Caleb snuggled into the warmth in front of him, not wanting to wake up from the most delicious dream of two women running their mouths over every inch of his body, each taking turns lingering over his prick. Damn, it had been forever since he’d taken part in a three-way, probably more than fifty years. Maybe he could talk the sweet, hot body in front of him into staying one more night, and maybe calling a friend of hers to join in the fun.
A hum of anticipation sounded in Caleb’s throat just thinking about it, and he pushed into the weight in front of him, rubbing his morning wood against a solid wall of muscle. Of muscle
? He touched a hand over the face sharing a pillow with him, feeling coarse stubble under the pads of his fingers, not the smooth, peach-soft skin from his dream. Just then, a distinctly rigid shaft
dug into the front of his thigh, and in a flash, Caleb’s eyes popped open from sleep, all grogginess gone. Wide green eyes met his, shock showing in them as clear as what must be shining in his own.
Jake Chase. Good Christ, Caleb had shoved his dick into another man’s stomach.
Caleb rolled out of bed in one fast motion, his face flaming with heat. “I must have fallen asleep. I was dreaming,” he quickly explained as he backed to the door. “About a woman, I mean. Not about you.”
“Me too.” Jake’s voice sounded scratchy from across the room. “About my wife.” He rolled over onto his back, but immediately groaned and shoved the heels of his hands into his eyes. “Ohhh, God, I feel like shit. I want to die.”
Once again, Jake’s words stalled Caleb before he could flee the room. “You were talking crap like that last night,” he shared, almost reluctantly. “That’s why I stayed with you. You looked bad enough to do permanent damage to yourself. I don’t need the guilt.” I have enough of that on my conscience already
popped into his head, briefly reminding him of his old life. A past that he didn’t allow to linger in his thoughts anymore.
Shaking his head, Caleb scattered those haunting memories from his mind. “Do you still need some company?” he asked. “Or can I go take a shower and get ready for the rodeo without worrying about what you’re gonna do the minute I leave this room?”
Jake growled from his position on the bed, his arm still thrown over his eyes. “I’m not gonna kill myself. I don’t need a babysitter. You can go.”
Caleb couldn’t get Jake’s voice saying “I want to die” out of his head, no matter how hard he tried. “Why don’t you meet me for breakfast at the diner on the corner, say, in half an hour? You owe me a meal for getting you out of that bar. You would have gotten arrested for hitting that bouncer.”
“I can see right through your plan, Hawkins,” Jake said. He finally lowered his arm from his face and turned his head in Caleb’s direction, meeting Caleb’s gaze straight on. “But I’ll meet you there anyway, because I do owe you one. That is the truth.”
Caleb nodded. “Half an hour.” He got the hell out before those soulful green eyes made him start caring more than he should.
* * * * *
Caleb sat across from Jake while they waited for their meal, the silence between them unusual and tense. This didn’t fit Caleb’s norm; he could usually chat with anyone about anything, and had a natural tendency to make others feel comfortable around him. Maybe seeing the guy so wrecked last night made superficial conversation seem trite. Or maybe waking up with a pair of hard-ons rubbing against one another -- no matter that they hadn’t happened for each other -- put a kink in Caleb’s ease with the man. Either way, he couldn’t find the right words within him to begin a casual “shoot the breeze” kind of conversation.
“I apologize for my behavior last night,” Jake suddenly blurted, breaking the ten-minute silence. “I don’t usually drink, but I have a few days every year that I just can’t get through without a little bit of help.”
“The anniversary of the death of your wife being one of them.” Jake jerked back at Caleb’s words, his bloodshot eyes wide. Caleb added, “You said something last night about being without her for six years. I drew the conclusion that yesterday had significance to that timeline.”
A shutter went up over Jake’s eyes, something that hadn’t existed at all last night. This morning, he became the Jake Chase that Caleb recognized from crossing paths on the tour. “I don’t usually talk about it. Ever, really. But yes, she did die six years ago yesterday.”
The waitress set plates in front of Caleb and Jake just then, halting their tentative conversation. Jake looked a little green as the plate of eggs, bacon, and toast slid in front of him, but Caleb understood the man needed to put food in his belly if he wanted to get through his workday without dropping. Caleb didn’t have any problems with his own meal. Digging right into the loaded three-egg omelet on his plate, he practically salivated over the cheddar cheese, red peppers, tomatoes, and ham that poked out of the stuffed edges.
Once he shoved a few forkfuls down his throat and settled his immediate hunger, Caleb forced himself past his strange discomfort with Jake, and tried to pick up the conversation where it had left off. “Can’t you tell Morrison about these tough few days you have? That way, he doesn’t schedule you to work them. You’ve been with the guy, what, at least three years now since Risa first introduced us. I don’t think a few days off a couple of times a year is too much to ask.”
Jake growled, similar to the noise he’d made back in the motel room and last night in the bar. Caleb began to suspect it a natural part of the man’s vocabulary.
“I’m not supposed to be on the damn rodeo circuit at all. I hired on to work his land in Wyoming, but he wrangled me into traveling with the stock when one of the guys he trusted had to give it up because he had a heart attack. Morrison keeps promising me that he’ll send me back to the land eventually, and that he’ll give me a raise and make me an assistant to the foreman as a thank you for doing this traveling shit that I hate.” He raised a dark brow. “I’ve moved past thinking he’s ever gonna make good on his promise.”
“Is that what you want?” Caleb paused to take a swig of his orange juice. “To participate in running a stretch of land?”
Jake nodded, his eyes lighting up in a way that backed up the abbreviated motion. “I know it isn’t exciting, but I’m just a homebody, you know?” His gaze met Caleb’s, and held. “I want to wake up in the same place every day, sleep in the same bed, ride a horse and work with some cattle, come home, eat, watch a game, and go to bed. That’s all I want. That’s all I need.”
Caleb noticed Jake didn’t finish that statement with to make me happy
, the way most folks did. A bad, bad idea started buzzing in Caleb’s head right then, but he couldn’t push it down. “You ever run a ranch before?”
“Hell yes,” Jake answered. “I unofficially helped run Morrison’s for a year before he took me off the land and put me in charge of the touring stock. I worked ranch property all through my twenties, and did a little bit of bull riding on the side for a few years. That’s why Morrison pulled me for the stock job when he needed someone. My wife and I were saving toward getting a piece of land of our own before she passed. Couldn’t really see myself owning a place without her, so I stopped looking to buy when she died. Can’t see spending the money without her. Doesn’t seem right.”
No, no, no, no, no
ricocheted in Caleb’s head, even as he opened his mouth to speak. “I just happen to need a foreman. You interested in running my land?”
Jake’s fork fell out of his hand and hit his plate with a loud clatter. “What?” The man’s fingers squeezed around his coffee cup hard enough to turn his knuckles white. “Are you serious?”
“I don’t joke about my property. Well, our property,” Caleb quickly corrected. “I’m sure Risa has told you that I have two brothers, and that we own a stretch of land together.”
“Yeah, she has. Connor and Cain, right?”
Caleb nodded, and couldn’t help the half smile that tilted his lips as he thought about his siblings. Connor and his wife Cassie had made Caleb into an uncle three times over. Cain had gone through hell in order to live as a human with his partner Luke. Caleb couldn’t be more proud of either one of them if they actually shared blood. They didn’t. Nor were either of them demon anymore; only Caleb remained with the damned demon blood.
Stuffing that ache of envy down before it took him over, Caleb quickly explained the offer. “The job isn’t overseeing the entire stretch of Hawkins Ranch land, but rather the piece I run. It’s a decent size, and I have my young bull stock there, as well as some of the cattle we raise for beef, and a stable full of horses. Risa still works for me, so you’ll see a familiar face just about every day. I’d offer her the job, but she still travels with her bull riding and wouldn’t be any more stabilizing a presence than I am lately. I’ve also got an ornery old guy named Hank that could run the place with his eyes closed, but won’t. Says he’s too old to learn the office half of the job, and refuses to touch a computer. He would lend a hand with anything while you’re learning the ropes, if I’m not there. So, what do you say?”
Jake twisted his coffee cup around in a slow circle with the tips of his fingers. For the longest time, he seemed incredibly focused on the brown liquid before finally lifting his attention and attaching it to Caleb. “If you’re serious, then I say sign me up. When can I start?”
Caleb chuckled, and a funny little tickle spread through his middle. “You didn’t even ask what we can afford to pay you.”
Jake’s gaze didn’t waver. “I don’t give a shit about the money, and I think you know that. Besides, a strong-willed woman like Risa wouldn’t work for you if you weren’t a damn good employer. I’ll use her as my guide that the Hawkins’s are fair people.”
“She might be just a little influenced” -- Caleb held up his fingers, with just a smidge of space between them -- “by the fact that her brother and my brother are married.”
Jake drummed his fingers in a fast rhythm against the Formica tabletop. “You already trying to talk me out of a job you just offered me, Hawkins?”
Caleb sat up straight, tension immediately filling his entire being. “Why? Is who my brother chooses to love gonna be a problem for you? If it is, then I take back my offer. I won’t have anyone working for me who can’t respect Cain and Luke.”
Jake jerked upright himself. “I didn’t mean that. It just sounded like you were trying to tell me I ought to ask more questions before I say yes. I met Luke and your brother once, you know.” His eyes glittered like hard chips of emeralds. “Risa introduced us at the world finals a while back. I may not know any other gay people, or even understand it, but they seemed like nice guys, and I didn’t have any problem shaking their hands, if that’s what you’re implying.”
“Sorry.” Holding his hand and fork up, Caleb retracted his figurative claws. “I didn’t mean to cut into you. My family brings out the fighter in me, even when it isn’t always warranted.”
Jake dipped his head. “I can respect that.”
“So, what do you say? Are you in? I’m coming and going so much these days that I really could use someone to run the everyday operations, and to keep the cowboys in line and working.” Damn, the more Caleb thought about it, the more he liked his impulsive idea. Giving Jake a job had merit. He really did need someone there every day when he couldn’t be, and having a guy like Jake take the job -- someone so obviously grateful and suited to the position -- would ease any sense of concern he might have in hiring and interviewing someone cold. “If you think you’re up for it, I’d love to bring you into the organization.”
Jake put his fork down and held out his strong, tan hand. “Caleb, you have yourself a foreman.”