The toughest ride of his life is all in his head.
Bull rider Scott Gillard has a reputation for quick fists and harsh words. What no one knows is where that anger comes from. After a shocking incident sends him into a tailspin, he knows he needs help: he's been fighting a battle he could never win. Now he's trying navigate a new life and embrace his true self, but some days are easier than others.
Pickup man Cory Ackerson has suffered his share of harassment, but his light still burns bright. He doesn't let anything or anyone keep him down, so when he meets the rugged cowboy with a battered chip on his shoulder and regret in his dark eyes, all he wants to do is help.
As their unlikely friendship grows into something deeper, Scott must overcome his past to be the man Cory deserves, or lose his best chance at his own happily ever after.
Read an Excerpt
Pulling Leather (Pickup Men, #3)
By L.C. Chase, Danielle Poiesz
Riptide PublishingCopyright © 2014 L.C. Chase
All rights reserved.
"You can do this, hon." Brandi leaned across the cab of his truck and squeezed his thigh. The gesture was supportive, encouraging, and he needed it more than he'd ever admit. She smiled before sitting back in the passenger seat. "Take as long as you need. I'll be right here."
Not for the first time, he wondered why he couldn't have fallen for Brandi Saunders. She was perfect, the one person who truly knew him—and all of his secrets—and still stood by him. People had thought she was a regular girl he visited on the tour, a favorite buckle bunny, but she was never a regular girl. It had served him well to let people think they were more, and they had crossed that line once early in their friendship but realized pretty quickly that wasn't a road they were meant to follow. The reality was, and always had been, that they were more like brother and sister.
"Thank you, Bran." He forced a smile he wasn't feeling. "I don't know what I'd have done if you hadn't been there for me." Following the incident two years ago, he'd slid into a tailspin. After the big-ass cherry on his wake-up call—being arrested on suspicion for Tripp's assault—he'd reached out to her for help. He'd refused to see a therapist, but as a clinical social worker for a nonprofit mental health center, she had the skills to guide him through his haze of confusion and self-hate and bring him back to life—his true life.
"Good thing you have me then, isn't it?" She gestured toward the ranch house they'd parked in front of. "Now go."
Easier said than done. He turned back to the house that Tripp Colby shared with Marty Fairgrave. He knew it was an important part of his recovery process, but fuck. Now that he was here, how was he supposed to look Tripp in the eye, knowing he could have changed the course of that night? Or face Marty, with all the shitty things he'd said to the man over the years?
"Stop." Brandi reached across the console and cupped his chin, turning him to face her. "I see what's going on in your head. You need to do this and you can do this. Okay?"
He nodded, then covered her hand with his and pulled it to his lips to kiss her palm. He hated feeling so off-kilter, but she gave him a kind of strength he'd never known he needed.
Which promptly about-faced when he looked back at the house to see Marty standing on the edge of the front steps, foreboding and unwelcoming. Scott sucked in a deep breath and held it for a three-beat before slowly releasing. This had to be done. Whatever Marty and Tripp had to dish out, he was more than willing to accept. Wasn't like he deserved a second chance, or would be forgiven, but he had to make the effort. If for nothing else than his own peace of mind.
He turned to Brandi. "I couldn't do this without you."
"Yes, you could. Eventually." She gave his hand a gentle squeeze, then let go and pulled an e-reader from her bag on the floor. "Now go. I have a love story to finish reading while you're doing your thing. They're just about to have sex."
He groaned and rolled his eyes. He really did love her.
He carefully placed his cowboy hat on his head, and then with another deep breath, opened the door and stepped out into a warm California afternoon. He fought the urge to fidget, stick his hands in his pockets, pull his hat down to cover his eyes ... or turn tail and run back home as fast as possible.
Marty's expression didn't change, but a hint of curiosity churned in the depths of unusually hard, flinty eyes.
Scott stopped a few feet from the bottom of the steps, and the front door swung open. His breath caught in the back of his throat when Tripp stepped out ... using a cane.
After his meltdown following that night, Scott had disappeared from the rodeo world completely, but he'd looked up all he could find on Tripp once he'd finally come to accept who he was. He knew the injuries Tripp had suffered had cost him his career as a professional bull rider, but to actually see it ... If Scott had been paying attention, if he'd truly been a real man then, he could have prevented the severity of it—or maybe all of it. And no, the irony in that was not lost on him.
Tripp stopped beside Marty, and Marty slipped his arm around Tripp's waist, defiance and warning on both their faces.
"What are you doing here?" Tripp said, his voice hard and tight.
Scott lowered his gaze to the base of the bottom step and then looked up at the couple on the porch: at Tripp who had been like a brother, at Marty, one of the best pickup men on the circuit who'd once saved Scott's life at a rodeo, even though he was an asshole. They were good men, strong men, and neither had deserved any of the shit he'd dished out over the years.
He shouldn't be here.
He glanced over his shoulder to find Brandi not reading as she'd said she would but watching him. She nodded her head, giving silent support. Scott took another deep breath, turned back to the cowboys whose feet he bowed at, and removed his hat.
"I ... uh ..." He cleared his throat, swallowed hard, and looked Tripp in the eyes. "I came to apologize to you. For that night. For what happened and what it cost you. I just wanted you to know I'm real sorry about that. If I could, I'd go back and change things so it never would have happened. And ..." He slid his gaze to Marty. "I also wanted to apologize for being a first-class homophobic asshole to you for so long."
The way both men stood so still, staring at him like they could skin him in three seconds flat, made him want to squirm, to run. He shifted the hat in his hands and dropped his gaze. "I don't expect forgiveness or nothing, and I'm not asking for it. I just wanted to come here in person and tell you how sorry I am for everything, and if I can help it, I won't let something like that happen to anyone else."
A horse whinnied in the distance, a bee buzzed past his face, and the silence stretched. He flicked his eyes up quickly. The couple didn't look like they were going to tear him apart anymore, but now their expressions were blank.
"Okay. Well. I'll be on my way then."
"What happened?" Tripp stepped forward as Scott was about to turn away. "You disappeared for two years and now here you are, apologizing on my doorstep."
"You guys remember Brandi?" He waved his hat in the direction of the truck. "She helped me come to terms with a few things about myself. See the error of my ways, so to speak. Now I'm trying to be a better person, live a truer life, and make amends for all the grief I've caused others."
"You were a hard-core asshole, Scott," Marty said. His voice was stony, but his expression had softened. "How can we believe you're for real here?"
Scott stared him dead in the eyes. "Would the old Scott be on your doorstep of his own accord, offering apologies?"
A small smile tipped up one side of Marty's mouth. "Point taken."
Silence fell between them again, thick and weighty.
"Well. That was all I really had to say. So ..." Scott glanced out at the land Tripp and Marty shared—Marty's family ranch in Bridgeport was an impressive spread—but he didn't really see it. "I'll just be on my way then."
Tripp and Marty nodded, and Scott turned to leave. A bead of sweat trickled down the side of his face. Why did the truck feel like he'd parked it twenty miles away rather than twenty feet? The longer he walked, the farther away it seemed. Emotions he couldn't pin bounced around inside his chest: relief that he'd said his piece, disappointment that he hadn't been forgiven, jealousy at the easy way they stood together, loneliness at the nothing he had in his life to look forward to.
"Scott," Tripp called just as he'd reached the truck. He stopped, fighting down a rise of hope. He knew he deserved nothing less than hatred, apathy at the very least, but deep down, he couldn't deny he'd hoped for at least a hint of forgiveness. "Why don't you come and work with me on the gay rodeo circuit?"
Scott blinked. Gay rodeo? Him? That was ... He didn't know. His brain stalled out, and an odd panic nudged at his senses.
Marty snapped his gaze to Tripp, eyebrows raised. "What?"
Tripp placed a hand on Marty's hip. "Trust me, okay? I think it will be good for him."
Marty's pose, the expression on his face, his eyes, everything softened when he looked down at Tripp, and then he smiled, and a little spike of jealousy poked its head out. Shit, what was wrong with him? Self-acceptance was still a struggle sometimes, and he was a long way from wanting anything like what Tripp and Marty had—just seeing two guys together still made him uncomfortable. So why the touch of green now?
Tripp turned back to Scott, his voice kind and smile welcoming. "They don't have as many events as the pro tour, and a lot are out of state, so I work with them, and the PBR on off weeks. What do you say?"
Scott swallowed. "But ... I haven't even been on a bull in two years."
"Not to ride. To work with me. I teach bull riding at the rodeo schools on both tours, and I also work with the PBR to promote awareness and acceptance for all cowboys, regardless of orientation. I think it would be good for you to spend some time in the boots of those you've been spitting on for so many years. Maybe also help make others think before they spit."
Scott had to admit the idea of getting back to the rodeo appealed, but to work with a bunch of gay men? Him? They'd probably string him up and quarter him the first day. Just for kicks. "Thank you, Tripp, but I'm not sure that would be a good idea. I have a feeling the old Scott is all people are going to see."
"Which is more reason to show them this new one, isn't it? That if a hard-ass prick like you can turn it around ...?"
"He makes a great point." Scott started at Brandi's voice right beside him. He hadn't realized she'd left the truck and joined them. He glanced over at her, and she smiled back. The glint in her soft blues eyes told him he'd better accept the offer if he knew what was good for him. And he did. A mad Brandi was the last thing he wanted to deal with, but this might be a bigger step than he was ready for.
Scott looked back at Tripp. "Thank you, but I'll need to think on it."
"Please do," Tripp said.CHAPTER 2
"You okay?" Brandi asked as they bounced down the long drive from the Fairgrave Ranch, dust lifting into the sky in their wake.
Scott thought for a moment, taking stock of the last half hour. "Yes, I think I am." And he wasn't just giving her lip service. He felt lighter somehow, having taken a much-needed step forward and been offered an olive branch. That was so much more than he could have ever hoped for, and was far more than he deserved. That Tripp would extend an offer like that to him only proved how much bigger a man Tripp was, and had always been. It had been a humbling moment, and even if he never accepted the offer, he would always be grateful for that quick acceptance.
"You should honestly give it some thought," she said. "About joining Tripp."
"Do you really think that's such a good idea?" Scott slowed to a stop at the end of the drive before turning onto the gravel road and starting the long trip back to Cupertino. "I can't imagine too many people there would be all that excited about having me around."
He couldn't deny how much the idea appealed. He'd missed the rodeo circuit and deep down would love to get back on it, but people would remember and expect the old Scott. He wasn't that person anymore—most of the time, anyway. Would they even accept who he was now? The real Scott Gillard? He doubted it, especially after the way he'd treated people for so long, letting his own internalized hate and anger bleed out to everyone around him. If the boot were on the other foot, he'd just as soon not have anything to do with himself, either. No matter how much he may have changed.
"Maybe you should try giving people the benefit of the doubt," she said. "They might surprise you."
Scott shook his head. "No. The cowboys on the gay circuit will hate me for being the homophobic prick I was, and the cowboys on the straight circuit will hate me either for being ..." He swallowed and glanced out his side window at the passing landscape. "You know ... that way now. Or for what I did to Billy and Kevin. It's a no-win situation."
"People will react how they'll react. You can only control how you respond to them," she said. Her voice had taken on that warm, supportive professional tone she used when she slipped into therapist mode. "And you did the right thing by turning in Billy and Kevin. Anyone with half a brain can see that."
"I doubt Dex will ever see it that way," he said. With the added charge of a hate crime on top of their assault, and the loss of Tripp's career due to the attack, Billy and Kevin were still in prison and would likely be there for a few more years. Dex, Billy's younger brother, had been none too pleased.
"Again, you can only control your own actions and reactions."
"How am I supposed to react when they start calling me the same things I'd called others? Or if they decide the world would be better off without the likes of me in it?"
"You know how, hon." Her voice softened—therapist out, best friend in. "We've been working on that for months now. You have a solid handle on your anger, you know how and when to walk away, and you can defuse a situation before it escalates."
Could he? Yes, they'd spent a lot of time working through his anger issues and strategies to manage it. He did feel he had a pretty good grip on it, wasn't as fast to anger as he used to be, but then, he'd been keeping a pretty low profile since his meltdown, and away from situations where he'd lost it in the past. He'd even rented his ranch, leased out his horses, and moved into Brandi's house. It had been her request, but he'd never told her how grateful he'd been for the offer. Living alone, with his chaotic thoughts and dark memories, was driving him over the edge. He'd stopped eating, started drinking, and more than once eyed the shotgun locked in a glass cabinet in his den. He didn't know if he'd have pulled himself out of the fugue on his own, or actually opened that gun cabinet, but Brandi had saved him from ever finding out.
The worst of it was behind him now, and he probably should have moved out a year ago, especially since he had a perfectly good house of his own in Stockton, but he hadn't felt ready to be on his own yet. The plan had been that he'd stay there for a few months while he got himself sorted, but it turned out sixteen years' worth of anger and dangerous, destructive thinking took a fair bit longer to correct.
"I know how much you miss it," Brandi said, her voice softer. "Rodeoing, bull riding, traveling. That's who you are. Everything else is secondary, and that's what you need to learn and for people to see. You could be a positive role model for someone."
Scott barked out a strangled laugh. "I'm an asshole!"
"Were. Show 'em who you are now, because I know that guy, and believe it or not, he's kind of likeable."
He had a chance to get back into the scene, and hell, he needed that, but a role model? Unlikely. Maybe she and Tripp were right and this could be a good thing, though, for him to show he'd learned his lessons and was making amends. If he could, then others could too.
Scott sighed and turned to meet her sky-colored eyes. Never having been able to hide what he was thinking from her, Brandi smiled and lifted his phone out of the center console, giving it a waggle. "Call Tripp."CHAPTER 3
"What the hell are you doing here?"
Scott sighed. Not even clear of the parking area at the Morgan Hill grounds—the site of his first-ever gay rodeo, though today was the schooling that preceded rodeo weekend—and already someone recognized him as the homophobic asshole he used to be. He slanted a quick glance in the direction of the voice. He didn't recognize the three cowboys behind him, nor did he know which one had spoken, but it didn't matter. That was exactly the reception he'd expected, and he was beginning to wonder the same thing. What was he doing here? He'd agreed with Tripp and Brandi that it could be good for him, but it sure didn't seem so good for anyone else right now. Why on earth would anyone accept his ass there?
"It's okay, Davey," Tripp said. He'd been waiting by his truck when Scott arrived, and now stood at Scott's shoulder in a show of support. "He's here to work with me, not to make trouble."
Davey's eyebrows disappeared under the brim of his cream-colored cowboy hat, and he turned to his two buddies in surprise. All three looked back at Tripp like he'd grown a third head.
Excerpted from Pulling Leather (Pickup Men, #3) by L.C. Chase, Danielle Poiesz. Copyright © 2014 L.C. Chase. Excerpted by permission of Riptide Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Sailors once signed onto shipboard for years on end often being forbidden to leave lest they jump ship. Cowboys went on cattle drives or rode the range for months and even years at a time. It has long been assumed that they used each other to satisfy certain biological urges. After all they were usually young men in the prime of life. This book three of a trilogy assumes homoerotic behaviour among a most macho of professions, the rodeo cowboy. Scott is faced with the very real dangers inherent in coming out in this environment and no small amount of self-denial and self-loathing. Faced with the costs and wasted energy of denying his true self and the homophobic mental and physical attacks that will come from his fellow contestants and rodeo staffers. Buckle bunnies may wear jeans, but they’re usually women. There’s such a thing as gay rodeo? So what we have in the end is a story of cominng out and embracing a gay partner.
Every so often I come across a book that not only provides a wonderful story but gives an awesome message. L.C Chase did that in this book. Pulling Leather is not only a story I enjoyed about cowboys and bull riders but I am proud to review it because everyone needs to see how the unfounded fear of different lifestyles can not only destroy other people lives, it can destroy your own. You are not going to get more of the story from me in this review because to be honest, you just need to experience it as the plot unfolds. Instead you are going to hear about how homophobic behaviors changed Scott Gillard’s life along with his best friend. Being a bull rider there was a certain expectation from him among his peers. Gay men were not to be supported nor accepted and Scott made some choices that continued to fuel his anger and bitterness. When that finally came to a head he lost everything. Now making amends to people and forgiving himself for not doing what he could have to stop this belief, he finds his true meaning in this world. He also finds Cory Ackerson, another person who has been affected deeply by such behavior. We watch as Scott and Cory try to find a balance that will give the friendship what it needs to survive. As we learn more about the truth behind Scott we also see more than friendship form. While I started out hating Scott, as each page turned I began to understand him and what was behind his anger. He went from demon to yet another victim from society’s ignorance in my heart. I loved how the author made Cory and some other characters the medicine that Scott needed to heal his soul while using Scott’s journey as an aid to help heal Cory. Speaking of other characters, the author gave us some intense moments with a few that broke my heart and reaffirmed my belief in forgiveness and the power of friendship. I wish more people could get over the m/m protest and would read this book and look at the message. It is 52,000 words, wrapped up in a smooth and talented way by the author, which gives you the real look at how homophobia not only destroys a person but our society as a whole. Maybe this wasn’t what the author was trying to do, get such a strong message out, but that is what I walked away feeling. I would recommend this book to people who could go in with an open mind and willing heart to hear the turmoil inside the minds of everyone involved. *Copy provided for review* Reviewed by Tbird for Crystal’s Many Reviewers
Throughout previous Pickup Men stories Scott has been portrayed in a less than complimentary light. He's rather unlikable in fact with his homophobic attitude and actions. That's why it takes a great talent to make readers care about someone so unlikable. Ms. Chase does just that by showing us a man carrying tons of emotional baggage that we learn through his backstory. Learning about his past doesn't erase all he's done until now but it does help us understand why he's the way he is. I felt more sympathetic towards him but never fell for him completely as his journey to HEA and acceptance was full of back and forth internal struggles which weighed the story down early on. Because of his wishy-washy nature I never fully committed to his relationship with Cory but I was drawn to the angst as the sweet Cory tries to help Scott find acceptance in a world not always kind to those who are gay. Cory was a side character in the previous installment of this series and unfortunately we don't get to know him too much beyond what he brings to his relationship with Scott. Where Scott is dark Cory is light. He's a ball of energy always seeing the positive side of things. He's comfortable in his own skin and sticks by Scott no matter what, trying to help him find acceptance in himself and I could always count on him to put a smile on my face despite the unrelenting anger Scott feels towards himself. Ms. Chase is a talent in the m/m genre, and while this book isn't perfect, it's plenty entertaining as it puts readers through the emotional wringer. The rodeo scenes were more plentiful in previous works, and though I wish there'd been more integrated into this story, even the few here were a welcome sight and added to the story's overall tone. Fans of the m/m genre will enjoy the Pickup Men series with now being the perfect time to take the ride.
I have to say that this is a first for me. Gay cowboys? you ask. Nope. I love gay cowboys. What was novel about this particular gay cowboy book – for me – was that Cory is an effeminate gay cowboy. And I have to say that as much as I love two alpha males together, I am head over heels in love with Cory. He is such a freaking sweetheart and I admired the fact that he refused to judge Scott based on gossip and waited to form his own opinion once he got to know Scott. Scott and Tripp were best friends, so close they were like brothers. So Scott felt blindsided when Tripp came out publicly and Scott never knew. Because of the homophobic comments Scott made all the time, Tripp didn’t feel comfortable telling Scott about his sexuality. What Tripp didn’t know was that Scott’s outspokenness was due to him refusing to accept his own sexuality. Sadly, Tripp was ambushed by some other rodeo cowboys and nearly died – actually had they not bragged to Scott about what they did, Tripp would have died. Fast forward two years, and we learn that Scott has been getting professional help learning to deal with his anger and accept his homosexuality. As part of that, he goes to Tripp to apologize for not accepting him and not doing more to prevent the attack. Although Scott has not come out to anyone other than his therapist and Tripp, Tripp invites Scott to help out at an upcoming gay rodeo event so that he can interact with other gay rodeo participants. Reluctantly, Scott agrees and faces some rather chilly welcomes from rodeo riders who knew the old Scott. Despite everything, he perseveres and befriends Cory. As their friendship grows, Cory’s suspicions about Scott’s sexuality become stronger until he asks Scott outright. Still having problems accepting his sexuality, Scott can only say yes or nod to confirm his sexuality. While Cory has always accepted who he was and lived “out” he understood Scott’s issues and they kept their relationship quiet. But Cory can deny who he is for only so long and Scott’s closeted tendencies begin to wear on the relationship. As Pulling Leather is more of a romance, sexual activity is limited, but what does occur is hot – Cory definitely redefines “pickup” men. Ms. Chase has written a really great story that is heavy on the romance with just a sprinkling of physical intimacy to keep readers stimulated. I enjoyed the way that Scott responded to Cory, finding his mannerisms comforting whereas many would find his chatter annoying. Although this is the third book in the series, it can be read as a stand-alone because the prologue gives the reader enough backstory to understand Scott. This was a great read and I look forward to picking up the previous books in the series, especially Tripp’s story. I received a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Reviewed by Angela at Crystal's Many Reviewers!