The Bourbon Kings

By J.R. Ward

New American Library, 421 pp. $27.95

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Reviewed by Lidija Dorjkhand

nolead ends J.R. Ward, author of the best-selling Black Dagger Brotherhood series about vampire warriors, has launched an addictive new contemporary series with The Bourbon Kings. It's set in Kentucky, where the Bradford family runs one of the biggest bourbon distilleries in the nation. Wealthy and powerful, the Bradfords also have more than their share of problems. With more devious characters than Dynasty, The Bourbon Kings is juicy soap opera at its finest.

Lizzie King, one of the head horticulturists on the estate, is mending a heart broken by the middle son of the family. Jonathan Tulane "Lane" Baldwine (that's his father's last name, but he and his siblings are still considered Bradfords) was falling for Lizzie but broke off their budding relationship when his old girlfriend told him she was pregnant and he felt obligated to marry her. Devastated, Lizzie refused to hear Lane's explanation. His wife later told him she had lost the pregnancy.

After two years of staying away, his marriage in name only, Lane gets a call that his "momma" is dying, and he flies back to Kentucky, where it is Derby season. We learn his momma is Miss Aurora, the African American head cook who gave Lane and his three siblings more love than he ever got from his medicated mother and cruel father.

Lane is alarmed to see what else has changed during his absence. His mother basically stays in her room in a stupor most of the day; his older brother has become a recluse after barely surviving a kidnapping and torture; and his father seems to be in the midst of some shady business dealings that will put the entire family in jeopardy.

Lane and Lizzie finally get together and try to mend past hurts and move forward with their relationship - just as family secrets come to light and misfortunes befall the Bradfords. The book ends on a cliffhanger, questions still unanswered until the next enthralling installment of As the World - I mean The Bourbon Kings.

nolead begins When a Scot Ties the Knot
(Castles Ever After)
nolead ends nolead begins By Tessa Dare

Avon, 384 pp. $7.99

nolead ends Madeline Gracechurch was dreading a London season. Although pretty and a talented artist, she was terrified of crowds. So she told her family a fib, that she already had a beau - Capt. Logan MacKenzie. To keep up the pretense of devotion, she posted letter after letter to her imaginary sweetheart. After years of letter-writing, Maddie decided it was time to kill off her captain and spend the rest of her life (happily) in mourning. Now an artist with a promising career and owner of a castle left to her by a relative, Maddie is shocked when one day the very real and very handsome Capt. Logan MacKenzie shows up at her door, looking for his "fiancee" and intent upon marriage.

The letters Maddie posted had found their way to Logan when he was just a poor private, and he kept and reread them as he made his way up the ranks. She had used the letters as her diary, writing all her thoughts and secrets and feelings. Logan threatens to send all her letters to the scandal sheets unless she marries him. Logan desperately needs her lands for his men, discharged from the army with injuries and no family or homes to go back to. Maddie knows she cannot bear the scandal and family disappointment if the letters should be made public, so she agrees to the marriage. She persuades Logan to postpone the consummation, giving her time to figure out what to do. Of course, it also gives them time to fall in love.

Tessa Dare continues her delightful Castles Ever After series with her signature sparkling dialogue, likable characters, and emotional depth.

nolead begins Obsession Falls
nolead ends nolead begins By Christina Dodd

St. Martin. 392 pp. $26.99

nolead ends Obsession Falls is another romantic thriller by Christina Dodd set in the town of Virtue Falls, Wash. Taylor Summers has traveled back to her hometown in the mountains of Idaho to rethink her life. While out hiking and drawing, she witnesses kidnappers preparing to kill a boy. Risking her own life, she distracts the kidnappers, drawing them after her so the boy can escape. Taylor hides in a cave, cautiously coming out hours later - and narrowly escapes the explosion of her booby-trapped car. She realizes the drawings that had scattered in her escape had her signature, so the kidnappers know who she is. She breaks into a vacant house for shelter and turns on the owner's computer to try to contact police. She discovers to her horror news articles saying she was part of the kidnapping scheme and that she was killed in the explosion.

Taylor decides keeping hidden is her best chance of survival until she can contact Kennedy McManus, wealthy uncle of the boy and true target of the man for whom the kidnappers work. Resourceful and strong, Taylor draws on the survival lessons learned from her late father. After several weeks of privation, she makes her way back down the mountain and chances upon a party being thrown at one of the vacation homes - and she manages to get hired by the harried caterer.

At one party, Taylor catches sight of the host, Michael Gracie, and is mesmerized by his charisma and beauty. But then she finds out Gracie is the deadly man behind the kidnapping. The terrified Taylor runs again.

Taylor later finds herself in Virtue Falls and decides to stay there and build a new life under a different name. She also finally finds a way to contact Kennedy McManus.

Kennedy has been searching for Taylor himself, knowing that she was an innocent bystander who risked her life to save his nephew. He has obsessively investigated all aspects of her life.

When they finally do meet, he realizes he already is in love with her. Taylor is wary yet attracted to Kennedy. He is a computer genius, but he has no interpersonal skills. Their quarrels and his miscues with her make for the few bright spots of levity amid the taut suspense.

Gracie, a compelling villain, has also found Taylor and soon sets off a game of life and death for Taylor and Kennedy.