Authors: Mia Hopkins
Tags: #small town;erotica;erotic;virgin;new adult;Latina;Hispanic;western;holiday
Forget chocolate and flowers. This homegrown honey is all the sweetness he craves.
Small-town life is nothing but a waiting room for eighteen-year-old honor student Corazón Gomez. Work and school leave little time for love, but with a full-ride Ivy League scholarship and a one-way ticket out of the boondocks, who needs it?
The answer appears on Valentine’s Day when her old cowboy crush ambles into the ice cream parlor where she works, inviting her to go on a late-night ride in his truck. For the first time she wavers between staying on the straight and narrow, and going off-road with the handsome heartbreaker.
After four years working on ranches all over the country, Caleb MacKinnon is back on the family farm helping out his mom and brothers while his father fights cancer. The one bright spot: smart, funny, and wickedly sexy Cora.
From the start, they both know this blazing-hot love affair can’t last. But when autumn comes and Cora has to leave for the East Coast, Caleb must find a solution to keep himself—and his heart—from falling apart.
Warning: Contains hard, cherry-poppin’ sex in a pickup truck and a cowboy charmer who talks dirty in two languages.
To Jennifer Miller, for taking a chance on my first book and making it shine.
To Samanthe Beck, a better mentor than Yoda (and way sexier).
To Ruth Vincent-Schechtman. Thank you for your kindness, intelligence and candor in helping me bring this story to life.
To my husband, Brent, for crossing oceans, braving dark forests and killing many large insects for me over the years. I love you.
And most of all…to every “good girl” out there with a wild, rebellious heart. Keep ’em guessing, honey. This one’s for you.
“Life will not break your heart. It’ll crush it.”
At half past midnight, Cora decided to start closing down the shop. She shut down the soda machine by unscrewing all the sticky knobs and throwing them into the dishwasher with the last of the spoons and saucers. She stacked the clean glass dishes up on the shelves while the remaining patrons—mostly pimply teenagers on Valentine’s Day dates—sucked up the last of their ice-cream sodas and fed each other final bites from banana splits.
As she filled the mop bucket in the back room, she heard the jingling of the door as a couple of patrons left the shop. Cora guessed their next stop would be the levy for some sweaty coupling in borrowed cars. Either that or chaste kisses on front porches under the eyes of shotgun-wielding fathers. Beyond that, there was not much to do in this little town. Besides beer parties out in the desert, the Oleander Ice Cream Parlor was the only place to hang out if you were underage. The two cowboy bars in town wouldn’t serve minors.
Cora rarely worked at the ice-cream parlor by herself. Usually there were one or two other girls with her. But tonight they were all out on dates, so she’d worked the last four hours of the shift alone. Her last coworker had left at eight.
“You sure you’re going to be all right?” Wanda had done a quick presto change-o in the washroom and had emerged in a tight green dress, her tits high and snug in their push-up bra. Wanda was twenty, a single mom of two boys aged four and three. She didn’t get to go on dates very often; this was her first in months.
Cora wasn’t about to ruin the evening for her. “Go on,” she said, waving her hand. “I’ll be all right.”
“I swear, Cora.” Wanda paused to apply her lip gloss. “I know you’re leaving town for college soon, but you need to get yourself laid, honey. You are too pretty by far to be alone tonight.”
“Boyfriend’s the last thing I need.” Cora served a double dip.
“I suppose you’ll find yourself a nice college boy back East once you get out of Oleander.” Wanda grinned. “But lemme tell you, sweetie, ain’t nothing like riding a cowboy all night long.”
Cora smiled and shook her head, then turned to serve a couple of wide-eyed, underaged patrons who were giggling at Wanda’s cowboy comment. “You are too much, woman.”
After the last kids left at five minutes to one, Cora turned off the neon
sign in the window and stepped out to have a cigarette. Her yellow waitress uniform was thin, worn cotton, but the February night was unseasonably warm, with a dry wind whipping over the fields and blowing alternating smells of cow shit and sagebrush into town.
She sat down on a cracked concrete parking block and brushed the hair out of her face. The street was deserted. She lit up, and the flare of her cigarette seemed to be the only light in the whole town. She imagined every single person in town but her having sex, all five thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine of them: three thousand dicks sheathed in two thousand nine hundred ninety-nine pussies or assholes or mouths. The math meant one talented lady was entertaining two men tonight.
Cora snorted at the thought. Thinking about the mechanics of sex grossed her out enough to help push down the sneaking sense of loneliness and longing that she felt rising in her chest. She’d gotten a scholarship for Brown, a big boon for a Mexican-American kid from the middle of nowhere. But studying like a maniac and working like a dog had left her little time for love, or whatever substituted for love when you were eighteen and had no idea where your life was really leading you.
The cigarette calmed her down some, so she turned back to the shop to finish closing. When she reached for the handle of the door, a pair of headlights lit up the storefront and a big engine shuddered into Park behind her.
She stubbed out her cigarette on the rim of a trash can and turned around. The driver’s side door squeaked open and shut.
“We’re closed,” she said to the figure who walked up to her, a tall man in jeans, a plaid shirt and a cowboy hat.
He looked up in the faint light coming from the store window. “That so?” he drawled. His voice was deep.
“Afraid so.” Cora squinted at him. “Do I know you?”
The man stepped farther into the light. “Maybe.”
He was about six feet or so, with high cheekbones and a clean-shaven chin. His skin was tanned and freckled, as though he spent long hours in the sun. He tipped his hat back, and at once Cora saw his eyes—green but with pupils rimmed in gold. He was handsome as hell.
“You’re a MacKinnon kid,” she said, although she knew full well which one he was, and that he was no kid.
“I remember you from school. You graduated like three, four years ago.”
He looked down at her. His scrutiny scorched her cheeks. “I want to say I remember who you are, but I can’t,” he said at last. “What’s your name?”
“Cora. Corazón Gomez.”
Caleb put a boot on the parking block and hooked his thumbs onto his belt. “Wait. I think I remember you too. You were that really smart one. The freshman in my chemistry class who knew all the answers. I think I had you in Spanish too. The teacher always made a big deal about your name meaning… What was it?”
His eyes locked on hers and he nodded slowly, in no hurry to respond. To keep from fidgeting, she put her hands in the pockets of her uniform, wondering if he was going to say anything more. In the quiet, the wind rustled through the ocean of sagebrush that grew across the road.
“Well, I have to finish closing up.” She tried to sound casual. “Nice seeing you again, I guess.”
He still hadn’t stopped staring at her, but when she broke eye contact with him and turned toward the door, he cleared his throat. “Um, any chance I could get a sundae? I’ve had a hell of a night. I’d appreciate it.”
“I don’t think I’m supposed to let you in after closing time.”
“I won’t tell anyone. I promise.”
Cora’s hand rested on the door handle for a moment. When she looked at him again, he smiled, and a deep dimple formed in his left cheek, temporarily distracting her enough to make her say, “Okay. But you have to make it fast.”
“My three brothers taught me to eat quickly or not at all.”
He followed her in, then sat down at the counter, took off his hat and ran his hand through his dark blond hair, disheveling it and making himself even more attractive.
Trying not to make eye contact with him, she grabbed a glass dish off the shelf and picked up the scoop.
“What’ll it be?”
She fixed him a black-and-white sundae and tried not to blush under the heat of his stare as she moved behind the counter. When she spooned the bright-red cherry on top, he murmured, “Beautiful.”
She put the dish in front of him. He grabbed the spoon at once and took a big bite. “That’s good,” he said, his mouth full.
“Can I ask you a question?” she asked, pulling out the fudge pumper. “Why are you here at the ice-cream parlor? Why aren’t you at Frank’s or the Silver Spur like everyone else who struck out tonight?”
“How do you know I struck out?”
“You said you’d had a rough night. I made an assumption.”
He smiled. “Smart girl. I did indeed strike out. But I don’t feel up to either of those bars. I know too many people there.” He wiped his mouth with a napkin and took another bite. “I’d rather be here. With you.”
She snorted, uncomfortable with his flirting. “No one would rather be here.
wouldn’t rather be here with me.”
“So your valentine’s waiting for you at home?”
She covered up the nuts and refilled the marshmallow dispenser. “Sure. If by my valentine you mean my grandma. She drinks a glass of wine and goes to bed at eight.”
“No boyfriend, Cora? I find that hard to believe.” He licked a drop of whipped cream off the corner of his mouth.
She kept her eyes glued to her dishrag. “There’s no point. I’m leaving in a few months.”
“School. Rhode Island.” She walked over to him and saw that he was half-finished. He
eat fast. “I need to close the register. That sundae’s three fifty.”
He pulled out his wallet and took out a fiver. “Keep the change.” He winked.
“Thanks.” She rolled her eyes.
After she closed the register, she went to wipe down and sweep the tiny dining area.
When he was finished, he got up and, to her surprise, took his dish to the sink in the back room. Then he came back out with the mop.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Helping you out.” He began to swab the sticky tile floor, leaving it shining and clean. “Seems like a raw deal to be here on Valentine’s Day. At least you’ll get out of here sooner if I help.”
Surprised, but not one to argue about extra help, she refilled all the napkin dispensers, then straightened up the candy counter.
“Who was she?” she asked after a while, feeling shaky and overbold at the same time.
“Who?” asked Caleb, rinsing out the mop.
“Oh.” He hung the mop up and wiped his hands on his jeans. “A mistake is what she was.”
He straightened all the chairs and then sat back down at the counter, facing her. “I’ve been working down at the Hughes place. She’s the foreman’s daughter. I finally got the courage to ask her out. I’m not sure if her old man had anything to do with it, but she stood me up. I waited for a couple of hours and then just gave up. And here I am.”
“She pretty?” Cora asked, her heart pounding like a jackhammer.
He shrugged. “To be honest, she’s nowhere near as pretty as you.” He leaned his elbows back on the counter, his posture lazy, like that of a wolf that hasn’t decided if it’s going to start chasing something. “Can I ask you a question?”
She turned off the light in the back room and started to put on her jacket. “What?”
“Do you wanna go for a ride with me?”
He shrugged again, his mouth a line of perfect insouciance. “Anywhere. Back roads. I do it all the time.”
She said nothing for a little while, but he held her fast with his eyes just the same.
“If you’re planning on compromising my honor,” she said, trying to make a joke even though her body felt like horses at the starting gates, “my grandma will come after you with her machete.”
“I’ll only compromise your honor if you want me to. Come on.”
Caleb stopped at the Liquor Shack before getting on the highway. In the dark, the crescent moon rained down faint silver light and the dark hills in the distance were silhouetted against deep purple. The highway was empty.
“What did you buy?” she asked, looking at the paper sack he’d stashed by her feet.
“Beer, water, some other stuff. Are you thirsty? Help yourself.”
There were some peach-flavored wine coolers in the bag, which she assumed he’d gotten for her. Since she started working at the ice-cream parlor, her sweet tooth had gone completely dead. She popped open one of his Bud Lights and took a tentative sip. It tasted like sourdough bread, not unpleasant.
“Here it is.” He turned off the highway.
They bumped along a wide dirt road, and Cora closed her window against the dust rising off the tires. “Where are we?”
“On Hughes land,” he said.
“Will we get in trouble for being here?”
“They’ve got fifteen thousand acres. They don’t use this pasture until summer.”
“Are you one of their cowboys?”
“Nope. I’m a ranch hand. I do the shit work no one else wants to do.”
“Mend fences. Muck out stables. They let me help with the branding once. I look after most of the equipment too, and fix it when it breaks.”
There was a key chain hanging from the ignition, a bottle opener that said
on it. It banged against his steering column as the truck swayed back and forth over the dirt road.
“You left town after graduation,” she said. She remembered when he did. Her fifteen-year-old heart had split clean in two.
“I went to work ranches in Nevada first, then Montana. Same stuff I do here.”
“Why’d you come back?”
“Mom asked me to,” he said quietly. “My dad’s sick.”
“Oh,” she said. He didn’t say more, and she didn’t ask.
He turned on his high beams just as the road got rougher and narrower, heading toward foothills covered with yellow grass and studded with oak trees. “I just got this truck—’87 Silverado 4x4. She’s dinged up bad but she’s got a badass engine, and the previous owner gave her a four-inch lift.” He punched it, and they lurched forward.
Cora had finished the beer, so she tossed the can on the floor and clicked on her seat belt.
“Let’s go,” he said with a smile.
They roared up a steep hill, the tires spinning a little at the top. He turned the steering wheel to the left and gunned the engine just enough to get them over the edge. The truck wound through the scrubby trees until they reached a small clearing.
When he shut off the engine and killed the lights, the only sounds were crickets and the
of cooling metal. The only light came from stars and the sliver of moon hanging high in the sky.
“Pass me a beer.” He took off his seat belt.
She popped one open for him. “Can I smoke in your truck?”
She lit up. When her eyes adjusted to the dark, she could make out the valley below them, spread out like a black blanket, with the faint outlines of fields and orchards. Downtown Oleander was a little sprinkling of orange lights in the darkness.
“Slide over,” he said. “I’m cold.”
Insides shaking, she unbuckled her seat belt and tucked herself under his right arm. He smelled clean and sharp, like leather and Ivory soap. His body was hard and lean and broad; his forearm hanging over her shoulder made her feel tiny.
Without saying anything, he tipped his head forward and stole a drag from her cigarette. His lips touched her fingers. He exhaled out the open window, then took a long drink of beer.
“Feels like we could be the only people in the whole damn world right now, don’t it?” He took off his hat and placed it on the bench seat beside her. “Are you nervous?”