Whiskey Business (States of Love) by Avon Gale
Cover art by Aaron Anderson
Available for Purchase at
Ryder Waites will do anything to keep the tiny town of Gallows Grove, Kentucky, from vanishing off the map—even sell his family’s whiskey recipe to Bluegrass Bourbon in Lexington. Hopeful that the larger company can provide necessary improvements to the distillery, Ryder aims ultimately to get Gallows Grove on the Bourbon Trail… and bring in much-needed tourism revenue. But to keep producing Hanged Man Bourbon in Gallows Grove, he’ll have to convince company liaison, unbearably stuffy and seriously hot Adam Keller, that he’s worth the investment.
Adam comes from an old-money family, but he’s determined to make his own way in the world. When he’s sent to Gallows Grove, he questions the life choices that led him to a rented room in a funeral home in a town full of macabre-themed businesses. And he doesn’t know what to make of Ryder, the descendant of bootleggers who’s on a mission to save his strange town from extinction. When Adam and Ryder put aside their initial mistrust, the results are as smooth as good whiskey. But after Adam’s assignment ends, he’ll have to decide if small-town life and a future with Ryder is to his taste.
States of Love: Stories of romance that span every corner of the United States.
The longer they talked, the more nervous Ryder became. Adam was making an awful lot of notes and saying things under his breath about installing this and repairing that. And by the time they were in the bottling facility and Ryder had explained the whole thing about the crates in the back of his car and almost getting himself arrested, he was starting to feel as though he really were a dumb hillbilly. Some of the questions Adam asked, Ryder didn’t even know how to answer. That probably wasn’t good.
“So, if all our equipment is so outdated, what are they gonna do? Build us a whole new distillery?” Ryder asked, trying to sound as if he were joking even though they both knew he wasn’t. Ryder was in way over his head, and it wasn’t 1934. Businesses needed computers and contracts and Federal Tax ID numbers, not just handshakes and promises.
Adam flipped a page on his clipboard and didn’t even bother to look at Ryder as he answered. “No. As per the contract you signed, if restoration and renovation efforts are cost prohibitive, then the brand will be produced in the central location in Lexington.”
“The hell it will,” Ryder snapped as the dread sharpened and turned into daggers of pure anger. “The only reason I signed that contract was because they promised not to do that.”
Adam did look up at him then. “Did you have a lawyer look at the contracts, or did you just read them over yourself?”
Bile rose in Ryder’s throat and his heart slammed against his chest, though part of his reaction was the slow burn of shame about his education or lack thereof. College hadn’t even been an option, not with trying to keep the distillery afloat. “I don’t have a fancy degree, but I know how to read—”
Adam put a hand up to stop Ryder midtirade. “Normal people don’t read contracts like lawyers read contracts. I’m not insulting your intelligence, and it has nothing to do with where you’re from or what degree you do or don’t have. I’m saying it because I don’t think you fully understood the implications of the deal before you made it. Yes. Every reasonable effort will be made to restore the distillery to its potential as long as the facilities are up to code. What did you think would happen if they weren’t?”
“I thought that’s what I sold the recipe to goddamn Bluegrass for.” Ryder shoved his hands through his hair. “That they’d make sure it was up to code to produce it in larger quantities.”
“They will make a reasonable effort to see that it is.” Adam paused. “That is not the same thing as doing whatever it takes.”
“Ryder,” Adam said, and his voice was a little quieter. “Do you even have a lawyer?”
Ryder’s face was hot, because somehow Adam’s concern was worse than him being a smug robot. “We’ve got Willy,” he muttered. “Do I need a lawyer, Adam?”
“If you think you can negotiate your way out of this contract, you need about seven of them.” Adam frowned. “You sold what amounts to intellectual property rights to Bluegrass, which is going to make—”
“If you say a reasonable effort one more time, I’m going to hit you.”
Adam’s mouth tightened. “It’s not my fault you didn’t have a lawyer at least glance at this contract. But the upshot is, yes, if this proves too expensive of an undertaking, then Bluegrass will simply move operations to Lexington and sell your bourbon as a house line. The recipe won’t be changed—”
“Of course it will,” Ryder interrupted. “You know as well as I do that you take our barrels out of our warehouse, you take our corn and our water out of the equation, you change the whiskey.”
“We have limestone water and corn in Lexington. It’s still Kentucky bourbon, Ryder.”
“But it’s not Hanged Man Bourbon,” Ryder growled. He was shaking, unable to believe what he was hearing. “So how much is too much before they throw up their hands and make my whiskey somewhere else? Am I allowed to know that? What’s the magic number, Adam?”
Adam went back to robot mode. “That’s up to the discretion of the finance office and chief financial officer, based on the reports they receive.”
“Your reports, you mean.” Ryder crossed his arms and struggled to keep his voice even. “That’s what you’re here to do. To see if this place is too expensive to bother with.”
“I told you. I’m here to make sure the transition is smooth and that you’re in compliance with company protocols, as well as to determine the necessary steps to get you up to code.”
“And if that’s too much….”
Adam sighed. He looked down at his paper and tapped his pen gently against the wood of his clipboard. “Then we’ll produce the bourbon in-house in Lexington. I thought… I thought you knew that.” He looked, if not upset, at least genuine enough in his confusion to make Ryder cool off a little.
“Seven lawyers, huh? Fine. I’ll find them.” Ryder raised his chin. He had no idea how to go about finding one lawyer, much less seven. Look up “bourbon lawyer” in the phone book? No. The Internet. You could find anything there.
“You won’t know what the decision is for at least a couple of months after my reports are filed, Ryder, so I’d hold out on the lawyers. In the meantime I would appreciate it if you didn’t stop me from doing my job.”
Ryder smiled sweetly at him. “I’ll make a reasonable effort. How’s that?”
Adam didn’t seem to find that funny, but it wasn’t actually a joke.
Avon Gale was once the mayor on Foursquare of Jazzercise and Lollicup, which should tell you all you need to know about her as a person. She likes road trips, rock concerts, drinking Kentucky bourbon and yelling at hockey. She’s a displaced southerner living in a liberal midwestern college town, and she never gets tired of people and their stories — either real or the ones she makes up in her head.
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