Without a Brew by Ellie Alexander: Featured Excerpt

Amateur sleuth Sloan Krause delves into a murderous winter wonderland in another delightful mystery from cozy writer Ellie Alexander, Without a Brew. Read an excerpt here!

Chapter 1

 

A BITING JANUARY WIND BLEW into the taproom as the front door to Nitro opened and a group of skiers traipsed inside. They were loaded down with gear—expensive puffy parkas in an array of bright colors, ski goggles, boots, and poles. A slightly overweight guy with a pinched face and an entitled sneer glanced around the bar and scoffed.“This is where they sent us? Dude, it’s going to be a long weekend.” 

His buddy laughed. “We’re not in Seattle anymore, Kev.”

They were followed in by two younger women dragging hot pink Prada suitcases behind them. 

The first guy approached the bar, where Garrett, my boss and fellow brewer, and I had been pouring pints for locals and brainstorming our spring beer line. In the world of craft beer, we always had to think a season ahead. Despite the fact that we were deep in the throes of winter in Leavenworth, Washington, we were already dreaming up sunny, fruit-forward ales and sweet strawberry pilsners.

“Hey, who do I talk to about getting a couple of rooms?” The guy with the pinched face interrupted our conversation. He was tall with a slightly receding hairline. I put him in his early thirties, and judging by his smartwatch with its platinum band and his designer ski gear, I’d have wagered a guess that he worked for one of the many tech companies headquartered in nearby Seattle. 

I gave Garrett a look to let him know that I had this, and turned to the guy. “We don’t have any rooms.” 

His tightly wound face squeezed even harder. Big blue veins bulged across his forehead. “That’s not what I heard. I was told you have the only rooms left in town, and we want them. I’ll pay you cash. Hard money, right now, for them.” As if to prove his net worth, he dug a leather wallet from his ski jacket and proceeded to flash a bunch of hundred-dollar bills.

Garrett stepped forward. “Who told you we had rooms available?” 

The guy pointed in the direction of Front Street. “That cheap-ass property management company down the street. I rented a ski chalet from them for the weekend, but apparently the pipes froze, and it’s flooded. That worthless woman tried to rebook us in a hotel, but everything is full. She told us to come talk to . . .” He paused for a minute and read a note jotted down on the back of a business card I recognized. It belonged to my friend Lisa Balmes, who owned a high-end vacation management company in the village. 

“I need to talk to Sloan or Garrett— stat. The name’s Kevin Malcolm. You may not be aware, but I’m a VP and I have high expectations when it comes to customer service.”

He tapped his watch. “My friends and I are freezing our butts off here, so go get one of them for me.” 

“You’re looking at them.” Garrett pointed to his chest. As usual, his slightly disheveled hair was held back by a pair of the chemistry goggles he used when brewing. 

“Great.” Kevin snapped. “Then what do we need to do to get a couple of rooms ASAP?” He took five hundred-dollar bills out of his wallet and proceeded to stack them on the bar, one at a time. 

“Technically we don’t have any rooms ready,” Garrett replied.

That was true. If Lisa had sent them our way, she must be in dire straits. We hadn’t advertised the fact that we were about to open a craft-beer-themed B and B. Beer tourism was becoming big business, and we were sitting on a little gold mine. We had converted four bedrooms above the brewery into guest rooms in an attempt to pull in another revenue stream in the form of beer travel. Each room design was inspired by the four elements of beer—hops, grain, yeast, and water. We had started renovations in November, but then the holiday season hit and put us behind schedule. Our goal was to officially open next weekend, just in time for Leavenworth’s annual Bavarian IceFest, but we had decided to start with a “soft” opening in advance of officially launching our new project. Just yesterday we had welcomed our first guests, a young couple in town celebrating their anniversary. It seemed like a good idea to test the waters before we made the space available to more guests. 

“Look, I don’t want to play games with you, man. Is this a money issue? Consider that a deposit.” He nodded at the stack of hundreds. “There’s plenty more where that came from. I’m willing to fork out more even if this is a glorified Airbnb, because I’m not having my ladies sleep out in the cold.” He glanced behind him and shot a lewd look at the two women waiting near the front door. 

I shuddered at his condescending use of “ladies.”

“Look, I’m a VP. A VP at a major ad agency that works with all of the tech giants in Seattle. You’ve probably heard of Screamtime.”

Everyone in the PNW had heard of Screamtime. The irreverent ad agency was known for in-your-face ad campaigns that pushed every moral boundary. It was no surprise that Kev worked for the company. 

He puffed out his chest and took out a vape pen. “I’ll make it worth your while to have us stay. I know powerful people in the digital industry. A review of this place from me will get you noticed by the jet set.” 

The jet set? Who was this guy? “Hey, there’s no smoking or vaping in here.” Garrett held up a finger to the pompous VP. 

“Lame.” He stuffed the vape pen back in his pocket. “Give us a minute, and we’ll see what we can do about rooms.” Garrett pulled me over to the far corner of the bar. “What do you think, Sloan?”

I shrugged. “It’s your call. I can get the rooms ready. They’re basically done. I just need to get some linens and towels. I’m sure Lisa must be in a jam if she sent him to us, but remind me to thank her later.” I rolled my eyes. “He sure seems like a gem.” 

“Trust me, I know the type. He’s one of three thousand VPs. We used to call them VPs of ass kissing. Guys like that are the reason I live here now.” Garrett had recently moved to our Bavarian utopia after working in Seattle for decades. He had ditched city life to run a nanobrewery in the remote Northern Cascades. It had been quite a lifestyle change, but one that he had adapted to seamlessly. 

I chuckled. “If nothing else, we can take his money.”

“My thoughts exactly. And in some ways, if we can put up with Mr. VP and his pals for the weekend, we’ll really have an official soft opening test. As much as I hate to admit it, we’re going to have to learn how to handle his type once we open the guest rooms. It’s not like we can ask people if they’re entitled jerks when they make a reservation.”

“I don’t know. Maybe I should formulate some of kind of screening test.” I was hopeful that guys like the one waiting impatiently at the end of the bar wouldn’t choose Nitro’s rustic guest rooms. One of the things I liked most about working in the brewery was the low-key vibe and relaxed atmosphere. The space was casual, welcoming, and a good spot to savor one of our signature pints for an afternoon. But Garrett raised a fair point. We were about to branch into the hospitality business, and that meant interacting with a variety of customers. I was a professional. I could deal with the VP. 

“Why don’t you get them beers to tide them over, and I’ll go check on the rooms?” I retied my long black ponytail and rolled up the sleeves to my Nitro hoodie. 

“What would I do without you, Sloan?” Garrett patted my shoulder. “You’re one of a kind.” 

“Don’t forget it.” I winked and left Garrett to deal with the skiers.

Nitro is the smallest brewery in the village, with a tasting room and bar in the front, a commercial kitchen and our brewing operations in the back. It originally belonged to Garrett’s great-aunt Tess, who used the space as a diner and guesthouse. Upstairs, each room had its own bathroom and fireplace. Garrett currently lived in a converted suite. He took the walls down between a couple of the rooms to create his own apartment. The other large suite was occupied by our first employee, Kat. In addition to the apartments and guest rooms, the upstairs included a shared reading room, which we had outfitted with comfy couches, bookcases stacked with plenty of fiction and an assortment of beer titles, and a snack area with a small fridge, self-serve coffee and tea, and late-night munchies. 

As I walked past the reading room, I spotted Ali and Brad, our first soft-opening guests, curled up on the couch. They were leafing through a cross-country trail map and drinking cups of tea. 

“How’s everything going?” I stopped to check in with them. 

Brad rested his arm around his wife’s shoulder. “Good, good. We’re mapping out our ski route for this afternoon. When do the lights come on?” 

The lights that Brad was referring to were Leavenworth’s winter showpiece. Over a million twinkle lights adorned every tree and storefront in the German-inspired village. They lit up our little alpine town from the day after Thanksgiving until March, casting a perpetual winter glow on our cobblestone streets. Visitors descended on our otherwise sleepy town every weekend in the winter to experience the magic of the colorful light show and ski and snowshoe in our nearby mountains. Next weekend’s Bavarian IceFest would include fireworks, ice carving, snow sculptures, and winter games like the penguin shuffle, ice cube scrambling, the snowball toss, smooshing, and a local favorite—Frisbee sweeping, where contestants sweep a Frisbee on a sheet of ice from one end of Front Street to the other. 

“The lights come on at dusk every night. You have plenty of time to hit the trails this afternoon.” I looked at the antique cuckoo clock, one of the pieces left from Garrett’s great-aunt Tess. It was just after one. The sun wouldn’t set until after five. “I’m glad I found you two. We have some unexpected guests staying.” I explained the situation. “We weren’t intending to book any other rooms this weekend, but we can’t leave these guests out in the cold.” 

“Don’t give it a thought.” Ali rubbed Brad’s hand as she spoke. “We’re happy to share this space, and we are absolutely in love with our room, aren’t we, honey?” 

Brad agreed. “For sure. The hops theme is awesome. Especially the dried hops to put under our pillows. Nice touch.”

Hops have a naturally calming effect. We decided to offer our guests the same immersive experience, by stringing dried hops along the ceiling, placing hop vines in small mason jar vases throughout the room, and leaving hop-filled sachets under the pillows. “I’m glad you’re enjoying it so far. Don’t forget to stop in the tasting room to get your free pint later.” Guests who stayed with us would receive a special beer tasting, personal brewery tours, and homemade breakfasts.

“Oh, we’re here for the beer! Don’t worry, we plan to camp out in the tasting room tonight and try everything you have on tap.” Ali grinned. “I told Brad maybe we should skip skiing today and just go straight for the beer.” 

Brad squeezed her hand. “We have the entire weekend for beer, hon.” 

They were clearly celebrating their anniversary. His left arm massaged her shoulder as his right hand was entwined in hers. Their easy show of affection made me think of my soon-to-be ex-husband, Mac. I had caught him cheating on me with a young barmaid. At the time I had been furious, embarrassed, and totally unclear about what to do next, but like many things in life, sometimes the hardest struggles lead to new discovery. If it hadn’t been for Mac straying, I probably wouldn’t be at Nitro now. In some ways I felt grateful for his infidelity. Not that I condoned it, but we had been unhappy for a while. If I was being honest with myself, I didn’t think I ever would have left him if it hadn’t been for that fateful day when I walked in on him. A part of me would always love him. He had introduced me to the world of craft beer and given me my son, Alex. I was hopeful that in the days ahead we would be able to find a new way of being friends or at least co-parents, without the baggage that came from decades of an unhealthy marriage. 

The hardest part of our breakup for me had been the thought of losing my connection with Otto, Ursula, and Hans, Mac’s parents and brother. They were the only family I had ever known. As a product of the foster care system, I had no baseline for what it was like to have a family support you unconditionally. The Krauses had given me that, and I couldn’t bear the thought of losing them.

The problem was, it wasn’t solely Mac’s infidelity that had put a strain on things with my in-laws. Our relationship was complicated and made more so by Ursula’s revelation a couple months ago that she had known my birth mother. I had been sitting with that knowledge, unsure how to proceed. Learning that Ursula had known details about my past and kept them from me had left me feeling completely unsettled. Why had she withheld such important information? Her revelation had left me feeling like I was walking around in a daze. Everything I had thought I knew about the Krause family was in question. The situation was made worse by a phone call around the same time with my former case worker and only confidant, Sally, who had warned me that Otto and Ursula might not be the sweet couple I had always believed them to be. Was there another reason Ursula had lied to me all of these years? Could she somehow be involved with my parents’ disappearance? 

I shuddered at the thought. Sally was coming in a couple days, and until then, my only coping strategy was to keep busy and to push any thoughts of the Krauses to the side for the short term. Initially, Sally had intended to come to Leavenworth right away, but her plans changed after she had uncovered more information about my past. She had asked for more time to compile as much as she could before we met again in person. I had waited this long, so another day or two wouldn’t kill me. 

I turned my attention to the happy couple snuggled together on the couch. They even looked alike. Both Brad and Ali had dark hair and deep brown eyes. Ali’s was twisted into a messy bun, while Brad’s was trimmed short. Their dewy gaze made me wistful for young love. “Enjoy the skiing, and please don’t hesitate to let us know if you need anything. We’ll look forward to seeing you in the tasting room later.” 

I left them and went to the supply room to get towels, sheets, and toiletries. I planned to put the VP and his friends in the water and yeast rooms respectively, as both of those had two queen beds. They could figure it out from there. I wasn’t going to insert myself into their group dynamic. We had arranged the hop and grain rooms for couples’ retreats, with king beds and claw-foot tubs. If fully booked, Nitro could accommodate a total of twelve guests. Hopefully, that number would bring in some extra cash without inundating us with tons of extra work. 

The highlight of our brewery lodgings would be custom beer-infused breakfasts. I loved to cook, so I had agreed to take on breakfast preparation in addition to the small menu we had for the bar. With nearly every room booked, tomorrow morning should be a good test. 

I prepped the rooms and tried to push thoughts of Ursula and my past from my mind. The rooms had turned out better than I had anticipated. The water room was a sensory retreat with stunning photographs of Icicle Creek, the Wenatchee River, and Leavenworth’s snowcapped mountains lining the walls. We had painted the room in soft, calming blue tones and adorned it with matching blue and white linens and an indoor water fountain. Yeast had been harder to visualize, but Kat, our newest addition, had had a stroke of genius when she found a quote about yeast and how every loaf of bread could have become beer but— tragically— didn’t. We rolled with that idea by showcasing collections of photos from every step in the brewing process. The yeast room was painted in creamy beige tones with pops of orange, and had yellow accent pillows, a small loveseat for reading, and a stack of chemistry and science magazines. 

Once the guest rooms were sparkling clean, with fluffy stacks of towels, chocolates on the pillows, and pint glasses ready for filling, I returned to the bar. Garrett was chatting with a local at one of the high-top tables. Kat was updating the chalkboard menu with two new guest taps. 

Kat was in her early twenties with a mound of curls, dimples, and boundless energy. She had ended up in Leavenworth in a less-than-fortunate situation, and Garrett and I had taken her under our wing. In exchange for free room and board, she was our girl Friday. Kat might be young, but she was a quick study. She had learned how to pour a perfect pint, was developing her knowledge base of the craft, and was always ready to dive in wherever we needed her, whether that meant washing dishes or making beds. 

I waved to Kat and ducked behind the bar. “Okay, the rooms are ready,” I said to Garrett. 

“Good.” He handed me a gold-embossed business card. “Kev, a.k.a. Kevin Malcolm, VP of ass kissing, and his cronies are all paid up.” He looked to Kat. “You’ll both be happy to know that there’s a big, big tip coming our way if he and his friends are happy with their stay.” 

“Gag.” Kat stuck out her tongue.

“If they give you any problems, come talk to me or Garrett.” I felt protective of Kat. “I know how to deal with guys like Kevin— don’t let them intimidate you.” I glanced to the front. “Oh, and don’t let him vape.”

“No worries.” Kat brushed me off. “Those women are like their groupies. They hang on every word ‘Kev’ says. I don’t think he’ll mess with me when he has a vapid fan base drooling over him.” 

Kat was a bit younger than Kevin and his friends, but she was wise beyond her years. 

“Here’s to launching the bed-and-breakfast.” Garrett gave us both high fives. 

After working on the concept for months, I was excited to kick off our new endeavor. But I couldn’t shake a nagging feeling that Kevin and his friends were going to be trouble.

 

Chapter 2

 

MY FEARS ABOUT KEVIN AND his pals were confirmed as the afternoon wore on. They camped out in the tasting room, ordering multiple rounds of pints and talking loud enough for everyone in the pub to hear their conversation. I knew it was intentional. Kev was the kind of guy who thrived on attention. His friends might not have picked up on it, but I noticed that each time he told a story about firing his personal assistant or how much he paid for his Tesla, he would do a quick survey of the room to make sure our other guests were listening. 

They weren’t. At least they were trying not to. One table of regulars moved away from Kevin’s group and came to sit at the bar. 

“What’s the deal with that guy, Sloan?” a doctor who worked at the village hospital just around the corner from Nitro asked. “Is he trying to impress us? Because here’s a news flash— it’s not working.”

“Don’t ask. They were supposed to be staying up at one of the ski chalets, but apparently the pipes froze, so Lisa sent them to us. Lucky, huh? Aren’t you jealous? Maybe we should send them to the hospital. You have visitor rooms there, right?” 

“No way. If that guy shows up at the hospital, I’m turning in my doctor card.” 

Garrett poured frothy new pints. “This round is on the house, Doc.” 

The doctor raised his glass. “Unnecessary, but thank you. If either of you need a sedative to help you sleep tonight, come find me.” 

I knew he was joking, but I did feel bad for Garrett and Kat. At least I would get to escape any annoying guests at night. For the moment, I was still living in the vintage farmhouse that Mac and I had spent years restoring to its original glory. Lately, though, I’d been toying with putting the house and acreage up for sale and making an offer on a sweet cottage in town. I had even gone so far as to tour the new property with my nemesis, April Ablin. She’s Leavenworth’s self-proclaimed ambassador and one-woman welcome wagon. To help solidify her position in the village, she dresses in outlandish barmaid outfits and somehow manages to butcher any attempt at speaking German, much to Otto and Ursula’s delight. 

A woman with long, silky blond hair swept into the bar. With her stylish black slacks and gray cashmere sweater, she didn’t look like our typical winter ski tourist stomping around in heavy boots. She made a beeline for the bar and dropped her Italian leather purse on an empty barstool.

“Can I get you a drink?” I asked, sliding a Nitro coaster toward her. 

“Yes, please. I could really use a drink.” She sounded frazzled.“Do you have a particular style of beer you prefer, or would you like me to make some suggestions?” Educating our customers on flavor profiles and hop varietals was the best part of my job. I loved being able to share my knowledge on the craft and help people find the perfect beer for their palate. We had an ongoing challenge at Nitro that we could match every customer’s preferences with one of our custom craft beers. Thus far we hadn’t missed. It was especially rewarding when a customer sat down at the bar and claimed they “hated beer.” I took those words as my personal mission to introduce them to a variety of styles. Hops overwhelmed many palates, so I would often start with a pilsner or wheat beer. On the other hand, we had plenty of customers who refused to drink our malty offerings— for them, I went straight to our hoppiest brews, like our Pacific Northwest line of IPAs. “Anything. Whatever you like best is fine.” The woman made a sound like a half moan and twisted her straw-colored locks around her index finger. I could tell that blond wasn’t her natural color, since her eyebrows were as dark as our winter stout. The contrast between her nearly black eyebrows, bittersweet chocolate eyes, and honey highlights was striking. 

“Our most popular beer at the moment is our winter ale—it’s a nice balance of hops with fifty IBUs and hints of pine and citrus. Do you want a taste?” IBU— International Bittering Unit—is a term brewers throw around, but for the novice drinking crowd, it’s a great way to gauge a beer’s hop profile. The lower the IBU, the less hoppy or bitter the beer will be. 

“That sounds fine. I don’t need to taste it. I’ll take a pint.”

“Great.” I went to pour her a glass of our newest winter ale. Garrett and I had tweaked a holiday recipe for the hoppy brew. We had tapped it on New Year’s Day and would have it on as our seasonal until mid-to-late February. 

I returned with the pint and handed it to the woman. “Here you go. Is there anything else I can get you? Would you like to see a food menu?” 

She scrolled through her phone. “No. I’m not hungry. I’m trying to find a place to stay tonight, though, and every hotel I’ve been to is booked. I had no idea Leavenworth was so popular during the winter.” 

“Only on weekends,” I replied. “You’re here with the Friday crowd. Monday through Thursday is pretty quiet. But today everyone rolls in for the weekend—skiing, sledding, shopping, and of course, checking out our annual winter light display.” 

The woman took a large gulp of her beer. Craft beer is made for sipping, not chugging. When I give tours of the brewery and tastings, I always encourage our customers to savor the experience. Our beer is best when you take the time to smell the hops, swirl the first sip in your mouth, and then close your eyes and take a minute to really absorb each distinct flavor. Sure, you can chug a beer to get a buzz, but you’ll miss the nuances and subtle aromas that we spend weeks and months perfecting. Watching her knock back the pint made me sad. It was kind of like someone walking past an artist’s painting and saying, “Oh, pretty,” without bothering to stop and take note of the brushstrokes and layers of color.

“Great. Just my luck.” She set the half-empty beer on the bar. “You don’t happen to know of any hotels with availability?” 

“Where have you checked?” I had a feeling she was going to be in the same predicament as Kevin and his friends from Seattle. 

She rattled off the name of basically every boutique hotel and bed-and-breakfast in the village. 

“That’s pretty much it.”

“I’m screwed.” She pressed her thumb into her temple. “I don’t want to drive back to Spokane in the dark. Getting through the mountain passes in the daylight was stressful enough.” 

“Yeah, that’s a long drive. What is it, like, three and half hours?” 

“Longer with the snow right now. I followed a snowplow through the pass. That was fun.” She picked up the beer again. I knew I had to offer the last empty room upstairs. Obviously, the universe was conspiring against our soft launch. “Hang on a minute. I might have an idea for you.” I went to find Garrett. He was in the office checking on inventory numbers. To call it an office was an exaggeration at best. The tiny room had just enough space for two desks and a filing cabinet. Garrett had painted the far wall with whiteboard paint. He used it to work out new beer recipes. Today there were early sketches of our brainstorms for the spring line on the wall in purple and green dry-erase pen. Honey wheat, a lavender sour, lemon and orange citrus, and a strawberry blonde were beers we were considering.

“Hey, so how do you feel about having another guest tonight and going all in on our not-so-soft launch?” 

“What?” He set a stack of papers aside. I told him about the woman at the bar. “We can’t win, can we?” His eyes held a touch of bewilderment. “I guess they weren’t kidding when they said that we wouldn’t have a problem keeping the place booked.” 

“I know. It’s like, be careful what you wish for.” I grimaced. “What do you think? Should we offer her the room and go for it?” 

“Why not? What’s one more guest?” He clicked the top of a ballpoint pen. “What about breakfast?” 

“I’m going to work on that next. I’ll see what we have in the kitchen. Since we knew that Ali and Brad were going to be here, I had already planned for tomorrow and Sunday. I’ll probably need to grab a few extra things at the grocery store, but I can make it work.” 

“Let’s do it, then.” He flashed me a thumbs-up. I left him to finish the inventory sheets and returned to the bar. “Good news,” I said to the woman, who had finished the beer. “We have a room here if you’re interested.” 

Her face lit up. “Really? Yes, please— I’ll sleep right here on the bar if I have to.” 

I told her about our guest rooms and how she wasn’t alone in her predicament. 

“Thank you so much, you are a life saver, and I’m in desperate need of saving right now.” She reached out her hand. “I’m Liv, by the way. Liv Paxton.”

“Sloan, brewer turned innkeeper.” I returned the handshake. “What brings you to our village?” 

Her face blanched. She looked at a loss for words. “Uh, business.” 

“Oh.” Leavenworth wasn’t exactly a mecca for big business. I thought about asking what line of work she was in but didn’t want to pry. “You’re here at a beautiful time of the year. Be sure to check out the lights tonight.” 

“Okay, yeah.” She didn’t sound overly enthused. “I saw a flyer about that. This is my first time in Leavenworth.” 

“I’m sure you’ll love it. There’s so much to do. Do you ski?”She frowned. “No. I hate the snow.” 

“Well, in that case, enjoy the shopping. There’s a great spa just outside of town.” I pointed to her empty glass. “Can I get you another?”

“Yes. Please.” I refilled her glass and came back to find Kevin and his pals gathered at the bar for another round. He smelled like strawberries and chemicals. I guessed it was from the vaping.

“Hey, bartender, get this pretty little lady a beer as ice-cold as her ex-boyfriend’s heart.” Kevin winked at Liv. 

Liv rolled her eyes and placed a perfectly manicured hand over her beer glass. “I’m fine.” 

Kevin was invading Liv’s personal space with his thick arm propped on the bar. “Check out the watch. Have you ever seen anything like this baby? Solid gold Gucci band meets state-of-the art tech. This watch can do it all, order Chinese food and take photos underwater when I’m diving. It can even start my Tesla.”

“Good for you.” Liv was less than impressed. She didn’t bother to look up from the beer I had handed her. 

Kevin proceeded to take the massive gold watch off his wrist and hand it to her. 

“I don’t need to see your fake watch up close.” One of the women in Kevin’s party gasped and threw her hand over her mouth. 

“Fake?” Kevin’s face burned with color. “This isn’t fake. It retails for over a thousand dollars. I make more than that in a couple hours at my company. I’m a VP.” 

“Yeah, he’s a VP,” the young woman chimed in. She was dressed in head-to-toe pink. A pink ski suit, hat, and scarf. Even her eyelids were dusted in a glittery pink shadow. 

“Shut it, Jenny, I’ve got this.” Kevin kept his attention focused on Liv. Jenny recoiled at his dismissal. 

Liv turned her body away from them, using her leather purse to block the empty stool next to her. 

Kevin thrust the watch at her. “Take a good look. You’ve probably never had a chance to hold a real Gucci, have you?”

“I don’t care if your watch is from Target. I’m doing my thing. You do you.” Liv tried to shift in her chair to move away completely. 

“No, you called this fake, and that’s a bunch of crap. Take a good look at it. It’s solid gold.” He reached for her wrist and tried to force the watch into her hand. 

She threw her hands in the air and the watch landed on the floor. “Don’t touch me.” 

“Hey, you broke my watch!” Kevin screamed. Jenny picked up the watch and cradled it like it was an infant.

“Everyone calm down,” I said with authority. “She broke my freaking watch.” Kevin yanked the watch out of Jenny’s hand and held it up for me to see. 

“You tried to assault me,” Liz retorted. Jenny rushed to his defense. Her cheeks flushed with color as she shook her finger in Liv’s face. “Assault you? You don’t even know who he is. He’s one of the most powerful men at one of the most powerful companies in Seattle, and you just threw his watch on the ground.” 

Liv rolled her eyes and looked to me for support. “Listen, I want all of you to go back to your table.” I motioned for Kevin and his group to step away from the bar. Kat and Garrett must have heard the commotion, as they both appeared on either side of me at the same time. At least we had safety in numbers. Nitro wasn’t the kind of pub where bar fights took place. I wasn’t about to let that change now. 

“What’s going on?” Garrett immediately clued in on my body posture and stood between the groups. 

“That witch broke my watch.” Kevin glared at Liv. “No, you tried to assault me,” Liv repeated. Her face was stoic. Garrett ushered Kevin and his friends to their table. “Look, guys, we’re going out of our way to accommodate you, but if you’re going to make a scene, we’re going to have to ask you to leave.” 

“It’s cool, it’s cool,” Jenny chimed in, tugging Kevin by the arm. “We’ll have some beers, and chill, right, guys?” 

“What the hell was that?” Liv glanced over her shoulder and shook her head. “He’s still living the frat guy dream.”

“I know. We get a handful of his type every now and then. Sorry about that.” I lowered my voice. “Here’s the thing. Kevin and his friends are also staying the night. Is that going to be a problem?” 

“No. Not unless I sneak into his room and kill him.” She laughed. 

“That’s dark.”

“I’ve been told I have a dark sense of humor. Maybe because I’ve seen plenty of darkness in my life.” She removed a tube of lip gloss from her purse and expertly applied it. Then she looked up at me. “I’m kidding. Don’t worry. I’ll avoid that group of frat boys and sorority sisters like the plague.” 

This wasn’t exactly how I had envisioned our bed-and-breakfast guests would interact. I had imagined guests happily chatting over breakfast, strangers meeting and becoming friends, gathering in the tasting room for late-night games and pints. Never had I pictured guests fighting or threatening one another. 

If we couldn’t figure out a way to keep Kevin and his crew under control, our venture might sink before it had even started.

Copyright © 2020 by Ellie Alexander


About Without a Brew by Ellie Alexander:

It’s winter in the Bavarian village of Leavenworth, Washington, which for local brewmaster Sloan Krause means lots of layers, pine and citrus-flavored craft beers, and getting the new guest rooms at Nitro into pristine condition before visitors flood in for IceFest—a local tradition filled with fireworks, ice carving, and winter games of all varieties. But Sloan and her boss Garrett quickly learn that being brewkeepers turned innkeepers may not be as idyllic as it sounded.

While one couple staying with them seems completely smitten, a flashy group arrives in the evening demanding rooms. Sloan and Garrett are less than impressed, but agree to rent to them anyway. The night takes a turn when brewery patron Liv Paxton finishes her frothy pint and, with no previous plan for an overnight stay in Leavenworth, eagerly takes Sloan up on the offer of sanctuary from the snow—until she has a strange run in with some locals and the other guests. Sloan could be imagining things, but when Liv’s room is found trashed the next morning, a hateful message painted on her car, and Liv herself is nowhere to be found, Sloan is convinced another mystery is brewing. With many of the potential suspects hunkering down under Nitro’s roof, she knows her co-workers and friends won’t be safe until she serves up the killer a hoppy pint of justice.

 

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