Speakeasy (True North #5)(11)

“Oh, honey,” her mother says. Maybe the Shipley women aren’t supposed to curse.

“I called her a…” May closes her mouth quickly, realizing that she doesn’t want to say “cuntmuffin” in front of my niece.

A bark of a laugh escapes me, and for a split second our eyes meet in a silent exchange of humor.

“Well.” Ruth sighs. “I’m so sorry. I guess it’s better to know what she’s done.”

“True.” May picks up her fork and plays with the food on her plate. “Anyway. Here I am. Alec took me by the house and helped me make a quick getaway.”

“She was cheatin’?” Grandpa Shipley hollers. “On you? What a super bitch!”

“Grandpa,” several Shipleys say at once.

“A bitch is a female dog.” Grandpa sniffs. “Not a curse word.”

“If you put super in front of it…” Dylan starts.

“Quiet, boy,” Grandpa snarls. “I’m quite worked up. I think a slice of pie might calm me down.”

“I like how you think,” I say, and then shove another piece of ham in my craw so I won’t add, “About Daniela as well as the pie.”

“I’ll start the coffee,” Audrey Shipley says, lifting her pregnant belly out of her chair.

“I got it!” three other people say at once. This little race to save Audrey a trip to the kitchen is won by Zara. “We need to wiggle anyway,” she insists, setting Nicole on the floor.

“Wow.” Audrey eases down into the chair again. “I should have gotten pregnant before now.”

“The way you two go at it it’s kind of a surprise you didn’t,” Grandpa mumbles into his water glass.

Who knew the Shipley’s Thursday dinner was so entertaining? Grandpa is my favorite. He doesn’t have the same stick up his ass that Griffin does. Maybe it skips the occasional generation.

I shovel in more of my excellent food and hope they’ll leave May alone now. And maybe I can help by changing the topic. “Hey, Audrey? How’s your new employee working out?”

“Oh!” She pats her round belly and gets a soft expression on her face. “He’s dreamy.”

Griffin snorts beside her. “Tell ’im why.”

“I get to sleep in most mornings now! He opens the coffee shop four days a week. And he’s begun making fresh bread along with the pastries we were making before. Not only is it profitable, but the coffee shop smells like heaven when I roll in every morning at ten.”

“That is dreamy,” May says, perking up. “Also, I noticed he’s pretty easy on the eyes.”

Everyone laughs, including me.

“What? Have you seen the man?” she says, smiling for the first time in an hour. “Those forearms. It must be all that kneading.”

There’s more laughter. “Get ’is number!” Grandpa croaks.

But Audrey shakes her head. “I’m pretty sure he bats for the other team. Whenever Griffin shows up in the coffee shop it’s not my backside that’s admired.”

“What can I say?” Griff shrugs his big shoulders. “I have a very nice ass.”

“Language,” Ruth Shipley says.

“Ass is just another word for donkey,” Grandpa chirps. “Now is it time for pie? That young fella has finished his dinner.” He points at my plate.

“Why not,” Ruth says with a sigh. “I think I lost control of this meal a long time ago.” She glances at her daughter. “Nice to have you at home, sweetie. We haven’t converted your room into a home gym or anything.”

“Glad to hear it,” May grumbles.

But she doesn’t sound glad.

“How’s business at the Gin Mill?” Griff asks me over pie and coffee.

“Great,” I say immediately. Because I’ll be damned if I complain to Mr. Perfect. “I thought November would be terrible, but the dip isn’t as bad as I thought. The weekends are still pretty packed.” If only I had a better profit margin. “I’ll always be scraping by until I can expand my revenue sources.”

“I hear you.” Griff smooths his beard with one hand. “We have cider and fruit and milk. Diversity is pretty critical.”

This is something I’ve already learned the hard way. “I think serving food is my obvious next step, but a commercial kitchen costs fifty grand, and then I’d need more people on the payroll.”

“And blowing up the payroll is scary,” Audrey adds. “Ask me how I know.”

Griffin reaches over and rubs his wife’s pregnant belly. “What else you got for ideas?” he asks me.

“Making beer,” I admit. Griff is an accomplished cider-maker, so he’ll understand the appeal. But it’s kind of a pipe dream at this point, because even though my home brew is tasty, I don’t have the facilities to make commercial beers. “I don’t have the cash to invest in that idea, either.”

“You can start small,” he points out, as if I can’t figure it out for myself. “At least with ale. Lagers need more equipment.”

“True.” I’ve thought about it a hundred times already. My uncle Otto has a fermentation tank that’s only in use for about ninety days a year. I have designs on that tank for sure.

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