Happily Ever Alaska

Happily Ever Alaska

by Patience Griffin
Happily Ever Alaska

Happily Ever Alaska

by Patience Griffin

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Overview

Lolly Crocker bakes up warm desserts in her chilly Alaskan town, but can she handle the reigniting of an old flame?

Whenever things get too serious, baker Lolly Crocker knows it’s time to break it off with a guy. Without fail, her gut would tell her that the man she was dating was not Mr. Right. 

The one exception is Shaun Montana, her high school sweetheart. With Shaun, life felt complete; but her mother convinced her she was too young to be tied down, and Lolly broke up with him the night before she left for college.

While Lolly keeps every relationship light, Shaun is never less than fully committed—and still somehow his romances have all ended badly. When he comes back to Sweet Home, his attraction to Lolly is as fiery as ever, but he's determined to keep things casual for once...just when Lolly is finally ready to risk her heart on a second chance with the man she loved so long ago.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593101520
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/26/2023
Series: Sweet Home, Alaska , #3
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: eBook
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 88,256
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Patience Griffin is the award-winning author of the Kilts and Quilts series of contemporary romances. She grew up in a small town along the Mississippi River, enjoying life in a close-knit community. She loves to quilt and has gained national recognition with her September 11 Story Quilt, which has toured the country as the property of the Pentagon, and her extensive collection of commercially available quilting fabrics.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Lolly Crocker stepped outside to get her mail, glad for the warmer days of July and to be free of a jacket. A group of her home ec students would arrive any minute at her humble abode on the cheap side of Sweet Home, Alaska, population 573. Over summer break, Lolly was giving baking lessons based on The Great British Baking Show, a favorite binge for both her and the girls, who were in her class at Sweet Home High. Today's bake was macarons, a treat that Lolly loved. Which was perfect-it was her thirty-fourth birthday. She'd returned to her hometown around this time last year to take a position teaching family and consumer science, but since the end of school, she'd basically been holding her breath. Rumor had it that noncore subjects like hers might be cut from the curriculum in the fall. But as each day passed and the new school year drew nearer, she felt more confident. No teachers had been laid off, according to the grapevine, which was more accurate than the Nightly News. And yet, Lolly couldn't breathe easy until the district sent her a new contract. Hers must've fallen through the cracks. On Monday, she planned to call and find out what the holdup was. The first day of school was in one month and four days. Surely her missing contract was just an oversight.

As she reached for the mailbox handle, a blue Ford pickup pulled in beside her. Newlyweds Jesse and Tori Montana grinned at her as they disembarked.

"Hey, Lolly." Tori gave her a hug with a gift bag in hand.

"How is your staycay-honeymoon going?" But Lolly needn't have asked. They both seemed to be floating on air.

"We've made progress on our new home," Jesse said, "and when Shaun gets back, it'll go much quicker." But as soon as he said it, he seemed to regret bringing up his brother.

Probably because he'd seen Lolly blanch.

Shaun Montana was Lolly's one regret in a long line of breakups. She had quite the record of dating good guys and then cutting them loose. A couple of times-okay, three-she'd even been engaged: Howard from Missouri, whom she'd met her senior year of college; Ted the history teacher, who taught at the same high school in Oregon as she had; and Frank, who owned three dry cleaners, all three men whom she'd met when she lived outside of Alaska. Each time, after she got engaged, when her stomach started hurting, she knew without a doubt that Mr. Right This Time hadn't really been right after all, and she broke it off. Her only consolation was that all three of her ex-fiancés had married soon afterward, started families, and had their happily-ever-afters, in spite of her.

But the story of Shaun had gone differently. They'd never been engaged, but Lolly had been convinced that they'd had a love for the ages.

Lolly looked up into Jesse's face and realized the air surrounding them was fraught with awkwardness. "Sorry? What did you say?"

Looking embarrassed, Tori held out the gift bag. "No worries. I brought you a present."

Lolly accepted the bag, though she wasn't sure what was going on. "Present?" What she really wanted to ask was When is Shaun going to be back in town? Lolly had seen him at their wedding but only from a distance, as if he was trying to stay away from her on purpose. And then suddenly, he'd been gone. No one had said when he was coming back.

Jesse came around from his side of the truck with their labradoodle, Scout, following him. "You did an amazing job on our wedding cake. You really made the log cabin come to life, not to mention the miniature of Scout. We wanted to thank you."

Lolly reached down to pet Scout, a good friend and playmate to her own Bichonpoo, Thor, who right now was in her fenced backyard. "No need to thank me. The cake was my present to you." She smiled at the two of them. "Really I should be thanking you. I love baking but I seldom get the opportunity to use my decorating skills, especially on a cake of that magnitude . . . and McKenna's cake, of course, too." Tori and her sister had had a huge double wedding, with people coming from all over. McKenna and Luke's cake was shaped like the Alaska map, with the town of Sweet Home in 3D on top.

"Go ahead and open your present." Tori seemed excited, so Lolly reached in and pulled out the gift: an adorable reversible apron-one side masculine, in a print of rustic wood and animals, and the other side a pieced, colorful Christmas tree design with forget-me-nots and fireweed making the other colors pop. "Thanks, I love it! You know how crazy I am about flowers."

"It was Jesse's idea to make it reversible."

"Guys like to cook, too, you know," he put in.

"Well, I'm honored that you would gift me with an original Alaska Chic design," Lolly gushed. Tori's new clothing company was all people were talking about in town these days. "Are you going to make a whole line of kitchen products, like potholders, dish towels, and coasters?"

"I never even thought about it," Tori said, "but I'm sure if McKenna got wind of your idea, she'd say, 'Absolutely!'"

Lolly held the apron to her chest as if to model it. "I'll treasure this forever." What a nice, unexpected birthday gift.

"Oh, before I forget," Tori added, "Piney said to tell you that we're all supposed to meet at the lodge at seven for an impromptu meeting of the Sisterhood of the Quilt."

Lolly shot her a suspicious look. Their quilting group had a standing date to sew together the first Saturday of every month. Yes, they gathered at other times, usually to make a comfort quilt, and sometimes for celebrations, but . . . "What's the reason for tonight's meeting?"

Tori winked at her. "No reason. No reason at all. But Piney did want you to whip up one of your special cakes and bring it with you. You know, the one with the three layers-yellow, pistachio, and chocolate?"

Lolly shook her head. So Piney wanted Lolly to make her own birthday cake for the surprise party they might or might not be throwing for her. "Sure. I have all the ingredients." She'd been planning to make a small version for herself anyway. "Is there anything else that Piney needs me to bring?"

"Do you have extra birthday candles? Piney said she didn't have enough at the store."

Lolly laughed. "I'll see what I can dig up."

Jesse laughed, too. "Don't you just love living in Sweet Home?"

"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else," Lolly answered honestly.

Tori gave her another hug. "See you tonight."

"See you tonight." Lolly waved as they pulled away. She'd nearly forgotten why she was standing by the road, but now she opened the mailbox and pulled everything out. The first envelope held a birthday card from her best friend, Paige, who was in Denver teaching a series of workshops for various quilt guilds. The second bore the return address of the school district. Finally, she thought. But it seemed too thin to be her contract.

She slipped her finger under the flap, tore open the top, and pulled out the letter and read:

We regret to inform you that we will not be renewing your contract for the upcoming school year.

Lolly looked around as though someone might be watching and know her shame. The school she loved so much didn't love her back enough to have her for a second year. She read the note again, this time to the end. Budget cuts, nothing to do with her, blah blah blah. But still . . .

What was she going to do? The Sisterhood of the Quilt would tell her to take her problems to God; He could fix anything. But the truth was that Lolly had coasted by on her own, not bothering Him with any requests for a long, long time. It felt rude to come rushing back to the Big Guy Upstairs for help now. Maybe she should've done a better job of checking in with Him while things had been going well.

She wanted to call Paige and grumble about her bad luck, but Lolly's students were going to be here any minute.

She frowned at the cottage she shared with her sister. Jilly, a traveling nurse, was gone most of the time and had been thrilled when Lolly moved home to do all the cooking and split the rent. But how could Lolly do her part when she wouldn't have a paycheck come August first?

"So much for being excited about being back home," Lolly muttered to herself. It was very late-in fact, too late-to find a job for this school year, but she'd have to try anyway.

Then reality set in.

She'd have to move.

She'd have to come up with first and last month's rent and a pet deposit for Thor.

She'd have to leave Sweet Home, when she'd only just gotten back a year ago.

As she started to head inside, sixteen-year-old Ella Stone pulled up right on time in her dark blue Subaru Outback filled with her friends-Lacy, Uki, Ruthie, and Annette. They scrambled out of the vehicle with loads of enthusiasm, but then Ella stopped short.

"Is everything all right, Ms. Crocker?"

Lolly dug deep and produced a smile. "Yes, all good. Thor has been waiting for you. He's in the back. Do you mind letting him in and taking off his protective jacket? I'll be just a minute."

"No problem." The girls laughed and hurried inside, leaving Lolly a moment to pull herself together. She wished she had time to think things through, but the girls and macarons were waiting. Lolly tamped down the sadness and disappointment and went to her front door, feeling like she'd mastered her emotions. Then she reached for the doorknob, and-

Oh, crud. I have to face the Sisterhood of the Quilt tonight. Maybe between now and then, she could pull herself together. Actually, she'd need to brace herself for the advice they surely would bombard her with.

In the kitchen, Uki, Annette, and Ruthie were busy digging through the cabinets and setting out bowls and measuring cups while Ella and Lacy sat in the window seat. Ella had Thor in her lap and Lacy held the recipe card, but she wasn't reading off the ingredients. Instead, Lacy wrapped an arm around her best friend's shoulders while Ella complained.

"I can't believe Mom wants to have a baby!" she whined. "At her age!"

Her comment struck a chord with Lolly, who was a year younger than Ella's mother, Hope. Lolly always assumed she'd have a husband and kids by now. If only she'd been able to follow through with at least one of the engagements, then maybe she'd have a couple of kiddos to call her own.

Lacy squeezed Ella. "C'mon. She's not pregnant, is she?"

"No. I just heard her talking to Dad about having a baby."

"If they do," Lacy said, "they won't forget you."

Ella hung her head, which told Lolly that Lacy had pinpointed the problem. Lolly knew this feeling all too well. She'd felt the same way when her little sister, Jilly, was born, when Lolly was ten. Ella was going on seventeen, a rough age. Happily for Lolly, she and Jilly were always good friends despite having opposite personalities. And though Lolly occasionally nagged her wild-child sister, they were super close now that they were adults.

But Lolly would hold off giving advice. She knew it was important, as the adult in charge, to be invisible and let the girls talk this over among themselves.

"Having a little sister or brother is cool," Uki piped in. "They look up to you and think you know everything. I bet you'll like it."

"Except when it's time to change poopy diapers." Ruthie screwed up her face as if she'd had experience with little ones.

"The crying all night can be annoying, too." Annette had a nephew who was two or so. She glanced over as if just noticing Lolly was in the kitchen. "What should we do first?"

"It looks like you've made a good start. The ingredients are in the pantry, as you know. I thought we might cowork in the space today. While you work on the macarons, I need to make a cake for the Sisterhood of the Quilt."

Uki smiled broadly. "Yeah, we heard about the cake you need to bake today. Happy birthday, Ms. Crocker." The other girls joined in with their best wishes, too.

Their sweetness really lifted Lolly's spirits. As did the sweets they were making. Somehow, sifting flour, mixing batter, and pulling baked goods from the oven was the best therapy, always making life more enjoyable. And in this case, perhaps, bearable. Once again Lolly wondered what her life might've looked like right now if she'd gone against her mother's wishes and opened a bakery after graduation, one of several dreams she'd let go of long ago.

"What would you like for your birthday?" Ella asked.

To have my job back. But of course Lolly kept that sentiment to herself. "How about some help chopping up the pistachios that are in the freezer? And to be honest, eating the yummy macarons you're baking will make my birthday brighter."

"We're on it." Ruthie went to the freezer.

They spent the next couple of hours chopping, stirring, and beating. Baking seemed to make even Ella forget her troubles and helped Lolly ignore her uncertain future and lack of employment . . . well, mostly.

As the last batch of macarons came out of the oven, her cell phone rang. "Hey, Piney. What's up?"

"Do you have any of those chocolate chip oatmeal wonders in your freezer that you could share with the store?" Piney asked. "I forgot to turn on the oven again and my cookies won't be ready for the lunch crowd."

"I have several dozen." Lolly was beginning to wonder if Piney was being forgetful on purpose. This was the fourth time this month she'd asked at the last minute for baked goods for her Hungry Bear diner and grocery store.

"Can you run them up to me? I'm all alone at the store and can't get away."

Lolly glanced at the teenagers. "Sure. I'll be right there."

"You're a lifesaver," Piney said.

Lolly hung up and turned to her students. "Piney needs me to bring cookies to the Hungry Bear. Do you mind if I'm gone for a few minutes?"

"We've got it under control, Ms. C," Ruthie said, always so full of confidence.

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