“Damn,” Alejandro muttered softly as he watched his new hand walk back toward the dust-covered motorcycle parked next to his truck. Black leather chaps accented thick thighs, while his fit torso stretched the light blue wife-beater which showed off the man’s well-defined arms. The hint of body hair at Benji’s neckline had been nothing more than a tease. Even the salt-n-pepper hair half hidden under the cowboy hat did little to deter Alejandro’s attraction. He’d always loved bears. Those sexy older men who were delightfully furred always drove his libido crazy. In fact, his first lover at school had been the divorced father of a fellow student.
Next to him, Bojangles bumped his head against his fingers, begging for attention. “That man is more tempting than my mama’s homemade apple pie.” He scratched the dog’s head. “Think he’ll let me have a bite, boy?”
Bojangles whined softly.
He sighed. “Yeah, I know. A hopeless fantasy. There’s no way that hunk of man is even remotely interested in guys.” He raked his hand through his hair as Benji bent over the saddlebags on the side of the bike causing the leather to frame his ass. “But man… what a waste.”
Turning away from the temptation, Alejandro picked up his guitar and opened the screen door. “Come on, boy. Let’s see about getting our new hand some food.”
Instead of following him inside the house, the dog plopped down on the porch, his sad eyes drifting shut. He shook his head. The dog was no fool. Stepping inside, he swore softly as the intense heat washed over him.
“First thing tomorrow, I’m calling the A.C. guy. I don’t care if I have to hock my truck. I’m not spending another miserable night trying to sleep in here.” Moving over to the crockpot, the only way he was cooking in this freaking heat wave, he lifted the lid off the stew. Taking the wooden spoon, he stirred it, savoring the smells of beef, baby carrots, new potatoes and barley. It didn’t take him long to ladle up a good sized bowl for his new hand. He was just cutting a few pieces of homemade bread, when Benji joined him.
“Son of a bitch. It’s hotter than hell in here.” Benji paused just inside the door, before inhaling deeply. “But damned if that stew doesn’t smell great. Did you make it?”
“Yeah.” Alejandro popped a small piece of bread into his mouth to distract himself from the tantalizing scent of Stetson and male musk emanating from Benji.
“Homemade?” Benji leaned in closer, lifting the cover off the crockpot.
“Yeah…” He trailed off when Benji groaned softly and licked his lips.
“Can’t wait to taste it.” Then he wiped his finger around the rim, gathering up the gravy.
Alejandro nearly swallowed his tongue when he popped his finger into his mouth and sucked it clean. His cock thickened in a rush that was only compounded by the pleasurable sigh and the hunger in Benji’s gaze. The thought of his hand being that… passionate about food had him wondering what he’d be like when it came to sex. Whoa, hold up partner. Get your frickin’ mind out of the gutter.
“Tastes better than any canned shit I’ve eaten.” Benji straightened and put the lid back on the crockpot. “But, then again, it’s better than starving.”
“True.” Alejandro fumbled with the lid on the butter. It took him several tries before he managed to get it off. Trying to ignore the presence of the man next to him, he slathered butter on the thick slices of bread before setting them on the lip of the bowl. “There you go. You can eat out on the porch if you want.”
“I think I will. Don’t feel like melting in here.” Benji whistled as he picked up the stew and bread. “And fresh bread and butter. How lucky can a guy get? If it’s as good as the stew, I’ll be back for seconds. I’m a growing boy after all.”
Alejandro chuckled, but refrained from disputing Benji’s claim. Instead he kept himself busy by covering the bread back up and putting the butter back in the fridge. “Not to worry, there’s plenty. Spoons are in the second drawer to the left. Help yourself.”
“I will.” The scrape of the drawer was followed shortly by the slap of the screen door as his new hand carried his food out to the porch.
“Shit.” He braced his arms against the counter as he waited for his dick to soften a bit. Because despite the heat of the house, his frickin’ libido was stuck on high. The last thing he needed was to run off the only hand he had because of his unruly dick.
“Boss, those were some damned fine vittles.” Sitting with his booted feet propped against the railing, while sopping up the last of the gravy with a hunk of bread from the bowl resting on his stomach, Benji sighed contentedly. The boy could cook. For once he’d lucked out when he’d agreed for room and board to be part of his salary. Unlike the last time on the Triple J― where the foreman’s idea of food had been cold cereal for breakfast, jerky for lunch, and canned soup, cold cereal or frozen pizza for dinner.
Alejandro shrugged as he stared off into the night. From the darkened shadows of the porch, the bright moon shed just enough light for Benji to see what he was eating. Above them, the stars glittered against the dark backdrop and for the first time in a long while Benji felt… comfortable, for a lack of a better word.
“It’s just stew― nothing out of the ordinary.” His boss seemed determined to slough his cooking skills off. “Mom insisted I know how to take care of myself when I went off to college.”
Benji studied Alejandro’s relaxed pose against the railing of the porch. The faint glow of the moon threw one side of his face in the shadows, while highlighting the other side. For a younger guy, he was attractive― but still off-limits. So instead, Benji turned his attention back to the conversation at hand. “A college man, huh?”
“Yeah.” He wrapped his arm around the support beam. “Are you going to give me crap about it?”
“Should I?” He kept his tone even.
Alejandro shrugged. “When I came home some of the older hands scoffed at my suggestions. Called them nothing but new fan-dangled ideas.” He brushed his hair back from his face. “As if getting a degree in agriculture makes me lower than cow dung.”
Benji set aside his bowl. He recognized the defensive tone, the stiff set of those wide shoulders, and even understood the reasoning behind it. A lot of the older hands were resistant to change, but instead of taking offense, he wanted to put his new boss at ease. “Cow dung, huh? Or is that your way of saying I’m old?” He rubbed his hand over his closely clipped goatee. “I mean, I know I’ve got these gray hairs going on, but I swear I’m thirty-eight years young.”
A low chuckle rolled free of the younger man. “Thirty-eight years young? That’s a new one.” He gave Benji a thorough going-over with his gaze.
Resisting the urge to fidget was hard, but he managed. With his feet propped on the railing, he leaned the chair further back. “Yep. Don’t let the rugged visage and wear and tear fool you. I can hold my own. And unlike some, I don’t have an issue with book learning. If I could’ve convinced my old man to pay for a degree in agriculture instead of law, perhaps I’d have turned out different. Maybe had a ranch like this to call my own.”
Alejandro relaxed against the post. “So no guff?”
Benji shook his head. “Nope. I don’t give guff. You’re the boss.” He let the chair fall back on all four legs. “But if you fuck up, and you probably will― I’ll give it to you straight. Not to be mean, but to help.”
Alejandro nodded. “I’d expect no less.”
“Good, because Suzette said you needed an experienced cowhand. And most cowhands with my experience won’t work under your terms.”
“Then why did you agree to them?”
Benji sighed. “Personal reasons. My ma is sick. She lives in Idabel and I promised my sister I would come and see her. But Pa and I? We don’t get along none too well.”
“So you hooked up with me.” A wealth of understanding filled Alejandro’s voice. “Family can be a bitch at times.”
Benji nodded. “But don’t think for a second I won’t pull my weight around here. Other than a few evenings off to visit, and perhaps an occasional Sunday morning, I’ll be stuck to this place like a bur.”
“Do what you have to do. I know how it is to have a sick mother. As long as you can teach me the ins and outs of bringing in a herd like this, we’ll call it even.”
Refusing to think about what he would like to teach Alejandro, he nodded. “Yeah, I’ll show you what I know. Twenty years of experience has to be good for something.” He stood. “But first things first. Before we can even think about moving the herd, we need to inspect every inch of fencing you have on the place. I noticed several breaks just along the lane leading up here that are prime areas for Houdini cows.”
A grin tugged at the corner of Alejandro’s mouth. “Houdini cows?”
He grabbed his bowl. “Yep. Them rascals only need six inches of open wire and they are gone. You’ll be lucky if you haven’t lost a few head already.”
Alejandro shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans. “Then I guess we should turn in if we want any chance of riding the fences before the damned heat sends us looking for some place cool.”
Benji didn’t comment on the “we” but followed his new boss into the still warm house. The setting of the sun did little to cool off the home, despite the open windows. “And it won’t be in here. It’s still hotter than hell in this place.”
“Yeah, sorry about that. Suzette told me when I arrived yesterday that the air was on the fritz, but I thought she meant it was only working half-assed. Until I turned it on this afternoon. By then it was too late to call the A.C. repair guy. Bitch is blowing nothing but hot air.” Alejandro sank into the chair at the table to toe off his boots. “I’ll get ahold of him tomorrow. See if he’ll take payments.”
After setting his bowl in the sink, Benji reached for the buckle on his riding leathers, determined to get out of the hot material. He knew exactly where the boy was coming from. Money on ranches was usually tight before roundup, but they had to have a cool house to come home to at the end of the day. “Before you do that, boss, let me take a look at it in the morning.”
“You think you can fix it?”
He shrugged as he unzipped the leathers that protected him during his ride out, down his thighs. “Maybe. It might just be out of coolant.”
“That’d be appreciated. I may know how to fix a tractor, or combine, but I know jack about cooling systems.”
“No problem.” Bracing himself on the counter, he leaned down to strip the leathers over his boots. “Consider it my first chore.” He glanced up and damned near swallowed his tongue. Now standing in the middle of the kitchen, Alejandro wiped the sweat slickened muscles of his chest with a hand towel. The flex of said muscles as he dried his face with the towel had Benji wanting to touch. It was then that he knew sleep would be a long time in coming. It would take an act of God to drive out the memory of his boss standing half-naked while he rubbed the sweat off his face.