Love in a Nutshell - Janet Evanovich

ONE

Kate Appleton needed a job. Again.

Actually, need didn’t come close to describing the hunger and sharp bite of desperation speeding her steps across Depot Brewing Company’s parking lot on that crisp October afternoon. Just as the town marina to the right of the microbrewery was growing empty of boats, Keene’s Harbor, Michigan, was growing empty of tourists and their cash. And, at this moment, Kate needed cash. She had moved to Keene’s Harbor a couple of weeks ago, eager to change her parents’ dilapidated lake house into a thriving bed-and-breakfast. They had moved to Naples, Florida, and the harsh reality was that it hadn’t been used in years, except as a nut storage facility by a family of industrious squirrels. Ironic, since a homemade plaque proclaiming the house “The Nutshell” had adorned the front entrance since before she could remember.

In any event, the house needed a lot of work, and her parents were less than enthusiastic about pumping tens of thousands of dollars into a home that was already underwater on its mortgage. To make matters worse, they’d gotten a letter from some lawyer last week that the bank had gone into bankruptcy and the mortgage had been sold to some private investor. He’d offered to release Kate’s parents from the debt in exchange for the property. It was actually a fairly generous offer, considering the market, but Kate was trying to build a life for herself in Keene’s Harbor. And dammit, her family home wasn’t for sale. Depot Brewing wasn’t just Kate’s last shot at employment. It was the last shot at her dreams.

* * *

CRIMSON MAPLE leaves crunched beneath her leather boots as she marched toward the handsome yellow brick and sandstone building and checked off her plan of action. She would be firm, yet polite. Honest, yet not to the point of over-sharing. And she would go straight to the top, to the guy who could make her, or— Forget that. She wouldn’t consider the possibility of someone breaking her. And she wouldn’t consider walking away without a job.

Kate drew in a breath, pulled back her shoulders, and wrapped her hand around the hammered-bronze door handle of her new workplace.

* * *

MATT CULHANE sat holed up in his small and admittedly cluttered office behind Depot Brewing Company’s taproom. He wanted one last look at his inventory spreadsheet before the after-work crowd showed up. Not that he begrudged his customers their fun, but he should have chosen to stay put in his dungeon of an office in the back of the microbrewery rather than move into the portion of the building housing the newly constructed but noisy restaurant. He was deciding whether to work out a trade with one of his brewer buddies for some Chinese hops when he heard Jerry, his hospitality manager, greet someone in the taproom.

“Is Matt Culhane in?” a woman asked Jerry. “I need to talk to him. His office is in the back, right?”

“Yes,” Jerry replied. “But … Wait, you can’t—”

“Thanks so much for your help,” the woman replied. “I can find my way.”

Kate knocked once on the open door and swept inreaand sweto the office, closing the door behind her and leaving Jerry standing on the other side openmouthed and clearly flustered.

Culhane’s first thought was that she was a woman on a mission. His second thought was that he was intrigued. She was just over five feet tall, and had short-cropped blond hair, big hazel eyes, and a wide mouth that he suspected would light up a room when she smiled.

Matt rose, rounded his desk, and extended his hand.

“Hi, I’m Matt Culhane.”

Kate took