DAN was having trouble concentrating on his work. It was fair, in a way, because right then his work was a three-year-old filly, and she seemed to be having trouble concentrating on him too. But he was the human. He was in charge.
Damn it. He shouldn’t have thought about being in charge. He eased the filly back to a walk and dropped his reins. It was only the fourth time the horse had been ridden, and she deserved his full attention. The experience was overwhelming enough for her without him letting his focus wander away. He relaxed his body and reached forward to run soothing fingers through the chestnut mane in front of him. “You’re okay, babe,” he said. “You’re doing a good job.” He wiggled his fingers, digging in like another horse would if it were grooming the filly, and he felt her start to relax.
And that probably shouldn’t have made him think of Evan, but it did. The way the man had just surrendered, had let his body become… what? Not a tool, not a toy…. Dan thought of Jeff’s long, artistic fingers and smiled to himself. A canvas. That was what Evan had let himself become. A way for Dan and Jeff to express themselves: their desire, their love, their playfulness… everything they were. Dan let his mind drift, let himself remember the dazed, disconnected look on Evan’s face as Dan had eased into him, the soft, breathy sounds he’d made. And Jeff had been right with them, his hands roaming all over both of their bodies, his lips warm and firm….
The filly danced a little, and Dan tried to call his mind back to business. There had been nothing remarkable about the night before; well, it had been remarkable, but not unusual. He and Evan and Jeff were pretty well established, and they’d created a lot of memories together. He remembered the way Jeff’s whole body had tightened with the first sweep of Dan’s tongue along the length of his cock, and smiled to himself. Nothing unusual. And that made it even sweeter.
He was trying to decide whether to give up or try to get some work done when he saw Robyn, one of the barn staff, waving at him from the far side of the arena. She had the barn’s cordless phone in her hand. That was weird. He got personal calls to his cell, and it was hard to imagine a business call so important that Robyn would interrupt a training session. But maybe she had seen that he wasn’t getting much done; he just hoped she hadn’t realized why he was being less than productive.
He thought about trying to ride the filly over, but swung off her back instead. She probably would have been just fine, but there was no point in taking the chance. Pushing a horse too fast wasn’t fair, and it wasn’t good training.
He flipped the reins over the horse’s neck and started across the arena. As he got closer, he saw Robyn’s expression, and his stomach twisted just a little. He couldn’t read her face very well, but she looked tense.
“What’s up?” he asked, trying to sound casual. He doubted he could fool Robyn, but it was worth a try.
Robyn kept her hand over the mouthpiece even as she reached the phone toward him. “It’s a woman.” She frowned, as if trying to figure out the message. “Dan, she says she’s your sister.”
“Krista?” As if he had another sister. Jesus. It had been, what, fifteen years? Dan looked doubtfully at the phone. He honestly wasn’t sure how he was feeling. He didn’t know whether he wanted it to really be his sister, or whether he’d prefer that it was a hoax.
“Dan,” Robyn prompted, “you should talk to her. She sounded pretty legit.”
He obediently reached for the phone, and Robyn took the horse’s reins without asking. She stood there, patting the filly’s neck and watching him, as he took a few steps away and lifted the phone to his ear.
“Dan Wheeler,” he said into the mouthpiece, trying to sound calm and businesslike.
There was no answer for quite a while, but then a tentative female voice said, “Danny?”
“Yeah, this is Dan. Who’s calling, please?”
Another long pause. “Danny, it’s Krista.”
And Dan was at a loss. Was there some way to ask for proof of her identity without… well, without actually asking? Or, at least, without being an asshole about it? He decided to just be noncommittal and see where the conversation went. “Krista? It’s been a long time.”
“Yeah. It has.”
Okay, she’d been the one to call him, so why was he expected to carry the conversation? He made a face at the wall then said, “Was it hard to find me? I’ve moved around quite a bit.”
“I Googled you. I remembered you liked riding, so when I saw that there was a Dan Wheeler training horses, I looked for a photograph. And then I found some information about where you worked, and I got the phone number from a directory.”
That was straightforward enough. Dan had been listening carefully to the voice as much as the words, and he was beginning to think that he recognized it. He could hear a little Texas, he was pretty sure, and something else as well. A tense, uncertain note, the same one she’d had so often in their childhood. Damn it. He didn’t want to play this game, didn’t want to get excited and then find out the whole thing was some stupid joke. “Krista? You remember the house on Forest Road? Do you remember the door to my room there?”
Another pause, and for a moment, Dan thought he’d called the stranger’s bluff and she was going to give up. But then the woman said, “You didn’t have a door. The asshole took it off its hinges after you wanted to keep it locked.”
Jesus. That was true. This was Krista. After so many years, he was talking to his sister. Dan’s mind raced. The last he’d heard, Krista had been running from the law, wanted for a string of armed robberies and other crimes. He leaned against the arena wall and slid down until he was sitting on the sandy floor. “Krista,” he said. “Krista, where are you? Are you okay?”
That was when she started to cry.
EVAN was bored. Not even Chris, with his every-other-minute texted insults, could make this meeting anything but dull. So when his phone rang and he saw Dan’s name on the call display, he barely hesitated. “Sorry, guys,” he said as he stood up. “This is an important call. I need to take it.”
The meeting was in-company, so Evan was clearly the top-ranking person in the room. He could take a break whenever he felt like it. He briefly thought about sitting there and expecting everyone else to file out and leave him the room; he’d seen other people do it. But he’d always thought they were assholes, he remembered, and he headed for the door.
The call had already gone to voice mail by the time Evan was out of the room, so he listened to the brief message. “Evan, call me. It’s important.” Evan had known it was something big as soon as he’d seen Dan’s name; Dan texted him now and then, but he’d called Evan at work about three times in the two years they’d been seeing each other. If it was worth a phone call, it was worth Evan’s time.
Chris poked his head out of the conference room. “You want me?”
“Maybe. It’s Danny.” Evan walked toward his office as he pressed Dan’s call-back number. He turned to see Chris trailing behind him. “He sounded kinda stressed.”
Chris shrugged. “Well, that’s not exactly unheard of.”
“He’s been calm lately,” Evan protested. Chris and Dan were best friends, but it was a strange, vaguely combative sort of friendship. Evan spent a lot of time keeping them from killing each other. Although he’d heard Chris claim that Evan and Dan were the ones who fought all the time, and Chris was the peacemaker. Obviously Chris was crazy, Evan concluded, and then Dan answered the phone.
“Evan. Are you at work?”
“Yeah. But I can come home if you need me. What’s up?”
Dan sounded a bit dazed. “I just got a call from Krista. My sister.”
Chris was watching Evan closely, waiting for a cue about whether his presence was required. “Dan,” Evan said, “Chris is here. Can I put you on speaker?”
Evan gestured for Chris to shut the door as Dan said, “Yeah, okay.”
“His sister called him,” Evan said to Chris, and then he hit the speakerphone button. “Dan, did she say where she is? Is she okay?”
“She’s a fugitive, Evan. She’s not okay.”
“What does she want, Danny?” Chris’s voice was calm, and Evan was happy to let him take over. Chris was a lawyer, but he was also a semiprofessional Dan-wrangler, with a much longer history on the job than Evan had. “Did she say?”
“She’s pregnant. She wants to turn herself in, I think. Or at least she wants to talk about it. She was pretty upset.” Dan’s voice was tense, and Evan wished they were in the same room so he could wrap himself around Dan’s body and give him some support.
“Give me your phone,” Evan said softly to Chris, who nodded and passed it over.
“We can help her, Danny,” Chris said. “If she’ll let us. But we need to do this right, need to be careful, or we could end up in shit for harboring a fugitive. We’re going to need to get a criminal lawyer involved in this, for sure. Did she say where she is?”
“Not exactly. I gave her my cell number, and she’s going to call me back later.”
Evan looked down at the text he’d composed to Jeff. It’s Evan. Can you get to the barn? Dan needs you. I’m on my way. He hit send. There were times when it was awkward, being in a threesome instead of a traditional couple. But sometimes it really helped to have a team.
JEFF pulled into the barn parking lot and saw Dan standing outside, leaning on a fence, looking at a group of horses grazing. Dan appeared calm enough, but Jeff doubted he actually was. Jeff had already been on his way to the barn when Evan had called him, so it hadn’t been long since Dan had gotten the phone call. Not long enough to get any perspective on it all. Jeff figured this was going to be messy. Dan had always felt guilty for leaving his family, and for how things turned out with his sister, and the current situation would have thrown a lot of fuel on that fire.
“Hey, Dan,” Jeff said as he stepped onto the carefully mown grass. He’d kept his voice low, and he’d been sure to speak from a good distance away, but Dan still whirled, his eyes wide and startled. Not a good sign. Jeff kept moving, slow and steady, and when he reached Dan, he leaned on the fence beside him and looked out at the horses. “Is that Winston? He’s off stall rest?” Talking about horses was always a good way to calm Dan down.
“Uh… yeah.” Jeff could practically see Dan working his brain around to the new topic of conversation. “The vet was out yesterday.” Dan looked at the horse. “We aren’t supposed to work him until there’s another checkup, but he’s okay to go outside.”
“That’s good news.” Jeff edged over a little closer, so their hips and forearms were touching. “You doing okay? With the sister thing?”
“Dude, I’m not the one on the run from the cops. I’m doing fine.”
Jeff nodded, slow and easy, ignoring the tension in Dan’s voice. “Okay. Good. Evan’s still on his way?”
Dan snorted. “Yeah. I told him not to, but he said if he didn’t come home, he’d have to go back into the most boring meeting ever.” He looked over at Jeff and rolled his eyes. It was amazing that Evan seemed to have recordbreakingly dull meetings almost every week. And useful that making fun of Evan helped Dan to relax.
“Chris isn’t coming?” Jeff wasn’t sure how to feel about that. He was envious of Chris sometimes, of his easy rapport with Dan. Everywhere but the bedroom, Jeff felt like he had to work for every confidence, fight for every smile; Chris showered Dan with insults, and Dan responded by sharing all his secrets and grinning like a lunatic. Then again, Chris didn’t get to take Dan to bed, so maybe Jeff wasn’t too displeased with his role in the whole thing.
“He’s meeting with another lawyer. Someone who does a lot of criminal work. He says that we need to be careful, and be prepared.” Dan sounded as if he was repeating the last part word for word.
Another thing to be jealous of; Chris actually had a useful function to perform. All Jeff could do was stand there and watch horses graze.
“Were you busy?” Dan asked. “You didn’t need to come over. I’m fine. This is… it’s weird, but it’s not bad. It’s good, really, as long as we can get her… I don’t know. It’s good if we can help her.”
“And Chris is on the job with that,” Jeff said. So, yeah, maybe he hadn’t needed to come over. Maybe he was completely unnecessary. But he’d made the drive, so he’d stick around. “I was on my way, anyhow. I thought I might go for a ride, clear some cobwebs out before I started a new project.” He felt like a sap, but he leaned over anyway and pressed a kiss to the spot just below Dan’s ear. “I missed you.”
“You saw me this morning,” Dan said, but he didn’t really sound like he was objecting.
“Yup,” Jeff agreed easily. “I did. And now I’m seeing you again.” He smiled. “And soon we’ll see Evan.”
“Yeah,” Dan agreed. “It’s… it’s a weird situation. But we’ll sort it out, right?” His voice was mostly confident. Mostly sure that his partners would be there for him. But, as always, there was that tiny trace of insecurity that threatened to break Jeff’s heart.
“Absolutely,” Jeff said firmly. He shuffled back and to the side, not far, just enough so that he could wrap his arms around Dan’s warm shoulders. “We’ll sort it out.”