Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunday's Safe Word Shelf: Whispering Ranch by SJD Peterson


Lorcan's Desire #1
Summary:
Despite the loving support of his family, Lorcan James wants to try life on his own, so at twenty-one, he finds himself walking half way across the country in search of adventure. What he finds is desperation, desperation that leads him straight to the Whispering Pines Ranch and right into the path of its strong, arrogant, gorgeous owner, who awakens something in Lorcan he didn’t even know, existed.

Quinn Taylor is up to his neck in grief and frustration dealing with a neighboring rancher who wants nothing more than to see him go belly-up. He doesn’t need more complications, but from the moment he lays eyes on Lorcan, his world turns upside down. Despite finding in Quinn what his heart craves, Lorcan refuses to be Quinn’s dirty little secret—and Quinn isn’t the only one vying for Lorcan’s attention. Ranch hand Jess will happily declare his love for Lorcan to the world, something Quinn won’t offer—something Lorcan needs above all else.

Quinn's Need #2
Summary:
It’s been a year since Lorcan James left Whispering Pines Ranch, and Quinn Taylor has barely recovered. Only two things keep him from falling into the abyss of despair: his work at the ranch and his escape into the world of BDSM at a club called The Push. At The Push, the sound of men begging him helps drown out the bitter memory of his own voice begging Lorcan to stay.

When Lorcan comes back to Pegasus, the same blistering heat simmers between them, but almost nothing has changed. Lorcan is still with Jess, the man he left the ranch with, and Quinn has captured the attention of Ty Callahan, a man who will beg Quinn for anything, anytime, and any way Quinn wants it. Despite how much he wants Lorcan, Quinn swears he’ll never beg a man again. If there’s one thing Quinn has learned the hard way, it’s that not even begging can fill love’s aching need.

Ty's Obsession #3
Summary:
Sequel to Quinn's Need Book 3 of the Whispering Pines Ranch Novels Ty Callahan knew Quinn Taylor was special the moment he first laid eyes on him. When the angry and heartbroken cowboy finally opens up, Ty sees the real man inside, and for the first time in years, Ty is ready to love again. There's only one problem: Lorcan James. Although Lorcan has owned a piece of Quinn's heart for some time, Ty is convinced he is the better man for Quinn and will stop at nothing to prove it. Then Blake Henderson, a strong, dominant cowboy, strolls confidently into Ty's life, offering an outlet for Ty's anger, a chance to heal, and an option for his torn affections. Can Ty look beyond his feelings of rage and betrayal and find true peace, or will his obsession destroy them all?

Conner's Courage #4
Summary:
John Price and Conner Burnett have been part of the Whispering Pines Ranch for the past thirty-seven years. A loving couple who have overcome every obstacle thrown at them, John and Conner are a testament to the strength of true love. But now John is in the hospital with a diagnosis of cancer, fighting for his very life.

As his lover struggles, Conner looks back on when they first met. The early seventies wasn’t an easy time to be a gay man, especially in a small country town. Considering John’s pride, Conner’s need to be himself, shame, bitterness, and two stubborn natures, their love story almost wasn’t written. But they beat the odds, and Conner will be damned if he’ll let anyone take John from him now. He had the courage to stand up for what he wanted in 1974. If need be, he’ll go toe to toe with God himself to keep the man he fought so hard to love.

**Authors Note** 
Please note that I am a firm believer in safe sex practices. However, this novel was set in 1974 with no AIDS in sight, and most venereal diseases treated with a simple shot, it was “The golden age of Gay sexuality."

Jess's Journey #5
Summary:
“The only use of an obstacle is to be overcome. All that an obstacle does with brave men is, not to frighten them, but to challenge them.” ~Woodrow Wilson~

At an early age, Jess Jenkins learned to take care of his family and friends and put their needs before his own. He dreamed of finding the same simple happiness his parents had and followed their example. Then Lorcan James broke his heart and an automobile accident broke his independent spirit. Now that’s all Jess is: a broken shadow of the man he used to be, still confined to a wheelchair after six months.

Jess is finally forced to put himself first and accept the help he needs on his journey toward recovery. Though pain, frustration, and depression leave him bitter and eager to push people away, his friends refuse to allow him to wallow in self pity. Jack has only glimpsed the man beneath Jess’s angry shell, but he takes it upon himself to prove Jess isn’t broken. And Collin is determined to bring back the sweet man he once knew. The simple, happy life Jess has always wanted is there for the taking—all he has to do is open his eyes and see it.

Riveted #5.5
Summary:
“When trust is gone, a man no longer believes in humanity.” ~Ty Callahan~

When Ty left Pegasus for New York, he knew he was falling for Blake but wasn’t sure he could trust him. Blake didn’t know whether he could be vulnerable enough to take on another boy. Since the move to the Big Apple, Blake and Ty have learned how to live with each other. Now they need to let go of their pasts and take the next steps outside the playroom.

**Authors Note* *
Riveted is the final story in the Whispering Pines Ranch series. It was written as a thank you for all those who followed the series and demanded Ty get his happily ever after. Think of this story as the epilogue for Ty's Obsession. However, if you have no plans to read the WPR series, this story can be read as the first book in the Guards of Folsom series. It introduces Micah and Tackett from PUP and includes the first Chapter of PUP at the end.

Lorcan's Desire #1
Chapter One
THE roads may have been dusty and dry, causing clouds to swirl around each booted step he took, but at least the skies were clear. Thank heaven there was a slight chill in the air, as Lorcan didn’t think he would have been able to take another step had it been as hot as it had the day before. The worst part was that it was his own damn fault that he was in this predicament to begin with. His mama had warned him that it was “rough out there” and had ended her speech with “I’ll see you in a week.” His foolish pride had his twenty-one-year-old butt walking all over this godforsaken country looking for adventure. All he had gotten for his troubles was nine cents in his pocket, no prospects for work or a place to stay, and some nasty-ass blisters on his feet. The last thing he wanted to do was put his tail between his legs and crawl back home to a round of Mama’s “I told you so.” He had one last prospect for work and a place to stay. One last chance to avoid seeing that smug grin on his mama’s face. Or the look of exasperation on Daddy’s face.

The gas attendant a few miles back had told him that the Whispering Pines Ranch was looking for hands, and although he was headed out in the direction the attendant had pointed, he wasn’t feeling all too confident. The way the man had sneered and laughed when he’d asked about work hadn’t surprised him. The way he’d suggested Lorcan was exactly what “those folks” were looking for had even had him fighting back his usual tendency to lash out. Had he not been so I-need-to-find-work-or-starve-to-death-on-the-side-of-the-road desperate, he would have let his fist teach the country bumpkin some manners.

Lorcan was used to people looking at him and assuming they knew his sexual orientation. Because of it, he had learned young how to use his fists to prove he was male enough. Puberty hadn’t improved the delicate, almost feminine features he’d inherited from his mother. Nor had his tall, lean body taken on the bulk and mass of muscles like his father and brothers. Yet he had proven himself over and over to be by far the toughest of them all. Lorcan had eventually found a perverse pleasure in taking down his tormentors. He took to growing out his thick chestnut hair, provoking others further, flaunting his waist-length braid. Only thing he could hope for now, as he walked the back dirt roads of another nameless town, was that “those folks” out at Whispering Pines could use a man with a good work ethic and a strong back, even if his braided hair did curl down around his ass.

As the Whispering Pines Ranch house came into view, Lorcan nearly turned around and hightailed it back the other direction. The big two-story house looked like it would be more at home on the cover of a magazine featuring haunted houses than Ranchers Weekly. Shutters hung from the paint-peeled siding, the porch tilted dangerously to the right, and it didn’t look as if the lawn had been mown or weeded in forever.

He made his way through the calf-high lawn and gingerly placed his boot on the front step, testing its strength before adding his full weight. Remarkably, the half-rotten porch seemed sturdy enough. Lorcan made his way to the front entrance, swung open the scarred screen, and then knocked firmly on the more solid door beneath. Lorcan removed his hat from his head and wiped his brow of sweat as he waited for a response. He strained to listen for any signs that there might be someone approaching the door. When he neither received response nor heard anyone moving around on the other side of the door, he knocked with a little more force. When again there was no sound coming from within, he made his way around to the back of the house and was surprised that the barn and fencing seemed to be in excellent shape. Obviously the owner cared more about the animals and their living arrangements than his own.

An old water pump called to him like a siren, and he headed for it, not realizing until that moment how thirsty he was. He pumped the handle several times before the water began to flow, and he gorged himself on the clean, cold water. Once his thirst was quenched, he took his bandanna from his back pocket, wiping his waterlogged face as he leaned against the fence. He was beginning to regret not cutting his hair before leaving home. He needed to make a good impression, one that would ensure him a job. Lorcan didn’t want to have to make the trek back to his mama’s home, and he damn well didn’t want to have to do it today. With nothing in his belly in over twenty-four hours, an untold number of miles under his boots, and no sleep, he didn’t think it below him to beg the owner for some food and a hay bale to curl up on if they couldn’t offer him a job.


“GODDAMN sons of bitches! If one more of you nasty beasts breaks through this fence, I swear I will be holding a beef sale like this county has never seen.”

Quinn angrily tossed his tools back in his saddlebag and mounted Jeb. He was getting too old and too damn tired to be having to tend to an entire ranch practically single-handedly. Two months ago, that bastard Henderson had started rumors about Quinn’s sexuality and offered his hands nearly twice what Quinn could afford to pay them. Since then, he’d lost everyone who’d worked for him except Ole John and his partner Conner. They’d been with the ranch when his daddy had owned it, and since they had never hidden their preferences, he was sure Henderson had used them as his next attempt to shut him down.

The bitch of the thing was that no one had ever suspected him before. He’d always been very discreet the few times he’d gone over to Jackson to scratch his itch. Hell, he’d only gone three times in the five years since his daddy had passed and left him the ranch. The only damn grudge Mr. Henderson could have against him was the fact that he’d refused to sell him his daddy’s land. The old fart had spent the last five years trying to run him into the ground and make him go belly-up. It was now like an ugly obsession for them both, Henderson doing everything in his power to ensure Quinn lost the ranch and Quinn, in turn, doing everything in his power to prove the evil fuck wrong.

He couldn’t begrudge his hands for going where the money was. Before they left, most of them made sure to let him know that they either didn’t believe the rumors or didn’t care, that it was purely for financial reasons. He couldn’t blame them for wanting the extra cash flow. Still, no matter the reason, he was stuck trying to do the work of ten men and wasn’t sure how much longer he could keep it up. Sighing, he reined Jeb around back toward the barn. No sense worrying on things he couldn’t control. He had stalls to muck and critters to feed, and hopefully, when he was done, Conner would have him a nice spread on his dinner table.

When he reached the corral, Quinn swung down from Jeb, grabbed the reins, and led the horse to the barn for a much-needed grooming and some sweet feed. Jeb was a damn fine horse and hadn’t let him down, no matter how much he’d been demanding from the stallion lately. He’d just cleared the side of the barn when the sight before him stopped him dead in his tracks.

Leaning back against the fence by the old water pump was either the most beautiful man he’d ever seen or one hell of a big woman. The vision before him had fine, delicate features, a thin nose, and high cheekbones. Dark brows and thick lashes lay against golden, sun-kissed skin. Though the eyes were closed, Quinn was sure they’d be as dark and stunning as the long chestnut hair that hung, braided, down the entire length of back to a firm, denim-clad ass. Quinn’s dick twitched as a pink tongue darted out to lick full, lush lips. Jesus, he needed to get laid if just the quick flick of a tongue was enough to make his dick stand up and say hello. Maybe a little trip down to Jackson was in his near future.

Quinn took a step forward and cleared his throat before yelling out, “Something I can help you with?”

The man jerked his head up and straightened himself to his full height, nearly stumbling. He was definitely male. The sun glinted off slight stubble on a narrow chin as he turned his head towards Quinn. If that wasn’t enough to convince him, then the fact that Quinn instantly knew the man dressed to the right was a dead giveaway.

“Jesus, sir, you just took a year off my life.”

Quinn’s blood rushed south at the sound of the deep, velvet-smooth voice. Oh, yeah, definitely time to head to Jackson.

He held his hand out. “Sorry about that. Didn’t mean to startle you. Thought you’d have heard me and Jeb coming up.”

The stranger wiped his hand on his thigh before taking the one offered in a nice, firm grip. “Sorry, sir. Guess I zoned out for a moment there.”

A jolt of electricity raced up Quinn’s arm from the contact, and he was sure by the widening of black pupils and the slight flare of nostrils that he wasn’t the only one who had felt it. Quinn reluctantly released the man’s hand, petting Jeb’s nose when he leaned in with a curious sniff. “Was there something I could help you with?”

The man, obviously just realizing his manners, snatched the hat off his head, kneading the brim nervously. “Yes, sir. I, well… I was hoping… I mean….” He huffed out a frustrated breath and tried again. “I heard you may be looking for some help.”

Quinn stiffened slightly, suspicion creeping into him. With all the shit that he’d been through lately with Henderson, he couldn’t help but be a little leery. What were the chances that someone would come looking for work just when he was starting to consider giving up and handing Henderson what he wanted? Not to mention he wouldn’t put it past the prick to hire someone that looked like the kid in front of him just to tempt him. Still, he wasn’t convinced that the old man would be lucky enough to hire a guy that tripped every attraction switch Quinn had. Plus, the kid did look to be pretty desperate and didn’t sound too sure of himself. He was either one hell of an actor or, in fact, just someone looking for work. His instinct told him it was the latter, but he’d still best take this offer with care.

Quinn pulled at Jeb’s reins and started leading him into the barn. “I gotta brush this boy down. Why don’t you help me get him settled, and we can talk.” He didn’t look back as he walked into the barn. Instead, he concentrated on trying to get his growing arousal under control, threatening his dick with a nice hard thump if it didn’t behave.

“Yes, sir.”

Once he had Jeb tied to the stall, he grabbed a couple of brushes, throwing one at the kid. “Got a name, kid?”

“Lorcan, sir. Lorcan James.” He began to groom Jeb like he knew what he was doing but mumbled under his breath what sounded like “Not a kid.”

“Well, Lorcan, I’m Quinn Taylor, and I guess if there’s anyone here at the ranch you should be inquiring about a job with, it’d be me. You got any experience with cattle?”

Lorcan continued to groom the horse, long, slim fingers following the path of the brush. Quinn couldn’t help but think that such delicate hands would look more at home on a piano’s keyboard than roping and ranching. Then, of course, there was that image that popped into his head for a fleeting second. The one that had his heart speeding up when he imagined how those fine, delicate hands would look even better wrapped around something a little hard and getting harder by the minute. He shook his head and walked over to the supply stall to get the sweet feed for Jeb, trying like hell not to be too obvious that he was having more than a little trouble walking right. Lucky enough for him, Lorcan was too busy concentrating on Jeb and what he was going to say next to notice him.

“Yes, sir. My family runs a dairy farm back home in Indiana.”

“Not too different from beef cattle, but no morning milking and a lot more bulls.”

He stared—okay, it was more like gawking—as Lorcan gave Jeb his cool-down. Quinn’s long experience in schooling his emotions and controlling the look on his face hid his arousal. An arousal that had his dick nearly punching through the denim of his jeans, his breath catching when the kid bent to clean Jeb’s hoofs. The man was a little too skinny, but the tight ass and long legs had Quinn struggling to control the tremors surging through his body. Quinn wasn’t sure if it was the fact that it had been so long since he’d had anything other than his hand for company at night or the fact that Lorcan was just that damn gorgeous. The way he moved as he encouraged Jeb to pick up each hoof, pushing into the animal with ease, he had the grace of a large cat.

He waited until all four hoofs were properly cleaned and inspected. He told himself he was watching the man so intently not because he was enjoying the way his dick pulsed or the way jolts of electricity raced through his veins but to make sure the guy knew what he was doing and didn’t cause Jeb any undue stress. Lorcan held out the grooming tools and looked at him expectantly, a question of “What next?” in those big, dark eyes.

Quinn looked down at the brush in his hand and embarrassingly realized he hadn’t helped with Jeb’s cool-down. He’d been too busy watching. He took the tools from Lorcan and returned them to the tack room, mentally chastising his lack of control, and grabbed Jeb’s reins. “Let me just turn Jeb out, and we’ll discuss this job you’re looking for over a bit of lunch.”

The kid looked like he was about to keel over from starvation and exhaustion, and wouldn’t that just be a last drop in the bucket? Henderson would have it turned around ’til he was accused of kidnapping and killing a beautiful, innocent boy. He turned the horse out, motioning for Lorcan to follow; he could use a bit of lunch himself, and hopefully he’d find a distraction from the wanderings of his naughty mind.

Quinn's Need #2
Prologue
THE feel of the thick crop in his hand was like an aphrodisiac to his senses. Combined with the scents of leather, sweat, and arousal, it made Quinn feel like a god. Only two things eased his mind these days. First was working his ranch until every muscle in his body screamed for rest, only to push it further until exhaustion set in so deep that he didn't even dream when he finally laid his head down on his pillow. The second was the activity he was currently partaking in, one that didn't allow old memories to haunt him, his entire focus on the power that eclipsed his mind.

Quinn let his fingers ghost across the slick skin of a broad back. Felt the heat rise from the dozen raised welts.

His marks.

He pressed his bare chest against the man bound to the wall, eliciting a hiss of pain from him at the contact of sweat-damp skin. One hand coiled tightly around the thick crop; the other he let soothe up the man's arm until his fingertips met the cool metal of a shackle. Another hiss filled the air as callused fingers made contact with abraded skin.

“What are your safe words, boy?”

“Apollo and Zeus, Sir,” was the soft reply.

“Will you bleed for me, boy?” Quinn stepped back to groans of protest from his bound boy. “Will you?” he demanded.

“Ye… yes, Sir… anything.”

He tested the weight of the crop against his thigh again, though he knew its weight as if it were an extension of his own hand. “Why will you bleed for me?”

“Because you demand it, Sir.”

The whooshing sound of the crop as it sailed through the air sent a thrill through Quinn that exploded into a hot, burning fire as the crop cracked against exposed skin and elicited a cry of pain. Quinn watched with satisfaction as his mark split open ever so slightly. A small trickle of blood began to ooze from the wound. Stepping closer, he let the leather tip of the crop caress the taut ass, producing a shiver from the man's body before it tightened in anticipation of the next explosion of pain.

Quinn leaned in closer, his mouth hovering next to his boy's ear, letting him feel the heat of his body but denying him the contact of both his body and the crop. He could practically feel the tension in the muscles. The man fighting against the need to push back but unable to stop the tremble the desire produced. He turned his head, looked right into Quinn’s forceful gaze, and pleaded with his wide blue eyes.

“Eyes front, boy, or I'll blindfold you.”

The man's head snapped back, facing the wall. “Sorry, Sir… it's just….”

Quinn let the sting of the crop emphasize his words as he laid a stripe across his boy's ass. “You are not to look at me, not to speak to me unless it's to use your safe word or answer a direct question. Do you understand?”

His boy took a couple of panting breaths, trying to relax the tension in his body, before replying with a nod.

Quinn let the crop fly again, leaving a matching stripe on the other side of his ass, causing a groan to escape from the man’s chest. “That was a direct question, boy.”

“Yes… yes, Sir… I understand, Sir.”

“Good boy.”

Quinn took up his earlier position, once again letting his boy feel his heat but not his body. He knew denying his body would break the sub. What he wanted—no, what he needed—was to hear him beg. To cry out, beg for Quinn and only Quinn. He needed to dismantle, to destroy the man until only Quinn existed. Needed to know no one thing or being meant more to the man than Quinn did in this moment.

Quinn leaned in again and whispered, “Who owns you?”

“You, Sir. You can do what you want with my body. Beat me, fuck me, or walk away and leave me here aching. I am powerless against you, Sir. I cannot walk away from you until you desire it, Sir.”

The crop dropped to the floor with a thud as Quinn grabbed a handful of dark blond hair in his fist, yanking back hard. A grunt of pain was the only response, but it turned into a moan of desire when Quinn rubbed his leather-encased erection against his boy’s reddened ass.

Quinn pressed his lips against the tender flesh beneath his ear. “Beg me to stay with you. Beg me to fuck you.”

“Oh God, Sir… please, Sir… I ache.”

Quinn pushed his erection harder into his boy’s ass, at the same time reaching into his back pocket for the lube and condom he had tucked in there. “You ache because I demand it of you. But I’m not sure if you want it enough. Convince me, boy.” Pulling back slightly, he unbuttoned his leathers, releasing his near-to-bursting shaft.

Clutching his restraints in a white-knuckled hold, body trembling, he said, “I need you, Sir, only you… please, Sir….” The last words were a sob that wracked his boy’s chest, tears streaming down his face before he continued. “Only you, Sir… please, I only need you. I ache… nothing without you, Sir.”

Quinn froze, the condom he had been rolling onto his shaft forgotten. “What did you say?”

“Need you, Sir, only you.”

Pain exploded in Quinn’s chest, radiating out through his body in waves, his breath dying in his lungs. His blood froze in his veins as a haunting memory flooded his mind.

“I ache all the time, I’m nothing without you.”

He pushed away the painful memory with every bit of will he could muster. He forced himself to finish rolling on the condom, slicking his fingers and waning shaft with lube. Those memories had no place here. He wasn't the one begging, the one desperate. He was in control, and his boy would not leave him, not unless he allowed it.

Under his terms.

His rules.

Quinn stabbed two slick fingers into his boy’s ass to the hilt without warning, causing the man to go up on his toes. A long, agonized moan poured from his parted lips.

“You’re mine.” He pulled back before pushing his fingers back in with even more force, causing the man to cry out.

“So good… oh God, Sir, need you so much. Please, Sir… please, won't you fuck me… I need you… please.”

Quinn withdrew his fingers, his arousal renewing at the desperation in the man's voice. Desperate for him. Only him and what he could give.

He positioned the head of his cock at his boy’s slick opening. “Mine,” he bit out as he shoved his length in to the hilt. He didn't even give the man time to adjust to his girth before grabbing onto his slender hips in a punishing grip with both hands, slamming into the tight passage with a frenzied, brutal pace.

“Tell me,” he huffed out, never slowing his pace. “Fucking tell me how much you want me.”

“So much… oh God, Sir… I need you,” he keened and sobbed. “Only you… take me… yours.”

Quinn slammed into his boy over and over again, pushing his pain, his heartache, deep, deeper into the man with every thrust.

I am in control here. God dammit! Me!

He reached around, unsnapping the tight leather strap that kept his boy’s orgasm at bay, and shouted, “Come!” as he continued to thrust, reveling in the power as he heard his boy cry out his release, in the fact that he commanded it and was obeyed. He let the contractions clamping down on his cock pull his own orgasm out of him. Jet after jet of his release filled the condom until there was nothing.

No pain.

No memories.

Nothing left except exhaustion and emptiness.

Only the knowledge that he had to release his submissive kept him on his feet. Quinn pulled out of his boy, disposing of the condom before reaching up and releasing the restraints. He fought to hold the man up, his sub’s body nearly stretched beyond what it could endure. He led him to the large bed, easing him down gently, mindful not to cause any more pain to his already abused flesh. Sated blue eyes looked directly into his, a soft, sleepy smile on his boy’s face.

“Thank you, Sir.”

He pulled the covers up, tucking them around the man. “Goodnight, boy.”

He zipped up his leathers, grabbed his shirt, and walked out of the room without another word.

Quinn had no desire to comfort, no need to know the man's name. He had taken exactly what he wanted, what he needed, and just like every other time over the last year, he had nothing more to give in return.

Chapter One
BROWS furrowed, lips tightened in disgust, and the all-too-familiar scowl, always the same, always constant. The man looking back at Quinn in the mirror was barely recognizable. Nevertheless, the scowl never changed. It was constant. Familiar. The only thing that had been immutable the last year, the one attribute that never changed.

At six three, he had always been a big man with a thick bulk of muscle; now he was bordering on obscenely large. The long hours he put in on the ranch made not only his savings account swell but also his body. He was successful, handsome, and his reputation at The Push ensured that he never wanted for company.

 So why in the hell can’t I get rid of the fucking scowl on my face?

Quinn had spent the first three months after Lorcan left feeling sorry for himself. He either drank himself into a stupor or lay in bed staring at the walls while life went on around him. He’d felt nothing, empty inside, like a huge part of him had been ripped out and left him a shell of a man. White noise and static would buzz in his head, and he knew if he tried, he would be able to make out what was said within the buzz. He never tried. He knew what the static would whisper if he allowed it to form words. Feeling nothing, hearing nothing, was a hell of a lot better than the sheer agony that had taken him to his knees and forced him to hide away after he had heard Lorcan’s voice for the last time.

The insurance check from the fire had been large, covering all the damage done to his barn. Old man Henderson had gotten his wish and was never held accountable for all the things he’d done to Quinn. He died peacefully in his sleep soon after his attorney entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf. Henderson’s son, who’d been estranged from his father most of his adult life for being gay, had settled out of court quickly. It explained a lot of why the old man had had it in for Quinn for so many years. It left him without anything to worry about, financially, anyway.

In the beginning, it had seemed like a blessing. He didn’t have to force himself out of bed each morning; he had no worries when it came to his ranch. He hired enough hands and put his trust in his foreman, Clint, that the work that needed to be done would be. Conner and John looked out for everything else, and he could spend his time wallowing in self-pity.

It was the stench of his wasting body, the constant hunger, the pain in his deteriorating muscles, and Conner’s tears that finally forced him to pull himself up out of the sludge and foul depths of despair.

 He’d come back from his three months of self-imposed isolation a changed man. Never again would he let anyone get close enough to hurt him. He would not beg. Never would he allow pain and misery to render him so incapable of living. He’d kept that promise.

So why in the hell couldn’t he take pride in it?

He turned from the mirror, entering the hot steam of the shower. He felt itchy, like his skin was on too tight. Normally after a night at The Push, he could relax. He could stop worrying about shit and just go about his business. It hadn’t been the sub—he had been beautiful in his submission—but the session last night had left him feeling raw. He couldn’t let go of the voice in his head repeating over and over, “I ache all the time, I’m nothing without you.” Yet it was not the voice of the boy under his crop that he heard, but his own voice.

Shower.

Dry.

Shave.

Dress.

Quinn went through his morning routine mechanically, trying to block out the voice in his head.

Once dressed, he waited until he knew everyone would have already left the breakfast table, making their way out for their morning chores, before he headed for the kitchen. The last thing he was in the mood for was small talk. He had no desire to chat about shit he didn’t give a rat’s ass about.

As Quinn entered the kitchen, Conner looked up at him from the table, phone pressed to his ear. “Hey, can I call you back? I got a straggler for breakfast,” he said into the phone.

Quinn took his seat, filled his plate, and ignored Conner. If the phone conversation was private, then Conner could leave. He was hungry.

Conner stood, turning his back, and spoke in hushed tones. “No, I understand. We can talk when you get here. Are you sure coming down alone is a good idea?”

Pause.

Conner looked over his shoulder, his wary eyes meeting Quinn’s. “No, not yet, but I’ll ask him."

Quinn’s body stiffened, and he stopped reaching for the food, suddenly no longer hungry. The walls of the kitchen felt as if they’d begun to close in. He had heard a rumor around the ranch that Lorcan was coming back to town. Neither Connor nor John had said anything directly to him about it. Overhearing Conner’s conversation, he knew the rumors were in fact truth. He stood, pushed away his untouched food, and turned to leave.

“I gotta go, see you soon.” Conner hung up the phone and called to him, “Quinn, can I talk to you a minute?”

“Got chores to do, Conner. Maybe over lunch?”

If he was lucky, he would be able to avoid Conner for the rest of the day. He didn’t want to hear about Lorcan or anything remotely associated with the man. He was over it. He had moved on, but that didn’t mean he wanted a reminder of the past.

He headed for the back door, but Conner wouldn’t be put off. “It’s about Lorcan.”

Quinn stopped with his hand on the door handle. His heart sped up instantly, making him feel shaky and a little out of breath. Fuck. He hated how just Lorcan’s name could still affect him so badly.

 I‘m over it, he chanted repeatedly to himself.

“What about him?” he asked without looking back.

“Since Mrs. Jenkins moved to the assisted living apartment, Lorcan and Jess have decided to move into Jess’s old ranch. He wants to spend some time with us—”

“No.”

“No what? I haven’t asked you anything yet,” Conner said defensively.

“No, he can’t come here.”

There was no way in hell he could have Lorcan on the ranch. It had been a year since he’d seen or talked to him, and he had no plans on that changing anytime in the future. He didn’t need his failure with Lorcan thrown in his face.

Conner snorted. “This is my home too.”

 Jesus, the man could be an irritating son of a bitch at times. “Fine, do whatever you want. I got chores to do.” He shook his head in irritation. Obviously his opinion didn’t mean shit if Conner had already made plans.

“He was hoping I’d make him a home-cooked meal when he got to town.”

I will not be here. My ass will be in Jackson that night for sure. “Good for you, Conner. Anything else?”

“He wants to see you.”

Quinn opened the door and stepped out. “No,” he said adamantly, and slammed the door behind him. He knew his limitations. If he couldn’t handle hearing Lorcan’s name, how the hell could he sit across from Lorcan and Jess at his own dinner table?

He couldn’t.


WARM, strong arms wrapped around him from behind and pulled him tight against the broad, familiar chest.

“You about done packing?” Jess whispered against the sensitive skin below Lorcan’s ear, making him shudder.

“Just finished.”

“Are you sure you have to go? I hate being without you.”

Lorcan turned in Jess’s arms, wrapping his own arms tight around Jess’s waist and snuggling in. “Just think, you’ll have the whole bed to yourself and won’t have to fight with the cover hog.”

Jess ran his hands down Lorcan’s back, his fingers tangling in the ass-length hair. “I like it when you steal the covers. It gives me reason to snuggle even closer to the warmth of this sexy body.” He placed a soft kiss on his temple. “I’m gonna miss you.”

Lorcan leaned up and begged for a kiss, which Jess gave without hesitation. “I’m gonna miss you too.”

Rarely did he sleep without Jess’s big body wrapped around him as his soft snores lulled him. Jess had become the most important thing in his life. Lorcan’s family had accepted the big, lovable man as part of the family almost immediately after Jess had shown up on his doorstep begging for a chance. It was hard not to love him; his smile and sweetness were infectious. More importantly to his family, the love Jess had for Lorcan was abundantly obvious.

Lorcan had returned to Indiana from Oklahoma disenchanted about life away from his family. The relationship he’d had with Quinn had left him even more confused than when he’d first left home for adventure. Yet since first meeting Quinn, he had discovered a lot about himself. He no longer questioned his sexuality. He accepted it. His dad and mama had worried about him when he’d first come out to them and told them about his time in Oklahoma. His parents had accepted him without question but had been heartbroken. Not because he was gay, but because of the pain he’d suffered at what felt like a betrayal by Quinn. They had initially been angry that Quinn had made Lorcan feel ashamed of himself, but after hearing the entire story, their anger had turned to sympathy. Having witnessed how much intolerance and hate Lorcan had been subjected to as he grew up, they could understood why Quinn had hidden away his sexuality, but they hated that it had hurt Lorcan. His parents only ever wanted him to be happy.

Even his brothers had been okay with his sexuality, Lenn and Camron saying they always knew, which rather pissed him off. It made it sound as if he had been hiding something all his life. How could they have known when he hadn’t even been sure of it himself? Aiden, the most mushy and sentimental of them, had said, “Love doesn’t always come in the package we expect.” The one thing his family agreed on was that they worried about the hurt others could inflict on him with their prejudices. However, they took comfort in knowing he was physically and emotionally strong enough to handle the taunts. Hell, he’d dealt with scorn his whole life. Having Jess at his back made dealing with the hate that much easier. Not too many people wanted to get on Jess’s bad side. As sweet and outgoing as the man was, the one thing that would set him off like fireworks on Fourth of July was people looking at Lorcan with anything less than respect. And heaven help those who said anything against Lorcan when Jess was in earshot.

“It’s only a week. I’m looking forward to spending time with Conner and John but wish you could be with us.” His lips teased over the soft hair on Jess’s chest. “You sure you can’t come with me?”

“I got that breeder comin’ over from Ashbury tonight and the stock auction on Wednesday," Jess said with a sullen look.

Lorcan nuzzled into Jess’s neck, inhaling deep the spicy scent and hiding the relief on his face. They’d been saving their money since Jess had moved in with him and his family and were hoping to buy a little spread of land to start a cattle ranch. However, even with saving every dime, it would be years before they could afford both the down payment for the land and the funds needed to buy stock. Jess’s dad had left him a sizeable insurance sum, but Jess didn’t want to touch the money. They’d agreed that that money was for his mom’s care. Now, with Mrs. Jenkins moving from Jess’s old house into a retirement living apartment, Jess’s small house and land sat empty. They agreed that their only two options were either to continue living with Lorcan’s family or move to Jess’s home. It had not been an easy decision, yet in the end, they had concluded that moving back to Pegasus was the smart choice. Unfortunately, that also meant moving back to a place where some heartbreak still lived.

Although he would miss Jess and part of him did want Jess to come, he was also relieved that he had the excuse of going down alone first. Someone had to be there when the power company came out to hook up the gas and electric, and with Jess’s previous commitments, Lorcan had volunteered.

He was afraid of how he would react when he saw Quinn for the first time. He could admit that a part of his heart still belonged to the stubborn cowboy, but Jess now owned a good chunk of it too. The last thing he ever wanted to do was hurt Jess, so he figured it would be best to see Quinn for the first time alone. He had no idea how he would react to seeing Quinn, whether he would be able to hide the attraction he knew was still there.

“I’m not leaving until morning.” He let his tongue flick out against the thick vein of Jess’s neck. “Why don’t we move this old suitcase off the bed and you can show me just how much you’re going to miss me.”

Jess reached out and grabbed at the hem of his shirt, pulling it up and off in one quick movement. “Mmm! I’m gonna have to show every last inch of you how much I’m gonna miss it.”

Lorcan could only moan as Jess unbuckled his belt and eased down his zipper. Jess let his tongue and lips wander lazily down the skin of Lorcan’s chest. His big callused hands pushed open Lorcan’s jeans and wrapped around his heated flesh. Lorcan thrust his hips, seeking out more of the delicious friction.

“Oh yeah, I’m going to miss you,” Lorcan panted as Jess increased the pressure on his shaft, giving it a couple of hard strokes until he pulled a deep groan from Lorcan.

With his free hand, Jess shoved the suitcase off the bed. It landed with a thud just as Lorcan was pushed down into the mattress, Jess falling heavily on top of him. He shuddered as Jess ran his tongue across his jaw, down his neck, and began sucking gently at the thick vein.

Lorcan turned his head, giving him more room to explore as he grabbed onto Jess’s ass. His fingers inched below the waistband of Jess’s loose jeans toward his crease.

Jess’s hips jerked, and he began sucking hard on Lorcan’s neck, tongue teasing and teeth threatening. Lorcan knew what Jess was doing, and although Jess might not admit how worried he was about Lorcan seeing Quinn again, he knew. Jess was marking him as his, clearly displaying his mine-don’t-you-dare-fucking-touch brand for everyone to see, especially Quinn. Lorcan hated hickeys, at least the ones that were visible, but he knew Jess needed this, and he gave it to him willingly.

Lorcan’s dick ached, begging for a little attention as Jess licked and sucked at the thick tendon of his neck. Fingers tweaked and pulled at his nipples, sending sharp jolts of pleasurable pain to fan out across his chest and pool at his groin. His dick was weeping, wanting to be more than just an observer.

“Off,” he grunted as he pushed at the waistband of Jess’s jeans.

Jess rolled off him with a husky chuckle that sent a wave of want straight to Lorcan’s balls as Lorcan started stripping off his jeans.

“Shit,” Lorcan hissed in frustration as he fumbled with his jeans. The way Jess’s hard prick bounced against his muscled belly as he shimmied out of his jeans distracted him.

Jess pulled his jeans the rest of the way off and threw them to the floor. “Aw! Poor pretty boy,” Jess murmured as he rolled over and swatted Lorcan’s hands away. “Let me do it for you.”

Lorcan lay back and let Jess remove the infuriating jeans, sighing in relief as Jess slid them down his legs and off. “God, Jess, hurry! Wanna feel you riding my cock.”

Jess moved up his body. Strong thighs straddled him, kissing and nibbling at his neck, as Lorcan reached for the lube they always kept under the pillow, and poured a generous amount onto his fingers. Jess kept assaulting his neck until Lorcan pressed the tip of his slick finger into Jess’s tight hole, making Jess gasp and throw his head back.

 Lorcan watched Jess’s face go slack as he began to ease his finger in and out of Jess’s tight passage. Jess rocked his hips, pushing back to meet the thrusts of Lorcan’s invading digit, his rigid shaft bobbing and weeping its arousal. God, Jess was gorgeous when his face was lost to pleasure, his thick muscles flexing and rippling as he swayed.

“More.”

Lorcan swatted Jess’s ass playfully with his free hand. “Greedy bastard.” However, he couldn’t refuse Jess what he wanted. He eased in a second finger alongside the first. He thrust slowly until Jess’s tight ring of muscle began to relax around his fingers; then he curled them up, searching for Jess’s sweet spot. He knew the moment he found it—Jess’s eyes flew open, and he bore down hard on Lorcan’s hand.

“There… oh… right there, pretty boy,” Jess moaned as his hips began snapping as he fucked himself on Lorcan’s fingers.

Lorcan couldn’t tear his gaze away from Jess’s pleasure-filled eyes. Nothing on earth was as glorious as the way Jess gave in to his pleasure with his entire body. Lorcan slipped in a third finger, wrapping his hand around Jess’s hip. He ignored his own desperate erection, concentrating on Jess’s pleasure, knowing it would only increase his own that much more.

Lorcan was often greedy, taking Jess hard and fast, but tonight he wanted it to last. He needed to show Jess how much he loved him and erase the little frown line that had taken up residence on Jess’s brow since he first heard that Lorcan was going to Oklahoma without him.

His fingers sliding with ease, his neglected prick about to split wide open with need, Lorcan couldn’t wait any longer to be buried in Jess’s heat. He reached up with his free hand, fisting the soft blond hair, and urged Jess’s head down, claiming his mouth in a demanding kiss. He eased his fingers out of Jess’s tight ass, capturing Jess’s whimper of protest on his tongue.

“Gonna ride me, big guy?” Lorcan whispered against Jess’s lips. “Gonna show me how much you’re gonna miss me?”

“Oh yeah,” Jess sighed. Reaching behind him, he grabbed Lorcan’s cock and lined it up with that sweet hole, never breaking the contact of their lips.

Lorcan bit at Jess’s bottom lip while pushing his hips into the mattress. Every muscle in his body tightened, fighting against the need to drive deep into Jess. He was determined to let Jess set the pace, take what he needed, but Christ, it was hard.

Jess pushed back, taking just the crown of Lorcan’s cock into his body, then froze.

Sweet fucking torture was what Jess was making him endure. Leaning back slightly, Jess stared down at Lorcan, panting, while his body began to relax around the invasion. A wicked smile curled the edges of Jess’s lips. He knew exactly what he was doing to Lorcan and took a perverse pleasure in his torment.

Just as Lorcan began to tremble with the force of holding back, feeling as if his goddamn head was about to blow off, Jess winked, sinking down until his ass hit Lorcan’s thighs. The surprise and the tight muscles clamping down on him had Lorcan crying out his pleasure.

He was trying. Holy hell, he was trying not to set the pace. Control. Let him take what he needs. This is about Jess. Did not matter what his good intentions were. The contractions on his dick as Jess’s channel began the drive-him-out-of-his-fucking-mind grip and release had him grabbing onto Jess’s hips and slamming up into that heat with all his might. Naughty slurs of oh fuck and fuck me good poured from Jess as he met every one of Lorcan’s thrusts with a powerful downward thrust of his own. The sounds of skin slapping and Jess’s deep growls filling the room had Lorcan fighting to hold back the eruption that was surging through him. With the last brain cells in his head, he grabbed onto Jess’s cock, and one, two hard twists and Jess was arching his back and screaming Lorcan’s name to the rafters.

“That’s it, baby—”

Lorcan’s words cut off as heat poured over his hand, landing on his stomach and chest. Jess’s climax pushed him over the edge, and his eyes squeezed tight as the pleasure soared higher and higher. So big it felt like it would blow the roof off the house, sending him soaring through the night sky. He reached up blindly, grabbing a handful of Jess’s hair, pulling him down and smashing their mouths together, preventing the name that was tingling on his lips from escaping. Let Jess’s flavor push away the image of the man he saw behind his closed eyes. The man he imagined sharing their bed. He let the weight of Jess falling down heavily on top of him push out the guilt.

Lorcan would move heaven and hell before he would ever let Jess be hurt. The only thing he couldn’t do—and he had tried—was stop missing Quinn. He couldn’t stop loving Quinn. The only thing that made his guilt bearable was that he knew with conviction that he would never give Jess up for the other man.

Ty's Obsession #3
Prologue
ANGER, desire, jealousy, longing—all battled against each other for supremacy, leaving Ty shaking and a little unsteady on his feet. He leaned against the jamb of the barn door to steady himself as the war inside his heart and head raged. How the hell had he gotten here? No connections, no emotions, and no complications, that had been his motto. Yet here he stood staring out into the barnyard as Conner went up to Quinn, a large smile on Conner’s old and weathered face, and Ty’s chest tightened painfully at the sight of Quinn. For a moment, desire and longing moved to the forefront as he watched Conner say something to Quinn and a brilliant smile bloomed across Quinn’s face. To Ty, the smile was like a match to a torch, heating him. God, Quinn was so gorgeous, so very sexy standing there in the tight Levi’s that accentuated his perfect ass. A black T-shirt stretched tightly across his impressive bulk, showing each valley and ridge of his muscular back and chest. But that smile, that magnificent, happy smile on Quinn’s handsome face touched Ty deep inside, and for a moment, he lost himself in the pleasure that smile elicited. For a split second, all the anger and pain melted away, and Ty couldn’t help but smile in return. Then, like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, Quinn’s smile turned radiant, and he lifted a hand and waved. Ty turned his head in the direction Quinn was staring, and pain, raw and consuming, ripped through him, causing his knees to buckle, and he leaned more heavily against the door to keep from falling.

Lorcan.

Ty turned his gaze back to Quinn, watching as the man continued to talk with Conner, his smile still broad and his eyes never leaving Lorcan. Why did Lorcan have to come back to town? If he’d just stayed gone, Quinn would still be Ty’s. This pain shredding his chest was why he never let anyone get close to him. He had learned as a small boy that caring about people caused pain much more consequential than any physical injury ever could. A bullwhip in the hands of a skilled Dom gave him the most pleasurable pain. A confident master could make him scream and send him flying to such heights he could soar out of his body, out of his head. That kind of pain he understood. Skin splitting, muscles straining, and flesh bruising, that kind of suffering he not only understood but also craved. This… this agony that was compressing his heart so tightly he couldn’t breathe, Ty didn’t understand at all. He couldn’t use a salve or ice pack or even rest for a few days to give his body time to heal. No amount of pain reliever or alcohol could completely drown out what he felt as he watched Quinn look at Lorcan with that smile on his face.

A lump formed in Ty’s throat as he watched Conner hug Quinn, then head back toward the house. He knew what it felt like to hug that hard body, to be in Quinn’s embrace, and he longed to feel it again. When Quinn started to walk toward Lorcan, Ty shook his head, silently pleading that Quinn not go to him.

As if Quinn had heard his plea, he stopped and turned his head toward Ty, and their eyes met. For a moment, Ty let himself believe that Quinn was choosing him over Lorcan. Quinn was his, and he’d come to Ty, tell him he was sorry, that he’d made a terrible mistake running to Lorcan and wanted Ty back. The smile on Quinn’s face fell, and the fantasy was snatched away.

Pity.

Pity, understanding, and apology were what he saw staring back at him in Quinn’s blue eyes, but not a shred of desire or want. Ty’s stomach rolled and bile burned the back of his throat, and just like that, the anger reared its ugly head and the battle turned in its favor. He crossed his arms over his chest and glared at Quinn. Don’t you dare fucking pity me. He’d seen that look on the faces of his teachers when he was a kid, sometimes in the tired eyes of the social worker who came to remove him from one shithole, knowing they were sending him to another. He would not tolerate that look from anyone, especially Quinn.

Quinn made a move as if to come to him. No the fuck you don’t. Ty spun away from the door and stomped off toward the other side of the barn. His boots eating up the dirt and dust, he let his anger propel his body forward until he was out the door on the opposite side of the barn, and he didn’t stop until he reached a small grove of trees. His breath coming in short, harsh pants, he paced and raged until he collapsed against the base of a wide oak. He drew his knees up and hung his head. “Fucking Quinn!” he groaned.

Ty inhaled deeply, struggling to find some calm. He was surrounded by the scents of fresh-cut hay, wide-open fields, and grazing animals, and that should have been enough to calm him. When he had been a boy, they had had a calming effect on him, and he tried to find that calm now. He hadn’t had many opportunities to enjoy life in the country back then, but he’d gotten lucky a couple of times to get foster families who owned small ranches, and they had been some of the best times of his life. Those families hadn’t been any better than the ones he lived with in the city; they took him in not because they gave a rat’s ass about an abandoned kid but for free labor. Still, he’d learned to ride, muck stalls, and care for the livestock, and he’d loved the tranquility of the country and working with his hands. He’d been given three square meals a day and a roof over his head, and as long as he worked hard, the owners didn’t bother him too much. It sure beat the hell out of the inner city projects. He shuddered. Those had been a fucking nightmare. That train of thought isn’t helping, he chastised himself and leaned his head back against the tree. Just breathe.

Rolling his shoulders, trying to release some of the tension, Ty took in another deep breath of the sweet scent. Unfortunately, it was going to take a hell of a lot more than the sights and sounds of a cattle ranch to calm him. Nothing was soothing him these days. To make matters worse, he didn’t even have the release he sought from The Push. He’d given up working there all but one day a week to help Quinn out. It didn’t matter that Marcus had been about to cut his hours back; he could have found another gig with one of the other leather bars, maybe even gotten into one of the private clubs, but no. No, his stupid ass had to go and offer to help out the arrogant son of a bitch, Quinn, and what the fuck had he gotten in return?

Ty removed his hat and ran a hand through his sweat-dampened hair. I’ll tell you what it got me: not a fucking thing!

Well… that wasn’t entirely true, now was it? One too many times leaving early for Quinn, only going in the back rooms with Quinn, and spending his one night a week behind the bar waiting for Quinn instead of working the crowd had gotten him a real pretty pink slip.

Life may not have been all that great before Quinn walked in the door of The Push that first time, but it hadn’t sucked as much as it did now. He had been content going about his business, flirting with the customers, and had had a sweet list of Doms who requested him and knew exactly what he liked. His life had been completely uncomplicated until that sexy son of a bitch walked into The Push and said, “Join me on the dance floor if you got a break coming anytime soon.” That first night hadn’t been much more than a blowjob in the alleyway, but Ty had known instantly that he’d never met anyone quite like the arrogant cowboy, and he’d been right. Quinn had swept into his life like a whirlwind, leaving him with only the memory of his taste and touch, but Christ, it had been enough to produce some hot fantasies. He’d given up hope of ever seeing him again, but he had been one happy bastard that he’d been wrong. Just thinking about how Quinn had fucked him that first time had his heart beating hard in his chest and his dick throbbing as the images solidified in his mind. No one had ever made him fly like Quinn or given him what he’d needed so badly.

Just as quickly as the blood had run south, it raced to his head, causing it to throb with a new kind of agony when he thought of how his body hadn’t been the only thing Quinn had dominated. No, the fucker had to force Ty to feel something more than just the pleasurable pain, something he swore he’d never allow anyone to do. His hands tightened into fists, crushing his hat as he struggled against the anger ripping through him, but it held him in its grip. My body wasn’t enough, was it, Quinn? Ty’s muscles tightened, and his breath became harsh. “You just had to fucking dominate my heart too, didn’t you,” Ty cried out with labored breaths. “Fucking hell!” Oh, God, he was coming unhinged, thoughts of Quinn rocketing from one extreme to the other, leaving him struggling to keep up.

You’d have thought Brian would have taught your stupid ass not to let your heart make any of the goddamn decisions. Ty slapped his hat against his knee and angrily plopped it back on his head. Yeah, well, he wasn’t all that damn smart, was he? Sitting here having a conversation with himself was proof positive of that. Besides, he was sick and tired of comparing Quinn and Brian. They were nothing alike. Brian had been an uncaring, sadistic prick who took advantage of a kid with nowhere to go, and Quinn… well, Quinn wasn’t anything like him. Even when Quinn had been full of rage, walking into The Push with a huge chip on his shoulder and his don’t-fuck-with-me attitude, there had been an underlying goodness to the man. The way Quinn had gently helped him to bed, tended to his back with soft, soothing touches of his fingers as he worked salve into Ty’s wounds. Ty had always known Quinn was a good man, completely different from anyone he’d ever met, and no way in hell was he going to step back and let Lorcan have him. Quinn was his.

Ah, Lorcan. That one word summed up all his problems and gave Ty a moment of true clarity. If it weren’t for Lorcan coming back, Ty would still have Quinn. The guy was sexy, he’d give him that. Ty had never seen hair quite like that before, at least not on a dude, but from what he could tell, Lorcan’s hair was the only thing that made him special. The immature little shit sure didn’t deserve someone like Quinn. He just needed to figure out how to get rid of his little problem.

What to do, what to do, he asked himself as he tapped a finger against his knee. Focusing on Lorcan was helping him find a balance for his out-of-control emotions. Lorcan was the root of his problem, and getting him out of the picture was the one thing both his mind and body agreed upon.

From what Quinn had told him, Lorcan was the kind who ran when things got rough. Ty liked rough, was in fucking heaven when things got very rough. He sure as hell wouldn’t run. Oh no, he’d be on his knees begging, submitting to Quinn’s brutal side. Quinn could deny his harsher tendencies all he wanted, but Ty had felt the power, the excitement in those strokes. He’d seen the look in Quinn’s eyes, heard the roar of his release and felt his pleasure when he was dominating a lover.

Quinn needed to dominate.

He needed Ty.

Pulling himself to his feet, Ty dusted off the seat of his jeans and headed back toward the ranch. A smile curled his lips as a calm feeling began to spread through him. He’d just have to make things rough for Lorcan.

Chapter One
RIBBONS of the softest silk tickled against Quinn’s side and along his arm. The perfect weight pressed down on his side as gentle lips teased down his neck to his breastbone, bringing him out of his light sleep. Quinn wrapped his arms around Lorcan, moaning softly as his hands slid through the silky strands of his lover's hair and pulled him harder against his chest.

Blinking, he placed a kiss to the top of Lorcan’s head. “Mmm, it’s still dark, go back to sleep,” he murmured.

“Can’t,” Lorcan whispered against his chest, the warmth of his breath tickling Quinn’s skin. “I got to get home. I got chores to do.”

Quinn groaned and pulled Lorcan up and took a kiss, encouraging Lorcan to lie fully on top of him. “I hate that word,” he complained. He let his hands roam down Lorcan’s back to the firm globes of his ass and pulled him hard against his lengthening shaft.

Lorcan hissed at the contact but pushed harder against Quinn, rolling his hips. “What word—chores? You’re in the wrong business, then, cowboy,” Lorcan teased.

“No, when you refer to Jess’s ranch as home.”

Lorcan leaned back, the full moon shining in through the window lighting up the fierce look in the man’s eyes. “You’re not jealous of Jess, are you? We’ve—”

Quinn cupped the back of Lorcan’s head and pulled him down for a kiss, silencing him. “No, I’m not jealous,” he whispered against Lorcan’s lips when the kiss ended. He encouraged him to lie back down until Lorcan’s head was resting on his shoulder. “I just wish you’d move in here. Consider this ranch your home, our home.”

“Quinn,” Lorcan responded softly, “we’ve talked about this. It’s only been a few weeks, and besides, I told you, I have to keep Jess’s ranch going until he gets home.”

“We’ll hire someone to run the ranch. Hell, I’m sure we could get Collin to stay there at night.”

It was Lorcan’s turn to silence him with a kiss, his tongue teasing until Quinn opened up and welcomed him in. His lover kissed him deeply, pulling a moan from deep in his chest and effectively cutting off any further conversation. With the press of Lorcan’s naked body and his flavor exploding on his tongue, nothing else mattered. Lorcan kissed him so thoroughly that Quinn was dazed when it ended, and it took his brain a moment to catch up to what was happening. The next thing he knew, Lorcan was padding across the floor, his tight butt demanding Quinn follow. Who was he to disobey such a command?

“That wasn’t very nice,” Quinn complained as he stepped into the shower stall behind Lorcan. “No fair using this gorgeous body and that talented tongue to frazzle my brain.” He grabbed the body in question and tugged.

Lorcan chuckled and allowed Quinn to pull him against him. “It’s the only way I can get my way with you.”

“Mmm,” Quinn moaned, nuzzling the side of Lorcan’s neck. “You can have your way with me all you want, preferably your wicked way.”

God, the man felt amazing in Quinn’s arms. He still had a hard time believing that he had him back. The nightmares were nearly nonexistent these days, but there had been a few nights he’d woken in a panic. He didn’t remember the dream but had a damn good idea what it had been about. Funny thing—it only happened on the few nights he and Lorcan didn’t share a bed. He’d had to put his foot down on that subject. If Lorcan couldn’t sleep in his bed for whatever reason, Quinn went to Lorcan’s; it was as simple as that.

Quinn grabbed the soap and began to run the bar down Lorcan’s chest, causing a pleasurable sound to rumble from his lover. He washed Lorcan’s body quickly, lingering only a little longer than necessary on Lorcan’s more sensitive parts. He loved how Lorcan leaned into his touch, the sweet sounds that escaped him, and, even more, loved that he could do this. He added shampoo to Lorcan’s thick waves, working it in, enjoying the way the chestnut strands felt against his skin.

“Love you,” he murmured against the side of Lorcan’s neck. He licked at the water droplets and felt the man shudder.

“Love you too,” Lorcan replied, followed by a satisfied groan as Quinn moved his hands up and worked the shampoo deep into Lorcan’s scalp.

Stepping back, he pushed Lorcan toward the flow of warm water, running his fingers through the silky strands until the water ran clear. He then added a generous amount of conditioner and turned Lorcan in his arms. With the length and thickness of Lorcan’s hair, the conditioner worked better when it had time to set a bit, giving Quinn the perfect opportunity to play and have a little fun with his lover.

Quinn grabbed Lorcan’s ass and pulled him hard against him. “So what’s the plan for the day? Can I suggest my personal favorite pastime, stay in bed all day or… stay in bed all day?”

“Those are hard to choose between.” Lorcan chuckled. “As much as I’d love to stay in bed with you all day—” He kissed Quinn’s lips, pulling away slightly. “—I’ll have to go with plan C. You know how Bunny gets when he doesn’t get his breakfast in a timely manner.”

Quinn lifted his brow and tried for a pout. “I can’t believe you’re picking that hateful bull over me.” From the way Lorcan laughed, he was pretty sure his pout didn’t have the same effect as Lorcan’s did. Instead of getting what he wanted, he was handed a washcloth.

Lorcan rinsed his hair quickly. “I’d return the favor and wash you, but I know you too well. I’d be spending the afternoon repairing the damage a hungry bull caused in his starvation rampage.” Lorcan placed one last chaste kiss to Quinn’s lips and stepped out of the shower.

“Fine,” he said grudgingly as he began to wash his own body. By himself, with no help. Stupid bull! “I’m coming with you.”

“I would hope so,” Lorcan called out as he left the bathroom.

A thought occurred to him, and Quinn yelled out, “Don’t even think about touching that brush.”

He washed quickly, hearing Lorcan chuckle from the other room. Go ahead and laugh, he thought to himself. He was getting damn good at finding all of Lorcan’s weak spots, and a huge one was having his hair brushed. There was just something about having Lorcan between his spread legs and running his hands through those thick locks, turning his lover into a moaning, pliable pile of I’m-so-easy goo. Quinn turned off the taps and stepped out of the shower with a big smile on his face. Oh yeah, I’m so getting laid before Bunny gets his breakfast.


THE scowl that used to confuse and anger Lorcan now tickled him when Quinn tried using it on him. He’d known exactly what Quinn was up to when he’d yelled at him not to touch the brush. Quinn was still trying to learn his buttons. Funny that the man hadn’t figured that Lorcan’s weakness was Quinn. No matter how the man touched him or looked at him, Lorcan just melted, but today he’d held firm. He’d gotten dressed and started twisting his hair into a quick braid before Quinn could even make it out of the bathroom, hence the scowl on his face.

“Haven’t you ever heard the saying ‘If it’s good, it’s worth waiting for’?”

“Sure I have,” Quinn said gruffly. He stomped toward the closet and grabbed a pair of jeans, pulling them on with a wince before continuing. “I’m more of the ‘practice makes perfect’ school of thought.”

“Just imagine how much more fun we’ll have practicing later after a day of anticipation.” Lorcan couldn’t help but smile as Quinn huffed out a breath and finished dressing.

Quinn was still grumbling as he followed him into the kitchen, but Lorcan didn’t tease his cranky lover further, just led him to the back door and grabbed his boots. The quicker they got the chores done, the quicker they could get back. There wasn’t too much that could pull him away from Quinn, and he rarely ever told the man no—didn’t want to tell him no. His dominant lover was demanding, intense, and Lorcan loved every minute of it. Being the sole focus of a man like Quinn was beyond good, it was fucking mind-blowing. However, this morning Conner was more important than even Quinn’s needs.

Conner wasn’t sleeping well, and although he tried to deny it, Lorcan could see it in his bloodshot eyes and the dark circles under them. The man tried to act as if there was nothing wrong, but the way he carried himself, the light missing from his eyes, gave him away. Usually Conner was so full of life—hell, he was bigger than life, laughing, joking, and caring for those around him. Now he just seemed so exhausted, and John was the reason.

John’s back wasn’t getting any better. Lorcan heard the pain-filled moans as John made his way to the bathroom at night, yet the stubborn ol’ coot refused to take it easy. Worse still, John refused to go back to the doctor. Conner wasn’t the only one that was worried sick. John looked worn to the bone. Lorcan wasn’t an expert by any stretch, but even he knew the sickly pallor of John’s skin wasn’t right. There was something seriously wrong with John, and Lorcan was beside himself with anxiety. He was going to have himself a chat with the cranky ol’ thing, and hopefully he could make John see reason. He wasn’t above doing a little begging, pouting a little, if need be, and if all else failed, he would make John feel guilty for making Conner worry enough that he was missing meals and losing sleep. John just had to get better. There wasn’t any alternative. It would kill Conner if anything happened to him.

Shaking off the sickening feeling, Lorcan stomped into his boots, grabbed his hat from the hook, and headed out the back door.

“C’mon, Quinn, if we get back here before Conner gets up so I can help him make breakfast, we’ll take a long lunch and get some practicing in.”

Quinn whooped, a smile that Lorcan felt all the way to his toes blooming across his handsome face. Chuckling at his eager lover, he headed for his truck.

What the fuck?

Quinn nearly knocked him down when Lorcan came to an abrupt halt a few yards from his truck. His shock was so profound it scattered his brain for a moment, and he couldn’t make sense of what he was seeing. Then it hit him, and his gut twisted painfully. Written across the windshield in bold white letters was “DISLOYAL BASTARD.”

Quinn cursed under his breath, but Lorcan didn’t pay him any attention. He was moving toward his truck and reaching for the paper tucked under the windshield wiper. Even in the dim light of early dawn, he recognized the pamphlet. “Tulsa Rehabilitation Center” was printed neatly across the top.

“Get back in the house,” Quinn demanded.

Again, Lorcan ignored him. He stared down at the pamphlet from the rehab center where Jess was currently recovering from his accident, and he felt sick to his stomach. The implications were painfully clear. Someone obviously wasn’t too happy about the choices he had made. Jess still wasn’t talking to him, though Lorcan got regular updates from both Collin and Jack. Jess was standing firm in his declaration that he would walk again, and from what Jack had told him, Jess was sticking to it with a single-minded determination. Lorcan respected Jess’s insistence that they not have any contact. He didn’t like it, but he respected it.

Lorcan sent updates on Jess’s ranch with Collin and never failed to end his conversations with Collin by repeating, “Tell Jess I’m here for him if he needs me and I miss him.” He hated the fact that Jess wouldn’t talk to him and still wasn’t ready to see him. But what could he do? Maybe he should have waited until Jess was on his feet before he had run back to Quinn.

Lorcan crushed the pamphlet in his fist and closed his eyes, but he still saw the words behind closed lids. Disloyal bastard. He flinched when a strong arm wrapped around him and pulled him into a tight embrace.

“Don’t you dare even think about it,” Quinn said adamantly. “It’s not true.”

Too late. His head and heart at times still debated this very issue. He’d known since the first moment he’d laid eyes on Quinn that there was something special about the man. Was it love at first sight with Quinn? He wasn’t sure, but it was pretty damn close. Logically he knew it wasn’t as if he’d run out and looked for someone to replace Jess the moment things had gotten tough. He was with the man he’d always loved, the same man Jess knew Lorcan had always been in love with. That didn’t stop his heart from hurting from the loss of Jess. It still didn’t completely erase the guilt he sometimes felt that it should have been him who’d gone to the hardware store that day. At the end of the day, he had to believe that he was exactly where he was meant to be.

Taking a deep breath, Lorcan released the tight grip he had on the pamphlet and let it fall to the ground. “I’m okay,” he reassured Quinn, wrapping his arms around his lover and returning the hug. “Let’s get this shit washed off. I got critters to feed.”

Quinn squeezed him harder briefly before letting him go. “Damn right we do. You promised me a long lunch if I got you back here before Conner got up, and I aim to collect.” Quinn placed a tender kiss on his forehead. “Go grab something to get this off, and I’ll make sure there isn’t any other vandalism.”

Lorcan nodded, knowing it was pointless to argue. No way would Quinn leave him out here alone, and he wasn’t in the mood to argue his point that he was more than capable of taking care of himself. He had to learn to pick his battles and sometimes just let Quinn be his protective caveman self. Besides, he had shit to do, and right now wasn’t the time to be trying to figure out who in the hell was pissed off at him enough to pull this stunt. He had a sneaking suspicion and was pretty sure Quinn was thinking along the same lines, but Lorcan wasn’t about to blame Ty unless he had proof.

Conner's Courage #4
Prologue
Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength; loving someone deeply gives you courage.
—Lao Tzu

Inoperable Cancer

HATE, bigotry, prejudice, injustice, stupidity—all things Conner had encountered throughout his life, and he’d fought against them all. Had he changed them? No, but he’d risen above them and made a damn good life for himself and John. Inoperable cancer wasn’t something he could fight or rise above. He was going to lose what he’d fought so hard to obtain. He was losing his heart.

Careful of the multiple tubes and wires attached to John, Conner eased silently into the hospital bed and laid his head gently on the thick chest he’d used as a pillow nearly every night for the last thirty-seven years. The rise and fall of John’s chest and the steady thump-thump of his heart comforted Conner. Over the last week, Conner had gotten used to the constant beeping of heart machines, the hourly interruptions from doctors and staff, and the smell of disinfectant. Hell, he’d even gotten used to the shitty food in the cafeteria. What he couldn’t get used to, refused to get used to, was sleeping on the lumpy cot a nurse had brought into the small, sterile room. He just couldn’t sleep next to John’s bed, hear the soft snuffling snores, the rhythmic intake of breath, and not be able to touch him. It was too much to endure.

Why? Why are you taking him from me? Tears blurred Conner’s vision, and he squeezed his eyes shut to prevent them from falling onto the beloved chest below his head. “You don’t think I have endured enough?” Conner whispered.

Wasn’t it enough that he’d been born into a screwed-up family? He’d been the first offspring to a woman who hated children yet kept having them to increase her welfare check each month. Seven times his mother’s income had increased. His most vivid childhood memories were a steady parade of nameless men who came in and out of their home, left unattended with vulnerable children, which resulted in both Conner and his siblings being abused, both violently and sexually. At seventeen, he was kicked out of the house and disowned, because while child abuse was acceptable there, being gay was not.

Every challenge life had thrown at him, he’d endured it, survived it, and refused to let it define him. He hadn’t allowed those who had knocked him down to keep him down. More importantly, he hadn’t let them turn him bitter. Never once had he stooped to their level, but instead rose above them, living a good life and treating others with care and thoughtfulness. Nearly half his life had been a struggle, one obstacle after another thrown in his path, but he found a way around them, over them, or through them.

How am I going to get past this one?

Maybe the doctors are wrong. Conner ran a hand tenderly down John’s chest, his heat warm and familiar against Conner’s palm. The steady heartbeat was strong, the even breath didn’t sound like a man who was dying. Dying. Conner’s stomach rolled, nausea threatening as his chest constricted painfully around his heart, as the word flashed into his thoughts. He couldn’t be dying.

“I won’t let you,” he whispered, turning his head to plant a soft kiss on John’s chest.

Conner snuggled in closer to his strong, warm lover as a new conviction settled into his soul. The doctors were wrong. Misdiagnosis wasn’t a rarity. It happened all the time. And even when the diagnosis wasn’t wrong, there were those who beat the odds. Medical miracles, they were called. John would be a medical miracle! Conner wouldn’t accept anything less. He hadn’t fought his whole life only to be left alone in his golden years. This was a time for him and John to retire. Travel to all the places they had dreamed of going and explore all the things they wanted to see. The Eiffel Tower in France, men in kilts in Scotland, and a romantic ride on a gondola in Italy. He was going to those places, dammit, and John would be by his side.

A smile, which had been absent for the last week since hearing the term inoperable cancer, curled Conner’s lips. “I love you, John Price, and God be damned, you won’t leave me! We are going to have such an amazing time traveling the world together.”

To the higher powers that may be, he shot a silent challenge. You can’t have him! He’s mine, and you’ll have to go through me to take him. Conner drifted off to sleep, not the least bit afraid that he may have pissed off the man upstairs. He was safe and warm in the knowledge that he would move heaven and hell to save his man, even if he had to go toe-to-toe with God himself.

 Chapter One
Thirty-seven years earlier

“EXCUSE me?”

Conner cocked his hip and put a hand on it, stuck out his chest, and met the gaze of the owner of Whispering Pines Ranch with a challenging look. “I said I’m your new cook.” He thrust the flyer he’d ripped down from the gas station wall at the large man looking down at him. “You need a cook, and I need a job. Looks like both our problems are solved.”

The cowboy ran an appraising eye down Conner from his head to his cowboy boots. Conner didn’t so much as flinch at the shock in the dark-blue eyes of the ranch owner. He was used to people looking at his small, delicate frame and assuming one of two things. One: that he was much younger than his twenty-nine years, which didn’t bother him at all. Since who wanted to look their age or, God forbid, older? The young’un effect was heightened by the fact that he couldn’t grow facial hair to save his life. Or two, that he wasn’t capable of hard work. Neither were true, especially the latter. He was proud of his abilities in the kitchen and wasn’t afraid to bust his ass and get the job done. And done damn well, I might add. There was a third look he was used to as well: disgust. However, he didn’t even give that reaction a second thought anymore.

“Um… yeah…. Got a name, kid?”

Assumption number one… check. “First of all, I’m not a kid. I’ll be the big three-oh on my next birthday,” Conner said with a snicker, and held out his hand. “And the name’s Conner. Conner Burnett.”

“Cole Taylor,” the man replied, accepting Conner’s hand in a firm grip and shaking it. “You sure don’t look like you’re gonna be thirty.”

“Good genes,” Conner replied with a shrug. About the only good thing his parents had given him. Well, his sexy butt and handsome face were probably due partly to his genes as well since he was naturally thin and, other than his nightly ritual of slathering cold cream on his face, didn’t fuss too much with his looks. I’m legitimately sexy.

Cole tipped his hat back and wiped a meaty paw across his brow before settling his black Stetson firmly on his blond head. “I got eight regular hands, plus me and the wife, twice that many during hay season. You think you can handle cooking for that many hungry folks?”

Assumption number two… check. “I’m the oldest of seven kids, and my mama sure as hell never learned to cook. I’ve worked as a line cook in different diners all over this great country. I’m pretty sure I can handle your folks.” Conner waved a hand at Cole. “I bet I could add some weight to your scrawny butt in no time.”

Cole threw his head back and laughed. “Scrawny? I haven’t been called scrawny since I was a kid.”

“Yeah, well, you’ve got yourself a big frame, I’ll give you that, but you need more meat on your bones.”

Cole Taylor was a large man, a large and very sexy man with his dark-blue eyes, dishwater blond hair, and thick stubble on his strong jaw. But he could still use a few pounds added to that bulk of muscle. A bit more of a belly, a thicker chest, and he may just be close to perfect. Especially if that barrel chest and belly are covered in a dark pelt. Yum! Heat started to infuse his groin area, and he reminded his hardening shaft that Cole Taylor had a wife, they needed this job, and he’d rightly appreciate it if things didn’t start growing until later when they had a little alone time.

The answer to his silent pleading was a tingling sensation that ran down his shaft as it began to swell. Stubborn bastard!

“C’mon in,” Cole said, shaking his head and jabbing a thumb over his shoulder to the back door. “I’ll show you the kitchen.”

Conner followed Cole into the house, taking a relieved breath when he didn’t see any of the disgust in Cole’s eyes. Two out of three he could handle.

“Take your boots off,” Cole said with slight embarrassment in his voice as pulled off his boots. “Sorry. Cindy—that’s my wife—doesn’t like boots on in the house. There’s a basket in the corner filled with slippers.” He pointed to a large wicker basket filled with what looked like various shapes, colors, and sizes of slippers. All of them looked brand new.

Conner turned a questioning look toward Cole as he toed off his own boots.

“Yeah, I know,” Cole said with a shrug. “My city girl has a few strange ideas, but she means well.”

Eyeing the basket, Conner pulled out the smallest pair, bright yellow with fur lining, and slipped them on his feet. It was his turn to shrug at Cole’s questioning look. “I think it’s sweet.”

The kitchen was bright and airy; delicate lace curtains waved with the warm breeze coming through the small kitchen window. Conner’s bright yellow slippers were obviously a favorite color of the owner since the sunny color was predominant in the flower-patterned wallpaper. The aroma in the spotless room was also in theme with the d├ęcor; a lemony, citrus scent hung pleasingly in the air. Picking up a lemon-shaped dish filled with a yellow sponge, Conner said, “I take it your Cindy likes the color yellow?”

“Yup, and trust me when I tell you, the color matches her happy personality too,” Cole responded with a real fondness in his voice.

South of Conner’s waistband was disappointed, but it was nice to know that Cole obviously had a soft spot and cared deeply for his wife. Conner returned the ceramic lemon to its spot at the sink and turned to face Cole, leaning back against the Formica countertop. “So what room is mine, and is there anything special you want on the menu tonight?”

“You’re a pushy little shit, aren’t you?”

“Not really,” Conner said easily. “You need a cook and I’m a damn good cook, just that simple.”

Cole pulled his Stetson from his head and ran a hand through his hair, making his short blond locks stick up in a spiky mess around his head. “You got a point. What can you cook?”

“Easier question would be what can’t I cook,” Conner snickered. He turned and started opening cabinet doors, familiarizing himself with the layout. Oh now that’s a surprise. The plates, mugs, and bowls all had the same yellow coloring as the rest of the kitchen. Cindy may have had a preference for everything yellow, but she obviously hadn’t ever heard the expression “Less is more.” He opened the door to a large, very nicely stocked pantry, nodding his approval at how clean and organized the kitchen was. “You just tell me what you want to eat and I’ll make it happen. I’ll need authorization to make purchases on your account down at the market. I don’t have time to be coming and looking for you when I need supplies.”

“Umm… well—”

“And I’ll need access to a vehicle to do the shopping. My old truck is on its last leg, and besides, it’s your groceries, so your gas.”

“I usually have them deliver whatever it is we need,” Cole said.

Conner shut the pantry door and pulled open drawers, checking the contents of each one. “No offense, but I’d rather get my own meats and veggies, so I’ll do my own shopping. Either you can give me the keys to your truck, or you can take me into town each time I need to go. Don’t make no never mind to me either way.”

“I guess you can take the old Chevy. The keys are hanging on the hook by the back door.”

Conner didn’t turn around, just nodded and opened first the freezer, then the refrigerator. Looks like I’ll be making a run to the market today. The old Frigidaire, unlike the pantry, wasn’t well stocked and was seriously lacking in the fresh vegetable department.

Southwestern chili con carne. Conner started searching the fridge, making a mental list of what he’d need. Green bell pepper, red onion, Roma tomatoes, cloves of garlic, and ground chuck. Shutting the fridge, he turned and met Cole’s curious gaze. “Okay, you can show me my room, and don’t even think about putting me in a bunkhouse with the rest of the hands. They’d skin me alive, waking them up early each morning before breakfast was cooked. Not to mention, we’re having chili tonight, and I’d rather not be around for the aftershocks of that.”

Cole’s eyes were wide, and his mouth open and shut a couple of times before he seemed to resign himself to the idea. “We don’t have a bunkhouse, but um….” Cole scratched at his temple, looking at Conner, head cocked to the side. A small smile curled his lip, and then he stretched his arm out. “Right this way.”

Smart man.

The room Cole assigned him was simple. Hardwood floors, whitewashed walls with white sheets and comforter. It lacked color, but it was clean, large, and had potential. After retrieving his pack from the front porch, Conner unpacked his meager belongings into the oak dresser. He stepped into the small private bathroom and washed his face and hands. As he dried his face with a soft terry cloth towel, he winked at his reflection in the large vanity mirror. “Well done, no sleeping beneath the stars tonight.”

Normally Conner wasn’t a coward. He’d stood up to haters in the past, but he’d despised the last town, couldn’t stand his job at the diner, and had been completely dispirited with his life in Hickville. It had been time to move on. Sometimes it was better to turn and walk away—or in this case, run away—rather than stand up to stupid people. He’d learned at a young age that using smarts, picking battles that were worth fighting, kept him from fighting on a daily basis. The shithole he’d been living in sure as hell hadn’t been worth fighting for.

Coming on to the wrong cowboy, in the wrong town, at the wrong time, had nearly cost him his life. His ability to read people was usually dead on, but whether it was because he’d had a couple of shots of tequila or that he hadn’t been laid in months and was out-of-his-fucking-head horny, or both, his gaydar had been on the fritz. However, later when he’d thought about it, he knew the cowboy had been hot for him. Who wouldn’t be? It wasn’t until his new conquest’s friends showed up that the man turned into a complete asshole. It was the day and age of free love, peace, flowers for your picnic, and all that shit. The folks in Homophobiaville, Oklahoma, obviously hadn’t gotten the memo, and he’d barely been able to grab a few clothes, shove them into a pack, and book it out of town before the lynch mob surrounded his little house. Well, mob might be stretching it a bit, but a large, burly cowboy who was trying to save face in front of his buddies and said buddies loading up in their pickup truck and showing up in his driveway were just as bad as a lynch mob. No doubt if he hadn’t snuck out the back door as the yahoos were hootin’ and hollerin’ about “killing the faggot” on the front lawn, the results would have been the same: his ass beat to a bloody pulp and hanging from the nearest tree.

Besides, I’m all about sex and loving rather than fighting, he thought wryly as he sat down on the bed, bouncing a few times to appreciate its softness. Very nice!

Whispering Pines Ranch seemed like a nice place. The house was clean and well cared for, the owner seemed nice enough, and the idea of living and working on a ranch rather than working at a greasy spoon and living in a shit hole was a whole lot more appealing. Now if I can keep my eyes and hands off the ranch hands, I should be okay until I’m ready to move on down the road. He hadn’t ever stayed anywhere for any great length of time, a year, maybe two at the most. Conner viewed himself as like the Lynyrd Skynyrd song, “I’m as free as a bird.” He liked traveling, meeting new people, experiencing new things. Ranch life was just another adventure he was looking forward to enjoying for a while. Besides, how hard can it be to keep my libido in check? It’s not as if I don’t have a shitload of lotion and a more-than-able hand.

Smoothing out his jeans as he stood, Conner surveyed the room that would be his sanctuary from the elements, at least for now. It was nice enough, and he could set aside his desires for the time being. When he got tired of ranch life, he’d move on down the road. Hopefully he’d get laid before then.

Jess's Journey #5
Prologue
CREAM walls were mixed with warm earth-tone shades of brown, yellow, and green that highlighted the bedding, furniture, and accessories. The room was designed to be soothing, cozy, and Jess Jenkins hated every detail of it. The small two-hundred-square-foot room had been his home for over four months, and nearly every waking moment of those 137 days, all he wanted to do was leave. Every thought and action he’d experienced was centered on one or both of two things: walking again and leaving the Tulsa Rehabilitation Center. Today he’d finally reached at least one of his goals—he was going home. Although he had worked his ass off to get to this point, and it was what he wanted, he was also scared shitless to leave. So much had happened since he’d gotten behind the wheel of his truck six months ago. What should have been a thirty-minute errand turned out to be a journey into hell.

Preparing to restart his life, Jess took in his suitcase sitting by the door and couldn’t help but reflect on how he had ended up here, a forever-changed man. From his earliest memories, he’d always been the kind of person who put the needs of others before his own desires. His mom had been the same way, always putting Jess and his dad before her own dreams. Victoria Jenkins had lived a good life, had found her pleasure in caring for and loving those in her life, and Jess always dreamed of finding the same love and happiness out of simplicity. He hadn’t strived for something he thought was unrealistic or impossible. To own a small piece of land, to share his life and love with that one special person had been what he’d desired most in life; instead, he’d lived his life for others.

College hadn’t been his idea; it had been his father’s dream. Since first tossing a ball with his dad on the front lawn, he’d loved football. Given his height, large frame, and powerful body, he was a natural defensive tackle and damn good in that position. Jess had been proud of the fact that he’d been scouted and his hard work on the football field had been recognized in the form of a full-ride scholarship to Auburn University. Yet, if he’d had his way, he would have declined the offer. Instead, he’d packed his bags, left the job he loved as a ranch hand, and headed to Auburn, Alabama, the fall after his senior year of high school. He left Pegasus, not out of any need of his own, but rather to fulfill his dad’s dream of seeing his son become the first one in their family to attend college. He never admitted it to his dad, but one of the happiest moments in his life had been when he blew his knee out during his sophomore year. One part of him had mourned the end of his football career; the other side—his true side—celebrated. The injury meant he could return to Pegasus and to his true dream: ranching.

Even Jess’s one long-term relationship hadn’t been about what he truly wanted but what he thought his lover needed. Jess rolled his wheelchair to the large window that overlooked the back gardens of the rehab center, a place he’d spent hours in, dreaming about the moment when he could return home. His gaze settled on the large oaks. Beneath their branches is where he’d sat and acknowledged his heartbreak and guilt over Lorcan James.

The first moment he’d spotted the tall, slender man with warm brown eyes and the most gorgeous fall of chestnut hair he’d ever seen, Jess had been smitten. Jess smiled when he remembered just how smitten he’d been. It had been obvious by the first words that had popped out of his mouth—“I think I’m in love.” He’d never seen a more beautiful man in print, on screen, or in life, than Lorcan; to this day, it was still true. After long hours spent reflecting on his relationship, Jess realized it was the sadness in Lorcan’s gaze that had called to Jess. The pain in those tormented brown eyes prompted him to act. Even before they spoke a single word to each other, Jess had known Lorcan was in love with Quinn Taylor. It was written all over the younger man’s face each time he looked at the ranch owner. Still, Jess had pursued him. He hated seeing the hurt in Lorcan’s eyes, knew what it felt like to love the wrong person, and through that shared experience, they became not only lovers but also best friends. What they never found together was true love. It was the reason he’d cut him out of his life the way he had in a “Dear John”—or rather a “Dear Lorcan”—letter.

The special bond between them kept Lorcan at Jess’s side after his accident. Did Lorcan love him? Absolutely, as much as he could, and Jess in turn loved him, but not the way a man should love his partner. Lorcan would have never walked away; the man was just too caring to do something like turn his back on a friend. Their bond also would have resulted in Lorcan throwing away his chance at true love. Jess couldn’t allow that to happen, couldn’t allow his friend to settle and put the needs of others before his own as Jess had done. The words he’d written in his letter still rang true.

Remember when I told you our hearts don’t always pick the right person for us? In your case, your heart picked exactly the right person for you. A year ago, Quinn didn’t deserve someone like you, but he does now, pretty boy. He has stood beside you the entire time you were standing by me. Quinn didn’t take my accident as an excuse to move in and try to steal you away. He was patient, loving, and a friend to you when you needed one the most. Even though he wanted more, he put you and your needs first. He’s a good man and finally became the man your heart always knew he was. Do you honestly think I would trust Quinn with your heart again if I didn’t think he was worthy? Never! I love you, and you will always be my best friend. You belong with Quinn. I always knew that. The accident was my wake-up call. Life is too short to settle, and next time, I won’t settle for anything less than someone loving me the way you love Quinn.

Knowing how things had turned out between Lorcan and Quinn and how Jess was able to concentrate on healing instead of worrying, reinforced his belief that committing those words to paper had been the right thing to do. Jess’s chest tightened with a twinge of loss as he continued to stare out over the garden, but he didn’t regret setting Lorcan free. This place, especially the majestic oaks, would always have a special meaning for him. It was where he not only dealt with his heartbreak at what he’d lost, but also where he’d set aside those feelings and his guilt. Please let me be selfish for the first time in my life. Jess nodded as the words he used to end his letter to Lorcan flittered through his mind. He was being selfish. He was putting his needs first.

Jess turned away from the window at the sound of the door opening and smiled up at Jack as he entered the room. Pushing the morose feeling aside, Jess concentrated on his excitement. “Please tell me you’ve got the truck running.”

“A little impatient, are we?” Jack laughed, then flopped down in the leather chair next to the bed.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“What?” Jack asked, confused.

Maneuvering his chair until he was directly in front of Jack, he glared at him. “Sitting! I’m ready to go, dammit.”

Jack shrugged. “We have to wait for Dr. Savona to write the ’scripts for your meds.”

He needed to leave before the fear and uncertainty, which had been simmering just below the surface, reared their ugly heads. Don’t go there. We’re going home. When Jack grabbed the remote off the bedside table and clicked on the TV, Jess wanted to thrash the man. If he thought it would do any good, he would. Jack didn’t let the little shit bother him, never raised his voice or took Jess’s verbal attacks personally. Irritating bastard!

“Can’t he just call them in?” Jess bit out through gritted teeth. “I’m ready to go.”

The urge to beat the man increased when Jack gave him an exasperated look and replied, “And we all know the world revolves around you,” before turning his attention back to the TV.

“Ugh!”

Jack ignored him.

Jesus, the man drove him nuts. He’d been like this since Jack first introduced himself as Jess’s physical therapist back at Monroe General after Jess had woken from his coma. The man never cut him a bit of slack or felt sorry for Jess, and maybe that was why he’d been compelled to spill his guts to Jack about Lorcan shortly after they met. After working with Jack for little more than a week, Jack had asked, “I take it Lorcan gets the privilege of both your Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?” Jack had been teasing, but it had hit home for Jess, and the next thing he knew, he was sharing his fears with this virtual stranger.

Jack was no longer a stranger—coming to Tulsa with him as Jess’s private physical therapist and planning to continue that role once Jess returned home—but they no longer talked about Lorcan. In fact, they rarely talked about anything personal. Still, even though Jack drove him nuts, Jess had also come to depend on him. A sly grin curled Jess’s lip; he knew how to aggravate Jack as much as the man did him.

Grabbing his exercise ball from the dresser, Jess threw it at the wall above Jack’s head, snatching it out of the air before throwing it again. Thump catch. Thump catch. After the tenth time Jess threw the ball and Jack still hadn’t responded—although his body had lost the relaxed look—Jess added a chant.

Thump catch. “Oh yeah!”

Thump catch. “God, I’m good.”

Thump catch. “Come to daddy.”

The volume went up on the TV, and Jack began to tap his fingers against the armrest, but he continued to ignore Jess.

Thump catch. Thump catch. You stubborn shit, ignore this. Jess sang to the tune of Max Davis’s song “It’s Hard to be Humble” at the top of his lungs, adding his own spin on the song.

“Oh Lord, it’s hard to be me, when you have to put up with Jack every day.”

Thump catch.

“I can’t wait to get out of this place, ’cause I need a break from his face.”

Thump catch.

“To know Jack is to suffer. I must have bad karma coming my way.”

Thump catch.

“Oh Lord, it’s hard to be me, when I have to deal with him each day of the week.”

Thump

Jack snatched the ball out of the air, and in one fluid movement threw it into the open door of the bathroom, then went to his feet. “Good God, man. Are you a child?”

“No, I want to go home.” Jess paused, then grinned up at Jack. “Okay, so that sounded like a petulant three-year-old.”

Shaking his head, Jack moved to the door. “Fine, I’ll see what I can do about getting them to call in your ’scripts.” He opened the door but before he stepped out, he gave Jess an evil grin. “Collin’s not here yet. Maybe you should call him and sing to him.”

Jess laughed as Jack shut the door. If he could get Jack to do what he wanted, Collin would be a piece of cake. He pulled his cell phone from the front pocket of his jeans and dialed Collin’s cell number. He answered on the first ring.

“Hi, Jess. I’m sorry I’m late. There was an accident and—” A loud thud came through the phone followed by “Shit!” from a distance.

There was a sound that reminded Jess of the flapping of wings, followed by another ripe curse, and finally Collin returned to the phone. “Sorry, I dropped my phone.” Cluck “No! Come back here. Dammit.”

“Was that a chicken?”

“Yeah.” Collin groaned. “A truckload of them overturned and there are scared chickens running around everywhere. I was trying to help catch them.” Collin huffed out a breath. “I’m not doing so well.”

The image of Collin blowing his bangs out of his flushed face had Jess biting down on the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing at the frustration in Collin’s voice. The kid had been born with two left feet. Collin had always followed his older brother Josh and Jess around when they were in high school. The youngster—in middle school at the time—wanted to play football, but Collin, although he tried hard, had zero coordination. Another image of clumsy Collin running around chasing chickens popped in his head, and Jess couldn’t hold back his burst of laughter.

“I probably should just get back in the truck and go around, huh?”

“That’s probably for the best.”

“On my way.”

Jess ended the call and burst out in another fit of laughter. Poor Collin. Jess was still laughing when Jack returned, but it died in his throat when Jack handed him his discharge papers and announced, “You’re all set to leave.”

Sweat popped out on Jess’s brow, and his hand shook a bit as he accepted the form. His fear slightly overshadowed the excitement for a moment. Deep breath. Jess met Jack’s eyes, saw the compassion and understanding in his dark orbs. Knowing both Jack and Collin would be staying at the ranch with him until he settled in was the only thing keeping his fear from consuming him. Taking another deep breath, he folded the paper, tucked it in the pocket of his shirt, and nodded. He was ready to go home.

Chapter One
HUNDREDS, that’s how many times he’d been in this very room: weddings, graduations, coming-home and going-away parties, dances, and bazaars. The event changed, but the whitewashed concrete block walls, the black and white tile on the floor, the large overhead industrial lights—those things never changed. The Pegasus Community Center was full of memories, a place where he experienced many firsts that helped shape who he was. At Tracey Matthews’s going away party, he’d snuck his first beer from the old scarred wooden bar in the corner. The first time he kissed a girl had been in the coat closet when he was seven. The night he watched his best friend Josh shake his ass on this dance floor with Lynn Adams at a spring dance when he was ten, he’d realized he liked the way Josh moved more than the way Lynn did. Even now, fifteen years later, every face staring at him was familiar; some had known him longer than he knew himself, yet for the first time in his life, Jess Jenkins felt like a complete stranger.

Months he’d been working to get back up on his feet, back to this town and these people. The urinary catheter had been taken out, so at least he was no longer pissing in a bag. Stitches removed, skin and muscle knitting back together, bones mended. He was getting stronger, nerve endings firing, and although he wasn’t on his feet, he had hope. Yet his spirit and his heart were still broken just as badly as his body had been lying on the side of a country road. Maybe it wasn’t as extreme as it felt, but nearly dying changes a man. Waking up in a hospital and learning a future in a wheelchair is a very real possibility changes any human. Jess hadn’t seen any bright lights, felt any otherworldly presence, or seen those who had passed over, but he had come out on the other side changed. The immortality of youth was gone.

Jack’s familiar presence surrounded him, the man’s strength solid at his back just before he heard him whisper against his ear, “You okay?”

No, he wasn’t okay. He could feel each beat of his heart as a painful throb in his temples, and the jittery feeling he’d been experiencing since he’d decided to come here flew into a full assault of get-me-the-fuck-out-of-here nausea. No, he was very not okay.

“I’m fine,” he assured Jack.

After pushing through the door and knocking down a large stack of speakers that caused the room to go silent and noisily announced their arrival, Collin rejoined him and Jack. “Oh shit! I am so sorry, Jess,” Collin sputtered in hushed tones, coming to Jess’s right side, his face red from embarrassment. “Way to make a quiet entrance, huh?”

Jess placed his hand over the one Collin had laid on his forearm and gave him a small smile. “It’s okay. I highly doubt the three of us could have snuck in unseen.” He turned his attention up to Jack. “My fans await me. Shall we?”

Collin squeezed his arm before standing back, and Jack winked. Jack gave Jess’s wheelchair a shove and pushed him farther into the hall. The silence was deafening, and the eyes from the townsfolk felt heavy on his skin, making it prickle. Fuck, he wished someone would say something, the music would start playing, anything to take the glaring attention off the cripple.

Mrs. Church, bless her heart, was the first to break the silence. “Jess! Welcome home. Oh, hon, it’s so good to see you.”

The stunned silence was broken, and the vacuum that had sucked all the noise out of the room let it loose in a rush of music and voices.

He smiled warmly at her and accepted a hug. “Thank you, good to be home.”

“Now you just let me know if you need anything. I got a new delivery boy, and he ain’t working nowhere near hard enough to keep him out of trouble. Young’uns today.” She shook her head, but her smile as she moved away told Jess that Mrs. Church was indeed very fond of her new delivery boy. More than likely it was her grandson Austin; he had to be about the right age now.

After Mrs. Church stepped back, a line formed. Jess accepted hugs from Joyce and the rest of the women of the quilters’ guild, plus Carol and Sue from the beauty salon. Jess accepted handshakes from Doc Parker, Sheriff Ed, his deputies, and soon some of the unease began to wane. That was, until Deputy Cramer stepped aside and Jess realized he was directly in front of the main table and face to face with Lorcan.

Ah, shit! Months of heartbreak and loss, a shitload of shame and guilt—the weight of which made it difficult to lift his head on some days. He thought he’d left those emotions beneath the oaks, but they flooded back in his system in a rush, leaving him a little shaken. Jess knew this moment was going to be difficult, but, Christ, it sucked even worse than he had imagined. Lorcan’s warm brown eyes had always been easy to read, a window to what the man was feeling. Seeing the same doubt, uncertainty, guilt, love, and warmth that Jess was feeling all waging war with each other in those brown pools, made Jess’s chest constrict painfully and a lump form in his throat.

As he and Lorcan continued to stare at each other, a multitude of unspoken words passed between them, such as hello, I missed you, and I’m sorry. Jess could feel both Jack and Collin inch closer to him, like sentries on guard, ready to protect him against any hurt or pain. Both men had become very protective of him, something that at times soothed him and at others smothered him. But loss wasn’t something that could be guarded against.

“Good Lord, Jess. It’s about time you got your ass home. Give us a hug,” Conner demanded, jumping to his feet and throwing himself at Jess.

The spell between Jess and Lorcan broke in that instant. They would need to find time to talk, but not here, not today. Today was about John and Conner, and he forced his gaze from Lorcan and turned his attention to Conner.

Jess laughed and hugged Conner back. “Good to see ya, ol’ man.”

“Are you home for good now?” Conner asked, pulling back from the hug and patting Jess’s arm.

“Yeah, I think I wore out my welcome at the rehab.”

Jess stole a glance at Lorcan. He looked shocked, but at least he didn’t seem to be disappointed about Jess’s return to Pegasus.

As Conner said his hellos to Jack and Collin, Jess turned his attention to Lorcan’s parents. Caroline’s eyes were red-rimmed and tears rolled down her cheeks, but she had a beautiful smile on her face that tugged at Jess’s heart. She and Matthew had taken him in when he’d first arrived in Indiana, had made him part of their family, and he had shoved them out of his life as thoroughly as he had Lorcan.

He and Caroline stared at each other, Jess scrambling for something to say but coming up blank. What did a man say to a woman who he’d turned his back on after she had shown him nothing but love and care? Maybe words weren’t needed right now. Both Caroline and Matthew rose from their chairs, Matthew offering his hand. “Welcome home, Jess.”

Caroline leaned down and hugged him before he could respond. “You look so wonderful. I’ve missed you.”

He held her tight, wishing he could say more, but all he could get past the lump in his throat was “Thank you.”

“We’ll talk soon, yes?”

He nodded and did his best to give her and Matthew a smile. “Soon,” he promised.

Jess’s right calf cramped painfully, nerves and tension beginning to take their toll. He knew what was coming but was determined not to let it stop him. Please not here. Rolling his shoulders and unclenching his fists, he did his best to relax. He could do this.

Jess turned his attentions to John. He looked as if he’d lost a lot of weight, his skin an odd gray tone, but his welcoming smile was still stretched wide.

“Hey, John. A welcome home to you too is in order.”

“Thanks, good to be home. I’m sure you’ve had your share of hospitals. I only did it for a few weeks, can’t imagine a few months. I’d have gone batshit crazy.”

Jess leaned up and accepted John’s offered hand and shook it. “Yeah well, who says I didn’t?” He chuckled. He’d surely had his moments of crazy, that’s for sure.

Now, the hardest part.

Jess turned his attention once again to Lorcan. They stared at each other; those around them went quiet. It seemed as if everyone was waiting for something—an outburst, tears—and they silently waited for what would erupt. This is stupid. Shaking his head, Jess spread his arms. “You got a hug for an old friend?”

Lorcan hesitated.

Jess figured he probably had no right to be asking his former lover and friend. Hell, the way he’d treated Lorcan without even giving him a say in the matter, he surely deserved a punch to the jaw rather than a hug. He hated it, had his fair share of guilt he was coming to terms with, but had no regrets. Still, he couldn’t help but hope that somehow the two of them could salvage some of their friendship. Jess didn’t want to lose another friend.

Jess breathed a sigh of relief when Lorcan suddenly jumped up and threw himself into Jess’s arms. They clung to each other, a sound suspiciously like a sob escaping Lorcan, which left Jess struggling to hold back his own tears.

Eventually Lorcan pulled back from the embrace, his eyes glistening with tears, and slapped Jess’s arm. “Would you hurry up and get out of this chair so I can kick your ass?”

Jess met Lorcan’s eyes. “I’m working on it, pretty boy. I’m working on it,” he said sincerely.

The first step was taken. What would happen with their friendship beyond today was anybody’s guess. Mending their relationship no longer seemed impossible. With one small hug, there was now a glimmer of hope.

The biggest hurdle behind him, the rest of the evening was spent slowly easing back into his community and catching up with friends. Over the course of the next few hours, Jess relaxed, finding comfort in those around him. Jess wasn’t comfortable talking about his accident but knew people were curious. So when he wasn’t talking about John’s condition or homecoming, he was reliving his accident over and over and over. He was always aware of Lorcan, Quinn too, for that matter. There was no hostility or anger in the shared glances between himself and Quinn, but there was plenty of hesitancy. A couple of times during the night, Quinn seemed on the verge of saying something but never voiced his thoughts aloud. He and Quinn chatted about everyday events, prices of hay and cattle, but there was something unsaid beneath the common words. Jess agreed with Quinn’s hesitancy; John’s welcome home party was not the time or place to bring up what had happened between them. Now that he was home, Jess would have plenty of time to make amends for past wrongs. Thankfully, it wouldn’t be tonight.

Jack was at the bar getting another bottle of water, Collin in the restroom. During a rare moment between entertaining curious townsfolk, Jess sipped his soda and sighed.

“You’re nearly as popular as the guest of honor.”

Jess turned his head and met the gaze of a stranger sitting at the table next to him. He wracked his brain trying to figure out where he’d seen the stocky, handsome man before but came up empty. He rolled his chair until he was facing the man. “It would appear so. I’m sorry,” Jess confessed, offering a hand. “Do I know you?”

The stranger leaned over, accepted his hand, and shook it. “Nah, we haven’t met, but I’m sure you’ve heard about me.” The man looked a little uncomfortable when he said, “I’m Ty Callahan.”

Ah! So this was the man who had helped Quinn let go of his anger after Lorcan left and returned to Indiana. And, from what Collin had relayed to Jess, the man who caused quite the shitstorm once Quinn and Lorcan got back together.

“I can see from the look on your face, you’ve heard of me.”

“That obvious, huh?” Jess chuckled. “Pegasus is a small town and prides itself on its rumor mill.”

“Yeah, well.” Ty’s cheeks turned a slight shade of pink, and he coughed into his hand. “I’m not real proud of my time in the spotlight.”

Jess took another sip of his soda. He’d been the focus of the rumor mill himself—the first time when he came out. In fact, the talk had been downright hurtful at times, but he never let it change who he was. Sure, it hurt at the time, but he never allowed shame to overtake him. He was who he was and wouldn’t change it even if he could. Eventually people moved on to the next bit of news. The music changed to a softer melody, and he lowered his voice. “None of us are,” Jess admitted.

“I feel as if I owe you an apology,” Ty said after a lull in the conversation.

“Why is that?” he asked.

“I used your accident, your suffering to try and hurt Lorcan.” Ty swallowed hard and then chewed on the side of his lip before saying, “I’m real sorry about that.”

“Hey, from what I hear, it all worked out, right?”

Ty nodded.

“No apologies needed,” he told Ty and meant it.

Both Jess and Ty looked up at the man who had joined them without their realization. Ty smiled up at the man, then turned his attention back to Jess. “This is my partner, Blake Henderson.”

Jess accepted the offered hand and shook it. “Nice to finally meet you, I’m Jess—”

“—Jenkins,” Blake finished for him. He shook Jess’s hand and gave him a warm smile. “I’ve heard a lot about you. Glad to finally meet you as well.”

Blake took the seat next to Ty and wrapped an arm around him. The shared look between the two men was full of love. Jess had heard the stories of how Ty had felt betrayed by Quinn, his subsequent attempt to run Lorcan off, and how he finally found peace with old man Henderson’s son, Blake. It did his heart good to see the two men look so happy after hearing about the hardships they had been through.

“I’m glad to see everything worked out.”

“Thanks,” both men responded, then smiled at each other.

Jack returned with his water, and after introductions were made, the four of them spent time talking about New York City and laughing at how Blake had inherited his daddy’s ranch although he was not only clueless about ranching, but hated cattle. Blake’s complaint that he had to replace his wardrobe due to the permanent stench of cow shit, which had infused the fabric, had tears rolling down Jess’s face, he laughed so hard. The conversation was light and fun. None of them talked about the past and, to Jess’s great relief, neither Blake nor Ty asked about his accident. Jess groaned to himself when Jake, one of the hands he’d worked with before moving to Indiana, motioned him over, knowing his short reprieve was done. Before Jess was once again whisked off by the next person eager to hear his tale of life at Tulsa Rehabilitation Center, he exchanged phone numbers with the men and hoped he’d get the chance to spend time with them again in the future.

By eleven, Jess was sick of talking about himself, and the muscle cramps in his legs, which plagued him on a daily basis, started to scream painfully enough they could no longer be ignored. Jess excused himself from Jake’s teenage son Blay and wheeled his chair toward the bar where Jack and Collin sat watching him.

As he approached, Jack gave Jess a once-over, his brow furrowing into a frown. “How bad?”

“Seven,” Jess responded, rubbing his hands along his thighs. The pain was probably closer to a nine on a scale of one to ten, but he always rated it lower, and Jack always accused him of being a stubborn, macho hick.

“Idiot! Let’s go,” Jack chastised and got to his feet.

“Don’t call him that!” Collin challenged, also coming to his feet. “He was visiting his friends and family.”

“Visiting or not, he’s an idiot to let the pain get that bad before saying anything.” Jack glared at Jess, but continued to speak to Collin. “You’d think the dumbass would know by now, the longer he waits, the longer it takes to get the pain back under control.”

“How do you know the pain didn’t just hit him?”

Jack grabbed the handgrips on Jess’s chair and wheeled him around. “It doesn’t work that way, numb nuts.”

“There you go with the name calling again. It’s no wonder Jess didn’t tell you if you’re just going to yell at him.”

“Guys,” Jess called out, trying to get their attention.

Jack pushed Jess toward the exit, not even asking Jess if he wanted to say goodnight to anyone, Collin right on their heels. “Right. I should baby him like you do and not expect him to do a damn thing for himself.”

“Well, it’s better than always acting like a hardass and not giving him any slack. Ever heard of the word compassion?”

“Guys!”

“He’s a lot tougher than you give him credit for. Now shut the hell up and grab the door.”

Collin stepped past them, opened the door, and held it for them. “Screw you, Jack. Sometimes he needs a little tenderness too. Oh, I forget, you view tenderness as a weakness and the great and powerful Jackson Rogers doesn’t have any weaknesses.”

“Hey, I think that’s an improvement from the heartless bastard you called me last week. I must be growing on you,” Jack responded, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

“Guys!” Jess screamed, causing Collin and Jack to freeze in the middle of the parking lot.

“What?” They both yelled.

“I’m right here. Jesus, do you mind not talking about me like I’m not?”

Collin had the good sense to look embarrassed, his cheeks turning pink. Jack, on the other hand, opened his mouth to say something, must have thought better of it, and snapped it shut again. He then rolled his eyes and mumbled, “Sorry,” though he didn’t sound the least bit apologetic.

Blessedly, they were both silent on the way to the hotel. The three of them had agreed that after six months away from the ranch, it would be best if they stayed in a hotel the first night rather than showing up unannounced. Actually, it was more his decision, and Collin and Jack went along with him. It was his home, he agreed with them on that point, and he intended to live there again. However, it had also been Lorcan’s home. Lorcan was the one who had kept it going, and from what Collin had told him, worked his ass off to make it wheelchair accessible. It had just felt wrong going there without seeing Lorcan first. As badly as Jess wanted to be home, one more night away wasn’t going to kill him. He’d go out in the morning, get settled, and have plenty of time to meet the home health agents as scheduled in the afternoon.

By the time Jack and Collin helped Jess get into the room and settled on one of the queen-size beds, Jess was ready to admit Jack was right—he was an idiot.

The searing pain ripping through his legs with each twist and contraction of muscle had Jess calling on all his reserves of strength to keep from bawling like a baby. His head rested on Collin’s lap, Collin’s fingers gently stroking Jess’s sweat-dampened hair, but the soft touches did little to soothe him against the assault of Jack’s hands.

“Deep breath, Jess. It will ease. Just let Jack do his magic.”

Jess couldn’t. His lungs were locked as solidly as his muscles. Jack’s big hands, as they pressed against the flesh of Jess’s calves, felt like red-hot pokers burning him from the inside. Both men continued a litany of encouraging words but they were lost on him. His entire body was caught in a nightmare of agony. Bile rose in his throat, tears streamed from his tightly closed eyes, and he was completely helpless. Begging, praying, crying, screaming, nothing helped when he was held in the clutches of such unimaginable misery.

In fact, an answered prayer was what brought him to this hell. He’d prayed over and over and over to have the feeling back in his legs. Now he could only pray he would survive the gift. Rarely did he regret the choices he made, even the bad ones. He looked upon each choice, good or bad, as learning lessons, but this….

Pain exploded, his leg contorting as the muscles spasmed, and he was helpless to hold back the scream that raced up and out of his throat. The torment peaked and it was too much for his mind to handle. Darkness began closing in on Jess. These were the moments, when the intensification reached the apex, that he looked forward to. When the pain became unbearable and he’d pass out. He welcomed the darkness, knowing in its folds, he’d be set free, if only for a little while. Jess didn’t pray for the darkness or for the pain to end. It would eventually. He would no longer pray for anything. It was praying for the return of feeling in his legs, to walk again, praying to live, that brought him here. Praying was the only thing he regretted.

Riveted #5.5
Chapter 1
THE older man sitting on the other side of the bar with a predatory gaze wandering down Ty’s body was nothing new. Tyler Callahan, better known as Ty, had seen that same look in many eyes as he stood behind the bar, slinging suds and hearing a variety of propositions. He’d heard them all, everything from the simplistic—“Wanna fuck?”—all the way up to ridiculous descriptions of how they would have him on his knees, begging to breathe. That one had left him snickering and blowing nothing more than his tip. While Ty was flattered and more than a little appreciative of the tips shoved in his pants, shirt, and tip jar, not a single one of the men who’d left them even so much as tempted him.

This newest man, while attractive with his salt-and-pepper hair, short-trimmed beard, muscular body, and an air of authority swirling around him, was no different.

“C’mon, boy. I can make all your naughty dreams come true.”

Ty cringed hearing the word “boy” spoken by this man but plastered a smile on his face and set the beer the stranger had ordered down in front of him. “I’m not your boy and I seriously doubt you could handle my dreams,” he responded with confidence.

Ty started to step back but the man grabbed his arm in a vise-like grip, not allowing him to move. “Oh trust me, no matter how kinky, dangerous, or bizarre, I’ll leave you satisfied like no one else ever could.”

“Take your hand off what’s mine and you might survive to make someone else’s dreams come true,” Blake warned.

Ty looked up to see Blake standing behind the large man, his hands resting on the stranger’s shoulders. The grip on Ty’s forearm remained as the stranger leisurely ran his gaze down Ty’s form again, then calmly turned his head back to meet Blake’s gaze. “This is a private conversation. I don’t see any mark of ownership.”

“I’m going to ask you one more time to take your hand off what is mine—the next time I won’t be quite so nice about it.”

A shudder went through Ty. He could easily shove off the hand on his arm, but there was something about Blake, his quiet confidence, possessiveness, and strength that caused Ty to hesitate and let his lover deal with it. It warmed not only his heart to see Blake like this but also his groin. A one-two punch of sexy.

In the year that Ty had been working at Folsom, he’d seen Blake in this same situation numerous times, and his record was perfect. Either the aggressive Dom found himself on his ass on the concrete sidewalk outside the club, or he was smart and followed Blake’s request.

Ty held his breath for the tense moment the stranger and Blake continued to stare and size each other up. He let it out when he felt the hand on his forearm fall away. Smart man.

“He’s not collared, so I assumed he was available. I meant no disrespect.” The man held out his hand to Blake.

Blake accepted the offered hand, shook it, but did not release it. “You’re new here so I’ll forgive your disrespect this time. In this club you do not put your hands on a sub without his or his Dom’s permission.” Blake’s voice was hard and brooked no argument. He then released the man’s hand and took the stool next to him rather than his usual stool at the end of the bar. Ty’s man was definitely putting his ownership on full display.

“Could I convince my boy to get me a bottle of water?”

Fuck, Blake was hot when he got all badass Dom, then turned loving eyes on him. Another shudder shook Ty to his core. “You can convince me to do anything, Sir.”

Ty pulled a bottle from the cooler, opened it, and set it down in front of Blake. He wanted to lean across the bar and kiss him senseless but he knew better. When they were in the club, Blake called the shots.

Blake studied the water bottle for a moment and then looked up at Ty, a brilliant smile on his handsome face. “Perhaps I should have ordered champagne instead.”

Ty knew exactly what that self-satisfied smile on his lover’s face meant.

Blake had hated the fact that Ty had gone to work at the club, but Ty refused to be a kept man and he simply wouldn’t have stayed with Blake if he couldn’t support himself. The amount he made was pennies compared to Blake’s wealth, but it wasn’t about the money so much as his peace of mind. Maybe it was his need for an out just in case things didn’t work out, or perhaps even his pride. Much to Blake’s frustration, he hadn’t been able to change Ty’s mind, so instead of continuing an impossible-to-win argument, Blake had been in negotiations with the owners to buy the club. Ty and Blake had had more than a few heated words over it, but in the end, Ty understood Blake’s almost obsessive need to protect, given what had happened to Eli. If he was completely honest with himself, he liked it. For the first time in his life, someone actually cared enough to want him around long-term.

“I take it your meeting was a success then, Sir?”

“That is was, boy.”

“Will I now be sleeping with the boss, Sir?” Ty asked teasingly.

Blake stood, leaned over the bar, grabbed the collar of Ty’s T-shirt in his fist, and pulled him close, their lips practically touching. “That’s later. For now I’ll settle for a kiss.”

Heat infused Ty, the intensity increasing when Blake smashed their mouths together, demanding entrance. Ty gave himself over to the possessive kiss. He had no doubt this was for the benefit of the stranger who had dared touch what Blake deemed as his rather than for himself. Whatever the reason, Ty gave up control completely, letting Blake explore his mouth until he had his fill and left Ty breathless and hard as nails when it ended.

Blake sat back on his stool and gave the man next to him a wide, cocksure smile.

The older man nodded. “Now he does look truly owned.”

Blake’s smile grew impossibly wider.

“I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. You must be Blake Henderson.” The man held out his hand again. “I do believe you’re the reason I’m here. I’m Bobby’s friend and how-to-hide-all-that-money advisor, Tackett Austin.”

Blake accepted the hand and shook it again, this time without the challenging glare in his eyes. “Right, right, Bobby has told me a lot of good things about you. Nice to finally meet you.”

“Well, hopefully that will help make up for my less-than-stellar first impression.”

“I’m a little possessive of my boy,” Blake said unapologetically.

“As you should be. You’re a very lucky man, Mr. Henderson, he’s quite lovely. May I?” Tackett asked, indicating his intentions with a nod of his head toward Ty.

“That I am,” Blake said confidently. “Be my guest.”

Tackett held out his hand. “Tackett Austin.”

Ty accepted the hand and shook it. “Ty Callahan.”

“Nice to meet you, Ty.”

“Likewise, Sir.”

Blake winked at Ty and then turned his attentions to Tackett. The two of them began discussing the sale of Folsom; Ty took the opportunity to check on his other customers and service the new ones who were beginning to stream in. Friday nights were always crazy busy, the club beginning to fill up shortly after five when the work day ended and becoming completely full by nine.

Ty had just handed out a couple of bottles of water to one of the regular subs when he looked up and spotted Micah, another bartender he often worked with, stepping up behind the bar. That took Ty aback. Micah wasn’t on the schedule; Ty had checked and didn’t expect Caleb, his suds-slinging buddy for the night, until seven.

“Hey, Micah. Did you forget what day of the week it was again?”

Micah was a beautiful man, with thick dark curls and the palest baby-blues Ty had ever seen. He had started working at the club right around the same time Ty had, coming from another club called The Whip. During the first two weeks Micah, had shown up three times on his day off. He’d been so used to working his schedule at the other club that it had taken him a while to get used to the new one. Ty still loved teasing him about it.

“Ha ha ha. Bitch, please.” Micah scoffed. “Your Dom was doing the begging for a change.”

Ty looked back over his shoulder toward Blake, who was still chatting with Tackett. “I take back what I said about you,” Ty said, unfazed. “If you got Blake to beg, then you’re a better man than I am.”

That made Micah laugh. “Yeah, he begged me to cover your shift tonight. You know he would only beg for you, you smug bastard.” Micah froze, eyes going wide. “Oh sweet Jesus. Now there is someone I’d love to beg for.”

Ty followed Micah’s gaze. It was directed toward where Blake sat. “You mean Tackett?” he asked.

“Tackett,” Micah echoed.

“He’s like twice your age,” Ty said incredulously.

“Spank me, daddy!”

Ty nudged him with an elbow. “It’s official. You’re even more perverted than I am.”

Micah shrugged. “I can live with that. So introduce me.”

“I will if you tell me why Blake has you covering my shift. What’s he up to?”

“Don’t know, but I’ll make something up if I have to.” Micah never took his gaze from Tackett.

“Lot of help you are. C’mon.” Ty huffed and handed Micah a towel. “Here, sop up the drool from your chin.”

Micah grabbed the towel from him, tossed it aside, and shoved Ty toward the end of the bar where the two men sat.

“Pushy bastard,” Ty grumbled. “You sure you don’t have any dominant tendencies?”

“Why don’t you bend over and find out.”

Ty just shook his head at Micah’s antics. Once he reached the bar where Tackett and Blake sat, he stopped and waited for Blake to address him. He could feel Micah vibrating behind him. Ty had seen many men come and go, but he’d never seen his friend so affected before. Ty had begun to suspect that Micah wasn’t really into the scene at all. Micah knew all the proper ways to address the Doms with respect, eyes lowered, flirting and teasing them, but Ty had never seen Micah go any further than that. As far as he knew, Micah wasn’t seeing anyone so maybe he was just picky. Tackett certainly was a step above most men in the looks department.

Blake met Ty’s gaze and waggled his brows. “Hey, you sexy beast! Got any plans for the night?”

“Well, Sir, I’m not really sure. Apparently, my new boss has just given me the night off.”

Micah tugged on the back of his shirt.

“Sounds like you owe your boss a really big thank you,” Blake said with a sly grin.

Tackett chuckled, and Ty bit his lip to keep from joining him. “Do you have any suggestions for a suitable ‘thank you’ gift I could give him?”

Micah’s tugging grew in strength and speed.

“I do,” Blake said confidently. “But I think we should discuss this in private. It’s a very, very special kind of gift.”

The hungry look in Blake’s gaze sent a tingling sensation racing down Ty’s spine and made heat pool in his groin. “Then it’s a good thing I’m off work so we can privately discuss this gift.”

“Micah, could you call and ask Thomas to bring the car around?”

The club employed a driver and provided a black sedan for taking home patrons unable to drive either because they were too drunk or, because they were too exhausted and/or sedated. But he and Blake never used the car. Blake didn’t drink and, while they occasionally played at the club, his lover preferred their own home. Ty found it odd that Blake was asking for the car, but he didn’t comment on it.

Micah didn’t respond either, just continued to stare at Tackett and kept up his insistent, irritating tugging.

“Micah,” Blake said louder, making Micah jump and the hand on Ty’s shirt halt.

“What?” Micah snapped and then turned red when he realized how he’d responded to Blake. He glanced quickly between Tackett, Blake, and Ty, the color in his cheeks deepening when he realized he’d been standing there, zoned out with his mouth gaping.

“Sorry, Sir,” Micah said, lowering his eyes and releasing Ty’s T-shirt. “What was it you asked?”

Blake barely contained his laughter when he once again asked Micah to call for the car. Micah gave Ty a panicked look before answering, “Yes, Sir.”

Ty took pity on him.

“Mr. Austin, Sir. This is Micah Slayde,” Ty said, pointing a thumb toward Micah. “He’ll be replacing me as your server. Just let him know if you need anything.” Ty arched a brow at Micah. “I’m sure he’ll be more than happy to provide it for you.”

Micah nodded vigorously. “Anything, Sir.”

“Thank you, Micah. I’ll keep that in mind.”

After Micah finally pried his gaze from the older Dom and went to call for the car, Ty and Blake said their good-byes to Tackett and headed to grab their coats. When they stepped out of the club, a bitterly cold wind caused Ty to shiver. He was never going to get used to the winters in New York. The snow was pretty in pictures or to look out at from inside a warm home, but being out in it was brutal on a southern boy. Blake tightened the arm he had around him, pulled him close, and held him tight as they hurried to the waiting car.

Thank God the heat was already blasting from the vents. Ty brushed the snow from his coat and shook it from his hair. “Jesus, it’s cold. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to this.”

“I love winter,” Blake responded, wiping the snow from his own coat. “Or rather, I love getting to warm you up. C’mere.”

Ty climbed onto Blake’s lap, straddling his thighs. “Are we going to discuss that special gift now, Sir?”

Blake grabbed Ty’s hips and pulled him forward, causing Ty to moan when their groins came in contact. “I’m thinking talk is overrated, don’t you?”

“Mmm hmm.” Ty gripped the back of the seat, one hand on each side of Blake’s head, and began to rock his hips, cock swelling. “I’m definitely more of a hands-on kind of guy.”

Blake licked and nibbled at Ty’s bottom lip, teasing. “And I’m definitely better at showing rather than telling.”

Ty continued to grind against the growing bulge in Blake’s slacks as the kiss deepened, groaning when Blake found his erection, cupped it in his hand and squeezed

“Oh yeah, much better at hands on,” Blake murmured against his lips. “Lean back.”

He sat back, and Blake popped the button on Ty’s jeans and eased down the zipper. Ty arched his back, pushing hard into the hand Blake wrapped around his erection.

“You’re so hard for me,” Blake murmured, his hand speeding up, stroking Ty’s cock in a firm grip.

Dick throbbing with need, a tingling sensation tickling at the base of his spine, Ty thrust into that tight grip. God, he was so close already.

Just as the car came to a stop, so did the hand on his prick and then Blake wrapped a band of leather around the base, pulled it tight, and snapped it.

“Dammit,” Ty grumbled. “I should have known I wouldn’t get to come so easily.”

“You love it.” Blake’s finger swiped across the head of Ty’s cock, spreading the liquid seeping from the slit before bringing it to his mouth and sucking the digit inside. “And so do I.”

Ty whimpered when Blake tucked his erection back into his jeans and carefully zipped and buttoned them.

“My poor denied boy,” Blake consoled, the smug look on his face ruining the effect. Ty huffed, causing Blake to chuckle. The Dom then opened the door. “I promise to make it worth your while.”

Excited to see what his lover had in store for him, Ty scrambled off Blake’s lap and stepped out of the car. He groaned when he heard Blake behind him say, “If you’re a very good boy.”

Author Bio:
It's been an amazing journey since DSP first contracted Lorcan's Desire in January 2011. I've published 2 free reads with the M/M Romance group, my back list is growing, met some great people and have made some amazing friends.

I'm still in shock that I'm listed among the many talented authors at Dreamspinner Press! The little voice in the back of my head is screaming, "You are so out of your league."

Shhhhh I won't tell them if you don't :)

You can call me Jo, everyone does :)


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EMAIL: sjdpeterson@gmail.com



Lorcan's Desire #1
B&N  /  KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  ARe

Quinn's Needs #2
B&N  /  KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  ARe

Ty's Obsession #3
B&N  /  KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  ARe

Conner's Courage #4
B&N  /  KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  ARe

Jess's Journey #5
B&N  /  KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  ARe

Riveted #5.5(Free)

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Loads of lovely long excerpts for us. Thank you :)
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    ReplyDelete