Welcome to Mayhem, Minnesota, home of the Knitty Kitty, The Little Slice of Heaven Pie Shop, and O’Halloran’s Pub—owned by the four young women known as the Whiskey Sisters.
In the wake of her divorce, Jameson O’Halloran has gone man-vegan. And this is one diet she’s determined to stick with. Even when her long-lost ex-brother-in-law shows up looking like two scoops of double dutch dipped in chocolate… She’s not giving in. Been there and still wearing the messy T-shirt.
It’s been a decade since Scott Clarke left his family and his hometown, never to return. But when tragedy strikes, he finds himself dragged back to the land of gossip, judgment, and the one woman he absolutely, positively, without a doubt can never have. His brother’s ex is off-limits. He just needs to keep repeating that to himself until it sinks in.
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
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My first clue that something is wrong — very, very wrong — is the way that Jackson is howling. It's gone way beyond his usual whiney, grumpy hungry cries. This is terror. Desperation. And it sends my heart beating in a frenzied rhythm in my chest as I race through my father-in-law's house searching for my child. When I find him, I stop in my tracks, blood running cold by the sight in front of me.
Jackson is holding onto the rail of his playpen, jumping up and down. Now that he's laid eyes on me, he's screeching for me.
"Maaaamaaaaa! Maaaaammaaaaa! Goppppppa, Maaaamaaaa!"
"It's okay, baby! It's okay," I yell over his hysterics as I'm jolted back into action. In an instant, I'm on my knees on the carpet, trying to roll my father- in-law over onto his back. Big Win isn't called "Big" Win for nothing. It takes a substantial effort, but I'm finally able to flip him. I put my ear to his chest and hear the faintest trace of a beat. "Hang on, Jackson. Goppa is going to be okay," I coo to my toddler at the same time I fish into my pocket for the cell phone.
"Siri, call nine-one-one on speaker," I command and set it on the floor next to me as I loosen Win's collar, form a fist with my right hand, and lay my left hand over it.
"Nine-one-one. What is the nature of your emergency?" A tinny male voice spits up at me from the floor. I lean over Win's chest, finding his heart and placing my hands directly above it.
"My father-in-law is non-responsive on the floor of his home. His pulse is faint and thready. My name is Jameson Clarke. I'm an RN, and I'm beginning CPR. We're at two-twenty-two Masthead Drive in Mayhem."
One, two, three, four, five ...
"An ambulance is on the way, Miss Clarke. I'm going to stay on the line ..."
"Fine," I rasp, "but don't expect me to talk to you. I'm counting ..."
Eight, nine, ten, eleven ...
"That's all right. EMTs are about four minutes out."
Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen ...
"Ms. Clarke? I hear the baby crying. Is the baby all right? Should we be prepared to treat the baby on site?"
"No, he's just scared ..."
Eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one ...
I count in my head. I pray.
Twenty-nine, thirty ...
I breathe for him.
One, two, three, four, five ...
I count again.
This process repeats three more times before I hear the wail of the sirens. They just barely outdo the wails of my child. The wails that rip through my head and my heart, even as I count.
By the time I calm my hysterical son and drop him off with my sister, Hennessy, they've already got Big Win in the ICU.
When I arrive, I see my ex-husband, Win, standing there at his father's bedside, looking confused and overwhelmed. But I'm not surprised — it's a terrible thing, the first time you realize your father isn't the indestructible hero you always believed him to be. When you look into his face — once so sure — only to see a tired old man looking back at you. For me, that terrible day was earlier this year when my father collapsed in his pub and never regained consciousness, even as my three sisters and I stood vigil at his hospital bed. For my ex-husband, that day is today.
As I approach, the doctor is saying that it might take a while for my former father-in-law to wake up. Or he might not wake up at all. Either way, everything is about to change — for our entire family. But it's hard to concentrate on what the doctor is saying as the two of us stand there awkwardly, our eyes glued to Big Win's large chest as it rises and falls under the blanket with each gentle whoosh of the ventilator.
Dr. Douglas notices our distraction. "Win? Jameson? Are you two getting what I'm saying?"
I look to my ex, who doesn't appear to have heard a thing, before answering for the two of us.
"Yes, Doctor Douglas. I think so. You're telling us to be prepared for the worst," I say quietly. On impulse, I reach over and grab Win's hand, giving it a firm squeeze.
"Listen to me, Win," the doctor commands. "Your father is one of the most stubborn old mules I've ever laid eyes on. Do not, for one second, underestimate his ability to fight his way back from this. I'm just telling you all the possible outcomes because I don't want you to be blindsided by any of them."
Now he turns in my direction with, if I'm not mistaken, a little apprehension. "Jameson, I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but Big Win named you one of his healthcare proxies. That means it's possible you may need to make some difficult decisions. I know it's a lot — especially having lost your own Pops not so long ago — but I know you can do it."
My face furrows in confusion. Win apparently has the same reaction, though decidedly less tactful.
"What?" he demands, pulling his hand from mine. "I'm his son. I'm the next of kin. If there are any decisions to make, I'll be the one to make them, thank you very much," he informs us flatly.
I clear my throat and put a reassuring hand on Win's arm. "Dr. Douglas probably hasn't heard that we're ... that you and I are ..." I stop for a moment to collect myself before trying one last time to spit out a coherent sentence. "The doctor doesn't know that we've finalized our divorce. I'm sure he's just assumed we'd make those decisions together. No one's trying to usurp your authority here, okay?"
My voice is soft and calm, as if I'm trying to coax a woodland creature to eat from my hand. Despite the fact that our quickie divorce was amicable, lately it seems as if Win's temper has gone into overdrive. Now, he harrumphs, but at least he doesn't shake my hand away. I take that as a sign that I can continue.
"It's going to be okay, Win. I'll be here with you as long as you need me."
His pale gray eyes look down into mine, and he's all ice.
"I don't want you here for me, Jameson. I want you to leave. And where is our son? Did you pawn him off on one of your sisters again?" Win hisses at me.
So much for soft and calm. I think it might be time to pull out a crossbow and shoot this particular woodland creature right between the eyes.
"Winston," I grit out, "you do not get to speak to me that way. Not now, not ever. I'm here for you because I love your father and, whether you believe it or not, because I care very much for you. So stop acting like a jerk. Right. Now."
For a moment, he looks as if he's going to spew some more vitriol, but one challenging eyebrow raise from me puts him in his place.
"I'm sorry, James," he mutters, his face coloring.
I grab his hand again and squeeze it. I know this man better than anyone, and right now he's masking his fear with anger.
"Together," I reassure him once more. "We're in this together — for Big Win and for our son." I turn my attention back to Dr. Douglas, who's been watching our exchange with some interest. "Go on, Doctor."
The kindly older gentleman nods and continues. "Well, I admit I'd heard something about the two of you separating, but I didn't realize you'd finalized everything already. Regardless, Win, Jameson does indeed have a say in your father's care as his secondary healthcare proxy."
"Secondary means there's someone else," I point out before Win can do it for me. "Surely that makes Win the primary decision maker ..."
I feel Win stiffen next to me as Dr. Douglas shakes his head.
"Afraid not," he says.
That's about all my ex can take. He drops my hand so he can gesticulate.
"Then who?" he demands loudly, sounding more like a petulant child than a concerned son. In fact, our own toddler regularly shows more restraint than his father is, right at this second. "Who could possibly trump me, his son?"
"His other son," Dr. Douglas says coolly.
"What. Did you. Just say?" Win says in a slow, shocked whisper.
I'm riveted by this bizarre turn of events. The doctor couldn't possibly mean ...
"Scott," Dr. Douglas confirms.
"Scott?" Win roars so loudly that a nurse sticks her head around the curtain to make sure everything is okay. The doctor gives her a nod of assurance, and she disappears again.
"That's right, Win. Your brother, Scott, is the primary healthcare proxy, and Jameson is the secondary. Until he arrives, nothing happens here that doesn't go through Jameson first."
Oh. This is bad. Really, really bad. Why on earth would Big Win put me in this position? I glance over at him in the hospital bed, chest rising and falling, rising and falling. I sigh and turn back to Win.
"Look, I don't know what your dad was thinking when he set things up this way, but you know he always has his reasons. So let's just have a seat and figure some of this out, okay? I suppose the first thing we'll need to do is find Scott. Where was he last? Lima, maybe? Nicaragua? I suppose the Project Peace Headquarters should be able to track him down ..."
Win is shaking his head. "There's no 'we' here, Jameson. You're the proxy. You find him," he says coolly, picking up his briefcase and heading for the door. "And good luck with that, by the way. My brother's a runner. You'll need to turn over every rock in every third world country to figure out which one he's hiding under."
"Oh, come on, Win! Please don't be like that ..."
But it's too late. He raises a hand and waves it without so much as a glance backward.
"Looks like I'm on my own," I mutter, more to myself than anyone.
"Jameson," Doc Douglas begins, "if there's anything I know about you O'Halloran girls, it's that you're never on your own."CHAPTER 2
My first clue that something is wrong — very, very wrong — is the way that Marta is yelling for me. It's more than a hundred degrees in the town of Pochotillo, Mexico, and every stitch of every inch of my clothing is plastered to my sweaty body. I drive my shovel into the soft earth so it will stand on its own and turn toward the source of the ruckus. I pull my work gloves off, wipe my brow with the back of my right hand, and then use it as a visor against the blinding sunshine of southern Mexico.
I can hear her even before I see her. When the pick-up truck finally reaches our worksite, her head is hanging out the window, long black hair billowing behind her. How she can drive like that and yell at the same time without killing herself is beyond me.
I hold up my arms, palms toward the sky in a "What's up?" gesture as she brings the beat-up old Chevy to an abrupt stop, sending a cloud of dust around us. It's so thick, I can't even see her as she gets out of the truck and comes toward me. I splutter and cough, pulling up my T-shirt to cover my mouth in a makeshift dust mask. When it finally settles, the small, curvy dynamo is standing right in front of me. And she looks worried.
That's more than a little disconcerting, because Marta never looks worried. In fact, she's just about the toughest woman I've ever met in all these years with Project Peace. And that's saying a lot. Spending time in underdeveloped regions around South and Central America tends to toughen up even the most genteel soul. In the last six months, I've seen Marta dig a ditch, put new brakes on the truck, and help deliver a baby.
"Señor Scott, you have a message," she informs me now in her thick accent. I speak Spanish, but Marta refuses to converse in anything but English until she's fully fluent.
A message? How is that even possible? No one knows where I am, let alone how to get in touch with me.
"Emmm ..." She searches for the word in English. "The doctor."
"What doctor?" I ask, racking my brains to think of the various medical personnel I've worked with. I come up short.
"The doctor en ..." She pauses the "Spanglish" thought and furrows her brow, trying to get her mouth around the strange word. "En Meenahota."
"Meenahota!" she repeats, more confidently this time.
"Meena ..." And then it clicks. "Minnesota?"
"Sí! Yes, yes! Meenahota!" she says with a look of triumph.
"I have a message from a doctor in Minnesota," I mutter to myself. "What's the message, Marta?"
"Emm ... You must to come home. To Meenahota.Por tú padre. He very much not well."
"My father is not well and I need to go to Minnesota? Do you mean he's ... sick?"
Marta nods enthusiastically. "Sick. Yes. Sick," she repeats.
An image of my dad's face comes to mind, bringing with it the usual jumble of emotions — love, longing, frustration, anger — plus a new one, fear. I've spent nearly a third of my life avoiding going home to confront my father. But right here, right now, when faced with the prospect of never seeing him again ... I realize just how much of a mess I've made. With this. With him. With everything. And if I don't take action right now, I might never have the chance to make it right.
"Okay," I say with a decisive nod. "Okay, let's go, Marta."
"Sí! Vamanos, Señor Scott."
* * *
I might be projecting here, but I'm pretty sure that's reproach I see in the iguana's eyes as it considers me from the middle seat. It's as if it knows instinctively that I'm a bad son. Either that or he's silently begging me to free him from his spikey collar and yellow "support animal" vest while his owner slumbers in the window seat. But I'm not too keen on the idea of this thing running around underfoot a la Snakes on a Plane, so he's barking up the wrong tree. Or whatever it is that iguanas do.
I'm going into hour twenty-two of this pilgrimage — having left my post yesterday on a puddle jumper that took off out of a cornfield with nothing more than a few things stuffed in a duffle bag. A duffle bag that was scrutinized for more than an hour when US Customs agents determined that my twenty-two South and Central American passport stamps were just shady enough to send up a few red flags of the "potential drug mule" variety.
I'm thankful to be on the last leg — a quick flight from the Twin Cities to Duluth — though I haven't quite figured out how I'll get home to Mayhem, which is another hour away, once we land. I tried calling my brother, Win, from Houston and then again from Minneapolis, but he didn't pick up. Either that, or he doesn't have the same phone number he had the last time we spoke ... which was when he got married. Five years ago. As with my father, Win and I haven't exactly been in regular contact since I left home.
The iguana shifts in its seat, considering its snoozing mistress before turning its attention back to me. This thing is huge. In fact, from where I'm sitting, it's a whole lot closer to the Komodo dragon end of the spectrum than the lizard end. Still, it's not altogether unattractive. I get brave and hold out a hand in front of it, hoping the thing won't bite off my index finger. Do they even have teeth? Well, they certainly have tongues, because this one slips his out and gives my hand a good long taste-a-roo.
"Oh! Look at that — he likes you!" I'm startled by the voice of its owner, who is now wide awake and watching with some amusement as my new friend and I get better acquainted. "And he doesn't like many people."
"Oh, uh, sorry ..." I mutter sheepishly, having been caught with my hand in the cookie jar. Sort of. Not really. "I didn't mean to touch your ... uhhh ... service animal ..."
But she's shaking her head and waving a hand at me. "No, no, not to worry. That's Fluffy."
"Fluffy?" I have to work at not snorting.
The middle-aged woman shrugs. "I was going through an ironic period. He keeps me calm on planes. Turns out they're really great pets ... though Minnesota isn't the best climate for them."
"No, I imagine not," I say, envisioning this creature scampering over a snow bank in February.
"That's why we're headed up north, actually. There's this little shop called the Knitty Kitty where they make sweaters for cats. They're going to give Fluffy a custom fitting tomorrow morning. I can't believe it — we've been waiting close to a year!"
"Uhhh ... wow, yeah, that's a long time ... The Knitty Kitty, huh? Sounds vaguely familiar ... I've been out of the country for a while."
"Oh, yes. Very popular with the celebrities, don't ya know! It's in this quaint little town called Mayhem. Oh, and the pie shop there is out of this world! So Fluffy and I are making a weekend of it, aren't we, Mr. Fluffernutter?" She's leaning over the armrest and actually talking baby talk to the iguana — which stares back at her impassively.
I put on my most charming smile and reach down to stroke the Fluff Man's long, scaled tail.
"Yeah, he's a real beauty, this guy. I'm Scott, by the way — did you say you and ... Fluffy ... are headed to Mayhem?"CHAPTER 3
I can't stop thinking about Big Win, lying in his hospital bed. I should be there. I would be there, except that it's Tuesday and O'Halloran's is always a zoo on Tuesday because of our very popular pub quiz.
"So you still have no idea if Scott's even coming?" Hennessy asks as we help our younger sister, Walker, fill drink orders at the bar.
I shake my head. "No clue."
"Are you sure he got the message?" Walker asks. She's wielding a pair of cocktail shakers like they're maracas.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Mischief and Mayhem"
Copyright © 2018 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.
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