“You need to get your ass back to the city and out of my barn, Linc.” I looked up from cleaning out Sugar’s stall to see my sister, Meg, standing in the barn door with her hands on her hips.
“Why, you miss shoveling shit?” I asked her with a grin. “‘Cause I’ll be happy to hand over the pitchfork.”
“No, because we both know I don’t need your help anymore. It was great of you to take a leave of absence from your job and come help while Daddy recovered, but we got this now. So the question is, why are you still here?”
I stuck the pitchfork in the hay and pulled off my gloves. “I’ve been asking myself the same question, Meggy. I mean, I’ve enjoyed being here at the ranch, but I love my job and I love Austin. For some reason, I can’t seem to make myself go back. Everything is changing. Nathan has moved out and is getting married. I’m happy for him, honest I am. And I love Alex, he’s perfect for Nathan.”
“But you miss him,” Meg said.
My best friend, Nathan, had lived with us since we were fifteen, and his parents kicked him out for being gay. My family had taken him in and made him one of ours, and we had been pretty much inseparable ever since. Until he fell in love with his fiancé Alex, that is.
“Yeah, aside from the time he was in Dallas, we've been together since he came to live with us. It’s always been me and Nathan against the world. Now it’s Nathan and Alex against the world, accompanied by their third wheel, Lincoln.”
“You know Nathan doesn’t think of you as a third wheel,” Meg insisted.
“No, he doesn’t, but I do.”
“Have you ever thought about settling down? Finding your own Alex?”
“Of course, I have. But to settle down, I’d have to find the right guy, and that’s easier said than done. Most guys aren’t looking for a relationship, they’re just looking to get laid.”
“Tell me about,” she said with a laugh. “Why do you think I’m standing out here talking to my brother instead of cozied up with a cowboy of my own?”
“Being here has given me a lot of time to think. I need to make some changes when I get home. For one thing, I’m thinking about buying a house. You know something that says adult. Maybe something not too far from Nathan and Alex’s, but not so close I’m in the way. I also need to move on from things that aren’t going to get me what I want. If a guy isn’t interested in something real, then he doesn’t have a place in my life; no matter how much I like him.”
“Any particular guy we’re talking about here?” Meg asked, and a vision of dark hair and broad shoulders flashed in my mind. Fucking Matt. Naturally, the one guy I wanted wasn’t looking to settle down. He’d made that clear. It was probably for the best anyway. What we had wasn’t something you built a life on. You needed more than amazing sex to make a relationship work.
“Nope, just speakin’ in general terms,” I lied.
She cocked her head to one side and gave me a look that told me she wasn’t buying what I was selling, but she’d let it drop. “So when are you planning to head home and put this plan of yours into action?”
“Well, I thought I’d stay on here and help until after the wedding, and then I’ll head on back home. Winter’s always a rough time of year to be short paramedics, and while my chief has been great about me being gone, he’s been hinting that they could use my help.”
“It’s so cool that Nathan and Alex are getting married over Thanksgiving, and Mom is thrilled.”
“It’s working out great, both the girls’ll be home from college, and Nathan’s going crazy with fall decorations. It’s gonna be a beautiful wedding,” I said, and it was. Nathan wouldn’t have it any other way. That man loved weddings. Hell, when same-sex marriage was legalized, he even got ordained online so he could perform weddings. He’d married both our friends, Mark and Justin, and Stevie and Casey, and probably would’ve performed his own ceremony if he could.
“Okay, well enough of the serious shit, how about we go for a ride? I could really use a good run right about now,” Meg said.
“I’m in. Let’s saddle up and go out to the canyon.”
* * *
I sat at the table drinking my beer and couldn’t help but be amazed at how many things had changed in such a short time. Until not long ago, we were all a bunch of single guys hanging out and having fun, but not anymore. My friend Justin was sitting here with me, but his attention was on the dance floor where his husband Mark was dancing with Nathan. Alex, Nathan’s fiancé, was getting us another round. Brian and his boyfriend Jayden were dancing together but with those two it was like they were the only two guys in the place. Even Sean, who normally spent his time flirting with Mark to Justin’s annoyance, was so caught up in his boyfriend Carter he didn’t even know Mark was alive.
I looked over at Blake, Alex’s best friend, and shook my head. He gave me a wry smile and tipped his bottle my direction. As the only other single guy left in the group, I knew he got it. Well, the only other single guy here, anyway. Lincoln was back home on his family’s ranch helping out while his dad recovered from a heart attack. Fucking Lincoln Reynolds. I didn’t know how the cowboy got so far under my skin but he did.
“Here,” Alex said as he handed Blake another beer. “And here’s your Coke as requested.” He handed me the drink.
“Thanks. You know two’s my limit, at least until I get home.” I never drank more than two drinks when I was out. I wanted to have a clear head and never drove tipsy. But when I got home all bets were off, and tonight was looking like hard liquor night. I looked around the club hoping to find a distraction. Maybe a warm body was what I needed, but none of them appealed to me. Young, pretty, and willing was my normal type, but for the last few months what I wanted was tall, broad, and begging. Preferably in a cowboy hat and boots. “Have you heard from Lincoln?” I finally broke down and asked.
“Nathan talked to him earlier today,” Alex said, “Why don’t you just call him?”
“He doesn’t want to hear from me. I think he made that perfectly clear before he left, don’t you?” I reminded Alex.
“He was upset about his dad and you’re both stubborn sons of bitches,” Alex said shaking his head.
Stubborn, yeah that was one way to put it, I thought as I remembered the last time I saw Lincoln.
We were all here at this club when Linc got the call that his dad had had a heart attack. He flat out panicked, most of his friends had never seen him undone like that before, but I had, and I knew what he needed.
I grabbed him by the back of the neck and in my most demanding voice said, “Lincoln, stop it, you need to breathe.” His eyes jumped to mine, and I knew what he wanted, what he needed, which was for someone else to take control and tell him what to do. “Good boy,” I said leaning my forehead against his. “Linc, you need to stop and breathe.” Without thinking, he did as I said, and his body relaxed as he took in a few deep breaths. But then reality set in and where we were and who we were with and I lost him. I hadn’t been thinking. I just saw his need and reacted.
“You have no right to tell me what to do. None. You gave up that right. So fuck you,” he said as he turned away from me for what I was sure was the last time, and he was right. He had asked for more, and I’d told him I wasn’t interested. And then in a moment of carelessness, I had betrayed his trust by showing his friends a part of himself he didn’t want them to see.
No, Lincoln didn’t want to hear from me, and I didn’t blame him. I wish I could’ve been what he needed. If anyone could ever convince me to break my no relationship rule, it’d have been that sexy as hell cowboy. But that wasn’t an option. I’d made myself a promise a long time ago that relationships weren’t a possibility for me. I was happy that my friends had found their happy ever afters. Hell, Sean and Carter’s story was basically a fairy tale come true. But that wasn’t for me. I’d destroyed my sister’s chance at a fairytale ending, and as long as she was raising my nephew alone because of my careless actions, I didn’t deserve a man like Lincoln Reynolds.