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If Not for a Bee: A Clean Romance

If Not for a Bee: A Clean Romance

by Carol Ross

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You can't always play it safe 

With four sons dependent on her, Janie Everett needs to keep her life uncomplicated. Now famous scientist Aidan Hollings is disrupting her orderly world, starting with the rescue of a…bumblebee. 

Aidan is only passing through her Alaska wilderness town, and wasn't planning to bond with her two older boys. Or become so attracted to the widowed journalist. His globe-trotting days may be be over if he's able to show Janie that they can share the adventure of a lifetime—together.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781460389393
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 10/01/2015
Series: Seasons of Alaska , #3
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
File size: 526 KB

About the Author

Carol Ross lives with her husband and two dogs (a perfect border collie and a perfectly loveable miscreant of a dachshund) in a small town in Washington near both the ocean and the mountains. She loves the Northwest because, when the temperamental weather cooperates, she enjoys hiking, running, skiing, and spending time outdoors. And when it doesn’t…she dons a raincoat, or gets lost in a book. She enjoys reading in many genres but writes about what she loves the most-romance.

Read an Excerpt

"Hold still. I'll kill it."


"Don't move."

"Mom, Mom, Mo-o-om…" Gareth stared with wide-eyed terror at the box he held clutched in his hands. Janie could tell he was on the verge of losing it and she knew the precious cargo inside was the only thing keeping him from succumbing to the panic.

"Honey, please relax. I will get it." Janie reached into her bag for some kind of weapon. "Do you want me to take the box?"

"No, Mom, I've got the box. Just get it…hurry."

"Gareth, please don't drop the box."

"I'm trying not to," he squeaked. "I know, honey. And I'll get it." She began rolling the newspaper she'd retrieved from her bag.

The door to the bakery jingled as Lilah stepped out. "Janie, is everything okay?"

The monster crawled closer toward Gareth's hand. He let out a whimper and Janie felt her own pulse of fear.

"We're fine, Lilah. Or we will be soon—a bee landed on the cake box but I'm going to take care of it."

"Take care of it?" a deep voice said from somewhere over her left shoulder. "What do you mean?"

"I mean," she said, "that Mr. Bee is about to go to the great honeypot in the sky."

"But that's a bumblebee."

"Yes, and this is a newspaper." Janie raised the makeshift swatter a little higher. Her hand came down in a lightning-fast swipe, but something nudged her elbow at the last instant.

She missed.

The bee flew up toward Gareth's face. He let out a scream. The box went flying. Lilah grabbed for the container—almost had it—but the waxy cardboard slipped from her hands. Janie winced as the box crashed to the ground.

"Oh, no!" Lilah exclaimed.

"Mom," Gareth cried. "I'm so sorry." Janie looked down at her thirteen-year-old son crouched on the ground, his eyes glued to the box now oozing yellow mush from its seams. Tears glittered on his thick black lashes.

"Sweetie, it's okay."

She turned and glared at the perpetrator, who had caused this unmitigated disaster. "What is the matter with you? Why did you do that?"

"Oops," the man said. His crooked grin matched his feeble explanation. Sun-streaked blond hair curled around his ears—he looked like a surfer who'd spent too much time chilling on the beach. And he was wearing shorts? It was spring, yes. But springtime in Alaska didn't exactly call for shorts. The temperature was a not-exactly balmy fifty-one degrees.

"I'll buy you another one."

"That would be perfect," Janie said coldly, letting plenty of sarcasm seep into her tone. "Why don't you go do that right now?"

"Okay, great," he said enthusiastically. He looked at Lilah. "You work here, right?"

"Yes, but I'm afraid that's not possible." Lilah twisted her fingers together nervously, her eyes darting from Janie to the doofus surfer and back again.

"Janie, I'm so sorry," she said.

"It's not your fault, Lilah." Janie looked back down at Gareth, her chest squeezing so tightly she could barely breathe. His eyes were still trained on the mess of cake and pudding and chocolate. She could only imagine what he was thinking. His eyes met hers and it was all she could do not to cry at the stricken expression on his face.

"Mom, I'm so sorry. I ruined it. I ruin everything."


"Hey, I think we might be overreacting here, huh?" Beach Bum pulled his wallet out of one of the numerous pockets decorating his cargo shorts. "Is it your birthday, sport? I'll buy you any kind of cake you want."

Sport? Who calls a thirteen-year-old sport? Janie looked at him again—really looked this time—and noticed a pair of laughter-filled gray-blue eyes set in a tanned face, a perfect match to his boy-band hair. Tourists, she thought with disgust, were a blessing and a curse. She loved her brother, Bering, and sister-in-law, Emily, for enticing them here, but sometimes she wished out-of-towners would stay away. Today, obviously, was one of those days.

She wanted to tell him to go away and let her clean up the mess he'd made, although she had no idea how she was going to do that… Poor Gareth. And Reagan would be disappointed, too.

"I'd really like to replace the cake. But that bee didn't deserve—"

"Thanks, but no, I've got this."

"No, really I can—"

Janie felt her scalp begin to tingle with anger. She needed him gone, but apparently he needed some encouragement in that direction. She lifted a hand and interrupted. "No, thank you. You have done more than enough—really"

But he still didn't move. Just stood there, watching, as if he wasn't sure what to say.

She wasn't normally one to lose her temper, but he'd completely ruined their day—this day. This already difficult, excruciatingly painful day… What were they going to do now? How would they get through it without Boston cream pie?

"Why is it impossible to get another cake?" he asked Lilah.

"Oh, um, because it's a specialorder dessert."

"Can't you special-make another one?"

"No," Lilah said with a sad shake of her head.

"Why not?" He asked with that same light-hearted tone.

"I don't have any more—"

Janie turned toward him. "Look, I don't want to be rude but I feel like you're kind of forcing me to be, so will you please just go away? You can't fix this."

"But I want to and I think—"

"I think you missed your turn a few thousand miles ago—the beach you're looking for is south of here. Take a right at Canada and keep driving until you see a sign that says California. Now go… Skedaddle." She shooed him with a hand and then stooped to put her arm around Gareth.

"Skedaddle?" His eyes widened as he raised his hands in a defensive gesture. But his lips were twitching like they were all taking part in some big funny practical joke. "Maybe we all need to chill out a little, huh? I was only trying to save the bumblebee."

"What?" she snapped. He did not just tell her to chill out.

"The bee," he repeated.

Something dawned on Janie. Bees… Shhh-oot, she thought. Today was Thursday… She squeezed her eyes shut for a few seconds. Could this day possibly get any worse? She stood, nudging Gar-eth to his feet along with her.

She studied the man now and wished with all of her might that this wasn't happening. She didn't know why she still made wishes because she knew very well they didn't come true. But why couldn't she have recognized him sooner?

She sighed and decided to get this over with.

"Aidan, right? Dr. Aidan Hollings?"

"Uh, yeah," he said, his brows scooting upward with surprise. His eyes narrowed as they traveled over her. "Do I know you?"

"Sort of" She attempted a smile. She imagined it looked more like a grimace and really didn't care. "We've met. About two years ago. Your sister is married to my brother. I'm Janie Everett—Bering James's sister?"

Bering's sister? Aidan Hollings stared at the woman and absolutely for the life of him could not reconcile his memory of the hausfrau he'd met two years ago with this attractive yet prickly, helicopter mom standing in front of him. This wasn't Janie. Janie was plain and boring and…quiet. He wanted to laugh out loud, and probably would have if he wasn't so shocked. The hair color seemed right, though—that shade of deep red was rather unforgettable…and maybe the only characteristic about her that he could clearly recall.

"Hey," he said, getting his brain back on track. "Janie, how have you been?"

"Better," she answered tightly.


"I've been better." Her tone was dismissive as she flicked her eyes away.

She addressed the baker. "Lilah, I'm so sorry about the mess."

Lilah smiled sadly. "Don't worry about it, Janie. I'll have Isaac clean it up. That's what we hired him for."

Janie checked the watch on her wrist. "We need to go. Thanks so much, Lilah. The cake was beautiful."

Gareth looked at Lilah. "I'm sorry about the cake, too."

Lilah reached out a hand and squeezed his shoulder. "It's okay, hon. I'm sorry, too, for you."

Janie glanced in Aidan's general direction but didn't even try for eye contact. "Bye, I'm sure we'll see you around, Aidan."

Aidan thought these people were getting awfully worked up over a dessert. He watched Janie and her forlorn son trudge down the street like they were headed to a funeral.


Lilah turned and grasped the door handle.

"Hey, um, Lilah, right?"

She spun back around and scowled at him.


"Why can't you make another dessert?" he asked again.

"Because Reagan is lactose intolerant so I made that one with soy milk. Besides, it's too late. I could never have another one done in time." She looked near tears as she turned away and ducked back inside the bakery.

Aidan shivered lightly as a cool breeze swirled around his legs. He stood on the street wishing he would have packed some pants in his carry-on bag and wondering if he'd somehow landed on another planet instead of the remote little town of Rankins, Alaska.

Janie did her best to salvage the evening. She and Gareth swung by the grocery store and picked up a package of festively decorated, dairy-free cupcakes. At least her two-year-old twins would be happy. Gabe had this adorable habit of carefully picking off sprinkles with his tiny fingers one at a time. She mentioned this to Gareth and joked about the mess they would make with the frosting. Her attempts to cheer her oldest son fell disappointingly flat.

Janie let the silence fill the car as she drove them home. She knew she should say something—offer words of wisdom and comfort. She was a mother—weren't these things supposed to come to her effortlessly? In natural, normaltype moments they seemed to, but she felt completely inept when it came to this… Probably because there wasn't anything natural about your husband and the father of your two boys getting killed in the prime of his life while you were pregnant with two more.

A snap of the fingers and she'd gone from a happily married mother of two with twins on the way to a devastated, grief-stricken widow and single mother of four. And then, as if Cal's death hadn't stolen virtually every bit of her joy, a difficult pregnancy had leeched away what little remained. She'd ended up bedridden with preeclampsia, the twins had been born premature, and she'd immediately sunk into that cruel pit of despair known as postpartum depression. She could barely think about that nightmarish time without being overwhelmed with guilt or growing cold with the fear that those feelings might somehow return.

She pulled into the driveway of their home—the home she and Cal had so lovingly built the year after they were married. They'd been so excited to purchase the property a mere half mile from her mom's. They'd poured countless hours into constructing the modest Arts-and-Crafts-style house, doing most of the work themselves—with help from family and friends—all the while making plans to fill it with the family they wanted to have. Well, they'd managed to get a good start on the family part before Cal had died. Now it was a struggle to keep up with the care and maintenance the three-bedroom home and the five acres of ground required. She wouldn't be able to do it at all if it wasn't for the help of her family.

She turned toward Gareth to say…some-thing—she knew she needed to say something. But he was already climbing out of the car. Her mom met them at the door. Janie didn't know how she'd survive without her mother—how any of them would survive. Grandma Claire had watched the younger boys while she and Gareth went to town to run a few errands, which included picking up the now-trashed dessert for the birthday celebration her oldest son insisted they have for his deceased father. Janie wanted to cry.

"Hey," Claire said. "Where's the birthday cake?"

"It's ruined," Gareth said. "I ruined it. I dropped it, Grandma."

"Gareth, you didn't ruin it." No, the bee patrol ruined it, she wanted to say, as she allowed her anger over the incident to overrule the despair. "It was an accident." She looked at her mom. "There was a bee—"

Claire's face turned white as her eyes darted from Janie to her grandson. "You didn't get stung, did you?" She smiled—or tried to. "Of course you didn't—you wouldn't be here if you'd been stung. You'd be at the hospital."

Reagan walked into the kitchen, where they were now gathered. "Hey, where's the cake?" he asked.

"We didn't get it," Gareth said.

"What? Why?"

Janie answered, "There was an accident."

"What kind of accident? A car accident? Are you guys okay?"

"No, Reagan, honey—an accident where the cake got ruined."

"Oh." His face fell, displaying his disappointment. "How are we going to celebrate now?"

"I think under the circumstances your dad would understand. We picked up some cupcakes. We'll use those. Come on—let's go sit at the table."

Claire offered, "I'll bring in the cupcakes if you want to round up the little guys."

Finn toddled into the kitchen and let out a happy squeal at the sight of his mother. Janie scooped him up and kissed his velvety soft cheek. The thought flitted through her brain that at least the twins had been spared having to grieve for their father. They'd never known him. She immediately felt guilty—her signature emotion these days, it seemed. Of course it was better that Gareth and Reagan had known Cal for at least those precious early years. He'd been an excellent father, but it had just been so incredibly difficult to watch them suffer after his death—to watch them suffer still.

She secured the twins in their high chairs and took a seat. Claire walked into the room with the cupcakes neatly arranged on a platter. Brightly colored candles poked out of the frosting-covered peak of each cupcake. At least they looked pretty, which was something because Janie was certain the prepackaged, dairy-free treats would taste like cardboard slathered with sugar-infused shortening.

Claire handed Gareth some matches. He began lighting the candles.

Gabe pointed and chirped, "Cup-cup."

Finn slapped his high-chair tray and laughed with delight as if his brother had told a hilarious joke. At two years of age, they already shared some kind of secret twin language.

"Mom, how many birthdays did you and Dad celebrate with Boston cream pie?" Reagan asked.

"Twelve," Janie said and heard her voice crack. She tried to cover the sound with a cough. "I made your dad his first one while we were still in high school."

Gareth turned his head and glanced out the window.

Her mom began singing the birthday song and she, Gareth and Reagan joined in. The twins shouted out their own joyous version of gibberish.

Reagan and Gareth blew out the candles as the twins blew raspberries and clapped with happy, reckless abandon. Gareth placed the cupcakes on small dessert plates and Claire added a generous dollop of "rice cream" next to Reagan's and then dished up ice cream for the rest of them. Janie set a plate before each of the twins.

Janie and Gareth shared a smile as Finn immediately picked off a single sprinkle and examined it before delicately placing the candy bit on his tongue.

Janie swallowed her tears. She needed to be strong—she had to be strong for the boys. Three years had passed since Cal had been killed and she felt like she'd recovered as much as she possibly could, but the boys.

At times she thought they were doing well, for the most part—except maybe Gareth. He had these rituals—this birthday party for his father being one. He'd devised a ritual of some sort for virtually every holiday. The counselor had told her repeatedly that sometimes the grieving process could take a while. "You can't rush it," she said. "Don't try too hard," she advised. Gareth needed to somehow reach that elusive step of acceptance on his own. Janie wished there was some way of gauging how close he was because sometimes she had the feeling he might be sliding backward.

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