Grabbing the Bull by the Horns with a Change in Plans

 

Howdy, folks!

I’ve been writing books 5 & 6 in The Stables series at the same time in order to ensure the storyline has continuity. Originally, I’d planned to make Crows Don’t Sing (Crow & Rabbit’s story) book 5, but as I developed By The Horns (Bull & West’s story), I realized the events make more sense as a bridge between Pierce The Heart and Crows Don’t Sing. So, I’m swapping the order. By The Horns will revisit many key events that have happened in the series so far, shedding a new light on things from Cole & Bruce’s perspectives.

It will also include rope. Lots and lots of rope.

I am nearing the end of writing By The Horns and hope to have a cover reveal and release date for y’all soon. For now, I have an excerpt!

Cole

“What the hell am I even doing here?”

The words slip past my chapped lips on puffs of white during one of Dallas’s bitter December evenings. Two weeks before Christmas, the answer is a simple one. Desperation.

The fact that I drove almost an hour to get here without tucking tail and making a U-turn means I’ve hit the plateau of my tolerance levels. I’ve been stationed in Johnson County for almost a month, doing my time among the more rural counties, or what some of us Texas Rangers have come to call ‘Siberia’. We all get stationed to these far-flung posts at some point in our career, using our borderless law enforcement capabilities to ensure drugs stay out of the corn fields and assholes don’t use dirt roads for human trafficking.

Some see it as a vacation, a chance to relax a bit from the bigger city crime problems that can get a Ranger in over his head and dead with his boots and badge on. Some use it as an opportunity to lay down roots, maybe start a family. Most end up in Siberia a few times temporarily before being stationed permanently as they edge closer to retirement. I’m not exactly young and spry anymore, but I’m not ready to retire either. Hell, I’m only… Okay, so I hit thirty-four a few months ago, and my joints ache in the cold from dragging in one too many bull-headed bounties in San Antonio, but I damn sure ain’t ready to hang up my hat yet. And I damn sure ain’t ready to start no family.

I mean… I guess I could be…

Another hot puffing sigh passes by my lips as they crack and I reach for my ChapStick. Sure, I can get married now, but that don’t mean it’s safe to be gay in Texas. And yet, here I am in Oak Lawn, standing outside the Giddy-Up club on a Saturday night after reading all the five-star reviews online.

Desperate.

Dammit. Should’ve bit the bullet and tried that phone ap. But, I’ve never been one for random one-time hook-ups, no matter how thirsty I am. Call me a snob, but a blowjob in a parking lot ain’t my idea of a good time. I’ve never done well at clubs, either, and the Giddy-Up is a shining beacon of ‘gay Texas’ as ever I’ve seen. It’s too bright. Too loud. And everyone looks like they’re having a blast.

They’re all smiling under cowboy hats, some with full western get-ups and some with not much else on. Lord have mercy, and I ain’t even through the doors yet. Somewhere in the parking lot, a horn blares and crass laughter harasses. I lean back against my closed truck door, thumbs in my jean pockets, Stetson tilted back and feeling naked without the gun and badge I’ve stowed in the key-locked glovebox. The club’s doors open and close, a good country song asking to be danced to, and my heel taps out a beat.

“Going to stand outside in the cold all night, sugar?” a man’s sultry voice teases as he passes by with a group of friends. He turns to keep looking at me as he walks backwards. “I promise, it’s nice and warm inside.” His eyebrows wiggle at me, temptingly.

His friends laugh at the innuendo and reach for him as he reaches for me. I don’t much like being touched, a habit of being Ranger trained, so I shy away. But, damn, I don’t want to be rude either, so I smile at the frown that’s formed on his pretty face. He’s way too young for me, as are most of the people I’ve seen walk into the club so far.

Damn. What the hell am I doing here…

“Sorry, waiting for someone,” I lie, with a mind to hop back into my truck as soon as they disappear through the door.

“Aw,” he pouts. “Well, don’t wait too long for him. You’ll freeze. And if you change your mind and want to warm up a bit…” He winks then follows his friends inside.

Two girls walk by, hand in hand and loving laughter between them. I reach for the truck door handle. A deeper laugh rebounds from a few spots over. It’s a low, jolly rumble in just the right baritone chord to make my spine shiver. The man is older, I think. Mellowed by age. I catch a word or two of conversation. His voice is as deep as his laugh, and it carries the weight of authority and confidence. Guess not everyone who comes here is in their twenties.

Curious, I step up on the rail to glance over my truck. His back is to me, but he’s tall and built like a damn mountain. And bald… and, familiar…?

He turns. His smile flashes. My boot slips off the rail and I damn near land on my ass as the world spins. “Shit!”

My hand clamps over my mouth. Oh, shit. Shit, shit! No fucking way.

The conversation stops. Bootsteps clack against the asphalt. A shadow looms between me and a post lamp. Gravel grinds as the man stops walking and turns to where I’m ducked down between vehicles.

Shit. Knew I should’a stayed home.

“Cole?”

The sound of my name on his voice has my nerves tingling, like they have been for the past few weeks every time I have to discuss a case file with this man; Bruce Montgomery, the honorable no-nonsense judge from Johnson County.

“You okay, son?” Bruce asks, taking a step forward.

Son? I’m not some twink. I’m a God damn Texas Ranger, who’s cowering in the parking lot of a gay bar. Well, fuck.

Remembering I have a badge in the glovebox, I stand up straight and try to act like it ain’t no big deal. “Evening, Your Honor.”

“Just Bruce is fine,” he says in a way I can’t take as optional.

“Alright, Bruce,” but that don’t feel right, neither.

He looks at me for a moment as I fail to meet his steel blue stare. “On the job?” he asks.

It gives me an out – a way to laugh off this night, get back in my truck and pretend it never happened. My eyes betray me and flick up to meet his gaze. God help me, I can’t lie to a judge. “No, sir.”

His jaw tics as I fail to call him Bruce like he’d asked, so I keep on talking, hoping whoever it was he’d been talking to will come save me. “You?”

“Yes,” he answers seriously, drawing my eyes back up to his. “I’m here to judge the Tequila Two-Step.”

“The what?” The back of my neck flushes as his serious expression breaks into a softer grin.

“Each contestant takes two shots of tequila before each line dance. Last cowboy standing, wins. It’s fun. You should enter.”

“Nah, I don’t drink.” A cough sputters out after that admission. “Or dance,” I mutter more quietly, once again finding my boots easier to look at than Bruce’s face.

“So, you don’t drink, and you don’t dance…”

“What the hell am I doing here, right?” And I wish someone would tell me.

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