by J.R. Ward
Series: The Bourbon Kings #2
Genres: Contemporary Romance
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In Charlemont, Kentucky, the Bradford family is the crème de la crème of high society—just like their exclusive brand of bourbon. And their complicated lives and vast estate are run by a discrete staff who inevitably become embroiled in their affairs. This is especially true now, when the apparent suicide of the family patriarch is starting to look more and more like murder…
No one is above suspicion—especially the eldest Bradford son, Edward. The bad blood between him and his father is known far and wide, and he is aware that he could be named a suspect. As the investigation into the death intensifies, he keeps himself busy at the bottom of a bottle—as well as with his former horse trainer’s daughter. Meanwhile, the family’s financial future lies in the perfectly manicured hands of a business rival, a woman who wants Edward all to herself.
Everything has consequences; everybody has secrets. And few can be trusted. Then, at the very brink of the family’s demise, someone thought lost to them forever returns to the fold. Maxwell Bradford has come home. But is he a savior...or the worst of all the sinners?
The Angel’s Share by J.R. Ward is the second novel in her family saga The Bourbon Kings. Ward drew me into the world of the Bradford family as the children struggle to hold on to their families’ empire even as they face death, deceit, betrayal and loss. Brilliantly executed from the sweeping southern countryside to the drama laden issues of this high society family Angel’s Share allowed us to become apart of their world.
Did you read and love The Thorn Birds? Where you a fan of the television show Dallas or Dynasty? Then I recommend the Bourbon Kings series. It weaves all the elements that made those tales addictive with Ward’s impressive ability to tell a story. Ward takes us to Charlemont, Kentucky, There we enter the lives of the Bradford family who built their dynasty on bourbon. We enter through the elaborate front doors and become intimate with Lane, Edward, Max and Gin. We see their reclusive mother, spend time with their staff and learn of their father’s betrayals. Brilliantly told from several perspectives one as addictive as the next we learn their secrets, fears and struggles. For the best reading experience read the series in order beginning with the Bourbon Kings.
A suspected suicide by the family patriarch hints to murder after a gruesome discovery and a full-scale murder investigation begins. Lane fears it may have been Edward. The family’s finances are in serious trouble and Lane is working to keep everything from falling apart. Maxwell, their brother returns. Gin makes plans to marry a man who is all wrong for her. Weaved into this are love stories, losses, friendships, betrayals and deals that kept me happily engaged. Ward is a masterful storyteller allowing me to become completely swept up in this sage.
Ward allowed us to spend time with each character in Angel’s Share giving us their history and connecting them to us. Each is realistic and yet over the top. The Bradford’s are cocky and self-assured yet vulnerable and raw. Max appears at the big house and we even a little time with him. I am curious and want to know more. Our spunky, stubborn girl Gin sees tremendous growth even as we witness her mistakes. Lane and Lizzie strengthen their romance as he words to hold the family together. Lane continues to be the glue that holds this family together and Ward showed his determination, love for his family and ruthless strength. Edward’s story tore me apart and we watched him tango with a woman who will always hold his heart. We see growth and perhaps peace in Edward even as we witnessed his softer side.
Romances finds its way on to the pages of Angel’s Share but it is subtle and only a part of this complicated symphony. Ward creates a world with characters that becomes real to the reader.
Of course, Ward gives us others stories in Angel’s Share, like those of Jeff, Lane’s best friend, the family’s cook, fondly referred to by the Bradford children as Momma. We also get those of Lane’s lawyer and friend. He has always love the complicated and vivacious Gin. Chantal rears her ugly head but has shifted away from the story for now.
Ward wove threads together delivering a flawlessly executed tale. She gave us twists and turns that kept me riveted. She endeared the reader to these characters pulling them into the story. Ward’s ability to pull you in, change your opinion of characters and remember the butler’s name provided was magical.
While Bourbon Kings left us with a cliffhanger, The Angel’s Share leaves us in more of an emotional place and eager to return. It has been a long time since I have found myself so wrapped up in a dysfunctional family and the Bourbon Kings is thrilling to read.
Definition of Angel’s Share
The “angels’ share” is a term of art used in the bourbon-making industry. Nascent bourbon is put into charred oak barrels for its aging process, which can last up to twelve years or longer. As the barrels are stored in uninsulated facilities, the natural climate shifts in Kentucky’s four glorious seasons cause the wood to expand and contract in the heat and the cold and thus interact with, and further flavor, the bourbon.
This dynamic environment, with the additive of time, is the final alchemy that produces the Commonwealth’s most distinctive well-known and well-enjoyed product. It also results in a vital evaporation and absorption. This loss, which can average about two percent per year of the original volume, and which varies depending on the humidity of the environment, temperature swings, and the number of years of aging, among other things, is known as the angels’ share. -from Author’s Notes Angel’s Share by J.R. Ward @2016
Read an Excerpt
Toyota trucks were not supposed to go seventy-five miles an hour. Especially when they were ten years old.
At least the driver was wide awake, even though it was four a.m.
Lizzie King had a death grip on the steering wheel, and her foot on the accelerator was actually catching floor as she headed for a rise in the highway.
She had woken up in her bed at her farmhouse alone. Ordinarily, that would have been the status quo, but not anymore, not now that Lane was back in her life. The wealthy playboy and the estate’s gardener had finally gotten their act together, love bonding two unlikelies closer and stronger than the molecules of a diamond.
And she was going to stand by him, no matter what the future held.
After all, it was so much easier to give up extraordinary wealth when you had never known it, never aspired to it—and especially when you had seen behind its glittering curtain to the sad, desolate desert on the far side of the glamour and prestige.
God, the stress Lane was under.
And so out of bed she had gotten. Down the creaking stairs she had gone. And all around her little house’s first floor she had wandered.
When Lizzie had looked outside, she’d discovered his car was missing, the Porsche he drove and parked beside the maple by her front porch nowhere to be seen. And as she had wondered why he had left without telling her, she had begun to worry.
Just a matter of nights since his father had killed himself, only a matter of days since William Baldwine’s body had been found on the far side of the Falls of the Ohio. And ever since then Lane’s face had had a faraway look, his mind churning always with the missing money, the divorce papers he had served on the rapacious Chantal, the status of the household bills, the precarious situation at the Bradford Bourbon Company, his brother Edward’s terrible physical condition, Miss Aurora’s illness.
But he hadn’t said a thing about any of it. His insomnia had been the only sign of the pressure, and that was what scared her. Lane always made an effort to be composed around her, asking her about her work in Easterly’s gardens, rubbing her bad shoulder, making her dinner, usually badly, but who cared. Ever since they had gotten the air cleared between them and had fully recommitted to their relationship, he had all but moved into her farmhouse—and as much as she loved having him with her, she had been waiting for the implosion to occur.
It would almost have been easier if he had been ranting and raving.
And now she feared that time had come—and some sixth sense made her terrified about where he had gone. Easterly, the Bradford Family Estate, was the first place she thought of. Or maybe the Old Site, where his family’s bourbon was still made and stored. Or perhaps Miss Aurora’s Baptist church?
Yes, Lizzie had tried him on his phone. And when the thing had rung on the table on his side of the bed, she hadn’t waited any longer after that. Clothes on. Keys in hand. Out to the truck.
No one else was on I-64 as she headed for the bridge to get across the river, and she kept the gas on even as she crested the hill and hit the decline to the river’s edge on the Indiana side. In response, her old truck picked up even more speed along with a death rattle that shook the wheel and the seat, but the damn Toyota was going to hold it together because she needed it to.
“Lane . . . where are you?”
God, all the times she had asked him how he was and he’d said, “Fine.” All those opportunities to talk that he hadn’t taken her up on. All the glances she’d shot him when he hadn’t been looking her way, all the time her monitoring for signs of cracking or strain. And yet there had been little to no emotion after that one moment they’d had together in the garden, that private, sacred moment when she had sought him out under the blooms of the fruit trees and told him that she’d gotten it wrong about him, that she had misjudged him, that she was prepared to make a pledge to him with the only thing she had: the deed to her farmhouse—which was exactly the kind of asset that could be sold to help pay for the lawyers’ fees as he fought to save his family.
Lane had held her, and told her he loved her—and refused her gift, explaining he was going to fix everything himself, that he was going to somehow find the stolen money, pay back the enormous debt, right the company, resurrect his family’s fortunes.
And she had believed him.
She still did.
But ever since then? He had been both as warm and closed off as a space heater, physically present and completely disengaged at the same time.
Lizzie did not blame him in the slightest.
It was strangely terrifying, however.
Off in the distance, across the river, Charlemont’s business district glowed and twinkled, a false, earthbound galaxy that was a lovely lie, and the bridge that connected the two shores was still lit up in spring green and bright pink for Derby, a preppy rainbow to that promised land. The good news was that there was no traffic, so as soon as Lizzie was on the other side, she could take the River Road exit off the highway, shoot north to Easterly’s hill, and see if his car was parked in front of the mansion.
Then she didn’t know what she was going to do.
The newly constructed bridge had three lanes going in both directions, the concrete median separating east from west tall and broad for safety purposes. There were rows of white lights down the middle, and everything was shiny, not just from the illumination, but a lack of exposure to the elements. Construction had only finished in March, and the first lines of traffic had made the crossing in early April, cutting rush-hour delays down—
Up ahead, parked in what was actually the “slow” lane, was a vehicle that her brain recognized before her eyes properly focused on it.
Lane’s Porsche. It was Lane’s—
Lizzie nailed the brake pedal harder than she’d been pounding the accelerator, and the truck made the transition from full-force forward to full-on stop with the grace of a sofa falling out a second-story window: Everything shuddered and shook, on the verge of structural disintegration, and worse, there was barely any change in velocity, as if her Toyota had worked too hard to gain the speed and wasn’t going to let the momentum go without a fight—
There was a figure on the edge of the bridge. On the very farthest edge of the bridge. On the lip of the bridge over the deadly drop.
“Lane,” she screamed. “Lane!”
Her truck went into a spin, pirouetting such that she had to wrench her head around to keep him in her sights. And she jumped out before the Toyota came to a full stop, leaving the gearshift in neutral, the engine running, the door open in her wake.
“Lane! No! Lane!”
Lizzie pounded across the pavement and surmounted barriers that seemed flimsy, too flimsy, given the distance down to the river.
Lane jerked his head around—
And lost one hold of the rail behind him.
As his grip slipped, shock registered on his face, a flash of surprise . . . that was immediately replaced by horror.
When he fell off into nothing but air.
Lizzie’s mouth could not open wide enough to release her scream.
Posted by arrangement with New American Library, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © J.R. Ward, 2016.