Beef and beefcake, tight Wranglers and a lifetime of anguish, cattle and competition. Can Jayden and Ben mesh their wildly different backgrounds?
Jayden Laine has spent his life in the city, dreaming of cowboys and cattle ranches. He looks forward to each fall when his real life is exchanged for his dreams at the state fair.
This year, as he steps into the barns, he’s greeted by everything he’s come to see, along with the additional sight of Ben Ramos fighting to move a two-thousand-pound bull that’s decided he doesn’t want to cooperate. What happens next starts a juggernaut of emotions in Jayden that turn his world upside down. Now all he has to do is reevaluate his entire life and decide who to believe. And he has only a few days to do it.
Publisher's Note: This book has previously been released elsewhere. It has been revised and re-edited for re-release with Pride Publishing.
General Release Date: 18th April 2017
Stepping into the barns from the bright sunshine, I paused for a moment to let my eyes adjust. The earthy scent of cattle merged with the sweet odor of hay and the sharp bite of pine shavings to play across my senses while I waited. I lost myself in this world each fall during the state fair. It always took a little sneaking around so my father didn’t know how I was spending my time. If he discovered that my desire for cowboys hadn’t changed, he’d send me off for treatment again—or worse. But this was my time to dream that I was normal, to pretend I didn’t know I was damaged.
Locking my guilt away, I moved down the aisle, determined to allow myself a few moments of peace. The neat rows of cattle lying contentedly on immaculately groomed beds of wood chips revived the world I lost myself in each time. While forming an important part of my fantasy life, the cattle intimidated me. They were huge, but in my mind, if I could learn to work with the beasts, I hoped one of the cowboys would be interested in me. As ridiculous as it seemed, it was a dream I clung to furiously.
“Sorry, excuse me.”
Startled, I glanced up to find myself in the way of a guy who looked only a few years older than me, leading a massive black animal. The heat of my clumsy embarrassment burned across my face as I scrambled out of the way. “Sorry. I wasn’t paying attention.”
The tan cowboy gave me a bright smile. “If it wasn’t for old fat-ass Norman here, it wouldn’t be a problem. But he doesn’t like to be led. So taking him out is a pain in the butt.”
He planted his worn boots against the walkway and heaved at the lead rope. The animal took one slow step and stopped again. Exasperation filled the guy’s face. “Holy crap! I’d so make you into hamburger if you weren’t the best bull we’ve had in a long time.”
I couldn’t help but chuckle when the animal ignored the young man to turn its head toward me and chew slowly. The poor cowboy trying to make him move looked at me and grinned. “Would you shove him from behind? I’m almost there, but he’s decided to be an ass, again.”
My heart pounded. Part of my adolescent wish was coming to fruition if I could muster the courage. I thought for a second or two, then eased behind the bull. What had seemed big before now felt mammoth. His back was chest high against my six-foot frame. I’d never been this close to an animal so big.
“Just shove against his butt. He’s broke to halter, but is damn stubborn sometimes. My brother and I worked with him at home, but it looks like it’s all leaked out his ears.”
“Okay.” I paused for another second. “He won’t hurt me, will he?”
“Nah, just shove on him.”
I eased myself behind the animal then put my hands on either side of his tail. I got a nod and pushed. The animal’s soft coat slipped under my hands, muscles shifting as I shoved, but nothing else moved. The guy I was helping was practically sitting on the ground as he pulled. I shoved with all the effort my gangly nineteen-year-old body could muster and realized it was going to take a lot to move this animal. I shifted positions, braced again, then pushed as hard as I could. Norman eased forward.
“That’s it! Keep goin’!”
I grinned as I helped move the bull to his spot. Suddenly he shifted, a black hoof swept out and the next thing I knew I was sitting on my backside, feeling idiotic. I started to crawl out of the way, then realized the bull had kept walking and was already tied into his spot. The handsome cowboy trotted back, squatted beside me and tilted his cap to the back of his head. “Sorry, man. You okay?”
Heat radiated from my face. How can I be this clumsy? “I’m fine. I guess I fell.”
“No, Norman kicks the shit out of anyone. You sure you’re okay? Let me help you up.” He stuck a deeply tan hand in front of me and I reached up to take it. When our hands touched, a jolt of electricity shot through me. I knew the drill. I had to resist these desires. They were unnatural and sinful. Then I lost myself in his obsidian eyes. He darted his tongue over his lips as our gazes met, and his sexy white smile washed over me like April sunshine. My daze lifted as I held onto his hand to pull myself to my feet.
“Thanks. Sorry about everything,” I said.
“Hey, you were helping me. I’m the one who should be apologizing, not you.” He flashed that million-watt smile again. “I’m Ben Ramos, by the way. I really am sorry you got hurt. Can you walk?”
“I’m sure it’s fine. I’m Jayden Laine.” Pain lanced through my knee at my first step and it buckled. Ben reached out and kept me from pitching to the ground again with his muscular arms. He held me tightly against him and my traitorous body responded with stiffening in my groin.
“Hang on,” he said. “I’ve got a couple of chairs. Let’s get you off your feet.”
At the next step, pain stabbed me again and any bit of ardor evaporated. Like the punishments the sodomites in my father’s sermons had earned, the pain burned along my nerves as Ben helped me into one chair while elevating my foot on the other. He pushed the leg of my shorts up slightly and pressed his fingers against my knee. The instant pleasure of his touch filled me as my face heated and my breath came faster. If he touched any higher, I knew I would have an orgasm. But his next contact hit a spot just above my knee and the intense pain drove the pleasure away.
Ben rocked back on his heels and studied my leg for a moment. “I don’t think anything’s broken. But we should ice it and you stay off it for an hour or so.”
I nodded. The two-mile walk back to my apartment was impossible at this point. He filled a plastic bag with ice from a cooler in one corner of his working area, wrapped it in a towel and pressed it in place. I sucked air between my teeth as the icy pack settled against my knee.
Ben studied my injury for a few moments. “Hang on. I’ve got an idea.” He dug through one of the large boxes stacked around the space and located a roll of bright purple athletic wrap. Ben grinned at me. “Hope you don’t mind Pride colors.”
Pride colors? Before I had too much time to think about the comment, he wrapped my knee, trapping the ice in place.
“How’s that feel?” Ben asked.
I considered for a minute, then grinned. “Good. It doesn’t hurt much anymore.”
Ben smiled back and my heart fluttered. “You relax then. I’ll finish up with the cattle. If you need anything, let me know.” Ben pulled a bottle of water from his ice chest. “You might want this. It’s getting hot in here.”
The heat that flashed across my face had nothing to do with the rising temperature in the barn. I felt like an adolescent with an uncontrollable crush. “Yeah, thanks.”
Ben brought out feed tubs and filled them with ingredients scooped from a variety of containers. He added a little at a time until he was satisfied, then topped each one with a piece of hay.
Ben winked at me. “This is what you can do after you finish a four-year degree in ranch management.” He chuckled and quickly placed the tubs in front of each animal.
He grabbed the broom from beside me and started sweeping. “Gotta keep everything looking great to impress potential buyers.” As he moved past me, I caught another whiff of his masculine scent and closed my eyes to enjoy as it curled through my nostrils. Ben swept the concrete walkway while the animals ate. He was meticulous, obviously wanting each job done right.
By the time he’d finished, the cattle had eaten and he’d gathered the empty tubs. He carried the pile of feed pans into the sitting area and dropped them in a corner.
“It’s a lot of work to take care of the cows,” I said.
Ben grinned at me. “No cows here. Four heifers and a bull.”
“What’s a cow then?”
“A female who has had a calf.”
“What’s a heifer?”
“They haven’t had a calf.”
“Oh… I guess I sound pretty stupid.”
Ben shrugged, but his smile never wavered. “No, you just sound like you didn’t grow up dealing with cattle every day. Not everyone can be raised in the middle of the Texas Piney Woods with a double handful of brothers and sisters. Most folks call everything a cow.”
After a moment of silence, Ben asked, “How’s the knee?”
I shrugged. “Better, I think. I should probably go now.”
Ben put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed, causing a pulse to shoot through me again. “Nah, hang tight. You have a pretty good knot on your leg. Besides, I wouldn’t mind someone to talk to while I brush ‘em down. Then tomorrow I just have to wash ‘em.”
“You need some help?”
Ben slowed and for the first time, his smile disappeared. “Most ranches have at least a couple of people taking care of their showstring. I finished my degree last year. I’m the one who came up with the whole showing idea. I thought it’d be great advertising. My dad calls it ‘college boy thinking’, but he’s still letting me do it. It’s pretty intense sometimes. I don’t have time for much of a personal life.”
I looked around and, in a thin voice, said, “I could help. I’ve got some time off from the convenience store where I work.” My face felt as if it were on fire. “If you’d like.”
Ben cocked his head. “I’d hate for you to waste your days off working with me.”
I grinned. “I’d love it.”
Ben thought for a minute, then winked at me. “Okay, if you want.”
My heart flip-flopped, and this time the flush covered my entire body.
Jon Keys’ earliest memories revolve around books; with the first ones he can recall reading himself being “The Warlord of Mars” and anything with Tarzan. (The local library wasn’t particularly up to date.) But as puberty set in, he started sneaking his mother’s romance magazines and added the world of romance and erotica to his mix of science fiction, fantasy, Native American, westerns and comic books.
A voracious reader for almost half a century, Jon has only recently begun creating his own flights of fiction for the entertainment of others. Born in the Southwest and now living in the Midwest, Jon has worked as a ranch hand, teacher, computer tech, roughneck, designer, retail clerk, welder, artist, and, yes, pool boy; with interests ranging from kayaking and hunting to painting and cooking, he draws from a wide range of life experiences to create written works that draw the reader in and wrap them in a good story.
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