Kevin “Duff” McKay grimaced, tugging the brim of his Stetson over his eyes. The Oklahoma sun was still hours from reaching its peak, yet in the twenty minutes since he’d come outside, he’d already worked up a sticky sweat, his white undershirt clinging to him.
After feeding the chickens and relieving Hillary of a pitcher of milk to go with breakfast, Duff moved on to care for the horses. Since the college kid he’d hired to help with chores was off visiting family, Duff had loads to do. Not that he minded one bit. Since his retirement from the police department two years ago, he craved activity. Keeping up the ranch had proved to be a wonderful outlet for his energies.
As he walked toward the barn, the sound of whinnying horses caught his attention. Grant was known to throw up a ruckus every now and again. Duff’s partner, Bo, claimed the gelding did it to proclaim his manhood despite his lack of balls. The other horses, Rock and Doris, rarely chatted, but they’d joined the conversation as well. Duff couldn’t help but wonder about all the fuss.
From the moment he walked inside, Duff sensed something wasn’t right. And then he saw them.
He’d cleaned the barn himself the previous evening just before a light summer rain had drenched and muddied the fields. There had been no sign of footprints when he’d said good night to the horses.
The footprints certainly didn’t belong to him or Bo. No. They were far too small.
Gazing around the barn, he saw that nothing appeared to be out of place. He checked on the equipment, but the mower, rakes, saddles, and bridles remained in their rightful spots.
He scanned each box stall. Doris and Rock calmed down immediately, but Grant, a scenery chewer if there ever was one, stomped a powerful hoof and snorted. There were six box stalls altogether, and the one directly beside Grant was empty.
Or was it?
The footprints disappeared into the half-open stall.
Should he grab a rake? Run back to the house and get his gun?
Something about the footprints dared Duff to investigate. The size… They were so tiny. What if a child had somehow wandered inside? He shook his head. A child -- or anyone for that matter -- would have to travel out of their way to hide in his barn. Their nearest neighbor lived almost two miles away, for goodness’ sake. No, whoever was here had a specific reason for being here, and Duff made it his business to find out why.
Inhaling a long breath, he leaned against Grant’s stall and peeked into the one beside it. He squinted, his vision slowly acclimating to the darkness. The outline of a slender form drew his attention. His heartbeat raced to a gallop.
The sleeping trespasser lay in plain sight just beneath the window.
Duff placed his hand on the door to slide it fully open, hesitating when the intruder stirred. Righteous anger surged within him, swatting away his fear. He’d be in there all morning opening the stall by inches if he kept this up. He slid it open full force, no longer caring about the noise.
The intruder jumped to her feet, staggering backward until she slammed into the wall. Her face, the same face that had plagued Duff’s dreams for so long, became visible as she huddled under the window. He stepped forward, cutting the distance between them, and instinctively reached out with a trembling hand to caress the golden red hair dancing across her shoulders. The shock of her presence enveloped him. Bringing his arm back to his side, he was shamed by his first impulse to reach for her, to touch her.
Duff watched her move forward, crunching dry hay beneath her bare feet. Each step made her wince. He gazed at her swollen feet, noting the dried blood and scabs crusting over the tender skin. She halted, leaned on a wall, and stared at him.
“Lily Dumont,” he whispered. “What in the world brings you here?” His heart hammered, and he struggled to catch his breath the longer he stared at her.
She looked down, her long, thick tresses hiding her expression. She hadn’t seen a comb in days, and her hair was matted in places, fused together with mud and other debris. What had once been a pretty, white summer dress was now caked in filth. Dried mud clung to her body from her hair to her feet. But the dirt did nothing to hide her beauty.
“I didn’t know where else to go.” Her deep blue eyes were wary, and Duff noted the beginnings of bags forming under them from too little sleep. “I needed a…friend, Duff. And you were the best friend a girl ever had.”
Duff almost snorted. Best friend, huh? Is that why she’d left him three years ago, fleeing like a thief in the middle of the night? When he’d awakened to discover the woman he loved had bailed on him for another man, he’d thought he would never recover. He’d not heard a word from her since, though he’d kept abreast of local gossip that said she’d become a hired whore.
He’d laughed bitterly upon hearing that spicy bit of fluff. He’d always taken care of Lily when she lived with him, but perhaps she preferred her payment in cold, hard cash?
Yeah, right. They were the best of friends.
“Where are your shoes? And what happened to your feet?” Better to keep his mind on the present, Duff figured. He’d rather be cool than angry, but the way she looked at him -- that same feisty, dirty look she’d always leveled on him -- Duff wasn’t sure how long he’d be able to contain himself. God, he loved hating her. But hating her had been a lot easier when seeing her hadn’t been an option.
Lily stepped forward, but her legs immediately gave out, sending her reeling. He snapped into action, drawing her body against his wide chest, lifting her off her road-bitten feet. They gazed at each other, their eyes engaged in a silent conversation. She put her head on his shoulder, finally relaxing into the safety of his hold.
Grant snorted and stomped.
“Right back at ya, buddy,” Duff mumbled.
“He’s been doing that all night,” Lily said, a yawn in her voice. “I don’t think he likes me much.”
Grant’s just a good judge of character, Duff thought, carrying her out of the barn. Way better than me. On autopilot now, he carried her easily across the field, a little annoyed when her deep, even breaths proved her to be anything more than an inanimate object. Whenever he looked down, he was confronted by her full breasts straining under her thin dress.
Perhaps you’d best stop looking down, buddy.
Duff hated how she fit so snugly in his arms, perfectly comfortable, as if she had every right in the world to cling to him. Even worse was the way his own body betrayed him. His jeans were suddenly too tight as the beginnings of a mean erection demanded his attention.
“I’ve sure missed this,” she whispered, her warm breath caressing his ear. “It’s just like old times, big guy.”
“Yeah, Lily. Times I’d like to forget,” he snapped, his stiff prick making a liar of him.
“Hmm, someone’s a little testy.”
This time he ignored her. Conversations like these only ended one way: Lily flat on her back with his cock deep in her snatch. As tempting an idea as it was -- just to shut her up, mind you, not for any other reason -- he doubted Bo would appreciate his problem-solving skills.
Duff settled her weight into the crook of one arm and pushed the back door open. After wiping his feet on the mat, he carried her to one of their empty bedrooms, thankful Mrs. Calloway stopped in once a week to make the beds and do some light dusting. Otherwise Lily would have been sleeping on a bare mattress.
“You can catch some z’s here. I’m sure you remember this room well. After you get up, maybe you’ll be ready to talk.”
“I’m ready to talk now, Duff,” she said, her eyelids heavy. She stretched out, and her round hips undulated across the bed. Duff bit his bottom lip at the sight.
Angered by his own weakness, he moved to leave, determined to put some distance between them. “Well, I’m not ready. Get some sleep.”
Shutting the door on her devilish glare, Duff hesitated. How would he explain Lily to his partner?
The fragrant smell of bacon wafting through the house made his stomach growl. There would, no doubt, be homemade biscuits cooling with fresh, creamy butter dripping down the sides. Eggs were always on the menu. And perhaps today there would be lightly salted grits since they’d not had cereal in a while.
Bo did most of the cooking and seemed to do all he could to get Duff fat. But Duff wasn’t falling for it, no matter how good the cooking got. He always worked off the extra calories, going at the chores double-time to fight the bloat.
Duff peeked inside the kitchen. Bo stood in front of the stove whisking up an omelet. Duff’s belly tightened as he watched his partner. Bo’s thick, prematurely graying hair looked tousled, spiking across his head in a wayward pattern. He’d outfitted his tall, lanky frame in his preferred attire: relaxed jeans, a black T-shirt, and slip-ons.
Bo didn’t turn, but the slow blush creeping across his neck proved he’d heard the greeting.
Puzzled, Duff patted him lightly on his ass. “Excuse me, sir, perhaps you didn’t hear –”
“Oh, I heard you all right.” Bo touched the omelet’s edges with the spatula. “Hand me that plate, Duff. As usual, you’re right on time.”
Duff did as he was told. “You saw her, didn’t you?”
“Yes. I looked out the window and saw you carrying her across the field. I’d planned on doing some transcribing after breakfast, but when I saw her, I decided to put on extra food. What happened to her? She all right?” He lifted the omelet from the pan and set it on the plate Duff gave him. “How did she get up here? Other than ours, I don’t see any cars outside.”
Duff stalled for time by removing his hat and setting it on top of the refrigerator. Pulling up a chair, he sat and waited for Bo to take the seat opposite him. When Bo finally did, Duff exhaled, stunned by the love coursing through him. It’d been this way since they’d first hooked up. Even having Lily there couldn’t change that, regardless of how his body reacted.
“I don’t know much about what happened to her or why she’s here yet. All I know is she’s dead tired and looks like she’s been through the ringer. I put her in the green bedroom and told her we’d talk after she got some sleep.”
Bo nodded thoughtfully while chewing on a piece of crispy bacon. “I knew who it was the moment I saw her. Lily, right?”
“Jeez, you said she was pretty, but –”
“I used to joke I was dating a movie star,” he mumbled, reaching for his coffee mug. “Even dirty as she is, she’s the prettiest girl I ever met in my life. I can’t believe she’s still got all that glorious hair. I would have thought she’d cut it by now, the way she used to fuss about it.”
“I can definitely see why you were so hung up on her -- at least before you met me.”
“And that hasn’t changed,” Duff said. “You do know that, don’t you?”
“Duff, if I thought I had anything to worry about, I would tell you. You know I don’t hold my tongue. I’m just curious, is all. I wonder what brought her back here, and what she’ll say when she discovers you’re a changed man.”
Duff threw back his head and laughed. “Changed? What you mean is gay, right?”
“I prefer incorrigible homosexualist, but gay will do.”
“You and your made-up words. You think you’re real clever, don’t ya?”
Bo feigned surprise, his eyes growing round. “Don’t you?”
“We both know you can be very clever when you put your mind to it.”
“So…how do you feel about her being here? The way she left, well, things between you were never resolved, and even when I met you, you were still so angry.”
“Can’t say I’ve thought about it much.” His appetite suddenly gone, Duff stared at the congealing butter on his plate, wishing he could change the subject to anything else at all. After three years, Lily had come back into his life. Duff felt nothing but numb. Maybe the shock hadn’t worn off yet.
After he’d seen how beaten up she looked, he didn’t think about anything other than getting her safely inside. Now that some time had passed, though, the old bitterness was creeping in. He’d been cursed from the moment he’d met her -- doomed by love, and later, consumed by hatred.
She’d probably never lost a bit of sleep over how she’d used him up and sucked him dry until a better opportunity had come along. Where was her fancy lover now? Had she ditched him too, or had he been the one to say adios?
He watched as Bo removed the plates from the table and loaded the dishwasher.
Bo Lawrence had saved him, coming into his life during a time when the last thing Duff had expected was to fall in love again. Falling for a man hadn’t surprised him as much as discovering he remained capable of love.
But Bo had made it so easy.
Bo was a good-looking man, and his dark brown eyes were his best attribute by far. Duff often compared it to gazing into pools of hot milk chocolate. Of course, he also had a hankering for Bo’s six-feet-two form, flat stomach, and plumpish yet somehow muscular ass. The shock of thick, graying hair on a man not yet thirty-five also gave him a thrill. Duff liked to pull that hair at night, and fortunately Bo wasn’t tender-headed.
Duff went to him and swung out a hip, bumping his partner playfully. Bo smiled and handed him the utensils, which Duff dutifully fitted inside the dishwasher’s slats. He enjoyed these moments the most. Their easy silences never hid underlying tension. They just got each other and had from the very beginning.
They had literally run into each other at the supermarket one afternoon when Duff had discovered his food supply dwindling. After he narrowly escaped Bo’s rogue shopping cart, they got to talking, and before Duff knew it, he had a dinner date that turned out to be more date than dinner. He’d just instantly liked the clean-cut younger man with the quick banter and the sweet smile, and invited him over for burgers and beer.
Later that night when Bo had touched his knee, his strong hand moving up to unzip Duff’s jeans, there had been no hesitation. The sex had been electric, and Duff wanted more. In the days following their first encounter, he’d struggled with doubt, battled with notions of who he was and how his life was supposed to be lived. But love won out. Within a month, he realized he’d found his ideal lover and companion. Bo moved in soon after.
Bo dried his hands, and Duff shifted behind him, winding his arms around Bo’s hard midsection.
“What’s that about?” Bo asked. “Not that I mind.”
“It’s about loving you so much it hurts sometimes. It’s about leaving this kitchen and going off to our bedroom for something a little more satisfying than breakfast.”
“Better than my omelet? What could we do in the bedroom that would taste betterthan my omelet? Did you taste the biscuits? Those were homemade, hot stuff.”
Grinning, Duff took Bo’s hand and steered him from the kitchen. Lily’s sudden reappearance had thrown him for a loop, and the more he thought about it, the less he wanted to know her reasons for returning. His man had a way of taking his mind off anything that irked him, and Duff’s wordless plea begged Bo to perform some of that magic again.
© Stephanie Ganon,
Author: Stephanie Ganon
Publisher: Loose Id, LLC
Genre: Ménage, contemporary western
When Duff discovers an intruder hiding inside his barn, he’s stunned by the reappearance of Lily Dumont, the woman who ran out on him years earlier. Bo, his lover, doesn’t seem to mind having Lily around the house, even after she admits she’s returned to rekindle her relationship with Duff. Still, complications arise when a night of unexpected shared pleasure means something different to each of three of them.
Lily ran away from Duff and a love that would linger for years, no matter how much she tried to forget it. Now, with two hot men in the mix, Lily is reluctant to pull up stakes for the first time in her life. And the men keep coming up with reasons to get her to stay.