Murder at the Second Chance Ranch
Tommy is an ex con starting fresh at the Second Chance Ranch, where he fervently hopes to live a quiet life. That hope is shaken a bit when he meets Cash and Red, two closeted ranch hands who've been resisting mutual feelings. Tommy doesn't quite know what to do with his own feelings for both of them.
As if that's not enough, his hopes for peace and quiet are completely dashed in the aftermath of a murder...
The young man sitting on the other side of Missy Jones’ desk doesn’t look that tough. He has a mess of golden blond hair and eyes so blue they reminded Missy of the clearest water she’s ever seen. He’s tall, muscular, and handsome, edging on pretty. He looks like he should be at a casting call in some model agency, not here at the Second Chance Ranch ready to start a job, and not sporting the history her brother told her about.
“My brother Bill said you were a good kid,” Missy says, looking Tommy Beverley over, because Missy has given a lot of people second chances in life. She’s never had a case like Tommy before, but Billy wouldn’t have sent Tommy here if he was really the hellion he looked like on paper.
“I liked your brother. I like to think he’s right. But I’m twenty-five, not really a kid, Miss,” Tommy says politely.
You wouldn’t know he’d spent the years between being thirteen and twenty-four in prison. Bill had been Tommy’s parole officer, and now he’s no longer on parole and can move around more freely. Bill asked Missy if she would give Tommy a job on her horse ranch.
“Young man, then. I know my brother wouldn’t ask me to give you a job if he didn’t think you were a hard worker, and you’ve been working since you got out of jail, right?” Missy asks.
“I worked at a pet store, but the owner retired and sold it. New owner didn’t want a felon working for him. I worked seven days a week. I know a store’s nothing like anything on a ranch, but I’m not afraid of hard work.”
“You like animals then?” Missy has been thinking about what responsibilities to give Tommy based on what Bill told her. She’d known he’d worked with animals, but she doesn’t know if he liked it.
“I do, better than people sometimes. Animals don’t judge. You treat them right, and they like you,” Tommy says simply, and Missy feels a tug at her heart. She knows what it’s like to be judged, being a single woman running a ranch, working with so many men each day, but she can’t imagine how Tommy has been treated, both in and out of prison.
“Well, as you know, this is a horse ranch. We do riding lessons for locals, we have parties come and camp on our land, we teach people about horses—we’re a popular holiday destination. You’ll get all sorts of people here. Would you like to work with the animals? Or you could focus more on maintaining the property,” Missy explains.
“I’m happy to do both. I don’t know a lot about horses, but I’m willing to learn, if you have the time to teach me on the job.” Tommy seems eager to work, and Missy has a feeling he’ll work hard if she gives him a chance. Missy is used to trusting her instincts, and they’re telling her that this young man is worth taking a chance on.
“The other ranch hands can teach you. There are three properties on the ranch where the ranch hands live and a spare room in the house. I’d feel comfortable having you in the house as long as you act right, but if you want a room with the other men, I’m sure we can move things around to fit you.” Missy doesn’t want Tommy coming here to start off on a bad foot, and forcing an extra body into one of the ranch hand houses might do that.
Besides, she gets lonely having the whole house largely to herself. She knows the town folk will talk if they know she has a man half her age living in the house with her, but Missy is used to gossip. She told Bill she’d take Tommy under her wing, give him a chance at a good life. It’s easier to offer a guiding hand if she has him close.
“Maybe the house is better. I, ah, don’t plan to flaunt it, but living with other men, they might not be comfortable,” Tommy stammers, blushing bright red.
“What are you trying to say, Tommy?” Missy asks. Bill hadn’t said anything about Tommy having issues living with other men. He’s been in jail with other men most of his life.
“I’m gay, if that’s an issue. I just thought I should be honest with you, seeing as you’d be my boss. It’s not something I go around telling people.” Tommy speaks to his lap the whole time he makes his confession.
“Tommy,” Missy says to get his attention, to get him to look up, which he does. “I have no problem with gay men. I’ve known a few in my time. It doesn’t affect how hard you work, and that’s what matters to me. I don’t know if any of the men working here would care, but in case they do, I think it’s best you live in the house. As well as your wage, you’ll get three good meals a day and use of everything in the house. Does that all sound okay?” Missy asks.
“It sounds great, Miss Jones. I really want to work. I’ll do my best not to let you down,” Tommy says earnestly, and he has honest eyes. It must have taken him a lot to tell her that he’s gay, seeing as, so far as Missy knows, he didn’t even tell Bill in the year he knew him.
“Call me Missy. Would you like to see your room?” Missy asks.
“I definitely have the job?” Tommy looks surprised.
“Yes, I was pretty sure when I asked you to come this far that you had the job, but I wanted to get a feel for you before I confirmed things. You’ve been nothing but polite, and I get a sense you’ll work hard.” Missy’s brother lives right on the other side of the state, and that’s where Tommy had been living, too. He’s taken a long trip to get here for this.
“Thank you,” Tommy says softly.
“Work hard. That’s thanks enough.” Missy grins.
She gets up and leads Tommy out of her office to the bedroom and connected bathroom and shows it to Tommy, who looks a little stunned.
“Is everything okay? You can decorate it how you like. I can help you ship your things here,” Missy offers.
“This room is nicer than any place I’ve been in years. My apartment is pretty crappy, and well, you know I was in a cell for a long time before that. This is like a dream. Are you sure you want me here?” Tommy asks.
Missy knows Tommy’s story, what he was convicted of, and Bill told her more about why. Tommy hasn’t had an easy life, but he got his GED in prison. He studied and worked while he was in jail. He’s been trying hard to change his life. Missy can do something good here and help him get a fresh start, a new life, and she wants to do that for him, like someone did for her.
“I’m sure, Tommy. You give me no trouble, and I’ll teach you everything I know about working on a horse ranch. I know what you did, and I still think you deserve to get another shot,” Missy says firmly.
“Thank you so much.” Tommy smiles a little, and he’s got a smile that could melt a heart but looks like he’s not used to using it. Missy isn’t interested like that, but she vows she’ll give Tommy more reasons to smile.