My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Last year, I was lucky enough to discover this talented author whose debut novel, Wanted: One Ghost, blew me away completely. It had everything I would want in a paranormal romance, suspense, mystery, action... and a sexy ghost coming to life with the help of the heroine. I was thrilled learn that there’d be a sequel to the story, of another character who was introduced there only by mention. Distilled Spirits is the story of the sassy tavern wench, Millie Taylor, who is said to haunt the Old Town Tavern to this day.
Wanted: One Ghost, that started it all, tells you the story of the founding father of Kings Mills, James Addison, the second son of a British Lord who settled in here in the mid 1800s. He had done some great things for the place that paved the way for this small town. He was also a ladies man and Millie Taylor, the tavern wench said to have been his paramour. James was hanged in his early 30s on the charge of treason that he never committed. His ghost has been haunting the past 238 yrs. in search of justice, or at the least, to tell someone the true story behind it all. Unfortunately, he has never been able to connect with anyone. He would roam around the area where he used to live and died, especially each anniversary of his hanging. It was one of that anniversaries that he finally finds someone who can see him and communicate; April Branford, a college student having the gift of psychometry.
April’s gift has been handed down from the women of her ancestry. Her mother Virginia, grandmother Dottie and Aunt Vickie, all have different types of ‘gifts’ to see, feel or hear the other world and its inhabitants. April still isn’t comfortable with her own gift and now, it seems, as her aunt confirms, that she has seen her first ghost too. Yet he seemed so real that April couldn’t tell the difference! Since there’s a small fair and other festivities held in this area on James Addison’s death anniversary to remember him by, she thought this man was in costume.
In the next few chapters, we find April trying to communicate with James, who somehow comes to life with the power of her gift. It changes both of their lives, James’ definitely seeing he just became a flesh and bone human after centuries! Soon enough, romance blossomed as April finds herself falling for the legendary figure of Kings Mills, about whom she’d heard so much, including his womanizing ways. But to me, James was a complete gentleman, and though he had has his share of wenches, he didn’t come off as a douche. He cared for April, was grateful to her and her family for everything, including the shelter. When they become lovers, crazy paranormal things begin to happen. And as James finally tells them the true story, the farcical trial because of a jealous man who thought James was having an affair with his wife, which was not true at all. It was then up to April to help James come to terms with his past life... then, to fight for him as it becomes apparent that James’ stay in this world might not be a permanent thing.
The last twist of the story was SO GOOD, I mean I was so surprised and happy for the solution to their crazy love-story, where James gets to stay, in a way, in this world; in the body of one of his descendents, a British billionaire named Kenneth Miles. Kenneth had an uncanny resemblance to his ancestor, and equally elusive as he’d lived as a recluse for the best part of last decade. And it was because of his interest in Kings Mills that April was given the job to research and find out more on the place and its founding father.
I absolutely loved Wanted: One Ghost, be it the plot or the characters, as well as the entire setting. Millie was mentioned in the story more than once, but I didn’t think at that time that she’d have the opportunity to have her own story told. And frankly, I wasn’t sure if I would like reading about one of James’ past lover’s story. Thankfully, Loni has a wonderful way of storytelling that I had to change my mind where she was concerned. You can read Distilled Spirits as a standalone, as some of the backstory is narrated in such a way, so you won’t feel left out. But I’d still recommend that you read Wanted: One Ghost because it was so awesome!
Sean, our H of the story, used to be a cop at one time. When an assignment went wrong, putting his life is grave danger, he retired. He then began working in his uncle’s construction company. Life has been good for Sean, until he takes over the renovation of the Old Town Tavern in Kings Mill where his life seems to take a very dramatic turn.
The owner of the tavern, Dave, used to know Sean’s uncle, which is how he got the job. But Sean has a plan. He knows about British Millionaire Kenneth Miles’ grand plans about Kings Mill. He apparently is connected to the founding father, James Addison and has plans of settling down here. He’s also making a lot of renovations around the town to revive it’s gone by era. The effort will pay off when they have tourists visiting Kings Mill as a historical town. The business will surely boom for the local people, including Dave. Sean wants to be a part of it, and if possible, catch Kenneth’s eyes with his work on the Old Town Tavern. After all, James Addison was rumored to be the lover of Millie Taylor, the famous ghost of the tavern. It’s said she still roams the corridors of this place, playing mischief on people. Some even claimed to have seen her. But to Sean, it’s just bogus tattletale. He definitely doesn’t believe in something he can’t experience for himself, but either way, Millie’s story can serve a purpose; bringing in more customers, something this tavern needs ASAP if they want the business going, as well as raise the money for the renovation.
Dave seems like at his wit’s end about the cost. Moreover he’s going through a nasty divorce, so he asks for Sean’s help, even offering him half ownership at one point in the story. But before anything could happen, Sean himself is hurt in an accident on the site. They just recently dug up a place that seemed to be an old springhouse, possibly a part of the tavern once upon a time. Somehow, Sean loses his balance and falls down... but before the moment he passes out into the darkness, he sees this face of a beautiful young woman, as if trying to caress him in his distress.
When Sean regains his consciousness, he doesn’t remember much. It was a severe head-trauma that might’ve done him in but surprisingly, he survived. On Dave’s request, he settles down on one of the ramshackle upstairs bedrooms so that he can do his follow up to the doctors, also can keep an eye on the ongoing project. Sean immediately begins planning on what’s to be done to revive this place and return it to its former glory. The tavern is obviously very special to Dave since he inherited it from his ancestors. And he could definitely use the money! Otherwise, he might lose it as the tavern already made the list of the old buildings that are to be torn down to make way for the new. Sean likes this old place and wants to see it stay in business.
As days pass, Sean begins noticing odd things happening around the tavern, most especially his own room. He’d smell of roses when there are no roses anywhere near the place. He’d feel that someone is watching him, he could swear he once even saw the glimpse of a blonde head that definitely belongs to a woman! Of course, Sean begins thinking that it’s all in his imagination, until Millie begins showing up!! After an incident in the inn, where one of the severs was being harassed by her ex, she decides to help by throwing stuff at those hooligans, in turn making sure everyone present there saw her, as clear as daylight. As if she’s real as any of them! Oh boy, talk about headache for Sean.... What the hell was that?!
Millie has been trying to get attentions of the living but she has never done anything to intentionally harm anyone. Since the day she stepped into the colonies from England, and sold to Hank, this tavern has been her home. She doesn’t know any other place, and apparently, she can’t move on to the light either so she’s stuck here for good. Millie has seen Dave’s ancestors come and go, trying to keep the business afloat, as well as how much Dave is struggling to do the same. She has also read newspapers to be updated about the local goings-on, been self-introduced to the wonders of modern inventions such as the TV and the radio. Millie has some idea of how long it’s been since she’s felt something, but when she saw Sean, she knew he’d be good for this tavern. And maybe for her too.
After that awkward, and a little scary, introduction, there was no hiding for Millie anymore. Sean was on her trail, trying to figure out what the hell is going on. When he could finally see and communicate with her, Millie tells him she has no idea what’s going on either. She’s been having the problem morphing and floating through the elements and solid objects for a while now. Then one day, she just gets stuck on the floor (don’t ask, poor girl) when Sean has to ask for April’s help.
Sean has meet Kenneth recently, who seemed very much interested in the renovation of the tavern and the stories of Millie’s haunting. Now that there are now eye-witnesses to her haunting, ironically, one of them being Sean himself, there’s no more doubt about this. Kenneth and April have been living here for while now. She’s pregnant with their first child but that doesn’t deter her from coming to the rescue. Millie’s very old relationship with Kenneth/James creates some tension but April knows she has to help her. But first, she makes sure Millie knows that James is now hers, so she better not harbor any ideas about him. Here’s my opinion about this whole situation... when I first read about Millie, I had the similar doubts, as in, how wise it would be to revive James’ former paramour and what would that mean for James and April’s relationship. Fortunately, after knowing Millie, I can say that she wasn’t too possessive about James. She knew her place with him right from the start. Apart from sex, they had a companionship of sort and that’s where it stayed. But she was left alone after he was hanged with no one to protect her from harm. I had the feeling that it bothered her, though I understood the reason why much later in the story. At one point, she obviously perished; an incident Millie doesn’t even remember. Either way, I guess it’s been way too long to reminisce on that relationship. Millie was more into Sean already and with James/Kenneth so in love with April, I had nothing to worry about.
When, with Sean’s kiss and April’s help, Millie is brought to ‘life’, things started moving faster. April’s family, the women with the powers, her mother, grandmother and aunt stop by also to help out in this situation. Sean is feeling a little lightheaded considering the situation, but he’s also thrilled to have Millie. He has already formed a bond with her. Every time he saw her sad eyes, his cop instinct would kick in, as if to protect her from all the evil in the world. Now he has a way to learn more about everything. And Millie.
Millie starts learning the modern ways with enough enthusiasm for two, thanks to the help of the generous people around her. She was more than thankful for this ‘second life’. She and Sean also don’t waste time in giving into the temptation of being together. The whole experience, for both, was surreal, though maybe on different levels. Her reunion with Kenneth/James read more like the reunions of old friends rather than ex-lovers, for which I was glad. Then Millie discovers that that area near the springhouse gives her the chills, a fear of unknown, maybe even something sinister... but what could it be? An answer Millie can’t give to anyone asking her, be it Sean or the Branford women.
The twist(s) of the story was a bit predictable, though while I was reading, it felt no less thrilling. I had another guess about Millie’s ‘future’ and how things might’ve been resolved, something in the lines of what happened to James. TBH, if it happened, I wouldn’t have liked it. Thankfully, Millie was able to rediscover herself, be with Sean and learn the new ways and wonders of modern living. Though no one yet knows what the future really holds for them, for now they are thrilled to be together, alive and breathing.
Distilled Spirits is a fun paranormal read that I’d highly recommend for a lazy afternoon. 4 stars. I recently heard from Loni and she said that she’s considering a series. I can’t wait to find out more because I totally love the setting of Kings Mill!
I received a review copy from the author in exchange of an honest review and I’d like to thank her for it.