Cole Bradford needed a new start for him and his unborn child. After leaving his ex, he goes to the two people who could center him: his parents. Promising himself that he would solely focus on raising his child, he’s completely blindsided by his sudden attraction for his parents’ boss, Kane Cartwright.
Kane Cartwright’s only focus is the successful management of his dude ranch, the Black Meadow. He’s satisfied with his life as a bachelor and does not want the responsibility of a lover or children. Until the smart-mouthed New Yorker showed up on his ranch looking for his dads. And suddenly, Kane found himself attracted and wanting a man who’s pregnant with another man’s baby.
Cole Bradford pulled up to the dirt road leading to the Black Meadow Ranch. He turned off the car, needing a few minutes to collect his thoughts. He needed to figure out what he was going to tell his parents, as to why he was there.
Simply saying he missed them and wanted to see them wasn’t going to fly. They’d been asking him to visit for years and each time he came up with one excuse after another for why he couldn’t. His fathers had only met Ryker once, but they hadn’t liked him. They tolerated him because Cole was in love with him and thought that he was happy. And for a while, he was happy and in love—until Ryker showed Cole his true colors. Resting his hand on his flat stomach Cole sighed. He wasn’t a coward, but he had to get away from Ryker before the man ended up killing him or his baby.
Leaning forward, he rested his forehead on the steering wheel while holding back his tears. The first time Ryker had hit him, Cole accepted that it was an accident. Yeah, but that’s when the lies of me accidentally walking into his fist started.
Ryker had promised it wouldn’t happen again. The second time, Cole moved out of the apartment they had together. But he still saw Ryker every day since the restaurant where he worked was owned by the man. He’d tried to keep his distance, only showing up when it was his day to work and by not being alone with Ryker. During his off time, he went on job interviews and was repeatedly turned down. Cole later found out that Ryker was sabotaging him to the point where he almost got blacklisted. Ryker Christensen’s name carried a lot of weight in the restaurant business. Ryker had brought himself up from nothing in just a few short years. According to Ryker, he succeeded when others told him he never would.
Cole would be lying to himself if he said that in the beginning, when he met Ryker, that the money and power didn’t play a big part of what attracted him to the man. Not only that, but Ryker was an alpha and was supposed to be in tune with Cole's omega nature. They were compatible, or so he thought. During their one-month breakup he’d thought that Ryker understood that they were over and a month later Cole was ready to move on. Or so he’d thought.
He never thought he’d be one of those men who’d let his heart melt hearing the words “I love you.” But those sweet words became his torment. The first time Ryker had said he loved him, Cole was supposed to go out on a date with a guy he’d met at the grocery store of all places. Ryker had called him into his office under the guise of discussing something to deal with work. They ended up arguing about their failed relationship. Even though the door was closed, Cole knew the entire galley could hear them, it was what Ryker wanted.
At the time, he’d forgotten how manipulative Ryker could be, so when he yelled, “You’re my mate, dammit, and I love you,” it took some of the anger out of Cole.
“I was such a fool. Did I crave love so much I fell for his words and not what I really felt? Gods, I won’t let it happen again.”
He’d gone back and became someone he hated. Blaming himself for the reasons why his lover hit him. He’d learned to cover up everything. The bruises, the lies, and his pain. He’d been swayed by Ryker’s sweet words and promises of change and forgiveness.
“We’re going to be okay,” he whispered as he leaned back, talking to his unborn child.
Cole was three months pregnant with Ryker’s child. He wasn’t showing yet. Which was a blessing. A couple of weeks ago he’d gotten sick, but chalked it up as something else. He hadn’t thought of the possibility that he could have gotten pregnant. He was always religious about taking his suppressants and Ryker had only knotted him once in the time they were together. He’d ignored the signs of fatigue, loss of appetite, and nausea. It didn’t help that the man who was supposed to love him insulted him every chance he got.
“Why don’t you lay off sampling the desserts for the customers? You’re starting to look thick in the ass and hips. Some idiot might find that shit attractive, but I don’t,” Ryker told him a couple of weeks earlier.
Cole was a pastry chef and would sometimes sample the treats he baked. It was one of the fun parts of his job. With a clear head, he couldn’t find the reason why he stuck around and took Ryker’s abuse. He now had someone else he had to think about. “I’m so sorry you had to deal with that man, little one. We’re going to start over and do things differently this time, I promise.”
He’d been driving for a week, slowly making his way from New York across the country to Montana. He’d never been to Montana before and hoped that it would be far enough away from Ryker. He was certain that his parents would be happy to see him, but he wasn’t going to be able to hide the real reason why he was there. Other than seeing his parents, Cole desperately needed a change of scenery and to figure out what the hell he was going to do next. Restarting the car, he put it in drive and continued his journey the rest of the way. He smiled when he saw the sign above the large open gates that said Black Meadow Ranch.
Who knows, this might be the start of something new.
“I wonder who that could be?” Winston, his ranch foreman, said, getting Kane’s attention.
Kane turned from where he was sitting on the fence and looked over his shoulder. He watched as the car came to a stop behind his truck. Standing up he crossed his arms over his chest, wondering who the stranger could be.
“I don’t know,” he finally answered.
He wasn’t expecting any more guests for the week and the ranch was booked solid for the next six months, give or take a couple weeks for rest in between guests showing up. Kane Cartwright was the owner of Black Meadow Dude Ranch. He’d taken over running the business after his father, Preston, had a stroke a couple of years earlier. His mother, Julia, had become his full-time caregiver. They had moved out of the main family house and into one of the cabins that was more accessible for his dad to get around.
Kane watched as the car door opened, and the driver exited. The first thing Kane noticed about the man was that he was stunning, absolutely gorgeous. With dark-brown hair, long on the top and swept to the side, and short on the sides, he wore jeans with a black T-shirt and work boots. He might have been just wearing jeans and a T-shirt, but to Kane the kid looked as if he was some model showcasing loungewear in a magazine. The stranger looked around as he closed the car door. The smile on his face should have lit up his face, but to Kane it seemed strained, as if he was worried about something.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Winston said next to Kane.
“That looks like Denny and Bill’s son,” Winston told him. “I recognize him from one of the pictures on Bill’s desk.”
As the stranger walked closer to them, Kane studied him more, noticing the similarities between both Bill and Denny. Specifically, his bright blue eyes that resembled Bill’s. He knew they had a kid, but Kane never paid attention to the pictures on Bill’s desk. Or asked about the guy either. Denny was the head chef for the Meadow Brook restaurant and Bill took care of the maintenance on the ranch.
“Can I help you?” Kane asked once the man was standing in front of him.
“Hi.” The kid smiled up at him and Winston. “I was wondering if you could tell me where I can find Dennis and William Bradford?”
For a second Kane was confused. That was the first time since he'd hired them he’d heard anyone refer to the two men by their proper names. “On vacation,” Kane answered. He watched as the smile disappeared from the man’s face.
“Shit! Do you know when they will be back?”
“A couple of days,” Kane answered. “What do you want with them?”
“Damn, I’m sorry.” The kid stepped closer to him, extending a hand. “I’m Colton. Well, Cole Bradford. No one really calls me Colton. I’m Denny and Bill’s son.”
“Nice to meet you, I’m Kane Cartwright, owner of the Black Meadow Ranch,” Kane said shaking his hand and ignoring the jolt he felt when they touched. “Standing beside me is Winston Hollis, my foreman.” He released Cole’s hand and watched as he and Winston shook hands.
“Nice to meet you both.”
“Did Denny and Bill know you were coming?” Winston asked.
“No.” Cole smiled and this time it was genuine. “I wanted to surprise them. Maybe I should have called before I drove all the way here from New York.”
“Wouldn’t have made any difference. They went on a cruise,” Winston said to Cole. “But I guess they’ll be happy to see you when they get back.”
“Yeah.” Cole sighed. “I guess I should find a hotel and wait until they return.”
Cole turned and started walking back to his car and Kane felt a hard shove in his shoulder. He looked over at Winston. “What?” he mouthed. Winston tilted his head in Cole’s direction. Kane rolled his eyes at the older man.
“Hey, wait,” Kane called out, walking down to meet the man before he opened his car door. Cole turned and faced him and again Kane couldn’t help but stare into his bright blue eyes. “Why don’t you stay in your dads’ cabin until they get back? I would offer one of the guest cabins, but we’re filled up for the next week.”
“It’s no trouble. Besides, your dads would have my hide if I let you stay in a hotel.”
Cole didn’t say anything for a few minutes, and Kane thought he was going to object.
“Fine, but you have to put me to work while I’m here.”
“You don’t have to work,” Kane said to him.
“I know that, but I want to do something. I won’t feel right sitting around twirling my thumbs waiting for my parents to get back. Plus, I hate being bored.”
“You sound like Bill.” Kane looked away for a quick second. “What can you do? I mean, what do you do for a living?”
“I’m a chef, well, a pastry chef, but I can cook just about anything.”
“Are you any good?”
“Yeah.” He smiled. “Studied with the best, my dad included.”
Kane nodded. Denny was a phenomenal chef, and he was lucky to have him as a part of the Black Meadow family. The Meadow Brook restaurant garnered five-star ratings from many, if not all, of the guests who vacationed at the Black Meadow.
“Why don’t you help out in the kitchen until they get back? Denny’s assistant, Marla, is in charge right now, but I’m sure she won’t mind the extra pair of hands. Let me warn you now, she’s a bit bossy but everyone loves her.”
“Okay. If she works with my dad, I don’t doubt it.”
“All right.” Kane reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone, looking at the time. Noting that about this time Marla would be prepping for the dinner rush. Stuffing his phone back into his pocket he nodded. “If you follow me, I’ll take you over to the cabin so that you can get settled, then to the Brook so you can meet Marla.”
“Okay.” Cole smiled. And just like the first time Kane had seen his smile, it didn’t reach his eyes. Something wasn’t right. Cole reminded him of a spooked horse that needed to be sweet-talked into being ridden.
I wonder what the hell he is doing here?
Kane turned and walked back up to the fence where Winston was still standing and was watching them.
“I’m going to show him to Denny and Bill’s cabin, then take him over to the Brook. I’ll be back once I run into town to pick up the supplies we ordered.”
“All right.” Winston nodded and walked into the direction of the barn. There was still work to be done. The Black Meadow might be a vacation spot, but it was also a working ranch.
Kane jogged over to his truck and climbed in. He would have taken his horse Dusty, but once he showed Cole where everything was he needed to drive into town for a few supplies. Starting up his vehicle, he looked in the rearview mirror and saw that Cole had pulled his car out from behind him and was waiting. Something wasn’t right, and he couldn’t help but wonder what the man was doing in Montana. Since Denny and Bill started working for him, he’d heard them talk about their son, wanting him to visit, but he never did. Kane looked up in his rearview mirror again to make sure that Cole was following and allowed his mind to wander on the short drive to the older couple’s cabin. He knew every inch of his ranch like the back of his hand.
When he was younger, Kane couldn’t see himself ever leaving Black Meadow. He was an only child and never wanted for anything. His parents spoiled him, but he had good role models who taught him strong work ethics. He’d gone off to college after graduating from high school a year early, where he’d studied business and marketing. He’d missed his home like crazy when he was away at school.
After graduating from university, Kane returned home and worked in every job position, learning from the bottom up, and would have been content to do so until his dad was ready to turn the ranch over to him. Kane didn’t expect it to be after his father’s stroke. The stroke changed the way he saw things. Kane had thought his father was invincible and that nothing could touch him. After his father’s near death, it made him realize that he had to live his life to the fullest.
His father’s stroke also changed things for his parents, especially his mother. They’d started to ask for grandkids. Kane was only thirty-five and had a lot of responsibilities. Getting married and starting a family was not in his plan. There were a few things he wanted to accomplish, and he wasn’t looking for the “happily ever after” with some guy. He wasn’t looking for a partner. Quick hookups and one-night stands were all Kane could handle, and he didn’t want to break the news to his parents that he wasn’t ever going to get married. Kane was selfish, and he knew it. He’d never hid that fact from anyone. He might care about the people that worked for him and who had their own families, but he was never jealous of their home lives. He was content being alone. All he needed was his ranch and nothing else.
Cole followed behind Kane Cartwright’s truck. He was a bit bummed that his parents weren’t there to greet him like he wanted. The way he was feeling, he could go for one of Denny’s hugs and whispered words of “everything was going to be all right.”
Maybe I should just leave. What the hell was I thinking coming here anyway?
Granted, Cole should have thought through his plan carefully. But he needed to get away before Ryker got back. He realized that he couldn’t leave Montana anyway. Like an idiot, he’d offered up his services to work in the ranch’s restaurant. It was the least he could do since he was staying on the ranch for free. He knew that even though his dads worked on the ranch, they had to pay for their lodging and the amenities which seemed fair to him. Cole was surprised by the sprawl of the Black Meadow Ranch. He had never been to a dude ranch before. Hell, he was completely ignorant as to how things worked on a ranch or a farm.
From the little he saw on the drive up, there was a lot going on—kids running around, some people were riding horses, while other horses were in the field grazing or doing whatever the hell it was they did, and a crowd of people gathered around a fence watching some guy in the center of the ring demonstrate something. From what Cole could tell, he had a rope in his hand twirling it around. He couldn’t tell what was real and was fake, it all seemed as if he was on a movie set.
I wonder if they have a town sheriff and a saloon where men sit around and play poker all day waiting for the bad guy to show up and rob the bank. He chuckled at his silly thought. But seriously what the fuck am I doing here? I don’t know shit about working or being on a ranch.
What also surprised him was how fucking gorgeous Kane Cartwright was. The foreman wasn’t bad-looking either. But it was Kane that caught his attention. Tall, café au lait skin, jet-black, curly hair sticking out the sides of his baseball cap, and gray-blue eyes. Kane was exactly what he envisioned how a cowboy should look and sound like. His deep, commanding voice could melt chocolate each time he spoke, his muscled chest, slim waist, with the possibility of a six- or eight-pack abs hidden under his flannel shirt he was wearing. Cole couldn’t stop himself from licking his lips thinking about Kane’s thick thighs encased in jeans that looked as if they were painted on him.
Sighing, Cole cleared his thoughts. The man was good-looking, but he had no business admiring him. He had his own issues that he was running from and a baby to take care of and protect. He was going to do the job he promised he would do and once his parents returned, he would spend some time with them and leave. Cole made up his mind that he wasn’t going to tell his folks yet about the baby. He needed to use the short time that he was going to be there to work shit out on his own.
Cole wasn’t going to go back to Ryker, that he knew for sure. He’d become dependent on the man which only enabled Ryker to get away with the shit he did. He should have left when he realized that he and Ryker were not a mated pair. He knew Ryker cheated on him with betas or omegas that would suck his cock for whatever he had to offer. The man had the decency not to flaunt them in his face, but smelling their perfume or cologne on him was just as bad. Cole beat himself up for staying as long as he had. He’d called himself every idiot name in the book and then some.
“If I had a mate, he wouldn’t want me now that I’m knocked up with some other alpha’s kid. Besides, who’d want damaged goods?”
No matter what happened, he would not hate his child. It was going to be hard, but he needed to look toward a brighter future for himself and the baby. Cole would need to find a place to live and a job. Go somewhere Ryker would never think to look if he was trying to find him. Finding a job would be easy. Restaurants were always looking to hire a chef. Hell, he would wait tables if he had to. Work wasn’t something he was immune to. Denny might have been a phenomenal chef, but growing up they were dirt poor. Denny worked long hours trying to get his name out there. Bill was a plumber who had worked for a company that went bankrupt when Cole was sixteen. Cole had taken out loan after loan that he was still paying off to pay for school. His fathers tried to give him the best life possible, and he appreciated them for everything they had done for him.
One of the reasons he’d stayed with Ryker for so long was because of his threats that no matter where he went, he would find him. He was scared of that possibility—that it might happen. But it was better to run than stay and die. I can’t bring my shit to them. They need to live their lives and not be worried about me.
Cole stopped his car when Kane pulled up in front of a log-style cabin that looked rustic with a modern touch. It was still light outside, but he recognized the solar panels on the roof. That had to be his dad Denny’s idea. Cole shut off his car and got out, pocketing his keys. He walked up to the steps meeting Kane who was waiting for him. Kane tilted up the bill of his baseball cap that he was wearing then bent down to lift the welcome mat and pulled out the extra key and opened the door.
“Just how close are you to my parents that you know where they keep their spare key?”
Cole hadn’t meant for his words to be as accusatory as it came out. He was glad when Kane ignored him by stepping aside, giving Cole room to enter. The room was large and open. He recognized both of his fathers’ tastes littering the room. Browns and soft shades of blues and green were sprinkled around the room elegantly. The large brown leather sectional sat in the middle of the room with a blanket thrown over it, facing an unlit fireplace with a television stationed above it. Two leather wingback chairs sat on the other side of the room with a table between them, an unfinished chessboard sitting on top.
Walking further in the cabin, he noticed the dining room off to the left of the living room. Denny and Bill might not be there but their home felt like they were. Cole walked into the kitchen and opened the cupboards, looking around. If he knew his dad Denny, tons of his favorite snacks would be hiding in the back. Whether he was there or not, there was always a snack in the cupboard that had his name on it. Cole smiled when he spotted the vanilla wafers sitting in the far right of the cupboard.
“Do you always go through people’s things when they aren’t home?”
Cole jumped and dropped the wafer he was about to put in his mouth, turning around to see Kane watching him. “Shit, I forgot you were still here.”
Clearing his throat, he picked up the wafer, dumped it in the trash and put the pack back into the cupboard to devour later when he wasn’t being watched.
“For your information, my dad and I have the same taste in snacks.” He had no idea why he felt the need to justify his own actions.
Kane grunted, but didn’t say anything else.
“What’s your fucking problem with me? We just met for crying out loud.”
“I don’t have a problem with you,” Kane answered. “Hell, I don’t even know you.”
“Then I guess I’m just not accustomed to your sunny disposition.” Cole wasn’t sure what the guy’s problem was, but he had been giving him the cold shoulder since they’d met only a few moments earlier. “Isn’t there somewhere else we need to go?” Cole asked Kane.
Cole wiped off his hands on his jeans and walked out of the kitchen. “Then let’s go.”
“Hey, wait,” Kane said stopping him before he got too far. Cole turned around and looked at him impatiently. “You might need these.” He held up the keys waiting for Cole to take them.
Shit, I’m acting like a fucking moron. The guy is being nice and I’m acting like he’s a pain in my fucking ass.
Reaching out he took the keys from Kane. “Thanks.”
“Yup.” He nodded and walked past Cole out the door.
Cole’s eyes trailed from Kane’s wide shoulders down his back and waist, finally landing on the man’s ass. Yup, I can’t stay here too long. I’ve only been here for a couple of minutes and already I’m checking out the man’s ass. Get your shit together, Cole. Checking out Ryker’s ass was how I ended up in the situation I’m in now. I’ll just stick around for a couple of days, see my folks and move on.
Copyright © 2018 Giovanna ‘Gia’ Reaves