Juli’s Choice by Mary Winter
length: short novel
genre: erotic contemporary romance
Cover Art by Celia Kyle
Veterinarian Juli Gregenmyer’s long-awaited engagement is turning into a nightmare. With each passing day it’s becoming evident that her dream of opening a horse rescue is suddenly in jeopardy due to her controlling fiancée.
Riley Hampton, a former Olympic equestrian, isn’t expecting the sexy doctor who responds to his emergency call when his prize mare is in labor. His chosen sport favors the bold. He knows convincing Juli that they’re good together will take the same skills he uses to navigate a water hazard-soft hands and gentle persuasion.
Juli isn’t accustomed to men who comprehend her desires-both the professional and the carnal. But now it’s time for her to choose. She can either follow her head, or her heart.
This is a revised and updated edition of a book previously published by the same title.
The birth of a foal never failed to move Juli. She watched as Lacey gave two more pushes, then the baby slid to the ground. Instantly, Juli moved to its side.
She finished ripping the sac from its head, and then used a cloth to wipe the foal’s nostrils. It took its first breath of fresh air and raised its head. Juli smiled down into its eyes.
“A colt,” Riley said, kneeling by the foal’s side and beginning to briskly rub him down with towels. “Windfree’s first son,” he breathed, the awe more than apparent in his voice.
Juli finished tying off the umbilical cord. She watched Riley stare at the colt, all his hopes and dreams visible on his face. She’d seen it before with other owners and their foals. Watching the tiny foal take in his surroundings, she had a feeling this one would surpass all expectations.
Behind them, the mare lumbered to her feet, and Riley and Juli backed off to allow the new mother to greet her baby. Lacey sniffed the colt before licking it.
Juli backed out of the stall. “I want to stay until he passes the meconium, and to make sure that all is well with mother and baby.”
The colt lurched to his feet, standing and falling in a comical splay of limbs. He shook his head, looking disgusted with himself, and then tried to stand again.
Juli stepped just outside the stall door, followed by Riley. He stood just behind her, his body heat radiating into her back. Watching the foal struggle to his feet, finally getting his spindly limbs beneath him, made her smile. She loved this part of the deliveries. Seeing a healthy foal nurse from its attentive mother made the eleven months of waiting and her own efforts worthwhile. She looked up at Riley and saw him starting at the foal. Love shone from his eyes.
“Is this Lacey’s first foal?” Juli had heard of the mare’s retirement two years ago.
Riley nodded. “We thought we had her bred last year, but it didn’t take. Windfree had a pretty heavy competition schedule, so we couldn’t get her settled.”
Juli nodded. The foal nudged his mother with his skinny head. The two touched noses, then on wobbly legs, the foal stepped back. Ducking its head beneath Lacey’s belly, it grabbed onto a teat and began to nurse.
Lacey lifted a leg, and Juli tensed, afraid the mare might try and hurt the foal. The first nursing always hurt, and some mares took it better than others. Lacey turned her head, stared at her baby, then snorted, but stood completely still.
Riley rested his arm around her shoulder. “You did it,” he said, giving her a tiny squeeze. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your first name.”
“Juli. And thanks. I just helped the little guy into the world. You’re the one who cared for Lacey for eleven months. That’s the hard part.”
She stood there, her heart hammering in her chest. Juli tried to chalk it up to the adrenaline of delivering a healthy foal. She couldn’t quite. All of Harris’ inadequacies came to mind, how he wouldn’t be caught dead out in the barn anytime, let alone in the early hours of the morning. Feeling Riley’s body pressed next to hers, she felt as if the two of them were in synch, both wishing for a healthy mare and foal. Comparing her relationship with Harris to her and Riley at this moment was like watching a horse fighting the bit and a beautiful high-level dressage performance. There was nothing remotely similar between the two.
Aware she stood next to him, her coveralls covered in bodily fluids, she stepped away. “Is there somewhere I can wash up?”
Riley looked down at her. His eyes widened when he saw the extent of the damage on her coveralls. “I have a shower just off my back porch if you want to clean up? Otherwise, there’s a utility sink next to the tack room.”
Juli plucked at the sodden fabric. A change of clothes waited in her truck. Riley’s gaze followed the motion. His gaze lingered on her curves beneath the heavy fabric. Birth moved people different ways, and watching his eyes darken, she suspected how it affected Riley. He raised his hand, and then rested it on the stall door.
“A shower would be great.” She realized her voice was huskier than usual. Looking at him for a moment longer, she wished her eyes weren’t drawn to his full lips. She turned and fled for the safety of the dark night.