Here’s the first three chapters of my new novella, THE BEEKEEPER’S BRIDE:
If the sheep didn’t stop crying, Joey was going to lose her mind.
“Soon sweeties. Sshhh,” she said. “As soon as I find a good place to stop…”
The twisty, unpredictable road didn’t help, and while traveling country roads didn’t usually bother Joey, she was dead tired this afternoon. After driving two hundred miles or so to pick up a couple of very special little lambs, she longed for at least two days of sleep.
She owed Shay, big time, for the lead on these two babies. One morning over coffee, Joey had told Shay the “Three Sisters Roma” business plan included raising sheep. The lambs’ mother had died and the farmer didn’t have the resources to take care of them. He planned to put them down if he couldn’t find someone to adopt them. When the resident saint of the local animal population caught wind of his situation, she dialed Joey immediately.
Up ahead, she thought she saw a place to pull over. She blinked, slowed down, and rolled into a small clearing off the road.
“Okay,” she said to two of the most sweet-faced little creatures she’d ever seen. One was black and one white, and they capered in their large cage like falling dominoes. “I’ll be right back. Sorry, I know you’re hungry, but sometimes you just gotta go.” She exited the vehicle to find a safe place.
When she came back, her charges were bleating and bumping into the sides of the pen. She mixed up the formula for both bottles and let the lambs out of their cage so they could enjoy their food. Good thing they had taken out the back seat in the minivan, now serving as a farm animal transport. Until now, the Three Sisters Roma vehicle delivered blankets, wraps, scarves, and the like; woven goods more their forte than the creatures providing the wool.
One bottle for each lamb. The feeding frenzy began. The two of them made little gulping, sighing, and sucking noises as they ate.
Joey yawned, holding the bottles up for the babies. She shivered; she would need to start the engine soon to stay warm. Spring weather in St. Helena proved unpredictable.
The critters smelled like the barnyard. They curled up next to her and warmed her. One ended up on her lap; she nearly melted into its heat and its coarse, nubby fur, imagining the wool from these darlings. What she and her sisters could do with such wool. Sweaters. Blankets. Wall hangings. Scarves. Money in the bank. Which is exactly what they needed since their father had died, leaving their mother to clean up his bad investments. Joseph Roma left them way too early and way too broke.
Something caught in her throat as Petunia gazed at her. Blink. Those eyes. The critter stretched her neck, nuzzled Joey’s face, and went back to her bottle. Joey was falling in love.
The other lamb settled into the crook between her arm and chest, and Joey closed her eyes. Just for a moment.
A soft flickering of light and a low humming awakened her. How long had she been asleep? She slipped carefully from between the two sleeping lambs and made her way to the front to the vehicle. Hummmm. Buzzz. What was that noise?
She blinked as the last of the sun disappeared from the window. Something covered it. What the heck? A rippling, moving blanket of…what? She leaned in and examined it closer. Some kind of insect crawled over her windshield.
Holy shit! Bees! Hundreds of them!
Joey caught a scream before it erupted—not wanting to awaken the lambs. Her heart pounded. Her breath caught. Breathe, Joey, breathe.
“Nine-one-one. What’s your emergency?”
“My vehicle is covered in a swarm of bees,” Joey said in a controlled hiss. She swallowed her screams, along with the strong urge to escape from the van. But she couldn’t drive away. The bees blocked her view.
“My van is covered in a swarm of bees and I can’t move it. I’m in a minivan along Patterson Road. I pulled over to feed the lambs and—”
“Yes, long story. But can you please get someone over here to help me out of this? I’m in a van covered in bees and I’ve two sleeping lambs in here right now with me.” Joey spoke in a tight voice that belied her raging fear. But she didn’t want to wake the lambs, which would add to the debacle. She didn’t want to upset the bees with bleating, excited critters, hopping about the van.
“Where did you say you are?” the operator asked.
“Patterson Road.” The phone trembled in her hands.
“How far north are you?”
“I’m not sure. I stopped here, I don’t know, a few hours ago? To feed them. They need feeding every two hours for the next day or so.”
“How close are you to the bridge?”
“Bridge? No. I never made it that far.”
Silence on the other end of the phone.
“Is someone coming to rescue me?” Her heart thudded against her ribcage now. Sweat pricked on her forehead.
“It’s going to be a while,” the dispatcher said, with an apprehensive note.
“What? Why? Come and get these bees. Whatever you have to do so I can get out of here with my lambs.”
“It’s not so simple. Bees are protected. And those aren’t just any bees, I imagine.”
“What? What are you talking about?” She was trying not to panic and some local was giving her grief about protecting the bees?
“Given your location and what the GPS is telling us, you’re on Brody property. Those bees belong to the Brodys, bee farmers. Big honey business.”
“Okay, then tell them to come and collect them,” she said. New to the St. Helena area, she had no idea who the Brodys were.
Was the humming noise louder? Or was her mind playing tricks on her?
“As soon as we find a Brody, we’ll send him,” the dispatch said. “Hang in there. The bees won’t hurt you.”
Easy for him to say.
Wait. Just as soon as they could find a Brody?
“Where are these people?”
“The owners of the bees.”
“Busy time of year for a bee farmer.”
“You need to get me out of this van,” she warned the dispatcher, trying not to let her voice quake. Bees! She was surrounded by bees! She tried to tamp down the creeping panic. But flashbacks of watching a childhood friend puff up from a bee sting kept poking at her. Darcy had been severely allergic and almost died from two bee stings. But you are not allergic, she tried to calm herself.
She wondered if he did. It felt as if she was in some B-rated movie horror-flick. “New Girl in Creepy Rural Area Gets Swarmed by Bees Never to Be Seen Again.”
Okay, maybe that was a little dramatic.
The dispatcher assured her help would come “soon.” Joey hung up, took a moment to force herself to calm down, and dialed home. “Mom, I’m okay,” she said into the phone. “Just stuck off the road with some bees.”
And lambs. Sweet sleeping innocent babies, now curled around one another. Brother and sister.
“What? Josefina Roma! What’ve ye gotten yourself into?” Her mother’s Scottish accent was more pronounced now as was always the case when she was nervous, stressed, or upset.
“Nothing to be worried about, Mom,” Joey said. Now, if she only believed it herself. “I’ve called nine-one-one and they’re sending someone to collect the bees.”
“What about the lambs?”
“They are healthy and sweet, but stink to high heaven. One of them must be related to Uncle Guido.”
Chirpy laughter came from her mother.
“Now, about these bees…”
“No worries Mom, the beekeeper…somebody named Brody is coming to gather the bees any minute now,” she said, hoping it was true.
“Lordy no!” her mother exclaimed. “Did you say Brody?”
“Yes, I think that’s the name.”
“You better hope not,” her mother said. “A Brody and a MacGlashen in the same vicinity could be a disaster.”
Joey laughed. Her mother clung to the old ways. She hadn’t lived in Scotland most of her life, yet she grew up there and it shaped her.
“You may make fun of me and laugh all you want to, Josefina Roma. But Brody men are nothing but trouble, especially to a MacGlashen woman. Mark my word.”
“Okay, Ma,” she said. Sometimes playing along was expedient. Joey was only part MacGlashen. The other part of her definitely Roma, which made her moody, sarcastic, and prone to daydream. But the truth was Joey Roma could stay clear of man trouble better than anybody she knew. She was so good at it she hadn’t had a date since her engagement was broken two years ago.
“I wondered if that jerk Sam Meinhoffer had any Brody in him?” she couldn’t help but ask. Her ex-fiance. What a shit.
An exasperated sigh was the only response.
If the bees didn’t stop swarming, Arran Brody was going to lose his mind.
The good news was, of course, they were not dying. They were thriving. If the problem was colony collapse, or diseased bees, he’d know where to start. But the bees were simply unsettled. He didn’t understand the problem.
He had a phone call in with one of his professors at vet school who specialized in bees. Arran had only taken one class with him, but he was certain the prof would remember him. He was a close friend of his advisor, and Arran was the only person in his class whose family owned a thriving bee farm. Even though vet school had been more than a few years back, he’d been “the bee man” in most of his classes.
Arran had thought since his dad had remarried, things would settle down. His father would be able to focus on the business again. But that was before his new stepmother Sandy moved in and started changing everything, from the living room furniture, to the food in the fridge. What he wouldn’t give for a steak. But red meat wasn’t allowed in the house.
His phone buzzed.
“Brody,” he said.
“This is Sheriff Jonah Baudouin.” The Sheriff’s tone sounded as though he was trying to sound serious while being amused.
“Not again,” Arran sighed.
“We have a situation,” Jonah said. “Trickier than the others.”
After Jonah explained it to him, Arran scratched his rough chin. “They’re on the windshield, you say?”
“Yes, she can’t see to drive. She’s not started the engine. She doesn’t want to harm the bees, but she’s on the verge of panic,” Jonah said.
Doesn’t want to harm the bees? That was a first.
“Do you know this woman?”
“New in town. She and her sisters rent a cottage on the Stone property. She’s a friend of Shay’s. Hence the lambs,” he said. His wife Shay was known for her animal rescue operations.
Arran inhaled. “The queen must be inside the van.”
Silence on the other end of the phone. Then, “Joey didn’t mention that.”
“She’s probably hiding, or she might be caught somewhere. Could be injured. It’s the only reason the bees would swarm the van.”
“Okay, so what do we do?”
“We free the queen,” Arran said. “Simple. Can you give me the woman’s name and number? I’ll take over from here.”
When he tapped in the number the sheriff gave him, he wasn’t expecting the voice that greeted him. “Hello,” she said. “You must be the beekeeper.”
Her voice entered his ear and traveled down his spine. A woman who went by the name of Joey should have a light, crisp, and boyish voice. But no, hers was low, melodic, and downright sultry. He wondered about the appearance of a woman with such an incredible voice.
“That I am,” he said.
“Come and get your bees, please,” she said, with an air of impatience. A lamb bleated in the background.
“I’m on my way, but listen: you’re going to have to find the queen. She must be inside your van.”
“Inside the van? A bee? No, I don’t think so,” she said. “Just me and Petunia and Uncle Guido.”
“Oh.” Uncle Guido? Seriously? The name made him smile. But he needed to be all business. He cleared his throat. “Ah, okay Joey, listen up. The only reason a swarm would be clinging to your windshield is if their queen’s inside. I’m guessing near the windshield. She may be hiding or injured, but she’s there.”
“Okay, Brody, the million-dollar question is what do I do when I find her?” Another plaintive bleat sounded from the lambs, this time higher-pitched.
The lambs must be hungry. Imagining this woman in a van with two hungry lambs and a queen bee played in his mind as an almost funny image.
“Catch her and free her,” he said. “What else?”
“Catch her? With what? My magic bee-catching wand? Hold on,” she said. He heard her shaking something liquid. Formula?
“How old are those lambs?” he asked.
“Three days old,” she replied. “I thought you were a beekeeper. Not a shepherd. Send me the beekeeper please.”
“Never mind. Do you see the bee?” He ignored her jab. All business.
“No,” she said above the sucking noises.
“I need you to look very hard. Look in the crack between the window and the dashboard. Look in the vents, look in the glove box, look in the—”
“Okay, I get it Brody,” she said. “But the thing is I’m feeding Uncle Guido right now.”
“Where’s Petunia?” he asked.
“Okay, when you’re done with the feeding, please look for the queen.”
He was met with nothing but sucking and mewling noises.
“Sorry Brody. It’s just that Uncle Guido’s so…sweet,” she said. “I love watching him eat. But yes, I’ll peek around for your queen.”
“I’m almost with you,” he said, making the turn onto Patterson Road. “I have my smoker. But I don’t think it will be unnecessary. We need to—”
“Free the queen,” Joey interrupted. “I’ve no idea how I’m going to do that, but whatever.”
“A cup? Do you have a cup around?”
“When you spot her, and you will, scoop her into it,” he said.
“What? With my hand? What if she stings me?”
“Worse things could happen,” he said. “Like losing your sweet little lambs because they’ve been stuck in a van with no air or food.”
“Plenty of both in here now, Brody,” she said. That voice. And there was something about the way she said his name. It was familiar, almost, but slightly disdainful. What had he ever done to her? He quickly scanned his memory—was he acquainted with a Joey Roma? Was she one of his many one-night stands? Not that he was proud of them. Not anymore. Oh, his sister, Megan, always said his philandering ways would catch up to him. But he could not recall a Joey. Which was a very good thing.
“But, Brody, what if I hurt her?” she asked after a quiet moment, with a tenderness in her voice that made him ache.
“I’ll have to replace her,” he said. He was touched that she considered the well-being of such a tiny creature, if not his feelings about it.
“Just like that?”
“Exactly like that,” he said.
He didn’t want it to happen. But if the queen was gone, he needed to know, and find another one immediately.
“Is she so easily replaced?” Gone was the tenderness.
Was she goading him? He’d steer clear.
“She’s a bee,” he said flatly as he spotted her van. It was right where she said it was. Thank God for the close proximity. “We can replace her. I’m here, but this might take some time.”
“How much time?”
“Don’t worry. If I have to smoke the bees out so that I can get you and your lambs out of there, I will. But most swarmers have full honey sacs and usually don’t sting. First things first.” He hung up and slipped on his beekeeping gear. He respected bees, but their agitation was clear. No point in taking any chances. He grabbed his bee box, shut the door on his truck, and approached the van with caution.
He gasped out loud. It was the largest swarm he’d seen. Maybe double the last one.
Arran spotted the sheriff’s car as it came over the ridge, and recognized Jonah behind the wheel. Jonah kept clear of the van, a fabulous plan, considering thousands of bees attached.
“Just here to watch?” Arran called out above the buzzing.
Jonah nodded and mouthed “For now.” His car window remained closed.
“Joey, I’m here,” Arran said into his phone. “And we’ve got a hell of a situation.”
Incredulity soaked through the phone. “Ya think?”
She didn’t know the man but she wanted to throttle him. And she might before the day was done.
Uncle Guido had fallen asleep on her lap. She allowed herself a moment to appreciate the warmth and the cuteness. She lifted him and twisted to place him back in the cage, next to Petunia who hadn’t stirred in quite some time. A sound sleeper? Perhaps she didn’t travel well. Joey completely understood.
“Now for the queen,” she muttered, tamping down a spark of renewed fear at the idea of a stinging insect somewhere in her van.
“Did you find her?” Brody asked.
“No, and my phone battery is getting low. I’ll call you back if I spot her.”
She clicked off. Brody. Maybe her mother was right.
Her eyes scanned the dashboard. Nothing! No fly, no spider, no queen bee!
She opened the glove box, took out all of the stuff inside and peered inside. Note to self—might be a grand idea to clean this thing out some time. Old candy bars, combs, wrappers. Everything but the queen. She shoved the stuff back inside, closed the door.
Then she saw a tiny sparkle, like a reflection down in the far crevice between the windshield and the dash. A wing. A teeny tiny little wing and it was moving. Was it the queen? Well it certainly was a little yellow and black creature.
She was alive.
Joey’s heart palpitated. From what she could see, the creature was moving, but might be stuck. She searched for pen or a screwdriver to help her out of there. Finally, she found a tiny screwdriver in the glove compartment, reached for the cup, and gently tried to urge the bee into the cup.
Was Joey really coaxing a bee into a cup? She kept her act together. She fought the impulse to unravel right there.
A ton of swarming bees clung to her window. Only a windshield between her and thousands of bees! Don’t think about them, she told herself, think about the lambs you need to get home to their nice warm shed. She sucked in air.
Finally, carefully, she captured the queen, who seemed a bit slow and confused. Joey covered the cup with an old map.
Now to call Brody.
“Yes?” he asked, sounding impatient.
“I’ve caught your queen, now what?”
He poked his bee-masked face against her side window. She held up her conquest.
He cracked open the door slowly and offered his hand. She handed the cup to him and he closed the door.
“Whew!” she said to Uncle Guido and Petunia. “We did it. The queen is gone! Long live the queen.”
Uncle Guido’s ears twitched. Petunia slept away. Odd that she hadn’t moved. At all.
A shot of terror tore through her. Was the little lamb still alive?
She poked her. No movement. Poked her again. Nothing. She gasped. Was Petunia dead? How could she let this happen? What had happened?
A flood of tears rushed up and it felt as though her heart was unraveling. Everything that she’d gone through for the baby! How could she lose her so easily?
“Joey!” Brody said, swinging the door open. “’Your bees are flying off. It’s fine! What’s wrong? Why are you crying?”
“It’s Petunia. I think she’s dead,” Joey choked out.
He ripped off his mask. The sheriff came up beside him.
The door had startled Uncle Guido and he jumped up and pushed himself against the cage door, which wasn’t latched, and as Arran reached for Petunia, Uncle Guido leaped over Arran and out the door.
“I’ve got him.” Jonah yelled, taking off after the little guy.
Joey swatted Arran’s hands away from the motionless lamb. “What do you know about lambs? You’re a beekeeper!”
“I know a lot about them. Let me see her,” he said, pushing his way to her.
Joey sat and cried, terrified she’d lose her adorable Petunia. Her family was counting on her to play her part. She wasn’t as gifted an artist as Moira or Fiona. She dyed the wool, she spun, she took care of other things. Like the animals. This had seemed like such an easy task: go pick up some orphaned lambs. How could she have messed this up?
But here she sat, watching as Arran Brody slapped and shook her little Petunia.
Suddenly the lamb bleated.
Joey gasped through her tears. “She’s okay! Thank you!”
Snotty, stinky, and a ball of pent-up anxiety and emotions, she unhinged and found herself tackling Brody with a hug. He seemed startled but eventually his arms wrapped around her.
He was warm and all muscle. His chest was wide, waist narrow, and he smelled musky, male, and earthy. She felt protected, tingly, and suddenly aware that she was making a complete fool of herself. She didn’t know this man.
She pulled away from him. “I’m so sorry!” She searched his face, hoping for a sign of empathy. His face was all deep planes and angles, set off by soft blue eyes, the color of a jay’s wing.
His full lips curled to the side. A cocky little grin. “It’s quite all right,” he said. His eyes lit, scanning her. He reached for a strand of her wild curly hair that had fallen in front of her left eye, and tucked it behind her ear. For a moment his eyes met hers and he smiled—tingles, fireworks, ka-pow.
Joey’s chin lifted; he leaned in; a magnetic force pulled her closer.
“I hate to interrupt this moment,” a voice came from outside the van.
They turned to face the manly Sheriff Jonah Baudouin, looking rather discomfited at holding sweet, smelly little Uncle Guido.
For more of THE BEEKEEPER’S BRIDE, click on the cover and you’ll be magically transported to Amazon!