Authors: J. L. Langley
THE TIN STAR
J. L. Langley
This e-book contains sexually explicit scenes and adult language and may be considered offensive to some readers. Loose Id e-books are for sale to adults ONLY, as defined by the laws of the country in which you made your purchase. Please store your files wisely, where they cannot be accessed by under-aged readers.
The Tin Star
J. L. Langley
This e-book is a work of fiction. While reference might be made to actual historical events or existing locations, the names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Copyright © January 2006 by J. L. Langley
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Editor: Olivia Wong
Cover Artist: April Martinez
To Ann Lory. I knew you could do it! Congrats! You worked hard, and you deserve it!
Ethan had sat in front of the computer too damned long again. That was the one thing he hated about managing the ranch; he’d much rather be outside working with the livestock. He looked up from the monitor as he heard a truck pull up the dirt drive and around the back of the house, then he listened to the autumn leaves rustling as someone stomped through them and onto the back porch.
“Fuck! Fuck! Shit! Damn!” Ethan frowned at the sound of John’s voice. The back door slammed, followed by the opening and shutting of cabinet doors.
That wasn’t good. Not good at all. The outburst of profanity was not unexpected. After all, John had always had a temper, but he had never sounded on the verge of tears before. In fact, he could only remember John crying once during the past twenty-six years, and that was when his mama had died three years ago.
Ethan saved his last changes to the herd record, then made his way into the kitchen to find out what was eating John, his friend since first grade. He supposed that the occasional emotional upheaval from your best friend was a small price to pay for having someone you could trust and depend on live only a bit down the road from you.
“Ethan! Are you here, man? Where is the fucking whiskey?!”
He walked in just as John’s tan Stetson slid across the kitchen table. Ethan caught it before it hit the floor. “Top of the pantry, there’s a fifth of Jack.” He padded barefoot across the room, got down two glasses and brought them back to the table.
John set the bottle down on the table, spun the ladder-back chair around, and straddled it. He didn’t look at Ethan, just crossed his arms over the chair back and laid his head on his forearms.
Ethan poured a couple swallows in each glass, then slid John’s to him. He knew John well enough to give his friend time. John would tell him what was up when he was ready; pressuring him would only delay the inevitable.
John glanced up, his blue eyes bloodshot, and tossed the whiskey back in one swallow. He brushed the back of his hand over his mouth, then pushed the glass toward Ethan, motioning for a refill.
Ethan poured some more and watched as John swigged it down, then grabbed the bottle. He sighed and took a sip of his own whiskey.
Man, that burns.
He propped his legs up on the chair next to him and waited for John to finish drinking.
Finally, John lifted his head, running his fingers through his short black hair, making it stand straight up. “Jamie is gay.”
Ethan’s eyes widened and he gulped down the lump in his throat. His feet slid off the chair and hit the wooden floor with a thump. What the hell was he supposed to say to that? He reached out and grabbed the rest of his own whiskey and drank it down.
James Killian. Jamie. John’s younger brother had always followed in their footsteps when he was younger. They hadn’t been able to go anywhere without the kid trying to tag along. Hell, Jamie was a good guy ... even if he wasn’t exactly a child anymore. He’d turned twenty-one the past fall.
“He freakin’ walks in the office this morning while Dad and I are going over the books, sits down on the old leather couch, and says he needs to tell us something.”
“So ... he what? Has a boyfriend he wants to bring home or something?”
John stared at him for a few minutes, then shook his head. “Don’t know. I don’t have any fucking idea. Hell, for a minute there, I thought he was just yanking our chain.”
“Well, what happened?”
“What do you mean what happened? He told us he’s gay and Dad kicked his ass out. He kicked Jamie out, Ethan! Out of the house, off the Quad J!”
Ethan blinked. Jamie was not only John’s brother, he was also the ranch foreman. Although their sister, Julia, had moved to San Antonio and was working as a nurse, the brothers worked on their family’s ranch, the Quadruple J. Jamie had stayed on to help John run the place when their dad, Jacob, had retired. John was ranch manager now, while their dad oversaw both their work. Jacob claimed he wanted to make sure they got it right.
“What? Isn’t that a little extreme? He’s family!”
John nodded and took another big swig from the bottle. “Yup, he told him to get ’is freak assth out.”
“What the hell are you going to do for a foreman? Shit, John! That’s just fucked!”
His friend shrugged, listed a little to the side before he jerked himself back up. “Well, whah can I do? I don’t know ... jus’ don’ wan’ tink ’bout it n-now ... anyway.”
Ethan could barely understand the slurred words. He stood up and paced. “What the fuck, man? He’s your brother! Where the hell is he gonna go?”
John lifted one shoulder and almost fell out of his chair again. “Don’ know ... jiss hope hiss otay.”
Ethan rushed over to prop him up. “Have you had anything to eat today?”
John shook his head. “Jiss dis whiskey.”
No wonder he’d gotten so shit-faced so fast. Ethan pulled him up and steered him toward the living room.
John didn’t resist, but reached out and grabbed the bottle of Jack on the way past the table. “Where’s we go’n’?”
“To the couch before you fall over.” Ethan got John settled on the couch, then flopped down on chair next to it. “Damn!”
John’s head wobbled in what Ethan supposed was a nod. “Yup ... ’S fuckin’ increb-ib-id-ble. My baby brubber ... had no ’dea. Can you ’lieve it? And jis like you, the girls fuckin’ lub ’im. In’t that funn...”
Ethan shook his head, then looked up as the whiskey bottle slid out of John’s hand, catching it before it spilled. He put the liquor down on the coffee table, then sat back down in his chair, running his hands down his face.
What a mess!
Ethan dropped his head into his hands. Jamie was a good man ...
a good-looking man, too
John was right, his younger brother certainly had his fair share of women trying to catch his eye -- and probably men, too, for that matter. Jamie didn’t deserve to lose his family over something so ... insignificant. Neither did John. His friend might be in shock now, not to mention drunk, but Ethan knew John would try to find Jamie once he had a chance to think straight ... however the hell long that would take.
Damn old man Killian! Stubborn, opinionated bastard!
Ethan knew better than most what it was like to be without family. He and his Aunt Margaret were all that were left of his. His mother had died in a car accident when he was three, he’d lost his older brother to Desert Storm, then his dad had succumbed to a heart attack five years ago.
John snored loudly, interrupting his thoughts.
Ethan glanced down at himself; he had on his gray sweatpants and white Toby Keith tee-shirt. He needed to dress and leave the house, get some air and time to think before he went stir crazy. But first he had to see if he could help John ... and Jamie. He didn’t know what he could do ... but he had to try something. Jacob Killian kickin’ his own son to the curb just didn’t sit right with Ethan. He had a ranch; the least he could do was offer the kid a job and a place to sleep in the bunkhouse. The Tin Star could always use another good cowboy.
Leaving his friend to sleep it off on the couch, Ethan went into his office and dug through his Rolodex of addresses until he found Jamie’s cell phone number.
He’d always been fond of the kid, but who’d have ever thought ...
* * * * *
Jamie pulled off to the side of the road and cut the engine. Where the hell was he going? He had fifty-two dollars and thirty-seven cents in his wallet. Everything he owned was back at the Quad J, everything except the clothes he had on and his truck. He had no job, no friends who weren’t ranch hands, and his sister’s place was an hour and a half away. And that was assuming Jules would have anything to do with him. He wondered what she would say. Would she tell him to take a flyin’ leap? Or would she risk their daddy’s wrath and stand by him?
He pulled his hat off, turned it upside down and set it on the seat beside him, then ran two frustrated hands through his hair.
That had to have been one of the stupidest things he’d ever done. If he could kick his own ass, he would. What the hell had he been thinking? It wasn’t like there had been any reason to tell his family. He didn’t have anyone special, so it wasn’t like he was going to have to worry about bringing a guy home to meet his family.
Except it had been eating at him for years to say something, then last night he’d finally worked up the courage to go ahead with it. He had been going to break the news come hell or high water, because he was tired of keeping secrets, tired of pretending to be something he wasn’t. He’d stayed up half the night practicing what he’d say to them. Why couldn’t he have just kept his damned fool mouth shut?
He sighed and blinked back tears. He was
going to cry over this.
He’d known they wouldn’t be happy; he had even known there’d be a lot of screaming and yelling, but he hadn’t expected to be tossed out on his ear. Hell, he knew his dad wasn’t the most open-minded man, but he’d always stuck by family ... well, he had until now.
There was no help for it; he needed somewhere to stay until he could find a job. He started digging through the console, looking for his phone to call his sister when it started ringing.
Where the hell is it?
He found it after about two rings, but when he checked the caller ID, he nearly dropped it.
He hit the steering wheel with his fist. “Fuck!” Of all the people to call him now ... What the hell did
want? He tapped the on button and put the phone to his ear. “Killian here.”
“What do you want, Ethan? Did John call you first thing?” He took a quick breath. “Shit, man! If you’re planning to tell me that I’m going to hell, or that I’m a freak and my mama is rolling over in her grave, you’re going to waste your breath.”
He heard a sigh, then that deep, sexy voice came on the line. “Actually he’s passed out on my couch drunker ’n’ a skunk. Where are you, kid?”
“Why the hell do you want to know?”
“Look, Jamie, quit with the attitude. I’m not your enemy. I just called to see if I can help. You got a place to stay?”
Jamie pulled the phone away and stared at it.
What the hell?
His eyes stung again, and he felt something wet slide down his face. All his life he’d idolized Ethan; was it possible that his brother’s best friend didn’t hate him? Ethan and John had always agreed on everything -- how was it possible that they didn’t agree on this? Or maybe John was looking for him. Could it be that John wasn’t going to chew him up and spit him out like their daddy had? He realized that he didn’t actually have an idea what his brother thought. John had just stood there stunned when he’d made his announcement.
He took a deep breath and wiped his face with the back of his hand. Returning the phone to his ear, he opened his mouth to answer, but nothing came out.
“Jamie! You there?”
When he found his voice it was barely above a whisper. “Yeah ... yeah, I’m here.”
“Listen. Your daddy is going to blow a gasket when he finds out I offered, but hopefully he’ll come around in the long run. If you need a job and a place to stay until this shit blows over with your family, I’ve got an empty room in the bunkhouse. And I can always use another good hand.”
Jamie swallowed. “You ain’t just trying to get me there so you and John can beat some sense into me, are you?”
That deep voice chuckled in his ear. “Nah.” There was silence for a few seconds before Ethan asked, “Would it help?”
“Nope. I am what I am, Ethan. I’m tired of pretending, and I don’t really give a shit what anyone thinks about it. So, if you and John have some fucked up plan to --”
“Hey! I don’t give a damn what your sexual orientation is, Jamie. We’ve ... hell, kid ... we’ve known each other a long time. I just wanted to make sure you had somewhere to go.”
Great! Just what he needed: pity.
“’Sides, you’d be doing me a favor. I’ve been a hand short since Bobby left.”
Jamie widened his eyes and stared up at the ceiling to try and keep more tears at bay. Damned if it wasn’t just like Ethan to try and save his pride. He grinned. Ethan always did have the people skills his brother lacked. “’Kay. I can be there in an hour. Is that all right?”
“Yeah, that’s fine. Like I said, John’s here. I think you need to talk to him, ’cept at the moment he really isn’t up to doing much. Just go on to the bunkhouse and get your stuff stored away and take it easy. We’ll put you to work tomorrow.”
Jamie turned on the engine and looked into his rearview mirror. “Actually Ethan, I don’t have any gear. Just my truck. I’ll go check in with Bill when I get there and see if he has any work for me.” He pulled back onto the highway, hoping that Ethan’s foreman wouldn’t have a problem about taking on a new hand ... especially a gay one. Regardless of what Ethan said, Jamie knew damn well that the Tin Star wasn’t short a hand, even with Bobby’s absence, since Ethan worked the ranch in addition to handling the managerial side of things.
“What do you mean you ain’t got any gear?”
He sighed, not really wanting to admit that he’d been in such a hellfire hurry to leave that he hadn’t even thought about getting any of his things. “I was kinda in a hurry to leave. Ya know?”
Ethan sighed back at him. “Yeah, I got ya. I have some clothes that will fit you well enough until we can get your things. John can take care of that later. Just come on back to town. I’ll let Bill know you’re comin’.”
After Ethan hung up, Jamie turned his phone off and tossed it back into the console. On his way to the Tin Star, “Feed Jake” came on the radio.
That was all he needed, a song about a dog to make him feel guilty about leaving Fred behind. Hell, he’d forgotten all about his girls. Fred and George were still back at the Quad J. Jamie groaned. Why was it that when you were depressed, every danged song on the radio made you even more depressed?
George would cope; she was out in the east pasture with the other horses so she probably wouldn’t miss him for at least a day. But Fred ... Fred was his baby. He’d brought that little German Shepherd home when she was only six weeks old, and she’d slept at the foot of his bed every night since. She was probably looking for him already. He’d let her out this morning when he’d gone into the office to talk to Dad and John, then forgotten all about her.