Thanks so much to RJ for the Coffee Corner visit!
For those of you who've not met me, I’m Jackie North and I write a variety of books including m/m time travel romance, holiday-themed stories, m/m historical romance and…..currently, I’m writing gay m/m cowboy romances, which are set in the wilds of Wyoming!
My newest release is called The Cowboy and the Hoodlum – and early readers are raving that they love it! The story is set in Farthingdale Valley, where ex-cons serve out their parole by helping to develop what is essentially a sleep-away camp for adults.
How about an excerpt and then a contest?
Jonah laughed at Gordy’s expression of panic, at least on the inside, and turned his attention to the two men in aprons, the cooks, he imagined, as they placed a plastic cutting board in the middle of the table, and stepped away, wiping their hands on clean white cloths. The board held an array of meats and cheeses, crackers, and dried fruit, what looked like a dish of honey, and another of figs. And there, at the very end, sitting almost forlornly by itself, was a little plate of orange slices.
Jonah’s mouth watered. Inside of Wyoming Correctional, there was no such thing as fresh fruit. All fruit was dried or came in little tubs of sugared water to preserve it and tasted of sugar and mostly nothing else. Never had he seen a fresh orange behind prison walls, not once.
There were strawberries on the board as well, but his eye was on the oranges. He could almost taste that burst of light in his mouth. Hopefully he’d get to those slices before anyone else did, and he tightened his fist in preparation for slamming the first person who tried.
Except nobody reached for what was on the cutting board, and Jonah supposed it was because they were all so newly released. Only yesterday, they were eating off plastic trays and working their way around the underdone green beans swimming in their own bath of lukewarm salt water, and hoping the little bell would get rung so they could go up for seconds of the dinner rolls, which were usually pretty good. Now, in the face of such lushness, not one of them felt comfortable to start without permission, it seemed.
“Is he coming?” asked one of the cooks.
“He’s late,” said the other cook. His head was turned sideways as if his words were only meant for the other cook, but Jonah heard the words quite clearly. “He’s probably doing his hair for the tenth time and retying that scarf he always wears.”
“It’s not the same scarf, you know,” said the first cook. “He’s got dozens of them.”
“Don’t worry,” said the second cook. “All we have to do is feed him three times a day. And frankly, he might seem fussy, but at least he appreciates the proper way to cook a steak.”
A shadow appeared at the opening of the tent and Jonah’s attention was drawn away from the whispered conversation of the cooks, and even from the delectable orange slices on the plastic cutting board to a man wore an outfit that would have, inside of two seconds in the prison yard, gotten him torn to pieces and then locked up in solitary for his own protection.
As the man stepped between shadows from the pines and slices of light, his hair caught a sunbeam and reflected it, making Jonah blink. He’d never seen anyone look like that, dress like that, stepping into a room like a breath of fresh air. He was the prettiest man Jonah had ever seen.
It was easy to see that this was the fussy man the cooks had been referring to for although he wore an outfit that looked vaguely western, with a scarf around his neck, a silver belt buckle, and a pair of shiny cowboy boots, he looked like he was about to step on stage to film a western movie, rather than doing any actual work on a ranch.
This Jonah knew even without knowing it because even from this distance, those clothes looked too finely made to withstand the usual wear and tear. Certainly they wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in Jonah’s garage back home.
“Hello, everyone,” he said with a wide gesture of both hands. “I’m Royce Thackery, your new team lead, and I’m here to welcome you to Farthingdale Valley—”
Royce paused and came closer to the table where Jonah and his fellow ex-cons were seated.
“Why aren’t you eating? I had this charcuterie board prepared especially for you to enjoy on your first day in the valley.”
Nobody moved, so he came even closer, placing his hands, fingers spread, on the table. Jonah could smell his cologne but couldn’t place it.
“Really, it’s all right. Help yourselves to whatever catches your fancy. I love a good snack in the afternoon myself.”
To Jonah’s private horror, Royce reached down and plucked one of the orange slices from the white plate and popped it in his mouth. He then proceeded to chew with much relish, as if to show them all how to really enjoy the food.
Jonah had to curl and uncurl his fist several times, and made himself wait while Gordy bravely reached for some crackers and cheese and began nibbling them as the Duane and Tyson grabbed some of the slices of meat and stuffed their gobs with the meat and some of the almonds, which looked sugared. Then, because Jonah hadn’t taken anything yet, Royce eyed him, tipping his head to one side like a curious dog that only wanted to be friends.
“What about you there, in black?” Royce gestured to the board again. “Please help yourself,” he said. “Or all this food and the cooks’ efforts will just go to waste.”
All eyes in the tent were on Jonah, making him feel hot, like they’d pulled him closer to an invisible flame. Like they wanted him to join in the fun and might get irate if he did not. Royce took a cracker, slowly, and placed a slice of some kind of sausage on it, and chomped through both, his eyes on Jonah the whole time.
“It’s all very good,” he said.
Jonah knew he had to give in or his reluctance might show as defiance, and he very much needed not to be in any spotlight while he waited for his chance at that phone and for Beck to come and rescue him, which suddenly seemed like a very good idea.
“Sure,” he said and, with a shrug, as if it didn’t matter to him what he ate, he reached across the board for the orange.
He took two slices and told himself his hand wasn’t shaking as he stuffed both in his mouth.
The traces of sunlight on his tongue were pure and sweet and, for a moment, he was a very long way from where he was, getting looked at like he was an object lesson about to happen.
“Do you like oranges?” asked Royce, which meant that still all the attention was focused on Jonah.
“I don’t know. Yeah.” Beneath his black t-shirt, Jonah’s skin was prickling like it itched, but he didn’t dare move a muscle because every eye was on him. Then he shrugged and did his best to trace the sweetness of the orange with his tongue, but the flavor was fading fast.
“Well, I’ll make sure the cooks include more than just the one next time, okay?”
Royce’s smile was bright, but Jonah couldn’t trust the overwhelming friendliness there, because that was never wise. Someone who smiled like that was either an undercover cop or a tourist who’d started on the 17th Street Mall and somehow ended up crossing over into Five Points and simply didn’t know any better.
“Now, eat up,” said Royce. He sat across the table from Jonah and Gordy, next to Duane and Tyson, who looked as shocked as Jonah felt at the casual makes-no-never-mind-to-me-that-you’re-criminals air that Royce gave off. “I’ve got your files here, but I’ve not read them,” he said, placing a stack of manilla folders on the table. “I don’t know who you are, but I want to learn that from you rather than a piece of paper, so would you each tell me your name and the crime you committed?”
The silence around the table landed like a large boulder in the center of the half-devoured charcuterie board, and it was obvious that Royce didn’t know that kind of information, at least outside of the warden’s office, was on a volunteer basis only.
A prisoner could ask a fellow prisoner what they were in for, but the information was never forced, unlike in the warden’s office, where they already knew.
Who was this guy, anyway? So cavalier with his request, with his gift of food, wearing that fancy shirt so crisp around the edges, it had to have recently seen an iron.
“I’ll go first,” said Gordy with a slight shudder, as if he didn’t want to step on any toes but couldn’t stand the silence lingering all around them, that, and the hopeful look in Royce’s blue eyes. “I’m Gordy, short for Gordon. I’m a B&E man. That’s it. B&E and maybe picking pockets. Light finger stuff. Nothing violent.”
“Very good, Gordy, thank you.”
Royce waited, then with a little tsk tsk beneath his breath, he managed to wrangle names and crimes from the two other ex-cons, Tyson and Duane, who admitted that they’d worked in the drug trade, making deliveries, and had, upon occasion, dealt directly with customers, and not in a nice way.
“Thank you, gentlemen. Which leaves us only—”
The expression Royce landed on Jonah was full of hope and expectation, a small smile around his mouth as if he meant to encourage Jonah by getting Jonah to think that anything he had to say would be kindly received. As well, Jonah was the last one to participate in this odd roll call, and if he didn’t comply, then, once again, he would stand out, even more than he already was.
“I’m Jonah,” he said, tightening his shoulders as if it was of no nevermind to him whether anyone cared. “I steal cars, strip the parts, sell those to the highest bidder. And I can fix any engine. Any engine.”
“That’ll come in handy,” said Royce. “Thank you, Jonah. Now, everybody, help yourselves to whatever’s on the board, then I’ll take you for a short tour. I’ll show you your tents, inside of which you will find clothing and necessary articles for your comfort. If something doesn’t fit, let me know and we can change it out, and if there’s something that you need and don’t have, let me know and we can get it for you. In the meantime, I’m waiting on the delivery of little maps I’ve had drawn for you to help you find your way around the place which is going to be your home for the next five months. Any questions?”
Again, there was an enormous pause, and Jonah felt the effect of it, a weight settling on him all glinting like the inside of a silver bell.
He didn’t feel sorry for Royce in that silence, because any guy dumb enough not to study up on the ex-cons who would soon be surrounding him kind of deserved what he got. Silence. A lack of response. A balking stubbornness as if not one of them believed he was for real. Which he couldn’t be. Not with that shining gold hair and ridiculous outfit. Or the kindness that shone out of his blue eyes, which had to be the most fake thing of all.
Thanks for reading! The Cowboy and the Hoodlum can be found in KU here: https://readerlinks.com/l/3183007
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Thanks again to RJ!