Jenn McKinlay

New York Times Bestselling Author

The Good Ones

Chapter One

When Jake took off his cowboy hat and pulled her close, Claire wrapped her arms around him and the two became one. When they kissed she knew they were making each other a promise for today, tomorrow, and forever. Clare sighed. For the first time in her life, she knew that no matter what happened this man, who was her partner and her best friend, would be by her side. For all time.

Maisy Kelly closed the book, One Last Chance, pressed it to her chest, and sighed. Jake Sinclair, the perfect man, why did he reside only in the pages of a book? It wasn’t fair. She was twenty-nine and none of the men she’d ever dated had been even remotely as caring or charming as Jake Sinclair.

Knock knock knock.

Maisy blinked. Someone was at the door. No, no, no. She had a book hangover and she didn’t want to deal with the world right now. If forced to, she might curl up in a fetal position right there on the floor and never move.

Knock knock knock.

They weren’t going away. Maisy rose from where she’d been seated on the bottom step of the stairs. In theory, she was supposed to be cleaning out her Great Aunt Eloise’s house, in reality she was binge reading Auntie El’s hoarder’s trove of romance novels. It wasn’t making the task, which was heartbreaking to begin with, any easier.

Knock knock knock.

“All right, all right,” Maisy grumbled. “I’m coming.”

She strode to the door and yanked it open. Probably, if she had bothered to glance through the peep hole or one of the long windows beside the door, she would have been prepared, but she hadn’t and she wasn’t.

Standing on her front step, looking impossibly handsome and imposing, was a cowboy. Maisy glanced down at her book. On the cover was the artist’s rendering of Jake Sinclair, in jeans and a white T-shirt, sitting on a picnic table in the middle of a pasture, with a cowboy hat tipped carelessly over his brow. Maisy could practically hear the cattle mooing in the background.

She glanced back up. Jeans, white shirt, and a cowboy hat. This guy had it all going on, except where the artist had left Jake’s face in shadow and not clearly defined, this guy was a full on 3D HD of hotness, with full lips, faint stubble on his chin, and quite possibly the bluest eyes Maisy had ever seen this side of the sky. She had a sudden urge to poke him with her pointer finger to see if he was real.

“Mornin’, Miss,” the man drawled, drawled!

Miss? Huh, she hadn’t been called “Miss” since she’d started teaching at Fairdale University. Why would he…she glanced down.

She was wearing her favorite floral Converse All-stars, ripped up denim shorts, and her old Fairdale University sweatshirt, the one with the sleeves that hung down past her hands, oh, and she had on no makeup and her hair was held back by an enormous pink headband. She probably looked like one of her college students, possibly a freshman.

In that brief shining moment, she was certain if it was possible to die of embarrassment, she would expire in three…two…one. She gave it a second. Nope, still standing. Damn it.

“Listen, I’m sorry, sir, but whatever you’re selling, I’m not interested—,” she began but he cut her off.

“Oh, I’m not selling anything,” he said. He looked bewildered. “This is three-twenty-three Willow Lane, right?”

“Yes, it is. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back--,” she let her voice trail off, hoping he’d get the hint. He didn’t.

“I have an appointment with a Ms. Kelly,” he said. “Or Mrs. Kelly, I’m not sure.”

Maisy closed one eye and squinted at him. She usually reserved this trick for her English 101 students when they asked if they could make up the final exam because they’d had a more pressing engagement, like recovering from their hangover, but she was more than willing to use it on tall, dark, and good looking here.

She knew she didn’t have any appointments today. That was why she’d indulged herself in a good long reading sesh. This guy was probably a hustler, trying to con her to buy some property insurance or new windows. Ever since she’d inherited this monster of a house from Auntie El she’d had all sorts of scammers climbing out of the cracks in the sidewalk, trying to get her to refinance or buy a security system. It was exhausting.

The man met her squinty stare with one of his own. He shrinkled up one eye and mimicked her look of disbelief right down to the small lip curl. The nerve! Then she saw the twinkle in his one open eye, and she burst out laughing.

He grinned at her and her ire diminished as she noted the cowboy had a sense of humor. Okay, that was a bonus point for him. She decided to give him a break and at least take his name and number. She could call him later and decline whatever it was he was hocking.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “What was your appointment with Ms. Kelly about?”

“It’s about the house, actually,” he said.

Uh huh. Maisy would bet her front teeth he was going to pitch all the reasons why she should take out a line of credit now.

“My name’s Ryder Copeland,” he said. “I’m a restoration architect, and you are?”

“Ryder Copeland?” Maisy’s eyes went wide. So much for keeping her teeth. “But our appointment isn’t until tomorrow, you know, Tuesday.”

“Today is Tuesday,” he said.

“No, it isn’t,” she said. “It’s Monday.”

“Sorry, it really is Tuesday. Wait,” he said. “Our appointment? You’re Maisy Kelly?”

“Uh,” Maisy stalled. What to do. What to do. She pulled her phone out of her pocket and gave it a quick glance. There was a notification waiting. It said she had an appointment. Right now, in fact, with a Ryder Copeland. She checked the date. Today was Tuesday.

She glanced back up at him. He was looking at her in surprise, as if he didn’t believe she was the owner of this house. She supposed she could fib and say Ms. Kelly was out but he’d figure that out the next time they met. Plus, she was a horrible liar. She blushed and stammered whenever she tried to prevaricate, truly, it was just embarrassing. Finally, she nodded and whispered, “I’m Ms. Kelly.”

“Pardon?” The man pushed back his hat and leaned in, although he didn’t step any closer, probably knowing that at his height, she guessed him to be about six feet tall, he would tower over her and might scare her back inside the house like a rabbit jumping back into its hole.

Maisy cleared her throat and pushed her square framed glasses up on her nose. Then she repeated, “I’m Ms. Kelly.”

There. She used her professor voice. That’d tell him who was boss. Sure, that was why he looked perplexed as he studied her. She tipped her chin up, daring him to say anything about her youthful appearance or general slovenliness.

“It’s nice to meet you.” His smile was slow but when it came, it was wide and warm and genuine. He didn’t look put out that she’d tried to give him the bum’s rush. He also did not look like an architect. He looked like a man who’d be more at home on a horse, herding cattle, than drawing up designs for her old home.

Maisy felt her face get warm under his steady regard. She ignored it. Maybe she could redirect him.

“You aren’t what I expected,” she said.

Mr. Copeland’s eyes moved from the pink headband in her short, curly dark hair to her bright floral sneakers and he nodded. “I’d say we have that in common.”

His tone was as dry as a hot summer breeze and it made Maisy laugh out loud, in a full hearted chuckle. He grinned at her as if her laughter had been his aim all along.

“I’m Ryder,” he said. He held out a hand that looked like a big old bear paw.

“Maisy,” she returned.

She slid her slighter hand into his, feeling the callused warmth of his palm surround her more delicate fingers. His grip was firm, yet gentle, not trying to prove anything but not treating her like spun glass either. It let Maisy know without words that he viewed her as an equal. Huh. She liked that.

“Sorry about mixing up the dates,” she said. “Clearly, I wasn’t prepared for our meeting and I apologize for that. I know your time is valuable.”

“No harm done,” he said. His voice was kind, and Maisy glanced up and noticed that his eyes were kind, too. “Your message said you were looking to restore your house.” He stepped back to where he could see all three stories and tipped his head back to take it all in. “I’m assuming this is it?”

“Yes, in all its Queen Anne glory,” she said. She forced her gaze away from his square jaw and the wide set to his shoulders, cleared her throat, and stuffed her fascination with him down deep, squashing it flat by talking in her teacher’s voice. Calm, assured, capable, yes, that was better.

“Built in eighteen-eighty by my great-great-great-you get the idea-grandfather Stuart Kelly for his very well-to-do bride Margaret Hanover. Margaret is actually my given name, except it never fit, sort of like pants that are too long, you know?”

Ryder glanced from the house to her, he looked momentarily confused and then smiled and nodded. “In my experience pants are usually too short, but I get where you’re going, Maisy.”

She liked the way he said her name. It sounded as if he was trying it on for size and liked the fit. Be still her heart.

The last date she’d had was with a geology professor at the university, and while he’d been friendly enough, she’d lost her enthusiasm for the date when he’d gone into great detail about an article he’d just read called Pedotransfer Functions of Soil Thermal Conductivity for the Textural Classes Sand, Silt, and Loam. She was certain it had made sense to him, but she’d spent the meal overeating to compensate for not having one word, not even a syllable, really, to add to the conversation.

She had a brief fantasy, truly no longer than a peripheral glimpse into a crystal ball, of having dinner with Ryder Copeland and talking about books, houses, and whether she could wrap both hands around his muscle-hardened bicep or not.

Ryder pushed his hat back and a swath of dark hair fell across his forehead. His eyes really were the purest blue she’d ever seen like a mid-morning sky after a night of rain, surrounded by long dark lashes that curled up at the tips. Again, he smiled at her and Maisy lost her train of thought for a moment.

House! They were talking about the house.

“Yes, well, my great-great-let’s just call him Stuart, was smitten with Miss Margaret, but her father didn’t like him, detested him actually, so Stuart built this house to prove that he could provide for her,” Maisy babbled. She knew she should stop, but like a runaway train she was incapable of putting the brakes on the spray of words spewing forth from her lips. “Finally, after Margaret threatened to run away and elope, her father gave in and approved the marriage. The house is almost one hundred and sixty years old, and I’m afraid it’s beginning to show its age like gray hair, crow’s feet, and a double chin, only it’s manifesting in leaky pipes, faulty wiring and chipped plaster.”

Ryder lifted his eyebrows. “That bad?”

Maisy shrugged. “Auntie El lived here alone until the last few months of her life and then it was me and a crew of nurses looking after her. She was a tiny little thing and didn’t take up much room. Her collection on the other hand…”

“Collection?” Ryder tipped his head to the side. “Now I’m intrigued.”

Maisy thought she should warn him, but really how could she? Seeing was believing.

“Did you want to tour the place?” she asked. “I can show you around and give you an idea of what I’m hoping to accomplish and what needs to be done.”

“Absolutely,” he said.

Maisy pulled the door open and gestured for him to come in. Ryder followed her, his gaze fixed on the house as if he couldn’t wait to see inside.

Maisy would have laughed, because, boy, was he in for a surprise, but his arm brushed against hers, just the lightest contact, as he walked by and she felt a jolt of awareness. A zip zap of electricity and the intense feeling that this man could alter her life course with a snap of his fingers. It shook her to the core.

He stepped fully into the house and lifted his arm to take off his hat. The contact was broken and Maisy felt her common sense fall back into place like sand on a beach after being rolled by a wave. Seriously, she had to get out more.

“Can I get you anything? Water? Sweet tea? Lemonade?” she asked as she closed the door behind them.

Ryder didn’t answer. Small wonder. He stood in the foyer, slack-jawed and boggled, looking at the sitting room to the left. Maisy couldn’t blame him. Although, she had begun to sort and arrange the titles, the room was still packed to bursting with books. Only a narrow three-foot pathway plowing through the center of the room to the settee and matching wing chairs on the opposite end made the room accessible.

“Books,” Ryder said. “Your great aunt collected books.”

“Uh huh.” Maisy squeezed past him. “Romance novels specifically.”

Ryder said nothing. His eyes moved slowly over the room, the hallway, and the stacks on the stairs as if his brain could not comprehend the piles and piles and piles of paperbacks.

“Did she read them all?” he asked.

“Every one,” she said.

“So, you have some decluttering to do,” he said. “Before you get the house ready to sell?”

“Yes, sell,” she said. The words stuck in her throat but if Ryder noticed he didn’t say anything. She hated the idea of parting with Auntie El’s house. It had been in the family for generations. “The rest of the house is equally crammed full to bursting and what’s worse is I can’t seem to find anyone who wants the books. The fact that they’ll likely end up in a landfill would have broken Auntie El’s heart.”

“Is that the only option?” he asked. “Maybe a library would—“

Maisy shook her head.

“Senior center?”


“Prison?” he asked with a grimace.

A laugh bubbled up, surprising Maisy. “I actually hadn’t thought of that, but I have to do something with them all, don’t I?”

She knew her voice sounded forlorn when Ryder gave her a sympathetic close-lipped smile.

He put his hand on the back of his neck and said, “Maisy, when I meet with clients about renovating their property, the one thing I ask them, so that we’re both clear about the project from the start, is how they want their space to function after the renovation. So, what is it that you really want to do with this house and these books ? I saw your face when you said ‘sell.’ It wasn’t the expression of a person who wants to part with something.”

A little flicker of hope, or possibly agita, fluttered in her chest. Ryder was right. For the past few months, she’d been dithering about the house and its contents while she grieved for her aunt. But now she had to make a decision. What did she want to do with the house? She liked that he put it that way. He wasn’t like her two older brothers, telling her what she had to do or what she should do, or what they would do in her place, no, he was asking what she wanted to do.

Completely disarmed, Maisy said, “Well, I think I know, maybe, what I want to do, possibly…perhaps.”

“And?” He tipped his head to the side, his blue eyes regarding her with infinite patience.

She took a deep breath and said, “I want to turn this house into a bookstore, a romance bookstore.”

A romance bookstore owner finds her own happily ever after with a single dad in a new romance series from the New York Times bestselling author of Every Dog Has His Day.

Ryder Copeland is an accomplished architect and one heck of a father...not to mention tall and sexy. He's everything a hero should be, and Lord knows, Maisy Kelly has read enough of her great-aunt Eloise's romance novels to recognize one when she sees one. But like all fairy tales, Maisy can't help but wonder if this Prince Charming is too good to be true...

Ryder is drawn to the shy, curly haired professor who hires him to convert the Victorian house she's inherited from her aunt into a romance bookstore. Attracted to a woman for the first time since his divorce, Ryder finds himself wishing for a future with Maisy that he knows is impossible. Ryder has never wavered from his plan to leave the small town of Fairdale, North Carolina, so he can give his daughter the life she deserves. But suddenly he's not so sure. And the closer he gets to Maisy, the harder it's going to be to walk away...