If you haven’t read the Prologue yet, now is your time to catch up on it.
Thirteen Years Later
“Damn, bro, I’ve never seen you in action before. Even Brody would be scared.”
Mason turned and saw Aiden had walked into his home gym. The music was playing and he hadn’t realized he wasn’t alone. All his siblings had keys to each other’s houses. His parents’ too.
He picked up a towel and wiped his forehead. He wasn’t used to anyone seeing him while he worked out. He’d purposely done it when he knew no one would be around, dragging his butt out of bed while telling himself he hated every minute of it but knowing, as his mother told him so many years ago, the illusion was what worked. She was right.
And in order to maintain it, he had to stick to the routine. All those years ago, and even now, he thought of it like homework for a class. That allowed him to excel like he did in school.
“I doubt it,” Mason said, grabbing a drink and fighting the urge to put his shirt on, covering his sweaty chest and arms. He normally hid under clothing. He wasn’t as muscular as Brody by any means—no one was—but he was built. His body was by far the leanest of the group, probably the strongest, but no one said much about it when he was shirtless…which he very rarely was for that reason. No use tempting fate with conversations he’d rather not have.
All this training had improved his confidence. Or maybe it just improved his overall façade. He still never fought anyone. Years of classes and training and the most he’d ever done was some hand to hand with instructors for lessons. It was monitored and no one got hurt. No one actually fought. Just the way he liked it.
“So why are you going at it so hard right now?” Aiden asked, walking over to the mini fridge Mason kept in the room and getting his own bottle of water.
“Just my daily workout. No special reason.” No one needed to know it was dreaded as much as one of his mother’s lectures.
“Well then, thanks for making the rest of us look like pikers. When Nic sees you at the pool I’ll never hear the end of it.”
Mason laughed. Nic was Aiden’s fiancée of just a few weeks. Aiden had proposed on Christmas morning in front of the whole family. That was two of them engaged now. Brody had been first in the fall. His brothers seemed to be dropping like dominoes right now.
“She only has eyes for you. She’d have nothing in common with me other than you and I are brothers.”
“You supply the brew for our food in the kitchen,” Aiden said, laughing.
“There is that. What brings you by? Why aren’t you at work right now? Or at home in bed with Nic. Got to be something wrong with you.”
Aiden laughed. “Nic went in early. Her grandmother is there with some other staff and they’re showing them how to bake the bread for the restaurant.”
Nic’s grandparents used to own an Italian bakery, but it burned down years ago. Now Nic worked in the kitchen with Aiden, more like filling in. She was in charge of some of the changes going on, but basically she was now photographing everything for all of Fierce’s branches for marketing purposes. When she wasn’t doing that, she was teaching others in the kitchen her grandparents’ recipes for Italian pastries and bread.
“And you had nothing else better to do, after probably getting home at midnight, than to come here at seven in the morning?” Mason asked.
“Since when don’t you want to see me?” Aiden asked.
The two of them were the closest of the group. Quintuplets. And though they were all close, he and Aiden seemed to have the strongest bond. Which was funny because Aiden was the most confident of the group, Mason the least. The least confident in life in general. In school or work, Mason had more than all of them together.
None of Aiden’s had rubbed off on Mason in the past when maybe it should have though. He supposed that was why his parents put them in the same room. Maybe they should have put him in with Cade. At least Cade was good at running his mouth and Mason could have used a bit of that back then. Some smooth talking might have saved him a black eye a time or two. Or maybe one less time shoved against lockers.
“Let me just go grab a quick shower. You can go make us some breakfast and we can talk over what’s coming up on tap next and what I’m brewing for the spring and summer.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Aiden said, walking into Mason’s kitchen.
It wasn’t anything like the kitchen Aiden was used to, but Mason liked his house in the country away from everyone. He had a lot of lawn that he barely had the time to mow, but found he enjoyed it when he could. If he couldn’t, he’d call in a service. But the two acres gave him time to sit on a tractor and think of his end of the business.
The five of them all had their own specialty and they all ran it well.
Brody ran the bar. He was the loudest and the most personable. The most at ease in a group of people.
Aiden could cook like a dream. The things he thought of only made Mason’s head spin.
Cade, he was the family lawyer and in control of all the marketing and branding.
Ella ran everything and anything the rest of them didn’t want to do. All the behind the scenes work with money and paperwork.
Then there was Mason. It was all on him at times…or so it seemed.
He ran the brewery. The biggest moneymaker of the business and the newest part of it.
Four of them went away to college with dreams and plans to expand the family business and it was all falling into place. The most substantial addition was the brewery. The largest cost and biggest risk. His parents believed in him and they made it happen. Now it was the largest percentage of income with the most on the line.
His brews weren’t just sold in the bar but also bottled and shipped all over the East Coast. With any luck, they’d make their way out West at some point too. But right now he had his hands full just managing it as it was.
When he was done with his shower, he opened his door to the smell of bacon, eggs, and coffee. He didn’t even know he had bacon in his house.
“Where did that come from?” he asked Aiden, as two omelets were slid on plates, next to a huge mound of bacon.
“I brought it with me. You never have anything here. I was shocked you even had eggs. Now you’ve got more since I’ll leave the rest.”
He didn’t spend a lot of time at home, and when he did, he didn’t waste it cooking. Most of the time he grabbed a cup of coffee and a protein bar and ran out the door in the morning. At some point during the day, he’d go around the corner to the restaurant and get a good-sized lunch. His only real meal for the day. Dinner was whatever he found in his house that didn’t require a lot of effort.
“I appreciate it,” he said, sitting down and picking up his coffee. Everything Aiden touched tasted better than he could ever imagine. He’d long since given up asking how it was done.
“So tell me the plans? What are you starting now?”
It was only January, but most beers took weeks to months or even years before they were ready to tap. He was planning spring and summer brews now and would be starting the process soon. “I haven’t officially settled on anything. I’ll definitely bring back a few of the summer brews from last year.”
“Jolene for sure,” Aiden said. “Brody said that was a big hit and I was able to use it in a lot of recipes.”
Fiercely Jolene was a beer named after his mother. Sweet on the first sip, then the tartness just slapped you in the face. He thought it was funny to name it after her, so did his siblings. His mother, not so much…though she wasn’t laughing when she saw the sales.
“First on the list. I’ll make more and have Cade push the marketing on it.”
“You know Mom is going to frown over it. Cade wants to use her as part of the promotion.”
“Really?” Mason asked, laughing. “Serves her right.”
Mason remembered all the times his mother started out all nice and sweet with the five of them and then when they least expected it, she went in for the kill, making them all feel about two inches tall. She had some wicked ways with her punishments too and knowing all the kids’ weaknesses.
“Speaking of Mom, I heard you have her finding staff for you? Why?”
Mason stopped shoveling food into his mouth. “She’s been bugging me lately. Not sure what is going on, but every time I turn around she’s in the brewery just following me around, asking a million questions.”
Aiden burst out laughing. “Has to be getting on your nerves since she knows how much you hate to talk.”
Mason snorted. He swore his mother got bored and just picked a kid to torment. He was wondering what he’d done wrong to be the chosen one now. “I tried being nice and telling her I was busy.”
“Being nice has never worked with her before.”
“It didn’t this time either. She started lecturing me that I needed more women in the brewery. I know that. We try to make it as equal as possible, but I can’t help it if no women apply.”
Aiden rolled his eyes. “I’ve heard it all before.”
“Then she went on and on that the brewery is getting so much attention that the least we could do was get a woman to do the tours. Mix it up a little. I told her she could find that person if she wanted it so bad.”
His mother just wouldn’t stop nagging him about it and he was starting to think he was being punished, only he couldn’t figure out what would have warranted it.
“You’re letting Mom do that? Find someone to give brewery tours when she can’t even remember the name of half the beers, let alone the ingredients to go in it? You think that’s wise?”
“This is Mom we’re talking about. She’d never let anyone set foot in the business that wasn’t qualified or if she didn’t look under every rock to find out what she could about them. I’m not worried and I’m surprised to hear you are.”
“True. Still, this is one part of the business she is really clueless about.”
“It’s just part-time and whoever she hires, I’ll walk through with the person. If they’ve got a good enough memory, it’s easy. It’s more a rehearsed speech than anything.”
“Good luck to you then,” Aiden said. “I’d rather hire my own staff.”
“And we all know how much you love doing that,” Mason said.
Aiden was the worst of them all when it came to interviewing. He ran every potential candidate through the paces as if he were a drill sergeant during basic training. He had high expectations and it was hard for him to find what he was looking for.
“Just the same. Have fun dealing with Mom during this process,” Aiden said.
“How bad could it be?”