Can their love overcome an old family feud? Read a sneak peek from Mountain Lodge by R.J. Groves


Can their love overcome an old family feud? Read a sneak peek from Mountain Lodge by R.J. Groves

Can their love overcome an old family feud?

Josephine Romano has a history of dating people her parents would not approve of. But since returning to her hometown of Ash Gully as a schoolteacher, her love life is basically non-existent. She’s ready to settle down — just not with someone her parents set her up with.

Angelo Rossi, the owner of Ash Gully’s only pub, has long known there’s something special about the dark-haired schoolteacher. The only problem is she’s never shown an interest in him as anything more than a friend.

But when a snowstorm at Mount Hotham forces the two of them to share a room, the long-simmering attraction between them comes to a head.

Feeling like she’s finally found someone her parents will approve of, Josephine is thrilled to break the news to them — only to discover that an old family feud means Angelo is the last man they’d want her to be with.

Can they heal the rift between their families, or will the pressure break their relationship before it’s even really begun?

Chapter 1
‘I don’t understand.’

‘I’m not sure how I can make it clearer.’

Josephine blinked rapidly at the young woman across the reception desk from her, checked her watch, then double-checked the time on her bus ticket. It was just after five in the afternoon. Her bus was supposed to leave at four-thirty.

‘Start again,’ Josephine said, resting an arm on the reception desk and popping her hip out to the side. The woman’s name tag read Tatiana. Josephine planted the bus ticket in front of her and pointed at the time on it. ‘I’ve been waiting out there in the freezing cold for an hour, and you’re telling me the bus left without me? It didn’t even come!’

Tatiana shifted her weight to one side uncomfortably, clearly unsure what to say. ‘I’m sorry, ma’am, but that’s what they said on the phone.’

‘How is it possible that I missed it when I was right there?’

Tatiana looked anywhere but at her. ‘Well, it left early.’

Josephine blinked again. Was she in some kind of whacked-up dream? Surely this kind of thing didn’t happen. Not to her. ‘I’m sorry?’

‘It left early.’

‘I got that.’

Tatiana shook her head. ‘I’m confused.’

‘As am I.’ Josephine let out a big sigh, forcing her shoulders to relax. ‘Why did the bus leave early?’

‘Because a snowstorm is about to hit. It had to leave early or it would be stuck here.’

Okay. That made sense. ‘So why wasn’t I notified?’

‘They said they tried to contact you.’

Josephine nodded even though she didn’t believe a word Tatiana was saying. No one had contacted her to tell her that her flipping bus would be leaving early. If she’d known, she wouldn’t be standing here with all of her snow gear trying to make sense out of the receptionist in the closest warm-looking building to the bus stop with the words Mountain Lodge on the side.

‘They did, did they?’

Tatiana nodded, and Josephine pulled her phone out of her pocket and looked down at the screen. Black. She clicked the side button. Nothing.

Damn. Of all days, it had to be today that her phone decided to run out of battery. She squeezed her eyes shut. Could the day get any worse? She opened her eyes again, convincing herself to be nicer to the young woman in front of her. After all, it’s not Tatiana’s fault that Josephine’s bus had left without her.

‘Can you tell me what time the next bus is leaving, please?’

‘Tomorrow, if we’re lucky.’

Josephine rubbed her forehead. ‘You mean there’s no other bus today?’

‘There’s a snowstorm coming.’

‘You said that.’ Josephine hadn’t meant to snap, and she didn’t realise that she had until Tatiana jolted. ‘Just to clarify, there is absolutely no way that I can get home tonight?’

Tatiana shook her head. ‘The roads are already closed. No one is leaving today.’

‘Okay,’ Josephine said slowly. ‘Well, I guess there’s nothing I can do about it then. Can I take a room for the night, please?’

Tatiana let out an unseemly bark of laughter, then snapped her mouth shut when Josephine glared at her. ‘I’m sorry, we’re all booked out.’

‘But there’s other accommodation, right? Do they have any vacancies?’

‘I doubt it, but let me check.’ Tatiana busied herself with typing things into her computer, then made a call on the phone.

Josephine tried not to stare at the reception desk in front of her, but to be honest, she was struggling to hold it together, and staring at something—anything—seemed the only way she could at least partly succeed.

‘I’m sorry, ma’am, but everywhere is booked out.’

When Josephine lifted her gaze to meet Tatiana’s, the woman actually looked at her with pity. Well, Josephine Romano was pitied by no one. She stood straighter, hoisting her bags onto her shoulders.

‘Point me to the bar?’ Tatiana pointed to the left of them, and Josephine nodded, flashing her signature smile. ‘Thank you.’ Then she beelined towards the room, finding an armchair near the fireplace that looked comfortable enough to possibly fall asleep in, dumped her bags beside it, and went to the bar to order a drink.

She tried not to think much at all until she was back at the armchair, cradling a cold glass of whisky in her hands and staring into the flames. Was she the only person unwillingly stranded in a snowstorm with no bed to sleep in? And on the anniversary of Luca’s death, no less.

She rested back in the chair, bringing the glass to her lips as she stared, her vision blurring in front of her. Luca, her twin brother and best friend, had left her twelve years ago after drunkenly wrapping a car around a tree. Twelve years and it still hadn’t got any easier. She wasn’t sure if it was the same for anyone who lost a sibling like that or if it was just a twin thing, but it hurt. God, it hurt. Losing him was like losing half of herself.

She tried to think back on the Luca before he’d got caught up with the bad crowd. Before the drinking. He’d been so carefree, so fun. Skiing had been one of his passions. That’s why, for the first time since he’d left her, she’d decided to spend the day at Mount Hotham, skiing just like they had when they were kids. She’d lost the knack for it. But by the end of the day, she’d managed to make it down a run without falling over, and that was a big achievement in her eyes. Progress is an achievement on its own. Or, at least, that’s what she would tell the kids in her class.

Josephine sipped her drink, feeling the burn as the spirit travelled down her throat and into her belly, warming her insides. She still couldn’t believe she’d missed her bus. But at least she would be able to catch the first one tomorrow and be on her way home. She might not get much sleep tonight, but she would be warm in front of the fireplace. She blinked back the tears that threatened to spill.

If only Luca were here. He would have found it hilarious that they’d missed the bus. He would have made the evening fun. Josephine swallowed the lump in her throat. But he wasn’t here. He’d made a stupid choice when he was a kid, and she was still dealing with the pain from it. She shook the bad memories aside and tried to remember his smile. It was harder to picture him now. Her memories had faded, and the only images of him she could conjure up were from the photographs of him on the wall of her parents’ house.

She sipped her drink again, letting it sit on her tongue for a moment before swallowing. She would not be sad whenever she thought of him from now on. This would be the last anniversary of his death where she’d shut herself off from her friends and family. Luca would understand. He wouldn’t want her to stop living, to continue to grieve his absence. She had no idea how she was going to do that, but she needed to stop being Josephine, the twin who’d outlived her brother, and start being Josephine Romano, the strong-willed schoolteacher who knew how to be happy. Who knew how to live.

‘Oh, I wouldn’t be going outside if I were you, Mr Rossi.’

Angelo changed his direction mid-step and halted in front of the desk, his gaze roaming over the woman behind the reception desk. She looked like she was barely a few years out of school, and from what he’d heard about Tatiana, that was fairly accurate. He flashed her a smile, and her cheeks darkened.

‘Why? What have you heard?’

‘There’s a snowstorm coming. I’d hate for you to be caught out in it.’ She fluttered her eyelashes, her words drifting off.

‘Thank you, Tatiana. I suppose I’ll just eat here tonight then.’ He shot her a wink, and her cheeks turned a bright colour.

Heading towards the bar for a pre-dinner drink, he shrugged out of his jacket and rolled the sleeves of his dress shirt up. If he wasn’t going to be braving the cold outside, he may as well get comfortable. A snowstorm, huh? Been a while since I’ve been caught in one of those. Thank God he already had accommodation. By the time he was due to leave the resort, the storm would have stopped and the roads would be cleared. If anything, the skiing would be better for it.

He waited at the bar to order his drink and scanned the room around him. It was dimly lit with mood lighting, giving it a warm glow. Could he pull off this kind of vibe in his own pub back home? Maybe. But the people of Ash Gully probably wouldn’t like it. They were used to things how they were, which meant that making changes—particularly those that would modernise things or make it classier—was a lot simpler in theory than it was in practice.

It was warm in the bar, and there was a nice ambience to it. Everyone was gathered in groups of two or more, enjoying an evening after a day at the snow. No one would know from looking at the room that there was a snowstorm about to hit. Just as the bartender asked him what he wanted, his gaze landed on the one lone person in the room, seated in an armchair by the fireplace, a pile of snow gear beside her. Her back was towards him, and he only caught a glimpse of the side of her face, but he’d recognise that dark wavy hair anywhere. It haunted his dreams almost every night. His heart thumped in his chest and his hands grew clammy. Surely it wasn’t her. But while he knew that, logically, many people might have similar hair, something told him that logic had nothing to do with it.

It was her. But why was she here?


He turned towards the bartender, realising the man had been waiting for his order for God knows how long. Angelo nudged his head towards the woman. ‘See the woman sitting alone near the fireplace?’ The bartender nodded, and Angelo slipped his card out of his wallet and slid it over the bar. ‘I’ll have what she’s having.’

While waiting for his drink, he turned his focus back to the woman, convinced that he’d imagined her there. But he hadn’t. She was still there, but she’d shifted position. She nursed her glass near her lips now, and her sleeve slid up her arm enough to show the gold watch on her right wrist. Angelo tugged at his shirt, feeling like it was choking him even though the top two buttons were already undone. If the hair didn’t give it away, the watch did. Her parents had given it to her for her eighteenth birthday, and she’d worn it since. And always on her right wrist because she was left-handed. He knew this, because he knew her. Josephine. Anything about her, he’d always committed it to memory. It had never been intentional, but when someone captivated you as much as she did, it was hard to forget.

Angelo’s best mate, Will, always thought the fact he was still a bachelor was because he liked the bachelor lifestyle and wasn’t a settling-down kind of guy. The reality of it was that no one he’d been with could ever measure up to her.

He accepted his drink from the bartender, slipped his card back into his wallet, and made his way over to the woman he’d fallen for many many years ago.

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