The Bourbon Thief - Tiffany Reisz
There wasn’t much in the world Cooper McQueen cared about more than a good bourbon. In his forty-five years, not one single beautiful woman had managed to persuade him to set down his drink and leave it down. But when the woman in the red dress walked into his bar—a gift from the gods tied in a tight red bow—McQueen decided he might have seen the one woman on earth who could turn even him into a teetotaler. Her dress was tight as old Scrooge’s fist, red as Rudolph’s nose, and looking at her, McQueen had only one thought—Christmas had come awfully early this year.
Miss Christmas in July glanced his way, smiled like she knew what he was thinking and was thinking along the same lines herself, and McQueen figured he’d be leaving the bar early tonight and nobody better try to talk him out of it.
Not wanting to appear too eager, he continued to sip his bourbon—neat—as he kept her in his peripheral vision. Christmas in July walked over to the bar and took a seat. He watched her study the menu and he smiled behind his glass. In one minute he’d go over to her, buy her a drink, let it slip he owned the bar, dangle out the bait, see if she was in the mood to nibble. He’d seen his fair share of beautiful women in his bar, usually too young—he had some pride, after all—but Miss Christmas looked a respectable thirty-five. A real woman. A grown woman. The sort he could sleep with without apology. She had dark skin and black hair that lay in heavy coils down her back and tied at the nape of her neck with a red ribbon he fully intended to untie with his teeth given the opportunity.
One minute up, he went to claim the opportunity.
It didn’t break McQueen’s heart to excuse himself from his current conversation with someone who was either an investment banker or a venture capitalist. He had stopped listening the moment Miss Christmas walked in. He went over to her and sat in the empty bar stool to her left without waiting for an invitation. He owned the place. No reason not to act like it.
He didn’t say anything at first. He let the silence linger and grow as heady as the muddy Ohio River on a hot night, the kind that made even the sidewalks sweat. Maybe he could talk the lady into a stroll over to the river while the night was still warm. Maybe he could talk her into something more.
“What can I get you?” Maddie, the pretty blonde bartender, asked the woman.
“How about a shot of Red Thread?” the woman said. “I like to match my drinks to my hair ribbon.”
“Red Thread?” Maddie glanced at McQueen, a silent plea for help. “I don’t think...”
“Red Thread’s been out of business for thirty-five years,” McQueen said to Maddie.
“Oh, good. Thought I was going crazy. Could have sworn I knew every bourbon there was,” Maddie said. “Any bottles left?”
“Not a one,” McQueen said, not a white lie, not a black lie. A little red lie.
“What a shame,” Miss Christmas said, although she sounded neither surprised nor disappointed. Christmas was right. Her voice had a frosty tone to it. She was cool. He liked cool.
“A damn shame. They say it was the best bourbon ever bottled.” McQueen waited for the lady in the red dress to speak again, but she stayed silent, listening, alert, eyes only for Maddie at the moment.
“What happened to it?” Maddie asked him.
“Warehouse fire,” McQueen said, shrugging. “It happens. You distill alcohol and store it in wooden barrels? Fire’s your worst nightmare. Red burned to the ground in 1980 and never reopened. No one knows who owns it anymore.” McQueen had tried to buy the old Red Thread property himself but had no luck. He’d gotten as far as finding the shell company—Moonshine, Ltd.—that owned the acreage and the trademark, but it didn’t seem to have a human being behind its name. “I would know because I’ve looked.”
“Isn’t that interesting...” Miss Christmas said with the hint of a smile on her red lips, and he couldn’t tell if she meant it or if she was being sarcastic. She spoke with a Kentucky accent, faint but recognizable to someone who spent half his time in New York and half his time in Louisville. Kentucky accents sounded like home to him and his ears always perked up when he heard one.
“Can I get you something