A rural romance from USA Today bestselling author Alyssa J. Montgomery. Start reading Return To Hope Creek.


A rural romance from USA Today bestselling author Alyssa J. Montgomery. Start reading Return To Hope Creek.

When two old flames come back to their home town, sparks are bound to ignite. A rural romance from USA Today bestselling author Alyssa J. Montgomery.

A horrific car accident ended former world number-one Stella Simpson’s tennis career, and a betrayal ended her relationship with her fiancé/coach. When a family friend offers to sell her half of a property in the rural community where she grew up, it seems like the perfect place to escape, heal and begin the next phase of her life. Until she discovers that the man who broke her heart ten years ago has bought the other half of the same property.

Mitchell Scott seemingly had it all: fame and fortune as one of the NFL’s highest-paid quarterbacks, and a beautiful family. But wealth and celebrity can’t compensate for a loveless, toxic marriage, and he’s glad to give it all up to raise his son in the one place that always brought him peace. Encountering Stella again so long after the messy end to their relationship is a complication he doesn’t need — but one he finds himself wanting.

As each tries to build a new life, they are drawn to each other, and find that their chemistry is just as strong as it ever was. When the press gets wind of their romance and descend on Hope Creek looking for a scoop, Mitchell’s malicious ex-wife isn’t far behind. Will she tear apart everything they’ve built, or will their love be stronger the second time around?

Leaving a cloud of red dust in its wake, the four-wheel drive bounced along the short stretch of unsealed road to Hope Creek Station—the place that’d become Stella’s home eighteen years ago.

She bit down on her lip as a rush of memories assailed her.

Don’t cry.

When she’d been a vulnerable twelve-year-old making this same trip to meet her new foster parents, she’d repeated the same words as a mantra.

Then, she’d battled grief and the uncertainty of not knowing what awaited her.

Now, her yearning to be back with those she loved most in the world was a physical ache in her chest. She couldn’t wait to cocoon herself in the haven of Hope Creek Station and ground herself in everything that mattered most. It was time to heal, regroup and to pursue her new direction.

Things will work out.

Be strong and put on a brave face.

The first time she’d come to the cattle station it’d seemed like she’d journeyed to the ends of the earth, even though the station was a part of the small community of Hope Creek and only a forty-five minute drive from the rural township of Lancaster.

‘Nearly home, love,’ Blue told her as he navigated carefully around a large pothole in the road.


Again, Stella told herself firmly to keep her tears dammed.

Although she’d only lived here permanently for six years, Hope Creek Station was definitely home and this wasn’t going to be her usual flying visit, crammed into her previously hectic international schedule.

This time, she was coming home indefinitely.

This time, she had plans to make a home of her own here—had been forced into it, really, as the life she’d lived for the last twelve years had come to an abrupt and brutal end.

My life hasn’t ended, she assured herself. It’s just the beginning of a new chapter.

She made a valiant attempt to keep her voice steady but couldn’t stop the waver when she agreed with the elderly ringer, ‘Yes. Almost home.’

‘Jim and Margaret are so excited. The boss was disappointed he couldn’t make the trip to pick you up.’

It’d been decided that Blue would come because her foster parents might be recognised at the airport and blow her cover.

‘Jim says he’s been keeping well, but I know he’d tell me that anyway so I didn’t worry. No more angina?’

‘No. That heart attack was a warning. He was lucky it was a mild one.’ Blue gestured towards the land to their left that was part of Hope Creek Station. ‘Nothing much has changed.’ He’d never been much of a conversationalist, but he continued talking in an obvious attempt to ignore the circumstances that had forced her to return. ‘We’ve put in a few more improved pastures, but life pretty much continues as it did before you left. Marg is still making her famous scones for smoko and Jim still breaks out his harmonica every now and then to play us a tune.’

With a glance at her watch, Stella smiled. Her flight from Geneva had landed in Melbourne as dawn broke over the city and she’d slept for most of the car trip, but Blue must’ve set a cracking pace. ‘Of course, you’ve timed our arrival nicely for smoko, Blue.’

‘No flies on me, love.’ His face, weathered from long days spent in the sun, broke into a broad, crooked-toothed smile as he took his eyes off the road for a second to wink at her.

Stella’s laugh turned into a gasp as she caught the sudden movement in her peripheral vision. Her body stiffened and her fingers cramped around the car door handle. ‘Roo!’

The large Eastern Grey kangaroo bounded out onto the road right in the path of the vehicle.

Stella broke into an instant sweat and braced against the dashboard, expecting impact with the animal. But, as Blue swerved, the roo maintained its path and jumped clear of them and into the bush on the other side of the road.

For a few moments, Stella couldn’t breathe. Sitting back, her hands clenched into tight balls and she pressed her fingernails into her palms.

I’m completely safe.

I’m in Australia and I’m almost home.

But she couldn’t dispel the images that gnashed through her brain.

Blinding camera lights flashed into the car from all angles as the vehicles of the paparazzi surrounded them in a frenzied swarm—all trying to get the shot they wanted. Relentlessly and recklessly, they hung out of their cars or rode their Vespas, yelling questions at her as their cameras clicked away.

Like bloodhounds they’d scented a story.

They’d spotted Stella leaving the venue early—and in tears—when she should’ve been celebrating her success.

Now, they wanted the scoop. A photo for the front pages of the tabloids would ensure them a big payday.

Even as she held her clutch bag high to hide her face, she dreaded the headlines.

‘Idiots!’ The driver cursed, blasting his horn.

‘Slow down!’ Stella demanded from the back seat as the driver increased his speed.

‘I can lose them.’

‘No! It’s too dangerous.’ Peeking out from behind the bag, she saw the Parisian footpaths were bustling with tourists and locals. ‘I don’t want to cause a crash.’

‘We’re not going to crash.’

‘Slow down. I insist.’

The driver ignored her and weaved through traffic at an alarming speed, pulling away from the photographers on either side of the car as he shot through a gap between two other vehicles, only narrowly avoiding side-swiping one of them.

Horns blared.

The driver gave a cocky laugh as he took his hands off the wheel and sent a rude gesture towards another driver.

Bracing herself against the seat in front of her as terror coursed through her veins, she screamed at him. ‘Stop! Please!’

Stella thought fleetingly of her parents, killed by a drunk driver in a head-on collision on the open highway in Australia.

Then, tyres screeched.

The driver slammed on the brakes.

There was a loud bang and the scream of tearing, twisting metal. A jarring collision that threw her back forcefully against the seat.

She cried out in excruciating pain before the blessed dark curtain of unconsciousness was drawn.

‘Stella.’ Blue’s hand on her arm jolted her from the horrific memories. ‘Stella!’

Opening her eyes slowly, Stella felt dazed and disoriented. She frowned as she became vaguely aware that Blue had stopped the car on the side of the road.

‘Deep breaths, Stella.’ She heard the note of panic in the old ringer’s voice and tried to do as he urged. ‘We’re both fine.’

It was a struggle to get her lungs to work against the constriction of her chest, as she willed her heart to stop its rapid assault against her ribcage.

‘You’re okay, Stella,’ he assured her again.

It was a few moments before she could speak.

‘Yes. I … I’m okay, Blue. I …’

‘I get it, love.’ He rubbed one callused hand up and down her bare biceps in a soothing action. ‘You’ve been through …’ His voice broke. ‘You’ve been through a hell of a lot.’

She let her head drop forward so any anguish on her face would be concealed by the curtain of her long, dark brown hair. Hearing the emotion in Blue’s voice nearly broke her because she knew she was genuinely loved by everyone at Hope Creek Station. Although none of them were her blood relatives, they were all her family. They’d all been with her in spirit every step of the way, rejoicing in all her triumphs. Now, they were all feeling her trauma as though she was their daughter, or sister, or niece.

They’d been everything to her and she owed it to them to be strong.

‘I … It was the roo. I just …’

‘There’s no need to explain, love. I’m so sorry you were startled like that. I should never have taken my eyes off the road.’

There were a lot of kangaroos in the valley, but they were generally more of a risk on the roads from dusk until dawn.

‘Please, don’t mention this to Margaret and Jim.’ Her parents were worried enough about her and she didn’t want anything adding to their stress.

He raised his fingers to his lips and made a zipping motion. ‘Mum’s the word.’

Stella rolled her shoulders to try to ease the stiffness that had knotted the muscles across her back.

‘I’m glad you’re home, Stella,’ the old ringer said. ‘We’re all glad.’

‘Me too.’ Seeing the sheen of moisture in his eyes, she put her hand on his wrist for a moment before she said, ‘How about we get going? We don’t want to be late for smoko.’

‘That would never do.’ The words were spoken lightly, but she didn’t miss the considering look he gave her.

Stella forced a smile. ‘I’ll be right as rain when I get home.’

Blue’s mouth twisted a little in doubt, but he nodded as he restarted the car and pulled out onto the road.

Stella closed her mind to all her uncertainties and focused solely on the beauty of the land around her.

Nestled in the Lancaster Valley, with access to the wide and ever-flowing Dundee River, Hope Creek Station wasn’t a remote cattle station in the harsh, unforgiving Australian outback. The land had been settled by migrants during the Australian gold rush. Very little gold had been discovered in the area, but some of the settlers had stayed to farm. The land was very fertile with its rich, red soil, and these days the farms in the valley were a mix of sheep, cattle—both beef and dairy—and crops and vineyards.

Marg said farm stays had become popular, and tourism was bound to grow because Jim had said that a golf course was being built on the other side of Lancaster.

Lancaster had its own agricultural university campus and a space observatory; but Hope Creek itself was still a small community, and everyone knew everybody else’s business.

Everyone in the area certainly knew of her accident, but then it’d been international front-page news. People across the globe had been shocked and distressed. Stella had been touched by the amount of support that’d flooded in from all corners of the world while she’d been recovering in France and then in Switzerland.

‘There she is!’ Blue proclaimed warmly. ‘Home sweet home.’

As they crested the hill and the homestead came into view, a sob parted Stella’s lips.

Originally built in the 1850s, the homestead’s sandstone block walls had been built by convicts—in fact it’d been one of the last buildings in the nation to have been made by convict labour. The pitched roof had been replaced several times and heritage green Colour bond steel had replaced the corrugated iron. The wide verandahs surrounding the house were like warm, welcoming arms reaching out to Stella, wanting to enfold her in their embrace before ushering her inside to the heart of the home.

Blue beeped the horn a couple of times to announce their arrival.

Almost instantly, and before any of the human family could respond, Ned Kelly and Ben Hall—the family’s border collie dogs who were named after two famous Aussie bush rangers—came racing around the side of the verandah barking excitedly while their tails wagged furiously.

‘No surprise that the two boys are first out to greet you,’ Blue said as he pulled up at the gate to the house yard, turned off the engine and got out.

Stella stayed where she was for a few moments, trying to calm herself as a whole host of memories and feelings coalesced inside her.

Much the same scene had greeted her when she’d arrived as a child. At that time, the Richardsons’ two dogs had been named after the famous Aussie explorers, Burke and Wills, and she’d loved those dogs to bits. Sadly, they’d long since passed away, but she’d met Ned and Ben on a few of her brief trips home and they were just as friendly.

She was looking forward to taking Ned and Ben for long walks, longer every day until she could keep up with them again.

‘Welcome home, Stella!’ Margaret called out as she and Jim emerged from the home, faces wreathed in smiles.

‘Quiet down, boys,’ Jim told the dogs firmly as they raced back and forth along the fence, anxious to be let out to greet Blue and Stella. ‘Heel!’

Her parents’ appearance spurred her into action. Unclasping her seat belt as Blue opened her car door, Stella couldn’t wait to give the couple huge hugs. In her excitement, she completely forgot her new limitation. Thankfully, she managed to grab on to the car door to steady herself, because she lost her balance and stumbled awkwardly the instant her artificial foot hit the ground.

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