Love will always finds its way home for Christmas.
There a storm is coming. And Christmas is on its way. Jace is supposed to be on his way to Florida. But Jace's boyfriend Taylor isn't coming. Taylor's on a last minute business trip. Hunkering down and taking care of things on the ranch, Jace is trying to make the best of his sorry Christmas. But where the heck did this baby come from?
Taylor is on a business trip when a co-worker's flu extends his trip. When he should have been heading on vacation with Jace, giving him the best Christmas present ever, he's stuck in an airport talking to some old guy with a white beard.
Jacen Assante hurried past the split rail fence toward the barn. He'd told his co-workers, Shep and Carl, that he'd take care of the barn animals if they took care of the horses. They'd been out riding along the fence line all day looking for holes. Pausing at the barn door, he removed his gloves, pushed his battered Stetson back, and wiped a trickle of sweat from his brow. Even in the dead of winter, riding hard and pulling barbed fence wire could cause a body to sweat. He glanced around taking in the stark beauty of the world surrounding him. Nestled in the closed end of a wide valley and in the distance, mountains rose on three sides. This late in December, other than the pines, the trees were bare of leaves. The late afternoon sun glistened, reflecting from the few patches of snow on the ground. A few still clung to the tree branches. They had gotten their first dusting of snow just a couple of weeks ago. Jace knew they had a lot more snow to come.
They'd moved the cattle to the lower pastures a while back. Keeping them closer to the ranch buildings made sense--easier to get to and care for them. This late in the year, the only ones remaining were the few breeding stock animals his boss, Conner, wanted to keep. His boss sure had his own way of wanting to do things. Not like any other boss Jace had ever worked for.
Like the animals in the barn. Jace shook his head. No weathered wood for this barn. The barn was so darn fancy it was better than a lot of people's houses. Got to love people with more money than brains. The critters in there had lights and heating. Hell, Conner had even put in central air conditioning. And all for a frickin' cow, a goat, an ornery mule, and a miniature horse. The cow no longer gave any milk, just stood there chewing her cud. The goat head-butted anything that got close enough, and the mule tried to bite everything it could reach. Useless damn animals. Their horses had their own barn, not as fancy as this one but what the hell. The horses weren't considered pets. Jace guessed he didn't care except caring for them took up time when other things needed doing. There wasn't enough time to get all of the work done. With just a few hands, as soon as they finished a chore they had to start all over again.
Jace watched as the other two cared for the horses they'd used. Shep had the tanned leather face of cowpokes from years ago. But Jace knew Shep was only about fifteen years older than him. That made Shep late forties. Jace always teased him about using sunscreen and moisturizers. Carl was the same age as Jace and took care of himself, much like Jace did. Neither man left the ranch house without sunscreen on. But even with care Jace knew there were a few laugh lines crinkling around the corners of his eyes.
Over the winter months it was usually just him, Shep Lambert, and Carl Drummer on the ranch. During peak season it was the three of them plus a couple of part-timers that worked a few days a week or as needed. Along with the teens that Conner sent their way. Sending at risk teens to the ranch had been a family tradition. Jacen had met Conner the summer he'd been sent there. They had struck up a friendship that lasted to this day.
Conner had spent every one of his summers working the ranch with his grandfather. Then while Conner had gone off to make his millions in real estate, Jace had stayed on to work the ranch. When Conner had inherited the ranch from his grandfather nothing had changed. Things had kept on the way they always had except now there was enough money to improve and expand the bunk house. This had upped the number of teen boys that could spend their summers learning about life and teamwork. Conner still dropped in to visit at least once a year, spending a week or so doing the things he had during his youth.
Shep's voice bellowed, breaking into Jace's musing. "Hey Jacen, ya going to move your ass or you going to stand there and daydream about your vacation instead of leaving on it?"
Shep and Carl were having way too much fun teasing Jace this year. It was good natured teasing because both of them knew how devastated Jace had been last year when his plans had been cancelled.
"Don't be an ass." He heard Carl chide Shep.
"I'm going, I'm going. But one, only Taylor or my momma call me Jacen. And you don't look like either one. And two, I only have a few things left to pack. Like the toothbrush I'm using tonight."
Shep threw his dandy brush at Carl's head. "And who wanted to bet on the vacation going off as planned?"
Jace turned toward them. "What the hell? You guys have a bet going?" With each word out of his mouth he got pissed just a little bit more. What the hell where they thinking?
Holding up both hands, Shep looked to Carl for help. "Now, Jace, don't go getting your mad on. We're mostly betting on it so that it does happen. And it wasn't just us. Jesse and Pete both have money on this too. Hell, Evan does too."
His jaw dropping, Jace stared at the two ranch hands. "What the fuck? Carl, even your boyfriend is in on this?"
"Hell, Evan wasn't going to pass on this bet. And yeah, we were just doing that reverse psychology thing." Carl smiled at Jace, seemingly pleased with his logic. "You know like when you want something bad enough you make it seem like you don't so you aren't disappointed."
"Yeah, right guys." Jace shook his head, not believing any of it as he made his way over to the barn. "And next you're going to tell me you believe Santa Claus is real too. Keep talking and digging that hole deeper."
Today he wanted the last of his chores for the day to be done. He had to get back to the farmhouse and finish the packing so he and his boyfriend could leave on vacation in two days. They were going for seven warm, sunny, tropical days in Florida. Just him and Taylor, lying on the beach, soaking up all the sun they could handle. They would be drinking all kinds of fruity rum drinks all day. No bosses, no cattle, no cowhands, no snow, no worries. After canceling last year's vacation, Taylor had promised this year it was going to happen. Damn, he was looking forward to it. It felt kind of strange that he wasn't going to be on the ranch for Christmas. He was such a sentimental sap about Christmas. He loved everything about the holidays here on the ranch. The snow, then going out and cutting a tree. The cooking, decorating and the shopping for that special present, yep, he loved it all. Oh, he'd never admit any of that out loud or anything, but it was still all true.
Thinking of Taylor, Jace rolled his eyes. He hated the label of boyfriend. After three years together you'd think there would be a better word. It made them sound like they were back in high school or something. Taylor Lawless was thirty six, for Christ sakes. And a regional manager of a restaurant chain, too. Jace hated that Taylor had to travel some for his job, but there wasn't anything Taylor could do about that.
Taylor's job was the only bone of contention they had between them. Taylor lived on the ranch with him, mostly. He still had a place in town but never stayed there. And there was enough to do around the ranch for Taylor to be put on the payroll. Taylor could do the office paperwork and payroll. And he was such a good cook, he could do that too. It was his pride that made Taylor stay at his damn job, since he hated his boss--or at least that was what Jace thought from the things Taylor said.
Shaking his head Jace decided that he wasn't going to think about it anymore. They were going on vacation. That was all there was to it. He couldn't let thoughts of last year derail this year's plans.
Sliding the door open, he went into the barn. Taylor would be home in about an hour. They'd have dinner with the guys, and then get the rest of their packing done. Then Jace had plans that involved him, Taylor, their king-sized bed, and a whole lot of lube.