The Hired Man
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by Jan Irving
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica
Description: Reverend Ian Kenyon knows the harsh sting of life and how a man can suffer a loss of faith. The death of his wife and newborn son shook him to his foundations, and he's been drifting ever since. Bryn Morgan has returned home from prison to the only family he has--an abusive father who abandoned him to the law when Bryn was unjustly accused of rape. Still poor, lost, and shunned, Bryn searches for work, any work that will allow him to survive. Reluctantly moved by Bryn's plight, Ian hires the young man to work on his farm despite Bryn's prickly, defensive nature. Soon Ian fears his growing feelings of grace and compassion might be something else, something more... heated. Whatever the cause, he knows they are impossible to pursue, because Heaven only knows what would happen if a man of God began to have forbidden feelings for his hired man.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2009 2009
eBookwise Release Date: December 2009
67 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [302 KB]
Reading time: 179-251 min.
...another great book by Jan Irving. 5 of 5 Stars Lydia @ Rainbow Reviews
"Bryn Morgan is back in town!" Mrs. Robson exclaimed as she entered Reverend Ian Kenyon's kitchen balancing fresh eggs and a pail from milking. The milk suffered from her need to share the latest gossip, slopping on the battered wood of the farm table and pooling in clouds.
Ian looked up, feigning interest. It was like slipping on his clerical collar, just a mask he wore because he felt as empty as the pockets of an old coat.
"Bryn?" He blinked, having no idea who his housekeeper was talking about.
"You know, Bryn Morgan, that little boy who never had any shoes? His father was a disgrace, the way he treated that child! Why, it was almost as if he hated him." Mrs. Robson sat down, shoving aside the fresh milk. She reached for a cloth to clean up the mess, but was too intent on sharing to pay much attention to her housework. "He's back from... you know."
Ian remembered a thin, defiant boy with angry blue eyes, bruises, dirty ragged clothes, and shaggy bronze-colored hair that used to go blond at the curling tips every summer.
Bryn. He'd been sent to prison.
"I can't believe that no-account had the gall to come back to our town!" Mrs. Robson continued, shaking her head. "No decent folk will have anything to do with him, I can tell you that."
"Where else would he go? He has kin here," Ian was roused to point out mildly.
"Kin? Drunken sot of a father with a heavy hand. Some family!"
Ian nodded. "I agree. Seems like that young man never had a chance. His father...." Now Ian drifted, thinking that a father should do anything for his child. Anything. Christ!
"Reverend, you are such a good and sweet man," Mrs. Robson continued, seemingly unaware that Ian was lost in one of his dark reveries. "You just don't see that some people even the good Lord ain't got no time for. Bryn Morgan is a lost cause. Anyone who would force himself on a woman!"
Ian had had enough of the conversation, though it had briefly penetrated his apathy. He climbed to his feet, pulling on his suspenders over his shirt. "Bryn spent most of his time hiding in the woods, I seem to remember. And why would he need to rape Ruthie Bourne? Didn't she work in the saloon for a while after he was sent up? Seems like she would have spread herself for free." Then Ian belatedly blushed. His language had been highly inappropriate for a lady! He blamed it on his preoccupation. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Robson. I should not have been so... frank."
"Well, I never!"
Ian forced himself not to smile, since he was fairly sure that Mrs. Robson probably rarely did, judging from Mr. Robson's sour disposition.
"I didn't mean to fight with you," he made himself say contritely. He remembered how grateful he'd been to her when she'd come to nurse his wife before their baby was born. Ian had been so busy back then, on fire to spread the word and help his parishioners.
"You spend so much of your time in your church you can't see the wolves for the sheep!"
A quick swipe of the table and then the screen door slammed as she left him to go out and do more chores.
Relieved to be alone again, Ian picked up what he'd been secretly fingering when she'd burst in with the latest gossip: a baby's pale blue christening gown. * * * *
On Sunday, Mrs. Robson was baking pies with preserves she'd put up the year before.
Ian could smell them as he went out on the farmhouse porch and sat on the rocking chair.
His apple and pear trees were in blossom. A few daffodils his wife Janet had planted had survived two winters and were sprouting in fairy rings around trees and shrubs.
The house had been built by the Chalmers family, but Ian's father had purchased it and Ian had lived here most of his life, preferring it to Boston, where his cousins chose to live. It was two stories high, still freshly painted light gray with white trim, as it had been just before Ian's wedding. In the parlor was a square bay window with diamond-paned glass ordered all the way from New York City, which Mrs. Robson kept polished with vinegar and water. A little lover's balcony perched above it, which opened off the largest bedroom.
On the second floor, Janet's room was furnished with formal, overstuffed furniture, but Ian never went in there now. He and Mrs. Robson lived in the large kitchen with worn wooden floors, and Ian used the smaller front bedroom upstairs.
The other three were empty. * * * *
He must have fallen asleep in the rare warm spring sunshine, because he roused when the step up to the porch creaked and he saw a young man wearing tattered, dirty clothes and sporting a shiner. Blue eyes shone hungry from prison-pale skin.
"Bryn," Ian greeted the boy automatically. He must be in his early twenties now; he'd been sent to prison when he was eighteen and had been gone about four years.
Bryn muttered something to the hat clenched in his hands.
Ian leaned forward. "What was that?"
"Came looking for a job," Bryn shocked Ian by asking.
Ian's eyes widened. Bryn Morgan wanted a job? His father had never earned a decent living. All Ian remembered of the boy before he'd been sent up was that he shunned people, living wild in the woods, unless he got a hold of some whiskey and made trouble in town.
Bryn must have taken his pause for rejection, because his thin shoulders hunched defensively. "Won't bother you none--can see you don't want me here."
"Just a moment, boy!" Ian growled. Damnation! The truth was he didn't want Bryn Morgan on his land, working for him. He was trouble, and Ian could barely get dressed and work the farm some days when the depression stretched on, endless as gray skies over the prairie. He climbed to his feet and ran a hand over his neatly trimmed beard. What to do? "I just woke up, is all."
Bryn looked away, and Ian saw bruises on his white skin through the holes in his clothing. The spring day was chilly if a body wasn't in direct sunlight, but Bryn wasn't wearing a coat.
"Farming is hard work, not like--" Ian cut himself off, since he had no idea what Bryn had done in prison. "I have to prepare the fields soon," Ian continued, giving himself some time. Truthfully, Ian didn't like farming much, but this was good land, and he did his best to see it was put to use. "Know anything about that?"
"I helped Mr. Jacobs for two seasons on his cattle ranch before I...." Bryn took a deep breath and his eyes flashed. "Before I went to prison."
It would be a mistake to hire this boy, Ian thought. But what he said aloud was, "Ranching is different from farming, but... I haven't found anyone yet. If you want the job...."
"You're hiring me 'cause you feel sorry for me, Reverend?" Bryn growled.
Ian stiffened, his patience wearing thin, already regretting offering this angry young man the work. He'd been right; Bryn Morgan was trouble, and he got under Ian's skin. "Yes, partly that," he admitted. "But partly because...." He swallowed, uncomfortable mentioning the fresh bruising. "Never you mind. Do you want the job or not?"
Bryn looked on the verge of telling him to go to hell, but then he bit his lip and color flamed in his thin, pale cheeks. "I want the job," he mumbled, eyes down. * * * *
The next morning, Ian was trimming his beard in his bedroom vanity mirror. He looked out the second-floor window when he glimpsed movement outside. He rinsed his blade in the warm water Mrs. Robson provided fresh every day and leaned close to the pane to take in the view.
A slight figure, hunched against the cool morning wind, was leaning against the apple tree.
It was Bryn Morgan. Apparently he had nowhere else to go. Pity moved in Ian's chest, and he tried to shove it aside. Hell, he'd hired the boy and just knew it had been a mistake. He preferred to drift through his days, lost in memory, in hating himself, but from the moment Bryn's name had been mentioned, Ian had been moved to defend him.
"Huh," Ian grunted.
He pulled out his clerical collar and put it on, seeing reflected a man with dark, untamed hair in need of a trim from Mrs. Robson, a beard, and wintry hazel eyes looking back at him.
Some days he just wanted to wear regular clothing, but folks came by at all times needing comfort, or he could be summoned to tend to the sick or dying....
No one but he knew what a meaningless gesture it was.
Ashes to ashes.
Tears pricked his eyes, so he closed them, shaking his head.
He had better go downstairs and get that boy out of the wind. At least he could do that much. * * * *
"Coffee?" Ian couldn't let Bryn go without food. He had a feeling the young man would shove aside his concern.
Bryn nodded, gaze on the floor.
Mrs. Robson wouldn't bring coffee to the ex-convict, so Ian did, and also a plate of thick bread with cherry preserves. Bryn took it automatically, looking slightly startled that Ian would care enough to push the issue of food on him.
Ian invited Bryn to come sit with him and Mrs. Robson, but Bryn only shook his head, slouching against the wall, watching as Ian said grace. * * * *
After breakfast, Ian was moved to say to Mrs. Robson on his way out to show Bryn around, "He wasn't so bad."
"He certainly watched you, even tried to mimic your fine table manners!" Mrs. Robson noted calmly, stacking dishes in the sink for washing.
"He did?" Ian blinked.
"But then, he used to sneak over to the church before he was sent up. I saw him looking in the windows some days when you gave service."
Ian frowned. "I wonder why he did that?" * * * *
"Chickens can be mean," Ian instructed, rubbing the back of his neck.
"I know how to collect eggs!"
Ian sighed. Bryn had been like this all morning. It was clear he had no experience farming or caring for animals, but he kept insisting he knew what he was doing.
The milk cow had kicked him. Daisy, Mrs. Robson's beloved plow horse, had pushed out of her stall and nearly trampled him, and now here were the chickens and Bryn had so far broken three eggs and his hands were bleeding from being pecked by the agitated hens.
Bryn wasn't a good hire. He didn't listen, and his walls were so thick that he was defensive to even the mildest criticism. It was almost as if he wanted and expected to be fired.
"Look here, this little guy never got eaten...." Ian reached down and lifted a tiny golden chick in his big palm, deciding to teach Bryn another morning about collecting eggs. It would keep, and they had eggs enough.
Bryn's tense expression eased. "Is he soft? He looks like a seed from a dandelion."
"He's very soft. Here." Ian placed the chick on Bryn's palm and watched wonder replace the stamped wariness on the young man's face.
"I never touched anything so...." Bryn ran a finger tip over the little bird.
Ian noticed the boy's shoulders relaxing. "Let's tend to your hands." * * * *
Ian returned with supplies from the house to find Bryn had managed to gather all the rest of the eggs without breaking any, but his hands were a mess.
"You did a nice job," Ian praised, deciding not to lecture the young man, though his bleeding hands made Ian wince inwardly. "Will you let me clean your hands?"
"It might hurt some," Ian warned, taking one and wiping it gently with alcohol.
Bryn didn't even hiss from the pain. "Used to it."
Ian felt his pity return. "Bryn's a Welsh name," he noted, thinking to make conversation.
Bryn's eyes were fixed on the straw-covered floor. Finally he burst out, "Why're you so nice to me? Is it because you're a man of God?"
Ian hesitated. He didn't know how to answer the simple question. He was used to lying to the townspeople about his lack of faith, but he didn't want to deceive this strange, bitter youngster. He wasn't even sure he could, since Bryn had old eyes in a young face.
"You've had it rough."
He cleaned the other hand and noticed Bryn's ribs sticking out through gaps in his shirt. "Will you eat with me later, Bryn?"
"You don't want... more from me, do you?" Bryn suddenly demanded.
"More?" Ian blinked. "More what?"
And suddenly Ian knew. "Oh."
Bryn flashed a glance at Ian, hell burning in his eyes. It was something Ian had seen in his own shaving mirror this morning.
"No. I never...." Ian cleared his throat. "I'm merely... alone. It would be nice to have someone to eat with. That is all."
Bryn shrugged. "I'll think about it," he mumbled.
Ian felt a strange despair as he watched Bryn snatch a broom and begin cleaning out the old straw in the henhouse. He sensed that Bryn carried still-bleeding wounds, just as Ian did.
But what could he do for Bryn? Ian couldn't heal himself. He could find no comfort. Yet he wanted to give comfort to this young man, he realized, startled.
"Was prison...." Ian fumbled. "I suppose it was bad."
Bryn paused in his sweeping to give Ian a derisive glance. "Yeah, it was bad!" He laughed in Ian's face.
Ian stroked his beard, watching Bryn sweep. He used to know what to say. How to help people.
Clearly, he had no idea how to reach this prickly young man.