Love on Tap

By: Meg Benjamin

To my wonderful family—Ben, Josh, Molly, the Twinjas, and, most of all, Bill.

Chapter One

The brewery floor was cool and dark. Largely because it was also empty. Well, almost empty. It still held the fermenting tanks and the copper mash tun, along with the other equipment. But none of it was in use.

But it will be again. I swear it will be.

Bec leaned against the wooden rack at the far end of the room where a single barrel rested in solitary splendor. Well-deserved solitary splendor. She stared up at the dark shape. She almost hated to part with it. It was proof they’d existed, proof they were good, proof she was what she said she was.

Proof she could bounce back from just about anything.

On the other hand, if she was going to dig Antero Brewing out of its current hole, her magical Zoria was the key.

Of course, that assumed she could transform this single barrel into several other things. Money for one. A lot of money. Enough money to take care of all the lingering resentments and unpaid bills. Enough money to make everything right again. And money that would produce the holy trinity of beer. So she could start again.

Bec wasn’t sure how good the brewery’s magic supply was currently, but she was sure of one thing.

She was going to do it—one way or another. She was going to bring Antero Brewing back to life. And she was going to make up for all the betrayals she’d endured courtesy of one lying lover. Rot in hell, Colin, rot in hell.

She might not have a magic wand, but she had a magic barrel. And in a lot of ways, that was much, much better.

“Holy crap, it’s like sucking a goddess’s tit!”

Wyatt Montgomery managed not to choke as the words drifted his way, but it took a lot of effort. Craft beer fans were frequently a little overenthusiastic, and the people downing brews in his party room were beer bloggers, which meant they were at the top end of the craft beer enthusiasm scale. Still, the guy currently draining the last drops from his taster seemed over the top even for this crowd.

“Glad you like it.” Wyatt kept his host smile firmly in place. Craft beer—from the small, innovative, artisan breweries that flourished throughout Colorado—was his specialty, even when the fans were a little scary.

He moved down the bar before the blogger could engage him in a more detailed discussion of the amber ale he’d been served. He wasn’t sure how soused the guy was, but he wasn’t up to dealing with that level of enthusiasm right now. Not with the troubling profit numbers he’d been scanning lately.

The party room was a little more old-style than the main bar area—more dark wood and leather. He’d wanted the feel of a classic pub, even if his customers were strictly millennial. Right now the bloggers were happily leaning against the ornate bar Wyatt had pulled from a defunct tavern on Colfax. In a few more minutes, they might even start a dart game or try the skittles board he had set up at the side of the room.

Even though Quaff was a gastropub, he tried to keep the beer hysteria understated. Not always possible in Denver.

The monthly beer dinners had turned out to be one of the most popular features he’d come up with so far. Given that Colorado had almost as many breweries as mountains, it was usually easy enough to find a brewer who was looking for a little extra promo. And the fact that Wyatt’s chef was top tier made it that much easier to attract both customers and brewmasters. Good food went a long way toward making good beer taste even better than it did on its own.

So far as he could tell, everybody seemed to be smiling, happy, and faintly buzzed. They were all looking forward to the next course and the next beer.

Except for a couple of tables at the side. A few of the customers sitting over there looked unimpressed. One of the guys pushed his taster of wheat beer away and picked up his water.

Oops. Not good.

Wyatt frowned, moving carefully across the room until he was close enough to hear the conversation at the table without being too obvious about it.

“…last week at the Red Wolf. I mean, this is good, but that saison they had was better. A lot better. In my humble opinion.” The speaker pushed his wheat beer a little farther away from his plate.

Wyatt gritted his teeth. The Red Wolf was his chief competition. The owner was an out-of-state rich kid who’d opened the place a couple of months earlier. He’d heard they’d started their own beer dinners, but he hadn’t paid much attention. Beer dinners weren’t exactly unknown in the Denver area, and the ones he ran at Quaff were some of the best.

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