Welcome to Mayhem, Minnesota, where the cats wear sweaters, the local priest dispenses dating advice, and you can find your fortune in the bottom of a pie tin.
When her family's pub is threatened with foreclosure, Hennessy O'Halloran, along with her three sisters, is determined to raise enough money to keep it out of the hands of the L.A. real-estate developer trying to raze it and replace it with a—god forbid!—multiplex theater.
Bryan Truitt always gets what he wants. And what he wants is the sweet corner property on Mayhem's Main Street where O'Halloran's Pub sits. But his "quick business" turns into more than he bargains for when he meets the feisty Hennessy. Next thing he knows, he's betting her he can outlast Mayhem's punishing winter in time to make the pub his—or he'll gift it to her for free.
Hennessy knows better than to flirt with the enemy. But suddenly Bryan's not sure which he wants more…the property or the woman who owns it.
Each book in the Whiskey Sisters series is STANDALONE:
* Blame it on the Bet
* Mischief and Mayhem
* Mistletoe in Mayhem Boxed Set
About the Author
L.E. Rico didn’t set out to be an author. In fact she’s made a name for herself as a classical music radio host—doing her best to make the music and the composers relevant by putting them into a modern context. It was just a few years ago that she discovered a passion for writing that blossomed into an entire novel. And then another. And another. Today, she still spends plenty of time on the radio, telling the stories of the great composers, but she spends even more time composing her own great stories.
She lives in New York with her husband, Tom, and one impossibly cute/obnoxiously bratty miniature schnauzer named Gracie. When she’s not behind a microphone or in front of her computer, she enjoys binge watching English, Danish and Australian crime thrillers.
Read an Excerpt
The paper is thick and creamy, the typeface a perfectly neat and neutral Times New Roman. I've examined documents like this hundreds of times, but I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around what I'm looking at as I flip through page after page of legalese. I mean, I am, after all, a lawyer. I understand the terms. I understand the law behind the terms. What I don't understand is how these terms of the law came to apply to my father. Or, more accurately, to his estate.
"And you found this where?" I ask my sister Jameson.
"At home. In Pops's sock drawer. We were packing up some of his clothes to bring to the Goodwill, and there it was, in a file folder."
"Well, I guess that explains why we didn't come across it with the rest of his files in the office," I mutter.
It's been about a month now since my father was felled by a massive aneurysm, and I'm still reeling. We all are. These things, by nature, happen quickly — no symptoms, no warning. No chance to say good-bye. Pops was dead before he hit the floor, and all I've been able to think about since then is what I should've said. What I should've done. Because here I am with a head full of memories, a heart full of regrets, and a hand full of papers that reduce his life's work to a few paragraphs of legalese.
We thought the pub was free and clear. Our parents paid off the mortgage when I was a kid. But apparently — unbeknownst to my three sisters and me — our father had been borrowing against the equity in the business. Now, as I sit at my sister's table examining the particulars of his loan activity, I see the cost of our lives unfold before me. Ten thousand here, thirty thousand there. Each five-figure withdrawal coinciding with a major life event for one of us. I see what can only be my law school tuition ... and the cash he gave me to get settled in the Twin Cities. I'm comparing the math and the dates that match Jameson's nursing degree and subsequent wedding. Then there's tuition for my sister Walker and braces for Bailey. There's also a substantial withdrawal dating back to a little over a year ago, when Pops insisted on paying for his first grandchild's nursery. In all, it's more than a hundred thousand dollars.
"Holy. Crap." I flip from page to page, shaking my head in disbelief. "How did this happen? Why wouldn't he tell us?"
"Because he was a proud man, Henny," Jameson says. "He'd never ask you to take out a school loan. And he'd sooner have died than let the Clarke family pay for my wedding. And then when little Jackson was born ..."
Before she can even finish her sentence, Baby Satan is in action. I don't even see the wonton as it comes hurtling across the table, hitting my cheek and sliding down my neck. It leaves a slimy trail before it splats to the floor. I can't move. None of us can. Bailey is the first to laugh. She slaps one hand over her mouth and points to me with the other, howling behind her fingers. Walker is right there with her, trying desperately not to spit her mouthful of wine all over the table. Jameson is the only one who is not amused.
"Jackson Winston Clarke!" she shrieks at my nephew, the dumpling-flinger.
His entire little body is shaking with a deep belly laugh, and he's already reaching into his Winnie the Pooh bowl for something else to toss my way.
"Win!" Jameson calls over her shoulder. "Wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin!"
"What the hell, James? Dad and I are trying to watch Jeopardy!," my jerk of a brother-in-law says when he deigns to enter the kitchen where my three sisters and I are all sitting around the table, eating Chinese takeout.
Oh, he's handsome, all right. Win Jr. is your typical Minnesota hottie — tall, blond-haired, and blue-eyed. But the attractive qualities stop there.
"Win, Jackson is done with his dinner. Please take him up and give him his bath. I'll come and tuck him in when you're done," my sister instructs, hauling the little felon out of his highchair and holding him out toward his father ... who's already shaking his head.
"No, no, no. Sorry, James, but I'm beat. I've had a long day, and I'm in no mood ..."
He stops as soon as she gives him "the look." The one that says "do this now, or you'll pay for it later." I know that look very well, and judging by how quickly Win snatches his son from his wife's arms, he does, too. I can still hear him grumbling under his breath as I swab the remnants of the wonton from my cleavage.
Walker is still snickering as she pulls the guts out of an egg roll.
"I'm so sorry, Hennessy," Jameson apologizes as she kneels to wipe the food from the floor. When she looks up at me, I can see the dark circles under her moss-colored eyes and ... could that be the start of crow's feet? God, Jameson's only twenty-five, a year-and-a-half younger than me, but you wouldn't know that to look at her. Even her beautiful auburn hair seems tired, pulled back into a wilted ponytail. I reach down and put a hand on her shoulder.
"It's not a big deal, really. He's just excited to see me. It's been a while since his favorite aunt was in town."
"Oh, puh-leeeeeeease." Seventeen-year-old Bailey groans as she rolls her perfect blue eyes and tosses her perfectly straight, perfectly golden-blonde tresses. "If anyone's Jackson's favorite, it's me. I'm the one who babysits ..."
"Yeah, well, you're not my favorite," Jameson chimes in, returning to her own seat. "You're the one who lets him eat enough sugary crap to keep him up for twenty-four hours straight."
"I haven't got all night, you know," grumbles Walker, suddenly less amused and more irritated. "Can we please just get on with it already?"
It's been a long-ass day, and I'm tired — exhausted, really — and I have no patience for Walker's signature snark.
"You know," I begin, dropping my voice and leaning across the table toward her, "I had to convince my boss to give me some time off — and right in the middle of a big case. I threw a few things into a bag and drove the three hours up here because you guys said something was really wrong and that you needed me. So, here I am — and don't you dare tell me you've got 'stuff to do,' Walker."
"Hennessy's right," Jameson says soothingly. She's good at that, calming the ever-churning tension among the four of us. "She dropped everything because we asked her to come. The least we can do is show a little gratitude."
Walker's turn to roll her eyes. Unlike the blue and green shared by most of our family, hers are the color of gray flannel.
"Fine," she spits. "Because, you know, the earth doesn't spin without Hennessy O'Halloran. And, just for the record, I thought we could sort it out on our own."
Jameson is rubbing her temples now, and I can see she needs this like a hole in the head. I've got to get this thing back on the rails, or we'll be here all night long. I draw in a long, deep breath and take another stab at diplomacy.
"Guys, let's not do this. Please. Look, I'm here now, and we can get the business back on track. I'll take over the day-to-day of the pub. James, maybe you can handle the paperwork? Walker, we all know you're the best bartender in the family, after Pops. You can help out nights and weekends when you're not in school. And Bailey can help in the kitchen and with serving food. I'll call the bank tomorrow and see if I can refinance the loan. That should buy us a couple of months —"
"Hennessy." Jameson cuts me off. "We don't have a couple of months."
This time, she takes a letter from the drawer of the sideboard and hands it to me. I pull it from its envelope and start to read, my jaw dropping a little lower with every line that I skim. I glance, more than once, between the official correspondence and Jameson's drawn face.
"What?" I gasp, not believing what's right there in black in white. "They're calling the loan? The bank is calling the entirety of the loan? And they want it in ... ninety days?"
"That's not the worst of it," Jameson says solemnly. "Keep reading."
She's right. Upon further inspection, I see that this is the second notice. I look at the date at the top of the page and do the math in my head. Six weeks. We've already lost six weeks, and there are only six more to go.
Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.
"How?" I whisper.
Jameson shrugs slightly and shakes her head. "I don't know. Maybe the first notice was lost in the mail. Maybe it was somehow shredded with the rest of Pops's paperwork. But, however it happened, we're in a pretty tight spot here."
"You can fix it, though, right, Henny?" Bailey asks hopefully from across the table.
I consider her closely. Not even out of high school and she's lost both parents. She lives at home with Walker, who's rarely there, and depends on a hot meal from the woman we pay to clean up the house, shop, and make dinner most nights. At least the rest of us are adults, more or less. The last thing Bailey needs is to be worried about something like this.
"I'm going to try, Bailey," I say with the most reassuring smile that I can muster. "I just have to figure out where to begin ..."
"Well, this might help," Jameson says, reaching into the sideboard once more.
"God, James!" I huff. "Another one? Quit the drama already, and just give me everything at one time, will you?"
"This is the last one. And excuse me for trying to break it to you gently. We've all had a few days to digest this."
I don't respond as I take the last document from her hand. It's a letter of intent to purchase the pub property. Upon closer examination, I see that it's come from a real estate developer out of Los Angeles — some guy named Bryan Truitt has made an offer to purchase the pub, and by the looks of this, my father was planning to accept. I'm suddenly struck by how little I knew about what was going on here. I was so busy trying to prove to myself and everybody else that I could make it in the "Big City," that I was oblivious to what was unfolding back here at home.
"All righty, then. It would appear we have a little mystery to unravel if we hope to salvage the pub," I say with quiet resignation as I let go of the paper and watch it waft down past the table, landing on the oak floor in my sister's dining room with a soft swoosh. "And I suspect this Bryan Truitt guy is at the center of it."
It takes me a few seconds to locate the key on my ring. And, when I finally do manage to get it into the lock, I have to jiggle it a little before the deadbolt retracts. It's been a while since anyone has used the apartment above the pub. The steep, narrow staircase is dark. I reach for the light, but nothing happens when I flip the switch. I leave my suitcase at the bottom of the stairs, propping open the door with it so I can have a slice of light from the streetlamp outside. The upstairs lock is considerably smoother than the downstairs one, and when I reach around on the wall, I find the light switch, and the apartment's interior hall light comes on. Perfect.
Once I reclaim my suitcase and hoist it up the stairs to join me, I close the door behind me. I heave a deep sigh and take a long, appraising look at the tiny rooms that were our home for the first seven years of my life. It was sweet, and cozy, and I loved sharing a room with James. But then, along came Walker, and my parents shoehorned her crib in between Jameson's and my beds. By the time Bailey came a few years later, it was clear that the O'Halloran Clan needed something bigger. That's when we moved to the little cape cod on Orange Avenue.
Like the rest of the place, the bedroom smells musty. Clearly no one's stayed here since I was in town for my father's funeral in December. I crack open the windows on the opposite side of the room, inhaling the frigid, fresh air.
Back in the kitchen, I get a K-Cup going in the Keurig and pull the phone out of my pocket. The phone that I've been ignoring all night.
There are a few messages from work that I'll return tomorrow, and twice that number of work-related emails. Several un-work-related emails offer me a hot Russian beauty, an all-natural miracle for erectile dysfunction, and a walk-in tub.
And then there's the text. Just the one.
Hey. You get there okay?
That's from my "Friend with Benefits," who shall remain nameless. Because I like it that way. And so does he. This relationship couldn't get any more casual. We were random strangers in a bar who found out after last call that we lived in the same apartment building. We decided to share more than the Uber ride home. It's not love or anything. It's not even lust — not for me, at least. FWB has come in very handy during the long, dark winter nights. Oh, who the hell am I kidding? The lonely winter nights. Well, at least he cares enough to check on me, and that's something. He's also agreed to water my plants while I'm gone. My thumbs are a blur as I text him a succinct reply.
All good, TYVM. TTYL.
I flop onto the couch and close my eyes. It's good to be home — even under these insane circumstances. It's been a long time since I've lived here in Mayhem — college, law school, and my internship having kept me downstate. Finally, the pot of gold at the end of that particular rainbow was an assistant district attorney position with the Hennepin County Prosecutor's office.
The truth is that I could have had Jameson send me all the papers — hell, I could've asked one of the senior partners to go over them with me. But I packed up and got in my car before I'd even gotten off the phone with her, calling the office from the road.
What's wrong with me?
I've got a good job, and I make decent — if not great — money. My overpriced apartment has a nice view of the Mississippi River and a sexy, hot, anonymous guy on the next floor up. What have I got to be unhappy about? It's ridiculous.
I rub my temples, trying to push back the dull ache that's starting to surface. That's when I spot the framed pictures of us on the mantel. My father's broad, easy smile shines back at me.
"What happened, Pops?" I ask the silence. "And how can I make it right?"
The silence has no reply.
Truittism Number 2: Nothing is better than "boots on the ground" to properly assess an unclear situation.
The sun is in my eyes. It slips through the crack of space where the blinds end and the windowsill begins, stealthily creeping across the carpeted floor, seeking out the delicate tissue of my eyelids. This is why I have special blackout blinds and an added layer of insulated drapes in my bedroom. Unfortunately, I'm not in my bedroom. I know this because I feel the coarse grain leather of my office couch under my face.
I try to turn so that I'm facing the back cushions, but my body seems to be stuck, all six foot two of me wedged into the five feet of space between armrests. All I can do is squeeze my eyes shut against the burning glare. It makes my eyelids look red, even when they're closed. I groan in frustration, wanting nothing more than to just fall back to sleep. Suddenly, my world goes blissfully dark again. Something has inserted itself between the sun and me, like a beautiful eclipse. Did the blinds somehow drop all the way down? Did my desk somehow silently flip over onto its side? Maybe it really is an eclipse. Or a rogue asteroid.
Turns out it's not a what, but a who. Helen.
"W-What are you doing here?" I mutter hoarsely.
"I work here," my assistant says tartly as she looks down upon me with undisguised disdain. "It smells like a brewery in here," she informs me. "And a locker room. Like the locker room of a brewery," she pronounces with a disapproving tsk of her tongue.
"Huh," is all I can manage, allowing my eyes to close again. But then she moves away, and I writhe like a vampire burned by the brightening dawn. Is that my flesh I smell burning?
"You have a perfectly lovely condo," Helen says as she unfolds a white plastic trash bag. "I don't understand why you feel the need to sleep here." When she jerks the bag open with a loud snap, I wince.
"Please. Could you please, please, please keep it down?"
But she ignores me, chattering away as she moves around my office, tossing takeout containers and beer bottles into the bag. I can't make out everything she's saying, but I catch a word here and there. Something about my hedonistic lifestyle catching up with me someday.
"Why are you here so early?" I grumble. "And what are you doing?"
She stops and looks at me, one garish orange eyebrow quirked.
"Uh, well, let's see ... I'm cleaning up this pigsty that you call an office. Once I've gotten all the trash and beer bottles out of the way, I'm going to bring in a guy with a power washer to see if we can't get the smell out of the walls. But I'm not holding out hope."
Excerpted from "Blame it on the Bet"
Copyright © 2017 L.E. Rico.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.