The moon was just starting to peek over the distant range when Jake and his men finished rounding up the stray cattle. The skittish creatures rejoined the herd with grateful sounding bays and moos, as if leaving hadn't been their idea in the first place. Jake spat the trail dust out of this mouth and leaned his long, rangy body onto the saddle horn as he watched his men bring in the last few stragglers. A quick count ensured that they had found nearly all of them.
Midnight snorted and pawed the ground impatiently beneath him, making Jake smile. Even at the end of a grueling day, his edgy black stallion was literally chomping at the bit to go. Jake slapped his neck affectionately, thinking that he'd miss his horse while Midnight was put to stud next season. He'd spent a mint on a little black Andalusian filly with seriously impressive bloodlines. A purist would murder him for even considering breeding a mixed blood mustang with such a gorgeous pure blood beauty, but Jake had a gut feeling their offspring would yield equestrian gold.
With his thoughts on horses and studding, Jake surveyed his cattle one more time. A frown marred his straight brow when he noticed a single rider walking a cow and a newly born calf back to the group. His gut churned uncomfortably as he watched Ryan, one of this best cowhands, bring in the errant dogie and what amounted to one more head into the fold. Jake watched Ryan move on his horse, the subtle, expert motions sending needles and goosebumps rushing over his body.
Jake felt as if he was losing his grip on reality. If he didn't know any better, he'd say he felt some sort of personal attraction to the wiry cowhand. Ryan walked the cow and calf to a few paces away from Jake, pausing momentarily to exchange greetings.
“Found 'er 'bout a quarter mile out, right in the middle of birthing. Helped her finish off, then walked 'em both back.” The smoky timber of Ryan's voice did unnatural things to Jake's insides. He felt twisted up and torn as he listened to the explanation.
Jake nodded and cleared his throat. “Good job, Ryan. Got us a new head, so that's choice. You'll be getting a bit of a bonus for it. Go settle 'em in and grab some chow with the men.”
Ryan touched his gloved hand to the brim of his hat and resumed his direction. Jake watched until he lost sight of the bobbing hat in the gloom of the evening. Mentally chastising himself for the apparent insanity that had overtaken him, he kicked Midnight into a light canter back towards camp and dinner.
Jake wasn't in the business of chasing men. Oh, he knew there were plenty out there who would and did enjoy each other in an intimate manner. After all, there weren't many women out on the trail. Maybe that was it. Maybe Jake had been on the trail too long. It was a good thing they were coming into town tomorrow. He was going to resolve this little issue with alacrity.
In the mean time, well he'd just have to keep his thoughts to himself. Jake tied Midnight with the other horses, taking the time to care for his steed's food and water needs before heading to the chow line. Cookie had made his specialty: salted pork and beans. No one complained about the repetitive fare. At least it was hot and filling. Jake got a bowl and thanked the portly man, then found himself a spot around the fire to cop a squat.
As he ate and exchanged friendly barbs with the guys, Jake observed Ryan make his way into the light of the fire. He'd gotten himself some grub, and as usual picked a spot a bit removed from the rowdy hands and their whiskey. Sitting quietly, Ryan tucked single-mindedly into his food, his whole focus on the action of spoon to mouth. It was always the same routine. Ryan hardly ever interacted with any of the other guys. He seemed to have a decent relationship with Cookie, but what hand didn't? Jake felt the hot, prickly sensation invade his system again. He felt an irrational anger towards the slight, capable cowhand. Jake had nearly made up his mind to go over and find some inane excuse to chew him out, when Ryan finished his meal and got up.
As quickly as he'd come, he went back to Cookie, scraped his bowl clean, tossed it in the pile and murmured a quiet goodnight before disappearing into his little tent, set up a little ways away from the others. Jake felt himself stir at the thought of Ryan disrobing for bed. Before he knew it, he was half hard, strange, foreign thoughts running circles in his head. Christ, he needed it to stop. He needed to bury himself in a warm, willing woman.
With a harsh sigh, Jake reached for the bottle of whiskey going around. His men went momentarily quiet as they watched him take one pull, then another. They'd rarely seen him indulge in drink. Jake noted the silence as he wiped his mouth on his sleeve.
“What?” he inquired a bit brusquely.
The eyes goggling all around him suddenly found other places to land, throat clearing all around.
Someone said, “Nothin' boss. Just you don't regularly drink with us, is all.”
Jake pondered that for a moment, then took a third swig, the whiskey burning a trail over the foreign emotions for anther man.
“Well, I figure we're celebrating bein' almost home, with an extra head to boot. Here's to all y'all!”
He raised the bottle high, took one more swig and passed it on among the cries and laughter of his trusty hands. The merry sounds went on later than usual that night. * * *
Jake woke up with a pounder of a head the next day. He knew he would, but at least he hadn't woken with sultry, half formed dreams of Ryan. Everything moved quickly as camp broke down and men gathered their rolls. Within the hour, everyone was saddled and they were on their way into Las Piedras.
The last stretch of the drive was uneventful, suiting Jake and his hangover just fine. He and his men drove the cattle into town about quarter to noon, where half were sold on the auction block immediately and the other half were moved on to Blue Moon Ranch, about a quarter mile out of town. Jake paid his men from the auction sale money, then selected a few hands to take the remaining cattle in with him.
The rest he released into town, to do whatever it was cowhands did upon completion of a successful ride. Ryan, having found the birthing cow and brought back both momma and calf, got a small bonus and a couple of days dispensation from the ranch. Thanking Jake, Ryan had taken his horse's lead and walked his way to the saloon. Jake watched with something akin to jealousy as Ryan tied his horse to the water trough, then pushed through the swinging doors of the inn. He had it on good authority that Ryan kept a girl there. The mere thought of it had Jake's throat closing shut.
With an abrupt kick, Jake sent Midnight into a gallop back toward his cattle, his men and his home. To fucking hell with Ryan. * * *
It was several hours later when Jake found himself pushing through the doors of the saloon in Las Piedras. He had completed his ride, settled the cattle with his foreman, washed the road dust off his body, and eaten the best steak and eggs he'd ever had, thanks to his ranch cook, Mamie. Now he wanted whiskey and flesh. Not necessarily in that order. Greetings were many and sincere as he made his way to the bar and ordered a shot of something other than the rot gut normally served.
As he sipped the peaty delicacy, Jake surveyed the patrons. He didn't like admitting to himself that he was looking for Ryan. The skinny man wasn't around, and Jake could only surmise he'd gone up to one of the rooms upstairs. The whiskey suddenly tasted like piss in his mouth, and he swallowed the whole of it down like medicine. He set the glass on the counter and motioned to the bartender for another. While he waited, one of his trail hands sidled up next to him, slapping him companionably on the shoulder.
“Good ride in today, boss,” said Sydney, a short glass of ale in his leathery hand. “I was a bit worried a couple of days ago when that band of coyotes spooked the cattle into skitterin' all over God's country, but it turned out alright.”
Jake grunted and nodded in agreement, not really in the mood for company. Sydney wasn't taking the hint, though, as he pulled up a stool and sat.
“I swear, if it hadn't been for that boy Ryan, we'd'a been out there for another day wrangling cattle. Kid's a genius with the heifers, and apparently with the mommas, too.” Sydney raised his glass in a salute, then drank down half of his grog.
Mercifully, the bartender came back with Jake's whiskey. Jake surprised the man by motioning for him to leave the bottle, then grabbed up the ready glass and brought it to his lips. The fire water didn't taste any better the second time around, but it was definitely lighting a flame in his gut. Jake's thoughts had immediately turned to Ryan as soon as Sydney had mentioned him. God fucking dammit, he couldn't even drink in peace. Tossing back a third, he slammed the glass down, startling poor Sydney into silence mid sentence.
Jake stared down at Sydney, the barely contained rage probably clearly visible in his slate gray eyes. Sydney for his part had the good sense to shrink away and keep his trap shut.
“Where's Ryan?” asked Jake, surprising himself with the ice in his gravelly voice.
Sydney gulped, then babbled, “Well, um, I reckon he's up there in miss Lettie's room. He's sweet on her, you know. Keeps her here in comfort. She don't even turn tricks. Should'a seen 'em when Ryan walked in. Lettie just 'bout ran right into his arms and they hugged like they'd never let go. Really does a man good to see that, it does.”
Jake had stopped listening after the first sentence. Ryan was with a girl. His head did a slow spin, his blood boiling for no good reason. Not understanding one bit of it, Jake threw a few coins on the bar top, then turned away from a stunned Sydney. He headed for the stairs, feeling like a man out of his own skin. He watched his legs mount the steps two at a time, his heart thumping a fast, primitive beat. Ryan was with someone else. No fucking way. The crazy part of his brain screamed bloody murder. The words spun in circles in his addled mind. Ryan was his.
Refusing to stop and think about it, the whiskey muddling his logical brain, Jake made it to the top of the stairs and turned down the hall lined with doors. He knew which was Lettie's. He'd made it his business to know. Setting himself squarely in front of the door, he balled a fist and pounded hard three times. There was movement on the other side, the sound of squeaking bed springs as someone moved to the door. The creaking of the bed only made his blood boil hotter.
With a click, the deadbolt was thrown and the knob turned. Through the narrow crack, Jake could see a darkened room, lamplight glowing from an unseen corner. Lettie stood in the way of the door, eyes hooded, face withdrawn.
“I don't whore, sir,” she said, before she realized who she was talking to. Jake watched a blush bloom hotly in her cheeks, then just as quickly watched her pale. He thought the reaction odd, but gave it no mind as he pushed on the door. It wouldn't budge.
“I need to speak to Ryan, Lettie. Open this door.”
Lettie's mouth settled into a stubborn line. “I'm sorry, mister Jake. Ryan's not presentable at the moment. If you would, please wait downstairs and I'll send him down to you in a few minutes.”
Jake glared at the woman his crazed mind considered his nemesis. To her credit, she didn't wither under his stare. He sighed a hard, frustrated breath and ran his fingers through his already unruly dark curls.
“For Pete's sake, Lettie. I've seen a naked man before. I've got business. Let me in.” Jake shoved at the door hard, making Lettie take a step back. She cried out in alarm, stepping over to a screen and blocking his way. Beyond the screen, Jake could hear splashing. Dear God, Ryan was naked, in a bath, just beyond that screen.
Lettie held her hands out to her sides, barring his path. “No, mister Jake! You can't!”
Irrational, at the end of his rope, ready to have this out, Jake moved Lettie bodily out of his way, turning the corner to the screen just in time to see Ryan wrapping a sheet around his wet, naked body. Jake had managed a brief glance at a pale, rounded bottom before the delectable sight had been barred from his view.
“It's alright, Lettie. I'll see mister Jake,” said Ryan, that sultry timber going straight to Jake's pants. Lettie had gone to the other side of the screen and had wrapped her arms around Ryan, almost as if to keep him hidden. Ryan, his back still to Jake, secured the sheet around his chest, which was odd to Jake, then unwrapped Lettie's arms and held her away. He nodded at Lettie and Jake could have sworn the girl shivered as she wrapped her arms around her waist and beat a hasty retreat, closing the door behind her.
Jake's hands itched to touch. His breath was ragged as Ryan stood mere feet away in nothing but a drying sheet. His cock was hard in his pants. He couldn't believe it, would never have dreamed it, but he wanted this man more than he wanted his next breath.
“Turn around, Ryan.” His voice was gravel, dusty and raw from the whiskey and the desire.
Jake watched transfixed as Ryan turned around, the drying sheet plastering to the wet skin beneath. Ryan had crossed his arms over his chest, securing the sheet further, but even with this meager protection, something seemed wrong to Jake. That was Ryan's face. His russet hair, shorn shorter than it had been just hours earlier. His eyes, watery green pools ringed in eyelashes nearly too full to be believable. Small, delicate nose, sharp cheekbones, pointed chin, slender neck. All Ryan's.
That's where the similarities stopped, though. The bare shoulders and the clavicle were more delicate than Jake would have guessed. The arms wrapping his chest were long and leanly muscled, with barely any hair covering the strong forearms. Jake's eyes went to the spot just above where the sheet began, where a slight swell indicated the presence of... breasts?
Jake's brain backed up enormously. His eyes roamed the rest of Ryan's body, taking in subtle swells and curves. Stunned, wide eyes returned to Ryan's impassive gaze.
“Holy mother of God. You're a... ” His speech trailed off as his mind did a massive global shift. It all made so much more sense now. He thought back to the days and nights on the trail, Ryan's behavior throughout the entire job. His distance, his solitary nature. It was nothing more than self preservation.
Ryan snorted. “Oh for fuck's sake. Yeah, I'm a girl. So the hell what?” Her hands went to her hips as she cocked one, letting Jake get a good eyeful of her breasts wrapped in sheeting. “You can't say I'm not good at my job. I work just as hard as all your men. I'm better at ropin' than a bunch of 'em. You'd be doin' yourself a disservice if you fire me for having the wrong equipment.”
Jake couldn't breathe. He couldn't even think. His brain was fried and his body was suddenly calling the shots. All he knew was that he had wanted Ryan, Ryan was a girl, and he wanted to kiss her. Her! Jake stepped up to Ryan, not seeing the warning glare in her eyes. His hands reached up to cup her face, then his lips were crushed to hers in a searing kiss. A moan escaped his throat as he tasted delicious female lips, as his tongue dived between them to dance with her woman's tongue. His flesh was ablaze. He wanted to take her to bed, to spread her wide and feast on her entire body for days.
The hard shove took him by surprise. The left punch to his jaw made his ears ring, stars popping brightly in his vision. Jake's momentum had taken him into the screen, which now lay in a toppled mess on the floor. He'd managed to keep his footing, but only just. With a glazed expression on his face, he rubbed his swelling cheek and gaped at the Amazon holding a fighter's stance two feet away. Ryan, but not Ryan. Her cheeks were flushed, her breathing hard, and her lips were swollen from his kiss. He realized as his brain kicked back into gear that he'd overstepped by a lot, but unless he was sorely mistaken, she hadn't been cold to his clumsy advance.
Right now, though, her eyes spoke volumes on bloody murder. “You try that again, Jake, and I'll have you flat on your back in two seconds.” Her voice had gone deadly calm and ice cold. Jake knew when to back off from a spooked filly. He held his hands out in front of him in a peaceful motion.
“I'm sorry, Ryan. It just did me a world of good to find out you're not a man,” he said, a hint of a smile curving his lips and making his jaw ache. A soft growl from her had him backing up. “You're right. You're a damn good cowhand. One of the best I've got. I don't want to fire you. Listen, just... come by the ranch in a couple of days. Take the time off and relax. Please.”
Ryan relaxed a little out of her stance, her hands coming down a fraction as she watched him with a guarded expression.
“You won't tell anyone, will you?” Her tone held sincere worry, and Jake suddenly realized how precarious her position must seem.
He tucked his hands into his pockets to keep them from fidgeting and said, “No, Ryan. I won't tell anyone. It's your secret. I have a question, though.” Jake cleared his throat and looked off to the side as he continued, “Lettie. Who's she to you?”
Ryan took so long to answer that Jake looked back at her. The small frown wrinkling her brow did amazing things to her face. Jake felt his insides clutch and his cock jump. He curled his hands into fists in his pockets, hoping to quell some of the lust that shot through his body.
“Lettie's my sister. She's more delicate than I am. I take care of her so she doesn't have to whore.”
The answer was not what Jake had expected, but it put another part of his mind at ease. Nodding at Ryan's grave expression, he cleared his throat and looked down at the floor.
“Alright, Ryan. I'm gonna go now. Remember what I said. Come by the ranch in a couple of days. We'll talk,” said Jake, as he straightened and walked to the door.
When his hand reached the door knob, Ryan said, “Jake, why did you come lookin' for me?”
The quiet query made from the strong, capable woman before him brought his desire back into full focus. Jake's eyes took a lazy stroll of Ryan's body, then returned to her lips in time to watch as they parted on a soft drawn out gasp. Meeting her eyes again, Jake said, “I'll tell you in a couple of days, Ryan. Have a good afternoon.”
Jake touched the brim of his hat then left the room, closing the door behind him. He felt strung tighter than a piano chord as he made his way back down the stairs and into the main room. No one noticed him come back; no one except Lettie, who rushed quietly to him, eyes downcast.
Jake touched her elbow momentarily and whispered, “It's okay, Lettie. I won't tell. Go see your sister. I think she might need you.”
Lettie looked up at him with wide, wondering eyes, eyes that looked so much like Ryan's that Jake wondered how no one had caught on to their subterfuge. A single tear escaped her gaze before being dashed away. She nodded her gratitude and disappeared up the stairs again. Jake watched her go, then worked his way back out of the saloon. He needed some time to absorb what he'd just learned, and to properly plan his approach when he saw Ryan again.
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<a href="https://www.lushstories.com/stories/straight-sex/mistaken-identity-part-one.aspx">Mistaken Identity - Part One</a>