So, S.L. Armstrong and I had planned to release this title this month, but it got shoved to the back burner when Mae hit us. Still, this is on our to write list once we complete the short story we’re working on (On the Edge, twincest for the Fraternal Devotion anthology) and a novel (52 Weeks, which is our M/M andro, crossdressing, psychological BDSM novel :D). I know it’s a bit down on the totem pole of priorities, but that’s the way the chips stacked.
Also, if you follow my co-author’s blog, you’ll recognize the teasers I use from there. 🙂 We don’t like to give TOO much away. 😉
“The shit’s hit the fan, North.”
North clenched his teeth, trying not to glare at Danny. Danny had been his manager for the last four years and had never steered him wrong. However, this was not a confrontation he’d been particularly looking forward to.
“I know I screwed it up,” he admitted. “I wasn’t prepared for her to ask all those questions.”
Danny shook his head, snuffing out his cigarette in the ashtray. “Country Now is comparin’ you to Vanilla Ice. I’ve spent some time working the phones, and I’ve arranged for them to cover your debut at the spring rodeo in Houston next March.”
North felt all the blood drain from his face. “To sing, right?”
“No,” Danny drawled. “You’re going to ride and rope and be a cowboy, just like your image says you are.”
“I’m not a cowboy, Danny! I’ve never even stood beside a horse!”
“Well, now you can.” Danny grinned at him. “I’ve taken the liberty of contactin’ some of the ranches around Wyoming, and one of them has agreed to take you in for six months.”
North felt sick. “Six months? Is that really necessary?”
“Yeah, it’s necessary.” Danny’s face darkened. “North, we’re talkin’ ‘bout your career here. They can destroy it by callin’ you a fake. We’ve presented you as a cowboy.”
“Had anyone done the digging, they would have found the truth out months ago,” North grumbled.
Danny shook his head. “I spent a lot of time buryin’ your past, North. They’ll believe whatever we want ‘em to so long as we can give ‘em proof of our claims. I claim you’re a cowboy. You’re not, but you will be, understand?”
North slouched in his chair. When did being a boy from Nashville become such a crappy beginning? But, Danny was right. He’d worked too hard for this career, this persona, to allow some bitchy ditz from a magazine ruin it. “When do I head out?”
“You fly out next weekend.” Sitting behind his desk, Danny began writing. “Stallings Ranch is cattle and horses, run by a man named Cade Stallings.”
“Cade.” North rolled the name around on his tongue. It was a good name. A cowboy’s name.
Tension hung in the room. Tension that made the hair on Cade’s arms prick. He sighed and rubbed at his eyes. They were waiting for him to say something. What was there to say? “Ethan’s right,” he muttered.
Ethan, his second eldest, smiled smugly. “We’ve been running in the red for the last seven years.”
“That doesn’t mean we should sell out,” Emma Rae snapped. Oh, she had her mother’s attitude, Cade would give her that, even if she looked more like him. “Some pansy-ass city boy will gum up everything, Dad. We don’t need to be trippin’ over him for half the year!”
“At. A. Loss. What part of that don’t you get, Em?” Ethan shook his head, his cheeks flushing. “How long before the bank decides Dad isn’t good for the loan anymore? How long before they start repossessing the equipment?”
Eli cleared his throat. “We can’t lose the ranch.”
“No,” Cade agreed, giving a nod to his eldest. “We can’t. Stallings Ranch has been in the family for two hundred years. It’s gonna remain in the family. If it means we have some city slicker boy from Nashville in house for a while, then that’s what we’ll do.” A smile curved Cade’s lips. “Besides, I give him two weeks here before he’s fed up and stalks off back to the big lights of Nashville.”
Emma Rae snorted. “Just two weeks?”
Cade smirked and picked up his hat. “Maybe three, if we go easy on him. Now, come on.” He stood, four chairs scraping at well-worn wood. “We have four miles of fencing in Pasture 5 to repair, and Scott is bringing those two studs by for inspection before we make any decision on buying them. Let’s go, folks,” he barked and pointed to the door.
With pride, Cade stepped out of the modest home he’d lived in all his life and watched his children scatter. Spread out before him was Stallings Ranch, what he’d spent everyday since he was sixteen preserving. 14,000 acres of Wyoming land mortgaged to the hilt… or had been mortgaged to the hilt until that check from Daniel Carruthers arrived last week. The ranch was now at the break even point.
He resented that he’d not been able to pull the ranch back up on his own. It’d been his fault they’d fallen so far behind. Cade stepped down to the hard-packed ground, nestling his hat on his head, and made his way to the stable.
Marissa had been sick for so long, he’d made her his priority. No one blamed him except himself, but he couldn’t muster any sort of guilt. His wife had been as much his life as the ranch was, and her pain had been his pain. Four years he’d watched her waste away, and the ranch had wasted with her. It was only thanks to Ethan that the ranch hadn’t died along with Marissa.
Cade lifted his face to the sky, the late-May sun beating down on him. It was going to be dry this year, which meant he’d need to irrigate the pastures more than he had last season. He sighed, shook his head, and ducked into the main stable. Only two mares were inside, the rest of the stock out in the pasture, and he took his time looking them over. Gold Dust was maybe two weeks from foaling, but Shamrock would birth any day now. He grinned as he stroked down Shamrock’s back, murmuring soft words to the horse.
Cade didn’t listen to much radio, but he knew of North Larkin. It was hard not to. Everyone talked about the young country singer who blew some of the old crooners out of the water with his talent. Other than that, he didn’t know a thing about the man except what Carruthers had told him. Larkin needed to make his persona a reality and there was a nice sum of money in it for the ranch if he would take the boy in.
Ethan had convinced him that agreement had been absolutely necessary. The books simply didn’t lie, and the ranch needed the money. It didn’t mean, though, that Cade had to be happy about the situation.
And Cade was, by no means, happy about the situation.
He left behind the mares, checking on Emma Rae once, and then headed to Eli. Grinning at his son, Cade took the reins of his mount, Firecracker, and swung up into the saddle. While many ranchers nowadays chose to use trucks and SUVs, Cade still clung to horses as his main transportation around the ranch.
Cade let loose a whoop when everyone had mounted, turning Firecracker toward the trail that would take them to Pasture 5.
Whatever else was true, it was going to be a damned interesting season.