White Whiskey Bargain
‘Moonshiners’ as an occupation makes me think of the 1920s and 1930s, so I was interested in White Whiskey Bargain, a book about moonshine making in the twenty-first century. Hannah Hawkins has inherited the family business – a long-running distillery – from her mother, just in time to face the wealthy Ward family’s attempt to push into their territory. There’s a third player here, too: the Mezas, historical rivals of the Hawkins family but their only potential allies against the Wards. To secure the alliance, Meza Sr. demands a marriage between Hannah and his son, Javier.
I like marriage of convenience stories, and I appreciated that this one didn’t fall into the usual pattern. Typically, the couple agrees to maintain emotional and sometimes physical distance, and then each freaks out as they want more but they never talk about it. Hannah and Javier talk and progress and address the issues from their past (Javier’s divorce, Hannah’s mother) that have held them back from relationships. Their sex scenes are great and full of zing.
I’m also into settings, and I felt the author gave the right amount of distilling/moonshine running/small town Appalachia details to balance with the plot. Hannah and Javier also talk in Appalachian dialect. I always noticed, but when I stopped to play it out in my head, it sounded authentic. I will say it bugged me that the author pluralized Hawkins as Hawkins, not Hawkinses.
What didn’t work so well for me was the Ward plot. Partway through the book, the Hawkins/Meza alliance takes the Ward boys hostage in retaliation for arson. Yes, Javier couldn’t go to the law over the arson of their illegal still, but I have no idea why Ward didn’t rain law enforcement all over the families for kidnapping. The end ‘action sequence’ on the Hawkins’ distilling hilltop also felt implausible and awkward, with the ending seeming less ‘We’ve won!’ and much more ‘They’ll be back…’
If you’re looking for a contemporary romance that is neither small-town cute nor big-city slick, a hot couple gradually coming together with communication, and if you’re happy to see a book that represents a state like Kentucky as not entirely white, you’ll enjoy White Whiskey Bargain.