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by SJD Peterson
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: Despite the loving support of his family, Lorcan James wants to try life on his own, so at twenty-one, he finds himself walking halfway across the country in search of adventure. What he finds is desperation, desperation that leads him straight to Whispering Pines Ranch and right into the path of its strong, arrogant, gorgeous owner, who awakens something in Lorcan he didn't even know existed. Quinn Taylor is up to his neck in grief and frustration dealing with a neighboring rancher who wants nothing more than to see him go belly-up. He doesn't need more complications, but from the moment he lays eyes on Lorcan, his world turns upside down. Despite finding in Quinn what his heart craves, Lorcan refuses to be Quinn's dirty little secret--and Quinn isn't the only one vying for Lorcan's attention. Ranch hand Jess will happily declare his love for Lorcan to the world, something Quinn won't offer--something Lorcan needs above all else.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2011 2011
eBookwise Release Date: July 2011
19 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [266 KB]
Reading time: 182-255 min.
The roads may have been dusty and dry, causing clouds to swirl around each booted step he took, but at least the skies were clear. Thank heaven there was a slight chill in the air, as Lorcan didn't think he would have been able to take another step had it been as hot as it had the day before. The worst part was that it was his own damn fault that he was in this predicament to begin with. His mama had warned him that it was "rough out there" and had ended her speech with "I'll see you in a week." His foolish pride had his twenty-one-year-old butt walking all over this godforsaken country looking for adventure. All he had gotten for his troubles was nine cents in his pocket, no prospects for work or a place to stay, and some nasty-ass blisters on his feet. The last thing he wanted to do was put his tail between his legs and crawl back home to a round of Mama's "I told you so." He had one last prospect for work and a place to stay. One last chance to avoid seeing that smug grin on his mama's face. Or the look of exasperation on Daddy's face.
The gas attendant a few miles back had told him that the Whispering Pines Ranch was looking for hands, and although he was headed out in the direction the attendant had pointed, he wasn't feeling all too confident. The way the man had sneered and laughed when he'd asked about work hadn't surprised him. The way he'd suggested Lorcan was exactly what "those folks" were looking for had even had him fighting back his usual tendency to lash out. Had he not been so I-need-to-find-work-or-starve-to-death-on-the-side-of-the-road desperate, he would have let his fist teach the country bumpkin some manners.
Lorcan was used to people looking at him and assuming they knew his sexual orientation. Because of it, he had learned young how to use his fists to prove he was male enough. Puberty hadn't improved the delicate, almost feminine features he'd inherited from his mother. Nor had his tall, lean body taken on the bulk and mass of muscles like his father and brothers. Yet he had proven himself over and over to be by far the toughest of them all. Lorcan had eventually found a perverse pleasure in taking down his tormentors. He took to growing out his thick chestnut hair, provoking others further, flaunting his waist-length braid. Only thing he could hope for now, as he walked the back dirt roads of another nameless town, was that "those folks" out at Whispering Pines could use a man with a good work ethic and a strong back, even if his braided hair did curl down around his ass.
As the Whispering Pines Ranch house came into view, Lorcan nearly turned around and hightailed it back the other direction. The big two-story house looked like it would be more at home on the cover of a magazine featuring haunted houses than Ranchers Weekly. Shutters hung from the paint-peeled siding, the porch tilted dangerously to the right, and it didn't look as if the lawn had been mown or weeded in forever.
He made his way through the calf-high lawn and gingerly placed his boot on the front step, testing its strength before adding his full weight. Remarkably, the half-rotten porch seemed sturdy enough. Lorcan made his way to the front entrance, swung open the scarred screen, and then knocked firmly on the more solid door beneath. Lorcan removed his hat from his head and wiped his brow of sweat as he waited for a response. He strained to listen for any signs that there might be someone approaching the door. When he neither received response nor heard anyone moving around on the other side of the door, he knocked with a little more force. When again there was no sound coming from within, he made his way around to the back of the house and was surprised that the barn and fencing seemed to be in excellent shape. Obviously the owner cared more about the animals and their living arrangements than his own.
An old water pump called to him like a siren, and he headed for it, not realizing until that moment how thirsty he was. He pumped the handle several times before the water began to flow, and he gorged himself on the clean, cold water. Once his thirst was quenched, he took his bandanna from his back pocket, wiping his waterlogged face as he leaned against the fence. He was beginning to regret not cutting his hair before leaving home. He needed to make a good impression, one that would ensure him a job. Lorcan didn't want to have to make the trek back to his mama's home, and he damn well didn't want to have to do it today. With nothing in his belly in over twenty-four hours, an untold number of miles under his boots, and no sleep, he didn't think it below him to beg the owner for some food and a hay bale to curl up on if they couldn't offer him a job.
* * * *
"Goddamn sons of bitches! If one more of you nasty beasts breaks through this fence, I swear I will be holding a beef sale like this county has never seen."
Quinn angrily tossed his tools back in his saddlebag and mounted Jeb. He was getting too old and too damn tired to be having to tend to an entire ranch practically single-handedly. Two months ago, that bastard Henderson had started rumors about Quinn's sexuality and offered his hands nearly twice what Quinn could afford to pay them. Since then, he'd lost everyone who'd worked for him except Ole John and his partner Conner. They'd been with the ranch when his daddy had owned it, and since they had never hidden their preferences, he was sure Henderson had used them as his next attempt to shut him down.
The bitch of the thing was that no one had ever suspected him before. He'd always been very discreet the few times he'd gone over to Jackson to scratch his itch. Hell, he'd only gone three times in the five years since his daddy had passed and left him the ranch. The only damn grudge Mr. Henderson could have against him was the fact that he'd refused to sell him his daddy's land. The old fart had spent the last five years trying to run him into the ground and make him go belly-up. It was now like an ugly obsession for them both, Henderson doing everything in his power to ensure Quinn lost the ranch and Quinn, in turn, doing everything in his power to prove the evil fuck wrong.
He couldn't begrudge his hands for going where the money was. Before they left, most of them made sure to let him know that they either didn't believe the rumors or didn't care, that it was purely for financial reasons. He couldn't blame them for wanting the extra cash flow. Still, no matter the reason, he was stuck trying to do the work of ten men and wasn't sure how much longer he could keep it up. Sighing, he reined Jeb around back toward the barn. No sense worrying on things he couldn't control. He had stalls to muck and critters to feed, and hopefully, when he was done, Conner would have him a nice spread on his dinner table.
When he reached the corral, Quinn swung down from Jeb, grabbed the reins, and led the horse to the barn for a much-needed grooming and some sweet feed. Jeb was a damn fine horse and hadn't let him down, no matter how much he'd been demanding from the stallion lately. He'd just cleared the side of the barn when the sight before him stopped him dead in his tracks.
Leaning back against the fence by the old water pump was either the most beautiful man he'd ever seen or one hell of a big woman. The vision before him had fine, delicate features, a thin nose, and high cheekbones. Dark brows and thick lashes lay against golden, sun-kissed skin. Though the eyes were closed, Quinn was sure they'd be as dark and stunning as the long chestnut hair that hung, braided, down the entire length of back to a firm, denim-clad ass. Quinn's dick twitched as a pink tongue darted out to lick full, lush lips. Jesus, he needed to get laid if just the quick flick of a tongue was enough to make his dick stand up and say hello. Maybe a little trip down to Jackson was in his near future.
Quinn took a step forward and cleared his throat before yelling out, "Something I can help you with?"
The man jerked his head up and straightened himself to his full height, nearly stumbling. He was definitely male. The sun glinted off slight stubble on a narrow chin as he turned his head towards Quinn. If that wasn't enough to convince him, then the fact that Quinn instantly knew the man dressed to the right was a dead giveaway.
"Jesus, sir, you just took a year off my life."
Quinn's blood rushed south at the sound of the deep, velvet-smooth voice. Oh, yeah, definitely time to head to Jackson.
He held his hand out. "Sorry about that. Didn't mean to startle you. Thought you'd have heard me and Jeb coming up."
The stranger wiped his hand on his thigh before taking the one offered in a nice, firm grip. "Sorry, sir. Guess I zoned out for a moment there."
A jolt of electricity raced up Quinn's arm from the contact, and he was sure by the widening of black pupils and the slight flare of nostrils that he wasn't the only one who had felt it. Quinn reluctantly released the man's hand, petting Jeb's nose when he leaned in with a curious sniff. "Was there something I could help you with?"
The man, obviously just realizing his manners, snatched the hat off his head, kneading the brim nervously. "Yes, sir. I, well... I was hoping... I mean...." He huffed out a frustrated breath and tried again. "I heard you may be looking for some help."
Quinn stiffened slightly, suspicion creeping into him. With all the shit that he'd been through lately with Henderson, he couldn't help but be a little leery. What were the chances that someone would come looking for work just when he was starting to consider giving up and handing Henderson what he wanted? Not to mention he wouldn't put it past the prick to hire someone that looked like the kid in front of him just to tempt him. Still, he wasn't convinced that the old man would be lucky enough to hire a guy that tripped every attraction switch Quinn had. Plus, the kid did look to be pretty desperate and didn't sound too sure of himself. He was either one hell of an actor or, in fact, just someone looking for work. His instinct told him it was the latter, but he'd still best take this offer with care.
Quinn pulled at Jeb's reins and started leading him into the barn. "I gotta brush this boy down. Why don't you help me get him settled, and we can talk." He didn't look back as he walked into the barn. Instead, he concentrated on trying to get his growing arousal under control, threatening his dick with a nice hard thump if it didn't behave.
Once he had Jeb tied to the stall, he grabbed a couple of brushes, throwing one at the kid. "Got a name, kid?"
"Lorcan, sir. Lorcan James." He began to groom Jeb like he knew what he was doing but mumbled under his breath what sounded like "Not a kid."
"Well, Lorcan, I'm Quinn Taylor, and I guess if there's anyone here at the ranch you should be inquiring about a job with, it'd be me. You got any experience with cattle?"
Lorcan continued to groom the horse, long, slim fingers following the path of the brush. Quinn couldn't help but think that such delicate hands would look more at home on a piano's keyboard than roping and ranching. Then, of course, there was that image that popped into his head for a fleeting second. The one that had his heart speeding up when he imagined how those fine, delicate hands would look even better wrapped around something a little hard and getting harder by the minute. He shook his head and walked over to the supply stall to get the sweet feed for Jeb, trying like hell not to be too obvious that he was having more than a little trouble walking right. Lucky enough for him, Lorcan was too busy concentrating on Jeb and what he was going to say next to notice him.
"Yes, sir. My family runs a dairy farm back home in Indiana."
"Not too different from beef cattle, but no morning milking and a lot more bulls."
He stared--okay, it was more like gawking--as Lorcan gave Jeb his cool-down. Quinn's long experience in schooling his emotions and controlling the look on his face hid his arousal. An arousal that had his dick nearly punching through the denim of his jeans, his breath catching when the kid bent to clean Jeb's hoofs. The man was a little too skinny, but the tight ass and long legs had Quinn struggling to control the tremors surging through his body. Quinn wasn't sure if it was the fact that it had been so long since he'd had anything other than his hand for company at night or the fact that Lorcan was just that damn gorgeous. The way he moved as he encouraged Jeb to pick up each hoof, pushing into the animal with ease, he had the grace of a large cat.
He waited until all four hoofs were properly cleaned and inspected. He told himself he was watching the man so intently not because he was enjoying the way his dick pulsed or the way jolts of electricity raced through his veins but to make sure the guy knew what he was doing and didn't cause Jeb any undue stress. Lorcan held out the grooming tools and looked at him expectantly, a question of "What next?" in those big, dark eyes.
Quinn looked down at the brush in his hand and embarrassingly realized he hadn't helped with Jeb's cool-down. He'd been too busy watching. He took the tools from Lorcan and returned them to the tack room, mentally chastising his lack of control, and grabbed Jeb's reins. "Let me just turn Jeb out, and we'll discuss this job you're looking for over a bit of lunch."
The kid looked like he was about to keel over from starvation and exhaustion, and wouldn't that just be a last drop in the bucket? Henderson would have it turned around 'til he was accused of kidnapping and killing a beautiful, innocent boy. He turned the horse out, motioning for Lorcan to follow; he could use a bit of lunch himself, and hopefully he'd find a distraction from the wanderings of his naughty mind.
* * * *
Lorcan sat at a small table in the kitchen and took in the room around him. It was bright and airy and surprisingly spotless. It reminded him of something he'd seen on one of the old '70s reruns he'd seen on Nick at Nite. The faded lace curtains waved with the cool breeze coming through the small kitchen window. Lorcan was sure that the flower-patterned wallpaper had been chosen by a grandmother rather than the large man currently at work making sandwiches. He half-expected a little old lady to pop through the door at any moment with a plate full of homemade cookies and glasses of cold milk. His stomach growled loudly in the quiet room at the image.
Quinn placed two plates piled high with meat sandwiches, potato salad, and fruit on the table, then took the chair across from him. Lorcan barely registered the other man's presence, so fixated was he on the food in front of him. He nearly forgot his manners. His mouth watered, body shaking at the need to devour the meal.
"Go ahead, kid, eat up. We'll talk when you're done."
"Thank you, sir," was all he could manage before setting to filling his mouth. The first sandwich completely bypassed his taste buds. Lorcan was on his second before he slowed enough to even let the flavor of what he was eating register. "Sorry," he mumbled around another bite. "Hungry." And he added another spoonful of potatoes to his already-full mouth. The deep chuckle gave him pause for only a split second before he dug into the rest.
God, how long had it been since he'd truly been full? He knew he must look ridiculous, but the sensation of being full and satisfied was just too great to ignore. He continued to mumble apologies around bites until his plate was clean. At least he hadn't made a total ass of himself by licking it clean, but the thought had crossed his mind. Sitting back in his chair, he finally got up the nerve to meet the man's eyes. He gave Quinn a tentative smile, even though he felt like a fool.
"Thank you, sir. I hadn't had much opportunity to eat as of late." Damn if he didn't sound pathetic.
Quinn looked at him, concern in his blue eyes, pushing his half-eaten sandwich toward him. "No apologies needed. Would you like more?"
"Oh God, no," he said, patting his near-to-bursting belly. "Afraid I'd explode if I take one more bite, but thank you, sir."
Besides, now that his hunger was sated, the fact that he hadn't had any sleep in--well, he wasn't exactly sure when the last time he'd slept well was. He fought to keep heavy lids open.
"How'd you get all the way from Indiana to Pegasus, Oklahoma, and if you don't mind me asking, why?"
"I walked, sir, and why what?"
His brain was more than a little sleep-befuddled, not totally understanding what was being asked of him. He needed to get his shit together before the man thought him a complete idiot. He needed a job in the worst kind of way. Acting like a dolt wasn't the way to get one, that much he was sure of.
"Why would you walk away from a family-owned ranch to end up looking for work on a ranch in Oklahoma?"
Lorcan leaned back further in his chair, slouching down a bit. Oh good, an easy question. "Didn't leave home looking to work another ranch." Man, this chair's real cozy. "Just looking for adventure, ya know? Tired of being the little brother, wanted to make my own way, I guess."
He stared, fixated on the patterns Quinn was drawing on the tabletop with thick, callused fingers. Distantly, he heard the man ask, "So you weren't run off from home?"
Run off? "No, no, nothing like that. It was just...." He needed to think how to answer that question.
He'd had it good at home. He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to come up with a good answer to why he had left. Thinking back on how his mama always had the most amazing scents coming from the kitchen when he'd walked in the house after a hard day's work. How he'd worked harder to get his chores done faster than his three brothers so he would be sure to get a hot shower. Oh, and the way his bed felt warm and soft below him each night as he snuggled in. Hmm... why had he left? There must be a reason, but at the moment he couldn't think of a good one. His last thought was just how amazing his bed felt around him and how he had no plans to leave it anytime soon.
* * * *
Quinn couldn't help the soft chuckle that bubbled up as he watched the kid's brows furrow in concentration. Heavy lids blinking slower and slower until they eventually closed, the way his chest rose and fell softly. Lorcan's face became peaceful as the muscles relaxed in slumber. The kid looked even younger and, to Quinn's amazement, impossibly more beautiful than he'd first thought. His fingers ached to reach out and touch the slightly parted lips, itched to know if they were as soft as they looked. He clasped his hands together against the temptation in front of him, letting his eyes leisurely wander over the sight before him. The kid was filthy and scruffy as hell. His denim over-shirt was dusty and sweat-covered, but it looked better than the thin, threadbare jeans that would more than likely not survive a good washing. The nails on the long, elegant fingers were chipped, ragged, with filth caked under and around the nail beds. Even filth-covered, the man was gorgeous. He imagined that once Lorcan was cleaned up, he'd be devastating. He had no doubt that both man and woman would have a hell of a hard time keeping their eyes off him. He was tall, maybe only an inch or two shorter than Quinn's own 6'3" height. Though unlike himself, the kid was lean, bordering on too skinny. For some reason Quinn couldn't explain to himself, he felt fiercely protective and possessive of the man sitting in front of him. He wanted to take him in, make sure he was safe, warm, well fed.
Jesus, where the hell had that thought come from?
He didn't know this kid. For all he knew, Lorcan could be some poser that Henderson had sent his way. Or some bum looking for a quick meal, a nap, and to steal everything he could fit in his sack.
Quinn stood and quietly cleared the table, needing to put some space between them. He'd known since he was a boy that he was attracted to the same sex, but he'd never in his life met anyone he'd been so attracted to that he couldn't control himself. Until now. His mind was telling him to send the kid right back the same way he'd come from. Make sure he had a good night's rest, a full belly, a good scrubbing, and enough money for a bus ticket home. He didn't need any more problems. Even if Lorcan wasn't here for some fucked-up plan Henderson had engineered, Quinn didn't need to add more grief to his already-full plate of crap. Plus, with the powerful lust surging through him, he wasn't sure he'd be able to control his baser urges. Even scraggly, Lorcan sent his libido into overdrive, and Quinn knew it would only be more powerful when the man was clean and fed. The way that hair must look when it was free of its tight bonds.... He could almost feel it in his hands, and a shudder went through him. No way would he be able to control it. He'd just give Henderson that much more ammunition. Taking one look at Lorcan, Henderson would be all over it like a fly on shit.
Quinn finished washing the dishes and put them away before starting a pot of coffee to brew. His mind was working through what the right thing was, not only for the kid, but for himself. He could sure as shit use the help around the place, and the kid did have some experience, so he wouldn't be wasting time showing him the basics of ranch work. Yet he couldn't help but worry about what kind of bullshit the kid would have to face from the prick on the neighboring ranch--or from his boss lusting after him.
Grabbing his coffee, Quinn took the seat across from Lorcan again. Sipping from his mug, he watched the kid sleep. He listened to the little snuffling noises, letting them lull him. Yeah, his head told him to send him on his way, but something in his belly got all nice and tight and a little achy when he thought of Lorcan leaving. Attraction aside, there was just something about Lorcan that drew him. Though he feared losing control, that fear wasn't as powerful as the desire to know everything about the beautiful man in front of him. Oh yeah, he'd be offering the kid a job.
* * * *
Lorcan stretched, feeling all warm and cozy. He snuggled in deeper, pulling the covers up over his head. He had no plans to get up anytime soon. He was sure there was something he needed to be doing. Some chore with his name on it, but if Mama wasn't inclined to force his lazy bum outta bed, then who was he to argue with the woman?
The scent of bacon and coffee seeped through his blanket barrier. The delicious scent had him reconsidering the whole staying in bed forever idea.
"Hey, kid. Breakfast is on the table."
What the hell? Lorcan jumped up, startled at the deep voice that was certainly not his mama's, and found himself suddenly falling through the air until his ass planted on a damn hard floor. He blinked, his heart racing like a thoroughbred. He looked up at a smiling, wrinkled face with laughter just pouring out of the eyes.
"Sorry, kid, didn't mean to startle you." The stranger reached down and offered a hand up. "I'm Conner."
Lorcan looked at the hand offered, still trying to figure out where Mama was and what the hell this man was doing calling him to breakfast. "Oh, shit," he muttered as it came back to him in a rush. Ranch, job, fuck! He reached out and took the offered hand and the help up. "Thanks."
Keeping his head ducked, his cheeks burning, he looked back at the pillow and blanket on the unfamiliar couch and groaned. Great way to make a first impression! He was gonna have to practice that tail-tucking on the long walk back home.
Conner pulled on his hand. "C'mon, honey, you'll be wanting to get to the table and get your plate before Quinn and John make it in." He pulled Lorcan into the kitchen and pushed him toward a chair. "You'll learn. You're either quick with the grub or you'll be damn hungry 'til lunch, the way Quinn eats."
The old guy scooted off to the counter, pouring coffee into a carafe, and he really was old. Like grandpa kind of old, all wrinkles, balding-and-slumping shoulders kind of old. Lorcan felt like he'd been dropped into The Twilight Zone. Just sat and stared at the guy as he set the coffee down, took a seat at the table across from him, and began filling his plate.
"You with me, hun?" Conner snapped his fingers in front of his face. "With the number of stalls you gotta muck out today, you best be eating. Don't have time to be picking your scrawny butt up when you fall down from starvation. Eat."
Lorcan filled his plate with bacon, biscuits, and pancakes and covered it all with gravy, never taking his eyes off the man in front of him. "Sorry, kind of out of it this morning. Last thing I remember was sitting here talking to a man about a job, and then I wake up to you yellin' at me. Kinda put me out of sorts." He dug into his plate and groaned at the thick, salty flavor of the milk gravy. "Man, this is good! Are you Mr. Taylor's dad?"
The guy puffed up a little, pleased as pie at the compliment. "No, no. I'm just the all-around cook and handyman. Been here with the ranch since before Quinn was born. My partner John was Cole's foreman. Cole is... was Quinn's daddy." His eyes took on a sad, faraway look before he continued, "We lost Cole nearly five years ago."
"Oh man, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you." God, he was just batting a thousand.
Conner reached out and patted his hand. "Such a sweet boy. It's okay. We miss him like crazy around here. He was a damn fine man."
The back door opened and sent Conner jumping to his feet as Quinn and presumably John came strolling in, laughing easily with each other. Conner wrapped an arm around the other old geezer, just frettin' and fussing over the man. He led him to the chair next to Lorcan and filled the man's plate up but good.
Lorcan couldn't help but gawk. He'd heard the man call John his partner but was just not thinking partner meant partner in the naked-wrinkled-bodies-all-wrapped-around-each-other sense. Yuck, that was one image he didn't want running around in his head, especially while he was trying to eat. He ducked his head, hiding the reaction in his eyes. He went back to eating his breakfast as his cheeks heated. Lorcan watched out of the corners of his eyes as Quinn went to the sink to wash his hands. He'd noticed the man was large the day before, but in his exhausted state he hadn't realized just how big. His back and shoulders were massive, easily twice the width of Lorcan's own. His dark blond hair was cut short and neat, and to Lorcan's dismay, he realized that the man was making things stir below that shouldn't be stirring. The man was handsome in that rugged, Marlboro Man kind of way. He'd always been comfortable admitting that men could be handsome, but what was unsettling was the little sparks of heat in his groin that the man was setting off.
Quinn took the seat next to him and started filling his own plate. Lorcan supposed he should be apologizing, saying something to redeem himself, but before he could think of anything half intelligent, Quinn started the conversation going. "See you've met this crazy coot Conner." He pointed toward the quiet, solemn man. "This here's John."
John just nodded in his direction as Lorcan said his nice to meet yas.
"Hope the couch wasn't too bad? We tried waking you up to get you in the guest room, but you were stone-cold out. We got you as far as the couch before old Conner here popped a nut." Quinn winked at him, eyes just twinkling. "You're a hell of a lot heavier than you look."
"Oh, Quinn." Conner looked all put out. "You know better than tellin' tall tales like that. We all know that John's the only one who can pop my nuts."
Lorcan's head snapped up just as he swallowed around a mouthful of bacon, causing it to get lodged in his throat as he met the wicked look in Conner's eyes. Quinn just hooted, laughing so hard he was snorting as he slapped Lorcan on the back to help dislodge the bacon. Jesus, now I know I'm not in fucking Kansas anymore. His only saving grace was that John's cheeks seemed to be a darker shade of red than his own. What the hell did someone say in response to that? No way was he touching that subject, and dammit, now the image was burned into his brain. Unfortunately, it wasn't like an Etch A Sketch--no shaking his head up and down to get rid of that image. He got himself a little under control while Quinn's laugh faded to a light chuckle.
Okay, time for a subject change. He so did not want to be thinking about Conner's nuts or what John did to them. Looking over at Quinn, he said, "Sorry about yesterday. Hadn't had any sleep in a few days, ya know? I'm not lazy. I work hard, and I really need this job." He needed to at least make enough money to get his sorry butt back to Indiana.
Quinn's brows dropped down into a frown before he nodded at him. "Yeah, we could use the help. The pay's a hundred a week plus room and grub."
"Thank you, sir. It's more than I expected."
From the frown on Quinn's face, he didn't seem too happy about giving him a job, but Lorcan wasn't going to comment on it. He knew he was a good ranch hand. If he couldn't prove to Quinn that he was worth the chance, at least he had a little time to figure out what his next move should be. This gave him a little more time to postpone the ribbing he'd get from his brothers and the patient but smug look from his mama.
"Don't thank me yet, kid. You'll earn every dime and then some, and call me Quinn."
"Yes, si--I mean Quinn."
Lorcan listened as John and Quinn talked about what needed to be done for the day, but he was only half listening. Quinn's large body was so close to his that he could feel the heat radiating off him, seeping into his own, making it difficult to concentrate on anything else. He would only need to move his knee a fraction of an inch and it would be resting against Quinn's. He wanted to see if the electricity he had felt when they had shaken hands the day before would happen again. He'd never felt anything so powerful. Just the simple contact between two hands had started a spark that ran through him, leaving him with a warm feeling all through his body. If it had been that powerful when he was barely staying on his feet, every cell exhausted, how would it feel now that he was fully awake and aware of the man?
He fought the urge, concentrating instead on finishing his breakfast, trying to keep from staring at every movement Quinn made, but it was hard. Images of Quinn's strong, callused hands touching him had him practically squirming uncomfortably in his chair. When Quinn stood, taking his plate to the sink, Lorcan instantly felt relieved and disappointed from the loss of heat.
"C'mon. I'll give you the ten-cent tour, and then we'll see how good you are at mucking."
Lorcan stood, thanking Conner for breakfast, repeating his nice to meet y'alls. He took his plate to the sink, thankful for the distraction from where his thoughts had been heading, and followed Quinn out the back door. As he walked down the back steps, heading to the barn, it dawned on him where they were going. He'd walked halfway across the country, and he was right back to shoveling shit.
What a great fucking adventure.
* * * *
Curious to check on the kid's progress, Quinn walked into the barn. The sight before him practically had him panting. Lorcan was tossing clean hay around a freshly mucked stall. The sight of the man alone was something to see. Without a shirt? Breathtaking. Lorcan had removed his T-shirt, tucking it into one of the back pockets of his loose jeans. His movements caused it to sway back and forth across that tight little ass. As he worked the pitchfork, the muscles of his exposed back rippled and flexed with the effort.
Quinn watched, enthralled, as beads of sweat rolled down that sweet olive skin. His mouth watered with the urge to lick, taste, and touch. He gulped, trying to dispel the need. He could only stand and stare as his body responded in a rush of burning heat to the sight of Lorcan leaning the fork against the wall of the stall. Lorcan grabbed his shirt to wipe down his face. The material slid down his neck, right on down to that tight little belly. The sight made Quinn shift. His jeans suddenly became a denim prison that confined his shaft painfully. When Lorcan took a bottle of water and tipped his head back, throat working as he took long pulls from the bottle, Quinn couldn't help the shudder that went through him or the low growl that escaped his lips.
Christ, he's like a walking fucking wet dream
"Hey, boss, just about done here. Was there something else you wanted me to do before dinner?"
Quinn gave himself a little internal shake, pushing the lust to the back of his head. He reminded himself that the last thing he needed was complications. God knew the kid was a whole lot of temptation and complexity he didn't need.
"Looks good. You did a damn fine job out here today." Jesus, was that his voice all husky and shit?
Lorcan preened at the praise, slipping his shirt back on over his head and pulling that long braid free. "Thanks. Not one of my favorite jobs, ya know, but figure if ya gotta do it, might as well do it right."
Quinn moved further into the barn. "Damn fine way of looking at it, kid. How about I help you put the tools away and we can have us a chat on the back porch. I'm sure Conner's got a big jug of sweet tea ready." He grabbed the shovel, throwing it in the empty wheelbarrow, trying his damnedest not to look at the way the kid moved. The smell of sweat and musk and male were strong in the air, making his arousal even harder, if not impossible, to ignore.
Lorcan grabbed the pitchfork and threw it in with the shovel. "Not a kid, but yeah, I could use a break."
Quinn pushed the wheelbarrow into the supply room, grinning. "You look like a kid. How old are you, anyway?"
"Twenty-one. That qualifies me as no longer a kid, all legal and shit." The kid puffed up a little as he followed him out of the barn toward the house.
He couldn't help it; he threw his head back and laughed. "All legal, huh? You look all rough and tough. Bet you still drink milk with two hands." The scowl on Lorcan's face was priceless and had him laughing even harder. "Grab a chair. I'll grab us some tea and be right back."
Quinn hurried into the kitchen, pouring two big glasses of tea and placing them on a tray with some leftover sweet bread, then rolled his eyes at himself. Jesus, lusting after a kid nearly ten years his junior. If he wasn't careful, the rumors about him being gay were gonna be the least of his worries. He'd be earning himself the title of "kinky old queer daddy." The thought had him tickled as hell. He hadn't had sex with anyone but Ruby Palm and her five sisters in nearly three years. Be damn hard to live up to the title at the rate he was going.
Still laughing at himself, he rejoined Lorcan on the back porch, setting down the tray and handing the man a glass. "Help yourself to the bread," he told Lorcan as he took his own seat. "Conner's practically a legend around here for it."
"Thanks. So, um... like, him and John are... like... well, you know, together?"
Quinn watched Lorcan blush and stumble over his words. As adorable as it was, he figured he might just as well find out the man's reaction now, since he'd more than likely hear a hell of a lot more than that when he went into town. "Yeah, they've been together since I can remember." He arched one brow at the kid, looked him right in the eye. "You got a problem with that?"
Lorcan didn't hesitate in his reply. "No, no, man, it's cool. I don't have any problem with who people choose to be with. Who am I to judge?"
"Good to hear. You're going to get a lot of crap about it when you go into town."
Before he could even finish his sentence, the kid was up out of his chair, fists balled up tight, tea glass shattered at his feet. What the fuck?
The kid's face was bright red, eyes wild like he was ready to explode. "I don't give a fuck what people say. I'll take on anyone who makes nasty remarks, assuming I'm gay." The knuckles of his fists were white and twitching like he was readying for a fight. "Jesus, how many times do I have to say I'm not fucking gay before people get the Goddamn message?"
Quinn stared up in shock at the outburst. His muscles tensing for the blow, not the slightest bit intimidated but just--damn. "What the hell's wrong with you? Sit your ass down. Nobody said a damn thing about you being gay. Jesus, did I hit a fucking nerve?"
Lorcan stood a minute longer, staring down at Quinn, just shaking and looking like he was either about to swing or run. After a moment, his shoulders slumped, and he all but fell back into his chair and dropped his head. "Sorry, man. Yeah, you hit a nerve. I've been fighting nearly half my life, people looking at me and making assumptions they shouldn't be making, ya know?" He ran a hand over his stubbled chin. "I... sorry about the glass. I'll get it cleaned up."
Quinn reached out and grabbed his forearm to keep Lorcan in his chair. "It's okay. Leave it. We'll get it in a bit. I didn't make assumptions about you one way or another." He waited until Lorcan lifted his head to meet his eyes before he continued. "I was referring to the rumors around town about me being as perverse as John and Conner."
Lorcan's eyes widened, the shock evident. "You're gay!"
Quinn wasn't ashamed of the fact that he preferred dicks to tits, but it wasn't anyone's business what he did behind closed doors. He wasn't inclined to flaunt his sexuality, but he wasn't gonna deny it either. "Whether the rumors are true or not ain't nobody's business but my own. Would it matter either way?"
Lorcan held his gaze for a moment longer and then slowly shook his head. "Nope, none of my business either way," he finally replied.
Quinn let out the breath he was holding and nodded once. "Then it's settled. How about we get this mess cleaned up, and then we'll set the critters up for the night?"
He headed back in to grab the broom, trying to decide if he was relieved or disappointed that Lorcan didn't swing his way. Lorcan was beautiful, and he supposed that some of his features would make a woman green with envy, but Quinn didn't look at him and instantly assume he was gay. Well, part of him had hoped he was--the part that was presently pressed hard against his zipper. The part that had been hard since the moment Lorcan walked onto his ranch was praying like hell it would get a little attention from Lorcan, but that didn't mean he had assumed anything, and he certainly didn't look at the gorgeous man and think "female." Then it dawned on him how he hadn't been sure Lorcan was male or female when he had first seen him from a distance. Guiltily, he understood what had made Lorcan so upset. No one had ever looked at Quinn and assumed he was gay. Nothing in his physical appearance or his mannerisms ever led anyone to question him. What would it be like to be such a beautiful man that everyone would instantly assume you were gay when you weren't?