Malachi Dunbar has not had an easy life. He’s struggled to overcome numerous roadblocks and hardships as he built himself a life as a mechanic, despite a serious handicap. He’s admired rancher Daniel Winslow from afar but never dreamed events would play out to land him in the amazing spot of being able to do a real service for his secret hero. Can Mal maintain his cool and a safe distance from Dan when they’re sharing a house and working to resolve a dangerous mystery?
Daniel Winslow says he does not have employees but friends who help him run the ranch he inherited from his father. Challenged by his younger stepbrother and facing perilous sabotage to his truck, he enlists a young mechanic to help solve the puzzle. He’d always wanted a real brother or a partner he could trust, but his stepbrother is not the right guy to fill that role. How about Mal, who brings some fine but rare qualities to the Flying W Ranch?
Genres: Gay/Contemporary/Cowboys/Western (Modern Day)/Action/Adventure/Mystery/Detective
Heat Level: 1
Length: Novella (21k words)
Read a short excerpt...
...Dan took one step into the room, then paused to make sure he wasn’t crowding Mal. “Before supper, when we were talking, I put a hand on your shoulder and you went stiff as a fencepost. I wasn’t making a pass at you. I hope you didn’t think I was and take offense.”
“I—er—I wouldn’t mind if you did. It would be okay. I mean…” The other man stumbled to a verbal halt, his face going red beneath his tan. “I didn’t take it that way,” he continued. “But it would be all right. I—I’d take it as a compliment.”
“Are you saying you’re gay, too?”
Mal lifted his gaze from the floor to meet Dan’s, moving as slowly as if a massive weight held his head down.
“Er—yeah. I am. Darrel said you were, and he figured I was your new boyfriend or something. I thought he was just being ugly.”
Dan found himself laughing. “Oh, he would. It’s true, though. I don’t try to hide it. I’ve never been in the closet, but I don’t let it interfere with how I treat my people here and what they can expect from me. Business and pleasure never get mixed up.”
“That’s good,” Mal said. Although he still blushed, his tense posture eased. “I—I thought you were way too far above me. Like having a crush on a sports figure or a rock star or something. I was trying to be Mister Cool until you touched me. That’s when it got really hard not to do something stupid.”
At that, Dan closed the distance between them and reached to catch Mal by the upper arms. “Well, I can’t see anything stupid about it—attraction, a desire for someone is natural, can even be good.”
Mal nodded, swallowed and then gave a tentative smile. “If it’s mutual, anyway.” Still, he stood quietly, not reaching, but also not shying away. Then he went on, “Whatever you want to do about it is fine with me, including not a damn thing.”
Dan gave him a quick hug and then stepped back. “Right now is probably not a good time to start exploring what we could have. Once this other situation’s under control, I think we should, though. See if we work as a couple, if things are good between us. For now, you’re kind of an employee, and I don’t do employees, at least I never have.”
“That’s smart,” Mal agreed. “I know a lot of people are put off by my bad hand, maybe by the fact I’m kind of standoffish. I’m not really, more shy than anything. I’ve been in awe of you ever since I got here and went to work for Ben. So I wasn’t going to make any moves, not even think about it, or at least try not to.”
Dan studied the younger man for a few seconds. “You’ve got nothing to be ashamed or afraid of, Mal. From all I’ve learned of you, you’re a good man. You’ve overcome that handicap and learned how to compensate for it.” He reached then and took Mal’s twisted hand in both of his. “Tell me about it. I’m pretty sure you weren’t born this way, were you?”
Mal shook his head. “No. It was an accident when I was fifteen. Got my hand caught in a baler. My folks didn’t hold with doctors and medical stuff. They prayed over it, but God didn’t see fit to fix things. Maybe because I didn’t believe.”
Dan shook his head, stunned for a beat by the pang of anguish that swept through him. That’s so fucking wrong. How could someone do that to their kid? He sucked in a slow breath to steady himself.
“It might not be too late to fix it. There’s a good orthopedic doctor in Los Mercados. If you’d let me, I’ll make an appointment and go with you to see him. Soon…as soon as we get the truck issues wrapped up.”
“I never could afford to have it looked at after I left home. I still don’t have any insurance,” Mal said. “Ben can’t manage it just for one employee, and I make a little too much to get the state-funded help.”
“That’s the least of my concerns. It would be worth it to know if someone can make this better for you.” He rubbed his thumb gently over the scars and knots of mis-knit bone. “Think about it, anyway. No strings attached, just friend to friend with a desire to help.”
“I will. And thanks.”
Dan wanted to say and do more, even though he knew it was too soon. He sensed the raw emotions Mal was feeling and recognized his own were pretty close to the surface right now, too...