HE NEEDED the job, it was as simple as that.
He’d worked in supermarkets and even waited tables, which he wasn’t very good at, but this job sounded like it was made for him.
WANTED: ranch hand, able to handle young, untrained horses, not afraid of mucking out stables and mending fences
He’d grown up around horses, lived on a stud farm all his life, so he could do this with his eyes closed. Room and board wasn’t much, of course, but it did say that there would be a nice bonus after the horses were sold, and that was six weeks from now at the local auction, according to the lone clerk and carrier of the post office. He didn’t have anywhere to go, so six weeks of work and staying in one place sounded like something he could handle. He wasn’t a big fan of cold Idaho winters, but he figured in six weeks time, he could make his way to the coast and better weather before the snow arrived.
The postman dropped him off at the main gate to the Blackwater Ranch at the start of his post run, and Flynn hauled his duffel bag over his shoulder before walking up the dusty road toward the main house. It looked deserted, although there was a dirty, dark-green pickup truck parked under an apple tree; still, when he knocked on the door of the ranch house, nobody answered. Determined to find the owner and because he didn’t want to walk all the way back to town, Flynn sauntered toward the barn, passing a few unhaltered horses in a small corral. He saw a few more in a higher paddock as well, but other than that, it was eerily quiet.
The double doors to the barn were open, so he walked inside and was greeted by a large brown head sticking out of its enclosure. Flynn held out his hand and let the horse sniff it, then stroked the white patch between the animal’s eyes.
“Got a boss around here, beautiful?” he asked the horse, then smiled when the animal obviously didn’t answer. Nobody else did either, so Flynn walked on toward the end of the barn, peeking into the stalls he passed but not finding anyone there either.
“Guess he’s working somewhere else,” he told himself until a sudden voice from behind made him startle.
“Can I help you?”
Flynn turned around and saw a sandy-haired man in jeans and a plaid shirt standing near one of the stable doors he’d passed earlier. There was a black sheepdog with a white muzzle sitting next to him.
“Yes, ehm, I’m here about the job?”
“You must be pretty desperate if you’re willing to take something that pays less than minimum wage. What’s the deal? Did you do time or something?” the man asked Flynn rather gruffly.
Flynn shook his head. “I grew up on a horse ranch, so this is better than stacking boxes at the supermarket.”
“What ranch?” the man continued in the same unaffected voice he’d used earlier.
“Back east,” Flynn answered, purposely staying vague. “Canada,” he eventually admitted. “We moved there from England just after I was born, since we could make more money breeding horses there than in England.”
“So why aren’t you working on your family’s ranch then?”
Flynn was afraid of this question, but he had his standard answer. “I’m the youngest of five boys. Nothing there for me really.”
GABLE didn’t answer immediately; instead, he watched the young man. He was sure there was more to the story and he knew he’d find out if he hired him. Not that he had a lot of choice, really. The local boys found better-paying jobs at the bigger spreads, and not a lot of strangers passed through town. If he didn’t say yes to this guy, he’d have to work the ranch alone this season, and he wasn’t doing a great job of that so far.
“So what can you do?” he asked, although he’d already made up his mind. Even if the kid could barely hold his own around the young horses, he’d have an extra pair of hands to do the hard labor.
“Pretty much everything a horse needs,” the brown-eyed looker answered. “Groom, water, muck out their stalls, exercise them, teach them to accept a bridle and a saddle, break them in, you name it, I’ve done it.”
Although it sounded like Gable had died and gone to horse heaven, he knew there had to be a snag. If this kid was as good as he claimed, why wasn’t he working for the big boys, making much better money than Gable could afford to give him? He wasn’t about to dig deeper, though. If he didn’t get a move on, he’d have no ranch left and he needed the extra pair of hands.
“Good enough,” he said. “Can’t pay you anything right now. As soon as the horses sell, I’ll make it worth your while. For now, I can give you room and board.”
“That’s what the piece of paper at the post office said,” the young man replied with resignation.
“I’m Gable Sutton and I own the place,” Gable answered, thinking “for now,” but not voicing it.
“Flynn Tomlinson,” the young man answered, taking a few steps forward to shake the offered hand, “and I work here.”
The smile that accompanied that final statement hit Gable square in the groin. All ideas of working close to Flynn to keep an eye on him vanished, because he knew he wouldn’t get much done himself if he had to look at that young man all day long. He’d eyed his cute little butt as he was walking down the barn, admired the long legs and the lean back. Of course he could only imagine that last bit, since it was hidden underneath a suede jacket and a denim shirt, but when he’d turned around earlier, Gable had practically heard his body wolf whistle. He shook his head, trying to dispel the thoughts. They had work to do.
“Let’s grab some lunch, I can show you the house and then we can get right to work.”
FLYNN watched his new employer take two steps out of the stable and followed him toward the barn doors. It was hard to miss how much effort the man had to put into simply walking. If the pronounced limp didn’t give it away, the labored breathing certainly showed it wasn’t just a physical thing. This man was in pain with every step he took.
“You should probably get a doctor to look at that leg,” he said, trying to sound casual about it. “If you were a horse, I’d bring you in from the paddock and call the vet.”
“Doctor’s seen it,” Gable answered gruffly. “Says I’ll need to live with it.”
Gable’s tone suggested to Flynn he’d better shut up about it, but it did give Flynn some indication why the stables were badly maintained and the rest of the ranch looked like a mess. If Gable was taking care of everything by himself, and with the sort of injury that limp implied, it was no surprise. Although Flynn could only guess at what was wrong with his new boss’s leg, it looked like it was a bit worse than a sprained ankle. At least Flynn wouldn’t have to ask him what he could do around the place. It was obvious he’d have plenty of work.
As they approached the house, a white truck stopped next to the green one and a tall, slender woman with a blonde ponytail stepped out. The sheepdog darted past them to greet her as she opened the back and took out a large cardboard box. Flynn, having been taught to always help a lady, rushed to her side to take the heavy load from her.
“Why, thank you!” she smiled at him and then looked over at Gable. “I see you’ve found a helping hand?”
“Hi, Calley,” Gable acknowledged her with a nod. “Calley, meet Flynn. He’s going to help me out around here until I sell the horses. Flynn, this is Calley. She owns the only decent grocery shop in town and her better half is Bill Haines, who’s the only decent vet in the county. She’s brought us some food so we don’t starve. I see you’ve already learned to be nice to the hand that feeds you.”
“Oh Gabe, you’re such a charmer.” Calley smiled none too coyly, although Flynn missed the mockery in her face after she turned away from him. “Guess I’ll have to bring extra food later on in the week.” Flynn noticed it wasn’t a question, adding to the feeling that Calley and Gable knew each other quite well.
They walked toward the house and Calley told Flynn where to drop the box of groceries, while Gable plunked himself down on the worn-out couch that was sitting in the corner of the kitchen. He put his leg on a footstool standing in front of it and exhaled deeply. Flynn didn’t miss the look of concern Calley threw him, however fleeting it was, before she started unpacking the box and putting things away as if she lived there. Although if she did, Flynn was sure the house would actually look like it saw a woman’s touch from time to time. As it stood now, the dishes were piled high in the sink and the refrigerator was only filled with the things Calley had just put inside it. Although she was discreet about it, Flynn saw her throw out some stuff that almost walked out of there by itself. When Gable started protesting, she was clear though. “I don’t care if you poison yourself, Gable, but this young man deserves to be fed well. He’s here to help you, so you’d better take care of him!”
Gable grunted something under his breath and Flynn watched the exchange with some amusement. He didn’t really know what to make of it. Was Calley Gable’s ex? Was that why she knew her way around the house and why she felt free to admonish him in front of a virtual stranger? He wasn’t about to question any of it, fearing that Gable was not in the mood for any sort of small talk. Maybe one day his curiosity would be satisfied, but if not, well, to be honest, it really wasn’t any of his business.
“Well, Flynn, I hope you can cook?” Calley gave him a concerned look and Flynn smiled it away.
“Sure I can,” he acknowledged. “Grew up in a house full of boys. It was that or eat stale bread!”
“Then I’m sure you’ll feel right at home here,” Calley replied with a wink before picking up the now-empty box and heading out again.
After she left, the silence grew uncomfortable.
“I can make us an omelet?” Flynn suggested.
“Had eggs for breakfast, so I’ll skip it,” Gable answered, his eyes closed and head relaxed against the back of the couch. “Thanks,” he added, almost as an afterthought.
Flynn doubted Gable had eaten anything, judging from the state of his kitchen, so he wasn’t going to leave it at that. He’d seen Calley unpack all sorts of things and was sure he could whip up some sort of tasty lunch, so he opened the fridge and took out a head of lettuce, a tomato, and a cucumber. Together with the ham and cheese she’d also brought, he made sandwiches. He had to open a few cupboards, but in the end decided to wash some of the plates and knives so he had somewhere other than the cutting board to put them. The dog stayed diligently next to his owner. He was licking his lips, but had clearly been taught not to beg.
“Here, boy,” Flynn called the dog.
“She’s a girl and her name is Bridget,” Gable corrected him. “And she doesn’t get scraps from the table. She has a bowl in the mudroom.”
Flynn held the piece of ham in midair as he saw the dog torn between accepting it and loyalty to her owner, so Flynn dropped it back to the chopping board and the dog relaxed. He divided the sandwiches between two plates and handed one to Gable, who opened his eyes when he smelled the food.
With some distrust, Gable took the plate from Flynn and looked at its contents. “Thanks,” he muttered as he inspected what was between the two slices of rye bread, a rather forced smile appearing on his face.
Flynn had a hard time not laughing. He rarely felt uneasy around strangers, especially now he’d been on the road for more than three years, but this man was something different. He hoped the uncomfortable silences would go away after a while, or at least that the man would let him work by himself, so they wouldn’t bother him too much. In any case, he couldn’t put his finger on what exactly made it so hard to be in the same room with Gable. The food was good, though, much better than what he could afford to get himself in the diners he passed along the way. Gable seemed to agree, although Flynn tried not to smile when he saw Gable trying to sneak the cucumber from between the layers of the sandwich without him noticing it. Flynn, in turn, fed Bridget the scrap of ham he’d put aside while he was doing the dishes. All of the dishes, not just the ones they’d used.
By the time they went outside again to tend to the stables, the kitchen looked much better than it had when they’d walked in an hour earlier.
FLYNN really enjoyed this job.
He was pretty much his own boss. Gable didn’t interfere with what he was doing, and, despite his gruff exterior, he was a quiet, calm man. They’d divided the chores up pretty much without talking. Gable did all the things he could do sitting down or on horseback. He’d take care of the saddles and bridles, fix a hinge on a door, ride around the paddocks checking for fences that were down. He’d muster the horses when they needed to be moved and Flynn would hold the gates open and make sure they were closed after all the horses had passed through. All in all, they made a pretty good team.
Flynn knew that if they wanted to sell some of their horses at auction, they’d need to train them—some of them weren’t even used to a bridle and a saddle yet—and he hadn’t seen much of that in the week he’d been there. He’d often seen Gable ride among the herd in the higher paddock, and had sometimes seen him touch the animals, stroke their backs, or even talk to them, but they’d never worked with the horses individually, and this worried Flynn. He just didn’t know how to strike up a conversation with Gable to introduce the subject.
Gable’s limp wasn’t getting any better; in fact, Flynn feared it was actually getting worse. He’d suggested visiting a doctor once again and had been snapped at, then given the silent treatment for the rest of the day. As a peace offering, he finished his chores early so he could rush home and make dinner. He had yet to meet a man who could resist his vegetarian lasagna, even those who felt a meal wasn’t complete without meat.
“Go and take a shower first. Dinner will take another twenty minutes or so,” Flynn told Gable when the older man finally came into the house. Gable didn’t answer, simply nodded, displaying his most nondescript face as he moved to the back of the house.
Flynn knew Gable preferred the outside shower, not in the least because it saved him a trip upstairs. In the evening, the water from it was at the perfect temperature, having been heated by the sun all day, but even on an overcast day, Gable would always use that one. It was just a shower head leaning against the back of the house, with shrubs planted around it so nobody could look in, at least not from outside the house. From inside, it was easy to watch him from the shadows of the back door.
Flynn had spotted Gable’s naked backside on his second day there, as the older man was stripping to get washed. He’d bent down to wrap some plastic around his injured leg, but that was not what had drawn Flynn’s attention. He’d been enthralled by the sinewy body, the strong, lean back, and when the man turned around under the spray, eyes closed and clearly enjoying the water, Flynn had felt his jeans grow tight. He watched Gable’s hand rubbing through his chest hair and down his stomach to his groin.
This was just the sort of body that turned Flynn on no end, and he’d felt far too few of those under his hands lately. That day was the first time Flynn had rushed into the tiny downstairs toilet to release the tension. Now he didn’t do that anymore. Now he knew Gable’s washing ritual and knew how long it took for the man to dry off and get dressed again. Nobody ever came to the ranch, and from where he was standing Gable couldn’t see him either, so he felt confident enough to insert his hand into his jeans and rub himself. When he saw Gable wipe the suds between his legs and repeat the action a few times, seeming to hesitate for a moment when he realized he was growing hard and then taking himself in hand, a soft moan escaped Flynn’s mouth. Oh, what he would do to be allowed to touch that body, to be that hand, touching Gable’s cock. Flynn barely dared to touch himself, afraid he would come instantly. He watched as Gable leaned against the side of the house, arm outstretched to hold himself upright, balancing on his good leg, while he pleasured himself. Flynn could easily imagine what Gable would look like if he could help him do that and then it suddenly hit him. He wondered how long it had been since another hand had touched Gable? He didn’t look like he got around much. Maybe Gable would let him be good to him one day. Maybe.
Flynn saw Gable buck into his hand and come, thick strands of white cream shooting out of his cock. There was no ecstasy on his face, though; Gable just continued his washing. Flynn closed his eyes, imagining what the older man must look like when he was actually being treated well, being pampered and taken care of. It took only a few movements of his hand for Flynn to feel the rush of his orgasm shooting through his groin as he imagined Gable saying his name. When, moments later, he opened his eyes, he saw Gable looking at him as he was drying himself. Flynn’s heart stopped. He’d never planned on getting caught.