Country singer Willie Meadows is a fake. He’s never ridden a horse, and his “Western”gear comes from a boutique shop in LA. No wonder Wilson Edwards, the real man in those fake boots, is suffering creative block. Determined to connect with the music, Wilson buys a ranch in Wyoming to learn the country way of life, even if he has no intention of running the business. Then Steve Peterson shows up desperate, destitute, and hungry, having just escaped a gay deprogramming hospital run by his father’s cult.
Steve was supposed to train horses for the ranch’s former owner, but the job is gone along with his would-be employer. Luckily Wilson has a temporary solution: Steve can ranch-sit while Wilson does business in LA. But when he comes back, Wilson barely recognizes the place. There are trained horses in the paddock, and the ranch is in great shape. Suddenly he finds himself inspired not by the cowboy lifestyle but by Steve himself.
But the cult is still after Steve, and Wilson’s fear of scandal means he’s still in the closet. Coming out could kill Willie’s career—but denying his feelings for Steve could kill the only part of him that’s real.
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In the morning, Wilson knew that Howard would sleep for hours in the morning, so he got up, showered, and dressed. After leaving his manager a note, he took the car and drove back out to his house. He really wanted to be able to take a good look around without Howard explaining what was wrong with everything. When he turned into the drive, Wilson was surprised to see an old truck pulled off into the yard near the barn. And when he parked the car, Wilson saw someone come out of the barn.
“Morning, mister,” the man said, and as he walked toward the car, Wilson saw he couldn’t have been much more than twenty, skinny as a beanpole, but with an earnest expression that Wilson found endearing. “Do you know what happened?” he asked, motioning around him. “I was supposed to come here for a job, but everything’s gone.” He looked almost brokenhearted.
“I’m the new owner,” Wilson explained through the open car window.
“What happened to Mrs. Henfield?” the kid asked, and he started to shake a little. “She wrote me some months back, offering me a job training her horses. I got hurt and told her I needed to heal up, so she told me to come when I was better.” Dang, if he’d been sick, he certainly didn’t look like he’d had time to heal. His face was slightly drawn and thin. Wilson also couldn’t help noticing that the end of his belt hung a little long, like he was notching it in a lot more than he used to.
“I’m sorry, but her husband died, and she sold the ranch,”Wilson explained.
The kid definitely looked heartbroken, and he turned around and walked back toward his old truck. Wilson watched as he opened the door and climbed inside but made no move to start the engine. Instead, Wilson saw him lean his head against the steering wheel like he didn’t quite know what to do. Wilson pulled the car to what looked like a decent place to park and got out, wandering over to the kid’s truck. The young man hadn’t moved, and if Wilson hadn’t known better, he’d almost think the kid was asleep, except when he looked through the window, Wilson saw him shaking.
Wilson tapped lightly on the window, and the kid lifted his head. The fear Wilson saw in those deep brown eyes shocked him. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing. I just needed this job real bad, and now it’s gone. I ain’t got the money to fill up the tank to get somewhere else, let alone eat. But that ain’t yer problem.” The kid wiped his face and started the engine.
Wilson stepped back as the kid put the truck in gear and started down the driveway. Wilson listened to the truck as it turned onto the road and sped up before sputtering a few times. Wilson saw the kid maneuver the truck off the road before it died. He sighed and walked back to his car. After starting the engine, he drove down the driveway and stopped behind where the kid’s truck had run out of gas. Wilson got out and walked up to the driver’s door. He saw the kid once again slumped over the steering wheel, and this time, Wilson pulled the door open. The screech of metal was almost deafening, and he realized the truck was barely holding itself together. “Come on. I’m heading back to town, and I can take you with me.” There was no way Wilson could leave him out here. When he didn’t move, Wilson held out his hand. “It’s okay.”
“No, it’s not,” the kid said as he got out of the truck. He looked sort of glassy-eyed, and Wilson was beginning to wonder when he’d last eaten, or slept, for that matter.
“Go get in the car,” Wilson said as he wrenched the truck door closed. He watched as the kid walked alongside the truck reaching into the back for what looked like some sort of old duffel bag. He lifted it out and nearly fell over as he did. Wilson popped open the trunk, and the kid set his duffel inside.
“I’m real sorry about this, mister,” he said, looking toward the ground.
“Don’t think twice about it,” Wilson said. He understood where the kid was coming from. No, he hadn’t been out stranded in the middle of nowhere alone. Instead, he’d been stranded in LA, which was probably worse in a lot of ways. “The name’s Wilson, by the way,” he said with a smile he hoped looked reassuring.
“Steve,” the kid said, and after lightly closing the trunk, he slid into the passenger seat and closed the door, keeping as far away from Wilson as he could.
“I won’t hurt you, I promise.” The haunted look in the kid’s eyes told him that wasn’t going to soothe him any. Something pretty bad had happened to this kid, and he was mighty scared and nervous. Wilson put the car in gear and pulled onto the road, heading back toward town. When he pulled into the hotel parking lot, Steve got really nervous, and at first Wilson thought he was going to jump out of the car. “This is where I’m staying. I need to make sure my friend is up, and then we can get something to eat.” Wilson got out of the car, taking the keys with him, just because it was prudent, and knocked on Howard’s door.
“I was wondering where you went. I’m starving,” Howard said as he closed his door and walked toward the car, stopping when he saw the front seat was already occupied. “What’s this?” he asked, glaring quizzically at Wilson. “You picked up some kid?” Howard hissed.