THE SWEETEST THING
Author: Sasha Summers
Publication Date: June 28, 2022
Publisher: HQN Books
The birds and the bees and longtime rivalries…
For Tansy Hill, nothing is sweeter than honey from her farm—except maybe revenge on the man whose father stole her family’s secret honey recipe years ago. Dane “The Viking” Knudson has been Tansy’s rival since childhood, and though he’s grown into a frustratingly handsome charmer, he’s also standing between her and the best honey award at the Honey Bee Festival, which Honey Hill Farms desperately needs to stay afloat.
Fanning the sparks that have forever flown between them, the competition is on. Sure, Tansy and Dane have plenty in common—more than they’ll admit—but Dane’s plans to expand Viking Honey are also on the line. When buried family secrets come to light, they’ll have to decide whether taking a chance on each other is worth risking the happiness they’ve been longing for.
“He cannot be serious.” Tansy stared at the front page of the local Hill Country Gazette in horror. At the far too flattering picture of Dane Knudson. His long, pale blond hair pulled back in a sloppy man-bun—which should look ridiculous but, on him, never did. The skintight Texas Viking Honey T-shirt vacuum-sealed over what appeared to be a very Viking-like chest. And that smile. That smug, “that’s right I’m superhot and I know it” smile that set her teeth on edge. “What was he thinking?”
“He who?” Tansy’s sister Astrid, sat across the kitchen table, her lap occupied by Beeswax, their massive orange cat. “Who has poor Tansy-Wansy all worked up, hmm, Beeswax?” She smiled down at the cat, who was staring up at Astrid with pure adoration. “Maybe you should go cuddle with her.”
“Dane.” Tansy shook the newspaper. “Who else?”
“Who else, indeed?” Aunt Magnolia said. She stood, straight and tall and willowy, stacking fresh-from-the-oven lavender-honey lemon poppy seed muffins on a plate.
“What did he do now?” Aunt Camellia asked, looking and sounding the appropriate mix of outraged and sympathetic Tansy was hoping for. She wiped her hands on her apron before tightening the lid on the Mason jar full of her lavender-scented beeswax lotion.
“What did he do now?” Lord Byron, Aunt Camellia’s parrot, sat on his perch close to her chair waiting for one of the oyster crackers she always had tucked away in her pocket, just for him.
“This.” Tansy shook the newspaper again. “Texas Viking Honey to Help Honey, Texas, Develop Its As Yet Untapped Agri-Tourism Opportunity.” She paused, waiting for the reaction.
“This is bad?” Astrid asked, leaning around Beeswax to pick up her teacup. “Why is this bad? If they’re scaling back on honey, then—”
“‘While continuing to produce their award-winning clover honey,’” Tansy read, then snorted, “‘Texas Viking Honey, with the support of the Honey City Council, will be expanding operations and combining their Viking ancestry and Texas heritage—”
“That does sound rather impressive, Tansy.” Aunt Magnolia slid the plate of muffins onto the kitchen table and took her seat. “That doesn’t mean it is impressive.”
“Impressive? More like pompous.” Aunt Camellia took a muffin and joined them at the table. “All the Viking this and Viking that. That boy is pure Texan.” She devoured the muffin in a few angry bites.
“The Viking thing is a marketing gimmick,” Tansy agreed.
“A smart one.” Astrid winced at the glare Tansy shot her way. “What about this has you so worked up, Tansy?”
“I haven’t gotten there, yet.” Tansy held up one finger and continued clearly now, over-enunciating each syllable as she read, “‘Combining their Viking ancestry and Texas heritage for a one-of-a-kind event venue and riverfront cabins ready for nature-loving guests by next fall.’”
All at once, the room froze.
Finally. She watched as, one by one, they realized why this was a bad thing.
“But, the bees.” Astrid frowned. Beekeeping wasn’t just their family’s livelihood, it was their way of life. But Astrid had an extra connection to their winged friends. For her, it wasn’t about the honey or the beeswax or the money, it was about protecting them. There was one thing that made Astrid Hill upset—endangering the bees.
Two years of scorching heat and drought had left Honey Hill Farms’ apiaries in a precarious position. Not just the bees—the family farm itself. They all knew this season could make or break the Hill family. None of them wanted to say the words out loud, of course, but there was an inordinate amount of pressure to win the cash prize at this year’s Honey Festival—and the distribution contract with Healthy & Wholesome Markets. If they didn’t, they’d lose their home and their bees… Of course, Dane’s stupid plan might run off the bees long before then.
Astrid looked crestfallen. “It’s almost as if he doesn’t understand or…or care about the bees.”
“He doesn’t care about the bees.” Tansy wanted to hit something. Or someone. “If he did, this wouldn’t be happening.” She scanned the paper again—but not the photo. His smile only added insult to injury. “The noise and traffic and guests, and who knows what ‘event venue’ means? Before that, there will be construction and machinery and workers and…and destruction.” She shook her head. “What is he thinking?”
“I’ll tell you what he’s thinking.” Aunt Camellia took another muffin. “Come to think of it, he’s a Knudson, so chances are he’s not thinking… But, if he’s anything like his father, he’s determined to milk every cent he can out of every avenue available to him. This little…stunt will likely bring them a pretty penny.”
“Now, now, Camellia.” Aunt Magnolia held her hand out for the newspaper.
Tansy handed it over and exchanged a look with her sister. They didn’t know all the ins and outs of what had happened between Aunt Camellia and Harald Knudson—only that their aunt had zero tolerance for all things Knudson.
On that, she and Aunt Camellia were of one mind.
She and her aunt had spent the last eighteen months perfecting their newest honey to make absolutely certain they’d win top prize at this year’s Honey Festival. All the long hours and tweaking of flavors had led to the best honey Tansy had ever tasted—and she’d tasted a lot of honey in her lifetime. That was how Tansy knew, deep in her bones, they’d win. They’d win the blue ribbon and the cash prize and the Healthy & Wholesome Markets deal that would keep Honey Hill Farms alive and well for the long-term. But the cherry on top? Winning top honors would put the Knudsons in their place and avenge her aunt Camellia. Her aunt was bighearted and generous and kind to a fault. That Harald Knudson had done something to hurt her was enough to make the Hills and Knudsons business rivals. Thanks to Tansy’s incident with Dane, the rivalry was intensely personal for her. Up until ten minutes ago, she’d been on a sort of high just thinking about Harald Knudson’s shock as the Hill family took first place—not to mention how ecstatic she’d been imagining wiping the grin off Dane Knudson’s impossibly handsome and perpetually condescending face. Sweet victory.
Tansy stood and carried her coffee cup to the kitchen sink, leaning against the counter to clear her head. Her gaze bounced around the farmhouse kitchen, taking in Granna Hazel’s hand-painted bee and flower details on the pale yellow walls, Aunt Camellia’s leftover lotion materials atop the large island, and the dozen or so full jars sealed and lined up beneath the window over the sink. Aunt Camellia’s pups, all five of them, were a patchwork mass of fur, piled close in a long beam of sunlight that cut across the Spanish-tile kitchen floor. This room was the heart of the old house. This was where they gathered at least twice a day to share a meal, news, and work through any concerns together. Even with stacks of bee journals, magazines, books, baskets of honey, soap- and lotion-making supplies, and all sorts of bits and bobs tacked to the refrigerator and oversize corkboard by the pantry, it was impeccably clean. Aunt Camellia believed in organized chaos—that’s how she described it. Tansy sighed, peering out the window at the bluebonnets and golden agarita waving in the spring breeze, beckoning to the bees that called Honey Hill Farms their home.
A home Dane Knudson is jeopardizing…
“You have to give the boy credit,” Aunt Magnolia said, folding the newspaper and laying it on the table. “He has drive.”
Tansy wasn’t giving the boy a thing. As far back as she could remember, Tansy and Dane had gone toe-to-toe. From middle school spelling bees, fundraisers and Junior Beekeepers competitions, to two publicly humiliating and painful weeks in high school that forever cemented their mutual dislike of one another. She stopped that line of thought cold. Bottom line, they’d been each other’s fiercest competition. But it wasn’t the competition that irked her or the time and work she’d put in to besting him, it was Dane. He had been—he still was, this article proved that—heartless. Heartless and selfish. To him, life was a game, and toying with people’s emotions was all part of it. Over and over again, she’d invested time and energy and hours of hard work and he’d just sort of winged it. As far as Tansy knew, he’d never suffered any consequences for his lackluster efforts. No, the great Dane Knudson could charm his way through pretty much any situation. One thing was certain: Dane and his father were both rotten to the core.
“Drive? Or ego? Maybe he’s finally bitten off more than he can chew?” Tansy shook her head. “What he’s planning has nothing to do with beekeeping.” If anything, there was the potential for disaster. For all of them. And now this…this expansion of his could cost her family their home, the farm, the bees…everything. Tansy’s stomach knotted with dread.
“We should file a protest,” Aunt Camellia said, taking a third muffin.
“It’s his private property, Camellia.” Aunt Magnolia sipped her tea, one fine red eyebrow arching. “He can do as he pleases. Besides, it sounds like the city council is on board.”
Tansy didn’t want to think about just how charming he’d been to manage that. Ugh. She took one of the still-warm lavender-honey lemon poppy seed muffins and pulled it apart. The scent flooded her nostrils and made her stomach growl. Fluffy and golden, with just the faintest hint of their homegrown lavender-infused honey. She took a bite and moaned. “Oh, yum, Auntie Mags. These are heaven.”
“Of course, they are. I made them.” Magnolia smiled. “But mostly because it’s Granna Hazel’s recipe.” She winked.
Tansy spread on some of the honey butter she’d made the week before. Over the years, she learned how to balance rich flavors with a smooth-as-silk texture—making all Honey Hill honey butters spread perfectly. She took a bite, moaned again and smiled. “So, so good.”
“Why not go talk to him?” Astrid asked.
Tansy almost choked on her muffin. “Me?”
“Yes, you.” Astrid shot their aunt a look. “Aunt Camellia can’t.”
“I can’t and I won’t. I’m not setting foot on that man’s property.” Aunt Camellia nodded so vigorously that her reddish-blond curls shook. She crossed her arms over her ample bosom and leaned back against her chair, declaring, “And I won’t be responsible for my behavior if he ever dared show up here.” He meaning Dane’s ne’er-do-well father, Harald Knudson.
“Dared show up here,” Lord Byron repeated, the parrot bobbing up and down on his perch.
Aunt Camellia smiled at the parrot. “What do you have now?” she asked, retrieving the page of newspaper Lord Byron was standing on. The parrot was always taking things and hiding them away, but Aunt Camellia so adored him that he was rarely scolded—much to Aunt Magnolia’s disapproval. “Little thief,” Aunt Camellia all but cooed, then she fed him a cracker.
“I don’t think Harald Knudson would ever think about visiting Honey Hill Farm, Camellia.” Aunt Magnolia shrugged. “Which is good because we need to spend our money carefully, not bailing you out of jail. Your bird, however, could use some time locked up.” She glared at the parrot. Lord Byron glared right back.
Astrid shrugged. “You have to go, Tansy. I’d only make things ten times worse, and you know it.”
“I doubt that,” Tansy argued, though she knew what her sister meant. Astrid would go on a long diatribe about the welfare of the bees, how beekeeping was about equity and respect and balance, before she ever addressed the very real, very legitimate concerns this expansion could cause. A whole list of worries that included things like how vehicle exhaust fumes disrupted a bee’s scent signals, the necessity of an environmental study done prior to any construction—all to ensure no harm or disruption for the land, animals and bees…
Oh, how she loathed Dane Knudson—now more than ever.
He had to know that clearing or changing his property could cataclysmically alter the hives’ pollen source, didn’t he? Or that a queen would relocate her hive if she feared they were in danger? Or that bringing in people, people who didn’t understand bees or honey or anything about beekeeping, could stress a hive and impact their honey production or have them desert their home? A real beekeeper would carefully consider all of this, plus some, before considering such a…a scheme. Since Dane Knudson proclaimed to be a beekeeper, from a long line of beekeepers, he should know of this. He should know better.
“Aunt Magnolia shouldn’t go because she intimidates…well, everyone. That’s not exactly conducive to conversation.” Astrid shrugged, running a hand along Beeswax’s orange-striped back. “Sorry, Aunt Mags.”
Tansy couldn’t help but wonder if Dane Knudson didn’t need to be intimidated a little. Or a lot.
“Don’t be. I love being intimidating. It’s so…so powerful.” Aunt Magnolia smiled. “You can do the same, Tansy. Try it, you’ll like it. Put that brawny boy in his place.”
“Too bad Rosemary isn’t here.” Astrid sighed. “She’d have the perfect talking points for him, spout off just the right numbers and present it so matter-of-factly that he couldn’t argue.”
But their genius little sister, Rosemary, was off following her dreams and participating in a truly innovative bee genomics postgrad study in California. Too far away to call in for backup.
So apparently, Tansy was it. “Unlike Rosemary, the chances of me remaining matter-of-fact are slight.” Especially when I’m face-to-face with that self-inflated, condescending, ridiculously good-looking, unethical jerk.
“Tansy, darling, there is absolutely no reason to let him upset you so. Make your concerns known.” Aunt Magnolia sipped her tea. “Stay calm and cool. Keep the upper hand.”
“She’s right, Tansy. He’s the same bully he was in high school. Getting under your skin for fun,” Astrid reminded her. “But you’re older and wiser and you know how he works so he can’t get to you anymore.” She smiled, sort of. “Just remember what Auntie Mags said. Be intimidating.”
“They’re right, Tansy, darling.” Aunt Camellia patted her hand. “You can do it.”
“You can do it,” Lord Byron squawked.
Tansy didn’t miss the way both her aunts looked at her—Astrid, too. None of them appeared convinced that she could have a productive conversation with their Viking-ish neighbor. And that included herself. But if I don’t talk to Dane, then there’s no chance of stopping his idiotic plan. What choice did she have?
Excerpted from The Sweetest Thing by Sasha Summers. Copyright © 2022 by Sasha Summers. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
Author Website: https://sashasummers.com/
Facebook: Sasha Summers, Author
USA Today Bestselling Author Sasha Summers writes stories that celebrate the ups and downs, loves and losses, ordinary and extraordinary occurrences of life. Sasha pens fiction in multiple genres and hopes each and every book will draw readers in and set them on an emotional and rewarding journey. With a puppy on her lap and her favorite Thor mug full of coffee, Sasha is currently working on her next release.She adores hearing from fans and invites you to visit her online.