Whiskey with a Twist

By Nina Wright

Chapter One

"She breeds Afghan hounds?" I asked. "Then why would I want to meet her?"

I was drinking with my ex-husband, who looked good in the autumn sunlight slanting across Mother Tucker's oak bar. So good that I strained to remind myself of the pain that must have surrounded our divorce. At the moment I could recall none at all.

"I already have an Afghan hound," I said. "One is too many."

Jeb Halloran sipped his scotch, a fine single malt that he could only recently afford. "Susan Davies has connections."

"Will she take Abra?" My voice rose in hope.

"She sells dogs, Whiskey. She doesn't collect them. But she might introduce you to her husband."

"Will he take Abra?"

"No, but he might help you make money. Liam is a builder."

"The real estate market sucks."

It was my turn to drink. But unlike Jeb, I didn't sip. I gulped. The Pinot went down way too easy.

Jeb signaled the barkeep to pour me another. "It's not that bad."

"It's not that bad if you're a buyer with financing. If you're one of them, you got plenty to choose from. Thanks to all those foreclosures. . . ."

Real estate values were in the toilet, even in Magnet Springs. A downsized job market and mortgage-lending crisis had tightened screws on homeowners everywhere. Michigan and other industrial states were especially hard hit. Locally, though, we had an advantage: ours was a resort region, scenic and sports-oriented the whole year round. We were a playground for the Midwestern rich. Particularly those from Chicagoland, a mere one hundred miles across the Greatest Great Lake.

Jeb said, "Knowing Susan and her husband might help. He's negotiating with the Shirtz Brothers. Money will be made."

I knew about Susan Davies' husband and his builder-developer machine. Rumor had it that Liam Davies, Ltd. was conferring with a local farm family to purchase an eighty-acre parcel at the north end of town.

"No real estate commission to be made on that transaction," I said.

"Ah, but what happens next?" Jeb tossed me a teasing look. The kind that usually led to action in the boudoir.

"What?"

He grinned maddeningly. "Meet Susan. You know how things work."

I knew this much: During economic downturns, the poor get poorer, the middle gets squeezed, and the rich scoop up real estate bargains. Chicago-based Davies had built his fortune turning land in Illinois and Indiana into industrial compounds, office parks, and subdivisions. His plan for the land along Uphill Road remained a mystery. Although the property was zoned agricultural, anything was possible.

"Start pouring. The drinks are on me!" announced a voice rich with Tongo accent and real estate commissions.

Odette Mutombo, the best Realtor on this side of the state, slid onto the bar stool next to mine. Ignoring me, she fixed her sparkling black eyes on Jeb.

"Don't let Whiskey sing you any sad songs. I'm here to change her tune."

"I leave the singing to Jeb," I quipped, referring to my ex-husband's rising career. "You've got good news that involves real estate?"

"I have amazing news. Opportunity knocks for those who can hear it: Me."

Folding her manicured hands on the bar, Odette smiled languidly. "I just took a meeting with Liam Davies' people. They want Mattimoe Realty as broker of record for their new development."

Before I could gasp, Jeb's cell phone sang out his own version of Itsy-Bitsy Spider, now available wherever music was sold. He turned away to take the call.

"She'll need something stronger than that," Odette informed the barkeep when he presented a fresh glass of Pinot Noir. "Pour her what her boyfriend's drinking, and make it a double."

"He's not my—" I protested. Odette made the rude raspberry sound she favored when calling my bluff.

"For this news you will require sedation. Liam Davies' people want me to handle the project, start to end. And it's a whopper. Will you sulk?"

Once upon a time I would have. Back when the market was stronger than my ego. Before I'd accidentally absorbed enough New Age wisdom to sort out my priorities. Now I accepted both my own limitations and Odette's astonishing strengths. The woman could sell saltwater to sharks. Ergo, she could make money in a down market. Although I owned and operated Mattimoe Realty, sales wasn't my forte. Which was why I gave thanks every day that Odette worked for me and not the competition. Anything she brought in the door fattened my company coffers.

"I should buy you a drink," I told her.

"Oh, you will. Plus dinner and assorted high-end gifts of gratitude. Not to mention the colossal commission checks you'll sign. But tonight I'm buying. Drink up."

The barkeep slid a double Glenfiddich my way. I would have preferred to stick with Pinot Noir. Hard liquor tends to get me in trouble, especially trouble of the sexual sort. My engine was already revving too high. Seven mostly happy years after divorcing Jeb—which included my brief but blissful marriage to the late great Leo—I was seeing Jeb again. Translation: we were having sex. Hot sex. Frequent sex. Better-than-ever sex. And it was scaring the shit out of me. I must have had plenty of reasons for divorcing him way back when. Yet, in the throes of renewed passion, I couldn't remember a single one.

When the short-term lease on his house ran out at the end of July, Jeb had suggested I let him move in with me. Instead, I found him another rental. But now, two months later, he hardly ever went home. He spent most nights with me at Vestige, the lakefront home I had lovingly built with Leo. The lonely, horny part of me wanted to give Jeb his own key. But the sane, self-protective part wanted him to hit the road on another music tour while I cooled my jets. After a whole season of intense sex, I needed to separate my brain from my libido and decide which one was my friend. Even in the midst of Odette's thrilling news, I caught myself eyeing Jeb's ass.

"You'll love Davies' plans for developing the property," Odette purred. "A two-phase, two income-level super-subdivision: Little House on the Prairie and Big House on the Prairie: Little House for the common people, Big House for the rich. Separating the two will be a manmade lake. And in the middle of the lake will be an island with tall thick trees."

"So the people in the big houses don't have to look at the people in the little houses," I guessed.

"You're catching on!" Odette clinked her chocotini glass against my tumbler of scotch. "Mattimoe Realty will be the listing agent for fifty homes that sell for under two-hundred-thou, and fifteen homes that sell for more than one-point-five million. Cheers!"

I clinked back and chugged my scotch. It was alarmingly smooth. "But the economy—"

Odette made the raspberry sound again. "The rich always have money! Davies will start on that side of the lake."

"Did you say 'Davies'?" Jeb rejoined the conversation.

Odette summarized her latest coup. My ex congratulated her and told me to expect a call.

"From who?"

"The other Davies. She phoned me, looking for you."

"Did you ask her to take Abra?"

"No, but you can," he said as my cell rang. "That's Susan now."

The first zing from my free scotch hit me the instant I opened my phone. I was pretty sure I slurred my greeting. "This is Whiskey."

"Hello, Whiskey," said a warm female voice. "This is Susan Davies. I believe we're both fans of Jeb Halloran. He's told me so much about you and your Afghan hound. I hope you don't mind that I asked him for your number."

Scotch buzz notwithstanding, I had three instant questions, none of which I asked out loud. First, which horror stories had Jeb shared about me and my diva dog? Second, when and where had he shared them? Third, and this was related to Second, what did Susan Davies mean by claiming that she and I were both "fans"? As Jeb's former wife and current lover, I was way more than a fan. Was she? I suddenly remembered one painful reason for our long-ago divorce: Jeb liked to stray.

I took another slug of scotch. "How do you know my ex-husband?"

"He didn't tell you?"

"He didn't."

I glared at Jeb, who was leaning on the bar, laughing with Odette.

"Liam and I caught his act at the Holiday Inn in Grand Rapids. That was in August. Since then, my husband has been too busy to go back, but I've heard Jeb at least five more times."

"Five more times?"

"At least. Fabulous, isn't he?"

"That's one word for him." My voice was calm although my diction lacked crispness. Since I rate peace of mind higher than clarity of speech, I drank some more. "What keeps bringing you back to Grand Rapids, Susan? Surely not Jeb's music. . . ."

"You're right. Hearing Jeb sing is a treat, but that's not why I'm in the area. He didn't tell you why?"

"Again—no, he didn't."

I frowned at my ex-husband, who was having too much fun to notice.

Susan said, "Besides my kennel in Itasca, I co-own six dogs in Grand Rapids. The other owner and I started a breeding program. Our bitch is in heat."

"How nice for you!"

"It is, actually. Which brings me to the reason I called. I have a request, Whiskey. It's unorthodox, not to mention short notice, but I'd like to stop by your home. Tonight. My co-breeder, Ramona Bowden, is with me, and we want to meet your dog."

"My dog?" I blinked. "You don't want to meet my dog."

"Oh, yes, we most definitely do."

"Why not meet a nice Afghan hound? Mine is a convicted felon."

"We know that."

Susan Davies didn't seem to get it. So I spoke slowly. "Abra steals things. Expensive things. She consorts with thieves and kidnappers. My dog has a criminal record."

"Her criminal record is why we want to meet her!" Susan said. "It's why we are inviting her—and you, too, of course—to participate in next week's Midwest Afghan Hound Show."

At least that was what I thought she said. Since it made no sense, I blamed the scotch, set my empty glass on the bar, and waited for Susan Davies to try again.

"Are you there, Whiskey?"

"We must have a bad connection. It sounded like you want Abra to be in a dog show. Because she's a criminal." I giggled.

"That's right. Ramona and I are in charge of Breeder Education. We believe that the most effective way to teach grooming and training is to show how not to do it. Abra is the worst example we've ever found."

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