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Today, I want you all to meet Mitch Underhill, Bo’s right hand man at the brewery.

As Bo often says about him, Mitch might not be the brightest bulb on the strip when it comes to common sense, but in the brewery business, he is pure, unadulterated genius. Let’s not sell him short. Mitch is so much more. He’s her strongest supporter, her best friend, the man who always has her back.

When she pushed open the door, bright sunlight from the unadorned windows nearly blinded her. Dropping her case in the corner, she raised a hand to shield her eyes.

“Wow,” Mitch said from behind her. “First thing you’re gonna need is blackout curtains.”

“I like it,” she replied. “Don’t get me wrong. I’ll definitely put up window coverings of some kind, but I like the light, airy feeling of all this open space.”

She crossed the foyer with its chipped marble tiles sporting black pits against the smooth sheets of white and gray, past the curving staircase and missing rungs in the bannister that resembled a toddler’s smile, to the living room. Her couch looked ridiculous as the only object to fill up the excessive space.

She sighed. “I guess I’m going to have to actually buy furniture, huh?”

“And pictures or hangings of some kind,” Mitch replied, gesturing to the empty sugar white walls.

“I don’t know.” She frowned, dollar signs zipping in her brain—too fast to catch. “My coffers are pretty bare right now.” A sudden chill settled in her bones, and she hugged herself.

“You’re shivering,” he pointed out. “You scared or something?”

She stared out the window at the bleak lawn. “No.” She wasn’t scared; she was downright terrified.

Mitch reached up to pat her shoulder. “It’s gonna be okay, Bo. You’ll see. Give it time.”

A block of emotions clogged her throat, making any kind of speech impossible. Without a word, she walked away and climbed the stairs to the second floor. The master bedroom was easy to find, since it was the only room with an open door. She stepped inside and sat on the edge of her bare mattress. Like the couch in the living room, it was the only object up here. She’d downsized, of course, from the king adjustable twelve-inch-thick foam mattress she’d had in New York to a queen-sized, three-inch-thick foam-topped coil version on a metal non-rolling frame. Gone were the vintage linen head- and footboards with the ornate, hand-painted lattice and carved rosettes, along with their matching night tables, bureaus, and lamps.

The memory woke up inside, a sitcom rerun playing in her head, and she gave herself over to the laughter.

“Bo?” Mitch leaned in the doorway, wary, keeping his feet firmly in the hall, no doubt in case he had to flee if she lunged for him. “You okay?”

“I slashed our bed,” she said through her chortles. “The night they arrested Rob, I grabbed a big knife from the butcher block in our kitchen and ripped the shit outta the mattress.” She flopped backward, arms flung out wide, and stared at the ceiling. “God, it felt good!” She sat up again as the memories grew somber. “I had to sell everything to pay the bills, to pay back all he’d stolen—except that mattress. Every stick of furniture, every piece of china went. I should have sold the mattress too, but no one would buy it in that condition. Damn shortsighted of me, it turned out. I could’ve used the few hundred dollars it would’ve brought me. When the dust finally settled, I was still in the hole about ten thousand bucks.”

“Stop reliving it,” he told her. “Rob was the criminal, not you.”

“Maybe. But I sure paid for it. If Dad hadn’t loaned me the seed money for Empire…” Shame burned her cheeks, and she let the thought trail off. At thirty-five years old, she shouldn’t still need her father to bail her out.

He sat beside her and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “Rob fooled all of us, not just you. He sure did live up to his name, though, didn’t he? Rob.” He snorted.

On a sigh, she shook her head, a slow side-to-side motion. “Nice try, but it’s going to take more than bad puns to fix my life.”

“You’re right. It’s going to take time. And hard work. And friends. Luckily, you’ve got all three.” As if emphasizing his statement, he pulled her closer into his side hug.