Clay Hearts, Book One
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.
A simple country girl who adores living in the South, I enjoy spending time in the great outdoors, biking and working out with my hubby, reading, and, of course, writing. I believe the most important thing you can do for a child, outside of loving them unconditionally, is to put a book in their hands. My favorite authors include Flannery O’Conner, Harper Lee, Gillian Flynn, Megan Hart, Cara McKenna, and Anne Calhoun, just to name a few. You won’t find me on social media much because I think that’s time better spent writing, but I’d love to hear what you thought of my books, so shoot me a line at annieevans.writerATgmailDOTcom.
Kai glared at her cell phone lying on the bar in front of her, willing it to flash back with a text from her friend Grace. She was supposed to meet Kai at Sam’s thirty minutes ago. The last thing on earth she wanted to do was sit in a bar alone, especially overdressed like she was. She stood out like a fly in the sugar bowl. Although the alcohol was taking the edge off her temper.
What had ever made her believe she could move back to Serenity and her parents would stay out of her life? She must have been insane to think her mother could ever do that. God forbid. No, when she found out Kai had broken off her engagement to Phillip and was moving back home, her mother’s matchmaking wheels started spinning in high gear.
Her plan had been to stay in her old bedroom for a few months until she could find a place of her own, but she could already tell she’d be lucky to last a week. There was always the option of moving in with Grace, but her apartment was tiny and Kai wanted privacy too much to share minimal square footage. So the first thing on her agenda for Monday morning was to cruise town searching out “For Rent” signs and scanning the papers.
Earlier tonight at her cousin’s wedding reception, her mother had forced Trent Lathrop on her. Ick. How could he have a bald spot and a paunch at thirty? Every time he’d spoken, his garlic breath nearly knocked her off her chair.
As soon as the cake was cut, Kai hightailed it out of there and made a beeline for the closest bar before she was missed. Problem was she was on foot. Her stilettos were cute to look at and did great things for her calves, but they weren’t exactly conducive to walking long distances. Her poor pinched toes were crying in protest, begging to be set free.
Her phone’s screen blinked in front of her with a message from Grace.
Sorry, not gonna make it. Long day. Can u get a ride home?
That killed her buzz. Kai groaned and dropped her forehead to the bar. She couldn’t blame Grace, really. Kai was the one who’d slunk away from the wedding reception, where she’d had a ride home. And she’d asked Grace to join her for a drink knowing Grace had worked all day. To be upset with her would be unfair, so she’d just have to suck it up and deal with the dilemma.
Seth wandered back over after waiting on other customers. “Something wrong, Kai?”
“Grace isn’t coming and she was my ride home.”
“I’m sure you won’t have any trouble catching a lift with somebody here, but if you care to wait, I’ll drop you off. I go right by your folks’ place on my way home.”
“Thanks, Seth. I may need to take you up on that.”
She sent Grace a text telling her not to worry, she had it covered.
“Can I set you up with more shots? Since you’re not drivin’ and all.” Seth gave her a broad smile and added a wink for good measure.
“Sure, why not? I haven’t let my hair down in a long time. Too bad I’m doing it all by myself.”
Just as the words left her lips, Hoyt Tanner returned from a stroll around the bar. Obviously he’d struck out elsewhere and was back for another go at talking Kai out of her panties. He was about to be disappointed for the second time. All smooth, suave, wannabe cowboy with his crisp, too-tight Wranglers, pristine Stetson and roving hands. Every time he opened his mouth, Kai wanted to shove it full of cocktail napkins. Why couldn’t the boy take a hint?
Damn, it had been a mistake to act on her impulse. She should have stayed at the wedding reception and gotten drunk on champagne instead of Jack Daniel’s. Her mother would’ve crapped a gold brick, but then she wouldn’t be too pleased to know her only daughter was sitting alone in a dive bar down the street getting soused either. Nothing Kai ever did made her mother happy.
Seth sat three shot glasses in front of her and poured each one full of the amber-colored firewater. Without preamble, Kai swallowed her fourth of the night in one burning, unladylike gulp while silently toasting her mother. As soon as the liquor hit her stomach, heat spread outward like an atomic bomb had gone off. It crawled upward, warming her neck and face. She squeezed her eyes shut, hoping that when she opened them again they’d still focus, and with any luck Hoyt would’ve magically disappeared.
So what if she got a little drunk? Okay, a lot drunk. She wasn’t kidding when she told Seth it had been a long time, since before she graduated college, and of course, before she met Phillip.
Smart, handsome, proper Phillip Rutherford, with a pedigree the size of the Athens phonebook. Everything about him was perfect—perfect job, perfect hair, perfect smile, perfect family—and perfectly boring sex. Quick, missionary-style, orgasm-less sex. She’d gotten really good at getting herself off afterward while he showered. And Phillip always showered after sex.
Aside from being stupid enough to think she could live with “perfect” the rest of her days, what on earth ever made her think she could live with that in the bedroom? She should’ve been tipped off when they’d visited his parents one weekend and he’d refused to do it under their roof. It wasn’t as if he was going to make her scream with ecstasy or anything. Or he wouldn’t have a shower handy. For goodness sake, they lived like Rockefellers.
Hoyt’s hand gradually made its way down her back. Kai swallowed her fifth shot, gritting her teeth as it numbed her throat.
“So, sugar butt, I say you’n me ditch this place for somewhere a little more…private,” he said, giving her a pat on the ass with the last word. Her face grew hot and this time it wasn’t caused from the liquor.
As Kai readied to ask Hoyt to remove his big paw from her ass, a husky male voice spoke from behind and beat her to it. “Take a hike, Tanner, before I break every fuckin’ finger on that wanderin’ hand of yours.”
While her muscles automatically tensed, something akin to warm honey pooled in the pit of her belly. Her traitorous nipples hardened to painful points beneath the thin fabric of her dress. The heat from his body touched her back and shoulders as if he were pressed against her, skin on skin. There was no mistaking that voice—rough and potent as the whiskey she’d just inhaled—or the way her senses reacted to its owner.
A little voice inside her head screamed run while you can! Meanwhile other body parts begged no. Stay. Touch.
“I believe the lady here might have somethin’ to say about that,” Hoyt replied.
Staring at the colorful wall of liquor bottles in front of her, Kai said, “Get lost, Hoyt.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Hoyt’s mouth open to say something, then snap shut as his face turned as red as a beet.
“You’re an asshole, Carter,” he spat at Fritz.
“I’ve never denied that,” was Fritz’s cool answer.
Hoyt pushed away from the bar and stomped off.
Long arms stretched past her shoulders, trapping her between his body and the edge of the bar, while warm breath fanned across her exposed nape. His aftershave teased her nose, something spicy and masculine and all Fritz. But he didn’t touch her, and of course, a small part of her felt disappointed.
He murmured next to her ear, “Of all the gin joints in this town, you had to walk into mine.”
Kai couldn’t stop the smile pulling at the corners of her mouth any more than she could stop the tiny shudder that rippled through her body. God, let him stay behind me. Please don’t let me see that face because I’ll go under.
“That’s mighty ballsy, borrowing a line from Bogey,” she quipped.
Then he was there, close, propped on his elbow inches away from her. Kai took a deep breath and gradually raised her gaze to his face.
The years had honed him from cute to fine. Ruggedly handsome. Almost too pretty for a man. He should be in one of those magazine ads for four-wheel-drive trucks—shirtless, sweaty and fixing fence.
Back then he’d worn his chocolate-brown hair longer, a bit shaggier. Now it was trimmed short and neat, but still made her palms itch to grab double handfuls. Eyes the color of Spanish moss studied her face, a trace of amusement dancing in their depths. Those soft, full lips Kai remembered all too well. The thick column of his neck disappeared into the collar of a plaid Western-style shirt. A few open snaps revealed a dusting of dark chest hair. His sleeves were rolled up to his elbows, exposing tanned, corded forearms. Broad chest, narrow hips, long legs. Maturity looked awful good on him.
“I don’t think he’ll mind. He’s dead.” Leave it to Fritz to be concise. Kai tried hard not to laugh.
“You know, I had Mr. Tanner under control.”
His eyes narrowed. “When? Before or after he touched your ass?”
“I’m quite capable of taking care of myself.”
He laughed and rubbed his jaw. “How well I know, Donnelly. How well I know.”
The corners of his eyes crinkled attractively when he smiled and Kai felt her stomach flutter. Lord Almighty, the man was still more potent than the eighty-proof alcohol patiently waiting in the last shot glass in front of her. He should come with a warning label—one look at him will melt your panties right along with your resistance. She gulped the liquor down, thinking she needed it to steel herself against the onslaught of raw lust threatening to overtake her. It was almost as if time had been turned back and she was eighteen again, completely smitten yet scared to death of the effect he had on her, body and soul.
Fritz leaned in close. “How many of those have you had tonight?”
One dark eyebrow shot up. “You’re not drivin’ I hope.”
Seth picked that perfect moment to butt into the conversation.
“Nope, she ain’t drivin’. I was gonna give her a lift home but maybe you could, Fritz, so she won’t have to wait on me to close up.”
Kai gave Seth the stink-eye but he just shrugged his shoulders.
Without taking his watchful gaze off Kai, Fritz pulled money from his shirt pocket and tossed it on the bar. “Close out her tab, Seth, and give us the rest of that bottle of Jack.”
She was being manhandled and it was starting to piss her off. “I can pay my own tab, thank you very much, and I can find my own way home.”
Seth slid the bottle of whiskey across the bar and Fritz tucked it under his arm, then grabbed her elbow to help her stand. Kai snatched her arm away.
“I’m quite capable of walking on my own!”
“You’re gonna break an ankle in those damn shoes. Give me your arm, Kai.”
Kai spun around on the barstool and planted her feet on the floor. When she stood, the room tilted sideways and so did she. Fritz caught her around the waist with one arm, and if she wasn’t mistaken, snickered under his breath.
“Easy there, tiger.”
Once everything was somewhat level again, she shoved her shoulders back, put one foot in front of the other and wobbled out of the bar.