Bullied during childhood family vacations at a dude ranch, Jude has steered clear of cowboys, horses, and anything reminding him of those dreadful summers. So when his best friend drags him to an equine therapy ranch to see about enrolling her autistic son, Jude’s forced to face his fears — particularly a tall, rugged, and undeniably sexy cowboy named Wyatt. Jude never asked for help, but Wyatt may be just the kind of therapy he needs.
NOTE: This story appears in the anthology, “Cowboy Roundup” edited by Drew Hunt, available in e-book and print formats. Buy the collection and get 16 great gay cowboy stories in one awesome anthology!
Out of my peripheral vision I caught jean-clad legs and fraying edges down near steel-toed boots. I gulped. Nothing good came of boots like that. Boots that could kick my ass around the entire barn.
Tired of this pathetic game, I hardened my voice and stared straight ahead. “Can I help you?”
A few nail-biting seconds passed.
“What’re you drinkin’?” came the smooth drawl from earlier.
I turned to see Wyatt standing there with his thumbs hooked in his pockets. Up this close he was even more tan and rugged and…blazing hot.
“None of your business,” I replied, before I let my imagination run away with me. I wouldn’t let my guard down so easily. Men like this don’t bother with guys like me. Unless he lost a bet with his cow punching buddies.
The man’s blond eyebrow rose and a subtle smile crossed lips that were mighty tempting. He removed his hat. “Come on now, how am I supposed to buy you another if you don’t tell me what you like?” He emphasized those last words in a low, husky timbre.
A shiver went down my spine. From fear for sure.
I folded my arms and leaned on them in front of me on the bar, trying not to show my nerves by adjusting the cuffs of my hoodie.
He ruffled his sweat-dampened hair as that sweet pair of green eyes studied me. This hunk of a guy should be out ropin’ ponies or whatever these freaks do rather than standing here offering to buy me a drink.
“Vanilla Cherry Coke,” I said, finally. “But I don’t want another.”
With a wider smile, Wyatt took a seat on the corner stool closest to me. I thought he’d smell like horse and tack, but instead his sweat reminded me of earth, trees, dew … and sex. The scent was delicious. What the fucking hell was wrong with me?
“I wonder where Betsy ran off to?” he asked, glancing at the back of the bar.
“Late delivery.” I replied, assuming he meant the Jessie look-a-like.
“Ahh.” The stool creaked as he shifted, and I could feel his gaze leveled at me.
Heat sparked my body as if his eyes touched everywhere they landed. I thought I’d feel violated, but it was like I craved the invasiveness. Why was he doing this to me? I needed this whole ruse to stop now.
“Listen –” I began.
“My mama always said it’s not polite to refuse to shake someone’s hand upon meeting ’em.” Wyatt interrupted.
“Wyatt — ”
“We could start over?”
“Fine, but –”
“Nice to meet you, Jude,” he said, and offered his hand.
“You, too,” I replied, wanting to scream with exasperation. Why wouldn’t this guy let me get a word in? Was it some kind of cowboy power-play? But as his tan, calloused hand took mine I nearly gasped at the fiery sensation that crept up my arm. Fuck me. I reluctantly pulled away from his grasp. “I don’t know what you’re trying to do here. But you can just stop. I won’t be the butt of your stupid joke. You and your cowhand friends can go fuck yourselves.” I finished and chugged the last of my Coke, preparing to leave.
Wyatt caught my arm, much more gently than I expected. “Hold up,” he said, and I rolled my eyes, trying to avoid thinking about the tingling where he touched me.
“I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about. I’m not here with anyone but you, and I’m sure as hell not talking to you for any other reason than to get to know you.”
I stared at him. This man wanted to get to know me? “Is that some cowboy euphemism for kicking my ass?”
“Why would you want to get to know me? You know as well as I do, I don’t belong here.” I narrowed my eyes and glanced around, anticipating the moment his buddies came rushing in to rough me up.
Wyatt gave me a funny look. “You want to know the honest to God truth?”
I nodded, waiting for the disappointing punch line.
Wyatt leaned in close to my ear.
Hunter lost a bet at a blackjack table and begrudgingly traded temperate Southern California for the sweltering heat of Las Vegas. There she resides with an extremely tolerant fiancé and two cats named after her favorite beverages, Latte and Java.
When she’s not dreaming of returning to coastal living, Hunter works at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, from where she recently received her Master’s in British history. In order to appease her muse, she writes the kind of fiction that keeps her sane. She adores romance in all forms, but prefers her stories with two heroes that find their happily ever afters with each other.
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