Authors: R.J. Scott
Texas series book 5
Copyright 2013 by RJ Scott
First eBook publication: December 2013
Cover design - Meredith Russell
Edited - Erika Orrick
Proofreader – Stacia Hess
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.
All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
To Erika Orrick for her editing skills, which make even this weird Brit look good. To Stacia who said I should put Het-boy back and who said this was her favorite.
To Meredith for her beautiful cover.
To Jackie McKenzie, for inspiring me to call Beth and Steve’s baby boy, Campbell Jay Murray. Jay for his uncles, Jack and Josh. Campbell for the family surname, Cam for short.
… and always for my family.
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Liam Frazier listened from a short distance and wished the ground would swallow him up so that he wouldn’t be found out.
He sat with his knees drawn up to his chest not more than ten feet from Jack Campbell-Hayes. With only a stall wall between them, Liam was close enough to hear every word his boss said. He didn’t mean to eavesdrop—everyone should have been in bed by now and Liam thought he’d have the horse barn to himself.
He was going to be discovered and told to leave the D.
I knew I shouldn’t have bunked in with Hatty, I should have stayed in my own place.
Not that where he slept was exactly a place or even his own. He was camped out at the other end of the horses’ barn in a tent. Just after midnight, he’d woken restless from dreams and decided to check in on Hatty because she’d been a bit off all day. The horses were good to him; they let him sleep close by with no judgment. They didn’t care if he was gay or thin, he was just the guy who stroked and petted them.
“Can’t sleep?” a voice asked, and for a second Liam imagined it was he being asked. Then he realized it was Robbie’s voice, and he was in the barn talking to Jack.
“Too much on my mind,” Jack answered evenly. There was the noise of scuffing boots on wood, and Liam could imagine both his immediate boss and the owner of the D with their feet up on the lower rung of the stall, leaning over and looking at the horses. It would be Solo Cal, who had the stall two down from Hatty. “Fed the twins and Riley went back to sleep. I couldn’t get my head to quiet down.”
“Eli is restless. I thought I’d give him some space so he can settle, then go back in, given I’m up again in what—” Robbie paused, and Liam pictured him checking his watch in the soft, barely there lighting of the barn. “—five hours?”
“Yeah, he just has nights when he’s not comfortable in his own skin.”
“But the last report says his cancer is still clear.”
“Thank God, yes. So, you’re up and prowling at one am, anything
want to talk about?” Robbie asked. “The horses? Or the D?”
Jack huffed a laugh, and Liam easily visualized the look on Jack’s face that accompanied it. Not that he’d been watching Jack much, but it seemed every expression Jack had, from anger to love, was so different to any other cowboy that Liam had ever met. He was so damn laidback and, hell, supportive. None of it was right, and Liam was waiting for the penny to drop and for the crap to start up again.
“Beth called to say she had back pains, and Steve is all about taking her straight to hospital.”
“Is she going in?”
“I think she wanted another night at home, but Steve got his way.”
“You need me to do the early morning with Liam? So you can go to the hospital?”
“Yeah, if you don’t mind.”
“Will do. You must be excited about being an uncle again.”
“I am, and worried about Beth. The usual.”
“What about Max? How’s that going.”
“Another delay, something about my and Riley’s marriage certificate this time and its validity outside of Canada.”
“That’s irrelevant though, I thought Riley was adopting solely?”
“He is.” Jack sighed heavily. “It’s as if any excuse this committee has to slow the whole thing down is being pulled out. Last week it was the twins being so little, before that was the fact we have no nanny, hell, a month ago it was shock that I didn’t have a degree. Jesus. Next it will be because I have blue eyes instead of green or some stupid shit like that.”
Liam winced at Jack’s obvious anger and frustration. He’d yet to see any signs of a temper in the owner of the Double D, but he knew there had to be a mean streak somewhere in the easygoing cowboy.
“I’m sorry, Jack. Can they actually do this to you and Riley? And to Max?”
“Seems they can. It’s a fucking nightmare. All we want is him here with us and we have all the right paperwork. Riley is calmer than me, says I should remember that Rebecca is a great mom and the family is the best place for him at the moment.”
“He’ll be just as happy here when he gets here.”
“Yeah, we’re spending tomorrow with him, but it isn’t enough, y’know?”
“You just want to get your family settled.”
Jack grunted in response, and then he changed the subject. Liam listened to Robbie’s quiet reply and agreed with him. Sometimes all a man wants in his life is peace, direction, and purpose. One day he, Liam Frazier from Dallas who liked horses and saw too much around him, would have purpose and peace.
“How’s Liam doing?” Jack asked in a quieter voice. Of course, Jack thought Liam was away at the end of the barn asleep; he didn’t know Liam could hear every word.
Fuck. Shit. Balls.
What if they talked about him and he heard? What happened when they saw he’d been there the whole time? There wasn’t space for him to get out of the stall and past two men who were angry with him. And Jack was a big guy, not as big as Riley, but he was built, and Robbie was no slouch either in the muscles department.
“He’s a good kid,” Robbie answered immediately. “A horse person to the core.”
I’m twenty-one in a couple of months.
“How is he?”
“Still has his off days. Shies away sometimes.”
Liam didn’t have to think about what Robbie meant. The latest Liam-losing-it incident had been a bad one. Hanging his head in shame, he buried his face in his hands and drew his knees up to his body. He couldn’t help how he felt when he’d split the grain bag. He’d thought he’d get his head smacked for being an idiot. Hell, he could have handled that, but all Robbie did was patiently help him sweep away the crap and retie the bag so what remained would stay inside. All he’d said is that Liam should watch for any sharp corners or nails because some of the bags were getting worn.
Liam had cried like a fucking girl. Luckily Robbie had already gone and Liam had been alone. But fuck, one piece of being nice to him and he all but lost his shit.
“I wish he’d talk to us,” Jack said softly. “He has no reason to be scared here.”
“I don’t know what the hell happened in Laredo, but I put some feelers out, see if I can find out anything that will help. I know what it’s like to come up against hate,” Robbie had a sad quality to his voice, and Liam screwed his eyes shut. He was pathetic if Robbie was that worried about him.
Then he realized what Robbie said about feelers and his chest constricted. The last thing Liam wanted was Robbie or Jack or any do-gooder tracking down anything about Liam and what he’d been through. Because if the ones who didn’t trust him to keep his mouth shut found out where Liam had moved to, they’d come get him, and Liam didn’t even want to think about that. After what he’d witnessed at the Bar Five, it was likely the
family would tell Jack all about the kid with no past who stole from them and disappeared overnight.
Not for the first time, Liam berated himself about not stealing more money. Then he could have made it up to Montana or even stopped in Arizona, anywhere near horses and far enough away from Texas so that no one tracked him down.
Flashes of fists and feelings of utter helplessness flooded him, and he whimpered under his breath.
Stupid. Stupid. Idiot
. He just wanted this to end and to find one place where he wasn’t asked questions and where no one wanted to help him.
“Let me know what you find out,” Jack answered evenly. “I worry about him and I want to support him any way I can. He’s a natural with the horses.”
“I’m going to try to get in a few hours before the twins wake me up and I need to get to the hospital”
“They still feeding every four hours?” Robbie asked with a chuckle.
“Should be cutting down soon, they’re nearly eight weeks old now. Lexie slept near through last night.” Pride dripped from Jack’s voice, and Liam heard Robbie chuckle.
“You and Riley with kids is a good look,” he laughed. “Shame about the bags under your eyes.”
“Asshole,” Jack replied with no heat in his tone. “Night.”
Robbie stayed a little longer, fussing Solo, but then he too left. Finally it was just Liam cowering in
stall and wondering when the hell this would all stop. The fear and anxiety. All too much.
* * * * *
Jack stopped to look in on the twins on his way back to bed. Both lay peacefully and quietly, and he leaned over and placed gentle kisses on each tiny baby. He never thought his love for his family could ever get stronger, but these tiny scraps were so precious to him. He had dreams for them, ponies, horses, school, college, happiness…that was all he wanted for both of them. Lexie moved her head, and Jack held his breath, hoping to hell she didn’t wake up. The last feed may well see her through to the morning, but Connor wasn’t moving to longer gaps yet. It never failed to amaze Jack how Lexie could sleep through her brother’s keening for the dawn feed. The soft nightlight threw shadows around the room, and he realized he could stand here forever and it would never be long enough to watch them sleep.
Pulling the door nearly shut, he crept down the corridor and looked in on Hayley. He tucked her covers around her and placed a kiss to her forehead. Hayley was a child of his heart. She looked so much like Riley he’d joked yesterday that he could imagine Riley as a woman. Of course that had led Riley to proving he was far from being a woman, which ended with them locking themselves in the bathroom for privacy and enjoying the quickest blow jobs known to man.
He stripped, then crawled into bed with Riley and was immediately warm from the heat radiating from his husband. Riley instinctively moved into Jack’s arms in his sleep.
“Okay?” he mumbled groggily.
“Yeah. Go back to sleep.”
Jack lay staring up at the ceiling for a few minutes and tried to work through all the shit in his head to at least compartmentalize it until the morning. Beth and the baby was a constant worry in his head. Josh was exactly the same. The two brothers couldn’t help it; they were protective of their little sister and the baby she carried. Then there was Max and the whole digging deep into Riley and Jack.
Jack had to face that fact he’d been humiliated when they’d called his lack of education into account over Max’s adoption. What did it matter what education he had on paper when he ran a successful horse training ranch and looked after the accounts and worked with Riley in the house? Seemed to him offering Max love and family was more important than whatever education Jack had scraped together.