Authors: Annie Evans
Clay Hearts, Book Two
Turned down for her dream job,
large-animal vet Bellamy Haile is determined to drown her sorrows at the bottom
of a tequila bottle—and underneath the ripped bod of the gorgeous stranger she
just met in the liquor store. She’ll have time enough to nurse mild regret
later, when she takes over her uncle’s small practice in Serenity, Georgia.
Settled into an old house
bequeathed by her grandmother, Bellamy doesn’t expect one of her first vet
calls to bring her face-to-face with her one-night stand. Eli Carter happens to
live nearby…and he’s more than willing to pick up where they left off.
As Eli and his family welcome her
into their hearts and homes, Bellamy experiences a sort of love and acceptance
she’s never known. But even hot nights in Eli’s bed may not be enough to make
her choose small-town Serenity when a second chance at her dream job comes
contemporary erotic romance
Bellamy Haile considered the enormous wall of colorful liquor
bottles in front of her, trying to determine which particular variety would be
the quickest to numb the thought process with the least amount of unpleasant
The twenty-dollar bill in her pocket said she’d have to
stick to the basics and away from the pricier stuff with the hard-to-pronounce
names and fancy packaging. After the events of the past week, her budget had
gone from tight to practically nonexistent, so even spending that much was now
The money she’d made from being one of the onsite
veterinarians at this weekend’s rodeo was decent, but it wouldn’t last long.
Since she wasn’t contracted for Sunday, it wouldn’t matter much if her head was
fuzzy tomorrow morning. She could sleep it off, then get on the road back to
Athens and finish packing up her studio apartment.
Her nana always said to stay away from whiskey unless you
planned to sip it. Dark alcohol tended to produce the worst hangovers, she’d
told a younger version of Bellamy one day while making a bourbon glaze for a
cake. An odd conversation to be having with one’s grandchild, but that had been
her grandmother—wise, wonderful and, yes, sometimes inappropriate.
Of course, quantity factored into the equation also. Rum?
Nah, too sweet, worse headache. Vodka might be the way to go. Mix it with
orange juice and reap a few health benefits in the process. Tequila was a
viable option of the swift-hammer sort, and since she was spending Saturday
night alone in a Perry, Georgia, motel room, if her clothes fell off there’d be
no one around to see it.
Bellamy sighed. One more sad truth to add to the pile.
The letter she’d received two days ago was the main source
of her quandary. Folded and creased and pounded into a tight square, the slip
of paper felt like an anvil in her back pocket. Weighing her every step.
Pulling her shoulders down right along with her mood. One thing it
was tear-stained. She might be having a temporary wallow in a puddle of
self-pity, but it would take a hell of a lot more than a lost job opportunity
to make her cry.
Still, she’d stared at it for so long she had the entire
depressing thing committed to memory.
Dear Miss Haile,
Thank you for coming in to interview for the position of
staff veterinarian with Claybrook Farms. As you know, we interviewed several
highly qualified candidates, yourself included. This letter is to inform you
that you have not been selected for the position; however, your resume and
reference letters will be kept on file for a period of three years so that we
might consider you for future contact should a position become available.
We enjoyed meeting you and wish you much success with
your ongoing job search.
Not “highly qualified” enough, it seemed. Hard to believe a
standard form letter could sting so badly. And she wasn’t the only one who’d
received it, since there were fourteen applicants for the position. Delete her
name and insert another, drop it in the mail, crush someone else’s dreams for
the cost of a stamp. Her misery didn’t find much comfort in the company.
So, that was that—her perfect job filled by someone else,
probably with years more experience and a penis below their belt buckle.
Claybrook Farms was one of the premier horse breeders in the
southeast, and the position would’ve come with benefits rarely offered by other
employers—staff housing, a company vehicle, bonuses, travel. Bellamy had wanted
it so much she could practically smell the handcrafted, oiled-leather saddles
adorning the walls of Claybrook’s enormous tack room.
But student loans didn’t pay themselves, nor magically
disappear, and she couldn’t stomach the thought of asking her parents for money
while she continued the job search. Out of available options, her only choice
was to accept her uncle’s offer and take over his practice. Given the state of
the economy and the number of people looking for jobs, she acknowledged how
lucky she was to have something waiting, but that didn’t deflect the hurt of
rejection and disappointment.
The thought of a small-town practice alone was enough to
make her want to crack a seal on a bottle of 90-proof and drain it right there
in the aisle of the liquor store. She wouldn’t just be working with horses
exclusively, like she’d hoped, but cows, sheep, goats and pigs. Maybe the
occasional emu or alpaca, or even a buffalo. God forbid someone have a llama.
People didn’t shy away from much these days when it came to livestock or family
She grabbed a bottle of tequila that wouldn’t bust the
twenty then turned around to head to the cashier at the front of the store—
Only to run smack up against a solid wall of male.
His hands made a grab for her biceps to keep her from
falling on her butt while his low chuckle caused her face to heat with
embarrassment. All the while, she clutched the liquor to her chest as if it
were a fragile baby rabbit.
“Excuse me,” Bellamy mumbled and moved to step around the
stranger once he’d released her arms.
“Sure you want to do that?” he asked, stopping her in her
His rough, deep voice made the fine hairs on the back of her
neck stand on end. She looked up and,
, she shouldn’t have because
he was so very pretty. A full head taller than her, with broad shoulders,
dark-brown hair that was long overdue for a trim and a smile that could stop
city traffic. His eyes were the unusual gray shade of building storm clouds
with tiny faint lines fanning out from the corners. Lovely lips too, full and
soft looking, even if they
currently curved in amusement over her
lack of grace. There was just enough bristle on his jaw that it would make her
face nice and tingly if he kissed her.
Whoa, what? Jesus, Bellamy, he asked you a question.
“I’m very sure I want to do you.” That gorgeous smile grew
wider the same instant she realized her verbal goof. “Oh no—I meant
The floor could open up now and swallow her whole. She pointed at the bottle.
“I want to drink
until my eyes cross and I can’t feel my head.”
His laughter was like fingertips gliding up her spine, as
potent as the alcohol she held. And naturally, he
She was almost positive if she pushed her face to his throat and inhaled, her
panties would melt right off and slide down into her boots.
Holy crap, she needed to get away from this guy pronto.
Then his hand was being offered. Bellamy considered it as if
it were a rattlesnake. If she touched him, no doubt the contact would cause an
immediate chemical reaction inside her body, a violent collision of lust and
stupidity that she didn’t have the strength to extricate herself from tonight.
But then again, perhaps that wasn’t such a bad thing.
“I’m Eli,” he said.
Bellamy slid her hand into his and lied so easily it was
His smile flashed on, then off, then on again, and it took
all she could do not to laugh too. “No shit?”
She faked offense. “That was my beloved aunt’s name.”
The smile crumpled and the hand that still held hers pulled
free. He held both of them up in front of him, palms out, looking genuinely
contrite. “I’m sincerely sorry. I didn’t mean to insult your aunt. Or you. It’s
just that I’ve never met anyone named Clover before. It’s very…unique.”
Try being named Bellamy.
“It’s ridiculous,” she said, lifting her chin. “But I adored
my aunt, so I carry it proudly.”
She was going straight to hell for this. If her aunt were
actually dead, she’d be laughing her ass off from wherever she’d landed. As it
was, she was more than likely enjoying a cocktail of her own with Bellamy’s
uncle in their RV, somewhere near a beach in Florida. And her name was
“Let me make it up to you,” Eli said, reaching for the
tequila still cradled in the crook of her left arm. “How ’bout I buy you
dinner, then afterward we’ll drink a toast or three to your sweet aunt?”
Bellamy clamped her fingers around the neck of the bottle
when he tried to take it from her, engaging him in a mild game of tug of war.
“Who said anything about her being sweet? For all you know, she could’ve bitten
the heads off live chickens.”
Eli let go, propping his hands on his narrow hips, sighing
and shaking his head at the floor. “This is not going how I planned.”
She nearly dropped the bottle, which would be a true tragedy
because she still might have to pay for it and miss out on all of its wonderful
narcotic benefits. “
“Let’s start over.” He drew a deep breath. “I spotted you
today at the rodeo behind the chutes. After that, I might as well’ve been
watching corn grow in the arena because my eyes kept drifting back to you. But
when I tried to find you between events, you’d disappeared. Then come to find
out, we’re staying at the same motel. I just happened to be grabbing stuff out
of my truck when I saw you crossing the parking lot headed in this direction.
So I followed you here and now I’m stepping all over my tongue
feelings trying to—”
Bellamy placed one finger across his lips, even though she
could listen to that sexy drawl all night long. Her insides were a big gooey
mess over his surprising admission as it was. “Eli, stop.” She handed him the
bottle. “Buy me a drink.”
* * * * *
An hour later, she was well on her way to being tipsy after
doing several shots out of standard motel-issue plastic cups. Had it not been
for Eli raiding the snack machine of nearly everything it contained, she
would’ve gotten there a lot faster.
Candy wrappers and empty chip bags littered the metal picnic
table outside Bellamy’s poolside room. The motel was ancient and cheap, but it
was clean and far enough off the interstate to avoid major traffic noise and
traveling families. It was a cool, clear, early October night, and since the
pool wasn’t heated, they had plenty of privacy. No screaming kids or nearly
naked couples bobbing in the over-chlorinated water. The slider off the back of
her room was open and she’d tuned the television to a channel that played
country music 24/7, keeping the volume low enough that it wouldn’t disturb her
neighbors, yet her and Eli could still hear it.
He sat next to her, his long jean-clad legs propped in one
of the spare chairs, booted feet crossed at the ankle. The sleeves of his
cream-colored western shirt were rolled back a few turns, revealing tan
forearms dusted with dark hair. Every time he moved his wrist, Bellamy’s gaze
fixated on that exposed strip of flexing muscle and thick bone, and her heart
thumped a little harder.
And good heavens, could a simple western shirt be
She could already hear the sound of those pearl snaps popping apart at her
urging, one by one. See the soft fabric slide off his wide shoulders to reveal
the hard, sculpted body beneath. Feel the warmth of his tanned skin beneath her
palms and the sound of his breathing escalate as her hands drifted down his
torso toward his belt buckle.
From the look of his weathered boots and the calluses she’d
felt when they shook hands earlier, that impressive physique was earned the old
fashioned way, through hard manual labor, which only made him hotter.
Eli was a smooth-talking Southern farm boy fantasy come to
life. Probably a once-in-a-lifetime lay for a broke, over-stressed,
career-oriented, seduction-challenged woman like her.
In addition to the tequila, he’d bought a six-pack of beer
for himself, and he was tapping the mouth of a brown bottle against his bottom
lip while he studied her face. The calculating grin he wore was lethal, the
wicked look in his eyes promising.
Bellamy knew where this attraction between them was headed,
and the trip was short. About eight steps, to be exact. All it needed was a
little encouragement from her. Where before she’d wanted to get blitzed out of
her mind to numb the thought process, now she would rather keep some of her
wits about her so she’d remember every tiny detail come tomorrow.
One-night stands weren’t her thing, but getting lost in Eli
for a few hours was a much better alternative to hitting the bottom of a bottle
hard. No headache and queasy stomach tomorrow morning, just a few mild regrets
more than likely, but she’d take the bad with the good. And it
good, no doubt about it. Lust burned as hot in his gaze as it did in her belly.
The question was simply how long would it take before they gave in and landed
on that mattress in a tangled, desperate heap.
“So, cowgirl,” he said. He couldn’t say Clover without
grinning or stumbling over the word, and he had no idea how fitting the
nickname “cowgirl” was going to be in a few weeks.
A couple of times she’d almost caved and told him her real
name, but that felt too intimate, even though she was fully prepared to give
him her body. Something told her the sound of her name on his tongue would
settle somewhere deep inside her, where it would hurt to recall later. And she
would surely remember Eli long after this night was over.
“What were you doing behind the chutes at the rodeo today?
You had credentials, but I didn’t see you participate in any of the events.”
“I thought we said no personal questions?”
“I never agreed to that.”
“No personal questions,” she said.
“You already told me you aren’t married. That’s personal.”
“No, that was a prerequisite for us having drinks and a
private conversation outside my open motel room door.”
inevitable steps from a bed.
“But that entails a certain amount of trust too. We could