Lex Whitefeather hung up the phone with a smile on his face and went to find Shorty, his foreman on the Lazy River ranch. He left his office and headed to the barn. He found Shorty fixing the leather on a bridle.
“Hey, I just got off the phone with Sam. He asked if he could bring his college roommate home to work for the summer. I told him it would be all right but I needed to run it by you to make sure we had enough work to keep him busy. It seems the kid doesn’t have any family to go home to. Sam thinks his roommate could benefit from time on the ranch.”
Shorty glanced from Lex back to the bridle he was working on. “Sure, I can always use another strong back around here. Plenty of hay to put up and fences to mend. Are you going to let him stay in the house or would you like him to bunk with the rest of the cowboys?”
Lex rubbed his chin. “Sam would never forgive me if I kicked the kid out of the house. I mean, it’s not like there’s not enough room, for Christ’s sake.” Lex thought about the six-bedroom log and stone house that his ex-wife had insisted on building. Of course that was only a year before she’d left him and Sam.
Sam had never even gotten a chance to know her which, as it turned out, was probably a good thing. How a woman could abandon her only child eight months after giving birth, he’d never understand. Although theirs had never been a marriage of love, he’d done his best to give her whatever she’d wanted to make up for his own shortcomings, but it hadn’t been enough for her and she’d split.
Shorty interrupted Lex’s thoughts. “This kid have a name and when do you expect ’em?”
Lex smiled. Shorty was never one for small talk. He’d been foreman on the Lazy River for a long time. At sixty-eight and barely five-foot four, Shorty truly lived and breathed the Lazy River. “His name’s Nick Barker and they’ll leave right after finals on Friday.”
Shorty nodded and went back to work. Lex wandered over to the corral and whistled for his horse, Night Fever. The black quarter horse gelding came up to the fence and nibbled at Lex’s pocket. Lex laughed and rubbed the white star on his forehead. “What’re you looking for, Fever?” He pulled a couple of sugar cubes out of his pocket and held them out. “Well, I can see you’ve got my number. I guess I need to quit spoiling you.”
Lex let Fever go back to the shady spot under a cluster of trees and headed to his office in the main house. He walked in the front door, went to his study and poured a finger of Scotch before sitting in front of the big picture window. He’d built the house with that view in mind. He knew that with a wife like Terri he’d need a refuge and this was his. He looked around the room at the large, dark red leather sofa and armchair deep enough to comfortably hold a big man like himself. The Native American artifacts on the shelves and over the fireplace were a legacy from his grandfather, John Whitefeather. Lex had inherited the artifacts when his father passed away. The ornately carved desk had been his father’s. Lex put his feet up on the footstool and stared out at the setting sun, the pinks and purples casting their colors on the nearby mountains.
Lex thought of Sam. He’d been away at college for five years, only coming home for holiday breaks and summer vacations. He was working toward a law degree and seemed to be doing fine. Lord knew he had the brains for it. What Lex didn’t know was whether he had the drive. Sam had just seemed sort of lost the last couple of times he’d been home. Well, no reason to dwell on it, he’d be home in another week. Lex thought about his new houseguest. Sam had told him Nick was a year older and worked out a couple of times a week. He’d asked Lex if he still had the old set of free weights around somewhere because Sam thought Nick might enjoy working out in his spare time.
Lex finished his Scotch and went down to the basement. A slow smile worked its way across his face. The more he studied the basement the more he decided maybe a complete workout room would be nice to have. It had been a long time since he’d done something extravagant for himself and what better time than now? Lex walked back up the stairs to make a couple of calls.
* * * *
The flight from Austin had been bumpy and Nick still wasn’t feeling right. He gazed out of the plane window as they set down in Missoula, his home for the next three months. Nick was nervous about meeting Sam’s dad. He’d seen a couple of pictures and heard Sam talk about him constantly but he didn’t do well around parents, even though Sam’s dad was hot. Nick still remembered seeing his picture on Sam’s desk for the first time.
He’d asked Sam who the guy was and Sam had told him it was his father. Nick had nodded and walked away feeling like a perv. Damn, he shouldn’t have been ogling his roommate’s dad. Sam had told him his dad was forty-four but all Nick had seen was a grade-A stud.
The passengers started standing, getting their luggage out of the overhead bins and filing down the aisle. Sam stood and retrieved his backpack then handed Nick his. They walked down the ramp into the terminal. When they cleared the security gate, Sam waved and walked up to his dad. They hugged and Nick’s heart stopped.
“Oh sweet fuck,” he mumbled. Sam’s dad was even better-looking than his picture. Standing at least six-foot four, the man was some kind of god to be worshiped. His Native American heritage was evident in his long, silky black hair and bronzed skin. Nick allowed his eyes to travel up the faded jeans showing off a pair of legs that went on forever, ending with a very impressive bulge. Nick swallowed. Jesus, I’m in trouble. How am I supposed to suppress an erection for an entire summer?
Nick stood, trying not to stare as Sam hugged his dad.
Sam stepped away from his dad and motioned to Nick. “Nick, I’d like to introduce my father, Lex Whitefeather. Dad, this is my roommate and best friend at school, Nick Barker.”
Lex Whitefeather held out his hand. “It’s very nice to meet you, Nick. Please call me Lex.”
Is it my imagination or did Lex’s voice suddenly go a little lower? It was already a deep bass, but when he talked Nick’s chest vibrated with each word. He swallowed again, trying in vain to relieve the lump in his throat. “Thank you for giving me a job and a place to stay this summer. I’ve heard a lot about the Lazy River from Sam and can’t wait to see it.”
Lex dropped his hand and smiled. Oh damn, he even has dimples in his cheeks. “Let’s go get your luggage and head home then.” Lex strode toward the baggage claim with Sam at his side.
Nick followed Lex, which gave him an excellent view of his well-worn jeans. Nick’s cock started to harden against his zipper. No way could he walk behind Lex and not stare at his perfect ass. He willed his erection to deflate. It didn’t seem to be listening to him, so he tried to hold his backpack in front of his crotch while they waited for the rest of the luggage.
Before long they were riding down the interstate toward the ranch. Nick sat in the back seat of the midnight blue quad-cab pickup truck. Sam was in the front seat, talking a mile a minute about everything he wanted to do when he got to the ranch. Nick glanced toward the front and noticed Lex’s eyes on him in the rearview mirror.
Lex cleared his throat and addressed him. “Sam didn’t say whether you knew how to ride.”
Nick shifted in his seat, trying to alleviate the still-hard log in his jeans. “Um…no, I was hoping to learn while I’m here.” He so hoped he wouldn’t get sent back to Texas on the next plane for that.
Lex smiled and winked. “No problem, I can teach you. I’ve taught several people to ride so it’s not a big deal.” He broke eye contact and turned his attention to Sam. “You’ll never guess what I did this week.”
Sam rolled his eyes and put his finger on his chin. “Umm…let me guess. You sat in your study and stared out the window?” Sam looked back at Nick and laughed. “It’s kind of an ongoing joke. Any time Dad can’t be found he’s always hiding out in his study, staring out the window.”
Lex playfully punched Sam in the arm. “No, smart-ass. I had a gym built in the basement so we can all work out together this summer.” He smiled at his son.
Sam’s jaw dropped. “What do you mean we can all work out together? Have you ever known me to lift weights, Dad?”
Lex shrugged. “I just thought it would be a good way for us to wind down in the evenings. I didn’t mean to offend you.”
Sam sighed. “I know, Dad. I’m sorry I snapped at you. It’s just that I’ll never be the big strong man you are. I guess my body must come from Mom, huh?”
Lex reached over and squeezed Sam’s shoulder. “No. Your mother was tall. I think you got your build from my mom’s side of the family, along with your blue eyes.”
He drove for a while in silence. After a few miles he turned back to Sam. “What’re your plans for the summer?”
Sam cleared his throat. “Well, I was hoping I could talk Justin Meyers down at the law office in Quints into giving me a job. I’ve been thinking a lot about it and I’d like to go into small-town law. I thought if I worked in a law office as a clerk or assistant I could decide whether or not it’s right for me.”
Lex seemed to consider it. “Sounds like a good plan for the summer. Have you talked to Justin yet or would you like me to call him when we get home?”
Sam smiled as though a huge weight had been lifted. “I don’t want you to call Mr. Meyers. I want to do this on my own. I’ve already sent him a letter about a summer job but I haven’t heard back from him. I was hoping I could borrow the truck and run into town tomorrow morning.”
Lex shook his head. “Tomorrow’s Saturday. If you want to talk to Justin you’ll either have to go when we get home or wait until Monday morning.” Lex glanced at the clock on the dash. “We’ll be home in another half-hour, that’ll give you time to take your bag in and make it back to town before five. I’m sure if you get there before he leaves Justin will stay long enough to talk to you.”
Sam nodded. “Um…could you show Nick around the ranch for me?”
Lex met Nick’s gaze in the rearview mirror and nodded. “Sure I can. I thought we’d put him in the bedroom across from yours. So if you’ll show him where that is I can show him the rest of the ranch.”
“Cool. Thanks, Dad…for everything.”
They rode the rest of the way singing to old country songs on the radio. Lex’s voice was so deep and scratchy it gave Nick goosebumps. They pulled onto the ranch road under a sign that had Lazy River burned into a huge log. Nick thought his eyes would bug out of his head when the house came into view. He’d never seen anything like it. Sam had told him before that his dad had come from money, but damn. With river rock about a third of the way up with logs the rest of the way, the house looked like some kind of ski resort instead of a home. The front porch ran the length of the house and was deep enough to hold comfortable furniture and a porch swing. Nick smiled to himself when he spotted the wide hammock on the other end of the porch. Nick had never seen anything this cool even in magazines. He could see himself stretched out on that big hammock in the evening with a cold beer in his hand.
The truck stopped and they all got out. Lex handed Sam his bag then pulled out Nick’s. “Sam will show you to your room. I’ll be in the barn when you’re ready for a tour.”
Nick nodded and took his duffel bag. “Thank you. I should be out shortly.”
Sam led him up the wide porch steps and into the house.
Lex walked toward the barn, cussing the whole way. What the hell had he been thinking to let Sam bring his friend for the summer? He’d managed to keep his secret from everyone in town all these years and now temptation itself was going to be sleeping down the hall. He’d always gone into Missoula to scratch his itches. His cock sitting stiff and heavy in his jeans reminded him he would need to make a trip soon.
He entered the barn. “Shorty? You in here?”
Pete, one of the cowboys, stuck his head up from a stall as he wiped his hands on a rag. “He went into town to pick up his medicine from the pharmacy. You need something?”
Lex walked closer and shook his head. “Naw. I just wanted to introduce him to Sam’s friend. He’ll be living and working here this summer.” He pointed toward the horse in the stall. “What’s wrong with Sugar Foot?”
Pete wiped his brow on his shirtsleeve. “She stumbled a little up on the bluff this morning. She’s got a few scrapes I’m cleaning up.”
Lex nodded and bent to study Sugar Foot’s hind leg. “Looks like you’re doing a good job. Just make sure to watch it. You don’t want infection to set in.”
Pete nodded and went back to cleaning the wounds. Lex went out to the corral and whistled for Fever. He ambled up, as usual sticking his nose into Lex’s pocket. Lex was too deep in thought to even harass the gelding about his presumptuousness.
He couldn’t get the image of Nick out of his head. Dark brown hair cut short enough that the curls he knew were there were only little waves. Long, thick black lashes over eyes the color of amber in the sunlight. Lex went hard just thinking about Nick’s body. He was only about five foot eight but he had wide shoulders. His well-defined muscles were evident beneath the skintight T-shirt he wore. His chest narrowed down to trim hips and buns of steel. Lex rubbed his jean-covered erection against the corral post in front of him. He closed his eyes and groaned. Fuck, he wanted a piece of that ass. He had to keep telling himself he was thinking about a guy who was his son’s best friend. He rubbed a little harder, not even aware of what he was doing. Footsteps on the gravel behind him brought him out of his lust-filled trance.
Lex peered over his shoulder at Nick. “Ready to see the ranch?”
Nick walked closer and leaned against the fence beside him. He reached out and stroked Fever’s nose. “You don’t plan on riding horses, do you? Because it might take me more than a couple of minutes to learn.”
Lex shook his head and pointed to the old pickup parked behind the barn. “Naw, most of the time I get around in that. Come on. I’ll give you the fifty-cent tour.”
Lex waited for Nick to get in before climbing into the four-wheel drive. “You should put your seatbelt on. Some of the paths are not very smooth, so unless you want a concussion I’d buckle up.”
Nick nodded and put his seat belt on. “Sam said to tell you not to wait dinner. He was hoping he could get Mr. Meyers to let him take him out for a meal. Sam thought he might be a little more receptive over a plate of ribs.” He shrugged. “Are those hills over there part of your land?”
Lex slowed the truck and leaned closer to Nick, to stare out of the passenger-side window. “Not those but those over there.” He pointed toward another group of hills. “They’re part of the Lazy River. We’ve got about eighty-six hundred acres, more or less. Most of it we raise cattle on but some we just leave to nature.” Lex smiled. “Now do you understand why I take this old beat-up truck most of the time?”
Nick grinned. “Yeah, I understand. It would take forever on a horse.”
Lex noticed the way Nick’s pink tongue snaked out to lick his lower lip and almost groaned. He cleared his throat and sat up. “I’ll take you to my favorite fishing hole. Maybe we’ll get lucky and Sam’ll come out and do some fishing with us this summer.” He stopped and glanced over at Nick. “I’m sorry, I didn’t even ask. You do like to fish, don’t you?”
Nick turned his head to look out of the side window again. “I’ve always wanted to learn but I grew up in various foster homes in Houston. No one really cared enough to teach me.”
A lump of emotion formed in Lex’s throat. He didn’t even think about it—he put his hand on Nick’s thigh and squeezed. “Well, I care enough. I’ll teach you that and anything else you want to learn about living on a ranch.”
Nick reached down and put his hand over Lex’s. “Thanks. I’d appreciate that.”
Lex drove toward the deep part of the stream where he liked to fish. “Do you mind my asking what happened to your parents?”
Nick kept his gaze on the scenery. “Died in a wreck when I was six. The only family member left was an elderly aunt who could barely take care of herself so they put me into foster care.” Nick fiddled with the door handle as he talked. “I was too old and everyone wants babies so I was stuck in the system until I turned eighteen. Thankfully when I was in junior high I was enrolled in an after-school program at the YMCA. That’s where I started getting into gymnastics. I had a really great coach when I got to high school. He knew I didn’t have anything but a bed to go home to so he let me stay at the gym later than the rest of the team and practice. It was a lot of work but it paid off when I received a full scholarship and a position on the gymnastics team at the university. It paid for almost everything my first four years of school.”
Lex couldn’t believe Nick was so nonchalant about being an orphan. Most kids would have been bitter about spending a lifetime in the care of strangers but Nick had used his circumstances to better himself. Lex admired him for that.
* * * *
“Heels down,” Lex told Nick.
“Right.” Nick did as he was instructed. He’d been reminded several times, but he found it nearly impossible to concentrate on riding a horse when the lesson put him in such close proximity to Lex.
Lex held up his hand and Nick pulled back on Lucky’s reins. “Did I do something else wrong?” Nick asked.
“You’re doing great.” Lex placed one hand on Nick’s stomach and the other on his back. “Just try to concentrate on your posture. It may sound like a small detail, but it’ll save your back once you start riding for hours at a time.”
Nick ground his teeth, praying Lex wouldn’t notice the erection pressing against his fly. It was crazy that a simple touch could get him so damn horny, but his body refused to cooperate.
“You doing okay?” Lex asked.
Nick nodded. “Yeah.”
Lex slid his hand from Nick’s stomach to his thigh.
Nick met Lex’s gaze and held it until Lex pulled away.
“Sorry,” Lex mumbled.
“Nothing to be sorry for,” Nick corrected him. He wanted to confess his attraction, but it was obvious Lex wasn’t out of the closet. Nick wasn’t even sure that Lex had admitted to anyone, including himself, that he was gay. Nick knew simply because he’d caught Lex watching him with a heated gaze on several occasions.
Lex cleared his throat. “I need to get dinner started. Why don’t you ride around the corral for a while?”
Before Nick could reply, Lex had ducked under the fence. Nick shook his head. Every time things got heated between them, Lex found a reason to run away. Nick wondered how long it would take to break down Lex’s walls?