DIRTY GINGER is out today! It’s bittersweet since this book is the conclusion to the Three Chicks Brewery series, but I have so, so, so much love for the Carter sisters and this book, and I’m so excited for you to read it!! Thank you all for your love and support during this series — it means the absolute world to me.
From USA Today bestselling author Stacey Kennedy comes a sexy and sweet second chance romance about a jilted bride who is done with relationships and a down-on-his-luck cowboy who’s not about to let her get away again.
True love deserves a second chance…
Everyone at Three Chicks Brewery knows that Amelia Carter has the magic touch when it comes to creating the perfect beer. Her ales have customers singing her praises and begging for more. Unfortunately, when it comes to love, the only magic she seems to have is the cursed kind. After being left at the altar by her ex-fiancé, Amelia gives up on the idea of happily-ever-after to focus on making the Carter family brewery a national success.
Beckett Stone finally started to believe in happily-ever-after the day Amelia’s worthless ex bailed on their wedding, finally giving Beckett another chance with his high school sweetheart– the only woman he’s ever loved. Unfortunately, Amelia’s broken heart is just one of the obstacles Beckett needs to overcome if he wants to win her for good. He knows he’s not the man Amelia deserves, particularly with his failed rodeo career, alcoholic father, and a universe that seems to have a twisted sense of humor when it comes to giving Beckett a break.
But when pressure mounts to create several new beers to promote Three Chicks Brewery, Amelia starts to fall apart, and Beckett swoops in with his gentle reassurances and hard work ethic. While the last thing Amelia wants is fall in love again, she can’t deny that her heart beats a little faster whenever she sees Beckett walk through the door. Soon, every warm caress and soft whisper of understanding becomes a balm to both of them. As Beckett makes his intentions clear, Amelia must decide if she can overcome her relationship fears and believe in the magic of true love again.
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At a little after nine o’clock in the morning, Amelia stepped out of the Uber, feeling like a different woman than the one whose life abruptly took a rattling sharp left into the trash fourteen days ago. “Thanks,” she said to the driver, who had already gotten her luggage out of the trunk.
“Take care,” the driver replied before getting back in his car and driving away.
Amelia faced the big, white, colonial-style farmhouse located in the small town of River Rock, in the gorgeous Colorado countryside, before she began climbing the porch steps. The house always held so much life. First, when her grandmother and her pops took her, along with her two sisters, in to raise them after their parents died in a car crash. Then when she lived in the house with Clara, Maisie, and Mason after their grandparents passed away. But now, as she opened the front door, she only met silence. Gone were her grandparents. Gone was Maisie. She had moved in with Hayes. Gone was Clara and Mason, living with Sullivan. Within the heavy silence lived the reminder that Luka had planned to move in here with Amelia. Now it was only her.
Refusing to allow the embarrassment and unbearable sadness fill her again, she slammed the door shut on those thoughts. Literally. When she’d boarded the flight for their honeymoon to Saint Lucia the morning after Luka broke off their wedding, she’d done so with the intention of running away. Only, the lush forests, sunny skies, and the delicious rum for a whole two weeks had pulled her out of her despair and forced her to recognize a couple truths. She couldn’t run any longer, and had to face the fact that Luka hadn’t been totally wrong – even she had doubts about their marriage. So she allowed herself three days of hiding in the hotel room dying of embarrassment and grieving the loss of the life she thought she was going to have with Luka before she spent the rest of her trip figuring out her new normal, thinking about what went wrong. But when she’d landed late last night and fell into the Denver airport hotel’s bed, she decided that, now that she was back home, she’d have an open heart and an open mind, no more bitterness or shame.
Determined to pick up the pieces of her life, she set her suitcase down by the big wooden staircase, where a gallery of framed photographs displaying happy family moments hung. She took her cell phone from her purse and then headed back outside, approaching the brewery. She only reached the barn’s double doors when she heard gravel crunching against tires. A quick look back revealed a big black truck with Rocky Mountain Beer Distribution written on the door.
The truck stopped, and Ronnie Keene exited with an unusually soft smile. He was a couple inches taller than Amelia and had light green eyes that always looked hard, serious in a way that unnerved Amelia most days. She wasn’t a businesswoman like Clara, who usually dealt with Ronnie. He wore a Red Sox baseball cap overtop his bald head, supporting his nephew, Sullivan, who played for the team. But that smile as he approached, that soft, pitying smile, was all for Amelia.
“Good morning, Ronnie,” she said, chipper. “Thanks for coming to meet me.” She’d sent him the text on the drive back from Denver this morning, wanting to keep busy today. Especially since he’d sent her an email asking for a meeting with her as soon as she felt ready to have one.
“Mornin’,” he said, shoving his hands in his pockets when he reached her. “Are you sure you’re up to this meeting? Like I said in my text, we can wait—”
“I’m up for it,” she said, giving him a bright smile in the hope of easing his worries. “I’ve spent two weeks relaxing, being spoiled rotten, and having fun. I feel refreshed and rejuvenated and totally ready to get back to work.”
Ronnie gave her a nod and looked upon her with something akin to pride. “Clara was saying you went on a trip.”
Amelia nodded. “To Saint Lucia.” What she thought would be two weeks to sulk had turned into fourteen days of healing. She’d even had some fun. “The trip was exactly what I needed, so please, truly, let’s get back to work.”
Another nod. “All right, then.” He waved out toward the brewery. “Let’s get back to work.”
Good. One person had accepted her healed heart. Now she needed to get the rest of the nosy, overbearing town to get onboard too. She unlocked the barn doors, whisking them open, and her heart broke a little bit more. She’d had four batches of beer fermenting that she should have checked before leaving for the airport. She had intended to give instructions to her sisters to care for the beer while she was gone, but that had been the last thing on her mind. She could smell the rancid grain the second she walked through the doors. The state of her brewery was terrible, and that fell on Amelia’s shoulders. “Ronnie, I apologize for this. Clara and Maisie don’t know this part of the business, and I just left—”
“Don’t,” Ronnie said firmly behind her. “You don’t need to apologize.” He stepped in next to her and gave a reassuring smile. “I’ve got no doubt you’ll get things up and running again and will meet all your quotas.”
“Thanks for understanding,” she said, leading him through the brewery into the back storage room to show him all wasn’t a total bust. “We will definitely hit the quotas for this month.”
Ronnie stepped into the room, scanned the already bottled cases of Foxy Diva, their top selling beer that Ronnie and his distribution company had recently picked up to distribute into every bar, restaurant, and store in North America. A huge feat for a small brewery owned by three sisters. “You always have this much stock on hand?” he asked, looking back at her with wide eyes.
She nodded. “I always make sure I’m ahead of the game.” She didn’t know what it said about her that she always planned for the worst. A result of losing her parents in a car crash and having her heart broken twice. She knew to stay ahead when things were good, because things always got bad again.
“This is good, Amelia,” Ronnie said, turning in a circle. “Very good work.” He returned to her, and she shut the storage room’s door behind him.
“It won’t take me long to get the brewery back in shape,” she said, trying to breathe shallowly as to not inhale the sour aroma.
“I’ve got no doubt that’s true,” Ronnie said, walking next to her down the aisle between the tanks. He stopped at the barn’s double doors again, visibly breathing a little deeper now too, crossing his arms. “The reason I sent you the email for the meeting is we had a marketing meeting while you were gone. Foxy Diva is doing well. Really well. But we’d like to draw more interest for the brewery next year. The team suggested we put out a special beer each quarter.”
Amelia’s mouth went dry. “Wow. That’s an amazing offer.”
Ronnie nodded. “It’s something we’ve seen work very well with another brewery we’ve got. The only hitch is we’ve only got one spot for this type of distribution and three breweries in our roster competing for the spot.” He paused, pressing his lips together before continuing, “I realize the pressure this would put on you. If you’re not ready, or up for it—”
“I’m up for it,” Amelia sputtered before even considering it. Maisie had made their little brewery successful in the beginning by traveling to beer festivals and getting their name out there. Clara was the very reason Ronnie picked up Foxy Diva and distributed it. Now Amelia needed to prove her worth.
Ronnie laughed softly and gave a small nod. “I figured you would be ready.” He glanced back into the brewery, tapping a cowboy boot against the ground. “Take a couple months. Brew six different ale samples. After that, we’ll run some tastings and see what four come out as the leading contenders.”
“Totally doable.” Amelia smiled, her pulse racing over the idea of creating some new beers. She hadn’t stretched her mind this way since she took Pops’ home brew recipe and adjusted the ingredients, turning the beer into Foxy Diva. Yet at the same time, the little voice in her head worried that she couldn’t take on such a huge undertaking. Six beer samples on a sound mind was hard, and her mind felt… shaky. “Thank you for your trust is our product, Ronnie.”
“No thanks required,” he said. That pride was back in his eyes. “You’re a talented brew master, Amelia. You’ve got a good thing here. Don’t forget that, without your talent, the brewery would not be where it is today.”
Leaving her speechless at his kind words, he strode away. Ronnie rarely offered praise, and she knew it came from trying to boost her confidence after it had been so publicly depleted. Appreciating his kindness regardless of his reasons, she waved as he drove away. Then with the heaviest sigh of her life, she faced the tanks. Never in her life had she ever left her brewery in this condition. Her teacher, Graham Neal, would drop dead if he set foot in her brewery. “Sanitize. Sanitize. Sanitize.” had been his moto. Dust was in places it shouldn’t exist. A tank was left open, obviously one of her sisters wanted to clean it and then changed their minds. Likely Maisie.
Startled at the smooth, low voice behind her, Amelia whirled around and found the last person she thought she’d see today. Beckett stood between the double doors, looking as hard as ever. Not only his muscular frame either, but his eyes. Not that she blamed him. Beckett’s childhood was no walk in the park, and he wore those scars. “What are you doing here?” Her voice came out snappier than she intended, and she quickly softened her voice, “Sorry, I mean, I wasn’t expecting you.”
He didn’t seem affected and lifted a lazy shoulder. “I’ve been keeping an eye on your place and saw a truck in the driveway. Came to check it out, but then saw it was Ronnie.” He entered the barn, then scrunched his face and backed out. “Did something die in here?”
She nodded with misery. “Yeah, beer did.”
“Now that’s a damn shame,” he said with a familiar half-smile. One she’d seen through all their years together. One she once thought she’d see every day for the rest of her life.
“Yeah, it is a shame,” she agreed, leaving the barn doors open, hoping to let the space air out a bit before cleaning began.
“How was Saint Lucia?” he asked, stepping into stride with her, heading back toward his massive dark grey Ford F-150 parked near the house.
“Stunning,” she answered. “The nature trails were out of this world. Beautiful hiking. Gorgeous weather. The place is so lush and alive.”
“From what I saw, it looked it.”
She slid her gaze to him, studying his expression. He avoided her gaze. It occurred to her she shouldn’t have been so surprised he’d looked into where she went. Beckett was always the protector, including punching Luka when he’d wronged her.
Their breakup hadn’t been because there wasn’t love between them. Beckett was three years older, and before Amelia left for college, it became clear the direction of their lives had changed. While she’d cried many tears when Beckett ended the relationship, once she got to Denver for college, a whole new world opened up. Six months after she and Beckett ended things, she’d met Luka, and throughout her time at school, they eventually fell in love. When she finally returned to River Rock, the love for Beckett remained, only it was a different kind of love. Not so needy and desperate, but more familiar and comfortable – a very good friendship. No matter what, Beckett was there for her. Always. And she was there for him too when she could, though he was terrible at asking for help.
When they reached his truck, she faced him again. “Thanks for keeping an eye on the place while was I was gone. I really appreciate it.” She paused, realizing she had something else to thank him for. “And thanks for punching Luka in the face. I had definitely wanted to do that, but didn’t have the mind to actually make it happen.”
“You never have to thank me for that. I’ll happily knock him out on your behalf anytime you’d like.” His mouth twitched as he tucked his thumbs into the pockets of his jeans. “And as for your house, it’s on the way to the farm, which I really need to get to.”
Warmth carried through her, and she smiled as he headed for his truck and got into the driver’s seat. Beckett had once been on his way to becoming a professional calf roper, but instead he now worked for Nash Blackshaw, who owned a horse training facility that rehabilitated troubled or young horses. The facility was a well-known staple in Colorado now. People came from all over the country to buy horses from the once famous bull rider, Nash Blackshaw. Beckett was a part of that, and Amelia always liked the special connection he had to horses and was happy he found his place in the world.
Once inside his truck, he rolled down the window and gave her face a long look with his strong gaze. “The trip looks good on you.”
“Thanks,” she said. “The trip felt good on me, too.”
His soft smile made her smile too. “Good to have you home, Am.” Only Beckett called her that nickname, reminding her of easier times when life was a whole lot simpler. He flashed her his charming grin that had once been all she could think about before he drove away, a trail of dust following his truck.
She waited until the truck vanished up the road before she let the daunting reality hit her. She had very little time to come up with one new sample, let alone six. Some of the darker ales had to ferment for five weeks, meaning she needed to get on her plan pronto. Sure, she’d been playing with a handful of new brews over the last year, but when Ronnie’s company picked up Foxy Diva and put the beer into circulation, Amelia’s focus had been getting ahead of supply and demand. But first she needed to deal with the messy state of her brewery. The rest she’d figure out later. Pushing the rising tension— that had all but evaporated in the tropics— away, she entered the house and shut the door behind her. The silence. It was everywhere and it was heavy, a reminder that her sisters’ lives had moved on, and hers…
She shook her head, not allowing her thoughts to take her to that dark place. This was her new normal, and she had to move on.
Moving into the kitchen, she smiled at the tulips in the vase on the old, work oak kitchen table. The table held so many memories. Some good. Some bad. All family meetings, hard or otherwise, happened at the kitchen table. The spot had always been a safe place. A quick look in the fridge revealed it had all been cleaned out sometime since she’d been gone. That hadn’t been Beckett. This was her sisters’ touch. And as unsteady as things were, her family wasn’t an issue. They were her rock.
A knock on the door came seconds before it opened, and her younger cousin, Penelope, called, “Amelia?”
“I’m in here,” Amelia replied.
Penelope had moved to River Rock two Christmases ago and never left. Amelia was happy for it. Penelope handled the brewery tours that came in every weekend and knocked them out of the park. She’d learned the ins and outs of the brewery in record time, and she could now explain the beer making process without pause and answered every question flawlessly. Most of all, she was incredible with the public. People loved Penelope. Amelia could see why, she loved Penelope too.
When Penelope entered the kitchen, she looked as gorgeous as ever. Her long brown hair was perfectly in place and her green eyes were sparkling with happiness. Amelia was glad to see it too. Penelope’s horrible parents had shipped her off to live with Amelia and her sisters every summer at their grandparents so they could enjoy their summers traveling without her. Nevertheless, Penelope had created a good life in River Rock, and she deserved every little bit of happiness that came her way.
“Oh, girl, your tan is to die for,” Penelope said, opening her arms wide.
Amelia walked straight into them, holding her cousin tight. “It’s easy to get tanned when all you do is drink your face off by the pool bar.”
“Nice,” Darryl, Penelope’s husband, said, entering the kitchen carrying two brown paper grocery bags. Scruffy-bearded, with dark brown-hair, Darryl was a cop with the local police department, and his amber eyes, while kind, held authority too.
Amelia studied the grocery bags, pressing her hand to her chest. “You brought me groceries?”
He set the groceries down on the kitchen counter. “Clara asked if we could pick you up necessities. She and Sullivan had a meeting with the principal this morning.” Darryl threw Amelia a smile over his shoulder. “Mason got into a fight.”
“Uh oh,” Amelia muttered, only imagining how Clara reacted to that news. Likely not well.
Penelope laughed softly. “I’ve never seen Sullivan look so proud. Mason was just standing up to a bully.”
Darryl began pulling the groceries out of the paper bags and setting them on the counter. “Sullivan’s convinced he’ll be a ball player, but I’m betting my money on him becoming a cop one day.” At Penelope’s nod of agreement, he turned his attention to Amelia, giving his serious look. “And you? How are ya?”
“Good.” When they both just stared at her, she laughed to break the silence. “Honestly, I’m in a good place. I spent three days crying in my hotel room, hiding under the bedsheets, and ordering room service. But the trip was exactly what I needed, and I’m glad everything is over. I don’t have to see or hear about Luka again, and life can carry on.” Or at least that’s what she would keep telling herself until she believed it.
Penelope looked at everything but Amelia.
“What am I missing?” Amelia demanded.
Penelope and Darryl exchanged a long look before Darryl asked, “You haven’t heard about Beckett?”
Amelia frowned at them. “I heard that he was watching the place for me while I was gone, but that’s it.”
“You haven’t seen him?” Darryl asked.
Amelia looked from Penelope to Darryl, and her frown deepened. “He was just here, but didn’t say anything. What’s going on?”
Darryl set the basket of strawberries down, then turned to face Amelia, giving her his serious cop look. “Luka pressed charges against Beckett.”
Amelia blinked. Processed. Heat tingled in her face. “You are kidding me, right?”
Darryl slowly shook his head, clenching his jaw. “I’m afraid I’m not, and Luka’s not dropping the charges either. I’ve spoken to him on two occasions to follow up to see if he had changed his mind. He hasn’t.”
Amelia could barely believe what she was hearing, a tremor rocking her to her core. She gripped the counter tight. “Let me get this straight. Luka is charging Beckett for a punch to the nose? Which he rightly deserved?”
Penelope gave a quick nod, taking out the bananas from the grocery bag. “I guess Beckett broke it real good. Luka’s health insurance covered the original break, but there’s a bump on his nose now. Luka needs plastic surgery to correct it since it’s not covered.”
Amelia couldn’t wrap her head around this, wanting to help put away the groceries, but feeling rooted to the spot. “What is Beckett facing here?”
“Luka is suing him for the money to cover the surgery. But Beckett will also face third degree assault, which is a Class 1 Misdemeanor,” Darryl explained. “It could get him two years in jail and fines up to five thousand dollars.”
A sick feeling sank into her stomach as the realization dawned on her. “This isn’t the first time Beckett’s had that charge.” It happened after his twenty-first birthday. The judge had considered Beckett’s clean history and he had ended up with probation and mandatory counselling.
“I know, that’s the problem,” Darryl said solemnly.
Penelope said, “Last time, they let him off easy because he was a first-time offender with a clean record. This time, it’s not going to happen again, because to a judge, it looks like he has a history of violence.”
Amelia pondered all this, and it all boiled down to one conclusion. “I need to go talk to Luka.”
Darryl gave a grave nod. Though he didn’t seem happy about it, he said, “Looks like it might be the only way to get him to change his mind.”
Amelia drew in a long breath, processing everything that had happened since she got out of her Uber this morning. “Let me get this straight. I need to get the brewery cleaned, come up with six new beers as per Ronnie’s request this morning, mend things with my ex-fiancé that dumped me at the alter in order to save my ex-boyfriend from jail time.”
Penelope smirked. “Welcome home.”