The Angels' Share - J. R. Ward

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR

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.

Although there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for the depletion that occurs, a logical rationale, as it were, I love the romantic notion that there are angels in the warehouses of these venerable Kentucky distilleries, enjoying a tipple as they float above the earth. Perhaps it is a mint julep during Derby when it’s warm, and then a bourbon up neat during the cold months of winter. Maybe they’re using it to make pecan pie or to spice up their chocolates.

The functions for a good bourbon, as I am coming to learn, are endless.

I also think the term can apply to the weathering that changes us all over time. As the heat and cold of our experiences, our destinies, expand and contract our emotions, our thoughts, our memories, we are, like fine bourbon, a different product at the end—and there is a sacrifice involved: We are made of the same core elements we were at first constructed of, but we are never the same afterward. We are permanently altered. If we are lucky and we are smart and we are freed at the right time, we are improved. If we are aged too long, we are ruined forever.

Timing, like fate, is everything.

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

Virginia Elizabeth Bradford Baldwine, also known as Little V.E.: Widow of William Baldwine, mother of Edward, Max, Lane, and Gin Baldwine, and a direct descendant of Elijah Bradford, the originator of Bradford bourbon. A recluse with a chemical dependency on prescription pills, there are many reasons for her addiction, some of which threaten the very fabric of the family.

William Wyatt Baldwine: Deceased husband of Little V.E. and father, with her, of Edward, Max, Lane, and Gin Baldwine. Also father of a son by the family’s now deceased controller, Rosalinda Freeland. Also the father of an unborn child by his son Lane’s soon-to-be-ex-wife, Chantal. Chief executive officer of the Bradford Bourbon Company when he was alive. A man of low moral standards, great aspirations, and few scruples, whose body was recently found on the far side of the Falls of the Ohio.

Edward Westfork Bradford Baldwine: Eldest son of Little V.E. and William Baldwine. Formally the heir apparent to the mantle of the Bradford Bourbon Company. Now a shadow of his previous self, the result of a tragic kidnapping and torture engineered by his own father, he has turned his back on his family and retired to the Red & Black Stables.

Maxwell Prentiss Baldwine: Second eldest son of Little V.E. and William Baldwine. Black sheep of the family who has been away from Easterly, the historic Bradford estate in Charlemont, Kentucky, for years. Sexy, scandalous, and rebellious, his return to the fold is problematic for a number of people in and outside of the family.

Jonathan Tulane Baldwine, known as “Lane”: Youngest son of Little V.E. and William Baldwine. Reformed playboy and consummate poker player in the throes of a divorce from his first wife. With the family’s fortunes in turmoil and embezzlement rife at the Bradford Bourbon Company, he is forced into the role of family leader and must rely now more than ever on his one true love, Lizzie King.

Virginia Elizabeth Baldwine, soon-to-be Pford, known as “Gin”: Youngest offspring and only daughter of Little V.E. and William Baldwine. A rebellious contrarian who thrives on attention, she has been the bane of her family’s existence, especially as she had a child out of wedlock during her college years and barely graduated. She is on the verge of marrying Richard Pford, the heir to a liquor distributing company and fortune.

Amelia Franklin Baldwine: Daughter of Gin and Gin’s one true love, Samuel T. Lodge. A