Saturday, September 10, 2016

Saturday's Series Spotlight: Texas by RJ Scott


The Heart of Texas #1
Summary:
Riley Hayes, the playboy of the Hayes family, is a young man who seems to have it all: money, a career he loves, and his pick of beautiful women. His father, CEO of HayesOil, passes control of the corporation to his two sons; but a stipulation is attached to Riley's portion. Concerned about Riley's lack of maturity, his father requires that Riley 'marry and stay married for one year to someone he loves'.

Angered by the requirement, Riley seeks a means of bypassing his father's stipulation. Blackmailing Jack Campbell into marrying him "for love" suits Riley's purpose. There is no mention in his father's documents that the marriage had to be with a woman and Jack Campbell is the son of Riley Senior's arch rival. Win win.

Riley marries Jack and abruptly his entire world is turned inside out. Riley hadn't counted on the fact that Jack Campbell, quiet and unassuming rancher, is a force of nature in his own right. 

This is a story of murder, deceit, the struggle for power, lust and love, the sprawling life of a rancher and the whirlwind existence of a playboy. But under and through it all, as Riley learns over the months, this is a tale about family and everything that that word means.

Texas Winter #2
Summary:
Riley’s past comes back to haunt him both professionally and personally.

His dead brother left more than just bitter memories for Riley to deal with. The FBI get involved and suddenly it is more than his good name that is on the line. Jack is always there for him but how much more can Riley’s husband reasonably be able to understand?

Especially when Riley finds out on his delayed honeymoon that he has an eight year old daughter he never knew existed...


Texas Heat #3
Summary:
Riley and Jack Campbell-Hayes are doing well. Jack is expanding the Double D, Riley is close to his first ethical based contract, and Hayley is nearly ten and happy as all get out.

Jack hires Robbie, who is recovering from a loss, as his right-hand man. Riley's photographer friend, Eli, decides the Double D is perfect for a cowboy-themed model shoot and falls in lust with Robbie. Everyone except Robbie sees how perfect Eli is for him.

Against the backdrop of twenty half-naked male models on Double D land, Texas Heat is the story of one hot summer with a Gay Rodeo, a bar fight at the Rusty Nail, and a love between two men that grows stronger every day.


Texas Family #4
Summary:
Jack and Riley Campbell-Hayes begin a journey that will change their lives forever.

Set against the backdrop of the Double D, the cast of the Texas books face changes that won’t leave a single one of them untouched.

Jack and Riley want to extend their small family of three. Their first choice is surrogacy with Jack as the father and when all this begins smoothly both men can't help but contemplate at what point would things go wrong. After all, their lives are far from normal and nothing is ever smooth.

Add a small four year old boy in foster care into the mix and suddenly things become a whole lot more complicated.


Texas Christmas #5
Summary:
Six men with lives linked to the Double D... Danger comes to the Double D from Liam's past and threatens everything Jack and Riley hold dear. 

Centering on Jack and Riley, parents, lovers and friends.

Eli and Robbie have their home on Double D land. Their love is rooted in the Texas soil and they weather as many storms as can be thrown at them.

And Liam, a young man with a head full of dreams and sleep full of nightmares, finds that all things are possible when Marcus decides to interrupt his solitary existence.


Texas Fall #6
Summary:
Jack is focusing on building an equine therapy school for children with special needs and works hard along side his normal horse training and breeding program. He and Riley have settled into a softer, quieter, kind of family life, but that doesn't stop them using the barn with the door to the fullest!

But the lull comes before the storm.

Riley and his new assistant travel to Laredo, and across the border into Mexico as part of an exploratory team and things very quickly go to hell. Riley is caught in some serious Cartel problems and suddenly everything Jack holds dear is threatened.

Add in Vaughn and Darren's story, revisiting Robbie, Eli, Liam and Marcus, alongside Sean and Eden and the wedding that never was, and this story promises you everything you wanted from a Texas series book.


Texas Wedding #7
Summary:
Sometimes Riley and Jack have to be the ones to fight other people's battles and stand up for what is right.

With the life changing prospect of a yes vote from SCOTUS on the issue of same sex marriage, Riley and Jack realise they have decisions to make. Add in some distressing family news and the very real possibility that old secrets may resurface, and this last book in the Texas series pulls together as many threads as the boys can manage to handle.

But through all the ups and the downs, children, family events, laughter, and tears, there is nothing as special as the forever love between these two men.

Overall Series Review:
WOW!!! The characters are enthralling, you'll love some, you'll hate some and you'll love hating them, and I was definitely sucked into the stories.  When I decided to try reading M/M published works after months of enjoying slash fanfiction, I asked a few friends who I knew read this genre, what they suggest I start with.  Well, it was pretty unanimously recommended that I give RJ Scott's Texas series a go.  So I did.  At the time there was only three books and I devoured them like crazy.  So it's safe to say that RJ Scott is among my favorite authors in this genre and even safer to say that the members of the Double D family are some of the most well written, soul grabbing, and unforgettable characters ever created.

The Heart of Texas #1
2nd Re-Read Review 2016:
I fell in love again with Jack, Riley, and the whole Campbell-Hayes universe. I loved it 3 years ago, loved it last year when I re-read it the first time, and I loved it even more the third time. Jack and Riley will never get old.

Original Review 2013:
WOW!!! The characters are so well written, you'll love them, you'll hate some of them and I was definitely sucked into the story.

Texas Winter #2
2nd Re-Read Review 2016:
Hayley is just so freakin adorable. Even better the third time around.

Original Review 2013:
There were so many directions the author could have taken this in and would have been an interesting and enjoyable read but this is so much better than any of those options. Great to see Riley and Jack come into their own.

Texas Heat #3
2nd Re-Read Review 2016:
The addition of Robbie and Eli is just a perfect fit to the Double D. Love the interactions between the old and the new. Just all kinds of awesomeness all the way through.

Original Review 2013:
Another great entry in this series. There was a bit more humor in this one but it was done so fittingly and mixed with just the right blend of drama, angst, and love, and of course hotness and cowboys!

Texas Family #4
2nd Re-Read 2016:
I can't really add much to my original review other than I loved it even more the third time around.

Original Review 2013:
Not only was this an amazing entry in the lives of Jack and Riley, but a true testament of family and that family isn't always about blood or perfect. Jack and Riley compliment each other so completely that it's hard to remember how they were when they first got their start in book 1. Even though this book centers around the new additions to their family, the boys haven't lost any of their passion, lust, or love for each other. They can still get the other worked up with just a look.

Texas Christmas #5
2nd Re-Read 2016:
Yet another one that is superb beyond imagine. Every one just meshes together so well and the addition of Liam and his relationship with Marcus adds perfectly to the Double D. Even though Marcus seems a little out of place on the ranch his feelings for Liam really help him begin to settle in too.

Original Review 2014:
Another great entry in the tales of the Campbell-Hayes family, and yes, everyone who seems to come to the Double D works their way into the family network, blood or not. In this installment we get to see Jack and Riley adjust to the addition of Max to their family. I loved the way Liam's story is brought to us intermingled with his new found relationship with Marcus. It's not overdone and yet you feel every emotion that he goes through, good and bad. With the support of those around him, Liam learns to accept what happened to him and that he's worth the respect, responsibilities, and the love that he's being shown.

Texas Fall #6
2nd Re-Read 2016:
I don't think there will ever be a time or a number of re-reads where Jack, Riley, and the whole Double D gang will bore me. The drama/suspense/angst(whatever descriptive word you prefer) may be knocked up a notch(or ten) in Fall but it only heightens the story and the love between all. It's a pretty common theme that has run through the entire series that family isn't just about blood and marriage, it's the heart that ties people together and if I had to pick only one book in the series to show that, it would be Fall, from Jack and Riley to Liam and Marcus, so much love on the Double D.

Original Review 2014:
Just when I thought I couldn't love Jack and Riley more, Miss Scott amps up their tale with drug cartels, trials, and new additions to the Double D, both in business and personal matters. Watching Liam overcome his past and grow alongside Marcus is so heartwarming. The kids may not have been in this installment as much but when they were, they stole the show. The boys may not be drowning in lust in this one but boy, when they partake, all I can say is I was afraid my Kindle was going to short circuit.

Texas Wedding #7
Re-Read Review 2016:
I don't think I can say anything that I didn't say a year ago when I read it the first time. I still found myself tearing up throughout both from laughter and heartwarming. So good, I just can't imagine it ending any other way.

Original Review 2015:
This book had me in tears, both from laughing and tenderness, had me fanning myself from hotness, simply put Texas Wedding had me in a jumble of emotion. I don't really know what to say about Jack and Reily that I haven't already said throughout the series. When Texas Wedding's release day arrived my heart warred between my need to know and my need to prolong the finale but my need to know won out. This was a great way to end an amazing series and the idea of there being no more Jack and Reily is heartbreaking but I am sure we haven't actually seen the end of our favorite couple, even if their future is in the form of secondary characters in a future spin-off series, Legacy, coming in 2016. Texas will always be my absolute favorite series in the M/M genre, not only because it was the first I read but because it is superbly written with characters that are interesting, intriguing, and real. RJ Scott has given us a true gem when she created the world of Jack and Reily Campbell-Hayes.

RATING: 


The Heart of Texas #1
Chapter 1
"Sit down, boys," Gerald Hayes said firmly, his back to the Dallas skyline and his arms folded across his chest. They complied with his request since it was more of a command, both sliding into the leather chairs opposite the desk. They wore different expressions, though both were his sons.

Jeff was the mirror of his father, six-five, strong, not averse to getting his own way through means others might consider somewhat underhanded or devious. He'd achieved good things for Hayes Oil, very good things. Under his control, the company had grown in strength due to some well placed deals and some serious, if somewhat questionable, pay-offs to just the right people.

It was how Hayes Oil had gotten where it was today; the second largest oil company in Dallas, billions passing through their coffers on an annual basis, with a staff of over seven hundred in the head office alone. Jeff was a chip off the old block; he knew when to deal, and when to back off, when to buy off. It was a joy for an old man to watch. Jeff was sitting in his chair, his back straight. He was calm, with a virtually inexpressive demeanor, and his eyes were like chips of ice. He was dressed in dark gray Armani, perfectly groomed, his shirt crisp and white, and his tie a deep maroon. His hands were placed on the material of his pants, his nails perfectly manicured. He had an air of expectancy layered about him in palpable waves. Gerald couldn't have been prouder of his eldest son. Jeff was the right choice to form part of the new era of Hayes Oil, his student, and his success.

Riley, his middle child, only an inch shorter than Jeff and nearly as cold, was sitting just as calmly. Nearly. He too was wearing Armani, this time a charcoal black with a black silk shirt and no tie. He exuded the same confidence as his older brother, but with a subtle difference. He was an untamed version of his brother. His middle child had his mother's way about him and eenjoyed the money the Hayes family had, way more than was really necessary. But to give him his due, under his guidance, Research and Development had flourished, and Gerald was as watchful of Riley as he was of his oldest— but for very different reasons.

Riley made decisions driven by his heart, by immeasurable instinct, too many times to make Gerald entirely happy with leaving Hayes Oil under his control for any length of time. Still, Riley deserved a place at Hayes Oil; after all, he supposed, whatever his thoughts, and whatever decisions were made, it was his legacy too.

Riley looked tired today, and Gerald glanced down at the Dallas Morning News on his desk, knowing what was on page seven, the gossip page, knowing what was in evidence before him, and knowing it made his decision easier.

"How is Lisa?" he asked Jeff conversationally, glancing over at the pictures grouped on one side of his desk— his family, Jeff with his arms around his perfect blonde wife, with his two grandchildren posed just so. It filled him with pride to see the Hayes Oil generations all set to carry on the Hayes name. He glanced at photos of his youngest, Eden, and at Riley, both in their photos alone, both for very different reasons.

Sighing, he unfolded his arms, wondering if what he was about to say would change the face of Hayes Oil forever.

* * * * *

Jim Bailey was furious. He could only imagine what Riley was going through at this very minute, and he knew someone had to go and find him before the middle Hayes boy took a gun to his father's head. He had watched as Gerald and the favored son had left. The older man's arm was loose across Jeff's shoulders, their heads close in conversation, and it cut him to the core. It was Jim who had prepared the legal papers, Jim who had argued against the idiocy Hayes Senior was proposing. Someone had to be on Riley's side in this whole freaking mess, even if it meant this was the end of his tenure at Hayes Oil, and he knew where to find Riley. Taking the elevator, he left at the sixty-fifth floor, following the darkening corridor to the map room. It was the one place where Riley could always be found if the stress of his family got too much, sitting cross-legged on the floor poring over his beloved maps. He would spend hours with the geological surveys, the statistical results, his instinct for oil leading R&D to make decisions that had quadrupled Hayes Oil's output over the last two years. It astounded Jim that such a young man, only twenty-seven, had such an instinct. IIt reminded him of the old days, when Gerald and Alan would fly by the seat of their pants to locate new oil reserves based on nothing other than instinct.

Jim hesitated outside the door, steeling himself for what he would find within. Riley was rightly going to be furious with him for withholding the legal changes at Hayes Oil from him. He considered Jim a friend and, as such, probably had the right to expect more. Breathing deeply, he pushed open the door to find the large room echoing and in darkness, the only light from the closing Texas evening and the growing glow of the city outside. It wasn't difficult to locate Riley. Jim could almost touch the anger radiating from the tall man standing at the window silhouetted in the increasing gloom. Jim said nothing, just closing the door behind him and leaning against it. He loosened his tie and focused hard on the dark form. Riley was locked into silent stillness, looking out through the glass.

"Twenty-two percent," Riley finally said, his words clipped and tense. Jim could see himself reflected in that same glass, hesitating, lost, just waiting for the explosion. Jim had known. He had known as soon as the figures hit the desk. For fuck's sake, he was the company's lawyer. He was the one to write up the contracts for handover, the one who'd known the full details for three days longer than Riley.

His anger at what Gerald had forced him to do was manifesting itself as guilt. God knows he had wanted to say something. Every time he looked at the young man who worked so damn hard for this company, he had wanted to tell Riley what Gerald was planning. Never the right moment, never the right reason, and now… now he was paying for the betrayal. "Riley?"

Temper snapped and spat from Riley. "Fucking less than a third, the same as my sister!" He started pacing, gesturing with his hands, frustration in every exaggerated movement. Jim grimaced, because he knew that the percentage Eden got wasn't the point of Riley's temper. Riley was close to his sister, loved her and her shopping ways, and didn't begrudge his Paris Hilton wannabe sibling anything. No, the point was that it hadn't been fair at all. His brother, his acknowledged bastard of a Stepford brother, had just been handed forty-eight percent of Hayes Oil, and effective control of the company.

In a flurry of sudden but controlled movement, Riley spun on his heel, throwing whatever was in his hand across the room, missing Jim by inches. It was a map-reader, fifty thousand dollars of technology smashed into fractured pieces against the glass wall, and then it began. The words that Jim had been expecting.

"He sat there, in his fucking throne room, and he took everything away from me and gave it all to Jeff!" The temper in him was high and rare, and Jim flinched as Riley stalked around the tables that separated them with no direction other than just to walk. "And do you know why?" He stopped, grabbed at the newspapers that were lying in a tangled mess on the final map table by the door, and in one motion, Riley swept everything other than one sheet to the floor. He jabbed at the picture that had been snapped the night before, Riley and Steve at a club, arms around each other, Steve with his usual wide smile, Riley looking somewhat worse for wear from his brush with Jack Daniels and José Cuervo. "This."

It was the usual blurred image from the paparazzi who followed Riley, the playboy prince with a bottomless pit of money, everywhere he went. He shook his head. Now he was really confused and couldn't understand what Riley was getting at. Gerald had explained very clearly that his eldest son was the best for the company, the one switched on to commerce, the one with the business brain. He hadn't listened when Jim had pointed out the amazing upturn in R&D, the increase in oil locations, the way Riley was so committed to Hayes Oil. He had just shaken his head as if he couldn't believe, or didn't want to believe. "The photo?" Jim wasn't stupid; the picture didn't exactly show Riley in his best light. There was the blur of his smile and an unwarranted amount of skin on display as he tumbled half in and half out of the cab, stopping obviously to pose with his best friend.

"He said," Riley paused, a sneer on his face, "that the friendship I have with Steve is unhealthy— unhealthy, shit. He was concerned by Steve's association with Campbell!" The name Campbell came out on a spit and a sneer, the perfect take-off of how Gerald Hayes would have said it, how Jim knew he would have said it. "Oh, and also, because I haven't got myself a brood mare like my oh so fucking perfect brother, then of course I must be confused about my sexuality."

Jim winced, both at the description of Jeff's wife as a brood mare, and at the whole confusion statement. Steve Murray, Riley's best friend since college, was openly bisexual, but Riley, despite having a history of mixing it up with men as well as women, was a lot less defined by a label. He had a different woman every night, younger, older, richer, poorer, it didn't matter, and neither did the boys he did on rarer occasions in the bathrooms of wherever they were. However it panned out, Riley always had tail.

"Said I should look at him and Mom." Again came the sneer, and Jim saw how the temper twisted his normally calm face. "Fuck. Like my mom had the perfect husband in my dad, like Jeff had the perfect fucking marriage with Lisa and her drinking." His voice trailed off, the venom in it spitting and harsh as he dismissed the marriages of his closest family as society based, financially arranged facades.

"Riley," Jim started, thinking maybe a time-out here, some down time, might be good.

"No, Jim. No," Riley interrupted, his hands clenched in fists. "Know what he said?" Riley stopped. Of course Jim knew what Hayes Senior had said. After all, it would have been Jim who had written the damn contract. Riley bowed his head, his face revealing disappointment at his friend's betrayal. Jim prayed that Riley could see that Gerald had forced him into this position. "He said it would be okay if I just got myself married in the next three months—if I found myself some stable brood mare time, and stayed married for a year. Then he would hand over more of Hayes Oil. Not based on the work I do, or the fact that, without me, Hayes Oil would have been landless for the next eighteen months, but based on a marriage. I mean, what the fuck, Jim? This is the twenty-first century, not the nineteenth."

"I know," Jim said simply, holding his hands up in his defense. "I tried, Riley, I tried to get him to see sense. I'm so sorry." He knew his voice sounded exhausted, sad. All the emotions that were trapped inside at what he'd had to do came swimming to the surface, puncturing the civility he had to show to the world whenever he was at the office. It was almost as if his words pushed through Riley's temper as suddenly and as finally as the thrust of a knife, and Riley visibly deflated in front of him. His head was bowed, his short blond hair disheveled. He looked calmer, but Jim knew this man well; his temper was clearly just below the surface.

"How do I do this, Jim? How do I fucking show the bastard that he can't win, that he can't push me to marry just to get what was rightfully mine anyway?" He looked up at him, the dim light from outside the window casting shadows across high cheekbones and green-hazel eyes. His lower lip was caught in his teeth, and the pain on his face was something Jim had never seen before. "I work fucking hard for this company. What more can I do?"

"So we find someone for you to marry, Riley, some quiet Texan debutante who will agree to a pre-nup, yeah? Someone who ticks the boxes, and then after this prescribed year is up, you can quietly divorce."

Jim could see that Riley wanted to say he couldn't do that, wanted to say that no woman in her right mind would agree to this, but they both knew it would be easy to find a bride. Both knew that the chance of marrying Riley Hayes was going to bring everyone out of the woodwork, fairly begging for the chance.

"I can't do that," Riley said simply. "I won't give Dad the satisfaction of winning like this."

Jim sighed. "So you let him win by not doing it, then. For him it's a win-win situation. Let's face it, you either let him win by doing something, or you let him win by doing nothing. Either way, Riley, you're fucked."

Chapter 2 
Steve climbed over Riley's long legs to settle himself in the corner. His face twisted in concern.. For yet another night, Riley had pushed it so far with the drinking that he was nearly unconscious. Riley had told him the whole sorry mess, even to the point that he knew his own very fluid sexuality had been brought into play, as well as his less than liked friendship with Elizabeth Campbell. He was sorry. He'd even said so to a clearly drunk-under-the-table Riley and gotten himself verbally bitch-slapped for it. Then he'd been hugged until he couldn't breathe, with undying promises of forever friendship carried on vapors of neat whisky into his ears. So here they were tonight. With just one more day added to the list of days where Riley didn't go to the monstrosity in the sky that was Hayes Oil. One more day where alcohol pushed him to unconsciousness in Steve's company. Steve had kind of reached the limit of how much more he could watch his best friend go through.

"I saw ya, in' parkin'," Riley mumbled, his eyes half closed with exhaustion and whisky, his hands gripping hard on Steve's arm. Steve blinked carefully, not sure where this was starting, but pretty sure it was going to end up with a pity party for one. "With tha' Campbell girl." Riley seemed proud of himself that he had managed to string those few words together and smiled. But the smile didn't reach his blurred and fatigued eyes.

"Beth is my friend," Steve said. It was the easiest way to defuse the comments Riley would start making about his dad and the Hayes-Campbell feud.

"Sheessa Campbell," Riley slurred, nodding to emphasize the words, spilling half his whisky over his jeans and downing the rest in one heated swallow. Steve sighed. So, this evening was going to be one of the Why does my family hate the Campbells? evenings. Instead he was surprised when Riley suddenly lifted his head, fire in his eyes. "Thas' it, I'll marry Beth Campbell." Steve's felt his stomach churn at the casually thrown out words. Riley and Beth?

"Riley, man, Beth just turned twenty."

Riley looked momentarily confused, blinking steadily. "I'll marry Josh 'en," he declared carefully.

"Josh is already married." Steve was seeing where this was going. That only really left—

"Jack," Riley muttered under his breath. "That'll fuck'em. He's gay. J-ack."

Steve carefully prised off Riley's fingers from his arm, opened his cell and called for a cab. When his friend started talking stupid like this, it really was time to get him home.

* * * * *

Riley grimaced as Jim stared at him with a horrified expression on his face.

"Are you sure that's even legal?" his friend demanded.

"Isn't that your job to find out, Mr Legal Person?" Riley asked simply. "I looked on Wikipedia." Jim snorted, clearly offering his succinct opinion on Wikipedia as a resource. "You do the research then, but I did mine, and one thing I know is this, if you believe what is being said, then the Campbells are in deep shit since Alan died."

"Riley." Jim apparently wanted to stop this particular train of discussion. Riley wasn't going to let him.

"Jim, this could make it a win-win situation for me and for Campbell."

"Riley."

"You've been with Dad since before I was born. You gotta know all there is to know about the Campbells and this whole feud we got going on. Talk to me." It was a plea rather than an order, but Riley could still see Jim flinch. Placing his best and most earnest expression on his face, he added the one word guaranteed to get anyone to do his bidding. "Please?"

"Hell." Jim rubbed his hands over his face. "They had money to begin with. From the early oil days. Alan and your father made a pretty damn good team, back then. After the split… Well, Alan always had schemes and dreams and carried his family along from one money-making idea to another. Then there was the lawsuit with your dad— trying to prove he deserved part of Hayes Oil. Somehow, through a combination of gambling and shady deals, Alan Campbell managed to lose what was left after the lawyers had their cut. He liked to live fast and paid the price. You know the story. He died while the kids were still young. Drunken fool wrapped his car round a telegraph pole. Jack was just about finished with high school, Josh was away in Berkeley, studying law, and the little girl was in and out of the hospital, sick. She wasn't much more than kindergarten age I guess."

Jim walked to the window and stared out. Riley waited patiently, wondering if perhaps the other man wasn't seeing the towering office blocks of downtown Dallas, but a much older vista. "Beth had been born prematurely, a late baby. She had a congenital cardiovascular defect." He didn't need to tell Riley what the hospital bills would have been like once the insurances had played out. "It would have cost a fortune to get Josh into law school and keep him there. Alan didn't leave a will. Just debts a mile high. The ranch was mortgaged to the hilt— still is. So Donna carried on, selling off the best of the stock."

"Shares?"

"Horses. She owns the Double D ranch. Inherited it from her daddy. That's where its name came from— Derek Campbell and his only kid, Donna. Derek had some of the best quarter horse brood mares in the state and had a fine young stallion at stud. He trained 'em as well. Prize winners. Cutting horses that could turn on a dime and stop dead. Could get you close enough to a steer to kiss it on the nose." He shook his head. "Donna sold them. That's what put Josh through college, and young Beth through her surgeries. But Jack has been building up the stock again. Last I heard he'd raised a pair of very good brood mares as well as some horses in training for other owners."

"How come they've still got the ranch?" Riley wondered aloud. A memory was stirring in the pain-ridden sludge that currently passed for his brain. He squinted, trying to concentrate on it. "I find it hard to believe that Alan didn't get to use it as surety against loans."

"Couldn't. If I remember rightly, all eight hundred acres of it were tied up in Donna. She'd taken out the mortgages, but Alan couldn't touch it. I guess Derek read his son-in-law right and made sure it was watertight fixed to his daughter and grandkids."

"Watertight. Yeah. That's what I need." A drunken conversation, whispered in confidence, and it could prove to be the lever he needed if Jack Campbell refused to play ball. His stomach churned uneasily. "Get me everything you can on the middle Campbell and the ranch. Then write up the marriage contract, and we'll call a meeting, get Campbell here to…" Riley's voice tailed off. He swallowed, standing to look out of his office window, his head thick with hangover, finding it hard to string sentences together with the whisky-scarred thunder in his head.

"To propose a same sex marriage that probably isn't even legal?" Jim offered helpfully. Riley grimaced. When Jim put it like that, it did sound kind of bad.

"Yeah," he said a little uncertainly, twisting one hand in another and then he dropped his hand and squared his shoulders, sudden steel where his spine had been.

"If your dad finds out I had anything to do with you and this stupid idea…" Jim winced as Riley stood tall and leaned down to his old friend.

"I will get my share, and I will fuck with my dad. I will get Jack Campbell in, and I will get him to agree to marry me."

Chapter 3 
Jack Campbell pushed his way through the revolving doors of the tower, the dust of Texas on worn jeans, a battered Stetson in his hand, and denim stretched tight across his shoulders. He paused on the threshold and scanned the foyer, stamping stable dirt off his boots onto the pristine carpet with calm deliberation and cast his eyes down the list of offices held in the tower. It wasn't difficult to spot Hayes Oil on the list, given that they covered floors forty-five to seventy-three. His walk to the elevator was blocked by a security guard who casually looked him up and down and then placed a strong hand on Jack's arm. Jack tensed. He'd been ready for confrontation, but had assumed he would at least make it to the sacred altar of Hayes Oil before he was turfed out.

"Sir? Can I ask you to book in at the front desk?" the guard said quietly, in a clearly non-confrontational I-do-this-all-day kind of way. Jack shrugged off the touch and turned on his heel, slapping his Stetson against his jeans and releasing a small cloud of dust into the rarefied air-conditioned coolness.

"I sure can," he drawled and strode towards the long front desk and the section marked with the Hayes Oil logo. The woman behind it was young, no more than twenty, and clearly a little shocked by the man standing before her. Jack imagined she was used to urban style; city suits, perfect hair, and clipped tones that bordered on rude. Not, for want of a better word, the dirty just-off-the-range Texas cowboy leaning down on her counter. He knew there was three days' worth of stubble on his face, and he was redolent with the smell of the outside. She traced his face with her gaze, and he smirked inwardly as she had to push her professionalism to the front to force out the standard words. He was used to shocking these city types on his rare visits to town. He made a damn fine cowboy, if he said so himself. It wasn't that he was bigheaded, but he knew he looked good, confident, and just a little on the rough side, a little bit dangerous.

"Welcome to Hayes Oil. How may I assist you?" she finally managed to say.

"I have a meetin', darlin'." He intentionally played up his Texas accent, his voice verging on a drawling growl and his g's getting lost in the translation.

"Can I ask your name?" she asked, her fingers flying over the thin keyboard.

"Campbell," he informed her, "Jack Campbell, C. A. M. P. B. E. L. L." She typed the letters in without hesitation, and Jack smiled wryly. She was apparently new to Hayes Oil if she hadn't been privy to the office gossip around the Campbell/Hayes state of affairs.

"That's fine, sir." She scanned and handed him a security badge with the Hayes Oil logo and a code. "If you take the elevator to the sixty-fourth floor, someone will be waiting for you, Mr Campbell."

"Thank you, ma'am," he said softly, clipping the security pass to his shirt, brushing at dirt he spotted on one cuff. He moved past the guard, nodding in polite acknowledgment and receiving a cautious nod in return. Waiting for the elevator, he wondered not for the first time what the hell had made him come here today. Jack Campbell knew he was the personification of a fish out of water and so did the guard.

The elevator arrived, pulling him from his introspection. Ever the southern gentleman, he moved to one side, letting other people in, before joining them inside and selecting his floor. The elevator was all glass and moved upward along an external wall. Uncomfortable with this, he moved to the middle of the small box. He had never really liked heights, and the single layer of glass between him and a fall to his certain death was enough to get him humming in his head to refocus himself. The haze of afternoon sun was glinting from mirrored glass everywhere, the rush of people a fluid river below. Jack was convinced this was some form of technological trauma on all who visited the tower, wearing visitors down until they broke. The girls who had gotten in the elevator with him were laughing and giggling behind him, talking in hushed whispers so as not to be heard. But he did catch the words cute and ass, and dirty cowboy, and assumed they were talking about him.

Jack smirked. Hayes was not going to be expecting a man hot from half a day's work, come straight to the city with the dirt of honest labor on his body and sweat dripping from every pore. There had been absolutely no way Jack was going to make a freakin' effort for any Hayes, much to his mother's disgust.

"You're as good as they are," she had said as he climbed into his battered Ford truck. "Going as you are, what are you trying to say?"

"That I work hard and I don't have time for their bullshit, Momma," he'd said tiredly, pulling her into a final hug as she tutted and fussed with his shirt, fastening more buttons and hiding his chest from view.

They had looked at the letter again this morning as he considered the final decision whether to go or not. It wasn't even direct from Hayes Oil, but was a private letter from a Jim Bailey, inviting him for a discussion with one Riley Hayes at 2 pm on the next Tuesday. Today. The letter had said they hoped he could make it, and that the reason for the meeting couldn't really be detailed in the letter. It was a sensitive subject and one that might well be to Jack Campbell's advantage.

"I don't like it." Donna had looked concerned when she read it. It was a perpetual expression on her face these days, and Jack hated that there was seemingly nothing he could do to help, or to make her life easier.

"I'm just going to see what shit they're trying to stir. I'll be there and back in an afternoon."

"Don't agree to anything. Don't sign anything."

"Momma, I'm not Dad."

They had no secrets, not a single one between Jack and his momma. Jack was more than aware of the kind of deals and plans his dad had made that had pulled the D lower and lower every week. Sunk into depression and drinking, Alan Campbell was far from ideal parenting material, and not very much of a husband. Jack was the unofficial man of the house from the minute Josh had left to go to the University of California's Berkeley School of Law. That didn't change when his father died or when Josh returned. Josh didn't stay long. He moved out to practice law in Fort Worth. Jack and Donna juggled the ranch, the only thing left to the Campbell family now, and that only because it had remained outside of his father's involvement altogether.

"You will never be like your dad."

His mom's words resonated in his head, and Jack held on to them as the elevator lights indicated each floor. The whispering girls got off on thirty-nine, Jack inclining his head politely as they left. This left him and a suited guy on his cell phone tapping furiously at tiny keys and muttering under his breath. Business guy got out at fifty-seven, which left Jack with, he guessed, thirty seconds to prepare himself for whatever was behind the doors when they opened on the floor he needed.

Casually he turned away from the glass and to the mirrored wall that was at the back. What he saw made him smile wryly again. He was the epitome of cowboy rancher, from the dirt under his nails to the Stetson that was worn for practicality and not for fashion, to the scruffy leather boots on his feet. He didn't know what Riley was expecting, didn't really know much about the middle Hayes at all.

"Riley is the middle child. I don't hear much in the way of bad things about him, but you got to know he's a Hayes."

"I know."

"He's different than Jeff, but still—"

"Stop worrying, Momma. He's a kid with too much money and no sense to back it up. I can handle this."

Sure he could handle this, he thought wryly, and sighed as the elevator indicated his floor and he turned to face the front. He stood waiting for the doors to open, blinking at the man who stood on the other side of the glass door. He looked to be in his late forties, with a neat beard and a sharp, clearly expensive, pale gray suit. His hands were in his pockets and his face prepared with a practiced smile. The doors slid open, and he extended a hand to Jack in immediate welcome.

"Mr Campbell," he said politely as they exchanged a firm handshake. "Jim Bailey, personal lawyer for the Hayes family," the man continued, inclining his head for Jack to walk with him. "I guess you got my letter." It was a rhetorical question, and if he was expecting Jack to be so stupid enough to answer it, he was swinging in the breeze. "Mr Hayes is waiting for us in the map room," he finished carefully, stopping at the door marked with a simple room number and nothing else. He knocked, listened for the "Enter" and opened the door, standing aside to allow Jack to go in first.

It was brightly lit inside the room this Bailey guy called the map room, and Jack's first glance showed him charts adorning walls, large papers rolled in piles to one side and others spread out on tables alongside PCs. Each table was under-lit, for seeing small details on the topographical maps, Jack guessed. No sign of the elusive Riley, he thought as he scanned the room, then started as a face suddenly appeared from behind one of the map desks. Bizarrely, the man had been sitting on the floor hidden from view. Now, he unfolded long legs to stand tall in front of him.

"Campbell," Riley Hayes said simply, and he extended his hand in greeting. Not much Texan in that voice, it seemed.

Jack moved forward, cocking his hip against the table and leaning. "Hayes," he replied, his voice deliberately redolent of the south. He grasped the outstretched hand and shook it firmly.

"You got our letter." Riley released Jack's hand quickly and eased away.

"I got the letter from Mr Bailey," Jack agreed carefully, his eyes trailing across every inch of the man in front of him. It was the first time he'd met Riley. Their social circles were very different. Beth's friend, Steve, though, moved cheerfully between both. The Murray family had money and standing, and Steve had a lot to say about the older Hayes brother, none of it complimentary. Jeff, it seemed, loudly expressed the same hate for anyone with the Campbell surname as Hayes Senior did, and he wondered if Riley felt the same way.

"It was deliberately vague," Riley began, "because there is something, well, quite a few things, we need to discuss."

"I'll leave you both," Jim said abruptly and left. Jack had the feeling the man wasn't one hundred percent behind his boss on whatever this was. He was curious, but he was not going to show it.

"Is your daddy joining us?" he finally asked, cataloguing every expression that crossed Riley's face at his words. Disbelief? And was that anger? Interesting.

"What we talk about here has nothing to do with my father," Riley said firmly, and pressed his lips together in a determined line. One of his hands moved to touch his hair and then dropped. Jack followed the action, taking in the perfectly gelled spikes pushed back off a high forehead, the hand that hovered uncertainly and then dropped. It was telling to see an unconscious habit that maybe Riley was trying to contain, along with any hint of personality in his thousand dollar suit and his carefully knotted sapphire blue tie.

"So why am I here, Hayes?" Cut to the chase, always the best way.

"Riley. Please… call me Riley."

Jack narrowed his eyes. This was altogether far too friendly. No Hayes ever approached him, let alone asked him to call them by their first names.

"Jack," he finally offered, then followed Riley as he walked through a side door and into an office. There was no name on the door, but it was a plush, thickly carpeted corner space, shiny and wooden-smart, with a stunning view of the city.

"Coffee?" Riley offered, gesturing towards some kind of coffee machine that had possibly been made from bits of the space shuttle, going by all its gleaming silver shine.

Jack was not going to be pandered to. "Let's just get on with whatever Hayes scheme is gonna screw with the Campbells this time," he stated almost tiredly. He owed it to his family to find out what they wanted, but playing games was not on his list of priorities. Riley stood motionless by the desk, just stood there, his hands in his pockets, and Jack stared back, for the first time actually looking at his nemesis. Riley looked to be younger than him by three or four years, was maybe a couple of inches over six feet, definitely taller than Jack himself, who was just shy of an inch below six. The middle Hayes was very handsome in a smooth urbanite way with his tailored suit, silk tie, and clean-shaven face, and his complexion was the light tan of a man who was mostly indoors and only had the Texan sun on his face during weekends.

His eyes were a mix of autumn brown and green, and he was worrying his lower lip with his teeth, a sure sign of nerves if ever Jack had seen one. His blond hair was short and spiky, in a structured style. They hadn't talked before, never had occasion to, and despite often seeing Riley's photos in magazines and papers, Jack had never actually seen hazel eyes so clear or cheekbones so defined in a man. He was certainly easy on the eyes, Jack couldn't discount that, well-proportioned and almost poured into his dark suit, definitely someone who would catch his eye if he were out looking.

"Not wanting to screw with you, Jack, just want to talk," Riley finally said, sitting down on one of the sofas to the side and indicating Jack should join him. He took his time, sliding to sit across and almost opposite, hands and Stetson on his knees. "I know about the ranch," Riley started cautiously.

"The ranch?" Jack kept the tension out of his voice. He hadn't been expecting that to come up. He'd assumed it was some shit about his dad again. The ranch had been nothing to do with his dad. It was his mom's, his, no one was gonna mess with the ranch.

"I know you have financial difficulties there, that times have been kind of hard. The mortgage is a hell of a drain on your resources." Steel shot through Jack's spine, and he sat up from his relaxed slouch, suddenly and oh so very straight. "I want to offer you a way of getting out of that, of not losing the ranch," Riley finished, nodding, probably expecting Jack to say something positive back to him.

Jack blinked steadily. What the fuck?

"We are not for sale," he answered coolly. His heart was thumping in his chest, belying the calm on the surface.

"No, I'm not looking to buy the D," Riley reassured instantly. Jack frowned. That playboy Hayes even knew the name of his family's ranch was a shock. "I'm looking for another way that maybe I can help you. Pay off the ranch debts, the death taxes, and release you from the burdens of it all so you can make the place pay for itself again." Jack scooted forward, his temper starting to build in the base of his spine. What the fuck is this man on? Riley hesitated, standing and crossing to the window to stare at the city far below.

Jack didn't push. He remained sitting, dusty and temper-tight in worn denim, watching Riley who was clearly struggling with whatever he had to say.

"A year," he finally started. "I would need your help for a year, with a contract. In return I would agree to pay off every debt, and pay you on top of that."

"A year of what? Working for you?"

"No." Riley sucked in a huge lungful of air and then let it out in a noisy exhale. "A year of marriage. I want —need— a partner, to be married for one year and for many reasons. Not the least of which is giving me a win-win situation with my father."

"Marriage." What the hell? "You— and me?" Jack managed to form that simple question on sheer shock alone as Riley nodded earnestly. Jack couldn't bring himself to move. He just sat there, stunned.

"So what do you think?" Riley finally asked as Jack rose to his feet.

For several beats, Jack neither moved nor spoke. Tension coiled in his body, what he imagined to be a combination of shock and disbelief.

"I'll tell you what I think, Hayes." Riley's surname dripped acid as Jack snarled the single word. "Your family has fucked with me and my mine one too many times."

"It would be beneficial to us both."

"Fuck! What kind of planet are you living on?"

"I don't understand."

Jack shook his head, Riley looked confused. He clearly couldn't see that he was crazier than a cat hill coot.

"This crazy shit is a fuckin' bad dream and a waste of my time." He'd had enough.

"Jack, please, can you just listen?"

Jack paused with his hand on the door handle.

"Fuck you." Distaste and furious anger dripped from his voice as he turned the knob.

"I know what you need. I know about Elizabeth." There was sudden steel, and a sly superiority in Riley's words. Clearly the younger Hayes was finally showing his true colors.

Jack stopped, the door half open. Grief and a sudden anxiety twisted in him before calm returned and he analyzed Riley's words dispassionately. Anyone who read the Dallas Morning News knew about Beth. It was open knowledge she suffered from a congenital heart problem, had been ill on and off for most of her life, and had spent more time in the hospital than out. But Riley's tone, the sly use of the words "I know about Beth" set Jack's teeth on edge. Something didn't sound right.

Medical bills had piled up, but the Campbell family had worked their way through. It was what they did. They dealt with the crap, pulled together, and made a difference to their lives through sheer single-mindedness. It left them near broke, but it didn't matter. Beth had gotten her medical treatment, the operations, and the drugs she needed. They managed, and they certainly didn't need any help, financially or otherwise. So if Riley freaking Hayes thought that bringing up Beth was gonna swing things his way, he had another thing coming.

Jack laughed low in his throat. "Hayes, after the Dallas Times spread, everyone knows about Beth," he said over his shoulder. That article had hurt. It must have been a slow news week, because some low-life journalist had decided to dig up the old feud story and focus on the next generation. It had headlined as The Campbell Curse Strikes Again. Josh was portrayed as abandoning his family, Jack as the useless high school dropout, Beth as the poor little innocent, suffering nobly under her death sentence. "There is nothing you can give her that is better than what we can. That was lame and kinda sad." He turned back to the door ready to walk away. Game over.

Riley's next words froze Jack to the spot. "My money can't help make her better, Jack, but it can help her get through her pregnancy."

What pregnancy?

Emotions flooded through him— shock, disbelief, pain, and anger at the blatant lies. He turned slowly, willing the panic, the fury, to stay behind his mask. What did Riley mean? She couldn't be pregnant. The doctors had said carrying a child full term could kill her. They had warned that her heart couldn't take it.

Riley visibly winced, and Jack knew his mask had cracked. He tried damned hard to regroup, to settle his disbelief.

"Fuck you, Hayes!" he hissed. "Pregnant or not, we'll manage. She'll have an abortion." That was the only solution. If this was true, then she'd just have to terminate. He wasn't going to lose his sister after trying for so many years to keep her alive.

Riley hesitated, clearly measuring his words, his expression carefully blank. "All you can hope is that she lives through it. It's too late to abort now, far too late." Riley's words dripped like ice, and Jack's eyes widened even as he tried to tell himself this fucking bastard was lying. The thought of his sister pregnant, close to killing herself, not telling him… Skepticism shot through him. No. She wouldn't have kept it a secret. She would have told him or Josh, if not their mom. Wouldn't she?

The overwhelming force of what Riley was saying hit Jack in the gut, exposing an unexpected vulnerability. He knew then he would do anything to protect his sister, and he prayed Riley couldn't see it. Jack straightened his spine, shoulders back, armor reinforced.

"Marry me," Riley blurted out suddenly. "Marry me and I will get the best doctors. I know people, my money can buy people. I can get the best for Beth and have medical help on call twenty-four seven. All you have to do is say yes. Just one year, and your debts are paid, the ranch is free from mortgage and death duties, and your sister lives. Just one year."

Jack blinked steadily, his head spinning, his heart pounding in his chest. He couldn't focus on the monologue Hayes was spouting or register what the other man was saying. He needed to see Beth. She would tell him this was all wrong, that Hayes was lying.

Without another word Jack left, pulling the door shut behind him. He hesitated only briefly, getting his breathing and emotions under control, before heading to the glass elevator. He wasn't aware of what he was doing, or where he was going, he only knew that Hayes didn't follow. He thanked God for that, because he knew he would have likely killed him.

Texas Winter #2
Chapter 1 
"The phone," Jack mumbled. Blindly reaching past Riley and fumbling for the offending item, he managed to grab and check who was calling—unknown number. Irritation shot through him, but he wasn't sure if it was at the offending caller or that Riley's phone wasn't on silent for their precious two hours of sleep. He could just imagine it was a freaking reporter, still after interviews even after all this time. A whole year had passed since Jeff's shooting, and the tabloid press remained hungry for Campbell-Hayes stories.

"What?" Riley was about as lucid as Jack and raised his head with half-open eyes. His blond hair was sleep mussed, and probably, Jack considered, sex mussed. His hazel eyes looked bloodshot, and in a second, it wasn't irritation Jack felt for Riley's inability to turn off his cell, but affection and love.

"Go back to sleep," he ordered. Riley didn't argue, and he lay back down on the pillow and resumed the rhythmic heavy breathing Jack had become used to. Jack tried to sleep himself, but even though the instant panic he had felt at the call had subsided, his brain refused to stop thinking. Cautiously he edged out of the huge bed and snuck a quick look at the early morning outside their villa. The Caribbean Sea was a sparkling sapphire blue, and the beach to the shore line was empty of a single soul.

When Riley had presented Jack with tickets for what he enthusiastically called a honeymoon, Jack had every single excuse under the sun ready to go. The horses needed him. His mom was getting too friendly with the veterinarian they used. Emily had started to talk, and they didn't want to miss that. Josh was busy with the newest addition to his family, baby Sarah, and couldn't watch the D. The ranch itself, the Double D, needed new fencing, and Jack had to be the one to do the work. Riley listened to every one. In fact, the excuses filled a good ten minutes. Jack said it wasn't even that he didn't want to go. Hell, the thought of any time alone with Riley sounded good to him. It was just… Kicking back and doing nothing? It would be a first for Jack, and the thought of it didn't sit comfortably. Riley, the bastard, did what he was good at. He said nothing at all and simply allowed Jack to get it all off his chest. Then he just looked at Jack with soulful eyes and a pleading expression on his face.

"It's only ten days, and I need the time with you." It had been such a simple statement, but it had been enough to win Jack to Riley's way of thinking in an instant. The last year had been full of ups and downs, but Jack's worries were so small compared to everything Riley had been through. His brother dying, his sister-in-law being responsible for his murder, and his father taking the blame before succumbing to cancer himself. Then there was the whole parentage issue with Beth's baby. Riley worked hard, and he and Jack played hard, but so often Riley would get lost in everything that had happened and guilt tripped him up on his face. Added to this, Riley was hip deep in working on the auction for exploration rights of tens of millions of acres of undersea minerals in the western Gulf of Mexico. As young as he was, Riley's expertise, and his position on the board of Hayes Oil was enough for his fledgling consultancy in ethical exploration for oil to grow exponentially. There had been too many days apart, and Jack didn't like to think of himself as clingy, but jeez, at least one full weekend together would be good.

"Okay, we'll go," Jack had finally agreed. And thank God he had. Because this meant he was with Riley in this paradise and he could slip open the door, step onto the golden sands, and then run to the water. Diving into the cerulean sea would be a sharp cold slap in the face at this time of the morning, but there were only two better ways to wake up in Jack's opinion—either lying with Riley's arms wrapped around him or standing at the corral fence and watching the Texas dawn spread over his land. He unlocked the door and opened it quietly.

"Don't go."

Jack stopped at the words and looked back at the bed where he had left a comatose Riley, expecting to see his lover, his husband, awake but sleepy. Instead he got an eyeful of sheets pushed back to reveal six-four of tanned muscled naked Riley. Not only that, but Riley had a hand around a rather impressive morning erection and had the biggest, most suggestive grin on his face Jack had seen since yesterday morning's welcoming smile.

"I wanted a swim," Jack said.

"And I want you naked and draped over me." Riley arched up into his fist, and it was a beautiful sight—his husband naked and ready, acres of warm, toned skin available to touch.

"Is that supposed to make me stay, het-boy?" Jack belied the joking words as he locked the door and let the drapes fall back, the room moving from lighter to darker in an instant. It wasn't dark enough to hide the mouthwatering sight of Riley Campbell-Hayes running his hand up and down himself and arching his back into the motion. Riley reached out with his free hand and grabbed the nearly empty bottle of lube from the bedside cabinet. He aimed and then threw the lube at Jack, who caught it deftly.

"One of us is overdressed." Riley looked pointedly at the shorts Jack had pulled on to go for a swim. Jack pasted an innocent look on his face and pushed the shorts down his legs until they pooled on the floor. If he took a little extra time to do so, then sue him. Riley wasn't the only one who could tease.

"What do you want me to do with this?" Jack indicated the lube in his hand. He climbed as gracefully as he could onto the bed and straddled Riley's knees, taking his fill of the striking toned body laid out under him. From wide shoulders to narrow hips, broad chest to an impressive dick, Riley was perfection personified. Not to mention the slight scattering of dark blond hair on Riley's chest and two dark-tinted nipples there waiting to be sucked and bitten.

"It's my turn, cowboy," Riley said, "so I'm guessin' you need to be gettin' on with some fingers in your ass." Jack loved it when Riley was so turned on his accent slid from educated city boy to pure Texan cowboy in an instant.

"Your turn, huh?" Jack began seriously. He opened the lube and poured more than a generous amount on his fingers. They may well have made love last night and into the morning, but shit, Riley's dick was freaking huge, and he really needed to make sure he was stretched enough to be comfortable.

"Check the notches on my side of the headboard." Riley arched into his fist and ran his tongue over his bottom lip, leaving a slide of glistening moisture. It was an invitation Jack couldn't refuse. Despite the hottest sex he had ever experienced in his life with a lover who didn't hold back, at the end of the day, it was the intimacy of kissing Jack ached to share. He leaned down and traced the path of Riley's tongue with his own, pulling at his husband's lower lip with his teeth and releasing the plump skin. The kisses deepened, and as they kissed, Jack was leaning on one hand and using the other to loosen and lubricate himself. His dick was ready, leaking and so freaking hard. Every so often it brushed Riley's in electric contact. His husband's hand snaked around Jack, joining Jack's fingers and stretching with him. With the feel of the digits inside him and the lube, Jack was panting his need into Riley's mouth way too fast. He pushed himself down on Riley's fingers then raised himself off, before shuffling higher up the bed and using his lubed hand to line Riley up. In seconds they were together, Riley buried so far inside, and the shock of pain and discomfort dissipating in the desperation of need and want. Jack set the rhythm, leaning in briefly for more kisses and then sitting up. Riley wrapped his hands around his dick, and he closed his eyes. The sight and sound of Riley arching and moaning and pleading was going to send him over the edge far too fast to stop.

"Open your eyes," Riley pleaded. All Jack could do was shake his head. "Please. Open them. See me when we come together." Jack's orgasm was building, and with thrust after thrust, completion came closer. Riley's hand on his dick became more erratic. This was a sure sign he was close, and finally, Jack opened his eyes. Riley's face was flushed red, his eyes wide, his mouth slack, and Jack let himself go. With a final move, a twist and the scrape of Riley's dick over his prostate, he lost it hot and wet over Riley's stomach. The tensing of his muscles sent Riley high and the feeling of being filled was exquisite.

"I love you, Jack."

"I love you too," Jack answered as he pulled off as gently as he could and slid boneless to one side of Riley. "God, I love you."

* * * * *

Laughing like kids, they grabbed swim shorts and suntan lotion and set off for the beach. Jack packed a bag with towels and books and a multitude of other vital beach stuff. Riley picked up his phone, but after a second's consideration, which Jack watched without making it obvious, he simply dropped it in the top drawer. They only had two more days here, and Jack was relieved Riley was finally letting go of the office.

They spent all day at the shoreline, talking, planning and discussing the family.

"He's a nice guy," Riley offered carefully. Jack shook his head in denial.

"He's twenty years younger than Mom," Jack had the age gap worked out to the nearest day in his head the minute his mom revealed she had affection for Neil Kendrick, the new veterinary at the horse practice they used.

"But he makes her happy."

"He's living in a one-room rental."

"He only moved there three months ago, give him a break."

"He's not what I want for her."

"It's her choice."

"It might be a money thing. Maybe I should get a PI to check him out."

"For God's sake, Jack, you can't get a PI to check out the vet just because your momma is sweet on him."

Jack subsided into silence as he couldn't think of what say. It wasn't that he didn't want his mom to be happy. He did. Beth and Josh had families, he had Riley, and she had spent so much time being there for her family she had left herself on her own. Neil seemed like a nice enough guy, so maybe he should listen to Riley or have a quiet word. Jeez. It was the age gap… that was all. He looked over at Riley who was face down on the towel. Every second Riley was out here he lost more of the office pallor he wore so well. He was turning brown as a nut.

"I'm not saying you're right," Jack offered grudgingly. "But he's a nice enough guy, good with horses. I'll…" When his voice trailed off, Riley looked up at him expectantly. "I'll try. Okay?"

Riley smiled his approval and then clambered to stand. "I'm hungry," he said, and patted his stomach to emphasize his words.

"You're always hungry," Jack muttered as he used Riley's offered hand to stand up. They hugged quickly, and Jack luxuriated in the expanse of Riley's warm skin. Hugging for no other reason than to feel was good. They finally pulled apart to pick up the items they'd bought with them

"Shower. Food. Nap. Sex." Riley counted off the options in order on his fingers, and slowly, hand in hand, they made their way back to the weathered villa at the tree line.

The shower was heaven, the food was delivered as they dried off, and they consumed it all with uncurbed enthusiasm. The nap was more cuddling and talking than actual sleeping and was only disturbed when Riley's phone sounded again from the drawer.

"I'm expecting a call from Travers and the consortium," Riley explained. With a wryly apologetic expression on his face he opened the drawer and pulled out the iPhone, glancing down at the screen and double-taking as he read. Jack read over his shoulder.

"Twelve missed calls and three voicemails?" Jack said. "Is this consortium thing a problem for you?" Riley hadn't said much about the latest consultation he was involved in apart from the usual. Setting up CH Consultancy had been tough on Riley on top of everything else. He was in the house office one hell of a lot, and his cell phone was his constant companion.

"Not really," Riley answered. "Thought it was done and dusted before we left for here." He thumbed to his voicemail. The list only had one name on it—Eden Hayes. Jack watched as Riley listened to his voicemails, watching his husband's reaction for any clues as to what the problem was. Riley just looked more and more confused each second that went past.

Then he went white. Literally every single element of color left his face, and he dropped the cell. It fell to the floor and bounced to a stop next to the mini fridge.

"Ri?" Jack said, shocked. Riley didn't say a thing. He just stared at Jack with a mixture of loss and utter shock. "What is it? Talk to me." Still no reply, and Jack was growing more scared. "Is it the family? Eden? Beth's baby? What?"

"It was Eden," Riley finally offered. His voice was dead flat with no emotion. "She's sending the jet. We have to go home." Riley stood and crossed to the suitcases, opening his and scooping clothes from the closet haphazardly into the space. Jack wasn't sure what to say, but actions spoke louder than words. He stopped Riley with a firm grip on muscled arms, and he pushed himself into Riley's space.

"What's wrong? Tell me what's happened." He shook Riley slightly to snap him out of whatever shock was driving the instinct to pack and not talk. Riley blinked his way back to this world, and sorrow filled his eyes. It was a heartbreaking expression, and Jack had seen it too many times since meeting Riley to not know something terrible must have happened. He put two and two together and came up with the only solution that would make sense in all of this. "Did they find out about what Lisa did?" No one outside of a few members of the family knew it had been Jeff's wife who had shot him, as Riley's father had taken the fall. If anyone found it out now, it would mean ruin for far too many people with secrets.

"No. It's me."

"You?"

"God. I'm so sorry. I didn't know." Riley's face held so much grief.

"Ri, you're scaring me."

"Eden said…" Riley twisted his fingers into his short hair, closing his eyes.

"What!"

"A daughter." Riley opened his eyes, and his expression was anguished. "Fuck, Jack. I have a daughter."

Texas Heat #3
Chapter 1 
"Riley, can you please try to find Jack?" Donna asked. Unspoken in her words was the plea that Riley keep Jack's temper reined in. No one had to be a rocket scientist to know Jack Campbell-Hayes was not taking this whole wedding as well as he was making out. Up until yesterday Jack had been this growly guy who accepted the wedding was happening with as much grace as he could. Then yesterday happened.

What exactly had gone down, no one was sure. Not even Riley could fully understand what was going on in Jack's head. Yesterday he had clammed up and refused to talk at all. Riley knew Jack was happy for his mom; he just couldn't get past the age difference and the money. Donna knew this. Hell, poor Neil Kendrick, Donna's husband-to-be, knew it.

"He was here a minute ago." Riley peered around the kitchen door to the organized chaos beyond the window in the front of the Double D. Looking for the familiar figure of his husband proved fruitless. There was no sign of Jack.

"Where's Neil?" Riley asked.

Donna shook her head and Riley wished he had never asked. Whatever was happening between Jack and Neil was something Donna didn't need spilling over onto her wedding day. Donna laid a gentle hand on Riley's arm and instinctively he pulled her closer for a hug. She smelled of sunshine and home, and peace flooded him at the scent. Dressed in a robe, she wasn't in her wedding finery or whatever she was wearing today, but her hair was twisted up into a knot at the top of her head. When he stepped back he didn't think he had seen anyone more beautiful than the woman who had gifted the world with Jack Campbell.

His job on this cool Valentine's Day was to keep the peace. Although Jack and Neil had made some kind of unspoken promise to not fight it didn't mean that Riley's hot-tempered husband wasn't off somewhere releasing tension on some poor unsuspecting caterer.

"I'll find him," he promised.

"Everything okay here?"

Both he and Donna turned to face a concerned Beth. Emily, her daughter, was gripping her hand tightly. Walking now and with as much sass as her Uncle Jack, Emily was a breath of fresh air in the room. Donna immediately scooped her granddaughter up in her arms and squeezed her until she giggled uncontrollably.

"Gramma, you coming?"

Riley turned at Hayley's words. His daughter's voice was so familiar and gentle and he couldn't stop the surge of love for the nine-year-old that had put herself in charge of getting Gramma ready for her wedding.

"Hey, pumpkin," Riley said.

"Daddy, you shouldn't be in here," she said.

Riley raised his hands in defense. "I'm going, I'm going."

Somehow Hayley had Beth, and Emily had Donna moving away and out of the kitchen into the good room. The front room was where Donna's bridal party were readying themselves.

Sighing, Riley left the kitchen and moved outside, down the steps to the front of the house. He cast a thorough glance around the area but couldn't see the strong figure of his husband anywhere. He could, however, see Neil who was standing to one side with a group of guys. The man looked to be unhurt and upright so Riley surmised Jack hadn't been in that direction. Exchanging waves with Josh, who was across the yard, pacing and looking down at cards in his hand, Riley weaved through caterers and visitors until he reached his brother-in-law's side.

"Have you seen Jack?" he asked.

Josh's eyes widened at the question and he looked behind him to where Neil was standing. He visibly relaxed that the bridegroom was still there and wasn't face-planted in the dirt at Jack's hand. Jack and Neil's uneasy truce had been tested more and more the closer the wedding came.

"He said something a while ago about the caterers and their vans blocking the horses."

"Are they?"

"Are they what?" Josh was distracted. Being the man who was giving his mom away was not coming easily to him and he was way past nervous.

"Blocking in the horses?"

"No." Josh frowned. "They're over on the other side by the new barn."

Riley turned on his heel and headed to the only other place that he thought his husband could be. Crossing to the old barn, their barn, he was relieved to see the still figure of Jack leaning on an old stable wall with his head tilted back and his eyes closed.

"Jack?" Riley cleared the short distance between them until he was toe-to-toe with Jack. His husband was dressed and ready for the wedding and he looked so damn gorgeous. He was lucky Riley was on a mission or he would be out of those clothes in an instant.

A soft gray suit fit Jack snuggly and the jacket hung perfectly on Jack's broad shoulders. A Western-style belt buckle was the only concession to cowboy that Riley could see, and tucking a finger behind the belt, he leaned into the man who owned him from his heart outward. Jack had shaved but it was a matter of a few hours before stubble defined his jaw and heat caused his unruly dark hair to fall in disarray around his head. Riley loved that hair and the stubble; the burn of it against his skin when they made love was exquisite. Questioning blue eyes, the color of a cloudless Texas sky, looked up at him and Riley smiled in reassurance.

"Why are you hiding?" Riley asked.

Jack pulled Riley the final inch until he was supporting his husband's weight. He was wearing aftershave and Riley could see a tiny nick in his tanned skin on his defined cheekbone. Carefully he placed a gentle kiss on the mark.

"'M not hiding," Jack drawled.

"You are hiding," Riley said. He knew his other half too well.

Jack shrugged but said nothing. That was not a good sign. Jack clamming up and not talking was a recipe for disaster.

"Jack? Talk to me?" Riley used his free hand to cup Jack's cheek and pressed firmly when Jack turned his head slightly into the touch. There was something in his cornflower eyes—uncertainty maybe?

"Neil came to see me yesterday with a prenup he wanted me to take a look at."

Riley wasn't surprised. Jack was not only worried about the age gap between his mom and the younger veterinarian but also about any and all money and property in his mom's name that the guy would have access to as her new husband. Riley, on the other hand, thought Neil was a good guy; he loved Donna to distraction, despite the twenty-year difference.

Riley cursed that, with Jack increasing the horse training side of the D and with him so involved in the latest Hayes Oil project, they had lost track of each other over the last few days. Damn it. If he had been here when Neil visited to speak to Jack then maybe he could have smoothed things over.

"A prenup is a good thing. Right?" Riley leaned in a little more and it felt right when Jack circled his waist with his arms, both of his large capable hands resting on his lower back. He could feel the flex of his lover's muscles in his broad chest and it didn't matter that a hundred people were only thirty feet away around the side of the barn; he really wanted Jack.

"No," Jack responded simply. "He talked to me and he was defensive and I tried to tell him that I trusted my mom and her choices but he didn't listen. Just kept asking me to read the prenup and telling me I should get my lawyers to look at it to make sure."

"He's gonna be defensive, Jack. He knows how you feel about him."

"Well, what if I didn't?"

"Didn't?" Riley wasn't following this change in direction.

"What if I felt that he was good for Mom and that I even liked the guy a bit."

Riley watched as Jack worried at his lower lip with his teeth. This wasn't Jack. Jack knew his place in the world and was certain of his feelings. He didn't wander from one point of view to another; he was black and white.

"What did the prenup say?" Riley decided this was a better thing to focus on.

"That he'd have me, Beth, or Josh sign off on anything financial with Mom, that at any time any one of us could call in an independent audit on her money." Jack stopped talking and leaned his head forward to rest his forehead on Riley's chest.

"That's a bad thing?"

"Yes." Jack's voice was muffled. "All I want for my mom is a strong man who will look after her and make her happy. If he signs that prenup then all that is left is half a man with no control over his life and sons-in-law who don't trust him. It just looks like we don't trust Mom to know her own mind and hell"—he lifted his head and his eyes were full of fire—"do you know of any woman anywhere who is stronger than Donna Campbell?"

Riley shook his head. "So what happened then?"

"He gave this speech about how he just wanted Mom to be happy and left me the papers. He's signed them; all I need to do is sign them, get Beth and Josh to do so, and then we can get the whole lot notarized. He assumed that is what I was doing and then he shook my hand and said he was proud to be a part of our family."

"Did you get it notarized?"

"No. I didn't show Josh or Beth and I didn't even sign the fucking thing. How can I do that and then look Mom in the face?"

"So, wait, you haven't signed, you think Neil is good for your mom, and you trust him."

With a groan Jack rested his forehead back on Riley's chest again. There was a muttered "fuck" and Riley thought on what he had to say here. Damn his obstinate husband.

"Okay, cowboy. Where is the paperwork?"

"Inthetruck." Jack ran his words together.

"Get the paperwork then decide. Sign and it's done or don't sign and tell Neil what you really think." Riley checked his watch. "There's thirty minutes until the ceremony starts, plenty of time to get your head out of your ass and do something to make this right."

Jack groaned again and Riley smiled. His cowboy may be a stubborn fucker but Jack knew what he had to do. He lifted his face again, but this time worry had been replaced by something else—something punctuated by the press of a hard and very interested dick against Riley's thigh. Jack quirked his eyebrows.

"Have we got time for—"

"No," Riley replied adamantly. As much as he wanted Jack out of the suit and bent over the nearest rail, they had things to do that were more important.

"Not even a—"

"No."

"You're a fucking bastard, Riley Campbell-Hayes," Jack said with no heat.

"It's why you love me." Riley smirked. "You have half an hour."

* * * * *

Jack hated it when Riley was right. Inevitably Riley was always freaking right when Jack came out of his stubborn focused stage. The fucker.

He readjusted himself and saw the lick of heat in Riley's eyes. If only they had longer then falling to his knees and wringing a noisy, messy orgasm from his suit-wearing husband would have been right at the top of his list.

He chuckled and pulled Riley close for a kiss, a touch filled with the promise of later. Finally separating, Jack left to get the papers from the truck and with them safely in his hand he returned to the throng to find his soon-to-be whatever. Certainly not step-daddy, but something a little more official than the guy who was keeping his momma's bed warm at night.

He saw Neil's eyes widen when he approached and guilt twisted in his gut. The man had a couple of other guys with him, two in suits and one dressed in Sunday-best Cowboy. Nice-looking guy, built like a brick outhouse, with short blond hair and dark blue eyes. This guy took a careful step forward to put himself closer to Jack. He wasn't actually between Jack and Neil but it was enough of a stance to be meaningful. They stood toe-to-toe for a few seconds and it was humiliating to think that this cowboy was feeling the need to protect Neil from him.

"Is everything okay?" Neil finally asked.

"Can we talk?" Jack asked formally. The other two men in suits moved away, leaving Neil and the cowboy in front of him.

Neil shook his head. "Please don't. Not now. Can it wait until after?" he asked simply.

The cowboy frowned at Neil's words. Hell, who wouldn't. Neil sounded resigned and just a little pissed. If this cowboy was a good friend then he probably knew everything. Jack wasn't going to let this lie.

"I wanted to apologize for my behavior," Jack said firmly. He knew it was his imagination but he felt as if every eye of the waiting wedding party was on him. What the hell? He had told Neil what he thought of him in public before, it was only right to be telling the man now how Jack had changed his mind. "And I have a wedding gift for you."

He thrust the paperwork of the prenup at Neil, and the man looked down at it with resignation on his face.

"Thank you," he said carefully. He didn't immediately take the papers. Jack shook them a little to encourage Neil to take them and at first he didn't get why the guy wasn't snatching them out of his hands. Then realization hit him. Neil probably thought it was the signed and notarized paperwork. Fuck. When am I going to do things right?

"I didn't—" he started. Then he thought maybe actions spoke louder than words. Taking the thick sheaf of papers, he ripped them cleanly down the middle and then ripped each half again. Finally, grasping the pieces in one hand, he held them back out to Neil who accepted them in his left hand. The man was obviously shocked, judging from his facial expression. Although he was quiet, his expressive eyes spoke volumes.

"Thank you, Jack," Neil said. His voice was gentle and then he held out his right hand. Jack hesitated briefly in accepting the handshake. Didn't seem right welcoming the man into his family with a freaking handshake. With a single step forward he pulled the other man into a close hug that Neil returned immediately.

"Welcome to the family, Neil," Jack said. He stepped back and inclined his head to the cowboy at Neil's side and then with what he was sure was every eye on him, he left to find somewhere to hide again until the wedding began.

* * * * *

The ceremony was beautiful. Donna looked radiant in a lacy summer dress in a pale shade of blue and Neil was smiling so hard that Jack thought the guy could do permanent damage to his face.

Hayley and little Emily were flower girls and Josh's daughter Lea made it three. Lea's older brother Logan was thirteen now and wasn't that keen on being labeled as anything except 'cool dude in a suit' but he did hold Emily's hand the entire service.

Jack couldn't take his eyes off of Hayley. She was taller now, coming up on ten in September; she was the spitting image of her dad with the same blond hair and hazel eyes. He couldn't be prouder of Riley's daughter. She was his as well and she loved her Pappa as much as she loved Riley.

The backdrop to this wedding was home. The beautiful ranch in the setting sun with the vista of their land spreading before him was where his heart felt most at peace. Feet planted firmly on Texan soil with his family around him, Jack was at rest.

Riley slipped a hand into his. "This reminds me of when we renewed our vows," he murmured.

"I love you, het-boy," Jack replied softly so no one could hear.

"I love you too, cowboy."

Jack was only one step away from letting an emotional sigh leave him. This land, these people, they were his and he was theirs. That was the way he was and the way he always would be.

Texas Family #4
Chapter 1 
~October~
Jack knew exactly where he would find Riley. This early in the morning, if the bed was empty of his husband and Hayley was missing as well, then Riley would be out behind the house in the newest addition to the Double D. The pool. Seventy-five feet of water and Jack loved to watch Riley carve his way through every inch of the distance. The extra part to the ranch had been Riley’s idea, and he was teaching Hayley to swim. Having the two of them in the wood and brick building was enough of an excuse for Jack to grab some coffee and go to join them after finishing early morning chores. He had used the pool, but it wasn’t really his thing to swim up and down. He preferred getting his exercise with his clothes on. Unless, of course, Riley was involved, then clothes off was the default setting. Riley, on the other hand, was evidently half fish, and Hayley appeared to have inherited that part of her Daddy.

Today was the first meeting with the clinic, and neither he nor Riley had really slept last night. They’d talked until the early morning—going over what they wanted so they’d be ready. The reality of a ten am meeting in downtown Dallas was enough to shake Jack. He couldn’t believe they were finally doing this, but he and Riley were in total agreement. They wanted a brother or sister for Hayley, whatever they had to do to get there.

He pushed through the new door from the back of the house into the pool atrium. This was where the showers were and the changing area if it was needed. He toed off his boots and socks. This next thirty minutes was his idea of a break after his early chores. The sound of Hayley squealing had him smiling, and he arrived just as she flew through the air and sank beneath the water with a splash. Riley grinned up at him. He didn’t look tired; if anything he looked energized and happy.

Jack couldn’t help smiling back. His husband was so damn sexy, all wet and gorgeous. “Is that some new swimming technique you’re teaching?” he asked.

“It’s called the patented Daddy dive,” Riley said seriously. Then he ducked under the water to hide as Hayley rose to the surface spluttering and laughing. She dived under again almost immediately and didn’t notice Jack watching. He made himself comfortable on one of the recliners and waited. Hayley had a few minutes before she needed to get ready for school, and he hated being the one to spoil her fun.

“Pappa!” she shouted and splashed over to him as soon as she caught sight of him. “Did you see? I can hold my breath for hours and hours now.”

“I saw,” Jack said immediately. Then he looked pointedly at his watch and saw her wrinkle her nose in reaction. “Time to get ready for school.”

“Already?” she whined. Even her whine sounded like Riley when he was forced out of bed early.

“Sorry, babe, remember Robbie’s taking you to school this morning and he’s already in the car.” He added the last with a wink.

“He so isn’t,” she said and stuck out her tongue. She didn’t argue though and was out and giving Jack a damp hug before running into the main house for a shower and to get dressed. Riley floated to the edge of the pool and leaned on the side with his head on crossed arms.

“Mornin’,” he said. “Where’s my kiss?”

Jack shrugged and pointed to his lips. “Up here on the side of the pool like every other time you ask.”

“Damn it, Jack, one day you’ll get close enough, and I’ll pull you into this pool with me.”

“We have a perfectly good shower, you know,” Jack replied. They exchanged the same words every morning, and the familiarity of them made him smile.

Riley wrinkled his nose, and for a second he looked exactly like Hayley, or rather Hayley looked like him. Then he added something new to the morning exchange. “I was thinking…”

“Always a bad thing,” Jack smirked.

Riley ignored him. “We should lock all the doors and make love in the water.”

Jack sat upright on the chair. “We don’t have the time,” he said quickly. Thank God his brain was thinking better than his cock, which was already showing definite interest in getting near Riley in the pool.

“Not today.” Riley heaved himself up and out of the water in a smooth movement, then shook his hair like a shaggy dog. Jack jumped when splatters of water hit his skin. Then he inhaled sharply as Riley took the few steps closer to him. “I’d want to take it slow and take my time bringing you to the edge so many times you’re begging me.” He was thick and erect, and the tight swim shorts left nothing to the imagination. Water sheeted down six four of toned muscled perfection, and Jack’s jeans were suddenly the tightest they’d ever been. Over three years and he still couldn’t get enough of the man who was the other half of him.

“Jeez, Riley,” Jack breathed. “We only have a few minutes, and we need to get Hayley…”

Riley stopped right in front of him and placed his hands on his hips.

Jack wriggled in the seat, and then in a smooth move he stood and had semi-naked Riley in his arms. There was only so much temptation he could take before his iron will snapped like brittle candy. They kissed hard and fast, and Riley walked them back until Jack felt the door handle against his ass. Maybe they couldn’t go slow, but they could sure get each other off in the space of a few minutes. Effectively blocking the only exit apart from the fire door, no one could accidentally come in and find them; no one would know what they were doing. They could kiss and Jack could slip a hand into Riley’s shorts as easy as anything. As soon as his fingers pushed past the cotton and closed around Riley’s hard cock, he sighed into the kiss. He wanted this so badly. Riley was his addiction and every day, every hour, every goddamned minute, he wanted to connect with him.

Riley used a knee to encourage Jack to spread his legs a little, then shuffled to slouch a little—just enough so that when Riley pulled at buttons and cotton, he could have Jack’s cock rubbing against his own. Jack smacked his head back against the wall and whimpered with a curse on his lips. Riley took immediate advantage. He locked his lips to Jack’s throat and began to bite a path of kisses and touches from throat to chin and then back to claim Jack’s lips again.

“I love you,” he whispered before deepening the kiss. Jack slipped his other hand between them and yanked at the cotton that pressed into his fingers. Finally he could move his hand under to gently play with Riley’s balls as they moved against each other. Riley’s breathing hitched, and he let out his own whimper at the touch. They knew each other so well, which buttons to press, where to touch, and all too soon Riley was spilling over Jack’s hand with Jack not long after. They stood in the embrace against the wall for a few seconds before they separated. Riley glanced down at his hand and grimaced.

He looked over his shoulder at his pristine pool, his pride and joy, then back at his hand.

“Maybe we should stick to the barn,” he said.

Jack couldn’t help but laugh. “Guess no sex in the pool after all, then,” he said.

Riley quirked a smile. “No.” They kissed and Jack couldn’t have been more in love at that single moment than he had ever been.

“I love you, het-boy.”

They kissed again but this time when Riley pulled back, he looked thoughtful. “You ready for the meeting?” he asked gently.

Jack sighed. “As ready as I’ll ever be to justify why we want to grow our family.”

“I don’t think it’s like that. I don’t think we’ll need to justify a damn thing,” Riley said fiercely. “And if we do, then we leave and we find somewhere else to help us. It’s that easy. I need to eat,” he added.

“You always need to eat,” Jack said.

“Today is a day for bacon,” Riley said firmly. Then with a grin, he indicated they should go through the door, and Jack followed. They stopped at the sink and washed their hands; then with a few more snatched kisses they made their way to the kitchen.

Riley fell on the coffee as if he hadn’t had any in days. Jack watched from his seat where he nursed his own coffee as Riley virtually inhaled the first cup followed by two muffins and the bacon he fried on the stove.

“Done?” he asked wryly as Riley slid into the chair opposite him.

Riley patted his flat stomach. “Done,” he said.

“Daddy, can you tie this for me?” Hayley, dressed in the navy and red uniform of the Bryant Faraday School for Girls, came and stood next to Riley. She handed over a bright red tie.

Without argument or discussion, Riley pulled back Hayley’s long blonde hair and tied it expertly with a few twists of his hands. Jack tried but he never quite managed to get her hair looking quite as cute as Riley did. Riley grabbed her in for a close hug, but she pushed him away quickly.

“Don’t crease me,” she said quickly. “We have school photos today.”

Riley pouted his best daddy-pout. “Can I at least get a kiss?” Hayley placed a smacking kiss on his cheek, then stepped back.

“Do I look okay?” She smoothed a hand over her skirt and frowned down at herself. Jack thought she’d never looked prettier than at that moment.

“Gorgeous, sweetie,” Riley offered. “No running off with the photographer.”

“I’m only a kid,” she huffed. Seeming to need some more reassurance, she turned to Jack. “Pappa? What do you think?”

“Always gorgeous,” Jack replied. He got a similar kiss to Riley’s, and then she left the kitchen in a hurry.

“Remind me to clean the shotguns for when the boys visit,” Riley said with a small groan.

A knock on the door interrupted what Jack was about to say and was followed by Robbie poking his head around the corner. “Mornin’, did we need anything besides me checking on the feed order?” he asked.

“Nope, we’re good,” Jack answered. “Thank you again for taking Hayley to school.”

“No worries. Tell her I’ll be in the car waiting.”

Robbie closed the door behind him, and Jack looked pointedly at Riley. They’d spent a long time talking about building another place on the property for Robbie and Eli—after all, they couldn’t live the rest of their lives in the apartment over the barn. The only thing stopping them was Riley talking to Eli. Jack could swing Robbie by saying it was part of his salary here, but Eli would know different. Riley was an open book, and his sweeping statement about building a place for the new couple had been met by an outburst of stubborn pride from Eli.

“I’ll talk to Eli,” Riley said quickly. “As soon as this morning is out of the way. Okay? I promise.”

“And you actually will?” Jack asked.

“Daddy, sign this,” Hayley interrupted, and Jack could see the relief clearly written on Riley’s face. Riley and Eli arguing wasn’t a nice thing for anyone—each was as stubborn and intractable as the other.

“What is it, hun?” he asked as she laid the paper flat on the table. Jack glanced at the heading and groaned inwardly. Careers day meant only one thing to Riley. Him standing in front of a room of Hayley’s classmates talking about ethical oil exploration and coming home to say he’d watched each one of them die a death through boredom. Riley could talk passionately to adults all day about what he did, but he seemed to struggle with Hayley’s cohort. Last time he’d nearly convinced Jack that it was his turn to go and, in his words, do something horsey. Because, as he pointed out, little girls liked horses.

Unfortunately for Riley, Jack had been away delivering Catty to her owners, which left Riley home alone with nowhere to hide.

“Are you sure you want me to do this again?” Riley asked carefully. “Last time I could swear your friend Abbey was sleeping through the whole thing.”

“’Course I want you to,” Hayley said immediately. “You could make a ‘hunt the oil’ game up or something. Or Pappa can do it—he can talk about the horses.” She glanced at Jack, who smiled at her. Every so often he realized she hesitated before asking him to do things at the school or helping her with her homework. He didn’t have to have a degree in childcare to know what that meant, and he resolved to sort out the issue. He wanted Hayley to look on him as a dad that didn’t just deal with the fun stuff like horse riding. But first he couldn’t resist teasing Riley.

Jack nodded. “Hunt the oil sounds good.”

Riley looked at him meaningfully and narrowed his eyes. He knew Jack was laughing at him, and Jack really tried his hardest to not let the mirth escape.

“If it’s okay with you, Hayley, I’d love to take my turn,” Jack asked.

“Are you sure, Pappa? I know you’re busy and all…”

“I would love to. Maybe after school we could write down some ideas?”

“That would be so cool,” she said. Then she pushed the piece of paper to him, and Jack scribbled his name at the bottom and indicated in the information box what he would be talking about. Then she dropped the bombshell. “Megan Hunter’s dad is on the same morning as you.”

Riley snorted into his coffee. “Aiden Hunter, the actor? The one from the action films with the multimillion dollar box office returns. The one married to the model. That’s Megan’s dad, isn’t it?”

“Yep, Megan’s really cool.”

Jack listened with dread growing in the pit of his stomach. Riley had lucked out on this one. Jack was going up against an actor? How sexy could he make horses compared to red carpets and action movies? Hayley grabbed the letter, kissed both her dads goodbye, and left. As soon as they heard the car leave, Riley collapsed in hysterical laughter over the table.

“You are so screwed,” Riley said between crying with laughter. “You against Aiden Hunter. At least I had Emma Granger’s mom, and she’s a professor of physics and was as dry as a cracker.”

“I might be ill that day. Or I’ll send Robbie, he can take Eli and some models,” Jack said thoughtfully.

Riley stopped laughing. “You wouldn’t?”

Jack stood and stretched tall. He needed a shower and to get dressed for this meeting. Walking behind Riley, he dug his fingers in his husband’s hair and used the grip to tilt his head back. The kiss was long and drawn out.

“I wouldn’t,” he said as he pulled back. “I’d do anything for our daughter. Even go up against a Hollywood sex god.”

When he saw the sappy look on Riley’s face, he knew he’d said the right thing. He was still feeling a million feet tall after being on the receiving end of one of Riley’s beautiful smiles as he walked down the corridor to the bathroom. Half an hour to make himself look less cowboy and more responsible dad, and he’d be ready to go.

He showered quickly and shaved as close as he could, and then he stood uncertainly in front of the closet he shared with Riley. His side was jeans, one suit, a couple of shirts. What would Riley wear? He’d probably dress in one of those damn suits of his. Gently, Jack ran his hands over the sleeve of the nearest one, then sniffed it. The scent of Riley was on everything, and he couldn’t get enough of it.

Time to act like a grown up, he told himself. He was a horseman but he also ran a successful business. Decision made, he pulled out his only suit jacket and pants, and he dressed quickly before he could change his mind. He was fiddling with the tie when Riley came back in the bedroom. Glancing in the mirror, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing, and he stopped with the tie.

“What are you wearing?” he asked incredulously. Riley was in dark jeans and a button-down shirt. Jack turned to face his husband.

Riley shook his head. “I could ask the same thing.”

Jack went into defensive mode. “I wanted to show them I wasn’t just some cowboy—I didn’t want to let you down.” Damn. He never meant to add that last part.

Riley crossed the room and placed his hands on Jack’s arms. “And I didn’t want to come over as being up myself.” He rested his forehead against Jack’s and chuckled under his breath. “What are we doing here?” he asked wryly.

“Being something we’re not.” Jack closed his eyes. “They’ll see right through it, won’t they?”

“Change for me,” Riley said quickly. He released his hold on Jack, then rummaged in the closet before pulling out dark jeans and a white button-down. Finally he dragged out Jack’s best boots and stood back.

Jack considered the clothes, then looked at Riley. Copying his husband’s actions, Jack located the suit he loved Riley in most and a shirt, then added a tie to the pile.

“Change for me,” Jack repeated. “Let’s be who we are from the start.”

Riley stole a quick kiss, and then in a rush of skin and curses, the two men stood next to each other in the mirror. Jack never grew tired of seeing Riley, but looking at them side by side, with Riley in the dark suit, his blond hair short and spiked in a tidy style, immaculate and cool, and him in his jeans, his face smooth but his dark hair a little more unstructured, Jack had only one thought in his head:

We fit.

The nerves grew as they left the Double D, and neither of them spoke as Riley drove his 4x4 down the potholed road that led to the exit of the ranch. Jack vowed that this time next week those damn holes would be fixed after all these years. Riley stopped the car at the junction and crossed his hands on the steering wheel.

“You okay?” Jack asked, concerned.

“Yeah. No.” Riley sounded as confused and concerned as Jack felt. “What if we don’t find anyone, what if no one wants to carry a child for us, because of who we are?”

Jack wanted to join in with the questioning. After all, it was only what he felt in his own head, but instead, hearing Riley vocalize the same thing gave Jack the perspective to see things more clearly.

“What’s not to like?” he began. “And Riley, if we can’t do it this way, then we can adopt, whatever, but we’ll always have Hayley.”

Riley nodded, and then after a short pause he took the turn toward the city. Only when the Dallas skyline came into view did they begin to talk again. This time, instead of worries and concerns, they began to talk about possibilities.

Jack relaxed back in his seat as tension seeped away.

After all, what could go wrong?

Texas Christmas #5
Chapter 4
As soon as Marcus was out of sight of Jack and Riley, he stopped and smacked a hand to his forehead. What the hell did he just say? That he was in the area? They could probably see right through him. What must they think of him and his stupid teenage crush he had going on. He couldn’t help it, he was a man addicted to Liam’s smiles. Something about the young guy set off a million warning bells inside Marcus’s head. Too young, eight years younger than him, too emotional, too scared. Yet, when it came down to it, Marcus wanted to get to know Liam in ways not altogether innocent.

He found Robbie first, who, with his back to Marcus, was fiddling with a tap in the wall to the horse barn.

“Hi,” Marcus said and smiled back at Robbie when he grinned up at him.

“In the barn,” Robbie said by way of explanation. Marcus dipped his head in acknowledgment of the suggestion and the element of teasing.

He walked into the cool of the barn and the scents of horses assailed him. He inhaled—his rationale for getting a lung full of the smell would be that he wouldn’t then spend the next hour gagging whenever he caught a whiff of horse shit and hay. He waited until his eyes became accustomed to the gloom, then casually walked past each stall until finally he found Liam shoveling in one of the last stalls. For a second he stood and watched.

Liam was taller than his own five eight, but then most men were, he was used to that. He was probably just short of six foot but skinny with it. In the weeks since he’d first seen Liam, Marcus had noticed that Liam had filled out a little, but the man still needed to pull his belt tight to keep his pants in place on narrow hips. His back was kinda broad and the muscles in his arms bunched and released as he shoveled and dumped, then shoveled and dumped again. His dark hair was ruthlessly short, and sweat made his skin glisten even in this softly lit space.

Marcus hooked one foot on the lower rung of the stall gate and leaned over it. “Hey, cowboy.”

Liam yelped and turned so suddenly that shit flew off his shovel and missed Marcus by inches.

“Shit!” Liam exclaimed. He pressed a hand to his chest. “What the fuck?” he cursed. “You scared the hell out of me.”

Marcus said nothing, simply waited until the initial shock died down. There had been real fear in Liam’s expression, and he wanted to let Liam deal with that before they moved on to the general talking part of this meeting.

“What do you want?” Liam finally asked. His tone was quick and impatient. “I’m busy.”

“I was just driving by,” Marcus begun.

“The hell you were,” Liam snapped. “You live hell knows how far that way.” He hooked a thumb over his shoulder in the general direction of the city and beyond where Marcus lived. He turned back to the pile of shit and hay and who knew what else. All of it needed moving to the barrow next to him that was nearly half full.

“You can keep working,” Marcus said. He was trying to be helpful but knew he’d failed in that when Liam frowned at him.

“And you’re gonna do what? Stand there and stare at me?”

“Can I help it if I like what I see?”

Liam very deliberately hooked a pile of mess onto his shovel and hefted it into the waiting barrow. Marcus grinned at the combined sensations of sight of the muscles and the fact that Liam thought turning his back was going to work. They stood this way for a good ten minutes, and Marcus watched every move until finally he couldn’t really justify standing and staring any more.

“Dinner?” he asked.

Liam didn’t hesitate with his answer. “No.”

“One day you’ll say yes.”

Liam muttered a reply. “When hell freezes over.”

“See you soon,” Marcus added cheerily.

“Not if I see you first,” Liam snapped. He stood up and suddenly Marcus was near enough to kiss Liam. They stood so close that it would only take one movement from either of them and they would be kissing the hell out of each other. Marcus wasn’t sure who moved first but assumed they both leaned in. No hands but lips crashed and tongues tasted. There was nothing soft about the kiss, and it ended as soon as it began.

Liam stepped back and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“What the fuck.”

Guilt consumed Marcus. He’d just gone into Liam’s personal space and near forced a kiss on the guy. No wonder Liam looked so shell-shocked.

“I’m sorry. I just wanted… Will you come to dinner… I want to talk…”

“No.”

Seemed like that was Liam’s last word, and Marcus left the barn. When he was out of sight he stopped for a moment and lifted his face to the fall sun. He shouldn’t be riding Liam so hard, but there was something there, an indefinable attraction that flooded him whenever he saw Liam. Attraction definitely, lust, a little smatter of affection. There was pain in Liam’s expression and the heat of anger in his beautiful gray eyes, and Marcus wanted to know more.

“You okay?”

Marcus focused on the voice, then looked up at Robbie astride a big brown horse. Way up.

“Just talking,” Marcus explained.

“You harassing my staff?” Robbie asked quietly.

“Asking him out for dinner.”

“How many times is that?”

“I lost count at five.”

“Seems to me you’re likely moving into being a nuisance,” Robbie said without heat. He slid down from the back of the horse in a smooth movement. Marcus appreciated that he didn’t have to tilt his head back to actually see Robbie’s expression. Robbie wasn’t holding back even if he worked here and Marcus was Jack and Riley’s friend. A large part of him, the part that both lusted after Liam and cared for the young man, liked that Robbie had his eye on Liam.

Marcus shrugged. “He hasn’t punched me yet.”

“If he does it will be your own fault.”

“Duly noted.”

Robbie stood silently for a moment. “You remind me of Eli,” he said finally. Then he moved away and Marcus was left wondering what that meant. He liked Eli, although they hadn’t really sat and talked. Eli came from old money like Marcus, but that is where the similarity ended. Maybe Robbie meant the persistence thing. After climbing back into his car, he left the D and was back in the city before he realized it. Marcie met him at the door with a wide grin on her face.

“The McDonalds are pregnant,” she exclaimed.

His sister was as involved in the surrogates and the intended parents as much as he was, and he returned her grin before grabbing her and hugging her close. The McDonalds had been trying with their surrogate for over a year, and to finally hear a success was at hand was the best news of the day.

He followed Marcie up the stairs to their private apartments and listened as she chatted on about HCG levels and expectant dates. He wasn’t entirely focused on his sister when his brain was still using so much processing power on considering how to get Liam to go to dinner with him.

“Earth to Marcus.”

Marcus blinked as something passed in front of his face, and he realized it was Marcie waving a hand to snap him out of his thoughts.

“Sorry.”

“Thinking about Liam again?” she asked with a smirk.

Marcus groaned. God help brothers who had sisters as uncannily observant as he did. Two bottles of red and he’d spilled the whole sorry mess to Marcie a few weeks back. He couldn’t recall exactly what he had said to her but seemed it was enough for her to have teasing material to work with on a daily basis.

“Yeah,” he admitted with a sigh. “I was out at the D.”

“You have it so bad,” Marcie commented. She pulled out a tray of lasagna from the fridge sniffed it and grimaced. “We’re eating out. Then you can tell me all about Liam and his hair and his eyes and his body and the fact that all you want is to love him and feed him and call him squishy.”

“I hate you,” Marcus said dryly.

Marcie blew him a kiss. “No you don’t.”

“I do.”

“Not even for a second,” she laughed. “I’ll get my jacket and we’ll go for Italian.”

Marcus waited by the door and pulled out his cell. He had Liam’s number only because Liam had finally given in and let him have it.

Dinner? he texted.

The answer was immediate. No.

Marcus smiled at the answer. One day Liam would give in and type yes.

Texas Fall #6
Chapter 1
Jack was happy. He had a soft beer buzz going, and he was with his horses. The only thing that could make things better was if Riley was with him, but he wasn’t going to pull Riley out of the party just to keep Jack company. On the other hand, he wasn’t moving inside any time soon. He had enough finger food to last him a few days wrapped in a napkin, and he didn’t need to go back in unless there was some kind of natural disaster. Parties and Jack Campbell-Hayes did not mix; even New Year’s was something he avoided. Not that he was introverted, it was just the whole entire family was here—every single one of them—and they all wanted to talk to him about one thing or another. When Max had decided it was too chaotic and disappeared with Carol into his sensory room, Jack had wanted to go as well.

“You can’t hide the whole night,” Riley said from behind him. Jack turned to face his husband, leaning back against the stable door and waiting for the lecture. Riley was happy as a pig in shit right in the middle of it all: juggling babies, catering, socializing, and hell, everything that Jack was avoiding right about now. “People asked where you were,” Riley added.

Riley sure looked good tonight, his blond hair just this side of bed-head spiky, his long legs in black pants, the dark green shirt so perfect against his warm skin tones, and his hazel eyes sparkling with enthusiasm for life. Sexy. Very sexy, all toned and slim and hard and hot. Jack cleared the thoughts of kissing the life out of Riley from his head. He’d need all his faculties to deal with Riley when he knew damn well Riley wanted him to go back inside and host the party.

Anyway, he was suspicious that anyone really worried where he’d gone. “Who asked?”

Riley stepped right up into his space, close enough so that Jack could inhale the scent of his man. The combination of familiar citrus was underscored by deeper notes of mulled spices from the kitchen and some punch concoction Eden had made.

“Actually, no one asked,” Riley admitted. “Josh mentioned that he was impressed you’d lasted an hour.”

Jack huffed a laugh. He was surprised his brother hadn’t come out and hidden right next to him. Seemed that enjoying socializing skipped the male Campbell line entirely.

“So,” Jack began slowly. “What are you doing out here?”

Riley placed his hands on Jack’s hips, then slid his fingers through belt loops to tug Jack away from the door and flush up to him.

“I was asking myself,” he explained, “just where would my husband be when it’s only ten at night and he was looking for peace. I tried everywhere.” He pressed a gentle kiss to Jack’s lips, then smiled down at him, that few inches in height he had just enough to force Jack to lean his head back a little. “Actually that’s a lie. I looked in the twins’ room, checked in on Max, then came here.”

“Is Max okay?”

“Carol is keeping an eye on him. He doesn’t get why all these people are here and it’s all a bit much for him, but he’s okay.”

“And the twins? Did Connor still look restless?”

“Connor was fast asleep.”

“And what about Lexie—”

“Lexie was sleeping too, so I came out here and I found you.”

Jack twisted his fingers together behind Riley’s head and brushed his erection against Riley’s. It didn’t seem like they were in each other’s company more than ten seconds and Jack was already turned on. Thank God Riley appeared to have the same problem.

“What we gonna do?” Jack asked. He had plenty of ideas, the best of which involved rope and the barn and a whole lot of lube.

Riley slanted his head and kissed Jack thoroughly, never taking his hands from Jack’s belt and never moving. When they separated for air, Riley was smirking. Jack knew exactly what his husband was going to say. He wanted him back inside in that hell called the New Year’s Eve party.

“No,” Jack protested immediately.

“Two hours, Jack, just two hours. Go in, be all kinds of sociable, and as soon as the clock strikes twelve, you can come back out.”

“Riley—”

Riley silenced Jack with a finger pressed to his lips. He leaned close and whispered, “Two hours is all, Jack, you can manage that, and if you’re a good boy…” Jack couldn’t hold back the laugh at that point as Riley waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

“What do you plan on doing as my reward?”

Riley leaned in for one last kiss, then turned smartly on his heel.

“For you to find out,” he threw over his shoulder. “You have five.”

Jack turned back to pet Solo Cal, who butted him and whuffed on his hand.

“God save me from being sociable,” Robbie muttered as he joined Jack at the stable as soon as Riley disappeared. “If I have to dance once more…” His tone threatened payback, and Jack imagined Eli was still hogging the small dance area that everyone had made in the marquee off the kitchen, little more than a few tables pushed to one side. Eli and Riley, along with Marcus, Eden, and Hayley, had been dancing like they were on uppers.

“You bring beer?” Jack asked.

Robbie handed over a cold one and gestured to the three more under his arm. “Thought I’d drag these ones out.”

“I’ve already had Riley out here telling me I should be inside. I give it five before Eli does the same to you.”

Robbie muttered something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like a string of curse words along with Eli’s name. He held out his hand to Solo Cal and received the same chuff of attention that Jack had. Jack’s horses loved Robbie, the quiet man with the strange mix of Aussie and American in his accent. The day Jack’d taken him on had been a good one and now that Robbie had Eli, his staying was permanent. In fact, he had a stake in the D’s horse training and breeding program. Jack couldn’t wish for a better right-hand man.

As Jack could have predicted, another cowboy soon appeared at their side.

“Jesus Christ,” Liam cursed and joined them in the stable. Without words, Robbie gave him a beer, and Liam downed half of the bottle in long swallows. Only then did he talk. “Tell me again where Marcus gets all his damn energy?”

Jack shrugged. “Same place as Riley and Eli, it seems.”

“Cowboys shouldn’t be indoors,” Liam pointed out. “Ain’t natural.”

“It’s not natural,” Robbie corrected.

“That’s what I said,” Liam agreed.

Jack glanced over at the latest addition to the D. Liam was still looking a bit on the thin side, and he had perpetual worry written into his expression. Didn’t matter that he had a boyfriend and that he and Marcus were close. He hadn’t truly found his peace yet and still held the anxiety from the attack in the barn heavy on his shoulders.

It didn’t help that the mail between Christmas and New Year’s had held a letter with a court appearance date. Twenty-sixth of January was the day Liam would be facing his attacker. Didn’t matter that Yuri Fensin had admitted his part in the attack, this was wider than that. Liam had passed enough evidence to have Hank Castille in the dock as well for the abuse Liam had suffered at the man’s hand when he was younger. A lot hinged on Liam’s testimony and that of a couple other witnesses, all boys as young as Liam or younger.

So yeah, the weight of it was on Liam, and he looked tired. He was still working long days, putting in his hours, making a home with Marcus in the apartment over the barn. Of the three of them standing there, he was the one who didn’t need to be in a place where people danced and expected a body to be smiling all the time. He needed something else.

“Liam,” Marcus said from the door. Jack sighed inwardly. His quiet place was getting busier than the party. “You okay?”

Liam turned to face Marcus, and Jack couldn’t help but see the shine of emotion in Liam’s eyes or the serious expression on Marcus’s face.

“Thinking Liam and you should have your own New Year’s,” Robbie suggested.

Marcus nodded and held out a hand that Liam took. “Is that okay, Jack?”

Jack frowned. What did it have to do with him? Never mind Marcus was looking for his permission and Liam really needed the support. “Get off before Riley catches you,” he joked. Liam and Marcus left quickly. Now there was only the two of them left—and Jack’s five minutes were up.

“Keep my fence warm,” he muttered. After knocking shoulders with Robbie, he went indoors and into the chaos that was a family celebration. He’d done worse. Once he’d spent fourteen hours with a pregnant mare in distress. He could do this.

* * * * *

Riley wasn’t exactly watching for Jack. Not really. It just happened that whenever Jack walked into a room, Riley was aware of exactly when it happened. Somehow he always looked over at the moment Jack was looking for him. Time stopped for a second, One Direction faded into the background, as did Hayley’s laughter with her cousins and Eli and Eden twirling in some mad parody of a tango; everything faded.

Every single damn time Riley looked at Jack, his heart hitched and emotion choked him.

Mine. I love him and he’s mine, and he’s the other half of me, and everything. Yeah, it didn’t make much sense, this overwhelming surge of ownership, of affection and need, but it was all it took for Riley to cross over and steal a heated kiss right there in front of the entire family. When he pulled back, Jack was smirking that infuriating laconic cowboy smile and his blue eyes shone with emotion. Dressed from head to toe in black, pants, matching shirt shot through with silver, and that Texas belt buckle, he was edible and all Riley’s.

“You missed me?” Jack teased.

“No,” Riley said. “Just warming up for midnight. Let’s get beer.”

A party tent off the side of the kitchen extended the house for this get-together with God knows how many family and friends milling around. Riley knew his mom and dad were in there somewhere, clapping along to Hayley’s dancing, which in itself was a miracle. Sandra Hayes was the last person Riley ever imagined would clap along to anything. But where her granddaughter was concerned, all the Southern genteel charm was put to bed and instead out came the mad-eyed grandma who loved her grandchildren. She’d never have the natural warmth that Donna exuded, but she was trying hard and she had a special connection to Hayley that Riley loved to watch.

The two men picked up beer, or rather, Jack did; Riley still had a cold fear about what would happen if they both got drunk. Although Jack didn’t ordinarily get drunk and neither did Riley, he wanted one of them to be entirely sober in case the twins needed them, or Max or Hayley. He opened a can of Sprite, and the icy-cold bubbles felt good on his tongue. He finished it off as he joined in with a heated debate about whether Brad was hotter than Angelina. Jack wandered off again, but this time it was just to stand with his brother and sister-in-law and their kids.

Logan was growing up, and he was looking an awful lot like his Uncle Jack. With the requisite floppy hair over one eye, he was a good-looking kid, and Riley couldn’t fail to notice Hayley looking over at Logan every so often. She still had that crush on her cousin, but Logan was three years older and headed for college in a year or so. Riley didn’t like to admit it, but he hoped to hell Hayley got over it. Not because he didn’t like Logan, Logan was a good kid, but Riley just wasn’t ready for Hayley to be dating anyone, let alone her kind-of-cousin.

“You look awfully serious, big brother.” Eden smiled up at him, and he pulled her into his side. Sean wasn’t there that night, but Eden didn’t seem too fazed by that. The couple had moved to a better place slowly but surely, and although Riley still had a few small reservations over Sean, he could see his sister was happy. For that Sean got a million brownie points.

“Just counting my blessings,” Riley answered. She cuddled in close and wrapped her arms around his waist, and Riley didn’t want to let her go. He had to eventually, especially when she wriggled, which was the only way she could get out of one of her brother’s bear hugs. She looked well, happy, her little black dress and strappy heels both covered in soft glitter. Riley glanced down at himself and the smattering of glitter he now had on his shirt.

“Your fault,” she said, and with a grin, she left.

He didn’t have time to think about how he was going to remove the glitter when Hayley ran to him and clung to him, asking him to go with her. He opened his mouth to ask what was wrong, but he could see the emotion in his daughter’s eyes. She was close to crying, and as soon as he followed her into the good room, those tears began to fall. Riley sat on the sofa and pulled her into his arms. She was such an itty-bitty thing, and she needed a hug. She held him so tight and she was sobbing, her slim form shaking in his hold. Riley’s heart split in two.

“What happened, sweetie?” he asked when her crying had settled to a few hitched breaths.

“It’s Logan,” she began.

Riley’s chest tightened. Hayley’s big crush was obvious to everyone. Had Logan done something? Had he hurt Hayley? He was a good kid, but that didn’t mean Riley wouldn’t flatten him if he’d upset her. Jack would just have to understand; after all, this was their daughter and daughter trumped nephew. The daddy side of him wanted to call Logan out, the sensible adult side of him was trying to be patient.

“What happened?”

“He’s… he’s… g-got a girlfriend.” Hayley managed to get the words out before sobbing into Riley’s shirt, and Riley held her as his little girl’s heart broke into a million pieces. He stroked her long blonde hair and back. He felt powerless, but he knew this was only the first of so much that Hayley would be experiencing, and it wasn’t like a skinned knee or strep, he was helpless here.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” he said gently as he stroked her back, marveling at the softness of her hair and her scent and the very wonder of holding his teenage daughter in his arms. She still loved them at the moment; she hadn’t reached that point where a father’s love would be replaced by the angst of teenage years or the love of another male.

“I’m so stupid,” she said. “He’s at a school with girls, and I’m stuck at mine.”

Hayley being at a school with just girls was a bone of contention between Hayley and her dads. She loved it there, she was safe, she had friends, and Riley had gone to an all-boys school for a short while and it hadn’t done him any harm. But she wanted a boyfriend, and she’d set her sights on Logan.

“He’s older than you,” Riley began quietly. He wasn’t entirely sure how that was going to go. She’d either snap at it by saying Logan wasn’t too old, or she’d understand where he was coming from.

“I know,” she said so softly that Riley could barely hear her. “But when I’m older, when I’m bigger and sexy and have boobs, then he’ll be sorry.”

Riley nearly choked on a combination of a laugh and groan. He almost felt sorry for Logan. Hayley reminded him of Eden in so many ways, so utterly convinced of her journey through life, so focused. But even though he tried to be the hands-on dad, listening to what his daughter said, he still couldn’t get his head around talking about Hayley and her boobs.

“Hey, guys,” Jack said. He’d clearly been sent in for more beer if the empties in the box he was holding was anything to go by. The spare beer was piled in crates in the corner, most of it left over from Robbie and Eli’s housewarming debacle. He set the box down and came to sit next to Riley. Hayley shuffled a little so she could place a hand on Jack’s arm. “What’s up?” he asked carefully.

“Logan has a girlfriend,” she said. At least now she had stopped crying.

“Aww, baby, I’m sorry,” Jack said. He knew she had a crush on his nephew, but Riley guessed his husband didn’t imagine it went as deep as this. Neither of them were experts on girls, not really. They just listened to their hearts and tried for the best. She sniffed one last time, then pushed herself up and away from Riley. She cried very prettily, another thing she got from Lexie and Eden, clearly. Her brown eyes were wide and her lashes wet and spiky, and she didn’t have any of that red-faced blotchiness Riley suffered with whenever he got emotional.

With enough drama to fulfill all of next week’s quota, she suddenly inhaled sharply and flailed off of Riley’s lap clutching at her face.

“I need to find Eden to fix my makeup. Love you, Dad. Love you, Pappa.”

Then the whirlwind that was Hayley left the room. Riley looked at Jack, and Jack returned the look.

“Hayley is wearing makeup?” Jack asked.

“Just some lip gloss and blusher,” Riley answered, “just for tonight. She asked me if it was okay. I tried to make it look like I was cool with it.”

Jack grinned. “I love that you did that.”

Riley couldn’t help sounding defensive. “Eden asked me if it was okay. It can’t hurt, right?”

Jack leaned into Riley and chuckled. “You are so easy.”

Riley smacked him, then pressed a kiss to the same place. “Up and at ’em, cowboy. We have socializing to do.”

“I’m not moving.” Jack settled back on the sofa, and Riley straddled him.

He leaned in and whispered, “You, me, barn, my mouth on you, my cock in you, lube. Now get your ass up.”

“Jack, where’s the be— Jesus, guys… get a room.” Josh stood at the door, arms over his chest. “We have a beer emergency out there.”

Jack ignored his brother and stared into Riley’s eyes. “I’m holding you to that, Riley.”

Riley smirked, then rolled up and off Jack. Whistling, he sauntered past Josh, deliberately patting Josh on the chest. Josh dramatically rubbed at the place Riley touched him.

“Eww, gay cooties. Jack, get your man off me.”

Riley left the brothers laughing. Trouble was, whispering all that in Jack’s ear had him imagining doing those things right the fuck now.

He’d basically screwed himself over.

Way to go, Riley. Idiot.

Texas Wedding #7
Chapter One 
Jack slid his arms around Riley from behind and pressed his cheek to the space between broad shoulders. He couldn’t stop himself from moving his hands under the soft T-shirt material and caressing the warm skin. Touching Riley was an addiction.

“You all done?” he asked.

Riley turned in Jack’s hold, the laundry in his hands crushing between them.

“It’s like these tiny T-shirts multiply,” Riley groused. “I turn my back for one minute and suddenly there’s another ten of the damn things.”

Jack smiled up at his husband, at the narrowing of his beautiful hazel eyes and the stubborn set of his mouth. Then he released his hold of his waist and instead cradled his face.

“It was your idea to sort out the twins’ old clothes,” he reminded Riley.

“I wanted to box it away….”

“We can do it together at the weekend.”

“I want to do it today—”

“It’s a Tuesday.” Jack interrupted Riley’s reasons why. “I thought you said you had that report to read from Tom?”

Riley huffed a little. “I can’t concentrate.”

“So, you’re sorting clothes?”

“Is that a bad thing?” Riley sounded so defensive.

Jack sighed. “What are you avoiding?”

Riley raised an eyebrow, and Jack couldn’t help but press a kiss to his lips. After all this time together, he had learned these weird domestic chores Riley undertook were usually a way of avoiding things he didn’t want to do. Whether it was Riley’s way of thinking about things, or pure procrastination, Jack didn’t know.

“I have a shareholder meeting the first week of February.” Riley finally said.

“I know. I got the same letter, but I wasn’t planning on going. Why will this be different from any other meeting?” Jack was confused. Hayes Oil meetings were dry and boring, and he’d survived the only two he’d attended by slouching back in a chair directly opposite Riley. He would eat as many of the complimentary mints as he could manage and gently disrupt the meeting by rustling the wrappers. This never failed to make Riley smile. Mostly Jack conned Josh into going, or gave Riley his proxy. Still, when he did go, he loved nothing better than insolently lazing around and being all cowboy in the room full of suits. Inevitably, this led to hot sex with Riley, who couldn’t keep his eyes off Jack throughout the entire meeting.

“I have something to admit,” Riley said with a sigh. He eased himself away from Jack and leaned back against the cabinet. “Dad has appointed this new manager to the team, and we have a history.”

Jack huffed a laugh. “Riley, you have a history with so many people, I lost count.”

Riley looked affronted for a second, but that emotion didn’t slip into a ready smile, so Jack realized this was serious. Jack stood next to Riley and waited for the man he loved, to admit what the hell was going on. In fact, Riley had been weird for a few days: less quick to smile, less easy to poke at, in a hurry to go find a quiet space away from everyone.

“Not like that,” Riley said. “The woman’s name is Charlotte Harrold, and her dad is Josiah.”

Jack nodded. He and Josiah had their own kind of history, one where Josiah had tried courting Donna and failed, where Josiah looked down at Jack, and where Jack refused to give a rat’s ass. The fucker had blocked Hayes Oil on several occasions and didn’t have a high opinion of Riley, nor of Riley and Jack. Add to that, Tom, Riley’s right-hand man at work, had unfortunately had a run-in with Josiah Jr., Charlotte’s brother. Too much history between the Hayes and Harrold families.

“Why would Jim hire her, then?” Jack paused to think about what he knew concerning Charlotte. “I remember her being a bitch with daddy issues.”

Riley shrugged. “I don’t know. I mean, I asked him, and he said she’s good at what she does, and that she’s changed, whatever that means. Oh, and I should give her as much of a chance as people gave me.”

“Cryptic. So you think she’s going to cause trouble.”

Riley looked at Jack sharply. “Hell no. I know her work, and she’ll be an asset. It’s only….”

Jack tensed. “You slept with her.”

“Jesus, Jack,” Riley said instantly. “No way. She was Jeff’s. I mean she and Jeff were having an affair. He called her Charlie, and I damn well walked in on them once. The wedding photos were still wet at the printer’s, and there he was, fucking around on Lisa.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, oh. And we’re going to be in the same room as her. All I can remember is that Jeff was balls-deep in Charlie, and he had his hands—” Riley demonstrated with his hands in front of him in a ring. “—around her neck.”

Jack immediately realized what the problem was. The joined families, whether Campbell or Hayes, had quietly consigned Jeff and everything he had done to something never to be talked about. Riley never shared cute childhood stories where he, Eden, and Jeff were friends; no tales of brotherly misadventures. To Jack’s mind, Jeff had been born a sadistic bastard, and likely there were a lot of stories Riley hadn’t told him about the kind of things Jeff had done to both Riley and Eden.

“Seeing her makes you face what he did,” Jack said. He reached over and held Riley’s hand, lacing their fingers together and squeezing. This was what he did best. He was there for Riley, supporting him, holding him up, knowing as much as he needed to know, and still being there for the man who was his other half.

Riley sighed and bumped shoulders with Jack. “Yeah,” he whispered.

“So your dad doesn’t know that Jeff and Charlie were…?”

“No. I’m sure I’m the only one.”

“Lisa didn’t know?”

Riley squeezed back. “She always knew he was unfaithful, but with Charlie, no, I don’t think so.”

For a second, Jack allowed the words to settle. Lisa was damaged by much more than physical pain. She had a world of hurt where her dead husband was concerned, not least of which was the end result of what he did to her. The secret she carried with her was too awful for Jack to contemplate knowing how she lived with it.

“We don’t see enough of Lisa and the kids,” he said.

That was true. Lisa hadn’t visited in a while. Although to be fair, whenever Jack and Riley organized a family gathering of any sort, they always invited her. She’d moved to San Antonio with her fiancĂ©, Ed, and was building a place for herself and the kids well away from the life she’d had here. Luke was sixteen, Annabelle coming up for nineteen. They weren’t at the ranch as often as Josh’s kids. They had lives of their own, but still, Jack was all about family.

“We’ll get them over, or maybe we’ll go visit them,” Jack said. He wasn’t going to let Riley focus on this one thing to distract himself from the central issue. “Back to the meeting. When you sit there, it will be all business, and if she comes over to talk to you, you smile, nod, and put on the best goddamn Riley act you can.”

“You’re not planning on being there.”

“I hate them,” Jack said, then he felt guilty. Riley was clearly concerned about the meeting, and he should make the effort. “I can try.”

“Don’t say that.” Riley smiled at Jack. “As much as I like it when you do that ‘I don’t care, I’m a hot, dusty cowboy’ thing, I seriously think you should stay away.”

“Yeah?”

Riley looked at him again. This time, the shadows had disappeared from his eyes. “It’s like torture for you.”

“Tell me more about how you like the cowboy thing,” Jack growled.

Riley grinned. “When you push the chair back and you kind of sprawl there, with your thumbs in your belt. You smile and nod when you need to and all I want to do is crawl over the table and ride you right there in the meeting.”

Jack’s cock swelled and pressed against his jeans. Riley’s voice was husky and low and sent every molecule of blood south.

“Jesus, Riley.”

“Sometimes you unwrap those stupid little mints, and you press one to your lips, and then you suck it in.”

“I like the mints.”

“All I can imagine is my cock in your mouth, and I’m so freaking hard I can’t concentrate on the numbers.”

Jack wriggled to get comfortable, and he had to press his free hand to his zip to ease some of the pressure. “Like it’s easy for me,” he muttered. “You in your suit, and those ties you wear, and all I can imagine is ripping it all off, tying you down and fucking you into tomorrow. That’s the only reason I go.”

Riley moved so quickly Jack didn’t have time to draw breath. He straddled Jack and pushed him back on the bed.

“Carol.” Jack mentioned their nanny’s name with the last remaining moments of having the presence of mind. “People…,” he added as a warning, as Riley stole his words with the deepest, dirtiest, messiest kiss he’d had since the last time they’d been in the barn.

Riley pulled back enough so Jack could look into his eyes. “Barn,” Riley said. “Now.”

Riley scrambled up and away, unbuttoning his jeans and adjusting himself. “Now,” he repeated.

With determination, they made it out of the house. Hayley was at school, Max out with Robbie and the horses, the twins were happy with Carol, so they had nothing to stop them. It didn’t matter it was ten in the morning, this was happening.

“Hey, boss,” Robbie called as Jack stepped outside.

Jack stopped so suddenly that Riley had to do some nifty footwork to try not to walk into the back of him. He didn’t quite manage it, and instead they met in a slam of limbs.

“Fuck,” Riley muttered.

“Hi, Robbie,” Jack said. He needed to cover the fact that he was hard and thanked the heavens that Riley had tugged out his shirt.

“Starting on the porch today,” Robbie said. He was carrying a box full of tools. “Lumber got delivered at the ass crack of dawn.” He gestured toward Jack and Riley’s barn, at the wood piled in front of the door.

Fuck. Whose idea was it to get a porch added to the main house?

Yours, you idiot.

Liam was next to him, a saw in one hand and a bucket of nails in the other. Liam didn’t seem to want to stand still, restlessly moving his weight from one foot to the other. Liam still wasn’t entirely comfortable talking to Jack one-on-one, but Jack didn’t have time to think about that now. He’d forgotten that today the lumber was arriving. Jesus. Fuck.

“Good. Riley and I are… inspecting… stuff.” Way to go with the lack of the English language.

“Stuff,” Riley repeated.

Robbie tilted his head a little and damn it if there wasn’t a slight smile on his face. “Okay, boss,” he said, then he and Liam carried on to the old barn and the woodpile.

Jack thought for a moment, then grabbed Riley’s hand, and in the space of a few minutes, they were leaving the ranch house and heading out on horseback. People were around; people were here: visitors to the riding center, people working. Along with kids, nannies, moms, dads, siblings. Hoping to find peace, Jack deliberately turned Solo to the east and into the parts of the ranch he knew Riley hadn’t seen, the rougher parts of the acreage that were fenced off.

Riley followed. Alex was a little skittish this morning until they were in a smooth canter and heading up into the thick, lush grassland to the east of the ranch. Ten minutes of riding, with no talking, and they reached a stand of trees. A small tributary from the main water supply to the Double D house carved through the coppice. It was a typically cool, fresh January day.

Jack dismounted and tied Solo off, grabbing Riley’s hand as soon as Riley had secured Alex. He tugged Riley into the trees, to the one place that Jack knew they would get privacy. In his pocket, his tight pocket, he had lube. He was stripping before they stopped walking, and by the time they reached the smooth grassed area in the shade, he was naked and a trail of clothes lay behind them. Jack hoped to hell there were no armadillos in hiding or snakes waiting to pounce.

Jack attempted to lay out the blanket he’d grabbed as he saddled Solo, but a naked Riley jumped him and tackled him to the ground, and he knew this wasn’t going to be gentle lovemaking. This was going to be raw, and Jack needed the connection like he needed his next breath. He always did.

Riley covered him, pressing him into the grass and the rucked-up blanket, and kissed him. The kisses were more of the same—hot, messy, deep, with no words. This was heat and fire, and Jack rolled so he was on top. He needed something; he wanted Riley in the worst way.

“I want you to fuck me,” Riley demanded.

Jack nearly lost it there and then. Riley asking him to push inside and—

Jack kissed and bit Riley’s nipples, laving them as they pebbled, sucking marks of possession into Riley’s tan skin. In answer, Riley arched up into Jack and, with his nails, dug biting crescents into Jack’s back. They were nothing but sensation, and Jack wanted to claw his way inside Riley.

He swallowed Riley’s cock with no finesse, no gentle licks, nothing soft and slow. Only when Riley slapped at him with a protest that he was close did Jack release the sucking. Without hesitation, he pressed his lubed finger against Riley.

“Tight,” he ordered.

Riley clenched, then released. They’d worked this out—that clenching the muscle was enough for it to loosen. They knew each other that well. Jack pushed in the first finger, letting Riley adjust, waiting until Riley rocked against it, and he never moved it once. More lube, a second finger, a third, and Riley was begging now. Jack swallowed his cock again, as deep as he could, pinning Riley to his fingers and scraping his teeth gently against Riley’s soft skin. Riley pushed him up, forced him away, and curled his spine. Jack went to his knees, using his thighs to position Riley, then pushed inside his lover. The sight of Riley near slamming his head back on the grass and wool, exposing his neck with a groan of pain and need leaving his mouth, was almost too much.

“Riley, fuck,” Jack gasped. He thrust inside, walking a little closer on his knees, stones pressing into his skin. He didn’t care. He was the other part of Riley; they fit like they were meant to be. He didn’t move again but let Riley press, move and writhe and Jack stole kisses all the time. “I love you, I fucking love you. Riley… shit….”

Riley reached up above his head and grasped at tussocks of grass, holding his upper half still, forcing himself down on Jack’s cock his eyes open and intensely focused. “Touch me,” Riley begged when it was obvious he was close.

Jack balanced himself on one arm, reaching for Riley’s cock. The tightening of Riley’s muscles, the ebb and flow of pressure, and Jack was fucking into Riley’s heaving body with a shout of completion. He stilled as Riley groaned, cursed and shot white stripes over his chest.

“I love you, Jack,” Riley forced past his kiss-bitten lips. “Love you.”

They stayed joined, kissing and exchanging heated words of love, until Jack softened enough to pull free. He used his discarded boxers to wipe at the come, knowing that Riley would need more than that after Jack had come inside him. Riley wouldn’t be comfortable, but it didn’t look like he cared for now. He was blissed-out, flat on the ground, half on the twisted blanket and half on the grass.

“I needed that,” Jack murmured. He flopped to lie next to Riley, tugging at the blanket so they were at least both on it. He held Riley’s hand, “You think it will ever stop?”

“What? This?” Riley gestured with his free hand. “Making love under the blue sky in the middle of the morning?”

“No,” Jack said thoughtfully.

Riley turned his head to look at him. “Then what?”

“The burning. To be with you, to want you, to look at you. Think we’ll ever stop?”

Riley smiled, and the smile reached his eyes, which were more green than brown today. “It burns in me as well.”

“Always?”

“Yeah. All the time. It isn’t only making love. It’s sleeping next to you, looking at you, seeing our kids. It’s everything.”

Jack squeezed Riley’s hand. “Hetboy, you’re my everything.”

“Back at ya, cowboy.”

Author Bio:
RJ Scott has been writing since age six when she was made to stay in at lunchtime for an infraction involving cookies and was told to write a story. Two sides of A4 about a trapped princess later, a lover of writing was born. She reads anything from thrillers to sci-fi to horror; however, her first real love will always be the world of romance. From billionaires, bodyguards and cowboys to SEALs, throwaways and veterinarians, she writes passionate stories with a heart of romance, a troubled road to reach happiness, and more than a hint of happily ever after.


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EMAIL: rj@rjscott.co.uk



The Heart of Texas #1
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Texas Winter #2
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Texas Heat #3
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Texas Family #4
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Texas Christmas #5
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Texas Fall #6
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Texas Wedding #7


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