|Cover art by Meredith Russell|
Sometimes Riley and Jack have to be the ones to fight other people’s battles and stand up for what is right.
With the life changing prospect of
a yes vote from SCOTUS on the issue of same sex marriage, Riley and Jack realise they have decisions to make. Add in some distressing family news and the very real possibility that old secrets may resurface, and this last book in the Texas series pulls together as many threads as the boys can manage to handle.
But through all the ups and the downs, children, family events, laughter, and tears, there is nothing as special as the forever love between these two men.
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Boy Meets Boy Reviews – 4/5 – “…This series is like coming home to me. I never had a doubt when I picked up any book in the series that I would not like it. No, they aren’t literary masterpieces but they are a great comfort to me. I love all the drama that goes on in these pages. I love the family dynamics. I love watching both Jack and Riley grow as individuals and as a family. I just flat out love everything about them.”
Rainbow Book Reviews – “…This final volume of the Campbell-Hayes saga was as spectacular as the first, but in a very different way. Where Jack and Riley started out as enemies who couldn’t imagine liking each other if they were the two last men on Earth, by the end of this extraordinary seven-book saga neither of them can imagine living without the other. Ever! They have grown into not just amazing lovers who are still so hot together that they need to flee into the famous old barn every now and then, they have also become a true team in life. Tension still exists when they argue or disagree or deal with everything their four children throw at them, but they deal with those problems relying on their underlying love.”
Sexy Erotic Xciting – 5/5 – “….Ms. Scott delivered an ending that left me completely satisfied, yet raw. The emotions radiated through her characterization of each MC, and Haley’s testimonial stole the show. I am in awe of Ms. Scott’s ability to capture the essence of true family and allow it to be presented through the eyes of a babe.
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RJ Scott’s attention to detail is first and foremost in her writing; whether she traverses the Texas sky or the difficulties and joys of raising a child with autism; realism is sure to be found. No sugar-coating here~ life can throw you curve balls, but it’s what you do when you catch them that is the crux of the series. Ms. Scott demonstrated that with steps backwards, great success are achieved.
Team Riley or Team Jack? Not for this reader. I’ll take the loving couple of Team Campbell-Hayes!
Family and friends, old and new, add panache to Texas Wedding. I laughed at old antics flaring up again, and cried as Riley and Jack delivered new promises to each other and their family, at their wedding.
A beautiful ending to a new beginning, Texas Wedding was the cream of the crop…..”
Multitaskingmommas Book Reviews – 5/5 – “….I’m sorry, I can’t help but tear up thinking this is the last time I will get to read about a day in the lives of Jack and Riley. Someone once asked, which among RJ Scott’s men did I love the most and hands down, without question, it’s these two. There is just something so grand about the way their fairy-tale romance began. With the succeeding books, we got to see the evolution of their romance turn to an uncompromising, unconditional love for each other and eventually their children. We saw their characters develop and instead of grating on readers’ nerves due to familiarity breeding a bit of contempt, we just fell more in love and fascination with these two….
…. This is the final book, so far. I am saying so far for I am still holding on to a little bit of hope we don’t see the last of these two.
Grudgingly, I recommend this. Why? Because its a beautiful read that gives us fans full closure. It is also painful to realise, this is the end.
Until we meet again, Jack and Riley….”
Rainbow Gold Book Reviews – 10/10 – “….I can not even begin to explain how much I loved this book. RJ is a fantastic story teller, I love all of her books but this series holds a special place in my heart. I have gone back and re-read books 1-3 so many times I lost count. I have re-read 4,5, & 6 twice now. They are a comfort read for me. If I am feeling down or don’t know what I want to read, I go back to Jack and Riley. This one was no less spectacular. It was amazing, a perfect way to say good by to characters that feel so real to me, like we are real life friends. Wow, I am tearing up now just thinking that they got their ULTIMATE happy ever after….
Scatteredthoughtsandroguewords – 5/5 – “….In Texas Wedding, RJ Scott brings all the characters we have grown to love together to celebrate the lives of Riley and Jack Campbell-Hayes, their children and to tie up loose ends….
….That final ceremony had me in tears. It was the perfect ceremony to end this book and the series. So many different things included here and all perfectly balanced with RJ Scott’s warm scripted narrative, full of heart and intelligence….
….We have seven books to remind us how much we love these two men and their story and we can revisit them as much as we want. Start at the beginning and continue on. It only gets better. Meet up at Texas Wedding! Its an ending you will treasure! I highly recommend them all….”
Padmes Library – 5/5 – “….This book had me in tears, both from laughing and tenderness, had me fanning myself from hotness, simply put Texas Wedding had me in a jumble of emotion. I don’t really know what to say about Jack and Reily that I haven’t already said throughout the series….
….Texas will always be my absolute favorite series in the M/M genre, not only because it was the first I read but because it is superbly written with characters that are interesting, intriguing, and real. RJ Scott has given us a true gem when she created the world of Jack and Reily Campbell-Hayes….”
Excerpt – Adult content
Jack slid his arms around Riley from behind and pressed his cheek to the space between broad shoulders. He couldn’t stop himself from moving his hands under the soft T-shirt material and caressing the warm skin. Touching Riley was an addiction.
“You all done?” he asked.
Riley turned in Jack’s hold, the laundry in his hands crushing between them.
“It’s like these tiny T-shirts multiply,” Riley groused. “I turn my back for one minute and suddenly there’s another ten of the damn things.”
Jack smiled up at his husband, at the narrowing of his beautiful hazel eyes and the stubborn set of his mouth. Then he released his hold of his waist and instead cradled his face.
“It was your idea to sort out the twins’ old clothes,” he reminded Riley.
“I wanted to box it away….”
“We can do it together at the weekend.”
“I want to do it today—”
“It’s a Tuesday.” Jack interrupted Riley’s reasons why. “I thought you said you had that report to read from Tom?”
Riley huffed a little. “I can’t concentrate.”
“So, you’re sorting clothes?”
“Is that a bad thing?” Riley sounded so defensive.
Jack sighed. “What are you avoiding?”
Riley raised an eyebrow, and Jack couldn’t help but press a kiss to his lips. After all this time together, he had learned these weird domestic chores Riley undertook were usually a way of avoiding things he didn’t want to do. Whether it was Riley’s way of thinking about things, or pure procrastination, Jack didn’t know.
“I have a shareholder meeting the first week of February.” Riley finally said.
“I know. I got the same letter, but I wasn’t planning on going. Why will this be different from any other meeting?” Jack was confused. Hayes Oil meetings were dry and boring, and he’d survived the only two he’d attended by slouching back in a chair directly opposite Riley. He would eat as many of the complimentary mints as he could manage and gently disrupt the meeting by rustling the wrappers. This never failed to make Riley smile. Mostly Jack conned Josh into going, or gave Riley his proxy. Still, when he did go, he loved nothing better than insolently lazing around and being all cowboy in the room full of suits. Inevitably, this led to hot sex with Riley, who couldn’t keep his eyes off Jack throughout the entire meeting.
“I have something to admit,” Riley said with a sigh. He eased himself away from Jack and leaned back against the cabinet. “Dad has appointed this new manager to the team, and we have a history.”
Jack huffed a laugh. “Riley, you have a history with so many people, I lost count.”
Riley looked affronted for a second, but that emotion didn’t slip into a ready smile, so Jack realized this was serious. Jack stood next to Riley and waited for the man he loved, to admit what the hell was going on. In fact, Riley had been weird for a few days: less quick to smile, less easy to poke at, in a hurry to go find a quiet space away from everyone.
“Not like that,” Riley said. “The woman’s name is Charlotte Harrold, and her dad is Josiah.”
Jack nodded. He and Josiah had their own kind of history, one where Josiah had tried courting Donna and failed, where Josiah looked down at Jack, and where Jack refused to give a rat’s ass. The fucker had blocked Hayes Oil on several occasions and didn’t have a high opinion of Riley, nor of Riley and Jack. Add to that, Tom, Riley’s right-hand man at work, had unfortunately had a run-in with Josiah Jr., Charlotte’s brother. Too much history between the Hayes and Harrold families.
“Why would Jim hire her, then?” Jack paused to think about what he knew concerning Charlotte. “I remember her being a bitch with daddy issues.”
Riley shrugged. “I don’t know. I mean, I asked him, and he said she’s good at what she does, and that she’s changed, whatever that means. Oh, and I should give her as much of a chance as people gave me.”
“Cryptic. So you think she’s going to cause trouble.”
Riley looked at Jack sharply. “Hell no. I know her work, and she’ll be an asset. It’s only….”
Jack tensed. “You slept with her.”
“Jesus, Jack,” Riley said instantly. “No way. She was Jeff’s. I mean she and Jeff were having an affair. He called her Charlie, and I damn well walked in on them once. The wedding photos were still wet at the printer’s, and there he was, fucking around on Lisa.”
“Yeah, oh. And we’re going to be in the same room as her. All I can remember is that Jeff was balls-deep in Charlie, and he had his hands—” Riley demonstrated with his hands in front of him in a ring. “—around her neck.”
Jack immediately realized what the problem was. The joined families, whether Campbell or Hayes, had quietly consigned Jeff and everything he had done to something never to be talked about. Riley never shared cute childhood stories where he, Eden, and Jeff were friends; no tales of brotherly misadventures. To Jack’s mind, Jeff had been born a sadistic bastard, and likely there were a lot of stories Riley hadn’t told him about the kind of things Jeff had done to both Riley and Eden.
“Seeing her makes you face what he did,” Jack said. He reached over and held Riley’s hand, lacing their fingers together and squeezing. This was what he did best. He was there for Riley, supporting him, holding him up, knowing as much as he needed to know, and still being there for the man who was his other half.
Riley sighed and bumped shoulders with Jack. “Yeah,” he whispered.
“So your dad doesn’t know that Jeff and Charlie were…?”
“No. I’m sure I’m the only one.”
“Lisa didn’t know?”
Riley squeezed back. “She always knew he was unfaithful, but with Charlie, no, I don’t think so.”
For a second, Jack allowed the words to settle. Lisa was damaged by much more than physical pain. She had a world of hurt where her dead husband was concerned, not least of which was the end result of what he did to her. The secret she carried with her was too awful for Jack to contemplate knowing how she lived with it.
“We don’t see enough of Lisa and the kids,” he said.
That was true. Lisa hadn’t visited in a while. Although to be fair, whenever Jack and Riley organized a family gathering of any sort, they always invited her. She’d moved to San Antonio with her fiancé, Ed, and was building a place for herself and the kids well away from the life she’d had here. Luke was sixteen, Annabelle coming up for nineteen. They weren’t at the ranch as often as Josh’s kids. They had lives of their own, but still, Jack was all about family.
“We’ll get them over, or maybe we’ll go visit them,” Jack said. He wasn’t going to let Riley focus on this one thing to distract himself from the central issue. “Back to the meeting. When you sit there, it will be all business, and if she comes over to talk to you, you smile, nod, and put on the best goddamn Riley act you can.”
“You’re not planning on being there.”
“I hate them,” Jack said, then he felt guilty. Riley was clearly concerned about the meeting, and he should make the effort. “I can try.”
“Don’t say that.” Riley smiled at Jack. “As much as I like it when you do that ‘I don’t care, I’m a hot, dusty cowboy’ thing, I seriously think you should stay away.”
Riley looked at him again. This time, the shadows had disappeared from his eyes. “It’s like torture for you.”
“Tell me more about how you like the cowboy thing,” Jack growled.
Riley grinned. “When you push the chair back and you kind of sprawl there, with your thumbs in your belt. You smile and nod when you need to and all I want to do is crawl over the table and ride you right there in the meeting.”
Jack’s cock swelled and pressed against his jeans. Riley’s voice was husky and low and sent every molecule of blood south.
“Sometimes you unwrap those stupid little mints, and you press one to your lips, and then you suck it in.”
“I like the mints.”
“All I can imagine is my cock in your mouth, and I’m so freaking hard I can’t concentrate on the numbers.”
Jack wriggled to get comfortable, and he had to press his free hand to his zip to ease some of the pressure. “Like it’s easy for me,” he muttered. “You in your suit, and those ties you wear, and all I can imagine is ripping it all off, tying you down and fucking you into tomorrow. That’s the only reason I go.”
Riley moved so quickly Jack didn’t have time to draw breath. He straddled Jack and pushed him back on the bed.
“Carol.” Jack mentioned their nanny’s name with the last remaining moments of having the presence of mind. “People…,” he added as a warning, as Riley stole his words with the deepest, dirtiest, messiest kiss he’d had since the last time they’d been in the barn.
Riley pulled back enough so Jack could look into his eyes. “Barn,” Riley said. “Now.”
Riley scrambled up and away, unbuttoning his jeans and adjusting himself. “Now,” he repeated.
With determination, they made it out of the house. Hayley was at school, Max out with Robbie and the horses, the twins were happy with Carol, so they had nothing to stop them. It didn’t matter it was ten in the morning, this was happening.
“Hey, boss,” Robbie called as Jack stepped outside.
Jack stopped so suddenly that Riley had to do some nifty footwork to try not to walk into the back of him. He didn’t quite manage it, and instead they met in a slam of limbs.
“Fuck,” Riley muttered.
“Hi, Robbie,” Jack said. He needed to cover the fact that he was hard and thanked the heavens that Riley had tugged out his shirt.
“Starting on the porch today,” Robbie said. He was carrying a box full of tools. “Lumber got delivered at the ass crack of dawn.” He gestured toward Jack and Riley’s barn, at the wood piled in front of the door.
Fuck. Whose idea was it to get a porch added to the main house?
Yours, you idiot.
Liam was next to him, a saw in one hand and a bucket of nails in the other. Liam didn’t seem to want to stand still, restlessly moving his weight from one foot to the other. Liam still wasn’t entirely comfortable talking to Jack one-on-one, but Jack didn’t have time to think about that now. He’d forgotten that today the lumber was arriving. Jesus. Fuck.
“Good. Riley and I are… inspecting… stuff.” Way to go with the lack of the English language.
“Stuff,” Riley repeated.
Robbie tilted his head a little and damn it if there wasn’t a slight smile on his face. “Okay, boss,” he said, then he and Liam carried on to the old barn and the woodpile.
Jack thought for a moment, then grabbed Riley’s hand, and in the space of a few minutes, they were leaving the ranch house and heading out on horseback. People were around; people were here: visitors to the riding center, people working. Along with kids, nannies, moms, dads, siblings. Hoping to find peace, Jack deliberately turned Solo to the east and into the parts of the ranch he knew Riley hadn’t seen, the rougher parts of the acreage that were fenced off.
Riley followed. Alex was a little skittish this morning until they were in a smooth canter and heading up into the thick, lush grassland to the east of the ranch. Ten minutes of riding, with no talking, and they reached a stand of trees. A small tributary from the main water supply to the Double D house carved through the coppice. It was a typically cool, fresh January day.
Jack dismounted and tied Solo off, grabbing Riley’s hand as soon as Riley had secured Alex. He tugged Riley into the trees, to the one place that Jack knew they would get privacy. In his pocket, his tight pocket, he had lube. He was stripping before they stopped walking, and by the time they reached the smooth grassed area in the shade, he was naked and a trail of clothes lay behind them. Jack hoped to hell there were no armadillos in hiding or snakes waiting to pounce.
Jack attempted to lay out the blanket he’d grabbed as he saddled Solo, but a naked Riley jumped him and tackled him to the ground, and he knew this wasn’t going to be gentle lovemaking. This was going to be raw, and Jack needed the connection like he needed his next breath. He always did.
Riley covered him, pressing him into the grass and the rucked-up blanket, and kissed him. The kisses were more of the same—hot, messy, deep, with no words. This was heat and fire, and Jack rolled so he was on top. He needed something; he wanted Riley in the worst way.
“I want you to fuck me,” Riley demanded.
Jack nearly lost it there and then. Riley asking him to push inside and—
Jack kissed and bit Riley’s nipples, laving them as they pebbled, sucking marks of possession into Riley’s tan skin. In answer, Riley arched up into Jack and, with his nails, dug biting crescents into Jack’s back. They were nothing but sensation, and Jack wanted to claw his way inside Riley.
He swallowed Riley’s cock with no finesse, no gentle licks, nothing soft and slow. Only when Riley slapped at him with a protest that he was close did Jack release the sucking. Without hesitation, he pressed his lubed finger against Riley.
“Tight,” he ordered.
Riley clenched, then released. They’d worked this out—that clenching the muscle was enough for it to loosen. They knew each other that well. Jack pushed in the first finger, letting Riley adjust, waiting until Riley rocked against it, and he never moved it once. More lube, a second finger, a third, and Riley was begging now. Jack swallowed his cock again, as deep as he could, pinning Riley to his fingers and scraping his teeth gently against Riley’s soft skin. Riley pushed him up, forced him away, and curled his spine. Jack went to his knees, using his thighs to position Riley, then pushed inside his lover. The sight of Riley near slamming his head back on the grass and wool, exposing his neck with a groan of pain and need leaving his mouth, was almost too much.
“Riley, fuck,” Jack gasped. He thrust inside, walking a little closer on his knees, stones pressing into his skin. He didn’t care. He was the other part of Riley; they fit like they were meant to be. He didn’t move again but let Riley press, move and writhe and Jack stole kisses all the time. “I love you, I fucking love you. Riley… shit….”
Riley reached up above his head and grasped at tussocks of grass, holding his upper half still, forcing himself down on Jack’s cock his eyes open and intensely focused. “Touch me,” Riley begged when it was obvious he was close.
Jack balanced himself on one arm, reaching for Riley’s cock. The tightening of Riley’s muscles, the ebb and flow of pressure, and Jack was fucking into Riley’s heaving body with a shout of completion. He stilled as Riley groaned, cursed and shot white stripes over his chest.
“I love you, Jack,” Riley forced past his kiss-bitten lips. “Love you.”
They stayed joined, kissing and exchanging heated words of love, until Jack softened enough to pull free. He used his discarded boxers to wipe at the come, knowing that Riley would need more than that after Jack had come inside him. Riley wouldn’t be comfortable, but it didn’t look like he cared for now. He was blissed-out, flat on the ground, half on the twisted blanket and half on the grass.
“I needed that,” Jack murmured. He flopped to lie next to Riley, tugging at the blanket so they were at least both on it. He held Riley’s hand, “You think it will ever stop?”
“What? This?” Riley gestured with his free hand. “Making love under the blue sky in the middle of the morning?”
“No,” Jack said thoughtfully.
Riley turned his head to look at him. “Then what?”
“The burning. To be with you, to want you, to look at you. Think we’ll ever stop?”
Riley smiled, and the smile reached his eyes, which were more green than brown today. “It burns in me as well.”
“Yeah. All the time. It isn’t only making love. It’s sleeping next to you, looking at you, seeing our kids. It’s everything.”
Jack squeezed Riley’s hand. “Hetboy, you’re my everything.”
“Back at ya, cowboy.”
They lay there for maybe thirty minutes, then laughed and joked as they collected the trail of clothes. It was only as they got dressed that Jack recalled something he’d meant to do before. They could do that something, seeing as they were this side of the ranch.
“Can I show you something?”
Riley twisted his hands around Jack’s neck and locked them in place. “You already did,” he smirked. “Wanna go again?”
“I’m not sixteen anymore,” Jack said, but he kissed Riley and enjoyed the feeling of holding and kissing.
“So what did you want to show me?” Riley finally asked.
Jack climbed onto Solo’s back, and Riley followed suit onto Alex. Together the two men left their little haven of loud sex, and Jack joined a trail up and over to the acres beyond. They came to the stone building quite suddenly. Over a rise in the ground, nestled in a grassy hollow, was the house Jack had called the Ghost House when he was young. He’d done that to freak out Beth, and only because Josh had done the same thing to him, but the Ghost House was what it remained.
“What is it?” Riley looked left and right. “This is still DD land, right?”
Jack tied off Solo. “Yep, all ours.” He waited for Riley to dismount. “Let’s go look.”
The house looked as solid as Jack remembered. “It has its own access road of sorts,” Jack explained with a wave to an overgrown area to the front of the house. “It was the original ranch, or so we think. I’m pulling the records to find out for sure, but it would be way back before the land belonged to my family. Me ’n’ Josh called it the Ghost House.”
“Does it have a resident ghost, then?” Riley teased. “A grizzly old cowboy with chewing tobacco and a six-shooter?”
“We only did it to tease Beth. Didn’t want her up in all our boy’s business when she was little.”
Riley huffed a laugh. “Seriously? Poor Beth.” He stepped closer to the nearest wall and examined the stones. “Seems to me this would be exactly the right place for a ghost.” He looked through the space where there had been a window. “It’s kind of spooky.” He wiggled his fingers at Jack and let out a ghostly wooh, edged with laughter. Jack couldn’t help himself, he immediately pulled Riley close and held him tight. When Riley laughed and teased, Jack fell more in love with his husband.
Riley got with the plan, closing his arms around Jack and holding tight. They stood that way in the place for the longest time until Riley released his tight grip and kissed Jack deeply. They kissed and hugged, and Jack relaxed into Riley’s embrace.
“You okay?” Riley murmured.
Jack nodded. “Just an awful lot of memories in this place, y’know. Sometimes Dad would come out to find us, back when we were real tiny, and he’d play cowboys with us. I remember those days as happy.”
“Yeah,” Jack finished. “Before the Hayes shit got inside his head and wouldn’t leave him.” Riley stiffened next to him and Jack immediately regretted his words. “I didn’t mean to say that.”
“Yeah,” Riley began softly. “You did, and it’s true. I wish there could be a way I could rewind everything and make it right.”
Jack frowned. What he and Riley had? That was making it right. All of it.
“Riley, we made it right the minute you said you loved me.”
Riley said nothing for the longest time, but when he finally spoke, his words were filled with emotion.
“If there had never been a Hayes-Campbell feud, we wouldn’t be together.”
They kissed again, and this time Jack pushed Riley back against the solid wall and made the kiss mean way more than I love you. He pressed his weight against Riley and felt the exhalation of Riley’s satisfied sigh against his lips. When they finally separated, Jack was so hard, it was like they hadn’t just made love under the trees. He wanted more, and it seemed like Riley did too, judging by how hard he was.
“I can never get enough of you,” Jack said.
Riley cradled Jack’s face. “And I can’t get enough of you.” He looked down at the ground around them. “We could….”
Jack grimaced. “I like the idea of a mattress this time.”
Riley snorted a laugh. “Thank fuck. I was wondering how my knees would survive.”
Jack kissed the laughter from Riley’s lips, then with reluctance he pulled back.
“So tell me about the place,” Riley asked.
“Don’t think it had a dramatic past. Nothing more than it got too small for the family, or they decided they wanted the flatland by where the ranch house is now.”
Riley pressed a hand to the stone. “But it’s old?”
“Yeah. But built to last.” They stepped farther inside, and Jack could see the sky where the roof had long since disintegrated into piles of kindling on the floor. “A new roof, utilities—we could make something of this.”
Riley leaned against an internal doorjamb where once there would have been a door hanging. “Make something of it? You mean us moving here?”
Riley sounded intrigued rather than concerned.
“Tell me what’s on your mind.”
Jack worried at his lip. He’d been having thoughts about this building for a long time. Niggling thoughts that wouldn’t leave him alone. “It’s difficult to explain. Well, not difficult, but it would need investment, maybe more than the riding school, even.”
Riley didn’t appear worried by that. “Go on.”
“You remember when I was in Laredo for the court case?”
“Yeah, of course.” Riley looked puzzled as well he should. Jack was starting this story a long way back.
“I met three men there. Actually one was still a boy. They were the witnesses that were in the dock with Liam in the case against Hank Castille. I put some finances in place, started myself down the road for helping them. Only, it didn’t happen.” This was the difficult part. How would Riley react to what he said next? Jack had dropped the ball because he’d been so wrapped up in Riley and the kidnapping; so much so that everything had gone cold and he’d lost contact with two of the boys.
“Because you had me to worry about.” Riley’s insight into what had happened meant Jack didn’t need to explain. Riley didn’t sound pissed or guilty or any one of a million emotions Jack had considered. He should have had faith in his husband, known that Riley would be above all that now.
“Some,” Jack said.
“I get that. So what do you want to do now?”
“I can’t stop thinking about them. About why, when they were thrown out of their own homes, did they end up at the Triple K? Why had they been drawn to a ranch, then put in such a vulnerable position with Hank Castille, when they were just kids?” He took off his Stetson and ran his hands through his hair. It needed a cut; it was long and ever so slightly irritating. “Clearly they wanted to work on a ranch, and okay, it may have been because ranches have casual help, I get that. But, those three men and Liam, they loved the ranch. So I’m not saying I can fix the whole damn world, but I thought we could offer them a place here.”
Actually that was what he’d been thinking for a long time. Sitting in that courtroom had scarred him. Hank’s abuse of those young men had left a legacy in each of them that had to be so hard. Thankfully Hank had been found guilty and was serving his time. Jack never once hoped that Hank had it easy in prison because he’d grown fond of Liam, the fourth boy he knew had been hurt by Hank. Liam was working on the ranch now, and surely the other three could have work here if they wanted.
“The three men from the trial? There’s always room for more at the D,” Riley said.
Jack nodded. Sometimes he felt like Riley could read his thoughts.
“Maybe those three,” Jack said. “Maybe others. I haven’t thought this through as much as I should have.”
“You mean you want somewhere for kids who have nowhere else to go. A place like the one Steve works at.”
Jack glanced at Riley, saw the thoughtful expression in his hazel eyes. He could do this without Riley because he felt that strongly, but having him backing this play would make Jack’s life a lot easier. No, that wasn’t right. Having Riley love him and support him was what Jack craved.
“I thought we could maybe work with Steve, offer places. I know we give money, but that’s easy for us. I want to do something more proactive and concrete.”
Jack stopped. He thought that maybe he sounded like a bit of an idiot, as if voicing the proactive stuff made it seem like what he could do would make a difference? Kinda arrogant, actually. Doubt crept into his thoughts, and Riley would pick up on that. So he forged ahead positively.
“I got the impression from their testimony that all three wanted to work on the ranch, that’s why it was so easy for Hank to take advantage. They thought they’d landed on their feet, and look at them all now, scarred by what happened to them.” Jack could remember the three witnesses. The oldest, with the ill-fitting clothes, who’d had to be helped from the stand; the middle guy in a designer suit; and the kid who left with Family Services, his expression bleak.
“I don’t know how they survived,” Riley began.
“I’m not sure any of them have. The oldest, Kyle, is working minimum wage, living in this tiny pay-for-the-night room. He won’t take any money, and he won’t talk to me. The other two have disappeared entirely. I only have an address for Kyle.” He shrugged. Gabriel was evading all searches, and Danny went off the grid as soon as he turned eighteen a couple of weeks back.
“Okay, I’m not going to pretend I don’t worry. Have you thought about talking to Steve at the shelter? Maybe get him to use his contacts?”
“Already done. I asked for his help tracing the three of them, and he gave me the name of a couple of PIs, and also put feelers out. They have so many resources already in place.”
“What did Steve think of your ideas?”
Riley still sounded wary. “He calmed me down a lot, talked me out of an all-singing, all-dancing place with answers for everyone. He said to start small and keep him in the loop.”
“So that takes some of the pressure off you?”
“Yes. Off me and off us as a family, but I can’t promise it won’t swallow some of my time.” Jack had to be brutally honest. Otherwise, he’d be trapping Riley into an agreement on something he didn’t really want.
“Okay,” Riley began, “we start by finding the first of your victims.” He frowned as he said that, clearly uncomfortable with the word. “Then we talk to planners and get this place sorted? Or maybe we should do that first?”
Relief filled Jack. Riley was using the we word, and that was good. In fact, Riley was making it sound easy.
“There is one thing, though,” Riley warned. “Not thing, exactly… more person, or people.”
“Liam and Darren,” Jack said.
“Yeah, you need to talk to them about this. They’re part of the ranch now. Liam was another victim, and this is connected to Darren’s fucker of a brother, and Darren’s the first person to want to take the blame on himself….”
Riley knew what it was like to have a bastard for a brother. Unspoken was that Liam was important to them, and Liam was happy with Marcus and would probably want the past left where it was.
“I’ll talk to Liam and Darren,” Jack said. “But just between us here, you’re okay with this?”
Riley looked at him, puzzled. “You sound like you’re asking my permission?” He sounded as confused as he looked.
Jack couldn’t look Riley in the eye. “We already have the kids, and the horses, and the riding school.”
Riley crossed to Jack and held him close.
“I don’t think this will be easy at all. But you have such a big heart, and there’s room for so much more. We’ll manage to juggle it all, somehow.”
Jack hugged him back. “Really?”
“Hell, yeah. So where do we start?”
With that, Riley made everything right.