Today I’m sharing the first chapter of the first book in my Cocktales series. In this series, I gave four girlfriends my dream business, Books and Brew, a combination bar/bookstore in Portland, Oregon. All four books are named after drink recipes (the recipes are shared at the beginning of each story) and titles include Party Naked, Screwdriver, Bachelor’s Bait and Screaming Orgasm.
The fun kicks off with Party Naked.
As a mixed drink:
1 shot of rum
½ shot of Southern Comfort
½ shot of Razzmatazz
½ shot of peach schnapps
Pour in a glass with ice and fill with 7-Up
As a shot:
In a shaker with ice, add
½ shot of rum
¼ shot of Southern Comfort
¼ shot of Razzmatazz
¼ shot of peach schnapps
Shake and strain into chilled shot glass.
“Goddamn, motherfucker, son of a bitch on a cheese cracker!” Stephanie Harper looked at the mass destruction around her feet and felt the overwhelming desire to smash every bottle in the damn bar.
“What was that?” Her best friend Jayne’s head popped up from where she was bent over, stocking new-release books on the shelf.
“Just me redecorating the bar area with broken glass.” Her tone betrayed the fact she was finding no humor in her clumsiness.
“Trip on the mat again?” Jayne’s question—laced with a giggle—told Stephanie her friend was finding humor in the situation.
“Yes, Miss Unhelpful. I tripped on the motherfucking mat again.”
“Uh oh. Two MFs in under a minute. You really are having a bad day.”
Stephanie took a deep breath and tried to take stock of the damage. “You can say that again. I just broke two bottles of vodka, one of Jack and a brand new Beefeater.”
Jayne approached the bar, crawling on a stool to peer over at the mess Stephanie had made. “What’s Beefeater again?”
“Gin. Jesus, Jayne. You’ve worked in this bar nearly two years now. You’d think you’d pick up some of this stuff.”
Jayne shook her head, plopping her ass down. “I work in the bookstore. You work in the bar. And I don’t like alcohol.”
Stephanie shook her head in mock disbelief, though Jayne’s distaste for the strong stuff was a well-known flaw in her friend’s character. “Yeah, well, you don’t know what you’re missing. Nothing like a splash of Beefeater with Sprite and a twist of lime in the summertime. Very refreshing.”
“Lemonade serves the same purpose. I take it the gin was important.”
“No, not really. However, the loss of that particular brand of vodka was deadly. Books and Brew isn’t gonna open at all today without it. Your Romantic Hearts book group likes their special Screwdrivers.” Stephanie moved toward the corner to grab the broom, while Jayne walked behind the bar to inspect the broken glass.
“Tell you what. I’ll clean up the mess and you can run to the liquor store for more. Maybe the drive will clear your head a bit. Not quite sure what’s thrown you out of whack, but the fresh air might do you some good.”
Stephanie gratefully relinquished the broom and dustpan, but she didn’t think a drive was going to help her escape the dark cloud she’d woken up under. “Maybe I should just say ‘screw it’ to everything, go home and crawl back in bed. Hope for better luck tomorrow.”
Her friend placed a consoling hand on Stephanie’s shoulder. “Just go get the vodka. You really don’t want me to have to man the bar.”
Stephanie imagined Jayne with her nose buried in the bartender’s guide, trying to figure out how to make a scotch on the rocks, and grinned. “True that.”
Jayne started cleaning up the shattered glass and liquid, while Stephanie grabbed some money out of the cash register to pay for the booze.
“Don’t forget to tell Jordan you took that money, and bring back a receipt. You know she goes mad when she can’t account for every penny in the cash register.”
Stephanie waved her hand briefly in response. She’d been a thorn in her accountant friend’s side since she, Jordan, Jayne and Sophie opened Books and Brew two years earlier. Owning their own business had been a shared dream for the four women since they’d graduated from college and, so far, their joint venture was a relative success. Books and Brew was a twist on the coffee shop/bookstore idea. Stephanie wasn’t a fan of coffee, but she could see the beauty in sipping a cold glass of wine while perusing the shelves for new reading material.
Because of their diverse interests, they each managed to bring something unique to the table. Jordan was using her B.S. in accounting by taking care of the store’s finances, and the information Sophie had gathered in her marketing classes was put to good use in advertising for the store. Even Jayne was applying her liberal arts education—using her knowledge of literature and history to stock the bookstore and hold weekly reading groups.
In the meantime, Stephanie was sitting on a psych degree while tending bar. A fact her mother, Beverly, managed to bring up during every single conversation they’d had since Stephanie’s graduation from college. Beverly considered her daughter’s chosen profession a stage she’d outgrow, which made Stephanie all the more determined to make the business a success.
She loved her job, using her degree in a rather unique way, and she adored the patrons of the store. People loved to unload their problems to bartenders and, while she certainly wasn’t trying to practice her profession, she liked being able to provide an ear and perhaps some words of comfort or advice. Stephanie joked she’d traded a barstool for the couch. She’d found her niche, and she refused to give all that up by caving to her mother’s constant nagging that she open a “respectable” practice and hold down a career her mother felt was brag-worthy. Apparently telling her friends at the country club that her daughter was a bartender wasn’t cutting it for good ol’ Mom.
“Okay. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” She grabbed her purse and car keys.
“Anything I should know before you get back? Expecting any deliveries? Hank coming by?” Jayne wiggled her eyebrows as she asked the last question.
“Do me a favor. Don’t mention Hank and ‘coming’ in the same sentence.”
“So he’s still driving you crazy?”
Stephanie shuddered at the mention of their beer distributor. “The guy doesn’t get it. He calls to ask me out and I say no. He calls again and I say no. You’d think after twenty-or-so calls, he’d figure it out. One moment of weakness and it’s like I’m going to be punished for life.”
“I think it was more like three moments,” Jayne teased.
“Wow. You’re a regular laugh a minute today. We should call The Daily Show and see if they’ll give you a job co-anchoring with Jon Stewart.”
“I’d love that. I think he’s hot.”
“Of course you do. You go for that brainiac type.”
Jayne didn’t deny the truth of Stephanie’s assessment. “You know, I’d like to say I know your type, but I can’t pin you down. You never seem to go for the same kind of guy twice or for longer than a month.”
“That’s because my time is too valuable to waste. And I’m a fast learner. For example, a few nights with Hank proved weightlifters are not my cup of tea.” Hank had a major self-esteem issue which manifested itself in his obsession with outward appearances. After a couple trips to the gym with him, she’d discovered the same held true for quite a few of the uber-muscular men in his social circle.
“Seems sort of narrow-minded. What if the next weightlifter is cool and you never give him a chance?”
Stephanie shrugged, not wanting to admit her friend had a valid point. The whole argument was moot anyway. Dating anyone seriously was a luxury she simply didn’t have time for.
Luckily Jayne was a good friend. She let her off the hook easy. “You’ll just have to keep looking.”
“Maybe, but regardless of who I date, let’s get one thing straight, Jayne. I’m not looking to fall in love. Lust? Definitely. Sexual attraction? I’m in. Red-hot, set-the-sheets-on-fire fucking? Hell yeah. Forever? No way.”
Jayne looked at her thoughtfully. “I kind of think forever would be nice.”
“Ha, that’s because you weren’t raised by Beverly Harper Price Fitzgerald Warner, the queen of the five-minute marriage.”
“Agreed. Your mom’s giving Elizabeth Taylor’s record a run for the money. Which husband is she on now? I lost track after the second.”
Stephanie sighed and pretended to count on her fingers. “Four.”
Jayne winced. “Wowza. Well, you shouldn’t let your mother’s missteps lead you astray. True love does exist, Steph. You just have to keep your eyes and your heart open.”
Stephanie smiled. “You’ve been reading too many romance novels. They’re rubbing off on you. Unfortunately, it’s not like Portland is crawling with hot guys who frequent bookstores and right now, this bar is the only place I’m likely to meet someone. I can’t remember the last time you and I hit the nightclubs together.”
To make their store a success, Stephanie and her friends had made quite a few sacrifices—the main one being social lives. Because of the bar component, weekend evenings usually found the store open for business. To keep the profits high, they’d decided to do most of the running of the store themselves rather than hire outside help. Stephanie hadn’t had a day off in nearly five months.
“So obviously you grabbed one of the few available men to darken our door and had sex with the beer distributor.”
Stephanie shifted her purse on her arm, grinning widely. “You have to admit, he’s easy on the eyes with all those muscles and that rich, golden tan, even if he is kind of dim.”
“Dim might be an understatement. I think it’s all those steroids he swears he doesn’t take.”
Jayne’s laughter was contagious and Stephanie giggled before flexing her muscles and deepening her voice to mimic Hank the Tank. “Feel those guns there, baby. All natural.”
Jayne feigned a girlie swoon.
Stephanie’s laughter gave way to a heavy sigh. “Christ. I really am pathetic.”
“Not really. At least you’re getting laid occasionally. I’m living a life more celibate than a nun.” Jayne scooped up a pile of broken glass and dumped it in the garbage pail.
“There’s a big difference between getting laid and getting laid well.”
“Is this why Hank’s history?”
“One of the reasons. His insecurity was the main one, though. We couldn’t have a conversation. It was like pulling teeth to get him to talk about anything other than how much he could bench press. After a few dates, it felt like I was spending more time counseling him than trying to build any sort of relationship.”
Jayne leaned the broom against the bar. “You know, Jordan seems to think we’re getting more financially secure. Maybe we could consider hiring a second bartender so you can at least attempt a social life. We’ve been at this for two years and I think it’s obvious Mr. Right isn’t going to come walking through that door for any of us. We need to get out more.”
Stephanie shook her head. There was no way she’d ever give Beverly a reason to say, “I told you so”. Books and Brew would continue to thrive and grow because Stephanie wouldn’t accept defeat. “No. We agreed to give this place three years of solid hard work, so there would be no regrets about not trying hard enough if it goes under. I’m not going back on that commitment. I’m just in a bitchy mood. My morning sucked and I’m feeling whiny. Ignore me. In fact, I’ll make that easy for you. I’m off to the liquor store. Don’t attempt to make anyone anything alcoholic to drink before I get back.”
Jayne glanced at the clock. “It’s nearly eleven. You better hurry or I might not be able to keep that promise.”
Stephanie headed for the back parking lot and her car, stepping out of the bar and into the late spring morning. It was May. Flowers were in full bloom, the trees and grass green and leafy. It was a beautiful day full of sunshine and clear blue skies. She drank in the clean air and willed away her dark mood. She could do this. Today was just a normal day.
One foot in front of the other.
Her pep talk and attempt at happiness was short-lived when twenty minutes later, she slammed her hand against the steering wheel of her Volkswagen Bug and started around the city block a second time.
“What the hell is going on?” It was a lousy Thursday and it wasn’t even lunchtime yet. There shouldn’t have been so many cars parked on the street. All she needed to do was dash into the liquor store for a few bottles of booze. Surely there was one open parking spot in this godforsaken city.
She hit another red light and her face flushed with a sudden surge of anger. She was two seconds away from blowing a major fuse. There was no denying it. She was trapped in the day from fucking hell. She’d overslept then, in her haste to get ready, she’d dropped her iPod in the toilet. Her cat had yakked up a hairball in the middle of her new dining room rug, and then the incident behind the bar with all the shattered liquor bottles.
Jayne was wrong. Stephanie did need a do-over, a chance to claim defeat, limp into bed and sleep ’til the growing headache pressing against her skull stopped hurting. Then tomorrow she’d try getting out of bed on the right side.
As she rounded the corner and faced passing the liquor store once more, she cried uncle on finding a parking spot. “Fuck it.”
She pulled up to a sweet cherry-red Camaro parked right in front of the store, threw on her blinkers and turned the car off. She could get what she needed in a jiffy. The street wasn’t that damn busy and it was wide enough to support her brief stint of double-parking.
“Two minutes,” she said to no one in particular as she climbed out of the driver’s seat and hastily walked into the liquor store.
Jarod Nolan emerged from the barber shop and ran his hand through his short brown hair, enjoying the lighter, cooler feel of it. He’d considered letting it grow longer, now that he was a detective, to blend in with the lowlifes on the southeast side of the city, but after last night he’d decided fuck it. It was time for a fresh start. He’d finally received his promotion to detective, a position he’d wanted since graduating from the police academy, and today was his first day in the new job.
He’d intended to celebrate his success last night with Cheryl, but that plan had backfired, big time, and now he didn’t feel much like smiling about anything.
He let his brain replay Cheryl’s words as she’d dumped him after the special dinner he’d organized. “I can’t really explain it, Jarod,” she’d said. “Fact is you’re just too nice for me. You’re sort of boring.”
He rolled his eyes. Since when was being a cop synonymous with acting like a bad boy? Fucking television and movies glamorized a job that at times felt like little more than grunt work.
While Cheryl liked bragging to her girlfriends she was dating some super-macho version of Dirty Harry, the truth was he typically sat on his ass patrolling the streets for long hours, ticketing speeders and arresting drunks or abusive husbands. After hours of driving around in his patrol car, he preferred going home at the end of his shift and just chilling, watching movies or reading a book. Unfortunately, Cheryl would beg him for details about his day, hoping for some exciting drama she could relate to others. His real life never lived up to her romanticized idea of what it should be, and eventually he stopped talking about work completely.
“Boring,” he muttered, his temper spiking at the recollection. “Fucking nice.” A blonde woman, walking some poor frou-frou dog with ridiculous purple ribbons around its ears, gave him a quick sideways glance and then hurried along.
He’d dated Cheryl for nearly six months and, while the breakup wasn’t completely unwanted, he’d actually expected he’d be the one doing the dumping.
He walked down the sidewalk toward his car. As he approached, he realized he was blocked in by some asshole who’d decided to double-park.
What the fuck?
He glanced at the time on his cell phone. He was exactly ten minutes away from being late to work—on his first day in a new division. Great.
He sucked in an annoyed breath and then an evil thought occurred to him. Pretty stupid to double-park next to a cop. Maybe he should clock in early. He disengaged the locks on his car, opened the door, and reached toward the passenger seat, where he had his ticket book. He was supposed to turn it in today. As a detective, that was one part of the job he was looking forward to leaving behind.
Looked like he was about to write his last parking ticket.
Cheryl’s voice rang in his ears, taunting him. Too nice, huh? Yeah, well, this person was going to see just how nice he wasn’t.
He stood behind the light-blue convertible Bug and started writing down the tag numbers. If the owner didn’t show up in the next five minutes, he’d call for a tow truck. He did a mental tally of how much money this ill-advised decision was going to cost someone and let that figure soothe his anger.
He finished filling in the information before tearing off the ticket and tossing the book back into his car. He’d just thrust the ticket into the back pocket of his jeans, prepared to wait for the car’s owner, when a pretty chestnut-haired woman walked out of the liquor store with a box full of bottles. She acknowledged his presence behind her car with a quick nod then proceeded to place the box on the passenger seat of her vehicle. Looked like she was having one hell of a party.
She was an extremely attractive woman. He ventured to guess she was in her late twenties. Her light suntan told him she was either a sun worshipper or no stranger to a tanning bed. She wasn’t thin, though he wouldn’t say she was overweight either. When she bent down, he was treated to a pretty nice view of her full, round ass. He forced himself to look away before he forgot his purpose.
When he didn’t move, she looked at him, her chocolate-brown eyes capturing his as she shrugged. “Parking is brutal in town these days.”
He nodded. She had no reason to suspect he was a cop. He was dressed in street clothing and driving his own car. There wasn’t anything to clue her in to how screwed she was.
“Double-parking is illegal.”
His comment stopped her for a second and she looked at his Camaro. “Oh my God, is that your car? I’m so sorry. I swear I circled the block twice looking for a spot. I knew I’d only be inside for a few minutes. You couldn’t have been waiting long, right?”
He hadn’t been standing on the street much time at all, but that wasn’t the point. “Long enough,” he muttered. Ordinarily, he’d have shrugged off the offense and issued the woman a warning. Problem was, he wasn’t in the mood to be generous. He was tired of being nice.
His cold response tweaked her temper—anger flared in her dark eyes and strangely enough, it pleased him. He was itching for a fight.
“I wasn’t in the liquor store more than ten minutes.” Her voice had lost some of its conciliatory tone.
“Doesn’t really matter, does it? Whether you were double-parked for ten minutes or ten hours, it’s still a violation.”
She narrowed her eyes, annoyed by his haughty tone. “What are you, a cop?”
He grinned at her question and pulled the ticket out of his back pocket. “As a matter of fact…” He handed her the ticket, adding, “Detective Nolan.”
She muttered a softly spoken but clearly enunciated “fuck” under her breath. “Listen, Detective—”
He cut her off. He’d heard every excuse in the book during his years patrolling the streets. One of the best parts about being undercover with the drug task force meant he wouldn’t be subjected to angry retorts, tearful pleas or seductive come-ons as women tried to get out of tickets. “Save it for the judge.”
“You clearly want to protest this injustice.” He was sure to imbue as much sarcasm into his comment as possible. “You can lodge your complaint in court, not to me. I’m late for work. So if you don’t mind—” He gestured to her car.
Her eyes narrowed. “You know, you don’t have to be such a jerk about this. I wasn’t away from my car more than ten minutes.”
“And because your time is more valuable than mine, you felt justified in parking illegally, blocking me in and breaking the law.”
“Are you kidding me? Don’t you have any real crimes to solve, Detective? You have nothing better to do than harass a law-abiding citizen?”
He raised his eyebrow at her comment. “Do you need me to define ‘illegal’ for you?”
She placed her hands on her hips and leaned forward slightly. “Oh wow. Hello, Mr. Power Trip. Didn’t your mother ever tell you it doesn’t cost anything to be nice?”
He released a bark of cold laughter. “What is it with you women? You want us to be nice when it suits you and bad boys when it doesn’t.”
The woman looked confused. “What the hell are you talking about?”
He shook his head. He was letting his anger at Cheryl carry over to the job. It was stupid and unreasonable. This woman didn’t deserve his abuse. However, before he could offer an apology or backtrack, the woman jammed the parking ticket into her jeans pockets. “Whatever. This sucks. You suck. Goodbye.”
She quickly walked to the driver’s side and climbed in. He regretted letting her leave the second she pulled away.
Shaking his head, he got into his own car, leaning his head against the headrest.
She was right.
He did suck.