Authors: Carol Lynne
Tags: #Contemporary, #MM, #Gay, #Cowboys
A Total-E-Bound Publication
©Copyright Carol Lynne 2011
Cover Art by Posh Gosh ©Copyright October 2011
Edited by Claire Siemaszkiewicz
This is a work of fiction. All characters, places and events are from the author’s imagination and should not be confused with fact. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, events or places is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form, whether by printing, photocopying, scanning or otherwise without the written permission of the publisher, Total-E-Bound Publishing.
Applications should be addressed in the first instance, in writing, to Total-E-Bound Publishing. Unauthorised or restricted acts in relation to this publication may result in civil proceedings and/or criminal prosecution.
The author and illustrator have asserted their respective rights under the Copyright Designs and Patents Acts 1988 (as amended) to be identified as the author of this book and illustrator of the artwork.
Published in 2011 by Total-E-Bound Publishing, Think Tank, Ruston Way, Lincoln, LN6 7FL, United Kingdom.
This book contains sexually explicit content which is only suitable for mature readers. This story has a
After the death of his father, Grayson Conner finds himself running Sunset Ridge Stables, a prosperous horse breeding operation just outside of Wellington, Arkansas. Since riding a horse for the first time, Gray had known running the ranch would be his destiny. Years spent watching his father negotiate and build the ranch into a highly respected operation had prepared him well.
In need of a manager to oversee the hired hands, Gray hires Jack ‘Ram’ Ramsdale, a sexy temptation that could spell nothing but trouble. For years, Gray had managed to keep his sexual preferences away from the ranch, but the introduction of Ram into his life changed everything.
Ram falls in love with Sunset Ridge Stables the first time he steps foot on the ranch with its rolling green hills and views to take a person’s breath away. The handsome ranch owner is definitely a bonus, but more than anything Ram is searching for a place to belong.
With temptation at his fingertips, Gray gives in to his feelings and begins an intense affair with his new manager. For a few blissful months he believes he can have it all, the ranch and a man he loves at his side. But when local gossip threatens the reputation of the Sunset Ridge, Gray and Ram are forced to make an important decision. Give up their relationship or lose everything they’ve worked for.
My fantastic beta reader, Drew Hunt, loves cowboys. Since he’s patiently helped me with weres, vampires, angels and demons, I’ve decided to write a book for him. Thanks for all your help over the years, Drew.
The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:
Ford F-350 Super Duty: Ford Motor Company
Wrangler: Wrangler Apparel Corp.
7-Up: Dr Pepper/Seven Up, Inc.
Mustang Cobra: Ford Motor Company
Riding over the crest of Tucker’s Hill, Grayson Conner surveyed the ranch below. It was a beautiful place with neatly kept white clapboard buildings dotting the landscape. Sunset Ridge Stables consisted of the main house, barn, stables, bunkhouses and various other small outbuildings. From his vantage point the ranch looked like its own small town.
He kicked Bellamy, his dark grey stallion, into a canter as they rode down towards the ranch. Sunset Ridge was swarming with workers, everyone getting ready for the barbecue later that night. The party had been an annual event since Gray’s father, Jeremiah, had run the stables.
Once a year the stable hosted friends and business associates from across the country. This year was no exception, even though Jeremiah had passed away not more than six months earlier.
Gray’s jaw tightened. Jeremiah Conner had been an excellent horseman but a lousy father. His temper had been legendary and he’d often taken it out on his only son.
Gray’s sister, Rebecca, had always been Jeremiah’s little angel, a girl who could do no wrong in her father’s eyes. Rebecca Conner was in fact as far from an angel as a person could get. She’d left home when she’d turned eighteen to follow a rodeo rider across the country. She’d returned eighteen months later with a baby girl. Raleigh Conner had been on the Sunset Ridge ever since. Rebecca had found a new man to follow not a year after she’d moved home, abandoning her own daughter.
Rebecca still showed up from time to time, mostly when she was broke and between men. Even after all that, Jeremiah had never had a bad word to say about her, but Gray had plenty. Raleigh had grown into a beautiful but very spoilt young woman. Until his death, Jeremiah had doted on his granddaughter.
As Gray rode into the ranch yard he saw Raleigh sitting on the front porch of the main house sipping tea. He shook his head. Gray loved his niece something fierce but she surely was a handful at times.
He dismounted Bellamy and handed his reins to John. “How’s everything comin’ along?”
“Real good, Mr Conner. Everyone’s just puttin’ the finishin’ touches on the ranch.”
Gray nodded. “Would you brush Bellamy down and put him in the corral for now? I want him locked up tonight but no sense in making him stay inside all day.” He started to walk off but John stopped him.
“Sir, Miss Raleigh had me put Buttercup in the corral. I don’t think you want the two horses together, do ya?” John looked down at his boots.
Rubbing his jaw, Gray looked towards the corral. “No, we definitely can’t have that. Go ahead and put Buttercup in the pasture.” He walked towards the porch, thanking his workers as he went. He took the steps two at a time and stood in front of his niece.
“Why did you have John put Buttercup in the corral? I’ve told you more than once to have her turned out into the pasture. The corral should be reserved for the stallions. They’re the ones that need to be kept separate from the rest of the herd.” He looked down at his bored-looking niece, waiting for her reply.
“I knew the hands would be busy later with the party, and I knew it would take me forever to get her into the stable if she were in the pasture.” She looked pleadingly up at her uncle.
Gray blew out a breath and leant down to kiss Raleigh on the forehead. “I’ll get her into the stable for you later, pumpkin, but you’ve got to keep her out of the corral.”
Raleigh smiled and nodded her head. “Yes, Uncle Gray.”
Gray smiled back at her. “You’d best get ready for the party. I ‘magine folks’ll start getting here in a couple hours.” He kissed the top of her head once more and disappeared into the house.
Gray entered his study and sat at the big mahogany desk. Looking at the blank computer screen in front of him he reached over and turned it on. He needed to get on the Internet and find a new manager.
He’d terminated Jim Thompson two weeks earlier and had yet to replace him. Jim had been his father’s yes man and when Jeremiah had died Jim had had the impression he was the new boss around the Sunset Ridge. After repeatedly explaining to the stubborn fool that he was in fact the owner and Jim was just an employee, the dumb ass had actually taken a swing at him. Gray had fired him on the spot, giving him one hour to clear out.
Gray surfed the net for the next hour looking for an available manager. He finally gave up and went to put Buttercup into the stables for the night. After taking a quick shower he changed into a pair of khaki pants and a plain white polo shirt. Heading downstairs he stopped at Raleigh’s room.
“You about ready, pumpkin?”
“I’ll be down in about twenty minutes.”
Gray headed out of the front door and on to the deep front porch. The yards and buildings looked great. The ranch hands had even trimmed the bushes. The flowers along the porch railing and front walk were in full bloom and the smell in the air was sweet.
Ten minutes later the first of the guests began to arrive. A couple of his men stood out front and pointed the way to the parking area, which in reality was just the open field beside the barn. Gray walked down the steps to meet his arriving guests, most of whom had been coming to the party for years. He shook hands and greeted his visitors as he showed them to the party tent.
He heard his name and turned around. Bob Ramsdale, one of his father’s old friends, extended his hand in greeting. “How’re ya doin’, Gray?”
Gray smiled, “Just fine, Mr Ramsdale, and you?” Gray couldn’t help but notice the tall man standing behind the short and pudgy Bob Ramsdale. Gray allowed his eyes a moment to wander over the attractive sun-bronzed face of the stranger.
“I’m real good. Oh, hey, I’d like to introduce you to my nephew Jack.”
Jack stepped to the side and then forward, extending his hand. “Nice to meet you, Mr Conner. My uncle Bob’s talked about the Sunset Ridge for years. I was in town visiting and couldn’t resist coming to look at your stables.”
Gray shook hands with the most attractive man he’d ever met. The feel of Jack Ramsdale’s hand in his sent sparks through his body. He gripped the hand a little tighter, not ready to release it yet. “I’m glad you came. I’ll have to show you around later.”
“I’d like that, but please call me Ram.” He let go of Gray’s hand.
“Well, who do you have here, Uncle Gray?”
Gray hadn’t even seen Raleigh coming. He turned towards her and almost swallowed his tongue. Raleigh had on a very short bright red halter dress and spiked heels. He narrowed his eyes, promising a stiff reprimand, and turned towards his guests.
“You remember Bob Ramsdale and this is his nephew Ram. I’d like you to meet my niece, Raleigh Conner.” Gray stepped back so the two could shake hands.
“Nice to meet you, Miss Conner.”
Raleigh took another step closer to Ram. “The pleasure’s all mine.”
Gray cleared his throat. “I’m glad the two of you could come. Please help yourself to some refreshments while Raleigh and I greet a few more guests. Ram, I’ll catch up with you as soon as I can for that tour.”
Raleigh pulled on Gray’s sleeve. “I’d be happy to give Ram a tour. I know you have a lot of guests to see to.”
Pulling Raleigh by the arm Gray excused them. He walked her towards the porch in long angry strides. “You, young lady, will go up to your room and put on an outfit fitting for a young lady of seventeen.”
“I’m a woman now and there’s nothing wrong with what I’m wearing.” She tried to pull away from her uncle.
Gray continued to walk her towards the front door. “I will not allow you to walk around a bunch of drinking men dressed so…inappropriately. Now go do what you’re told.” He released her arm and watched her stomp her way up the porch steps.
Walking back to the party tent he thought about Jack Ramsdale. He remembered his dad telling him several years ago that Bob’s nephew was working in Arizona at a horse ranch. Gray ran his fingers through his short black hair. Even though Ram would be a temptation he couldn’t afford personally, he wondered if he could try and talk him into hiring on at the Sunset Ridge.
He continued to greet new arrivals for the next hour. Raleigh finally reappeared in a floral skirt and white peasant top. Gray nodded his approval from across the lawn, but she turned up her nose at him and flounced off.
Gray decided to get to Ram before Raleigh did. He knew that look in the girl’s eye. She would try to work her magic on Ram just as she did every available bachelor in the county.
He found Ram leaning against the barn drinking a beer. “Sorry it took so long. There are more guests here than usual.” He went to stand beside Ram in the shadows of the barn.
Ram straightened and held up his beer. “Not a problem, Mr Conner. I’ve been perfectly content to stand in the shadows and watch the goings on.”
“Please call me Gray. Well…shall we begin the tour?” He took a step back and made a sweeping motion with his hand.
Ram just nodded and followed Gray into the horse barn. “This is where we stall the stallions. We’ve got three separate stables on the Sunset Ridge, one for the stallions, one for the geldings and mares we use as work horses and one for the brood mares.”
Gray pointed to the various stud stallions giving Ram bits of information as they walked. Ram stayed quiet for the most part, only asking questions occasionally. Gray was impressed with Ram’s knowledgeable questions.
When they got to the end of the third stable Gray turned towards Ram. “So…I remember my father telling me you’re a trainer over in Arizona.”
“Well I was just wondering whether you ever thought about a change of scenery. I’d like you to work for me here in Texas. I’m short a manager right now. We’ve still got a general foreman but he’s damn near seventy and sticks pretty close to the barn these days. What I need is a man that knows horses and can keep the rest of the men lined out. Most of them are fairly young and they need a firm hand at times to keep ‘em in line.” Gray gave Ram a salary number that made the handsome man’s eyebrows shoot up.
Ram rubbed his slightly stubbled chin. He looked around at the stables. “I’ve been giving a lot of thought to moving back to Arkansas lately. My momma’s been sick quite a bit, and I’d like to be closer to her. I could see myself fitting in here on the Sunset Ridge, but I’d insist on doing things my way with the hands. That’s not to say I won’t be open to suggestions, but I’ve given orders for too many years to start takin’ em again.”
Gray looked him in the eye and thought about what he’d said. Finally, he nodded and stuck his hand out. “That sounds reasonable as long as you understand that in the end I’m still the boss. But I’ll leave the ranch hands to you. I’d even see to it that you got your own house to live in. Well not really a house but there’s a nice loft-style apartment over the four car garage that used to be mine before my father passed away. It would be a lot better than sharing a room in the bunkhouse and until Slim dies the manager’s house has been promised to him by my father. He doesn’t leave the house much, so he shouldn’t get in your way.”
Smiling, Ram took the offered hand and shook it. “I’ll give it some serious thought tonight and let you know in the morning.”
“Why don’t you come by tomorrow for lunch?”
“Sounds good. I can be here around noon. That sound all right to you?”
Gray put his hand on Ram’s shoulder. “I’ll be expectin’ you.” Gray walked Ram back out to the party. With a parting pat on the back, Gray went to mingle with the rest of his guests.
* * * *
Ram immediately went to the make-shift bar and retrieved another bottle of beer from the stock tank full of ice and cold bottles. He opened the beer and took a long pull, downing half the bottle. He had a lot of thinking to do and this definitely wasn’t the place for it. There was just something about Grayson Conner that made him want to quit the best job he’d ever had and move back to Texas. Ram had never felt an overwhelming desire to lick a stranger in his life, but the second he’d seen Gray that’s exactly what he wanted to do.