I recommend reading this unedited sneak peek of Sweet as Honey after finishing Right as Raine. Enjoy!
Everything was going fine until I saw the bumblebee. It was the third day of my road trip from Houston to Aster Valley and I’d finally arrived. It was as picturesque as any other ski town in Colorado was in late spring, but smaller and with noticeably less tourists since there wasn’t any actual skiing here anymore. Considering I’d never heard of Aster Valley before my friends had moved here earlier this year, I wasn’t surprised.
But I was surprised when I saw the teen-sized bumblebee being chased through a large patch of wildflowers on the side of the highway by a man who looked twice his size. I considered myself a laid-back person even on my worst days, but if there was one thing I couldn’t abide, it was bullying.
I wrenched my bike over to the side so fast I almost crashed into an old, half broken-down billboard advertising a ski resort that must have been just the thing in the 1980s.
“Let go of him,” I shouted. “Leave him the fuck alone.” My friends teased me for my deep growl, saying I sounded annoyed at the least and angry at best, but in times like these it came in handy.
The bigger man stopped and stared at me and the bespectacled guy in the ridiculous bee costume froze like a squirrel caught stealing from the bird feeder. “Mind your own fucking business, asshole,” the bully said.
I glanced at the bee. “You okay?”
His eyes were wide with fear and his antennae were trembling. Despite both of those things, he was trying very hard to smile as if everything was normal. “Um, I’m fine.”
He was clearly not fine. I pulled out my phone and pretended to dial. “How about I call the police just in case?”
The bully shoved the bee until he fell on his fluffy yellow ass. “This isn’t over, Truman.” He shoulder checked me hard on the way past and disappeared around a bend in the road. I noticed a heavy trace of alcohol coming off him.
I reached out for the bee’s hand and realized he was an adult and not the teen I’d first assumed him to be. “Let me help you up,” I grunted, suddenly feeling oddly attracted to the little bee. He had a pretty face with delicate features and cherry red lips almost hidden under a crazy tumble of dark brown curls.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” he said in a soft voice, getting to his feet. “You could have just kept on going. He probably wasn’t going to hurt me very badly. And, really, everyone has their issues, you know?”
Just then, a tricked-up truck with a heavy metal push bar on the front came careening around the corner from the direction the bully had gone. It deliberately headed straight for my bike, pushing it into the stone base of the town sign with a sickening crunch. The asshole shot me the bird, called me a few choice names, and then did a three-point turn before hauling ass away from us.
I looked back at the bee who simply stared after the pickup. “Oh no,” he said faintly. “No, no. He wasn’t supposed to do that. He… that wasn’t fair. You were just trying to help.”
“Who the hell was that guy and what the fuck’s his problem?”
“That’s Patrick Stanner.”
He must have noticed the blank look on my face, because he cleared his throat and continued. “Well, anyway, his family fell upon some hard times and lost everything to the banks. And it was kind of because of me, so whenever he gets in certain kind of mood… he finds me and gives me what for. Usually it’s not so bad.”
I opened my mouth to ask him why the hell he thought any of this was his fault, but he let out a nervous laugh and said, “I can’t believe I just told you that. Please forget I said anything. It’s not… it’s… it’s fine.”
He looked everywhere but at me and I couldn’t tell if he was embarrassed or nervous. I knew my large frame and stern face, not to mention the bike, could give off the wrong impression of me, so I stuck out my hand. “Sam Rigby.”
The bee’s eyes widened even more behind a pair of dark-framed glasses when he slid his hand into mine. “Oh, uh… Truman Sweet.” Suddenly, a pink blush appeared on his cheeks and his dark eyelashes flitted softly as his nerves got the better of him. My throat suddenly felt dry.
His skin was cool and smooth, and his slender fingers disappeared into my beefy grip. I was almost afraid of breaking the poor guy like a twig.
I shifted on my feet and forced myself to let his hand go. “I’d offer you a ride into town, but I’m not sure if my bike is up for it.”
I wanted to beat the shit out of the asshole who wrecked my bike and hassled this little man, but I’d do the right thing and report him to the cops instead.
Truman glanced around as if trying to remember where he was. “We’re only a half mile from town. It’s a little hilly, but walkable. Plus it’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”
I nodded absently while looking him up and down, trying to find some reason a grown man would be alone in a field of wildflowers in a bee costume. I opened my mouth to ask him, but quickly snapped it closed. It was none of my business and I didn’t care. I was only in town for a short visit to see some friends before continuing on to California for a much-needed vacation.
“Guess I’d better get moving then,” I said gruffly before stretching my head side to side and grabbing what I needed from my bike. When I turned back to head toward the little town, I caught Truman staring at me. He blushed deeper pink and looked away. The antennae bounced adorably on the headband he wore.
“There a good bike mechanic in town?” I asked, trying to ignore the way his pink cheeks tightened my gut.
“Oh! Yes, sir. Of course. Mr. Browning at the Chop Shop.” His eyes widened. “I mean, it’s not an actual chop shop, like with criminals. It’s just called Chop Shop. I think it stands for something like Chopper. Is that at thing? Like, a kind of bike?”
I nodded and bit my lip against a smile. “Yes, a chopper is a style of bike with a long fork and…” He looked lost, so I stopped there. “Thank you.”
“Anytime, Mr. Rigby. Happy to help.”
I tilted my head at him. Had I misjudged this guy? “How old are you?”
“I’m thirty. Why are you calling me sir and mister? Do I look that much older?”
He blushed again. “Oh no, S-S-Sam. I just know that some men demand respect and I don’t ever like to make assumptions. Besides, one can never go wrong with good etiquette. At least that’s what they say. Although… I’ve never really understood who ‘they’ are in this scenario.”
“Not all men deserve respect even if they demand it. Why does that man think his problems are your fault?”
Truman frowned looked down at his feet. The yellow tights he wore ended in a pair of black Converse that looked as clean as they could be for the mileage they seemed to have on them. I regretted asking the question as soon as it caused his cheerful smile to disappear.
He flapped his hand in the air. “It’s a long story and would probably bore you to tears. We should get you to Mr. Browning’s place before he closes up for the day. I’ll show you were it is.”
He spun on his heel and started walking down the side of the highway. The fuzzy black stinger on his butt wiggled back and forth as he moved away from me. How could someone that innocent and sweet possibly be responsible for an asshole’s personal problems?
I followed him for a while in silence before I couldn’t stand it anymore. “I don’t mind long stories,” I said.
He turned his sunny smile on me again. “Then you’ll love this one. Did you know that Indian Paintbrush—that red flower there—was called ‘Grandmothers Hair’ by the Chippewa and was used to treat women’s diseases? The Navajos used it as a contraceptive and the Menominee used it as a love charm. Obviously, it was used to make red dye also, but I find it fascinating that the stories of its name vary from place to place. One story tells of a Blackfoot maiden falling for a prisoner, helping him escape, and then becoming homesick. The story goes on to describe her using her own blood to paint a picture of her old camp that she could never return to again. Where she dropped the picture, a flower bloomed, thus becoming the plant we know today. Then another story describes a Native American painter—tribe unknown—frustrated by his lack of the perfect colors to depict a sunset. He asked the Great Spirit for guidance and was given paintbrushes with all of the richest colors. He ran up into the hills to paint his sunset and left the brushes in the grass where they lay when he was done. The brushes blossomed into the plants we now know as Indian paintbrush.”
I noticed as he talked, Truman became more and more comfortable in his skin. He used his hands to gesture wildly as he spoke and the subject matter was clearly one close to his heart. Before today, I’d had no interest in learning about local flora, but hearing Truman weave his stories made me wonder for a hot second if I’d been missing something valuable.
It wasn’t until we came upon the motorcycle shop that I even realized he’d never told me the story about the drunk who’d lost his land.
“Anyway,” Truman said happily, “here you are. Aster Valley’s premier motorcycle shop.”
I stopped and looked up at the arched sign above the garage, but before I had a chance to thank Truman for leading me here, the familiar whoop-whoop of a police vehicle sounded right behind us. I instinctively grabbed Truman and shoved him behind me, wondering if the local drunk driver was nearby and ready to take out his frustration on the adorable fuzzy bumblebee. My friend Mikey had been hit back in December and the driver still hadn’t been caught.
The officer behind the wheel of an SUV marked as a Rockley County Sheriff’s Deputy seemed to be staring right at me from behind a pair of mirrored sunglasses.
“Fuck,” I muttered.
“You shouldn’t use bad language,” Truman’s soft voice said from behind me. “They say it’s a sign of a weak vocabulary.”
I wanted to laugh, but the sheriff’s deputy stepped out of his vehicle and stared me down. He was fairly young with a slim frame, but his jaw was set like he was trying to appear tougher than he was. “You there, in the biker jacket. Hands where I can see them.”
Truman made a little squeaky sound and pressed into my back.
“It’s okay,” I said quietly, raising my arms in the air. In a louder voice, I called out, “I’d like to report a drunk driver as well as harassment and deliberate damage to personal property.”
The deputy’s forehead crinkled in confusion. “We’ve already had a report of those same things. What’s your name, sir?”
“Sam Rigby. I’m a Texas resident, just passing through.”
The deputy tried to glance behind me without coming any closer. “Truman Sweet, is that you back there?”
“Cripes,” he whispered without removing himself from where he was plastered against my back. “How did he recognize me?”
“Come on out here and tell me what happened.”
I saw the antennae bounce into my field of vision before the rest of him. “Um… well, you see, there was a misunderstanding with—”
I cut him off. “No misunderstanding. Local resident Patrick Stanner as identified by Mr. Sweet here was physically harassing Mr. Sweet on the side of the highway. I pulled my bike to the side of the road to intervene when Mr. Stanner shoved Mr. Sweet, got into his vehicle, deliberately smashed my bike into an old billboard, and fled the scene.”
By this time, several shop owners and customers from storefronts nearby had wandered out to see what the excitement was, no doubt alerted by the deputy’s obnoxious and unnecessary siren.
“Now, calm down, sir,” the deputy said, moving his hand to his service weapon. I wanted to roll my eyes, but I didn’t dare make a move showing any disrespect. I was already the outsider, a biker who’d gotten into a scuffle the minute I’d arrived in town. What were the chances they’d take me at my word?
I looked over at Truman, expecting him to verify my version of events. Instead, I saw him practically chewing his bottom lip off with nerves. His face was pale and his antennae had begun to wobble again.
“You okay?” I asked quietly.
“Not so much,” he answered breathlessly. “Forgot to tell you the sheriff is Patrick’s uncle. I’m gonna probably pass out.”
Even though he’d given me a warning, it took my brain a minute to process it. Suddenly, he was tipping forward toward the pavement, I lurched into action, grabbing him around the waist to keep him from breaking his face. But I must have spooked the deputy because suddenly, I was surrounded by two deputies with their weapons drawn, one of whom was shouting into the radio on his shoulder while various shopkeepers and customers screamed bloody murder and ran around like headless chickens.
When I straightened back up with the man-sized bee in my arms, I caught the eyes of an old white-haired gentleman sitting at an outdoor cafe table a few yards away. He was sipping daintily from a porcelain teacup and had a little fluffy white purse dog curled up at his feet. His eyes sparkled as he looked me over.
“Oh look,” he said in a lazy drawl. “It’s a honey trap.” I must have given him my what the fuck look because he chuckled and pointed a finger gun at me like we were friends. “Shit’s about to get real interesting around here.”
What the hell kind of place had Tiller and Mikey moved to?
Truman shifted in my arms. “Don’t tell them I was the one tending the flowers,” he said in a hazy slur. “Don’t want anyone to know it was me. That’s why I’m in disguise.”
Was this one of those Colorado hippie towns where everyone was smoking weed all the fucking time?
I glanced back up at the young sheriff’s deputy who seemed to be gathering his courage to try and take me down.
“Mr. Rigby, sir,” he said in a firm voice. “Put the chickadee down and step away from him. We have you surrounded. You’re under arrest for… for…” He tilted his head toward one of the other deputies who stepped over to whisper in his ear. Then he cleared his throat. “You’re under arrest for the destruction of private property and the taking of a hostage while resisting arrest.”
I was in some kind of fairy tale, and they had it all wrong.
“First of all, I believe it’s a bumblebee, Deputy,” I corrected, stepping forward.
And that’s when they pulled out the taser.
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