Flankman (A Crow Creek Novel), Nya Rawlyns
Genre: contemporary gay romance, western
The bronc in the arena can kill, but it takes a man to destroy…
Daniel Blake and Tristan Wells are committed to their two-year relationship, and to keeping it a well-hidden secret. When a competitor lets them know their secret isn’t so well-hidden after all, the ground isn’t the only thing that comes up to hit hard. Danny’s facing scrutiny from rodeo management for alleged misconduct, and Tristan thinks that Ben Kincaid from Crow Creek Ranch is just the man to help ferret out who has it in for them. Wyoming isn’t known for being tolerant of “alternative lifestyles” and men who take on broncs and bulls for a living aren’t strangers to playing rough, in and out of the arena.
With their future on the line, Tristan and Danny’s relationship will be tested by those out to see an eight-second ride turn into a world of failure. Ben’s determined to have his new friends’ backs, in more ways than one. Even if they survive the spills and attacks, will Danny and Tris’s future survive Ben?
There were just two things Tristan Wells cared about, though if he gave it some thought he’d come around to realizing he had more scope to him than what some might see as just a dumb cracker, shit-for-brains cowboy.
Scope was a word his Mom liked to use. As a grade school teacher, she was big on language—using it right and proper, describing shit like she was penning a novel in the air, all flourishes and curlicues. With his sisters, it had stuck, that language thing. A bit like that fancy wallpaper ladies favored, the kind that made a room heavy, weighty. Important without the doing that proved worth.
Not that he was casting aspersions with his sisters, not at all. But when he’d made his decision, dropping out after his sophomore year at Texas A&M, to make rodeo his full time pursuit, he’d also left behind the veneer of well-spoken drummed into him by his vigilant mother and sisters.
Ducking his head, he grinned. He was due for a visit home soon, before the season really geared up. That meant washing his mouth out with soap and water, maybe donning a mental suit-of-armor. Though, the last coupla years, he’d needed that less and less. Thanks to the man ambling toward him.
The man who taught him it was okay to be himself, the man who believed in him. Without reservations.
Daniel Blake carried his cares, his beliefs, his dedication on shoulders so broad it near took Tristan’s breath away. Everyone shouldered a load, everyone. But Danny made it look easy. Easy enough that if you had a problem, a question, a concern … Danny was the man you took it to. Because he never judged. He listened, gave it consideration and asked the question back at you in a way that made it new and different and shed light in dark places.
The light he shed with Tristan was showing him how love felt, beyond the physical, beyond the crushing and the one-nighters and the scratching itches for a quick thrill. His was slow burn, as constant as the air he sucked in his lungs. A cowboy who knew no other way than doing it right.
Danny Blake was a man who had pride without being prideful. His Ma might call it humble, but it seemed a step more than that. His Danny had some sharp edges, like a side of prickly cactus when it came to things that mattered.
From where he stood, those spines were evident already. He’d hinted at needing to talk. Tristan had a guess what that was about. Mostly about him, Tristan Wells, taking the next step, coughing up the entrance fees for the bigger venues, positioning himself in the points race for an end game he wasn’t sure mattered so much anymore.
Oddly enough, the problem came down to those two things he cared about. One was Danny, and that went without saying. He no longer spent nights staring at the ceiling, wondering if he was making a mistake, jigging sideways like a skittish colt every time Danny said or did something. Putting words in the man’s mouth, in his own. Fucking up time and again and never once … no, not once had he driven Danny away.
The man was a rock. His rock.
And that was the problem, the other thing he cared about. And it wasn’t so easy to put into words. He tended to see today clear as a bell, but next week, next month … that lay off in the distance, like a horizon with a blue haze of humidity distorting the big picture, blurring out the details. Beyond that, if you were talking years, he was lost.
Danny was different, he conjured the future … a future—theirs—in a way that didn’t seem possible. The man saw them together, for real. A couple. Living in the open, sharing their lives day-to-day. Not hiding from view, from the fans, from their friends, their competitors.
Being aware of the consequences from an early age, he’d taken his sexual explorations far from home, safeguarding his secret, making sure he didn’t shit where he ate, to use a crude expression. But it fit unfortunately. Danny had done the same. It sucked, but it was what it was, at least in their world.
But Danny wasn’t the kind of man to let things lie. He’d worked out a rough roadmap of how to get from point A to point B. So far, what he lacked were specifics. Tristan had a feeling those details were about to be laid out, sooner rather than later.
But first things first.
“Yore Mama ever tell you, you think too much, kid?”
The slow Texas drawl sent spider webs of awareness up and down Tristan’s spine. He tipped his hat back and swept his gaze from the barrel chest to the square jaw and deep ridges framing a mouth in permanent solemnity. Danny Blake’s shoulders weren’t the only thing carrying the cares of the world.
It was in the eyes, that knowing swimming in a sea of hazel, changing colors with the light, softening the edge of what, on another man, might have been austere and unapproachable. Not for the first time, he wondered what Danny’s breaking point might be, when his generosity would finally stretch and strain and bow under the weight of responsibility.
Realizing he was dithering because he wanted to put off the coming discussion, Tristan smiled and said, “Mah Mama done said I don’t think near enough.”
“That a fact.”
Danny’s eyes darted right and left. Searching the area for strays of the nosy human type. Fans tended to stalk when they could. Most times no one cared. In fact, if you didn’t have a kid or two or three hanging around, googly-eyed, mooning over their heroes, then you weren’t doing your job.
Tristan spoke quietly. “I think most everyone’s watching the bull riding.”
“Should last a time. Big field today, they’ll be going for a couple hours at least.”
“Won’t need a couple hours.”
“More like ten minutes.”
“Fuck, ain’t that the truth?”