Stave and Hoop

Bourbonland Short Stories and Novellas #2

Part 7 of 7 (Conclusion)

Buy links at the end of this post, along with a Kindle giveaway, Bits about Bourbon,  plus links to the Box Sets (Box Set II is FREE right now).

***

Tending to the brokenhearted was as natural to Coraleigh as breathing.

Granted, she didn’t do a very good job of it when it came to self-care (see: emotional disaster aftermath from suddenly deceased husband not to mention former lover/best friend/neighbor/guy she was obsessed with).

But when it came to others, she honed in on pain like a bat on a mosquito over a farm pond.

Easy. Natural. Undeniable.

So off to scoop up Candace that day.

Her friend was still having difficulty dealing with her mother’s death. There had been a period over the summer where Coraleigh had kept in touch with Candace by text, phone, email. She’d sounded increasingly better, brighter.

But then her buddy had hit the proverbial wall around Labor Day. Coraleigh wondered what had happened, racking her brains for some connection that might trigger a terrible relapse of grief.

But her mother’s birthday had been in February; Candace’s birthday was in December. Nothing special or milestone-worthy she could come up with to make sense of it.

But death and its nasty little chaser, grief, didn’t play that way. Like love, it abided by its own rules and logic wasn’t involved.

The day could not have been more perfect. Late summer Saturday morning in September. The trees still sported full canopies of mostly green leaves but wore a certain aura of tiredness, little flecks of yellow nipping at the edges. The sky was clear and humidity just a bit lower than in high summer—but not by much. A native could sense the slight change, could sense the advent of a new season.

Since Candace was the one in need—not that she’d admit it, or that Corrie would directly tell her the same—she was going to her friend. It had been a while since they’d met in Bardstown, and the trip to the Bourbon Capital of the World was a quick forty-five-minute drive from Woodford County.

The appointed spot was not the Old Talbott Tavern, the most recognizable landmark other than Federal Hill itself, but a bistro downtown that, according to Candace, was cozier and had great burgers. Fine with Coraleigh. Better space to talk intimately. And she’d been craving a burger.

Whenever she felt overworked and tired and her body got pissed at her (which happened a lot), it had two ways of telling her to get it together. The nasty way was through stress-induced headaches. The more benevolent method was through some rather basic, unremarkable food cravings.

Burgers. Peanut butter sandwiches. Chocolate milkshakes.

It was like she was pregnant or something—

Ugh. Strayed into that territory again.

Her own ill-fated pregnancy hadn’t proceeded to the point where she’d had cravings, at least such that she could remember. Hell, she hadn’t even known she’d been pregnant until it all fell apart. And while she’d felt exhausted and sickly for the few weeks leading up to the miserable experience of her miscarriage, she couldn’t recall pining for certain foods.

She idly wondered what she would crave if pregnant or if she’d have them at all.

But that line of reasoning presumed she’d find herself in the family way again someday, which was looking increasingly unlikely as the years passed and her work burdens added up.

And because the only one she’d ever consider—

Then she was right back into that troublesome landscape of memories, desires, and things-so-not-going-to-happen.

Coraleigh parked on the street, easily whipping her small sedan into a parallel spot. She had to hunt for a while to find an open place even though it was a Saturday; the sidewalks were bustling with people and traffic approaching nuisance level. This was the weekend prior to the biggest event in the town for the whole year: the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. That multiday event didn’t officially kick off until the upcoming Tuesday with the Balloon Glow, but the crowds milling about on the streets of one of Kentucky’s oldest cities were harbingers of the hordes of visitors to come.

The dark interior of the restaurant, known as The Mash Tub, was a stark contrast to the bright day outside. Coraleigh had to wait a few seconds and blink rapidly before her eyes adjusted to the change.

Of course the place was done up with bourbon motifs everywhere. Coraleigh wondered whether the locals ever got tired of the theme, and wanted to throw up something completely different, like a Hawaiian or Western-cowboy motif. But since she was smack in the middle of bourbon country, that seemed highly unlikely.

Candace was already there, having secured a table for them in a corner against the front window. There were a number of diners already present, but Candace’s choice afforded them a modicum of privacy.

After hugs, sitting down, and the exchange of typical remarks about the weather, a server appeared with water, giving Coraleigh the chance to scrutinize her friend.

The woman was in a bad state.

Flat affect beyond the flare of happiness upon seeing each other. Color pale to gray. Even her hair looked deflated. Lifeless.

“So.” Coraleigh put her arms on the table and leaned in, trying to pull Candace in.

“So.” Candace looked down.

Not the response she was hoping for.

“Is work okay?”

“Yeah… it’s different somehow this school year. Of course, I don’t get to talk about it with Mom. Or anyone, really.”

Her eyes wandered until they were staring out the window. And the only thing out there and across the street was the police station and some shops.

Candace was so out of it that Coraleigh wondered if she got up and left whether she’d notice.

“Are you getting any help?”

Candace’s head snapped back. “What?”

“Therapy. Grief counseling. Anything.”

“Oh… yeah. Still doing that.”

“It does help,” Coraleigh said. “Still going after losing Russell.”

“When… when do you think you’ll stop? Sorry, that was out of line.”

“No, no, I get where you’re coming from. I’ve wondered when I’ll get back to my normal. But I realized that there is no going back. I have to get used to where I am now, with what I have, and not… with those I can’t be with…”

The last words were choked out.

“Corrie, I’m sorry… I shouldn’t have…”

“Shouldn’t have what? Needed a friend when you’re feeling down?”

The two gripped hands across the table.

“I wish I lived close to you and Jessa,” Candace said through a sniffle.

“Yeah. That’d be great. But we’re supposed to be grown-ups now. No pizza parties, junk food, staying up late to watch bad movies.”

“I don’t want to be a grown-up anymore.”

“Any chance you could move up to Frankfort to be with your dad?”

They released hands and sat back.

“I’ve got a really great job here. And I have my own house. Hard to just pick up and move, especially since my dad will likely be back in Bardstown after he serves his term with Governor Cassidy.”

“What? Doesn’t he want to run on the ticket with Cassidy for reelection?”

“Not that,” Candace said, suddenly finding great interest in the precise alignment of her silverware.

In a low, nearly menacing voice, Coraleigh asked, “What aren’t you telling me?”

“Shouldn’t have said anything.”

“Too late.”

Candace sighed in exasperation, her eyes again focused out the window. “I can’t believe this isn’t something you’ve already heard.”

“Then if it’s in that category of political gossip, please enlighten me for my own benefit.”

At this, Candace laughed. “So everyone knows but you? Typical to keep the subject in the dark.”

“What. Aren’t. You. Telling. Me?”

“I’ve heard… and I can’t believe that my father hasn’t… that the party doesn’t want him on the ticket next time. That they consider him a liability since the next election is supposed to be a hot one. They have someone else in mind.”

Candace’s chin lowered, and she looked up at Coraleigh.

“Wait… me? No… Candace, I’m not interested in that at all. And I’d never go behind your father’s back—”

“I know that, Corrie,” Candace said softly. “But this is the talk. And talk has a way of sometimes becoming reality.”

“Not if I have anything to do with it.”

“So they don’t get you. Maybe they’ll persuade that asshole Vansant to run instead.”

Coraleigh snorted. “Not bloody likely. He wants the top job. He’d see it as a serious demotion to go from congress to lieutenant governor. Not going to happen. And I don’t think he’ll primary Cassidy. Those two don’t like each other, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a healthy respect for the power the other holds.”

“But the problem remains. They want my dad out. And, bless him, he’s working his ass off. Doing everything and more Cassidy tells him to do. It’s like he’s still auditioning for a role that he won. And God, does that piss me off.”

“I can imagine.”

“So I’m not moving. He’ll be back, sooner or later. Sooner, most likely.” Candace tilted her head, considering Coraleigh in a penetrating gaze. “How do you do it?”

“Do what?”

“Keep it together?”

Coraleigh picked up her water, sipped, and carefully considered her answer. “I don’t, at least not all the time. Nobody can.”

Candace raised an eyebrow, wry smile spreading over her face. “So you fall apart at regularly scheduled intervals? Like putting them on your calendar?”

“If it were only that easy. The truth of it is, at least for the past several months, I guess I’ve just been in a survival mode. And like your dad, I get immersed in my work to give myself a much-needed distraction.”

“But how long can anyone keep up that kind of distraction?”

Coraleigh moved the tip of her finger around the rim of her water glass, looking down into its icy depths. Even though they were talking about the bare, raw emotion of grief, she felt like a fraud.

Because Candace was assuming—like almost everyone else—that the grief she carried had one very precise origin.

And that was a big, fat, ugly lie.

She couldn’t share the complete burden of loss, even with her best friend.

Only one understood it. But it wasn’t truly shared in separation and silence.

“I guess I’ll find out. I’ve heard that other things come along to occupy those places in your life that were left empty,” Coraleigh said.

“But nothing can ever do that.”

“I didn’t say completely fill them, totally replace what was lost,” Coraleigh said. “And over time, I guess the best we can hope for is a continuing distraction. Until that distraction becomes a new normal that doesn’t make us feel so… so…”

“Miserable. Vulnerable. Lost.”

Coraleigh crossed her arms and leaned on the table. Smiling, she shook her head, a sense of silliness and weariness coming over her. “I was going to say something like ‘rediscover our joy.’ And here I thought that being around politicians most of the time was a drag. Look at us! Aren’t we the happy pair?”

“Not today.”

“Let’s improve that mood.”

“How?” Candace asked.

“Duh. Where are we? Food, girl. And I am hangry. So tell me what’s good here. It’d better be the burgers.”

And indeed that was the case.

They both ordered burgers that were too big for anyone other than a wrestler or linebacker. But Coraleigh managed to eat over half of hers (specially dressed with spinach, sharp cheddar, and lots of mayo) and Candace did almost as well polishing off her own.

Coraleigh perused a dessert menu as plates were removed.

“Please tell me they have milkshakes here.”

“I don’t think so, but there’s a diner across the street. We could go over there and get shakes to go, then do some window shopping.”

Coraleigh put the dessert menu down with emphasis. “And there’s the Candace Keane I know and love.”

After the bill was paid (Coraleigh’s treat, despite Candace’s protests), they were out on the street and in the heat of the day, albeit their path was at least partly shaded by the buildings and store awnings.

“Shop first or milkshake first?” Candace asked.

“Milkshake first, of course. And if they don’t have chocolate, you’re going to have to bail me out of jail today after I commit a few felonies. Unless you know some nice, sympathetic officer, perhaps or the chief of police.”

“Ah… sorry, no.”

“No chocolate?”

“No, no—no allies in the police department.” She pointed across the street to the main station.

“Then I’ll have to be restrained if disappointed,” Corrie said as she slipped her arm in Candace’s. “Lead the way.”

Fortunately for the continued law and order of Bardstown, Kentucky, not to mention for the continued state of Coraleigh’s personal freedom and active law license, the diner Candace had raved about did have the basic chocolate shake. She got lots of whipped cream, multicolored sprinkles and small sugar cookie stuck in the top. No cherry. Not a fan.

They got them to go and went outside to a bench in front of the eatery. The things were huge, and Coraleigh found herself regretting not getting a table inside or eating at the counter to enjoy the monstrosity in a massive frosted mug. But at least being mobile meant they could window shop if they wished.

Candace got strawberry; the treat seemed to have given her new life.

“When was the last time you did this?” Coraleigh asked.

“Had a shake? Or out with a friend?”

“Both.”

Candace draped her arm over Coraleigh’s shoulders. “Too long. Thanks for coming down today. I needed this.”

“We both did, sister.”

Coraleigh wanted to get started on the shopping, but Candace pointed out that most of the stores wouldn’t allow them to bring the shakes inside.

“So that’s a downside of this.” Coraleigh took a draw on the straw stuck deep into her shake.

“Not to mention the calories…”

Candace’s voice trailed off, her focus shifting from Coraleigh to something behind her.

“Yeah, just in town to finish selling the place…”

A tall, vaguely familiar man was speaking with two police officers, all of them headed into the diner. The man held the door for the officers, and as he did so, turned to them. His pleasant demeanor faltered, but he nodded, and headed inside with his companions.

“Hey, wasn’t that—”

Candace turned her face into her milkshake, stirring it with her straw. “Yeah. That guy you saw me with at the restaurant this past summer. Former police chief.”

“Oh, yeah.  So… I guess that date went nowhere for you two,” she ventured.

“You got that right—I mean, he’s nice. But I knew he was leaving. It was like saying goodbye. I’ve known him for years.”

“You said he’s not the chief here any longer?”

“He resigned. Took some job up in Louisville recently.”

Coraleigh looked left, to the traffic circle in the middle of town. The center contained the old Nelson County Courthouse; beyond it were the Tavern and the old jail. Historic, beautiful, charming.

“Odd that he’d want to leave here. This place is the perfect small town—outside my own, that is.”

The milkshakes were killed and paper cups thrown in a nearby trash can—which was of course a used bourbon barrel. The stamp on the side, DSP-KY-230, indicated it came from Distilled Spirits Plant 230, or as Coraleigh knew, Jim Beam just up the road at Clermont. Every distillery had its own special number. She was familiar with the numbers for the big ones since she was on an agricultural subcommittee that occasionally dealt with issues relating to the bourbon industry.

Coraleigh peered down the street, spotting a sign for a place called Shaq & CoCo. “That looks interesting. What do they sell there?”

No answer.

Candace was stock still, looking into the diner.

“Candace?”

After another frozen moment, her friend shook herself and fully turned her attention to Coraleigh.

“What? Oh, that store? Lots of stuff, from furniture and socks, to clothing and jewelry. It’s one of the places I wanted to show you today.”

And just like that, Candace’s inner emotional switch was flipped.

Coraleigh hooked arms with her friend, walking away from the diner and into the hot sun. The notion that Candace was damaged and suffering was hard to bear. She wanted to help, wanted to take it all away for her, would bear it herself instead if she could.

But pain was an individual experience.

As was the choice to let the sunshine back in.

* * *

He’d hated the job, the city, his apartment. The grocery store was too small, the streets crowded and close, and even the sky seemed an off color of blue.

Ting had tried to talk himself out of the idea that it wasn’t working out. He didn’t like walking away from anything.

But he had been miserable.

His coworkers had been nice enough. But they weren’t that friendly. And there had been some instances where he’d felt left out of things simply by being the new guy—and the guy from the sticks.

They hadn’t called him names or otherwise obviously mistreated him. But he’d not fit in.

No invitations for lunch or dinner after work, for example. Little chatter about personal life, what happened on weekends, about family.

No connection.

It was nice being around his parents again, but it wasn’t as though he could or should completely rely on them for companionship.

He’d wondered if the break with Candace was the source of the disquiet. Because being apart from her—even though they’d only been together a few weeks—had been a new definition of torture for him.

So now he knew what it felt like to be in love.

And now he knew what it felt like to have a broken heart.

But the loss of her hadn’t been what had been sticking in his craw—at least that’s what he told himself. He just hadn’t fit in. And he knew himself well enough to know that. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. Not his for taking a chance. Not everyone around him for not acting in a way that didn’t meet his personal expectations.

Only at it a few weeks, he’d decided life was too short to be this unhappy.

So he’d tapped the one resource he had. The one resource he didn’t want to rely upon. But he couldn’t be picky.

To that end, he’d sucked up what pride he’d had left and called Gray.

And Gray being Gray, the man had delivered.

He had a contact in the Franklin County sheriff’s office. Apparently a number two was needed, the previous chief deputy having retired and the remaining deputies all too green to take over as second-in-command.

It was perfect. The pay would be good, the setting familiar.

Smaller town than Louisville, for starters. That was important. More affordable and, with its historic bent, would feel like his old normal back in good old Nelson County. Still wouldn’t be Bardstown, but it wasn’t like he could go back there easily. The city council had hired a new police chief with whom they were perfectly happy and didn’t seem to have any inclination to leave.

Besides, he’d finally sold his house.

First day on the job that warm late fall day, he got down to the basics. Duties, weapons, meet and greet all the folks in the office.

They all smiled at him, all seemed genuine.

Like knew like.

When he was drawn into his boss’s office after making the rounds that first morning, he knew he was in for the low-down on how things really operated.

“Drugs are a big problem. Get ready to deal with a lot of junkies,” Sheriff Dicken said. A short, stout, ruddy-faced man, he had absolutely no hair on top of his head and seemed annoyed with everyone, no exceptions.

“What about state government? I suppose it’s different because of that element?”

“Exactly. They’ve got the state police—headquarters are here as well as Post 12. But we’re closer physically to the capitol than either of those sites. And then there’s simple manpower issues and costs. We get paid a nice bit to do security up on the hill,” he said, referring to the physical capitol building as well as the executive mansion.

“So we cover stuff for the state troopers.”

The sheriff shrugged. “They say it makes economic sense for the state. For us, the same. So we have a memorandum of understanding. We provide security on a fairly regular basis for the executive mansion and for the governor and first family as needed.”

“Sounds interesting. Do we provide security for any other officials?”

“Rarely. Only as a backup plan. Oh, sometimes we do security and escorts for the lieutenant governor and family—and that means his daughter, his wife is deceased—but that’s not very often. Might be called upon to do security for a few state officials during Derby.”

“Anything going on today?”

“As a matter of fact, there is. You get to jump right into it. There’s a bill-signing ceremony out at the state wildlife preserve at the western end of town.” The sheriff shook his small bald head. “Not sure why the state troopers can’t do it. The post is out that way, for crying out loud. But I won’t complain. It’s money in our pocket if they want to turn down the job.”

“Will you be there?”

“No, but I’m sending you and Crawford,” he said, referencing one of the other deputies Ting had met only minutes earlier. “There will be some armed state and wildlife officials there as well, but discreetly. Even though they have law enforcement powers, sometimes people get freaked out when they see them acting like security. There, they just look like they’re supposed to be there, which is the truth. But that only means you guys will be necessary in addition to the regular executive security detail. It will only be the governor, lieutenant governor, and a few members of the legislature. Supposed to last only an hour, but you can count on doubling that, considering all the politicians who will be there.” The sheriff shook his head. “Crazy to set something up outdoors in November, but looks like they got lucky and it’s a nice day. Last I looked, it’s in the seventies out there. Go figure. At least the heat will make the thing go quick.”

After a fast snack, a cup of coffee, and trip to the loo, Ting and Deputy Crawford were on their way to the western part of town, with Ting riding shotgun. He wasn’t going to get the privilege of actually driving a cruiser, he figured, until he’d spent more time on the job. These people had to trust him. Even if he was nominally number two in the office now. He could respect that. Although technically he was their superior, it was much more important as the new coworker to get along and develop good relationships. He had to earn it.

Crawford was nice enough. A bit reticent, likely not sure whether he could share stuff with the new guy yet, sizing him up. Ting was okay with that. Came with the territory.

So he sat back and enjoyed the relative quiet in the drive out to the nature preserve even if it was stuffy in that cruiser.

Ting didn’t share his new boss’s assessment of how long the thing would last. A bunch of suits were not going to stand out in this hot weather any longer than they absolutely had to, and they’d get through the speechifying and the photo ops lickety-split. He’d be out of there in an hour, tops.

After Crawford parked, he led the way through a visitors’ center, which fronted the property.

“They’re doing it out at the back of the property, near that pond. Course it couldn’t be closer, inside, and air-conditioned,” the man griped.

Ting knew the destination. When he had been the police chief in Bardstown, he’d chaperoned elementary school kids to this very spot on a field trip. The children had been studying different ecosystems, with a focus on ponds, swamps, and streams.

And at the back of this nature preserve, there was a pond with a covered viewing dock built over it.

Why were they having the ceremonies there? Granted, it was flat, confined, and covered—but it was also small.

Surely they’d have something different—

But he was proven wrong. As he came down a small paved path that led to the water, a din of voices rose. The group came into view as he rounded a corner choked with thick bushes.

There on the bare planks of the covered dock, which was bounded by sturdy railings to prevent anyone from tumbling into the water, politicians and other supposedly important people mingled about in small groups.

“Where do we go?” Ting asked.

“You just stay here. Got to go find the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s personal bodyguards. They’ll let us know what to do. If they follow standard procedure, they’ll probably just keep us where we are.” Crawford looked around. “I can’t imagine that there’s going to be a crowd  other than officials and maybe state employees.”

Even though all these people were likely very standoffish due to their nature and position, this experience was still a million times better than anything he had done in Louisville.

And that was because it was simply not the big city.

Louisville liked to think of itself as the biggest small town America, but his experience proved otherwise. It was, in fact, one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States. If one enjoyed urban living, it was a nice place.

And that’s why it wasn’t perfect for him.

This was where he felt at home. Out in the country. Even though this was a staged event, there was an undeniably bucolic aspect about it.

Hell, these people might even be friendly to him.

He scanned the crowd, wondering if he could spot the governor, or even his old adversary, now lieutenant governor—

He stopped thinking.

Stopped breathing.

Wondered whether he had stopped existing.

Grief wrapped his whole being in a spasm of pain, and he was sure he had to be on death’s doorstep.

Because he’d just seen Candace for the first time since they’d broken up—if that’s what it could be called.

The morning after their one glorious night together, he’d dropped her off at her place in the middle of the day.

They’d made love all through the previous night, getting up once to eat that cheesecake.

And yes, she’d fed him every bite.

And after she’d done that—neither of them with a stitch on—he’d pulled her right into his lap, Candace straddling him, and they’d made love again.

It was the best night of his life.

But it was followed by the worst morning.

They’d kissed goodbye quickly in her house. He’d come so very close to telling her he loved her, but didn’t. And he’d wrestled with that failure for the past several weeks. Maybe it would’ve changed things between them.

But he’d walked away, and as the door had closed behind him, he could already hear her crying.

Ting positioned himself next to a tree to watch her, just out of her line of sight. He didn’t want her to see him if that possibility could upset her—although he realized it was arrogant to assume his presence could cause her any level of consternation.

She was with Senator Boyle. And then it clicked. According to the little bit of information he had managed to pull from Crawford on the drive out, the senator—one of Candace’s best friends, according to her—had been a sponsor of the bill in question, and Candace’s father the proponent of it in the executive branch.

Crawford reappeared from seemingly nowhere. He looked annoyed, with a scowl and tense brows on his thin, pained face.

“They want us up there on that damn platform.”

“Why? You said they’d prefer us to be out here.”

“That would fit with their usual preferences about things like this, but I don’t think they counted on one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“All the bugs. People are getting eaten up by mosquitoes because it’s so warm and they didn’t expect that. And apparently the governor’s bodyguard himself is scared to death of all the dragonflies zipping around here.”

“He told you that?”

“No, the governor did,” Crawford said with a smile.

So much for the crack security forces guarding the state’s chief executive.

Yet now he had to go to the platform. Where Candace was.

He couldn’t avoid this. He couldn’t avoid her.

His jaw was so tense as he made his way to the platform that the waves of a headache were already lapping at the outer edges of his awareness.

Ting kept to the periphery but with his eye on Candace. Yet he needed to concentrate, his focus on the lieutenant governor. Crawford had taken the governor, and had moved to the opposite side of the deck, slightly behind the core dignitaries.

There was a moment where he thought he might get through it all without being spotted. He was behind the crowd and had eased past Candace without her spotting him.

But a loud squawk from behind him put that idea to rest.

The crowd turned as one to see a large bird taking flight from a tree stump sticking out of the water, having apparently been disturbed by the noise and movement.

When he turned back, Candace, who was a mere handful of yards in front of him, had him in her sights.

Lips parted, eyes fixed, she clearly had not expected to see him. And after the shock ebbed, those brows knit together in confusion as she looked him up and down in his new sheriff’s uniform.

Which, as uniforms went, didn’t look too bad on him.

From her continued stare, Candace shared that opinion of his attire.

Senator Boyle tapped Candace on the arm, trying to get her friend’s attention. When it didn’t work, the senator followed Candace’s stare to him, then to a few people nearby.

Something Senator Boyle said finally grabbed Candace’s attention, and the duo turned around. Someone—he thought it was the local mayor—went to the podium, and the program and speechifying got underway.

Lord, it was a lot of talking.

The park superintendent did the introductions. That was the only short part of the whole damn thing.

Then the local state representative. The state botanist. Finally the lieutenant governor.

And true to form, Doug Keane just did not know when to shut the hell up.

He wasn’t a bad speaker. That was the truly sad thing. Ting had heard him speak enough back in Bardstown at every fish fry, barbeque, and barrel-stacking race to know that.

But he didn’t know when to end it. That’s what made it bad.

He watched as the crowd grew restive. People shifted on their feet. Scratched their necks. Swatted at bugs.

There was a nice silver lining to the long-windedness.

He got to watch Candace, even if only was from the back as she sat.

It was still a mighty nice view.

That light blue dress clung to her in all the right places and right ways.

And the seat she was in didn’t have much of a back to it. Her posterior was pressed up against it, her form nonetheless perfect in his eyes.

And trigger the memories of that form without clothes…

Damn.

This was not the place for a stroll down memory lane, although a certain part of his body was more than up for the ride.

He tore his eyes away and chose the fattest, grumpiest-looking man in the crowd to focus on. That worked to a certain extent to keep his mind off the woman mere feet away in distance but eons away as practical matter.

The signing ceremony itself began, the governor giving only the briefest of comments. Smart man.

He posed for photos behind a table covered with a white cloth. The press closed in, getting the video and stills. He made a comment to a dark-haired man who seemed to hover about him; guy must be his chief of staff.

Senator Boyle was the last speaker. And, bless her, she was short and to the point.

The event broke up, and the governor was out of there like a shot. Ting thought this odd; even though there were a lot of politicians around, there were also constituents in the form of state workers and a few locals who had come to the event.

As a result of the governor’s quick and, in Ting’s opinion, rather rude, departure, the group formed into smaller clusters. At the center of those groups was the lieutenant governor, Candace, and Senator Boyle.

He knew he was going to have to say something to Doug Keane. They had too much of a history to for him to just ignore the guy. Ting didn’t think that Doug had seen him and was intentionally snubbing him. The lieutenant governor at that moment was in his element. Working the crowd. Talking to people he knew, greeting them, catching up. Meeting new people.

It was quite the contrast to the governor, who had left without so much as a fake smile.

Clearing his throat and pulling up his gun belt, Ting strode over to where the trio stood talking with a couple of uniformed state park workers.

At his approach, the lieutenant governor looked up. At first recognition didn’t sink in. A few blinks later, Doug Keane’s face blossomed with recognition.

“Tingley? What are you doing here?”

Ting offered him his hand. “Just wanted to say hello, sir. And I’m the chief deputy sheriff here in town now.”

Doug took the proffered hand and shook it, then introduced him to Senator Boyle.

“Hello again, Chief—I mean Deputy Tingley,” she said.

“You two know each other?” Doug asked.

“I was cross-examined by the senator once. Not something I’m likely to forget.”

“Wish I could’ve seen that,” said the lieutenant governor.

And then there was the mild greeting from Candace. But he did get to shake her hand. Got to touch her.

“So it didn’t work out in Louisville?” asked the lieutenant governor. “Heard you went up there.”

“I decided I wanted something different. Big city life isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.”

“I can certainly understand that.” The senator nodded in agreement with the lieutenant governor. “Well, I hope you like it here. Frankfort has a small-town feel, just like Bardstown. Although it will never be home, will it?” And he turned to his daughter.

“No, it will never be home,” she concurred.

Candace cast a quick sly glance at him, making his heart shatter. And here he had thought the pain couldn’t get much worse.

“Are you living here in Frankfort now?” Ting asked Candace.

Candace shook her head. “No. Still at home in Bardstown. But I come up to the capital on occasion for events with my father. And with my friends.” She tapped the senator on her arm.

A reporter and photographer prevailed upon the lieutenant governor and senator for an interview and photos. When those two looked back at Candace with apologies, she shooed them away and said she would wait on them in the corner of the platform.

Then he was left alone with Candace, and he was not going to waste the chance.

“You look absolutely amazing.”

Her mouth dropped open a little bit in surprise, but then she broke into a smile. “So do you. That’s a very nice uniform.”

“I thought I saw you admiring it.”

“And I imagine you were admiring my dress when I had my back turned.”

“Guilty as charged.” He shot a glance over to her father. “He’s really enjoying himself. It was good to see him. And better to see you.”

“I’m sorry it didn’t work out in Louisville.”

“I’m not.”

“Why?” she asked.

“I’m going to like this job.”

“How long have you been there?”

“Today’s my first day.”

“So how do you know if you like it yet?”

“Because on my first day I got to see you. And from what I’ve been told, we do security for some state events. And you can bet that I’ll be the first signed up if there’s any ghost of a chance you’ll be there.”

She shifted her weight to lean toward him. “Maybe I need to listen to my father then.”

“About what?” For a moment he thought that they’d been outed. That her father knew. But if that had been the case, Doug Keane would not have been so pleasant just moments ago.

“That I need to come up to Frankfort more and do some events with him. He’s lonely, of course. On one hand, I feel the obligation to support him. On the other, I don’t want to be a substitute for my mother. She did some of those things with him.”

“It sounds like he needs you, Candace. You should listen to him. And that’s not the selfish part of me saying that.”

She said nothing, and he measured the seconds by her breaths.

“I miss you, Adam,” she whispered.

His name…

“God, so much…” He could not tear his eyes from her now that he was in her presence.

She swallowed, licked her lips, and looked around. The public nature of the conversation suddenly unnerved him as well.

“Could we meet sometime?” he asked.

“I don’t know, but—”

“Candace? Ready to go?”

Her father was waiting for her with Senator Boyle and his personal bodyguard.

“It was good to see you,” she said in a voice loud enough that others could hear.

And yet it was the unspoken message in the volume that he heard.

No.

Or was it maybe someday?

“Maybe I’ll see you around the capital city,” he said.

The smallest, saddest smiled played across the lips he loved.

“I really hope so.”

So it was the latter message…

Watching her go made him feel like the blood was being drained from his body. And he had to wonder if he hadn’t made a mistake by indulging in their little romance.

Because it had blossomed into the biggest and most painful thing in his life.

* * *

Corrie’s nudge to her ribs alerted Candace that, yes, there was a wider world outside the troubled one inside her throbbing head.

Inside the same body that housed her breaking heart.

“You all right? Heat get to you?”

“Yeah, yeah. Sorry. Tired.”

“So how’s Chief—I mean Deputy Tingley? Saw you talking to him while I was occupied with your father.”

“He seems to be happy to be here.”

“I could tell.”

Candace side-eyed her friend. “He’s a nice guy,” Candace said, choosing not to confirm Corrie’s suspicion. “But he and my dad just didn’t get along. Long history there, unfortunately.”

Corrie nodded. “That can be rough. Especially if you happen to like the guy.”

“And how would you know? You have experience in that area?” Candace snapped before thinking the better of it.

Corrie’s face became stone, and she looked straight ahead. “More than you know.”

Candace cringed, inwardly as well as outwardly. In a lame attempt to be sarcastic, she’d just trampled her best friend’s feelings. How stupid could she be not to remember Corrie had lost her husband just months earlier? And the way she had eloped—maybe that had been a bone of contention in the family.

“Sorry, that was awful of me—”

“Forget it,” Corrie said, waving her hand but still not looking at her as they walked together, entering the visitors’ center. “But let me give you a piece of advice. If you find yourself in that situation—and you don’t need to say a word about Deputy Tingley—just remember that denying yourself something otherwise perfectly legal, desirable, and normal, just to keep someone else happy is not a recipe for your own long-term happiness.”

“You have a way making the complex sound simple. And I mean that as a compliment.”

“And you make me sound so smart.”

“You are,” Candace said.

“Not smart. Experienced. Life is a tough teacher.”

“But you have to be smart to pay attention to the lesson—and apply it.”

Corrie laughed and put her arm around Candace’s shoulder. “You give me far too much credit for being a good student.”

As they exited the other side of the visitors’ center where a limo was awaiting them, Candace was silent as she began to reconsider her reluctance to be by her father’s side at events like these.

Ting’s promised presence made her willing to test Corrie’s teaching.

He had helped her start to heal after losing her mother.

Now she needed to start to heal after losing him.

And the best way to do that was to someday reclaim what she had lost.

Him.

 

Buy links for Stave and Hoop

 

 

Afterword and Bits About Bourbon

 

Say Hello to Candace and Ting

This novella was a way to introduce you to more Bourbonland characters and keep up with Corrie and Clay.

Candace and Ting will be getting their own book—eventually. But maybe another story before that.

Candace will play a prominent role as a supporting character in a Bourbonland book before she gets her own (with Ting, of course).

The bourbons Candace drinks—Elijah Craig Single Barrel, Henry McKenna fifteen-year bottled in bond, Four Roses Single Barrel, and Woodford Reserve Double Oaked—are all bourbons I’ve had the happy privilege to enjoy. I’d recommend them to anyone.

 

Bardstown

I figured I needed to make some of my characters come from this famous Kentucky locale. I love going here as a day trip—especially to the Old Talbott Tavern.

And there is nice downtown shopping. My favorite store is mentioned in this novella—Shaq & CoCo.

 

Melucci’s

Melucci’s, the restaurant where Candace and Ting go in Frankfort only to find Corrie—and Candace’s father—is referenced in Cedar and Cinnamon, Bourbon Springs Book 5. When Harriet and Goose are in Frankfort, one of the restaurants they briefly consider patronizing is this one. It is not mentioned by name but described as a fancy, white-tablecloth kind of place. But Goose only wanted a sandwich.

Melucci’s is modeled after a real restaurant, Serafini’s, which is directly across the railroad tracks from the Old Capitol in downtown Frankfort, Kentucky.

 

Poston’s

The real-life version is called Ricardo’s in Versailles, Kentucky. Like Poston’s, it is housed in an old train station. Great steaks, burgers, and hot browns. And they do have a fine bourbon selection.

 

Lucy and Georgina Davenport

Harriet and Goose’s twins. They are born at the end of July, about four weeks after the birth of Oscar Cain in Sharp Practice.

Harriet’s prediction or taunt at the end of Cedar and Cinnamon comes true. When Goose teased that they could have twins and name them Parker and George, she countered with the possibility of twin girls.

Lucy is named for her grandmother (Goose’s mother); Georgina is the variant of George, who was actually Bo and Hannah’s great-grandfather (Parker was Goose’s). Harriet and Goose couldn’t figure out a female version of Parker, so they went with Georgina (which Bo and Hannah loved).

 

The Kentucky History Center—again

We went there with Harriet and Goose in Cedar and Cinnamon, and now we’re back (and so are they).

There is a mosaic on the floor of the main hall of the center with the outline of Kentucky. And the hall of portraits of the governors is real as well, leading to the large meeting room in the back of the facility.

 

Another Bourbon Springs Couple

Did you spot them in Melucci’s?

 

Corrie’s T-Shirt

That Y’ALL T-shirt really exists.

 

The Kentucky Supreme Court

We go back to the courtroom—if you read Water of Life (Bourbon Springs Book 9), you might recall the scene where Cara Forrest gets sworn in as a judge of the court of appeals.

I’ve been in the courtroom many times, including once where I was the lawyer behind the podium like Clay London or Elizabeth Minton, facing the justices.

 

Bourbon stuff!

I feel like I’ve been remiss in not not posting a few goodies lately, so here goes. I can recommend Woodford Reserve bourbon balls. I can drive to the grocery store in ten minutes and get them–or the distillery itself. If you’re not so lucky, check them out on Amazon.

Also, I wanted to recommend a nice little bourbon cookbook. This writer is a foodie originally from Louisville, so she really gets bourbon. This is a book of desserts.

 

 

What’s Next in Bourbonland?

There’s a lot of Bourbonland coming this year.

Read the descriptions and find buy links for these upcoming works (links take you to the book page on my website).

Notice of Appeal (Bourbonland Book 2) (releasing June 30, 2017) with Justice Leo Labrot and Milla McCracken. The very early part of this book overlaps in time with Stave and Hoop.

 

Leo and Milla will be major characters in Backset (Bourbonland Short Stories and Novellas #3) (releasing summer 2017).  This novella that takes place right after the end of Notice of Appeal.

 

Where the Fire Is Hottest (Bourbonland Book 3) (releasing late 2017). This is Maisie Chaplin’s book–sister of Miranda from Toast and Char (Bourbon Springs Book 8).

 

Barrel Proof (Bourbonland Short Stories and Novellas #4) (releasing late 2017). More Corrie and Clay–plus a visit from some Bourbon Springs folks.

 

 

Bourbon Springs Box Sets

Last–all books are now in box sets–and Box Set II (Book 4-6) is FREE right now! (click on images to go to page on my website to learn more)

Box Set I

 

Box Set II

 

Box Set III

 

 

Giveaway!

 

I’m participating in this giveaway, The Series Finder! You could win a home library or a Kindle loaded with books. The idea of the giveaway is to get readers like you acquainted with other series. Some books are free, others are discounted. Check out the offerings and the giveaway–and good luck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright (c) 2017 Jennifer Bramseth. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotation in a book review.