Seven months ago, Len Parker lost his partner of more than twenty years, and he isn’t sure how to feel about his blossoming attraction to Chris, one of his farmhands. Hesitant and still hurt, Len remains aloof and distant until he’s goaded into teaching Chris to ride.
Fresh out of a thirty-year career with the Marines, Chris can explore his sexuality openly for the first time in his life, but what he needs more than anything is peace. He’s convinced Len doesn’t like him until he digs a little deeper, and then, armed with hope, Chris sets out to prove that love can provide the healing he and Len so desperately need.
“Couldn’t sleep, so I got up and went for a ride,” Len answered and went right back to work. He really didn’t want to talk about it, and Len knew Geoff would understand. The clomping of horse’s hooves on the concrete told him Geoff had moved on, and Len continued filling the wheelbarrow before wheeling the mess to the mulch pile. On his way back, he passed Eli walking his horse out into the yard.
“Morning, Len,” Geoff’s partner of six months called with a bright smile on his face.
“Morning, Eli,” Len answered with more energy than he felt. “Do you have a class this morning?”
“At ten. I have most everything ready,” Eli answered before mounting. Len pulled off his cap and waved it at the two of them as they started their ride. He saw them both wave back and heard the conversation and laughter fade as they got farther away. Placing his hat back on his head, he went back to work. As he finished the stall, Len heard tires crunch on the gravel drive outside, followed by the sound of truck doors closing and then footsteps on the gravel and into the barn. The tractor started with a deep rumble in the equipment shed.
“Morning, Len,” Lumpy called from the doorway of the tack room, the list of tasks in his hand. “Pete’s gonna get those last hayfields roll-baled before it rains. Where do you want us to put them when we’re done? You said yesterday that we didn’t need it.”
“You can leave it in the fields. The Hansens are going to take it all. They enlarged their dairy herd, and he said he’d be happy to take whatever we have. I’ll call and tell him he can start picking up the bales in a few hours,” Len said, and he saw a curious look on Lumpy’s face, like he wanted to ask something, but wasn’t sure if he should.
“I’ll tell Pete and then get on the list.” Lumpy looked the sheet over. “I’m gonna start with those fences, and I’ll let you know if I find anything that needs fixing. See you this afternoon,” Lumpy added before walking out of the barn and getting to work. Len climbed the stairs to the full hayloft and opened the only trap door that wasn’t covered by hay. Lifting a bale, he dropped it through the door to the barn floor below.
“Len, I can get that for you,” a voice behind him said, making him jump. Len landed near the edge of the door and nearly lost his balance. Big hands caught his arm, pulling him back from the brink and against a hard, firm body before both of them fell against the stacked bales of hay, with Len caught between the hay and Chris, the hand Geoff had hired a few weeks earlier. The scent of fresh hay mixed with the smell of soap and man, and for a second Len remembered what it felt like to be held and went with it until his thoughts cleared.
“You scared the shit out of me,” Len said, pulling away before storming toward the stairs.
“It was an accident. Christ, I only came up to help. There’s no need to take my head off!” Chris retorted louder than was needed, and Len heard the whap and thump as a bale was flung to the floor below. Len descended the stairs in a huff. He wasn’t angry with Chris, not really. It was his reaction whenever he got close to the man that kept throwing him.
At the bottom of the stairs, Len stopped. He could hear Chris moving around, heavy footsteps stomping on the loft floor, the thump of the bales as they fell with more force than necessary, but more than anything he could see the man’s chiseled face and bright, intelligent eyes, which looked as though they’d seen things Len could never understand. Chris also had a body that had seen hard physical work for years. Chris appeared to be nearing fifty, the way Len was, but Chris didn’t look like any other fifty-year-old Len had ever seen. Not that it mattered. Len was not going to find out if the muscles beneath Chris’s flannel shirt were as large as they looked, or if that glimpse of dark hair that sometimes peeked over the top of his shirt extended further. That was not going to happen. Len pushed the images out of his mind as he stomped out of the barn toward the house, figuring he might as well make breakfast. It would give him something to do, and everyone would be hungry in an hour or so.