A big welcome to Jackie North as part of her release for The Foreman and the Drifter.
Farthingdale Ranch #1
Publisher: Blue Rain Press
Genre: Contemporary, Series
“If only Leland would forget forget that Jamie was a drifter. If only he’d give their hearts a chance.”
With Farthingdale Ranch at risk, Leland Tate, ranch manager, has to get tough and make sure everyone on the ranch follows the rules he’s laid out. That means no handouts, no fraternizing, and no drifters.
But what happens when a young drifter comes looking for a job? What happens when that drifter makes Leland want to break all the rules?
A gay, m/m cowboy romance with age gap, hurt/comfort, first time, rescue, sunshine/grumpy, boss/employee, emotional scars, and opposites attract. A little sweet, a little steamy, with a guaranteed HEA.
Buy The Foreman and the Drifter to fall deeply and forever today with the first book in the new Farthingdale Ranch Series!
I love this author, and having already visited the Farthingdale Ranch briefly in her earlier book Honey from the Lion, it was great exploring that setting in more detail. Leland and Jamie are both interesting characters, and I enjoyed their sweet story as they learn to follow their hearts rather than the rules Leland tries to convince himself shouldn’t be broken.
Although this is Leland and Jamie’s story, I enjoyed the references to Laurie’s disappearance, and finding out the cost of his and John’s HEA for the ranch in the present day.
I liked the differences between Leland and Jamie in not only age and life experience, but background. While Leland’s mother accepts his path in life, Jamie’s been discarded and gone through hell with horrible workmates etc. He’s drifting not only from place to place, but needing somewhere and someone to call home. I loved the description of the ranch and its surroundings particularly from Jamie’s POV as his words felt like poetry painting a picture. Beautiful!
The descriptions of the characters are also vivid to the point I felt like I was there, seeing the day to day life at the ranch, its inhabitants, and their personalities and quirks.
I love how caring Leland is, and how everyone on the ranch feels like family. He totally sucks at trying to convince himself that his feelings towards Jamie are not romantic attraction, and I liked the war within as he takes one step back and two in the direction of the man who is his heart. Jamie is wonderfully honest, and tries so hard to be a good worker to the point he neglects looking after himself. I thought the author captured his determination to be a part of somewhere wonderfully well. I liked that the fact Leland is Jamie’s employer is taken seriously and that steps are put in place to make sure they are on an equal footing before going forward with their relationship. I also enjoyed reading about their lovemaking. It felt very real with the way their emotions bubbled up inside, and out onto the page.
I love the supporting cast and looking forward to reading their stories. I particularly liked Clay with his quiet support of both Jamie and Leland, although he’s not afraid to tell Leland what he needs to hear. Bill’s an interesting character too. I’d love to learn more about him. Leland’s mother rocks. Levi, Jasper and Maddy feel very layered, and I’m very pleased this is the first in a new series. The horses also need a mention as they have very different personalities and are an integral part of the plot.
5 out of 5 stars.
It was easy to see that Jamie’s mind was whirling with ways to explain his behavior without giving too much away. His life before coming to the ranch had obviously made him cautious. Any upbeat smiles from earlier had now worn away to nothing. He was exhausted, through and through, building in Leland more of those same feelings from earlier, that of wanting to help.
“Don’t worry about that now,” Leland said. He led Jamie back through the dining hall to the service area, where staff was cleaning up from the lunchtime meal. “Here’s the restroom. Go get cleaned up.”
As Leland watched Jamie go into the restroom, he knew that had Jamie been anybody else, whether a new ranch hand or an experienced trail boss, he would have left it at that, a direction to wash up and instructions for one of the kitchen staff to fetch him that ginger ale.
It was not his style to linger like this. He trusted his staff to look after these kinds of small details. His job as a foreman was to delegate, and to expect that his more experienced employees would then, in turn, run their departments.
It was not his job to fetch and carry for a newly hired hand who didn’t know the size of his own belly. So why was he doing exactly that? Why did he have the ginger ale poured and ready when Jamie came out of the restroom, the ends of his dark hair dripping as though he’d stuck his face beneath the tap with the water running at full blast?
The center of his t-shirt was damp, etching the lines of his ribs and sternum. He was on the thin side, still growing, still on his way to becoming a man.
Leland jerked his eyes away and focused on handing over the can of ginger ale and the glass of ice.
“You can drink that,” he said, nodding as one of the white-aproned kitchen staff came over with a small bowl of salted crackers. “And eat those, slowly.”
He was used to being obeyed, but as Jamie looked up at him, ready to follow orders, something bright shone in his green eyes, as though he trusted anything that Leland might tell him to do would be the right thing.
There was a pile of accounting and other paperwork waiting for Leland in his cabin, and he needed to make a few phone calls about delayed orders before finally calling it a day. He didn’t have the luxury of lingering, yet he lingered. Lingered and watched Jamie while he nibbled on the crackers and sipped on the ginger ale.
“I’ll take you around for a bit. A walk in the fresh air will do you good. Then I’ll hand you over to Clay,” said Leland, smiling, as he knew how good Clay would be at this task. “We’ll find out what you’re good at. Do you need a clean shirt?”
Jamie lifted his can of ginger ale, holding it high as though he was afraid of spilling it on himself.
“I think I’m okay,” he said, looking up at Leland again. “I’m sorry to be so much trouble after you gave me the job without sending me to Chugwater first.”
Again, Leland wanted to know how Jamie had come to such a state, with worn out sneakers and an about-to-expire driver’s license. Sure, he’d worked in a meat packing plant, which was a rough way to live, no matter how you looked at it. But that didn’t explain everything else.
“You sure you’re up for this tour?” Leland asked, gently.
“Yeah, I’m up for it.” Jamie swallowed the rest of the ginger ale in one gulp, too fast for Leland’s comfort, then put the can and the now-empty bowl on a nearby metal counter. He wiped cracker crumbs from his mouth with the back of his hand. He finished the gesture with an exhausted nod as his dark hair fell over his eyes. “Just show me the way.”
For a long, terrible instant, Leland had to stifle the impulse to brush away the last bit of crumb that still clung to Jamie’s mouth, but this was hardly the time and, in the breezeway of a common work area, hardly the place.
Besides, what was he having such tender instincts like that for?
“Let’s get to it,” Leland said.
He was tempted to pat Jamie on the shoulder as a kind of reassurance that things would look better in the morning, and to say something encouraging, but he wasn’t a small talk kind of man. He explained how things worked, gave orders, received information, and ran one of the sweetest ranches in Wyoming.
His world was the Farthingdale Guest Ranch, just as he wanted it to be. Only now someone had stepped inside that space, creating a small ripple effect that even if it had only just started, didn’t look like it was going to stop.
“Let’s start at the back end of the ranch,” said Leland, again questioning his motives. He usually had a ranch hand do the general tour, then would meet with the new hire at the end of that to have a final meeting about rules and expectations. This time, he wanted to do part of the tour himself to share with Jamie the beauty of the ranch.
Jamie nodded, and after they grabbed their hats from the wooden pegs, he followed Leland out of the dining hall.
Together they walked along the shaded path that curved between the trees, up past the barn to the first corral. Cottonwoods and willows grew along the tributary of Horse Creek that ran through the property, but the slope at this end of the ranch was decked with pine and aspen both, and the breeze was sweetly scented.
Briskly, Leland described the layout of the ranch, starting with the corral.
“Notice the unpainted wood, Jamie. You won’t be asked to paint it, because unpainted wood seasons better. The round rails between round posts are not the most efficient, but look nice and it’s what guests at the ranch expect.”
Jamie nodded, stuffing his hands in the back pocket of his new jeans. He looked a little lost in his new clothes, as though the fit was just a bit too big. The jeans, especially, would shrink in the wash, though. Leland clamped down on the impulse to take Jamie to the laundry room in the staff quarters to get that process started.
“We mostly do riding lessons in the corral,” said Leland, pointing to the area. “But sometimes, if the group of guests might like it, Brody comes out and does some of his rope tricks, and demos his fancy riding with his special saddle.”
“He’s about your age,” said Leland, mentally shaking his head, because why was he talking about age at all? “Maybe a little older. Best wrangler I’ve ever worked with.”
Moving on from the corral, Leland pointed out the acres of open fields behind the barbed wire fence, some of which belonged to the ranch, and some of which belonged to the Bureau of Land Management. They were always careful not to leave any trace behind, so the BLM had never given them any grief about taking long cattle drives across their land into the hills. It was a truce of long standing Leland was proud of, as was Bill.
“The barn’s this way,” said Leland, pointing down the road.
He led the way and took Jamie inside to show him the large area where horses were groomed, or where demonstrations could be held when the weather was bad. There was a row of box stalls along two walls, and a large tack room whose open door showed neatly arranged saddles and other tack and grooming supplies.
“That’s my office, over there.” He pointed to the corner of the barn, just to the side of the big open doors. “I’ll hand you to Clay in a minute, when he gets here,” he said, inhaling the scent of dried hay and leather oil, which helped to settle him some.
“Clay?” asked Jamie.
“Clay Pullman’s my right-hand man,” said Leland with a nod, for he didn’t know what he’d do without Clay. “He’ll show you the cabins along the river, and all the other nooks and crannies, and the laundry room in the staff quarters, where you can wash your clothes. There’s a box of quarters next to the soap, so you don’t need to worry about paying.”
“It’s free?” asked Jamie. “Doesn’t anybody steal the quarters?”
In Jamie’s world, it was easy to see, any money left out got taken. Here, on the ranch, there was plenty of everything, and no sense of want.
“No, they don’t,” Leland said. “Sure, sometimes the final count at the end of the week means we’d gone low a quarter or two. But the ranch hands and everybody who uses the machines usually leave their spare change, so it all works out in the wash, so to speak.”
There were purple smudges under Jamie’s eyes as he looked at Leland, though he tried to smile like everything was fine, just fine, and that nobody needed to worry about him. Then his exhaustion seemed to overcome him, as though this small display had tapped the last of his energy.
“You okay, Jamie?” Leland asked. He wanted to gently push for the answer, but Clay came up twirling his straw cowboy hat in his hands, whistling under his breath.
“This is Clay,” said Leland. “Clay, this is Jamie Decker, our new groundskeeper and general ranch hand.”
“I’m a ranch hand?” asked Jamie, now lighting up in a way that was hard for Leland to look away from.
“That you are,” said Leland, secretly pleased at Jamie’s response. “You’re just starting, but if you listen to what Clay tells you, you will do very well, I’m sure of it. You got this, Clay? Show him the ropes, now. Show him everything he needs to know.”
“Can do, boss,” said Clay. With a bright smile, he put his hat back on and clapped Jamie on the shoulder in a friendly way. “I’ll take good care of him.”
“Make sure he knows how to take breaks and drink enough water.” Leland turned his attention to Jamie. “We’re up at altitude here, so it’s easy to get dehydrated. That’s why we’ve got coolers of bottled water set out at various places. If you’re working out of doors, you’ll see one. Okay?”
“Yes, sir,” said Jamie, wide eyed.
With a small wave, Leland bid them farewell and went up the path between the trees and the buildings to the little cabin tucked in the hillside that was all his own. The cabin had a porch where he could sit and watch the sunsets, if he had the time, and a small flagstone patio in the back where he could watch the sunrise over the low hills and have his coffee in the morning.
Or, like now, he could hang up his keys on the little hook on the wall just inside the front door, pull off his work boots and cowboy hat, yank off his socks, and walk barefooted into the small cafe kitchen. There he could grab a bottle of ice cold locally-brewed root beer and drink it with the fridge door standing wide open. Now, in his own place, he was no longer the ranch manager, or the boss of anyone, didn’t need to be on his best game or set a good example.
He sucked back half of a bottle of root beer before taking a single, gasping breath after he swallowed it down. This was one of his favorite moments of the day, when he was just Leland, just a guy who loved his mom and who loved working out of doors. A guy who loved root beer and sunsets and sunrises and the way the chinook winds rushed down from Iron Mountain as though on their way to someplace new and exciting. Leaving behind the sweet, pure scent of spring and growth and green.
Amidst all of that, like a strange, leaf-rustling breeze, came thoughts of Jamie Decker. Who, with his dark bronze-touched hair and bright green eyes, seemed to be cutting a shape for himself in Leland’s world, changing his vision of it. Leland imagined Jamie pushing his hair out of his eyes, shocked at the idea that he had any effect on Leland, because how could he, being so newly arrived?
But he did have an effect, and the results were already there, for anyone to see. For starters, Leland had changed his mind about hiring drifters, which he never thought he’d ever do. Then he’d tended to Jamie after he’d been sick, like he’d known Jamie for years instead of only a few hours. And now he was worried about Jamie on his tour with Clay.
Clay would do an excellent job, of course, being sure to tell Jamie everything he’d need to know to be a success on the ranch. But Jamie had looked tired, still strung out from his travels, perhaps, or, like he said, simply overwhelmed. Would he be okay all on his own his first night in a room he described as his own personal palace?
Maybe Leland should check with Clay at dinner, just to see how the tour went, and then check with Jamie to see if he had any questions. Yes, that’s what he’d do. In the meantime, he needed to move on from worries that would probably amount to nothing. He needed to take a shower and get to that paperwork so he could keep up with the daily accounts.
Nobody had asked him to take on such work, but he’d decided to save the ranch money by doing it himself, so now it was his responsibility. He needed to focus on that and not on how Jamie had smiled and tossed his dark hair out of his eyes, and looked around him as though the ranch was the prettiest place he’d ever seen.
Drinking the rest of the root beer, Leland rinsed the glass bottle, put it in the blue plastic recycling box, and padded to the small but serviceable bathroom. There he stripped, threw his dirty clothes into the hamper, and stepped into the shower, turning the dial as hot as it would go.
The moment the hot water hit his shoulders was a sigh-worthy one, and he shuddered as his body released all the tensions of the day. He still had some hours to go being on duty as ranch manager, but in this shower stall, his thoughts could be all his own.
As he washed, the sweet smell of soap drifted up in rising swirls of air, and he inhaled deeply. Then he let out his breath quite slowly and closed his eyes as his mind drifted to where it would go. Which was, he was not surprised to admit, to Jamie wearing his new straw hat with its narrow leather band around the crown and the twist of brass in the front that looked a little like one of the pine trees on the ranch that grew so proudly and smelled so nice.
Breath the brim of the straw hat, Jamie’s hair tumbled in loose, loping curls past his ears, turning this way and that, dark against the pale skin of his neck. Green eyes looked at Leland, as though through the mist of the shower, wide with wonderment and surprise that something good had happened to him.
That’s what the expression said to Leland now as he turned the soap over and over in his hands. He wanted, suddenly, to hop out of the shower and find Jamie to ask him what had happened to him to make the simple act of getting a job and a place to lay his head at night such a miracle.
He couldn’t ask that outright, of course, but perhaps over time he should find out. Then, having solved that mystery, he could move on and stop obsessing over a young man who probably did not know he was causing Leland’s mind to dwell on the curve of his cheek. Who did not know that the memory of him, covered in road-dust and leading a horse in a hopeless way, was making Leland smile in spite of himself.
Who had no idea, none at all, that Leland had his hand on his own soap-covered belly, clenching every muscle in his body to keep from doing what he very much wanted to do. Which was to give in to the spark of lively desire he felt at the thought of how he might, quite gently, ask Jamie to sit at dinner with him. Or maybe go for an innocent walk after.
Innocent it would be, for Leland was not the type to fraternize with employees, especially not ones almost ten years younger than himself. And who, at the end of all of that, was probably straight as an arrow, with no interest in single-minded ranch managers who felt the love of the land, of horses, of hard work, too deeply to let go without a fight.
With an odd pang in his heart, he finished his shower as fast as he could, buffing himself afterward with a towel. The ranch was the prettiest place in the world, with green prairie grasses and aspen trees and a clean-running creek. It was everything to him. He would not risk it by flirting with someone he’d just hired that very day. Sure, he was willing to share the ranch, share his joy in the wild country all around, but that didn’t mean he could play fast and loose with his responsibilities. Fast and loose with the emotions of a young man who’d come through a rough patch and just needed to get his life together.
The last thing he wanted to do was be reckless with the ranch. With himself. With Jamie.
He resolutely fixed his mind on what he needed to do, and he changed into clean blue jeans and a t-shirt.
Later, after he was done with the paperwork, he’d put on socks, and add back his cowboy hat and a long-sleeved snap-button shirt, turning into a ranch manager once more. But for now, he took the ledger, the calculator, a stack of receipts, and a scratch pad out to the little table on his back patio, settling himself in to update the accounts, to make sure of the books. And then he needed to show up at dinner looking like the ranch manager he was, even if there weren’t any guests in residence, setting a good example for ranch hands and staff.
Jamie Decker was a mystery he wanted to solve, but in the meantime, he still had work to do.
About the Author
Jackie North has been writing stories since grade school and spent years absorbing the mainstream romances that she found at her local grocery store. Her dream was to someday leave her corporate day job behind and travel the world. She also wanted to put her English degree to good use and write romance novels, because for years she’s had a never-ending movie of made-up love stories in her head that simply wouldn’t leave her alone.
As fate would have it, she discovered m/m romance and decided that men falling in love with other men was exactly what she wanted to write books about. In this dazzling new world, she turned her grocery-store romance ideas around and is now putting them to paper as fast as her fingers can type. She creates characters who are a bit flawed and broken, who find themselves on the edge of society, and maybe a few who are a little bit lost, but who all deserve a happily ever after. (And she makes sure they get it!)
She likes long walks on the beach, the smell of lavender and rainstorms, and enjoys sleeping in on snowy mornings. She is especially fond of pizza and beer and, when time allows, long road trips with soda fountain drinks and rock and roll music. In her heart, there is peace to be found everywhere, but since in the real world this isn’t always true, Jackie writes for love.