The Perfect Hope

By: Nora Roberts

For Suzanne,

the perfect innkeeper





To improve is to change;

To be perfect is to change often.

—WINSTON CHURCHILL





CHAPTER ONE





WITH A FEW GROANS AND SIGHS, THE OLD BUILDING settled down for the night. Under the star-washed sky its stone walls glowed, rising up over Boonsboro’s Square as they had for more than two centuries. Even the crossroads held quiet now, stretching out in pools of shadows and light. All the windows and storefronts along Main Street seemed to sleep, content to doze away in the balm of the summer night.

She should do the same, Hope thought. Settle down, stretch out. Sleep.

That would be the sensible thing to do, and she considered herself a sensible woman. But the long day had left her restless, and—she reminded herself—Carolee would arrive bright and early to start breakfast.

The innkeeper could sleep in.

In any case, it was barely midnight. When she’d lived and worked in Georgetown, she’d rarely managed to settle in for the night this early. Of course, then she’d been managing the Wickham, and if she hadn’t been dealing with some small crisis or handling a guest request, she’d been enjoying the nightlife.

The town of Boonsboro, tucked into the foothills of Maryland’s Blue Ridge Mountains, might have a rich and storied history, it certainly had its charms—among which she counted the revitalized inn she now managed—but it wasn’t famed for its nightlife.

That would change a bit when her friend Avery opened her restaurant and tap house. And wouldn’t it be fun to see what the energetic Avery MacTavish did with her new enterprise right next door—and just across The Square from Avery’s pizzeria.

Before summer ended, Avery would juggle the running of two restaurants, Hope thought.

And people called her an overachiever.

She looked around the kitchen—clean, shiny, warm, and welcoming. She’d already sliced fruit, checked the supplies, restocked the refrigerator. So everything sat ready for Carolee to prepare breakfast for the guests currently tucked in their rooms.

She’d finished her paperwork, checked all the doors, and made her rounds checking for dishes—or anything else out of place. Duties done, she told herself, and still she wasn’t ready to tuck her own self in her third-floor apartment.

Instead, she poured an indulgent glass of wine and did a last circle through The Lobby, switching off the chandelier over the central table with its showy summer flowers.

She moved through the arch, gave the front door one last check before she turned toward the stairs. Her fingers trailed lightly over the iron banister.

She’d already checked The Library, but she checked again. It wasn’t anal, she told herself. A guest might have slipped in for a glass of Irish or a book. But the room was quiet, settled like the rest.

She glanced back. She had guests on this floor. Mr. and Mrs. Vargas—Donna and Max—married twenty-seven years. The night at the inn, in Nick and Nora, had been a birthday gift for Donna from their daughter. And wasn’t that sweet?

Her other guests, a floor up in Westley and Buttercup, chose the inn for their wedding night. She liked to think the newlyweds, April and Troy, would take lovely, lasting memories with them.

She checked the door to the second-level porch, then on impulse unlocked it and stepped out into the night.

With her wine, she crossed the wide wood deck, leaned on the rail. Across The Square, the apartment above Vesta sat dark—and empty now that Avery had moved in with Owen Montgomery. She could admit—to herself anyway—she missed looking over and knowing her friend was right there, just across Main.

But Avery was exactly where she belonged, Hope decided, with Owen—her first and, as it turned out, her last boyfriend.

Talk about sweet.

And she’d help plan a wedding—May bride, May flowers—right there in The Courtyard, just as Clare’s had been this past spring.

Thinking of it, Hope looked down Main toward the bookstore. Clare’s Turn The Page had been a risk for a young widow with two children and another on the way. But she’d made it work. Clare had a knack for making things work. Now she was Clare Montgomery, Beckett’s wife. And when winter came again, they’d welcome a new baby to the mix.