Available: Love Lane Books
Six men with lives linked to the Double D... Danger comes to the Double D from Liam's past and threatens everything Jack and Riley hold dear.
Centering on Jack and Riley, parents, lovers and friends. Jack makes a decision that will affect the ranch, and Riley realises peace comes at a price.
Eli and Robbie have their home on Double D land. Their love is rooted in the Texas soil and they weather as many storms as can be thrown at them.
And Liam, a young men with a head full of dreams and sleep full of nightmares, finds that all things are possible when Marcus decides to interrupt his solitary existence.
As soon as Marcus was out of sight of Jack and Riley, he stopped and smacked a hand to his forehead. What the hell did he just say? That he was in the area? They could probably see right through him. What must they think of him and his stupid teenage crush he had going on. He couldn’t help it, he was a man addicted to Liam’s smiles. Something about the young guy set off a million warning bells inside Marcus’s head. Too young, eight years younger than him, too emotional, too scared. Yet, when it came down to it, Marcus wanted to get to know Liam in ways not altogether innocent.
He found Robbie first, who, with his back to Marcus, was fiddling with a tap in the wall to the horse barn.
“Hi,” Marcus said and smiled back at Robbie when he grinned up at him.
“In the barn,” Robbie said by way of explanation. Marcus dipped his head in acknowledgment of the suggestion and the element of teasing.
He walked into the cool of the barn and the scents of horses assailed him. He inhaled—his rationale for getting a lung full of the smell would be that he wouldn’t then spend the next hour gagging whenever he caught a whiff of horse shit and hay. He waited until his eyes became accustomed to the gloom, then casually walked past each stall until finally he found Liam shoveling in one of the last stalls. For a second he stood and watched.
Liam was taller than his own five eight, but then most men were, he was used to that. He was probably just short of six foot but skinny with it. In the weeks since he’d first seen Liam, Marcus had noticed that Liam had filled out a little, but the man still needed to pull his belt tight to keep his pants in place on narrow hips. His back was kinda broad and the muscles in his arms bunched and released as he shoveled and dumped, then shoveled and dumped again. His dark hair was ruthlessly short, and sweat made his skin glisten even in this softly lit space.
Marcus hooked one foot on the lower rung of the stall gate and leaned over it. “Hey, cowboy.”
Liam yelped and turned so suddenly that shit flew off his shovel and missed Marcus by inches.
“Shit!” Liam exclaimed. He pressed a hand to his chest. “What the fuck?” he cursed. “You scared the hell out of me.”
Marcus said nothing, simply waited until the initial shock died down. There had been real fear in Liam’s expression, and he wanted to let Liam deal with that before they moved on to the general talking part of this meeting.
“What do you want?” Liam finally asked. His tone was quick and impatient. “I’m busy.”
“I was just driving by,” Marcus begun.
“The hell you were,” Liam snapped. “You live hell knows how far that way.” He hooked a thumb over his shoulder in the general direction of the city and beyond where Marcus lived. He turned back to the pile of shit and hay and who knew what else. All of it needed moving to the barrow next to him that was nearly half full.
“You can keep working,” Marcus said. He was trying to be helpful but knew he’d failed in that when Liam frowned at him.
“And you’re gonna do what? Stand there and stare at me?”
“Can I help it if I like what I see?”
Liam very deliberately hooked a pile of mess onto his shovel and hefted it into the waiting barrow. Marcus grinned at the combined sensations of sight of the muscles and the fact that Liam thought turning his back was going to work. They stood this way for a good ten minutes, and Marcus watched every move until finally he couldn’t really justify standing and staring any more.
“Dinner?” he asked.
Liam didn’t hesitate with his answer. “No.”
“One day you’ll say yes.”
Liam muttered a reply. “When hell freezes over.”
“See you soon,” Marcus added cheerily.
“Not if I see you first,” Liam snapped. He stood up and suddenly Marcus was near enough to kiss Liam. They stood so close that it would only take one movement from either of them and they would be kissing the hell out of each other. Marcus wasn’t sure who moved first but assumed they both leaned in. No hands but lips crashed and tongues tasted. There was nothing soft about the kiss, and it ended as soon as it began.
Liam stepped back and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“What the fuck.”
Guilt consumed Marcus. He’d just gone into Liam’s personal space and near forced a kiss on the guy. No wonder Liam looked so shell-shocked.
“I’m sorry. I just wanted… Will you come to dinner… I want to talk…”
Seemed like that was Liam’s last word, and Marcus left the barn. When he was out of sight he stopped for a moment and lifted his face to the fall sun. He shouldn’t be riding Liam so hard, but there was something there, an indefinable attraction that flooded him whenever he saw Liam. Attraction definitely, lust, a little smatter of affection. There was pain in Liam’s expression and the heat of anger in his beautiful gray eyes, and Marcus wanted to know more.
Marcus focused on the voice, then looked up at Robbie astride a big brown horse. Way up.
“Just talking,” Marcus explained.
“You harassing my staff?” Robbie asked quietly.
“Asking him out for dinner.”
“How many times is that?”
“I lost count at five.”
“Seems to me you’re likely moving into being a nuisance,” Robbie said without heat. He slid down from the back of the horse in a smooth movement. Marcus appreciated that he didn’t have to tilt his head back to actually see Robbie’s expression. Robbie wasn’t holding back even if he worked here and Marcus was Jack and Riley’s friend. A large part of him, the part that both lusted after Liam and cared for the young man, liked that Robbie had his eye on Liam.
Marcus shrugged. “He hasn’t punched me yet.”
“If he does it will be your own fault.”
Robbie stood silently for a moment. “You remind me of Eli,” he said finally. Then he moved away and Marcus was left wondering what that meant. He liked Eli, although they hadn’t really sat and talked. Eli came from old money like Marcus, but that is where the similarity ended. Maybe Robbie meant the persistence thing. After climbing back into his car, he left the D and was back in the city before he realized it. Marcie met him at the door with a wide grin on her face.
“The McDonalds are pregnant,” she exclaimed.
His sister was as involved in the surrogates and the intended parents as much as he was, and he returned her grin before grabbing her and hugging her close. The McDonalds had been trying with their surrogate for over a year, and to finally hear a success was at hand was the best news of the day.
He followed Marcie up the stairs to their private apartments and listened as she chatted on about HCG levels and expectant dates. He wasn’t entirely focused on his sister when his brain was still using so much processing power on considering how to get Liam to go to dinner with him.
“Earth to Marcus.”
Marcus blinked as something passed in front of his face, and he realized it was Marcie waving a hand to snap him out of his thoughts.
“Thinking about Liam again?” she asked with a smirk.
Marcus groaned. God help brothers who had sisters as uncannily observant as he did. Two bottles of red and he’d spilled the whole sorry mess to Marcie a few weeks back. He couldn’t recall exactly what he had said to her but seemed it was enough for her to have teasing material to work with on a daily basis.
“Yeah,” he admitted with a sigh. “I was out at the D.”
“You have it so bad,” Marcie commented. She pulled out a tray of lasagna from the fridge sniffed it and grimaced. “We’re eating out. Then you can tell me all about Liam and his hair and his eyes and his body and the fact that all you want is to love him and feed him and call him squishy.”
“I hate you,” Marcus said dryly.
Marcie blew him a kiss. “No you don’t.”
“Not even for a second,” she laughed. “I’ll get my jacket and we’ll go for Italian.”
Marcus waited by the door and pulled out his cell. He had Liam’s number only because Liam had finally given in and let him have it.
Dinner? he texted.
The answer was immediate. No.
Marcus smiled at the answer. One day Liam would give in and type yes.
Riley was persuaded that whoever designed ball pits should be consigned to a very special hell where they spent eternity finding stickiness and suspiciously damp items touching their entire body. Seemed like Max agreed with him. The pit itself, part of the indoor play area that housed an enormous brightly colored setup for kids, was heaving with toddlers, so Max hung back. He’d liked the slide, he’d even walked the foam and material bridge between the toddler and baby area, but the pit was clearly not on his to-do list.
Jack and Rebecca were in the baby area with the twins, and it was Riley’s turn to spend time with Max.
Max looked in his direction briefly and frowned. “Icky,” he murmured.
“Yuck,” Riley agreed. He and Jack had both learned that simple words were the best way to communicate with Max. Long sentences confused Max, and both men had researched the best way to explain what they needed to the small boy. “Outside, buddy.” He crouched down next to Max.
Max gripped tight to his Thomas the Tank Engine, the same one Riley had mended when they first met. Then something else obviously caught his imagination, and he walked away from Riley at a fast rate. Riley followed, ducking under the low-hanging beams of red plastic-covered steel. Twice Riley had smacked his head, and he was regretting his six four height. They walked through the large dining area and out the side door to the open play space. Here, there were slides and sand pits and large canopies that gave shade in the late afternoon sun. Riley checked out the vicinity, something he had grown used to doing.
He wasn’t always sure what he was looking for. Things that could hurt Max, kids that were maybe too boisterous for the quiet child he was in charge of. Maybe someone with a camera out. He had deliberately worn a cap and shades and dressed down in baggy jeans and a loose T, but his height made him someone people looked at. Put two and two together—Jack in the baby area with twins, him with a small boy in tow—and suddenly the headlines wrote themselves. When this was done, when Max was their child to look after, he was never subjecting Max or himself to the chaos of the ball pit again. Max didn’t much like the noise and he used his free hand to cover one ear. The other he covered by hunching his shoulders.
“You want?” Riley asked and held out the headphones they took everywhere. Sometimes sensory overload had Max curling in a ball and rocking. Max ignored the question and stepped back from Riley. A few goes on a slide, awkward with holding Thomas and covering his ears, and Max finally took the headphones and allowed Riley to help him put them on.
“’Kay buddy,” Riley said softly. Then they bought drinks and sat at one of the outside tables. Max pushed Thomas on the table and he looked happy. Sometimes Riley panicked at what they were doing. Not at taking on Max, nothing would stop him and Jack from going through with this adoption, each man had a Max-shaped hole in their hearts. Just, he wanted it done, so that Max could settle in at the ranch and be part of their family for real. Even with all his money, he couldn’t make things happen any faster.
“Chocca,” Max said clearly. Riley realized he had drifted off into another world and mentally smacked himself upside the head. Max was sipping at the chocolate milkshake.
Max didn’t look directly at him, instead he peered at his Thomas closely and seemed to be ignoring Riley. Then he made a small noise. “Uh huh,” he said.
He was so little and sometimes Riley felt so big, too big, for the twins and Max. Hayley was a different matter, even at her young age she was getting tall, and she had so much confidence it was scary. But the twins were so helpless, and Max needed so much. There wasn’t so much a diagnosis for Max, but a suspicion based on the facts that they had. Autism. The spectrum. A speech and language disorder that had Max struggling to make sense of the world around him, of Riley’s world.
Max clambered down and crossed to the slide again. This time he left Thomas with Riley and climbed the small steps to the top. For a while he sat at the top and Riley relaxed in knowing that Max was safe, the slide wasn’t too high and earth was piled up around it to form a hill. Another group of boys were slowly working their way toward the slide, some older than Max, and they waited for a while for their turn but then grew impatient.
“You gotta go,” one of them demanded. Riley stood up, ready to go over to Max to help him or explain or anything other than sitting here doing fuck-all.
“Go on,” another boy said. Max didn’t look at either or react, but eventually he pushed himself down and slid off the end with calm precision. The boys behind shouted and jostled for position, and finally they all made it down the stairs, some backward, some falling onto the hill, but all laughing loudly.
Max stumbled back two steps, three, then with absolute determination, he crossed to Riley and held up his hands.
“Up,” he demanded.
Riley scooped the boy up in his arms but didn’t hold him too tight. Max didn’t show concern or fear, but this was also the first time he’d used the word up and asked to be held.
“Let’s go find Jack,” Riley said with a smile. Moving back through the dining part, then ducking back under the beams, he caught up with Jack.
“Is everything okay?” Rebecca asked when she saw Max in Riley’s hold.
“Yeah,” Riley said. “Let’s go home. It’s yucky here.”
“Icky,” Max said authoritatively.
Riley almost laughed out loud at the relieved expression on Jack’s face. When they were back at the car, he called him on it.
“You weren’t enjoying Billy’s Ball Pit?” he asked with a grin as he ensured Lexie’s car seat was securely strapped in.
“I couldn’t help it,” Jack explained.
“He got hit on twice,” Rebecca said with a laugh.
“Even sitting with the twins and a wedding ring and, hell, Rebecca as well.”
Jack shook his head miserably. “It’s like a cattle market in there. They should rename it Billy’s Hookup Pit.”
A group of moms with toddlers and babies stopped near them to chat and there was a lot of giggling. Riley could see them pointing, and Jack’s expression of fear was priceless. In a smooth move Riley cradled Jack’s face and kissed him. No one could fail to notice the awwwws from the moms, along with some disappointed groans. Didn’t matter, Jack was his, damn it, and no mom was battling her way to his side. Not while he was breathing.
“Icky,” Max said loudly. “Icky, icky.” Jack chuckled and Riley peered in the car. Max wasn’t looking at them and commenting on the kiss, he was peering closely at his Thomas and Riley knew what to do. He pulled out a baby wipe and gently cleaned Thomas of whatever was on there to upset Max.
At last, with everyone buckled in, they made their way to Rebecca’s house. They didn’t go in, something about taking the twins inside seemed wrong to Riley, and Jack always said the same thing. Problem was they had to say goodbye to Max.
“Are you still reading him his social story?” Jack asked Rebecca.
“Every morning and night. The whole thing.”
Riley wondered if using the piece of paper detailing in pictures what was happening in Max’s life was enough to make the transition from Rebecca’s house to the D easy. He didn’t imagine it did for one minute, but stick men and smiley faces telling Max he would be living at the place with the horses was at least paving the way. Riley leaned against the SUV and waved at Max, and his heart melted when Max waved back at him.
“You okay?” Jack asked, concerned.
“Yeah,” Riley lied. “No,” he sighed. “It gets harder to leave him every time.”
Jack put a hand on Riley’s arm and squeezed gently.