Shuffle of Angel’s Feet copyright c. 2014 T.A. Chase
Ansel tilted his head in acknowledgement, but he didn’t say anything. Job could tell he didn’t really believe him. He couldn’t blame the man. It didn’t seem like Ansel’s own family wanted him around. Well, Job would do the best he could to convince Ansel that Job wanted him, not just to warm his bed for a little while.
They passed a trail leading from the road and Ansel gestured toward it. “That leads to Calbert’s main compound. The moment you step off the road, you’re on his land.”
“Have you ever gone to talk to him? Let him know that your family actually owns what he’s trying to claim?” Job wasn’t interested in going to visit Calbert at the moment.
“Bloody hell no.” Ansel glared at Job. “Why would I do that when I have no one to back me up? Run the risk that your uncle will kill me then hide my body where no one will ever find it? He would be able to do that and take the land.”
“Aren’t you in touch with your family? Wouldn’t he miss you after a while?” Job couldn’t imagine his family ignoring him. He always made sure to send a message to his brothers or parents, letting them know he was still alive. If he didn’t, someone would come looking for him.
Ansel lifted one shoulder. “I’m not entirely sure he would. I know my brother wouldn’t come looking for me. I’m getting the feeling that your family, though scattered to the wind, is much closer than mine would ever dream of being.”
He was most likely right. Job didn’t bother moving in the direction of Calbert’s land. He wanted to talk to the herders, even with knowing Ansel actually owned the land.
“Do the sheepherders know you own the land they’re squatting on?”
“No. I’ve been out talking to them from time to time, but I’ve never told them anything about me. They think I’m some strange Englishman and humor me by allowing me to wander with them.” Ansel smiled. “In many ways, the life of a sheepherder is hard and solitary. Yet I found I enjoyed it.”
Job chuckled. “Are you going to leave your comfortable bed and well cooked meals for sleeping on the ground and eating beans cooked over a fire?”
Ansel shuddered. “Oh heaven’s no. I don’t like it that much.”
“I didn’t think so,” Job said with a rather smug tone to his voice.
“Bloody jackass,” Ansel muttered as they continued down the road.
Job pretended not to hear that. “How much land does your father own?”
“From the stream that separates our land from Calbert’s all the way to the foothills to the west and the river to the north.” Ansel tapped his fingers on his thigh as he thought. “I’m pretty sure part of the reason Calbert wants the land is we have a large amount of water on it. Spring fed and it doesn’t go dry during the summer. The livestock can always drink.”
“Water means life or death here in the West. You’re probably right about that being an issue.” Job paused then said, “I looked at a map of Calbert’s land. I thought he had plenty of water.”
Ansel shook his head. “He only has two sources that don’t dry out during the hottest days. It’s not enough for the amount of cattle he’s running on his land. Of course, I think his herd is far too big for the acreage he’s claimed. He’s overgrazing the land.”
“I thought you didn’t know anything about cattle and ranching,” Job questioned, smiling slightly.
“I made it my business to know who my neighbors are and what kind of men they are. Unfortunately, I haven’t been impressed by a majority of them. The herders are fine. I will allow them to stay and might even give them some land of their own in return for some of the wool they gather from their sheep.” Ansel gestured in front of them. “You can talk to them yourself.”
Job looked ahead and saw a man standing in the middle of the road. He wore a flat brimmed straw hat on top of his dark curly hair. Job saw the suspicious glare disappear into a bright smile when the herder spotted Ansel.
“Senor Woolstem, you have come back to visit us.” The man waited for them to reach him before holding out his hand for Ansel to shake. “I was not sure if you would after the snake scared you.”
Ansel groaned and Job laughed. “I can’t wait to hear that story.”
“It’s not nearly as interesting as it might sound,” Ansle assured him. “Pascal, this is Job Ramsey.”
He saw the flash of fear in Pascal’s eyes and rushed to reassure him. “Don’t worry, Pascal. I’m not here to cause you trouble or anything. I’m simply looking for some information.”
“Calbert Ramsey is some relation to you, yes?” Pascal motioned for them to follow him off the road onto a faint trail.
“Yes, he’s family,” Job admitted, not seeing any reason to lie to the man.
“If he is family, then why are you not here to run me off the land my family and I have settled on fair and square? Calbert Ramsey has threatened many times to chase us off and kill our animals.” Pascal shook his head. “I do not understand his hatred of our sheep. They do nothing to him or his land.”
“Some people are greedy and want what they can’t have,” Ansel commented.
Pascal nodded. “That is true, Senor Woolstem. I am often amazed at what men consider important to them. Apparently more land will make Ramsey happier than he is now.”
Ansel snorted. “God, I wish it worked like that. I’d be buying up land and signing it over to him if it would get him to leave you alone.”
“We appreciate your concern.” Pascal patted Ansel’s knee when they stopped at the top of a small hill.
Shuffle of Angel’s Feet copyright c. 2014 T.A. Chase
“Do you think you frightened him enough to do what you said?” Ansel asked as they took their seats at a table in the corner of the restaurant.
He settled Ansel with his back against the wall then sat to put himself between Ansel and the rest of the room. There was no way anyone could sneak up on him and hurt Ansel. Job shook his head quickly, trying to clear his mind. Ansel could take care of himself.
He would need to have Ansel show him how he handled those pearl handled guns he wore at his hips. Job was impressed because not many men wore two tied down guns, and they weren’t Englishmen.
“We’ll have the breakfast special, Ruthie,” Ansel told the red-haired waitress standing next to them. “And bring a pot of coffee as well.”
“Yes, Mister Ansel.” She smiled at Ansel and nodded at Job.
“You a regular here?” Job kept his attention on what was going on in the room around them. He tracked the movement of people and their conversations. Nothing sounded suspicious, but he’d learned that the atmosphere could change in an instant.
Ansel shot him a look. “Of course, I eat here. It’s not like I have some place to cook my meals, even if I wished to do so.”
“But the lady who runs the boarding house you stay in provides breakfast and dinner. Why not eat there?”
“Because my ma is a better cook than Missus Jones, sir. I warned Mister Woolstem about her.” Ruthie returned with two full plates and a jug of coffee, setting both on the table in front of them. She filled their mugs before leaving.
Job chuckled. “Are they trying to fatten you up? Mothering you?”
Shrugging, Ansel cut into the steak on his plate. “Possibly. I don’t have the heart to tell them that it won’t work. Plus she is right. Ruthie’s mother is a fabulous cook.”
“This can’t be what you’re used to eating,” Job commented as he started in on his own meal.
Ansel nodded. “Very true, but I’ve found that I like a plebian meal once in a while.” He paused as though he were trying to decide whether Job knew what plebian meant.
He waved his hand to let Ansel know he got it. They fell silent while eating. After setting his utensils on his empty plate, Job leaned back in his chair, cup in hand. He watched Ansel sop up the gravy with one of the biscuits.
“I believe this is some of the best biscuits and gravy I’ve had in a long time,” Job said when Ruthie came back to clear the table.
“Thank you, sir.” Ruthie slipped away.
Job stood then swung around, holding out his hand as the telegraph guy approached them. He took the papers then motioned for the guy to leave. Ansel huffed in annoyance.
He watched as Ansel flipped the man a coin. The guy scurried out like a beaten dog.
“You didn’t have to give him anything,” Job told Ansel.
“I know, but doing it this way might allow him to remember us a little more fondly. That way if you need something else, he might be more inclined to help next time. Of course, the fact that you’ve scared him silly might help us as well.” Ansel pushed to his feet after setting some more coins on the table for the food.
They wandered outside where the horses were tied. Once he ascertained that they weren’t in any danger, Job read the telegram. He grunted as he finished and stuffed it in his pocket to burn later.
“What does it say?”
“I’ll tell you while we’re on our way to talk to the sheepherders.” Job mounted his gelding. “Though I’m not sure where we go to find them.”
“Follow me.” Ansel swung aboard his horse then headed out of town.
Why was he not surprised that Ansel knew where the herders would be?
“Is there another reason why people here might not like you all that much, Mr. Woolstem?” Job drew his horse alongside Ansel’s.
“What do you mean? The townsfolk love me.” Ansel wiggled his eyebrows. “At least the female folk do.”
Job snorted. “I have no doubt that you are quite able to charm the women, but they aren’t gunning for you. I’m getting the feeling that you’ve been involving yourself in something you probably should’ve stayed out of.”
“I get bored and go for long rides around the surrounding area. I’ve met the herders during my wanderings. They are good people. I believe them when they say Ramsey doesn’t own the land.”
“He doesn’t, but neither do the sheep guys. I’m not entirely sure who does. The claims office didn’t give me the name of the real owner. They only confirmed that Calbert and the others don’t.” Job glanced over at Ansel. “Maybe you should tell me the truth, Ansel. Do you own that land?”
Ansel shook his head. “No, I don’t own it.”
Sighing, Job reached over to poke Ansel in the side. “Give it up, man. Just tell me.”
“My father owns that land. He bought it several years ago. Someone told him owning land in America would be a good investment. He never planned on doing anything with it until I got sick. Instead of sending me to India, he decided I need to accompany my brother to New York then once he was engaged, I was to traveling on to Gideon’s Crossing.” Ansel pursed his lips then shook his entire body. “I was to settle on the land, build a ranch, and die out here without ever returning home.”
Okay. “Why would your father want that? You’re his son.” Job couldn’t imagine the Ramsey patriarchs doing that to their sons. Not even Travis’s father would have sent his son out to the frontier to die.
Ansel’s laugh wasn’t as happy as it should be. “As you can tell, I’m not exactly a shining example of masculinity. I got caught into compromising situations one too many times. By sending me out here, I get to feel like I’m being treated like an adult and my father can say he gave his unruly son something to help him grow up.”
Job touched Ansel’s shoulder. “I’m glad you’re here.”
Shuffle of Angel’s Feet copyright c. 2014 T.A. Chase
Ansel moved up next to him and they stared at Baldwin. The man snarled at them, but yanked on the reins to pull his horse around. Job didn’t continue on his way until he was sure Baldwin and his men weren’t going to return.
Once he was sure, he got his horse moving and Ansel fell in beside him. They stayed silent for a few yards then Job cleared his throat.
“You’re going to want to be careful, Ansel. Baldwin doesn’t like you.”
“I know. He hates me because he wants me. Some men can’t deal with that.” Ansel shrugged. “I get the self loathing. Hell, desiring a man like that can get you killed. I tend to ignore men like him.”
“Well, most men you’ve dealt with aren’t wearing guns. In London and New York for that matter, there are laws and people to enforce them. Out here, the law is what we chose to make it. He could ambush you or just shoot you in the street and tell them you drew first. No one will argue with him.” Job reached out to touch Ansel’s arm, making sure the man was listening to him. “I don’t want you to die any sooner than you’re going to.”
“Maybe being shot would be better than dying in such a painful manner when I suffocate,” Ansel mumbled.
“It might be quicker,” Job admitted. “But I’m not sure it’d be any better. I don’t want you to die at all, Ansel. Not when we just got to know each other.”
Ansel shot him a wink. “Was that what we were doing last night? Getting to know each other?”
Snorting, Job shook his head. “You’re incorrigible. You know what I’m saying.”
“I do, and thank you for being worried about me. It’s been a long time since someone has concerned himself with my welfare.” Ansel covered Job’s hand for a second before his horse danced away from Job’s gelding. “I’ll do my best to not irritate anyone and end up shot. Though you did say there might be a chance of that happening if I were to help you.”
“Yes. It could happen.” Job didn’t see the point of lying to Ansel. “Calbert isn’t going to be happy if I decide not to help him.”
Ansel frowned. “I got the feeling that you were supposed to help him because he’s family and Ramseys stick together.”
Job lifted one of his shoulders. “I probably should, but fuck it, I’m not the Helper and I don’t see the point of chasing people off land that they might have filed on legally. We’ll have to check on that.”
Clearing his throat, Ansel motioned ahead of them. “We can stop at the telegraph office before we get our breakfast. Send a message to the territorial seat and see if they—or Calbert—have filed on it.”
And if he found out that the sheepherders had done it all legal-like, he’d tell Calbert to back the hell off. He didn’t believe in stealing—land or anything else—and he’d tell Travis to ignore any plea Calbert might send.
“What if someone else filed on the land, but allows the sheepherders to graze on it?”
There was something about Ansel’s question that made Job look at him.
“Does someone else own that land, Ansel?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Ansel said, yet Job had a feeling Ansel wasn’t telling him the whole story.
He narrowed his eyes at Ansel. “You wouldn’t lie to me, would you? Not now after what we did last night.”
Ansel placed his hand over his heart. “I promise. I’m not lying to you. I don’t know if anyone has filed on that land, Job. I was simply posing a question.”
“Hmm…” He wasn’t entirely sure Ansel was being honest with him, but he’d let it go for now. He’d wait until they heard back from the claims office before he started digging into what Ansel actually knew.
“Let’s go.” Ansel sat forward and his horse took off.
Job allowed him to take the lead, knowing it was just a diversion to keep him from asking any more questions. He followed Ansel into Gideon’s Crossing, stopping only when they reached the telegraph office. Job dismounted before strolling into the building. Ansel stayed outside and rested his shoulder against the wall next to the door.
Just inside the room, Job took a step to the left and waited until his eyesight adjusted to the lower light. The clerk glanced up and Job saw his eyes widened when he caught sight of Job.
“C-can I help you, sir?” The man stuttered.
“Yeah. I need to send a telegram to the claims office in the territorial seat.” Job stalked closer to the counter.
“Yes, sir.” The clerk handed him a paper and a pencil. “Please write out what you want to know and I’ll send it out for you.”
He wrote out his message quickly then handed it to the clerk. “I’ll stand here while you send it then I want you to destroy what I wrote. I’ll be at the restaurant having breakfast, so you can bring the answer as soon as you get it.”
“Umm…I’m not supposed to do that.”
“Then send the damn message and I’ll destroy the message.” Job crossed his arms over his chest, staring at him.
The clerk’s hands shook as he sent the telegram. Once he was done, Job reached over to grab the paper. He tore it into pieces then stuffed them in his pocket to burn later.
“Remember bring me the answer as soon as you get it. Don’t tell anyone what I was doing here or I’ll come and have a word with you.” He glared at the young man who swallowed loudly.
Job stomped out, heading to his horse. Ansel laughed as he returned to his mount as well. Job glanced over at him, but his friend simply shook his head. Rolling his eyes, Job rode to the other end of the town where the restaurant was.
Hey everyone, I’m in Chicago now, waiting for GRL to start.
I did manage to get Tuesday’s installment of Shuffle done and scheduled. So there’s at least one installment this week. I’m going to try and get the second installment up for you.
In case someone is wondering, I didn’t add anything to the new version of Borderline, so if you have the older one, then you don’t need to grab this one. Unless you like the new cover.
I hope you have a great Monday.
An Ace in the Tiebreak, Book 8 in the International Men of Sports series, is available now at all 3rd party sellers. (ARe and Amazon) You can check it out here.
Also, I got the cover for Borderline, which is a re-release at Totally Bound. I love this cover, plus there will be two more books in the Delarosa Secrets series coming next year. Borderline will be out in February.
I finished Deserves to be Adored, which is a story for a Amber Allure PAX. It should be out early next year. I’m working on a St. Patrick’s Day story for MLR Press. After that, I’ll be working on Trailing Air, Rover’s story. Yes, finally….lol
Next week I’m going to be in Chicago for GRL. I’m going to try and get the two blog installments up and scheduled before I go. If I don’t, I’m sorry.
I hope you all have a great weekend.
Shuffle of Angel’s Feet copyright c. 2014 T.A. Chase
Job knelt next to their bedrolls and reached out to shake Ansel’s shoulder. “Hey man, time to get up. We have to get going.”
Ansel mumbled something. The way he pressed his face into his arm made Job wish he didn’t have to wake him. He knew the man was exhausted all the time. Consumption drained a person, along with the coughing and how difficult their breathing could be. Yet he needed to go out and see the land Calbert claimed was his, and he didn’t want to leave Ansel in the cabin.
“Ansel, wake up,” Job demanded.
“You’re a bit of a bastard in the morning, aren’t you?” Ansel peered at him from under one of his arms.
After standing up, Job strolled over to where the coffee pot was set. He poured a mug for Ansel then took it to him. “Here drink. I thought we’d grab breakfast in town before I ride out to look at the land. I might see if I can’t talk to some of those sheepherders.”
Ansel leaned against the wall while he sipped the coffee. He grimaced and Job chuckled. Shooting him an annoyed glance, Ansel swallowed.
“I don’t understand why you heathens can’t make some tea. What do you have against it?”
“Aside from it’s difficult as hell to get out here,” Job pointed out. “It’s not quite strong enough to wake a man up in the morning.”
“It can be made stronger, and I would be more than willing to pay the price to import some to this Godforsaken land.” Ansel scowled down into his mug.
Job tossed Ansel’s clothes over at him. “Not a morning person, huh?”
He watched as Ansel set the mug down then climbed out from under the blankets to get dressed. It wasn’t until he was completely clothed with his guns that Ansel picked up his mug and drained the rest of the coffee. Job waited, not speaking either. He got that some people just didn’t like getting up early in the morning.
“I’m getting used to rising at some God awful time in the morning, but it wasn’t something I’m used to. I usually didn’t get out of bed before eleven when I was at home.” Ansel lifted one of his shoulders in a nonchalant shrug. “Of course, I wouldn’t have arrived back at my home until four or five in the morning either.”
“Ah…to be a man of leisure,” Job joked as he double-checked his saddlebags, guns and rifle. “Let’s go.”
Ansel picked up his own rifle and bag then followed Job out of the cabin. They worked together in companionable silence while they saddled their horses. Before they mounted, Job grabbed Ansel’s arm and jerked him into his body. He pressed his lips to Ansel’s cheek then his neck.
“Good morning.” He stepped back, enjoying the slight blush to Ansel’s pale skin. “I should’ve done that when we were in the cabin.”
“There’s no one out here who could see us,” Ansel told him then swung aboard his horse.
After mounting, Job motioned for Ansel to follow him in a rather circuitous route away from the cabin and down to the road leading into town. Ansel coughed and Job looked at him.
“I’m all right,” Ansel said, tucking his handkerchief in his pocket. “Sometimes it’s a little worse in the morning before I can get moving for the day.”
He had to take Ansel’s word for it, but he would be keeping an eye on the man. He wouldn’t treat him like he was helpless. Hell the man wasn’t dead yet.
Hoof beats caught his attention and he loosened his gun in it’s holster as well as making sure he could get his rifle out fast if needed. Job noticed that Ansel did the same. Three riders rounded the curve in front of them. Job and Ansel eased to one side, willing to give way for the trio. Job tensed when the riders drew abreast of them then stopped.
“Howdy,” the man in the front said, obviously the leader.
Job nodded and Ansel said hello back.
The man studied Job for a moment before letting his gaze trail over to Ansel. “Mister Woolstem, I’m surprised to see you out and about, considering your condition.”
“Condition? I’m sick, Baldwin, not dead.” Ansel shook his head.
“Yeah that might be true, but you are a bit of greenhorn. You don’t know your way around this country,” Baldwin pointed out.
“True. Luckily, Ramsey here is willing to be my guide for a little while.” Ansel gestured to Job.
“Ramsey, huh? You wouldn’t be some relation to Calbert Ramsey, would you?”
“Distant relation,” Job informed him, not wanting to give every thing away.
Baldwin nodded. “He said he was calling in family to help him with those squatters on his land.”
“From what I’ve heard, he’s never filed on that land, so why should he be upset about someone else taking advantage of free land?” Ansel met Baldwin’s gaze with an innocent expression of his own.
“Ramsey’s been running his cattle on that land since he settled here. That means it’s his.” Baldwin growled at him.
Job held up his hand. “We’re not here to argue with you. I don’t care about any kind of land dispute. I really am just passing through. Hell, I forgot Calbert lived in the area until you mentioned him. Guess I’ll need to drop in on him and catch up.”
Baldwin didn’t seem interested in what Job had to say. He was focused on Ansel and Job didn’t like the look of lust and disgust crossing the man’s face. Going to have to keep a close eye on Ansel. He’s made some enemies since arriving in Gideon’s Crossing.
“We’re on our way into town to grab some grub. I’m sure you have some place you need to be.” Job nudged his gelding’s side. When the horse stepped forward, Baldwin’s horse had to give ground, which didn’t make Baldwin happy obviously.
Shuffle of Angel’s Feet copyright c. 2014 T.A. Chase
There had been a few men who dared to live with their lovers back in London, but to be honest, they tried hard to keep the true relationship hidden from society.
“He met Eagle while trying to figure out who killed his brother,” Job informed him.
“Eagle? So he’s a native?”
Nodding, Job shifted on the blankets and sighed. “Yeah. He’s a half-breed. Mother is part of the Comanche tribe and his father was a US Marshal. He has a half brother who followed their father into the marshals. Eagle’s a good man.”
“I’ve never met an Indian. They stay away from the town, which I understand makes sense.” Ansel ran his fingers over Job’s chest, tugging on the hair there. He smiled when Job grunted then covered his hand.
“Hell, I stay away from towns. Too many people. I like being by myself surrounded by nothing except trees and animals.” Job brought Ansel’s hand up to his mouth and pressed a kiss to his knuckles. “The occasional Indian as well. Mostly we leave each other alone.”
“It’s a good policy to have, in my opinion. Very easy to avoid trouble that way.” Ansel chuckled. “I never really learned how to not bother people. If you were talk to my brother, you’d hear all the terrible things I did. I have a tendency to annoy people without even trying.”
“Some people are just gifted that way,” Job said in such a serious tone that Ansel wasn’t sure whether he meant it or not.
He leaned back to peek at his lover who winked at him.
“You’re joking now, but just wait. If you stay around me for much longer, I’m sure you’ll come to agree with what others say about me.”
Job shrugged. “I don’t think so, but it will be interesting to see if you’re right or not. There isn’t anyone in town that will miss you tonight?”
Ansel shook his head. “No. I have no friends or even close associates in town. They aren’t sure what to do with the sick Englishman. They wish to mock me because I wear my guns and they’re sure I don’t know how to use them.”
“I guarantee they’ve never seen anyone like you, Ansel, and they don’t like people who are different.” Job nuzzled his cheek. “But I think I’ll have you show me how well you can use those guns of yours tomorrow.”
“Fine by me.” Ansel closed his eyes and bit his lip. Heat waved through him, causing sweat to bead on his upper lip.
Job eased him down, but made sure to keep him covered. “I’ll wet a cloth to try and help with the fever.”
“I hate this,” he mumbled. “I’m so tired of it.”
Job didn’t say anything, just got a cloth and wiped Ansel’s forehead with it. Ansel shuddered at the cool touch of the water. He kept his eyes closed and rested his hand on Job’s thigh. As he drifted along the mingled sensations of heat and cold, he noticed that Job was humming something.
He couldn’t make out the tune, but he focused on it and it relaxed him enough to allow sleep to wash over him. His mind went blank and the last thing he remembered was how hard Job’s leg felt under his fingers.
Shuffle of Angel’s Feet copyright c. 2014 T.A. Chase
Ansel closed his eyes as an unfamiliar emotion swept through him. Rarely had anyone wanted him by their side to help them with anything. He was a second son. A spare if needed, but for him, that meant he was shuffled off and ignored unless something happened to his brother.
His family had never expected anything from him. So when he got in trouble while in London, his father would simply shrug then pay his debts or do whatever was needed to clear the black spot on his reputation.
He’d been lucky that none of his other escapades with his male lovers had reached his father’s ears. His brother chose to ignore them as long as he didn’t flaunt them. Ansel had never had a lover he wanted to be seen with in public. He’d been more than happy to meet them in run down inns or a house he’d kept for that express purpose.
To hear Job say he was the right man to keep him safe somehow eased Ansel’s soul. Coming to New York then his lungs getting worse had handed him a blow to his pride. Maybe he would be able to show his family that he could be responsible.
“Thank you,” he said softly.
Job’s laugh rumbled in Ansel’s ear and Ansel smiled.
“Why are you thanking me, Ansel? You could end up getting killed by this whole thing.”
Ansel pushed back a little to look up into Job’s eyes. “I’m going to die at some point, Job. Unfortunately sooner rather than later. Maybe I’d like my death to have meant something. Or if I die, maybe it’ll be in saving your life. It would be a good legacy to leave behind.”
Job grunted then leaned down to brush his lips over Ansel’s cheek. “I would prefer you didn’t die at all. We might be able to do something about that, but it’ll have to wait until after we deal with my relatives.”
He appreciated Job’s saying that, but Ansel had been to some of the best physicians in London and New York. They’d all said the same thing about the consumption. There was no cure for this disease eating him up from the inside. Yet he would help Job until it was over or his body gave out.
Shivers ran down his spine and his skin goose bumped. Job helped him lie down, covering him with two blankets.
“I have to go check on the horses, plus wander around a little. Make sure no one’s sneaking up on us.” Job swung his belt around his waist before settling his guns on his hips. He smiled at Ansel.
“Did you want me to go with you?” Ansel would have gone if Job asked, though he was pretty sure he couldn’t move among the brush and trees as quietly as Job could.
“No. You rest because you’re going to have to warm me up when I get back. It can get cold out there when the sun goes down.” Job winked before he slipped out of the cabin.
Ansel burrowed under the blankets, trying to even out his breathing so he didn’t start suffocating or coughing until he spit up blood. He let his eyes drift close as exhaustion overwhelmed him. It hadn’t been that busy of a day, but he’d discovered he didn’t have the energy he used to.
When he opened his eyes again, there was a single lantern lit and set to one side. He spotted Job crouched next to the fire, pulling a battered coffee pot off the ashes. Ansel coughed as he pushed his covers off then reached to grab his pants and boots.
“You want some coffee?” Job held up the pot.
“Yes. I need to relieve myself then I’ll be back in.” He took a deep breath before climbing to his feet. He stayed still while he made sure he had his balance.
Job glanced at him. “You all right?”
Ansel nodded. He didn’t want Job to think he was weak or helpless. He’d been doing fine on his own, though it had been a lonely existence.
“Good. I’ll have your coffee when you get back in. Also, I have biscuits and beans.” Job stood then walked over to him. He kissed Ansel’s ear and said, “I don’t think you’re weak, Ansel. You’re just about the strongest man I’ve every met.”
Blinking, he stared at Job. “How did you know what I was thinking?”
Stepping back, Job shrugged. “I just did. Now get on outside. Don’t worry about anyone sneaking up on us. It was all clear when I did my rounds earlier.”
“Do you really think someone will be checking this place out or are they trying to find you?” Ansel tucked one of his handguns in the waistband of his pants, not wanting to bother with his belt.
“I wouldn’t doubt they’re trying to find out where I’ve been staying. I haven’t approached Calbert yet, though he knows I’m in the area.”
“He has to be wondering why you haven’t come to see him,” Ansel commented as he strolled toward the door.
Job took a sip of his own steaming coffee before he said, “He probably thinks I’m waiting for Travis to get here before I do something.”
Pausing, Ansel glanced back at Job. “Who’s Travis?”
“He’s my cousin. In our clan back in Scotland, there has always been one member who is considered the Helper. He travels around the country, visiting different cousins and relatives. Once the clan moved to America, they kept up the tradition. Travis Ramsey is our generation’s Helper. He is the one who should’ve come to help when Calbert asked.”
“Why didn’t he?”
“Because he’s living with his partner, building up a ranch. I didn’t see the point of making him leave there when I didn’t have any pressing business and could come check it out.”
Ansel licked his lips and asked, “Partner?”
Job’s green eyes met his. “His lover.”
“Oh” was the only thing Ansel could think of to say.
Shuffle of Angel’s Feet copyright c. 2014 T.A. Chase
Ansel woke, drenched in sweat and shivering. Bloody hell! He slowly rolled over, wincing at each ache in his muscles. There was an unfamiliar twinge in his arse, making him pause for a moment.
“How are you feeling?”
He jerked at the sound of Job’s voice, then turned his head to where Job was crouched next to the fireplace. The man was studying him and he smiled slightly.
“Nothing I haven’t felt before,” Ansel muttered. He pushed up until he was leaning back against the wall. He saw his clothes folded neatly next to the bed and he dug through them to find his handkerchief.
Job grunted, but didn’t reply. He spooned out some of the stew into a bowl then brought it over to Ansel. “Here’s some supper.”
“Thank you.” He set the bowl on the floor before wiping the sweat off. Job took the cloth and took it to dip in a bucket. Ansel frowned then noticed Job wringing it out.
“This should make you feel a little better. After you eat, you can wash a little. It’ll help with the sweat. I’m sorry you can’t take a real bath.” Job handed the handkerchief back.
Ansel shrugged. “I can get one at the boarding house when I go back there. It’s not really important. I appreciate it though.”
He wiped his face, neck and chest, sighing as the cool water helped ease the fever burning in him. He took as deep a breath as he could then picked up his bowl. Job rejoined him after dishing up his own supper.
They were quiet for a little while as they ate. Ansel couldn’t find his usual curiosity as to what Job was doing at Gideon’s Crossing. He found he wished they had met at a ball or party in London when he was healthy. There might have been a chance for their relationship to become more than just a few nights in bed.
Snorting softly, Ansel shook his head. Job would never fit in with the people Ansel had called friends. They were good at hiding how they felt and playing games. Job didn’t strike Ansel as a man who enjoyed those kinds of games. He seemed like an honest man who didn’t suffer fools kindly.
Finally after they finished and Job cleaned the bowls, Ansel settled back and folded his hands in his lap. He met Job’s green eyes.
“Is it time for you to tell me why you’re here?”
Job stared at him for a few seconds before nodding. “I got a message from one of my family who settled down out this way. He said he was having trouble, but didn’t go into any details.”
“What’s your relative’s name?” Ansel had been in town for several months, and even though he was a stranger, he still would’ve heard gossip about a range war.
“Calbert Ramsey,” Job told him.
Ansel pursed his lips while he thought. “I have heard something about a Ramsey, but I have to admit it wasn’t very flattering.”
Job nodded. “That’s what I was afraid of. I’m not naïve, you know? Not all of my family is good people. Just like most, we have bad apples. My gut was saying Calbert needed me to help with something I wasn’t going to feel good about doing.”
“Have you talked to Calbert yet?”
“No. I don’t go in anywhere without knowing the lay of the land first.” Job shrugged. “The best way to get yourself killed is to rush in without checking things out.”
Ansel chuckled. “That makes sense. Was that what you were doing this morning?”
“Yes.” He scrubbed his hand over his hair and scowled. “I went out to Calbert’s land and he doesn’t seem to be bothered or hurting for anything. Got good water access and plenty of land for his cattle.”
“There are shepherds who have moved in next to him. He says they’re squatting, but they claim he hadn’t filed on the land, so they could settle there if they wanted. From what I understand, the cattle men swear the sheep ruin the land.” Ansel wrinkled his nose. “I don’t know anything about that. Animal husbandry was never where my interest lay while I was at home.”
Job laughed, resting his hand on Ansel’s knee. “I’m not surprised. You don’t strike me as a man who gets his hands dirty toiling the land.”
Ansel covered Job’s hand with his while he smiled. “Of course not. What do you know about sheep?”
“Most ranchers consider them a nuisance. I’ve worked with some herders down closer to the border. Sheep are stupid, but I don’t really have an opinion about them.” Job shifted until he sat next to Ansel on the blankets. He didn’t seem to pay any attention to the fact that they were holding hands. “I think Calbert’s problem is he thinks that land belongs to him. He’s been running his cattle through there. Also, they have one of the main water sources. That’s what has him pissed.”
“He probably wants you to go and run them off, right?” Ansel leaned his head on Job’s chest and took another breath. It felt like the iron band wrapped around his lungs had loosened slightly.
He’d rarely spent time in bed with lovers that didn’t involve sex. Ansel had been more interested in finding pleasure with them then learning about them. Yet with Job, Ansel discovered he wanted to know what the man was thinking outside of their passion. He’d never had a lover become a friend. Could that happen between Job and him?
“You said you wanted to know if I could use my guns. Are you really expecting me to back your play, whatever it turns out to be?” Ansel squeezed Job’s hand. “I will, never doubt that, but I’m not sure you should be trusting a man you just met. Especially one who isn’t from around here.”
“That is exactly why I should have you help me. You don’t have a stake in this fight. Besides, I trust my instincts and all of them are saying you’re the right man for the job.”
For those of you who didn’t pre-order or do the early download of Walking in the Rain, it’s available now at all 3rd party sellers on general release. Yay!
Plus I’m doing a blog tour for it, so I’ll post those links as they come up.
But if you’re interested in an exclusive author interview with me at Totally Bound, click here. check out what I have to say…lol
Also, thank you for helping get Bodyguards up to #8 on ARe’s bestseller list. I appreciate all of you for loving this series so much.
I hope you have a great weekend. I’m writing, going to the Ren Faire and running in a 10k this weekend. I think by Sunday night, I’m going to be falling into bed by 6…lol