Trace has had a run of bad luck. He lost his job, his boyfriend of two years was cheating on him, and his apartment building burned right to the ground with all his worldly possessions.
So Trace heads for the ranch owned by his aunt Lois. But before he arrives, Lois is in a terrible car accident that nearly takes her life, and Trace finds himself in charge of the ranch kitchen. Sounds simple enough and it's the least he can do for his recuperating aunt.
Then Sawyer happens.
Sawyer is his aunt's sexy straight ranch manager. Meeting the man should have been okay, except it was in the middle of his aunt's kitchen at five in the morning and Trace was nearly naked. Then the next day Trace proceeded to set his aunt's house on fire and the brooding Sawyer comes to the rescue.
Not to mention Aunt Lois’s “accident” was actually attempted murder and it seems those same people want Trace dead, too.
Looks like Trace’s luck followed him.
How can Trace figure out who's trying to kill him AND keep Sawyer from finding out he's hot for the cowboy?
He probably can’t. But he’s going to try.
He stood in the doorway looking like the god he probably knew he was, strong arms folded across his muscular chest, his large left shoulder leaning up against the door frame, his worn cowboy boots crossed at the ankle. The look on his tanned face did not seem to be a happy one, but Trace couldn’t see his eyes clearly due to the shadow caused by the cowboy hat still on his head. Trace had been told by his Aunt Lois her foreman of five years was respectful in every sense of the word and since, technically, that foreman wasn’t officially in the house yet, simply standing in the doorway, the fact his Stetson was still on his head might have been considered informally acceptable. But Aunt Lois had been raised with extremely old fashioned traditions and social edicts which she enforced to the letter. Technicalities wouldn’t matter to her.
Trace did notice, however, the man’s hat did not shadow his beautiful high cheekbones, full, kissable lips and thick, lickable neck. There was no question at all, the man was beautiful. However, a feeling of strong irritation rolled off him and Trace involuntarily took a step back. Meeting this guy in a dark alley somewhere would be scary, especially with that dark aura, but Trace crazily thought he wouldn’t mind so much meeting him in a dark bedroom.
Well, maybe not too dark, because to not see the body that had to be under those clothes…yeah. Would have to be able to look at that.
Trace swallowed hard, pulling the towel he had wrapped around his hips a bit tighter, wishing he had known he would be having company this early in the morning. He should retreat and at least pull on a pair of pants but his clothes were in an upstairs bedroom, the one he had picked for himself when he finally stumbled in at two am this morning, barely three and a half hours ago. He fell into bed after setting his phone alarm for five am, intending to take off early for the hospital in order to catch his aunt’s doctors. After his fast shower he had simply wrapped the towel around himself and went hunting for much needed coffee. But now confronted by this large, gorgeous cowboy who had no idea the nearly naked man standing in front of him was gay, he really regretted not at least donning his sweats. Even so, he boldly walked across his aunt’s large kitchen floor holding out one hand, the other continuing to secure his modesty.
“Hi. My name is Trace Macky. My aunt told you about me, right?” He knew she had, just like he knew this was the foreman she had talked endlessly about, Sawyer Elliot. But introducing himself was the polite thing to do and being polite, even when his aunt wasn’t there, had become a trained response standing in this house. Aunt Lois, all five foot four of her, could still swing a switch and smack your jeans-clad ass hard enough to not only sting but leave a welt as well. Trace knew that firsthand.
“Yes, she did. My name is Sawyer.” He pushed away from the wall, taking a step into the kitchen. He swept off the hat, revealing a head full of messy dark hair and eyes that were the deepest blue Trace had ever seen. He held out the other hand to Trace, all in seemingly one fluid motion. When he enveloped Trace’s smaller hand into his hard, callused one the grip was strong enough to crack knuckles, if not more. Trace barely stopped a whimper from escaping. The man stood at least six something. Trace, more on the small side, felt like a kid standing in front of him. “I’m the foreman,” he continued in his low gruff voice. “Sorry about your aunt’s accident. Have you had a chance to see her yet?”
Trace flushed as he watched Sawyer’s eyes drop down to his towel, linger momentarily, then wander back up to his face. Trace’s heart tried to lodge in his throat as his suddenly interested cock seemed to scream Yes! He’s looking at me! “No…no, I’ve only just talked to her doctor over the phone. I…I plan on going to the hospital this morning. Have… have you seen her?” Trace was feeling the heat rolling off of the strong chest he could only imagine was underneath the man’s denim shirt as Sawyer released his hand. He desperately wanted to drop his own gaze to check out the rest of the man’s body below the silver belt buckle. So badly, in fact, he felt a slight sheen of sweat break out on his neck and forehead. But he had no idea how this beautiful cowboy would react to that kind of a “once over.”
“Yes, last night,” Sawyer answered.
Trace saw a twinge cross the cowboy’s face and he smiled. It wasn’t often Trace had seen his aunt sitting, much less lying down. Being this man had been with his aunt for a number of years now he had to know the same thing. “Yeah, can’t imagine she enjoys lying around in a bed.”
“She wasn’t aware of much when I was there.”
Fear stabbed Trace’s heart. “Oh…” She had almost been killed. Why she had lost control of her car was still a mystery since, from what Trace had been told last night by the doctor, and by what Sawyer just said, she hadn’t come fully awake enough yet to communicate that to anyone. Also from what he had been told after the police had preliminarily reconstructed the crash using the debris field and the force of impact was she had probably been doing between fifty and fifty-five miles per hour when her car slammed into the shrubbery and then finally into a sign for the tiny regional Harbor Ridge’s airport, not three miles from the ranch. The sheriff said she was lucky. If she hadn’t hit the long line of undergrowth first, slowing the car down, she would have probably been killed.
Trace had been on his way to spend the summer with her on her three thousand eight hundred and six acre Texas ranch when he got the call. He was listed as her only surviving blood relative. Still twelve hours away, by time he made it to Harbor Ridge, it was far too late for him to go to the hospital. And now this morning, while he was stumbling around in his aunt’s house just shy of bare-assed, in walks her gorgeous foreman, a whole hell of a lot younger than Trace had thought the man was going to be. Trace had originally pictured a graying, potbellied, plaid-wearing handyman type of manager. His aunt Lois never talked about what the man looked like, only how brilliant he was and how he was the one who actually ran the ranch. It was just that Trace had not been aware gods dressed in cowboy hats and boots.
Okay. Maybe in his dreams.
His childhood was a bit foggy but he was recalling now that life on the ranch, at least back then, did start at dawn. Actually, before dawn. Obviously, things had not changed. Sawyer placed his hat on a rack on the wall to his right then walked forward, brushing physically past Trace knocking the towel loose. Trace sucked in his breath and snatched the material before he ended up being even more embarrassed. Trace heard Sawyer chuckle as he walked to the large farm house sink. He turned on the water squirting soap from a dispenser and began washing his hands. “Making eggs and cakes if you want to stick around.”
Trace continued to fumble with the towel, trying to secure it once more. “No… no. I… I’m going to head into the hospital to see…I would like to talk to the doctor in person.” He was more than flustered now, since the touch of the tall man’s heat gave him yet something more to cover. A towel was not going to be much help there.
“Probably could use some meat on those bones but suit yourself. However, the boys will be here in a minute so you might want to put some pants on.”
“The ranch hands. We have a full day ahead of us. We’re into foaling season.”
“Oh, foaling season.” Trace repeated what Sawyer said sounding like he knew what that even meant. Of course he had no clue at all. He was sure he had been interested in what happened on this ranch when he was a kid the times he had visited his aunt. But his life had taken a completely different direction for him since then. He regretted that now. He would have liked to have impressed this man with at least some knowledge since he was going to be here for a while.
Trace had lost his mother, Sandy, sister to his aunt Lois, to cancer ten years prior. His mother had moved the two of them to Minneapolis, Minnesota, when Trace was a teenager, following a man she had fallen in love with. Of course, his aunt had objected but it didn’t stop Trace’s mom and honestly, Trace had been thrilled. Getting out of the plains of conservative Texas and into a large city was exactly what he had dreamed of being able to do.
But things hadn’t lasted with his mother’s new love and when she ended up sick, his mom moved back to Texas and in with Lois. At his mother’s insistence, Trace, already in his first year of college at that point, stayed behind, although he visited his mother when he could. However, after her death, he had a hard time justifying ever setting foot in Texas again.
Except, even with a degree in business, he still ended up barely eking out a living in a cubical working sales at a shipping supplies warehouse. At least he was in a city. He didn’t have to hide what he was in the city.
Still, the city was cruel, too. Trace had a nasty breakup with his boyfriend of two years, the company he was working for decided to downsize and his job was one of the many that was cut, and not three days ago his apartment building had an intense fire that sent everyone into the streets in the middle of the night. No one was injured but the building was a total loss, along with all of his worldly possessions.
With no job and nowhere to go Trace called his aunt. Of course she invited him to come and stay. It was lonely in that big old house of hers, she had said. She could also use an extra hand. Trace had laughed at that comment. His very strict Aunt Lois most likely had designs of “whipping him into shape,” he was sure. There was no way she wasn’t aware of his total lack of knowledge when it came to anything ranch or horse related. A city kid at heart, an “extra hand,” or at least the kind of “extra hand” he could possibly be, was going to be a “hand in the way.”
But his only other choice was to call his ex and that was not going to happen.
Trace had been clueless the man was cheating on him. When he arrived home that fateful night, the same night he collected his final paycheck, the shock of first hearing his boyfriend’s grunts and moans, and then seeing the reason for it, sent Trace into an asthma-slash-panic attack. He would have high-tailed it back out the door except he had left his inhaler at home so stumbled into the bathroom to get it. Brent evidently had heard him and a few minutes later showed up beside him. He told him he hadn’t seen him. If he had, he certainly would have come to help. As if dealing with his asthma attack all by himself had been the problem.
“Who’s the guy, Brent?” They had moved to the living room, Trace finally breathing somewhat freely after two shots from his inhaler.
“His name is… Justin? Dustin! Sorry.” He had laughed when he was corrected by the frowning dark-haired man, no longer naked, who had just come out of the bedroom. “Yeah, Dustin. Picked him up at Mastiff’s. So what?”
“You mean he’s just some random pickup?” Out of the corner of his eye Trace saw Dustin bristle. “How many times have you done this?”
“Trace!” Brent grabbed Trace’s arm and pulled him close, lowering his voice. “You expect me to fuck just you? You’re hot, sweetheart, but you can’t expect me to be satisfied with just…” He turned them to watch as Dustin bent completely over to grab his shoes close to the door. “I mean…look at that! Wouldn’t you like to have a piece of that?”
Trace had pulled violently away. “Are you kidding me? I thought you said you loved me!”
Dustin scoffed as he headed out the door. “Don’t bother calling me, you bastard!” he tossed back over his shoulder as the door slammed behind him.
Brent rolled his eyes and took Trace’s face into his large hands, kissing him on the nose. “I do, honey. I’m not chasing him out the door, am I? Plus, I moved in with you, right? I don’t just live with anyone, you know.”
At least that was true. But Brent really had not contributed to the rent or any of the other living expenses either since he had. “No. You just fuck anyone.”
“Now wait a minute, Trace. I have standards.”
“You heard me. Get out.”
“Okay, okay. I get it. You’re mad. I screwed up. I’m sorry, hun. Please forgive me. I’ll make it up to you…”
“No! You don’t live here anymore.”
“Oh, Trace! So I fuck other people! Get over yourself! Do you think you’re anything special? Hell, you’re not even that good in bed! You should be happy I’m even letting you be with me. The only reason I put up with you is because you look good on my arm. Maybe you should take on other partners, too, just to fucking learn something!”
Trace had not been prepared for how that hurt. Brent’s betrayal was bad enough, but his words about not being a good sex partner went deep. He had always thought, once again, that Brent told the truth in that. All his words of how good it was, how wonderful what he did felt, made Trace obviously blind. And stupid.
And clearly Brent had more than just a little trouble with the truth.
Through the next several weeks Trace had wavered between anger and searing loneliness, too many times wanting to beg Brent to come home. But then the fire happened and now he was alone, jobless, and homeless, a towel wrapped around his skinny ass, standing in someone else’s kitchen feeling as helpless and exposed as a kitten.
Sawyer had walked to the fridge but then turned toward Trace. His eyes slowly raked Trace’s body again, sending another twinge to Trace’s cock. When Sawyer’s eyes came back up to Trace’s, there was a scowl on his face. “A hard rule in this house is if you’re going to be downstairs, especially the kitchen, you will need to be dressed. Get!”
Trace ran, his face on fire, his breath coming in wheezes. Crap, where did I put my inhaler? He made it only half way up the stairs before he sank to his knees, trying to catch his breath. The last thing he needed now was to have Sawyer come in and see him collapsed on the stairs. He only had to calm down. But calming down lately had been a true challenge. Then, thankfully, he heard commotion coming from the kitchen which could only mean one thing. The “boys” had arrived.
Somehow he made it up the stairs and into the bedroom he had slept in. He fumbled through his backpack and found his inhaler and after taking a couple of shots from it he sat down on the bed and concentrated on calming himself. Wow. Talk about a run of incredibly bad luck! He should simply pack back up his small collection of clothes and toiletries he had purchased prior to leaving Minneapolis, he thought for good, and head out. Lusting after his aunt’s foreman would only cause immense problems, and could even get him killed.
Because on top of it all, the first impression Sawyer, a man too hot for words, had of him, truly sucked.
He would talk to his aunt and tell her this had been a bad idea. He had friends back in Minneapolis he could stay with until he found a new job. A few had even offered, but he thought getting out of the city, away from anything that reminded him of Brent, could only be a plus. Imposing on a relative rather than friends, even a relative he hadn’t seen in a while, seemed like a much better idea at the time.
After a few minutes his breathing was closer to normal. He flopped back onto the bed once again, thinking about the cowboy foreman/god in the kitchen. Shit, but the man was beautiful. Five lousy minutes with the man and Trace wanted to touch his lips with his own, he wanted to see his naked chest, his naked…everything. He imagined having those strong, thick thighs parting his own and…oh! He reached down and rubbed his hardening cock through the thick fabric of the towel somehow still around his waist.
He had never felt this way, this turned on, even with Brent. Somehow just thinking about the man downstairs holding him down, slowly sliding his big thick cock in and out of his ass, made him horny as hell.
He let the towel fall away and he palmed his hot staff, rubbing his thumb across the wet tip. Oh fuck, the image was hot; Sawyer above him, grunting while he moved and pumped Trace’s cock with his large, callused hand. He would look down at Trace and tell him how good it felt.
Suddenly the image morphed into Brent, a sneer on his face.
“Don’t you know you suck in bed? Dustin is so much better!”
Trace jerked as his heart jabbed him and he felt his hard cock deflate immediately. “Shit.” Trace rose from the bed, slightly wheezing again, a little sick to his stomach and reached for his boxers. That was more effective than a cold shower.