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Excerpt for Cowboy Lovin by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



Cowboy Lovin’

Amber Kell

Copyright March 2019 by Amber Kell

Tyler’s Cowboy Copyright March 2011 by Amber Kell

Robert’s Rancher Copyright June 2012 by Amber Kell


Smashwords edition

Cover design: Meredith Russell

Editor: Jason Bradley

Proofer: Susan Anne Kadlec , Dawn Mayhew, Cristina Manole Sujoy,


ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission. This book cannot be copied in any format, sold, or otherwise transferred from your computer to another through upload to a file sharing peer to peer program, for free or for a fee. Such action is illegal and in violation of Copyright Law.


Contents



Tyler's Cowboy

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six


Robert's Rancher

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five


About The Author

Cowboy Lovin




Tyler’s Cowboy (book 1)

Robert’s Rancher (book 2)


Tyler’s Cowboy




When Tyler runs to his injured brother's side, he doesn't know it's his brother's partner that will take all his attention.

Tyler has three problems. His brother, Baron, was injured, his job sucks and Baron's straight partner, Cody, is the hottest piece of ass he's seen in a long time.

When jealousy lifts its ugly head, Tyler learns that all problems have a solution if you can only corral yourself a hot cowboy.


Robert’s Rancher




Sometimes you don’t know what you’re looking for until you find it.

Robert Hawthorne is lonely. After years of looking for the right guy, he’s almost ready to give up until a car accident leads to meeting Glen King.

Glen is furious when the owner of the ranch he was working for sells without giving Glen a chance to buy him out. Promises had been broken, and Glen snatches at the opportunity for a job with his cousin at a new ranch.

When the two men meet sparks fly but a misunderstanding has Glen leaving just as things start to go well for their romance. Will Glen come to his senses or will he let the best thing that ever happened to him slip away?


Dedication




To my husband, who is always the cowboy of my heart.


Prologue




Tyler Remington looked at the head chef and took another deep calming breath—the three-hundredth deep breath of the afternoon. So far, his favorite meditation technique had kept him from throwing his ladle at the man’s head, but his nerves were beginning to unravel and his right palm would soon have a permanent imprint from his tight grip on the metal handle.

When he’d been hired on as sous chef to the famous restaurant entrepreneur Hans Berner, Tyler had been thrilled. After graduating top of his class, the tough job market had caught him by surprise. With his school loans weighing him down, any employment had seemed like a dream come true. Only a few days on the job, he had discovered there was a reason Chef Berner couldn’t keep any workers.

The man was a complete and total ass.

“You did not add enough garlic to your soup.” Chef Berner tossed his tasting spoon into the sink, ignoring the messy splatter he left behind. “You have ruined my recipe.”

Tyler didn’t bother to argue that the soup was perfect, even though he’d followed Chef Berner’s recipe to the letter and hadn’t given in to the urge to add fresh rosemary.

It really needed rosemary.

“Yes, Chef.” It wasn’t worth an argument. It was how the head chef said it was. A well-run kitchen was sort of like the military. You did what you were told, and if Chef Berner was in charge, you didn’t ask questions. He hated questions.

After three months, Tyler hated his job. He hated coming to the fancy hotel every day, and he was ready to slit his wrists if it would get him out of making the same damn soup twice a day.

Most of all, he hated Berner.

Luckily, it was break time. Under the sympathetic gaze of his coworkers, who equally despised the chef, he escaped out the back door for the measly fifteen minutes he had between prep times. He grimaced at the lovely reek of rotting food from the dumpster, but even the stench was an improvement over remaining in the kitchen with Berner. He had to get out of there before he turned Berner into soup. He spent a few minutes basking in a fantasy in which his coworkers covered up his crime in happy celebration.

Tyler blinked back frustrated tears. Graduating cooking school should have culminated in reaching his dream, not creating a nightmare.

He jumped about a foot when his pocket vibrated.

He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and frowned at the unfamiliar number on his caller ID. Great, it was probably a salesperson. Of course, at this point, he’d talk to anyone who wasn’t the head chef.

“Hello.”

“Is this Tyler Remington?” a deep baritone asked. The rich, softly accented voice sent sultry shivers down Tyler’s spine.

“Yes, I’m Tyler.”

“My name is Cody Stark. I’m your brother’s partner at the ranch.”

Icy terror made the hand holding the cell phone shake. “What happened to my brother?” That could be the only explanation for a total stranger to call him.

He’d never met Baron’s partner, but he’d heard nothing but good things about the man from his older brother. Baron always came out to see Tyler. Baron met Cody after Tyler started culinary school, but Tyler hadn’t been at the ranch since. A fact he now regretted.

“There’s no reason to be too concerned, but Baron’s horse got spooked and threw him today. He broke his collarbone, a couple of ribs, and the doctor says there’s some brain swelling. Now, he’s a tough cowboy and he’s gonna be fine. The only reason I’m callin’ is because you’re on his emergency contact list and I know your brother would want you to be informed. So far, he hasn’t regained consciousness, but the doctors are optimistic. They will need you to sign some paperwork. We can have it faxed over to you if you can’t make it here.”

Tyler cut off the man’s chatter. “I’ll be right there.”

Now all he had to do was tell Jack he was leaving town. His boyfriend never liked it when he wasn’t the center of attention.


Telling Jack turned out not to be as big of a problem as he’d thought. His boyfriend had news of his own.

“What do you mean you’re getting married?” Tyler stared at his lover. He couldn’t think of any other words.

Jack looked away, his handsome face flushing. “I-I can’t be with you, Ty. I can’t be gay.”

When he showed up at his boyfriend’s apartment, he’d expected him to be upset and maybe sulk, not give him a damn wedding invitation. It was funny how he was no longer the owner of Jack’s heart when Jack decided he wanted kids. Tyler threw the invitation back at him.

“What the fuck was I then, an experiment? Fuck you! Is that why you didn’t want to go out in public? I thought you weren’t out at your job. I didn’t know I was your dirty little secret. I was coming to tell you I had to go out of town because my brother Baron had an accident, but I guess it doesn’t matter now.” Tyler clenched his hands into fists to stop from wrapping them around Jack’s traitorous neck.

“Don’t be like that.” Jack put a hand on Tyler’s shoulder. “I love you, Ty, and I’m sorry about your brother. I know what he means to you.”

It hurt worse that Jack actually sounded sincere. Ty angrily shrugged off his ex-lover’s grip. “Love! You don’t know anything about love. You don’t tell someone you love them, then turn around and marry someone else.” He waved an irritated hand between them. “This was scratching an itch while you waited to get married. I don’t ever want to see you again.”

He was tempted to ask who the girl was, but he wasn’t that much of a glutton for punishment. He didn’t care. Furious, more with himself than with his clueless ex-boyfriend, Tyler stomped out of the apartment. Good thing they hadn’t moved in together. No wonder Jack had avoided that conversation when Tyler tried to bring it up. Jack had had no intention of taking their relationship to another level.

Hell, they didn’t even have a relationship. This was turning out to be a banner day. Brokenhearted, Tyler headed home to pack and go see the only man who still loved him.

His brother, Baron.


Chapter One




Cody looked down at his business partner. He knew the man wasn’t dead. The machines told him, the nurses told him, but it hurt to see his vibrant friend lying still and silent in a hospital bed. It had broken his heart to call Baron’s little brother, but as his friend’s only living relative, he had a right to know what was going on. Cody hoped he hadn’t been too optimistic about Baron’s chances.

“When did his brother say he was goin’ to be here?” Jeffrey asked.

Cody shrugged. “His flight comes in at ten. I sent Dave to pick him up at the airport.” He could see his own reflection in the darkened windows. The tired eyes and fresh lines of worry on his face added to his somber mood. Baron’s accident had affected him more than he cared to admit.

He turned his attention back to Baron, ashamed at his self-pity. For the first time, he had the responsibility of the entire ranch on his hands, and he realized how much work his friend did around the place. He made a silent vow to appreciate his partner more if he ever woke. In their early twenties, they had purchased the ranch, and now ten years later, their business thrived. People from all around the United States visited to buy their breeding stock.

Cody blinked back tears. “I was hoping he’d be awake when his brother arrived. Baron’s real protective of that boy, raised him up himself when their parents died.” He gave Jeffrey a level look. “Baron told me his brother’s gay so I expect y’all to treat him with respect, not to hurt his feelings. Baron said he’s real delicate like.”

Jeffrey snorted. “I’ll not cross Baron’s brother. Baron would beat the snot out of me as soon as he woke up. Besides, I’ve got a cousin who’s that way and he’s as tough as they come.”

Cody shook his head. “Not this one. He’s a chef. A real fancy one with professional trainin’.” He gave a nod toward the unconscious man. “Baron said he was top of his class.”

Dave clomped into the room before they could say anything else, his cowboy boots echoing against the linoleum floor. The mysterious brother Cody had heard so much about trailed behind him.

Cody didn’t know what he was expecting, maybe a more delicate version of his best friend. Baron wasn’t a big one for pictures, and the only ones he had of his brother were of when he was much younger. Nothing prepared him for the stunning creature following his hired hand.

There was definitely a family resemblance between the two men. They both had white-blond hair and blue eyes, but where Baron’s hair was cropped close to his head, Tyler’s fell about his face in an artful mess of curls. Where Baron’s eyes were pale blue like an arctic wolf, Tyler’s eyes were the color of a perfect summer sky. Tyler’s full and pouty mouth differed from Baron’s usual hard line. It was as if Tyler was a purer, more innocent version of his friend before he became the tough cowboy of today.

Cody jumped to his feet and held out his hand.

“I’m Cody, Baron’s partner.”

Tyler reached out and shook Cody’s hand, but his eyes were on his brother. Good thing, too, or he’d see how Cody blushed at the contact. The younger man’s grip felt better than anything he’d touched in a long while.

Sitting on the edge of his brother’s bed, Tyler reached out and stroked Baron’s face. “Come on, Baron. You’ve got to wake up. I’ll make you your favorite meal,” he wheedled.

“What’s his favorite meal?” Cody asked. His gaze followed Tyler’s fingers as they touched his brother’s face. An image of those beautiful hands touching him swam across his mind. Shaking his head, he tried to focus on Tyler’s face. Maybe he was more tired than he thought.

Tyler looked up, his beautiful eyes wide with pain. “Pancakes with bacon.” He turned back to his brother. “Or at least it used to be.”

“It still is,” the men surrounding the bed said in unison.

“When was the last time the doctor came?” Tyler wrapped his fingers around his brother’s hand as if he needed the physical connection to ground him.

Cody swallowed. What the hell was this? He’d never been attracted to a man before. Well, except for a few times in high school, but Tyler was like his own personal lightning rod. He could feel spikes of electricity arc toward him whenever the man’s unnaturally beautiful eyes shifted his way.

“Umm. The doctor was here an hour ago, and he said the X-rays showed the swelling has gone down.”

“Good.” Tyler’s sad expression made Cody wish he had better news.

“I’ve got a room set up for you at the main house. It’s next to Baron’s so you can visit him when he’s sent back home.”

“Sounds good. I’m going to stay here until he’s released.”

“You can’t stay at the hospital,” Cody protested, his heart breaking for the other man. “They’ll kick you out after visiting hours, anyway. Come to the ranch with me and have a good rest. You can come back and see him in the morning. I’ll make sure someone drives you over, or you can take one of the ranch trucks.”

Leaning over, Tyler kissed his brother on the forehead. “He’s all I’ve got left.” His voice was so quiet, it was as if he were talking to himself. “He can’t die.”

Cody jumped out of his chair and crouched beside Tyler. He gripped his shoulder reassuringly. “Don’t think about that. I’ve seen men injured a lot worse come through just fine. Before you know it, Baron’ll be running around cursing as he always has.”

The younger man blinked back tears. “I sure hope so.”

He stood and Cody followed.

Jeffrey rose to his feet and held out his hand. “I’m Jeffrey Stamm, one of the hands out at the ranch.”

Tyler shook his hand. “Nice to meet you,” he said automatically. “I only wish I was visiting for a different reason. I kept meaning to come out, but things always got in the way. I hope I didn’t miss my chance.”

Cody squeezed his shoulder. “He’ll be fine. Baron understood you couldn’t visit. He’s real proud of you and always bragged about how well you were doing.”

A soft sniff met that statement. “I’m proud of him too.”

“Come on, kid. Let’s get you settled,” Jeffrey said in his cigarette-roughened voice.


* * * *


An hour later, Tyler was dressed in a pair of soft sleep pants and an old T-shirt, tenuously held together by its unraveling threads.

He couldn’t sleep.

Images of his brother lying in the hospital raced through his head.

What if he lost the one person he had left in the world?

His boyfriend was definitely an ex, his parents were dead, and as far as he knew, there was no other family. At least no one had come forward when Tyler was little, and he had no use for anyone who might show up now.

He should’ve visited more. The last time he came, Cody had been off on a business trip so he didn’t get a chance to meet the man before. It took an accident for him to make time for the one person who had always been there for him. Shame burned his cheeks as he tried to imagine life without his big brother. Even without seeing him, he knew that if he had any problems, he could always call and his brother would be there for him.

He should’ve called more often just to check in.

Blinking back tears, Tyler went where he always did when he wanted a distraction, the kitchen. After a little guilty rummaging, Tyler found a pot, some milk, and an abandoned chunk of dark chocolate hiding in the corner of an upper cabinet.

Perfect.

Humming to himself, Tyler heated up his hot chocolate ingredients.

“Couldn’t sleep?”

Tyler jumped at the sound of a voice only a few feet away.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you.”

Tyler turned to see the gorgeous cowboy watching him. It wasn’t that his brother’s business partner was especially handsome. Jack was handsomer, but Cody exuded a sexuality that made Tyler want to offer himself up on a platter. Since the man was probably straight and wouldn’t appreciate Tyler’s attention, he turned back to stirring his milk.

“I couldn’t sleep. Want some hot chocolate?”

“No, thanks.” Despite the man’s rejection of the drink, Tyler heard the scrape of a chair behind him.

Tyler hid his wince. He had sort of hoped Cody would go back to bed. He didn’t really want company.

“Did your boss mind you leaving?” Cody asked.

He shrugged. “He did, so I quit. My brother needed me and I hated my job.”

“Why? Baron said you’d got a good one right out of school.”

“It looked nice on paper, but the head chef was a total ass. I’ll look for a job when Baron is feeling better. I can’t concentrate on anything anyway, knowing Baron might never wake up. Chefs are always in demand. I’ll be fine.” He hoped he sounded more confident than he felt.

“He’ll snap out of it.”

Tyler stirred the chocolate milk as he blinked back tears. “I don’t know what I’d do if I lost the last person on earth who loves me.”

He was surprised to find Cody standing so close behind him he could feel the other man’s body heat. He hadn’t heard the cowboy stand up, much less walk over to him.

“Don’t talk like that. I’m sure Baron isn’t the only one who loves you. You must have friends and someone special back home.”

Tyler bit back a curse. “I don’t have anyone special. The one guy I was seeing, well, it didn’t work out.” He gave a broken laugh. “Sometimes I think I’ll be that old man sitting alone in the retirement home, wishing he’d had someone important in his life.”

To his surprise, Cody turned Tyler around and hugged him. A squeak escaped him when his cheek was pressed against Cody’s warm, bare chest. The smell of male flesh filled his nose. It took him a moment to overcome the rush of hormones and realize Cody was talking.

“It’ll be all right. Baron will be just fine.”

The cowboy rocked Tyler as if he were soothing a young child. He almost objected. Almost. However, Cody’s calming vibe did ease the stress piling up since he’d heard of Baron’s accident. Tyler laid his head on Cody’s shoulder and accepted the comfort offered. He might as well enjoy the moment while it lasted. He thought he felt a kiss on his head, but he must have imagined it. After all, a straight man wouldn’t kiss another man, even if he were trying to calm him. It must be wishful thinking on his part. Besides, he didn’t want to get involved with another man so soon after his troubles with Jack.

After a few minutes, Cody released him. “Your milk is probably scalded now.”

“Yeah.” Tyler turned back to the stove and scraped off the milk’s thin skin before flicking it into the sink. He stirred the remaining hot chocolate a few more times before pouring it into a mug. “Are you sure you don’t want any?”

Cody shook his head. “I never had much of a sweet tooth. I prefer salty things.”

There was a dictionary’s worth of off-color remarks Tyler could have made right then, but with a rare show of discretion, he kept them to himself. He didn’t want to make Cody uncomfortable by hitting on him. The guy had been really great so far.

“Some people are like that,” he said neutrally. “I prefer sweet things.” Though he’d certainly take salty if a certain cowboy was involved. He kept that thought to himself.

Cody settled in a chair by the kitchen table. He stared at Tyler long enough that Tyler wondered if he had something on his face. Cody finally broke the silence and surprised Tyler, he had to stop his hand from jerking and spilling his cocoa.

“Our cook, Margaret, is leaving next week to spend time with her sister. I was wondering if you’d be interested in taking her place while she’s gone.” The cowboy looked away as if weighing his words. “I mean you’re unemployed and you’ll want to be here for Baron. This way we can help each other out. I’ll give you some spending money, food, and board for free, same as I do for Margaret. What do you think?”

Tyler considered the suggestion for a split second. “Sounds great.”

He got a slow heart-stopping smile for his answer. “Great. Margaret cooks breakfast, lunch, and dinner and keeps the house tidy. We have a cleaning lady who comes over once a week for the heavy cleaning, and I’ll let you use one of the trucks for errands and groceries.”

Cody named a generous salary, considering room and board was included, which Tyler happily agreed on.

“How long will Margaret be gone?”

“Two months. Her sister gave birth a few months early, and the little one needs a lot of care. We were planning on rotating staff to make food, but there isn’t one man among them who can make anything past grilled steak or chili.”

Tyler bit his lip to hold back a laugh. “That’s too bad,” he choked out.

“With you here, things will be easier, and I know Margaret will be happier knowing someone is here to pitch in while she’s helping out her sister.”

“What happened to the father?” Tyler scowled. While alive, his own father had been very involved in his sons’ lives. Tyler had always suspected Baron modeled his own raising of Tyler after their father.

“Took off when he found out she was pregnant,” Cody growled.

“Bastard,” Tyler said, before taking a sip of his cocoa.

Looking up, he saw Cody was watching him intently. “Do I have a milk mustache?”

“No.” Cody shook his head. “I can’t get over how different you are from your brother.”

Tyler took another sip, letting the warm chocolate milk soothe him. “We’re half-brothers. We share the same father.”

“That would explain it.”

Tyler didn’t know what else to discuss with the gorgeous man who looked as if he wanted to eat him up. Tyler had assumed Baron’s partner was straight. However, the more Cody watched him, the more Tyler doubted the sexuality of the man sitting before him. He didn’t really know his brother’s partner very well, and he couldn’t just come out and ask him if he were gay. Well, he probably could, but he wasn’t comfortable asking a total stranger about his sexuality. Maybe he could ask Baron when he woke up.

Cody stood up abruptly. “I’m going back to bed. Try to get some sleep.”

Tyler nodded. “I’ll try.”

After finishing his drink, he went to his room, fell asleep, and dreamed of a sexy cowboy with a sweet smile.


* * * *


The next day, Cody and Jeffrey were out in the field when they heard the dinner bell ring.

“I thought Margaret’d already left,” Jeffrey said, releasing the horse he’d finished grooming.

Cody blushed. “I sort of hired Baron’s brother to cook for us while Margaret is at her sister’s.”

“I thought he had a fancy city job.”

“He did, but apparently he hated it.” Cody wasn’t going to talk about Tyler’s problems with the chef. Anything told by a man over hot cocoa fell into the privileged territory for him. If Baron’s brother wanted to share with everyone, he could do it without Cody’s interference. With a nudge from Jeffrey, he put down his gloves and headed toward the house. “Let’s go see what our fancy chef made for us.”

After washing up in the barn sink, Cody entered the house to be slapped in the face with the most divine smells.

All ten ranch hands were sitting around the table. It only took Cody a moment to figure out what was wrong.

Total silence.

The loud, rowdy bunch were completely silent as they inhaled large platters of scrambled eggs with little bits of cheese and peppers, fat greasy sausages, and strange-looking potatoes with herbs dotting their shiny surface.

“What’s with the potatoes?”

Darren swallowed his mouthful. “They’re julienned. Don’t criticize.” He glared at Cody as if he had bad-mouthed the Pope.

Tyler walked back into the room with a baking dish he held between hot pads.

“Is there room for some homemade cinnamon rolls?”

There was a mad scrambling to clear a spot.

“Thanks, guys. There’re pecans on those so if anyone’s allergic you’ve been warned.” The chef scanned the crowd. “If everyone could make me a list of food allergies and favorite meals, I can adjust my menu. I’m just going to make sandwiches for lunch because I’ll need to go into town, check on my brother, and get supplies. You are completely out of olive oil.”

Cody figured that must be a bad thing from the frown creasing Tyler’s smooth forehead. He wasn’t even sure if they’d ever had any.

Summer-blue eyes pierced him with a look. “You’d better grab a plate if you want any food.”

Judging by the amount of food missing from the platters, Cody agreed.

“Shit, I forgot the coffee.” Tyler turned around and went back to the kitchen.

Cody sat down. He loaded up his plate and tried to ignore the obscene moans Dave made over his cinnamon roll.

“Are you all right, or do you need to be alone with your new girlfriend?” Cody teased.

Dave licked icing off his fingers and let out another moan. “I don’t think I’ve eaten anything better in my life. Do you think Margaret could move in with her sister permanently?”

Cody shook his head at his foreman before shoveling in a mouthful of eggs. He closed his eyes as unexpected flavors exploded across his tongue. He silently chewed, swallowed, and repeated until every scrap of egg was eaten. He looked up to discover all his employees were all staring at him.

“What? It’s good.”

Tyler came back with a large pot of coffee. “I’m sorry about the coffee, but it was all there was in the kitchen,” he said with an apologetic smile. “I’ll see if I can get a better brand when I go to the store.”

“You buy whatever you want,” Cody urged, as he bit into a greasy sausage and savory juice exploded in his mouth. “I’ll approve any expenses.” If they ate this good every day, every ranch hand in the state would want to work for them.

With the kind of hard work ranching demanded, it was nice to be able to provide something as amazing as Tyler’s cooking for his men.

The rest of the meal was finished, and the men started heading out.

The chef approached Cody, nerves shining in his eyes. “How do you want me to pay for the groceries?”

“I’ll call ahead at the grocers and have them put it on my account. That’s one of the great things about small towns. You can do shit like that.”

“Great. I’m sorry about the sandwiches, but I really need to check on Baron. I’ll roast some chickens for dinner and make chocolate soufflés.”

“Honey, you don’t have to get fancy. We’re simple folks,” Cody said. He softened the criticism with a smile.

“I’m not getting fancy,” Tyler protested. “I’m trying to provide a decent meal.”

He patted Tyler’s shoulder. “Forget I said anything. Breakfast was amazing. You do whatever you want. I’m sure it will be fine.”

It wasn’t until he was back mending fences that Cody realized he’d called Tyler “honey” and liked it.


Chapter Two




He was so still.

It was the one thought that kept echoing in Tyler’s mind.

Baron was one of those fidgety people, always busy doing something every minute of the day. To see him lying so still looked unnatural.

“You have to wake up, Baron,” he pleaded. “I don’t think I can make it if you die. I’ve been hanging out at your ranch and meeting your men. You did a good job there. It’s a nice spread, and your men have been real welcoming. Cody gave me a job cooking for everyone, and the hands are way more appreciative than those snooty diners I used to cook for.” He gave a broken laugh as he brushed hair away from his brother’s forehead.

Tears threatened, but Tyler blinked them back. He wasn’t going to cry; he wasn’t. His brother was going to get better.

“Come on, bro. Wake up, and we can talk things over like we used to. I can give you a hard time about a girlfriend, and you can growl about the latest asshole I dated. He was a real loser too. He decided he didn’t want to be gay and is going to marry some girl. He even said he loved me.” Tyler gave a self-conscious laugh. “I only dated him for a few months, but I thought we had something together.”

No response.

With a sigh, he got to his feet. “I’m going grocery shopping now. I’ve got your small army of men to feed.”

After placing a soft kiss on his brother’s forehead, Tyler left the hospital room.


* * * *


The grocery store was cavernous. His jaw dropped at the size of the place as he entered. For a smallish town, the grocery store was much larger than he’d expected.

“Can I help you find something, hon?” a perky blonde asked. She was wearing an apron with the store’s insignia on it.

Tyler pulled out his list. “I was told by Cody Stark that I could put this on the ranch’s account? I’m visiting for a bit while my brother is in the hospital.”

“Oh.” The blonde’s eyes lit up. “You’re Baron’s brother, the chef. I’m Sandra Collins. Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too.” He wondered if Baron had told everyone about him or if the ranch hands were spreading stories. It didn’t really matter. He still needed groceries.

“Let me see your list.”

He handed it over, and she chewed on her bottom lip as she scanned the list Tyler had hastily compiled. He wondered about her connection with Baron.

“We have most of this stuff. I’m not sure about the capers, but we can special order about anything if a customer wants it.” She took a step backward and waved him on. “Come on and grab a cart, and I’ll show you where everything is.”


Tyler spent the next hour discovering everything he could about sweet Sandy Collins. She was twenty-one, worked at the store while she finished up school, and had a Texas-sized crush on his brother.

Her cheerful banter made him all the sadder because Tyler could tell she was as broken up about Baron as he was. He made a vow to put in a good word for this nice girl when his brother woke up.

The idea that he might not wake up wasn’t one Tyler dared to consider.

A second cart was added to the first when it turned out his order was bigger in reality than it looked on paper. He was waiting in line before he knew it. A nice kid in cowboy boots with a nametag stamped with the name Randy helped him load the pickup.

“When Baron wakes up, you tell him everyone is thinking of him.”

“I will.” Tyler swallowed the lump in his throat, got in the truck, and left the parking lot.

At the ranch, he’d barely made it out of the truck before Cody ran to meet him.

“The hospital called. Baron woke up.”

“Why didn’t you call me?” Pulling his phone out of his pocket and checking for messages answered his question. His phone was completely dead. “Damn, I must have forgotten to charge the battery. Let’s get this stuff inside the house, and I’ll head back to the hospital.”

Cody looked at the back of the pickup. “I’ll have some of the hands unpack the truck. Let’s take my car.”

Before he could argue, three of the hands were already unloading the pickup and Tyler was sitting in the cowboy’s SUV, racing to the hospital. Nerves swirled around his stomach while he thought about his brother.

“Did they say anything about how he was doing? Do they think there’s going to be any brain damage?”

Tyler had worked hard not to think of all the things that could go wrong. Baron was an amazing man, and it would break his heart if his brother were no longer able to do the things he loved.

“They didn’t say.” Cody’s mouth tightened, and he knew the other man was thinking the same things he was.

Reaching over, he squeezed the cowboy’s hand on the stick shift.

“I’m sure he’ll be fine,” he said before quickly retreating.

He was flashed a reassuring smile. “Yeah, Baron’s got the world’s hardest head. I’m sure he’ll bounce right back.”

Tyler nodded. He was glad he had another person who wanted Baron back to normal as much as he did. He barely waited for the car to come to a complete stop before he rushed out of the vehicle. Not bothering to wait for the elevator, he ran straight for the stairs. His brother’s room was on the third floor, and there was no way he was going to wait for the slow hospital elevators.

Out of breath, he made it in record time.

Baron was sitting up in bed, eating soup and looking healthy and alive.

Tyler walked through the doorway and swallowed quickly as his throat clogged up.

His brother looked up at the sound, and his eyes lit with recognition, a wide smile crossing his craggy features. “Tyler.”

He walked across the floor and wrapped his arms around Baron, careful not to upset the soup. “I’m so glad you’re all right.”

“I’m glad about that too.” Baron’s hands were a little shaky, but his eyes were clear as he looked up at his brother. “The doctor said my head injury might still give me some problems. I need to take it slow and not operate any heavy machinery right away.”

Tyler nodded. “I’m sure the hands can take care of anything that requires farming equipment. We just want to see you up and around again.”

Baron gave a careful nod. “I’m not real worried about the work getting done. I’ve got good men working for me. It’s just frustrating that I’m still feeling dizzy and my head hurts. They want to keep me a few more days under observation.”

Baron’s words were slow and careful as if he was picking and choosing what to say. His pupils still looked dilated, but Tyler was so grateful his brother was alive and talking, he burst into tears.


After waiting for the elevator, Cody came into the room in time to see Tyler crying. Instinctively, he rushed over to the younger man and pulled him in his arms. “Shh, shh, baby, you need to calm down.” Muttering nonsense words, he rocked Tyler back and forth, rubbing his back in slow, soothing motions.

“Hello. Who are you? Are you Tyler’s boyfriend?”

Cody turned to look at his best friend and business partner. Baron was looking at him as if they’d never met before. Cody was almost insulted at the speed Tyler pulled out of his arms.

“You don’t recognize him?” he asked, staring at his brother.

Baron shook his head. “Sorry, bro, but I don’t recognize your man.”

“H-he’s not my man,” Tyler stuttered. “He’s your partner.”

Baron’s sharp eyes pinned Cody with a chilly look. “First, I’m not gay, and secondly, if you aren’t involved with my brother, keep your damn hands to yourself.”

“Not that kind of partner,” his brother interjected. “Cody is your partner at the ranch. Business partner. He was only hugging me because he thought I was upset, not because we’re lovers.”

“I can explain myself, Tyler. You don’t have to protect me.” It was really cute how Tyler was intent on guarding Cody from an older brother who was probably too weak to even get out of bed. His pat turned into a soothing movement as he rubbed circles across Tyler’s back. “Why don’t you go and get us some coffee and I’ll explain things to your brother.”

Tyler peered at him anxiously. “Are you sure? I can stay and help.”

He was several inches taller and at least forty pounds heavier than Tyler, but the other man didn’t look as if he wasn’t going to budge an inch if he thought his brother was going to interrogate Cody.

“I’ll be fine.”

“Yeah, he’ll be fine,” Baron said in a low soothing tone.

Cody recognized it as the same one he’d heard his friend use when trying to settle a wild stallion. Apparently it worked the same on his brother as it did on the horses.

Tyler’s muscles relaxed, and he stepped to the side. “All right, I’ll go get coffee. Cody, how do you want yours?”

“Black is fine.” He gave Tyler’s back another pat before forcing himself to step away from him.

Tyler nodded and left the room, obviously not needing to ask how his brother wanted his coffee.

Cody stared after him before turning to look at his partner.

“How long have you been dating my brother?” Baron asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

He should’ve been expecting that question, but his mouth dropped open as he stumbled across his answer. “I-I’m not dating your brother. We just met. I’m not even gay,” he blurted out in a long stream of words.

If possible, Baron’s jaw got harder as if the other man was clenching his teeth. “You claim you’re not gay, but you’re rubbing my brother’s back and calling him baby. If you don’t plan on having a relationship with him, a gay relationship, then keep your hands to yourself.”

Cody was going to tell the man off—he was, as soon as he came up with any possible excuse for touching the younger man besides the need to feel Tyler’s skin beneath his fingers.

“You’re right. I’ll keep my damn hands to myself. As for calling him baby, I didn’t mean to, but I’ll try to watch my mouth in the future.” It wasn’t fair to lead Tyler on if he wasn’t planning to be serious about the other man.

“You do that.” Baron’s voice didn’t lose any of its edge, but his eyes looked calmer. “I won’t have you toying with my brother if you don’t plan on doing right by him.”

Cody felt a trickle of sweat slide down his back. He hoped his mouth wasn’t writing checks his body couldn’t cash. For some reason, the younger man was like a magnet for him. He couldn’t stand near the man without touching or enter the room without staring at the beauty of Tyler. However, the thought of being in a relationship with another man freaked him the hell out.

He didn’t want to be gay. Ranching wasn’t something safe for gay men. There was too much prejudice, and as hard as he’d worked to become half owner of one of the biggest ranches in the area, he wasn’t going to throw it all away to become Tyler’s boyfriend. He’d rather stay alone the rest of his life than deal with the harassment of being known as the gay rancher.

The safest thing would be to take Baron’s advice and leave the young chef alone before they both ended up getting hurt.


* * * *


Dinner was a loud affair. Everyone was in good spirits with the news of Baron’s recovery. Cody fielded questions, telling everyone the little he knew about his partner’s health and memory loss.

The food was unbelievable as they dined on roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, what the chef called a vegetable medley, and homemade melt-in-the-mouth biscuits. The chocolate soufflé was met with questioning gazes, but no one uttered a complaint as they ate every last bite.

When Tyler went to get more coffee, Dave leaned toward the table and said in a confidential tone to the ranch hands. “We need to find Tyler a boyfriend.”

“What?” Cody shouted.

“Shh,” Dave said, waving his hands to indicate he should keep his voice down. “The way I figure it, if we find him a man, he’ll want to stay here. Now, we all know Margaret has a good chance of staying with her sister and Baron would love to have his brother here.”

Cody took a deep breath, trying to get oxygen through the crushing weight in his chest. The thought of Tyler making a home with another man made all that excellent food churn in his stomach.

Before he could comment, the other hands started throwing names into the hat of men they thought could be or might be gay.

“Wouldn’t it be better to figure out what kind of guy he likes?” Cody asked.

Darren looked at him as if he’d grown another head. “We need to find him a good-looking, solid guy who’ll treat him right and lives around here. How about Robert Hawthorne? He’s rich and I’ve seen him with a guy or two.”

“Robert’s an ass,” Cody muttered, stabbing at his soufflé. “Tyler’s too sweet for someone like him.”

“Sweet men need sugar daddies too,” Dave quipped.

“Shut up,” he grumbled.

The conversation came to a halt when the chef came back into the room. He stopped short when all eyes turned on him. “What? You didn’t like the soufflé?”

“No, it’s great,” Cody reassured him, taking another bite.

“Say, Tyler,” Dave said, picking at his soufflé with his fork. “Do you have a boyfriend?”

Tyler’s pale skin took on a bright-red hue. “Um, no. Not right now.” He gave the men a curious look as if trying to figure out what his love life had to do with dinner.

Cody stood up. “I’ve got to go check on the horses.” He gave the younger man a reassuring smile. “The food was great.”

Without giving anyone a chance to say anything, he hightailed it out of there. One thought burned in his mind as he went about his evening chores. The idea of his chef in another man’s arms ripped out his fucking heart.

What the hell was he going to do?


Chapter Three




Two days later, Tyler was getting ready for his brother to come home and wondering what he’d doneto Cody. Ever since the day at the hospital, the cowboy had gone out of his way to avoid him. At first, he’d thought he was imagining things, but after two days of quick room escapes and determined lack of eye contact, he was certain he was right.

It wasn’t as if the man was rude, he just avoided talking to Tyler, looking at him, or being alone with him. While he tried to figure out what was happening with Cody, he discovered the other cowboys were planning his dating future, which made him more than a little uneasy. Luckily, they couldn’t agree on anyone so he’d been left to his own devices.

Today, they were going to get Baron from the hospital. Cody was driving, so there was no way he could avoid Tyler this time. Maybe he could get to the bottom of whatever was going on between them.

Tyler hopped in the car. He waved to the other cowboys as they passed, smiling when they waved back. They were a nice group of men.

The silence in the car was deafening.

He cleared his throat. “Have I done something to upset you?” It was better to ask upfront than to beat around the bush.

“N-no.” Cody reached over with one of his large callused hands and patted Tyler on the knee. “Why would you think that?”

Tyler almost got sidetracked, thinking of all the other places that hand could go. Shaking his head to get rid of the thoughts, he continued his interrogation. “Because you’ve been avoiding me for the past two days.”

“I’ve been busy,” Cody growled, but a revealing red streaked his cheek.


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