A Mountain Haven Novel, Book 1
One reality star bad girl. One small-town vet. And the passion is unforgettable...
Move away. Dye my hair. Change my name. Fly under the radar.
That's my plan to keep the public from recognizing me. I just want to be the new business owner of an old-fashioned barber shop, the ultimate man cave. But all anyone seems to remember is that I'm the bad girl on a popular reality show.
And when, I meet the new sexy veterinarian, his gruff voice and grumpy manner get my blood pumping. His sweet way with animals makes me want to know everything about him.
For the first time in my life, cameras aren’t broadcasting my every move. No producer is telling me what to say or do. No one’s pushing me toward him.
This natural gravitation toward him is the realest thing I’ve ever felt.
But when my past collides with my present, everything comes crashing down around me.
I wish I could just hide, but I can't.
Escape my past. Keep my secrets buried. And secure the dream job.
That's my plan to change my life.
I’m living like I could pack up and leave at a moment’s notice.
Now, my new boss won’t sell me his practice unless I convince him I’m here to stay.
Fresh from L.A., Elle Carmichael walks into my vet office with her puppy and plans for her business. With her sunny disposition and wide-eyed hope, she thinks she’s a good fit for this town. As soon as her crazy business plan fails, she’ll be gone.
Getting involved with her is the worst kind of trouble. It will only attract attention to my past, ruining my future.
I wish I could resist her, but I can’t.
Romance steamy enough to melt the Colorado snow comes to the small town of Telluride in the Mountain Haven Series!
+ Excerpt +
Crew, a yellow lab mix puppy—with feet larger than his body—sniffed the sidewalk, grass, and the potted plant by the door of the vet’s office.
The vet’s office was located on the outskirts of the historic town in a valley surrounded by mountains.
Glancing around quickly to see if cameras were following me, I opened the door. Crew preceded me inside. No one would follow me here. No one even knew who I was.
Crew’s feet scrambled for purchase on the tile as he whined, pulling against the leash to get into every corner to explore. The room was vast―a reception counter positioned directly in front of the door with shelves to the right, and an open space in front of large windows with spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains.
“That’s where we hold training classes if the weather doesn’t cooperate,” said the young woman seated at the counter.
I smiled, stepping closer. So far, people seemed friendlier, more welcoming here.
“I’m Anne. Is this Crew?” Wearing scrubs, with her hair in a perky ponytail, she stood and came around the counter to pet him.
He sat, his fluffy tail wagging as she peppered him with love.
“He’s adorable. Where did you get him?”
“Second Chance Animal Rescue.”
“I love getting to meet all the puppies.” Her smile widened as she sat back down at her desk, placing a file in front of her, inputting information into the computer.
I couldn’t imagine being happy where I worked, but I’d never worked a traditional job. Not for long, anyway. The show, the cameras, made it impossible.
“Ready to go back?” She gestured to the exam rooms.
“Sure.” I followed her into a square, white room—the exam table the focal point, a counter with supplies against the wall. I took a seat in one of the chairs.
“Dr. Stanton will be in soon.” Anne closed the door softly, leaving us alone.
I dropped the leash, allowing Crew to explore, sniffing under the doors, probably searching for crumbs.
I startled when the other door opened, grabbing the slack leash just as Crew lunged at the man, and his assistant, who entered. Crew was only twenty-five pounds but strong, pulling me with him.
When the vet crouched in front of him, Crew sat, sniffing his hand as if he’d met a new friend. The doctor wore a long white coat and khakis with boots, his dark hair falling over his forehead in a messy disarray. The desire to touch his hair, to push it back from his face and see if it was as soft as it looked, struck me hard in the gut.
I hadn’t felt an attraction to anyone in a long time. While the show was filming, I’d been surrounded by kids―boys I went to high school with.
The vet stood; his name, Dr. Gray Stanton, was printed in blue script above the pocket on his jacket. He was tall, towering over me. The jacket stretched taut over his shoulders. His face was chiseled, the kind of face you’d see on an actor or a model, not in a small town in Colorado. His face was familiar.
A sense of déjà vu shot through me. This was the man I’d run into at the bar when I was in town to renovate the shop. His hands had steadied me, not moving as his eyes darkened, his head lowered. Thinking he was going to kiss me, I’d slipped out of his grip, apologizing, then stepped to the side to escape. Everything about him―his scent, the intensity of his gaze―drew me in.
When I moved here, I promised myself I’d focus on the business. I hadn’t had the best track record with the guys in my past. With one touch, this man had my body tingling.
I held out my hand to shake his.
“You got a puppy.” It was a statement, his tone lightly tinged with irritation, bringing me back to the present.
Confused at his reaction, I glanced at his assistant who smiled in apology. Was he judging me for getting a puppy? The idea he thought I was impulsive, and clearly didn’t remember me, struck at my most vulnerable parts.
“Yeah. I got him from a rescue.” Just as I was going to lower my hand, Dr. Stanton’s fingers, firm and calloused, like he was used to working hard all day, engulfed mine.
He let go of my hand, turning to open the file on the counter. “That’s something, at least. You know anything about dogs?”
“No. I’ve never owned one before. I always wanted one.” I sounded young and naive, exactly how I felt. I was new at making decisions in my life, but I’d researched, thinking I was prepared for the responsibility.
He grunted as he nodded toward his assistant, whose name tag said Sheila, to put Crew on the table that doubled as a scale. Dr. Stanton pushed the button to raise the table to hip height.
I was grateful to have something between us besides his animosity.
Dr. Stanton kept his gaze on the rising table. “I operated on a dog this morning who was given as a gift. She darted out of the house and was hit by a car. She needed surgery and the owners can’t, or won’t, pay for it. They asked me to put her down, but I refused.”
My heart squeezed at the thought of a dog being struck by a car. I covered my chest with a hand. “I’m so sorry. That’s awful.”
“I wish people would think twice before getting a dog. They aren’t toys you can return when they no longer suit your lifestyle.”
Dr. Stanton’s words rang with a hint of warning for me. The difference was, I’d wanted a dog for as long as I could remember, someone to cuddle with when the house was empty, someone to love. I chewed my lip. “A dog getting loose sounds like something that could happen to anyone.”
I stepped closer to Crew, scratching under his chin, determined it wouldn’t happen to him if I could help it.
“Does Crew have any issues with eating?”
Dr. Stanton’s question jarred me from thoughts. “He has a big appetite.”
“You’re feeding him puppy food, no more than two cups a day?” His tone softened, less gruff than when he came in.
“Yeah. I read up on dogs before I got one.” I was eager to disavow Dr. Stanton of his low opinion of me. The desire to prove myself ran deep.
“That’s good.” From his tone, I couldn’t tell if it was. Was there something about me specifically he didn’t like, or was I merely the unlucky person who walked in after he performed surgery on a dog whose owners abandoned her?
Did he somehow remember who I was? I curled one lock of hair around my finger, wondering if it was a bad idea to think I could move to a new town to start over without anyone recognizing me. I let the strand go, the curl popping back into place, and exhaled slowly.
There was no way this man watched reality TV. While my every teenage move was followed by cameras and producers, he was studying to be a veterinarian.
I blinked away the memories, the ever-present pit from those days, burning in my gut as Dr. Stanton probed Crew’s stomach. He opened his mouth, checking his teeth, before looking at his eyes and ears.
“You’re new in town.” It wasn’t a question.
I nodded eagerly, hoping for common ground. I wanted to get along with people here. “I just opened the new barbershop, Smoke & Mirrors.”
Dr. Stanton stilled, one hand stroking Crew’s head. “You opened it?”
“It’s a barbershop.”
“It’s a dream of mine.” I smiled, proud of my idea and filled with hope that I’d make it on my own so I wouldn’t have to resort to signing on to yet another reality show spin-off. The producers loved my idea to open a traditional barbershop complete with wood floors, traditional old-time seats, mirrors, and man-cave signs. They wanted to offer me a show of my own, but only if I opened it in Los Angeles. I wanted nothing to do with that city, or that life, anymore.
“I never thought about a woman running a barbershop. Don’t you prefer salons or spas?”
I bristled slightly. “I’d be catering to men. They prefer barbershops.”
Sheila’s phone buzzed. “I’ll just be a minute. They can’t find gloves in room two.”
Dr. Stanton nodded without breaking eye contact with me.
He seemed interested in my response. Maybe he wanted to understand me. I couldn’t remember anyone ever scrutinizing my reasoning for anything. I was usually the one following directions, not making decisions.
I licked my lips, stepping closer to the table under the guise of comforting Crew when I was the one thrown off balance.
The small space between us crackled with tension. His gaze paused on my mouth before he looked away.
My plan to open a barbershop catering to men was purposeful. It was unlikely men watched the show or entertainment news. If they did, hopefully they wouldn’t care.
Gray turned, writing something in a folder. “Make sure you get Crew into obedience classes. I’ll have Sheila give you a list of training programs in the area. We offer one here, outside when the weather’s nice, inside when it’s not.”
It was a relief he wasn’t focused on me. At the same time, I felt strangely let down.
“I do need to get him into training.” He pulled when I walked, ate everything in sight―including furniture and shoes―but he was so cute. He was exactly what I needed. I just hoped this town was what I needed too.
“Where are you from?”
I’d vowed to be vague about my history. I’d grown up in an affluent beach town on the coast, then moved to LA for the show. It detailed our high school years until we became young twenty-somethings, trying to find our way―with too much money and no purpose or guidance. I settled for, “California.”
He nodded as if my answer told him all he needed to know. “Sheila will administer his vaccines. Make sure you get him on heartworm, flea, and tick medications as soon as possible. We have those here if you want them, or I can print a prescription.”
“Oh, whatever you have here is fine.”
“It was good to meet you, Ms. Carmichael.” His tone was brisk, professional.
“It’s Elle.” My voice was soft. It was still weird to go by my sister’s nickname for me, and not the name I’d gone by my entire life, Giselle. Giselle was a part I played on TV. She didn’t exist anymore. I could reinvent myself in this town. I could be someone else, someone people counted on, someone to be proud of.
Dr. Stanton gathered his paperwork. “Why Telluride? We may be a tourist town, but the locals are loyal to each other. We don’t get many outsiders.”
I stiffened. For once in my life, I wanted to belong. I wanted the locals to accept me. “I used to vacation here with my family when I was a child.”
I’d always loved it here, the cold and snow versus the heat and beach.
His face softened before he said, “The locals can sniff out someone who’s not genuine a mile away. So, if you’re not here for the right reasons, don’t even bother.
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