Jason Taylor stared down at the bottle of beer in front of him. He should have been drinking it, should have finished it already. That’s what a person did when celebrating a victory, right? That’s what he’d done in the past. After years of hard work, he’d finally made it to the finals. He and his roping partner had completed one hell of a year in the rodeo, finishing second. It wasn’t first place, but there would be time for that next year. For now he wanted to enjoy coming close to winning it all. But he couldn’t.
Something was off. Lucas Dryer, his roping team partner of five years, wasn’t there with him. Without Lucas, Jason wouldn’t still be in the rodeo, and without him, Jason was lost.
Five years ago at a random rodeo in Oklahoma, the two had entered the roping competition as individuals. Jason, a header, and Lucas, a heeler, were paired together based on luck of the draw. It was fate. The rest, as they say, was history. Since that rodeo they’d been a team, building their way to the top with a lot of hard work and determination. Before they’d met each other, Jason had never kept a roping partner for long, and Lucas never talked about his partners before he met Jason. For some reason or another, they worked best together.
Against his parents’ wishes, Jason had started riding in the rodeo to save money for a ranch. Slowly but surely he’d saved almost enough to purchase the land he wanted. One more successful year on the circuit and he would have more than what he needed.
Once he had a place, he could think about settling down, finding someone to share his life with. But as of right now, he didn’t have anything to offer anyone.
Lucas… Jason wasn’t sure why Lucas stayed in the rodeo. Lucas’s family owned their own ranch and were quite successful. Yet Lucas chose to travel with Jason. It wasn’t for the fame and fortune, that was for sure. Jason snorted. Lucas hated dealing with sponsors and going to their events.
Earlier in the evening, when they were at the hotel, taking turns showering off the dust from the rodeo arena and preparing to get drunk and celebrate, Lucas had told him he was going off by himself tonight. Without Jason.
“C’mon, man, that beer isn’t going to drink itself.” Cory Matthews clapped Jason on the back as he pulled up a bar stool and sat.
Jason picked up his beer and took a sip. It was already warm. “Says the guy who isn’t even drinking.”
“Can’t. I have to be on the road tonight if I want to make it home by morning.” Cory glanced around the bar and then shot Jason a confused look. “How come Lucas isn’t here? I assumed you two were attached at the hip.”
Now there’s an idea.
Jason shook off that thought and smashed it down deep. He didn’t have time for any of that foolishness. Though it had been tempting, especially lately. Sometimes he found himself daydreaming about Lucas and him in bed together. He chalked it up to being celibate for too damn long, but deep down he knew differently. He just didn’t, couldn’t do anything about it right now.
Jason shrugged. “Who knows? He said he wanted to go off alone tonight. I have no idea where he went.”
“He’s at the Purple Hat. Saw his truck in the parking lot on my way here.”
“What the hell is the Purple Hat?”
Cory shrugged. “A Dr. Seuss book? Go find out. You look like you’re about to lose your mind here.”
Jason had enough alcohol in him that the suggestion sounded like a good idea. “Can you drive me?”
That was all the confirmation Jason needed. He threw down a few bills to cover his tab. “I’m going to find my partner.” He ignored the rise of Cory’s eyebrows, and he stormed toward the door.
* * * *
The strobe lights flashed bright red and blue directly in Jason’s eyes. A hammer pounded in his head with each blink of the lights. He could barely see through the mess of bodies dancing around.
What in the fuck is Lucas doing here?
All around him, men dressed in leather pants, tight shirts, or no shirts at all danced and rubbed against each other. The reality of what he was seeing hit Jason, and he stopped in his tracks.
This was a gay bar.
He couldn’t keep the shock from his face; he was sure he must look like a moron standing there with his jaw on the floor, surrounded by men bumping and grinding to the beat of the music.
“Hey, cowboy, you wanna dance?” A short, skinny blond who looked way too young to even be in a club snaked his arm around Jason’s broad shoulders and tried to pull him onto the dance floor.
The little twink was strong, but Jason planted his feet. “No thanks, I’m looking for a friend.”
“I’ll be your friend,” the blond purred in his ear.
Jason chuckled but then caught himself. The kid should learn a thing or two about picking up strangers in a club. The way he was going about it now, he could easily get hurt.
“Do you have any friends here? I think you might have had too much to drink.” Jason wound his arm around the blond’s waist and held him upright so he didn’t tip over.
“You’re my friend.” He swayed as he spoke, reaching out to touch Jason’s face, but his hand didn’t make it that far. The twink’s eyes glazed over with an alcohol-induced haze.
Jason bit back a groan. Who let this kid out like this?
“What the hell are you doing here?”
Jason whirled around, almost dropping the twink to the floor in the process. He came face-to-face with Lucas. His best friend for the past five years. In a gay bar. “Looking for you.” His voice came out calm and even, but that wasn’t close to how he felt.
After he spoke, he got a chance to look Lucas up and down. The man wore his best pair of tight jeans, with his brand-new second-place roping belt buckle gleaming under the strobe lights. The jeans were familiar—that was how Jason was used to seeing him—but then his gaze landed on the shirt. The bright red tank top stretched tightly across Lucas’s muscular chest. It was made of…mesh? There were tiny holes all over the…could you even call it a shirt? “What the hell kind of getup is that?” This time Jason did release the twink, carefully, and he reached out to touch Lucas’s shirt.
Lucas backed away as if he had expected Jason to punch him. “Don’t worry about it. What are you doing here? And who is he?” Lucas’s dark eyes narrowed in on the blond. Was that jealousy in his voice?
The twink must’ve decided he wasn’t going to be “friends” with Jason, and he trotted off toward the dance floor.
“I came here looking for you. I was curious where the hell you wanted to go without me tonight. We’re supposed to be celebrating together.” And now he was curious whether or not he really knew Lucas at all.
Lucas rubbed his face with his hands and shook his head. “You followed me?”
“Sort of. Cory recognized your truck and told me where you were. Can we talk?” He wasn’t sure what he was going to ask, but he did need some answers. And one hell of an explanation for why Lucas was wearing a shirt with holes in it.
“Sure. Let’s go outside.” Without waiting for a response, Lucas turned toward the door and shouldered his way through the crowd.
Jason followed and couldn’t help the way his eyes were drawn to Lucas’s ass in those tight jeans. How could he even walk with the denim practically glued to his ass? Jason had to admit that they made him look great. He could chalk it up to being in a gay club, but in reality, he’d been looking at Lucas like that a lot lately.
Outside, the cool night air held a bit of a chill, which was expected since it was mid-December in Nevada. There were a few club goers waiting in line to get inside, but for the most part, they were alone in the parking lot.
Lucas leaned against his truck and folded his arms over his chest.
Jason couldn’t tear his gaze from Lucas’s broad shoulders and muscular chest. “So. Whatcha doing at a gay bar?”
“I could ask you the same thing.”
Jason laughed and rubbed his chin. The five-o’clock shadow covering his face was rough against his calloused hands. “I already told you, I was looking for you.”
After a long silence, during which Lucas wouldn’t meet Jason’s eyes, Jason took a step forward. “Dude, are you gay?”
Lucas let out a long sigh and stared hard at the ground. He nodded slightly and then slowly lifted his head until he was staring directly at Jason.
“All right. Well, I guess that makes sense then.” A few things were beginning to add up. Like why Lucas never seemed interested in any of the women who threw themselves at him. Like the time that barrel racer planted herself in Lucas’s lap at the bar after the rodeo. Lucas calmly but firmly told her he wasn’t interested. At the time Jason had been happy, since that meant he and Lucas would be sharing a hotel room, staying up late, watching corny movies. But clearly there was more to it than that.
“That’s it? That’s all you have to say?”
Jason shrugged. “I’ve known you for five years, never seen you with a woman before. It’s not surprising that you’re gay.”
“You’re not going to go find some friends and chase me down with torches and pitchforks, are you?” Lucas’s lips twisted into a smile, and he laughed nervously, as if that was a genuine fear of his.
“Fuck you, Lucas. I may be country, but I’m not some homophobic asshole.”
Lucas ran his hand through his dark hair. “I know. I’m sorry. I was trying to lighten the mood here.”
Jason squared his shoulders and met Lucas’s eyes. Time for his confession. “Besides, I’ve had my fair share of gay experiences, so…” He trailed off, unsure of what to say next.
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Nope. In high school, when I was on the football team, the quarterback and I used to fool around in the showers all the time. Nothing serious, just a few handjobs and blowjobs. The best blowjobs actually.” Jason remembered the time fondly. It was some of the most fun he’d ever had, up until he met Lucas.
“I don’t believe you.”
Jason rolled his eyes. “What the fuck? Why would I lie about that shit?”
“I don’t know. I find it hard to believe you’re bi.”
Jason held his hands in the air. “Whoa. I’m not. I just fooled around with a guy once upon a time when I was a teenager. And every once in a while I find a man attractive. It’s not a big deal.” It was totally something he could ignore, and had for the past ten years. Never mind the fact that it had gotten harder since he started riding with Lucas.
“Whatever. Prove it.”
“How the fuck am I supposed to prove it?”
“Kiss me.” Lucas took a step closer, his chest just a few inches from Jason’s.
Goose bumps prickled at Jason’s skin at the thought of what Lucas proposed. Could he do that? Oh, yeah. Kissing Lucas would be easy. Too easy. The aftermath…he wasn’t too sure about that.