Sunday, January 15, 2012

Spend Some Time on the Range

This is the third Story from the Range and I think it's almost my favorite so far.  I hope you like it as well.  There will be another coming in a few months so look for A Foreign Range.


The last thing Liam Southard expects when he flees his abusive father is to be taken in by a couple of gay ranchers. Soon he has a new job and a new perspective on his sexuality, and his life starts to turn around. Then someone pulls a gun on him.

In Troy Gardener’s defense, the gun thing was a mistake. Between his marriage falling apart and living in his uncle's isolated hunting cabin, he's been a little edgy. He wants to make it up to Liam, and once he discovers how much they have in common, he wants even more. But with Liam's father popping in unexpectedly and a mining company threatening the ranch’s water supply, the only guarantee is that life is never going to be boring.


“Is that a lion?” Liam could hardly believe his eyes.

Wally laughed softly. “We have three lions and four tigers right now. I try to find permanent homes for them with zoos and animal parks, but some of these guys are so old, no one wants them.” Wally stepped close to one of the doors and watched as a large male lion with an impressive mane loped over to him, yawning. “This is Manny. He’s getting quite old, but don’t let him fool you or think he’s a pet, because he’s a wild animal, and unpredictable. The first lion I got was Schian, and he loved to have his belly scratched. He was the only one I ever trusted enough to be in the cage with, and even then I was always wary. He died a little over a year ago.” Liam saw the loss momentarily in Wally’s expression, and he couldn’t help wondering what a full-grown lion looked like and sounded like when he had his belly scratched.

“What do you want me to do with them?” Liam took a step back from the cage as Manny let out a roar that echoed over the land before settling back down onto the ground. “You must think I’m crazy.”

Wally chuckled again. “You need to be wary and careful, but never afraid. Manny is just reminding himself that he’s a big boy. He thinks all these cats are part of his pride and that he’s the head honcho.” Wally moved to the next cage. “There are four enclosures in each group, with a shared exercise area. All you need to do is open the gate in the cage, and they’ll amble out when they’re ready. I try to give each one a chance in the yard every day.” Wally stopped at an enclosure with the most beautiful cat Liam had ever seen.

“Wow,” Liam mouthed.

“She’s impressive, isn’t she? That’s Shahrazad. She’s a Bengal tiger. She’s also the biggest bitch I’ve ever had. Don’t get too close to the enclosure under any circumstances,” Wally warned.

Liam had no intention of getting anywhere near her. “Then how do you feed her?” Liam asked tentatively, and Wally opened a chute in the back of the cage. “The food goes in here and the water here.” Wally showed him what he needed to do. “Once every few days, we enclose each animal in the common area and clean its cage.” Wally stopped talking and looked at Liam appraisingly. “Do you think you can do this? It requires vigilance and patience.”

Liam nodded slowly. “I never thought I’d be taking care of lions and tigers.”

“There’s more,” Wally explained, and he began to lead him away. By the time Wally had told him all about the care of big cats and the other exotic animals he had, Liam’s head was spinning. “I know this is a lot, so we’ll work together for a while. I’m not expecting you to do this alone, but I get called away, and I don’t want to worry about their care.”

“I can do it,” Liam answered with more confidence than he felt. If it meant food and a roof over his head, Liam could do just about anything. Manny roared again, making Liam jump slightly, and then all the other cats began growling, and Liam saw many of them pacing their cages. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know. They sense something. Look at the way their ears are down and their hair stands on edge. Something has them all a bit spooked.” Wally began looking around; Liam did as well.

“There’s smoke,” Liam said pointing up into the hills surrounding the ranch. “The wind must be carrying the scent this way. It doesn’t look like the forest is on fire.”

“No, but that’s still a lot of smoke, and as dry as it’s been, that fire could spread and take out the entire ranch and half the valley.” Wally was already hurrying back toward the house.

“What are you going to do?’ Liam asked as he followed behind, and Wally stopped, like he hadn’t thought that far ahead. “Like I said, I don’t think the forest is on fire—the smoke isn’t moving or spreading. If you tell me the way, I could try to go up there and see what’s up,” Liam offered. He didn’t want to sit around doing nothing when he could be of help.

“There’s not much up there. I think Dakota told me once that there was a track up there at the end of the road on the west edge of the ranch, but I’ve never been up there.” Wally turned and looked at the smoke again, worry plain on his face.

“Is it okay if I take one of the ATVs? I can ride out there and see what’s going on. It shouldn’t take very long,” Liam offered, and Wally nodded absently. There wasn’t any reason to assume it was anything other than someone camping up there, although it seemed to Liam that there was too much smoke for just a campfire.

“Go on, but be careful,” Wally cautioned, still looking worried.

Liam hurried to the equipment shed and hopped on the ATV he’d used before, grateful that he was doing something that didn’t involve animals that could rip him apart. He started the engine and pulled out of the shed, traveling along the road in front of the ranch before turning down a dirt road at the end of the range that went back toward the hills. The warm, dry air ruffled his hair as he opened the throttle until the road appeared to end at a path just wide enough to allow the ATV to pass. Liam slowed and began to climb steadily up the hillside. Through breaks in the overgrowth, Liam could occasionally see the plume of smoke getting closer and closer.

Liam dove carefully, mindful of washouts and limbs across the path. A few times, he had to move limbs before he could pass, and as the trail got thinner, Liam began to wonder how he’d turn around if he couldn’t go any further. Then the trail dumped him onto what looked like a two-track that appeared to have been used recently, and Liam turned. He hadn’t gone far before he began to smell the odor of something unpleasant burning. Liam wrinkled his nose as he continued up the path, the scent becoming more pervasive and strong enough that his eyes began to water and his nose to run. What in hell could be burning?

Finally, Liam rode to the edge of a clearing where he saw a large fire burning in a pit, the smell making him gag, and he tried his best not to throw up. Of course, he forgot all about that when he saw a man approach him, a rifle leveled at his chest. Liam didn’t know what to say and sat totally still as he watched the man walk toward him. “What are you doing here?”

“I… we saw the fire, and it was dry, so I was just checking it out,” Liam answered nervously and watched as the gun wavered for a second before slowly lowering.

“You’ve done that, so now I suggest you leave.”

Relieved that the man was no longer pointing a gun at him, Liam looked at him and felt his mouth drop open. He removed his helmet to get a better look. Beneath the rough clothing and hard eyes was the most beautiful man Liam had ever laid eyes on.


Jan Springer said...

Sounds like a wonderful story!! :-)

Tina Donahue said...

An Unsettled Range sounds really good, Andrew. The cover is great. Congrats - and here's to many happy sales! :)