CLAY HEARTS SERIES
Welcome to Serenity, Georgia, where the dirt is red, the tea is sweet, and the gossip runs as wild as Kudzu vines. It’s also where local boys Fritz, Eli and Sage Carter ply their trade as one of the oldest farming families in the south. At the end of a long day, these gorgeous, rough-and-ready farmers are in need of cold beer and hot women. Lucky for them, Serenity holds both.
BETTING THE FARM, available now from Ellora’s Cave!
Fritz Carter has carved out a nice life in his hometown of Serenity, Georgia. Together with his brothers, they’ve made the family farm more successful than ever. Fritz wants for very little—save for the girl he’d loved in high school. The girl who’d left Serenity behind…left Fritz behind as well.
The girl who just sauntered into the local dive bar, looking all woman and hotter than ever.
Fritz would have to be blind not to want Kai back in his bed. He’d also have to be stupid to give her his heart. Not again. Not right away. They’ve both changed, and past hurts haven’t healed as well as either had thought. A few sultry summer nights in Kai’s arms don’t equal love…even if his heart says otherwise.
An Excerpt From: BETTING THE FARM
Copyright © ANNIE EVANS, 2014
All Rights Reserved, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.
Kai managed to hold it together until she pulled into her parents’ four-car detached garage, then she dropped her forehead to the steering wheel and let go, allowing herself a much needed pity cry. When her tears dried up, she climbed out of her car and went inside but it was the last place she wanted to be.
She didn’t want to see her parents or Josh, didn’t feel like watching TV or calling Grace. What she needed was to be alone for a while and clear her head. She changed into her workout clothes and running shoes then darted back out the door. A long run had always helped, so perhaps that would do the trick.
After stretching for a few minutes, she headed out in no particular direction and about a quarter of a mile in, she found her stride. Her footfalls ate up the asphalt while her mind gnawed away at her heated confrontation with Fritz. Clearly he still harbored some anger and bitterness about their breakup.
Some, Kai? Try a lot.
After graduation, she’d been torn between staying in her hometown and leaving for college. Serenity had nothing to offer as far as higher education went, not even at the community level. Athens held the closest four-year university. She’d wanted that experience, along with a degree. She thought Fritz understood. He’d seemed supportive of her move at first, saying he didn’t blame her for wanting to go.
What did you expect him to say? Stay with me? Don’t follow your dreams? He’d loved you too much to do that. And she’d broken his heart in exchange for his willingness to step back and let her spread her wings.
Time away had shifted her priorities. College life had been freeing. She’d gotten away from her parents and their overbearing influence—a different life than what she’d had in Serenity waited. The letters and phone calls between her and Fritz had waned, then stopped altogether. It was one hundred percent her fault.
And the truth she’d kept hidden from everyone but herself was—the strength of the connection between them had frightened her. At times it had bordered on outright obsession. No one should want someone that fiercely at eighteen, should they? It couldn’t be normal at that age to crave someone’s touch, or that’s what she’d thought at the time.
So she left, thinking she needed to put distance between them for her sanity, and the emotions were something she’d outgrow over time. They both would, and move on to new people, new lives. What they’d had together would be nothing but a warm memory to look back on one day.
Now that she’d returned to Serenity and she’d seen him again—heard him, touched him, smelled him—she realized she’d been wrong. She might’ve convinced her brain she’d gotten over him, but her heart and body remembered as if it were yesterday.
Kai stopped running and propped her hands on her hips, trying to catch her breath. Snippets of their late-night conversation from Saturday flashed through her head like a neon sign.
I wasn’t in love with her.
I’ve missed you.
I’ve missed you too.
Kai winced and slapped her palm to her forehead. Damn temporary-amnesia-inducing, tongue-loosening Jack Daniel’s.
She checked for traffic at a four-way stop and jogged through the intersection.
He’d been so kind and patient with her that night and the next morning. What had happened in the last three days to change his attitude?
She recalled the conversation she’d had with Grace and got her answer—his buddies or his brothers would be bending his ear with their brand of advice. The latter were closest to him. They would’ve been there when he was drinking and picking fights and they would’ve known the cause.
His older brother Eli was a sweetheart. He and Kai had gotten along well, even became good friends. It had been Eli who’d caught her and Fritz skinny-dipping one night and kept it a secret. It had been Eli who’d reassured her that leaving Serenity made sense, that his brother would be fine. Fritz didn’t know that though, and she’d never want him to find out. Especially given the way he’d behaved earlier today at the barn.
Sage, on the other hand, was the exact opposite. He was two years younger than Fritz and the smartass in the family, the pessimist. Fritz used to blame it on jealousy but Kai was convinced Sage just didn’t like her. Leaving his brother behind had likely strengthened that sentiment, no matter how nice he acted to her face.
Kai stopped running again and looked around, familiarizing herself with her location. Damn, she’d run almost two miles one-way, farther than she’d intended for sure. She wiped her damp face on her shirttail, then bent her knee and pulled the heel of her foot toward her butt cheek, stretching out her tight, underused quads.
At some point she’d veered off the asphalt roadway and was now on a hard-packed clay side road. Smelling fresh rain on a light, welcome breeze that kicked up, Kai glanced at the sky and groaned. Ominous, gray storm clouds were fast approaching from the west and she had to head south. At the rate that storm was moving, their paths were going to collide soon. Since she’d run so far, it was doubtful she could beat the rain back to the house, but she turned around and began to jog that direction. At a quarter mile in, a fat raindrop hit her on the nose. Kai tried picking up her pace a little but she was already spent, so she accepted that she was about to get wet.
Another half-mile down and the bottom dropped out. She’d barely made it back to the main highway. In a matter of minutes, she was soaked to the skin. Still, she had no choice other than to keep going. With every footstep, rainwater splashed her calves, soaking into her socks and shoes. Her sodden ponytail slapped heavily between her shoulder blades. The fresh smell of pine and dank earth saturated her sinuses.
Lightning cracked across the sky, followed by rolling thunder carrying off through the trees. To distract her mind from her discomfort, Kai tried to remember the saying about the seconds between the two and how it equated to how far away the worst of the storm was. It was no use. She was drowning, freezing and at least a mile yet from home.
She eyed a rusty, dilapidated shed a few feet off the road up ahead. When she got close, she dashed through the ditch toward it, huddling under the narrow eaves. It didn’t offer much shelter, but at least it gave her a brief respite from the relentless, stinging drops. She hugged close to the tin wall, still warm from the afternoon sun, and tried not to think about spiders and snakes while she rubbed at her chilled skin.
A black Ford F-250 drove past, then slowed and did a three-point turn in the middle of the highway. Kai sighed, wiping rain from her face with her hands.
What was he doing out this way?
Fritz pulled through the ditch and stopped, his truck idling, the passenger door and the dry, warm cocoon of the cab four feet away. Embarrassment coursed through her, burning her cheeks despite the cold rain. Steam should’ve been rising from the top of her head.
The dark-tinted window slid down faster than she wanted it to.
Releasing October 10th, 2014, from Ellora’s Cave!
STRADDLING THE FENCE
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 calling.
An Excerpt From: STRADDLING THE FENCE
Copyright © ANNIE EVANS, 2014
All Rights Reserved, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.
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 pets.
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 tracks.
His rough, deep voice made the fine hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. She looked up and, oh boy, 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 were 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 this!” The floor could open up now and swallow her whole. She pointed at the bottle. “I want to drink this 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 would smell amazing. 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 scary. “Clover.”
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 Margaret.
“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. “Planned?”
“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 and your 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.”