Home to Hope Mountain (Harlequin Super Romance Series #1922)

Home to Hope Mountain (Harlequin Super Romance Series #1922)

by Joan Kilby

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A place called Hope 

Hayley Sorenson uses horses to help people heal. But when neighbor Adam Banks asks for her expertise with his teenage daughter, she says no. How can she get involved when all she sees is their past? And the attraction Hayley feels for Adam makes her anything but objective! 

Yet Adam isn't deterred, and in getting to

…  See more details below


A place called Hope 

Hayley Sorenson uses horses to help people heal. But when neighbor Adam Banks asks for her expertise with his teenage daughter, she says no. How can she get involved when all she sees is their past? And the attraction Hayley feels for Adam makes her anything but objective! 

Yet Adam isn't deterred, and in getting to know the woman they call the horse whisperer, he realizes that she's dealing with her own pain. As Hayley etches a place in Adam's heart, all he wants is to give her the home she truly deserves.

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Harlequin Super Romance Series , #1922
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Adam Banks drove down his winding, rutted driveway while his fourteen-year-old daughter, Summer, nodded to music only she could hear through the earbuds dangling beneath her long red hair.

Sunlight filtered through the canopy of eucalyptus. Birds warbled and twittered above the smooth purr of his vintage Mercedes-Benz. The open window let in a cool breeze that held just a hint of spring.

When he came to the road he looked both ways then began to pull out.

"Look out, Dad!" Summer yelled.

A horse and rider crashed through the forest and shot past right in front of him.

Adam slammed on the brakes and swore under his breath. "I saw her. Did she see me?"

The blonde woman on the dapple gray hauled on the reins, struggling to control the fiery horse. "I'm sorry. Really sorry. My horse has some issues."

Adam stuck his head out the window, his heart still racing. He'd damn near run her down and the shock of it made him rude when he wouldn't normally be. "Looks to me like you're the one with the problem."

Her cheeks flushed and her full mouth set as she straightened her Akubra hat atop her fraying braid. The horse danced and sidestepped on the gravel shoulder until the woman dug her heels into its heaving sides, and they both plunged back into the woods.

"Who the hell was that?" Adam wondered aloud as he drove off. He glanced into the forest, but the woman and her horse had already disappeared.

"Our neighbor, Hayley Someone." Summer pressed her nose to the window and gazed longingly after the horse.

"Hayley Someone needs to learn to ride." Adam gripped the wheel with both hands and scanned the road ahead for runaway horses.

"If she couldn't ride, she would've fallen off when her horse reared," Summer said. "She and her husband used to give trail rides. Mum's been on them. But Hayley's husband died in the bushfires, so I don't know if Hayley's still doing the rides." She paused. "Did you see scars all down her horse's neck? I wonder if that was from the fire?"

"Could be, I suppose." Adam had too much on his plate to be distracted by the locals. After he dropped off Summer at school he was heading into the city to meet with the Shanghai delegation about the development project the architecture firm he worked for was bidding on.

"Dad?" Summer turned to him. "I want another horse."

"We're not talking about this now, sweetheart. I told you I'd think about it." She'd been after him all weekend-horse, horse, horse-till he thought he'd go mad.

"Huh." Summer readjusted her earbuds and slouched down in her seat, allowing him to spend the rest of the twenty-minute drive going over his presentation in his mind.

Adam pulled up in front of the high school and let the car idle while Summer gathered her backpack. "Can you get the bus back to the house after school?"

"I do all the time." Summer got out of the car.

He'd only been in Hope Mountain since Friday and wasn't familiar with her routine. "Okay, well, do you have your key? An umbrella in case it rains?"

"I'll be fine." She poked her head back in through the open door, her red hair swinging. "So, have you thought about it?"

"About what?" Adam glanced at his watch. He should have been on the road to Melbourne by now. The team from Shanghai was arriving at 10:00 a.m.

"Me getting another horse."

"You only asked me fifteen minutes ago." He shouldn't have promised to think about it when he had no intention of getting her one. "I'm sorry, Summer, but the answer has to be no."


He honestly felt badly for his daughter-her horse, Bailey, had died in the bushfires that had swept through the area nearly a year ago. But he had to stand firm. "It's not a good time."

"Why, just because you say so? I'm supposed to accept that?"

He tugged at a lock of her hair in a vain attempt to wipe the scowl off her face. "Who's this sullen teenager and what have you done with my sweet-natured daughter?"

She didn't crack a smile. "Please, Dad, not another one of your stupid jokes."

"Hmm, tough audience." Being a single father was tough, too-much more difficult than he'd expected, and he'd only been at it a couple of days. Reiterating his primary reason, that he wanted to put the house up for sale at the end of the year, would only spark another argument. "Everything's up in the air. We'll talk about it later."

"You always say that."

"Honey, I have to go to work-"

"You and your work. I guess it's more important than me!" She slammed the car door.

"Summer! Don't leave like that."

She was already halfway up the path to the school. Her friend Zoe, a tall dark-haired girl, was waiting for her, no doubt with a ready ear for Summer's tale of hardship.

Adam sighed and put his car into gear, easing out of the drop-off zone and onto the street. He drove slowly through the three-block-long commercial end of tiny Hope Mountain.

Sun broke fitfully through the clouds above the mountains enclosing the narrow valley. Trees lining the wide street were budding, and daffodils were springing up in newly planted flower beds. The setting was picture-postcard pretty.

But Hope Mountain was far from idyllic.

The entire mountainside to his left was black and ruined. The remains of burned trees looked like giant charred toothpicks. The community center had burned to the ground, along with the pub, a church and half the businesses on Main Street, leaving empty, barren lots. In the public gardens a huge tent had been set up to distribute donated household goods to people who'd lost everything.

Near the rose garden workmen were erecting a memorial to the people who'd died-nearly two hundred souls. Did they really need such a reminder when the evidence was all around that Hope Mountain was in a region of high fire danger?

The place had been nearly wiped off the face of the map, yet the sounds of nail guns and saws rang out in the clear mountain air, as the townsfolk were determined to rebuild.

More fool them.

The narrow winding road out of town led down the mountain, through more burned-out forest. Twenty miles later, at Healesville, he took the turn-off to Melbourne. Only as he accelerated onto the freeway entrance and set course for the city did he breathe easily.

Three hours later he was wrapping up his presentation to the delegation from Shanghai. Lorraine, his boss, was seated at the end of the boardroom table along with five men and one woman, all in identical gray suits.

"Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes our firm's vision of the luxury high-rise apartments in the Changning district of Shanghai," Adam said. "Please, take all the time you need to review our brochure. I'm available to answer your-" he broke off as his phone vibrated inside his pants pocket "-questions any time."

The damn phone had rung five times in the past half hour. He'd ignored it until now, but it wouldn't stop.

"Excuse me. I'll just be a moment." He threw Lorraine an apologetic glance and hurried out of the room. Shutting the door, he answered his phone.

"Yes, what is it?"

"Mr. Banks? This is Tom Dorian, the principal of Summer's school."

"What's wrong? Is she hurt?"

"No, she's fine. Well, not fine, but…I'd like you to come in. She's been caught shoplifting."

"Shoplifting? Summer?" He barked out a disbelieving laugh. "That's not possible."

"She was caught red-handed by the owner of the shop."

Adam pinched the bridge of his nose. This couldn't be happening. And yet it was. Did he even know his daughter anymore? "I'll be there as soon as I can."

An hour later, the company helicopter set down on the rain-wet grass of the high school football field. Adam ducked beneath the whirring rotors, his long stride breaking into a jog as he neared the front doors of the school.

Summer had never been in trouble before. Ever. She was a good student, sweet-natured-this morning's tantrum aside-obsessed with boy bands and horses…typical in every way. She'd had a rough year, with the divorce and the bushfires, but she'd never given him or Diane, his ex-wife, a moment of worry.

Until now.

Adam smoothed his hair and straightened his tie as he rushed to the principal's office.

A secretary looked up from her computer. "Good morning. Do you have an appointment, Mr.-?"

"Adam Banks. I'm expected." Through the open door of the principal's office he saw Summer sitting with her back to him, her shoulders slumped.

He swept past the secretary, knocked once and pushed open the door. "Summer, honey, what's going on?"

His daughter swiveled on her chair and greeted him with a blank expression and a shrug.

"I can fill you in, Mr Banks." Tom Dorian was round and slightly sweaty, with short, dark hair. He rose and extended a clammy hand, then walked around to close the door before returning to his desk. "Please, sit down. I'm sorry to have interrupted you at work, but I had no choice. The shopkeeper is talking about pressing charges."

Pressing charges. The words were enough to strike fear into the heart of any parent. Frowning, Adam took the chair next to Summer. She avoided his gaze and picked at the cuticles of her ink-stained hands. "Summer, what did you steal, and from where?"

Again, she just shrugged.

"A pair of earrings from the Gift Shop Café." Tom Dorian laced pudgy fingers over his desk blotter, his earnest, boyish face serious. "It happened around 11:30 a.m. She was also skipping school."

Adam rested a hand gently on Summer's shoulder. "Is this true?"

"So I cut school. Big deal." She shrugged his hand off.

"Not that. Shoplifting. Is this about the horse?"

"I wanted something for Mom's birthday and I didn't have any money." She raised her chin and stared at him. His heart sank-now she was lying, too. She received a generous monthly allowance, and her mother's birthday had been two months ago.

"We'll talk about that later." How had she sunk to such a low point without either him or Diane noticing? Behind Summer's defiance he sensed her fear and heard her unspoken plea: Daddy, get me out of here.

He turned to the principal. "What happens now?"

"You need to go to the police station and talk with the arresting officer," Tom said. "Since it's a first offense the shopkeeper might let it go. But even disregarding this incident, Summer's been on a slippery slope. As you know, her attendance is poor, her grades are falling-"

"No, I didn't know," Adam said sharply.

"Summer's mother didn't mention it to you?"

"She had to leave in a hurry. Summer's grandmother is having emergency heart surgery in Sydney." That didn't explain why she'd never told him Summer was having trouble at school, but that was Diane all over-ignore problems and hope they would go away. "How long has this been going on?"

"Her problems have been gradually building since the beginning of the school year." Dorian paused.

"The bushfires affected a lot of students. It's been a difficult time."

The bushfires again. They were an unmitigated tragedy. Along with the human life lost, hundreds of homes had been burned, livelihoods destroyed and untold numbers of livestock and wildlife killed.

He'd never wanted to buy Timbertop, the two-story log home on five acres of mixed forest and pasture. Diane had fallen in love with it on a whim after spending a weekend up here with her girlfriends, riding horses. He'd purchased the property as a summer home in an attempt to save his rocky marriage but not a month later he'd found out she was having an affair. He didn't know who with and he didn't care. It had been the last straw. He'd asked Diane for a divorce, and she'd moved herself and Summer permanently to Hope Mountain.

However, things could have been a lot worse for them. Compared to some others, they had hardly been touched by the fires. "But our house was spared, thanks to the efforts of volunteer firefighters…" he said, still searching for answers as to why his daughter's behavior had deteriorated. "No close friends of Summer's were killed-"

"My horse died!"

Adam dragged a hand through his hair. "Bailey. Of course. I'm sorry."

Bailey had presumably jumped the fence, terrified by the smoke and heat, and run into the woods.

They'd never found the horse, or his remains, but undoubtedly he'd succumbed to the fire.

"And stop talking about me as if I wasn't here." Summer bounded to her feet. "Not everything is about the freaking bushfires."

"Sit down and tell me what it is about, then," Adam said.

She sank back into her chair and crossed her arms and legs, folding into herself. "You wouldn't understand. You're never around."

The barb hit home. He was supposed to have Summer every second weekend, but for the past few months work had gotten in the way. He'd told himself he was doing his best in a bad situation. The fact he didn't have a clue what was going on in his daughter's head right now sent a message as big as skywriting that his best wasn't good enough.

Adam was used to being in control of his world, moving with ease among architects, businessmen and government officials, designing and selling development projects worth hundreds of millions. Faced with one troubled teenage girl, he felt as helpless as a newborn kitten.

This was his daughter, his only child. She was the most precious thing in the world to him. And yet no one would guess it, considering how little time he'd spent with her. Diane going to Sydney to take care of her sick mother might have been a blessing in disguise, since it forced him to reconnect with the girl.

"What do you suggest?" he asked Tom. "Is there a school counselor she could talk to?"

"I've been seeing her for three months," Summer said sulkily. "She's an idiot."

"Don't be rude. Why wasn't I informed?"

She shrugged. "Mom probably told you."

"Where parents are divorced, school policy is to communicate with both mother and father," Tom Dorian explained. "A letter would have been sent to your city address as well as your home in Hope Mountain."

Adam chewed his bottom lip. Somehow he'd overlooked the communication. News of Summer's downward slide had slipped through the cracks in his life. He and Diane had both failed Summer. But guilt and shame were unproductive emotions. He thrust them aside and focused on what he could do to make up for his neglect.

"So school counseling isn't working." He eyed Summer thoughtfully. "Maybe it would be best if we moved to my apartment in the city. I'd have more time to spend with you and we could find you a good private counselor."

And they could get out of Hope Mountain. Living in a fire-prone wilderness was foolish in the extreme. Next time fire broke out they might not be so lucky.

"I don't want to live in the city," Summer said. "I don't want to see another stupid counselor. You said I could get a new horse. I've been waiting and waiting. It'll never happen if I'm living in Melbourne."

Should he give in to her demand for a horse? Being lenient, giving her too much, hadn't done her any good. He'd stalled all year on the subject, hoping to convince Diane to move out of the area. She'd pushed back, citing Summer's love of Hope Mountain and her wish to let their daughter finish the school year with her friends. "Is that why you've been getting into trouble, because Bailey died?"

"No. Yes." She dropped her head. "I don't know."

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Meet the Author

When Joan Kilby isn’t working on her next romance novel she can often be found sipping a latte at a sidewalk café and indulging in her favorite pastime of people watching. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, Joan now lives in Australia with her husband and three children. She enjoys cooking as a creative outlet and gets some of her best ideas while watching her Jack Russell terrier chase waves at the beach.

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