Bryson Merritt may have started life as a broken baby in a basket, but he got lucky with an extraordinary set of circumstances that brought him his adoptive parents. Rich, supportive, and kind, they've given Bryson everything he's ever needed in order to deal with his ongoing recovery issues. If only they could give him some luck when it comes to picking out the right kind of guy.
When Bryson meets Duke at a horse auction, all he can think about is getting Duke's sweaty hands all over his body. Until he meets Beau -- the beautiful dark horse in Duke's care, who shares Bryson's mobility and pain issues -- and realises exactly where Beau's final destination is. Enraged by what he sees as an unfair, undeserving, and cruel punishment, Bryson decides to buy Beau, problems or not, experience or no, and walks away without looking back.
However, once again forces have gathered to help Bryson out, and Bryson finds himself working alongside Duke for the sake of Beau. Bryson's attraction is rekindled, but now Duke isn't interested at all. Worse still, it looks like a possible relationship with Duke isn't the only thing that is going to end in tragedy.
"It sounds like he knows," Bryson whispered. "How awful." He looked up at Duke and frowned at him. "Wait. Do you think he knows? God, what if he's just like ... standing here, counting down the seconds? He looks so strong and normal, doesn't he?" A twinge of emotion caught him with that statement, and he frowned at his own words. How many times had he stepped out of his car and been glared at for parking in an accessible parking spot? As if the fact that he wasn't in a wheelchair or noticeably trussed up like Ironman meant that he didn't have a problem. As he stood beside Duke with his right side bound from foot to waist, did he look anything other than strong and normal to Duke? "I mean, not that that means anything," he said, correcting himself. "And I'm no vet, of course. I mean, he's beautiful. It's a shame. A damn fucking awful shame."
"Yeah." Duke nodded, looking as uncomfortable as a man could look. "I know."
Bryson smiled at him. "But, yeah. Like you said, this conversation isn't what you signed up for."
"I'd rather be doing just about anything but," Duke agreed.
"Like ... me?" He dropped his hand off Beau and turned to face Duke. From one beast to another, he slipped his hand across Duke's chest.
Duke caught Bryson's hand and put it up and around his neck. Then he wrapped his arm around Bryson's waist and pulled Bryson against him: hip to hip, chest to chest, while Duke looked down and Bryson looked up and that being-held-in-the-arms-of-his-knight fantasy kindled in Bryson's imagination all over again. Bryson had never considered himself to be a small man but being in Duke's arm made him feel as slight as a child.
"Yeah," Duke mumbled, his voice as slick as hot butter. "I'd like that an awful lot."
Bryson brought his other arm up and around Duke's neck and hooked his hands together. He didn't have to move much in order to grind against Duke's crotch so when the motion caused Duke's lips to part and Duke's breath to hitch, Bryson did it again. Then again. Then he couldn't do it because Duke had put both hands on his ass and pressed the two of them together even tighter than they'd already been. Duke lowered his head and kissed Bryson on the mouth. It was a light, questioning kiss, but it deepened when Bryson responded. Duke's tongue tasted like sweet, cheap, peppermint candy and for some reason that taste instantly became one Bryson couldn't get enough. He wound his tongue around Duke's, laced his fingers through Duke's hair, and kissed Duke hard. And he kept doing it until they both had to pull away for air.
Duke breathed the words more than spoke them, and Bryson couldn't agree more. To hell with not letting Duke fuck him. He'd let Duke do any damn thing Duke wanted to. Hard floor, against the sidewall, up on the partition ...
"I should probably close those back doors, though."
Bryson nodded, even though Duke had already walked past him. He leaned against the side of the truck and palmed himself through his pants, inciting his body to get nice and hard for the hot man. He grinned when Beau snorted at him. "Mind your own business," he whispered. "Turn your head."
He looked back at Duke when the first door slammed against the ramp and now that there was space between them, curiosity got the better of him. "Hey, what's wrong with him, anyway?"
It seemed that with the ramp in place all Duke could do was pull the doors as far up against it on each side as they could go. He thumbed over his shoulder as he walked back towards Bryson. "That'll be okay. We'll stay at the front. It's pretty dark in here."
He stepped up to Bryson and gave Bryson's body a long, hungry look that went all the way down and then all the way up again. "Same thing that happens to too many good horses," he said. He leaned closer, Bryson's eyes slipped shut, and in the second before their lips met again, Duke finished his thought. "He's lame."
Bryson's eyes opened wide. His lips froze in place. Even his blood seemed to stop pumping. He felt Duke kissing him but suddenly he was a mile away, paused and waiting for the punchline. Any second now there'd be a, "Ah, I was just trying to get a rise out of you!" or the popular, "Don't be so sensitive!"
He swallowed hard and gathered up enough cohesiveness to turn his face away. "I'm sorry? He's lame?" Duke took that move as a chance to taste Bryson's neck, but Bryson stepped back. "What do you mean lame? Lame how? Lame why?"
Duke reached out; his confusion written all over his face. "Can we talk about this later?"
"No." Steam was starting to build up in Bryson's chest. His breath was coming faster. He could feel his face twisting into a scowl that appeared to make even the king of scowls uncomfortable.
"Osteoarthritis," Duke said. "The lower two hocks in his right side. It's not common, but it happens. Although, mostly in older horses."
Bryson gasped a sound that he intended to be a word. He had to try twice for it to happen. "And they're going to euthanize him for that?"
"Also fairly common, yes."
"But he can stand," Bryson said, spitting as much as he was talking. He wiped his mouth and pushed away from Duke. "He's moving around. It's not like he's dead!"
"What ... why ... look, Bryson. I'm sorry if I've said or done something to upset you, but --"
"Is he even old?"
"That doesn't sound old!" Bryson spun to look Duke in the eye and his hip screamed at him. He grabbed his hip, gritting his teeth. "Is it old?"
"Not really, no," Duke said. Then he paused and shook his head. "No. It's not."
"Because a horse usually lives ..." Bryson prompted.
"Twenty-five, thirty years."
Bryson's mouth fell open. "He ..." again the word wasn't really a word. "He's only a teenager!" He shook his head, stunned. "How could you? How can you let this happen? What kind of a monster --"
"This is not my horse," Duke grumbled. "I'm not doing anything. Or letting anything happen. I have no say in the matter."
"Then get them on the phone. Whoever they are." Bryson pointed -- he wasn't even sure at what -- and said it again, louder. "Get them on the phone. Tell them someone wants to buy the horse and that I'll give them twice what it was going to cost them to get rid of him."
"And that is an awesome gesture, kid, but you don't know what you're getting yourself into --"
"Oh. Oh, look at that." Bryson pushed past Duke, walked to the end of the truck and stopped short of pushing the door open to the outside. Instead, he shook a finger at Duke. He was suddenly the cop that wasn't going to take the time to be afraid of something outside of his control. He was an old homeless woman who was going to look her own fear in the eye and pound on an unknown door. He'd found his baby in a basket and he'd be damned if he was going to leave it behind. "Well, well, look how quickly the endearments change to something derisive, hmm? It should be 'sexy' or 'angel' or something else similarly empowering by now, shouldn't it? But no. Now it's kid. Diminish me all you want, Duke. But your attempt to slide me into a submissive state is not going to change my mind."
"Wait, whoa. That is not my intent --"
Bryson turned and shoved both doors open at once. Instead of the mighty slam-slam he'd been hoping for, they merely squeaked open a metre or two. "Call your boss," he said, screaming over his shoulder as he made his way down the ramp. "I'll be waiting right here."