“Is he gay? I heard some of the guys talking, and…”
“He is, and he’s open about it, but—”
“It’s not like he’s going to flaunt it on a ranch. I know.”
Blake nodded. “It’s getting better. Ken and Andy next door make no effort to hide how they feel about each other. They’ve lost some workers because of that, but it’s easier for them to hire hands who support them or truly don’t care than it was even a few years ago.”
A few moments later, we met up with Casey, and Blake left me there to work on the fence while he rode on to check on the cows in the farthest pasture.
Casey gave a low whistle as Blake rode off. “That is one sexy-as-fuck man.”
“He’s—” I pressed my lips together, barely holding back the word mine.
Casey laughed. “You’ve got nothing to worry about. He’s never looked at me the way he looks at you.”
“What… what do you mean?”
Casey raised his brow. “Are you seriously telling me you two aren’t…”
“We’re not. Not really, but… Fuck, I’m not good at this.”
“Yeah.” Blake told me I could trust Casey, but I didn’t think he wanted me to go this far. “I shouldn’t be talking about this. If my dad found out…”
“I wouldn’t tell him if he paid me.”
I snorted. “Are you sure about that? Because he damn well would pay for dirt on me.” He’d done it before.
He laid a hand on my arm. “I’m serious, Riley. I would never snitch on you or Blake. Blake hired me when no one else around here would, and while some of the hands here are nicer than others, no one gives me shit for being gay. I like it here, but it’s because of the way Blake runs things. I was kind of hoping since you’re back that you might be taking over. Your dad doesn’t seem very into the whole ranch operation.”
“Oh… no…. I just… I made a bargain with my dad. I have to prove I can learn how to run the place and then I can get some of my inheritance and move on.” Should I have told him that? Everyone would find out eventually, wouldn’t they? My dad never said to keep it a secret.
Casey looked disappointed. “That’s too bad. I mean not the part about the money, but I was hoping you’d be staying.”
“I can’t stay.”
“Can’t or don’t want to?” Casey asked. “I’m not judging, just curious.”
A few weeks ago, I would have said it was both. The ranch held a lot of bad memories, and I’d thought I was a hell of a lot happier in town. Now I wasn’t sure I’d been happy in a long time. “I can’t. Once I satisfy the deal with my dad, he wants me to leave.”
“What do you want?”
I shrugged. “That’s the last thing he cares about.”
“Forget about Lawson. Where do you want to go? What do you want to do?”
I thought I’d move back to Atlanta to see if I could figure out something I did want to study, but being here, feeling the connection I did with Blake, was making me reconsider. “I wish I knew.”
“Well, I guess you’ll figure that out. As long as you’ve got money to live on, you could do whatever, right?”
“Yeah, I guess so.” But could I? I was beginning to worry that what I actually wanted was the one thing I couldn’t have.
“If you ever want to talk about it or whatever, I’m a good listener.”
I smiled at him. “Thanks, I really appreciate that.”
We focused on the fence then, but I felt more comfortable now, like I had a friend here other than Blake. That was good, because as Blake and I had ridden out here, I’d started to really think about what I’d agreed to. There was way too much to learn, more than I’d ever realized. My chances of figuring it all out, even with Blake and Casey behind me were frighteningly low.
“You said yourself I wouldn’t be any good at office work.” Riley slumped back against the chair, making it slide across the floor.
“Riley.” I ran my hand through my hair and took a deep breath. As much as I wanted to shout at him, I wasn’t going to. “What I said was that you wouldn’t be happy confined in an office all day. You wouldn’t like the monotony of it, and you wouldn’t like sitting still for that long. That is not the same as saying you aren’t capable of it. Record keeping and finance are part of running a ranch.”
“I don’t understand this shit. None of these numbers make any sense. I’ve never been any good at math.”
“There’s no complicated math involved. Yes, it might take a while to learn the formulas and be able to create the spreadsheet yourself, but I’m not asking you to do that yet. I’m just asking you to learn what data you need to put in for this to work.”