by Jade Buchanan
eBook ISBN: 06746-02171
What started out as a regular job assignment quickly escalated into something more for Oliver Philip when he met twin Shire horse shapeshifters, Bayard and Marshall Stoddard. Hired to perform a safety audit on Horsfall Ranch, he never expected his life to be turned upside down, but he’s game for anything. Happily throwing himself into a relationship with both Bayard and Marshall, Oliver quickly discovers a world of intense pleasure, laughter and comfort. Unfortunately, storm clouds are gathering on the horizon and Oliver must find the strength inside himself to fight for the two men he can’t live without.
The Horsfall collection contains the previously released novellas Tail of Two Brothers, Taste Test, and As the Crow Flies.
Oliver Philip inhaled deeply, turning his head from side to side to capture as much of the scenery as he could. He couldn’t imagine living out here. It was so crisp, so clean. And it was only about twenty minutes outside the city limits too. Hell, it took him longer than that to drive from one end of the city to the other.
He slowed his car, counting the kilometres as they clicked by. “Ten point five, ten point six, ten point seven, and there’s the turn off. Exactly where he said it’d be.”
Turning into the narrow paved lane, he left the gravel road behind. His client had given him exact directions to the ranch, directions Oliver had needed. It was a little too easy to get lost on the township roads out here. It didn’t help that the damn signs were so small. He was used to driving out in the country, but still, this wasn’t like trying to find some gas plant. It was kinda hard to miss those.
Horsfall Ranch might be close to the city, but it wasn’t exactly easy to get to. Thick brush lined the lane he was practically crawling down, set at the base of tall trees that were obscuring his view to either side. At least the lane was in excellent condition, although he couldn’t see anything in front of him but more trees.
He drove around a curve in the road, and suddenly the whole thing opened up. He had to stop the car just to take it all in.
Horsfall sat smack dab in front of him, down a slight incline. The rolling foothills were a picturesque backdrop, with the Rocky Mountains as a steady line marching across the back end in the distance. He could make out the white tops on the mountains; there were only a few wisps of cloud breaking up the blue sky. Great day to be out of the office.
“Damn, I love my job.”
Pressing his foot down on the gas pedal, Oliver pulled up to the black wrought iron gate barring his path. Pressing the intercom beside his window, he waited, nervously tapping his fingers on the wheel.
“Hello?” a male voice responded.
“Hi. This is Oliver Philip. I’m here to meet with Bayard Stoddard.”
“Sure thing. He’s down at the main complex. I’ll let him know you’re here. Just keep on the road, and you can’t miss him.”
The gate opened up slowly, and he made his way through. A small farmhouse sat to the left of the gate, with a big black dog lying on the front porch. He sleepily raised his head, watching Oliver drive past. Oliver chuckled, seriously tempted to stop the car and get out. He absolutely loved animals.
A second house sat back further from the road, a little bigger than the first. He wondered how many people actually lived here. Truth be told, he didn’t know much about ranching life. He’d done a bit of research on the company before coming down here, like he always did before accepting a new job, but a website didn’t give you much information about the day-to-day workings of a place. Besides, the Horsfall website talked more about their horses than anything else, and most of that information had gone right over his head.
Speaking of which, who knew there would be so many buildings? A large rectangular building stood in front of him, with several smaller ones set around. An empty paddock sat to the right, and he could make out an open barn with machinery just behind the main building. Several gas tanks stood beside the open barn. At least he knew what those were. He felt a little out of his element coming here.
A man stepped out of the large building in front of him. Spying the trucks parked to the right, Oliver pulled his little blue car between two dusty pickups. He opened the door, grabbing his briefcase from the passenger seat. The man had come around to meet him and was now standing at Oliver’s back bumper.
Jesus, he’d like to have this man do more than just stand at his back bumper. He was tall, towering over Oliver by at least half a foot. Tanned and devastatingly handsome. Oliver just about swallowed his tongue looking at him. This was what Oliver fantasized about late at night when he was all alone. Fuck, the man was fulfilling almost every one of his dreams physically.
He had a black cowboy hat slanted low on his forehead, and his muscular frame was encased in dusty blue jeans and a worn blue plaid shirt. For a minute Oliver was certain the big man was going to pop the seams on that shirt. It strained across a colossal chest that just begged to be explored.
The cowboy held out one tanned hand. “Mr. Philip, I’m Bayard Stoddard. We spoke on the phone. Thanks for coming out here.”
His voice was deep and slow, causing shivers to run through Oliver. He had to be careful here, or he’d completely lose it. Obviously it’d been way too long since he broke up with his last boyfriend.
“Mr. Stoddard. Pleased to meet you.” He grasped the man’s hand in his, almost purring at the feel of the callused palm. What would those hands feel like on his body?
“Please, call me Bayard. Have any trouble finding the place?”
“No, your directions were excellent. I’m not too sure how I’m going to get out of here, but I’ll figure it out. And it’s Oliver.” He chuckled ruefully.
Bayard smiled, revealing even teeth. It changed the planes of his face, gave him an added depth that had Oliver breathing deeply.
“You’ll have to tell me where to start. I’m new at this.” Bayard motioned toward the large building, indicating for Oliver to move ahead of him.
“I know this can be a big step if you’ve never done it before, but there’s nothing to worry about. When we talked on the phone, I got the feeling you’d prepared everything.”
“Well, it seemed like a good idea. I know there aren’t too many operations like ours that bother to go through the process of having a safety program.”
Oliver shook his head. “Your industry isn’t required to have one so most farms and ranches just ignore it. I think it’s great that you’re going ahead with developing one. I strongly believe a healthy system will prevent any incidents from occurring, and not just personal injuries. I know equipment loss can be just as devastating sometimes.”
Bayard nodded. “I’ll take you to the office right now. You can make yourself comfortable.” He pointed to a cluster of buildings near them. “Over there’s the paint shack, and behind it is the greenhouse. We have a tool shed too, that’s the building on the right. The two houses you drove past on the way in belong to myself and our foreman. He’s here now, but I think he’s leaving in an hour or two. He’s making a trip down to Montana to look at a mare for me.”
“Is it just the two of you who live here? I know you have other employees.”
“Mmm-hmm, ten in all, for the most part. It depends on how busy we are but we try to keep the core staff. Makes things easier. My twin brother lives with me, but he isn’t here right now. He’s been gone for nearly two weeks, and… hmm.”
Bayard frowned, and Oliver tried to think of something to say. Finally, he decided it was probably better to remain silent. Twins. Two of Bayard. Two. Oh, good lord, he could fantasize about that all day. Imagine seeing two of him, being with two of him.
Bayard opened the door to the building, holding it for Oliver to precede him. Inhaling as he went past, Oliver tried to capture his scent. He smelled like horses, of course, but underneath that was a tantalizing scent of pure sweat and man. Oh, this wasn’t good at all.
He listened as Bayard outlined their general operations. The larger building housed their offices and a small kitchen. On one end there was a small barn, empty at the moment, although the stalls looked like they had been inhabited not too long ago. On the other end of the building was a larger storage area where the big equipment was stored. At the back was a welding station, along with various odds and ends needed for any necessary repairs.
Oliver heaved a sigh of relief. Here he felt completely at ease. Bring him into any shop environment and he knew what to look for. He wouldn’t know the first thing about horses, and whatever hazards existed around the big animals, but this he could deal with.
Bayard led him into the office, taking off his hat and placing it on top of his desk. He ran his fingers through his short hair, mussing it up. Oliver turned his back on him, pretending to study the pictures of the horses. He ran a palm down his chest, smoothing his cream and black striped dress shirt. It was tucked into blue jeans, and his trusty steel toed boots completed his ensemble. Sure, they weren’t the more ranch-like ropers Bayard had on his feet, but Oliver always wore his steel toes on the job. It was practically ingrained in him now. Considering they were almost more comfortable than his running shoes, it was a wonder he didn’t wear them off the job too.
Oliver didn’t really think he was any great catch but he wasn’t butt ugly either. He was clean, and most of the time he managed to shave his five o’clock shadow, although since it was blond it didn’t make too much of a difference anyway. His hair was short, a blond that had long since started to darken into a pale brown. Dirty blond, his sister always called it. He hated the term, made it seem like he wasn’t too familiar with basic hygiene.
“Sure, that would be great. Black, please.” Oliver set his briefcase on the small table in the kitchen, pulling out a chair to sit down. He had to keep his mind on task. This was a client, not a potential date. Funny enough, he’d never had to give himself that warning before.
“Tell me again how this works.” Bayard efficiently measured grounds into the small coffee maker on the counter. Waiting for it to percolate, he turned to survey Oliver, crossing his arms over his burly chest.
“Basically, I’m going to perform a mini audit on your operations here. You said on the phone that you’d started pulling some things together. I’ll start by familiarizing myself with the safety documents you already have. Do a bit of a Gap Analysis to see what you have and what you’re missing. I’ll take a look around your operations and we can run through some of the hazards you guys come across on a day-to-day basis. Once I have a good idea of what you need, I’ll go back to my office and start developing a safety program for you.
“I like to make things fit-for-purpose, so it won’t be a cookie cutter manual off a shelf. I’ll work it up based on what I think you need. I’ll go over it with you once I’m done. We can make any changes you want, and then I’ll show you how to take it and integrate it into your business.”
“You’re the expert. I’m in your hands.”
Didn’t he just wish? Oliver smiled ruefully, nodding when Bayard dropped a slim binder on the table in front of him, along with a steaming cup of coffee. A sheet was tucked inside the clear front cover on the binder, the words Safety Manual scrawled across in bold black slashes. He wondered if that was Bayard’s writing. Flipping through, he was impressed with what Bayard had already gathered together. It just needed to be organized better but he had the bare minimum requirements here.
“I’m telling you, I have no idea how you do this sort of thing. It took me near forever to find the information on the government site, and then I couldn’t figure out what it all meant.” Bayard’s grin was self-deprecating and Oliver couldn’t help but chuckle.
“I think they do it on purpose just to confuse everyone. Just remember, you brought this on yourself since you’re exempt from Occupational Health and Safety legislation. Although, that’s just the absolute minimum you need for an effective program. Still, farms and ranches aren’t required to have safety programs.”
“Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.”
Oliver smiled, pleased. He absolutely loved it when he heard things like that. Safety was his job, and he hated it when people took it for granted as something any idiot could do. “I’ll tell you a secret, so don’t let it get out.” He leaned forward, lowering his voice. “Having a safety program is not really all that hard. You have a set of elements that need to be combined together… hazard assessment, accident investigations, a communication system, responsibilities and accountabilities, training, continuous monitoring, and whatever else you feel like throwing in.
“As long as you put it all together in a way that makes sense, and make sure you’re complying with government rules and regulations, you’re set. Well, that and you have to roll it out and make it more than a paper exercise. It definitely helps if everyone buys into the program and believes in it, but basically, the core elements are the same whether you’re a major oil company, a convenience store or a horse ranch.”
“That easy, huh? My eyes crossed about ten minutes into reading that damn rule book. My opinion of you has increased exponentially. I don’t know how you do this for a living.”
Oliver grinned, leaning back in his chair. He sipped his coffee, studying Bayard over the rim of his mug. “I’m good at my job. But I wasn’t always. It’s just something you become better at over time. Unfortunately, safety’s one of those buzz words right now. Everyone says they pay attention to it, and how important it is for every company.
“But if it was really important we wouldn’t still be having the stupid incidents we have now. We wouldn’t still be hitting companies over the head with our big safety stick to get them to pay attention. And there would be more educational requirements in order to be a safety professional. Right now, most safety guys have to learn the hard way, through experience and putting years in the job. Most of the guys I meet out in the industry are volun-told to be the Safety Coordinator. It’s not something they choose as a career for themselves. It’s changing slowly, but we’re not there yet.”
“I did a bit of research when I was looking for a company to work with. There’re a lot of folks out there that have good things to say about you.”
“That’s nice of them.” He smiled, refraining from saying anything else. He’d rather his work showcase whatever expertise he may or may not have. He didn’t trust people who were too free with praising themselves.
“Well then, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go talk to Ed before he leaves. You need anything just give me a buzz on my cell. I have it on, and I believe you have the number.”
Oliver nodded, opening the binder in front of him. Taking a notepad out of his briefcase, he set about taking some notes. “When I’m done in here, I’d like to take a look around, see what else you have. Just come back and get me whenever you have a free moment.”
“Sure thing.” Bayard turned and grabbed his cowboy hat, placing it on his head before leaving. His footsteps echoed down the hallway before he opened the outside door. It slammed closed when he left, leaving Oliver in silence.
“What is wrong with you?” he whispered fiercely. He’d just about started stammering back there. The man wasn’t paying him to blabber on like an idiot. He’d hardly let Bayard get a word in edgewise.
Although, to be fair, Bayard didn’t look like he’d been annoyed. The whole time Oliver had been speaking, Bayard’s gaze had remained steady on his face. He’d nodded at certain places and had looked like he’d been enjoying himself. Maybe Bayard was just one of those men who didn’t need to talk. He wondered what the brother was like.
Not like Oliver. He hated the silence. He’d be more likely to start yammering away just to fill it if he was with someone. Or by himself. He kinda talked to himself occasionally. It didn’t make him insane. Just… unique. Or maybe not. Half the population probably talked to themselves. They just wouldn’t admit it.
He flipped through the manual, taking notes whenever something struck his eye.
His mind wandered, hopelessly unable to concentrate when he could still smell the man. Geez, where was a window to crack when he needed it? A little bit of fresh air should be able to clear his head. He dropped his pen, running his hand through his short strands. Taking a bracing sip of coffee, he sighed. This completely wasn’t like him. For some reason, he just couldn’t stop thinking about Bayard.
Closing his eyes, placing his mug back on the table, he brought up an image of the big guy.
“Need any help in here?” Bayard drawled, a hint of a smile playing on his face.
“Well, now, that all depends on what you mean to help me with.” Oliver glanced up, studying the man standing in the doorway. He had his hands on either side of the entryway, his long body stretched out to perfection. Damn, Oliver wished he was naked, ’cause that would certainly paint a pretty picture.
Bayard stepped forward, reaching Oliver in two strides. “Looks like you could use some help with that.” He nodded toward Oliver’s lap where his hard-on was pressing up against his jeans.
The pressure was painfully arousing, just the edge he needed to keep his mind on Bayard. Hell, he wouldn’t be able to take his mind off the man as long as he had this insane urge to be with him.
“Tell me what you need.” Bayard suddenly dropped to his knees beside Oliver, the brim of his black cowboy hat shadowing his eyes. His pink tongue darted out, licking his lower lip seductively.
Oliver bit back a moan, unable to tear his gaze away. He made a movement, not sure what exactly he was going to do but Bayard beat him to it. With a firm yank, Bayard pulled out the chair Oliver was in, maneuvering it easily until Oliver was sprawled in front of Bayard. The big man was between his knees now, and that delectable tongue made another appearance.
His gut clenched, his cock standing straight as a spike. He moaned, tossing his head back. Christ, he needed out of these damn things.
As if Bayard heard his thoughts, his lean fingers were suddenly in Oliver’s lap, carefully navigating the button fly. Damn fucking buttons. It was taking forever. He panted, so close to coming. He couldn’t do it yet. Oh, he just needed a minute. He was too close.
Squeezing his eyes shut, Oliver blindly lowered his hands, trying to get Bayard to ease up for a minute. Things were moving so fast he could barely breathe. His fingers touched the silken strands of Bayard’s hair. What the…?
Hot breath wafted over the root of his cock an instant before that damnable tongue brushed his skin. Oliver squealed — not a sound he’d expected to ever hear come out of his mouth — grasping Bayard’s hair firmly.
He thrust his hips, unable to stay still. He was so close, so damn close. Bayard chuckled, the sound vibrating through Oliver’s pelvis. Oh, he just… so close. If Bayard would just move an inch and… oh, that was it. Exactly what he needed. Bayard’s mouth enveloped the head of his cock, sucking him deep. The man was talented, he’d give him that much.
“Need any help in here?”
Oliver jerked, opening his eyes and meeting Bayard’s warm gaze. Holy shit. He’d just… oh, he’d almost… what the hell was wrong with him?
“Uh, no, I’m just wrapping up.”
“Perfect timing then. I’m about ready to take you on that tour.”
“Sounds great. Just give me a minute and I’ll be ready.” Was it just his imagination or was his voice a little tight? Oh sweet heaven, he was rock hard, his erection pulsing with his need to get off.
What was wrong with him? He’d never had a sexual daydream when he was supposed to be working. Not even at the safety of his desk with the door closed. He’d never been this distracted during office hours. It was one of the things he prided himself on. When it was time to work, he was able to concentrate on getting the job done. Then he could do anything he wanted when he was finished.
Bayard smiled, lifting his hand to rub his chin almost thoughtfully. His eyes gleamed when Oliver went into his office to place his hat on the desk.
Oh, that couldn’t mean what he thought it meant. No, no way did Bayard know what he was doing in here. Right? There was no way he could know Oliver was just thinking of him. Unless… no, he was sitting at the table, his lap wasn’t in plain sight.
He tried to come up with something to distract himself with. The Working Under Overhead Power Lines limits came to mind, but he couldn’t remember the basic numbers. Okay, think, think, think. He slowly started going through the Violence in the Workplace regulations, repeating the policy requirements in his mind. The pressure on his cock eased, his urgency leaving him.
Relaxing his shoulders, Oliver pushed back from the table, ready to get moving. He smiled when Bayard came back to join him, their gazes meeting briefly.
“Ready to go?”
“Lead the way.”
Bayard smiled again, the left corner of his mouth lifting. He lowered his head, placing his cowboy hat squarely on his head.
“Follow me, Oliver. I can’t wait to show you the place.”