alexis morgan's heroes of dunbar mountain

alexis morgan aka pat pritchard

alexis morgan's to trust a heroAlexis Morgan's to trust a hero boxed set TO TRUST A HERO (Heroes of Dunbar Mountain Book 2)
by Alexis Morgan
Publisher: Harlequin Heartwarming
August 22, 2023
ISBN-10: 1335475427
ISBN-13: 978-1335475428

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* TO TRUST A HERO is also featured in Harlequin Heartwarming September 2023 Box Set.

Apple Books

A place to stay…

Or a new start?

Max Volkov recently helped solve a mystery in the small town of Dunbar, Washington, and now he's going to stay at Rikki Bruce's bed-and-breakfast to write the story. Against her better judgment, Rikki finds Max becoming more involved with the life she has built for herself and her son. He's handsome, charming and has a writer's curiosity, all of which puts both her heart and her secrets at risk.


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MAXIM VOLKOV PULLED over to the curb a block short of his destination to study the large Victorian house that had been home to him for a short time earlier that summer. He loved its mix of elegant lines and curious oddities, especially the curved turret room perched at the top like a crown. Painted a soft yellow with dark green trim, the house had a warm and welcoming look about it. He couldn't wait to check in, to the point he'd arrived hours before his room was supposed to be available.

As he contemplated what to do next, a car drove past, and the driver slowed to give Max a long look. No surprise there. In a place the size of Dunbar, Washington, strangers stood out. The instant the guy recognized Max, his expression morphed from merely curious to disapproving in a heartbeat. He immediately hit the gas and tore off down the street. Considering how fast gossip traveled in the small town, it would be less than thirty minutes before all six hundred citizens would know Max was back in town.

Okay, that was an exaggeration. It might take up to an hour before the ripple of news reached the outskirts of town.

All of which meant it was time to get moving. The only question was what would happen next. He could hardly blame Rikki if she was having second thoughts about renting him one of her rooms for an extended stay. On his previous visit, she'd ended up with local residents marching up and down outside of her B and B protesting her decision to provide Max with a safe refuge in town. Offering to move out had only made her madder at him than she had been at the crowd out on the sidewalk.

That memory had him smiling. What the woman lacked in size, she made up for in sheer pigheaded determination. He liked that and so much more about her. Even so, when he'd finally left Dunbar behind, he hadn't expected to return. After all, his short stay in town hadn't exactly been fun, especially considering most of the townspeople had hated Max with a passion.

They'd had reason to, he supposed. After all, he'd shown up out of the blue to announce that the Trillium Nugget, a chunk of gold worth a small fortune, didn't actually belong to the town at all. He'd set off a firestorm the day he'd strolled into the chief of police's office and plunked down his file of research that proved the nugget had really belonged to Max's family.

It had come as a great relief to all of the locals when the combined efforts of the police chief and the curator of the town's museum uncovered the complete story. As it turned out, Max's great-grandfather, Lev Volkov, had indeed discovered the nugget over a hundred years ago in his mine at the base of Dunbar Mountain. But when thieves had beaten up Lev to get his gold and then left him for dead, the good citizens of Dunbar had taken him in and nursed Lev back to health. To repay their kindness, he'd donated the immense chunk of gold to his benefactors to use as they saw fit. Sometime later, the Trillium Nugget became the centerpiece of the town's local history museum and a source of great civic pride.

The facts had left Max no choice but to withdraw his claim. All he'd asked for in return was that the display of the Trillium Nugget be updated to include his great-grandfather's story. The curator of the museum, Shelby Michaels, had recently sent him an invitation to come view the newly renovated display. That had given him the legitimate excuse he'd needed to return to Dunbar. It had also solidified his plans to take up residence in town for the foreseeable future while he researched the town's history and his great-grandfather's role in it for a book he wanted to write.

How long he'd be staying all depended on what kind of welcome he received when he finally worked up the courage to knock on Rikki Bruce's front door.

Financially, she might appreciate having a long-term guest staying at her bed-and-breakfast, but that didn't mean she would be happy that it was Max. For now, he'd check in, unpack his bags, and then maybe go back out for a late lunch. During his last stay, he'd taken most of his meals at the only eatery in town and had grown quite fond of the place.

The owner, Titus Kondrat, was a genius in the kitchen. Thanks to his many tattoos and solitary nature, the man was the source of much speculation about his life prior to moving to Dunbar. The most popular rumor was that Titus had personal experience in life behind bars, and that's where he'd learned to cook.

Max found it amusing that no one seemed to have the courage to actually ask Titus about his past or what had brought him to Dunbar in the first place. It was hard to tell if their reticence was due to Titus's intimidating personality or if they simply didn't want to risk being banned from his café. No one in their right mind wanted to lose access to arguably the best chicken and dumplings in the Pacific Northwest.

Max had his own reasons to appreciate Titus Kondrat. While the man hadn't exactly gone out of his way to befriend Max, at least he'd allowed him to hang out in the café as long as the table wasn't needed for other customers. While Max could've also worked in his room at the B and B, the protestors had left Rikki alone whenever he left the place. Those brief respites had eased his conscience at least a little for bringing the problem to her doorstep in the first place.

Meanwhile, the same car that had driven by a few minutes ago was back. Somewhere along the way, the driver had picked up several passengers, none of whom were even making a token effort to disguise their curiosity. One even leaned out of the back passenger window to snap a picture of Max as the car rolled past at a snail's pace.

What was up with that? Were they about to dust off their old protest signs and hit the pavement again? If so, it was definitely time to get a move on. As soon as the other car turned the corner, Max drove the short distance to the bed-and-breakfast. After parking, he grabbed his overnight bag and a couple of surprises out of the trunk. Then he took a deep breath, crossed his fingers, and knocked on Rikki Bruce's front door.


RIKKI SHUT OFF the vacuum cleaner and let the silence settle around her. She could've sworn she'd heard a knock at the front door, but it could have just as easily been the sound of her young son thumping around in his room overhead. She was about to give up and resume vacuuming when the pounding started up again, this time a little louder and longer.

She wiped her hands on her jeans and then touched her hair to make sure it was neat and tidy. It never hurt to make a good impression, especially when her bottom line currently hovered just above the dividing line between making a profit and having to eat ramen for dinner until business picked up again. She had no current guests in residence and wasn't expecting anyone until later in the afternoon. However, there were those rare occasions when someone drove through town and decided to stop for the night.

Pasting on her friendliest welcome-to-my-home smile, she opened the door. After one look at the man with his fist poised to knock yet again, she jettisoned the smile and almost decided eating ramen noodles for the next month held a certain appeal. Regardless, her unruly pulse kicked it up a notch, and she wished she was wearing a less faded pair of jeans and maybe a shirt that didn't have streaks of dust on the front. If Rikki had known Maxim Volkov would arrive so early, she wouldn't have spent the morning sweating up a storm while she took advantage of a high vacancy rate to do some heavy cleaning.

She gave his suitcase a pointed look. Next to it was a large shopping bag with a box peeking out the top that looked suspiciously like a giant Lego set. "Mr. Volkov, I'm pretty sure I told you that check-in time wasn't until after three o'clock."

He got the same guilty look on his handsome face that her son, Carter, had when she caught him sneaking an extra cookie before dinner. "I thought it would take me longer to get here. Traffic can be pretty bad along the I-5 corridor."

She crossed her arms over her chest and arched an eyebrow. "Seriously? Is that the best you can do?"

It was hard not to laugh when she noticed he also had the guilty five-year-old foot shuffle down pat. "Okay, fine. Shelby Michaels invited me to see the new display about my great-grandfather at the Dunbar Historical Museum. I was so excited about seeing how it turned out that I left home extra early."

"So why aren't you on her doorstep instead of mine?"

"Because she doesn't rent rooms and you do. I also forgot the museum is closed on Thursday afternoons. I had planned to go there first before checking in here." He offered her a hopeful smile. "That is, unless you've changed your mind about letting me stay."

While Rikki could really use the money, she wasn't sure she needed the aggravation that having Max Volkov under her roof brought with him. She also didn't believe for an instant that the man had forgotten a darn thing about the Dunbar Historical Museum. One couldn't spend ten minutes in Max's company without noticing the sharp intelligence in those bright blue eyes. Surrendering to the inevitable, she left the door open for him and retreated to the glass-fronted counter where she normally greeted new guests. "Do you want the same room?"

He waited until he was inside with the door closed before answering. "Actually, I was hoping I could have the one in the turret. I'm guessing the view of the mountains from that room is rather spectacular."

He chewed his lower lip as his expression turned more serious. "I mentioned that I planned an extended stay last week when I made the reservation. The thing is that I would like to rent your turret room for what could easily be several months while I do the research for a book I want to write about my great-grandfather's life. There will be times when I'll have to leave to do research elsewhere, either for the book or for the handful of freelance articles that I'm already committed to writing, but I won't be actually checking out when that happens. I think that would only complicate things for both of us. So, would you consider letting me pay on a month-by-month basis? Or, if you prefer, I could even pay all at once for…say five months with an understanding that I can extend my stay if it becomes necessary."

Rikki sat down in her desk chair as she tried to absorb everything he'd just said. When he'd mentioned an extended stay, she was thinking in terms of weeks, not months. He must have been really worried about how she'd respond to his request from the way his words had picked up speed there toward the end. Maybe he thought she'd cut him off before he'd finished explaining the situation.

That said, there was no way she would turn him away. Even if his presence caused her undue stress, she couldn't afford to turn down a booking of that magnitude. After a few seconds, she said, "I don't think charging you for several months at once would be a good idea. If something were to change and you needed to leave earlier, I'd have to refund the difference. It makes more sense to pay one month at a time until you have a chance to see if it's all going to work out the way you want."

He was looking much happier by that point. "Whatever works best for you, Rikki. Just let me know."

"I will."

Looking relieved, he silently handed her his platinum card. Once she'd processed the payment, he returned the card to his wallet. "Thanks for letting me stay, Ms. Bruce."

His use of her last name probably meant he'd picked up on her mixed feelings about having him as a long-term guest. Before she could decide if she should apologize, her son came pounding down the steps from the second floor. "Mom, can I have a granola bar? I know we just ate lunch, but I'm still—"

He went silent the second he spotted Max, but she could guess what he'd been about to say. No doubt he was hungry again. Carter had hit another growth spurt and was eating Rikki out of house and home. But instead of finishing his demand for food, he coasted to a stop on the bottom step to stare at their guest. For the longest time, neither man nor boy moved or spoke a single word. Then, between one second and the next, they both launched into action. Carter jumped high as Max captured him in midflight to swing the giggling kid around and around.

"Mr. Max, you're already here!"

Max stopped mid-twirl to set Carter back down on his own feet. Then he went down on one knee to put himself on the same level as her son. "I am. Is that okay?"

Carter didn't hesitate. "Yep. I have so much to tell you! I was really hoping you'd come back 'cause we missed you a whole bunch when you were gone."

Rikki winced, not that Carter was wrong about that. The whole house had seemed too quiet and too empty after Max had returned to Portland. Yeah, it had been a long time since she'd last spent so much time with an attractive man. He was handsome, but there was more to Max than that. She might have a weakness for men with wavy blond hair and sky-blue eyes, but she valued character and intelligence even more. The bottom line was that he checked every box on her list. If she were the type given to indulging in wild flings, Max Volkov would've been the perfect candidate.

But there was someone else whose needs she had to put ahead of her own—Carter. Her ex-husband was no kind of father at all. In fact, Joel had mentally divorced his son at the same time he'd divorced her. Considering what a jerk he'd turned out to be, they were both better off without him. Carter had only been a year old when Joel disappeared from their lives, so it wasn't as if he'd ever known what it was like to have a reliable male role model in his life.

That didn't mean that he didn't want one. That's were Max Volkov came in. Unlike most of her guests, he'd gone out of his way to spend time with Carter. He seemed to enjoy building models as much as Carter did. They'd done art projects together, played catch in the backyard, and read books before Carter went up to bed. One part of her had appreciated the way Max had made her son feel special, and she'd secretly hated the day he'd gone back home to Portland.

Like Carter had just said, they'd missed the man a whole bunch. It was hard enough to admit that truth to herself. There was no way she'd admit it him. Right now, he was patiently listening to everything Carter had to say. When her son finally ran out of steam—or at least breath—Max glanced at her.

"I can't wait to hear more. But for now, provided your mom says it's okay, I have a surprise for you."

Her son's face lit up with excitement. Carter gave Max a quick hug before turning his puppy-dog eyes in her direction. "My chores are done. I picked up my toys, put my clean clothes away, and even carried the basket back down to the laundry room."

Now she had both Max and Carter staring at her with hopeful expressions. How was she supposed to resist that? "Since you did everything I asked you to, I suppose it's all right if Mr. Volkov wants to give you the surprise now."

"Thanks, Mom."

Meanwhile, Carter greedily eyed the nearby shopping bag. She wasn't the only one who recognized the logo on the corner of the box. Her son's eyes widened as Max pulled the present out of the bag and handed it over to him.

Unless she was mistaken, it was one of the fancy spaceships from the Star Wars universe. Having bought several smaller sets for Carter for his birthday and Christmas, she strongly suspected this one would've been way out of her price range. Max shouldn't have sprung for such an expensive gift for Carter, but she couldn't bring herself to rain on his parade. Carter tended to be shy around strangers, especially men, but he'd taken to Max from the moment they'd met. She was about to nudge her son to remind him of his manners. Before she could, he gently set the box aside to give his favorite guest another huge hug. "Thank you, Mr. Max. Would you work on it with me?"

"I'd love to, Carter, whenever your mom says it's okay."

"Let's let Mr. Volkov get settled first, Carter. While he does that, we'll bake the cookies you promised to help me with this afternoon. Afterward, the two of you can take over the big table in the library to work on the project."

Carter looked disappointed, but he knew better than to argue. For his part, Max ruffled the boy's hair. "She's right, kiddo. I need to put my suitcase upstairs in my room and then head over to the café for lunch. I shouldn't be gone all that long, though. After that, we can get started."

"Okay, Mr. Max."

She thought they had everything settled, but then Max peeked into the shopping bag. "Huh. There seems to be one more present in here. I wonder who that could be for?"

He pulled a gift-wrapped box out, this time offering it to Rikki. "Looks like this one has your name on it."

Rikki stared at the package. She knew she should do something, but she couldn't bring herself to take it from his hands. Max rose to his feet and stepped closer. "It's just a little present, Rikki. I saw it and thought of you. It's no big deal."

But it was, at least to her. She couldn't remember the last time anyone had surprised her with a gift of any kind. Well, other than the handmade projects Carter made for her. Granted, she always displayed his macaroni art with great pride, but still.

She finally managed to reach for the present. "Thank you, Max. I mean that."

Max nodded, but her son had lost patience with her. "Open it, Mom. That's what you do with presents."

He was right, of course. With shaky hands, she set the package down on the counter and started the painstaking process of unwrapping it without tearing the paper. Both males stared at her as if she'd lost her mind. "What?"

Carter shook his head. With a stage whisper, he told her, "You're doing it wrong, Mom."

Showing his solidarity, Max put his hand on Carter's shoulder and offered her a hint of a smile. "He's thinking you're supposed to get excited and tear into it."

Rikki was flashing back to her own childhood. "I don't get many presents, and I like to savor the experience. Besides, my grandmother always saved wrapping paper to use again."

Max grinned at her. "Where's the fun in that?"

"Fine, I'll do it your way this time."

When she tore off the paper in one quick yank, Carter applauded. "Good job, Mom! That's how it's done."

She lifted the lid off the box and tossed it aside. Her breath caught in her chest as she studied Max's gift. "You shouldn't have. But I'm glad you did."

Carter was bouncing in place. "What is it, Mom?"

She lifted the book out of the tissue paper with care. "It's a cookbook. One I've admired for a long time. A famous chef named Julia Childs wrote it, and it's all about French cooking."

"But you already have a bunch of cookbooks." He frowned, looking at his friend and then back at her. "And it looks old."

Rikki gently traced the title with her fingertip. "That's what makes it special, Carter. The original edition came out seventy years ago. It's one of the most famous cookbooks ever."

When she opened the cover, she was shocked to realize that it was actually a first edition. Not only that, it was autographed. "Max, this had to cost a fortune. It's too much."

"It didn't cost me anything, Rikki. It belonged to my grandmother, who passed it along to my mom. She wasn't much of a cook, so it's pretty much been collecting dust on a shelf. I was clearing out some stuff in my garage and ran across it. You were the first person I thought of, and I knew you'd give it a good home."

What should she do now? They didn't exactly have the kind of relationship that included hugs, but he deserved that and more for this. Finally, remembering his sweet tooth, she settled for something less intrusive but that he'd still appreciate. "Thank you, Max. And for being so thoughtful, you get to pick what kind of cookies Carter and I bake this afternoon."

Her offer clearly hit the bull's-eye. He rubbed his hands together greedily, a big grin on his face. "Wow—what are my choices, and how many do I get?"

She paused briefly to consider what ingredients she had on hand. "Sugar cookies, chocolate chip, snickerdoodles, oatmeal raisin, or cream cheese spritz."

He turned to Carter for advice. "What do you think? The chocolate chip or the cream cheese?"

How like him to make sure her son's opinion mattered. It was one of many reasons she'd missed Max more than she should have when he'd checked out the last time he was in Dunbar. If he continued in this same vein, it would be even harder to watch him walk away again.

Carter didn't hesitate. "Chocolate chip is my favorite."

"Then chocolate chip it is." Turning back to Rikki, Max asked, "Will they have nuts, too? I like walnuts, but not pecans."

"Walnuts are doable. Do you prefer milk chocolate, bittersweet, or white chocolate?"

Once again, he consulted Carter. "What do you think?"

Her son gave her a quick look and shrugged. "I like them all."

Max's blue eyes twinkled when he met her gaze over her son's head. "Me, too. We want some of each."

She surrendered without even putting up a token fight. "It's a deal."

available at

kobo Apple Books Alexis Morgan's books at Walmart

* TO TRUST A HERO is also featured in Harlequin Heartwarming September 2023 Box Set.

Apple Books