Forgotten Favor

Forgotten Favor

Angela Fiddler

Price: $3.49

A whole lot of things were looking up the afternoon Jake dropped by Mark's ranch just outside of Calgary one hot afternoon in August several years ago. The need to go up into the hay loft and do what's been done in hay lofts for thousands of years had come to a head and it just seemed...right. What wasn't right was the black riders waiting for his brother's fatal accident that same afternoon. They came for the golden, perfect son and heir, and left Mark alone with their disapproving father and the empty hole his brother had filled. In the following years, Jake has dropped off the rodeo circuit and got pretty much out of Mark's life forever, until a debilitating accident almost takes Mark and his favourite mare. Mark survives, with pins and plates in his leg and his horse walked away from it too, and yet somehow still ends up in a slaughter yard. But Jake's been working hard at a horse rescue centre and with one purchase, he's able to save them both. But Jake's rescue centre isn't a complete haven. It has its own issues and concerns between the constant need for funding and the over-enthusiastic developer who has his eyes on the hay fields Jake is dependant on to feed his herd through the winter. Mark knows, as he always has, that he and Jake were meant for each other. Arson, extremely disapproving fathers and ghost riders come back to collect someone else close to him are nothing when compared to how good this thing between him and Jake is. A single moment could change his whole life, if he doesn't remember an old-time favor owed.
PUBLISHED BY: ManLove Romance Press
CATEGORIES: ManLove, Western/Cowboys

EBOOKS BY ManLove Romance Press

EBOOKS BY Angela Fiddler

COPYRIGHT Angela Fiddler/2009
Part One When Mark closed his eyes, he felt the fall. It hadn't been Butter's fault. Mark should have seen the change in the ground, but the early morning gallop had felt so good. They had been on the road for almost a month, placing well in the money in several of the small town rodeos. After all that time living in the front sleeping quarters of his horse trailer and riding about in finite spaces, he was home on the ranch where the earth seemed to stretch on forever and there didn't seem to be an end to the sky. He'd felt free. He remembered looking down. Just as he was about to pull back on the reins, he felt Butter trip. For a second, he thought that she would recover. Then she stumbled again, and for another heartbeat they both were weightless. He grabbed the reins, his feet kicking free of the stirrups as though on autopilot, and he knew, even as he saw the ground hurtling up towards him, that this was going to hurt. And his next thought was a prayer that Butter would not be. He hit the ground hard. That was a given. He remembered the sickening crunch from the shoulder but he had no memory at all of Butter coming down on his leg. He supposed that was a blessing, though in his dreams he still imagined the snap. And also in his dreams, he saw the hooves. Black as night, as death, as sin. The ground was soft, the rational part of his mind knew that, but when the hooves struck it, sparks flew. He also heard Butter's frantic breathing just a few yards away. His own pathetic attempts at drawing air into lungs too stunned to remember their most basic function was just as hard. There was more than just the two of them in his dream. No matter how hard he had tried to look up, to ask the riders on the horses for help, or for somebody to check on Butter and find out why she wasn't attempting to get up on her own, he couldn't breathe. Through the pain, and stress, and anxiety, he was terrified. Mark woke up in the hospital. Not for the first time, but for what seemed like the hundredth. He was alone in the semiprivate room, and the television overhead was muted. His leg ached dully, almost resentfully, and he knew from how high the sun was in the sky that it would be another hour before the nurse came with more painkillers. To distract himself, he stared at the walls that no amount of bleach would ever get truly white again. The washed out green curtains matched the green summer weight blankets on each of the three beds. The get well cards on the table beside him—the last of the accompanying flowers had been thrown out a couple days ago—were buried beneath insurance forms, half finished crossword puzzles and magazines that predicted the outcome for the last set of Olympics. The worst of the damage was not on the femur, which by itself would have kept him in traction. When Butter had fallen, she had rolled over him. It could have been worse; other than his spleen, there had been no other internal damage. One of the ranch hands had seen him fall and called an ambulance. If Mark concentrated hard enough he could feel the metal plates holding his pelvis and thigh together under his skin. The fiberglass cast kept him from touching the surgery scars, and they woke him at all hours of the night with unholy itching. Though if he had died, if he was being perfectly honest, hell would not be too different than a semiprivate room that lingered with the smell of dead flowers. A shadow crossed the door. Mark looked up. As much as he hated being poked and prodded, at least the nurses on their frequent rounds were some break from the monotony of his life. His father had visited, twice, his stepmother more often, but she'd just been there the day before helping him move from the hospital room to the rehab center for the extended care he couldn't get at the ranch. He still had a stack of books she'd brought him as well. Some of the ranch hands and a few of his roping buddies had stopped by in the beginning, but they tapered off by the time the flowers they'd brought had wilted. He didn't blame them. And his father... he didn't want to think about his father, Edward McCoy. He would use the ranch as an excuse not to come more often, and on the surface Mark accepted the excuse for what it was. Though Edward did own one of the largest cattle ranches in southern Alberta, he also had more managers than some fast food chains and accountants up the wazoo. The fact was they did far better as employer and employee than they ever had as father and son. Up close and personal...well, that wasn't so good. He had moved out of the big house to the apartment over the new stables when he was eighteen, the disgraced heir apparent. A good year was measured by how many conversations they didn't have. Things had gotten slightly better once Edward had remarried, but Sunday dinners were still frosty. The door opened. The man who walked in was familiar, achingly so, but it took Mark an extra second to recognize him. He sat up as much as the traction would allow and swallowed. "Jake Alastair," he said, and was glad his voice didn't break. When he thought about the strained relationship he had with his father, he had to think about Jake. Jake hadn't changed all that much over the past five years, since the hayloft. He was taller, more tanned, and broader across the chest. He was dressed in Sunday go-to-meeting jeans, and a white western shirt that had obviously never fallen off a horse, but the hat he held nervously looked as though it had survived a stampede of wildebeests once or twice. His blond hair had been recently combed and his blue eyes, always a bit too wide and a bit too deep, were exactly the same. Mark swallowed again. "Mark," Jake said. And despite his boyish looks, his voice was low and comforting. Mark couldn't help but think of the loft again, the smell of the hay, the dust dancing in the sunbeams, and the way Jake's lips had felt on his throat. Not that anything more had happened. It was bad luck his father had come home so early. Mark had been eighteen, just finished school and hadn't found Butter yet, and if he hadn't had his father's support, he would have had nothing at all. It was a lame excuse to cave in to his father's threats, but he had. After an awkward year of avoiding Jake for fear of his father finding out they'd had contact, Jake had dropped out of the rodeo circuit entirely. Jake looked him over, and his mouth twitched when he saw the lump in the bed the cast made. Mark shrugged, though it hurt his shoulder to do so, and motioned to the chair on the other side of the bed. "You can sit if you want," he said, knowing the words were awkward. There had been long, hot nights in his life where he would imagine what he would say if he ever saw Jake again, but sitting arrangements had never been one of the topics of conversation. Jake nodded, but didn't come any closer. "You know my dad got sick," he said. His mouth opened and closed a couple times. The awkwardness between them was wrong. "No," Mark said. "I didn't. I thought you fell off the planet. Is that why you stopped riding?" A flash of pain crossed Jake's face, and he bit his lip. "Mostly," Jake allowed. "My dad needed help at his ranch. It was a rescue center. Is a rescue center, I mean." "Okay." Mark realized his mouth was dry and reached for one of the plastic cups, the same washed out green as the rest of the room. The water inside tasted plastic as well, but he gulped down half of it. His leg throbbed as though punishing him for not making the pain the center of his attention for the past couple minutes, and he rubbed the cast with the palm of his hand until he could manage the pain again. When he looked up, Jake's face was pale despite the tan. He swallowed with a mouth so dry Mark could hear the clicking sound his throat made, and he offered what remained in his cup to Jake. "The pitcher has ice in it, or it did an hour ago." Jake took it gratefully, filled and emptied the cup up twice before putting it down. The room was air-conditioned, but he was sweating. Mark frowned. "Are you okay?" Jake waved his hand and shook his head. "No. I hate hospitals. I never liked them, but after dad got sick, well..." Mark didn't ask him to finish. "You didn't have to come." "Yes, I did. I told you, I run a rescue center now." Jake hesitated. "So when I saw her in the kill pens, I had to save her. I didn't think you would... I knew you wouldn't..." Mark felt sick, like he'd just had an overdose of morphine, and the room started to spin. He gripped the blankets and where he touched it he left damp handprints. "Who's she?" he asked, forming the words carefully. But he knew the answer. He just needed to hear Jake say it. "Butter," Jake said. "She'd been sold on with her papers but I knew it was her the moment I saw her. She was hurt, her knee was pretty banged up, but she's okay." Mark shook his head. "No. That's not possible. My dad told me she was fine. She was back at the ranch. He wouldn't --" But he would. Mark felt cold inside. He looked up. Jake continued. "I have her. The vet says it was just a bone bruise. The x-ray didn't show anything broken or chipped. We've been keeping her pretty immobile and she's recovering." "Thank you," Mark said. He knew he sounded distant. "I can't... thank you." "You don't have to," Jake said. He approached the bed like a marionette controlled by a rank beginner. The hand holding his hat tightened, crumbling the straw brim, but he made it without falling over. He took Mark's hand, the one attached to his bad shoulder, but Jake's touch was so gentle that Mark didn't fear the potential pain. "I missed you." Mark cleared his throat. "I missed you, too." It was an understatement that burned his throat with all the words he wanted to say. "After..." Mark waved his hand over the cast helplessly. Jake nodded, telling him he understood, and Mark relaxed. "Of course you can come," Jake said. The door opened again and a nurse came in with two pills in the tiny paper cup. Her scrubs, with the bright balloons and teddy bears, were the only real colorful thing in the room. She smiled at Mark, a genuine show of affection, and tipped the paper cup so that the pills rolled into his palm. "Your friend can stay, but these will make you really drowsy." Jake stepped back from the bed. "I really have to go, ma'am." Mark wanted to say something, to be perfectly honest he wanted to ask Jake to stay, but Jake looked so uncomfortable Mark couldn't do it. "Thank you," he said. "For everything." "Weren't nothing," Jake said, sounding double his age, and made his escape. Mark would have given anything to join him. Instead, he took his pills.

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