"Got it." Ren double-checked the
channel on his radio. "I'll let you know either way."
Ren put his horse, Athena, into a full gallop and cut across
a deep pasture, half-filled with cattle. He picked up speed,
urged Athena on, and jumped a low fence in his path. He and
Athena forged through a six-deep barrier of thick trees and
brush that separated the grazing land from the paved, public
road. Ren walked his horse up to the shoulder, keeping Athena's
spirited, prancing hooves steady. His gazed zeroed in on the
back of a black SUV about a quarter mile down the road. The
truck faced north, half in the ditch on the other side of
Goose bumps popped up all over Ren's arms, and cold raced
through his blood. With a quick burst of speed, he pushed
Athena into a full-on run.
"Dad!" Ren would recognize the sheriff's truck
Lightning fast, Ren pulled up alongside the driver's side
door. He tugged on Athena's reins, bringing the horse to a
fast stop. In one move, he jumped off the animal and yanked
open the door. "Dad!" There was no one inside. Ren
crawled in and checked the back, hoping to satisfy the frenetic
racing of his brain and heart. Nothing. He pulled back out
and ran around the truck to the grassy shoulder. "Where
are you? Dad!"
"Stop yelling," a whiskey-rough voice muttered.
Cade McKenna came into view from the thick trees. "It's
not your dad." The big man had a bundle tucked in his
arm. "Damn it" -- Cade winced and rolled a massive
shoulder -- "that'll have a bruise tomorrow."
"Shit." Ren rushed over to Cade and put an arm
around his waist. "Are you all right? Your head is bleeding."
Ren eyed the mud-covered, furry little body cradled in one
of Cade's big arms and noticed its backside matted with dirt
and blood. "Damn, is that a puppy?"
"Yeah," Cade answered. "I almost ran him
They made it the short distance to the half-ditched truck,
and Cade leaned back against it, clearly still shaken. "Can
you open the passenger door for me, so I can set him down
"Yeah, sure." Ren let go of Cade and rushed to
do as requested. Holding the door open, he watched, his insides
melting as Cade settled the puppy down on the seat. Looking
more closely from over Cade's shoulder, Ren thought the puppy
looked like an Irish setter.
Cade straightened and shut the door softly.
Stepping back a bit, Ren eyed the blood trickling down Cade's
temple. "Listen, I'm gonna get Hank on the radio and
have him come get Athena for me, and then I'll drive you back
into town. I don't want you behind the wheel until someone
has looked at that cut on your head." Ren reached up
and fingered Cade's hair away from his temple to get a better
look. At the first touch, Cade jerked away, his dark eyes
flashing, and Ren let his hand fall back to his side, unused.
"I'll be fine," Cade insisted. He pressed his
fingers to his skull, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment
and compressing his lips down to a thin line. It made him
look angry and unapproachable. "I already radioed for
Mike's to send out a tow truck and haul the SUV back into
town. Damn thing jammed up for some reason, and I can't get
it to restart. The sheriff won't like that. We have one of
the deputy vehicles in the shop already."
"Oh, okay." Ren nodded. "So that's why you
have the sheriff's truck, instead of my father."
Cade nodded sharply. "Yeah. Sorry about giving you
a scare. The damn puppy was curled up right in the middle
of the road, looking like a ball of trash. I was almost right
on top of him before he showed signs of life. At the last
second, I saw his little head lift up, and when I jerked the
wheel to miss him, he ran in the same direction I turned,
so I almost ended up hitting him anyway. Damn little bugger
took off into the brush and trees."
Ren bit his lip so that he didn't smile. "He probably
gave you a heart attack bigger than the one I got when I saw
the truck, yet you still got out and searched for him anyway."
"Well" -- Cade pushed his weight off the side
of the SUV and paced in the direction of the back of the truck
-- "he might be a pet, in which case someone is probably
looking for him, and we'll hear about it down at the station.
More likely, though, somebody didn't want him and threw him
away, which makes it an act of animal cruelty and a crime
I will pursue if I can trace ownership of the animal. Either
way" -- Cade turned mid-pace and started back toward
Ren -- "I needed to apprehend the puppy so I can figure
"Apprehend." A formal word for a straitlaced man.
"Riiiighht," Ren drew out slowly. He leaned a shoulder
against the passenger side window and peeked in at the sleeping
puppy. "Saving the puppy is all about the job for you.
Not that you couldn't bear the thought of the little guy dying
out here on its own. It couldn't be that you plan to rush
him right to the vet, probably already radioed Sarah back
at the station and had her put a call in to Dr. Crowley."
Cade's eyes darkened, and his face flooded with color, but
Ren pushed anyway. "I even bet you've already told Mike
you're going to make a stop on the way into town so that you
can drop the puppy off at the vet's first, just in case there's
something seriously wrong with him." Cade's face turned
hard, and his jaw clenched with each sentence Ren spoke, but
still Ren couldn't stop. "It couldn't be any of that,
Deputy." Ren poked, and he did it knowing that he provoked
a bear. "It's just the job, and you're an officer of
the law doing his sworn duty. Right?"
Cade moved in closer, looming bigger and taller than Ren's
decent-sized six-two frame. Even with Cade's damaged face,
Ren could tell he had tested the man's patience. The scars
on Cade's face covered and hid a lot, but Ren quickly found
they didn't mask his displeasure at being teased.
Cade's jaw ticked visibly. "What are you doing?"
he growled. "Why are you pushing me?"
Ren lost his courage, and stumbled. "I…I don't know."
Cade caged Ren in against the truck, pressing the flat of
his hands against the black metal on either side of Ren's
head. "I'm having a shitty morning, Ren," Cade bit
off, "and it's only going to get worse when I have to
tell the sheriff about the accident with the truck. After
I explain myself, I have to get a new vehicle and finish delivering
the bad news to Caleb Hawkins that they didn't turn up a fingerprint
match on the cigarette butts we found near the creek. So,
I repeat, Ren" -- Cade barked his name like a curse --
"why in the hell are you being a jerk and messing with
me? Today, of all days?"
Ren couldn't break away from the fire in Cade's nearly black
eyes. More than that, he didn't want to. He blurted the first
thing that came to his mind. "I told Tex Bruester he
couldn't take me anymore."
"What?" Cade's eyes flashed more of that dark fire.
His stare reached out and pushed its way into Ren, setting
his blood boiling. Ren watched Cade's jaw tick some more,
before Cade pushed out, "What did you just say?"
"I know what you overheard that day." Ren felt
his cheeks slash with heat. "I know you know what I am
and what I let happen with Tex. Two days ago, I put a stop
to it, and I won't let it happen anymore." Ren searched
Cade's gaze, one that hadn't so much as flickered away from
Ren's face from the moment he'd started trying to explain
his crazy confession. "I don't know why I'm telling you,
but I wanted you to kn --"
"Stupid son of a bitch." Cade's eyes narrowed,
and his scars pulled at half of his face, making him a truly
intense sight. "Why in the hell did you have to tell
"I needed you to know," Ren said, almost desperately.
He could feel his entire body stringing tight, and God, Cade
stood so damn close that their belt buckles touched. "I
needed you to know." Ren's chest pounded erratically.
"I needed you to know."
"Good Christ." Cade tore his gaze away. "It's
surely going to kill me this time" -- his eyes, so fierce
looking, came back to Ren -- "but I need this too."
"This," Cade growled low, and then crushed his
mouth against Ren's. He forced Ren's head back against the
truck in a hard, searing kiss. "Christ, I need exactly
this." Cade bit, attacking roughly. His fingers slid
down Ren's sides and dug into Ren's hips, tugging their bodies
into full contact.
Ren legs buckled. He thanked God for the support at his back
-- and his front -- as he threw himself recklessly into his
first real kiss. As he grabbed Cade's head between his hands,
Cade hissed a curse against Ren's mouth, and Ren immediately
slid his hands down, locking them around Cade's neck instead.
"Better?" Ren murmured, remembering that Cade had
a cut on his head. Cade took advantage of the question and
slid his tongue inside Ren's mouth, licking deeply and thoroughly.
Ren moaned and held on as his cock jumped to life in his jeans
and pressed against Cade in the process.
A purring growl reverberated through Cade. He dug his hands
between Ren's back and the truck, pulling at Ren's shirt.
Ren arched away and helped, and then, oh God, Cade pressed
his palm against the small of Ren's back, no shirt as a barrier.
He pushed his fingers down in the top of Ren's jeans and caressed
the soft skin at the cleft of Ren's ass.
Ren gasped against Cade's hot mouth and reached back to shove
Cade's hand down deeper. Cade swore, almost inhumanly soft
and low, and wrenched himself away. His face pulled tight
and hard, and he looked just as angry as he had when he'd
swooped in with his mouth only moments ago.
"What?" Ren slid his fingertips over Cade's chest.
Cade shuddered, and bit his jaw down with a snapping click.
Ren pressed again. "What?"
"What nothing, damn it." Cade's voice washed over
Ren, cold as ice. "Christ, I can't do this." He
wiped his mouth and took a giant step away from Ren. He took
another, and then another, almost as if he didn't have any
choice in the matter. "Your father is my boss, Ren. My.
Fucking. Boss." Cade's face became mask of dark control
that Ren didn't yet understand how to read. "I respect
Duke; I respect him a great deal. And I've got to tell you,
I don't think I'd last too long in this town if he knew I'd
spent part of the morning with my tongue shoved down his son's
"Probably not." Some of the passion of the moment
started to ebb away from Ren's overheated body. "Not
if he didn't know his son liked having another man kissing
him, which he doesn't know, if you remember."
"Oh, that's right," Cade responded sarcastically.
"He'd not only think me a fag pervert and run me out
of town, he'd think I was a molesting fag pervert who'd attacked
his innocent, heterosexual son. Even better, because then
he'd just kill me on the spot and not have to worry about
the potential harassment lawsuit."
Ren rolled his eyes.
Cade stalked up to Ren, getting right back in his space.
"Oh, you don't think he would? You don't think your dad
loves you more than anything else in this world, and wouldn't
take my head off for just looking at you with lust in my eyes?"
"Do you?" Ren's heart constricted with excitement.
"Do you look at me with lust in your eyes?"
"What the hell do you think, based on what just happened?"
Ren opened his mouth to speak, but before the first word
got out, the walkie-talkie clipped to his belt crackled to
"What the hell you doin', boy?" Hank's voice snapped
over the line. "Does someone need your help, or are you
just pissing away the morning while I do all the work?"
Ren lifted his gaze to Cade's, and after a long, drawn out
silent battle, Cade said, "Go on and tell him you'll
join him soon. I'm fine." Cade's eyes burned with determination.
"Nothing else will happen here today. Not today, not
tomorrow, not ever. Do you hear me?"
Shame and humiliation rolled through Ren, and he turned away.
He pulled the walkie-talkie off his belt and put it to his
mouth. "Everything's fine, Hank. Help is already on the
way. It shouldn't take me more than fifteen minutes to catch
up to you. I'll see you soon."
"Damn well better," Hank grumbled through the walkie-talkie.
Ren slid the walkie-talkie back on his belt. When he turned
around, his eyes met Cade's.
"Well, go on." Cade's tone brooked no argument.
"Get out of here and get back to work before you get
in trouble, and the sheriff strips my hide for that too."
"He wouldn't do that." Ren defended the only father
he'd ever known. The only person who'd ever picked Ren over
everyone else. "He's a good person, and he's not prejudiced.
He respects Cain Hawkins and Luke Forrester as an open couple.
He wouldn't treat you any differently if he knew how you felt;
that's not who he is."
"Oh?" Cade crossed his arms tight against his chest.
"Is that why you ran home and told him about it the first
time you started having feelings for other men? Oh no, wait."
Cade's lips flattened, viciously pulling his mouth down at
the corner. "You haven't done that, have you? You're
still hiding your sexuality from him."
Panic at losing Duke shivered through Ren. "Don't act
so smug," Ren charged back defensively. "You're
doing the exact same thing. You're hiding, too. Only, you're
worse than me because you're trying to deny it to yourself,
as well as to everyone else."
"I deny nothing. I just don't choose to do anything
about it. Ever."
"You wanted me just now." Ren boldly looked Cade
up and down, aggressive posturing covering his fear as he
did it. "I felt how fucking hard you were when you pressed
yourself against me. Your cock jammed into my stomach hard
enough to leave a dent, and you reached for my ass, not the
other way around. You wanted me, Cade, just as much as I wanted
Cade uncrossed his arms and wiped at his face with his hands.
He rubbed vigorously, almost as if with enough effort he could
wipe what he felt inside away. Ren suddenly knew Cade never
would have let Ren see the gesture if he'd realized how exhausted,
vulnerable, and maybe even a little bit afraid he looked,
with just that one small movement of his hands.
"I want peace and quiet, Ren," Cade said. Ren watched
the truth of the confession wrapped itself around the big
man like a cloak. "I just want to do my job and go home
every night without worrying that something I do will come
down on my head like a sledgehammer. I feel an attraction
between us; I admit that. I'm just saying I need to make it
clear that we seem like very different people at very different
stages in our lives, who probably want very different things."
Hurt stabbed Ren in the gut. "You don't know that. You
don't know me well enough to say that."
"I can't afford to know more." …