Where do I start? That’s the question that’s been beating around my brain since I found out I was sick. How do I explain to my son, to you― Alejandro, why I let your mother have her way? Why I couldn’t have been a stronger man in the face of her anger?
I have no excuses. I married your mother with all the hopeful dreams all men have. I wanted a family, I wanted to be a good man, an honorable man. I even wanted to love your mother. In truth, she was the best friend I ever had. I only wish I could’ve loved her the way she loved me.
Looking back now, I realize I never should’ve married her, but don’t think for a moment I regret having you. You have always been my pride and joy, as well as my child. It nearly broke my heart when your mother demanded I stay away because I had the audacity to fall in love with another man. But whatever you do, please don’t think badly of your mother. I’m not completely blameless. I married her, promised to cherish and hold her forever, then abandoned her when I fell in love with Ian. A man I’ve been lucky to share the last twenty years of my life with…
Alejandro swallowed hard against the tears stinging his eyes, while he crinkled the edges of the letter between his fingers. After going to the bank only to find out that the president was out of town on business, he’d remembered what Benji had said about one day needing a connection to his father. So now he sat at the kitchen table reading letters written in the shaky hand of a dying man. He just never expected to find out his father was gay, or at least bi-sexual. Smoothing out the letter, he set it on the table, then picked up Ian’s ivory business card.
Pieces were falling into place, but he desperately needed to talk to the only soul still alive who could possibly give him answers. The only question was, after the way he’d acted toward Ian, would the man even take a call from him? Deciding there was no time like the present, he dialed the cell phone number with trembling fingers. As it rang, he swallowed hard.
“Alejandro? I was hoping you would call.” Ian’s tone wasn’t as brisk as it’d been two weeks ago.
He clenched the receiver tight. “You knew… my dad?”
“Very well. I loved him.”
The softly spoken words held more emotion than Alejandro had expected. He needed to look into Ian’s eyes as they spoke of his father. “Look, I know you’re a busy man, but would you be able to meet me somewhere for coffee? Or come to the ranch. I have some questions I’d like answered, but I don’t want to ask them over the phone.”
“Of course.” There was a wealth of relief in the man’s voice. “I can be at Rancho de la Luna in less than thirty minutes.”
Alejandro rubbed the back of his neck. “I’ll put the coffee on.”
“If you don’t mind, I’d rather have a glass of that sweet tea I heard so much about. Your dad used to brag about how truly delicious your tea was. That’s if you have some already made?”
Alejandro flushed. “Yeah. Just fresh this morning.”
“Good. I’ll see you in twenty minutes, young man.” Then the phone clicked in Alejandro’s ear.
“Damn he was right. That is the best damned tasting tea I’ve ever had.” Ian Downing set his iced tea down, looking more at home in the kitchen then Alejandro ever thought he would. Instead of his suit, he was wearing a pair of khaki’s and a light colored polo. “So you want answers?”
Alejandro shifted. “Yeah.” He nodded toward the folded letters in the center of the table. “You dropped those off to me. You said then, at my dad’s request?”
Ian ran his finger around the rim of his glass. “Yeah. I did. He wanted you to know the truth.”
“According to those, you and he were lovers?” Alejandro studied the older man’s face.
“Yes.” A small smile lifted the corners of Ian’s mouth. “I always thought I’d be a bachelor, then I met your dad. He was so full of piss and vinegar when he stomped into my office at the bank, demanded to know why the hell I wouldn’t approve his loan.” He chuckled. “I found myself suggesting that we go out to Sullivan’s for a beer and discuss it. There was just something about him. I had to get to know him better.”
Alejandro clenched his jaw. “You used the loan as bait? Benjamin Coleman said it was the only reason you and Dad were together.”
Ian narrowed his eyes. “Initially― yes, I did. I wanted him and my generation wasn’t as open as yours is, but don’t think for a moment that I abused my position at the bank to get into your dad’s pants. Not once in twenty years did I ever sign off on a loan for Kemen. He did business with First Union, not First United. I wanted no hint of impropriety.”
Relief filled Alejandro that Ian hadn’t mixed business and pleasure when it came to his father. While he didn’t like to think of the man using the idea of a loan as a way to pursue Kemen, he could understand Ian’s reasoning. “So how did going for beer evolve into you being lovers? Because, according to those letters, he left my mom and me for you.”
Ian nodded. “It wasn’t something either of us wanted. When he told me he was married and had a child, I tried to make a clean break of it. I stayed away.”
Alejandro leaned back in his chair. “You didn’t know he was married? I find that hard to believe.”
Ian stiffened. “Well it’s the truth. I’ve been with the bank for thirty-five years. I knew your great uncle when I was a young man. When Oleksa died there were rumors of a distant relative claiming the land, so I naturally assumed that your dad was his heir― never thinking that he was married to Oleksa’s niece.” He sighed. “When I found out, we had a huge fight.”
“Well it’s obvious you must’ve made up, because my father and mother ended up divorced. Then Mom moved me halfway across the county.”
“I can never tell you exactly how sorry I am for that. I tried to end things. I told your father to go back to his wife and child, I absolutely refused to break up a family. I’m an orphan myself and I wasn’t about to let Kemen throw away his family.” A flash of guilt crossed his face. “That’s when he told me it was too late― that he loved me and whatever romantic feelings he had once for your mother were long gone. I tried to talk him out of it― we weren’t lovers then, just good friends who happened to be attracted to one another. But your father was a determined man. Once he put his mind to something…”
“…it happened.” Alejandro nodded. “If there’s anything I remember clearly about Dad, it was his unwavering determination.”
Ian propped his elbows on the table. “Along with his love of you, those were the two things that made me love your father the most. Sure, he had that handsome, dark, swarthy look that many Latinos have, but it was his heart that won me over.” He sighed. “Looks fade. Time goes on, but when you find a man who lights up your world, you hang on to him with all your might. I had twenty-two wonderful years with Kemen, but even if it had only been twenty-two days, I would’ve counted myself lucky.” He reached out for the letters in the center of the table. “Have you read them all?”
“Not yet.” Alejandro gave a brief shrug. “The first one was hard enough.”
Ian scanned through several, before handing him one. “Read this, and then I have a proposition for you.”
Alejandro reluctantly took the letter. “Really?”
A smile crossed the older man’s face. “Yep. Your father has one last gift for you.”
When Benji stepped into the kitchen, he never expected to find Alejandro sitting at the table reading his father’s letters. Emotionally raw, he’d hoped that Alejandro would be playing on the porch. Instead of hearing the sweet notes he’d yearned for, there was nothing but silence. Not that it mattered, because the familiar sense of homecoming was the same. He might feel like he’d been run through the wringer after dealing with his dad, but the peace he found in his boss’s presence remained the same.
“Arrangements made?” Alejandro looked up from the paper in his hand.
“Yeah. The funeral is the day after tomorrow at two.” After walking over to the fridge, he pulled out sweet tea. “Do you want to go with me?” As the words flew out of his mouth, he froze. Had he honestly just asked his boss to put up with his dad again? “But truthfully, I’d understand if you don’t want to― Dad acted like a real horse’s ass today.”
The scrape of the chair was his only warning, before Alejandro appeared at his side. He froze as the younger man took the pitcher from him. “If you want me there― I’m there. Dad or no Dad. Understand?”
He gave a nod. “Yeah, but Dad accused your dad of sleeping with the bank president today, and I can’t promise he won’t do worse at the funeral.”
Alejandro gave a laugh. “Funny thing about that― Ian stopped by the ranch today. We had a nice long talk, and let me assure you Ian has never― ever held a loan on the Rancho de la Luna. They were lovers though.”
Benji kept his face straight. “After talking to him the day he left the letters, it doesn’t surprise me.”
Alejandro nodded, before running his fingers up the front of Benji’s shirt. “We had a very enlightening talk, too.”
Distracted by Alejandro’s touch, Benji fought to focus on their conversation. “And?”
“And he made me realize something.” Alejandro’s hands drifted back down over his abs, until they were mere inches from Benji’s groin.
His breath caught as his cock hardened. “Yeah?”
“Yep.” Alejandro curled two fingers through Benji’s belt loops to tug him forward. “That if I found the one man who lights up my world, I should hang on to him as long as I could― whether it’s twenty years or twenty days. Well, I’ve found that man.”
Benji swallowed hard. Was the man saying what he thought he was? “But you…”
Alejandro arched an eyebrow at him. “But nothing. I know you’re going back to Texas after roundup.” He nodded toward the calendar. “And if I counted right that gives me approximately thirty-eight days to enjoy you.”
Benji hissed, as Alejandro brought their lower bodies together. Desire struck hard and fast, turning the blood in his veins to molten lava. His eyes drifted shut as he wrapped an arm around the smaller man’s waist. “You don’t know what you’re asking of me, Alejandro…”
“Yes, I do…” Lips skimmed over his jawline to settle near his ear. “I’m asking you to share my bed for the remainder of the time you’re here. To not only fuck me through the mattress, but to hold me through the night.” Teeth tugged at his ear lobe. “To make memories with me.” Alejandro released his flesh. “I won’t ask you to stay, but at least let me enjoy what time we have left.”
“I can’t give you what you want.” His protest came out as a croak. Standing in front of him with his heart in his eyes, Alejandro was Benji’s worst nightmare. What if he took what his boss offered him, and then he failed? He’d disappointed a lot of men in the past by not being what they needed. It would kill him if the same happened with Alejandro.
But instead of drawing back as Benji expected, Alejandro just smiled. “Can’t or won’t?” His hand drifted down to cup Benji’s cock through the denim. “Because this tells me, you’re more than capable of giving me what I want.”
Anger surged through Benji, magnifying his arousal. “Damn it, I could fuck you all night long, Alejandro. But it doesn’t change the facts. I’m only here until roundup. Then I’m gone. I won’t break your heart.”
Alejandro actually laughed. “And you think by refusing to sleep with me, that when you do finally leave I’ll be left whole?” He squeezed his fingers, stroking Benji’s cock through the denim. “Too late for that. Because even if you don’t make love with me, you’ll be taking my heart when you leave.”
Benji jerked as if struck. “You can’t love…”
“Love you?” Alejandro leaned closer, pressing Benji up against the counter. “Newsflash, hoss, I can and do.” He leaned up and licked the pulse pounding at Benji’s throat. “And there’s not a damned thing you can do about it.”
Benji drove his fingers into Alejandro’s hair. “God damn it― you better understand what you’re letting yourself in for.” He growled the words against Alejandro’s lips.