While The Cat’s Away Countdown – Day 2…
Just a little glimpse into the story that will be coming out in November with Samhain. Excuse any typos; this hasn’t gone through editing yet. Also, if you’re a little squeamish about male-male sex, stop reading now.
There are moments that can change the course of a woman’s life from one heartbeat to the next. For Dani Standifer, this was that moment.
She’d arrived in Two Mule, Texas a day earlier than she’d planned, intending to surprise her boyfriend. But the surprise was definitely on her. Rowan Ayers’s body, hardening with arousal, demonstrated more poignantly than any “Dear Jane” letter that she’d been gone far too long. He’d moved on.
Everything she’d ever dreamed of for her future evaporated like the sweat glistening on his naked chest.
As well, it hurt that he’d chosen this place to bring another woman. The isolated, ramshackle line shack had been their favorite place, their secret love nest. The cabin sat nestled in a thicket of scrubby cedar, a tall live oak providing the structure shade from the late afternoon sun. The shack was situated inside the Ayers fence line, equidistance from both of their ranch houses. Perfect for the trysts they’d shared throughout high school and during summer breaks from university. Here, they’d explored their young bodies, talked about their dreams for the future…and made plans.
Dani had attended the University of Texas in Austin. Rowe had chosen Texas A&M—not because they’d wanted to be parted, but because they’d honored their own family’s traditions. She’d always thought they had the rest of their lives to make up for the long separations. It appeared she’d been dead wrong.
Moments ago as she’d came around the front of the cabin, she’d noted his horse, a piebald mare, tied to the hitching post and her heart had begun to hammer wildly against her chest. It would be better than she’d hoped, catching him here alone before she had to face her brother and have “the talk” about the rest of her life. Something she’d wanted to put off until she was sure what those plans might be. Cutter still treated her like a little girl rather than a woman, wanted to “guide” her to make the right choices. Sure, he’d been her guardian after their parents’ deaths and managed their estate, but she hadn’t needed his approval for a damn thing in a long, long time.
However in fairness, she did owe him an answer to the question he’d posed to her when she’d graduated.
“Dani, are you ready to take on some responsibility when you come home?”
Cutter’s brown eyes had settled on her, reading every thought that flitted across her face. She knew, because he’d always stayed one step ahead of her. Except when it came to her relationship with Rowe. Had she really been that good at hiding what they had, or had Cutter simply allowed it?
She hadn’t answered her brother then, saying she’d needed a little time. What she’d really wanted was to nail Rowe down and find out if things were still solid between them. He’d been a little reticent the last few times they’d spoken on the phone.
Finding him here at the cabin, she’d felt relief wash over her like cool water. Cutter wanted an answer, wanted to sit down and plan out how they’d divide up the property or the work. She’d been running from that decision since she’d reached adulthood because there was pain in reviewing what their parents had built and had thought they would pass on intact.
With Rowe here, she’d have a chance for an intimate reunion and renew her commitment to him, before coming under her overprotective brother’s watchful eyes. With Rowe by her side, she wouldn’t feel as alone. Cutter might have provided her a house and money to burn while she was in school, but he’d shut down emotionally after their parents’ deaths—living and breathing cattle, riding herd over the wranglers and her life.
Rowe had become her anchor. He’d wiped her tears when she’d felt overwhelmed with grief, talked her down when she’d wanted to rail at Cutter’s restrictions. When she’d needed tenderness, he’d learned how to give it. And she’d flowered.
Just moments ago when she realized he was here, emotions had welled up, threatening to overspill—gratitude for his friendship, uncertainty because he’d been so aloof of late, and certainly lust since this place had been their special sanctuary from the world.
She’d squared her shoulders, preparing to climb up the steps, but then she’d heard the soft nicker of another horse.
Peering around the corner, she’d spied a tall, gelded bay, and a leaden weight settled in her middle. But she hadn’t wanted to jump to conclusions. There could have been a simpler, more innocent explanation for why two horses were hitched to the rails outside the cabin.
She had to know the truth.
Dani crept silently onto the wooden porch and edged toward the window to take a glimpse inside. Two cowboy hats lay on the table. The twin mattress from the bed in the corner had been pulled to the center of the floor—just as it always had whenever they’d met for a little afternoon delight.
Rowe stood naked, a hand roaming his taut, flat belly, another gliding up and down his straining cock. But he was alone.
No fire burned in the hearth, but the cabin had to be hot from the amount of sweat gleaming on the skin cloaking his long, lean frame. She stood frozen, noting that his light brown hair was longer than it had been at Christmas, and he hadn’t shaved. A couple days worth of bristles dusted his rugged, square jaw. He’d always been scrupulous about his appearance, but she liked the slightly scruffy look and wondered grumpily if his new girlfriend did too.
Which reminded her she needed to get moving or she’d really embarrass herself. And him. Although why she worried about his feelings when he hadn’t had the cajones to tell her the truth she couldn’t say. With only one room in the cabin, she knew whomever he was meeting had to be outside.
Still, she stayed there for a another long moment, staring; lust and anger curling inside her as she watched his ice blue eyes slide shut while he touched himself.
He was readying himself for another lover. Stoking his arousal. Something she’d often watched him do, sometimes sneaking up on him, like now, to spy on him and let her own desire climb. Sometimes, she’d lain on the mattress in front of him, pleasuring herself, both of them staring as their hands and fingers played while their mouths curved into slow, sultry smiles.
Heartsick, she edged backward, trying to decide if she should storm inside to confront him or slink away. One option might leave her feeling foolish; the other would save her a bit of pride while she regrouped her emotions. But did she even have a right to feel hurt? He hadn’t betrayed her. Not really. She’d been the one reluctant to make any lasting promises, sure she could pick right up where they’d left off when she returned.
Maybe she’d waited too long. The extra year and a half she’d lingered in Austin while she worked on her graduate degree had been something she’d wanted. He hadn’t complained. Not once. The last time they’d been together, he’d still been full of plans for their future. As soon as she said yes, they’d announce their engagement, and give her brother the chance to provide the wedding her mother and father would have wanted. They’d do things right.
Liar, liar liar!
Suppressing the sob threatening to shudder through her, she backed up another step and came up against something solid.
Strong arms wrapped around her, and she froze. The scent of horse and clean male sweat engulfed her.
“Easy there,” came a low, familiar drawl.
Shock rendered her mute and rigid.
“Not what you expected?” he whispered into her ear.
Not what she’d expected? Did Justin Cruz know about Rowan’s new lover? Did he also know that she and Rowan had been seeing each other before she left Two Mule? Couldn’t be. She and Rowe had taken a perverse pleasure in keeping everyone guessing for years.
Still Justin had a bird’s eye view of everything that happened on the Ayers spread since he’d taken over as the ranch’s foreman. Was he here to gloat?
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said tightly. “And you can let me go now.”
“Not a chance. Don’t want you slinking away. Things just got interestin’.”
“How’s that?” she asked breathlessly while squirming inside his tight embrace. “Seems Rowe’s busy.”
Justin’s steamy breath blew against her ear and she remembered the last time he’d been behind her, hot breaths gusting. She closed her eyes and ruthlessly pushed aside the disturbing memories.
“Disappointed?” he drawled.
“Course not. It’s not anything to me.”
Something wet slid along edge of her ear. “Did you just lick me?” she said, her voice rising, although she really had to work hard at outrage.
The one time she’d stepped out on Rowe had been with this man—just after she’d graduated from high school, when sex with a grown man seemed like the ultimate rite of passage into adulthood. Something she’d never admitted to Rowe, but still felt horribly guilty about. The fact Justin had scared her into monogamy with Rowe had made her feel only slightly less like a complete slut.
But she’d never forgotten her one and only encounter with Two Mule’s resident bad boy. Late at night just as she slipped into her dreams, Justin would saunter into her mind, tempting her to slip back into the dark, erotic fantasy he’d woven for her that long-ago afternoon.
“And if I did have a little taste, what are you gonna do about it, Dani-girl? Gonna scream the place down and let Rowe know you’ve been spyin’ on him?”
“I didn’t mean to spy.”
“But you didn’t exactly back up the second you realized he was expectin’ company, did you?”
“I shouldn’t have lingered. But I was…surprised.” An extreme understatement of how she really felt. Cold, numbing shock was more like it.
“No, you shouldn’t have stayed. Why are you here, sweetheart?”
“I just wanted to say hi. I saw his horse…”
“Nothin’ stoppin’ you now,” he said, pushing her toward the door.
“Stop it, Justin,” she whispered harshly, dragging her feet. “Quit playing around—”
He reached around her and pushed open the door.
“I started without you,” Rowe said, without turning around.
“Did I tell you that you could?” Justin said coldly.
Dani blinked, then drew in a deep, sharp breath. “You were expecting him?” She shrugged out of Justin’s embrace and stared from one man to the other.
Rowe’s head swiveled toward her. “Jesus, Dani, what are you doing here?” he said, color flooding his cheeks. His gaze went guiltily from her to Justin.
Justin’s lips curved into a bitter smile.
“I’m back early,” she said, her voice thickening. “I thought…when I saw your horse…” What the fuck? Rowe and Justin! She couldn’t get her head around it. Well, at least not around the fact Rowe was involved with Justin. Justin was another matter altogether. She wouldn’t put any form of perversity past him with his reputation.
“You didn’t think it odd there were two horses here?” Justin casually leaned a shoulder against the door frame. One dark brow arched in a wicked challenge.
Dani stiffened. “I thought he might have another girl. I wondered who she was.”
“Jesus Christ,” Rowe said, bending to grab his blue jeans from the floor and hold them in front of his gleaming cock.
“A little late now,” Justin said. “I think she’s already jumped to the correct conclusion.”
Rowe’s fist clenched around his jeans then he dropped them to the floor and straightened his shoulders. A look of resignation entered his face; a silent plea for understanding glittered in his pale eyes as he returned her stare.
“I didn’t know you were gay,” Dani blurted out, ignoring Justin’s smirk.
Rowe’s crimson face tightened. “I’m…it’s complicated.”
“You’re naked, obviously aroused. What could be more simple?” she asked, trying to gather anger around her, but feeling mostly confused. How could she not have known?
“She’s got it almost right,” Justin murmured.
“Shut up,” Rowe bit out.
“Yeah, what’d I miss?” Dani snarled at Justin, hating him at this moment for rubbing her nose in her own naiveté.
“The fact I knew you were comin’,” he said, his voice dropping to sexy purr. “This is your homecomin’ present, baby.”
“Justin, you bastard!” Rowe said heatedly.
The larger, more rugged man shrugged. “She needed to know. She has choices to make here.”
“I would have broken the news more gently.”
“Doesn’t look like she needs you to sugarcoat it.” Justin’s gaze pinned her. “She’s not exactly looking ready to bolt or puke. Fact is, the thought of it, of watching us, turns her on.”
“Does not,” Dani denied hotly, heat filling her face.
“Your nipples always poke holes in your shirt?”
“You’re a jerk.” And yet, she barely resisted the urge to cross her arms over her breasts. She tilted her chin in defiance while heat crept deeper into her cheeks. She met his narrowed gaze, while images flashed through her mind. Since she knew what both men looked like naked, she couldn’t help the raw, nasty pictures that flashed one after the other.
And yes, they aroused her.
“Prove me wrong,” Justin murmured. “Leave now.”
Dani shot Rowe a hot glare. “You gonna let him talk to me like that?”
Rowe’s jaw flexed, but he didn’t offer any response.
“He doesn’t let me do anything,” Justin said slowly. “He obeys me. In all things—here, at least. Rowan, your cock’s flagging.” Justin’s gaze dropped, drawing all their glances to Rowe’s sex, which pulsed and lifted again.
“Get it ready for me,” Justin growled.
Rowe’s eyes closed briefly, then a look Dani had never seen slid across Rowe’s face—something vulnerable and needy. “Justin, not now.”
“Not now, what?” Justin said, his voice dead even.
“Please,” Rowan whispered, his strong jaw flexing.
“Uh unh.” Justin shook his head. “You’ve carried around this picture of your innocent little sweetheart for years. But I don’t think you really know her at all.”
“And you think you do?” Dani bit out, hoping like hell the bastard wasn’t getting ready to drop the other shoe that she’d succumbed to his bad boy charm herself. Rowe didn’t deserve finding out that the two people he’d taken as lovers had a history of their own.
“The things you asked him to do, Dani,” Justin said, his tone dropping to a raspy rumble. “The sexy little spankings, the special bonds you left underneath the bed… It’s not in him to do that to you, but he did because he cares.”
Dani’s jaw dropped and her embarrassment caused her to tremble. “Rowe, you told him about that?”
Again, a muscle flexed along Rowe’s square jaw. “I wasn’t gossiping. It just slipped out. He found your things and asked. He’s a friend.”
“Friend?” Justin straightened away from the doorframe. “I’m a little more than that, aren’t I? You don’t keep any secrets from me.”
But Rowe had kept one big goddamn secret from her. Dani’s shoulders slumped.
“Don’t take it so hard, Dani,” Justin said, all traces of mockery gone now. “He loves you…almost as much as he loves me. But every time he was with you, every time he spanked that pretty little ass of yours, he was denying his own nature. Rowe’s submissive. Just like you. He’s just finally figured out he’s not finicky about which gender offers him the kind of sex he craves.”
“How the hell did you figure that out?” she bit out. “I’ve known him all my life.”
“Because I watched him…with you. When you dared him into spanking you, he didn’t get off on the act. He only got hard when you told him what it did to you, what it made you feel.”
Her mouth suddenly went dry. The thought of Justin’s dark, hungry glance raking her body as he watched her with Rowe caused another distressing wash of arousal to dampen her panties. She licked her lips. “You watched us?”
“Sometimes,” he said softly. “You weren’t as careful as you thought. Had to run interference a time or two with your big brother.”
“Cutter knows?” she asked, her voice rising. “About Rowe and me?”
“He suspects. But he never got close enough to the cabin to ever know for sure. You have me to thank. And if I happened to catch a glimpse or two of your…sessions…well, I think I earned the right.”
“Who’s the pervert? Me for watching, or you for wanting his hands to leave your ass pink?” He lifted his chin toward Rowe. “Or him for needing the same damn thing from another man?”
“I don’t believe you. Not about Rowe. This…” she said, gazing at the mattress in the middle of the floor, “…is just him experimenting a little. But I’m back now.” Her gaze locked with Rowe’s, pleading with him. “It doesn’t mean anything. Not to us.”
Rowe’s glance fell away from hers, and her stomach dropped. What he had with Justin was important. Special enough that he hadn’t bothered dressing because Justin didn’t want him to.
“Dani, I never wanted to hurt you.” Rowe’s tone was low, aching.
Like the lump filling the back of her throat.
“Tell yourself whatever lies you need to stay in happy land, Dani. But we’re about to get busy.” Justin opened his belt and stripped back one side then locked gazes with her. “Now’s your chance. You can run out the door. You don’t have to see anything that might traumatize you.”
Why was Justin being so cruel? He’d won. He didn’t have to rub her nose in this mess. “I’m not a scared little virgin,” she said, her voice shaking.
“But you’re also not faithful to your boyfriend here either, are you?”
Dani stared at Justin’s hard face through shimmering tears. “Justin…don’t.”
“He can’t fulfill you,” he said softly. “Not those dirty needs that keep you restless even after he’s fucked you.”
“Shut up,” she said tears filling her eyes.
Justin pulled apart the snaps of his shirt, letting it fall open to expose the dark fur of his broad, muscular chest. Then he unsnapped the top button of his pants. “Last warning…”
She stood rooted, unable to move as he scraped his zipper down.
“Rowe, take out my dick,” he said never looking away from her. “Now.”
“Fuck.” Rowe’s tone was agonized, but his cock bobbed eagerly between his legs. “Dani, get out.”
But she couldn’t. Part of her died a little in that moment. But another part, one only Justin had ever touched, caught fire.
“Rowe, don’t disappoint me,” Justin said, his gaze never leaving Dani’s.
Rowe’s naked feet dragged across the floor. His expression was taut, his cheeks a brighter red than they’d been moments ago.
Justin firmed his jaw. “Can’t turn back now. She knows. Let her see what it’s like. If she hates you afterward, she isn’t worth cryin’ over.”
Dani narrowed her eyes, knowing he expected her to bolt. She braced apart her feet and lifted her chin higher, even while she questioned if she really could do this—watch the only two men she’d ever known intimately have sex.
Rowe didn’t glance her way, but his chest rose sharply. Then he slipped his hand inside Justin’s pants and slowly drew out his cock. His fingers clasped the shaft gingerly, but his thumb rubbed slowly over the smooth cap. Justin’s cock thickened slowly.
“Push down my pants,” Justin said, his voice tighter than it had been before.
Both of Rowe’s hands slid over Justin’s narrow hips and shoved down the faded jeans.
Dani hated to admit it, even to herself, but watching Rowe do such an intimate thing to another man, knowing how the scrape of his rough palms felt on her own bottom, caused her sex to melt.
“Get on your knees and take me in your mouth,” Justin rasped.
Rowe groaned, and Dani understood the feeling. Shame and arousal roiled together. Her own body was hot, moisture seeping into the crotch of the lacy undies she’d worn just for Rowe.
Rowe knelt, his hand shaking as he gripped Justin’s cock and brought it to his mouth.
Justin cupped the back of Rowe’s head with one hand, his fingers threading through Rowe’s honey brown hair with surprising tenderness. For long moments, he stared as the other man’s lips closed around the tip of his cock and suctioned.
Rowe’s cheeks hollowed, his eyes closed tightly, but his hesitation ended there. Surrendering, he groaned and opened wide his jaws, gliding along the thick, veined shaft.
“That’s it,” Justin said softly. “Take me deeper,” he said, stroking his hips forward, his cock disappearing into Rowe’s eager mouth. Then his gaze rose. For a moment, something almost haunted entered his expression. Then that wicked brow rose again. “He does it because he knows the rewards. But so do you, don’t you, sweetheart?”
Dani didn’t answer. She couldn’t have pushed a word through her tightening throat if a rattler had slithered over her boot. Watching both men, engaged in such a carnal act, caused unexpected emotions to rise inside her.
Sadness, because she’d never guessed Rowe wasn’t fully satisfied with her. Jealousy, because Rowe never made those hungry sounds when he went down on her. And shame, because she wished she was brave enough to approach them and sink to her knees beside Rowe.
How she wished Justin would command her to, take the choice away from her. The hard edge of his voice when he’d cut through Rowe’s objections, had caused her own body to react with an instant, juicy response.
Justin braced his legs apart, and his face darkened as Rowe’s strokes, forward and back along his shaft, picked up the pace. The slippery suctioning sounds and choked excitement gurgling in Rowe’s throat caused Dani’s whole body to vibrate.
Forgotten for the moment by both men, she wet her lips with her tongue as she imagined how Justin might taste. Moisture flooded her channel as her inner muscles clenched hard.
When Justin flung back his long, black-brown hair, her breath hitched. Starkly masculine elation softened his expression for just a second, before his head lowered and his hard gaze met hers, issuing a wordless challenge.
Only Dani wasn’t ready to accept. She lost her nerve, turned and fled through the door of the cabin, stumbling down the steps in her haste, before catching herself on the rail and bolting toward her horse.
Booted heels bit into the wood porch, but she didn’t look back. With the sun sliding below the horizon, she nudged her heels into her mare’s sides, kicking up dust behind her and leaving both men in her wake.