Taking Chance (WSR: 3)
Series: Willow Springs Ranch , Book 3.0
By: Laura Harner | Other books by Laura Harner
Published By: Hot Corner Press
Published: Dec 06, 2012
ISBN # 9781937252304
By: Laura Harner | Other books by Laura Harner
Published By: Hot Corner Press
Published: Dec 06, 2012
ISBN # 9781937252304
Word Count: 36,000
Available in: Epub, Mobipocket (.mobi), Adobe Acrobat, Mobipocket (.prc)
DescriptionOfficer Chance Carter is pretty sure he’d still enjoy being on either end of a good ass reaming—just not the one from his supervisor that lands him on an involuntary extended vacation. Another holiday season with nothing to do except visit an old friend.
Former hospital corpsman Bryan Mitchell doesn’t feel less than honorable, but that’s what his discharge paperwork states. Now he's down and out in Kingman, Arizona until the charity of a stranger lands him a temporary job for the holidays.
When two federal employees go missing during a highly controversial wild horse roundup, the two Willow Springs Ranch newcomers are drafted to help in the search, but if rumors of a local anti-government militia are true, Chance and Bryan may be in serious trouble—and from something far more dangerous than their mutual attraction.
Reader Rating: (17 Ratings)
Willie sat on the small ridge overlooking the makeshift round up. Fucking feds. Thought they knew what was best for everyone. Well not this goddamn time. Him and T-bone had it all planned. When they were done with the two boys heading this little federal operation, the world would know the Bureau of Lies and Manipulation for what it really was.
Once the general released his videos to show the truth behind the wild horse and burro round ups, the citizen-sheeps would quit believing the lies told by the illegally operating federal government. They would rise up to take arms, as was their God-given Constitutional right.
Fucking liberals. Every damn idiot in Washington was too far left for what needed to be done. Things in this country had gotten out of hand and Willie was proud to be a trusted member of the Armed Resistance Militia. When they pulled this mission off, the general would be the most powerful member of the Western Coalition, and would easily be elected as council lead in the upcoming election. Then they would see some real change. Citizens would once again be fully armed and beware to any of them illegals crossing over the border to steal and rape.
Was only a matter of time before the general got this mess straightened out.
Chance Carter hated getting his ass reamed. Check that…he hated getting his ass chewed. No, that wasn’t right either. He grinned at his reflection and raked his fingers through his jet-black hair. It might have been a while, but he was pretty sure he’d still enjoy being on either end of a good ass reaming. Just not the one he was about to get from his supervisor.
This was his first day back in the office after a two-month field assignment that had come on the heels of an even longer field assignment. They were supposed to alternate field and cubicle duty, but it didn’t bode well that his schedule had been changed to take an earlier than planned turn in the cubicles. Particularly when you considered the approaching holidays. As the single guy, he could usually count on working the Christmas and New Year’s shifts.
He made a futile attempt to smooth the mass of unfashionably long hair—meaning he didn’t have a buzz cut—and headed for the conference room. Having transferred in a year ago from a sister federal agency, Chance just hadn’t managed to fit in with the “Yes, Sir” mentality of the conservative management team in the Southern Arizona Office of the Border Patrol. Their agents were supposed to be military precise in all matters, including haircut, uniform, and following orders.
When he opened the door to the conference room, Chance stopped and took a moment to survey the piles of paper spread in some version of orderly chaos he was never likely to understand. His gaze briefly landed on the corner of a photo at the bottom of one of the stacks, and the mystery of what he’d done wrong was solved. The only real question was how bad was this going to be.
Earlier in the year, Chance had stepped outside official channels and helped his old friend Holden Titus track down some undocumented workers. They both had known it was a risk, but the men in question were victims far more than they were criminals—and Holden was the only one looking for them at the time. The feds were chasing bigger fish.
Chance would stick to the story they’d established and he’d be fine. There wasn’t anything much they were going to do to him. He had status, the federal employee’s equivalent of tenure.
“Good to see you, Chance. Have a seat.” Samuel Trapp didn’t stand or offer to shake his hand. Sam was a forty-year veteran of the agency, and unfailingly loyal to management. His pinched face and lack of manners indicated his extreme disappointment in Chance.
“What can I do for you, Sam?” Chance didn’t believe in putting up a false front. He’d just as soon get the shit over with and get on with whatever was next. He rolled the chair out and sat. Resisting the pull of the documents, he kept his gaze on Trapp.
“It’s come to management’s attention that you may have failed to maintain the confidentiality of an ongoing investigation.”
Chance blinked, but didn’t take the bait. It was hell questioning another cop and both he and Sam knew all the tricks.
After a long pause, Sam’s lips twitched and he looked down at the folder directly in front of him. With a measured slowness, he removed a single piece of paper. He frowned at the sheet as if it had somehow offended his sensibility, then placed it face up, in front of Chance.
“This is a letter of administrative reprimand. You are entitled to representation, entitled to read over the document, and entitled to look at the evidence of wrong-doing. However…should you—”
“For how long?” Chance interrupted the litany of required notices of his rights and responsibilities. He was tired of the conversation before it began.
“As this is a first violation, I have recommended to management that the suspension without pay be limited to twenty-four hours. However—”
“Give me your pen.” Chance held out his hand.
Sam’s eyebrows nearly crossed in the middle, even as he slid the pen across the wood surface of the conference table. “I am compelled to remind you of your union policy—”
With a flourish, Chance slid the paper and pen back to Sam and rolled his chair back.
“When does it start?”
Sam took a deep breath, then let out a sigh. “The administrative officer will let you know. Now, since I seem to have greatly over-estimated the time necessary for this meeting, allow me to offer this observation. You are a good investigator but a lousy officer. It makes for an uncomfortable situation for both of us."
Chance laughed, pleased at the candor. “Yeah, I suspect my transfer to this agency might have been…misguided.”
Sam opened the folder once more and pulled out another sheet of paper. “Federal employees may accrue a maximum of two hundred forty hours of leave. You have exceeded that amount by seventy-three hours, plus your credit bank hours from the last operation. You will lose the excess leave if you don’t use it prior to the end of the year. Take some time off, think about what you want to do next.”
“We both know you can’t fire me. Hell, you can’t even mark me down on my fitness report.”
“Don’t be obtuse…that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about taking some time to decide whether you want to change, because this agency isn’t going to. If you don’t want to make the effort to fit between the lines here, then find someplace else you do fit. Life is too damned short to be miserable forty hours a week.”
Chance nodded. He remembered that Sam had also supervised an officer killed in the line of duty along the border last year. Maybe that explained the attitude of fatherly regret. The decision made itself—he would take that time off—otherwise it was money lost.
“I didn’t request holiday leave. Is that going to put you in a bind?”
“Son, I get in a bind when people have Use or Lose. It counts against my annual supervision report, so I’ve had you on the holiday calendar for a month. Fill in the rest of this leave request and put it on my desk. Make sure it’s not for anything less than one hundred and twenty hours. Once the admin folks tack on the paid holidays, and the suspension, I don’t expect to see you until the middle of January at the earliest.”
It took Chance less than an hour to finish out his time sheet, leave request, and close out the final report on his last case. Then he pushed his way out into the warm December sunshine so typical of a Yuma winter. Now what?
Climbing into his truck, Chance pulled out his cell phone. First things first.
“How the hell are you, Agent Carter?” Holden said, by way of answering the phone. You had to love caller ID.
“Hey, Holden. I’m good, but I might have a little bit of a situation here.”
“My boss believes I might have leaked certain information regarding the location of an undocumented worker a few months back.”
“Does he now?” Holden said. Chance could hear the concern in his friend’s voice. Neither one of them would mention any further details on the phone. “What does your boss plan to do?”
“It’s already done. I’m now on an extended vacation until the middle of next month. Just wanted to give you a heads up.”
“Huh. Until next month? An unattached cop off duty over the holidays. Whoever heard of such a thing? You are still unattached, right? I can’t imagine anyone in Yuma would have your ugly ass.”
Chance laughed. “Fuck you, Titus. Just because you’re all cozied up with the delicious Drew. Unless…do you need me to come up there and take over for you, old man?”
The growl that traveled the airways was spoiled when Holden started laughing.
“No, I think we’re good. Hang on…” Holden relayed the story to someone in the background.
“Chance, do you have any plans? Drew and I would love to have you spend some time here at the ranch. There’s plenty of room, and Cass could use a hand if you’ve a mind to do some work.”
Chance weighed his options. Sit around his apartment and think about all the shit happening at work, maybe hit the clubs and think about how alone he was. Merry fucking Christmas. A few days—or even weeks—at the ranch, doing some physical labor seemed like just what he needed to keep from brooding through another holiday season.
Not allowing himself time to analyze the situation any further, he accepted Holden’s offer. “I’ll do it. If you’re sure you and Drew…or Cass won’t mind.”
“Nope, Cass is standing right here. He said you can stay in the vacant casita. You’ll love it.”
“Okay, I’ll be there around dinner time. If you’re sure.”
“We’re sure,” Holden confirmed.
Chance ended the connection, then took a minute to think over the situation. On the one hand, he was heading straight to the person he was suspected of leaking information to—but he couldn’t see any real harm since the incident was over and the suspension issued. From what Holden had told him the last time they met, Cass and most of the ranch hands at the WSR were gay or bi, and the rest didn’t give a shit. Anything would be better than the Navy flyboys from the proving grounds or the soldiers from Fort Huachuca. Even with the repeal of DADT, they all carried way too much baggage for his taste. That was part of the lingering unhappiness in his current situation. He wanted more than a quick bj in the head of some club—he wanted someone in his life who mattered.
For now, if he couldn’t have the happily ever after Holden apparently had with Drew, maybe he could at least find a little cowboy action. What I did on my Christmas vacation…
Bryan watched the two men talking in the otherwise empty lobby of the Kingman VA Center and tried to pretend they were talking about some other loser. Perry, the pretty and petite social worker was so fucking gay you could spread him on toast and call him honey. The other one—Ty—looked like a centerfold for Mercenaries ‘R Us. Not exactly comforting…unless you were going into a fight. There was a watchfulness about his eyes that Bryan had seen plenty of times in Afghanistan.
Jesus fucking Christ. How had things gone to shit so quickly? A year ago he’d been photographed carrying a child from a burning hut on the edges of an insurgent attack. From zero to hero because of a chance photo. Now he was down and out in Kingman, Arizona. Could life get any worse? Merry fucking Christmas.
Of course he hadn’t really been a hero—he just happened to be the one in the way of the camera lens. Impressions were everything. He hadn’t been a criminal, either, but he’d have ended up with a court martial if he hadn’t accepted the OTH—Other Than Honorable discharge. That was what the two men across the room were arguing about. As if their opinions made any difference.
“Look, Ty, I don’t make the rules. My hands are tied here. If you don’t want—”
“I didn’t say I don’t want to bring him to the ranch. I said the policy fucking sucks.” Without waiting for Perry’s response, the big man took three long steps and stuck out a hand. “Hey, sorry about that. My name’s Tyler Hardin. Ty, to my friends. What do they call you?”
“Fag. Queer. Homo. Take your pick.” Bryan shrugged, his false bravado wearing thin under the combined glare of the other two men.
“Apparently jackass works, too. I was actually thinking of something more like a name. Got one of those?” Ty said. His face was shadowed under the bill of an Arizona Diamondbacks hat, but Bryan thought he detected a hint of a smile in the voice.
“Bryan. Bryan Mitchell.” He knew he sounded sulky, but goddamn it, after two days of living out of his car in the Wal-Mart parking lot…he was all out of friendly.
“Well, Bryan Mitchell, according to my friend Perry, you’re in a bind and despite all appearances to the contrary, he thinks you’re worth helping. I have a job, a place to stay, and three squares. You can stay as long as you need to and the pay’s as good as any you’ll get in town. As long as you don’t mind working your ass off.”
Bryan wasn’t interested in charity, never had been unless he was the one giving. This fucking sucked. The words telling Ty what he could do with his offer hovered on his tongue, the taste bitter, burning. Then he remembered the state of his wallet. He had exactly two hundred and seventy three dollars between himself and a cardboard sign at the intersection. Not to mention a rat ass car that needed a new engine and four tires before it was going any further.
Coming to the VA Center to look for help finding a job and a place to stay had been a poor prayer. And it was the first time his suspicions about his piece of shit lawyer had been confirmed. Accepting the OTH to avoid going to court martial had been a mistake—but there was nothing he could do about it now.
To give him his due, the monster-truck known as Ty stood patiently and waited while Bryan sorted through his conflicted thoughts. He liked a man who didn’t press. Without the time to think, Bryan would undoubtedly have said something stupid. Now he gave a curt nod and got to his feet. After retrieving his bag, he started toward the door.
Bryan looked back and saw the men move close together, the differences in their sizes almost comical. Ty easily topped out at over six feet, and was broad across the shoulders, solid muscle through the thighs. Perry was actually smaller than Bryan’s own five feet nine inches, and probably didn’t even weigh one fifty. They stood close together and for a minute, Bryan wondered at the relationship between the two men. He wasn’t getting that vibe from either man—just good friends who clearly enjoyed each other’s company.
With a mental shrug, Bryan decided he didn’t really care who fucked whom…he’d had more than enough drama of that sort to last a lifetime. He and his left hand would continue their close relationship.
As he pushed open the door, Ty paused. “All right Perry, we’re heading to the Willow Springs. Cass is still looking for a couple more hands. We’re building some more dorms, too. If you hear of anyone looking for a long-term job, send him our way. You know what we’re looking for.”
The glass door to the center swung closed behind them and Ty led the way to a king cab truck—the only vehicle in the front lot. As he climbed inside, Bryan tried to take comfort from the fact that he’d signed in at the Vet Center. There was at least some record he existed and the little social worker knew where he was headed. Still, the oft-repeated childhood refrain about getting into vehicles with strangers played in his head.
After a few minutes of strained silence Bryan swallowed the pride that had his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. “Thanks. I appreciate this.” To his horror, his voice cracked. Clamping his lips tight together, he kept his gaze fixed on the front windshield, but he could still see the other man on the periphery of his vision.
Ty shifted on the bench seat and his hands tightened on the steering wheel. After a long pause, he cleared his throat, then started talking.
“Six months ago, I showed up at the Willow Springs.” He tapped a rhythm on the steering wheel, then continued. “I had my car and a bag of clothes. Cass took me in, gave me a job, and a place to stay. Now I think of the ranch as home. I’m not saying that will happen for you. It’s just…I’ve been where you are. Everyone needs a hand sometimes. There’s no shame in that.”
Feeling exceedingly stupid, Bryan looked at Ty’s strong profile. He saw what would have been more apparent without the ball cap, and if his own head hadn’t been so far up his own ass. “Shit. Where’d you serve?”
Ty grinned. “Wondered how long it’d take you to get there. My last tour was Kandahar. Navy. Cook. You?”
“Navy. Corpsman. And Kandahar.”
“Yeah? It figures a scrawny kid like you would be a medic,” Tyler said.
Bryan wasn’t sure which of them was more surprised by his sudden bark of laughter. They spent a few minutes on the did you know so and so game, but their time in area hadn’t really overlapped. Considering there were thousands of people stationed in small bases all over the region it wasn’t surprising they didn’t know anyone in common—but somehow, it now felt as if they knew each other.
“So, if that was your last tour,” Bryan said after a while, “how many tours did you do?”
“That was my third and earned me the ticket all the way out.”
Shit. Three tours. He’d been mostly finished with his second tour when—steering away from that thought, he asked Ty a personal question. “Three tours. Did it fuck you up? I mean bedsides the obvious…do you ever have dreams?”
“Yeah,” Ty answered softly.
Neither man spoke again until they left the bumpy surface of I-40 for the bumpier dirt road of their exit. Bryan figured they were both a little lost in the memories of the things they’d seen.
Ty finally sighed, then asked the question Bryan had been dreading. “What about you—how’d you get tossed?”
“Article 134. My piece of shit lawyer told me the OTH was administrative and I wouldn’t risk a criminal conviction.”
“Yeah, I got that much from Perry, but that’s a catch all charge. So what did you do?”
“Not what. Who. I got caught fucking someone I shouldn’t have.”
Tyler frowned. “Was this before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was rescinded?”
Bryan looked at Ty’s profile for a long minute. He hadn’t said he was gay. Interesting that would be the first assumption. With a mental shrug, he went on. “DADT might be over, it’s still not a good idea to get caught. Especially if you’re fucking the admiral’s son.”
“Ouch.” Then Ty started laughing.
After a moment of stunned surprise, Bryan started laughing, too.
Willie unloaded the last of their supplies into the ramshackle wood frame cabin. Once the feds were discovered missing, the whole northwest quadrant of the Arizona territory would be overrun by the jackboot gorillas illegally trespassing on private lands. That was all right. Let them look. From the air, this place appeared to be a falling down relic. Even if someone did decide to look, no citified cop was gonna find the real entrance.
In the corner of the one-room shack, Willie scraped away the dirt and uncovered the heavy brass padlock. Quickly releasing the lock, he shifted the camouflaged panel. It had taken five patient years of blasting and hauling out tons of granite and quartz to build this underground bunker, and it wasn’t the only one. He turned on his flashlight and headed down the stairs.
After a quick glance at the tumbled heap of their prisoners, Willie stepped over them to turn on the electric lantern. As soon as T-bone arrived they could haul the men to the other room. For now, Willie checked to see the feds were securely bound. With a whistle muffled by the neckerchief he wore outlaw style, he set about bringing down the rest of their supplies. Time to set up their little home away from home.
Reader Reviews (3)
Submitted By: enjoy on Jan 18, 2014Love this series the writing is excellent, the story is cohesive and well-executed, the characters are developed and the sex is HOT HOT HOT. A nice read with a perfect ending that leaves you in happy place. Recommend wholeheartedly.
Submitted By: sophiarose1816 on Jan 31, 2013And again, another book in this series kept me riveted to the pages wanting to know what was going to happen between these two hurting guys, Chance and Bryan. And this one got a bit more exciting and dangerous with the militia types on the loose and plotting. The plot was tight and kept my interest, the characters were well written and as I mentioned about the last book, it was great to have the characters from the previous books back. Enjoyable series! I look forward to more in the series.
Submitted By: lissalou on Jan 21, 2013Great story and very hot....just like all the Willow Springs Ranch stories. This adds a great drama centered around an anti-government militia. Very suspenseful and very sexy.