Authors: Nya Rawlyns
Tags: #Gay Fiction, #contemporary gay romance, #western, #mystery, #romantic suspense, #western romance, #action-adventure, #series
(The Snowy Range Series)
(The Snowy Range Series)
Michael Brooks is a loner, and with good reason. A short fuse and a tendency to shoot from the hip, sometimes quite literally, mean he’s all the company he’s got most of the time, and he likes it that way just fine. It suits his job as Warden for Wyoming’s Fish and Game Department.
Being alone sounds good to the researcher for the USDA Forest Service, Dr. Seamus Rydell, especially since it means time away from the pressures to follow his family’s political traditions. He’ll need a guide to Timber Lake to set up his testing equipment, and who better than a Warden whose boss needs him out of sight for a while?
They’re just doing their jobs, until both men get derailed by a lust threatening to light up the night sky and by egos big enough to fill the wilderness.
When a psychopathic poacher intrudes, Michael’s past rises up and the present twists out of shape around a sick mind. As the future for both men fills with darkness, it is all too clear no one will come back from Timber Lake unscathed.
(The Snowy Range Series)
Copyright ©2015 Nya Rawlyns
First electronic edition published by Jade Horse Publishing
ISBN (eBook): 978-1-936827-91-6
Published in the United States of America with international distribution.
Cover Design by Dreams2Media
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the copyright owner except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the authors’ imaginations or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
To all who protect the things we hold dear
“So long as we love we serve; so long as we are loved by others, I would almost say that we are indispensable; and no man is useless while he has a friend.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson, Lay Morals
ichael Brooks’ boss waved him into the cramped quarters and muttered his usual
while corralling a stack of folders slip-sliding toward the tired linoleum floor.
The careless question referred to two weeks suspension spent doing community service. Service that amounted to entertaining a group of delinquents on loan from parents too cheap to provide a summer camp experience. Entitled, snotty, bratty...
“It went great.”
If I change my name and head for Canada, I might avoid the lawsuits.
Paul Trader looked up, grimaced. “That’s not what I heard, Brooks.”
Fists clenching, Michael let his ragged nails dig trenches deep enough into his thick skin to remind him his hair-trigger temper was what had gotten him into his stint in purgatory in the first place. That he had cause, fucking good cause for going off the rails, hadn’t counted for much when the spin doctors had gotten done with him.
“I’m on your side, boy.” Paul went squinty-eyed, pursing his lips and folding his hands on the blotter. “I know you don’t think that right now, but you put this department in a world of hurt going all lone gunman out there.” He slipped a folder from the stack. It was thick, very very thick. “You don’t want to know what I had to do to sugar coat this... this mess you made.”
Michael tensed, anticipating the words that would strip him of the reason he got up in the morning, the only way he’d found meaning and purpose to his sorry-assed existence. He could fold his tent, say it before it got said to him.
I’m done, outa here, had enough of this shit...
Instead, he growled, “Sorry,” and tried hard to mean it.
Paul didn’t buy it. Why should he? They’d been friends and co-workers for nearly six years. The man had been the father Michael had never known. If anyone had the right to pass judgment? Well, that man sitting across from him was it.
Cowboy up, Brooks. Grow a set. Grow two.
Paul mumbled, “You’re a lucky bastard.”
“Huh. Lucky? How do you figure that?” Flipping the folder open, Paul extracted a sheet of paper and spun it around for Michael to read. At first glance it looked like more allegations of misconduct. He’d been burdened with enough of that lately all it did was annoy him, so he barked, “Why am I looking at this again?”
could cover a broad spectrum of his latest foul-ups. He figured, with Paul’s attention span tottering on the edge of one last straw, he likely referred to the most recent incident.
There had been at least a half dozen in the gang who’d seen him pick up the ringleader by his belt and toss the asshole into the middle of the lake. Water fed by snow melt. The kid couldn’t swim. And he sank like a rock. After nearly ten days of hell as camp counselor and environmental advocate, that moment had been immensely satisfying. He hadn’t really minded wading out and dragging the bully back to shore to defrost on his own.
Who needed witnesses when he’d already fessed up to doing the deed?
Paul got that look, the one that said you’re a stupid fuck, shut up and listen. Despite the stern demeanor, the man voiced an assurance. “Not what you’re thinking, son.”
Michael cringed. Paul had a bad habit of calling him boy or son when he donned his father confessor cloak. Usually Michael preferred asshole or shit head, because then you knew where you stood, knew when to duck... mostly.
Paul continued, “This here’s a copy of the police statement. The alleged victim you were defending decided to change his tune.”
Michael swore under his breath, then said, “What, he’s suddenly there now? First he says he was nowhere near the lake, then he says he saw me toss that bastard into the water for no good reason.” Based on that testimony, Michael knew he could go down on reckless endangerment charges, at a minimum. Assault and a few of its embellishments could also be levied at the whim of a legal system that defined in loco parentis very narrowly.
Paul explained, “Thanks to Det. Haskell, the kid finally admitted he’d been there and that he’d been surrounded and threatened. No details given. However, he claims he got away just in time.”
“Yeah, right. Just in time to pee blood. That juvie knew exactly how to hit without leaving a mark. Sumbitch had half the kids shitting their pants every time him and that mob decided they needed entertainment.”
Michael wasn’t going to mention them threatening
in the dead of night, caught out walking the perimeter of the camp alone. Unarmed. He, of anyone, should have known better, especially after a few days of watching the bullies put the screws to one target after another.
“Not saying you’re wrong, son, but parents... especially parents who practice corporate law in Denver... don’t take kindly to Wyoming Fish and Game personnel manhandling their bits of precious.” Paul replaced the piece of paper in the folder and steepled his fingers, his expression gone neutral.
Michael hated neutral. He liked knowing where a man stood. But Paul had come up the ranks with some law enforcement in his back pocket. That experience had given him those dead cop eyes, the ones that said
you’re guilty until I say different
. He didn’t flash them often, and if truth be told, he mostly used them when it came to this kind of confrontation between them. The outcome was usually a healthy dose of blame ladled on with restraint, always deserved. Michael had learned to roll with it.
What he couldn’t roll with was Paul’s disappointment. That was edge play he wasn’t comfortable dealing with. He needed to get out of the woodshed, fast, before he started pleading his case instead of the expected mea culpas his boss would take with a grain of salt but accept publicly as an apology.
Before committing full throttle to an apology he wasn’t feeling, Michael clasped onto a loose thread. “You, um, said witnesses. Plural?”
Lips twitching, Paul worked his fingertips down, up, down, up... forming a little heart shape in the air with each downward movement. After an interminable pause, Paul said, “Couple of day trippers with kids were hiking on the blue trail, saw what happened. They reported the incident to the ranger. Took a while for it to make its way through the right channels.”
Breathing a sigh of relief, Michael said, “Then I’m in the clear.”
“What’s that mean... not exactly?” Michael made finger quotes, then slapped his palms on his thighs in irritation.
Paul stood and came around to Michael’s side of the desk. He rested a hip on the corner and leaned forward, his expression kindly. Concerned. Prepared to lay some hurting on his intended victim. Killing him softly...
“Do I need to remind you why you were assigned to babysitter duties in the first place? You shot a man, Michael. In front of a dozen or more witnesses. Tourists for Christ’s sake. With kids. Moms, dads, grannies. What did you expect?”
Bleating, “A fucking medal?” Michael went for surly and fed up. “He was packing enough hardware to arm a third world country. Killing and mutilating for sport. What was I supposed to do? Let him sashay into the campground and nab that kid, have the same outcome as that cougar I found with its paws amputated, bleeding out?”
He’d tracked the bastard from south of the reservoir to the campground’s lower side. Thank God, only eight sites had been open that early in the season, otherwise he’d have had to contend with a crush of tourists and boaters.
Paul tried for amelioration. “I know you thought he was going for his...”
Michael stood so abruptly the chair went flying, crashing into the wall behind him. He shouted, “Thought!? I didn’t
anything. I saw him pull the blade. The kid was sitting on the bank, fishing. Completely oblivious.” He paced in a small circle, not believing he was having this conversation yet again. Throat tight, he whispered, “You didn’t see the carnage he left. He still had blood on his hands. I didn’t have a choice.”
He’d been so far away. Exhausted, barely able to catch his breath with the altitude starving his lungs for oxygen, his muscles screaming bloody murder. The pervert had taken a step, then another, eyes boring into the back of the boy’s head. All Michael remembered was raising his rifle, taking aim, putting the bastard down.
Then came the screaming...
Defeated Michael asked, “What do you want from me, Paul? My resignation? Or are you firing me, which is it?”
“Do you want to quit?” The tone was gentle, overlaid with curiosity.
Did he? God, no. He loved his job. He loved being a caretaker and protector of the land and all that it provided. He shook his head no and pleaded, “Tell me what I need to do, Paul.”
Sighing, his boss said, “This has been a rough couple years for you, son. I get that. Losing your mom. The ranch.” He perched on the edge of the desk, a port of calm in an ocean of unrest flooding Michael’s chest. It was almost a non-sequitur, the next words out of Paul’s mouth. “You haven’t taken time for yourself in years, boy. I think this might be a good point to back off, get your shit together. Fresh start.”
Michael snorted. “Like you? Kettle. Black.”
“Guilty as charged. Thing is, we’re running so lean now we can’t possibly do everything we need. That ain’t gonna change. You know it, I know it. Doesn’t mean we have to go down with the ship.”
That was Paul, the master of the obvious, preaching to the choir, and every other inane metaphor or idiom you could dredge up. Problem was, the man wasn’t wrong. Say it anyway you wanted, they were hanging on by their fingernails while poaching and mindless vandalism wreaked havoc throughout their wilderness territory. The lakes, streams, hiking trails... Everything in and around the Snowy Range seemed fair game lately.