Ryan Putnam has lost everything. Laid off from teaching high school and dumped by his lawyer boyfriend, he has nowhere else to go but his childhood home – the Good Fortune ranch. He plans to take the summer to regroup and start over. He never expects to be smitten with a cowboy. Especially not a cowboy like Teo Mendez, who is everything Ryan’s ex-boyfriend is not.
Four years after his wife's death, Teo Mendez has returned to what he loves the most – working the land. He believes the Good Fortune ranch is the perfect place to build a new life for his son, Antonio. When his boss's brother Ryan shows up to work, the other man’s haunted eyes reminds Teo of everything he has lost as well. So he offers the only thing he can—his friendship. But it doesn't take long for Ryan to reawaken long dormant emotions and desires.
Ryan doesn’t intend to find a relationship. Teo doesn’t want to complicate his life with a fling. What they have between them, however, is too powerful to ignore.
...Ryan nodded to the long shadows outside the circle of the bonfire’s light. “Do you want to go?”
His meaning took a moment to sink in. “No, I’m good here.” He jerked a thumb toward the house. “I should be around in case Antonio needs me.”
Ryan’s eyes locked with his. For a moment, Teo didn’t know what he was going to do. Ask again? Argue with him? Change the subject? But Ryan only nodded. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
He emptied his beer, then set the empty bottle on the ground between his feet. Teo didn’t move as Ryan turned to walk away, avoiding a knot of people who called out to him to disappear in the shadows around the barn.
Teo watched the void Ryan had left in his wake, unable to look away. He knew he was being an asshole. Ryan just wanted company. It wasn’t his fault Teo couldn’t look at him without imagining more. How many times did Ryan ever ask for anything? Zero. He never did. Teo always offered. Ryan gave and gave, and then gave some more, and apparently, Teo was too self-centered to even think about giving something back just once when Ryan had the balls to ask for it.
Shit. Well, if he didn’t feel like a heel before, he sure as hell did now. Especially since he knew damn well Paige would take care of anything Antonio needed.
Draining the rest of his beer, he tossed it with the empties and took off on the same path Ryan had taken. The ground was a wash of purple and green, the fading sunlight a glow on the horizon, but it was the sight of the lean body at the other end of the barn that captured Teo’s attention.
He doubled his pace in order to catch up.
Teo expected Ryan to stop at the barn, but he kept walking along a path that wound between the smaller corrals and towards a series of squat storage sheds. The party faded behind him as he walked, and the first chill of the evening touched the back of his neck. The world grew darker by the second, but the sinking sun was balanced by the rising full moon.
Ryan finally stopped near the first shed, but he didn’t turn around. “Did you change your mind?”
It was a double-edged question, but then again, everything with Ryan seemed to be double-edged anymore. “There was only one person at the party I wanted to talk to,” he said in explanation. “And then he left.”
“What about Tony?”
Teo came up behind Ryan, wishing he would turn around. The outline of his body was clear in the moonlight, and when he shifted his weight, his ass came into closer view. “He’s already in good hands.” His voice was huskier than he would have liked, but desire was rearing its tempting head again. “He wasn’t the one asking for my company.”
“Maybe you should go back to the party. Or up to the house.” Ryan took a step forward, but then turned to face him. “I’m not really in a talkative mood myself, tonight.”
“Do you want me to go?”
Ryan exhaled. “No, I don’t. But honestly, I can’t pretend tonight that I don’t want anything from you except your company.”
“Oh.” What else was there to say to that? It mirrored his own thoughts exactly, and he’d been pretty sure he’d seen it on Ryan’s face when he’d cornered him in the barn earlier. “I guess being friends is a lot harder than we thought it would be.”
“No. It’s easy to be your friend. But it’s also pretty damned easy to want more from you. I can’t do anything about that.” Ryan closed the distance between them, and put his hand on his shoulder. His fingers flexed, curling into his shirt. “Just tell me no again, and I’ll leave it.”
No. It was right there. He could feel it on his tongue, like a hot pepper waiting to dance with his taste buds. It wanted to come out, wanted to put that wall back up between them where it should rightfully live, but nothing Teo could do would force it past his lips.
His palm found the solid muscle of Ryan’s chest and pushed. Not hard. Well, not too hard. He used enough power to knock Ryan back against the wall of the shed, quickly eating up the space between them by pinning him in with one hand next to his head and the other by his hip.
“Why didn’t you call for the interview?” Teo asked.
Ryan opened and closed his mouth, like he was struggling to find his own words. He lifted his chin and took a deep breath. There was just enough light to reflect in his eyes, making them shine. “Because I would have to move back to town. And I’d probably run into John. But I don’t want that life, and I don’t want John. I want to stay on the ranch. I want you.”
All the air disappeared from his lungs. It was one thing to imagine that he saw something fleeting in the other man’s eyes. Flights of fancy. Wishing thinking. It was something else entirely to hear it uttered so baldly. It was a wake-up call.
If he was being honest with himself, it was exactly what Teo had wanted to hear. Hoped to hear.
“I’ve been trying to convince myself that we’re both just lonely,” Teo murmured. “I haven’t been with anyone since Carmen, and I haven’t been with another guy since before her. It’s easy to explain away dreams of fucking you if I think on that.” His head ducked, his eyes fixated on Ryan’s mouth. “It’s not so easy to explain why I spend half those dreams holding you, or kissing you, or hell, just being with you.”
Ryan hooked his fingers around Teo’s belt and pulled him closer, pressing his arousal against Teo’s thigh. “You were probably right to stop when we kissed. But I can’t stop thinking about it. Or you. I just want to...”
Ryan touched his mouth to Teo’s. It was only a whisper of contact, but Teo responded immediately, parting his lips and letting Ryan deepen the kiss. His moan echoed Ryan’s, and he felt so achingly familiar, like they had kissed like this every day for the past two weeks. Ryan’s other hand went to the back of his neck, holding him tightly, like he was afraid Teo would disappear if he let go.
Reason didn’t play a part in Teo’s reactions to the kiss. When he slid a hand into the small of Ryan’s back and downward to cup his ass, he didn’t give a single thought to his old mantra. When he kneaded the taut flesh, listening to the whimpers in the back of Ryan’s throat as he ground his erection into Ryan’s abs, he didn’t contemplate how this was a rebound thing.
He was only aware of how natural it felt to feel the lean body quivering against his own, how much he longed to feel Ryan’s hammering pulse against his lips as he bent the man to both of their desires.
When he was finally forced to pull apart for air, he felt the loss immediately. “Do you really want to walk?” he rasped. “’Cause I’d rather take you home right about now.”
Ryan blinked, like he had never expected to hear anything like that. “No, no, I don’t want to walk. I’d rather go home with you.”
Teo fused their mouths together once again. Dreams were nothing compared to the real thing...