Did you miss Chapter One?
Did you miss part one of Chapter Two?
From Lethal Lullaby
Chapter Two Continued…
It smelled good, but I had to suppress a smile at all the pageantry. I
loved a good wine tour as much as the next person, but a lot of it
seemed like theatrics to me—could anyone really taste all those notes
in the wine? Could anyone really tell the difference between a fifteen-dollar
bottle and a hundred-dollar bottle? I was skeptical. With a side‐
ways glance at Andrew, I filched his chocolate.
I mean, if I can’t have the wine . . .
They sipped the wine with very serious expressions.
“An excellent choice,” declared Nick.
Natalie, Nick’s girlfriend, started talking as if she were speaking to
a camera. “Nick is sipping the 2017 Merlot, infused with dried floral
and vanilla and perfumed with berry aromas.” She thrust her empty
fist toward his face as if she held a microphone. “Tell us, can you taste
the lingering finish?”
He chuckled and leaned over to give her a quick kiss, then turned
to us. “Natalie’s going to be the next anchor on our local news chan‐
nel, so she’s using this trip to practice.”
She suddenly looked shy, tucking back a strand of dark hair that
had come loose from her ponytail. “Well, I’m still in the interview
process,” she said, “but I’m hopeful. It’d be a dream come true.”
“That sounds like an exciting career,” I said. “Have you always
wanted to be a journalist?”
She nodded. “This is going to be my big break. I’m sure of it.” Then
she snapped back into her news-anchor character. “And this is
breaking news with Natalie Wu. Join us next time for the latest on this
winery’s white wine selection.”
Nick leaned in for another peck on the lips. “The station would be
out of their minds to hire anyone else, Nat. You’re going to be the best
anchor Philadelphia’s ever seen.”
Despite Andrew’s discomfort with the whole situation, I couldn’t
help but be charmed by Nick—his elegant manners, his easy laugh, his
devotion to Natalie.
Was I being disloyal to my brother? I felt a pang of guilt.
The server brought a cold glass of Sprite and set it on the table in
front of me. I took a sip, enjoying the carbonation, grateful for some‐
thing to occupy myself with. Then I eyed the other chocolates on the
table. Only Natalie had eaten hers.
I stage-whispered, “Tracy, are you going to eat that chocolate?”
She pushed it toward me without looking up from her phone
screen. “You can have it. It might have gluten in it.”
I’m more than happy to take that gluten bullet for you. As I popped it in
my mouth, I closed my eyes, savoring the perfect taste. I was going to
have to find out what kind of chocolate this was.
When I returned to reality, Denny Brannigan pulled a prescription
pill bottle out of his pocket and washed down a pill with the wine.
Yikes. That didn’t seem safe.
“So,” I said, looking at Nick, “how’s the real estate investment
He dazzled the table with a million-dollar smile. He must have had
his teeth whitened—that smile seemed like it might glow in the dark.
“It’s an amazing time to be in the industry,” he said. “I cannot believe
Oliver’s about to walk out on us. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”
“Hmm?” I replied.
Denny Brannigan grunted. “Oh, Oliver Fischer—the guy who runs
the firm? He’s preparing for semi-retirement. He and his wife are
going to embark on some extensive travel next year—Bali, Australia,
the whole shebang—so he’s getting the business prepared for that.
Oliver and I go way back, so he asked me if I’d be interested in part‐
nering with the firm.”
“Oh, will you be taking Oliver’s place?” I asked.
Denny shook his head. “Not on the day-to-day stuff. I’ll leave that
to the young guys with more energy.” He elbowed Nick. “But I’m
looking at making a significant investment and being available to
offer guidance. That kind of thing.”
“Oliver is going to be hiring a right-hand man,” said Andrew
evenly, folding his hands on the table. “An internal hire, most likely.
Someone who has been with the firm awhile and knows the ins and
outs. That person will run the day-to-day stuff.”
Ah. So that was the big promotion Andrew had been talking about.
“Well,” said Denny, “seems like he can’t go wrong with the sort of
talent he’s been able to recruit.” He shot a significant look in Nick’s
direction, and Andrew stiffened beside me.
I hazarded a glance past Andrew at Tracy, but my sister-in-law
didn’t seem to notice her husband’s discomfort. She was too busy
editing an Instagram photo.
“Hey,” said Andrew. “Speaking of Oliver . . .” He turned around and
shot a selfie with the whole table in the background. Then he tapped
his phone a couple times. “There. He’ll get a kick out of the fact that
we all ran into each other.”
“We’re headed to Toscano di Napa after this,” I added. I paused for
a second. Andrew might not want to hang out with them, but I was
pretty sure he’d welcome the opportunity to disrupt Nick and
Denny’s bonding time. “You’d be welcome to join us. They serve food,
so we were going to do a picnic-style lunch on the lawn.”
With a surge of panic, I had a sudden vision of trying to ease my
pregnant self down onto a picnic blanket with any semblance of
dignity—much less heaving myself back up to my feet afterward.
Maybe I hadn’t thought that part through.
“That sounds perfect,” said Denny Brannigan with a smile.
Well, there was no backing out now.
Nick reached for his phone and typed something, then set it back
on the table. I glanced over at Tracy again. She was still staring at
The server came back with another bottle of wine. “This is our
2018 Chardonnay,” she said, pouring the golden liquid into the second
set of glasses, which were slightly taller and thinner than the glasses
for the Merlot. “You’ll no doubt appreciate its bright aromas of apple,
pear, and caramel, not to mention its earthy tone. On the palate, it’s
invigorating and bold—”
Did she always describe wine as bold?
“—with notes of oak and chocolate and a creamy texture.”
I dearly hoped the wine in question didn’t literally have a creamy
texture. But speaking of chocolate . . .
She finished pouring, and everyone lifted their glasses and
repeated the swirl-and-sniff ritual.
As soon as Natalie took a sip, she picked up her invisible micro‐
phone. “And now Nick is tasting the 2017 Chardonnay. How is it,
“Earthy,” he replied dryly. He seemed to consider the question. “I
liked the Merlot better, but I’ve always been more of a red wine guy.”
“It’s quite good, I think,” said Andrew. My brother’s tone sounded
almost petulant—very unlike him. I gently kicked him under the table
to remind him to behave.
Denny nodded slowly and took another sip. “I like it, but I’m with
Nick—it’s hard to beat a good, dry red. Excuse me; I’m going to find a
restroom.” He pushed back from the table and wandered off toward
the main building.
I stared at the abandoned chocolate next to Denny’s glass. With a
sheepish smile at Nick and Natalie, I put a finger over my lips in the
shh signal, then leaned forward to swipe the candy.
“Pregnancy cravings,” I said as I unwrapped the chocolate.
“Do you want mine?” Nick asked.
“Don’t mind if I do,” I said, accepting the offering.
Andrew’s phone pinged, and he glanced down at the screen. “Oh!
Oliver and Susan are also on a wine tour.” He glanced at me and
added, “Susan is Oliver’s wife.”
I nodded, knowing I wouldn’t have a hope of keeping the dizzying
array of names straight.
Andrew continued, “They’re not far from here, actually. They’re
going to join us at Toscana di Napa.”
Nick shifted uncomfortably. “Wait, what? I . . . just invited Lisa to
join us. That’s who I was messaging a minute ago.”
“Oh, that’s great,” said Andrew, not seeming to pick up on Nick’s
discomfort. “We’ll have the whole gang together.” He glanced at me.
“Lisa’s our summer intern. About to be a senior in college. Worked
with us last summer too. Nice kid.”
With a grimace, Nick said slowly, “It . . . might not be the best idea
to have Oliver and Susan and Lisa all in one place . . . given that . . .
you know, Oliver and Lisa are so . . . cozy.”
My eyes popped wide, and I snatched up my Sprite and took a
long sip. Andrew’s boss was about to go into semi-retirement to travel
with his wife, but based on Nick’s comment and body language it
seemed like the boss was having an office affair. And with the college
intern, which made it even worse. Had this Lisa girl voluntarily
entered into an affair with her boss . . . or had he manipulated her
I’d never met the man, but I suddenly disliked him.
Andrew, however, didn’t seem to be picking up on Nick’s subtext.
He waved his hand. “No, I’m sure Susan and Lisa will get along just
The server returned with a third bottle of wine.
“Seriously,” snapped Nick. “This isn’t cool.”
Andrew trained a withering glare on him. “Sorry that I’m inter‐
fering with your plan to spend an afternoon charming Denny all by
yourself in a bid to steal my promotion.”
I kicked Andrew under the table, harder this time.
The server took a step back. “I can come back later . . .”
“No,” said Andrew. “We’re meeting people in a few minutes. Please,
go ahead and pour.”
As she silently poured, Nick’s jaw twitched. “Oliver can promote
whoever he wants. No one is stealing any promotion.”
“I’ve been at Fischer Capital for eight years,” Andrew spat. “You’ve
been here, what, eight months?”
Natalie and I exchanged looks of discomfort. She managed a small
laugh and picked up her invisible microphone. “And here we have
Nick and Andrew, arguing over an inconsequential picnic at a
Her wry observation broke some of the tension, and the server
plunged hurriedly into a colorful description of the sparkling white
wine she’d just poured.
By the time she left, Denny Brannigan had rejoined us, quelling
any further argument between Nick and Andrew.
I took another sip of my Sprite. This next wine tasting was
certainly shaping up to be . . . interesting.
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