Two men destroyed by the past learn to live—and love—again.
Kyle Braden has nowhere else to go. With no money and no prospects, he turns to the only man who promises him help. Jack Campbell-Hayes wants to show Kyle that he can be more than he ever thought.
Kyle begins to see how far he’s come from being the scarred man who shut everyone out, when the first person through the doors of Legacy Ranch is Jason; a young man with nightmares that follow him when he’s awake.
Lost in the system and with three years on the streets marking every inch of his body, Jason Smith is scared. His life is an evil mess of hate and despair, and even the offer of a fresh start and a clean bed isn’t enough for him to feel safe. Until Kyle comes into his life and shows him that it’s okay not to be in control.
For these broken men, Legacy Ranch offers more than a place to live and work.
It offers hope.
A new story set in the world of Jack and Riley Campbell-Hayes and the Double D Ranch, Texas.
- Cover art by Meredith Russell
- Edited by Sue Adams
- ISBN: 978-1-78564-052-0
- Word Count: 50,200
Buy Links – Print Book
Wicked Reads – “….Kyle is a man who has been badly abused, and yet we discover through this lovely story that he is very empathetic and caring. His behaviour with Jason is so sensitive, so loving, and ultimately, so romantic. Likewise, Jason has a grasp of Kyle’s issues and is very defensive of him when in company. No doubt their pasts have made them super aware, but the way it is written is spot on. Using horses as a vehicle for recovery also works in so many ways. Jason’s naivety of all things country, and certainly all things horse, mean that anyone reading this will also benefit from that knowledge. These are two men who deserve a good outcome, and find it together much to their surprise and everyone’s delight…!” – This site has multiple blogger reviews on Kyle, so please click the link to view them all.
Rainbow Book Reviews – “….If you like to see wounded young men pick themselves up and make something of their lives despite all the pain and abuse they have suffered, if you like horses and ranch life, and if you’re looking for a read that is set in the familiar environment of the Double D Ranch, has the same emotional warmth as the ‘Texas, Campbell-Hayes’ books, and adds even more lovable characters to this world, then you will probably like this novel as much as I do. It’s both an excellent beginning of a new series and a great continuation of an existing tradition….”
Dog-Eared Daydreams – 4.5/5 – “….This was such an intriguing story! Since I hadn’t read the Texas series, I wasn’t sure if Kyle was mentioned or played a minor part in any of the books, though I’m assuming he was in some form or another. His past still haunts him, stunting his ability to form any real relationships with the people of Double D Ranch. Jason pushes him out of his comfort zone, but Jason is also a broken man, one who doesn’t just have a past to deal with but also struggles to get a hold on his depression. The hurdles they need to overcome are more of as individuals because in order for them to be a true couple, they’ll have to face everything weighing upon them. They’ve got a strong support system around them, but they also need to be the ones to see and acknowledge that all these people want is to help the two without expecting anything in return….”
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The Geekery Book Review – 4/5 – “….Kyle is a powerful story about some very broken men! It’s a story more about healing and learning what love is more than it’s a romance. This is a touching book that made me feel so much for these characters….
….Overall, this was a very touching story focused more on the healing and finding that love. While there is pain and darkness in this story there are many more heartwarming moments as Kyle and Jason rebuild. There are also many other great characters that support Kyle and Jason on this journey as well. I really enjoyed this book, it definitely has a spot in my heart and cannot wait for more of this series!….”
The Way She Reads – “….Long story short; Kyle is a touching, at times heartbreaking, stunningly beautiful, not always easy to read, but utterly rewarding story. I can’t wait for the next book in the series. I also feel the need to go back and read the Texas series. While my experience with Kyle is proof that it isn’t necessary to be familiar with the earlier series to enjoy this book, I am now very curious about what preceded this story….”
Padme’s Library – 5/5 – “….I never imagined that I could truly enjoy the Double-D spinoff without Jack and Riley Campbell-Hayes, boy was I wrong. That’s not to say we don’t see some of the regulars from the Double-D universe but it’s in small side helpings, almost like a bites of dessert taken throughout the meal. Legacy Ranch may be a off-shoot of RJ Scott’s Texas series, but it is a journey all on its own with new stories that I can’t wait to continue reading because I couldn’t put Kyle down….”
Foxylutely Books! – 4/5 – “….As with all RJ Scott’s characters, these two are quite complex individuals and all their hidden emotions are slowly but surely revealed to the reader. It is always a pleasure to unravel the depths of these multifaceted characters. Although the romance was slow to start it gave the reader a chance to fully understand how they were separately and then find the reward when they finally found trust and love.
There is an element of the dark subject matter of abuse, anxiety and depression that is cleverly touched upon but could be a trigger for some. Overall though this was a gritty and emotional read and a great start to a new series. Might go back and read the Texas series though as Jack and Riley sound hot! Four stars….”
Diverse Reader – “….As always with an RJ Scott book, the writing is beautifully done. The dialog is real and full of both humor and snark, and lots of emotion as well. The interactions between Kyle and Jack were as sweet as they were awkward and Kyle’s much needed closure with Darren was especially welcome and done so well. I am so excited to see what else happens in this series and anxiously await the next book!….”
Rainbow Gold Reviews – 10/10 – “….I am not sure where RJ plans on taking this series, but I will tell you one thing, I for one am on board. This book broke me a lot and healed me even more. Just like she did for Kyle and Jason. I highly recommend this book if you want some hurt comfort and a little bit of Jack & Riley. But if you have yet to read the Texas series let me tell you this one can be read without reading the Texas series, but you will miss out on all the connections from the previous book. So in my personal opinion, get them all, you won’t regret them for a moment….”
Prism Book Alliance – 4/5 – “….This story is about hope and healing. It’s the story of 2 broken men being there for each other and offering strength they didn’t know they had. It’s a story of friendship that very slowly turns into something more but first there must be trust and for Kyle and Jason that proves to the most difficult thing in the world….”
Last Christmas Eve
Jason Smith had two things he needed to do before he could sleep.
The first was to work enough men coming out of bars so he could finally add to his cash and bank another five hundred.
The second was finding somewhere he could rest.
Jeb had turned him out last night, muttering something through his disgusting, acid-rotted teeth, explaining that Jason was a fucking leech who needed to get out.
Jason left with his one bag, and he’d spent the night in the park. Which was no hardship. The nights were cold, but he had newspaper and a single blanket, and he was used to this shit. Anyway, the park was alive with all kinds of humanity that were on his level. He used his bag as a pillow, slept with an ear open for any sounds, and managed a couple of hours of shut-eye.
Okay, so getting woken at 5:00 a.m. by a guy in a suit who wanted a cheap-and-quick blowjob with added hair pulling wasn’t the best way to meet the new day, but the twenty Jason pocketed was worth it. He just needed to clean up now and used the locked public bathrooms by climbing in through the narrow window. His skinny frame easily fit through the small space, and he dropped to his feet inside.
The place stunk; even if it was raining, no way on earth would he sleep in here. The stench of urine and shit and fuck-knows-what-else were enough to have his eyes burning. Still, there was water in here, and he had bits of soap in his backpack—real soap that he’d taken from his last motel booking—and a can of deodorant.
He needed it because today was going-to-the-bank day. He took the money out of every place he’d hidden it, and laid it out on the sink. Five hundred and eight dollars. Jason pocketed the eight, enough to buy breakfast, and the rest he rolled up with a rubber band and poked right down into the bottom of his bag. He considered leaving out another fifty, maybe even getting a room for the night, but he’d easily get a place in a hostel if he turned up early enough.
No point in staying out to earn anything; pickings were slim on Christmas Eve. Most of the men who wanted his services were at home with their families, with no chance of a fuck-and-run to get whatever was in their heads out of their system.
“Yo, J. You in there, dude?”
Jason sighed at his reflection in the cracked, misted mirror. “Yeah,” he called back.
Noises announced someone else slithering in through the window, and then Evo stood next to him. No one knew why he was called Evo, but the five-five skinny teenager was probably the closest thing Jason had to a friend. If you could have that kind of thing in his walk of life. They’d partied together, but not in the beer-and-laughter sense, more the being-used-together kind of way. Still, situations like that bonded guys.
“Heard there’s a party over at Jeb’s tonight,” Evo said with a grin. He looked well, bright and awake, and he was wearing new clothes. Likely he’d lifted them from a john, but he actually looked kind of cute.
Then it hit Jason: Jeb was having a party, so that had to be why Jason had gotten thrown out. Jeb’s parties were young boys, old men, and a hell of a lot of pain. Not Jason’s scene and he wouldn’t go again, not after last time. But Evo looked at him steadily, and he was smiling.
Jason frowned. “Fuck, you’re not going, right?”
“Jeb asked me. Said I could make one-fifty if I took it all, if I did okay. More if I made him proud.”
Temper had Jason rounding on Evo. He hated that Evo looked for approval from Jeb, who was nothing more than a lowlife peddler of second-rate drugs and used-up kids.
“Jesus, Evo, it’ll kill you. Stay away from Jeb.”
Evo looked up at him, his wide brown eyes focused right in on Jason. “Where else am I gonna make that much money?” he asked a little petulantly.
“From anything but working one of Jeb’s parties, for God’s sake.”
Part of Jason wanted to suggest they share a bed at the shelter. Sometimes the shelter people would look the other way but part of the deal with getting a room was to be at least outwardly clean. Evo looked a little on edge, his pupils wide, probably high on something. Jason had learned his lesson in the past; Evo was an addict and at least two years shy of eighteen. Way too much heat. Guilt flooded him, but he’d learned he needed to look out for himself if he ever hoped to get off the streets alive.
“Pays well.” Evo began hopping from foot to foot.
He did that a lot recently, shimmying and shaking his ass, unable to sit still. Jason didn’t know what Evo’s backstory was—well, apart from leaving home at an ungodly age and finding his way to this particular part of the city—but something really bad had driven him out here. Jason had seen the scars on Evo’s back, knew the pain that must have put them there.
As he danced, Evo checked his hair in the mirror, pouting as though posing for a selfie, like the ones tourists took all the time, and then catching Jason’s eye and winking at him with an added broad grin.
Evo rummaged in Jason’s bag, not deep enough to get to his money, but Jason grabbed at it to yank it back. Evo wasn’t allowed near his bag; it was unspoken between them that they had boundaries.
“Sorry, just wanted this.” Evo grabbed the deodorant and then danced out of reach, shoving the can under his jacket and T-shirt.
He sprayed enough to knock a guy unconscious at ten paces. Jason, still waking up, couldn’t even be bothered to chase him. He was still stiff from a night outside on a bench, not to mention the early-morning blowjob and his scalp stinging from the hair pulling.
Evo held out the deodorant, his eyes going from Jason’s face to the bag, a flicker of uncertainty in his expression. Jason looked down at the bag; a couple of the zippers were open, and he pulled them tight closed.
“I’ll put it back,” Evo said.
He sounded wrong—though Jason didn’t know how exactly. It wasn’t a defined thing; Evo just wasn’t his dancing, smiling self for an instant.
Jason held out his hand, and Evo passed over the can. He was worrying his lower lip and kept glancing down at the bag.
“Fuck,” Evo muttered, then looked up at Jason and grinned broadly. The smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Bye!”
“Whatever, asshole.” Jason concentrated on washing his face with the remnants of soap and the copper-colored water the old restroom faucets provided, gripping his bag very firmly between his legs.
Evo did one last check in the mirror and then danced back to the window.
“Merry Christmas, J,” he said, and in a smooth, sinuous movement he was out of the window and scrabbling down the wall outside.
Jason leaned on the sink as the water drained away. One of his tricks had been just a little too handsy last night and decided mid-blowjob that he wanted to add in breath play. Fucker. A ring of bruises marked Jason’s neck. He stared at them, even poked at them, pressing hard until it hurt. When he released the pressure, they disappeared in a bloom of scarlet, then reappeared as his skin settled. At least if he took a couple of days off then the bruises would fade a bit; he definitely wasn’t offering dying while sucking cock as an option.
He straightened, then used the spray on his pits and in a general sweep over his body before pushing the can into his backpack.
He scrambled out of the restroom, dropped to a crouch, rose, and walked across the park to the bank. Way too early for it to open, but he had other things he needed to do.
At all times, Jason was aware of the noises and people around him. A few early commuters were around, but most everyone else were creatures of the night like him. One coffee and a bagel later, he took up residence on the bench outside the bank and waited. The minute it opened, he went into the front of the queue. He carefully completed a blank deposit slip in his neatest handwriting and passed it over.
The cashier smiled at him, an honest-to-goodness smile. She counted out the money. A pause followed as she was likely checking it wasn’t fake. Then she ticked it off on the slip, slid the whole lot in a drawer, and printed out the receipt.
“Could I have an account statement, please?” Jason asked politely. He owed himself the Christmas gift of seeing how much he’d saved. He’d never asked for one before but it seemed almost like a gift to himself to count the money he’d saved.
“Do you have ID?” she asked.
He didn’t. Of course, he didn’t. Not real ID, not one for Jason Smith. The bank account was a leftover from his time at the group home, the only thing he had that was anything official, anyway.
“Not with me, but it’s okay,” he said. “I’ll check outside at the ATM.”
She glanced left at the security guard who hovered tactfully just out of reach. It seemed the bank didn’t mind taking the money from someone who looked like him, someone with five hundred in cash, but they damn well-needed security close while they did it.
Jason didn’t take it personally.
She smiled, tightly this time. “Have a nice Christmas, sir.”
“Thank you,” Jason murmured and left the counter.
He stopped just inside the exit door at the cash machine, aware of the security guy following him at a discreet distance, and pushed in his card and entered his PIN. The card was only a month away from needing to be renewed. It was the last thing he had from his home, from that time when he had an address. At some point in the next week, probably by New Year’s, he needed to take out all his money with his card and get the hell out of Dodge.
Balance showed as a couple of hundred dollars, with the available balance just the extra five hundred dollars.
“What?” He ejected the card and pushed it back in again. Maybe something was wrong? The same balance showed again, so he clicked on the statement option.
There, in black and white, the money had gone on a daily basis: fifty here, thirty there, some days a hundred. In the last two months, nearly every cent had been taken.
And there was only one person who knew he had money saved, and who had stood next to him at the ATM on more than a few occasions. Evo. He recalled Evo standing by his bag this morning looking for deodorant—or was he putting the card back? How long had he been doing this?
Jason’s money was all gone.
And there was no point in talking to the bank; it wasn’t an administrative error.
The world fell around him. No wonder Evo had spent the last few months dancing around and living like he had it all. He’d taken Jason’s money and injected it into his arms, or inhaled it, or given it to clothes stores.
It had to be him. And Jason had never noticed, even though he checked his card was there every day… more than once a day.
He opened the small pocket inside his backpack where he kept the card—and pulled out a loyalty card from Starbucks, the same weight and shape as his bank card. Was that what he’d been feeling? Why hadn’t he unzipped the whole thing? Why hadn’t he checked visually? With a clenched fist, he punched the wall next to the cash machine and cursed loudly.
When he turned around, he walked into an unmoving wall of blue.
“Is there a problem, sir?” The guard looked down at him with no expression on his face. The man had a wide body, a thick neck, and a gun on his hip.
Jason somehow managed to look the huge, intimidating mountain of a man in the face. “No. I’m just leaving.”
The guard nodded, and Jason slipped past, exiting into the coolness of a Dallas December.
In a daze, he walked out with as much control as he could manage, and he held his head high. He went back to the park and into the now-open bathroom where, only a few hours earlier, he had stood with a feeling that he was close to his dream of getting a bus ride away from there and starting new somewhere, somehow.
Now he was back to square one.
He locked himself in the last cubicle and rested his head back against the wood-and-plastic partition. God knows what was on those walls, the unseen deposits alongside the graffiti.
Even though Evo had taken every single cent he had, Jason didn’t cry. Evo wasn’t to blame; he was a kid who didn’t know better, and Jason had been lax. He only had himself to blame.
He moved on. Found the hostel, decorated with donated tinsel and garish with bright lighting, and he got himself one of the last rooms.
His cell vibrated as he sat on the edge of the narrow bed, clutching his bag, but he ignored it. He didn’t want to talk to the only person who had the number; Evo was dead to him.
Maybe an hour after, he decided to listen to the voice mail—it could be Evo apologizing. He should at least listen.
Damn kid was going to be the end of him one day.
The message was garbled; only two words made sense: “Help me.”
Fear had Jason running from the hostel to Jeb’s place, forcing his way into Jeb’s apartment, desperately looking for Evo, pushing at the body that leaned against the bathroom door, knowing it would be his friend.
And hell, he didn’t cry when he cradled Evo in his arms; when the boy who had stolen his money and danced in the bathroom bled out around him. Whoever hired out Jeb and his boys that night had done their best to destroy all the evidence. They’d left Jeb for dead, used Evo, and cut him. The fatal wound was a slice across his throat that hadn’t been deep enough to kill him outright.
Jason didn’t remember calling 911, but he must have done so, because suddenly the cops arrived. He still couldn’t make himself cry even when he was arrested, covered in Evo’s blood.
There was no point in crying. Who would he be crying for? Evo? He was in a much better place.
And for himself? What did it matter? No one cared if he cried.
October. The Double D Ranch
Kyle nodded. He wasn’t ready at all. He’d only just gotten settled into the bunkhouse at the main ranch, and now he was being asked to move.
For good reasons, yes, but still, he wasn’t at ease with it.
The man asking him, Jack Campbell-Hayes, the owner of the Double D, was looking at him with that expression on his face. The one he used when gentling a horse, all care and calm and irritating peacefulness. At least Jack didn’t look at him with pity; unlike Jack’s husband Riley, who stared at Kyle like he didn’t know what to say.
Kyle hefted his bag onto his shoulders. His entire world was in that bag: clothes, a Kindle and charger that Jack had given him, and a few photos he’d collected along the way. Nothing permanent, nothing that spoke of family—because he didn’t have one. Nope, the photos he carried were of the horses he’d loved down the years, starting with Apollo, his first-ever pony when he’d been a little over five years old, and his mom made him believe that Apollo was his to keep.
Of course, Apollo didn’t belong to his mom—a cook and housekeeper on a ranch—or to Kyle, and that was the first of many disappointments in his life. Losing his mom when he was sixteen had just cemented how crappy fate was to him.
He rose above it, found temporary jobs on ranches, worked his way up, and landed a job at Bar Five, working for the Castille family.
Which was where everything went to shit.
But he couldn’t think about that today. He had enough to do focusing on keeping his distance from everyone while not being a big enough dick that they sent him away.
Jack scratched Solo, his horse, between the eyes and leaned in to press a kiss on his soft velvet nose. “We’ll walk them down.”
“Okay.” That made sense. The new building was half a mile from the main house, and Kyle had his bag to carry.
Movement to his left startled him, but it was only Liam. Liam was a harmless guy, a ranch hand, and he and Kyle had a lot in common. They’d both worked for the Castille family on the Bar Five.
Both suffered abuse at the hands of Hank Castille.
They never talked about it, but it was there, right in the middle of them. Sometimes, when Kyle was low, he would consider Liam, look at the man who seemed so happy in his skin, with his boyfriend and his place at the D. Kyle would wonder just what it was that Hank had done to him.
Was it the same as he’d done to Kyle? Liam had gone through the ranch after Kyle had finally had the balls to get away.
What if Kyle had turned Hank in, reported him? Would that have meant Liam might have escaped what Hank had done? He would never know.
Not once did Liam ever look at Kyle with anger or disgust. Nope, he was the nicest guy Kyle had ever met. Under different circumstances, they might even have been friends.
Jack, Liam, and Kyle set off down the main road away from the ranch house, with Jack slightly ahead and Kyle walking abreast with Liam. Kyle had hold of the reins of his horse.
And yes, he couldn’t get over that—he had his own horse. One that they wouldn’t take away. Transferred into his name, and he’d seen the paperwork. Part of his salary for working at the D, or so Jack had said.
“Nervous?” Liam asked.
Kyle shrugged, but Liam didn’t let it drop.
“I was nervous when I started at the D, but this is a good place.”
“But I won’t be at the D,” Kyle said.
And he wasn’t. He was being farmed out to one of Jack’s projects, rebuilding and adding to a crumbling stone house, making it a center for people who needed it: young people without direction, abused or just completely fucked-up like Kyle. A pity project, no doubt, from a man who was as rich as anything Kyle could imagine. Or rather, not Jack—he wasn’t the rich one, that was his husband, Riley, an oilman who seemed to find Kyle fascinating and appeared to want desperately to be Kyle’s friend.
Nope. Not happening. Riley was too… everything. Too polished, too clever, too pretty to be real. And there was something about the tall businessman that put Kyle on edge, something to do with the memories of another time that froze hard in his mind.
“Nope, you’re managing Legacy when it’s done,” Liam said.
And that? Legacy. Whose legacy? Jack’s? Who named a ranch Legacy?
“Hmmm,” Kyle responded and hoped that would be the end of the conversation.
Clearly, Liam was in a chatty mood, and when Jack slowed up a bit so they were three abreast, Kyle felt claustrophobic.
“If we get Pod One finished, we can fit the shower,” Jack began. “The plumbing is all in for that room and waiting to go, and the construction crew from the barn raising has the skeleton done.”
Kyle knew all that, Liam had already told him, but he didn’t tell Jack that. “Okay,” he did say, because there was a lull in the conversation and he had to fill it.
“Pods One and Two are our priority,” Liam interjected. “Then Kyle will have somewhere to sleep until the foreman’s room is done.”
The understanding had been that once construction was underway, Kyle would be staying at the new Legacy ranch to oversee security and generally be there for deliveries, as well as working on the development itself.
Construction wasn’t his thing. Horses were. But Jack had explained this was going to be Kyle’s project, that he was reporting only to Liam, and then only when he had things he couldn’t handle himself.
Jack had given him a budget, a cell phone for contact—and one hell of a lot of responsibility.
But Kyle was determined. He could do this.
They reached the new Legacy area. The wooden structure for the accommodation was two arms laid out on either side of the central stone building, in one long rectangle. To the left stood the professionally built horse barn. Liam carried on to the barn, but Jack stopped and touched Kyle briefly on the arm to bring him to a halt.
“Will you be okay in a tent?” Jack asked.
He looked concerned, glancing from Kyle to the construction and back.
“Jeez, I said it’s fine,” Kyle snapped.
That was the fifth time Jack had asked the same thing, and Kyle was pissed that he apparently wasn’t making himself understood that yes, a tent inside the barn was a good thing. It was isolation, and warmth, and all his own.
Jack narrowed his eyes and Kyle swallowed. He’d instinctively snapped, but this was Jack Campbell-Hayes, his boss, the man who was offering him a chance to make a difference in his life.
“I’m sorry,” Kyle said, for the first time since he’d come to the D. However, he felt, whatever his feelings were for being there, Jack was a good man and deserved his respect.
Jack looked at him steadily, “Me too. You know your own mind; I shouldn’t keep questioning it.”
Christ, this man was too good to be true.
Jack tied Solo off on the fenced-in paddock, and Kyle followed suit with Skeeter.
Then Jack headed into the barn. “There’s a microwave, a kettle, and we brought down some mugs and plates, and Jonah will bring down food twice a day, breakfast and dinner.”
Jonah was a new guy to the Double D, even newer than Kyle was, responsible for feeding what had become a small army of staff at the D, the riding school, and now Legacy.
Jack then indicated the tent, opening the flap to expose a cot and a small table. “All yours,” he said.
Kyle nodded. He’d check it all out later when everyone was gone. To be honest, all he wanted to do was to get into a routine. He was building the pods—as they called the accommodation rooms—and he was responsible for a couple of horses: Skeeter and the horse Liam had brought down the grumpy Sundance.
Kyle wanted everyone to go so he could get a start. Liam would be coming back every so often, to help on days when he could, but Legacy was Kyle’s domain, and the idea of isolation here was about the only thing making him smile.
Yes, it was Jack’s charity, and that still grated on him, but it was a new start.
“Thank you,” he murmured and held out a hand to Jack.
Confusion filtered into Jack’s cornflower blue eyes, but he held out a hand and shook firmly. “No need to thank me,” he said a little gruffly. “You’re the best person for the job.”
Kyle bit his lip to stop himself from saying something stupid, like “not sure why you think that.”
Instead, he said, “I won’t let you down.”
“I know you won’t,” Jack said with a smile, and with not one hint of threat in the words.
The sound of hooves had both men turning. Kyle’s heart sank; Riley was joining them.
Riley drew his horse to a halt and slid smoothly to the ground. “Hey, guys,” he said, as he walked over and bumped shoulders with Jack.
“Thought you were waiting for a call?” Jack said, and then his eyes widened. “Tell me you didn’t leave Hayley waiting on a million dollar deal phone call.”
“Knowing her she’d probably get us two million,” Riley huffed.
They smiled stupidly at each other, so much connection between them, and Kyle almost relaxed. Riley wasn’t talking to him, or asking him if he was okay, or sending thoughtful enquiring glances his way.
But then it changed, and abruptly he was the one in the spotlight. “Hey, Kyle,” Riley said. “All settled in?”
Kyle nodded. He didn’t talk to Riley. Riley asked him questions, and he was tall and built, and there was something about him that was off. What could a millionaire oilman see in a cowboy like Jack? Why were they together? What did Riley want? He had to want something—that was the only way being in a relationship began, and ended. All Hank had wanted from Kyle was for Kyle to suffer, and to rent him out, and Kyle’s two other hookups after leaving the Bar Five had been nothing more than sex and pain.
Kyle had seen Riley and Jack disappear into their barn, and from the teasing comments Liam made, seemed like the barn was some kind of den of sex or something. Kyle didn’t go anywhere near it. Or indeed Jack, or Riley if they were alone.
Kyle bet Riley made Jack go to his knees. He just bet that behind closed doors, Riley was in charge.
That was all wrong.
Jack touched him gently on his arm. “You okay?”
Kyle jumped a little, feeling utterly stupid, and then turned and walked out of the barn and over to the small fenced-in exercise area, untying Skeeter and letting him loose in the space. Riley didn’t try to talk to him again. Well, apart from calling a goodbye as he waited patiently for Jack to join him.
“Okay. Well, see you, Kyle,” Jack said. “I’ll be back in a couple of days, but if you need to, you can get me anytime on the cell I gave you.”
Kyle nodded at that, and it seemed like it was enough. Then he climbed the fence and sat on the top rail, inhaling the scent of the October day and allowing himself to relax a little at a time, watching as Jack mounted Solo and he and Riley headed toward their home.
“What is it with you and Riley?” Liam asked, climbing to sit next to him.
Kyle couldn’t believe that Liam was even asking that. After a short while, Kyle asked, “You remember Paul?” Because Liam needed to understand; he had to. Liam had been at the Bar Five so he’d seen the kinds of things that happened.
“Paul who?” Liam narrowed his eyes in thought.
“Tall guy, brown eyes, city guy, always wore suits. He was one of Hank’s friends,” he mumbled.
Liam closed his eyes and Kyle felt guilty. The last thing he wanted to do was make Liam think back to a time that had to hurt. But Liam had asked, and Kyle wanted to tell him.
Liam shuffled on his perch. “No. There was no Paul.”
Kyle squirmed a little. Paul had been the nastiest of Hank’s friends. Money crossed hands for him to be allowed time alone with Kyle. Real money. He’d turn up in his expensive car, with his fancy suit and this air of expectancy, and Kyle knew he’d be in for hours where he would lose who he was and became nothing more than sold goods.
I could take Paul now. I could punch him out. I don’t want to use violence. But I would hurt Paul before he hurt me again.
They didn’t look anything alike, Paul and Riley, but they had a presence about them: confident, moneyed, in charge. Paul had looked so normal, laughing and joking with Hank, until the door shut on them, and then…
“Paul hurt me worse than Hank,” he murmured. The words were so soft that part of him hoped Liam hadn’t heard. Clearly he had.
“And Riley reminds you of him? What is it? Flashbacks?”
Kyle stared out to the bluff above Legacy, and wanted to drop the whole thing.
“Riley wouldn’t hurt a fly,” Liam murmured. “You have to know that.”
Kyle shrugged. That was his go-to response whenever he didn’t want to dig deep into the well of shit he had in his head.
“You’ll see,” Liam continued. “He’s just one of those guys who everyone likes when they get to know him. He won’t stop trying until he gets you to smile. He’s tenacious like that.”
But Kyle was lost in thought again…
Of the last time that Paul hurt him. Of the blood, and the pain, and the humiliation.
Mostly he knew Riley wasn’t Paul, but he couldn’t stop the instinct to run whenever Riley was anywhere near him.
Fuck. My. Life.