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Nina Wright

Whiskey with a Twist

The fifth book in the Whiskey Mattimoe Mystery series, 2009

For the 17-word man from the 80,000-word woman.

Acknowledgments

Warmest thanks to the following writers and readers for skillfully and generously critiquing my drafts: Teddie Aggeles, M.K. Buhler, Rebecca Gall, Greg Neri, and Richard Pahl.

Hugs to Clooney and Redford, the four-leggers.

I write with fond memories of Flannery, Lola, Endo, and Talley. See y’all in another novel.

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

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