Owen is the organizer of the Montgomery clan, running the family’s construction business with an iron fist—and an even less flexible spreadsheet. And though his brothers bust on his compulsive list-making, the Inn BoonsBoro is about to open right on schedule. The only thing Owen didn’t plan for was Avery McTavish...
Avery’s popular pizza place is right across the street from the inn, giving her a first-hand look at its amazing renovation—and a newfound appreciation for Owen. Since he was her first boyfriend when they were kids, Owen has never been far from Avery’s thoughts. But the attraction she’s feeling for him now is far from innocent.
As Avery and Owen cautiously take their relationship to another level, the opening of the inn gives the whole town of Boonsboro a reason to celebrate. But Owen’s hard work has only begun. Getting Avery to let down her guard is going to take longer than he expected—and so will getting her to realize that her first boyfriend is going to be her last…
A fat winter moon poured light over the old stone and brick of the inn on The Square. In its beams, the new porches and pickets glowed, and the bright-penny copper of the roof glinted. The old and new merged there—the past and the now—in a strong and happy marriage. Its windows stayed dark on this December night, prizing its secrets in shadows. But in a matter of weeks they would shine like others along Boonsboro’s Main Street. As he sat in his truck at the light on The Square, Owen Montgomery looked up Main at the shops and apartments draped in their holiday cheer. Lights winked and danced. To his right, a pretty tree graced the big front window of the second-floor apartment. Their future innkeeper’s temporary residence reflected her style. Precise elegance. Next Christmas, he thought, they’d have Inn BoonsBoro covered with white lights and greenery. And Hope Beaumont would center her pretty little tree in the window of the innkeeper’s apartment on the third floor.
He glanced to his left where Avery MacTavish, owner of Vesta Pizzeria and Family Restaurant, had the restaurant’s front porch decked out in lights.
Her apartment above—formerly his brother Beckett’s—also showed a tree in the window. Otherwise the windows were as dark as the inn’s. She’d be working tonight, he thought, noting the movement in the restaurant. He shifted, but couldn’t see her behind the work counter.
When the light changed, he turned right onto St. Paul Street, then left into the parking lot behind the inn. Then sat in his truck a moment, considering. He could walk over to Vesta, he thought, have a slice and a beer, hang out until closing. Afterward he could do his walk-through of the inn.
He didn’t actually need to walk through, he reminded himself. But he hadn’t been on-site all day as he’d been busy with other meetings, other details on other Montgomery Family Contractors’ business. He didn’t want to wait until morning to see what his brothers and the crew had accomplished that day.
Besides, Vesta looked busy, and had barely thirty minutes till closing. Not that Avery would kick him out at closing—probably. More than likely, she’d sit down and have a beer with him.
Tempting, he thought, but he really should do that quick walkthrough and get home. He needed to be on-site, with his tools, by seven.
He climbed out of the truck and into the frigid air, already pulling out his keys. Tall like his brothers, with a build leaning toward rangy, he hunched in his jacket as he walked around the stone courtyard wall toward the doors of The Lobby.
His keys were color-coded, something his brothers called anal, and he deemed efficient. In seconds he was out of the cold and into the building.
He hit the lights, then just stood there, grinning like a moron.
The decorative tile rug highlighted the span of the floor and added another note of charm to the softly painted walls with their custom, creamy wainscoting. Beckett had been right on target about leaving the side wall exposed brick. And their mother had been dead-on about the chandelier.
Not fancy, not traditional, but somehow organic with its bronzy branches and narrow, flowing globes centered over that tile rug. He glanced right, noted The Lobby restrooms with their fancy tiles and green-veined stone sinks had been painted.
He pulled out his notebook, jotted down the need for a few touch-ups before he walked through the stone arch to the left.
More exposed brick—yeah, Beckett had a knack. The laundry room shelves showed ruthless organization—that would be Hope’s hand; her iron will had booted his brother Ryder out of his on-site office so she could start organizing.
He paused at what would be Hope’s office, saw his brother’s mark there: the sawhorses and a sheet of plywood forming his rough desk, the fat white binder—the job bible—some tools, cans of paint.
Wouldn’t be much longer, Owen calculated, before Hope kicked Ryder out again.
He continued on, stopped to bask at the open kitchen.
They’d installed the lights. The big iron fixture over the island, the smaller versions at each window. Warm wood cabinets, creamy accent pieces, smooth granite paid complement to gleaming stainless steel appliances.
He opened the fridge, started to reach for a beer. He’d be driving shortly, he reminded himself, and took a can of Pepsi instead before he made a note to call about installation of the blinds and window treatments.
They were nearly ready for them.
He moved on to Reception, took another scan, grinned again.
The mantel Ryder had created out of a thick old plank of barn wood suited the old brick and the deep open fireplace. At the moment, tarps, more paint cans, more tools crowded the space. He made a few more notes, wandering back, moving through the first arch, then paused on his way across The Lobby to what would be The Lounge, when he heard footsteps on the second floor.
He walked through the next arch leading down the short hallway toward the stairs. He saw Luther had been hard at work on the iron rails, and ran a hand over it as he started the climb.
“Okay, pretty damn gorgeous. Ry? You up here?”
A door shut smartly, made him jump a little. His quiet blue eyes narrowed as he finished the climb. His brothers weren’t against screwing with him, and damned if he’d give either of them an excuse to snicker.
“Ooooh,” he said in mock fear. “It must be the ghost. I’m so scared!”
He made the turn toward the front of the building, saw that the door to Elizabeth and Darcy was indeed closed, unlike that of Titania and Oberon across from it.
Very funny, he thought sourly.
He crept toward the door, intending to shove it open, jump in, and possibly give whichever one of his brothers was playing games a jolt. He closed his hand on the curved handle, pulled it down smoothly, pushed.
The door didn’t budge.
“Cut it out, asshole.” But he laughed a little in spite of himself. At least until the door flew open, and both porch doors did the same.
He smelled honeysuckle, sweet as summer, on the rush of icy air.
He’d mostly accepted they had a ghost, mostly believed it. After all, there’d been incidents, and Beckett was adamant. Adamant enough he’d named her Elizabeth in honor of the room she preferred.
But this was Owen’s first personal, up-close, and unarguable experience.
He stood, slack-jawed, as the bathroom door slammed, then flew open, then slammed again.
“Okay. Wow, okay. Um, sorry to intrude. I was just—” The door slammed in his face—or would have if he hadn’t jumped back in time to avoid the bust to his nose.
“Hey, come on. You’ve got to know me by now. I’m here almost every day. Owen, Beck’s brother. I, ah, come in peace and all that.”
The bathroom door slammed again, and the sound made him wince. “Easy on the material, okay? What’s the problem? I was just . . . Oh. I get it.”
Clearing his throat, he pulled off his wool cap, raked his hands through his thick, bark brown hair. “Listen, I wasn’t calling you an asshole. I thought it was Ry. You know my other brother. Ryder? He can be an asshole, you have to admit. And I’m standing