Series: The Bourbon Kings #1
Published by NAL
Published on July 28th 2015
Genres: Adult Contemporary
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The #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Black Dagger Brotherhood delivers the first novel in an enthralling new series set amid the shifting dynamics of a Southern family defined by wealth and privilege—and compromised by secrets, deceit, and scandal....
For generations, the Bradford family has worn the mantle of kings of the bourbon capital of the world. Their sustained wealth has afforded them prestige and privilege—as well as a hard-won division of class on their sprawling estate, Easterly. Upstairs, a dynasty that by all appearances plays by the rules of good fortune and good taste. Downstairs, the staff who work tirelessly to maintain the impeccable Bradford facade. And never the twain shall meet.
For Lizzie King, Easterly’s head gardener, crossing that divide nearly ruined her life. Falling in love with Tulane, the prodigal son of the bourbon dynasty, was nothing that she intended or wanted—and their bitter breakup only served to prove her instincts were right. Now, after two years of staying away, Tulane is finally coming home again, and he is bringing the past with him. No one will be left unmarked: not Tulane’s beautiful and ruthless wife; not his older brother, whose bitterness and bad blood know no bounds; and especially not the ironfisted Bradford patriarch, a man with few morals, fewer scruples, and many, many terrible secrets.
As family tensions—professional and intimately private—ignite, Easterly and all its inhabitants are thrown into the grips of an irrevocable transformation, and only the cunning will survive.
Epic romantic family drama at its best
I’m a huge fan of JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, and have been so excited to see her jump from the paranormal world into contemporary, and she absolutely wowed me with this one. There are some hints of familiarity there, and I love that, but the writing also feels different without the slang and ‘Wardisms’ that pepper her other work. She has written a sweeping family saga that is full of drama, intrigue and romance, featuring deliciously dysfunctional characters and their deliciously dysfunctional family dramas. Passion, romance, secrets, lies, betrayal and death, it’s like a train wreck – horrible and painful at times, but you can’t look away. And with a beautiful second-chance romance threaded throughout, it’s an enthralling read.
The Bradfords are the reigning Bourbon Kings of Kentucky and Daddy Bradford has ruled his empire and his family with an iron first. The four Bradford children – Edward, Max, Lane and Virginia (Gin) – have been raised in wealth and opulence. Now in their 30s, they are each in vastly different places in their lives – each of them flawed and damaged by their upbringing in some way and dealing with it in their own, unique ways, the only way they know how.
Youngest son Lane is a playboy. He’s never held a real job and spends his time in New York, sleeping on a friend’s couch and playing in high-rolling poker games. He does his best to avoid his ‘real life’ but when he receives bad news he reluctantly heads home to his Easterly, the family estate.
Lizzie King is the head Horticulturist at Easterly. She loves her job and she’s worked hard to create a good life for herself, but when the prodigal son returns home, her world is turned upside down. Two years ago she and Lane had a torrid affair. They fell hard and fast for each other before it all went horribly wrong and they haven’t seen or spoken to each other since. After two years of misunderstandings and heartbreak, Lane isn’t prepared to take a backseat in his life anymore. He wants Lizzie back and he is determined to do anything he has to in order to make it happen.
“I’m prepared to be a very patient man when it comes to you. I will seduce you for however long it takes – give you space if you need it or follow you tight as sunshine on your shoulder if you’ll let me.” His eyes locked on hers. “I lost my chance with you once, Lizzie King – that is not going to happen again.”
“You’re the love of my life, whether you’re with me or not.”
Lizzie is a really strong heroine. Her heart was broken when she and Lane split and while she initially has no intention of letting him back in, the woman is only human. Their chemistry is still intense, there are lots of fiery encounters, and you can feel the emotion between them. But with such an uneasy past, their reunion is not an easy one.
“I can’t go back, Lane. I’m sorry. I just can’t.”
He fell silent. And then after a long while, he nodded. “All right, but can I ask you for one thing?”
“Just don’t hate me anymore. I’m doing plenty of that on my own time.”
The unfolding story of Lane and Lizzie’s reconnection is tied in brilliantly to everything else that is going on in the book. Lane’s personal life and his family are an absolute mess. So as important as winning Lizzie back is, there is a lot more that he has to deal with –not the least of which is his bitchy socialite wife, but also the crumbling lives of his siblings and the state of the family business.
This is very much a character-driven story but there is so much happening in this book! And as the story delves deeper and deeper into the lives of the Bradfords and the people surrounding them, you can see just how closely tied and interwoven their individual stories all are. This is such a great bunch of characters – love them or hate them, they are all very well developed and the dynamics between them are fabulous (special shout out to Miss Aurora – the woman is amazing, and those relationships are beautiful!).
The book is written in multiple POV so we not only get front-row seats to everything that is going on with Lane and Lizzie, but we get a bit of background information on the family and the business as well. And there are developing storylines for Lane’s siblings Edward and Gin, and OMG, their stories are already incredibly intense! Their own romantic stories are established, and we get an up close and very personal look at those – both of which are an absolute clusterfuck, just like their personal lives. Their stories are bound to be fantastic, and I can’t wait to get to them.
But this one is definitely Lane and Lizzie’s love story, and it’s beautifully told. They have a lot to sort through, but their soul-deep love is never in doubt and there are some hot and steamy, as well as incredibly touching moments. Their reconnection is well paced and realistic, with all of the feelings that you would expect them to be experiencing in their situation. I love that they aren’t afraid to admit their flaws and their willingness to make up for their wrongs. And I particularly loved that no matter the situation between them, they unquestionably have each other’s backs through everything that is happening around them.
“There is no fight – I’m yours. “
I really enjoyed this book. I must admit that I found the beginning slow going, but once everybody had been introduced and the story really got going, I was completely sucked in. It has an epic feel to it which is a bit reminiscent of Dynasty, and the whole time I was reading I kept thinking that this would make a spectacular tv show or mini-series. Ward has given us a multi-layered story with strong characters that is beautifully descriptive, incredibly emotive, and very cleverly tied together. I absolutely loved it.
(I want to give it a full 5 stars, but I’m deducting half for the slow beginning.)
All quotes are from the ARC version of the book.