Don Jenkins will do anything for a happy, thriving family and home, but keeping his farm going is a constant challenge. He’s always depended on Griff McAllister, his partner and first love, to support him in his work and in his need to submit in the bedroom. When he discovers Griff might be losing faith in him, he’s at a loss for how to mend the relationship. Then Howard Campbell—a man Don and Griff both love beyond words—is added to the mix. With jealousy threatening their bond and the viability of the farm in question, Don’s dreams begin to crumble.
Nearly losing Howard in an accident serves as a wakeup call. They begin to pull their relationship out of the muck and work to remember why they came together in the first place. If they can figure out how to help one another and balance the dynamics of dominance and submission between them so each man gets what he needs, the trio might build the loving future they’ve dared to hope for. They must be brave enough to commit every resource they can muster—especially trust, understanding, and acceptance—and realize true love is never as easy as it looks.
FARMERS AND POETS
Present day, age twenty-eight
UNDER the sounds of the grain shushing into the hopper behind Don, the chunking rumble of the combine’s engine complaining alerted him to its imminent meltdown. Again.
“Fucking hell!” He disengaged the thresher and slowed the machine to a stop. Not that he could do anything about it out here on his own. For a few minutes, he sat in the cabin and stared out over the expanse of golden fields, less than one quarter shorn and covered in straw.
“Fucking hell,” he muttered again, removing his ball cap to swipe his arm across his brow. It was goddamn hot out. But that was good, he reminded himself, eyeing the hazy horizon. Not a cloud darkened the sky at the moment, but the oppressive heat and humidity hinted at an oncoming storm. Rain was the last thing they needed.READ MORE
Now if they could figure out why the cabin’s air-conditioning didn’t work, other than that the entire machine was fucking older than God, he’d be happy.
He could sit here all day, or he could get off his ass and find a solution. He could check some belts, blow away some of the grain dust, and if he was lucky, whatever was knocking around in there would be obvious. Then he’d have something intelligent to say to his mechanic when he called. He’d worry about how he’d pay him later.
Shoving an upturned pail out of his way with one foot, he slapped his cap back in place and got up to open the door. The only difference in temperature was the increased airflow over his face. Like a hot blast from a furnace, the breeze dried the sweat on his temples to a stiff crust, and he tried to remember what it felt like to love his job.
Not his job, he reminded himself for probably the eightieth time that morning as he lifted the cap off his head and swiped the back of his wrist across his sweaty forehead. This was his life. His home, and his family, all of it was wrapped up in making this harvest profitable. Even as he had the thought, his breast pocket rang and he sighed. Now what? He fished his cell out and hit the answer button.
“’Lo?” He didn’t even look at the call display as he put the phone to his ear.
“Hey, babe, do you know where the extra set of keys for the Jeep is?”
Don frowned into the hazy distance and wondered why Griff needed to know that. He shook his head, realized his partner wouldn’t get that answer, and grunted a no. “Why?”
“Thought I’d bring it over to Howe’s this afternoon. See if he can—”
There was a pause. “I’m sorry?” Griffith’s voice went flat. “No?”
Don had to stifle a sigh, and he sank onto the bucket next to the driver’s chair. “We can’t afford it. I have to get him to come all the way out here and look at the combine.”
“Again?” There was definite annoyance in Griff’s voice.
Don wanted to haul off on a tirade about how they couldn’t last another year if he didn’t get this harvest in, how they couldn’t afford a new machine, how yes, the combine was a piece of shit clunker too old to do its job anymore, but that was too fucking bad, it was more important than Griffith’s piece-of-shit clunker Jeep from 1970-fucking-something. And all this just so the man could have his own wheels. All Don let out was a clipped “Yes, again.” And hung up.
The call to Howard’s garage was quick and required only a small amount of begging. A sob story about being stuck out in the middle of the field got the busy mechanic’s assistant agreeing to ask Howard to drive out so he could take a look. Don’s offer to pay extra for making the field call was flatly refused, with the young man on the other end of the phone all but coming out and saying he knew that kind of premium was beyond the reach of Don’s bank balance.
Did the entire county know they were going bust? How perfect.
Sweat trickled down between Don’s shoulder blades, and he let his gaze drift over the fields again. How often had he admired that view? Since he could remember. He’d grown up on this farm, already third generation when his father had put it in his hands, and he was going to be the one to ruin it. Not that it mattered. It wasn’t like he and Griff had anyone to take over from them when they were too old to keep it going. He was already older than his own father had been when he’d begun teaching Don how to do this exact job, on this exact machine.
September, age twelve
CREEPING carefully down the steps, Don placed a hand on the rail and leaned hard so his weight wouldn’t make the third step from the bottom creak. He could hear his parents in the living room discussing things he wasn’t supposed to hear them discuss.
“Andrew can drive the combine, Donald. Just like he has for the past seven years.”
“Andrew is not coming home just to harvest, Mary. Leave it.”
“Little Donald is just too small—”
“You need to stop calling him that. He’s perfectly capable of learning the ropes. He’s already older than Andrew was. You don’t give that boy enough credit.”
A smile crept over Don’s face. Finally.
“What about school? You know how he loves—”
Don’s gut tightened to knots as his father spoke over his mother again.
“Open your eyes, woman. You coddle him too much and ignore what you don’t want to see. Pack his lunch, but he’s coming out to the fields with me tomorrow and for however long it takes to get all the hay in. Someone has got to run this place when I’m gone. Time he learned.” There was a rustle of paper and Don could imagine his father straightening his newspaper and holding it up in front of himself, effectively ending the conversation.
His mother made an unhappy sound but didn’t argue further.
Touching two fingers to the green and purple bruise over his collarbone, Don drew in a breath and let it out carefully. No one had asked him where it came from. His mother had tutted. His father had eyed the mark, eyed him, and in his steady gray eyes, some curtain had drawn away and Don had seen the moment of decision. As he backed up the steps and returned to his room, he wondered how much of what Don hadn’t told them about being cornered in school hallways his father suspected.
A lot more than a traditional-minded farmer was willing to talk to his twelve-year-old son about, it had turned out. He didn’t find that out until very much later in life.
But then, one thing Don had always loved about his father was that they didn’t need to talk about every little thing. Some things remained understood between them from the moment they were acknowledged with a silent nod or a smile that reached deep into the old man’s eyes. Understood, rarely said out loud.
Which was fine, because his mother made up for that lack of verbiage and then some.
“Now make sure you eat everything, and drink. There’s plenty of water in the jug.”
“Mom, I know!” Don pushed her hand away from fussing with his bangs and plopped his ball cap on his head. It was the only feasible way to control the heavy growth of black waves, short of a buzz cut, and he looked even skinnier and paler with no hair. The curls, at least, gave him substance.
Annoyingly, she turned the cap around so the brim shadowed his face. “Use sunscreen”—she stuck the bottle into the pocket of his shirt—“and reapply, or you’ll be crispy by noon.” She clucked her tongue and touched his cheek. “So pale.”
“Here.” She handed her husband a tall thermos and kissed his cheek. “Don’t be too much of a bear, dear. You know how you are before you’ve had enough coffee.”
“Shut it.” Don watched his father grin happily and give his mother a much more solid kiss. It made him smile to watch her eyes close and her hand run down his chest. The kissing might be gross, but he liked that they could argue and kiss practically in the same breath.
“Alright, kid.” Donald Sr. patted his wife’s ass and turned to his son. “You ready?”
“God, Dad.” Don made a face. “Really?” After all, a kiss was one thing, but that was his mother, for crying out loud. He pulled his cap down to hide his blush and grabbed the cooler she had packed. There was a lot more lunch in there than she normally made for him when he went to school. He wasn’t sure how sitting on the combine was going to take more energy than sitting in a chair at school, but whatever.
His father laughed and clapped a hand onto his shoulder. “You won’t think it’s so bad soon enough, son. In fact, you’ll be the one kissing the girls.”
Don flushed deeper. “I doubt that very much.” Now was probably not the time to tell them there was zero to no chance he’d ever kiss a girl. Ev-er.
Turned out his mother was onto something with the lunch thing, though. Despite the air-conditioning in the combine’s cab, the sun beat in through the surrounding windows and his shirt stuck to his ribs inside of an hour. Between that and the constant noise and vibration, and the need to perpetually rebalance himself on the upside-down bucket his father had placed on the floor next to the driver’s seat, he was famished by the time they stopped for a midmorning snack.
“Takes it out of you,” Donald Sr. said, his tone matter-of-fact.
Don grunted and stuffed another chunk of muffin in his mouth.
“Slow down!” His father chuckled. “No one’s going to take it.”
Don just about froze, mouth full, fingers digging into the remains of the muffin.
Shit. He glanced up to see his father’s eyes narrowed slightly and his head tilted to one side. “Nothing,” he mumbled, with the faint hope the old man would drop it.
“Hmm.” He took another bite of his own muffin and a sip of coffee, then took a tin mug down off a hook on the back wall of the cab. A quick blow inside rid it of most of the grain dust, and he poured a second cup of the dark liquid, which he handed to Don. “I doubt it’s nothing.” He let Don take the mug, then reached and peeled back the collar of his shirt to get a look at the bruises.
Don sniffed at the contents of his drink and managed not to squirm away from the scrutiny. He took a tentative sip and made a face.
His dad laughed. “Put some hair on your chest, kid.” But he patted Don’s arm gently and his smile was just as soft. “Don’t worry about it. By the time you’ve tossed a few bales, they’ll think twice about messing with you, son. Guys like that aren’t interested in bothering a fellow who looks like he might hit back and hurt them.”
Pulling in a breath, Don gulped a swig of hot coffee and swallowed it down. “Sure,” he said. “Maybe.”
“Trust me. You don’t actually have to hit them back. Just look like you could do some damage if you do.”
“Right.” He glanced up from his mug with a cracked, halfhearted smile. “Because I’m not at all scrawny or anything.”
“You’ll fill out. Give it time. It was the same for your brothers. Same for me when I was your age.” He studied Don, his gaze speculative. “I do remember that far back, you know.”
Don almost laughed at that.
His father smiled. “First date with your mother was right here.” He patted the wall of the cab. “Sittin’ up in Daddy’s combine, golden September afternoon. Her head on my shoulder.” His smile was soft and full of memories. “Bouncin’ all over the damn place, and she just smiled and petted my arm. Nothin’ sexy about being a farmer, son, but she saw somethin’, I suppose.”
He let out a happy sigh and finished off his own coffee before wiping the mug out with a napkin to hang back on its hook. “Let’s get this cleaned up and get back at ’er. This hay is not going to fall over and sort itself out for us.”
Don smiled crookedly as he packed up. His father was half farmer, half poet. Wasn’t that hard to see what his teenage mother must have.
Don’s smile drifted away once they were back in their seats, though. Trying as hard as he could, he could not imagine a version of that fairy tale that ended the same way for him as it had for his parents.COLLAPSE