In A CUT ABOVE, Karnie agrees to meet Donna Amick’s brother, Duncan, at a bar to try to learn who might have killed Donna. The bar’s on the rough side, though, so her brother, Chuck insists on going with her. But he gets sick and asks his friend, Matt, to go in his place:
Matt was doing her a favor. Actually, he was doing Chuck a favor, but she’d let that ride. When he pulled up in his truck and she ran out to climb in, she gave him an apologetic look. “I’m sorry you got stuck doing this. I could have called Duncan and rescheduled our meeting.
Matt shook his head. “No problem. I’m happy to do this for you.”
She bit her lip. For Chuck, she wanted to say, but Matt was here, and they were headed to The Alehouse Bar. She’d keep quiet about that. “Chuck said I owed him a supper for meeting Duncan with me. Same goes for you, and as many beers as you want. On me.”
He shook his head. “I’m going home to kids and have to get up early in the morning. Only two beers for me on a week night.”
“You’re a cheap date.”
“Is this a date then? Our first one. I’ll mark it on my calendar, so I can remember our first date anniversary.”
Her stomach clenched. She stared at him. “You’re kidding, right? I was kidding.”
“Here I thought you were starting to take a shine to me.”
“I am. We could be great friends.”
He put a hand to his heart. “The words no man wants to hear.” Then he glanced at her and started laughing. “Relax. Don’t panic yet, but you’re awfully easy to tease.”
No wonder he and Chuck were such good friends. Too much alike. She relaxed and took a deep breath. “Not funny. I’ve never worried about things getting awkward between us because Chuck said you have so many girls chasing you, you have to beat them away.”
“Hardly. I don’t have time for chasing skirts. The farm and the kids keep me busy.”
“But your parents took the kids last weekend.”
“So you think I spent time with a girl? That’s why you were so surprised I came to the Sunday dinner.” He shook his head. “I had some friends over for pizza and we played cards. I don’t get to do that much anymore.”
She fiddled with the hem of her T-shirt. She’d misjudged him. She felt a little ashamed of herself at how fast she’d decided he was shacking up.
He grinned at her. “You know, even back in my high school days, I wasn’t quite the slimeball you thought I was.”
She grimaced at the term. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have called you that.”
“We didn’t know each other. Girls did follow me everywhere, but that didn’t mean I slept with every single one of them.”
But she’d bet he slept with a few.
He could read her thoughts by the look on her face and chuckled. “No more than your brother Chuck. He was no innocent back then either.”
True, and she knew he was a good man. Matt was, too. “I’ll amend my opinions about you.”
He laughed. “Then they must be going up because I don’t think they could get too much lower.”
She waved that away. “It doesn’t really matter what I think about you anyway.”
“But it does.” His voice was sincere. “We’re friends now, and you’re going to invite me and my kids over for supper sometimes. I don’t want to mess that up.”
“You’re really motivated by food.”
“No arguments there.” They reached the bar and he pulled into a parking space. “You ready? Chuck said this Duncan was a real winner.”
She nodded, and they started to the Alehouse. When they walked through the door, loud music made them both wince. The place had the typical, funky old bar smell. The lighting was dim, and they waited to let their eyes adjust before moving further inside. A guy at the bar turned to raise his glass at her. She waved. A friend of Chuck’s. Karnie spotted Duncan at a booth and they wove their way past filled tables to join him.
Duncan sneered when Matt slid across from him. “She had to bring a nursemaid to meet me?”
Matt leveled a look at him. “You might let a woman come alone to a bar like this, but I wouldn’t. Did Donna meet you here?”
The sneer vanished. “I always picked her up. We came together.”
The waitress came, and Matt ordered a beer. Karnie asked, “Do you have wine?” She’d never gotten used to the taste of hops or the bitterness of beer.
“One white wine. One red. Which do you want?”
“White.” She’d take her chances. Bad wine was better than good beer.
Duncan shook his head. “I can’t see you and Donna working together. She had a problem with people who were too uppity.”
Karnie raised an eyebrow. “Not every person who likes wine is a snob, but Donna and I wouldn’t have gotten along anyway. She was too pushy. Sort of like you.”
“You didn’t like her.”
“Not a bit.”
The waitress brought their drinks. “Are you eating or just visiting?”
“I’m paying,” Karnie said before Matt could. “For all three of us. I’ll take a burger and fries.”
After the guys ordered and the waitress left, Duncan studied Karnie. “You’re used to being in charge, aren’t you?”
She wasn’t going to disagree. Instead, she asked, “How did you and Donna get along?”
After he took a hit of his beer, he said, “We were brother and sister. We argued sometimes but always had each other’s back. She was three years older than me and was always telling me what to do. Talked me into taking a few jobs I hated until I stopped listening to her. Now I’m doing okay, running a few different businesses. Said once the shop got going, she’d make me part of it.”
“Did you want to be part of it?”
Their food arrived, and Duncan waited until the waitress left again to answer. “There were things I could do to help her, but I knew my sister. There’s no way I’d drop what I was doing to work with her unless she legally signed part ownership over to me. Either that, or I’d do a lot of work, she’d get bent out of shape about something, and she’d fire me. She was like that.”
Karnie and Matt exchanged glances. “She did that to Worth,” Matt said.
“The kid should have known better. He had to live with her, for heaven’s sake. He knew she could be a witch.”
Duncan had no delusions about her. Karnie gave him credit for that. “Would she have promised the shop to P.J. if she didn’t mean to give it to him?”
Duncan put down his burger with a snort. “P.J. was on his way out, wasn’t he? Donna wasn’t too happy when she found out he’d ordered a watch worth a few thousand for himself with her credit card.”
“She told you that?” Matt asked.
Duncan wiped his mouth with his napkin. “She said he was starting to be more of a bother than he was worth.”
“Did she love her husband before he died?” It wouldn’t help decide who’d killed her, but Karnie was curious.
Duncan took a long sip of beer, his brows furrowed in thought, before saying, “I’m not sure she ever loved anyone. Not our parents. Can’t blame her. Not me.”
“Why not your parents?”
“Mom clerks at a small dollar store, smokes all the time, lives for Bingo. Dad works as little as he can. They kept a roof over our heads and didn’t pound on us, but that’s about it. Donna hated being poor.”
Karnie nodded. That explained a lot. It didn’t excuse how badly Donna treated people, but it helped her understand Donna more.