Money is always a problem for Hera Knightsbridge’s microbrewery, but now drought makes water scarce for all the breweries in the Butternut Valley. Worse, Hera discovers a rival brewer murdered in his brew barn, making Hera the authorities’ favorite suspect. To clear her name, her only choice is to join forces with an unlikely partner, the new assistant deputy sheriff, Jake Ryan, her former lover from law school days. There’s unfinished business between these two, and it surfaces again and again as they pursue a killer who finally turns on the indefatigable Hera as the next victim.
This is the first book in the Microbrewing Mystery Series. The second book is Poisoned Pairings which continues the Hera Knightsbridge story.
“Hello?” This time my voice reverberated off the tanks and walls. I was certain someone was in the room and playing hide-and-seek with me. Why?
I began to pick my way through the barn, over the hoses leading from tank to tank and from the water purifier, careful to avoid stepping into one of the sunken grates covering the drains. A shaft of light penetrated the dimness as the far door opened and then closed, enough light to warn me I was about to trip over someone lying on the floor.
“Mr. Ramford?” I knelt in the darkness and touched a body. It felt warm to my fingertips but didn’t move. As I leaned in closer, my nose caught an unpleasant collection of odors, none of which had anything to do with brewing beer. Oh, God. This must be what death smells like.
I pulled back my hand and whirled around, my eyes searching the darkness of the barn. I thought I could sense a presence in the room.
“Someone there?” I called. “I need help.”
A hissing from behind startled me. I ran for the gift shop door and slammed it shut, then laughed at my fear. Silly me. That was only the sound of carbon dioxide escaping from an out-take valve in a fermenter. But the body was real.
I grabbed the phone on the counter and punched in the number eight. Damn. I hung up and tried again. This time, I got it right.
I wanted to run away, but I knew I had to wait for help to arrive. I needed something to keep my shaking hands occupied and a focus for my shocked mind. Get a grip, Hera, I told myself. I looked around the messy gift shop, desperate to seize on anything that might blot out the memory of the body.
By the time the ambulance arrived over ten minutes later, I had finished restocking the shelves and was stacking the boxes behind the counter. I was feeling calm again. Sure I was.
The first EMT to enter the barn shined his flashlight on the body but did not touch it. I stood close to the gift shop door to avoid looking at the figure on the cement.
“Put a call in to the sheriff’s department,” he called over his shoulder to his buddy. He then did a quick examination, and retreated.
“Is he … ?”
“Definitely dead,” he said. “Now we wait for the sheriff. His head’s bashed in.”
“An accident? He tripped?” I took in a quick breath. “Suicide? It could be suicide.”
“Not unless he bludgeoned himself to death. Do you know him?”
“No. I mean, I don’t know if I know him. I didn’t get a good look at his face.”
“Lucky you, then. Not much of a face left.”
I retreated into the gift shop and paced back and forth between the shelves. My stomach lurched, and I had difficulty getting my breath. Who would be in the brew barn at this hour other than Mr. Ramford? Perhaps one of the workers was doing a night check on the fermentation process. Unlikely. He never paid overtime, and no one would volunteer to work at this hour. It had to be Mr. Ramford’s body, unless … unless he sent his son into the barn to check on something. I shook my head and continued pacing. Of course not. It couldn’t be Michael. Not Michael. Let it not be Michael.
One of the EMTs interrupted my thoughts. “Cops are here. And the medical examiner.”
A man dressed in the brown and tan uniform of the sheriff’s department strode past me and into the barn.
If he was surprised to see me, he hid it well, while I struggled to keep the shock of his appearance off my face.
“I hope I’m not here to arrest you,” was all he said to acknowledge my presence. The medical examiner and the EMTs smiled at his words, whether out of embarrassment at the rudeness of the remark or at the absurdity of my being a murderer, I couldn’t tell. I tried for a smile and failed. Jake turned his head before I could determine the expression on his face.
I said, “I haven’t seen you since …”
“Since law school. What’ve we got here?” He stooped down to examine the body.
Since law school. Since Jake and I tumbled hot with passion in tangled sheets. Since Daddy died and I came home out of guilt toward a father I couldn’t save from himself. The truth was, I came home to brew beer, my first love, and the hell with my lover and my father.
Since then, I had tried to tell myself I was happy.