“But desire recognized desire, especially when denied.”
Here’s another free read for newsletter subscribers–the serialized version of Stave and Hoop, Bourbonland Short Stories and Novellas #2.
Say hello to Candace and Ting, two characters new to the Bourbonland world.
Staves and hoops are the elements that create a barrel. They craft something exquisite—the vessel which holds the water of life, aging it until it becomes something new and wonderful—bourbon.
But they also bind, contain, and restrict—at least until the time the beautiful thing that has been crafted is ready to be released.
Author’s Note Regarding Bourbonland Series Chronology
This novella takes place shortly after the end of Sharp Practice (Bourbonland Book 1) and during part of the following book, Notice of Appeal (Bourbonland Book 2). There are no spoilers in this work for Notice of Appeal.
Stave and Hoop
Bourbonland Short Stories and Novellas #2
Part 1 of 7
It had been exactly three weeks since her life had changed forever.
Outwardly, everything was the same.
Same clothes, hair, makeup.
Same house and car.
But heart and soul? Those were different matters entirely.
Because three weeks ago to the day her mother had died.
The breast cancer could not be kept at bay and eventually Georgia Keane had succumbed at the age of sixty. They’d had hope until that last horrible week. Or maybe that had been her father and herself being unreasonable, in denial, unable to cope with the reality of unthinkable loss.
Candace had been holding her mother’s left hand, her father her right as her mother passed.
Then there was the funeral. Lovely and inspiring, appropriate for the wife of the lieutenant governor of Kentucky. Her father had been devastated, nearly inconsolable for about a week. But then somehow he’d cleared the worst of the grief and struggled back to work and to the state capital. Governor Cassidy had recently dumped some task force about taxes on him and being the dutiful second, Doug Keane had thrown himself into the endeavor, the distraction of work pulling him from the hell of heartache.
As for Candace, she hadn’t completely fallen apart like her father.
But she also hadn’t bounced back like he had. She never would.
And three weeks later, instead of getting back into the swing of things, instead of being buoyed by the support of her colleagues and students at the high school where she taught history (even though it was summer break, they had been there for her), she found herself adrift.
Counseling helped. But it could only do so much.
Only time was going to help. She’d hoped being with her dad would take the edge off, but no such luck. Since he’d gone back to Frankfort, she’d only seen him a handful of times since the funeral.
Corrie had been there for her. Jessa as well.
At the visitation. At the funeral. And Corrie had remained a few nights after, staying in the home Candace had grown up in. The same home she’d brought her friends to when they’d been sorority sisters at Centre. Those fun weekends were now as distant as the ancient history she taught her students.
But Corrie lived and worked an hour away. Candace couldn’t expect to lean on her so hard in days and weeks ahead. That woman had her plate full, practicing law and serving in the state senate.
And as for Jessa Mercer, while she’d been at the visitation and funeral, she was consumed with her work for the state parks department and trying to prevent a horrible development happening over in Perryville that would partially destroy the historic site. Jessa had refused to use their friendship to lobby her father. It would’ve been futile anyway, since his influence in so many matters was limited.
It hadn’t been that long ago that they’d all been in college together. The only worries they’d had were where they were going to grad school and how they were all going to stand being separated. Corrie and Jessa had gone to the University of Kentucky—the former at the law school and the latter in the history masters program. But Candace had gone to the University of Louisville to get her master’s in education.
They’d all stayed in touch, but nothing matched the closeness of college.
Maybe she was just being immature and pining for more carefree days. Indulging in the pleasantness of the past to momentarily take away the pain of the present. Nothing wrong with that.
Unless it kept you from moving on.
Which was exactly where she found herself.
Because sitting in the municipal park in Bardstown watching the ducks peck at the surface of the water was not helping her get on her with life even if it was a lovely Saturday morning in July.
Candace liked to come here and walk; it was one of her favorite places in town.
When her father had been mayor, he had spearheaded the development of this site. The land had been an abandoned dump, but he’d seen the potential in it when others had failed to do so. She had no idea how he’d gotten the city council to go along with the plan to buy and convert it to a public space, but they’d given in to their super-civic-minded mayor. The problem came later when the money hadn’t been there—as had been promised—to clean up the site and improve it. Candace had never been sure what had happened, but was certain that Gray Vansant, their congressman, hadn’t been straight with her father about the availability of federal funds. Her father had never discussed specifics, but she’d heard the rumors around town. Gray had either promised too much and failed to deliver or, worse, had backed up on the offer, fearing Doug was a rival for his seat. Whatever had happened, the men had fallen out—and they had at one time been good friends.
Her father had suffered adverse political consequences—the city council became dissatisfied with him, prompting little political battles about other issues. And he’d even drawn an opponent in the mayoral race, something that hadn’t happened in his sixteen years in office. He’d won but only after the fortuitous intervention of state and private foundation grants funded by the local distilleries to help with the project. Candace strongly suspected Corrie’s hand in the whole affair, even though at the time Corrie hadn’t been elected to the state senate yet. But she still pulled plenty of strings.
The morning heat became stifling, but still Candace sat watching ducks and admiring flowers. The daylilies were in full bloom, and they naturally reminded her of her mother. She’d planted them all around their house outside.
The memory triggered another.
A bouquet of fragrant stargazer lilies, Candace’s favorite.
The bouquet in question had been at her mother’s funeral. The sender had not sent a card.
He hadn’t needed to. She knew. And appreciated the support.
That had made her feel so guilty. Because Ting was a nice guy.
Always opened a door for her.
Always nodded and said hello.
Always had a smile.
And on those occasions where they were in some public place—a restaurant, city hall, the sidewalk as the Fourth of July parade passed—his eyes always ended up locked with hers even if only briefly.
Solid. Dependable. Sexy.
But also the chief of police who hadn’t always gotten along with her father.
His support had come from the council members. And from Gray Vansant, who had given him his first job as security head for one of his campaigns.
But being her father’s daughter, she couldn’t touch him with a rickhouse-length pole.
Even though she’d been sorely tempted.
She suspected he felt the same way, even though he’d never asked her out, never made a move, never said or did one untoward thing.
But desire recognized desire, especially when denied.
The heat of the day shimmered in the distance across the pond, and swarms of bugs hovered over the water’s surface. Time to get in that walk before it got completely miserable.
With a grunt, Candace rose from the bench, stretched, and put in her earbuds. But no music was forthcoming. She’d forgotten to charge her damn phone.
So her walk would be accompanied by the sounds of nature instead of the soundtrack from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II. Yeah, that was a bit on the macabre side. As far as mood boosters, it just wasn’t one. But wallowing in sadness had a certain comfort from which she found it hard to extricate herself.
Very few people were around that early, and the relative solitude was nice. It allowed her to review a mental checklist of the stuff she needed to get done that day, which was substantial.
Her father had tasked her with going through her mother’s items and taking what she didn’t want to charity. The probate was to be simple enough—her dad got everything with the exception of her mother’s jewelry and small bequest of funds to herself.
Candace couldn’t blame him for not wanting to pick through his deceased wife’s personal effects. He’d given Candace carte blanche to take whatever she wanted—and there would likely be some clothes Candace ended up taking—but the task itself promised to be taxing physically as well as emotionally.
The rude clatter of Canadian geese mildly roused her from thought, but Candace kept her mind on her mental checklist.
Except the noise wasn’t coming from any waterfowl. That was yelling. Screaming. Angry voices right behind her—
Candace spun on the spot.
Several yards away, a man was running at her, full bore, his face contorted in fear and determination, something held closely against his body.
“My purse! Stop him! Stop him!”
The perp was going to run right past her.
Well, not if she had anything to do with it.
Candace hopped off the walking path and found a downed tree branch, the detritus of the previous evening’s storm.
As the thief closed in, she held out the branch a few inches above the path.
Then things went all cartoony and in slow motion.
As the robber glanced over his shoulder at his pursuer, the branch perfectly snagged his foot. He tumbled, going airborne, losing the purse as he flew, and falling hard on the path ahead of him.
He hit the asphalt with something between a crunch and a scrape, a muffled scream escaping him.
A woman soon came upon the scene, stopping a few yards back when she saw the criminal splayed over the ground. She looked at Candace, then to her purse.
“He tripped.” Candace smiled and pointed to the branch.
The woman laughed as she spotted her handbag. She jumped over the branch and scooped it from the ground.
Then the purse-snatcher started to stir. He pushed up quickly from the ground, his face a bloodied mess. A sneer rippled across his ugly visage when he spotted Candace, then the woman from whom he’d stolen. He gave every appearance of an animal about to strike.
So Candace whipped out a tiny pink device from her pocket.
The loser didn’t see it since he was focused on the victim and the purse. As he lunged toward his quarry, the woman screamed. Candace slid back the safety cover and pulled the trigger, causing tiny darts to fly from the Taser and land on her target.
The guy made a noise like he’d been punched hard in the gut, then doubled over and collapsed like a house of cards, twitching and grunting.
Candace cursed and the woman screamed as they both turned to see the very man Candace had been thinking about just minutes earlier.
Bardstown chief of police Adam Tingley was standing right behind them.
The chief placed a hand on the woman’s shoulder. “Ma’am, are you all right?”
“Yes… yes. This lady right here,” she said, weakly gesturing toward Candace, “managed to stop him.”
The chief looked at the branch on the ground, then smiled at Candace. “Tripped him, huh? Why did you do it?”
“He stole her purse. She was screaming. Just doing my duty as a citizen.”
Ting proceeded to step over the branch and hunched over the thief, who remained on the ground and unable to move.
“Aw hell, it’s you, isn’t it, Butch? Didn’t you just get out on parole? Or are you on probation? Never mind, I know you can’t talk ‘cause she zapped you good.”
Ting helped retrieve the little projectiles that had exploded from her Taser.
“Nice device. How’d you get it?” He handed the darts back to her.
“Can’t you guess? State police insisted on it since I’m the lieutenant governor’s daughter and all,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Like anyone would care about that. But I humor them and carry it around. I think it makes my father feel a little better about my safety.”
Candace put her Taser back together as Ting called for backup on his cell and then briefly interviewed the victim.
“I’m sorry, ladies, but I’m afraid I have to ask you to stick around for a while. You’re both obviously witnesses. I’m gonna call an ambulance to get our suspect here checked out, as well as you, ma’am,” Ting said, nodding to the woman, who was quite shaken.
Ting led the woman to a nearby bench as she clutched her purse to her chest. Candace took a few steps back, keeping a wary eye on the now–restrained assailant, who was slowly recovering from the nasty jolt Candace had delivered via her little pink monster.
Two ambulances and a sheriff’s deputy arrived within minutes.
“You shouldn’t have done it, you know. Dangerous to try to stop someone like that,” Ting said as the EMTs first tended to the assailant.
“I thought I did a damn good job.”
“You did, but that’s not the point. Still dangerous. But that’s not to say I don’t admire what you did.”
“And how is it you’re conveniently on the scene?”
“Not out on patrol, I can assure you. Just out for a run.”
He was dressed similarly to her, in T-shirts and a shirt and shorts, along with running shoes.
She’d never seen him out of uniform like this before.
The shirt was a little too tight across that broad chest. The shorts a little too snug and high.
Damn, those thighs—
Deep breath and look away.
“Can’t you get my statement here? Do I have to come back to the station?”
Ting scratched the back of his neck, and she noticed that the tiny black hairs of his close cut were now sprinkled with flecks of gray. “I suppose so. But I don’t want to make you uncomfortable if you don’t want to be alone with me. Even though I certainly wouldn’t mind the chance.”
She stared at him in shock. Did he just make a move?
“I—no—it’s not that at all. I never meant to give you that impression.”
“I’ve most definitely gotten that impression. But I also believe you’re sorry.”
Ah. So he didn’t think she was being cruel. Maybe just hard to get? Aloof? Clueless?
More like seriously sexually frustrated.
Did he sense that?
Oh God… he had just made his move…
“Thanks for the lilies,” she said, turning away quickly and staring toward the ambulances.
What the hell to say to him? She’d never really thought about the possibility that he might actually say something to her after all these years—
“I’m sorry about your mother, Candace. I was at the funeral. I don’t know if you saw me.”
Keeping her stare on the ground, she said, “No, I didn’t see you. Then again, it’s all a blur. Maybe that’s a blessing in disguise.”
As the awkwardness ate at her, she shifted her weight. She wished he would just get her statement so she could go. Or think. Or move.
“So now what for you? Going to move up to Frankfort with your dad?” he asked.
“No, this is home. My life is here. And someday my dad will no longer be lieutenant governor. He’ll come right back here to Bardstown to retire. And the sooner the better.”
Ting turned his whole body to her, his face screwed up into confusion. “That sounds like you don’t want him to be on the ticket with Governor Cassidy when he runs for reelection.”
“If I had it my way, no. I miss him. I want him back here. But it’s not up to me. And I would never presume to ask him not to run.”
“You told your dad how you feel?”
“My, aren’t we full of questions today?”
Ting took a step backward from her. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to pry.”
His whole tone had changed in the face of her throwing up that emotional barrier. Now he was all business. He pulled out his cell phone and said he’d get her statement down with what he had, no need to go to the office, although she’d have to come in later.
They retreated to a shaded bench where he got the particulars from her, and Candace regretted getting short with him. She felt like she’d slammed the door in his face just as he had knocked and pushed it open ever so slightly.
Ting handed the suspect off to his subordinate and escorted the victim to his cruiser. Candace followed, feeling somehow responsible for the woman’s well-being even though she hadn’t gotten the lady’s name.
As they reached the car, the victim slid into the front seat and turned to Candace.
“Thank you. You didn’t have to do that for me, and I appreciate it. You put yourself on the line. Scary.”
“Yeah, it was a little bit. But also kind of fun to catch a bad guy.”
“I think I’m going to have to get one of those Taser things,” the woman said.
Candace removed the thing from her pocket and stared at it in her open palm. “It did come in handy today, although I suppose I’m going to have to tell my father that I used it. He’s not going to be happy to hear that story.”
“Your father?” The woman squinted at Candace, recognition dawning in her eyes. “I know you… You’re Candace Keane, Doug’s daughter. The lieutenant governor’s daughter!”
“Yes, but that’s hardly an accomplishment.” She patted the lady’s hand.
“But what you did today certainly was,” Ting said.
The woman nodded. “I’ll say. May I at least shake your hand?” She put out her hand in a tentative manner.
Candace just stared at it blankly for a few seconds. She wasn’t the politician in the family. But her good manners did kick in and they shook. She learned that her new acquaintance was Mary Totter, a former neighbor who had known her parents when they had lived in another neighborhood before Candace had been born.
“Pleasure to meet you, ma’am,” Candace said.
“The honor’s mine, dear.” She smiled up at Candace with a beatific glow.
After Ting shut the cruiser door, he turned to her. “Looks like you’ve got a fan. And a voter, should you ever run for office.”
“Perish the thought.” They both laughed. “Look, I’ll come back to the station now to finish up my statement. I can walk there.”
Ting’s face tensed in skepticism. “You sure?”
“Of course. Remember—I can take care of myself.” She held up the Taser.
“That you can. See you back in town.”
As she walked toward town in the full heat of late morning, Candace realized that she had just quite willingly made the effort to see Ting.
The idea didn’t bother her at all.
And instead of going directly to the police station, she headed home for something first.
* * *
What the hell had gotten into him?
He finally put his big move on Candace Keane—the most veiled, awkward, mild acknowledgement of attraction—only to embarrass them both.
Yet in the end, miraculously, she had responded.
After dealing with Mrs. Totter and seeing her out of the office, it was Candace’s turn to complete her statement. She was out in the waiting room at that very moment.
So what was he doing?
Sitting in his office, fretting and wondering what to do next.
Because he’d never actually gotten her alone for any length of time. And the brief moments in the park where they were talking out in the open certainly did not count.
But being with her in a confined space?
He’d watched her for years, kept her on the edge of his mind and heart all that time while he’d butted heads with her father and the city council took his side in every little dispute, whether he’d asked for it or not. Amazingly, Candace rarely had had a boyfriend to his knowledge. And he’d know something like that in a small town like Bardstown, especially when it came to someone like her, the daughter of the former mayor and current lieutenant governor.
But he knew where the lines were. And so did she.
Stupid rules of decorum and propriety and crap like that still held sway in small towns and small minds. And Candace, being painfully aware of not so much her place in this world but her father’s, would care about those attitudes. Especially her newly widowed father’s attitude.
But things were about to change for him.
Time to move on.
He’d tired of the squabbles and politics. The small-mindedness and self-righteousness.
When Gray had called and given him a heads-up on a command spot in the Jefferson County sheriff’s office, he’d jumped on it. A year ago—hell, even six months ago—he would’ve thanked Gray and forgotten about the prospect.
But now he was itching to go, to escape.
He was originally from Louisville, only coming to Bardstown in his teens when his dad had been transferred by one of the bourbon conglomerates to a local office from company headquarters in the big city. He’d always felt the outsider since. Locals called him a transplant, a label that was supposed to be humorous. But it carried the sting of rejection in how it was used in conversation and in the speaker’s tone. At its heart, it was an insult coming from the insular.
He was announcing his resignation on Monday. The council would be disappointed; they had always been supporters. As for the locals, the reaction would most likely be mild interest not in his departure so much as his replacement.
And he would also be leaving Candace.
So what did he have to lose when it came to finally asking her out, just the once?
Not much. Maybe rejection.
But what about her? What if she came along for the ride?
Local and paternal disapproval. Not the easiest things to live with.
But that would be her choice if she chose him.
No harm in asking, right? Worst-case scenario was he got a no.
He fetched Candace from the waiting room and escorted her to his office where everything was polite and professional. He’d prepared a statement for her to sign and she reviewed it quickly, the document meeting with her approval.
Words about the weather and other mundane matters passed between them. Yes, so hot right now. Of course we could use some rain. And what a story she’ll have to tell her students on the first day of school.
She stood. He stood, nearly knocking over his desk.
Don’t let her go.
She needs this as much as you do.
This is it.
Go for it.
She was in the doorway, hand on the jamb. Smiling, nodding. Goodbye had to be on the tip of her tongue—
“Have dinner with me tonight.”
He braced himself for rejection, even laughter. But Candace merely stood there, frozen in the doorway of his office, eyes wide. They were so big that he could fully appreciate the deep blue color of them even from across the room in the dimly-lit space.
“Ting, I really appreciate it… but I don’t know if it’s the best idea…”
“In my book, it’s the best idea I’ve had in a long time. Maybe the best idea I’ve ever had.”
Her hand dropped from the door and she turned her body squarely to face him.
And here it came, he could feel it, the building rebuff.
Don’t let her say it…
“It could be the last time—well, the only time—you get this chance.”
She tilted her head and squinted at him. “What does that mean?”
“It’s not that I’m arrogant, it’s just that I’m practical. The truth of the matter is that I’m going to resign my position here in Bardstown next week. No one knows, except now you. I’m going to the sheriff’s office in Louisville. I’d appreciate it if you could keep that quiet until the formal announcement on Monday.”
“Oh. I see. I’m… sorry to see you leave.”
“So have dinner with me, Candace. Just this once.”
The twitch of the mouth, the swallowing, the deep breath all gave away her internal struggle. And for the first time in her presence, he felt empowered, emboldened. No longer the would-be suitor at the fringes of her world but the man right in front of her making her a very specific offer.
An offer that she wanted to accept.
“Not here in town,” she said.
“Of course not. So can I pick you up, or do we need to drive separately?”
In other words, did she care if anyone saw him picking her up? Since she’d already nixed anywhere in town—
“Pick me up at my place. Or do you want to me to come to yours?” she asked.
Okay, this was veering into territory he did not expect at all.
But that wasn’t to say he didn’t like it.
“Come pick me up. Wait—are you a safe driver?” he teased.
“You have the tools at your disposal to check my record, Chief Tingley.”
Oh God, she was flirting with him.
“So I do.”
“Or you could just trust me,” she said.
“I think my trust will be well placed.”
She took down her long blond hair, which had been in a ponytail, and put it up again. The movement brought her breasts up and—
“So where do we go?” she asked.
“I’ll let you decide.”
“Very well.” Candace moved and turned back into the doorway. “Casual dress. Five-thirty. No cologne.”
“Something like that. Anyway, be on time. I’ll make reservations for us somewhere.”
“Then that means more than casual.”
“Not necessarily. And I have no doubt that you’ll be perfectly presentable, wherever we go.”
“I won’t be late.”
“Better not be.”
She left, the aroma of fresh laundry in her wake—
She had been wearing a different shirt than the one she’d had on at the park. Candace had gone home to change.
He shook his head, laughing to himself that she’d gone to that trouble—until he realized why she’d told him no cologne.
For the same reason he’d now remember that light, clean scent of hers.
Aromas were powerful memory triggers.
And she was expecting them to make memories that night. Memories that someday could be painful to recall.
So Candace Keane was expecting him to break her heart.
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.
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