The Dusty Hat Bar
When Noah walks into Dusty's bar on Friday night, he expects it to be much like every other night. But this Friday things are different. Tonight Lennie is present, the son of Earl Boyce, the biggest ranch owner in the area and Noah's former boss. Dusty warns him away from Lennie, but Noah isn't sure he wants—or even can—resist.
Noah walks into his usual bar, same as he does any Friday night when he gets off working as a senior ranch hand early enough. He heads for the counter and takes a seat on a spare stool. The bar is surprisingly busy for this time of night, even for a Friday.
The Dusty Hat Bar is a bar for hard drinkers and locals with no place else to drink. It isn’t a party bar, but several of the tables along the wall are filled up with a younger crowd than Noah is used to seeing. Not that he’s old himself at twenty-six, but some of these kids look like they must have just turned legal, because The Dusty Hat might be a dive, but its owner Dusty is a stickler for carding people. No ID, no beer.
He gets his answer when a young man walks out of the bathroom and heads for the group gathered in the bar. It’s Lennie Boyce, the only son of Earl Boyce, the owner of the biggest ranch in town. Earl is one rich son of a bitch and, well, just a son of a bitch—
Noah used to work for him, but he had a fight with Earl and got his ass fired for it. He’s happy in his new job, but Noah can’t say that he doesn’t still feel a fair bit of resentment.
The fight had been damn stupid, anyway. In addition to Lennie, Earl had five daughters, all of them older than Lennie. The twins, Heather and Jasmine, were Noah’s age. They were beautiful girls: dark red hair down to their hips, big blue eyes, and a figure most women would kill for. They were the source of many a man’s fantasy, and it had seemed that one morning, Miss Heather had come home with a red mark on the skin of her collarbone. She’d said she didn’t know how it had gotten there, that maybe her seatbelt had rubbed while she was out with her girlfriends. Earl hadn’t believed a word of it.
No, Earl had gone all stereotypical ranch owner, grabbed his shotgun, and accused the last cowboy he’d seen talking to his daughter of meddling with his girl. Unfortunately for Noah, that cowboy had been him.
Noah had tried to calmly explain that he hadn’t and would never lay a finger on any of Earl’s daughters, as beautiful as they all were. Contrarily, Earl had taken that as an insult. Noah had denied the accusations, but he hadn’t been able to tell Earl why he had honestly had no interest in his daughter.
Earl might be more of a businessman than a cowboy, but that didn’t mean this wasn’t Texas, and being fired for something he didn’t do was better than being beat to death.
It had taken him a few worry-filled weeks, burning through his savings as he’d searched, before he’d gotten a new job. Luckily not everyone in town was afraid of Earl, and Noah had been offered a job by Richard Draper, a kind but grouchy old guy who didn’t have any children for Noah to be accused of sleeping with.
Richard had asked if he had been sleeping with Heather, and when Noah had said no, Richard had taken him at his word. Noah had liked that. Richard could be an asshole at times, and he worked Noah hard, but he was a good man, a fair man.
Also, when Richard had found out Noah was gay he hadn’t batted an eye. He’d caught Noah with an old friend from high school who had been passing through. Kissing him behind the barn might have been a foolish thing to do, but Noah had been twenty, and it had been a while since he’d had some male company.
Richard had just told him not to keep things going past his break. As far as Richard was concerned, if it didn’t affect Noah’s work, it wasn’t any of his concern. A few people in town knew about Noah’s sexuality, but not many, and no one who would out him. His parents, a town over, knew, but they weren’t thrilled about it and certainly hadn’t shared the news. Richard had offered Noah his own place on the ranch so he didn’t have to sneak around the bunk house or risk any upset if men found out he was gay.
A part of Noah wishes he’d just told Earl the truth—screw the judgement of living in a small town. He could handle himself, and there wasn’t anything tying him here if he was forced to leave. But he hadn’t really thought it would come to that. Heather had been firm that Noah had never touched her, Noah wasn’t claiming differently, and no one had heard so much as a hint of a rumor about the two of them together. But Earl was not a reasonable man. Noah had found that out at his cost.
Dusty is behind the bar, and Noah signals him for a beer, trying to shake off his thoughts about the Boyce family. He hasn’t been keeping track of them since he got fired. He sees them around, sure. It’s not that big of a town, and he hears the odd thing. But he hadn’t heard much about Earl’s youngest, Lennie, other than that he was his father’s pride and joy. If Noah was a violent man, he’d punch Lennie in the face just to see what his Daddy would do, but he’s not a violent man and prefers to avoid using his fists unless he has to.
“That’s quite a frown you’ve got going,” Dusty says as he passes him a cold bottle of beer.
“When did Boyce’s boy turn twenty-one?” Noah asks, ignoring the comment about his frown.
“Just today. That’s why him and all his friends are here. Mainly college kids, but if they’re drinking, I’m not complaining.” Dusty shrugs.
“Huh,” Noah says thoughtfully, taking a quick glance at the now seated Lennie.
He has the same red hair and bright blue eyes as his sisters. They all take after their mother, who’d passed a few years before. He’s tall like his father and broad. Noah wonders how crazy it drives his father that he wears his red hair long, to his shoulders, or if he gets away with murder being the baby of the family and the only boy.