A high-pitched beeping assaulted Cain’s ears. He yanked a pillow over his head with one hand as he reached out and banged the alarm clock off with the other. He was exhausted after the night he’d spent. Even if he hadn’t used half of his sleep time letting the demon within him out to fly, Cain still hated mornings like the very devil anyway.
He knew that once he dragged himself out of bed and put his body under a shower for five minutes he would be raring to start work. But fuckin’ A, the ten minutes it took every morning to talk himself out of bed were always the very worst of his day.
That all changed the second Cain heard his dog, Whisky, barking up a storm on the porch. The dog rarely barked, and when she did Cain was always grateful to be alerted to whatever had grabbed the mutt’s attention. He rolled out of bed and into a discarded pair of jeans in one smooth move, and pulled his front door open with a shotgun raised to his shoulder in the next.
That was how Cain officially greeted his first employee, Luke Forrester.
“Whoa, don’t shoot. Connor sent me over for work; one of his guys dropped me off.” Luke’s hands went from stretched out to ward off Whisky, to up in the air in surrender. “I’m Luke Forrester. We met a few years ago on Halloween. I gave you and Cassie a ride home.”
Cain lowered his gun and leaned it against the split-log wall of his cabin. “I remember.” His tone came across terser than he would have liked, but Christ, it wasn’t even six o’clock yet. How was he supposed to function in front of a guy he’d had wet dreams about before he’d even had a cup of coffee to help him wake up? Cain cleared his throat and tried again. “It was one hell of a night.”
“Yeah.” Luke chuckled and smiled, and even through the yellowing bruises that still marred his face, the torrent of raw masculinity that radiated off the man struck Cain hard in the gut. “I think it’s safe to say Cassie has forgiven Connor for whatever had her so pissed off that night.”
Cain found himself smiling back. “You could say that. I’m surprised she’s not here with you right now, reading me a list of jobs I’m not to let you do until you’re fully healed.”
Luke looked away then, and Cain could have kicked himself for making a joke at the younger man’s expense. If Luke and Cassie had been together in school, then he couldn’t be more than twenty-five years old, and at that age, young men often still felt the need to prove their toughness.
After a few beats, Luke turned back, his gray gaze unwavering as it landed on Cain.
“I won’t cause you any trouble.” Luke’s voice was so raw it twisted Cain’s stomach. “Not from my injuries and how I got them, and not from anyone wanting to coddle me and prevent me from working. I aim to earn every penny you and Hawkins Ranch pay me, and I don’t intend to ever let you regret being coerced into giving me this job.”
Cain’s respect for Luke went up a notch. “You show me that your reputation with horses isn’t all talk, and I won’t have any problems with you. But just in case it needs to be said, I don’t agree with MacLesten’s methods for taming his animals, and I will give you a beating worse than the one you’ve already taken if I see you mistreating any of the horses on this property. Got me?”
“Crystal clear. I didn’t approve of my old boss’s decisions on much of anything, and I’m happy to be out of there if you want the truth.” Cain didn’t miss the storm clouds that shuttered Luke’s gaze as he spoke. “Sometimes you don’t have any choice but to go where the work is, and that was the only reason I stayed on with Justin MacLesten’s outfit for as long as I did.”
Cain heard unspoken layers in that comment that left him aching and curious to ask for more. But danger lay in that direction, so he held his tongue. Belatedly, he realized that he stood on his porch half clothed, and that was not a position he ever needed to be in with Luke Forrester.
“Let me get a shirt, and then I’ll walk with you to the barn and show you where you’re going to bunk down. I’ll introduce you to the horses so that you can get started.”
Luke dipped his head. “Sounds good. Oh, and Mr. Hawkins?”
Cain almost growled at that. “I’m not some pompous ass that stands on ceremony, Luke
. Call me Cain, or don’t call me anything at all.”
“Right.” The man blushed, and Cain had to turn away before his new employee noticed his cock suddenly twitching in his pants. “Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you for this opportunity. You won’t regret it.”
Cain seriously doubted that. “I hope not. I’ll be back in a minute.”
“I’ll be waiting right here.”
“I’m sure you will.” Cain got through the door and closed it, quickly. Once inside the sanctuary of his cabin, he muttered, “And I have a feeling that’s going to be a huge problem.”
Luke Forrester took a deep, calming breath once he felt sure Cain Hawkins had moved away from the front door. His heart had started racing the minute the man had walked out onto his porch dressed in only a faded pair of jeans. The man was beautiful in the simplest, most basic ways, and Luke had been fighting a massive crush on him since the night Cassie had introduced them some two years ago. Ever since the Halloween party and the ride home, on the dozen or so times they’d had reason to cross paths, Luke had taken to not saying much of anything other than, “Hey, how’s it going?” and then quickly moving on. He’d been so tongue-tied that first time Cassie had introduced her “big brother,” that Luke hid for fear of looking like an idiot.
When Connor Hawkins had approached Luke with this position within the Hawkins organization, Luke knew his time for his infatuation with Cain had to come to an end. Luke needed the work. He couldn’t go back to MacLesten’s property, but by the same token, his mother and sister needed his financial assistance in order to pay their bills every month. He’d had to dip into the little bit he’d managed to save in order to provide for them this past month since he’d been out of work, but his savings wouldn’t last long. If he didn’t have a steady paycheck coming in soon, they would figure out that he’d left the MacLesten job. The questions would start then. Luke could never let his mother and sister learn the truth about where he’d been for the last month, and why he’d had to be there. Their safety absolutely depended on them never knowing.
It was time for Luke to just man up and get over his silly crush on a guy he could never have anyway, and just do the job so damn well that Cain Hawkins never had any reason to let him go.
That was what Luke would do, because he had no other choice.