The final installment in the Stallions and Studs series sees wrangler and riding instructor Rio Cody enjoying the single life. He can -- and often does -- have a different guest in his bedroll every night. Despite the urgings of fellow ranch hands, most of whom have found partners, Rio sticks to his motto of “monogamy is monotony.”
However, Rio’s resolve to stay foot-loose is severely tested when he locks horns with New York college student, Mark Wembley, at a local Quarter Horse show. Mark is not at all Rio’s type, and he’s a pain in the butt to boot. Rio returns to his job at the gay dude ranch and manages, mostly, to put Mark out of his mind.
What happens when Mark shows up at Stallions and Studs as a guest and Rio is forced to face the fact that despite all his efforts to the contrary, he finds himself having feelings for Mark? Will Rio dig in his boot heels and continue to ride life’s trails alone, or will Mark do what no other man has, rein in Rio?
When Rio got back to the barn, another trailer was parked in front of his stall. The sign on the side read Merry Hill Quarter Horses. Rio recognized the name. He’d seen it many times in advertisements in the Quarter Horse magazines he’d been studying. The Merry Hill rig was a long one: at least a six horse with a tack room and living quarters.
Rio saw a young man, not particularly tall, about Rio’s size, cute, and slender. He was wearing a black sleeveless tee which showed he was in pretty good shape. The guy was talking to a lady who was inside the tack area in the front of the rig.
“There’s a horse in my stall, Merry,” he was saying.
“Did you check the numbers on the stall assignment sheet?” the woman, apparently Merry, asked.
“Yes, we’re supposed to have stalls 6 through 12 in Barn B. I have stall 8B.”
Rio walked up.
“Hi,” he said. “There a problem here?”
“Yes,” the young man said turning around to see who was talking. Giving Rio the once over he added, “Some jerk put their horse in this stall and it’s assigned to me!”
“Well, I reckon that jerk would be me,” Rio said, touching the brim of his new, tan Stetson bought especially for his first Quarter Horse show.
“Well, I reckon you better move your horse then,” the man said, mimicking Rio’s western twang.
Rio’s hackles went up and he retorted, “I guess you reckon wrong , cuz I got me a paper here that says I’m in stall 8 in Barn ...” He pulled the paper from his breast pocket, “Uh ... Barn E. Sorry.”
The young man rolled his eyes.
At that point, Merry came out of the tack area and asked, “What’s going on?”
“Sorry, ma’am.” Rio’s hand lifted to touch the brim of his hat once again. “I got ma horse in the wrong stall I guess.”
Merry smiled sweetly at Rio, and in a soft, flirtatious voice, said, “One of my riders cancelled so we have an extra stall. If you want to leave him here it would be fine with me. We can just tell the stall steward you’re staying here with us. That way you don’t have to move your horse and get more bedding.”
“Well, thank you very much, ma’am. It’s real nice of y’all to do that. It’s ma first Quarter Horse show.”
“That explains it,” the young man said with a sneer.
“Explains what?” Rio said trying to keep his voice even.
“Why you’re wearing a felt show hat. In the summer we only wear straw.”
“Mark,” Merry said reprovingly. “Mind your manners. What’s gotten into you!” Turning back to Rio, she said,” I’m sorry Mr ...?”
“Cody, ma’am. But folks just call me Rio.”
“Rio, then. This is Mark Wembly. He’s from New York.”
Rio was tempted to say, That explains it, but held his tongue.
“Howdy, Mark,” Rio said, extending his hand. “Real sorry about the mix up.”
Mark took Rio’s hand. “Howdy.” This time he didn’t imitate Rio’s accent.
Too bad he’s such a dipshit. He’s not half bad looking for a little guy and definitely plays for our team, Rio thought, his infallible gaydar pinging away.
“Who’s your trainer?” Merry asked.
“Don’t have one.”
“Oh, really?” Merry said enthusiastically.
“First Quarter Horse show and no trainer. Boy, are you brave,” Mark said in a condescending tone.
Trent’s words about snooty Quarter Horse people came back to Rio.
“I’d be happy to offer you my services,” Merry said, taking a step closer to the cowboy and giving him her sweetest smile. “What classes do you ride?”
If I swung that way, you wouldn’t have any trouble with me ridin’ you, now would ya, pretty lady? Rio thought. “I’m thinking of doing a little reinin’.”
“Have you ever shown reining before?” Merry asked.
“Please call me Merry.”
“No, Merry. Ya see I been doin’ rodeo for a while now and I just needed somethin’ different to do.”
“It’ll be different all right,” Mark interjected, that hint of derision in his voice once again.
Rio ignored him.
“I’m afraid I don’t coach reigning,” Merry said, clearly disappointed. “But, if you’d like to meet some of the trainers that do, I’ll be happy to introduce you.”
“Thanks, but I think I can hold ma own without one.”
Mark gave a soft, cynical grunt, which earned him another reproof from Merry.