A SEAL's Vow (The SEALs of Chance Creek #2)@Cora Seton
Clay Pickett snapped awake with an alertness born of long years of active duty as a Navy SEAL. But he wasn’t in the hills of Afghanistan, the deserts of Iraq or any of the other exotic locales he’d visited during his years of service. He was thirty feet from the bunkhouse at Westfield, a large, once-prosperous ranch in Chance Creek, Montana, where he’d come with several of his oldest friends to build a sustainable community and show the world a better way to live.
There shouldn’t be any danger here, but Clay was as alert as if he’d been sleeping in a minefield. You never knew where trouble would spring from. He found it best to expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised when disaster didn’t strike. Holding his breath, he listened for the noise that had jolted him out of his dreams, but all he heard was the normal early morning sounds in Base Camp—the assortment of tents and outbuildings that formed the headquarters of the community for now. Someone was snoring. Someone else rolled over and settled back into sleep.
Clay quickly pulled on boxer briefs, a pair of sweatpants, socks, shoes and a T-shirt, and eased the zipper of his tent open. As he stepped out into the cool pre-dawn air, the familiar scents of the countryside made him inhale deeply.
He was back where he belonged. Where there was good work to be done and a future for him. As he scanned the quiet tents, the nearby fire pit, bunkhouse and barns, and the farther off pastures that rolled down to the distant mountains, Clay relaxed.
There was nothing out of order that he could see. Just his destiny spread out before him. Life was good. Real good.
Something snapped in a row of bushes lining the dirt lane that ran from the bunkhouse out to the highway. Clay, alert again, moved quickly to investigate, and laughed when a wren darted out of the foliage and flew so close by his head he heard the whirr of its wings. There was nothing to fear here in Chance Creek.
Clay tried to ignore that thought, but it wound its way into his mind with the tenacity of a serpent entering paradise. He and his friends had a number of tough challenges ahead of them, but only one of them gave him pause.
He needed a wife.
Clay turned around to face the large, three-story stone house perched on a rise of ground a quarter mile away. Nicknamed the manor for its grandiose style, it had sheltered Westfield’s owners for over a hundred years. Now it housed Nora Ridgeway and her friends, who’d come to Chance Creek on a mission of their own. They’d left their jobs, apartments and city life behind to come to Westfield, and had promised each other they’d spend six months devoting themselves to the artistic endeavors they had studied back in college. In order to stretch their budget, they’d sold most of their possessions. Like the men of Base Camp, they practiced a frugal way of life, but where Clay and his friends relied on the latest technology to make their community sustainable, the women had gone in an entirely different direction. Instead of focusing on the future, they had turned to the past.
“A Jane Austen life is a beautiful life,” Nora had explained to him in the early days of their acquaintance, back when he’d thought she was falling for him as fast as he was falling for her. “By living the way her characters did—without modern distractions—we have more time for our art, music and writing. When we wear Regency clothing, it’s a constant reminder of our goals—and, as Avery puts it, we’re less likely to go gallivanting into town all the time. People stare.”
Clay had quickly grown to like those Regency dresses. They set off Nora’s figure in a wonderful way. In fact, he had to concentrate when she was around not to let his gaze drop too often—and linger too long—on her cleavage. Whatever she wore underneath those clothes did wonderful things to lift and plump up her breasts. More than that, Nora in one of those old-fashioned gowns revved him up in some primal way he couldn’t quite put into words. Her looking so womanly made him feel like a man. He’d never say that out loud, but it was true.
The simple, peaceful rhythm of the women’s days appealed to Clay, too. He thought the two groups had goals that weren’t mutually exclusive, but that