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It’s been a year since globe-trotting photojournalist Abi Logan inherited Abbey Glen, a whisky distillery in the heart of the Scottish countryside. To her surprise, the village of Balfour already feels like home, and her new business partner, Grant MacEwan, continues to be too charming to resist. But Abi has a history of relationship disasters, so she struggles to avoid an ill-fated romance with Grant. Steering clear is hard enough on a day-to-day basis, but when the two head off to a whisky industry competition together, Abi panics. Five-star resort, four glorious days of nonstop whisky tasting, and a fatally attractive Scotsman—what could possibly go wrong?
The night before the award presentations, with foreign and domestic whisky makers at one anothers’ throats, two judges are found dead under mysterious circumstances. What started with three dream-come-true nominations for Abby Glen’s whisky soon turns into a nightmare for Abi. With a killer on the loose, she must call on her investigative skills to stop another murder—before she gets taken out of the running herself.
Melinda Mullet’s delightful Whisky Business mysteries can be read together or separately. Enjoy responsibly:
SINGLE MALT MURDER | DEATH DISTILLED | DEADLY DRAM | DIED IN THE WOOL
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Flames licked at the wood of the whisky barrels piled high in the forecourt of the grand old house. We’d gathered as friends on the wide gravel drive of the Larches to burn away the troubles of the old year and start fresh with the new. The Larches was the MacEwen family home. An estate, to be precise. Slightly shabby now from age and the ravages of death duties, but still striking in the symmetry of its classic baronial lines. It loomed above us in stony silence, our elongated shadows dancing eerily across the sand-colored stone walls.
An occasional shower of sparks dispersed like glitter into the night and lit the faces of my companions. Grant MacEwen, my business partner and our host for this annual ritual, stood on the front porch conferring with Louisa, the Larches’ phenomenal cook/housekeeper. Her young son, Luke, was rolling in the grass with Liam, my shaggy, overgrown wheaten terrier. The two were having the time of their lives.
I huddled close to the warmth of the fire, watching as Cam Lewis, our distillery manager, made his way up the drive from his car with a young girl riding astride his shoulders. She had curly auburn pigtails and was giggling gleefully as Cam imitated a horse galloping to the edge of the bonfire.
“Who’s this?” I asked.
“Ma gran’daughter, Sadie,” he said, the rolling cadence of his thick Scottish brogue bringing a smile to my face.
“She’s visitin’ for the weekend. Sadie, this is Abi Logan; she and Grant are now the co-owners of Abbey Glen.”
“Abi owns Abbey Glen,” Sadie said playfully, rolling the words around on her tongue.
“It was my uncle’s distillery,” I explained. “The name was kind of an inside joke. He named the place after me, even though it isn’t spelled quite the same.”
“That’s neat,” Sadie said. “I wish someone would name something after me.”
“I’ll bet someone will,” I said, smiling up at her.
“Aye, she’ll have some poor bloke wrapped around her finger.” Cam chuckled affectionately.
I felt terrible that I’d never stopped to consider Cam being anything other than our loyal and hardworking still man and manager. I knew that he’d been married, and his wife had died some years back, but in true Scots fashion he’d never volunteered much else about his personal life. “I didn’t know you had kids,” I teased, “let alone grandkids.”
“I have two daughters,” Cam said. His rugged face and sharp, attentive eyes generally gave him a somewhat dour look, but at the mention of his daughters his face lit up. “One’s off in Australia with her man, and the other lives in Glasgow. That’s Sadie’s mum.”
“And you’re visiting for Hogmanay, are you?” I said, looking up at Sadie. “Then I’ll bet you can tell me all about this celebration.”
“It’s the burnin’ of the clavie, miss,” she said excitedly. “We do it every year. It’s good luck, doncha know.”
“I didn’t know,” I admitted, “and I don’t really know what a clavie is, either.”
Sadie looked a bit stumped by that question herself and proceeded to tap Cam on the top of the head. “What is a clavie, Papa?”
“Clavie’s a collection of casks that are split in two and filled with tar to make sure they burn for a good long time.”
“Tar like on the road?” Sadie asked.
“Just like.” Cam chuckled. “Some villages carry the burnin’ clavie ’round the town and then take it to a local high spot where it burns long into the night. We’re lucky we have a big collection of old barrels to use at the Glen. Instead of tar, we sprinkle a bit of the spent lees on the wood to get it burnin’ hot and strong.”
Seeing the frown on my face, Cam added, “Spent lees are the leftover liquids in the still at the end of the distillin’ process.”
“That’s why we have such a beautiful blaze,” I said.
“’Tis indeed.” Cam swung Sadie down from his shoulders. “This version of the traditional celebration was passed down from Grant’s father. It’s been done every year since I was Sadie’s age.” He flipped one of the bouncing pigtails as she ran in circles around us. “My dad used to bring me, back when he was the still man at the distillery.”
“What happens after the barrels are burned?”
“Once they start to fall apart, you reach in an’ grab a chunk of wood that’s still glowin’ to take home an’ add to your own hearth,” Cam explained. “The leftover charcoal bits are rubbed up the chimneys to keep spirits an’ witches from comin’ down.”
“That’s the best bit,” Sadie said with evident delight, her eyes wide at the thought of witches and evil spirits being chased from the flue.
“For a village who drinks as much as we do,” I murmured, “we sure have a strange relationship with spirits.”
“Cannae be too careful, as well ye know.” Cam winked at me. “You’ve had your share of witches and evil spirits since you’ve come.”
Cam was right. It hadn’t even been a year since I inherited Abbey Glen from my uncle Ben and already we’d seen arson, personal threats, and more than our proportional share of murders. As the inexperienced and unexpected new owner of the Glen, I’d faced considerable opposition from the locals. My first challenge was to find a way to deal with the misogynistic whisky fraternity—the Barley Boys, as I’d dubbed them. It wasn’t easy. But not nearly as difficult as being the first embedded female war correspondent for the London Gazette. I’d managed that, and I was proud to say I was managing this.
Not only managing, but beginning to really enjoy my new life. My chaotic gypsy existence as a journalist was starting to wear on my nerves, and this change of pace had come not a moment too soon. Over the past nine months I’d discovered just how much being in this community meant to me. It was roots and friendships and a place to call home that I hadn’t had in years. In spite of my initial skepticism, it was the best legacy Ben could’ve given me. Still, if I were smart, I’d still get an extra helping of charred wood from the bonfire. I could use the good luck.
Young Luke was having a grand time gathering bits of wood and tossing them in. It was all Grant could do to keep him from falling in after them. I watched him dogging the boy’s heels to keep him out of trouble. Cam and Sadie went to help, and Luke’s mother took advantage of the reprieve to wander over and say hello. Louisa had been busy in the kitchen all day and this was the first I’d seen of her since before Christmas. She gave me a warm hug, and I asked if she and Luke had a good holiday.
“It was a pretty quiet, but relaxin’,” she said. “Luke had a fun for sure, but our lord and master was a bit glum.”
Louisa looked me up and down with a glint in her eye. “If I had to guess, he was missin’ yer enlivenin’ presence.”
I could feel the flush rise in my cheeks. “Can’t imagine why,” I muttered.
“Yes you can,” Louisa said. “And it’s not fer yer business skills.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I scoffed. I could feel my face turning red, and it wasn’t just from the heat of the fire. “I wasn’t gone that long. Barely four weeks, and then Liam and I stopped off to spend Christmas in Edinburgh with Patrick and his mum.” Why did I sound so defensive? It was no one’s business where I spent my holidays.
Patrick Cooke had been my best friend since university days, and now that Ben was gone, he was the closest thing I had to family. His mother had trekked up from London for the holidays since Patrick refused to go home. She was an intimidating old battle ax, albeit of diminutive proportion, and although she was fond of both of us in her own way, her presence was always stressful. As usual, we compensated by eating and drinking way too much. All in all, a standard family Christmas celebration.