The rat bastard.
"It's a small town." Miranda curled her fingers around the phone cord, imagining it was Patilla the Hun's neck. "There's only one bank — a small, family-owned one."
"You can't put the 'local' in 'local support' like getting a family bank in your corner." Snake oil was less greasy than her supervisor's voice.
"Excellent point." Mr. DeBoer made a clicking noise with his tongue. "Miranda, you've always been a proponent of localized funding. Let's go with that plan."
Any hope of succeeding went flat faster than an open beer abandoned in a heat wave. The Martin family owned the bank, and unfortunately, the Martins had been the Hatfields to the Sweet family McCoys since Salvation had been founded more than a hundred years ago. A long time ago, she'd made the mistake of forgetting just how deep those lines were drawn, but it wasn't a mistake she'd ever make again.
Not that she had to worry about that. No doubt Logan Martin had moved away, just like most of the people in her graduating class had done within minutes of receiving a diploma. Thank God for small favors. If coming back had meant she'd have to see him again ... She didn't want to think about it.
"Another thing, I've been reviewing your timeline after Patrick brought up his concerns about you being out of the office for so long." He paused long enough for Miranda's heart to bang against her kneecaps. "We're going to have to adjust the calendar on this. I need you to stop the bleeding on the account books within three months."
A cold sweat glued her blouse to her spine. Putting Sweet Salvation Brewery back on the financial straight and narrow in six months would have been hard enough. Doing it in half that time was impossible.
"Now, Patrick worried you wouldn't be able to make that happen, but I've got faith in you, Miranda. Are you game?"
She slammed her mouth shut before any words could rush out, even though a quick glance down at the handwritten repair list made every other word but "no" vanish from her vocabulary. This was her chance to get out from underneath Patilla the Hun. To show the town of Salvation that the Sweets were more than just slightly rehabilitated moonshiners and nutty Doomsday preppers. To prove to herself that she'd finally shaken off the stench of being from some backwater town in the middle of nowhere Virginia and had earned her place among the movers and shakers in Harbor City.
Dust and God knew whatever else covered her three-inch heels. She'd already broken two nails moving enough debris out of the way so she could sit down in the office chair. The brewery employees distrusted her at best and were forming a mutiny at worst. She needed a massive infusion of cash and at least three months more time than she had to make miracles happen. Add to that the fact that her immediate supervisor was actively trying to kill any possibility of success.
Pretty blondes in poorly made horror movies had better odds of survival than Miranda.
But this was her chance to prove herself at DeBoer and to the naysayers in Salvation. She sure as hell wasn't going to let this opportunity go without a fight.
"Miranda?" A sharp buzz of feedback shot across the line when Mr. DeBoer picked up the receiver on his end, taking her off speakerphone. "What do you say? Can you do it?"
She straightened in her chair. "Consider it done." Anyone who'd ever tasted Ruby Sue's prize winning pecan pie at The Kitchen Sink diner would be on Logan Martin's side on his mission to steal the last piece of it. He'd bet every penny in his trust fund on it.
Whatever the secret ingredient was that she added to the gooey center had crack-level addictive powers. Of course, even knowing what a cantankerous octogenarian Ruby Sue could be, the mystery component wasn't actually crack — probably.
Hud Bowden, Logan's best friend since birth, sat back against the wood chair, beefy arms crossed and a toothpick sticking out of his mouth. "It can't be done."
Taking a pen out of the inside pocket of his suit jacket, Logan smirked. He and Hud had known each other forever. If anyone should know that he only took bets when the odds were stacked in his favor, it should be Hud.
Logan scratched a thick blue arrow across the front of a yellow sticky note and stuck it to the front of his water glass. "Of course it can. I can make the arrow change direction without ever touching the sticky note"
"Okay, you asked for it." Hud adjusted his Fix 'Er Up Auto Shop baseball hat and grinned as he rubbed his hands together. "The loser — that will be you — buys lunch."
Now to reel his good buddy in.
"Nah, the stakes are too low." Logan pointed at the slice of pie in front of Hud.
Hud scooted the plate closer to his side of the table. "No way. It's the last piece of Ruby Sue's pecan pie."
"So you agree it can be done?" Logan asked. Daring and pranking each other had become the shorthanded code of their friendship, which meant he knew every one of Hud's tells better than he knew his own. And judging by how Hud couldn't stop shredding his napkin, his best friend was on the ropes.
Like taking candy from a baby — or in this case, pie from a mechanic.
"Hell no." He nudged the napkin confetti around the red checked vinyl tablecloth.
Logan grinned. "Then pony up."
Rolling his eyes, Hud scooted the plate with a huge slice of the prize-winning pie to the middle of the table.
Practically tasting the pecans already, Logan reached for Hud's glass of water. "How long have we known each other?"
"Uh-huh." He slid Hud's water glass toward his glass that had the sticky note with the arrow pointing left. "And how often have I ever lost a bet?"
"It's happened." Hud shrugged, the epitome of cool, calm, and collected — except for the now-destroyed napkin.
Logan placed Hud's glass in front of his own. "But not often."
Hud looked down and saw the optical illusion the glass had created. It acted like a mirror, flipping the arrow so that it appeared to now point right. "You suck."
"I can live with that." He savored the success and sank his fork into the pie. Damn, success tasted almost as sweet as the pecan pie. The first bite of gooey goodness hit Logan's tongue like a sugar rush of pure happiness. "Anyway, it serves you right after you messed with the radio in my truck so it only played classical music."
Hud's laugh boomed in The Kitchen Sink's nearly empty dining room. "Learn to change your own oil and that won't happen."
Excerpted from Enemies on Tap by Avery Flynn, Stephen Morgan. Copyright © 2014 Avery Flynn. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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