This final installment in a week-long feature of Andrew Grey focuses on his contemporary western M/M romance. We have an excerpt from Shared Range, which was released last fall by Dreamspinner Press, and another from Troubled Range, released in March, 2011. The two stories share a location and some characters, but each has it’s own hot romance at its core. If you’d like to know more about Andrew and his work, you can read the author interview from earlier this week, and visit his author page at Dreamspinner Press, where you’ll find another interview and all his books.
It has been a pleasure to have Andrew as featured author this week.
Here’s a bit about the books. (Remember the cover images are the purchase links. Just click one.)
After a year in medical school, Dakota Holden returned home to take care of the family business full time and help his father cope with multiple sclerosis. Devoted to his family, Dakota allows himself just one week of vacation a year, which he spends in some exotic location having all the fun he can stand. On his last vacation, a cruise, Dakota struck up a friendship with Phillip Reardon, and it fills an important role in Dakota’s life.
So when Phillip decides to take Dakota up on his invitation to visit the ranch, Dakota is happy to see him and meet his veterinarian friend, Wally Schumacher. Despite Wally’s inclination to help the wolves Dakota’s men shoot to protect the cattle, he and Dakota find they have a lot in common, including a fierce attraction. But they’ll have to decide if the Wyoming range is big enough for Dakota’s cattle, Wally’s wolves, and their love.
The horse swayed gently beneath him, and Dakota could feel the tension and pressure slipping away with every step of the powerful bay.
“So, how was your first year of medical school? And don’t give me the crap you put in your letters so I wouldn’t worry.”
Dakota couldn’t help smiling over at his father, sitting tall in the saddle of the gray mare. He’d tried for years to get his father to use a different mount, but Sadie was his father’s favorite, and the two of them knew each other so well it was almost uncanny.
Dakota exhaled deeply, letting more of the pressure go. “It was the most challenging pressure cooker I could have ever imagined. The classes, the clinicals, oral and written exams….” The thought of the long hours and demanding professors actually brought a smile to his face.
“You loved it, didn’t you, son?”
There was definitely pride in his old man’s voice. But that wasn’t unusual. Jefferson Holden had always made it very plain that he was proud of everything Dakota did. The man wasn’t just his father—he was his best friend. They didn’t keep secrets and they shared everything. Well, almost everything.
“I did, Dad. It’s what I really want to do.” The horses continued moving across the wide open field, and Dakota took in the rolling hills that led to the steep mountains in the distance. “But there’s something about coming back here….” He didn’t know how to express what he was feeling in words, but his father looked over at him and nodded, the look on his face telling him he understood and that words weren’t necessary. The land was in Jefferson Holden’s blood. He lived and breathed every bit of it. And Dakota hadn’t realized how much it was in his blood, too, or how much he’d miss being away from it. “I thought we’d ride to the river.” Dakota saw the gleam in his father’s eye before looking ahead again.
“I knew you would. When you were a kid, I thought I’d have to tie you to the front porch to keep you away from the water.” His father’s rich, familiar laugh carried on the wind. “Come on. Let’s see what you’ve got.” Jefferson spurred his horse to a gallop and took off, with Dakota right behind him.
“Come on, Roman. let’s not let these old geezers get the best of us.” Dakota kicked his horse lightly and he took off, shooting across the grassland, hooves pounding the ground, breath fogging in the crisp morning air. Dakota could feel the animal’s power pulsing under him, and his spirit soared along with Roman’s. He’d spent months cooped up in classrooms and clinics. The scent of the range, earth, and a hint of water reached into his soul to reawaken what the city had deadened. “I’m right behind you, old man,” he called as he approached his father, overtaking him just before pulling the horse to a stop as the foliage near the water came into view.
His father pulled up right behind him, and together they walked to the riverbank before dismounting and letting the horses drink in the shallows at the bend. Dakota looked to the other side. The rope still hung from the old tree branch, and he could still hear the screams and squeals of his friends as they swung up before plunging into the frigid water. “One thing was for sure”—his father’s voice pulled him out of his memory—“I could always find you.” Dakota felt a hand on his shoulder. “You’d swim in the dead of winter if I’d have let you.”
“Not anymore.” Dakota couldn’t help smiling. As a kid, the water was never too cold, but now he figured it would always be that way.
“No, I suspect not.” They stood together, comfortably quiet, both watching the dark specks that dotted the range on the other side. Their cattle, the lifeblood of the ranch, moved slowly as the hulks foraged for food.
“It’s funny, Dad. When I left for school, I couldn’t wait to get away from here. I wanted to see some more of the world.”
“And now you look forward to coming back,” his father said, finishing his thought for him. Dakota nodded and his father laughed. “You think you’re the only one? When I was your age, I couldn’t get away fast enough, either, but there’s something in this land that called me back, and now it’s doing the same to you too.” Dakota turned to him and saw his dad’s blue eyes filling with love. “You’ll leave again, but you’ll be back. The land won’t let you stay away for very long. It’s part of you, just like it’s part of me.”
Dakota knew that was true, but he also knew that there was a part of him—a part that was becoming undeniable—that would make it very difficult for him to stay here, no matter how much he wanted to. Dakota opened his mouth, and for a second he almost told his dad, but he stopped himself. Now wasn’t the time. He’d come home to recharge and get ready for another grueling year, and a revelation that he preferred men to women was a distraction he just didn’t need, and neither did his dad. He wanted things to be as they were, at least for the summer.
“We should head back, Dad.” Dakota didn’t really want to leave this spot. The water gurgling around the rocks and the flowers along the riverbank were everything he remembered.
“You’ll be back here again, I expect.” Jefferson mounted his horse and began the journey back toward the house. Dakota knew he was giving him a few minutes. With a smile, he swung back up onto Roman and spurred him onward, flying past his father and calling to him as they sailed by. He knew his dad wouldn’t be undone and could hear the beat of the hooves behind him.
Dakota reached the paddock first and bounded off Roman’s back, walking him to his stall. “Hey, Dad, you need help getting down?” he teased as he closed the stall door. Dakota thought about removing the saddle, but he hadn’t heard his father approach. Thinking it strange, he left the barn and walked around the side, looking back over the field. Dakota’s heart nearly stopped as he saw Sadie wandering, riderless. Taking off at a run, adrenaline pumping, the ground flew beneath his feet as a dark mound that he knew was his father appeared as he approached. “Dad!” His cry was answered by a low, painful moan that pulled at his heart. “Dad, what happened?” Dakota skidded to a stop and knelt next to the older man.
The neighboring Holden and Jessup ranches are anything but neighborly—Jefferson Holden and Kent Jessup loathe each other. But despite his father’s long-held grudge, Haven Jessup just can’t bring himself to hate, especially after Dakota Holden takes him in during a violent storm and Haven meets Dakota’s friend, Phillip Reardon.
Phillip accepts Haven for who he is, seeing through the mask Haven uses to hide his attraction to men, but their tentative and secret relationship will be under a huge amount of stress. Sabotaged fences, injured animals, unsavory plans, and Jessup family secrets will threaten Haven’s newfound happiness and his hopes of a future with Phillip.
Phillip got up and walked to his friend, receiving a hug, surprised when Dakota was followed in by a younger man, almost as broad and tall. Turning, Dakota spoke to the stranger. “Haven, I’ll give you a ride home as soon as I get my dad to bed.” Dakota looked at Phillip. “You gonna be up for a while?”
“Sure. Wally went to bed a while ago, but I can stay up for a bit,” Phillip answered, noticing that the other man kept looking at him. Phillip knew that look—one of confused desire that closeted boys got when they saw something that they were attracted to, but weren’t sure if they wanted to kiss or kill. Phillip saw Dakota take the nearly full beer bottle from his dad before wheeling him away down the hall toward his bedroom. The kid, Dakota had said his name was Haven, sat on the far edge of the sofa. “I’m Phillip, Phillip Reardon. Do you work for Dakota?”
Haven shook his head. “Haven Jessop. My dad’s ranch is just to the east of Dakota’s place.” He seemed nervous and uncomfortable, but Phillip felt confident that he wasn’t the source. There seemed to be something else that had the man wound as tight as a drum.
“Did you get the fence fixed?”
“Yes,” Haven answered, and he seemed to wind himself even tighter. Leg bouncing on the floor, eyes darting around the room, Haven almost seemed as though he was ready to explode at any minute. Dakota’s footsteps in the hall seemed to trigger him, and Haven jumped to his feet as Dakota entered the room. “That section of fence was fine this afternoon,” he blurted out excitedly, like he’d been waiting hours to say something.
“It couldn’t have been. The post was rotten.”
Haven stepped closer, looking earnestly at Dakota. “I know it looked rotten, which is why I checked it by hand. I saw it when I was on Jake and tested it. The post looked bad, but it didn’t budge when I tugged on it.” Haven was speaking louder, and Dakota looked dubious. Footsteps in the hall silenced everyone.
“Kota,” Wally said from the hallway, “you’re being an ass. I can tell from here that he’s telling the truth, and since when do we call people liars who just spent two hours helping us fix fences and get our cattle back in their ranges?”
Phillip had never seen the wind fly out of Dakota’s sails so fast before, but Wally wasn’t done. “I believe Haven’s telling the truth, and I think you should have a better look at the post tomorrow morning, when you can see. In the meantime, he needs to go home before his father has some sort of conniption, and you need to come to bed.” Without another word, Wally turned back down the hall.
“Let me take you home,” Dakota said to Haven.
“I’ll do it, Dakota. You go on to bed. You’re dead on your feet.” Phillip walked toward his room. “I’ll put on some shoes.” Phillip went to his room and slipped on some sneakers. When he returned, the two men were talking quietly and most of the tension had thankfully dissipated. “You ready to go?” Phillip asked, and Haven nodded, as Dakota covered a yawn with his hand.
“I promise I’ll check the post in the morning. I had the men throw it in the back of the truck.”
“Thanks,” Haven replied with a slight smile before following Phillip outside and across the yard to his car. “My dad’s gonna blow a gasket. I was supposed to be home hours ago,” Haven said just before Phillip started the engine.
Phillip put the car in gear and pulled down the drive. “Just say you were helping Dakota out. He should understand. Doesn’t everybody help everyone else out around here?”
Haven had him turn left. “My dad and Dakota’s dad have been enemies for years. Don’t know why, but if my dad finds out I was at the Holden ranch, he’ll skin me alive. It’s been that way ever since I could remember.” Haven pointed out the window. “The drive’s just up on the left about another half mile.”
Phillip watched for the drive and turned, pulling up to the small house, stopping the car. “I’ll see you around, and I promise not to tell your dad where you were.”
Haven smiled, his face warming, eyes sparkling with a touch of happiness. “Thanks, I appreciate that.” Haven opened the door and climbed out of the car. “I’ll see you around.”
The door closed, and Phillip watched as Haven climbed the steps to the house, disappearing inside. Phillip turned his car around and headed back down the drive toward the ranch.
Parking out of the way, Phillip got out of the car, surprisingly not at all sleepy. He looked toward the foreman’s cabin, its windows dark, thinking of Mario and the times he’d spent in that cozy little house with Mario keeping him warm. Wally was right. It had been foolish and unfair of him to think Mario would be waiting for him to come back. Truthfully, Phillip had started to wonder if he was made to settle down, but the bouts of loneliness were becoming more frequent, and he found himself becoming more and more jealous of the couples he seemed to be spending time with. Phillip smiled as he could almost hear Wally’s voice asking him what it was he wanted. He’d always thought he’d fall for a huge guy with muscles and strength, both inside and out.
Without thinking, Phillip found himself wandering into the barn, a small light at the far end enough for him to see the large heads poking out of the stalls to see what was going on. “It’s okay, guys, didn’t mean to disturb you,” Phillip told the horses before turning around. Leaving the barn, he wandered toward the front porch and into the house. Tired or not, he wasn’t going to sort his life out in a few minutes.
Opening the door quietly, he lightly stepped through the nearly dark house, making his way toward the bedroom. Cleaning up as softly as he could, Phillip slid beneath the crisp sheets and did his best to let the worries and cares that seemed to follow him lately fall away. Once he relaxed, Phillip smiled as he thought of Haven and the warmth in the brief smile he’d seen and the earnest way he’d needed Dakota to believe him. The boy was cute; he had to give him that.