A romantic suspense…
Along Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail lies a distillery that’s a cut above the rest. For years, the Brannon family has perfected their signature whiskey. Ava Brannon, the new face of Lucky Fox Whiskey, dedicates her life to preserving that legacy. When Special Agent Cooper Lawson comes to investigate her father for his ties to the Irish Republican Army, she has no choice but to face the deadly secrets of her family’s past. Only nothing is as it seems, and her burning attraction to Cooper could either be a recipe for disaster or her saving grace.
SOON TO BE AN AUDIOBOOK! Available Summer 2017
And to give you a sneak peek, here’s an exclusive excerpt from the book:
As the last guest of the day shuffled out of the visitor’s center, Ava closed the door and leaned against it gratefully. A tour bus of winos from California had swept in an hour before closing, their final stop on the Bourbon Trail for the day. Her staff had been accommodating as usual, but Lord had the group tried her patience.
She’d had to explain more than once that winemaking and whiskey distilling were two completely different animals. Other than some types of wine being aged in a barrel, they didn’t have much in common. Especially the taste profile, which a few of the fragile flowers had found a bit too “brutal.” They’d tossed perfectly good whiskey in the throwaway pot and fanned their faces in morbid horror.
What else could be expected from people whose taste buds were as refined as a cheap Moscato? she asked herself. They wouldn’t know a good whiskey if it bit them in the ass.
After waving goodnight to the last of the employees, she went to the tasting bar to clean up a few of the leftover glasses. Humming an old Hank Williams song, she washed and dried the glencairns and didn’t notice her brother come in.
“You’re here late,” Adam said, strolling toward her with his hands tucked into the pockets of his jeans. His mouth spread in a lazy grin, one she recognized as being laced with liquor.
“Had a tour group come through last minute.” She placed the clean glasses back on the shelf, then faced him. “What are you doing here?”
He let out a dry laugh. “Why does my presence around here bother you so much? This company’s as much mine as it is yours.”
“Think again,” Ava replied, resting her hands on the bar. “When you don’t put any effort in, don’t expect to reap any of the rewards. All you’re good at is drinking our whiskey, not making it or selling it.”
Anger had his brows pinching together as heat flushed his face. “Is that what you really think? That I’m useless?”
Her own temper had words pouring thoughtlessly out of her mouth. “What were you doing all day while I was here working? Oh, that’s right. You were drinking. Just like you always do. I gave up expecting anything useful out of you a long time ago.”
She saw a flicker of pain in his eyes and knew she’d hurt him. Almost instantly it was gone, replaced by indignation. “This is my family, too. I deserve a place at the table. Stop shuttin’ me out and then gettin’ mad at me for keeping my distance.”
“How do I shut you—”
“I was the last to find out about the FBI investigating Dad,” he argued, approaching the bar cagily. “You didn’t see fit to tell me you went to the office two days ago to get answers from those agents. I have to learn all this shit secondhand, usually from Beau, which pisses me off in itself.”
“I don’t know anything more than you do—” Ava began, only to be cut off by him again.
“With the way you and Dad have been acting lately, it’s clear y’all are keeping secrets from me. You think I’m too stupid to see it?”
Ava’s brows furrowed. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“You’re off having private little meetings with the FBI, and Dad’s been shut up in his office for two days and has barely said a word to anybody.”
“First off, I’m not having ‘private’ meetings with the FBI. I went over there to get some paperwork. That’s it. And of course Dad’s in his office all day. He’s having to run the company from home while the main office is shut down.”
Adam started to reply, only to turn at the sound of the door opening. Cooper stepped in, donned in a thick black coat. He stared at the two of them, realizing he’d interrupted something. The tension in the room was only perpetuated by the sparks flying off the both of them. He was surprised he couldn’t hear it crackling in the air.
“Sorry to bother you…I can come back later if you’re busy.” He met Ava’s gaze, watching her take in deep breaths to control her temper.
“No. It’s okay, Agent Lawson. Come in.” She waved him over as her brother erupted with cynical laughter.
“Not meeting with the FBI, huh?” Adam scoffed. “You really are an awful liar, Ava.”
She bristled but ignored his comment and turned to Cooper in a businesslike manner. “What can I help you with?”
Instead of answering her, he extended his hand to Adam. “I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Agent Cooper Lawson. I’m heading the team that’s investigating your father.”
Adam sneered down at the offered hand, but manners had him accepting it. “I’d say I’m pleased to meet you, but under the circumstances, I’m not.”
Cooper’s mouth twitched. “I get that.” He could smell the hint of whiskey on the man’s breath, likely fueling the hostility that raged just under the surface. His resemblance to Ava was there in the angular curve of his jaw and the fire in his hazel eyes. He carried himself similarly, too. Like a man too arrogant to know his limitations. “We should be out of your hair soon.”
“You better be.” Adam angled his head to level his gaze with Cooper’s, who was taller by half a foot. “You’ve caused enough trouble for our family as it is.”
Without looking back at Ava, he stormed out of the building. The door swung shut behind him, and Ava stared at it for a moment before releasing a heavy breath.
“He’s right, you know,” she murmured, resting her elbows on the bar and staring up at Cooper. A tired smile softened her features. “You’ve really put a wrench in things, Slick.”
He approached the bar and settled onto one of the stools. “Just doing my job.”
She snorted. “What a noble job, too. Digging through innocent people’s stuff to find proof of wrongdoing. How in the world do you sleep at night?”
He only grinned. “Like a baby.”
“Mmm. So, you try that 101 yet?”
“Actually, I did.”
Ava’s eyebrows rose. “If you say it was just ‘pretty good’ I may have to punch you. And if you say it was ‘brutal’ like my last tour group, then I’ll really have to kick your ass.”
He laughed. “I enjoyed it. I toasted you with it the other night, remember?”
“I do.” She tilted her head, considering him. “I was busy trying to ease everybody’s worries about you. Not an easy task. This town relies on Lucky Fox. If the company’s in trouble, people deserve to know. I hope you didn’t force me to lie to them.”
Keeping his expression carefully blank, he pointed behind her to a shelf holding several bottles of Lucky Fox Irish Whiskey. “I’d like to try that one, if you don’t mind.”
She followed his gaze and selected one of the bottles. “Well, we’re technically closed, but I guess I can make an exception. And since it’s been a rough day, I’ll join you.” Bringing out two fresh glencairns, she poured a generous amount of Irish whiskey into each. She handed him one and lifted her own. “Lig an fuisce a thabhairt dom ar shiúl.”
“What does that mean?” Cooper asked, tapping his glass to hers.
A devious grin brightened her face. “It’s Celtic for ‘Let the whiskey take me away.’ It’s tradition to toast a glass of Lucky Fox Irish Whiskey that way.”
“I see.” He breathed in the scent of the drink, then sampled it. It was refreshingly light and floral compared to their selections of bourbon, with a smooth spice that caught him off guard. “Wow, that’s good.”
She sipped her own, pleased he enjoyed it. “There’s a reason our whiskey outsells the Brannon line two-to-one.”
“To be fair, I haven’t tried theirs. But I’ll take your word that this is better.”
“The original Brannon recipe has its beauty, of course,” she explained, examining her glass in the light. She brought it to her lips again, savored the spicy, flowery aroma and drank. Her eyes fluttered closed as a contented smile warmed her face. “But it just doesn’t compare to this. The vanilla in the bourbon barrels perfectly balances with the nutty spice of the barley. And that finish…smoke and honey. There’s nothing like it.”
Cooper found himself drawing closer, entranced by the scent of her and of the whiskey that coated his mouth. When she reopened her eyes and met his, he watched an awareness come into them. A kind of searching curiosity, joined by a glimmer of desire. It took all he had to remember how to breathe.
Her mouth curved to one side as she went to refill his glass. “More Irish, Slick?”
He nodded, taking a breath to refocus. There was a reason for his visit, and it had nothing to do with enjoying her company. They hadn’t gotten a response back on the email they had sent a few days earlier, which meant the next step was to question the family. Though he couldn’t deny he found her incredibly distracting. She was dynamic and explosive, smoothed with a hint of mind-blowing sex appeal. How she managed to look so comfortable and yet sizzle like a firecracker was beyond him.
“You ever been to Ireland? Met that side of the family?” he asked, hoping his voice didn’t crack. He cleared his throat anyway and fixed on a casual smile.
“I have not,” she replied easily, refilling her own glass as well. She let out a relaxed sigh and rested her forearms on the bar, toying with the glencairn in her hands. “They don’t like us and we don’t like them.”
“The feud’s a big deal then, huh?”
She nodded. “My grandpa’s brother passed away a few years ago. He only found out about it when it was reported in this whiskey industry magazine he reads. His own brother was sick with cancer for five years, and the family didn’t even bother to let him know.” She raised her eyes to his, her humor gone. “You know what my grandpa said when he read the article?”
“Good riddance.” Disapproval hardened her face as she knocked back the last of her drink. “He never let go of the hate. God, I hope I’m not like that with Adam.”
Cooper set his glass down, turned it in his hand as he processed her sudden change of mood. “Do you two not get along?”
“He frustrates me, is all,” she admitted, shaking her head. “He’s been given everything in the world, and yet he still pisses it away on women and booze.”
“But you think he’s better than that?”
“Of course I do. He’s my brother.” Embarrassed by the tear that slipped from her eye, she brushed it away and tried to laugh. “Stupid bastard won’t let me help him. Hence why he frustrates me.”
Cooper smiled and reached for her hand. She stared down at it, her breath caught in her throat. When he spoke, his voice was kind, patient. Understanding. “I don’t know him, but I get the impression he wants your approval. He needs to know you’re on his side and that you don’t think you’re better than him.”
“Well, I am at some things…” she began, though she felt childish for saying it. “I contribute to the family business. He goes out and drinks himself to death.”
“It’s not my business, but maybe you should have a heart-to-heart with him, remind him that you need him around,” Cooper began. In his head, all he could think of was how easily Adam could be persuaded by Ned to fill Ty’s shoes, if the need arose. He needed to do all he could to ensure that didn’t happen. Squeezing her hand, he released it and got to his feet. “I should go. Want me to walk you out?”
A little bit dazed, she looked at him, still feeling the warmth from his hand tingling over her skin. “No. I’ll be fine. I still have a bit to do before I leave, anyway.”
He nodded, adjusted his coat. “All right. Thanks for the drink.”
“Thanks for the conversation.” In the soft light, the cobalt of his eyes seemed darker, deeper. Mysterious and undeniably protected. The urge to know what made him tick had her speaking freely. “Next time you’ll have to tell me all your secrets. It’s only fair, you know.”
With a playful grin, he raised his hand in a salute. “It’s a date.”
He turned and left, whistling to himself. Once the door closed behind him, she let her head fall forward and shut her eyes, damning herself for a fool.
She’d always been a sucker for friendly blue eyes. But this particularly nice pair belonged to, of all things, a federal agent. An agent whose motive was to investigate her father.
She couldn’t let herself get carried away where he was concerned, no matter how appealing that goofy grin of his was. Or how nice it was that he actually listened when she spoke. He looked her in the eye as an equal. As a person. And though he had no reason to be, he was kind to her. Kind in a way so few people were, with pure honesty.
With a frustrated groan, she poured herself another shot of whiskey and downed it. She’d be ridiculously stupid if she thought anymore about him, she decided. And even more stupid if she let him get her tipsy and talking again, revealing family business he had no right to know.
That was just a recipe for disaster.