- Author: Emma Lai
- Genre:LGBTTQ, Contemporary, Cowboy & Western
- Cover Artist: Mina Carter
Clayton Palmer is an up and coming lawyer in the family's East Coast firm. A long-standing agreement with his father allows Clayton to head to Colorado during the summer--to work hard as a dude ranch hand and if he's lucky, play harder with a hot cowboy, or two. But this summer, his luck is all bad. His normal bunk buddies are missing, and a lawyer from a competing West Coast firm is a guest.
A week-long retreat with clients doesn't hold any appeal for James Owens until he spies Clayton hauling in the luggage. James has lost to Clayton in the courtroom more times than not, and while he's longed to gain the upper hand over his attractive nemesis in trial, he'll settle for winning in the bedroom when Clayton approaches him and offers to do anything for James to keep his secret.
Though he's always been attracted to James, Clayton's unprepared for the emotions the man inspires and runs scared. Haunted by his feelings for James and doubts about his lifestyle, he decides it's time to seize hold of the reins of his life. When the dust settles, will James be willing to let him into his heart?
- Note: This book contains explicit sexual situations, graphic language, and material that some readers may find objectionable: male/male sexual practices.
What was supposed to have been his usual summer of hot, sweaty ranch work during the day followed by equally hot, sweaty cowboy rides at night had turned into a one-man rodeo when his regular partners in lust failed to show for their yearly summer getaway. A week into his three-month stint at the Flying D, he’d received postcards from both Jared and Zach. They’d gotten married, and not to each other. Apparently in the past year, they’d both independently come out to their friends and families and found husbands.
Married! He suppressed a tug of some unnamed emotion—surely not jealousy. Marriage was all great and fine for some but not for him. He liked having the freedom to work late, which he did often, without the need to call anyone. When business took him across country for weeks on end, Clay preferred not to worry about whether his guy was being faithful.
He snorted. If he showed up sporting a gold band on his finger and a husband on his arm, he could just imagine what dear old Dad would say. Actually, the man wouldn’t say anything. Steel-gray eyes would narrow to thin slits to match the angry line of his mouth. A well-manicured hand would flick out, palm up, waiting, expecting. And the clatter of keys as they dropped from Clay’s hand and landed in a smooth palm that had never known a day’s physical labor would herald the death of his hard-won reputation and budding career. Because dear old Dad had made it abundantly clear that the day Clay publically revealed he was gay was the day he could kiss the Palmer name—and all the doors it opened—good-bye.
Clay supposed some would look down on him for not manning up and discarding the shadow of shame his father threatened, but he couldn’t abandon his mother to suffer the fallout alone. Lord knew his father wouldn’t provide any support, and the woman was a social butterfly with gossamer wings. She wilted when someone hinted a napkin was folded improperly at one of her famous Hampton summer parties. The gossip—not that her one and only son was gay, but that he’d been disowned—would crush her like a carelessly planted garden boot.
Besides, he wanted it all. He wanted the successful career as a top litigator and the money and name recognition that went with it. Both supported his bachelor lifestyle of fancy dinners and expensive tickets to the theater, when his schedule allowed, which lately wasn’t often. His bank account balance was steadily growing. Maybe he should ditch the one-bedroom apartment and buy a nice West End brownstone near Central Park, perhaps off Columbus, but the thought of going home to a big, empty place replaced his stomach with a churning pit.
He rolled his shoulders, shrugging off the hint of doubt that it might be nice to have a husband and kids around and that they wouldn’t interfere with a successful career, and tugged the pitchfork free before tackling the hay bale once again. The earthy scent of horses, dung, and fresh straw assailed his nose while he concentrated on the simple task of laying fresh bedding in the stalls. The physical work numbed his mind, but the sweat tickling the base of his spine reminded him he hadn’t worked out in the bedroom in months.
The last time he’d gotten laid had been in San Francisco. Knowing he’d be sitting in opposition to the hottest man on the West Coast, he’d gone in search of someone to have enough ball-banging sex with to ensure he wouldn’t sport a hard-on beneath his custom-tailored slacks while in court.
He smirked. He’d found Daniel, who while more flamboyant than Clay’s preferred type—silent and studly—knew how to suck cock. Danny, as he preferred to be called, had demonstrated his skill on more than one occasion when the trial ran longer than anticipated and Clay found his cock stirring whenever he accidentally glanced in the direction of the opposing counsel: Mr. James Owens.
He paused to shift his cock as it twitched. Yes, James Owens was about as hot as a man could get. Broad shoulders stretched the fine wool of a suit jacket—no padding necessary—and tapered to a narrow waist. Like a second skin, slacks conformed to a muscular ass. In his midthirties or so, the man was more fit than many of the twentysomethings Clay knew.
But it wasn’t just the body. The man had piercing hazel eyes that brooked no bullshit and the chiseled features of a male model. The strands of gray at his temples only served to add to an already distinguished and confident air. All of which dressed the sharpest mind Clay had ever gone up against in court.
Clay wiped the sweat from his brow with the bandanna from his back pocket. He wouldn’t mind doing time in the counselor’s bed. Too bad Mr. Owens was openly gay. No secret dinners and sneaking around for him. Besides, he didn’t even know Clay was homosexual.
No one in the professional circles they traveled in did. Of course, none of his personal acquaintances knew either. That was the point of these little tours at the Flying D. While everyone else partied in the Hamptons, he went incognito deep in the mountains of Colorado, indulged himself for the summer with a couple of handsome cowboys, then returned to his normal life.
“Clay, we’ve got guests.” The deep voice of Stewart LaGrange, the ranch foreman, boomed through the still air of the barn.
Ah, city slickers—suburban and urban dwellers alike who wanted to play cowboy for a week or two without having to do the hard work. That was what Clay and the other ranch hands were there for.
He leaned the pitchfork against the stall wall, wiped his brow again, and tugged his leather gloves off before tucking them into his waistband at the small of his back. After grabbing his hat from a nearby post, he strolled to the barn door, combing sweat-dampened hair off his forehead.
Gravel crunching under tires greeted his first step into the Colorado summer sunshine. He settled the straw cowboy hat on his head before stepping fully out into the midmorning light. A cool breeze countered the increasing heat of the day and dried the wet strands of hair clinging to his neck.
Inhaling the fresh, crisp air, he swept his gaze across the vista. Cows dotted the rolling green pasture between the ranch house and the foot of the Medicine Bow Mountains to the north. In the distance a watering hole glistened. Experience told him he’d miss the quiet serenity the first few weeks after he returned to his apartment.
He sighed. If only Jared or Zach had shown, then he wouldn’t be in a rush to return to the city, where he could find someone discreet to spend a few hours with, pounding out his frustration.
The van rolled to a halt with a pop as a larger rock squeezed from underneath a tire’s tread. Clay spun and adjusted the brim of his hat to shade his eyes before heading toward the dust-covered vehicle that ferried guests from the airport to the ranch. Hopefully this bunch didn’t include oversexed housewives he’d have to spend the week fending off. They never believed him when he told them he was gay, so he’d stopped talking all together, but that only encouraged them.
Women. Who understood them? He’d tried—during the numerous blind dates he couldn’t seem to get out of with someone’s sister, cousin, college friend. He went out on the dates knowing full well he had no hope of a future to offer the girls, so he relaxed and enjoyed the conversation, but he still couldn’t fathom the way their minds worked. He scratched his chin. Of course that might also be because he had no real desire to.
“This’ll be an easy bunch, Clay.” LaGrange hoisted his pants up, but they lost the battle to the ever-increasing middle-age paunch the man cultivated. “Some kind of corporate retreat. A couple of trail rides scheduled, but the rest of the time, they’ll be off doing touchy-feely shit with some kind of coach.” A harrumph followed by a stream of tobacco spit punctuated LaGrange’s unspoken opinion of the new guests.
What would the man do if he knew for forty weeks out of the year, Clay ran with the khaki-wearing, polo-shirt-sporting men similar to the ones spilling from the van?
As far as everyone here was concerned, Clay spent the rest of the year working for the family business. True, of course, except for the fact he’d let them think the company had something to do with oil. And in a way it did since one of the law firm’s specialties was in land and mineral rights.
LaGrange didn’t expect a comment—conversations with him were all one-way—so Clay continued on to the rear of the van. The double doors opened with a groan. Clay started hauling luggage—designer bags, one and all—from the air-conditioned interior. The cool air raised goose bumps on his bare forearms. No wonder the passengers exited the vehicle with such haste. They must have been frozen stiff.
He stifled a groan. Definitely needed to get laid if just the word stiff had his dick twitching. An image of James Owens sure, but a simple word?
“Here, I’ll take that.”
Clay’s cock hardened, and his heart stuttered at the familiar tone. A tone that reminded him of velvety dark chocolate and pure sin and belonged in the bedroom. A tone whose owner he’d last encountered outside a courtroom in San Francisco.
Shit. He really needed to stop thinking about that man, because what were the odds James Owens would be caught in the middle of nowhere Colorado? But just in case, he pitched his voice low and ducked his head before he mumbled, “I’ve got it, sir.”
Copyright © Emma Lai
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