It's Christmas time at Duncan's ranch and Kyle's got the perfect present for Duncan.
Kyle MacDonald and Duncan Hornsby have been together for over a year. They're still deeply in love. Sure things have been a little rough on tour for Duncan, but he's willing to deal with the ignorance as long as he has Kyle. Getting to celebrate Christmas at his ranch with their families makes it all worth it.
Kyle wants to make this Christmas one Duncan will remember forever. He's got the family and the ring. Will he get the answer he wants to hear?
“Honey, you need to stop and take a deep breath,” Duncan suggested to his boyfriend of over a year. He’d come in from the morning feeding to find Kyle rushing from one side of the house to the other, straightening and cleaning. “The house looks amazing. Plus, your mom and Jose have been here before.”
“I know, but it’s our first Christmas here. Last year, we visited them. I want Momma to see that I’m happy here and that you’re taking care of me.” Kyle skidded to a stop then shook his head. “That’s not what I meant. I don’t need to be taken care of. I’m not some seventeenth-century prince looking for a king to protect me.”
Duncan chuckled as he strolled over to where Kyle stood. Cupping Kyle’s face in his hands, Duncan brushed their lips together. He eased back a few inches to meet Kyle’s slightly glazed eyes. He’d found that kissing Kyle tended to derail his thought process.
“Kyle, I know you don’t need me to take care of you. Hell, you’ve got the roughstock company up and running better than I ever could.” Duncan nuzzled Kyle’s cheek. “You just keep me around for eye candy.”
Kyle snorted as he wrapped his arms around Duncan’s waist. “That’s right, Mr. World Champion. You’re only here to look good.”
Duncan’s heart skipped when Kyle rested his head on his shoulder. Humming along to George Strait singing White Christmas, Duncan two-stepped Kyle around the living room, enjoying the quiet moment before the chaos began.
He’d been doing a lot of traveling for his sponsors after he’d won the world title at the Finals in October. Being the champion made his life easier in some ways, but it also was hard on his relationship with Kyle. They were separated for much of the year while he competed, and he’d been worried that Kyle would come to resent all the time Duncan was away.
He should’ve known better. Once out from under the tyrannical and abusive thumb of his father, Kyle blossomed. His self-confidence grew. Duncan took advantage of his knowledge to put him in charge of the roughstock, especially the bulls Duncan raised and contracted out to rodeos and the PBR. In the year that Kyle had been running their operation, Hornsby Rodeo Company had become a force to be reckoned with on the tour. Everyone tried to give Duncan the credit, but he always shined the light on Kyle.
All he’d done was buy a few head of cattle. It was Kyle who learned the bloodlines and figured out which cow should be bred to which bull. Also, he set up a training schedule to make the bulls they had better. Training bulls wasn’t something Duncan had ever thought of before. He’d always figured the bulls were doing what they were born to do, but Kyle explained their livestock needed the right diet and exercise for them to perform at their peak.
All of what he said made sense, so Duncan talked with his grandfather, and they decided to put Kyle in charge of the company. It was the best decision for all of them. Pops was getting older and taking care of the ranch was getting to be too much for him, even with the hands they’d hired, not that he’d ever say so. Duncan had been glad when Kyle wanted to stay at home instead of traveling with him. He could relax a little, knowing there was someone to watch over his pa.
“I’m sorry that I haven’t been around much lately, love,” he murmured in Kyle’s ear.
Leaning back, Kyle looked up at him and smiled. “It’s all right. I understand why you have to be gone. You’re the face of the tour now. Plus, you being out there helps our company. People trust you, so they’re willing to give us a try. We’ve got a couple more contracts from some smaller rodeos because they’ve talked to you or seen our bulls at the different stops.”
Duncan brushed another kiss over Kyle’s lips then stepped back. “I should probably go clean up a little. When did your mom say they’d be here?”
“She called about an hour ago and said they were about three hours out, so you have time. You were up early this morning. Why don’t I go make some breakfast? Go wake up your grandfather then get cleaned up.” Kyle waved his hand toward the back of the house. “Eggs, bacon, and toast?”
He strolled down the hallway, then knocked on his pa’s door. “Pops, time for breakfast.” Silence greeted his statement. “Pops, are you awake?”
No reply. He tried the doorknob, pushing it open. Pops’ bed was a mess, and blankets were strewn all over the place. Frowning, Duncan walked in further. He looked in the direction of his grandfather’s bathroom, then froze when he saw Pops lying on the floor.
“Kyle!” He called as he dashed over then dropped to his knees beside him. “Pops! Can you hear me?”
As much as he wanted to reach out and shake him, Duncan had seen a lot of accidents while on tour. If his grandfather had fallen and hit his head, moving him in any way might cause more damages. He pressed his fingers to Pops’ throat to find a thready pulse.
“Oh, my God, Duncan. Is he okay?” Kyle knelt next to him, phone in hand. “I’ll call 9-1-1. We need to get him to the hospital.”
“He’s still breathing.” Duncan took a hold of Pops’ hand and tried not to run worst-case scenarios in his mind. Panicking wouldn’t help. He heard Kyle on the phone, giving the dispatcher directions to the ranch. “Come on, Pops. Open your eyes. Don’t die on me, you bastard. Not at Christmas.”
“I’m grabbing a blanket. They said not to move him, but lying on the cold floor can’t be good for him.” Kyle gripped Duncan’s shoulder hard for a second before he left the room.
Memories rushed through Duncan’s mind. Snippets of time spent with Pops. Good and bad. He wouldn’t be the man he was today if his grandfather hadn’t stepped in to raise him when his parents passed away. The old man had whipped him into shape, literally and figuratively. Pops was a firm believer in the old adage, “Spare the rod. Spoil the child.”
Yet no matter how stern Pops had been, Duncan never once doubted his grandfather’s love. Well, he figured Pops would either disown him or beat him to a bloody pulp when he came out. Pops surprised him. While he’d been disappointed with the news, Pops had never turned his back on Duncan.
Maybe his acceptance had more to do with Duncan being his only relative than him really understanding the situation. Duncan didn’t examine it too closely. As long as Pops treated Kyle well, Duncan could deal with any kind of attitude Pops gave him. Hell, Pops treated Kyle better than Kyle’s own father did.
“Here,” Kyle said, entering the room and handing the blanket to Duncan. “I’m going to have Reggie drive to the road and flag the ambulance down. The dispatcher sounded positive that the EMTs could find this place, but I’m not willing to risk Pops’ life on it.”
Duncan barely felt Kyle’s kiss on his cheek since he was concentrating all of his focus on willing Pops to stay alive.
§ § § §
“I’m leaving your phone right next to you. Call 9-1-1 if his condition changes in any way. I have my phone with me.”
Kyle hoped Duncan heard him as he set Duncan’s cell down. Pops’ pale skin scared him, and he prayed while racing outside. A few of the men who worked on the ranch were standing by the big barn.
“Reggie,” he yelled, gesturing to the foreman. “Come here.”
“What’s up?” Reggie jogged over.
“I need you to drive to the road and flag the ambulance down. Some thing’s wrong with Pops. Duncan found him unconscious on the bathroom floor.”
Reggie caught the keys Kyle threw at him. “Shit! Is the old man all right?”
“He’s still breathing. That’s all we can say right now.” Kyle shuddered. “Duncan’s pretty shook up.”
Reggie nodded. “Not surprising. Before you got together, it was just him and the old man for a long time. I’ll make sure the ambulance doesn’t miss us.”
“Thanks.” He watched Reggie climbed into the truck and take off. Kyle didn’t want to think about Pops dying because he knew it would destroy Duncan. It had been the two of them for most of Duncan’s life. Duncan’s parents had died when he was fifteen, and his grandma passed two years later, leaving just Duncan and Pops. When Kyle thought of it, their relationship was a lot like his relationship with his mother. She’d been the only one who cared about Kyle for all of his life until he’d fallen in love with Duncan. Kyle didn’t want to think about anything happening to her.
“Fuck! Momma.” He yanked out his phone and scrolled through the numbers until he got to her. Hitting call, he started pacing, silently wishing he could fix whatever was wrong with Pops.
“We’re still about an hour away,” Momma answered.
He heard the smile in her voice, and tears welled in his eyes. “Momma,” he started then stopped to clear his throat.
“Kyle, honey, what’s wrong?” Being his mom, she clued right in that there was something wrong. “Is it Duncan?”
“No. It’s Pops. Duncan went to get him for breakfast and found him unconscious in the bathroom. He’s breathing, but he won’t wake up. He’s really pale. I’m scared, Momma.”
“Breathe, dear. Jose and I will meet you at the hospital. Which one will they take him to? How long before the ambulance gets there?” Her calm voice eased his panic.
“Bonner General in Sandpoint. I haven’t there before, but I hear it’s one of the best in northern Idaho. Hopefully, they’ll have what’s needed to help Pops.” He turned to stare at the house. “I’m worried. If something happens to Pops, Duncan’s going to be devastated.”
Momma sighed. “Let’s not borrow trouble, dear. We don’t know what’s going on. He might have slipped and just knocked himself out. Let’s wait until the doctors look at him before imagining the worse.”
She was right, yet he couldn’t help worrying. He didn’t want Duncan to lose his only family, especially not at Christmas when Kyle had made so many plans to make it a memorable one.
“Hang up now and go be with Duncan. He’s going to need you through this whole thing. No matter what happens, good or bad.”
He nodded, even though she couldn’t see him. “I know. I just hate it when he hurts, and this isn’t going to be easy for him.”
“Realizing our loved ones are getting older is hard for anyone, son. We love you, and we’ll see you at the hospital.” Momma hung up.
Kyle put the phone in his pocket then shoved his fingers through his hair. “Pull yourself together, idiot. Momma’s right. Duncan needs you, and he’s been there for you through so much shit. It’s time for him to lean on you. You’ve got to be strong for him.”
After giving himself the pep talk, he went inside. He found Duncan right where he left him, kneeling next to Pops. His heart broke at the fear shining in his lover’s eyes. Kyle touched Duncan’s arm when he joined them.
“Has there been any change?”
“No.” Duncan shot him a glance. “Where’s the ambulance?”
“It’s coming. Reggie went to meet it.” He knew how Duncan was going to react, but he had to make the suggestion. “Why don’t you go change your clothes? I’ll sit here with him. Pops won’t be alone.”
Duncan started shaking his head before Kyle finished. “No. I don’t want to leave him.”
Kyle nodded. “Of course not. How about I go get you some clean clothes? You can change in here. That way you can keep an eye on him in case he needs you.”
Not waiting for Duncan to change his mind, Kyle went to their room and gathered jeans and a shirt from the pile he hadn’t gotten around to putting away. He returned to Pops’ room.
“Here.” He set the clothes on the counter then ran his hand over Duncan’s head. “Change, love. I’ll hold Pops’ hand until you’re done.”
Duncan waited until Kyle took a hold of Pops’ other hand before he let go and stood. Kyle tried not to let his worry show when he realized just how cold Pops was. He hoped most of the chill came from lying on the tile floor and not because he was dying. Pressing his finger to Pops’ wrist, he felt for a pulse. It was faint, but there, so Kyle still believed there was a chance as long as the ambulance got there soon.
Duncan eased down next to him. Kyle saw him wince as his knees touched the floor. Once Duncan had Pops’ hand again, Kyle yanked a few towels out of the cabinet.
“Kneel on this. This isn’t good for your knees either.” He just pushed the towels under Duncan’s knees. “Don’t. The cold weather and hard floor aren’t doing you any good. Let me help you.”
Duncan leaned against him. “You are helping. Just by being here. What am I going to do if he dies, Kyle? I mean, you’re my world, and I don’t think I’d be able to handle it if something happened to you. But…” he trailed off.
“I know what you’re saying. I’ve only been in your life for a year. Pops has been there since you were born.” He cradled Duncan’s cheeks in his hands then pressed a kiss to his lips. “Don’t borrow trouble, as my mom told me a few minutes ago. One moment at a time. We’ll get him to the hospital then see what the doctors say.”
Duncan nodded, a lost look in his eyes. Kyle let him focus on Pops while he settled back to wait. He didn’t really know how long they sat there until they heard the sirens of the ambulance get louder. Pops’ condition hadn’t changed in that time, though, and Kyle counted that as a good thing.