Public relations specialist Anna Scott has been sent on an assignment from Hell. As punishment for a previously botched job, she is sent from Raleigh, North Carolina to Clemson, South Carolina in the middle of the summer to photograph an agricultural fair. During her stay she hooks up with a sexy cowboy on the rebound for one night of passion. Two weeks later she is contracted for a job in rural Georgia that will change her life.
Wesley Hall, Jr. is still reeling from the recent split from his fiancée, Deb, after catching her in bed with another man. When his father hires the sexy photographer from The New Reporter in Raleigh to launch a PR campaign for the Homegrown Ranch, he can’t decide if it’s his lucky day or his worst nightmare. When Anna arrives at the Homegrown, they pick up right where they left off, caught in the throes of a passionate and intense affair. Deb still works for Wes’ father, and she can’t let go of her power or her old flame. When the rumors start flying, all eyes immediately point to Anna.
She has two options: to leave it alone and go home, or fight for her love.
More freaking humidity. And animals. And oh, sweet hell, the stink!
Anna understood why women in the south had big hair. With the thermometer hovering just over eighty degrees at nine o’clock in the morning, the resulting humidity would allow for nothing less than huge. She was already sweating, and she hated to sweat. The ground, soft and muddy from yesterday’s monsoon episode, sucked at her feet. At least the camera around her neck hadn’t failed yet. The beauty of digital photography was that she could fit thousands of images on one memory card. And thousands of images were exactly what she was going to walk away with. This place was a photographic wet dream.
The livestock was the main focus of the day, which she found was not just a cattle auction but a full-on festival, but there was other scenery. Clemson itself was a pretty place, and she’d stopped many times on the way out to the fairgrounds to snap photos of the trees, the quaint little churches, and various other bits of Americana.
And then she’d gotten to the fairgrounds and nearly had a stroke. In the twenty-six years of her life she had never, ever seen a real cowboy in the flesh...until now. Now, she was surrounded by them. The hats and boots and button-down shirts and tight, ass-hugging jeans.
Her mouth watered just watching them. Anna had always appreciated the bad-boy type with the baggy jeans and slightly dirty style, but her “type” seemed to have made an abrupt shift to wholesome strangers in Wranglers and Stetsons. She could so get behind one of these boys. Or in front...or anywhere he wanted to put her. Her camera seemed to snap photos of its own volition, twisting and turning every which way as men led cows, sheep, goats, and every other manner of farm animal past her.
Since her first encounter with the cowboys, Anna hadn’t once thought about how muddy the ground was, or how easily it was going to ruin the crushed suede boots she wore. She couldn’t be bothered to give a damn now that she had such delicious eye candy.
She followed the flow of the livestock toward the pens and stationed herself in the front row of the blissfully shaded — if one degree short of hell in the shade could be considered bliss — press box, the little plastic pass dangling from a lanyard around her neck flapping in the breeze of the industrial fan overhead while she popped pictures left and right. The whole point was to document the day, was it not? Yes, Damon was attempting to make her miserable with this mundane little assignment, but she couldn’t help it if his plan backfired. So what if she found a little enjoyment in her work?
Well, more than a little, she had to admit. While she’d never been one to play grab-ass with strange men, something about the way these men moved spoke to her on a primal level.
Not all of them...just the cowboys. And by cowboys, she meant the clean-cut ones that moved with that undefined swagger that just screamed tough guy. The rest of the men around here? Nah...those were just rednecks. There was a distinct and definable difference between the two sets, but if asked to put it into words, Anna would have drawn a blank.
A slightly harried-looking young man settled into the P/R pen next to her, and she glanced at his ID badge. AP. The Associated Press was here? Really? This must be a bigger deal than she thought.
Then a horn sounded, nearly deafening her with its closeness, and one by one the men leading the livestock entered the large, dusty ring before them. The smaller animals came first, then progressed in size until Anna was snapping pictures of large bulls with massive and frightening horns. The animals all appeared well behaved as their owners led them around the pen with nothing but a rope to keep them steady.
Anna wasn’t sure what was happening until ribboned medals began flying around the pen, and hoots and hollers of appreciation filled the air. Not that it mattered — she was only there to photograph, even if she was more interested in the men leading the animals than the animals themselves.
Once the medals were distributed and the pen cleared, the crowd fell into an anticipatory, almost ominous, silence. The announcer on the stage at the back of the pen stepped down and was replaced by a rail-thin, older man in a beat-up hat and dusty boots. He looked slick and sleazy, and Anna knew before he ever opened his mouth that he was the smooth-talking auctioneer who would drive the prices of these animals to exorbitance.
The next hour passed in a flurry of words, gavel hits, and large, prized animals. Anna closed her brain and let the experience wash over her as she took photo after photo of animals, owners, and purchasers alike. With each creature that entered the ring, the hysteria around her seemed to swell until it was nothing but a roiling mass of noise. Then the auctioneer raised his hand, and the roar of the masses died away.
“And now for the last single auction of the day, ladies and gentlemen,” the quick-talking auctioneer said almost incoherently, “from the Homegrown Ranch in Madison County, Georgia, please welcome our blue-ribbon winner, the Holstein wonder, Daisy Mae, led by her breeder...” and the name was lost in a flurry of hands, shouts, cheers, and paddles waving madly in the air. A large, beautifully spotted black-and-white beast entered the ring, led by the most perfect male specimen she had ever seen. Ever.
Her picture snapping halted, and the camera sunk below shoulder level as she watched the shadows of his hat and the late afternoon sun play across his sweat-slicked face. Even wet and slightly scruffy, he was....
What the hell was he? She’d already labeled him as perfect, but even that word wasn’t quite strong enough for this newfound sense of wonder.