Patrick Lassiter rolled his shoulders, trying to dispel the tension that had been building in them all day. He was getting too old for this shit. The same work he’d done in his twenties without batting an eye was going to make him sore for days. Today, he’d been pulling barbed wire because one of his wranglers hadn’t shown up. Striding into the barn, he skidded to a halt at the wanton sight that greeted him. A young man was leaning back on a stack of hay bales, shirt open, jeans around his knees. His eyes were closed, his fingers wound tightly into the hair of Patrick’s missing wrangler.
Patrick’s eyes slid from the long, dark, tousled curls over the well-defined olive chest and lower. All he could think was, ‘Shit, Roan’s back.’
Roan Bucklin had shadowed his every step as a boy, turning into the young man who had haunted his every thought. Seven years ago, he’d left for college and Patrick had finally found some peace – peace that had just been shattered. Roan’s soft panting competed with the wet smack of Adam’s mouth as the younger man’s cock slid between the wrangler’s lips.
The foreman mentally shook himself. “What in the fucking hell do you two think you’re doing?” Patrick yelled, snatching Adam up by the scruff of the neck and tossing him away from a disgruntled Roan.
Roan glared at the older cowboy. “I think I’m getting a blowjob, and it’s really none of your busin—”
“It is my business because I pay that man to work.” Patrick pointed at the lanky cowboy sprawled in the dirt. “Not to pleasure the boss’s son. I’m the foreman of this ranch, not some uptown pimp, so pull your damn pants up and skedaddle, kid.”
Dismissing the pouting brunette, he turned to Adam, matter-of-factly stating, “You! You’re fired. Clear your gear out of the bunk house. If you’re gone by sundown, you can come get your paycheck on Friday.”
The wrangler glowered, but he didn’t say anything. The first lesson you learned on the Bucklin Ranch was that you didn’t argue with Patrick Lassiter. Adam was a full head taller than Patrick and had at least thirty pounds on him, but the foreman had thrown him around like a hay bale. Standing up with as much dignity as he could muster, he brushed the dust off his jeans, skipping the knees, which was too degrading, and headed for the door.
Patrick turned his back on the still half-naked vision of temptation, leaning sullenly in the exact same position he’d been found in, and marched towards his office. Biting the inside of his cheek – hard – he tried to regain some control of his rampaging libido. Fuck, the image of Roan sprawled on those hay bales could have been plucked from one of dozens of his fantasies, only it was always him pleasuring the younger man until he came completely undone screaming Patrick’s name.
Like his thoughts had conjured Roan’s voice, an angry shout came from behind the foreman. “Patrick!” The older man’s steps faltered at the timing. “Wait just a fucking minute!”
Grabbing Patrick’s arm, Roan tried to spin the foreman to a stop. “What in the hell do you think you’re doing? You can’t just waltz in here, throw Adam in the dirt, and then fire him. I’m not eighteen anymore. I was a perfectly willing participant.”
Patrick clenched his teeth. He didn’t need to be reminded that Roan was old enough to have as many lovers as he damn well pleased, and he really didn’t need to be reminded of what had happened when Roan was eighteen. Just the thought of anyone else’s hands on Roan was enough to make him see red. “That was obvious from the moaning,” he snapped. “However, I can and did fire Adam. He works for me and, call me old-fashioned, I like my men to actually work while I’m paying them.” Patrick started towards his office again.
Roan ran to get in front of him, placing a hand on the middle of Patrick’s chest. His shirt was still unfastened down the front, completely baring his smooth, tan chest. He’d pulled his jeans up, but hadn’t taken the time to fasten them. The open buttons displayed most of the narrow, dark trail of hair leading down from his navel, exposing the Thunderbird tattoo decorating his left hip and leaving no doubt that he was wearing nothing under the worn denim. “That’s not fair. He gets fired when it was my idea.”
Roan’s confidence wavered under Patrick’s intense stare. Growling, Patrick leaned towards the subject of his dreams and nightmares. “I can’t fire you!”
Patrick stalked forward, causing Roan to retreat instinctively until his back collided with one of the horse stalls. They were about the same height, but something about Patrick’s age and muscular build made him seem bigger… stronger… definitely more intimidating. Frankly, it was making Roan hard again. He’d had a crush on Patrick from the time he’d turned fourteen. He thought he’d gotten over it, grown up, moved on. Obviously he hadn’t.
Patrick braced an arm against the stall to Roan’s right. The younger man couldn’t help but run his eyes up from the sun-bleached hair covering the defined forearm to the bicep and shoulder stretching the worn cotton shirt taut. He licked his lips unconsciously. A hitch in Patrick’s breathing caused Roan’s eyes to jump to the foreman’s face. Raw lust burned so brightly in the ice blue eyes that a shiver traveled up Roan’s spine. He blinked and the look was gone. Patrick’s eyes were completely expressionless.
Shoving away from the wall, Patrick cursed, “Damn it to hell. Trust me, I wish I could.” Spinning on his heel in the well-packed dirt, he was gone.
Roan slumped against the wall, his heart racing like a cornered rabbit. Fuck!
Patrick purposefully worked through dinner, drawing out the weekly feed and supply order for a ridiculously long period of time. He also planned on taking it into town himself at the crack of dawn. If he were lucky, he’d manage to waste the whole day in town and miss dinner tomorrow night, too.
Exiting the barn, he glanced at the main house, seeing only two bedroom windows still illuminated. It made the dark house look eerily like a jack-o’-lantern. Scuffing his boots in the dirt, he shuffled his way across the yard to his log cabin, automatically avoiding the creaky first step of his porch by taking the steps two at a time.
He was just pulling the screen door open when he heard a low voice from the shadows at the far end of the porch. “I brought you some leftovers.”
Patrick hung his head as his boss and best friend Finn Bucklin’s voice dug at his conscience. “You didn’t have to do that. If I was hungry, I’d’ve come up to the house.”
“Bullshit. I couldn’t have dragged you up to the house with a lasso and our best ropin’ horse tonight. You plan on starving until he leaves or ya gonna take up cookin’?”
Patrick realized he was still standing half in and half out of his front door, hand on the knob. “Come on in. I’ll pour us a drink.”
The shadows shifted and a tall copper-haired man appeared in the beam coming from the yard light. Patrick hadn’t left any lights on in the house, not expecting to return after dark. He waited until Finn grabbed hold of the screen. Turning the crystal knob, he entered the house, kicking lightly at the bottom corner of the door. It always stuck when the humidity was high.
“You should plane that out,” Finn suggested, stepping onto the worn braided rug that covered the soft pine floor.
“I’ll add it to the list,” Patrick answered out of habit. They had exchanged the same words dozens of times before. The ritual was comforting. He used the cactus-shaped bootjack by the door to pull off his well-worn Ropers and left them sitting on a rubber mat inside the coat closet. Silently, he crossed to the buffet and poured two tumblers of scotch. He handed one to Finn, who had already seated himself in Patrick’s favorite chair, before sitting in the corner of the large leather couch. Propping his feet on the low oak table, he rested the glass on his stomach and stared into the empty stone fireplace.
“Why didn’t you tell me he was coming home?” Patrick finally asked.
Finn took a sip of his scotch, pursing his lips like he was thinking about how to answer. “Wasn’t any sense getting you all worked up over it, and quite frankly, I was afraid you’d consider leaving. It was time for him to come home, Patrick. He’s finished his degree, played foreman at that city slicker dude ranch down in Galveston and left a swath of broken hearts across the Southwest, big even by Texas standards. He needs to settle down, and he can only do that here.”
“I know you’re happy to see him.”
“And I know deep inside you are, too,” Finn replied.
Patrick reflected on that for a moment. Was he happy that Roan was home? The young man had been the bane of his existence from the moment he came to live on the ranch when he was ten. At first, he was like a curious puppy, dogging his every step, an accident waiting to happen, but the kid had caught on fast. A natural rider, he had a way with all the animals and wasn’t afraid of hard work.
Somewhere around fifteen, Roan had actually become an asset to the ranch. When he wasn’t at school, he worked with Finn and Patrick from sunup to sundown. Smiling at the memory, Patrick nodded slowly. “Yeah, I’m happy to have him home. He belongs here. It’s his home, too. I’m just not sure we can both live here, Finn,” Patrick admitted honestly.
Finn owned Bucklin Ranch and was Roan’s father, but he was also Patrick’s best friend. He knew every detail of the history between Patrick and Roan, except for this afternoon’s episode, but that was only because Patrick hadn’t seen him before now.
“Patrick, you are so full of shit. You and I started this ranch, side by side. The only difference between us was the inheritance that allowed me to buy this patch of dust. Now, I’ve given up arguing with you about the ridiculous habit you have of referring to yourself as foreman and calling me ‘boss’, but I draw the line at you leaving for any reason, including my son. You own forty-five percent of this ranch, and ironically, the only reason you don’t own fifty is because you gave five percent to Roan as a graduation gift.” Finn leaned forward, setting his empty glass on the table.
Patrick chuckled. “Yeah, that was one of my better ideas.”
“You think so?” Finn scoffed. “I’d say it was right up there with swapping with Conner when he pulled Deadly Diego up in Cheyenne. Bulls never were your strongest event.”
Patrick shrugged. He’d spent eight weeks in the hospital and several more sweating through physical therapy after that stunt.
“Patrick, I didn’t know I’d left a son back in London until Susan wrote me three months before he showed up. You and Roan are the only two people on this Earth who matter to me. I’ve been your friend - your brother - for more years than I’ve known he was alive. Don’t make me choose between you. It would break my heart.”
Patrick looked directly into the washed out, blue-green eyes of the only family he had. “I promise, Finn. I’m not going anywhere. We’ll work this out.” Silently he added, ‘I’m not sure how, but we’ll work this out.’
The older man nodded solemnly, knowing Patrick’s word was stronger than any legal contract. He stood slowly, placing a fist in his lower back to push out the kinks and reminding both of them that he wasn’t as young as he used to be. “I’ll see you at dinner tomorrow,” he said in a tone that brooked no argument. “And heat up that plate.” He pointed to the foil-wrapped circle on the table.
Patrick shook his head in resignation. One of these days he’d win an argument with the crafty old Irishman, but it would probably be after Finn was dead and buried; although, if he could figure out how, he’d argue back from the grave. He walked Finn to the door before picking up the plate and putting it in the refrigerator next to the six pack of beer, bottle of ketchup, and jar of pickles. Heading upstairs, he showered and fell into bed. First light came earlier every year.
The sun was clearing the tops of the trees when Patrick pulled into Fredericksburg. He was running a good two hours behind his planned schedule. He’d slept past sunup by a good hour, something he hadn’t done in twenty years. It might’ve had something to do with not falling asleep until almost four.
He had quickly checked to make sure the horses had all been turned out before grabbing the checkbook from the safe and heading into town. Given his late arrival at the barn this morning, he avoided the teasing from his hands as much as a chance meeting with Roan. Patrick did his best to convince the men who worked for him that he was one step beneath God. They wouldn’t miss a chance to rib him for oversleeping.
Slamming the door of the pickup, he gave it an additional shove with his hip to get it to close completely. Like all the doors in his life, this one could use a little work. If he were the superstitious sort, he’d be wondering what that meant. Raising a hand in greeting, he hollered across the street to the chess-and-checkers contingent already solving the world’s problems in front of Harold’s General Store. “Hey, boys! Wives chase you out of the house already?”
There was a barrage of lewd retorts that Patrick acknowledged with a grin and a salute as he headed into the feed store. The cool air felt good. Today was shaping up to be a real scorcher. If they didn’t get some rain soon, they were going to have to supplement with hay this summer, which would put them low for next winter. He made a mental note to call Jeb Riley. Jeb always baled more than he needed and usually had some to sell and, with a new baby on the way, could probably use the cash.
George walked out from the back of the store at the sound of the bell. “Patrick, what brings you to town?” The man looked genuinely shocked.
“Hell, George, I do come to town occasionally,” Patrick defended.
George grinned and reached out his hand to clasp Patrick’s. “Not unless you have to. What can I do for you today?”
Patrick ruefully admitted the truth to that statement; most of what he needed was right there on the ranch. Right this second, though, there was someone there he needed so much it had sent him scurrying to town. “I brought in next month’s order. I needed to get some other things, so I thought I’d save Finn the trip.”
George accepted the offered form, laying it next to the register. “Good, so whatcha need today?”
Shit. This is why I don’t lie, Patrick thought. One always leads to another. “Well, I need some leather to repair a set of reins and could probably use a new set of hardware, too.” He’d noticed the last time he went over Roan’s tack that there were a couple of places nearly worn through. Hadn’t been any reason to repair them at the time, since Roan wasn’t around, but having Finn’s son take a fall because his tack failed when Patrick could have prevented it wasn’t ‘getting along’, and he had promised.
George nodded and moved about the store to collect the random objects Patrick requested.
His purchase was tallied and he was writing the check when George’s daughter, Stacy, flew into the room. Coming to a sliding halt, she pushed back her hair and tried to appear calm. “Patrick! Surprise, surprise. Gwen said she thought she saw your truck.”
Patrick looked at the girl suspiciously. As he recalled, she had been in the class behind Roan and had never taken an interest in the foreman’s whereabouts before. “And here I am,” he responded drolly, waiting for the true reason for her interest to be revealed.
“So some folks at The Red Dog last night were talking about Roan being back home. Any truth to that?” she asked, attempting to sound casual and failing miserably.
George rolled his eyes at Patrick, and the two older men shared a knowing smile. Patrick handed the check over to the storekeeper. “Roan got back day before yesterday. I’m sure it won’t be long before he’ll be out dancing at The Red Dog. You could always call up to the house. I’m sure he’d be delighted to renew his old friendships.”
The young girl blushed a charming shade of pink, and Patrick almost felt like he should warn her – ‘You know he’s into men, right?’ – but he kept his mouth shut. Roan’s social life was not his problem.
“Tell Roan I asked after him,” she requested.
Patrick nodded. Gathering up his purchases, he pushed his way into the sunshine, giving his eyes a minute to adjust to the light as he looked left and right, wondering where he could go to extend his trip. Nobody would begrudge him a day off. He could just jump in his truck and head out to the lake for a day of fishing, but that smacked just a little too much of hiding, and he wasn’t about to give Roan the satisfaction. What he needed was a couple more errands that could reasonably be construed as ‘necessary’.
His eye caught on a rotating red and white pole. “Haircut,” he announced to the empty sidewalk, starting across the street. He dropped his parcels in the back of the truck as he passed and jogged slightly to clear the road when Johnny beeped at him from the mail truck.
This door made an electronic chime as he pushed it open. Six pairs of eyes turned to watch his entrance. Greetings ranging from “Patrick!” to “Hear Finn’s boy is back” filled the room. Maybe being in town wasn’t such a good idea after all, if he was going to have to spend the day fielding questions about Roan.
After two stores and the diner, Patrick’d had enough. You’d think that Roan’s return was front-page news. Glancing up from the sidewalk, he spotted Henry eyeing him hungrily from the front window of the newspaper office. Hell, maybe it was. Reaching in his open window to grab the lever to open the pickup’s door, Patrick pretended not to hear the older man hailing him as he slipped onto the seat and cranked the ignition. The rumbling of the engine concealed any further shouts as he backed up and headed out of town.
Even taking the long way home, he pulled into the yard just slightly after three. Still a lot of daylight hours left before he could retreat to his cabin. Snagging the tops of the bags out of the back, he headed into the barn, habitually checking the paddock for horses to know which of the men were working away and who would be around. Both of the horses Roan preferred to use were on the far side of the field, munching on the longer grass by the fence. A quick glance towards the main house told him Roan’s truck was parked under the sycamore. Damn.
Putting up his purchases as he went, Patrick entered his office, kicking the door closed behind him. The door swung about halfway and stuck. With a curse, he kicked at it again, wedging it firmly against the uneven floor. Fuck, that’s what he got trying to close a door that hadn’t been shut in at least ten years. Leaving it jammed, he sat behind his desk, pouring out the tools he needed to fix Roan’s tack. Working with his hands always calmed him down.
Several hours later, Patrick pulled off his leather gloves and sucked on his sore thumb. Preoccupied men should not be allowed to work with sharp objects, he decided. A sound from the main barn caused him to sweep his project into a box and kick it underneath his desk. Glancing at the clock, he realized it was dinnertime and the men would be heading in.
The not-so-subtle clearing of a throat raised his eyes to the half-open door. Roan leaned his shoulder against the doorframe, cockily hooking his thumb in his front belt loop, pulling his obscenely low-riding leather pants even lower. There was a large strip of sun-kissed skin visible between the tight, almost see-through T-shirt and the pants. One black boot was planted in the dirt and the other scuffed back and forth, causing small swirls of dust. “I’m headed to town to meet Adam. It’s Friday. I thought I’d take him his check… save him a trip.”
Patrick scowled but flipped the book he’d been pretending to write in closed. Sliding open the top drawer, he pulled out a white envelope. Laying it on the polished wood, he flicked it towards Roan, who folded it in half and slid it into his back pocket, the pressure causing the pants to dip dangerously lower.
“He’s promised to make it up to me… our aborted encounter,” Roan explained unnecessarily. Patrick wasn’t likely to forget anytime soon.
“Hmm…,” he answered noncommittally, hoping that Roan would just disappear before he did something he couldn’t take back.
Pushing away from the door, Roan prowled towards the desk, walking around to the side Patrick was on and propping his hip against the edge. “I’m horny as hell. I’ve been walking around half-hard for the last day and a half, and it’s all your fault.”
Patrick’s mind raced. Did Roan mean that Patrick made him hard, or that he’d been hard because Patrick had interrupted him and Adam before he’d come? Either way, it was a dangerous line of thinking. There was no way to keep his cool while thinking about Roan being hard… making Roan hard… or better yet, making him come. Patrick pressed his eyes shut and groaned, silently praying that Roan would be gone when he opened his eyes.
No such luck. Patrick raised his eyelids to find Roan’s eyes sparkling brightly and entirely too close. “Uhm… don’t you need to go? Wouldn’t want to keep your date waiting.”
“He’s not a date. I’ve heard that he’s a good fuck, and I….” Roan shrugged.
Patrick snorted, “Who told you that?”
“Well…,” Roan hedged.
Standing, Patrick pinned the younger man with his gaze. “Roan, tell me Adam didn’t tell you that himself.” A crimson blush stained Roan’s cheeks, answering the question for him. “Fucking hell, Roan. How naïve are you?”
“Do you believe every cowboy trying to get into your pants?” Patrick looked down with a leer. “Not that there’s room for anything in those pants but you. I’m not even sure there’s room for you.”
Roan shoved against Patrick’s chest, stepping between him and the desk. “Hey! I happen to like these pants, and I think I look good in them. Just because you’re a prude—”
“A prude?” Patrick leaned forward, pinning Roan back, a hand on either side, trapping him. His eyes darkened to stormy gray as his face drew nearer. He’d restrained almost every sexual impulse he’d had around Roan since the kid hit puberty, ignoring innuendos and ducking advances. A prude. A man could only take so much taunting and temptation without wanting to strike back – to reach out and take what was being offered.
Although pushing Patrick’s buttons was one of his favorite pastimes, maybe, just maybe, it was possible to push Patrick too far, the younger man thought. Roan’s voice cracked slightly, betraying his nervousness. “Yeah… uh… I’m confident in my sexuality, and I’m not afraid to show it in the way I dress.”
Patrick shook his head slowly, his eyes locked on Roan’s like a bobcat staring down a rabbit. He leaned forward, causing Roan to lean back at an awkward angle and feel physically as well as emotionally off-balance. “You’re confused. The cock that parades through the chicken yard, chest puffed out and feathers ruffled, is the one that’s trying to attract mates because he has none. A real man knows exactly what he can do and doesn’t need to show off.”
Patrick’s eyes scanned down Roan’s lithe body, pausing slightly to watch his lower stomach quiver like his gaze was a physical touch. “I can make you hard just by looking at you,” he rasped.
Roan didn’t bother to argue. The proof of Patrick’s words was straining against the leather, and they could both see it.
Patrick drew closer, his lips a breath away from a kiss, a kiss he would never take. He’d held Roan in his arms and stroked him to completion, once before, but their lips had never touched. Patrick knew with certainty that he’d never survive the touch of Roan’s lips under his.
Roan’s eyes drifted closed, his lips parting to receive Patrick’s instinctively.
For a second, the older man wavered, his lips drifting so close he could feel the wet warmth of Roan’s breath. Roan swayed toward him and Patrick shifted, his lips riding the aura of Roan’s body around to his ear. “I could make you come with just the right words.”
Roan shivered, knowing without a doubt it was true.
“With every touch of my hand, you’d beg for more until you wouldn’t even know what you were begging for… but I’d know. I’d know exactly where to touch you… how to touch you… how to love you.” Patrick’s lips grazed the sensitive skin of Roan’s neck, and the young man whimpered.
Patrick straightened, keeping his body suspended over Roan’s but not touching, the electricity pulsing between them. “That is sexual confidence, knowing that my touch could undo you in a way no other man’s could. A man with that kind of confidence dresses in a regular shirt and blue jeans because he doesn’t need sexy clothes.”
Roan’s eyes blinked open, trying to focus as he felt Patrick’s presence retreat. The foreman was across the room, standing by the door. “I want…” Roan stuttered.
Patrick smiled. “I know, but I only said I could, not that I would. You enjoy your evening with Adam.”
Roan’s curses and the crashing sound of something being thrown followed Patrick out of the barn. He smiled smugly. Whatever Roan had broken was worth it. For the first time since the whelp had gotten home, Patrick felt like himself again.