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Springtime at Hope Cottage
Includes a bonus short story
By Annie Rains
Formats and Prices
- Mass Market $7.99 $10.49 CAD
- ebook $4.99 $5.99 CAD
- Audiobook Download (Unabridged)
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around March 5, 2019. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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As an editor at a major New York City magazine, Josie Kellum is always on the go…until an injury sidelines her in the small town of Sweetwater Springs. Luckily, her new physical therapist is easy going and easy on the eyes. When their sessions start to heat up, in more ways than one, Josie is intrigued. But she has a city and career she loves waiting for her. So why does the thought of leaving him suddenly feel a lot like leaving home?
Tucker Locklear is just starting to move on after his wife’s death. While he can’t deny his attraction to the gorgeous, vivacious Josie, he won’t risk the pain of losing someone again. The sooner he gets Josie back on her feet and back to her real life, the safer he’ll be. But in Sweetwater Springs, love has a way of mending even the most damaged heart.
Includes the bonus short story “Last Chance Bride” by Hope Ramsay!
This book wouldn’t have been possible without the help of so many. I’d like to thank my family, who put up with me working in the mornings, at night, on car rides, and all the times and places in between. Your patience and understanding, support and encouragement keep me going. Also, thanks to my husband, Sonny, who bounces ideas around with me for these imaginary characters that I love so much (but I love you more, of course).
I want to send out a huge thank-you to my talented editor at Grand Central / Forever, Alex Logan, who makes my work infinitely better. Thank you to the entire Grand Central / Forever team, including sales, marketing, production, and the art department, for all your hard work! And to my tireless agent, Sarah Younger of Nancy Yost Literary Agency, for believing in these books and in me. ❤️
Thanks to my critique partner, Rachel Lacey, and to my other #GirlsWriteNight ladies: April Hunt, Tif Marcelo, and Sidney Halston. I’m so glad we’re in this together.
A very special thanks goes out to Julie Bailey for reading this book and making sure I got Tuck and his Cherokee family just right. I so appreciate your time and feedback, and I appreciate having you as a reader!
And as always, my books wouldn’t be possible without all my wonderful readers who invest their time and hearts in these stories. From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!
Definitely not in Kansas anymore.
Or, in Josie Kellum’s case, New York City. She’d barely stepped off the jet bridge and into the airport before she’d realized she was in for a culture shock. And that was saying a lot, considering her home state was a proud blend of people from around the world. All cultures and people except perhaps the sort that lived deep in the mountains of North Carolina.
Readjusting the carry-on bag on her shoulder, Josie weaved her way toward Baggage Claim. Just looking around, she could guess who the locals were, arriving back home from their travels. They didn’t seem to be in a rush to go anywhere unlike the travelers she’d seen just a couple of hours ago at LaGuardia Airport. Even now, Josie was rushing, though her flight had landed early, and for the first time in ages, she wasn’t chasing a deadline.
She stopped at Baggage Claim and retrieved her brightly colored luggage.
Understandably, her best friend, Kaitlyn Russo, couldn’t meet her here today. Kaitlyn ran a successful bed and breakfast, which demanded someone always be there to play hostess. When Josie had assured Kaitlyn she could grab a cab to Sweetwater Springs, Kaitlyn had only laughed.
“A forty-five-minute drive will cost you those red-soled shoes you love so much.”
“Christian Louboutins,” Josie corrected. “And they’re more than shoes.” They were one of her only indulgences. “So I’ll just rent a car, then.”
“When was the last time you actually drove a car, Jo?”
Kaitlyn raised a good point. Josie took public transportation everywhere she went. She didn’t own a car, and she’d never driven one down the side of a mountain.
“Don’t worry,” Kaitlyn told her. “I’ll find someone to pick you up. Mitch has a friend that drives that way all the time. Maybe he can swing by and drive you in.”
Mitch’s friend. That was the extent of Josie’s knowledge on who she was looking for right now as she scanned the surrounding area. There were a few people standing against the wall near Baggage Claim. An older man with white hair. A middle-aged guy in a uniform of some sort. Maybe Josie should’ve thought to make a sign to hold up that read MITCH’S FRIEND.
As she was pondering what to do next, someone grabbed her left shoulder. Reflexively, Josie whirled around, catching one heel of her Christian Louboutins on the wheel of her rolling luggage. She tried to steady herself with the handle but it retracted with her quick movement.
Am I being mugged? Her gaze darted to her checked laptop bag as she stumbled. Luckily the front flap was still open from where she’d grabbed a breath mint earlier. Grabbing her can of pepper spray, she righted her body and met two darker-than-night eyes cast in a tanned, angular face. The man had shoulder-length, silky black hair, and he was, for lack of a better word—which was saying a lot for a journalist—gorgeous.
She held up the spray, targeting the man’s face. She’d purchased the can after taking a self-defense class recently. It’d been research for an article that her new boss had shot down with sniper efficiency, saying it wasn’t sexy enough. What did Bart know though? Protection in all senses of the word was very sexy.
“Whoa!” Her attacker took several steps backward and held up his hands. “What are you doing?”
“Defending myself. You grabbed me from behind.”
His brows gathered. He could be a model. He didn’t need to attack innocent women if he was struggling financially. This guy was far better looking than some of the models in the popular magazine that she worked for.
“I didn’t grab you from behind. I tapped your shoulder…Are you Kaitlyn’s friend?”
Josie swallowed hard. “Are you…Mitch’s friend?”
He gave a small nod before glancing back down at the pepper spray still primed at his face.
“Don’t you know you’re not supposed to touch strangers without a proper greeting?” she asked, shoving her can into her luggage. “That’ll get you killed in some places.”
“And evidently blinded here,” he muttered, rolling out his shoulders. “No good deed goes unpunished.”
Josie cringed. “I’m sorry. I just…I was expecting you to be holding a sign and standing over there.” She gestured toward the small group of people along the wall.
The man followed her gaze. “Okay. Any other expectations I should know about?” he asked, looking back at her. “Because I happen to like my eyes. I prefer to keep them.”
She kind of liked his eyes too. And his face. His skin was a perfect bronze color, which, coupled with his high cheekbones, made her suspect that he had American Indian heritage. “Um, no. Well, yes. I guess we should make proper introductions since we’ll be spending the next forty-five minutes in your vehicle together.” She held out her hand. “I’m Josie Kellum. Aka Kaitlyn’s friend.”
He took her hand, and a shock wave of warm tingles slid up her fingers and down her spine. “Tuck Locklear. Mitch’s friend.” He looked down at her luggage. “I’d like to help you with your bags, if that’s okay.”
Her cheeks flared hot. “Um, yes. That would be great. Thank you.”
Way to go, Josie. She tended to get a little high-strung after pulling several late-nighters in a row. It was a combination of not enough sleep, too much caffeine, and too little human interaction. She’d needed to finish up edits on a few articles before this trip though. That way she could relax a little bit and let her hair down, so to speak. There was also her overactive imagination, a hazard of being a writer, that had made her leap from an uninvited touch to the assumption that she was being mugged.
Tuck led her to a blue Jeep Wrangler Sahara in the parking lot and loaded her luggage into the back while she climbed into the passenger seat, where a large chocolate Lab lifted her head from the floorboard behind her.
“Oh, hi there. And who are you?” she asked, turning to pet the dog’s head.
Tuck climbed into the driver’s seat. “This is Shadow,” he told her before addressing the dog. “Lie down.”
Shadow looked at Josie once more and then did as Tuck asked.
Josie noticed the dog’s harness read THERAPY DOG in large block letters. She wondered why Tuck needed one, but considering they’d only just met and she’d already tried to single-handedly blind him, it was probably best not to pry. “Thank you again for picking me up,” she said, facing forward and pulling on her seat belt.
“It’s not a problem.”
She waited for him to say more. When he didn’t, she filled the silence with the next obvious question. “So, what do you do?”
“Do?” He glanced over.
“For a living. I’m the executive editor for the lifestyle section of Loving Life magazine.”
Work was always her crutch in social situations. Other people tended to tell tales of their latest vacation. Or they whipped out pictures of their significant other or their pair of angelic-looking kids. Some even had cute, far-too-spoiled dogs that they showed off proudly on their cell phones. Everyone had someone, even Lisa Loner, the woman who’d been dubbed the office’s wallflower. Just last week, Josie had been cornered by Lisa in the hall while going for her third cup of coffee. Lisa had been bubbling with excitement to show off her new engagement ring and tell the dramatic story of how the guy she’d just met had proposed.
Even though Josie was skeptical of the whirlwind relationship, she also found herself feeling a void in some way. She’d chosen her career over chasing dreams of romance and a family of her own. A successful career is what she’d always wanted but somehow, lately, it didn’t seem to be enough.
“I do physical therapy,” Tuck said.
“Oh.” Josie looked over, trying to fit her driver into the mold of all the physical therapists she’d met before. Most of them were clean-cut ex-jocks wearing khakis and polo shirts. Although handsome, Tuck had hair that scraped along the tops of his shoulders and his muscles were lean rather than bulky. He wore a relaxed pair of jeans and a gray T-shirt. “Kaitlyn said you come this way often. Do you work at a hospital nearby?” she asked.
“There you go with those expectations again.” A smile lifted his defined cheeks. “No, I see patients in the wild, meaning at their homes, out in public, and sometimes literally in the woods. It’s more natural than using exercise machines in an air-conditioned building with a TV mounted on the wall.”
“Sounds interesting,” she said, keeping to herself the fact that, if she were a patient, she’d prefer the machines and daytime television.
“Shadow is my partner. She works alongside me most of the time.”
Hearing her name, the Lab lifted her head once more.
Josie was about to pet her but then pulled her hand away. She’d written an article on canine-assisted therapy once. There were rules about socializing with the dogs.
“It’s okay,” Tuck said. “Shadow isn’t working right now.”
“Oh. Good.” Josie moved her hand and petted the top of Shadow’s head. She was soft and leaned into Josie’s touch. “What a good girl you are.” Even though the dog wasn’t working right now, Josie felt herself immediately relax.
Then her cell phone dinged loudly from her purse. She faced forward, pulled the phone out, and checked the caller ID. Her stress level immediately jumped right back up—both because work was a major stressor these days and because she’d taken that moment to glance out her window at the steep drop of the mountainside.
She turned away from the window only to lay eyes on her driver, which spiked her blood pressure for a whole different reason.
* * *
Tuck knew the type. Work obsessed, self-absorbed, and judging by her luggage and fancy leather purse, materialistic.
Not his type.
He listened as Josie talked on the phone, suddenly sounding firm and a tad bossy. His own phone vibrated in the middle console. He shifted his gaze for just a second as he navigated down the mountain. Sweetwater Springs was only another ten miles away, and he couldn’t get his passenger to her destination soon enough.
Tuck recognized the number on his caller ID as the same one that had called earlier in the day. A Beverly Sanders had left a message asking him to call her back. He hadn’t yet. He wondered if the woman was a prospective patient. If so, she should’ve called his office number. He had a secretary that he shared with the local home-health occupational and speech therapists in Sweetwater Springs. Only current patients got his cell number, and only to use during emergencies.
After a moment, his phone dinged with another voicemail. He’d check it later. Right now, his passenger was still talking on her own phone.
“All right, Dana. Yeah. I’ll take care of it…I know I’m on vacation but this can’t wait. Uh-huh. Bye.” Josie clicked a button on her phone and placed it on her lap.
From the corner of his eye, Tuck caught her looking at him. She opened her mouth to speak. Can’t we just ride in silence the rest of the way?
“So, Kaitlyn and Mitch are happy, huh?” she said.
Tuck gave a small nod. “Mitch is happier than I’ve seen him in a long time.” And Mitch deserved it after all his years of running from the ghosts of his past. Tuck, on the other hand, was faced with his late wife’s ghost every day. Even now, after moving to a new home on Blueberry Creek last winter, Renee seemed to be everywhere.
His fingers gripped the steering wheel tightly as he refocused on Josie.
“Kaitlyn seems happy too,” she said. “I miss her back home in New York. We used to have lunch together at least once a week.”
Tuck guessed that Josie had to schedule those lunch dates in her calendar. She probably had to schedule her showers too.
And he shouldn’t be thinking about her in the shower. While they might not have clicked personality-wise, her looks hadn’t gone unnoticed. Although a widower, he was still a red-blooded male who hadn’t had sex in over two years. Josie had long, blond hair that was pulled back in a tight ponytail at her nape. Her skin was smooth and creamy. When she’d captured his attention with a can of pepper spray primed at his face, he’d stared at her long enough to see that her eyes were almost a turquoise blue.
Her phone made a ridiculous, high-pitched meow from her lap.
Shadow stood at attention in the back seat and gave a soft woof.
“Sorry. That’s just a text message alert,” she told Shadow. “I don’t have any cats stowed away with me—I promise.” She read the text and started laughing to herself.
In contrast to the meow, this was a pleasant sound. Tuck caught himself smiling for a moment.
Then Josie’s phone meowed again. And again. It continued to meow while her fingers tapped along the screen rapidly in response until he turned his Jeep onto Mistletoe Lane where the Sweetwater Bed and Breakfast was located.
He pulled into the driveway of the two-story Victorian house that his friend Mitch and his fiancée, Kaitlyn, had inherited last October and parked. “This is it.”
“Wow.” Josie stared out his windshield at the inn for a moment. “I can’t believe Kaitlyn owns this place. It’s amazing.”
“You should see the inside. She’s a talented interior designer.”
Josie turned to him. “She’s the best at everything she does, including being a friend.”
The warmth in her voice and her eyes intrigued him. Maybe there was more to her than fancy clothes and luggage. Not that it mattered.
Tuck looked away to keep from staring. “I’ll, uh, get your bags and help you in.” He hopped out and walked around to the back of the Jeep.
Josie was standing beside him before he knew it with her laptop bag thrown over her shoulder along with that expensive-looking purse. “I got it,” she said. “Thanks again for the ride.”
Without waiting for him to respond, she grabbed the handle of her luggage from his hand and smiled up at him. Fresh faced and beautiful. She didn’t wear a lot of makeup, which was a quality he liked about a woman.
“You sure? I don’t mind,” he said.
“Positive.” She held out her other hand.
“What’s that?” He looked down at the folded cash in her palm.
“For your troubles.”
He lifted his gaze to those turquoise eyes. “I’m not a cabdriver, and it wasn’t any trouble.”
She tilted her head to one side, revealing the delicious curve where her neck met her shoulder. “I know, but you didn’t have to go out of your way for me.”
If he couldn’t tell by looking at her, this would have given away the fact that she wasn’t from around here. People in Sweetwater Springs didn’t mind helping each other out. It was one of the things he appreciated about his hometown. He’d seen the stark contrast of other communities when he’d gone away to college, first for his bachelor’s degree and then for his doctorate of physical therapy. As far as he knew, there was no other town quite like this one, which was why he was never leaving again.
He pushed her money toward her, his hand sweeping over hers in an unexpected touch. Her skin was soft, and he didn’t pull away immediately.
Josie’s eyes widened just a fraction, and something buzzed between them. Whatever it was, it was unwelcome.
“Josie, you made it!” Kaitlyn called out as she headed down the porch steps of the house.
Josie turned her attention to Kaitlyn, and both women squealed with delight. Tuck imagined that Shadow was standing at alert in the back seat again, his cue to get back in the Jeep and leave.
“Thank you, Tuck!” Kaitlyn called.
“No problem.” He waved and quickly shut the door behind him, barring any further encounters he might have with Josie. Besides, he was running late for dinner with his friend Alex Baker, the police chief in Sweetwater Springs. Before going to the Tipsy Tavern, however, he needed to drop Shadow off at home.
Tuck was almost to his cottage on Blueberry Creek when his phone started to ring. The caller ID showed the same number that had called before. That woman was bent on talking to him tonight. He moved to connect the call and find out why but stopped short when he heard a high-pitched meowing from the passenger seat. It meowed a second time, and Tuck couldn’t help grinning. Josie Kellum was undoubtedly losing her mind right about now.
He parked in his driveway and commanded Shadow to follow him into the backyard. Then he returned to his Jeep and wavered only momentarily on which direction to drive. Back to the inn to return Josie’s cell phone or to his dinner destination? He couldn’t keep the chief of Sweetwater Springs police waiting, now could he?
There was something about Josie Kellum that left him unnerved and restless; he didn’t want to see her again tonight. Besides, maybe it would do her good to disconnect from her busy city life for just a while longer.
Josie felt naked.
She never went anywhere without her cell phone, and now she’d been without it for almost three hours. She’d used Kaitlyn’s cell phone to call at least a dozen times already with no success. “Where is Tuck and why isn’t he answering his phone?”
“He’s probably out grabbing a bite with Mitch and Alex,” Kaitlyn said, as she pulled various items from her cabinets and fridge. Mr. Darcy, Kaitlyn’s golden retriever who lived at the inn, wagged his tail expectantly at her feet, as if hoping that some bread crumb would drop. “Don’t worry. As soon as he realizes he has your phone, I’m positive he’ll return it.”
Josie wasn’t so sure about that. She hadn’t exactly made the best impression on the man. Maybe he was getting payback for when she’d pulled a can of pepper spray on him. But instead of voicing her concerns, she simply nodded from the kitchen island where Kaitlyn had set her up with a deep glass of red wine—bless her—and watched as her friend prepared some kind of delicious pastry that she planned on serving for tomorrow’s breakfast.
Josie’s stomach grumbled softly. The only thing she’d eaten today was a pack of graham crackers that the flight attendant had handed her. “Speaking of food…”
Kaitlyn glanced over her shoulder. “I thought we’d order pizza tonight if that’s okay.”
“You don’t cook for the guests?”
“Breakfast, yes, but other than some finger foods, they’re on their own after that. Most guests go out, which we can do if you’d rather. I figured, after your flight, you might just want to settle in though. We can eat, watch romantic comedies, drink, and catch up. Just like the old days.”
Mr. Darcy woofed softly.
“Yes, you can come too,” Kaitlyn told the dog with a grin.
The old days had only been last year but it felt like forever ago. Josie missed having her best friend nearby. FaceTime or Skype didn’t compare. And watching chick flicks was lonely without Kaitlyn laughing beside her. “Sounds nice.”
“Great.” Kaitlyn pulled her gaze from the dog back up to Josie. “I’ll order the pizza as soon as I get these pastries wrapped and put away in the fridge.”
Unlike Kaitlyn, Josie was pretty sure she didn’t have any hidden domestic side. Pressing a few buttons on her microwave was as much cooking as she did. And anytime someone handed her a baby, she felt like she could barely breathe.
Josie lifted her glass of wine back to her lips and took a large sip. She was having a great night. There was no reason to spoil it with thoughts of the past. Especially not when Tuck Locklear was doing a fine job putting a damper on it himself. Unable to help herself, she grabbed Kaitlyn’s cell phone again and tapped the redial button. She’d already left Tuck several messages but one more wine-induced threat wouldn’t hurt.
“Me again. You have my phone, and I know that you know. Please bring it back or I will text my phone all night and the meows will haunt you in your sleep.”
When Josie clicked End, she looked up at Kaitlyn, whose brows were raised over wide eyes.
“The meows will haunt you in your sleep?” Kaitlyn asked, her mouth twitching in a half grin. Then the two of them burst into laughter, causing Mr. Darcy to run in circles and yap excitedly between them.
“I might have to cut you off early tonight,” Kaitlyn remarked when she could breathe again.
This. This is what Josie had missed. Since Kaitlyn had left, her life had become a tad boring. She still had friends and went out but it wasn’t the same. She missed having someone to laugh with and talk about everything and nothing at all with.
After finishing off a bottle of wine and a nineties-themed movie marathon, Josie retreated to her room. Every room at the inn was named after a romantic couple from books and movies. The room that Josie was staying in was coincidently themed with one of her favorite Jane Austen novels, Pride and Prejudice.
Josie closed the door and lay back on the queen-size bed. Without thinking, she reached inside her pocket for her phone, feeling the phantom vibration that had irritated her all evening. Right. Tuck had never returned her call or her cell phone.
With a frustrated groan, she sat back up and retrieved some sleepwear from her luggage. After washing her face and letting her hair down, she climbed under the rose-print comforter and waited for sleep. It was too quiet for her body to settle down though. In the city, there was a constant buzz of energy, even when you were tucked away in your own little apartment.
Sweetwater Springs didn’t have that. Behind these closed doors, she was alone with herself and nothing else. And being alone with herself was just a little too close for comfort.
* * *
Tuck arrived at the Tipsy Tavern to not one but two friends. “Hey, Mitch. Didn’t expect to see you here.”
Mitch Hargrove had returned to Sweetwater Springs last fall and now worked at the local police department with Chief Alex Baker.
Tuck turned to Alex. “How’d you wrangle Mitch away from Kaitlyn long enough to grab a meal with us?”
“I may have threatened jail time,” Alex said, lifting a longneck bottle to his mouth.
They all chuckled as Tuck slid into the booth across from them.
- "This delicious rom-com has plenty of heart and is ideal comfort reading."—Publishers Weekly
- "Annie Rains is a gifted storyteller, and I can't wait for my next visit to Sweetwater Springs!"—Raeanne Thayne, New York Times bestselling author
- "Annie Rains puts her heart in every word!"—Brenda Novak, New York Times bestselling author
- "Such a sweet romance!"—The Genre Minx
- "A sweet, heartwarming and delightful story of family, friendship, loss and hope."—The Reading Cafe
- "A touching tale brimming with romance, drama, and feels!...I really enjoyed what I found between the pages of this newest offering from Ms. Rains, her words warmed my heart and her characters had me smiling and swooning throughout! Highly recommend!"—Reds Romance Reviews
"A wonderfully written romance that will make you wish you could visit this town."
- "Don't miss this sparkling debut full of heart and emotion!"—Lori Wilde, New York Times bestselling author on Welcome to Forever on Christmas on Mistletoe Lane
- On Sale
- Mar 5, 2019
- Page Count
- 416 pages