Read an Excerpt
'Ride 'em Hard Cowboy' by J.P. Bowie
Sheriff Joel Harper was pissed, more than that really. He was madder than a hornet, and there was no one within a fifteen mile radius for him to vent his spleen on. Just as well his younger brother Toby wasn’t with him right now. The kid would most likely hear language never intended for his young ears. Who was he kidding? Toby could most likely match him curse for curse.
He just couldn’t believe it. He was being sued—sued by a no good son-of-a-bitch who should be behind bars for his flagrant drug use, but who instead had got himself some city attorney and was suing Joel for kidnapping, assault and battery.
“That lyin’ sack-o-shit,” Joel muttered under his breath still seething after reading the details of the suit in which Daniel Francis Hutchins, the plaintiff, had filed a complaint to the effect that while leaving a local tavern, he was attacked by an assailant he later recognised as Sheriff Joel Harper, taken to the Denton Sheriff’s Office where he had been summarily stripped naked, beaten, and handcuffed to the bars of his cell for several hours while being denied access to a toilet. Hutchins also claimed that the entire time he was subjected to this humiliation, Sheriff Joel Harper—who was not in uniform, and therefore Hutchins surmised him to be off duty—had taunted, slapped him around and generally debased him.
“Bullshit,” Joel muttered again, gunning the engine of his Police Department issue SUV, and sliding back onto the road from the gravel shoulder where he’d pulled over to study what, in his mind, was the biggest pile of horse manure he’d ever read. As he sped down the road towards Denton, a small rural town about twenty miles outside Sacramento, he figured his next step would be to call the Attorney General’s office and find out how they were going to handle this.
His main concern was that Danny Hutchins was the son of one of the wealthiest ranchers in the county, and no doubt his father, who had no love for the Denton Sheriff’s office, would use every ounce of influence he had to get Joel fired. Old man Hutchins just couldn’t let go of the fact that two years earlier, just after Joel had been elected Sheriff, Joel had arrested him for being drunk and disorderly and trying to beat up the manager of the Sizzlin’ Steak, one of Denton’s better restaurants. A night in the local jail cell to cool him off had only angered Hutchins more, swearing to ‘get even’ as he left the following day.
Joel hadn’t listened to Hutchins’ threats of reprisal then, nor would he let the deprecating letters Hutchins would demand the local paper publish on a regular basis, bother him. He didn’t doubt that this latest attempt to get him fired was instigated by Hutchins Senior. Joel figured he wasn’t above using his useless son as a means to an end.
It galled Joel that Danny had turned out to be such a shiftless individual. He and Danny had gone to school together, had been friends briefly until Danny had got himself mixed up with a bunch of riff-raff Joel couldn’t stomach. He’d railed at Danny on several occasions that he was wasting his life, that with his talent for electronics and the fact he was a whizz with computers, he should be out there making a career for himself instead of getting wasted with a bunch of losers. But the last time they’d spoken, Danny had given him the finger and told him to go fuck himself.
Despite all that, Joel would never have imagined Danny would sink this low.
'Roping His Man' by Simone Anderson
Colton Greenleaf pulled his Jeep Wrangler Safari to a stop in front of the sprawling two-story ranch house butted up against the setting sun and inhaled deeply. Rest and relaxation in the cool mountain air was just what the doctor ordered—or in this case, the Physician’s Assistant, Colton thought, smiling to himself. He planned to do just that for the next few weeks while he waited to hear if he got the job as a P.A. in the trauma centre at the Medical Centre of Louisiana at New Orleans on the outskirts of the French Quarter. Graduating with a four-point-oh from Duke University’s Physician’s Assistant programme and high scores on the PANCE, the Physician’s Assistant National Certification Exam, in addition to his volunteer work, would hopefully help him secure the job.
For now though, he had at least two full weeks of carefree idleness—something he hadn’t enjoyed since he started college almost seven years ago. The only thing that would make the next few weeks better would be getting laid, but that wasn’t about to happen when he was three hours from Casper, forty-five minutes to Cody and fifteen minutes to the small town of Buffalo Heart Springs, which boasted a human population of eighteen hundred and seventy-six, and a livestock population of easily five times that.
“Evening, Colt,” a low male voice said, the sound was familiar and sent shivers through his body, straight to his cock. “Welcome home.”
Damn. Of all the people he had to meet now. He should have realised that the man would be still here and wandering around. He willed his erection away and failed.
“Hiya, Hawk. And it’s Colton.” He prayed he sounded calmer than he felt. The older man had been the source of most of Colton’s fantasies since Hawk had shown up on the ranch two weeks after his sixteenth birthday, slipping into Colton’s thoughts during classes and late night study sessions even when he was on the other side of the country. Colton had a feeling that he could be on the other side of Pluto and still be affected by the gorgeous man. “Thanks, it’s good to be here. Missed it.” Missed you.
“Long drive?” Hawk asked, smiling though concern laced the older man’s voice.
“Yes. Stayed at a hotel about an hour this side of Lincoln last night. Drove the last eleven or so hours today,” Colton replied, trying to replay the lectures, scenery, the women in his cohort, anything to soften his erection. It was a losing battle. Hawk’s voice thundered through his body and enveloped his cock, hardening it. Colt could only hope his parents weren’t home. He’d forgotten to call when he’d stopped in Shoshoni for gas and food to let them know he would be home tonight.
Hawk raised an eyebrow. “You look beat, Colt, let me give you a hand.”
“I was going to leave it until morning, but thanks.”
“Go see your folks, I’ll start bringing it to your room,” Hawk suggested.
“But—you—you don’t have to. I can get it. I just wanted to wait until morning when I could unpack and put things away,” Colton stammered. He hated it when the ranch hands tried to help him out, it made him feel weak and inferior. He was pretty sure they didn’t mean to, but it didn’t change anything.
“If you don’t want your mom’s help in the morning, I suggest starting tonight,” Hawk replied, giving him a knowing smile. “I won’t even peek.”
'A Fistful of Emmett' by Jambrea Jo Jones
“I’m sorry Emmett, but we’re gonna hafta let ya go. I hate to do it. The bank ain’t givin’ us any options. They’re takin’ the place. Beth Anne and I’ll give you a nice reference letter if ya need it. You’re a good worker. You should be on your feet in no time. You can stay here fer a while. At least until the auction.”
Well didn’t that beat all? What the fuck was he supposed to do now? FBR Acres had been his home for goin’ on ten years. Fred hadn’t told him things had gotten that bad.
“Is there anything I can do?” Emmett took his hat off and ran a hand through his hair. He was uncomfortable about money talk as it was, but this was the only family he had and he’d do anything for them.
“It’s too late. We just can’t do it anymore. We’re gonna retire down Florida way. The kids are puttin’ us up for a bit.”
“Shit, Fred. You should have told me. I would have helped.” He hit his hat against his leg to get rid of some of the dust, and put it back on his head.
“Couldn’t let ya do that, Em. Even with your help, we would have gone under and we weren’t takin’ ya with us. Things just ain’t what they used to be,” Fred lamented.
“When’s the auction?”
“We got two weeks to get everything ready. We ain’t takin’ much with us. The bank is takin’ the rest. Lock, stock and barrel. We get to keep the vehicles and of course the personal items. Red is yours free and clear. Also have a little cash set aside as your last payment. We worked it out the other night. I hate that I have to do this, Em.” Fred frowned and squinted—a sure sign he was upset with the way things had gone down. Emmett had seen that look a time or two over the years.
“Not your fault. Like ya said, I’ll get back on my feet in no time. I have chores to get done and should finish working on the tractor so it’s ready for next week. I assume that goes in with the auction.”
“Yep.” Fred looked down at his feet.
“Thanks for Red. I appreciate it. And don’t worry so much. In two weeks, you’ll be seeing your grandbabies and living a life of leisure. You deserve it.” Em gave Fred a slap on the back and left for his day of chores.
Just because life was going to hell didn’t mean he could let the chores go. He’d worry about what to do later. Not like he had a lot to pack anyway. His life didn’t lead to much in the way of personal items and he never really went anywhere. The ranch was his home. His day consisted of getting up, working and going to bed, with the occasional trip to Austin for a quick lay. He loved the ranch life or he wouldn’t still be here. It was all he knew.
Fred and Beth Anne had helped his momma raise him. Summers had been the best because he got to spend them at the ranch. Sure, it was work, but he loved the animals and he loved feeling needed. When his momma died, he’d moved in full time to help out and he’d never looked back. Now he would have to leave.
'Sing for Your Supper' by Jaime Samms
According to my map, there should have been a town here. I’d passed a closed gas station five minutes back, and a general store with a curling, paper “out to lunch” sign taped to the window. The crumbling, yellowed tape holding it in place looked like it hadn’t been taken down in months. The doors had been locked up tight.
I glanced at my gas gauge and felt the tension in the back of my neck crawl up towards that spot behind my left eye. I made a point of rolling my shoulders over in a useless attempt to ease the stress. The old Jeep I was driving wasn’t exactly a stellar gas saver, and the needle edged towards the big red ‘E’ awfully fast. I didn’t have to look in my wallet to know filling the tank was going to be problematic.
“Where the hell is ‘Redcliff’?” I glanced again at the map lying on the seat beside me. There was a tiny black dot about the point on the map I was driving through, but the gas station and store seemed to have been plunked down in the middle of nowhere, like tornado casualties deposited on the side of the road.
I rubbed a hand through my hair, trying to ignore the tightening in my gut. The gas tank wasn’t the only tank needing refilling. I was going to have to find a place to stop soon then make the decision—feed myself or fill the tank. I wasn’t going to be able to do both.
And it was Pete’s fault. Bastard. He was supposed to be my brother, was supposed to look out for me, not be the one holding me down...
Don’t. Don’t remember.
I still fell asleep with that image of the red-hot metal coming at me, Pete’s hands vice-like around my upper arms, Luke Driscoll’s leering face. I couldn’t remember what they’d been babbling about. The branding iron seeking my flesh, and the nasty taste of Luke’s spunk still in my mouth, had been about all I could focus on at the time.
Just the memory made my hands shake. Sweat trickled down my back and under the waist band of my jeans. Luke had been the one to lure me into that trap, swaying his tight ass and offering...
The highway blurred before me. It took a minute to clear my vision enough to reveal I was on the wrong side of the tarmac. I eased back to my own side of the road.
The guy had been my friend. Or so I’d thought. He’d certainly acted the part for months, and had no compunction about shoving his dick down my throat. In fact, he’d acted like it was us against the narrow-minded idiots I called family. But no. None of it had meant anything. He’d been bait. Willing bait, eager to take any opportunity I’d offer to get off, but bait, just the same.
I yanked on the wheel, veering off the highway onto the shoulder. Six months, and I couldn’t get the asshole’s betrayal out of my head. Couldn’t think past it.
'Jack's Way' by Em Woods
“Benjamin.” Joan’s urgent whisper scarcely made it out of the little black box on his desk.
He closed his eyes, wishing for the thousandth time that working for a high profile architecture firm in New Hampshire meant he could escape the big city drama. Setting his pencil down on his drafting table, he slid off his stool and pressed the two-way. “Yes?”
A loud crash from somewhere down the hall punctuated her statement. Ben’s eyes narrowed as he stared at his closed door. “That’s not possible. He’s still in treatment.”
“He’s in treatment, all right, but it isn’t the one where you get any kind of help.”
He blinked at the intercom, mute.
“Ben?” She was louder this time, more worried.
“What are you talking about?”
“For God’s sake. He’s drunk.” A second bang came from just outside his door at Joan’s desk. The line went dead.
Then, he didn’t need the open line to hear what his assistant was saying to his ex-lover. “You nutcase! Look what you just did to my desk.”
“Where’s Ben?” Christian’s drunken slur carried through the closed door.
“He’s not here. Take your fool self home before I call the police.” She was like a mother hen, all gossip and ruffled feathers. But don’t be the idiot who crossed her. She’d peck your eyes out.
“His car’s in the lot. I know he’s around.”
He didn’t want Joan caught in the middle of this. One thing had been consistent in his relationship with Christian—his ex was violent when he drank. Things usually ended in a nasty brawl because Ben wasn’t the pushover his ex liked to think he was. He had known after only two months of dating he wanted out.
It had taken another four to get it done.
When Christian had agreed to in-clinic therapy after yet another vicious argument, Ben had used the opportunity to make a clean break. That had been three months ago. He’d finally started to relax. Six months was a short-term relationship, after all, and Christian hadn’t so much as called.
Ben was gripping the doorknob before he realised he’d even moved. He took one more deep breath before opening the door to take in the scene.
Joan’s back was to Ben and Christian wobbled on weak legs in front of her, poking her in the shoulder. He leaned in, momentarily losing his balance before catching himself on her arm. “Where’s he at?”
“Right here.” Ben leaned against the door jam, crossed one foot over the other. He cocked his head to the side. “What do you want, Christian?”
“You left me.”
“Three months ago.” Ben clenched his teeth. He hadn’t planned to officially out himself at work, but with half the office staff gawking from the hall, there was nothing he could do now. Damn it.
'Straight Cowboy' by Jan Irving
He knew just how it would feel sliding in, the tight heat clamping around him so his eyes would shut. He’d dig his fingers into the man beneath him, buried so deep in Matt James, a shade of heaven as blinding as the noon day sun overhead.
Joshua Ryan’s eyes saucered at the forbidden thought and he nearly choked on his coffee, which was bitter and grainy in his tin cup, leaving a residue that his Grandmother Ruth could probably have read like tea leaves.
He rubbed his forehead, thinking maybe he was having a weird flashback to his summer job last year. It was just that he hadn’t had sex with anyone since then, it wasn’t that he was craving being with another man. Despite the stint as the ‘straight cowboy’ in gay amateur porn he’d done to make some quick cash, he wasn’t gay and no one knew, thank fuck, that he’d ever done them. They’d just shot his body and the back of his head during a few orgy scenes.
Who knew him well enough to identify him just from that?
“Josh, man... What’s with him?” Tupper nudged him so that Josh put his cards down. He hadn’t wanted to play poker with the hands of the Triple M, but when he and his guest had found them already ensconced at the watering hole, he figured it was best to be friendly while they had some lunch and gave their horses a break. “City boy too good to hang out with us?”
He looked over at Matt, a solitary figure leaning against a pine tree at the edge of the campsite, arms crossed as he looked down the ridge towards the waving tall grass in the prairie below. Matt was slender, about four inches shorter than Josh with glossy brown hair. His eyes were a chocolate almost the same colour as his pupils.
Josh dragged his gaze away from Matt and raised his eyebrows at Tupper, a man in his mid-forties with reddened green eyes and salt and pepper short hair who was in charge of the hands riding fences on the border between their land and the national park.
He debated for a second but then decided to just be honest. Matt hadn’t seemed the type of guy who was into bullshit. “He’s deaf, Tupper.”
Tupper blinked and more of his hands glanced over at Matt.
Matt’s expression hadn’t changed but there was a subtle tension to his posture now that Josh picked up on.
“Deaf? What the fuck is he doing out here then?” Tupper asked.
“He’s up here to photograph and write about the lost horses of Chaos Valley,” Josh said.
“Huh, those mustangs are a damned nuisance. Should shoot them all,” Tupper growled. “But I say again, why is he here? I mean, if he can’t hear anything...”
That wasn’t completely true since Matt had tersely informed Josh the morning they set out on their trail ride that he had an implant, but Josh wasn’t familiar enough with the technology to know how much Matt might pick up.
“He’s got me,” Josh said flatly.
A couple of the hands snickered and Josh threw in his cards, having had enough.
“So you’re his hearing loss dog or something, Josh? Geez, you boys down at Western Trail Rides must be hard up.”
“I’ll see you guys,” Josh muttered. He shoved his blond hair back off his forehead and replaced his dusty cowboy hat, thinking Tupper was right about one thing—Josh was hard up. He’d barely slept last night, restless in his bedroll. It made for one cranky cowboy come morning. Shit, when he finished this trip, he was going to visit Diana this time. She’d made it clear she was available.