Excerpt from Eye of the Beholder
“Watch out!” a familiar voice screamed.
Working on the hay rake, Bo barely had time to turn around before the bull was on him. In a split second decision, he tried to wedge himself between the tines of the rake before the bull had a chance to plough into him and impale him on the steel rods.
Bo screamed as one of the yellow tines plunged into his side, preventing him from hiding further. He covered his head and braced himself for impact. The charging bull didn’t stop until he slammed into the machine, mere inches from where Bo stood. The resulting impact not only drove the tine further into Bo’s body, but impaled the bull’s face as well. The one ton bull pulled back, releasing the tine from his face and tossed his head from side to side, splattering blood all over Bo.
Rance and two of the cowboys finally managed to get lassos around Zero Tolerance’s head, but even with three men, they were no match for the strength of the bull.
Trying to remove himself from the rake, Bo felt his flesh begin to rip. “Fuck!” he screamed, his hand immediately going to his side.
Knowing he couldn’t go anywhere without injuring himself further, he had no choice but to stand by and watch the three cowboys try to get the prize rodeo bull under control. One thing he could do was call for backup. Moving as little as possible, Bo extracted his cell phone from its holster on his belt and called the main house. Even the slightest movement seemed to drive the tine in deeper. By the time Shep came on the line, Bo was panting through the pain.
“It’s Bo. We’re gonna need some help out in the east pasture. Zero Tolerance is injured and going nuts. Rance, Buddy and Steve are trying to control him, but they seem to be losing the fight. And call Jeb. If he’s in the area, we may be able to save the damned bull.”
“We’ll be right there.”
“Oh, and you might want to bring some rubber gloves from the box in the barn. I’m bleeding like a stuck pig, and I’m gonna need some help getting loose from the hay rake.”
“Shit. Should I call an ambulance?”
Bo took a deep breath. His lungs seemed to be fine, but no telling what other internal injuries he may have sustained. Being HIV positive, infections of any kind were always a worry. The blood he could feel running down his side couldn’t be good either. “Yeah, I think you’d better. Make sure you give ’em the heads-up on my condition though.”
“Will do, hang in there, buddy.”
Bo let the phone fall from his bloody hand onto the pasture below. Goddammit. He’d been doing so well, not even a single sniffle in the fifteen months he’d been employed.
Reaching down, Bo ripped his T-shirt down the side to get a better look at his injury. Trying to bend down enough to look at the wound, he nearly lost an eye on another of the tines. Sighing, he came to the conclusion he’d be better off just standing as still as possible. He took the tail of the ruined T-shirt and held it against the wound.
Shep, Jeremy and Jim pulled up in the pickup. Shep was the first to jump out, tranquilizer gun in his hand. “Stand back,” he ordered.
“Wait,” Rance yelled. “He’s lost a lot of blood. You could kill him.”
Shep looked from Rance to Bo. “Better him than Bo and from the looks of it, if we don’t get Bo some help that’s exactly what’s going to happen.”
As soon as Shep fired the tranquilizer dart into the bull, Rance passed his rope off to Jimmy and rushed over to Bo.
“Don’t touch me,” Bo warned. “I think Shep brought gloves.”
Before Rance could turn around, Shep was there, handing out latex gloves to everyone. Gloves on, Shep and Rance approached. Bo knew he looked worse than he was.
“A lot of this belongs to the bull,” he explained, gesturing to his blood-splattered face. “My problem’s down here on my side. One of the tines seems to be caught on something.”
Rance moved to the back of the hay rake and tried to get a better view of what they were dealing with. “I think we’re gonna have to disconnect the tine from the machine, then let the doctors remove it from you.”
Bo gulped in air, trying his best to overcome the sudden wave of nausea. With his blood continuing to flow at a steady pace from the wound, he knew he wasn’t going to remain conscious for much longer. If he were to pass out before Rance worked the tine loose, there was no telling what kind of damage his internal organs would suffer. “Hurry, I don’t think I’m gonna last.”
“That’s enough of that,” Rance yelled as he grabbed the tool box and dug around until he found what he needed.
Motioning Shep over, Bo leaned against him. Whispering so Rance wouldn’t hear, he spoke in Shep’s ear. “I hate to ask you this, but I need you to make sure I stay up on my feet. My vision’s starting to get pretty spotty.”
Shep wrapped both arms around Bo’s chest as Rance worked furiously to free the tine while trying not to move it. Bo laid his head on Shep’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, boss.”
“Not your fault. But you owe it to Rance to make it out of this alive, so fight like hell.”
“If I don’t, tell him…”
“Got it!” Rance yelled. “Get him the hell out of there.”
Shep carefully helped Bo move far enough away from the rake to lay him in the soft grass. As Bo struggled to hold onto consciousness, he heard the ambulance’s siren. Realising the paramedics would know what to do, Bo allowed himself to close his eyes.
Excerpt from Cattle Valley Days
Rio tossed the underwear into the hamper and returned to finish the movie he and Ryan had started. “He’s in another one of his moods,” he grumbled.
Ryan lifted his head and placed it back on Rio’s lap. “Cut him some slack. I remember how pissy Quade used to get this time of year.”
The long black hair fanning over the edge of the sofa begged for attention. Rio began running his fingers through the thick silk. “If I’d known, I would’ve put up more of a fight when he wanted to do this mayor crap.”
Ryan gazed up into Rio’s eyes. “Nate’s gratefully shared everything with us since he came into our lives. This is something he wanted for himself. Give him that, will ya?”
His lover always had a way of slapping his hands without coming out and yelling at him. “I just miss him.”
“We both do, but we’ll get him back after next week. Right now he needs our understanding, not our criticism.”
Rio wanted to argue, but knew it would be futile. He returned his attention back to the movie. Life without Nate being, well...Nate, sucked. He hadn’t realised how much he depended on his little metrosexual until he wasn’t there.
The movie lost its appeal, and Rio turned off the television.
“Hey. I was watching that,” Ryan protested, pinching Rio’s thigh.
“Sorry. I thought maybe we could go upstairs.”
“Okay, but you really coulda asked first.” Ryan sat up and swung his legs over the wide leather sofa.
Rio stood and pulled his tattooed man into his arms. “I’m a thoughtless ass sometimes, but you love me anyway.”
Ryan nipped Rio’s chin. “You’re right on both counts.”
They turned off the lights and headed upstairs. Walking into their bedroom, Rio was surprised to find the bed empty. “Fuck!”
“Oh, this will not do at all,” Ryan growled, turning to stalk out of the room.
Rio followed as Ryan threw open the guestroom door and turned on the light. He threw the covers from Nate’s nude body and picked him up. Nate was dead to the world and didn’t even stir as he was carried into the master suite.
Working quickly, Rio had the bed turned down and his clothes off in no time. He loved it when Ryan got this way, all commanding and sheriffy.
Ryan laid Nate on the opposite side of the bed and started stripping. “I don’t give a shit if he’s too tired to fuck, but I’ll be damned if I’ll have him anywhere but in my bed.”
Spread out on his back, with his feet firmly planted on the mattress, Rio let his legs fall open in invitation. “I got what you need right here, Sheriff Blackfeather.”
Ryan licked his lips as his hand began to stroke his cock. “You feel like being my prisoner, do ya?”
Wow. How long had it been since Ryan had looked at him with such unbridled lust in his eyes? “Yes. Use me, Lawman. Teach me a lesson.”
With a wicked gleam in his eyes, Ryan turned and rifled around in the dresser drawer, finally pulling out a pair of handcuffs. “Turn over.”
Rio’s eyes went wide. Kinky motherfucker. He did as ordered and stretched his arms towards the spindled headboard. The cold metal clicked into place, and Rio started to worry. What the hell have I gotten myself into?
He felt the bed dip a second before a large hand slapped him on the ass.
“Ow! What the fuck?” he asked, trying to look over his shoulder.
“Shut up. Prisoners speak when I tell them to speak.” A slick finger shoved its way inside Rio’s ass. He flinched, not expecting the sudden intrusion.
“Got any contraband in here?” Ryan asked, adding another finger.
“I don’t think so, but you might keep looking just in case I forgot something,” Rio moaned. He felt the pad of Ryan’s finger rub against his prostate and groaned. His cock was soaking the bed sheets with copious amounts of pre-cum. Usually, when Ryan got him this riled up, Nate was there to slurp the dripping liquid into his hot little mouth.
“Fuck me already, Sheriff.”
He received a harder slap to his ass. “You want this? I don’t think you can handle it. You look like a big candy-assed thug to me.”
Rio shoved his ass back as far as he could. “Please fuck me.”
Yeah, he was begging, but what the hell. He needed, and needed now.
After another round of Beat-Rio’s-Ass, Ryan entered him without his usual gentle nature. Rio almost swallowed his tongue at the sudden invasion. Spots appeared in his line of vision, and he had to take deep breaths to keep from passing out as Ryan assaulted his ass like never before.
Excerpt from Bent—Not Broken
Carol opened her eyes to the sight of George Manning’s gorgeous face asleep beside her. How many times had she dreamt of waking with George? The beeping of the heart monitor on the opposite side of the bed brought her back to reality.
She remembered waking several days earlier to see George’s face hovering over her bed, his hazel eyes filled with concern. What had prompted such emotion in the man? Although they’d spent a great deal of time together in the previous months, George hadn’t even made a pass at her, much to her disappointment.
She lifted her hand and ran her fingers through his short, dark brown hair. George’s eyes fluttered several times before opening.
“Hey,” Carol said. Even though it had been several days since her surgery, there was still a slight rasp to it.
“How’re you feeling?” George asked.
Despite being awake, George continued to allow Carol’s fingers to stroke and pet.
“Probably more rested than you. Why don’t you go home and get some sleep.”
George shook his head but not enough to dislodge Carol’s hand. “I’m okay. At least I’m in here with you. Mario slept in the lobby for two days.”
“Have you gone home at all?” she asked as she traced one of his eyebrows with a fingertip. Although Sheridan was only forty-five minutes from home, Carol knew the man hadn’t spent one night in his own bed since the accident.
“I’ve been running back to Cattle Valley every day to shower and change. I don’t know that they’d let me stay with you if I smell.”
Carol started to laugh and grabbed her stomach.
“Should I get the nurse?” George rose to his feet and offered her a drink of water
Carol shook her head and sipped at the water. “Just don’t make me laugh anymore.”
George took Carol’s hand in his and leant down to place a kiss on her forehead. “I’m sorry.”
Carol grinned. “Don’t be silly. You didn’t do anything on purpose.”
She stared into his eyes. There was so much she wanted to ask him. His actions since the collapse confused her. “Aren’t you supposed to be at the fire station?”
George’s Adam’s apple bobbed several times before he answered. “I don’t want to be anywhere but with you.”
Narrowing her eyes, she reached for George’s hand. “What’s going on?”
George resumed his seat and rested his cheek on their entwined hands. “I’m in love with you.”
Shocked, Carol gasped. “What? You can’t be.”
Leaning his arms on the bed, George leant towards her. “I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve wanted to kiss you. To just take you to my bed and keep you there, but certain things always stopped me.”
George lowered his gaze. “Yeah, like Trick. It wasn’t until the collapse that I realised I was wasting my time with him.”
Carol shook her head. She could see the mixed emotions in George’s eyes. “You’ve been with him a long time.”
“Nineteen years, too damn long to be shoved into the role of secret lover. I’m tired of that. I want a real life, with a real partner.”
With her head swimming, Carol released George’s hand. She may have only had one serious relationship in her life, but it had ended with her being alone. It had been years since she’d moved to Cattle Valley with Rodney and Lyle. At the time, she’d thought they would finally be able to openly be a family. That had all changed when her men decided they made a better twosome. Rodney and Lyle had taken off to Seattle without a backward glance.
No. She couldn’t travel down that road again. She shook her head. “You still love him. I can’t…”
George stopped her with a soft kiss. Their lips lingered in the chaste kiss until he eventually pulled back. “Give me a chance.”
Her immediate reaction was to tell him thanks, but no thanks, but her heart stopped her. How many times had Quade teased her about staying in Cattle Valley? In a town where most of the men were either gay or bi. She seemed to be tempting fate. Carol countered that she wasn’t, she was ensuring she never fell in love again.
With the feel of George’s kiss still fresh in her mind, she wondered whether she could ever again trust a man with her heart. Trick was the wildcard. Although she’d met the handsome man, she’d never thought of him as anything other than George’s lover.
“What about Trick?” she asked again.
“I told him I was done.”
“Give me some time to think about it.” She wouldn’t tell George, but what she really wanted was to see if things were really over with the country music singer.
After everything she’d been through, Carol knew her heart couldn’t take another betrayal. She had no doubt George would do everything in his power to keep his word regarding Trick, but the heart didn’t always agree with the mind.
“Please don’t shut me out,” George begged.
“I’m not, but I learned the hard way that what someone says and what they do aren’t always the same.”
“Will you let me stay?”
“Of course. You’re my dearest friend next to Quade. How could I do without you?”
“Hey. I thought I was your dearest friend.” Nate said as he stepped into the room.
Even feeling like shit, Carol felt well enough to give Nate a hard time. “Biggest pain in my ass, you mean,” she said in her typical dry tone.
Nate grinned and bent to give her a kiss on the forehead. “You must be feeling better.”
Carol gave Nate a mock growl. “Why’re you so chipper? Are you that happy to see me flat on my back?”
Chuckling, George stood and gave Carol another brief kiss. “I’m gonna run home and shower. Okay if I come back?”
“Only if you bring me some tacos. I may be in here, but I haven’t forgotten what day it is.”
George shook his head. “I don’t think you’re up to Jay’s spicy taco meat yet. But as soon as they spring you from this place, it’s a date.”
Carol felt the blush creeping up her cheeks. “You’ve got yourself a deal.”
Excerpt from Arm Candy
Mario Benta was wiping down the exercise bikes when Rio returned from a long lunch. The grin on the big man’s face said it all.
“Productive lunch, I take it?” Mario asked.
Rio winked. “Very productive, thank you very much.”
Mario tossed the rag over his shoulder and neared the juice counter. “Nate still talking to that architect fella about designing a new arena?”
Rio finished chugging a glass of apple juice before smacking his lips. “Yeah. The big argument now is who’s going to pay for it. Nate’s insisting on using his own money, but Ryan and I are trying to make him understand that his money is best used for other things, like supporting the shelter in DC.”
“As much attention as Cattle Valley has received since that damn article came out, I’d think we could push for corporate sponsors or something.” Mario wasn’t a businessman, but even he knew the arena would cost millions. There was only one person in town with that kind of money, and if Asa Montgomery hadn’t offered to open his wallet by now, it wasn’t going to happen.
Mario grabbed the rag from his shoulder and tossed it into the laundry bin. Thinking about Asa in any way had the ability to both depress and piss him off. “Guess I’ll run to Deb’s and get a bite to eat.”
“K,” Rio answered as he refilled his juice glass.
Mario was almost out the door when the phone rang. He stopped and turned around as Rio answered.
“Hold on.” Rio grinned and held up the phone. “It’s Asa.”
Mario shook his head. “Tell him I’m out to lunch.”
Without waiting, Mario left The Gym and climbed into his beat-up pickup. He turned the key and prayed the damn thing would start. He knew it was time to trade the old girl in, but he’d been with Lola for going on thirteen years and he couldn’t bear to part with her.
After several attempts, Lola roared to life with a spew of black smoke. He chuckled and shook his head. It was a wonder the environmental activists weren’t camped out on his front lawn.
He pulled onto the road and headed for the diner. For over two weeks he’d been avoiding Asa’s calls. The first time he’d picked up his home phone and saw the man’s name on his caller ID, he’d almost jumped out of his skin.
Admittedly, he was excited at first, but that feeling soon turned into anger. For two days following the grandstand’s collapse, he’d waited at the hospital hoping Asa would call for him. Every time he inquired about seeing his friend, he was informed by one of Asa’s minions that he didn’t want any visitors.
The hurt and anger over the dismissal had Mario letting the call go to his answering machine. Afterward, he’d listened to the message and promptly deleted it. What the hell was wrong with that man? First he’d refused to see him at the hospital, and then he had the nerve to offer Mario a fucking salary to help in his rehabilitation. With all his money, Mario knew Asa could afford a full-time, live-in therapist if he wanted.
What hurt the most was Mario knew he’d have helped Asa for free if he’d just asked instead of treating him like a pest those few days following the tragedy. Now the man couldn’t pay him enough for forgiveness.
His cell phone started ringing as he parked in front of the diner. He grabbed it off the seat and looked at the display.
“Hey,” he answered.
“I don’t know what’s going on between you and Asa, but he told me to tell you he’d double it. What the hell’s that about?”
“Fucker.” Mario took a deep breath. “I’ll go over and give him my answer in person.”
“Don’t say anything you’ll regret. I know he hurt you, but he’s had a rough time of it,” Rio reasoned.
“Later.” Mario hung up and headed towards Asa’s monstrosity of a house.
How dare that sonofabitch try to sway his decision with more money. Mario pounded his fist against the steering wheel. The way he felt, Asa would be lucky if all Mario gave him was a good tongue lashing because what he really wanted, was to punch the jerk in the face.
He pulled up to the fancy-assed security gate and pushed the call button.
“Yes,” an unknown woman’s voice answered.
“Mario Benta here to see Asa,” Mario barked.
Mario tugged on the small patch of hair under his lower lip, something he often did when he felt stressed. Several seconds later, the black iron gates swung inward.
Pretentious bastard. Mario drove down the long winding drive and pulled under the extended portico that hung over the driveway of the log and stone home. Mario jumped out and climbed the steps.
Before he even had a chance to knock, the door opened and an elderly woman beckoned him inside.
Excerpt from Recipe for Love
Erico set down his knife and braced his hands on his prep table. He closed his eyes and took slow, even breaths until the wave of dizziness passed. Opening his eyes, he glanced around to make sure no one had noticed the episode.
They were becoming more and more frequent. A continual reminder that he needed to find a qualified sous-chef quickly or be forced to shut down the restaurant he’d put his heart and soul into.
Turning his attention back to the radish-roses he’d been creating, his thoughts went to Jay. He knew the man had the skills to become a damn fine sous-chef, and more importantly, he trusted Jay to watch over The Canoe in his absence.
Mario’s warning to Jay to stay away from Erico had gutted him. When had he become the kind of person people were warned away from? He finished off the garnishes and put them in an airtight container before slipping them in the cooler.
A large part of him was happy there was a fucked up blizzard raging outside. At least it meant he could work as slow as he needed to. With only a few customers braving the cold and blowing snow, Erico had managed to keep up quite nicely.
With the majority of prep work completed, he cleaned his work area and washed his hands before wandering into the bar area. He sat on his usual stool at the end of the bar. “Would you mind making me a glass of ice water, Troy?”
“Sure thing.” Troy rose from the stool he’d been resting on behind the bar and made Erico his drink. “I hope it picks up. I’m bored out of my skull.”
Normally Erico would have suggested Troy start cleaning, but from the shine to the glasses hanging over the bar, he’d already done it. “Anything good on TV?”
Troy shook his head. “Reruns. That’s all that’s on between Christmas and New Year.” Troy grinned. “Unless you wanna watch one of those Christmas cartoons. I’m sure I can find one.”
“I’ll pass.” Erico took a big gulp of his water. A glance at the clock proved just how long a day it had been. Although it felt like it should be near quitting time, it wasn’t even six o’clock. “Have you caught a recent weather report?”
“This is it for the next three days. Snow, snow and more snow. Next week we’re supposed to warm up fifteen degrees. Does that help?”
Erico thrummed his fingers on the bar. “Maybe we should go on home. Guess I should’ve shut down like everyone else in town.”
“I’m all for that,” Troy agreed.
Erico took another look around the empty restaurant. “Before you leave, go tell Ellen and Chip to call it a night. I’m going to start closing up the kitchen.”
“You want us to stick around until you’re done?” Troy asked.
“No need. I’ll probably just sleep on the foldout couch in my office.” It was something he usually did when the weather was bad. His house wasn’t far away, but Erico liked to be close enough to switch on the generators if there was a power failure.
Erico reached for the remote and turned off the TV. “Give me a call before you come in tomorrow. If the weather keeps up, no sense in coming in. If we do happen to get a customer, I can tend the bar.”
Troy pulled on his big down parka. “Thanks. Have a good one.”
Erico headed to the kitchen. There wasn’t much to do but turn the pots of soup off. He’d need to put them in the cooler, but he’d do that before bed. After a last check of the kitchen, he turned the main light off and headed to the front to lock up.
At the front door, he reached for the deadbolt when movement outside caught his attention. He saw a woman hurrying across the street towards the restaurant. “Damn.”
The bundled shape stepped onto the sidewalk. Erico was prepared to open the door and welcome the customer when the woman’s feet flew out from under her. As if in slow motion, the customer fell backward, striking her head on the sidewalk.
Erico flung open the door and raced as fast as he dared down the steps. He heard a moan as he knelt beside the downed woman. “Are you okay?”
The injured woman reached up and pulled the scarf away from her face. “I’m okay, I think.”
Erico was shocked to see Jay’s beautiful face staring up at him. “Can you stand?”
Jay nodded, and Erico helped him to his feet.
“Let’s get you inside where it’s warm.” Erico wrapped an arm around Jay’s tiny waist and helped him up the steps.
Erico felt incredibly guilty. He knew if he were in the city, he’d be sued for everything he had over such an accident. Although they’d taken turns throughout the day clearing the steps and sidewalk, it was almost impossible to keep up with the blowing snow.
After shutting the door behind them, Erico led Jay to one of the padded benches in the waiting area.
Jay sat and started shedding his winter clothing. “I think I’m going to have a nice bump on my head, but nothing too serious.”
Erico took a seat beside Jay. “You mind if I take a look?”
Jay pulled his hat off and shook his head. Erico stared at the shiny brown hair. How many times had he longed to run his fingers through the long, silky locks? He reached out and felt the back of Jay’s head. It didn’t take long to feel the goose egg.
“You’ve got a pretty nasty bump. Would you like me to call the paramedics?”
Jay reached up, and his long, thin fingers brushed across Erico’s. “Here?”
Erico moved his hand and placed Jay’s over the injury. “Feel it?”
“Yeah,” Jay answered.
“Would you like me to call someone?” Erico asked again.
“No. I’ll be fine.” Jay’s hands moved down to his waist. He twisted his torso several times.
“Did you hurt your back, too?” Erico asked. He knew it was wrong, but he couldn’t help but cringe at what a back injury would mean to his insurance premiums.
Jay’s hands gently began probing his lower back. “I think I just scraped it on the pavement.”
With his worries over an insurance claim put at ease, the guilt began to sink. What the hell kind of person am I? Erico fisted his hands in an attempt to get himself under control.
Jay flinched and shut his eyes, evidently seeing Erico’s fisted hands.
“No. Oh, God, no. I’m not going to hurt you.” Mario’s warning came back to Erico loud and clear. Completely disgusted with himself, Erico balanced his elbows on his knees and covered his face with his hands. “I’m sorry. I was mad at myself, not you.”