all roads lead to you, page 1
PRAISE FOR JENNIFER PROBST
“For a sexy, fun-filled, warmhearted read, look no further than Jennifer Probst!”
—Jill Shalvis, New York Times bestselling author
“Jennifer Probst is an absolute auto-buy author for me.”
—J. Kenner, New York Times bestselling author
“Jennifer Probst knows how to bring the swoons and the sexy.”
—Amy E. Reichert, author of The Coincidence of Coconut Cake
“As always, Jennifer Probst never fails to deliver romance that sizzles and has a way of tugging those emotional heartstrings.”
—Four Chicks Flipping Pages
“Jennifer Probst’s books remind me of delicious chocolate cake. Bursting with flavor, decadently rich . . . very satisfying.”
—Love Affair with an e-Reader
PRAISE FOR A BRAND NEW ENDING
“A Brand New Ending was a mega-adorable and moving second-chance romance! I just adored everything about it! Run to your nearest Amazon for your own Kyle—this one is mine!”
—BJ’s Book Blog
“Don’t miss another winner from Jennifer Probst.”
—Mary from USA TODAY’s Happy Ever After
PRAISE FOR THE START OF SOMETHING GOOD
“The must-have summer romance read of 2018!”
“Achingly romantic, touching, realistic, and just plain beautiful, The Start of Something Good lingers with you long after you turn the last page.”
—Katy Evans, New York Times bestselling author
OTHER BOOKS BY JENNIFER PROBST
Write Naked: A Bestseller’s Secrets to Writing Romance & Navigating the Path to Success
The Stay Series
The Start of Something Good
A Brand New Ending
The Billionaire Builders Series
Everywhere and Every Way
Any Time, Any Place
Somehow, Some Way
All or Nothing at All
The Searching for . . . Series
Searching for Someday
Searching for Perfect
Searching for Beautiful
Searching for Always
Searching for You
Searching for Mine
Searching for Disaster
The Billionaire Marriage Series
The Marriage Bargain
The Marriage Trap
The Marriage Mistake
The Marriage Merger
The Book of Spells
The Marriage Arrangement
The Steele Brothers Series
Sex on the Beach Series
The Hot in the Hamptons Series
All the Way
The Holiday Hoax
The Grinch of Starlight Bend
The Charm of You
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2019 by Triple J Publishing Inc.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc., or its affiliates.
Cover design by Letitia Hasser
Cover photography by Lauren Perry
This book is dedicated to
all the animal lovers, rescuers, and do-gooders
who believe every life, both human and animal, deserves a chance.
And for my own fur-babies,
Lester and Bella, who are now at Rainbow Bridge:
Mommy misses you every day.
Thank you for making my life so much better by rescuing me.
Finally, for my son Jake, who has begged me for years to use the name Elmo in a book. Here you go, love. You inspired me to create a worthy character, and I had a blast writing about him.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.
Something was coming.
Harper Bishop shot up in bed, heart rocketing at full speed, and squinted into the shadows. Soft fur and flaming heat surrounded her, but her body was so used to the raging temperatures, she couldn’t sleep unless she was surrounded in a wolflike pack. Her dogs muttered in annoyance and shifted even closer, not sensing anything wrong as the clock struck three a.m.
Slowly, her body relaxed. Probably just a crazy dream. With her canine menagerie, no bad guy had a chance of sneaking in, and everyone in town knew there was nothing to steal in her two-bedroom cottage unless they wanted a rescue animal.
She lay back on the pillow and stared at the ceiling. Her insides shifted again, as if sensing a storm rolling in. Sometimes she wondered if she was becoming more animal-like because of her company. But this primitive instinct stirring her gut didn’t feel like danger.
No, more like a premonition her safe, orderly, protected life was about to unravel.
Her brother, Ethan, would understand. He’d once confided he’d gotten those feelings back when he was in the military, ready to jump out of a plane on a rescue mission. A prickling of awareness that his old life was about to change for good.
Biting back a sigh, she carefully extricated herself from the queen-size bed, where she barely had enough room to breathe, and padded to the kitchen. Moonlight trickled through the windows, and a soft spring breeze wafted in, caressing her bare skin. Figaro lifted her head from her perch on the top of the recliner and shot her a disgusted stare. Then went back to sleep.
Harper shook her head. Figaro never acted like a rescue cat. The black feline had been half-starved, rain soaked, and shivering in the bushes when Harper saved her. A few days later, the cat had claimed her space like the royal queen she believed she was, forcing the dogs to accept the new hierarchy. Harper’s animals were like a bunch of moody teenagers, hating when their sleep was interrupted even though they got about eighteen hours per day. Harper counted herself lucky if she scored five.
Her mind drifted, touching on the various tasks that made up her day. Running one of the oldest horse-rescue farms in the quaint town of Gardiner was her passion, but extremely demanding. There was another horse auction to attend, where she’d be on the lookout for any abused or broken horses to bring back and rehabilitate. Three horseback-riding appointments for guests at the bed-and-breakfast on the property, which her sister, Ophelia, ran. One vet appointment for Stitch, who might have bruised her foreleg. And two buyer appointments she prayed would go successfully. God knew there were only so many stalls in the barn, and the more animals she was able to place, the more she could take in. It was a vicious cycle, often filled with disappointment and heartbreak, but she lived for the victories. Time had taught her how to wall her heart high enough so a loss didn’t wash away all she’d worked hard for.
One animal saved in this world by her hand was enough. Sure, she wanted to rescue hundreds, but wasting worry and precious time on wannabe intentions only drained her energy. In the past few years, she’d been able to find more balance in her life. Everything was exactly the way she’d dreamed it would be.
She was lucky her siblings had joined her in running the family business after their parents passed. When her brother and sister had found their soul mates, she was even more thrilled the ones they fell in love with had stayed in Gardiner, allowing them all to be together. Watching them pair up was a happy and bittersweet experience. The family table had nearly doubled, and she was the single one. Yes, she was lonely sometimes, but she’d never focused on finding a partner because she knew herself too well. Knew she was set in her ways, stubborn to a fault, and would pick an animal over people every time. In fact, the few short affairs she’d engaged in had ended with a jealousy over her job that had nowhere to go except Splitsville, USA.
She hadn’t been upset to see them go. Even with the benefits of sex, no man seemed to interest her further than a few weeks. It was as if she were built differently from other women. She was thirty-three years old and hadn’t experienced even a twinge of a ticking biological clock. No desire to try on white wedding dresses, or pick out baby names, or dream of a man who could complete her.
She was complete all by herself.
Which was why she didn’t need a strange voice rising up to threaten her perfect life. She didn’t want something new rolling her way. Lord knew she had enough work, enough security, and enough happiness as is. So Harper did the only thing left to do.
She told the annoying voice to go away.
The sun eventually rose, and the coffeepot diminished to dregs. The dogs jumped out of bed to greet her with their usual enthusiasm of licking tongues, wagging tails, and adoring gazes. Harper reset her mind to tackle the day ahead, and soon the strange premonition evaporated and it was business as usual on the farm with no surprises.
Just the way she liked it.
Something was coming.
Behind the cheerful sign welcoming him to the B & B, Aidan O’Connor stared up at the gleaming white and robin’s egg–blue house sprawled across several acres, framed against the stunning backdrop of the Shawangunk Mountains. He was tired, hungry, and didn’t smell so good after such a long trip—a nonwinning trifecta. The small town of Gardiner seemed like the perfect place to hide for a while, but his gut was stirring in a sudden, familiar way that screamed trouble.
He growled back at the voice in hopes of shutting it up. He didn’t care if it was a million-dollar opportunity or an adrenaline-spiked long shot ready to hit. He was done chasing dreams and primitive instincts with a burning hope that only ended up kicking him in the teeth.
His plan to explore the New York Hudson Valley region while visiting the States had seemed like a good idea when he left Ireland for a change of scenery and a desire to reinvent himself. He was at a crossroads in his career and needed to get his shit together. Needed a fresh start. Needed to let go of the past and accept he’d never control the actions of others, only his own. All those awful, canned expressions he used to laugh about had suddenly become true gospel for him.
Unfortunately, the past few months looking for new opportunities had only solidified his failure and bestowed upon him the gift of depression and burnout.
He was done. Done trying to find the perfect horse to train. Done trying to woo snobby owners and sleeping in crappy hotels and dealing with daily disappointment. Done traveling to endless racetracks to pimp himself out. His wallet was almost empty, along with his hopes.
He was here for a damn vacation and nothing more. This place looked just about perfect, reminding him of home, where cozy stone cottages welcomed visitors to Kildare with the promise of a good Irish breakfast; clean, damp air; and blinding-green scenery. The spring flowers were in vivid bloom, and an aura of charm and warmth seemed to surround the inn he’d chosen from TripAdvisor. So far, it looked like exactly what he needed. Peace and quiet. No people to bother him. A horse-rescue farm on the property where he could ride for pleasure, not work. From the number of farm stands he’d spotted along the way, he bet the food would be decent and fresh here, too. He was already burned out on processed airport fare and fast food.
Aidan walked up the stairs, his one battered duffel bag slung over his shoulder, and watched a pretty, willowy woman with strawberry-gold hair step out on the porch.
“Mr. O’Connor? I’m Ophelia Bishop. Welcome to the Robin’s Nest B & B.”
“Nice to meet you, Ophelia.”
“I’m sure you must be exhausted after your long trip. Here, let me take that from you.”
“Thank you, but I can carry my own bag, umm—”
The owner’s sweet smile contradicted her no-nonsense movements as she deftly slid the bag from his shoulder and transferred it into her own grip. “Don’t be silly, I’ve got it. Come in. I have paperwork ready for you. There’s tea and cookies, but if you’d like a light lunch, I have a few menus of wonderful places in town that deliver.”
She swept him inside, and he was struck by the beauty of the interior, from its graceful, winding staircase to its smart antiques and soaring ceilings.
Ophelia walked to the French writing desk and began punching computer keys with a deft expertise, the large diamond ring on her finger flashing madly in the light. “You’ll be with us for two full weeks. I placed you in the Imperial Room, which will give you plenty of the privacy you requested.” She confirmed his payment and had him sign a few forms. “How was your trip?”
“I’m a bit knackered from the drive, but nothing a pint or a cup of tea can’t cure. Your inn is beautiful.”
She smiled. “Thank you. I’ll make sure you have both beverages handy. I’ve also stocked your refrigerator with water and light snacks. We serve a full breakfast until ten a.m., and I can make any of your reservations for activities or dining. I already booked you a few horseback rides and noted you were experienced for the trail.”
“No dietary restrictions?”
He appreciated her thorough knowledge and willingness to help. “Nope. Though I seem to crave pastries in the morning. Is there a bakery in town?”
Her blue eyes sparkled. “Do you like scones?”
He groaned. “I’d eat them every day, if possible. You wouldn’t tease a stranger, would you?”
She laughed and shook her head. “Never. Besides, once you stay at my inn, you’re no longer a stranger. What part of Ireland are you from?”
Her face lit up. “My mother was born there! She was the one who built this inn. I’ve always wanted to visit.”
“Oh, she passed away a few years ago.”
Ophelia smiled gratefully. “Thank you. I feel like she’s with us every day, though. She taught me how to make her famous scones, and I make fresh cream in the morning to go with them.”
“Oh, I’m going to like you, Ophelia Bishop.”
“Not too much, I hope.”
Aidan turned his head. The man at the bottom of the stairs regarded him with a mixture of amusement and warning, a look that claimed his woman with no apologies. Aidan grinned. Ophelia was an interesting woman, but there were no sparks. Hell, even if there’d been any, he never encroached on committed relationships.
“I’m strictly interested in the scones,” he said.
Ophelia rolled her eyes. “Really, Kyle? The poor man just checked in and you’re already beating your chest like some ape?”
“Baby, I prefer the visual of a sleek predator just reminding another alpha what the deal is.”
Aidan choked on a laugh while Ophelia crossed her arms in front of her chest and glared at Kyle. “We’re not in the Bronx Zoo.” She turned back, her smile gracious and her face smoothed out. “I apologize, Mr. O’Connor. My husband is new at greeting guests properly. He may need further training.”
Kyle leaned against the railing and winked. “I think you’re right. The one-on-one lessons work best.”
Hmm . . . a married couple who still seemed crazy about each other. A good fight was as much fun as a good tumble in bed, at least in Aidan’s opinion. The air crackled between them, but he knew Irish women well, and he’d bet this one didn’t surrender easily.
She tossed her head, her red hair glinting like a matador’s cloak. “I’m glad you think so, because I signed you up for a class at the Culinary Institute in hospitality service. You’ll be quite busy for the next few weeks. I heard they give tons of heavy instructions and homework.”
Kyle’s shocked face was enough entertainment to make Aidan’s day. The lass ignored her husband’s bubbling protests and pressed a key into their guest’s palm with a bright smile. “Up the stairs, fourth door on the left. I’m here twenty-four seven if you have any questions. I hope you have a wonderful stay.”