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Winning will never taste so sweet…
Lainey Green has got exactly what she wants—the dream location for her equine therapy centre and a place to settle down and call home.
Unfortunately for Jake Maynard, that home is the farm he desperately wanted, and the alpaca owning, farm running, town Romeo isn’t about to be on the welcoming committee for Lainey anytime soon. Irritation turns into rivalry, which morphs into something else entirely.
And pretty soon Jake Maynard is well on the way to hanging up his playboy ways for good.
Lainey is the only prize he’s interested in winning.
Now all he has to do is persuade his feisty, independent neighbour to feel the same about him.
- Enemies to lovers
- New to a small town
- Equine therapist v alpaca farmer
Intro to Chapter One
Intro to Chapter One
Jake Maynard was pissed off.
It was raining, and the forecast had been for dry weather. The barn roof was leaking, and he’d been promised it’d been fixed. The feed delivery was late, and it was meant to have been there this morning. Three of the alpacas had escaped, and the fence should’ve been enough to contain a world-class escapologist.
The neighbouring farm and its land, that should’ve been his, wasn’t, and from the top of the barn roof, where he was trying not to slip, he could see the new owner.
Tempting as it was to say the day couldn’t get worse, Jake knew it could get a whole hell of a lot shittier.
“If you stop glaring over there, we might get this done a lot quicker.” His cousin, Zack, tapped Jake’s foot with a hammer. “Then we can find the walking flea bags that are probably destroying my livelihood.”
Jake picked up the hammer and debated chucking it into the field where his neighbour was checking one of her horses, which he knew damn well was his version of chucking his toys out of the pram.
“The alpacas don’t destroy anything. They keep your grass down and entertain your residents.” Jake had already considered pushing Zack off the roof.
He was also considering spending the rest of the day in his workshop where no one else ever went, because these murderous urges weren’t getting any less.
“They also get let into the building by Glenda, and I’m not sure that wouldn’t get us shut down if someone official visited.” Zack owned and ran Sunrise, a residential care and nursing home for the elderly. It had been built on family land and shared a boundary with Jake’s farm.
The alpacas had learned that getting into there was manna; plenty of people to feed them treats and act as if they were pets, and Jake was pretty sure they had enough intelligence to do it to annoy Zack.
“Just tell them it’s alpaca therapy.” He passed the hammer back to Zack. “It’s probably a thing. Check with her; she’ll probably know.” He nodded in the direction of his new neighbour. “Seems to know everything about therapy.”
Zack shook his head. “You need to get over it. She bought the farm fairly, and she’s here now. Move on. Be welcoming. You should get along – you’ve got enough in common.”
Jake scowled. “Horses. Just because we both have horses doesn’t mean we’re going to be best mates. Or mates at all.”
Zack didn’t say anything, just banged in a nail. “You need to redo this roof, Jake. This is okay for a patch up, but it’s not going to take a big storm. You also need to lose that tree.”
Jake looked in the direction where Zack was staring. A large elm that didn’t look too healthy marred the view. The land around it was wet, which meant roots would be all too easy to be dislodged in a storm. If it fell, the barn would be gone.
“I’ll add it to the list.” The very long list, which never seemed to get any shorter.
Zack started to tidy around them, the patch up job done – for now. “You know, Jake, I get you’re gutted that Robbie Nelson didn’t sell his farm to you, but maybe it’s a good thing.”
The inhalation of breath Jake took was mainly to give him time to calm before he helped Zack get down a lot quicker off the roof than he would’ve chosen.
“I could’ve increased my stables. Doubled the herd. Added maize to the rotation. Added more glamping pods.”
“And who would you’ve got to run all that? Father fucking Christmas?”
Jake didn’t answer. Labour had been difficult to find the last twelve months; he badly needed a deputy manager or two, and at least three more full-time workers, but no one suitable had applied.
Severton was a great place to live. It was a small town that thrived as a tourist spot in the summer, was a haven for walkers or townies wanting to escape for a weekend getaway from the city throughout the year, and it was close enough to both Leeds and Manchester for a night out. It’s quirky traditions and new music festivals had been well-publicised, but none of that had been enough to draw the sort of people Jake needed to expand his business without killing himself trying to do half a dozen different jobs.
“It’ll happen. Someone will come along.” He gave Zack a huge grin, trying to believe it himself. “Just like this rain will stop at some point.”
Zack made some sort of sound that could’ve meant anything, including that he was about to slip getting off the roof.
That wasn’t something Jake was that keen on happening, given that Zack was pretty useful at fixing roofs and fences, and he figured that Zack’s wife, Sorrell, would serve his testicles for breakfast at the boutique bed and breakfast she ran if anything happened to the father of her child, so Jake decided to check his cousin wasn’t in the imminent path of the Grim Reaper.
Zack descended with ease, the practice from years of rock climbing and abseiling making it look easy.
“You on call today?” Jake asked, starting to get down himself. He, his sister, her husband and their three cousins were all members of the town’s search and rescue team, Severton being surrounded by the mountains and hills of the Peak District.
“Think we all are.” Zack took out his phone, checking for messages. “Sorrell’s asking if we’re having lunch here next Sunday. She’s offering to cook.”
“Cool.” Jake wiped his hands on his jeans to dry them off. He wasn’t turning down anyone’s cooking, especially when Sorrell had no idea how to cook for less than twenty people, meaning he’d have enough leftovers for a few days.
“Maybe invite your new neighbour.”
Jake snapped his head round to see Zack looking over towards her field.
The field that should’ve been his.
Zack shook his head. “That’s not how we do things round here…”
The lecture was cut short with the ringing of Zack’s phone.
Jake listened in as Zack answered, the expression on his cousin’s face telling him exactly how they’d be spending the next few hours.
“We’ll be there in fifteen. See you at the car park, west face.”
“Call out?” Jake knew the answer already.
Zack nodded, putting his phone away. “I’ll never understand why people go out in this. Landslide on the west face of Bleak Tor. Looks like your barn roof won’t be the only thing we’ll be climbing today.”
“So,” Scott Maynard sat down, his large hand wrapped around a pint pot. “Have we worked out why the fuck someone would go climbing up a mountain wearing shorts in February?” He was still dripping slightly, a couple of bar towels wrapped around his shoulders.
Jake was trying desperately not to look at the bar. He stared at Scott like he’d just grown a second head with a unicorn’s horn on it, or a penis, which was probably more apt for his cousin.
“Most people are at least three slices of bread, a packet of ham and two sausage rolls short of a picnic.” Jake was not going to look at the bar. There was no way his eyes were going to land over there. Not at all.
Zack clutched his pint like it was the holy grail. “Shorts. In February. And the weather was only ever forecast to be fucking freezing with a side of really cold rain. It wasn’t like we were having freak sunshine and it suddenly turned. I swear some people are too thick to live.”
“To be fair, Jake’s gone rock climbing in shorts in February before now.” Scott eyed him from over his glass. “Which totally proves his point.”
Jake still did not look over at the bar.
“Jake knows exactly how to climb in February in shorts and not fall and sprain his ankle.” Jake had no issue talking about himself in the third person. “And it was a warm February.”
“He has a point.” Alex, the third Maynard brother, sat down next to him. “It was something stupid, like fourteen degrees.”
No one disagreed with Alex. Mainly because he was usually right.
“How did we all end up on call out?” Alex stared at Scott, who was partly responsible for the rota for the search and rescue team. “Who fucked that one up?”
Scott yawned and rubbed his beard. “Keren. She’s planning something. Somehow she managed to find the rota and change it.”
Zack scowled, draining his pint. “It’ll be something that means we’re all on babysitting duty.”
“By all, you mean the two of you?” Alex looked smug. “Some of us aren’t being sicked up on..”
Jake grinned, still managing to not look at the bar. He was one of two single Maynards left. Zack and Scott were both married with baby daughters, and Rayah, Jake's sister, was married with a baby on the way. Alex was still single – maybe. He tended to be so stoic, Jake wasn't entirely sure. All Jake was sure of was that Alex seemed less likely to notice women lately, except for sizing them up in the way all cops did, categorizing potential law breakers. This made him too boring for the town gossips, and too inadvertently insulting to be a proper wingman.
“Not long until Jonny’ll be being sicked up on again.” Zack looked delighted. “When’s Rayah due?”
Rayah was Jake’s long-suffering sister and currently pregnant. Jonny was her husband, and best friend of Zack. He already had three children from his first marriage, and Jake remembered him bragging about his sleepless nights being behind him.
“She's got a ways to go. The way she was whining the other day, it'll be a couple years – or maybe just feel like it.” Jake smirked and caught movement at the bar from the corner of his eye.
Scott stood up. “I’m not in the mood for this tonight.” His attention was straight at the bar.
“Why? What’s she doing now?” Jake didn’t turn his head. He didn’t want to see her; didn’t want to acknowledge she existed.
“Lainey’s not doing anything. It’s that fuckwit McDowell who’s being a tosser.” Scott wiped his hands on the bar towel from his neck and dropped them onto his seat. “Going to chuck him out.”
Alex stood also. “Want some help? Abby said he was a being an arse on Saturday when she was on shift.”
“Aren’t you still a copper?” Scott glanced at his brother.
Jake watched on, amused.
“McDowell’s pissed enough people off this week. I’ll probably get a recommendation if he exits here by landing on his arse.” Alex put his phone on the table. “And I really don’t like how uncomfortable Lainey looks.”
Jake’s head swung round fast enough to give him whiplash.
Lainey had been pretty much trapped into the bar by Paul McDowell, his body angled so she couldn’t edge out, his hand to the other side.
It was nothing a swift knee to the bollocks couldn’t resolve, but Jake got the feeling she was a bit too polite to do that, which was lovely and all that, but it wasn’t going to teach McDowell any lessons about personal space.
He stood up, ignoring whatever comments Scott and Alex were making, and strode over to the bar.
Paul McDowell had been in Jake’s class in primary school, and in his year group in secondary, but they’d never shared classes. McDowell had been one of the boys who’d done what he could to leer at the girls and make remarks about their tits. Jake had once stuck a fist in his face when he’d said something about Keren, just not hard enough.
“You might want to move your hand and the rest of you.”
Lainey hadn’t noticed him get close; she looked too focused on being touched by someone who was trying to do a very good impression of an octopus.
McDowell turned to face Jake, his smirk a little too wide. “I’m having a conversation.”
“Really? Looks more like you’re keeping someone hostage.” Jake couldn’t remember the last time he’d been in a fight with someone other than one of his cousins, which was never that serious. Most of the time.
“Lainey and I are enjoying having a civilised conversation. Why don’t you go back to whichever hole you crawled out of?” McDowell’s grin was like that of a usually docile piranha that thought it’d caught an easy meal.
Jake looked at Lainey. She was tall, not that much shorter than him, and willowy, all legs and limbs, a bit like a colt. He suspected that she could kick just as well as any unbroken mare, but she was in a new town, starting a new business and physically assaulting one of the locals probably wasn’t something she wanted to be seen doing.
“How about you prove me wrong and show me she’s not your hostage by moving away and seeing if the lady wants to get away from you?” Jake edged little closer to him.
He had no idea who jumped the highest when one of those willowy arms chopped straight into McDowell’s elbow, making his arm bend away and then snap back.
“What the fuck?” McDowell stepped back and glared at Lainey. “You could’ve just asked me to move! Fucking rabid bitch.”
“I did ask you to move. Three times!”
Jake didn’t hear her. His fist was too busy making contact with McDowell’s cheekbone, resulting in a very satisfying yelp and bang as McDowell fell back on the floor.
“Fuck!” McDowell’s voice was too loud. “Police!” He looked towards Alex, who was now looming over him. “I’ve just been assaulted!”
Alex looked over at Jake, who was now rubbing his fist. “Not sure if anyone actually saw what happened there. Maybe there’ll be some tape. Now how about you get yourself out of here and come by the station in the morning to make a statement, if you can remember what happened.”
Eyes that were identical enough to make them appear to be more brothers than cousins met, and Alex grinned.
That was all well and good, but one person who wasn’t grinning at him was Lainey Green.
Jake had the sense to take a step back. He had a sister who was a wild cat, and he knew the look that was in Lainey’s eyes spelled trouble. Or violence. Or some toxic combination of both.
“Please don’t tell me you had that under control.” He held his hands up in defence, although his words were anything but. “McDowell’s a dick, and his hands would’ve been on you if you gave him a fucking smile.”
She shook her head. “I’ve dealt with a lot worse that him. You’re my neighbour, right?” She didn’t hold out her hand.
Jake wondered whether everyone in the bar was currently watching, or just the majority of his family. Scratch that, it was probably most of the town, all out to observe him properly meet the neighbour he didn’t want.
“You’re Lainey Green, right?”
She eyed him a little like his old head teacher used to when he got dragged into her office. He tried not to flinch. He’d faced down horses with more strength and evilness than Lainey Green clearly possessed; there was no need to act like a kid who’d been caught on the school roof.
It had happened a few times. And he’d only broken his arm once.
“I’m Jake Maynard.” He gave her the same grin he’d used on women he managed to entice back to his bed. “It’s good to meet you.”
The smile that should’ve brightened her face and the rest of the bar didn’t. Instead, it made him consider taking a further step back, only pride and stubbornness froze his feet.
He folded his arms.
“I’d like to say the same, but there’s a fence in your south field that keeps coming down, and every time I fix it, one of your alpacas knocks it back down again. You have them well trained.” Her accent was almost posh, one that told of a private school education, probably abroad.
“That’ll be Jimmy.”
Jake swallowed, aware that Zack was listening into this, and he was very interested.
“Jimmy’s one of the alpacas. I’ll fix the fence tomorrow and I’ll Jimmy-proof it.” He smiled again, trying to drown her in charm.
A cough from behind him sounded suspiciously like someone saying ‘won’t work’.
Jake turned round and gave Zack the finger. When he looked back at Lainey she was watching him and Zack with more suspicion than he gave his sister when she cooked him dinner.
“This is my cousin, Zack.” Jake yanked on Zack’s arm and pulled him forward. “He’s married to Sorrell, who runs the guest house up the road. Zack has a job where he pretends to run a care home for the elderly.”
“I stayed at Sorrell’s when I came to view the farm. It was a lovely place for a break.”
Jake saw her give Zack a look that was far friendlier than he’d received. He wiped his hands on his jeans and tried to work out whether he smelled off. The climb to rescue the guy who’d sprained his ankle had been a struggle, and even though it was cold and wet, sweat had been involved. Scott’s bar had been the first place they’d headed to, rather than going home for showers. There was at least two more beers and a burger involved before he went home.
Zack beamed like he always did when someone praised his wife. Jake wanted to give him shit for it, but that wasn’t going help the impression he was trying to make. As pissed as he was at Lainey for buying something he considered his, he hadn’t thought she’d picked up on that.
“I’ll let her know,” Zack said, giving her a nod. “And ignore this idiot here. He’ll get over you buying the farm.” He slapped Jake on the back. “Won’t you?”
Lainey’s expression darkened. Her eyes narrowed. Jake didn’t need to have lived with Rayah for eighteen years to know this was not a good sign.
“Was it you who tried to gazzump me?”
He realised he’d rather deal with a rampant and angry bull than Lainey Green when she was pissed off.
Jake stuttered, nothing coming out quite right.
“I knew someone had found out what my bid was, and then gone higher, after we’d exchanged contracts. I thought it was some big corporation who was after the land to build houses, or something, not my nearly neighbour.” Her gaze was cold enough to make Jake wish for his hoodie.
He felt Zack’s hand push the side of his head.
“Excuse my cousin. He’s always been a little simple. It was all the inbreeding.” The second push was a tad harder.
Jake turned round and glared. “It doesn’t matter, does it? You got the farm. And I’ll get the fence fixed tomorrow.”
“Although that doesn’t mean the alpacas won’t find another way in.” Zack was continuing to ramble. “Don’t be surprised if you find one in your bed at some point. Which, by the way, would be far better than McDowell in there.”
“Like I said, I’ve dealt with far worse than McDowell. Just like I’ve dealt with bigger idiots than you.” She stared at Jake, picked up her bag and walked out of the bar.
It took her being gone for all of two seconds before a big cheer echoed round the walls and someone handed him another beer.
“And that was Jake Maynard getting his arse handed right to him.” Jonny, Jake’s brother-in-law, commented across the bar. “First time we’ve seen that happen in a while, ladies and gents. Savour the moment.”
Jake shook his head and decided not to argue back. “I was only trying to stop that dick from putting his hands on her.”
There was another whoop around the bar. Zack gestured as if he was picking up a handbag and about to fight with it.
A tap on Jake’s shoulder made him turn around. Scott raised a brow. “You need to go round there tomorrow with some form of apology.”
Jake shook his head. “Nope. I tried to help her tonight. Didn’t get any thanks. I’ve no intention of being neighbourly now. She can look after herself.”
Scott scowled. “You might still be pissed off that she bought the farm, but you’ll need to work together at some point.”
“No, we won’t. Let her try and set up her therapy thing. See how long she lasts. I give her four months before she runs back to the city and signs that place over to me.” Jake took a long drag of his beer.
Scott shrugged. “Think you’re going to lose that one.”
“Want to bet?”
Scott nodded. “A grand. She’s still here in five months. And I’ll chuck an extra grand in to say that she’ll have you on your knees.”
“What do you mean?”
Scott grinned. “We’ll see, won’t we? We’ll see.”