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There were eight barstools in front of my bar, but the hot redhead chose the one next to the town drunk.

I took a deep breath and stuck out my chest, ready to step in if Bill Carney got inappropriate. It had happened before. The only thing keeping it from happening more often was the shortage of women in this town.

But as I stood in front of her, tossing out my usual greeting of, “What’ll you have,” it became immediately clear that this was one woman who didn’t need defending.

She flipped back a section of hair that’d fallen over her left shoulder, crossed her arms in front of her on the bar, leaned forward, and said, “Can you make a boulevardier?”

Next to her, Bill snorted. “Damn city chick.”

I tossed him a look before returning my attention to the much more pleasant face in front of me. “What’s in it?”

It was rare that someone walked into Scoreboard Bar and Grill with some kind of bougie order, but I’d spent some time at the bar in the closest big city to Blackbear Bluff. I’d seen people order some pretty preposterous things. The first step was always to get a list of ingredients. I could take it from there.

“It’s a Negroni with whiskey,” she said.

“I don’t have Campari,” I shot back. “How about a whiskey sour?”

“How is that comparable to a Negroni?” she asked. “You should offer an Old Fashioned. That’s the customer persona for that.”

“Customer persona?” What was this woman talking about?

The redhead extended her arm for a handshake. “Emerald Harper. Your dad sent me.”

I stared at her hand. What was happening here? My dad sent a woman named Emerald to give me a hard time about my bartending skills?

Actually, that made total sense.

“Told you she’s a city chick,” Bill said.

“Do you need anything else?” I asked the guy, unable to keep the impatience out of my tone. I tried to play nice, but he tended to overstay his welcome.

“Nope.” Wobbling a little on his stool, he turned and pushed himself to his feet. “Gotta be going. You two youngsters have fun. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

Emerald turned to watch him until he was about halfway to the door. At that point, she turned to look at me. “You aren’t going to let him go, are you?”

“Sure.” I shrugged. “He’s been here the better part of an hour. He likes to get home in time to watch the news. Gives him something to complain about tomorrow when he comes in.”

“He’s three sheets to the wind,” Emerald said. “If he gets in an accident, you could be liable.”

“For him wrecking his car?”

“For letting him leave here drunk,” she said. “Didn’t you take alcohol awareness training?”

Of course, I did. But if I stopped Bill Carney from leaving after drinking, he’d have to sleep in the back room every night.

“Exactly why are you here?” I asked.

Luckily, that seemed to pull her mind off Bill. She straightened, putting a hand on each thigh, and gave one definitive nod.

“Your father has invested in a chain of sports bar type restaurants,” she said. “He wants you to be over all the bartenders—training them, getting them licensed, making sure they don’t let patrons leave after having a few too many.” She hitched her thumb toward the door. “But he thinks you need to up your game as a bartender. That’s why I’m here.”

I narrowed my eyes. I didn’t want to be rude, but she looked young. How could she possibly know more about making drinks than I did?

“I know what you’re thinking,” she said. “I wonAmerica’s Top Bartenderthis year. It was all over the internet. But I’ve been an influencer in the mixology space since I was too young to even enter competitions.” She smiled. “It’s not like I’m into driving or anything. I just love coming up with the perfect cocktail.”

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