Tag Archives: Western

Jake Mactire’s *Twisted,* M/M romance from Dreamspinner Press

Meet author Jake Mactire, and take a look at his summer 2011 release, Twisted. I’m doing things a little differently this week, presenting Jake’s bio and the blurb for Twisted, and immediately following you’ll find the author interview. Check back later this weekend for some entertaining and enticing excerpts. As always, the buy links for Jake’s novels are the cover images—just click for the Dreamspinner Press store. Enjoy the feature, and feel free to leave questions or comments. Thanks for reading!
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Despite the celebrity their recent cracking of a cattle rustling ring has brought, Jeff Connelly and his partner, Mike Guidry, are ready to settle down and start the dude ranch they’ve always dreamed of. Following your dreams isn’t always easy, though—between a troubled new ranch hand who propositions Jeff and Mike’s past suddenly confronting him, emotions are already running high.

Then a sadistic serial killer nicknamed the West Coast Cutter starts slicing a trail though Jeff and Mike’s territory. As the body count rises, they begin to suspect that the killer may in fact be someone they know—a suspicion that is only strengthened by a sudden rash of threatening notes addressed to Jeff. Can they escape the West Coast Cutter before the worst happens?
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Jake Mactire’s inspiration for his writing is based on some of his experiences in rodeo and travel. He does his best work coming up with storylines when hiking or cross-country skiing. Writing is Jake’s escape from his boring day job. In addition to writing, Jake loves rodeo, the outdoors, and travel. He’s visited over fifty countries, ridden the Trans-Siberian Express, taken a riverboat down the Mekong, and hiked the Inca trail in Peru. Closer to home, Jake enjoys hiking, kayaking, and cross-country skiing. He currently lives in Seattle.

Visit Jake at http://wwww.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001519012715. You can contact him at jake(dot)mactire(at)gmail(dot)com.

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Filed under Dreamspinner Press, featured authors, M/M romance

Jake Mactire author interview (cowboy romance from a guy who knows)

LS: Jake, welcome to the blog! I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to feature your writing, and I’m looking forward to some interesting Q and A.
JM: Thanks Lou! It’s great to be here

Q: Before we talk directly about your novels, Jake, I’d love to hear a little bit more about you. Your bio certainly piques interest. You now live in Seattle—close to my adopted home, incidentally. I always give a bit of a cheer when I run across another Puget Sound author. Is this where you’re from? Have you lived many places? Maybe you can talk a bit about how “home base” affects your writing, whether that’s Seattle, or wherever?
A: I’m originally from the Midwest. I grew up on a ranch just outside a small town of 2500 on a good day. I’ve lived in Seattle for eighteen years now. I love it, including the rain! I really enjoy the outdoors, and Seattle is great in that I can be by the ocean in about 15 minutes and in the mountains in about 45. The Methow Valley, the place which has inspired the Jeff and Mike books is about three and a half hours away. It’s one of my favorite places in the world. The laid back, live and let live atmosphere of Seattle has been a big influence on my writing. I have some of my best inspirations when I’m outside, kayaking, skiing, or hiking.

I’ve lived in quite a few places. I was an exchange student in Finland, studied in Mexico, worked in both Ireland and India, and in the US have lived in Michigan, Arizona, California, and Washington.

Q: Do you care to say what your “boring day job” is? Tell us anything about it, or how it affects your work as an author? Do you plan to be a full time writer, and if so, have you progressed in that direction?
A: Sure, I’m a software test engineer. I worked for quite a while for a very large software firm headquartered in Redmond WA. The sixty to eighty hour weeks took their toll, and I left several years ago. During my ‘break time’ from work, I wrote. I really enjoyed it and want to continue to write. Now that I’ve gone back to work (still testing software, but at a much more relaxed company) I don’t have all the time I’d like to write. I would love to be a full time writer. I am thinking of buying property in the Methow Valley here in Washington and that would give me the perfect place to write.

Q: You’ve done a lot of wonderful travelling, and you’ve found that to be a boost for your writing. What travel destination has most influenced you as a writer, whether it be the scenery, the people, or something less solid—a feeling, or attitude? Explain, if you would, please.
A: I’d have to list a couple of places. One was Phoenix, Arizona. I went to grad school there and I was dealing with coming out at that time. I had participated in high school and college rodeo for a while and most of my friends knew it. One of my friends had figured out my story so to speak and asked me to take her country and western dancing. She picked the place; it turned out to be Charlie’s, a gay honky- tonk. I remember standing there with my mouth open watching all the cowboys and some guy came up and asked me to dance. We got to the dance floor and he asked me “Lead or follow?” I asked “What do ya mean, follow?” Being from a small town and never having been to a gay bar, it didn’t even occur to me men could follow in dancing. Well, one thing led to another and I got involved in gay rodeo. I kept on rodeoing in the IGRA in California and Washington too. The friendliness and camaraderie of Charlie’s really has influenced my writing. The Methow Valley has also influenced me quite a bit. It does have places like local artist’s galleries, bakeries manned by guys in tie dyed clothes with pony tails, and rodeos with cowboys. As far as foreign places I’d have to say Scandinavia. It was really refreshing to see how accepted gay folks are there.

Q: Before I ask about Twisted, your latest release, let’s talk just a bit about the book that came before it—Two Sides of the Same Coin. It’s set in the Methow (for the unfamiliar, that’s pronounced like the two words, met + how), a broad valley that perhaps epitomizes wide-open western beauty. In it you’ve dropped these two men, gorgeous, different, capable, grieving, and needy, and mixed up for them what, judging from the excerpts, promises to be a memorable romance. Enduring, I hope. Sexy, I’m absolutely certain. Considering these elements, the plot or story line, the main characters, and the powerful setting, what came first when you got your idea to write this? How much did the characters control or fight for the storyline you had planned? How strongly did the Methow influence the events, or the characters’ emotions?

A: One weekend I went camping in the Methow Valley, in the eastern part just outside the North Cascades National Park. While I was hiking the idea for the story for Jeff and Mike came to me. I ended up hiking about twenty miles in the three days I was there and by that time I had a pretty good outline. I was surprised when I began to write as the characters really had to have their say. I hadn’t planned Jeff to be so ‘act first and think next’, but it is in character with a lot of cowboys I know. Mike ended up being a lot more stable and grounded than when I first envisioned him. When they meet, there’s an instant attraction, and the sparks begin to fly pretty quick. They compliment each other very well, and that came up as I was writing them. Jeff’s super self confidence is balanced by Mike’s mild insecurities. On the other hand Mike is very grounded while Jeff is impulsive. The characters actually controlled and wrote much of the story. I found that a bit surprising, but it worked out well. The Methow was the inspiration and the perfect setting.

Q: Paul Richmond’s unique style graces both of these covers, identifiable as his work from first glance. How much input did you have into the elements, colors, or other considerations for the covers? What was your reaction when you first saw them?
A: When I first saw the sketches for the covers, I was just blown away by how good they were, especially the first cover for Two Sides of the Same Coin. Paul really seemed to capture their personalities in his cover art. I had described what I thought would be the ideal cover in both scenarios and he brought it to life.

Q: Now, in Twisted, we meet back up with Mike and Jeff a couple of months down the line. Everything about the life they’re building together seems to balance, from their roping skills (the header and the heeler), to who dominates their kisses. They have a happy Christmas, they’re looking forward to the start of their dream dude ranch, things are good. But, oops, there’s one big problem in paradise: a serial killer. OMG! How did this idea come to you?
A: Good question! A few years ago I took the Trans-Siberian Express train from Moscow to Beijing. I broke the journey in Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, and Ulaan Bataar. In preparing for the trip I went to a second hand book store in Moscow which had a section in English. In that section there were two true crime books about serial killers. I bought them and there were chapters on the gay serial killers Larry Eyler and Randy Kraft. That gave me the idea. I had a lot of time to think about it; the train trip was seven days.

Q: Presumably, you sound like an authority on the cowboy stuff because you are—you’ve lived it. But hopefully, you had to research serial killers, and/or catching them? Anything special that you did to make sure your writing about this was authentic? Do you find in general that you do a lot of research for your writing, and how do you go about it?
A: I do quite a bit of research for my books. The serial killers was one area I really knew nothing about and ended up spending a lot of time online doing research. I also read several books by crime profilers who study serial killers. Other things I’ve researched are things like bronze casting. Since Jeff is an artist, I wanted to make that part of the book realistic. In Twisted, Jeff suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I ended up talking with a friend who is a Psychiatrist several times at length about PTSD, the symptoms, and therapy for it. The cowboy stuff is the easiest for me, I really don’t have to research that. I end up talking with friends and beta readers quite a bit too as part of my research. Occasionally I have to laugh, in a review on Amazon, someone said the books were unrealistic in that Mike came out after meeting Jeff, and someone that closeted would never come out. I’d talked to about ten guys who had come out like Mike did, after meeting someone special. So I tend to do quite a bit of research about things in the books prior to and while writing.

Q: Time for my famous, unavoidable question, Jake—I ask everyone, the rules are always the same, and they’re simple. 1. You must really choose. Waffling and hedging are okay, but in the end you must name a single name. 2. This is an essay question. No one-word answers. Choose, and explain. Here’s the question: Who is sexiest, Mike or Jeff?
A: LOL, I reckon I can’t leave that one up to the reader, can I? That’s a tough one since they are a lot alike. As part of the hemming and hawing prior to the selection of just one, I’ll have to say that I find both very sexy. I like Jeff’s self confidence and the way he walks around in various states of undress and is a bit unpredictable. I find the easy rapport he builds with people, like the kids in the bakery in Winslett, and the guests of the ranch very appealing.

That being said, I’d have to say to me, Mike is the sexiest. According to my friends and rodeo buddies who’ve read the books, I’m quite a bit like Jeff. I imagine that when thinking up the ideal man for Jeff, I envisioned him according to my tastes. First of all, I imagine Mike to have a beautiful smile. Jeff describes it as ‘lighting up his face’ when they’re out riding fences. I have a huge weakness for a guy with a captivating smile. I like the fact that Mike is willing to go after what he wants (in this case, Jeff). I think the fact that Mike can be submissive to Jeff and not feel he is giving up his masculinity is very hot. (Am I revealing a bit too much about myself?) Physically, Mike has hair on his chest and backside (not back!) which I find very alluring. Envisioning Mike, while he and Jeff are two-stepping or ‘rubbin’ belt buckles’ as they call it, is another big thing for me. Mike follows and there is just something really special about having a hot, hunky guy in your arms as you guide him around the dance floor.

I hope that answered the question!

Q: Do you have any upcoming releases, or things in process that your readers can look forward to? A longer range plan? Also, if you have any guest blog appearances, contests, chats, or other promos your readers might enjoy, let us know!
A: I have a third Jeff and Mike novel, Stickmen, which is being read by my beta readers. Then some editing, they’ll look at it again, and I’ll do some more editing and then submit it for publication. Keep your fingers crossed for that. I also did an outline for a spin off book featuring a character from the Jeff and Mike books. One of the guys there has a story that needs telling. I occasionally think about writing a hard boiled detective novel set in prohibition era Detroit, and also have a fantasy novel in mind. So it looks like I may have to write full time just to tell all the stories I have!

LS: Jake, thanks for coming and sharing your work. It’s been a delight. I hope you’ll come back.

JM: Thank you, Lou! It’s been a pleasure and I would love to come back sometime in the future. One of the greatest things about writing is meeting readers and other authors like you! Thanks again!

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Shared Range, Troubled Range—a pair of M/M Westerns by Andrew Grey

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.)

Andrew Grey ASharedRangeLG art Reese Dante
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.

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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.

Andrew Grey ATroubledRangeLg art Reese Dante
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.

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Zahra Owens’ *Earth and Sky* M/M romance from Dreamspinner Press

Scroll down for interview with Zahra Owens and tantalizing excerpts.

Hunter Krause knows better than anyone that running a ranch is hard work. Wranglers are hard to find, and even with Hunter’s foreman and entire extended family on hand, the busy ranch is constantly short-handed. So when horses go missing, Hunter’s brother-in-law hires a man Hunter would never have considered: Grant Jarreau, a man Hunter can’t forgive for leaving Hunter’s best friend Gable after an incapacitating accident.

Grant quickly fits in, befriending Hunter’s sister and making himself invaluable. Despite Hunter’s misgivings, he can’t quite control his body’s reactions to Grant, and he isn’t sure what to do about it. Then Grant saves Hunter’s young nephew from drowning and one thankful kiss opens doors Hunter never knew existed.

While Hunter and Grant tentatively move toward a relationship, the family’s in an uproar, the ranch is struggling, they can’t figure out what happened to the horses, and to top it all off, Grant is hiding something. Can Hunter learn to trust Grant, or will the turmoil already tearing up his family claim another victim?

Zahra Owens was born in Europe just before Woodstock and the moon landing and was given a much less pronounceable name by her non-English-speaking parents. Being an Aquarian meant she would never quite conform, and people learned to expect the unexpected.

She started writing fairy tales in first grade; the same year she came into contact with her first group of English-speaking friends, a group which would eventually grow to include people from all over the world. On the outside she was a typical only child, accustomed to being with adults most of the time. On the inside, she sought ways to channel her wild imagination.

During the daytime she earns a living as a computer specialist, but it’s her former career as an intensive care nurse that tends to seep into her fiction. Maybe this has to do with her weak spot for flawed characters and imperfect bodies, or maybe it’s just her sadistic streak coming through. You be the judge.

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Excerpt fromEarth and Sky by Zahra Owens

“I’m telling you, we’re missing horses,” Hugh told his boss. “Not a lot, but last week I had Tim count again because we were one short, and this week we lost another one.”

Hugh and Hunter were riding fences. On a large ranch like Hunter’s, this was a job that took most of the day, especially when they needed to dismount from time to time to check something out or to make small repairs. Usually this job was done by two of the workmen, but because of Hugh’s concerns, the foreman had invited his boss to ride with him on this crisp spring morning.

Both men were tall and muscled and had practically been born in the saddle. Hugh was the oldest son of a ranch foreman who had worked for Hunter’s father and, later, for Hunter. Now that his dad had retired, Hugh was Hunter’s foreman. He had a younger brother Tim working with him, and a middle brother Jack, who specialized in horse dentistry. They lived and breathed horses.

Hunter had been born into the ranch as well. His father had been a rancher who had bought up most of the surrounding ranches during a recession—including the one Hugh’s father had owned—and who had done rather well for himself until his untimely death. Hunter had only been fourteen at the time, and if it hadn’t been for Hugh’s father, he wouldn’t have kept the ranch afloat. Now Hugh was married to Hunter’s older sister, Lisa, so he was practically family. Hunter was an even better businessman than his father, with more horses than ever being born inside the large perimeter of the Blue River Ranch and sold at auction or to other ranches all over the US. He worked hard and enjoyed getting his hands dirty in between all the paperwork and negotiating his job required.

Despite Hunter’s concern over the missing horses, a day like today, when he could spend it on horseback, was a treat. Sometimes he wished he could just work the ranch and not have to deal with everything else that came with running a successful business. Today felt like a holiday, something that was rare in Hunter’s world. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been away from the ranch for anything other than a rancher’s convention or an out-of-town auction. Then again, he really didn’t mind. Even on those occasions when he needed to travel, he always felt homesick from the moment he crossed the county line. This was his land, and if he had anything to say about it, he would be buried on it, just like his father. He hoped it would be after a long and full life—not like his dad, who’d been cut down in his prime—but nevertheless, he did not see himself ever moving away from it.

“So are you saying someone is stealing our horses, or are you thinking we have a predator on our hands?” Hunter asked his foreman after a long silence. He had his own idea about the matter, but Hugh didn’t spend all his time with his nose in paperwork, so Hunter valued his opinion.

“I’m thinking cougar or mountain lion, possibly with cubs and definitely hungry,” Hugh answered calmly. “Only thing we haven’t found so far is a carcass. Which would point to a horse thief, but then, if I were him, I’d steal horses that were already trained, not one-year-old colts.”

Hunter sighed. They didn’t need this. They’d only moved the horses to the higher meadows two weeks ago so they’d get the fresh grass that had been growing all winter. Among them were pregnant mares that would foal later in the year. For now, they were still quick enough to get away from any predator, but if Hugh was right, they wouldn’t get the good grass they needed to nourish their offspring in the later stages of pregnancy because they’d have to be moved closer to the house, where predators were less likely to strike. Hunter didn’t like this one bit. Then again, he hated losing horses, and not just because it meant less income.

Hunter was still deep in thought when he saw Hugh direct his horse toward a natural incline, where he jumped off.

“I think we’ve got an inquisitive mountain lion on our hands,” Hugh said gruffly. “Let’s hope she’s just here to feed her babies until her usual prey recuperate from the harsh winter, because if she’s been forced out of her habitat for some reason, we’re in trouble.”

“Are you sure?” Hunter asked from atop his horse.

Hugh was crouching down near a muddy patch on the small hill. “Oh yes, a puma’s been standing here, surveying her surroundings. Unless we find the carcass of a horse nearby, we can’t be sure she killed as well, but she’s definitely been here since the rain, which means within the last two days.”

Hunter unconsciously felt for the rifle in his saddlebag. The last thing he wanted was for mama puma to come out of hiding and make a tasty treat out of his foreman. Although mountain lions were notoriously wary of people, this one seemed to be more brazen than most, and it was hard to tell what a desperate puma would do for food.

“Did Tim say which horses we lost?” Hunter asked.

Hugh got up from his crouching position and nodded. “We’re not sure about this week’s, but last week was a late foal from October.”

“Damn!” Hunter cursed. He’d have to make a decision soon. He couldn’t afford to lose new foals. They were the ranch’s source of income, and every one they lost would show up in the books. He had no choice. They’d have to move the herd away from the outer fields again.

“Do we have enough wranglers to move the herd back down?” Hunter wondered aloud.

Hugh climbed back in the saddle. “In a word, no. We got one drifter walking in after we put out the feelers, and I put him to work in the stables. He’s not a bad worker, but I doubt he’s much of a wrangler. Haven’t seen him ride a horse yet, although according to Tim, he’s okay handling them. I suppose if we really needed him, we could give him a try, but that still leaves us two hands short. If you ask me, I’d move the herd in smaller groups, like we did to bring them up here. That way we should be able to handle them. Don’t suppose Gable’s made a miraculous recovery? We could use his help.”

Hunter sighed. “With the state of his leg after that injury he sustained last year, if anything, Gable will need our help from now on. Although, I think he found himself a ranch hand.” Hunter wanted to ask Hugh how his neighbor, running his ranch single-handedly and in dire straits, had found capable help when they could afford to hire staff but couldn’t find any. He didn’t, though. Gable had a hard enough time staying afloat, so Hunter didn’t begrudge him finding someone to lend a hand.

They trotted along, talking about the goings-on at the ranch while keeping their eyes peeled for anything unusual along the way. It had started to drizzle, and Hunter pulled the collar on his oilskin duster tighter, closing the zipper some more in an attempt to stay dry. He knew it would be futile, but he did it anyway. After a while, both men needed to dismount when they noticed a breach in a stretch of barbed wire. It was easily mended with an extra length and a pair of wire cutters, but Hugh pointed at the flattened high grass beyond the fence. They tied up their horses, and Hunter took out his rifle again before crossing the fence. They took their time, looking at the tracks in the mud and the broken-off bushes here and there, but found no evidence of the missing horses.

The rain started to pick up, so the men packed up to return to the homestead. From where they’d left their horses, they could see the mares with last year’s young, grazing. With a hungry predator around, Hunter knew they couldn’t leave them there for much longer.

***

“You mean there’s a puma eating our horses?” Danny asked eagerly as he scarfed down the mashed potatoes, peas, and roast beef they were having for dinner.

“Do we have to talk about this over dinner?” Lisa, his mother, admonished.

“He’s going to find out anyway, Lise,” Hunter told his sister. “It’s nature’s way. The sooner he finds out about it, the better.” He turned to the nine-year-old. “You can help move the herd on Saturday, bring them to safety.”

“And that’s the last I want to hear about it over the dinner table,” Lisa cautioned. “We don’t eat horse meat, and we don’t talk about anything else eating it at this table.”

Danny chuckled but stopped as soon as he saw his grandmother, who was clearly of the same opinion as his mother, giving him a stern look.

Even Hunter’s face turned serious. Although he loved his mother dearly, she was a woman you didn’t trifle with.

“So you’re moving the herd back down?” Beth Krause asked her son.

“Yes, ma’am,” Hunter answered. “We can’t afford to lose more colts to that puma or anything else that feels we’ve got plenty, and although it’s really great grass on those high pastures, we can’t keep round-the-clock surveillance to prevent them from becoming a moveable feast for predators. We barely have enough manpower to bring them down again.”

“Well, you’re not taking Danny if there’s a big cat on the loose up there,” Lisa added.

“Mom!” Danny protested.

“Come on, sis,” Hunter pleaded. “He’s big enough to ride more than a pony now, so if anything happens, he can get away. He’s been riding Belle down here on the grounds, and you know how beautifully she handles. She’s one we got from Gable, so she can be trusted, even carrying a shrimp like Danny.” He ruffled Danny’s dark, curly hair and winked at him to make his words sound less harsh. “You know we’re shorthanded, and he can work the fences. There’ll always be someone around to help out, and Hugh and I will take good care of him. Right, Hugh?”

Hunter looked at Hugh across the table. The foreman had been quiet until now, like he always was around his wife and mother-in-law. There wasn’t much point in protesting if you couldn’t win, so he simply shrugged.

“We’ll see,” Lisa compromised, silently asking for Hunter’s plate to give him seconds.

***

Saturday morning started off early with saddling the horses at dawn. The drizzle that had kept everything pretty much wet for the last few days had ceased, and the sun looked bright as it crept over the horizon.

“Great day to move some horses,” Hunter said aloud as he entered the row of stables toward the one that held Davenport, a temperamental gelding that had lost none of his spunk after being neutered. Hunter loved to ride him. It was a battle of wills, and Hugh always shook his head and laughed when he saw what Hunter put up with when it came to that horse.

“He’s almost ready,” an unfamiliar voice said from behind the brown steed.

Hunter patted Davenport’s neck as he rounded him. “And who are… Grant? What are you doing here?”

The tall and strikingly handsome cowboy turned toward Hunter. “Hugh hired me last night. I heard you were a few hands short, and I was in the neighborhood, so I figured I could help out.”

“Hugh hired you?”

Hunter didn’t wait for an answer. Instead, he paced determinedly in the direction of where he thought Hugh would be: saddling his own horse.

“What the fuck made you hire Grant Jarreau?” Hunter shouted, not bothering to check whether there was anyone else present in the stable.

Hugh, always calm and collected, put his horse’s foot down and straightened his back. “We’ve been looking for help for over a year, and all we found was a halfway decent stable boy. Grant arrived here last night looking for a job, so I hired him.”

“And how long is he staying for?” Hunter asked, trying to keep his anger from boiling over.

Hugh shrugged. “Like any other horse wrangler. Until he’s found someplace better to work, which around here isn’t likely to happen. So I guess until he’s ready to move on.”

“He’ll leave in the dead of night, like after Gable’s accident. For all we know, he caused it and left Gable for dead. I don’t trust him to cover my back, Hugh.”

Hugh calmly looked at Hunter. “All I know is that he’s a damn fine wrangler and not too proud to get his hands dirty. He’s like us, Hunter. He’s welded to his horse, knows their language, and can get them to do just about anything. And on top of that, he doesn’t mind mucking out stables or saddling horses for other riders. If he leaves, he leaves. In the meantime, we have had a good worker to carry part of the load. If he doesn’t come around on Friday evening for his paycheck, I’ll have a drink on him.” A shy smile played around Hugh’s mouth. “Besides, even Davenport doesn’t dare to give him attitude. That was his test. I let him groom your horse last night, and the big shit didn’t even flinch. I figured if Grant was good enough for the prince, he would be good enough for you.”

Hunter eyed Hugh suspiciously and then conceded. “Fine! But I don’t need to like him. He’s trouble and he’ll prove me right one day. I can’t forget what he did to Gable and therefore to us. We had fifty extra horses to take care of because of him.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Hugh replied with a smile. “You never mind helping Gable out, so it wasn’t such a big burden, right?”

Hunter narrowed his eyes at Hugh and then paced out of the stable without saying another word. He slowed his pace as soon as he came near his own horse. Grant was standing with his back toward him, bent over and apparently checking something on Davenport’s hoof. Hunter’s eyes traveled from the long, narrow back to where a red plaid shirt was tucked into a pair of fitted, slightly worn jeans that showed off a nicely curved ass, and Hunter felt all his blood rush south. He closed his eyes and swerved into the stable to prevent himself from bumping into Grant.

He couldn’t do this, couldn’t have these feelings. Not right now, and certainly not about Grant. He took a few cleansing breaths and willed himself to calm down. The thoughts would go away. They always did. He’d go out on the town tonight and get laid. He was popular enough and always got plenty of attention, so even if all else failed, he could count on Miranda forgetting he had turned her down so many times before, and she’d sleep with him. Take the edge off. She was good at that.

One more deep breath and Hunter was ready to step outside. He didn’t look at Grant this time, although he was aware that Grant had stepped away from the horse. Instead, he took Davenport’s reins and mounted him, turning the nervous horse around once. “Grant, you can ride Raven. You should remember him, since I bought him from Gable. I’ll meet you, Danny, and Hugh at the first gate.” And with that, he sped off.

Now that Hunter was concentrating on keeping his eager gelding in check, he slowly calmed down. This he could do. He could work hard all day, spend time in the open air, move some horses, stay alert to any trouble that was brewing in the herd, and do all this with men who were practically family to him. It would all run smoothly, even with Grant there. Hunter knew Hugh was right. Grant was a good worker and he knew what he was doing. Hunter would set his objections aside and work with him like he worked with all the other wranglers. It didn’t matter that he suspected Grant was gay. The other guys didn’t know, and Grant had always been discreet, so it wouldn’t make a difference.

Hunter shook his head and focused on watching where he was going. Davenport wasn’t always to be trusted when he was this eager to run, and Hunter had been thrown off more than once when his horse had decided to jump a fence or a hedge. He pulled the reins and made the gelding stop just before the first gate. He turned the horse around and saw the others trot leisurely over toward him: Hugh and his brother Tim, with little Danny in between them and Grant beside them on the dark horse Hunter had told him to ride. Even from this distance he could see how well Grant sat in the saddle. He almost had a regal seat, aided not only by his clear confidence but also by his tall physique, long, lean back, and broad shoulders. Hunter turned his horse around to force himself to stop looking at the new wrangler. Instead, he opened the gate and entered the lower range.

The mustering went smoothly, with the four experienced riders rounding up the horses and little Danny opening and closing gates. Danny was also putting in some extra effort, running behind the occasional spooked foal and unruly young horse, just so he could prove he was worth his keep. The mare he was riding did a good job protecting her young jockey, which wasn’t something that surprised Hunter, since that was the reason he’d bought her off Gable two years earlier. Hunter’s father had bought Hunter his first full-grown horse for his seventh birthday, so when Danny, Hunter’s godson, turned that age, Hunter had to buy him one too. Although at the time the horse had been a bit big for the seven-year-old, now that Danny was older, Belle proved an excellent choice for the young rider.

After the work was done and Hunter was assured that the herd was safe in the lower fields, the men dismounted and started rubbing down their horses. Although the ranch employed stable boys who were quite capable of grooming the horses and unsaddling them, the general rule was that if they had the time, every wrangler took care of his own mount.

With Hugh and Tim helping out Danny, Hunter was left on the other side of the stable block with Grant. Hunter brushed by Grant as he took Davenport’s saddle off.

“So does this mean I can stay?” Grant asked, smiling.

Hunter looked at him briefly, then walked on. When he returned, Grant was still waiting for an answer.
“You’re a good wrangler,” Hunter answered flatly. “And we’re shorthanded, so I’m not about to throw you out, but just realize that I don’t trust you. I won’t forget what you did to Gable.” With that, Hunter turned around and started brushing down Davenport.

Grant moved into his field of vision. “You don’t know the full story.”

Hunter sighed and avoided looking Grant in the eye. “All I know is that the day he got hurt, you disappeared. If there had been anything missing from Gable’s house, the sheriff would have put you on the wanted list, but there wasn’t. The rumors were there, though.” Hunter didn’t elaborate and Grant didn’t offer an explanation.

After what seemed like a long time, during which both men silently worked on their horses, Grant spoke again. “I wouldn’t trust rumors. Have you ever bothered asking Gable?”

Hunter didn’t give an answer, and Grant didn’t wait around for one. The tone had been set.

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Earth and Sky excerpt #2 (with sexy bits, intended for age 18+ only)

It was still raining when Hunter walked into the shower block more than an hour later. Automatically he shook the wet off his oilskin duster and took off his hat, making a stream of water run off that as well. He was so nervous he could barely breathe, yet he had to do this. He remembered feeling like this when he’d come home from school with bad grades one term and his mother made him wait in the mudroom for his dad to come in from the ranch. Only this time, he wasn’t going to be scolded. He simply wanted to convey his thanks to Grant and that was that. Yes, knowing that the wrangler was washing the rain off his skin, standing under the shower butt naked, was making Hunter sweat. Part of him hoped that Grant hadn’t shut the stall door all the way so he could catch a glimpse of him and could let his eyes wander over those broad shoulders and narrow hips, but another part of him knew that if that happened, he’d never be able to get the image out of his mind.

So he paced the small corridor that led to the shower cubicles, hat in hand and incessantly dripping, until he heard the shower being turned off. He knew Grant had to pass through the corridor on the way to the main house so it was simply a matter of being patient and Grant would come to him. Hunter couldn’t stand still, though, so he paced. He had just turned around when he heard Grant’s voice behind him.

“Hunter. What an unexpected pleasure.”

Straightening his back, Hunter turned to face him. “Grant,” he nodded. Hunter couldn’t look him straight in the eye, afraid he wouldn’t be able to hide his appreciation of the long limbs, the slightly rough skin, still wet with moisture, the fact Grant wasn’t wearing anything but a towel slung low on his hips. Suddenly Hunter was grateful Grant was carrying his wet clothes, otherwise he would have seen the dusting of chest hair or the washboard stomach he knew Grant possessed. Damn, there was a reason Hunter never went into the men’s shower block and it was because it would awaken feelings he tried every day to hide.
Grant was still staring at him, clearly expecting him to say something.

“I wanted… I wanted to say thank you.”

“My pleasure.” Grant nodded. “I didn’t think twice, to be honest. I saw Danny leave and I thought he might get into trouble so I followed him out. He’s too young to be out in this sort of weather on his own and on a horse he’s barely old enough to manage, so it was obviously without permission. I knew you’d never let him go out like that.”

“With his dad gone, he’s a bit messed up,” Hunter said, by way of apologizing for Danny’s behavior. “He seemed to be okay about it, but I guess he misses him.”

“Yeah, we all do,” Grant mused. “So he’s okay now?”

“Yeah,” Hunter said, still not looking directly at Grant. “He was shivering like mad and he’ll get an earful from Lisa as soon as she’s sure he’ll live, but other than a cold and a big scolding he won’t take anything away from it.”

“That’s good to hear,” Grant replied. “He’s a good kid.”

“Yeah, he is,” Hunter agreed, fiddling with his hat. “So what happened to that gate?” He knew he should let Grant get on with it, but he somehow had a hard time leaving.

“The storm dislodged it. Looked pretty bad and we couldn’t fix it, so we tied it up. We’ll have to repair it for good tomorrow.”

Hunter nodded, stealing looks from time to time, but not daring to feast his eyes. “Listen, I better let you run upstairs so you can get dressed, otherwise I’ll be responsible for you getting a cold as well.”
Grant smiled, so Hunter turned around to leave.

“I had the feeling you didn’t mind seeing me naked,” Grant added just before Hunter rounded the door.

Hunter stopped. He had to prevent himself from turning around and shouting something about Grant being an insolent prick, but instead he started walking again. With every step he took away from the crew house, he walked faster. Every step away made him realize that it was good that he hadn’t shouted at Grant, because he knew that the words would have only served to push Grant away, hoping that if his resolve not to kiss the man faltered, that Grant would move away from him, preventing the inevitable from happening. There it was. He’d admitted to himself that he wanted to kiss the man, push his body against Grant’s, and feel those hard muscles under his hands.

It was still raining when Hunter reached the mudroom at the side of the main house, but he didn’t walk in. Instead he smashed his fist against the worn wood. There was no reason to think that Grant would push him away if he returned to the crew quarters. He’d seen the way Grant had looked at him; he’d seen the unashamed lust in the man’s eyes; he’d felt the stolen touches, the way Grant always sought him out, despite the fact he hadn’t been very welcoming toward him. He’d only now allowed himself to understand them. The adrenalin of rescuing Danny was just ebbing away, but his heart was still beating fast. He was tired and wet to the bone, but all he could think of was that he needed to release the tension and his own hand wasn’t going to do. Not anymore.

Hunter turned around and paced back to the crew house. He had to get it out of his system, had to taste the forbidden fruit, just this once, and then maybe he would never again wonder ‘what if’? Hunter entered the house through the same door he’d left it earlier and almost ran up the stairs. Then he realized he had no idea which was Grant’s room. He had no other course of action than to call out his name. He hoped the other guys would either not recognize his voice or simply think that the boss was here to give Grant a hard time.

At the end of the corridor, a door opened and Grant stuck his head out. As soon as he saw Hunter he gestured for him to come inside his room.

“You’re back quick,” Grant said as soon as he closed the door behind Hunter. His voice was subdued as if he knew noises carried too far through the house.

Hunter didn’t answer. What could he say?

“Guess I don’t have to ask you if it’s still raining.”

Hunter looked up and gazed straight into Grant’s dark eyes. Grant’s smile was teasing and seductive and coupled with the fact that the towel that had only barely clung to Grant’s hips had been replaced by a pair of boxers and nothing else, made Hunter avert his eyes again.

“Why don’t you take your coat off?” Grant suggested. “You’re dripping all over my floor.”

Hunter hesitated, but Grant moved away, opening a closet and taking out a bottle of whiskey.

“Drink?” Grant offered

Hunter nodded and placed his duster over the chair standing next to the near wall while Grant took out two glasses and added about an inch of amber liquid to both of them.

“Here,” he said, offering one of the tumblers to Hunter. “It’ll help warm you up, because you must be cold by now and we can’t have the boss catching a cold, being as understaffed as we are right now.”

Hunter accepted the glass and downed the entire contents in one swallow. The liquid burned but Hunter welcomed the feeling. He gave Grant just enough time to take one sip and then took a step toward him.

Grant clearly noticed the overture and put his glass down on the table. He was still smiling as he reached for Hunter’s glass and just managed to bring that to safety before Hunter launched himself forward. Grant was roughly pushed against the window and as he spread his legs slightly, Hunter pushed even closer. Hunter’s kiss was rough and aggressive, but Grant could easily hold his own, even when his ass was pushed onto the window sill. He scooted back as far as he could and pulled Hunter to him. Hunter didn’t resist. In fact he pushed his groin against Grant’s and Grant felt Hunter’s arousal, which made him smile into the kiss.

“What’s so funny?” Hunter murmured.

“You are,” Grant answered as he put his hand on the back of Hunter’s neck to pull him back in for a kiss. This time Grant took the lead, pushing his tongue into Hunter’s mouth. Grant let go of Hunter’s hip to attempt to find his way into Hunter’s jeans. As they kissed, they fought for dominance until Grant found his prize and unzipped Hunter, inserting his hand into Hunter’s boxers and enveloping his swollen cock.

Hunter pulled back slightly, but didn’t move away. He stopped fighting Grant, his movements seeming automatic, slipping from Hunter’s control. The way Hunter was moaning against his mouth turned Grant on so much, he was rock hard inside his boxers as well. He resisted touching himself, not wanting to scare Hunter off. Instead he rubbed the hard shaft in his hands as Hunter was thrusting against the friction until without warning Hunter came with a loud moan. To Grant’s surprise Hunter did pull away this time, hurriedly zipping up his wet jeans and not looking at Grant before grabbing his coat and hat and running out before he’d had time to put them on.

Grant was left sitting on the window sill, rock hard and unsatisfied. He eventually got up to close his door and wash his sticky hand at the small sink in his room. His groin was aching and he took his cock in hand to finish himself off, simply to kill the dull ache, but it did little more than that. He let himself drop to his bed and rubbed his fingers through his short curly hair, trying to get over his frustration. Why did Hunter do that? Why hadn’t Hunter reciprocated? Grant couldn’t find an explanation that satisfied him. He hadn’t made a direct move toward Hunter before because he knew that Hunter was one of the few men who knew about his sexual preference. He imagined he wouldn’t need to advertise. If Hunter wanted him, he’d come to him; but now that he had, Grant was even more confused. The other reason had been that he needed the job. He’d been sent packing for far less than coming on to the boss. For some foremen, the knowledge that Grant was gay was enough. And news travelled. So all his life, Grant had played it like the others, by either staying vague about his sexual encounters or, in groups where it was commonplace to brag, he’d boast about his Saturday night conquests. It was surprisingly easy to lie about taking home some big-bosomed barfly. After all, Grant had had his fair share of women, just not lately. These past few years, he’d only slept with men, most of them nameless and faceless one night stands, with one exception: Gable.

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