Number one bestselling author Janet Evanovich teams up with award-winning author Dorien Kelly to deliver a sparkling novel of romantic suspense, small-town antics, secretive sabotage, and lots and lots of beer
Kate Appleton needs a job. Her husband has left her, she's been fired from her position as a magazine editor, and the only place she wants to go is to her parents' summer house, The Nutshell, in Keene's Harbor, Michigan. Kate's plan is to turn The Nutshell into a Bed and Breakfast. Problem is, she needs cash, and the only job she can land is less than savory.
Matt Culhane wants Kate to spy on his brewery employees. Someone has been sabotaging his company, and Kate is just new enough in town that she can insert herself into Culhane's business and snoop around for him. If Kate finds the culprit, Matt will pay her a $20,000 bonus. Needless to say, Kate is highly motivated. But several problems present themselves. Kate despises beer. No one seems to trust her. And she is falling hard for her boss.
Can these two smoke out a saboteur, save Kate's family home, and keep a killer from closing in…all while resisting their undeniable attraction to one another? Filled with humor, heart, and loveable characters, Love in a Nutshell is delicious fun.
About the Author
Janet Evanovich is the #1 bestselling author of the Stephanie Plums novels, Between the Number novels, Wicked Appetite and How I Write. She lives in Florida.
Dorien Kelly lives in Michigan with one or more of her three children, a couple of random and crazy rescue dogs, and a very spoiled West Highland White Terrier who is under the mistaken impression that he runs the whole pack.
Janet Evanovich is the author of the Stephanie Plum books, including One for the Money and Sizzling Sixteen, and the Diesel&Tucker series, including Wicked Appetite. Janet studied painting at Douglass College, but that art form never quite fit, and she soon moved on to writing stories. She didn’t have instant success: she collected a big box of rejection letters. As she puts it, “When the box was full I burned the whole damn thing, crammed myself into pantyhose and went to work for a temp agency.” But after a few months of secretarial work, she managed to sell her first novel for $2,000. She immediately quit her job and started working full-time as a writer. After a dozen romance novels, she switched to mystery, and created Stephanie Plum. The rest is history. Janet’s favorite exercise is shopping, and her drug of choice is Cheeze Doodles.
When Dorien Kelly was fresh out of the University of Michigan, she worked as a waitress while pondering the writing life. After a while, she decided she'd probably make more money as a lawyer. So back to school she went. After graduating, she practiced commercial law for several years. Ultimately, she realized that while a legal career was lucrative, it was making her too Type A to survive. Since she was tired of billing out her life by the quarter-hour and wearing pantyhose, she turned back to writing. Her first novel, a romantic comedy called Designs on Jake was published by Harlequin Books in 2002. A lot more books--and some pretty crazy times--followed. These days she's co-authoring romance novels with the amazing Janet Evanovich, working on her own projects, and thanking her luck stars for three patient and completely awesome children, and her own happily-ever after with a wonderful man.
Hometown:Hanover, New Hampshire
Date of Birth:April 22, 1943
Place of Birth:South River, New Jersey
Education:B.A., Douglass College, 1965
Read an Excerpt
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 into 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 his hand and gave it a firm businesslike shake. "I know. I'm Kate Appleton. I don't have a job. And it's your fault. Twenty minutes ago, I was fired because of you."
"Because of me?"
"Yep. From Bagger's Tavern, down on Keene Avenue. It was all because of your skunky beer."
Before he could respond, she planted herself in the one guest chair that didn't have files stacked on it.
Cute but crazy, Matt thought, following her lead and returning to sit in his chair behind his desk. And oddly enough, it did nothing to diminish his attraction to her. "Harley fired you?"
"He did," Kate said.
"Did he say why?"
"Apparently, I'm no longer to be trusted behind the bar, because bad beer passed from tap to lips. I don't think that's fair. And when I look at the whole mess, I figure it's your responsibility. It was your beer," she replied in a patient tone. "I moved to Keene's Harbor three weeks ago and lobbied like crazy to get even that part-time bartending job. Then I lost it over bad beer. Now I have nothing. Every store downtown is owned locally, and every owner runs their place alone in the slow season."
Matt smiled. "That's to be expected. A town built to hold several thousand summer visitors can be pretty empty come the cool weather. Why'd you move here in the off-season?"
"Well, let's just say my options were extremely limited. I needed an inexpensive place to stay, and the mortgage payments on my parents' lake house are a heckuva lot less than any decent rental."
Actually, she was a few months behind on the payments. Between her crapola job at Bagger's and the endless repairs on the house, her savings were pretty much gone. She'd talked to the bank and they'd agreed to let her catch up over the next six months, but that was before they'd gone belly-up. Kate drove the thought from her mind, replacing it with the happy memories that had inspired her to move to Keene's Harbor in the first place. "I'd spent summers here as a kid and loved it. I thought I could come up with some sort of job."
Apparently, she had some history around town, and she also looked to be in the general ballpark of his age. Still, it was no surprise their paths hadn't crossed earlier. He'd stuck with his townie pack. In his high school days, the summer girls weren't worth the snobbishness some of them had thrown at the locals while sunning on Lake Michigan's long stretch of beach.
"So you're a summer person," he said. He wasn't into line-drawing anymore, but he couldn't resist teasing just a little, trying to provoke the same little flush of emotion to her cheeks he'd seen when she first walked into his office.
"Thanks, but I think of myself more as a Citizen of All Seasons."
"Works for me. Where's your parents' place?"
"It's on the lake about two miles north of town. It's old, big, and drafty. And it's a huge money pit, which brings us back to the aforementioned skunky beer," she said, obviously trying to drive the conversation to a set destination.
Matt was curious enough to give her the room to run. "I'll agree that Harley serves my beer, but I'm not going any further than that. The keg could have been bad for a lot of reasons, including dirty tap lines, bad tapping, or the fact that it was past its expiration date. But the bottom line is that I didn't tell him to fire you."
"Just the same, honor compels that you give me a job."
Another surprise bombshell. "A job?"
"Yes. And I'm available to start immediately."
Lucky me, he thought. The woman was clearly crazy, and yet strangely appealing in her overly earnest, convoluted reasoning.
"Supposing, for the sake of discussion, that we were hiring right now," he said. "Other than a couple of weeks at Bagger's, what's your work experience?"
She folded her hands in her lap, a gesture more appropriate for a navy blue interview suit than jeans and a puffy, off-white down jacket still zipped up to her chin. He wondered what she was going to wear when it really got cold around here.
"I have a B.A. in Drama from a small college in Ohio."
This time he couldn't fight back a smile. "I didn't ask about your education. I asked what you can do. Before you came to Keene's Harbor, did you have a job?"
He waited for more, but it didn't appear to be coming.
"And?" he asked.
"I was an assistant editor at a business magazine headquartered downstate, outside of Detroit."
"And?" he prompted again.
"I moved here."
"As you said, with very little in the way of options. What happened to the job?"
"The skills aren't relevant to what you do here, but if you really need to know, I was let go."
"It wasn't directly performance-related, so again, I don't think it's all that relevant."
He was hooked. He had to know. He was sure it was something worth hearing.
"Spill it," he said. "Lay it on me."
Kate bit her lower lip. "I had a little incident changing the black ink cartridge for the printer I shared with a couple other people. Maybe it was because we'd switched to a generic brand, or maybe it was because someone — perhaps with the name of Melvin — had messed with it, but whatever the case, I got ink all over the front of my dress. And then while I was in the bathroom trying to soak what I could from the dress, the fire alarm went off."
"Sounds like something you'd see on Cinemax after midnight."
"Let's just say that when presented the choice between potential death and a bit of semi-nudity smack in the middle of downtown Royal Oak, I let the skin show."
"You didn't have much of an option."
She raised her right shoulder in a half shrug. "True. As it turned out, someone — perhaps with the name of Melvin — had pulled the fire alarm. There was no fire, but between the scene on the street and the fact that the video from the building's security camera somehow hit the Internet and went viral, my boss let me go. He said I had become a liability to the magazine. No one could take me seriously. And so someone with the name of Melvin got my job."
"That stinks," Matt said.
Kate nodded in agreement. "It did. But I learned a few good lessons, including always use brand-name ink and watch out for guys named Melvin."
Matt laughed. Kate Appleton might be an involuntary exhibitionist, but so far she'd shown herself to be smart and quick with an answer, and she wore her emotions on her face. His gut told him she was possibly a little nutty, but beyond that a decent person. And Matt generally went with his instincts.
"Now, about that job?" she asked.
He leaned forward, elbows on desk. "I'll start by saying that the bad beer at Bagger's was a problem on his end of the system. Granted, there's a remote possibility it happened here, but that part of the process is under tight control, so I'm not talking to you to redeem my honor or anything like that."
She nodded. "Okay. So long as the talk involves a job, I'm listening."
Kate Appleton did not appear to be a believer in the theory of leverage, in that he had it and she did not. Still, she was bold. He appreciated that about her. And, at the moment, she might just be exactly what he needed.
"There have been some incidents over the past few months," Matt said, lowering his voice. "They didn't start out as anything big or all that awful. In fact, for a while there, I just kind of put it down to a streak of bad luck."
"What kind of bad luck?"
He leaned back in his chair and considered when it all started. "Well, call it ego, but I'd like to think that last spring, my first failed batch of beer in years was more than just a slipup on my part. Since then, it's been small stuff ... misrouted deliveries, flat tires on the delivery trucks ... that kind of thing."
"All of which, pardon me for saying this, could be put down to employee screwups."
Matt nodded. "I know, but they're happening more and more often. I really think one of my employees is trying to sabotage my business."
Kate leaned forward in her seat. "What makes you think it's an employee?"
"Access. Whoever is behind it knows my schedule and my business. And, most of the incidents have occurred in employee-only areas, where a customer would be immediately noticed."
Kate raised her eyebrows. "So you want me to help find some deranged lunatic with a beer vendetta."
"I'd hire a private investigator, but this time of year, it would be nearly impossible for a stranger to go unnoticed for more than a day. You, on the other hand, are not a total outsider. And, between the impressive performance you just gave convincing me to hire you and your degree in drama, I'm guessing you can act a part if you have to. That makes you a great candidate for the job I have in mind."
She tilted her head. "And that would be what?"
"I'd be hiring you to be a floater. If someone is out sick or there's a crunch in a certain area of the operation, you'd be the one to step in."
"Even though it's likely that eighty percent of the time, I won't know what the heck I'm doing?"
"I get the sense you're a quick study."
"Absolutely. Definitely. I'm your girl. And since I'm so smart, I get the sense that I'll be more than a floater."
"Your job will be to tell me what's going on around here. What am I missing? What don't people want to say to my face? Who have you seen that shouldn't be here?"
"You want me to be a snitch?"
"How about a secret agent?"
She sat silent a moment, trying on the phrase for fit. "I like it. I'm Appleton. Kate Appleton. Licensed to Snoop."
"Good. You'll be my eyes and ears. If someone in Keene's Harbor has a grudge against me, you'll let me know."
"Sounds doable. From what I heard behind the bar at Bagger's, folks around here still do love to talk."
"Well, don't take the buzz too literally. The colder the weather gets, the bigger the stories around here grow. Town is pretty quiet after Labor Day, and we need something to keep life interesting."
"Fair enough. How much are you offering for the position?"
"Minimum wage," he replied.
"I'm sorry, but don't think so. I'm desperate, but not shortsighted. Sooner or later, someone is going to figure out that I'm bringing gossip back to you, and at that point, I'm not going to be worth anything."
Matt grinned. "So what do you suggest?"
"How about minimum wage and a $20,000 bonus if I'm directly responsible for finding your saboteur?"
Matt considered his options, and they were limited. He couldn't hire a full-fledged townie any more than he could a PI. If word got out that some crazy was targeting Depot Brewery, it could scare away a lot of customers.
Kate smiled. "Hey. It's no more than you'd pay to a PI, and I only get paid if I actually solve the mystery. And, it could end up costing you a lot more to just ignore the thing and hope it goes away."
Matt paused to consider her argument. The truth was, the "accidents" were starting to add up and had already cost him more than $20,000. "Okay, deal."
Kate beamed. "I promise I'll be the best secret spy you've ever hired."
* * *
AT A quarter to nine on Friday morning, Kate parked at the far end of Depot Brewing Company's lot. She exited her ancient, beloved green-and-slightly-rust-spotted Jeep and pocketed her keys. Since she had the luxury of a handful of minutes, and Mother Nature had granted Keene's Harbor yet another blissfully sunny day, she checked out in more detail her new place of employment.
If Kate could whistle — which, sadly, she couldn't — this place would merit a nice long and low one. Small wonder the tourists flocked here like it was nirvana. An outdoor patio, now closed for the season, was surrounded by evergreens that must have cost Matt Culhane a fortune to have transplanted onto this sandy spit of land. She could picture the patio full of people, laughter, and music in the summertime. And she could picture Culhane here, too.
As the microbrewery's name implied, this had once been Keene's Harbor's railroad depot. Kate's dad, who was a history buff, had told her that this town had been built on the lumber trade. In a few decades, though, most of the area was logged out. A few decades after that, the rail spur to the harbor was abandoned. All that had been left was a wreck of a building that Kate recalled as a prime spot for the underage summer kids to drink a few super-sweet wine coolers.
Since she hadn't been alone at this party spot, she'd bet she wasn't the only one who got a kick out of Matt Culhane turning it into a microbrewery. He'd obviously added on to the small depot, but whoever had come up with the design had made sure that the original architecture still shone through.
Kate was unsure whether it was okay to go through the "employees only" door near where she'd parked, since there was a huge semi backed up to an open garage-type door next to it. She opted for the public entry.
Now that she wasn't wrapped in a haze of determination and desperation, she noted the mosaic in front of the entrance. Set into the concrete was the Depot Brewing logo — a steam locomotive surrounded by a bunch of whimsical items, including what looked to be a happy three-legged dog.
Kate stepped over the image, feeling that the dog had suffered enough without being trod upon. "You're a pretty cool dude, three legs or not."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Love in a Nutshell"
Copyright © 2011 The Gus Group, LLC.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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