Riley and Jack Campbell-Hayes are in a good place. Jack is expanding the DD and training quarter horses, Riley is so close to his first ethical based contract that he can almost taste it and Hayley is nearly ten and happy as all out.
Jack hires Robbie, a man recovering from a great loss, to be his right hand man. Meanwhile Riley's flamboyant mischievous photographer friend, Eli, decides the DD is the perfect backdrop for a cowboy themed model shoot. Eli has secrets not even Riley knows about but despite what he is hiding he falls in lust with Robbie at first sight. Everyone except Robbie can see how perfect Eli would be for him.
What happens when secrets spill and lies are discovered? And just how far will Riley and Jack go to play matchmaker?
Against the backdrop of twenty half naked models on DD land, and in the midst of fighting the oil establishment that just won't give Riley a chance, Texas Heat is the story of one hot summer in Texas with a Gay Rodeo, a bar fight at the Rusty Nail, humor, angst and a love between two men that just grows stronger every day.
No buy links at present. Coming soon.
Night Owl Reviews - Reviewer Top Pick - Riley is working on a deal to get his business off the ground with a good contract, even though there is some back-handed opposition. Jack is expanding the Double D with horses that he will train for others and Hayley is almost ten and blossoming. New developments (in more ways than one) come in the form of Robbie - a new hire on the Double D - and Eli, a friend of Riley's from university who wants to do a photo shoot featuring twenty male models. In between all of that, Jack winds up as a judge at a gay rodeo, Riley winds up in a bar fight at the Rusty Nail and their relationship grows more solid as it progresses.
Joyfully Jay - 4.75/5 - What I continue to appreciate with Scott’s writing, no matter the series, is that even as our emotions are engaged with two couples at differing stages of their relationships, other events are swirling around the outskirts just waiting to come forward with a jump and a bang. Scott keeps juggling a number of plots in her story but never lets one drop. There are so many layers to appreciate and think about that when the end of the book comes the author has a structure in place for the next in the series without losing reader satisfaction with the current story.
"Riley, can you please try to find Jack?" Donna asked. Unspoken in her words was the plea that Riley keep Jack's temper reined in. No one had to be a rocket scientist to know Jack Campbell-Hayes was not taking this whole wedding as well as he was making out. Up until yesterday Jack had been this growly guy who accepted the wedding was happening with as much grace as he could. Then yesterday happened.
What exactly had gone down, no one was sure. Not even Riley could fully understand what was going on in Jack's head. Yesterday he had clammed up and refused to talk at all. Riley knew Jack was happy for his mom; he just couldn't get past the age difference and the money. Donna knew this. Hell, poor Neil Kendrick, Donna's husband-to-be, knew it.
"He was here a minute ago." Riley peered around the kitchen door to the organized chaos beyond the window in the front of the Double D. Looking for the familiar figure of his husband proved fruitless. There was no sign of Jack.
"Where's Neil?" Riley asked.
Donna shook her head and Riley wished he had never asked. Whatever was happening between Jack and Neil was something Donna didn't need spilling over onto her wedding day. Donna laid a gentle hand on Riley's arm and instinctively he pulled her closer for a hug. She smelled of sunshine and home, and peace flooded him at the scent. Dressed in a robe, she wasn't in her wedding finery or whatever she was wearing today, but her hair was twisted up into a knot at the top of her head. When he stepped back he didn't think he had seen anyone more beautiful than the woman who had gifted the world with Jack Campbell.
His job on this cool Valentine's Day was to keep the peace. Although Jack and Neil had made some kind of unspoken promise to not fight it didn't mean that Riley's hot-tempered husband wasn't off somewhere releasing tension on some poor unsuspecting caterer.
"I'll find him," he promised.
"Everything okay here?"
Both he and Donna turned to face a concerned Beth. Emily, her daughter, was gripping her hand tightly. Walking now and with as much sass as her Uncle Jack, Emily was a breath of fresh air in the room. Donna immediately scooped her granddaughter up in her arms and squeezed her until she giggled uncontrollably.
"Gramma, you coming?"
Riley turned at Hayley's words. His daughter's voice was so familiar and gentle and he couldn't stop the surge of love for the nine-year-old that had put herself in charge of getting Gramma ready for her wedding.
"Hey, pumpkin," Riley said.
"Daddy, you shouldn't be in here," she said.
Riley raised his hands in defense. "I'm going, I'm going."
Somehow Hayley had Beth, and Emily had Donna moving away and out of the kitchen into the good room. The front room was where Donna's bridal party were readying themselves.
Sighing, Riley left the kitchen and moved outside, down the steps to the front of the house. He cast a thorough glance around the area but couldn't see the strong figure of his husband anywhere. He could, however, see Neil who was standing to one side with a group of guys. The man looked to be unhurt and upright so Riley surmised Jack hadn't been in that direction. Exchanging waves with Josh, who was across the yard, pacing and looking down at cards in his hand, Riley weaved through caterers and visitors until he reached his brother-in-law's side.
"Have you seen Jack?" he asked.
Josh's eyes widened at the question and he looked behind him to where Neil was standing. He visibly relaxed that the bridegroom was still there and wasn't face-planted in the dirt at Jack's hand. Jack and Neil's uneasy truce had been tested more and more the closer the wedding came.
"He said something a while ago about the caterers and their vans blocking the horses."
"Are they what?" Josh was distracted. Being the man who was giving his mom away was not coming easily to him and he was way past nervous.
"Blocking in the horses?"
"No." Josh frowned. "They're over on the other side by the new barn."
Riley turned on his heel and headed to the only other place that he thought his husband could be. Crossing to the old barn, their barn, he was relieved to see the still figure of Jack leaning on an old stable wall with his head tilted back and his eyes closed.
"Jack?" Riley cleared the short distance between them until he was toe-to-toe with Jack. His husband was dressed and ready for the wedding and he looked so damn gorgeous. He was lucky Riley was on a mission or he would be out of those clothes in an instant.
A soft gray suit fit Jack snuggly and the jacket hung perfectly on Jack's broad shoulders. A Western-style belt buckle was the only concession to cowboy that Riley could see, and tucking a finger behind the belt, he leaned into the man who owned him from his heart outward. Jack had shaved but it was a matter of a few hours before stubble defined his jaw and heat caused his unruly dark hair to fall in disarray around his head. Riley loved that hair and the stubble; the burn of it against his skin when they made love was exquisite. Questioning blue eyes, the color of a cloudless Texas sky, looked up at him and Riley smiled in reassurance.
"Why are you hiding?" Riley asked.
Jack pulled Riley the final inch until he was supporting his husband's weight. He was wearing aftershave and Riley could see a tiny nick in his tanned skin on his defined cheekbone. Carefully he placed a gentle kiss on the mark.
"'M not hiding," Jack drawled.
"You are hiding," Riley said. He knew his other half too well.
Jack shrugged but said nothing. That was not a good sign. Jack clamming up and not talking was a recipe for disaster.
"Jack? Talk to me?" Riley used his free hand to cup Jack's cheek and pressed firmly when Jack turned his head slightly into the touch. There was something in his cornflower eyes—uncertainty maybe?
"Neil came to see me yesterday with a prenup he wanted me to take a look at."
Riley wasn't surprised. Jack was not only worried about the age gap between his mom and the younger veterinarian but also about any and all money and property in his mom's name that the guy would have access to as her new husband. Riley, on the other hand, thought Neil was a good guy; he loved Donna to distraction, despite the twenty-year difference.
Riley cursed that, with Jack increasing the horse training side of the D and with him so involved in the latest Hayes Oil project, they had lost track of each other over the last few days. Damn it. If he had been here when Neil visited to speak to Jack then maybe he could have smoothed things over.
"A prenup is a good thing. Right?" Riley leaned in a little more and it felt right when Jack circled his waist with his arms, both of his large capable hands resting on his lower back. He could feel the flex of his lover's muscles in his broad chest and it didn't matter that a hundred people were only thirty feet away around the side of the barn; he really wanted Jack.
"No," Jack responded simply. "He talked to me and he was defensive and I tried to tell him that I trusted my mom and her choices but he didn't listen. Just kept asking me to read the prenup and telling me I should get my lawyers to look at it to make sure."
"He's gonna be defensive, Jack. He knows how you feel about him."
"Well, what if I didn't?"
"Didn't?" Riley wasn't following this change in direction.
"What if I felt that he was good for Mom and that I even liked the guy a bit."
Riley watched as Jack worried at his lower lip with his teeth. This wasn't Jack. Jack knew his place in the world and was certain of his feelings. He didn't wander from one point of view to another; he was black and white.
"What did the prenup say?" Riley decided this was a better thing to focus on.
"That he'd have me, Beth, or Josh sign off on anything financial with Mom, that at any time any one of us could call in an independent audit on her money." Jack stopped talking and leaned his head forward to rest his forehead on Riley's chest.
"That's a bad thing?"
"Yes." Jack's voice was muffled. "All I want for my mom is a strong man who will look after her and make her happy. If he signs that prenup then all that is left is half a man with no control over his life and sons-in-law who don't trust him. It just looks like we don't trust Mom to know her own mind and hell"—he lifted his head and his eyes were full of fire—"do you know of any woman anywhere who is stronger than Donna Campbell?"
Riley shook his head. "So what happened then?"
"He gave this speech about how he just wanted Mom to be happy and left me the papers. He's signed them; all I need to do is sign them, get Beth and Josh to do so, and then we can get the whole lot notarized. He assumed that is what I was doing and then he shook my hand and said he was proud to be a part of our family."
"Did you get it notarized?"
"No. I didn't show Josh or Beth and I didn't even sign the fucking thing. How can I do that and then look Mom in the face?"
"So, wait, you haven't signed, you think Neil is good for your mom, and you trust him."
With a groan Jack rested his forehead back on Riley's chest again. There was a muttered "fuck" and Riley thought on what he had to say here. Damn his obstinate husband.
"Okay, cowboy. Where is the paperwork?"
"Inthetruck." Jack ran his words together.
"Get the paperwork then decide. Sign and it's done or don't sign and tell Neil what you really think." Riley checked his watch. "There's thirty minutes until the ceremony starts, plenty of time to get your head out of your ass and do something to make this right."
Jack groaned again and Riley smiled. His cowboy may be a stubborn fucker but Jack knew what he had to do. He lifted his face again, but this time worry had been replaced by something else—something punctuated by the press of a hard and very interested dick against Riley's thigh. Jack quirked his eyebrows.
"Have we got time for—"
"No," Riley replied adamantly. As much as he wanted Jack out of the suit and bent over the nearest rail, they had things to do that were more important.
"Not even a—"
"You're a fucking bastard, Riley Campbell-Hayes," Jack said with no heat.
"It's why you love me." Riley smirked. "You have half an hour."
* * * *
Jack hated it when Riley was right. Inevitably Riley was always freaking right when Jack came out of his stubborn focused stage. The fucker.
He readjusted himself and saw the lick of heat in Riley's eyes. If only they had longer then falling to his knees and wringing a noisy, messy orgasm from his suit-wearing husband would have been right at the top of his list.
He chuckled and pulled Riley close for a kiss, a touch filled with the promise of later. Finally separating, Jack left to get the papers from the truck and with them safely in his hand he returned to the throng to find his soon-to-be whatever. Certainly not step-daddy, but something a little more official than the guy who was keeping his momma's bed warm at night.
He saw Neil's eyes widen when he approached and guilt twisted in his gut. The man had a couple of other guys with him, two in suits and one dressed in Sunday-best Cowboy. Nice-looking guy, built like a brick outhouse, with short blond hair and dark blue eyes. This guy took a careful step forward to put himself closer to Jack. He wasn't actually between Jack and Neil but it was enough of a stance to be meaningful. They stood toe-to-toe for a few seconds and it was humiliating to think that this cowboy was feeling the need to protect Neil from him.
"Is everything okay?" Neil finally asked.
"Can we talk?" Jack asked formally. The other two men in suits moved away, leaving Neil and the cowboy in front of him.
Neil shook his head. "Please don't. Not now. Can it wait until after?" he asked simply.
The cowboy frowned at Neil's words. Hell, who wouldn't. Neil sounded resigned and just a little pissed. If this cowboy was a good friend then he probably knew everything. Jack wasn't going to let this lie.
"I wanted to apologize for my behavior," Jack said firmly. He knew it was his imagination but he felt as if every eye of the waiting wedding party was on him. What the hell? He had told Neil what he thought of him in public before, it was only right to be telling the man now how Jack had changed his mind. "And I have a wedding gift for you."
He thrust the paperwork of the prenup at Neil, and the man looked down at it with resignation on his face.
"Thank you," he said carefully. He didn't immediately take the papers. Jack shook them a little to encourage Neil to take them and at first he didn't get why the guy wasn't snatching them out of his hands. Then realization hit him. Neil probably thought it was the signed and notarized paperwork. Fuck. When am I going to do things right?
"I didn't—" he started. Then he thought maybe actions spoke louder than words. Taking the thick sheaf of papers, he ripped them cleanly down the middle and then ripped each half again. Finally, grasping the pieces in one hand, he held them back out to Neil who accepted them in his left hand. The man was obviously shocked, judging from his facial expression. Although he was quiet, his expressive eyes spoke volumes.
"Thank you, Jack," Neil said. His voice was gentle and then he held out his right hand. Jack hesitated briefly in accepting the handshake. Didn't seem right welcoming the man into his family with a freaking handshake. With a single step forward he pulled the other man into a close hug that Neil returned immediately.
"Welcome to the family, Neil," Jack said. He stepped back and inclined his head to the cowboy at Neil's side and then with what he was sure was every eye on him, he left to find somewhere to hide again until the wedding began.
* * * *
The ceremony was beautiful. Donna looked radiant in a lacy summer dress in a pale shade of blue and Neil was smiling so hard that Jack thought the guy could do permanent damage to his face.
Hayley and little Emily were flower girls and Josh's daughter Lea made it three. Lea's older brother Logan was thirteen now and wasn't that keen on being labeled as anything except 'cool dude in a suit' but he did hold Emily's hand the entire service.
Jack couldn't take his eyes off of Hayley. She was taller now, coming up on ten in September; she was the spitting image of her dad with the same blond hair and hazel eyes. He couldn't be prouder of Riley's daughter. She was his as well and she loved her Pappa as much as she loved Riley.
The backdrop to this wedding was home. The beautiful ranch in the setting sun with the vista of their land spreading before him was where his heart felt most at peace. Feet planted firmly on Texan soil with his family around him, Jack was at rest.
Riley slipped a hand into his. "This reminds me of when we renewed our vows," he murmured.
"I love you, het-boy," Jack replied softly so no one could hear.
"I love you too, cowboy."
Jack was only one step away from letting an emotional sigh leave him. This land, these people, they were his and he was theirs. That was the way he was and the way he always would be.
Robbie Curtis wandered away from the main gathering. Neil Kendrick, his best friend since grade school was now married to a woman whom he loved more than life itself and to Robbie that was a fine thing to have. Neil had made a good choice in Donna and forever-loyal-to-his-friend Robbie could have told the 'big and hulking guy' that Donna had made a good choice in the ever-loyal Neil. Apparently 'big and hulking' had a name. Jack Campbell-Hayes. Married to some guy called Riley. Married. Two dudes.
Hard enough to take a step out of the closet in his line of work, let alone enter into a gay marriage. The guys who had beaten up his ex, well, they'd be on him quicker than flies on shit.
He'd wandered past the general groups of well-wishers, inclining his head whenever he was spoken to, and eventually managed to escape the celebrations and make his way to the barns at the rear of the house. No one stopped him and anyway, he was much happier with horses than he was around people. He was curious; apparently this spread dealt with breeding and Neil spoke about how there was expansion into training good solid quarter horses.
Leaning against the closest stall he was face-to-face with a beautiful bay. He crooned low and extended a hand to her in greeting and she snuffled his open hand before shaking her head and taking a step back. Robbie laughed, she was definitely flirting with him as she nudged up against him.
"Hello, beautiful," he whispered. Her ears flattened and then perked up. "Why aren't you out on all this gorgeous space?" Unconcerned by what he was saying and instead intent on nuzzling him, he laughed at the horse's unashamed request for fuss. He'd only left Australia a week before, had only said goodbye to all he knew and loved there a simple seven days earlier. But the scent here, the horses and the hay, made him long for the place he used to call home. Neil was going to hook him up with some part-time work. Hell, his friend had said that at the end of the day he could learn to assist Neil. Robbie didn't do well with charity, even that offered by his oldest friend—the man he called his brother. He guessed though he didn't really have a lot of options and was glad to have at least one friend back here in the States.
He glanced up the row of stables and counted a minimum of six spaces. The stables were clean and well cared for. In fact, the fencing, the stables, and everything to do with the ranch operation was a lot cleaner and sturdier than the ranch house itself, which was looking a little tired—not to mention the potholed road leading to the house. So many things here reminded Robbie of home. When a ranch put everything they had into the welfare of the horses and the livestock then you knew it was a good place to stand.
"Solo-Alexandra." The voice from behind startled him. Robbie cursed himself for his inattention. It was things like this that got a man in trouble. He slowly turned to face the man whose voice he recognized. Hmmm. Big and hulking, aka Jack Campbell-Hayes, one of the married guys.
"Alex for short. Her momma is this beauty, Solo-Cal." Jack was indicating a gorgeous sorrel mare pushing at his arm for attention.
"Beautiful horses." Robbie wasn't sure what else to say. Neil had tried his hardest with Jack, but Robbie had seen one too many drunken emails from his friend demanding to know why Jack hated him. Well, for Robbie, someone hurting his friend riled him.
"Almost lost them both a while back in a fire," Jack continued.
"Neil told me." No point in letting Jack think that Neil hadn't told him every damn thing concerning the Double D.
"I'm not placing your accent." Jack was frowning. He was a good-looking guy, and a frown darkening his blue eyes wasn't a good look. He was everything Robbie avoided. First he was a cowboy, a stubborn one at that, and second he was a strong guy and could probably drop Robbie to the ground in a heartbeat. After everything that had gone down back home Robbie had learned his lesson. No cowboys. No big cowboys.
"Wyoming born and bred, Australia for the past ten years," he finally answered reluctantly. Social skills escaped him.
"As a buckaroo, a cowboy, working with quarter horses on a spread in the Northern Territories, some three thousand acres."
"The D is eight hundred acres," Jack mused. "Australia, eh? That explains the accent, I guess." Jack lifted a booted foot and rested it on a wooden crossbar below Alex's stall door. "Definitely a tinge of something other than American in there."
For a few minutes the two men looked in on the horses in a near companionable silence. Robbie wasn't entirely sure what to say. He had a lot of questions inside him. Neil had said Jack was expanding the training side of the ranch. Did that mean he was training horses for rodeo and show or for working on ranches? Robbie had a list of questions in his head and he was concentrating on how to word them when they were interrupted.
"Hey, gorgeous." Jack turned with a grin and Robbie watched as way-tall-dude, the other half of the Campbell-Hayes couple, near pounced on Jack. Clearly Robbie hadn't been spotted if the way Riley was grinding up against Jack was any indication. "Knew you'd be hidin' out here."
Was it Robbie's imagination or was Riley's voice a little slurred?
"How much champagne did you swallow?" Jack asked with a grin.
"Enough to fuck you here and now in front of everyone," Riley answered. His tone was deadly serious.
"We have company," Jack explained. Riley didn't stop with the hugging and pulling but he did at least look over his shoulder at Robbie. His eyes widened and then he extricated himself from Jack with a rearrangement of his groin area. Robbie pretended not to notice. Riley was gorgeous up close. He'd seen photos, he had Internet, and he had followed the whole soap opera that was their lives from murder to barns being burned to marriages to hostage situations. Where Jack was all holy-hot-as-hell cowboy, Riley was wearing that suit like he'd been born into it. He was leaning into Jack and Jack wasn't moving away or keeping any distance between them. If anything, Jack had an arm around his husband and was pulling him closer. Riley certainly seemed to sober quickly and Robbie wondered how much was alcohol and how much was playing.
"Don't mind me," Robbie said quickly. Silence. Fuck. What the hell had he just said? He was trying to be clever and funny and instead had come over as some kind of voyeuristic pervert. He waited for either man to say something, anything. In fact, he tensed in expectation of being beaten to the ground. Every muscle tightened in anticipation of the need to defend himself.
Jack simply looked up at Riley, who was smiling broadly.
"Nah," he said. "Let me take this big lug indoors. Nice to meet you, Robbie." Jack extended his right hand and Robbie rubbed his own on his best jeans before shaking Jack's hand. When Riley did the same Robbie shook and then took a step backward. He left the barn, walked around the corner, and leaned back against the wall. He wasn't far enough away not to be able to hear Jack and Riley talking but he couldn't make out whole words. Sighing, he turned to go find Neil and make his excuses. When he passed the open barn door he couldn't have stopped himself from looking in if he'd tried.
Riley and Jack were locked so closely in an embrace you couldn't see light between them. Riley had his head tilted back and Jack was tracing a path of kisses from jaw to throat. When Riley let out a groan of need and pushed Jack away from him and back against the barn wall it was possibly the most erotic thing Robbie had ever seen. Flushed and harder than he had been in days he left the area as quickly as he could. Shame at his reaction conflicted with the lust inside him.
He had never missed Paul more than he did today.
* * * *
Riley's gift to Donna and Neil was a week on the same island that he and Jack had been on when they first heard that Riley was a dad. When he initially broached the subject with Jack he had expected some kind of resistance, but Jack smiled and said that the whole idea was a good one. Not one word about the amount of money Riley was using on the gift.
The guests were grouped around the limo that Josh had been responsible for organizing. It had been decorated with ribbons and balloons. Riley didn't envy Donna and Neil the trip to the airstrip, where the Hayes jet sat ready and waiting, with that much crap advertising their just-wed status.
Everyone was waving as the car pulled away and no one moved until the vehicle was nothing but a trail of dust in the air to mark its passing.
"That was a lovely wedding." Eden sighed. Riley pulled her closer for a hug. Her boyfriend, Sean, was a long-term partner but he had yet to pop any kind of question of marriage. As a journalist he was very seldom in Texas and their time apart was more and more frequent. He hadn't made it to the wedding today or indeed stepped foot anywhere near Eden for a month. Riley liked the guy. Well, he liked him as much as any big brother liked a sister's lover. But he couldn't be the only one who was wondering why he was away so much and why it was taking this long to settle down and propose to Eden. Maybe he had gotten cold feet? Maybe he had someone else? Riley didn't vocalize his fears.
She turned in his arms and hugged him close.
"Hey, are you okay?" Riley asked.
"I'm fine. Can't a sister grab some brother time now and then?"
Riley laughed and hugged her even tighter. He was a good foot taller than her and she was soon in a position of finding it hard to breathe. He released her when she punched him in the thigh with her free hand and in a flash brother/sister was normal and on an even keel.
"Are you staying?" Riley asked.
"I'm going with Mom and Jim but I'll be back tomorrow to help clean up."
Riley glanced at his watch. The midnight hour was close and he stifled a yawn.
"We have a crew doing that, but I know Hayley would love for you to come over."
Jack stepped into their small circle and prized Eden away from Riley.
"My turn, brother-in-law privilege," he insisted.
Laughing, she cuddled in close.
"Are you staying?" Jack repeated Riley's question.
"She's going back with Mom and Dad," Riley answered for her.
Jack raised his eyebrows over Eden's head. Riley knew exactly what his husband was thinking. With the Hayes side of the family gone and with the Campbells just down to Hayley and the two of them, it meant that for the first time in many weeks they had the ranch nearly to themselves.
"Do you think Hayley would like a sleepover with her aunty?" Eden asked. Her voice was muffled against Jack's chest and she pushed away. "I don't want today to end and we could go shopping tomorrow." She brightened at the thought.
Riley tried to be the responsible parent. The last he had seen of Hayley she had been running circles around her cousin Logan, who watched her with that tolerant patience only a family member could find. For some reason she had latched on to Josh's eldest boy and it was a hundred kinds of cute to see Jack's nephew so happy to be with Hayley.
"I'll go find and ask her." Eden said this without waiting for an answer and quickly walked away to find her niece.
In small groups the guests left, then Eden with a hyper Hayley, followed by the caterers, and finally the group of cleaners that had left the ranch looking nearly as normal as it could be after hosting an event like a wedding.
Paparazzi had stayed away from the event, at least off of Double D property, and no helicopters had been seen, although Riley did wonder what kind of journalistic crowd people leaving had to get through to get off of the D. When finally it was just the two of them Riley felt relieved and expectant. A whole night with the buzz of champagne in his blood and his sexy husband within reach was surely a recipe for only one thing.
In unison they turned to each other.
"I'll check the horses—"
"I'll be in the barn—"
Jack gripped Riley's jacket and reeled him in for a hard kiss.
"Gimme ten," Jack groaned.
"Make it five, cowboy."