Authors Note

I really can't pinpoint the inspiration for this story other than the abundance of gay cowboy romance books I've read. I have always had a fondness for the Western US, and hope to get out there some day. There's a mystique and romance to it all that comes from the landscape. And there's never anything wrong with a hot cowboy!

I plan on this being the first story of a themed series. It won't have the same characters, but it will have a similar running theme. So, this is story one of "The Vacation Series." Yep, you guessed it; Men finding love on vacation. I think this will open up a real host of possibilities. Story 2 has its preliminary ideas being jotted down in the midst of writing my umpteen other stories!

Extra thanks to Jeremy on this one! Always my muse and my audience!

Usual disclaimers apply on this story - All characters are fictional and any resemblance to anyone living or dead is a coincidence. There is hot man sex in this story, so if you're underage, grossed out or live somewhere it's illegal to read this, please turn away now. Otherwise, please enjoy!

If you have any comments or questions, you can send them to If anyone would like to act as an editor for any future stories, please let me know.

Hope you enjoy!

Randy Zak

Final word count: 33,016

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I Left My Heart In Cowboy Country

Eli Walker climbed out of the rented jeep and stared around him at the beautiful setting. The mountains loomed in the distance, framing the valley with snow-capped monoliths, though there was no snow on the ground by the ranch. It was April, and spring was in full force, but with just enough of a gentle, cool breeze not to be uncomfortable. Eli smiled; this was going to be worth every penny.

The other car door closed and he glanced over as his friend and traveling partner Jill Evans came around the car. "Nice view, huh?"

Eli nodded. "Don't see mountains like that back home."

Jill rolled her eyes. "I was talking about the other scenery," she said, nodding toward a group of ranch hands busily unloading a truck and stacking bags of feed by the barn. Most of them were shirtless, their muscular tanned backs and chests glistening with sweat under the strong sun.

Eli chuckled. "That too. But I'm not here for that scenery, Jill. I just wanted to get away from things for a bit and relax in nature and the fresh air."

"Riiiiight. Ten bucks says you'll be ogling cowboy ass before I do."

"No bet," he smirked.

They were gathering their bags when a man walked out of the main building, smiling as he approached them. "Afternoon, folks. My name is Richard Thoryn, the owner of T-Bar Ranch. Glad we could have you here."

Eli and Jill introduced themselves and Richard led them inside to sign the register and get their room assignments. A ranch hand came in to help them carry their bags to the cabins they would be staying in.

The ranch might not be huge, but it was very well cared for, and Eli could see the staff took pride in their work. Every building was maintained perfectly, and the hands walking around all seemed happy and greeted them in passing. Eli caught Jill checking several of the men out and he smirked, shaking his head. He would have won the bet.

The hand helped Jill unload her things in her room then headed on with Eli. Once in his room, Eli thanked the hand, slipping him some money for his trouble, and then sat down on the bed for a minute. He could still see the impressive view out the window and he smiled. This really would be a good decision, he thought. The views were amazing, and the air was clear and fresh. It was a wonderful place to relax.

Jill knocked at his door and walked in, glancing around. "Nice room. You've got a really good view here."

Eli smiled. "Yeah, if that's what I wake up to every morning, I could get used to this."

"Come on, let's go look around really quick. The owner said that there's an introductory gathering for the trail ride in about 20 minutes. That can give us just enough time to check out the pond and stables."

They explored the main building that had a small living room, kitchen and library that guests could check books out of. Then they wandered around the property, looking at horses and whispering over which of the helpers were hottest. The mountain views everywhere around the ranch absolutely captivated Eli. He had grown up in the city his entire life, and while he was used to that, it had never really made him happy. But it was all he had known, and he wasn't usually one to venture out and try new things. This place made him long to change that.

It was finally time for the trail ride talk, so they headed over. Jill nudged him as they walked towards the arena. "What do you think so far?"

Eli smiled at her. "Best idea we've had in a long time. This place is amazing, and I'm finally able to relax a little bit. It doesn't hurt that I don't get cell phone signal out here, so even if someone wanted to call me, they couldn't."

"It is nice to get away from your life now and then," she agreed.

He nodded. "Between the office and Jerry, I was starting to go a little nuts."

Jill gave him a sympathetic smile. "Jerry's really not a bad guy, he's just..."

"Needy and codependent," Eli finished for her. He sighed, shaking his head. "No, he wasn't a bad guy, I just got tired of being depended on so much. I want someone who wants to be around me, not because I have to take care of him, but just because he wants to be."

"You'll find that," Jill smiled.

He nodded, looking up at the group of other guests in the arena waiting on the trail ride talk. He saw a few cowboys walking around the arena, leading horses. One was talking to the group, slightly turned from Jill and Eli. As they approached, he turned to acknowledge them.

Eli felt his heart stop. The pair of soulful green eyes that glanced his way burned into his mind. They seemed to hesitate on him for a minute, then a little smile quirked at the corner of the cowboy's mouth and he turned his gaze away. He continued his speech on the basics of horseback riding. All the guests would be getting seasoned mounts that would be reliable, but every horse was an individual and animals would sometimes act unpredictably and they had to know the ropes before getting in the saddle.

Eli couldn't make himself look away. He watched those lips forming the words, but nothing reached his ears. He was focused on the cowboy's face. Tanned and weathered just right, without looking like leather, the man looked like he had been in the wilderness for a while. He had dark brown hair peeking out from under his tan cowboy hat. Eli was amused to see the chaps he wore drew they eye straight to his crotch, which looked pretty impressive from where he was standing. Every now and then, those bright green eyes would flicker over to him as he scanned the crowd during his speech. Eli felt himself almost shiver each time they glanced his way.

Jill jabbed Eli in the ribs and he felt himself breathe again. He looked at her and saw her smirking at him. She leaned closer to whisper, "Is the scenery really that breathtaking?"

He gave her a scowl, but his eyes darted back to the rugged cowboy giving the lecture. Eli whispered back, "I didn't think so until now."

* * * * * * *

When the pair had walked towards his lecture group, Lance regarded them and filed them away as "couple on vacation." So he wasn't expecting to lock eyes with the man and feel like he'd gotten a kick low in the gut by a mule. By the look on the man's face, he must have felt something as well. Too bad he was with the girl, because Lance could definitely tiptoe around the "no fraternizing with customers" rule if it was with that guy.

During his talk, Lance managed to sneak glances at the man, taking him in from head to toe. Tall, lean, but well-muscled, he filled out his jeans very nicely, both in front and back. He had sandy blonde hair and skin with just a hint of a tan. He also wore sensible hiking boots that looked broken in, unlike most of the other guests who chose to wear brand new cowboy boots, probably just to make themselves feel the part, without knowing just how sore their feet would be by the end of the trip. Lance liked sensible men.

He finished his lecture then let the guests go until the ride the next day. As he turned to head back to the barn, the woman that walked up with the hottie came over.

"Excuse me?"

He turned and nodded to her. "Can I help you, ma'am?"

She put her hands on her hips and stared him down. "Yes, first, don't call me ma'am if you want to live. Second, we came a little late, so we missed the opening part of what you said. How long is the ride?"

Well, she certainly was spunky. She reminded Lance of his sister, Lisa. "Five days. Or we have a few day rides leaving in a couple days for anyone not willing to camp out."

"The five day trip sounds perfect." She beamed at him, obviously excited.

"Are you and your husband enjoying the ranch so far?" He wasn't really interested in hearing her gush, but it didn't hurt to be polite.

The look that crossed her face was surprised and confused, then shifted to amusement. She laughed, glancing back at the hottie, then turned back to Lance with a grin. "Oh, he's not my husband."

"Boyfriend, then?"

"Not my boyfriend either. But he could be yours if you play your cards right." She winked at him.

Now it was his turn to look surprised and confused. His eyes cut towards the stud, watching him stroke the nose of one of the horses that had ambled over to the fence to see him. Lance smirked lightly, looking back to the woman. "You always play matchmaker?"

"I've got better gaydar than him. I saw you eyeing him up when we got here. Thought I'd let you know he's available and interested."

Lance smiled. "I appreciate the information."

She grinned. "Thought you might. Thanks, we'll see you tomorrow!" She turned and hurried off back to hottie.

Lance watched them, and as she approached, hottie looked up at her, then his face fell as she spoke. He looked up towards Lance with a worried glance. Lance just smiled and gave him a subtle nod. A blush crept over hottie's cheeks and he leaned in to talk to the woman. Lance smirked, turning away with a shake of his head. Shy men were the most fun to work with. Like horses, they had to be coaxed in, but it was always worth the effort in the end, because when you won their trust, they were the most loyal.

Gathering up a few pieces of tack nearby, Lance headed back into the barn to get his chores done before dinner.

* * * * * * *

"I don't know what's got you so upset, Eli, he seemed interested!"

Eli groaned, walking back toward the cabins with Jill. "Because I told you, I'm not trying to score out here. I just want to relax."

"What's more relaxing than a romp in the hay with a stud cowboy?" She smirked at him, nudging him. "Admit it, you're interested in him."

"Of course I am. He's gorgeous. But -- "

"But what? You're interested. He seems interested. What's the problem? For once in your life, would you just relax and let something good happen without picking it apart?"

Eli sighed. She had a point, but that still didn't help. He wasn't sure he was ready for anything intimate yet. Even a one-time thing that never led anywhere might be more than he was up for right now. His ending with Jerry had drained him and he wasn't sure he could be with anyone and not get caught up in the moment.

"Look, we're about to go on a trail ride, the thing you were beside yourself to experience out here. So can we please just drop trying to set me up with every hot cowboy out here and just enjoy ourselves?"

Jill rolled her eyes and sighed dramatically. "Fine. But don't just throw away a good chance if it comes along, alright? He's cute and into you, and you're on vacation. What's the down side?"

What was the down side? Well, for one he was still a bit gun shy after Jerry. He didn't want to get involved with anyone while he was still getting over that relationship. But why be so concerned over what would happen on the trip? He was allowed to enjoy himself. It wasn't like they were going to fall in love.

"You're right. I doubt anything will be able to happen on this trip, but maybe if he expresses interest . . ."

Jill grinned at him. "You'll get a roll in the hay before this trip's over, I bet."

Eli chuckled at her bad pun. But maybe it would come true. If it was with that cowboy, Eli wouldn't be too upset.

* * * * * * *

The morning of the ride, Eli was more excited than he expected. The anticipation of being out in the wilderness for several days appealed to him after being stuck in the corporate world for so long. Already, being at the ranch had relaxed him and he was looking forward to enjoying time in nature, far away from the life he was familiar with.

Jill was at his door bright and early with her bag. She waited impatiently for him to finish tying his boots.

Eli looked up from where he sat on the bed and rolled his eyes. "Will you stop tapping your foot? I'm tying as fast as I can!"

Jill glared at him. "Hurry up, will you! I thought women were always supposed to be the ones who took forever to get ready."

"I AM hurrying! They're not going to leave without us, so calm down! And you probably were up 3 hours ago so you could be done sooner."

Jill stuck her tongue out at him in response. Finally, he finished and they headed out of the room. When they got to the area, they joined the group already there. Horses were tied all around the arena fence, waiting to be saddled up and head out on their trip. Standing in front of the group were two hands. Eli felt a familiar kick in his gut when he caught sight of those amazing green eyes again. He thought that the hand smiled at him, but he couldn't be sure. Maybe he was imagining things.

The handsome man with the green eyes stepped forward to address the group.

"Okay, it looks like we've got everyone here now, so we'll get started. Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm Buck. This here is Mike. We'll be leading you on the tour for the next five days. If at any time during the ride you need something, just give one of us a holler and we'll see what we can do for you."

Buck began to go over the rules of the area, explaining the trip they would take and what they might see. He relayed their responsibilities for each time they camped, and told them what they could and could not do. Eli was slightly concerned when he began to talk about things that might go wrong, but tried to reassure himself that these trips happen all the time and nothing ever happens.

Once Buck was finished talking, the other hand, Mike, went through all the parts of the saddles and equipment, showing them how they needed to mount, and how to saddle and unsaddle the horses. Since there were close to twenty people in the group, they would have to help by taking care of most of the work for their mounts. Eli was actually looking forward to the challenge. Even if the insane number of buckles and straps on the saddle started to make him feel like he was watching a bondage film.

Mike and Buck then began to pair up riders with their horses. Eli was led over to his horse who was tied to a nearby fence post. Eli stroked the neck of his mount, a relaxed looking grey he was told was named Rambler. The horse turned its head to look at him curiously and Eli chuckled.

"Hey there, big guy. We're gonna be together for a few days, so I hope you don't mind me."

The creature gave a little snuffling snort, nuzzling his hand a bit before turning his head back around. Eli took that to mean he approved. Or that he'd had worse.

Remembering what Mike had shown them, he began to saddle the horse, taking his time to think back and make sure he got everything right. Once the saddle was on, he stepped back to check his work.

"Need a hand getting up?"

That sexy voice from behind him sent goosebumps over Eli's skin. He turned, seeing Buck standing there watching him. He felt his mouth go a little dry, and his tongue tried to stick to the roof of his mouth. He managed to get it untangled enough to stammer out a reply.

"Probably wouldn't hurt. I'd hate to make him mad at me before we leave by taking forever to climb up and kicking him or something."

Buck chuckled. "Doubt he'd mind that too much. Rambler here has seen plenty in his day, so you should be okay on him. Let's get you up in the saddle."

Eli definitely did not mind Buck helping him into the saddle. The hand directed him to put his left foot in the stirrup, hold onto the saddle horn and then Buck leaned over, grasped Eli's right calf and lifted him up until he could swing over. Once settled in his saddle, Buck checked his stirrup length.

"There, all done. You're ready to go," he said with a quick pat to Eli's boot. He glanced up at Eli with a quick grin that made Eli wonder if his pants were shrinking. He managed a smile back.

"Hey, guys, look this way!"

Both Buck and Eli looked over as Jill waved, pointing a camera at them. Instinctively, both men smiled, holding still for the picture. Eli realized Buck's hand was still on his boot, and he thought he could almost feel the heat from his touch through the leather.

When Jill had taken the picture and walked off to saddle and mount on her own horse, Buck gave Eli another glance. He looked at Eli with a smile that made Eli wonder how hard it would be to ride if his pants were too tight. Lance seemed to sense his predicament, and gave him a wink before turning and making his way back to his horse in the center of the ring. He did a quick survey to make sure everyone was mounted up and ready, and then gave the order to move out.

The group set out through the ranch, heading for the hills in the distance.

The first day of the trip went by far too quickly. Eli was enthralled with the scenery. It had looked amazing at the ranch, but being out in the middle of it was even more incredible. They saw all kinds of animals -- coyote, several deer species, numerous hawks and a herd of bighorn sheep. Eli felt like his face was hurting from all the smiling. The city just wouldn't be the same after this trip.

After hours in the saddle, the hands finally called for a stop for the night. Everyone dismounted and began to take care of their horses. Buck and Mike had stressed to everyone that nothing would be done before the horses were seen to. The horses were their source of transportation and if anything happened to one of them, it would be big trouble out here in the remote area.

Finally, when the horses were settled, a fire was started and food was distributed. Eli settled down into a spot next to Jill around the campfire to eat his meal. Everyone was eating and talking amongst themselves. It was a relaxing atmosphere after an incredible first day's ride.

Mike walked over toward the fire, carrying a guitar. Jill looked up as he approached. "Oh, are you going to play for us?"

Mike grinned at her. "Not me, ma'am. I'd have the coyotes howling. Buck here's the musician."

Buck chuckled from his position reclining against his saddle, a stereotypical pose for a cowboy. "If you can call it music. I just butcher the Man in Black's work."

That had Eli interested. He had a fondness for Johnny Cash, and he wondered how Buck's voice would compare. Buck took the guitar from Mike, fingering the strings as he checked the tune. After a little warm up, he began to play.

The first few chords sent a chill through Eli when he recognized it as the last song Johnny Cash recorded before his death.

There ain't no grave can hold my body down

There ain't no grave can hold my body down

When I hear that trumpet sound I'm gonna rise right out of the ground

Ain't no grave can hold my body down

Well, look way down the river, what do you think I see?

I see a band of angels and they're coming after me

Ain't no grave can hold my body down

There ain't no grave can hold my body down

Listening to Buck's clear baritone made a little flutter of excitement grow in Eli's stomach. The cowboy's voice filled the song with the torment and sorrow it deserved, like he knew from experience the kind of lament it spoke of.

Well, meet me mother and father, meet me down the river road

And momma you know that I'll be there when I check in my load

Ain't no grave can hold my body down

There ain't no grave can hold my body down

There ain't no grave can hold my body down

As the song ended, the whole party was silent for a moment, almost unwilling to break the spell that Buck had cast. He looked up from the guitar, his eyes finding Eli's. The emotions that were usually hidden behind a confident, tough exterior were raw and on the surface then. Eli felt himself caught in that gaze, wanting nothing more than to walk over and kiss the look from his face.

Buck seemed to recognize that desire and a little smile touched his lips. Slowly, he turned his face away, looking around the group and giving a grin.

"How about something a little more light hearted this time?"

The group gave a quiet chuckle and Buck proceeded to serenade them with a list of songs straight off Cash's greatest hits. After upbeat tunes like "A Boy Named Sue," "I Walk The Line," and "Get Rhythm," everyone was in better spirits in time for bed.

Everyone broke apart, heading for their sleeping bags. Eli watched Buck for a little longer before he made his way to bed. As the night settled in and the stars came out, he lay awake, staring up at the millions of pinpricks of light in the sky, thinking about the handsome cowboy who sung like he had a world of hurt inside him.

* * * * * * *

The next day started early. Everyone was up by dawn and eating before they would saddle the horses for the next leg of the journey.

Eli smiled over at Jill. "How'd you sleep?"

"Great!" Jill beamed back at him. "I've been camping enough times that it wasn't a problem. What about you?"

"Fine." Eli wasn't going to admit he spent a long time awake thinking about Buck.

Soon enough, the call came to saddle up. They all got their horses ready and finally were on their way down the trail.

As they rode, Eli could tell Rambler must have woken up with a lot more energy than the day before. He was tossing his head, fighting him ever so subtly on where to go, and lagging behind the other horses. At one point, they were a good ways behind the group. Eli nudged the horse forward, hoping to catch back up. His mount seemed to be a little stubborn, not really willing to keep up. The old gelding appeared to enjoy wandering the trail by himself more.

He grumbled, giving the horse another nudge to the ribs. "Come on, you lazy bum. If we get lost out here, it'll be all your fault."

The horse tossed its head again and began to move a little faster, slowly approaching the back of the line. He looked up to see Buck riding back towards him on his horse.

"He giving you trouble?"

"Just a little," Eli called back. "I think we're ok now though."

Suddenly, a bird burst out of a patch of brush as Eli's horse snatched a bite from the bush it had been hiding in. Having a bird flap directly under his nose was apparently enough to get to even the steady old gelding. He stopped instantly, giving a startled bellow and reared, twisting as he danced on his back legs.

The fit caught Eli off guard and he had no time to grab for a better hold on the reins or saddle to steady himself. He felt himself falling, saw the ground getting closer but couldn't make himself move fast enough to brace himself. The world seemed to slow down, and he hit the ground on his right side, feeling his shoulder and ribs explode in pain. Air rushed out of him in a huff and he found himself struggling to make his lungs expand.

He heard muffled noises and the ground shaking around him. Instinctively, Eli curled up into a ball as best he could to try and protect himself, but his right arm wouldn't work. He stayed still, trying not to pass out until he could take a breath again. He hadn't had an injury hurt this much since his college days when he got tackled during an intramural football game and nearly twisted his arm off.

He felt movement drawing away and he rolled onto his back, clutching at his shoulder. Eli grimaced against the pain, feeling a wave of nausea wash over him. He slowly became aware of someone leaning over him, a strong, warm hand on his uninjured arm. A coaxing voice was talking to him and he made himself focus on it.

"Come on, look at me. Open your eyes."

Eli groaned, struggling to force his eyes open. As he blinked to clear his vision, he was staring into the green eyes that had captured him earlier. Buck was kneeling down next to him, one hand on Eli's uninjured arm, the other cupping his cheek, keeping Eli from turning his head. As if he could. Even if he weren't injured, that soothing voice and those stunning eyes would have locked him in place.

"There you go. Just try to relax a little. Breathe. That's better. Now just lie still. Does your head hurt?"

Eli winced, trying to take slow, even breaths through the pain. "No. Head's ok," he managed to croak out. "Just a little dizzy. Shoulder and side are killing me though."

"Ok, try to hold still. I'm gonna take a look." Buck drew his knife and cut the shirt away easily, getting his hands on Eli's shoulder. He tested a few places that made Eli yelp in pain, gritting his teeth to try and hold it in.

Buck shook his head. "Doesn't look good. Shoulder's sprained at least, could even be dislocated, and I'm betting you bruised those ribs. We need to get you back to the ranch and get it seen to." He glanced to the other hand. "Grab the kit from my bag, Mike."

The other man hurried over to Buck's horse and pulled a decent sized first aid kit from the saddle bag.

Jill had dismounted and hurried over to his side. "Eli! Are you ok!?"

He grimaced up at her. "Been better."

Buck took the first aid kit and began to secure Eli's shoulder in place. He bent Eli's arm and rested it on his chest before using the tape to hold it steady.

"That'll have to hold for a sec. Can you sit up?"

Eli swallowed, not looking forward to it, but he nodded. "Yeah, I think so."

With Buck's supporting hand on his back, Eli slowly eased himself up to sit. He winced a little as his muscles pulled, but it wasn't quite as bad as he had expected. His side burned like someone held a blowtorch to it, but didn't prevent him from moving. The tape kept his sore shoulder from shifting too much. Once he was up, Buck secured the shoulder a little more, then wrapped it in a bandage. Jill moved closer, offering Eli a drink from her water bottle, which he gratefully took.

She looked down at him, smirking lightly. "Honestly, Eli, you just had to fall of the horse, didn't you?"

Eli glared at her, but couldn't stop the grin that was tugging at his mouth. "You know me. Always gotta make things interesting."

* * * * * * *

Lance stood up as Jill tended to her friend. His hand felt suddenly cold without the warmth of Eli's back pressed to it. He mentally chastised himself. The man was injured and here he was, getting a boner from touching him. He'd definitely been without company for too long. Once this group was back and safe, he was going to head into town and find someone to spend a little time with.

Lance walked over to Mike, putting the first aid kit back in his saddle bag as he spoke. "I can't tell how bad it is, but I don't want that shoulder getting worse. I'll take him back to the ranch. Mike, you can handle the rest of the ride, right?"

The other hand nodded. "Yeah, shouldn't be a problem."

Lance nodded. "Good. I want to get him back and get that shoulder looked at proper soon as possible. We'll start out in a little bit. You go on ahead and take the rest of the tour on. Call over to Broken V and see if you can borrow Tony for the tour. He's got some time off and they're close enough he can come give you a hand real quick."

Mike nodded. "You gonna be ok to head back on your own?"

"Yeah, I think so. We're only a day and half out. Far enough I don't want to make the whole group turn around, but not too far that we can't head back on our own."

His fellow hand smirked, leaning in and lowering his voice. "Think he'll get back up on Rambler?"

Lance cast a glance back over to where Eli sat. The man was still a touch pale, but already seemed to be regaining his color. He was talking with his friend quietly, looking pretty under control considering the circumstances. As if he knew he was being watched, Eli looked toward Lance. At the sight of his soft brown eyes and hint of a smile, Lance felt another surge of lust race through him. Damnit he was really going to have to get a handle on himself.

"I think so. He seems to be pretty sensible so I doubt he'll hold it against Rambler. Hell, I'd have jumped too if a pheasant flew under my nose like that."

Mike chuckled, shaking his head. He clapped Lance on the shoulder. "Let's get you two up and going then." He turned to address the group. "Ok, folks. Buck here is gonna take our injured party member back to the ranch to get him looked at. We're going to continue on our trip. I'm gonna give a call over to another ranch nearby and see if we can get a hand from them to come help us out the rest of the time. So once we see off these two, we're gonna hit the trail again."

Lance made sure that his horse, Spyder, and Rambler were ready to go. Glancing up at the sky, Lance thought back to the weather report. There had been no indication of rain, but deep in his gut, Lance had a feeling that would prove to be wrong. But he didn't make the decisions around the ranch, and his boss trusted the weather man, so he had to trust his boss.

Once the horses were ready, Lance walked over to Eli. He squatted down next to the man. "Let's see if we can get you back in the saddle and start back towards the ranch."

Eli nodded and with a hand up from Lance, he was soon on his feet. He was obviously trying to ignore the pain, if the distant look on his face was any indication. Lance helped him into a shirt from his bag, sliding his left arm through the sleeve and buttoning it over his injured right arm. The sun was too strong to leave him without a shirt on, and the extra support on his right side would help keep it from moving too much. It took a little bit of work to get him back into Rambler's saddle, but with a boost and some conveniently placed shoves that allowed Lance to get a hand on that tight ass, they soon had him settled.

"How you doing up there?"

Eli shifted in the saddle a little, wincing. "I'm ok." He picked up the reins in his left hand, looking down at Lance and giving a quick grin.

Lance felt himself grin back, nodding. God, the man was just too sexy.

Jill walked over and looked up at Eli. "I'm going back with you."

Eli shook his head. "No, you're going to stay and enjoy the rest of the ride. I'm fine, there's no reason for you to cut this short. I know how much you've been looking forward to it."

Jill huffed, glaring at her friend. Lance looked at her. "I promise I'll take care of him. He's right, he's not hurt bad enough for you to take off from the trip."

She stared at him for a minute, then a sparkle came to her eyes and she grinned. "Alright. See you two later, then. Eli, try not to hurt yourself any more, ok?"

"I'll do my best," Eli quipped back.

Jill smiled, waving to them and turning to walk toward the group again.

Lance shook his head. That woman was a force to be reckoned with.

He looked up at Eli. "Let's get back and get you taken care of."

Lance patted Eli's leg one last time. He picked up the reins from Rambler's bridle and tied them to his saddle. Once he was secured, Lance mounted up on Spyder quickly. He turned the horse toward Mike.

"We're heading out, Mike. See you back at the T-Bar."

Mike waved back to him. "Take care, Buck."

Lance nodded, glancing to Eli. "Well, let's get moving."

* * * * * * *

Their ride back the rest of the day was pretty uneventful. Lance had a feeling Eli was in more pain than he was letting on, but he let the other man go as long as he could. Being tough wasn't something he could really fault the man for, but he would step in if he pushed the bounds into stupid.

When they stopped to rest for the night in the same camping spot they had been the night before, Lance knew it was going to be a long one. He dismounted and tied his horse, walking over to Eli's left side. Getting the injured man down was going to be interesting.

He put his hand on the other man's leg. "Okay, take your feet out of the stirrups."

Eli slid his boots free and watched him for the next instruction.

Lance motioned for Eli to lean towards him. "Tilt this way. Put your good arm around my shoulders. I'll support you until you can get your feet under you. Just go slow."

Despite the look of trepidation, Eli followed his order and with just a little struggle, Lance had Eli on his feet.

"There you go. Come on, let's get you settled so I can look after the horses."

He knew that Eli could walk without help, but having the other man's body pressed against his, and his arms around his waist was too good to give up quickly. They walked over to a nearby boulder and Lance helped Eli down to lean back against it. Once he was settled, Lance turned back to get started on the horses.

"I'm sorry you're having to do all the work."

Lance looked over his shoulder at Eli, smiling lightly. "I'd make you do something if you weren't hurt. Take the free pass when you can get it."

"I hate being useless," Eli grumbled.

"Well, get some sleep and you'll get better sooner."

Eli sighed, closing his eyes and settling in. Lance watched him for a minute before he went about working. He fed and watered the horses, brushing them both after taking their saddles off and ensuring they were in good shape. It would be even more disastrous if either of the animals came up injured.

Once the horses were seen to, he went looking through his things for the food rations he had brought with him.

"Is Buck your real name?"

Lance looked up from where he was searching through his saddlebag for the jerky. "Shouldn't you be resting?"

Eli sighed. "I can't get comfortable. This damn shoulder is keeping me awake."

"We'll be back tomorrow and we can get you something for the pain." Lance didn't know what else to offer him.

"You didn't answer my question."

Lance smirked a bit, finding the jerky and walking over, handing him a piece. He sat down next to Eli, leaning back against the rock. "No, Buck isn't my real name. They call me Buck because I was a cocky little SOB when I first came out here. I tried to ride every horse on the ranch, and got bucked off each and every one at least once."

Eli chuckled. "Seriously?"

"No kidding." He grinned, remembering how every ranch hand had laughed at him for weeks. "They dubbed me Buck on the spot."

Eli took a bite of jerky, chewing thoughtfully. "My old roommate in college called me Trip. You can probably guess why."

Lance smirked. "That is kind of self explanatory."

"What's your real name?"


Eli seemed to mull it over, staring at him for a while before he nodded, giving a little grin. "It suits you."

Lance chuckled. "Really? What about it does?"

"I don't know. You just seem like a Lance."

That brought to mind all sorts of lewd comments he could say, but Lance held his tongue. He managed to just chuckle, shaking his head.

"Well, I'll take that as a compliment, then."

* * * * * * *

Eli grinned back at him, feeling himself growing comfortable with the rough cowboy. He shifted a little, wincing as his shoulder moved badly. Lance moved closer, opening his shirt and adjusting the make-shift sling over his shoulder.

"Still hurting?"

Eli was aware of Lance's hands on his skin, the feeling of those rough fingers brushing him as he tended to him. He nodded, looking up at him hovering close by. "Yeah. I can't move it without it hurting. Haven't had something hurt like this since college."

"Yeah? What'd you do then?"

"Played football on an intramural team and got my ass handed to me by this brute who was about 300 pounds and had a little bit of a sadistic streak. He tackled me, and somehow grabbed my arm and twisted it so it was under me as he fell on me. I thought I'd torn the damn thing off the way it hurt."

Lance smirked. "Damn. Can't say I'd have wanted to do that. I almost had a horse land on me once, but I got lucky and moved just a might faster. Been about the luckiest I've been out here."

Eli chuckled softly. "Sounds pretty lucky to me."

The sun was starting to sink lower and Lance looked up with an appraising eye. "Better get a fire going. It'll get cold soon."

He got up and began to gather wood to build a fire. Eli watched the cowboy as he moved, seeing the way his clothes shifted and his muscles flexed beneath the cloth. The man was all lean muscle, built from a life working hard and staying in the saddle. Eli's fingers itched to touch him, and his mouth watered, wondering what lay beneath those tight Wranglers.

Suddenly, he became aware that Lance had stopped moving and was staring at him.

Eli blushed and looked away, embarrassed to be caught staring. "Sorry."

He heard a chuckle and looked up to find Lance grinning at him. "For what?"

"For ogling you when all you've done is be nice and take care of me. I'm not a damsel in distress who falls for her rescuer."

"Well, I'm glad you're not a damsel, because it wouldn't be nearly as much fun to grope your ass when I'm getting you in the saddle." Lance's eyes shined with humor.

Eli stared in shock at his open flirting while Lance finished with the fire, then settled down nearby. His shock gave way to a smirk. "You and Jill would get along great."

Lance looked over at him, smiling at the look on Eli's face. "Your friend did already try to hook us up if you remember."

Eli was glad the firelight was dim, because he felt his face heating up with another blush. "Yeah, she's done everything but taken out a billboard for me."

Lance chuckled. "Nice to have a friend who's supportive. Wish I'd had someone like her to send feelers out on a guy for me."

"You don't have anyone you're close to? Does anyone know about you on the ranch?"

The other man shrugged. "Yeah they know. A couple years ago, one of the hands caught me making out with a guy in town when I got piss drunk. I got yelled at for hours."

"They were that bigoted?" Eli was shocked.

Lance looked up, smirking and shaking his head. "They weren't mad about me kissing a guy, they were pissed that I was drunk. It was the night before we were supposed to move some cattle and the guys were on my hide because they said I'd be useless with a hangover. So they brought me home and dumped my sorry ass in the water trough. Now mind you, this was November, so the water was fucking freezing. They all stood around and laughed. One of them said they should bring me back to the guy I was necking with, see if he liked my dick all shriveled up and balls like raisins." He chuckled. "No, they're okay with me. Hell, we had another few guys come through now and then that were gay. They seemed to be alright as long as we kept to ourselves, did our work and didn't make trouble."

Eli was glad to hear that Lance didn't have a hard time at the ranch. So maybe the stereotype about macho cowboys wasn't quite as bad as he had thought.

Lance looked at his watch. "We'd better get some sleep. We'll probably need to start back as early as we can tomorrow."

"You're probably right." Eli tried to stand, grimacing a little. He felt strong hands on him and looked over to see Lance had come beside him and was helping him up. He smiled. "Thanks."

Lance grinned back at him. "My pleasure."

With the cowboy's help, Eli settled into his bedroll for the night. He lay on his back, grateful that his shoulder wasn't hurting too badly when he lay flat. Eli lay silent for a long time, listening to the sounds of the wilderness; crickets chirping, coyotes howling in the distance, and the fire crackling nearby. He stared at the stars, finding himself awed again by how many there were. He rarely saw stars in the city and out here, there were so many he had no idea how anyone knew where any constellations were.

Eli smiled softly to himself as he drifted to sleep. Cowboy country was turning out to be a really great place.

* * * * * * *

When Lance woke up to the sound of a deafening crash of thunder, he knew they were in trouble. There had been reports of storms in the area, but when they had checked the reports before the ride, everything had been given the all clear for the days they would be gone. That's what he got for trusting the damn weathermen instead of his own gut.

Lance got to his feet quickly, seeing the stars obliterated by the clouds in the distance. Every now and then, flashes of lightening would illuminate the billowing thunderheads from within, giving him a sense of how big the storm was going to be. It might not be overhead now, but even a distant storm could cause trouble in several ways. Not just being exposed in the cold night air and wet, but with as dry as the area had been lately, it raised the potential for flash floods. They had to get somewhere safe quickly to ride out the storm.

He turned back to the makeshift camp, walking over to where Eli slept soundly. The guy slept like he was dead to the world, and Lance wondered if a bomb going off in his sleeping bag would even wake him up. Kneeling down, he shook the other man awake. Eli jerked and struggled to open his eyes and blink the sleep away.

"Whuz wrong?"

That sleepy rumble would probably have gotten him hard immediately any other time, but the impending storm kept Lance's hormones at bay.

"We have to get moving. There's a nasty storm heading in and we have to get to somewhere safe."

Eli blinked a little more, seeming to come awake as he heard another rumble in the distance. "Oh, okay. Where should we go?"

Lance looked around them, knowing there was probably only one place that would give them any sort of cover. "We'll head towards the canyon wall. We're close enough that it won't take long and there's a cave up the face that we can shelter in."

He helped Eli to his feet carefully. "You rest here while I get the horses ready."

Eli looked at him defiantly. "I can help. I'll fold up the sleeping bags."

Lance was tempted to tell him not to, not wanting his shoulder to hurt more, but the look in Eli's eyes and quickly approaching storm told him to let the other man help.

He nodded. "Okay, get them rolled and bring them over to me and I'll pack them up when you're done."

Eli nodded in response, moving off to get things ready. Lance paused to watch him for a minute to make sure he wasn't in too much pain from the ride the day before and then sleeping on the ground. When he was convinced that Eli would be okay, he turned and began to quickly brush and saddle the horses. They were fidgeting a little from the storm but he managed to get them ready quickly.

Not long before he finished saddling, Eli walked over with the sleeping bags. "Here you go."

"Thanks." Lance nodded, taking and securing them. "Let's get you up and get out of here fast.

They hurriedly got Eli in the saddle and Lance tied off Rambler's reins on his saddle horn again and quickly mounted up. He rode toward the canyon wall, aiming for a path that looked wide enough to handle both horses securely. He didn't want the horses to rush and take a wrong step, but Lance was uneasy at the prospect of getting caught up in anything that might be coming. The rain began to fall on them as they rode, and Lance sent up a silent prayer they could make it before the worst hit.

As they were getting closer, Lance heard a noise in the distance that made his heart freeze in his chest. A dull, distant roar was never a good noise in a dry canyon during a storm. He nudged Spyder to hurry and nearly passed out with relief when they reached the pathway on the side that led up the cave.

Carefully, Spyder picked his way up the narrow path toward the cave. Lance quietly encouraged him the whole way. "Good boy. That's it, keep going." The horse was reliable enough that Lance felt confident he would make it. The rain began to pick up as they got higher and suddenly, with a deafening crash, a wall of water came rushing down through the canyon where they had been moments before. Lance looked over his shoulder, seeing it sweeping through. Lightning flashing highlighted debris swirling in the water below. He was grateful they made it.

He gave a quick glance back to Eli. "How you holding up?"

Eli nodded to him, looking a little pale. Lance wasn't sure if it was from pain or fear. He figured it would be best to keep moving and not ask. The rain was pounding down on them now, soaking them through. The horses were obviously uneasy, but kept moving.

After what felt like hours, they reached a level area where the cave was. Lance hurried Spyder into the safety of the cave, relieved to see it was large enough for them all to keep out of the storm without worrying. He urged his horse on and finally let out a sigh of relief when they made it into the cave safely. He glanced back to Eli to make sure the other man was alright.

Eli looked a little shaken, and soaked to the bone, but otherwise unhurt. He glanced up at Lance, giving a smile. "We made it."

Lance nodded, dismounting and walking over to stand beside Rambler and stare out of the cave at what he could see of the flood below. "Just barely."

They stared out in silence, listening to the pounding rain and rushing waters for a while before he looked up at Eli. "Let's get you down from there and I'll get us settled."

Lance helped Eli to his feet and unpacked the horses, tying them to one side to let them rest and dry off. He unloaded their saddles and packs, making sure they hadn't lost any gear or food in the rush to get to safety. He was relieved to see everything made it safe, if just a little wet.

He walked over to stand next to Eli, who stood at the mouth of the cave. Lance looked at the other man, wondering what the city boy might think about all the problems they had dealt with on his trip.

Eli spoke without looking away. "If it stops raining soon, how long will it take before the water goes down?"

Lance shrugged, looking out into the darkness beyond the cave. "No telling. It's been really dry lately, so it could all go down fast, or it'll stay built up for ages. Either way, we're going to have it rough getting back through all this."

After a few minutes of silence, Eli spoke again. "Do you think the other group is ok?"

Lance looked over at Eli. "If Mike had the same kind of warning we did, he knew to get them somewhere safe. They were close enough to the Broken V they could hole up there til it passes."

They stood in silence for a few minutes, listening to the roaring of the rain and the rushing water in the once dry riverbed below the mouth of the cave. It was like the countryside had been woken up angry and was bellowing its rage.

Staring out of the cave, Lance began to feel a chill. After the exertion of rushing to get to the cave, the cool night air and wet clothes were sapping their body heat quickly. Lance knew they would be in trouble if he didn't get them warmed up.

"I need to get a fire started," he told Eli.

Eli nodded, glancing at him. "Okay, can I do anything?"

He shook his head. "Just relax. Don't want you overdoing it."

Lance looked around the cave, grateful to find dry wood and some dried up grass and straw he could use to hold a flame. Once he built a little pit, he pulled the lighter from his pack. It took a little shaking to get it free of water, but he managed to get it lit and soon was feeding a growing fire.

"There, that should help."

Glancing up from his work, Lance saw Eli shiver despite the fire. The man was still dripping wet, and in the early spring night, the air was cool enough to get him chilled in no time. That coupled with his injury would be bad for him quickly.

"You cold?"

Eli gave a noncommittal shrug with his uninjured shoulder. "A little bit."

Lance smirked. "Bullshit, your lips are turning blue."

He seemed to go cross-eyed for a minute, as if trying to see his own face. Lance couldn't help laughing.

"Come here, we need to get you warm."

Eli moved closer and Lance pulled him in next to the fire. He rubbed at Eli's uninjured arm and back, trying to use friction to warm the other man up. Eli was still shivering a little, but it seemed to be helping.

Lance, on the other hand, was finding it very hard to stay this close, touching him, and keep himself on the task at hand. He was growing hard very quickly with the feeling of Eli's firm body under his fingers. He knew the old cliche to warm someone up was to share body heat, but he didn't know if he could trust himself to do that without taking it further.

Eli leaned into his touch, eyes closing slightly at the sensations. Lance snuck a peek down and saw through the damp fabric over the other man's crotch that he was obviously enjoying the attention. That sight made it hard to behave himself, and he knew he was going to be in trouble.

His eyes met Eli's, seeing the desire there that echoed his own. He tried to keep it under control, but it was fighting to break free. They stared at each other for what felt like hours, and Lance felt himself lost in the brown eyes staring back at him. His conscience was screaming at him that he was treading on thin ice, but his gut -- and lower -- were trying to convince him to lean in more.

His hand seemed to be listening to his gut because almost before he realized what he was doing, his fingers were reaching up to tangle in Eli's hair and pull his head closer. When their lips touched, it was like his whole body felt the pull. It sent a thrill through him from the top of his head down to the soles of his feet.

Eli's lips were soft, but insistent as they returned the kiss just as deeply. Lance knew the other man had been interested, but having such an obvious sign was something. He was a very good kisser, too. Lance felt him matching every surge, and almost simultaneously, their mouths opened, tongues meeting to dance and tease.

A moan slipped from Eli's mouth and got lost in the kiss. Lance's body responded to the primal noise, pressing itself closer to the other man. He felt their forms connecting, their constrained cocks meeting with too much fabric between them. His arms slid around the injured man, pulling him closer, hands roaming over his wet clothing.

A little grunt of pain from Eli brought Lance back to reality and he pulled back.

"You need to be resting." His voice sounded strained even to his own ears.

Eli groaned, his head falling to Lance's shoulder. "I don't want to rest. I want you."

Lance couldn't admit how much that sent a thrill to his gut. If the other man weren't injured, he would probably be nailing him over a fallen log or boulder as hard as he could. He had to get a tight rein on his hormones before he attacked the injured man.

Eli looked up at him, eyes pleading. "We're stuck here for who knows how long. Once we leave, there's no telling if we can have another chance like this. I don't want to waste it."

"You're hurt," Lance pointed out.

"It's not that bad. Your sling is keeping it still. Besides," he pressed his hips against Lance's firmly, pressing their cocks against one another again through the fabric. "I know you want this too."

Despite wanting to agree, Lance knew that this was not the right time for them to give in to their urges. But he wasn't always known to listen to his conscience. His cock throbbed again and he felt the last of his resistance slip away.

He pulled away and turned, walking over and picking up a saddle blanket. Spreading it out near a rock, he motioned for Eli to come closer. As the other man walked over, Lance pulled him in for another kiss. He let his fingers unfasten the buttons on Eli's shirt and smoothly pushed the fabric back. He deepened the kiss, loving the taste of Eli's lips as he swept his tongue over them.

One hand slid over Eli's firm chest, fingers slipping lower to tease below the waistband of his jeans. A groan slipped into the kiss, telling Lance that Eli was obviously enjoying it. He just had to be careful.

Lance pulled back just a little. "You tell me if you're in too much pain for anything, ok? Don't want to make that shoulder any worse."

Eli nodded and Lance unfastened his pants, hands gliding over the smooth skin that had been hidden under the tight jeans. Just as he thought, the city boy was toned, and kept himself well. Every inch of him was muscle, with barely any fat. He wasn't ripped, just well maintained. He must take exercise seriously to look that good and have a desk job.

Eli moaned a little as Lance let his hands wander, pushing his pants and underwear away to fall down to his ankles. What he saw made his mouth water. Eli wasn't enormous, but he was definitely a nice size. His cock had a beautiful shape, with a perfect head. Lance wasn't really a connoisseur of dicks, but he had to say, this one may be one of the better ones he'd come across. His hand reached out, fingers wrapping around the length to give it a slow pump.

Lance watched as Eli's head fell back with a moan. His hips thrust lightly into Lance's hand, obviously enjoying the sensations. He smiled as he watched the pleasure crossing the other man's face. Lance continued that slow tease for a little while before he stepped back, releasing him.

Eli gave a little whimper of disappointment when he let go. Lance chuckled. "Don't worry, baby, I won't leave you hanging."

He took Eli's hand pulling him back to where he had laid out the blanket. Lance pulled Eli's shirt the rest of the way off, then made quick work of his shoes and pants. When Eli stood naked before him, he knew he was in trouble. The man really was an incredible sight. His legs were firm and toned, joining up with his slender hips at the perfect angle. Lance suspected Eli was a runner, and the thought of watching his sexy body in motion was enough to make his cock twitch.

Lance reached over, cupping Eli's dick in his hand and stroking gently. Eli shivered, eyes closing for a minute before he opened them to look at him.

"I'm feeling a little out of place being the only one naked."

Grinning, Lance leaned in to capture those lips in another kiss.

"All in good time. Here."

He took Eli's free hand and led him over toward the blanket. Stepping back, he quickly stripped, turning to face Eli. The look on the other man's face was appreciative, and it gave Lance a little surge of lust. He leaned in, catching Eli's lips in another kiss before he took his hand again. Lance turned with his back to the rock and spun Eli around to face the fire in front of him. He maneuvered Eli to sit on the blanket he had spread on the ground, then he sat behind him, shifting the two of them so Eli fit into the space between his thighs. He held him tight against his chest, his hands roaming over the toned flesh of Eli's upper body.

He let his hand wander downward, taking hold of Eli's dick again and began to stroke. They might not be able to do much out here, but he was going to make sure that the other man enjoyed himself.

The sound of moans echoing off the walls of the cave got him even harder. He felt Eli throbbing in his hand, felt the panting and shivering of his body. His own hard dick was gliding the valley of Eli's ass, giving him just enough sensation that Lance knew it might not be too long before he would cum.

Eli moaned, his head falling back. "I want you inside me."

Lance groaned, pausing to rest his forehead against Eli's back. "You're killing me here, Eli. I don't have any supplies."

"That doesn't matter."

Gritting his teeth against the temptation, Lance sighed. "No condoms, Eli."

Eli seemed to consider that, giving a frustrated noise.

"You're clean, right? I am."

"Yeah, but I don't play risky with this kind of thing."

A groan came from Eli as he pressed his ass back against Lance's hard, aching dick.

"Please, Buck. I really need you."

Lance shivered. Somehow, hearing Eli call him by his nickname right then was pushing him past his restraint. He closed his teeth gently around the flesh at the base of Eli's neck with a groan, trying to talk himself out of what his dick and Eli's ass were quickly convincing him to do.

"Fuck. This is such a bad idea."

Eli shivered. "Probably. But I'll claim a head injury if anyone asks."

He couldn't stop a chuckle, his arms squeezing Eli back to his chest tighter. He gently pumped his hips, letting his cock slide up Eli's crease, keeping them both on edge. He suddenly got an idea.

"Grab the saddle bag over next to you."

Eli seemed to pull himself back to the present and leaned forward a little, hooking the bag with his left hand and dragging it closer.

"What am I looking for?"

"There's a tube in there of liniment we use for the horses. That's the best we're going to be able to do for lube out here."

"Is it ok to use that?"

Lance smiled. "Yeah, I use it on myself when I get a muscle ache or two, so we'll be ok."

Eli pulled the tube out of the bag and handed it back to Lance. Lance unfastened the cap and smeared some of the slick ointment on his hand. He reached down, letting a finger slip over Eli's hole. With the groan at that touch, Lance took it to mean he could continue. He ran his fingertip over the tight ring of muscle, working his way in slowly. He slowly began to work that finger in and out, getting Eli used to the invasion.

Once Eli was shifting back on that finger to get it deeper, Lance slid his other hand around front and wrapped it around Eli's hard dick. He felt the shiver run through the other man, his head falling back on Lance's shoulder with a moan. Lance turned his head, licking and sucking just behind Eli's ear, coordinating both hands to move in time. He could feel Eli's pulse beating faster beneath his lips, his hips thrusting forward and back.

Lance added another finger, stretching the muscles to prepare him. He refused to go too quickly and hurt Eli. Improvising was one thing, hurrying was another thing entirely. He took his time, adding another finger and slowly stretching the muscle so he wouldn't cause Eli any pain.

Once he was sure he had him well prepared, he quickly slicked himself up and put the tube aside. Lance slid both hands underneath Eli's ass and lifted. Eli helped by balancing himself with his good hand, getting his feet under him and pushing himself up to position them. Lance angled his dick toward Eli's waiting hole and gently slid the head inside. Their matching groans echoed off the cave walls.

Lance intended on going slow, letting him get used to the invasion, but Eli apparently had other ideas. He pressed himself down, his hungry hole swallowing Lance's dick eagerly. Lance felt a deep moan tear from him as Eli sank all the way down, resting his ass on Lance's thighs.

"Shit, Eli. Take it easy, I don't want to hurt you."

"You're not," Eli panted. "God, I just needed you in me."

Lance looped his arm around Eli's chest, holding him in place. "Just stay put for a second."

Eli gave a whimper, but obeyed. They sat still, Lance struggling against what the amazing sensations that being inside Eli raw were doing to him. It was like electricity running up his spine every time they took a breath. He could tell Eli felt something similar, because his breath hitched now and then.

Lance's free hand slid down Eli's chest to squeeze the other man's cock and Eli gave a shout, his back arching and hips bucking into the touch. Lance groaned, feeling the velvety tunnel pull off him a little. His own hips bucked involuntarily to keep himself buried tightly inside the heat.

Eli began to raise and fall on Lance's dick, as if he was unable to wait any longer. Lance couldn't stop his own hips from moving to meet him with every thrust downward. He had to abandon his hold on Eli's cock, gripping his waist to ensure he was balanced. They quickly set a matching rhythm, the sound of slapping skin and harsh pants and moans filled the cave, even drowning out the sound of the rain.

Lance gritted his teeth, knowing this wouldn't take long. He'd never barebacked before and the sensations were incredible. He never would have expected a quick fuck in a cave would be high on his list of highlights of his life, but he was pretty sure it was going to top it. Leaning back against the rock behind him, Lance thrust into Eli harder, changing the angle and holding on to the other man's hips to steady him.

By the groans coming from him, Eli appreciated the change. He whimpered, his free hand reaching back to support himself on Lance's shoulder. Eli's head fell backward, and his breathing became more ragged.

Lance reached one hand around, finding the hard, bobbing prick jutting out from between Eli's legs and gripped it, stroking in time with their thrusts.

Eli gasped, crying out at the touch. "Oh god, Lance. Gonna cum soon."

Lance could only manage a grunt of affirmative, too far gone for words. The feeling of being inside this man, the chemistry they had, was driving him quickly to the edge. Eli was a perfect match for him. He was just the right build, and fucked like a dream.

The sounds he made told Lance he was very close. Lance squeezed his cock harder, hand moving smoothly over him, twisting at the head to try and give him any extra stimulation. He thrust into him harder as he felt Eli's muscles begin to spasm with his climax. Eli's moans increased as he came. His dick pulsed in Lance's grasp, cum spurting out onto the dusty cave floor.

Pulsating muscles gripped him tightly and Lance tried to fight off his orgasm. He didn't want to come so soon, but the sounds Eli made were getting to him. When Eli thrust himself down hard and squeezed his muscles tightly around his dick, Lance was a goner. He groaned deeply, his hips snapping up a few more times before he felt the knot at the base of his spine erupt and his climax hit him hard. He cried out as he buried himself as deep inside Eli as he could manage, spilling his essence into the other man.

It felt like ages before he began to come back to his senses after his orgasm. Lance leaned back against the rock, catching his breath. He held Eli close to him; his arm looped around the other man's body, hand on his chest. He could feel the thundering of Eli's heart under his hand, sensed the rise and fall of his chest as he recovered from his orgasm.

Eli lay back against him, his eyes closed as he panted to catch his breath. After a few moments of silence, he let out a quiet, awed, "Wow."

"Yeah." Lance managed a smile. "Not the usual place for a first date, but I suppose any port in a storm."

Eli chuckled, leaning back to rest his head on Lance's shoulder. The firelight cast shadows over his face, but Lance could see the smile on his lips. "Thank God for that storm, too."

Lance was inclined to agree.

* * * * * * *

After he had cleaned them up as best he could, Lance found that he didn't want to lose the contact he'd had with Eli. He gathered their sleeping bags, unzipped them and then zipped them together in one large thick blanket that he spread over Eli. He slipped back around and took his place behind Eli, legs stretched out on either side of him and leaning the other man back against his chest again and slid his arms around his torso.

Eli leaned against him, sighing. "Best camping experience I've ever had."

Lance chuckled. "Oh yeah? Not many camping trips result in you nearly dislocating your shoulder."

"Yeah, but not many trips result in spending a night with a really hot guy. And that has to be one of the hottest things I've ever done."

Lance chuckled. "I'll have to agree with you on that one. Never done it in a cave before."

"Oh, really? And here I thought you had brought me to one of your favorite spots that you bring all your injured guests."

The humor in Eli's voice was infectious and Lance grinned. "You're impossible, you know that?" He leaned in, biting at Eli's neck gently and causing him to squirm.

Eli chuckled. "Jill says that all the time."

"Hmm. You two seem pretty close."

Lance could almost hear Eli's smile. "We are. Been friends since college, and she's helped me out a lot. She gave me the courage to come out to my family."

Lance let his hand idly glide over Eli's chest as he listened. "How'd that go?"

Eli grinned. "They were pretty freaked out at first, but they eventually got used to it. They haven't been too fond of most of my boyfriends though."

"Why's that?"

There was a hesitation, then Eli chuckled sheepishly. "Well, I seem to have two types. Burly and scary, or needy and twinky."

Lance laughed. "Oh really? Then what would that make me?"

Eli craned his head back to grin at him. "Well, you're different. You're firmly in the hot and self sufficient category."

He grinned at Eli. "Good answer." He rubbed a thumb over Eli's chest gently. "So, no one at home waiting for you?"

"Well, honestly, one of the reasons I came out here was to get away from a needy ex I have to work with. Jerry is a decent guy, but he's kind of demanding. He had to be around me all the time, and never wanted me to go anywhere without him. I don't think he trusted me. He wanted me to do so many things for him. It just got old after a while. I was tired of being his caretaker."

Lance looked at him, raising an eyebrow. "Doesn't sound like he's the kind to top at all."

Chuckling, Eli shook his head. "He's not. I was top in that relationship. All. The. Time." He rolled his eyes. "I don't mind it, but I honestly prefer bottoming. I don't know what really kept us together for the time we were."

"I wondered. You didn't seem like you were all that interested in topping a few minutes ago."

Eli's chuckle made Lance smile. "I've been known to now and then. But sometimes, I just meet someone I'm more comfortable with being in control."

Lance chuckled. "Good to know."

Eli rested his head on Lance's shoulder. "What about you? Any juicy relationship stories? Or family drama?"

Lance stared into the fire silently for a few minutes. "Not much in the way of exes to speak of. Never get much past casual fuck buddies. They like the cowboy image, so most of the time they're just jonesing for a fantasy fuck." He gave a chuckle. "So, relationships haven't been in the cards, and I don't really get along well with my family."

"How come?" Eli looked concerned and interested.

Lance shrugged. "My old man was a bastard. He hated me."

"Was it because you're gay?"

Lance laughed. "We didn't talk enough and I didn't hang around long enough for him to ever find that out. Nah, he was just an asshole. He would hit me or my brother any chance he got. Never laid a finger on my mama or sister, thankfully. So when we were old enough, both my brother and me split. He went into the army and I came west. I got word Adam was killed a few years ago."

Eli twisted his head back against Lance's shoulder, looking at him. "God, I'm sorry."

Lance shrugged. "He and I hadn't kept in touch, unfortunately, so I hadn't spoken to him in years. I felt bad about that. He was the only person who ever really understood me."

They fell into a comfortable silence. He thought about Adam, and once again, wished he had kept up with him.

Lance stared into the fire for a while, his arms wrapped around Eli, keeping the other man snuggled to his chest and pulled under the sleeping bag. He looked down, not able to see Eli's face, but wanting to try.

"You ok? Cold?"

Eli shook his head. "I'm good." He seemed to be smiling. "Very good."

They were quiet for a long time before he felt Eli shift, trying to pull himself away from sleep. Lance pressed a kiss to the other man's temple gently.

"Go on to sleep," he whispered. "You need it. Been a rough day for you."

Eli sighed, nodding. "Probably right." He sounded half asleep already and Lance just held him, rubbing his chest to help him relax. Finally, he felt him fade into what seemed like a peaceful sleep.

Lance held Eli close, rubbing his hand slowly over the other man's firm chest while he slept. Now that they were free of their hormones, he started to wonder if sleeping together had been an even worse idea than he thought at first. He had a feeling that Eli was going to be a hard one to see leave. But that's what happened around here. People never stayed. Lance knew he had to get used to the fact that Eli would be going home soon, and no matter how good he was in bed, it didn't mean they would have made a good couple. Hell, he never had been part of a couple before anyway, so he didn't know how to do it. No, it was better that Eli went home.

Finally, Lance let himself fall asleep as well. He slept holding Eli close, warm and comfortable under the sleeping bag with a handsome man pressed against his chest.

* * * * * * *

The flood waters receded enough after a day that they were able to make their way out of the cave and head back toward the ranch. The amount of debris that was washed through the canyon slowed their pace dramatically. Huge trees had been uprooted and swept down through the canyon as if they were twigs, and boulders had been knocked over and smashed against the canyon walls. Lance had never seen anything like it.

As they picked their way through the canyon, Eli seemed to be a little more uncomfortable that day, and Lance worried he was sore from their coupling.

He glanced back at Eli. "You okay?"

Eli nodded. "Yeah. My side's just aching some this morning."

Lance felt guilty about his state. "Sorry about that."

He heard a chuckle from Eli. "I'm not. If a little ache is what I get after a night like that, I'll take it."

Lance smiled, shaking his head. He nudged Spyder on through and soon enough, they were finally out of the canyon. The extra time put them behind enough that by the time they were out, it was almost dark and they were forced to make a hasty camp. Lance kept his hands off of Eli except to help him off his horse and to rest. He didn't want to make the other man's injuries worse. For his part, Eli didn't complain, just rested with his eyes closed as Lance took care of the camp.

They shared a comfortable, quiet meal that night, talking a little now and then about any topic that came to mind. Sleep came early for both of them. They both seemed to be anticipating getting back the next day.

The next day's ride was faster since the flood had focused its damage in the canyon. Once they were out of it, there was less debris to wade through. Lance figured they would make it back to the ranch before midday, based on the pace they were making. As they cleared a hill on the outskirts of the territory of the ranch, Eli sat up, looking ahead of them.

"What's that?" Eli asked.

Lance looked up and saw movement through the tall, dry grass. He could barely make out the sound of barking and grinned.

"That is Keevo, one of the ranch dogs. If he's seen us, then the rest of the pack is barking their fool heads off back at the barn. Someone'll know we're coming soon."

"Good." Eli's voice sounded a little strained. The riding he'd endured the past two days straight after the water had receded had put an extra stress on his shoulder and Lance was starting to worry he might have actually dislocated it. Thankfully, they were back now and the doc could look at it.

A black and white border collie mix came bounding out of the tall grass to race over toward Lance's mount.

Lance grinned. "Hey, there, you lazy mutt! You come to greet us?"

Keevo whined, tail whipping back and forth happily as he danced nearby. Lance chuckled at the dog's antics. He looked ahead, able to make out the shapes of the barns in the distance.

"We'll be there in no time." He looked over his shoulder to Eli, who smiled back gratefully. Lance felt a strange sensation in his gut at that smile, but he tried to ignore it.

Keevo suddenly perked up and ran off back toward the ranch. Lance looked up and saw a few of the hands riding their way quickly.

"Looks like we've got a welcoming party."

As the hands got closer, Lance took off his hat and waved. The hand riding at the front returned the gesture.

"Well, we're back." He glanced over to Eli, seeing the man looking relieved. The last few hours had worn him out from the way he looked, and Lance was glad they had made it back. He needed rest and a doctor.

The hands rode up, pulling their horses to a stop as they approached. Lance waved to them.

"Hey, Mike, glad to see you made it back okay."

Mike nodded. "Holed up at the Broken V during the worst of it. Once the rain quit we headed back. Where've you been?"

"We cut back through the canyon and got caught by the flood. Had to stay in a cave until it went down."

One of the other hands was a wizened older man named Tuck who served as the ranch foreman. He nudged his horse closer to Eli. "How's the shoulder?"

Eli winced as he tried to move his arm. "Still pretty sore."

Tuck nodded. "Let's get you in. Your lady friend has been threatening to set out on foot looking for you if you didn't get back soon."

Eli shook his head. "She's crazy."

Lance chuckled. "Probably, but you should get back in and let her know you're ok."

Their eyes met for a moment, and Lance wanted nothing more than to kiss the pain from Eli's eyes. He gave the other man a quick smile and a nod, then untied Rambler's reins and handed them over to Tuck. "Have Jethro rub Rambler down good, he's been through a lot more than he's used to."

Tuck took the reins and turned his horse back toward the ranch, leading Rambler and Eli away.

Mike and the other hand, Oscar, flanked Lance as they rode back to the ranch at a slower pace. Lance looked over at first one man, then the other. They were wearing matching knowing smirks.

Lance raised an eyebrow. "What?"

Oscar grinned. "Maybe it wasn't just the flood that kept you out that long..."

Lance tried to feign ignorance. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Mike chuckled. "Oh come on. You two were gazing at each other like teenagers after a first date where you got to third base."

Lance smirked. "Well, guess you'll never know."

Oscar hooted. "Oh, I'm pretty sure we know, Buck!" He reached over and clapped Lance on the shoulder. "Only reason he wasn't glowing is 'cause he was too pale."

Lance glared at his coworker. "Hey, knock it off."

Mike grinned. "Don't want us making fun of your boyfriend?"

"He's not my boyfriend, damnit. He's hurt and he is still a guest. How'd you like the boss to chew us out for talking about him like that?"

The other hands grudgingly agreed and continued the ride back quietly. Lance headed to the barn and looked after Spyder. Once his horse was taken care of, he went to check in with Tuck to see what needed to be done. The sooner he got back to work, the sooner he could get used to the idea of Eli going home.

He had a bad feeling that would take a lot of getting used to.

* * * * * * *

Eli had his suitcase on the bed, packing for the trip home as best he could with only one functioning arm. Despite the fact he hadn't really dislocated it, the deep bruise was painful enough and his muscles still weren't happy to comply with orders. Lance's impromptu sling had kept it still enough, though, that by the time they got back to the ranch and had it looked at, he was able to begin moving it a little. His ribs had already begun healing well and barely bothered him now. The doctor had said he should regain full use of his shoulder in less than a month, though the soreness would take a little while to fade.

Of course, Jill had alternated between fawning over him for being hurt and lost for days, and yelling at him for scaring her. He finally was able to convince her it wasn't that big of a deal. He would heal fine. Unfortunately, with all that had gone on, their week was almost done anyway, so they decided to head home a day early and let him rest a little more before heading back to work the following Monday.

Eli sighed, pausing to look out the far window at the mountains in the distance. He was going to miss this place, the views, the fresh air. And, he hated to admit to himself, but he was going to miss a certain cowboy. He hadn't come on this trip planning to find someone, but Lance had definitely been fun. That night in the cave was better than any dinner at a five-star restaurant he could ever go on.

A knock came to his door, and he called out. "It's open."

The door swung in and Lance stepped in, looking over at him with a little smile. "Hey."

Eli smiled back. "Hey yourself. You playing hooky from chores?"

Lance chuckled. "Nah, I told the boss I had something to do real quick so I could get a pardon."

Eli put his extra pair of shoes in his suitcase before turning to him. He let his eyes memorize the smile on that face, the tanned skin peeking out from under the brim of his hat. God, this man was handsome. Eli had never thought much about the rugged look, but on Lance, it just got his blood pounding.

"So, what did you have to do that got you out of chores?"

Lance grinned at him. "I got you a going away present."

"Really?" Eli looked at the package the cowboy held, seeing the white paper and twine holding it together. "You didn't have to do that."

Lance gave a little smirk. "Yeah, but I thought you'd get a kick out of it."

Eli took the bundle and unfastened the string, opening the paper. He pulled out a tshirt from the wrapping and laughed. Emblazoned on the front of the shirt was the phrase "Save a horse, ride a cowboy!"

Eli grinned, looking at Lance. "Perfect. I'll wear it all the time."

Lance smiled, glancing down at the floor. "I don't say this much, but I think I'm going to miss you."

"Me too," Eli admitted. He found himself wishing he could stay. The cowboy had gotten to him and he didn't want to go home now. Back to the rat race and a needy ex he still had to work with. Out here, there was fresh air and mountain views, and Lance. Of course, the handsome cowboy would be the biggest reason to stay.

Before he could stop himself, he stepped closer, pulling Lance into a deep kiss. Their mouths met desperately, wanting to make it last. The hat on Lance's head hit his forehead and tilted back, allowing them better access to one another. Eli wrapped his arm around the other man, wishing they could melt together like this forever. Their night spent in the cave, the heat between them and the connection they shared all washed over Eli like a wave. He wanted to stay right there and never leave. Too bad they didn't need business analysts in the country.

Lance returned the kiss with all the frantic desire and passion Eli felt rising in himself. Yet despite his fervor, the cowboy was careful to avoid hurting his shoulder. Even though he knew it was probably a bad idea, Eli couldn't leave without another chance with the rugged cowboy.

Eli pulled back from the kiss enough to whisper. "How long can you be gone before someone comes looking?"

"I got a few minutes."

Eli smirked. "How long will it take you to get me ready?"

Lance grinned at him, his green eyes sparkling. "Depends on how fast you can shuck those pants, stud."

"Not too fast when I'm impaired." He nodded toward his bad shoulder.

Lance smirked, reaching up and sliding his shirt away quickly, letting his hands trail down Eli's chest to his pants. "Guess I have to do that for you, huh?"

Eli grinned. "I seem to remember you doing pretty damn good job of it before."

Lance unfastened his pants and pushed them away easily, letting them fall to the floor. Eli stepped out of them and kicked them away. He gasped when Lance wrapped a hand around his hardening length and gave a squeeze, stroking slowly.

"Got another present for you."

Eli looked up at Lance's words. "Oh yeah? What's that?"

Lance reached into his pocket and pulled out a condom and a small bottle of lube.

Eli laughed, shaking his head with a grin. "Well, what are we waiting for?"

Lance grinned, kissing him deeply. He slid his arms around Eli and walked him back toward the bed. When Eli felt the bed hit the back of his legs, he let Lance lower him to the mattress, not breaking their kiss. He held on with his good arm, running his fingers through the cowboy's soft hair. Somewhere along the way to the bed, his hat had fallen off, allowing Eli unrestricted access.

Eli slid his hand down Lance's chest, trying to undo the buttons on his shirt. One-handed, it wasn't easy and finally he gave a frustrated groan, leaning back to look up at Lance.

"If you don't do this, we might be here all day."

Grinning, the cowboy stood and quickly shed his clothes. When he was naked again, he moved back over top of Eli, pressing his long, lean form against Eli's body. Lance took his lips hostage again and Eli arched his back, keeping the naked skin pressed tightly against his body.

Lance ground his hips against Eli's, and Eli pressed back, thrusting his hard cock against Lance's. Lance's tongue swept across Eli's lips, seeking entrance. Eli parted his mouth, allowing him inside. Their tongues dueled, teasing each other as their hips thrust against one another. Eli could feel himself building close, and even as hurried as they were, he didn't want to come like that.

"Fuck me, Lance," he whispered.

"We don't have a lot of time," Lance whispered back.

Eli smirked. "Guess you better hurry then."

Lance hesitated, looking at him uncertainly. "I don't want to hurt you."

"You won't." Eli grinned, pulling his legs up toward his chest, exposing himself. "Just take me."

Groaning, Lance moved away to roll on a condom and slick himself up, giving Eli a careful slicking up as well. He pressed the head of his dick to Eli's hole and pushed in. Eli grimaced, feeling the pain of the intrusion. He pushed down, trying to ease Lance's entry. It wasn't easy, but he didn't want to stop. Finally, when Lance was all the way in, he managed to let out a breath, feeling his lungs work again.

Lance leaned down, kissing his forehead tenderly. "I'm sorry."

Lance obviously felt bad, but Eli didn't care about the minor pain. He stroked Lance's back to reassure him.

"Just move. It'll pass quickly."

Carefully, Lance eased out, then back in. Eli moaned softly, eyes closing at the first glide. The pain was almost gone, and he knew it would vanish completely soon. He opened his eyes to look up at Lance, who seemed to be waiting for a signal. Eli smiled, nodding to him. "Move."

Lance leaned over, placing one hand on either side of Eli on the bed and began to move his hips faster. Soon, he was pounding away, and both of them were moaning at the sensations.

Leaning down, Lance kissed him again hard, groaning against his lips. "Fuck, Eli. You feel so good."

Eli whimpered, holding him closer. "More."

With a grin, Lance obliged. He bent over more, hips slamming hard into Eli's ass. The pace was rough, but not too hard that he couldn't handle it. He wrapped his legs around Lance to try and keep his balance.

"Shit, I hate not being able to use this arm. I can't balance." Eli groaned, trying to thrust back against Lance.

"Let's see what we can do about that."

With a grin Lance straightened, pulling out of Eli and moving off the bed to stand beside it. He reached over, dragging Eli to the edge of the bed. He looped his arms under Eli's legs and held him up and open, thrusting back inside.

Eli's head fell back against the pillows, his legs gripping at Lance's arms as the cowboy thrust into him over and over. This time around they had the luxury of a soft bed, and could enjoy themselves a little more. Their coupling in the cave had been frantic and desperate. This time, though still hurried, felt much more relaxed.

Lance leaned in, kissing at Eli's neck as he shifted, changing angles to hit Eli's prostate. Eli gasped, his good arm tightening its grip around Lance.

"Oh, fuck," he whimpered.

He felt Lance nip at his throat, his hips never stilling. The man was amazing. As hot as their time in the cave had been, this was almost better. Eli wasn't sure he would be able to leave easily after this.

Lance sped up his thrusts, angling his dick even better inside Eli.

Eli groaned, shivering at the new angle. "More, Lance. Please, don't stop." He couldn't believe he was begging, but the cowboy was hitting every button just right and Eli would probably lose his mind if it ended right then.

Lance groaned. "Come for me, baby. I wanna see your face this time."

His hand closed around Eli's cock, stroking it hard and fast in time with those punishing thrusts. Eli felt his breath hitch a little higher, like his lungs couldn't expand again with the anticipation. He hovered on the edge, so close to the peak that he felt dizzy.

With a particularly skillful thrust that hit his prostate dead on, and a flick of his wrist that sent the calloused palm dragging over the head of his dick just right, Eli felt himself hurled over into a mind-numbing orgasm. A foreign sound erupted from him, a cry of pure ecstasy as he felt cum pour from him, coating his chest and stomach. His body convulsed, muscles shuddering at the pleasure. His ass gripped Lance tightly as the cowboy thrust inside him still. From the strangled groan that reached his ears, Eli suspected Lance wouldn't be too far behind in his own orgasm.

"Fuck, Eli. So hot."

Eli smiled. The tingling aftershocks of pleasure still raced over his nerves as Lance worked his way toward his own climax. Eli could tell by the look on his face that he was almost there. With a tightening of his muscles around Lance's cock, he tried to coax the cowboy to his orgasm. It seemed to work, because a harsh groan sounded from Lance and he gave a few final thrusts before he stilled, shuddering and sinking down on top of Eli as he emptied himself into the condom. Lance's face pressed into his neck, his panting breath bathing Eli's sweaty skin. Eli raised his good hand slowly, brushing his fingers through the soft brown hair.

Eli lay there, panting as he held Lance close with his good arm. "Fuck, that's one hell of a going away present.

Lance kissed him again softly, whispering quietly. "Thought you might appreciate that."

They both chuckled. Slowly, Lance eased out and got them cleaned up. They dressed as quickly as they could, pausing to share a few parting moments of tenderness. Eli wondered just what would become of the handsome, rugged cowboy. He was definitely an interesting figure.

Once they were both dressed again, Lance stood there holding his hat, looking unwilling to go. Eli wanted to ask him to stay longer, but he knew he couldn't. He reached over, took the hat from Lance's hands and placed it on his head.

"Can't have them come looking for you and find you undressed."

Lance chuckled. He stared at Eli for a long time before leaning in and kissing him softly. "Take care of yourself, Eli."

Eli smiled against the cowboy's lips. "Promise. You do the same, okay?"

Pulling back, Lance smiled. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small scrap of paper. "Here. In case you ever want to talk."

Eli took the paper, opening it to see a scrawled email address. He chuckled, sliding it into his pocket. "Deal."

Lance leaned in for one more quick kiss, then slowly stepped back, opening the door and walking out. He shut it quietly behind himself and Eli watched him through the window as he made his way back toward the barn.

As he watched the cowboy walk away, Eli felt a little emptiness growing deep inside him. He stared out the window until Lance disappeared into the barn at the far end of the ranch. Slowly, Eli turned and finished packing.

* * * * * * *

Eli shifted in his seat, grimacing a little at the uncomfortable chair in the airport waiting area. He glanced at his watch, seeing they still had a little time before boarding would start. He didn't know how anyone got away with putting hard, unpadded chairs out where people would be sitting to wait for a long time. Despite his assurances to Lance that going fast wouldn't be a problem, his ass was a little sore and the hard chair was making it worse.

Jill looked over at him from where she sat reading a magazine. "Are you ok? You seem kind of restless. Is your shoulder hurting you?"

Eli cursed inwardly as he felt a blush creep up his neck. "I'm fine, just can't get comfortable. That drive in didn't help much."

There was a moment of silence before Jill leaned in and whispered in his ear. "He nailed you through the mattress, didn't he?"

Eli wondered if he could burn up from blushing too much. He smirked, turning his head and whispering. "Yes."

Jill grinned at him. "Lucky bastard."

He smirked. "Yeah, well, it was kind of a farewell gift."

"I'm glad you found him. He's cute, and seems to be a good guy. You deserve a little happiness."

"Well, it's not like we're going to be seeing a lot of each other or anything. I'm going home, and he's staying there. I'll probably never see him again."

Jill sighed. "You're not ever going to write him?"

"He gave me his email. I probably will write at some point." Eli knew he was going to write, but didn't know what would come of it, if anything.

All too soon, they were boarding the plane and in the air. Eli stared out the window most of the way home, watching the mountains and plains vanish behind them.

Within a week of being home, Eli was miserable.

Not only did he continue to dream of the mountains out West, but his dreams were full of a dark haired cowboy and his sexy green eyes. Eli didn't get much sleep because waking up from the dreams was so hard when he realized he was alone in his empty apartment.

When he made it back to work, Jerry was on him in no time, fawning over him when he learned Eli had been hurt. He assured his ex that he was fine, but Jerry would have none of it. Although he had quit begging for Eli to take him back, he still hovered around endlessly, trying to make small talk and extend their time together.

After a few days at home, Eli had sent a short email to Lance, just trying to find the words to express to Lance what the trip had meant to him. By the time he was done, Eli was convinced he was a hopeless sap of a romantic and that Lance was going to be glad to have gotten rid of him.

Eli hadn't expected to hear from Lance after he left, so when a reply showed up from him a few weeks later, Eli was thrilled. He opened it and read quickly.

"Hey there, stud. How's the rat race? Can't be much worse than chasing cattle all across the plains. Just got back from a drive that felt like it would never end. We passed near the canyon, and I could almost see the cave as we rode by. Made me hard the whole way home. I took a very long shower when we got back.

How's the shoulder doing? I hope you're back to full use on it now.

I'm not usually one to get sentimental, Eli, but I can't help admitting that I miss you. That night was probably one of the best nights of my life, I'm serious. I don't know what'll happen to us, but even if we never meet again, I want you to know what it meant to me.

Hope to hear from you soon,


Having a usually tight-lipped cowboy reveal his feelings made Eli yearn for the west even more. He stared at the picture in the frame on his desk that Jill had snapped just before they started the trail ride. Eli was mounted on Rambler and Lance was standing at the horse's side. Lance had been helping Eli with his stirrups and Jill called out to them to both smile. It was one of those moments you only get once, where they both looked up with a natural smile, looking for all the world like everything was perfect. Eli smiled as he looked at the picture, wondering for a little while what it might be like to meet Lance again.

A few months after coming home, Eli was meeting Jill for lunch at their favorite deli. They were chatting about the usual small talk; which friends were still seeing each other, what kind of trouble their friend Rick was in this time, and what to do that coming weekend. Eli was only half listening as he picked at his salad, finding himself too distracted to really pay attention. As usual, his mind was wandering back West.

"...And then I told him that if he didn't paint my spaceship blue, I was going to kick is sorry rabbit ass back to Mars."

As the last part of her side of the conversation filtered into his mind, Eli looked up at his friend in confusion. "Huh?"

Jill smirked. "That was to see if you were paying attention. What's got you so distracted today?"

He shrugged. "Nothing really."

"Liar." Jill sipped her drink. "Come on, talk to me."

Eli sighed. "Just... things"

"Things, huh? Like what kind of things?"

He shrugged silently, unwilling to admit to his infatuation.

"Cowboy things?" Her voice sounded slightly smug and amused.

He grimaced. As always, she could see right through him. He looked up at her. "Am I that obvious?"

She smiled. "Only because I know you so well."

He smiled back weakly. "Yeah, cowboy things."

"You miss him, don't you?" Her voice was quiet and caring, not full of the teasing he expected.

Eli sighed, picking at his salad idly with his fork. "Yeah, Jill, I do. Weird, isn't it? After one short fling together, I can't get him out of my head."

"Not weird at all, hun. Love is never weird."

Eli looked at her reproachfully. "Come on, Jill. Love? You can't be serious."

Jill smiled, shrugging. "I just know I've never seen you like this over a guy. The closest was Alan, before you found out he was a dick. You were pretty infatuated at first, but nothing like this. This is like a mooning, love-struck teenager kind of thing."

Eli glared at his friend. "I'm not mooning over Lance. I just... liked him."

"Uh huh. Liked his dick you mean."

He rolled his eyes. "It was more than that. Yes, he's incredibly hot and the sex was amazing, but I just felt comfortable with him. I trusted him. Most guys, I have to worry about if they're out to hurt me. He helped me when I was hurt. He's strong, capable, funny." He sighed. "I guess I just kind of got wrapped up in the whole thing."

Jill smiled at him. "Sounds like you really like him. What are you going to do about it?"

"What am I supposed to do about it, Jill? Long distance relationships aren't my thing. Hell, relationships period are barely my thing the way my luck has gone."

Jill reached over, putting a hand on his arm gently. "Don't push it. Just find a way to see him. Once you do, I'm sure it will work itself out. Just be open for things to happen."

Eli wasn't sure anything could happen. As much as Lance had been on his mind, he was probably not even on the cowboy's radar as a possibility. It hurt to think that way, but it was probably true. Lance more than likely just wrote him back because he knew he was safe from complications with Eli being so far away.

It wasn't until September that Eli couldn't stand it anymore. Their occasional emails had gotten under his skin and Eli had to see Lance again, to know once and for all if there was anything there. One Friday, he was just too frustrated to wait any more. He scheduled another week off starting that following Monday and went home early to pack.

Eli turned on his computer and quickly looked for the prices on tickets to Montana. He was in the air early Saturday morning.

* * * * * * *

The months that had gone by after Eli left the ranch were hard on Lance. He had never expected anyone to get to him that much. The other man was on his mind all the time, and he even poured his heart out during their occasional emails back and forth. He knew the other hands would probably be laughing their asses off at him if they knew the kind of girly things he was writing.

He tried to keep himself busy, pushing thoughts of the handsome businessman from his mind. Group after group of tourists came through, in a never-ending stream of faces. Now and then, there was some eye candy, but nothing affected Lance like that first time he laid eyes on Eli. And it wasn't for lack of trying. Lance scoured every group for someone that would hit him like the sandy-haired city boy had. No one seemed half as interesting or handsome.

He didn't even bother going into town to find any action. As soon as Eli had gone home, tourist season hit in full force and things had been too busy to even consider going into town overnight. So, he focused on his job, hoping to get his mind off of the other man haunting his thoughts. All he had for company at night was his own right hand. And he was getting sick of that.

One bright, hot September day, Lance was giving his usual lecture to a group who would be going on a ride the next day. Thankfully, he wasn't taking them out. Lance was looking forward to a little peace and quiet for the next couple of days, grateful that the biggest rush of tourist season was coming to an end.

He finished his lecture for the day ride and glanced around the group. "Any questions?"

"Do you offer any special incentives to repeat customers?"

Lance's heart jumped at the sound of that voice behind him. He whirled around, seeing Eli standing a few feet away in the doorway of the barn. He looked better than ever, dressed in a pair of very flattering jeans and the t-shirt Lance had bought him before he left.

Lance grinned. "Depends on how often the customers plan on coming back." He turned back to the group and dismissed them. Once they began to disperse, Lance turned and walked towards Eli. He stepped up to him, smiling at him for a long time, wanting to reach out to touch him. He didn't dare do anything in full view, though. He nodded his head toward an empty stall. Once there, he satisfied the urge and let his fingers trace down Eli's cheek gently.

Eli leaned into the hand that tentatively touched his cheek. Lance hadn't been proud with how badly he'd handled the other man's leaving. The bond they had was forged by their ordeal together. And Lance had never felt so drawn to anyone before. Being without Eli had been harder than he'd expected, and seeing the man again made him realize just how much he had loved the other man's company.

"Damn, I didn't expect to see you again," he whispered.

Eli smiled. "I didn't expect to be back, but I couldn't stop thinking about you."

Lance leaned in, kissing him fiercely, then pulling back to look at him. "How long are you staying?"

"I've got a week. I wanted to stay longer, but the office said I was needed. Makes me want to tell them to stuff it."

Lance chuckled, leaning in and licking at Eli's neck. A week. It wasn't much time, but it was more time than he had ever thought they'd have again.

He groaned at how good Eli tasted. "I have got to get you somewhere private."

Eli's arms slid around him, pulling him tight. "I booked one of the cabins. Thought we might could use a little extra space."

Lance chuckled. "Thought of everything, did you?"

"Tried to." Eli smirked at him. "Think you can slip away for a while?"

"I'd like to see them try to stop me." He grinned back, stealing a kiss.

Turning, he walked out of the stall and looked for a nearby hand. He spied the foreman standing a little ways down the aisle and called out to him. "Hey, Tuck! I'm gonna be busy for a little bit, ok?"

Tuck looked up at him, then his focus shifted a little. Lance looked over his shoulder, seeing Eli step from the stall as well. Turning back to Tuck, he was graced with a raised eyebrow. Lance grinned, shrugging sheepishly. Tuck shook his head, waving at him silently to go on. Cowboys weren't much on words when they didn't need to be.

Lance turned, winking to Eli. "Come on, stud, let's get moving."

Walking to the cabin calmly and without calling any attention to them was hard. Lance's hands itched to touch Eli, and it was almost impossible not to grope him any chance he got. Once they stood in the doorway of the cabin, he allowed himself a quick squeeze of Eli's ass.

Eli groaned, looking back over his shoulder at him. "Can't get started out here, cowboy. Don't think that'd go over too well."

Lance chuckled. "Well hurry up and open the door then!"

Smirking, Eli unlocked the door and was crowded over the threshold by a pushy cowboy. Before the door had even shut, Lance had enveloped himself around Eli, lips crashing down on his. His hands slid down over Eli's denim-covered ass, squeezing and rubbing as he devoured Eli's mouth hungrily.

Eli pulled back, chuckling and looking up at him. "Not eager, are you?"

Lance smirked. "Dunno, you tell me." He ground their hips together, letting his straining cock rub against Eli's.

Eli groaned, looking at him. "Bedroom. Now."

He didn't bother arguing at all. He turned and hurried for the bedroom, glancing back to make sure Eli was close behind. Once there, he stripped off his shirt, tossing his hat on a nearby chair. As he bent to remove his boots, he looked up and watched Eli strip down naked. The sight made him pause and stare, forgetting what he was doing.

Eli's body was amazing. He was about the same height as Lance, but his form was a little more slender, where Lance had built up hard muscles from years of working on the ranch. Eli's body was more of a runner's build, with strong arms and legs, but not much bulging muscle. But the one thing that was bulging drew Lance's attention.

He had to get his mouth around that amazing dick. Their night together in the cave and the day before Eli had gone home were both too hurried to explore each other's bodies fully. Add to that Eli's injury and they had been very limited in what they could do. Now that they had time and Eli was healed, Lance wanted to take his time and really taste the man.

Lance finished stripping and straightened, walking over to Eli. He reached over and pulled Eli close to him into a deep kiss. His tongue swept over Eli's lips, begging for entrance. Eli sighed, his lips parting to give him the access he wanted and Lance tasted Eli's essence. He could taste the coffee he had drunk that morning, and an underlying flavor that he knew was pure Eli. It made him almost dizzy, knowing this man came back to see him after being gone for months.

Lance tumbled onto the bed with Eli, a tangle of legs and arms and glorious naked skin. He pressed them together, lips devouring the other man's. It was incredible to have Eli there again, with time to spare and no injuries to be worried about. As amazing as their first two times had been, now that he had another chance with him where nothing could get in their way, Lance intended to make this one the best he had ever had.

Lance parted their mouths and bent his head, licking and sucking at Eli's neck gently. The taste of his skin was perfect; clean and strong with a hint of his cologne. Lance made it his job to lick every bit of exposed flesh he could. He traced the line of corded muscle along that lean neck, moving to suckle at the juncture of his neck and shoulder.

Now that he was finally able to get to every inch of Eli's body, he almost didn't know where to start. He leaned back, taking in the sight again. Eli was still just as perfect as he had been in the cave, maybe even more so. Lance let a hand run over the flat hip nearest him, fingers brushing across the growing dick he was intent on getting his lips around.

"God, I missed you."

Eli chuckled softly. "No need to miss me anymore. I'm right here."

Grinning, Lance decided to take advantage of that very fact. He worked his way slowly down Eli's chest, pausing to tease and nip at each nipple before moving lower. He nibbled gently at one hip before he spied the throbbing cock he was aiming for. His eyes flicked up toward Eli and he grinned at him. "Been wanting to taste you for ages. Ever since the cave."

Eli groaned, looking down at him. "Please."

That one word was enough to get to him and Lance leaned down, letting his tongue trace a wet stripe up from base to tip, flicking the head teasingly. Eli's groans encouraged him, and he felt fingers run through his hair.

"Oh, fuck, Lance."

Eli's moan made him grin and he slipped the head of that beautiful dick between his lips, sucking at it hard and letting it pop from his mouth and bounce back against his stomach. He watched Eli's body shiver and Lance let his hands stroke those beautiful, flat hips as he sucked the head of his cock back into his mouth. He suckled at it, his tongue tracing patterns on the head. Slowly, he slipped more over his tongue, then began to bob his head up and down.

The way Eli squirmed and groaned let him know he was doing a good job. It had been a while since he had done this, but he was glad to know he hadn't seemed to lose his touch. The weight of his dick on Lance's tongue felt wonderful, and he let his mouth glide up and down, faster as he sucked harder. As he heard Eli's moans increase in pitch, he slowed down, then let him slip from his mouth. His hand took over, gently stroking to keep him hard as his mouth traveled lower, tongue bathing the sac beneath.

He suckled at each gently, teasing the skin below, then moved back up, his lips enveloping that perfect cock again. Gliding down until he felt the tip nudge the back of his throat, he began another assault, letting his mouth bob up and down. He wasn't even sure how long he was doing it, but suddenly Lance felt Eli pulling at him, dragging him off of his cock. Lance looked up at Eli, who was breathing hard.

"My turn," he panted, grinning.

Lance grinned back, moving up to share a deep, lingering kiss with him. "Be my guest," he whispered against his lips before rolling onto his back next to Eli.

* * * * * * *

Eli caught his breath and sat up, looking over Lance's body as he stretched out on the bed. If possible, Lance looked even better now that summer was in full swing. His tan had deepened slightly, giving him a rich, healthy glow and bleaching the tips of his hair that would peek out from beneath his hat. Starting at his chest, Eli let his hands and lips roam over that perfect skin, tasting the sweat and sunshine that made up his essence.

He licked and kissed at the flesh of Lance's neck, eyes closing as he let his mouth trace the contours of his lover's skin. He wanted to memorize the taste, the texture and every single dip and rise of Lance's body. Eli didn't know what he liked more -- tasting Lance or being filled by him. Both were amazing, and he didn't think he could choose between them if he had to.

Slowly, Eli made his way down Lance's body, kissing over his taut stomach and hips until he came to the other man's throbbing cock. He smiled to himself, one hand coming up to take his length in his palm, fingers wrapping around to gently squeeze. A moan escaped Lance's lips and his body shivered a little at the touch. Eli loved hearing him enjoying what he did.

Eli leaned over, pressing a quick kiss to the top of that beautiful dick as his hand slowly stroked the length up and down. His tongue slipped out, tracing circles around the head in time with his strokes. He let his hand slide down to cup Lance's sac, gently caressing his balls as he wrapped his lips around Lance's dick and sucked it into his mouth. The groan he heard made him smile and he picked up the pace, sliding his mouth up and down faster. He worked his mouth down, lips and tongue in tandem to drive Lance crazy.

He heard the cowboy groan deeply. "Oh, god. Eli, if I don't get in you soon, I'm going to explode."

Eli grinned up at Lance, giving his cock one final hard suck before he let it fall from his lips. He licked his way up Lance's stomach and chest, moving up his body to share a kiss. "Fuck me, then," he whispered against those amazing lips. He reached into the nightstand and grabbed a condom and the bottle of lube he hid there. Setting them on the bed, he shifted, moving onto his hands and knees to give Lance a perfect view. He glanced over his shoulder at him, playfully wiggling his ass.

Lance stared at him for a moment before he surged up, draping over Eli's back. He placed a tender kiss at the back of his neck, letting his cock glide over the top of Eli's ass teasingly.

"You want me?" he whispered in Eli's ear.

Eli groaned, his head falling back. "Yes."

Without moving, Eli felt Lance grab the lube. He heard the cap open and close, then felt a slick finger tracing around his hole. He shivered, letting Lance prepare him. Lance began to kiss and nibble at his shoulder, his finger just slowly circling. Every now and then, he would dip inside ever so slightly, then back out. It was torture and Eli groaned in frustration.

"Lance, please don't tease."

Chuckling, Lance grabbed the condom, moving back. Eli could hear the foil wrapper opening and a little later, the cap of the lube snapping open. A slick finger traced his hole again, circling slowly and then Lance pressed a kiss to Eli's back.


Eli smirked, pushing his ass back toward him, gasping as Lance's finger slid inside him. "Ready."

Lance groaned. "You're too much sometimes, Eli."

Despite the teasing, he began to stroke his finger in and out of Eli, smoothly adding a second one as Eli's muscles loosened. Eli wanted him to move faster, but he knew there was almost no arguing with Lance on that. He shivered, gasping and moaning as Lance's fingers brushed over his prostate now and then. Lance's other hand glided over his skin, stroking everywhere, even sliding down to squeeze his cock and keep him hard.

Finally, after what felt like ages, Eli could tell Lance had stretched him. He looked back over his shoulder at the cowboy.

"Now, Lance. I need you."

Lance groaned, sliding his fingers out gently and pouring more lube into his hand. He quickly spread it over his latex covered cock and then settled behind Eli. Guiding himself in with one hand, he used the other to balance on Eli's hip. Their matching groans of pleasure filled the room. Once he was all the way in, Lance leaned over, wrapping his arms around Eli's chest and hugging him close as he pressed himself to Eli's back.

"Okay?" he whispered.

Eli nodded, shivering and clenching his muscles, enjoying the feeling of him there after so long. He loved the fullness of having Lance buried deep inside him, and he didn't want it to end anytime soon. "Hurry, move."

Lance chuckled, kissing his shoulder as he slowly drew out. Groaning together, Lance thrust in again. In and out, it took them a few movements to find their rhythm, but soon they were moving in sync perfectly. Eli thrust back to meet him on each thrust, sending the noise of skin on skin echoing through the room. His cock bobbed with each meeting, painting his stomach with precum that flowed from him. He gripped the sheets tightly, unable to stop a groan or a gasp each time Lance pegged his prostate.

Eli whimpered, knowing he wouldn't last. It had been too long and Lance always drove him over the edge before he wanted things to be over. He gasped as the cowboy hit his prostate dead on, sending his body into shudders.

"God, Lance, I don't think I can last too long."

Lance licked and nibbled at his shoulder, his hips picking up the pace to begin pounding into him. "Come for me. We've got all week. We'll go slow later. Just come."

Eli shivered, panting as the increased pace began to build his orgasm quickly. He arched his back, shifting his stance a little. Lance's hand slid down his hip and wrapped around his cock to begin jacking him hard in time with his thrusts. A cry of surprise slipped from Eli, and he raced toward the edge of pleasure. In mere heartbeats, he felt the explosion of pleasure begin at the base of his spine and erupt out of him. He coated Lance's hand and the sheets below them in cum, his body shuddering and muscles spasming around Lance's hard dick still thrusting away into him.

He heard Lance's deep groan in his ear, felt his arms wrap tightly around him as his hips surged into him several more times before thrusting deep one last time and froze. He grunted and growled out his pleasure as he emptied himself into the condom. Eli felt his arms shaking, threatening to give out. Lance draped over his back put a bit of a strain on his post-orgasmic drained muscles.

Slowly, Lance eased out and they both groaned at the loss of sensation. Lance shifted to the side, pulling Eli with him and held him close as they caught their breath. Eli smiled, reaching up and back to hold Lance's head close.

"God, that was good."

Lance chuckled, nuzzling and kissing his neck gently. "Worth the plane ride, huh?"

Eli smirked. "Definitely." He rested his head on the pillow, closing his eyes. "How long do you think you have before they'll come looking for you?"

Lance groaned. "Not long enough." He hugged Eli closer, sighing deeply. "I guess I can't stay as long as I want to."

Eli smiled, looking over his shoulder at the cowboy. "That's ok. We've got the rest of the week. And you're welcome to come back and sleep here tonight."

Lance smiled at him, leaning up to kiss him tenderly. "I think I like that idea." He sighed. "Guess we better get cleaned up and I'll have to get back to work."

Chuckling, Eli slid from his grasp to stand beside the bed. "Got time for a quick shower?"

Lance grinned back at him and moved off the bed to pull him close. "Maybe one that's not even too quick."

Eli laughed as Lance took his hand and pulled him down the hallway to the bathroom and into the shower.

* * * * * * *

The week with Lance was one of the best weeks Eli had ever had. Between the times they spent in bed, Lance took Eli on rides around the ranch, showing him all the parts of the land they didn't get to appreciate the last time Eli had been there. Lance was a wonderful guide, seeming to know just the kind of things that would interest his guest. He even got the other ranch hands to let Eli help out on some of the easier chores. Eli found himself relaxing more than he had on any vacation ever before. All the sex certainly wasn't hurting, either!

All too soon, Eli had to pack to go home. As he packed, Lance sat on the bed, watching him.

"Can't interest you in another goodbye quickie, can I," the cowboy asked with a grin.

Eli chuckled. "Don't I wish. Unfortunately, I've got to get to the airport for my flight. There aren't any more today, so if I miss this one, I'll be in trouble."

Sighing dramatically, Lance stood, walking over and sliding his arms around Eli's waist, pulling him close. "I guess I have to behave." He kissed Eli deeply, one hand sliding up to cup the back of his head and hold him still.

Eli melted into the kiss. He would never get tired of the way Lance kissed. He moaned softly into the kiss, holding it out for as long as he could before slowly parting.

"You are dangerous," he whispered to Lance, smirking. "You're going to distract me."

Lance grinned. "A little distraction is a good thing."

Eli laughed. "Yes, well, your distraction is anything but little," he teased, reaching down to give a squeeze to Lance's crotch.

At his touch, Lance groaned, his head falling back. "Don't tease if you can't follow through."

Eli glanced over to the clock, and made a snap decision. He placed a hand in the middle of Lance's chest and pushed him back toward the bed. He nudged the cowboy to sit and smirked at him.

"I can't let it get around that I'm a tease."

Swiftly, he knelt to the carpet and unfastened the belt at Lance's waist, quickly unfastening his pants and pushing them away to pull out Lance's straining cock free. Giving him a few quick strokes, he leaned down, taking the entire length in his mouth swiftly.

Lance groaned deeply, his hand sliding through Eli's hair gently. "Oh, fuck. Eli, goddamn."

Eli took that as a compliment to his skills, continuing to service his cowboy. He closed his eyes, focusing on the dick he was worshipping. It filled his mouth perfectly, giving him just enough stretch to have a bit of a challenge. His tongue traced over the ridge along the underside, then traced patterns under the crown as he paused at the top. Listening to Lance's sounds of pleasure, he used them as a guide to map the most sensitive places, remembering what elicited the best reactions.

Lance's hand rested in Eli's hair, as if he didn't want to lose the contact with him. His head fell back, his breath coming faster the longer Eli went on. Gasping and shuddering, he groaned loudly. "Oh shit, Eli. I'm close."

Redoubling his efforts, Eli began to swallow him to the back of his throat over and over, aiming to fit every inch in his mouth. He swallowed hard around Lance's cock, letting his muscles milk the impending orgasm from his lover. He felt Lance tighten his grasp on his hair, knowing he was almost there. He bobbed his head a few more times, then swallowed all the way one last time, giving a little hum to try and tease him over the edge.

A groan of pleasure built into a shout as Lance's cum burst from him, coating Eli's tongue with the salty bitter taste. He closed his eyes, swallowing down every drop that was offered. Eli drank him down, slowing only as he felt Lance's muscles relaxing from his climax. He let his softening cock slide from his lips, giving it a gentle kiss and looking up at Lance.

His cowboy was panting softly, his hand stroking through Eli's hair gently. After a moment of recovery, he opened his eyes, looking down at Eli with a chuckle. "Fuck, that was incredible."

Eli chuckled, carefully tucking him back in place and fastening his pants up. Lance pulled him up for a deep kiss, holding him there as long as he could. Slowly, Eli pulled back with a sigh. "I need to get going."

Lance nodded. "Yeah, I know." He stole another kiss and then released him and stood up.

Eli straightened and finished packing and closed his suitcase. He glanced around the room one last time. "I think that's it."

As Eli turned toward the door, Lance grabbed him, pulled him close and kissed him deeply one last time. He rested their foreheads together, whispering quietly. "Is it pitiful for me to admit that I don't want you to leave?"

Eli smiled. "Only if it's pitiful for me to admit I don't want to go either."

Leaning back a little to look at him, Lance smiled back. "You know, you can come back any time. There's always room for you out here."

Eli chuckled. "I'll remember that." He brushed another kiss over Lance's lips tenderly. "Sadly, I have a plane to catch."

Stepping back, Lance grabbed the suitcase and carried it out to Eli's rental car. Once it was stowed in the trunk, he pulled Eli close into a tight hug. "Send me a note when you get home, alright?"

"Deal." Eli pressed a quick kiss to Lance's cheek, not willing to do much more out in the open where they might be seen.

Slowly, he stepped back, giving a sad smile to his cowboy one last time before he opened the car door and climbed in.

As Eli drove down the gravel drive away from the ranch, he glanced back in the rearview mirror to see Lance standing in the parking lot, watching him drive away. Eli could feel a little emptiness growing in the pit of his stomach. He knew that this couldn't be the last time he ever saw Lance. He still didn't know just what was going on between them, but he wanted to find out for as long as he could.

* * * * * * *

1 Year Later

Eli pulled his rental car into the gravel lot of the T-Bar Ranch and parked. He grabbed his bag off the seat next to him and climbed out, anxious to throw his stuff in his room and then find Lance. Their time apart these days wasn't as horrible as it had been at first. Now, the distance was made easier by regular emails and phone calls that stretched for hours. Conversations wove their way from the weather, to the stock at the ranch, to Eli's job, and somehow would almost always end with some manner of teasing phone play. Eli was starting to wonder if Lance had a secret kink for phone sex.

Lance denied it, saying only "Your voice drives me crazy, Eli." True, Eli got a thrill out of hearing Lance's voice after their times apart. The trips he made out to the ranch every few months weren't enough to keep him going without the phone calls and emails. Eli felt like he had been out more than just the 5 or 6 trips since his initial vacation. He and Lance had gotten close quickly, and the rest of the ranch hands had accepted him well, even allowing him to help them now and then with some of the lighter work.

Eli looked around as he walked toward the cabin he rented so regularly now. The day was warm, the air hinting at spring moving in. Eli smiled, it reminded him so much of his first visit. It was another beautiful April day just like this 2 years ago when he first saw Lance. That felt like so long ago. But now, after 5 agonizing months since his last trip, he was finally here again for his week-long visit.

After dropping his things in the cabin, Eli swung by the front desk to greet the staff there and say hello to Richard, the ranch owner. He almost felt like he was getting to know them as well with all the visits. As he walked from the main building, he caught sight of a familiar form standing in the distance. He hurried over, smiling at the thought of seeing his lover again.

When he got closer, Eli realized something wasn't right. Lance never wore khaki pants, and certainly never loafers. Why would he be dressed up?

Eli walked up, clapping Lance on the shoulder. "What're you all dolled up for, Lance?"

When he turned, it was obvious that this wasn't Lance. The resemblance was almost too much to believe, there were so many similarities. The green eyes were the same ones that had given him that kick in the gut the first day he was here; those lips almost identical to the ones he'd kissed endlessly in the cave. But as he looked closer, Eli saw subtle differences; a tiny scar near his hairline, a barely different shape of his jaw. Who in the world was this person, and why did he look so much like Lance?

The man grinned. "I'm always dressed like this. Though I have to say, it's nice to know I'm in the right place. If you know my brother, that means he's here?"

It was very disconcerting to see that face, so incredibly similar, but just subtly different.

"Who are you?" Eli heard the words come from his mouth before he could get a rein on them.

The other man smiled. "I'm Lance's brother, Adam."

Not just brother. Fucking twin brother. Eli shook his head slowly, looking the man over in disbelief. He remembered what Lance had said that night in the cave.

"You're dead."

Adam chuckled. "I can assure you that I'm most definitely alive. I found out after getting back stateside that everyone had been mistakenly told I was dead. I didn't give a rat's ass what my father might think, but I had to look up Lance. I didn't like that we lost touch so long ago." He looked around, then back to Eli. "He is here, isn't he?"

"Should be." Eli began to drag himself from his stupor, motioning for Adam to follow him. He led the way towards the barns, catching sight of his lover's supple form in the distance hauling hay.

Eli walked closer to the working men, calling up toward his lover. "Hey Lance! There's someone here to see you!"

The hands all looked up and the look that crossed their faces told Eli they saw the immediate and obvious similarities the brothers shared.

When Lance looked up and saw his brother standing there, he went completely still. A look of wonder and disbelief filled his eyes. He looked so confused that Eli wanted to go to him and hold him. Slowly, Lance put down the bale of hay he had been holding and walked over toward Adam in a stupor.

Adam just stood in place, smiling softly. "Hey there, bro."

Lance stopped a few feet away, barely blinking and apparently unable to look away. "Fuck. You're.. you're alive?" His voice was thick with emotion and with a cry made up of both joy and sorrow, he launched himself at his brother. They enveloped each other in tight hugs, clinging to one another tightly.

Eli felt himself choking up at the display. He had never thought that when Lance had told him about his brother that one day he would see their reunion. It was a touching sight, and Eli felt almost like he was intruding.

After a few minutes, Lance pulled back, eyes shining with unshed tears. "Fuck, I can't believe it!"

Adam laughed. "Believe it. I'm here."

Lance threw his arms around his brother again, hugging even tighter. He gave a laugh, shaking his head as he stepped back. "God, it's like a miracle. What happened?"

Adam shrugged. "Government fuck up, typical. Another guy with a similar name was killed and they got us mixed up. I didn't even know they told everyone I was dead until I was about to ship home. Of course, my wife, Sarah knew I wasn't because I call her as often as I can. But when I realized that you might not know the truth, I had to find you. I always felt guilty that we lost touch, so I called in a few favors from some army buddies and found out where you were."

Lance shook his head in disbelief. "Holy shit, that's crazy." He grinned. "I can't believe you're here."

"Well, believe it, bro! I didn't know what to expect when I first got here. I never pinned you for a ranch worker. But when this guy thought I was you, I knew I had to be in the right place." Adam nodded toward Eli.

Lance turned toward Eli, a conflicted look on his face, as if he had just realized Eli was there. Eli smiled, waving at him. "It's okay. Go on. Spend some time with your brother. I'll be here and we can get together later."

Lance nodded, giving Eli a grateful look. He turned to Tuck, ready to ask for a little time. The foreman waved him on silently, already turning back to work. Lance smiled, looking at his brother. "Come on, we have a lot to catch up on."

Eli watched Lance and his brother walk toward the ranch house for some privacy. He sighed inwardly. As excited as he was for Lance to find his brother again, something told him this might turn out to not be a good thing for him.

* * * * * * *

Lance and Adam spent several days together, talking and reconnecting. Eli gave them some space, joining in occasionally on a ride or walk. Lance didn't completely ignore him, but he seemed distant, keeping a respectful personal space between Eli and himself. At first, it didn't bother him, but after a few days, it started to get to him. Especially when Lance didn't sleep with him in the cabin like he normally did when Eli came. That really annoyed him. It wasn't the lack of sex, it was the lack of closeness. It felt like they were complete strangers, or worse. They had been more interactive the first day they met.

One afternoon, after he had entertained himself most of the day, Eli wandered into one of the supply barns and saw Lance at a workbench, bent over a piece of equipment that was far too complicated for Eli to figure out.

"Where's Adam?"

Lance looked up from his work. "He went to his room to shower, then he's going into town for a little bit. I have to get this damn thing working again, so I told him to go ahead without me."

This might be his chance. Adam would be away for a while, and Eli wanted to see if he could get a little time with Lance by himself. He stepped closer. "Want me to give you a hand? It might go faster. And afterward," Eli ran a hand over Lance's chest, his fingers edging toward the hem of his shirt. "Maybe I can steal you away for a little while..."

Lance shrugged off his hand. "Not now, Eli. I'm busy."

That pissed him off. They had barely touched since Adam came and now he was being pushed away obviously. Eli was starting to get sick of it. "What the fuck is wrong with you, Lance? You've barely looked at me lately. I don't get much time out here with you and you've hardly been acknowledging me the past few days. I haven't seen you now for months!"

Lance glared back at him. "And I haven't seen Adam in years! I thought he was dead! Excuse me if that takes precedence over fucking!"

"Why does it have to be one or the other? Who says you can't do both?" Eli felt himself getting angrier, his voice rising. "Every other time, you've slept with me in the cabin. Why now are you staying away from me?"

"Why are you making such a big deal out of this?" Lance snatched a tool off the shelf nearby and turned to walk out. "I have to get back to work."

Eli blocked his way out of the room. "Are you ashamed of me? Of us?" A thought struck Eli. "He doesn't know, does he?"

The uncomfortable look that crossed Lance's face told him everything. "Fuck, Lance, you never told him?!"

"I didn't figure it out for myself until after we split and quit talking. It's not something you just up and write your estranged brother about. Then I was told he was killed and didn't have the chance."

Eli sighed. "Why don't you talk to him about it now? He deserves to know."

Lance's eyes narrowed slightly. "Look, I just got him back after years of thinking I'd never see him again. We've got a lot to catch up on. I just want to get to know my brother first, alright?"

"And he wants to get to know you! That includes knowing you're gay and are seeing someone!"

"Am I?" Lance spat back. "Seems to me like I'm just a long distance booty call every time you get a hankering for some cowboy!"

Eli was shocked. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"I'm saying that you come out here all the time for sex. We don't do much talking, so obviously there's not much in common besides sex. Am I just a dick for you?"

"What about the phone calls, the emails? Those don't count? I've never thought you were just a dick." Eli ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "I'm doing my best with this! Being as far apart as we are isn't easy. Phone calls and emails are all I can do between visits. And I never see you jumping to come see me! It's always one sided, isn't it? I have to come see you for anything to happen, because heaven forbid the cowboy should have to come to the city!"

"I never said that, don't put words in my mouth, Eli!" Lance glared at him. "It's not easy to take time off from here. There aren't a lot of people who can cover the work, unlike you city boys who can be gone and no one even miss you."

"What the hell!" Eli wished he had something to throw. Lance was making him angrier than he had been in a long time. "You don't know what the hell you're talking about, Lance. I have a very busy job, and getting a week off now and then isn't easy, but I do it because I want to see you. I'd come out more if I could. But fuck, I can't just drop my job and move out here, Lance! I have commitments to my work."

Lance sneered, his voice picking up a mocking tone. "Glad to know your work is more important. That's definitely something we should get straight now so I wouldn't be wondering why you didn't come out for your 6 month visit. You'll be too busy hunched over some report that the big boss needs immediately!"

Eli didn't know where all this was coming from. "You've never once expressed any desire for this to be anything more than what it has been, Lance. I didn't know what you wanted."

"That's because you sure as hell never asked! Maybe because it would take you away from your precious job! Can't have you coming out here too much because it'll get in the way of corporate America!"

"Well, obviously you don't really want me to come out here if you're too scared to tell your brother about us." Eli stared at Lance firmly. "I won't hide, Lance. I never have and I never will."

"I never asked you to do anything, Eli. All I want is to get to know my brother without that in the way before I tell him!"

"Without me in the way you mean?" Eli threw up his hands in defeat. "If you're embarrassed by me, fine, I'll just go home. Maybe I'll give you some time to cool off before I come back."

"Don't bother," Lance snarled. "You can go back to your fucking job and stay there for the rest of your life if that's the only thing that's so important to you."

As Lance turned and stalked away, his words gripped Eli's gut in a cold chill. So this was how it was going to end for them? What a miserable failure. Eli knew long distance relationships were hard, but he thought that he and Lance had shared something unique, something that wouldn't crumble so easily.

Slowly, he walked back to his room. He stood in the middle of it for a few minutes, trying to work his brain around what to do. He saw his luggage in the corner. He would just go home. He couldn't stay right now, not after that. Obviously, Lance didn't want to be with him, so there wasn't any reason to stay.

He packed up quickly, not caring how anything went in the suitcase or if it got broken or wrinkled. He just had to get home. He locked up the room and headed for the main building to check out.

Richard, the ranch owner, was standing at the front desk when Eli approached.

"Leaving so soon? Anything wrong?"

Eli managed a little smile. "No, just had something come up back home. Gotta get back and take care of work things."

Richard gave an understanding grunt, taking care of the paperwork.

"See you in a few months," he called as Eli headed for the door.

Not likely, Eli thought to himself. But he just smiled and nodded, giving a wave as he walked out to the car and headed away from the ranch. He took one last look in the rear view mirror as he drove off, feeling an emptiness gather in his gut as he saw the mountains fading behind him.

The plane ride home was nothing but a blur in his memory. Eli didn't see the point of paying attention to anything. He was numb inside, aching over the fight. He could tell that this was not good. Distance he could handle, but not someone ashamed of him.

It had surprised Eli to find that Lance was hesitant to tell his brother about them. Everyone at the ranch knew, so what was the difference in his brother knowing?

Eli made his way home from the airport, driving slow and barely registering anything going on around him. He had left the ranch a few days early, and he couldn't handle work right then. Eli pulled into the parking garage of his apartment complex, trudged up the stairs and walked inside. The barren rooms, sparsely decorated and all but forgotten over the past few months felt like a prison cell.

Throwing his stuff down on the couch, Eli walked back to his bedroom, sitting down on the edge of his bed and letting his head fall into his hands. He had never felt like this over a breakup before. But then, no one had meant to him what Lance did. It hard hurt a lot more than he expected to find out Lance would let it end so easily.

Even as empty as he felt, no tears fell. It wasn't because he didn't want them to. He wanted to curl up in his bed and cry for hours like he had when Roger Westwood had broken his fifteen year old heart. This pain was so much deeper, yet no tears fell.

Eli fell back onto his bed, staring at the ceiling. Had he ruined something before it really started? He didn't know what to do or think. It hurt too much. Forcing himself up off the bed, he walked to his bathroom. Eli opened the medicine cabinet and pulled out a sleeping pill, tossing it back with a glass of water quickly. He just wanted to sleep right then, to feel numb. He trudged back to his bed, undressed and climbed under the sheets. Burying his head under a pillow, he squeezed his eyes shut and tried to forget for a little while.

* * * * * * *

"Goddamn tractor." Lance kicked the tire, gripping the wrench tighter in his hand and fighting the urge to slam it into the engine block in front of him. The motor had crapped out for the fourth time that week and he was getting sick of fixing it. Of course, he was getting sick of a lot of things this week. Eli had left two days ago, and already, Lance felt like everything was wrong. They only got a week together every few months, but it hadn't taken long for Lance to get used to feeling Eli's warm, hard body next to his at night. To roll over and see his sleeping face in the early morning sun. To sink into his heat and watch his eyes close in pleasure.

Hearing the sound of footsteps on the gravel drive, Lance looked up as Adam walked over, carrying his bag. "Heading out already?"

Adam smiled. "Gotta get back to my life again. I've been away from it long enough. And Sarah wasn't happy with me having to leave again so soon after getting home, so she's anxious for me to hurry on back."

Lance managed a smile. "Well, you're welcome out here any time."

"Thanks." Adam enveloped his brother in a tight hug. "You need to come out and see me sometime, maybe Christmas."

"Maybe I will." Lance smiled, glad to have family to plan holidays with again.

Adam looked around. "Where's that guy who was around here before? Eli? You two seemed pretty close, you should bring him out with you."

Lance felt a pain shoot through him at hearing that name. He pulled back, shrugging as if it didn't matter to him. "He went home."

He busied himself with tightening the bolts in front of him when he realized his brother was staring at him. Slowly, he looked up and saw Adam's gaze resting on his face. The look on his brother's face said that he suspected something.

"Why don't you tell me about it?"

Those words felt like ice water in his gut. Could he really tell the only family he had anything to do with about himself? About Eli? He thought he had lost Adam once, could he stand to lose him again, knowing that this time it was because of something he did? Something he was?

Lance hesitated, then he sighed. "Well, I don't know what you're going to think about it."

"Try me," his brother encouraged.

Lance pushed the hat back from his head, looking at Adam with a nervous gaze. "Eli was here to see me. He came out here a year ago in a tour group and we . . . got close. He came back out now and then to see me."

Adam raised an eyebrow in question. "I think I'm reading the heart of the matter, but I want to hear you say it."

He should have known Adam wouldn't let him off the hook. He took a deep breath, steeling himself for rejection. "I'm gay, Adam. Eli was my lover."

"Was?" The surprise in his brother's voice was unexpected. As was the word he chose to focus on.

"Yeah. The way we parted this time makes me doubt he'll be around again."

Adam looked at him with a mix of sympathy and irritation. "What'd you do to him?"

Lance's eyes widened in shock. "I didn't do anything!"

Adam smirked. "You seem to forget that I know you, Lance. What'd you do?"

It felt strange to be around the brother that shared so much with him; looks, thoughts, history. Someone who knew him and held him accountable.

"He was upset that I didn't tell you about us. He felt like I was ashamed of him, of us and what I am. All I wanted was to just get to know you again. I was afraid that if I told you, you'd get mad and leave before I got to spend any time with you." Lance pulled his hat off and ran a hand through his hair. "The fight started out as that, then we both said some things that we probably shouldn't have. I told him all he cared about was his job, and if that was the case, he could take it and just forget about coming back."

"So this all started because you were afraid to tell me about yourself?"

Lance looked at his brother sheepishly, shrugging. "I didn't want to run the risk of you hating me when I had just gotten you back."

"You should have trusted me a little more, Lance." Adam gave his brother a sad smile. "You should know that there's nothing you can do that would make me love you any less. Hell, we're about all we have. Until Dad kicks off, it's hard to see Mom and Lisa. As soon as I heard that they had told everyone I was dead, you were the first person I had to come see."

Lance felt ashamed, knowing Adam was right. He should have had more faith in his brother not to be disgusted with him, but he couldn't risk losing him again after he had just gotten him back.

"I'll admit," Adam continued, "I'd never have expected my brother to one day tell me he's gay. But I just want you to be happy, and if you're happy with men, then ok."

Shaking his head a little, Lance looked away. "It's not just men in general; at least, not anymore. Eli was something special. It's going to take a long time to get over him."

"You keep saying 'was' like there's no hope for you two. Have you tried?"

"Even if he would talk to me, he's still devoted to his job. He's not going to move out here, and I definitely won't move there. We're just not meant to be."

Adam shook his head. "You haven't changed a bit. Still as stubborn as ever." He reached over, squeezing his brother's shoulder. "You won't know unless you try. The thing you were afraid of isn't a problem now. You're my brother, and gay or straight, I will always be here for you, and support you. I want you to be happy, and if Eli is who makes you happy, then you damn well better fight for him."

Moving in and giving his brother another hug, Adam patted Lance on the back. "I mean it, Lance. Talk to him. You can find a way to make it work out. You've got to fight if you want to keep him." A car pulling up in the drive made them look up. Adam nodded toward the taxi. "That's my ride. I gotta go. But seriously, think about it. "

Lance nodded. "I will. Thanks. Take care, okay? I'll talk to you soon."

They shared a strong hug, then Adam stepped back and turned toward the taxi. Lance watched as his brother walked away, wondering just what he was going to do.

* * * * * * *

Lance stood at the fence to the horse paddock, staring out at the grazing animals. He didn't notice the gorgeous sunset, or the mountains in the distance that usually captured his attention. All of his focus was a thousand miles away with a man he was pretty sure he was in love with. A man he had pushed away and now wondered just what the hell he had been thinking.

Footsteps on the gravel behind him made Lance turn around. Richard, the owner of the ranch, wandered over and leaned on the fence next to him.

"The horses giving you cause for concern, Lance?"

Lance never understood why Richard never called him Buck like everyone else at the ranch, but he never questioned his boss.

He shook his head. "No, sir, why?"

"Cause boy, you staring at them like you expect they was all going to vanish right before your eyes."

Giving a sigh, Lance shook his head. "Just thinking about something."

"About your man?"

That caused Lance to look at his boss in shock. Obviously, the boss knew about him being gay. Everyone at the ranch knew, but he didn't think anyone besides a couple of the hands knew about what Eli meant to him.

Lance hesitated. "My man, sir?"

Richard looked at him with an appraising eye. "Son, I've known you a while now. Didn't take me long to realize after you came back from that ride with him that you felt something for each other. Now, before you go apologizing up and down about breaking the no fraternizing rule, let me say that I can tell the difference between a fling and something deeper." He shook his head, glancing back out at the horses. "When he checked out of here that first time, he was pretty down. Then, I saw how you acted after he left. Didn't take long to figure out something happened 'tween you too. You don't act that kind of way over someone you sleep with once and forget. This last time was worse. You both looked like someone shot your dog and your best friend."

He didn't bother to correct his boss that it had been twice before Eli went home. He pulled off his hat, running his fingers through his hair with a sigh. "I don't know what went wrong, sir. We started talking about Adam, and next thing I knew, we were fighting. He kept saying I was ashamed of us, of what I am. He said that what we had between us should mean more to me and I needed to tell Adam. I told him that I felt like I was nothing more than a long distance hook up. He wouldn't move out here because of his job. And I told him he could keep it then and not bother coming back."

Hearing the words yet again made Lance realize just how stupid the fight had been. Most fights were, he imagined, but when it ended something as good as what they had between them, he figured it was the stupidest fight ever.

Richard shook his head. "Boy, you always did have a problem shooting off at the mouth."

Lance couldn't help smiling a little. "Took me a lotta years and lumps on my head to get over the worst of it."

"And yet you did it again with someone you care about."

Sighing, Lance nodded. "Guess I haven't learned my lesson, have I?"

Shaking his head, Richard looked out over the field of horses. "What's your brother say about all this?"

"Well, he took it a lot better than I thought. He was more concerned with Eli leaving than the fact I like men. He invited me to come see him this Christmas to meet his wife and daughter, and told me to apologize and bring Eli along." Lance felt a wry, depressed smile tug at his lips. "Guess I can skip that part of the plan."

"Won't know that unless you talk to him again."

His boss' stoic wisdom was comforting, but he didn't think Eli would be willing to go flying off to Oregon with him any time soon, even if he did pick up when Lance called.

"What's that man of yours do for a living, anyway?"

"He said he goes into businesses and sees what they can change to make things run smoother. Looks at finances, productivity, marketing, that kind of thing. He's a detail kind of guy." Lance chuckled softly, thinking just how Eli picked up on little nuances of things.

Richard gave a grunt, a universal sign of "I don't understand what you just said, and don't want to ask again."

They passed a few more minutes in silence before Richard straightened, looking over at Lance. "I'm heading inside. But let me leave you with this. If love is real and meant to last, then there's no obstacle that can't be overcome. Time, distance, station. They all mean nothing if you love someone. I can tell that boy means something special to you. Now if you'll just admit it to yourself and the rest of the world, then I reckon you'll be alright."

He patted Lance's shoulder and turned, walking back towards the house. Lance watched him go, then stared back out in the distance. He was starting to realize that he couldn't let Eli go. He didn't quite know what he was going to do, but he was certain he had to do something.

It took him several more hours staring out in the field before an idea began to formulate. The more he thought about it, the more it made sense. It was his only shot at making this work long-term. If it didn't, he was going to at least make it work long distance. He couldn't lose Eli.

Stepping down off the fence, he headed in to the farm house, knocking at the office door and stepping in.

"Boss, I have a proposition for you."

Richard looked up from his desk as Lance barged in. "Shit, boy, ain't you supposed to do that with your man?"

The unexpected teasing threw him off for a minute, but when he recovered, he couldn't stop a smile. "I intend to, if you think my plan will work."

* * * * * * *

In the two months since he came home from the ranch for the last time, Eli hadn't been able to drag himself from the depression that had plagued him. Losing Lance had hurt a lot more than he cared to admit. It had just felt so right with the cowboy that being away and knowing it was for longer than just a few months was killing him. The few trinkets he had of the ranch -- the picture of him and Lance, a postcard he had sent later and a few other things -- were all tucked away in a drawer where he didn't have to see them. Out of sight, out of mind; or at least that was what it was supposed to do.

His email was much emptier and barely touched. No regular messages back and forth to keep up on what was happening at the ranch. No playful banter, hints of teasing seduction. His phone was just as lonely, if not more so. Eli used to lie back on his bed as they talked, knowing it would eventually lead to a playful banter that slid into something more intimate.

The work that used to make him happy now seemed like a life sentence. He barely met anyone's gaze beyond what was expected of him. Even Jerry didn't bother talking to him. After work was over, he went home and did as little as possible, but made sure it kept his mind away from the west.

Eli didn't know how long he could go on like this. He felt like he was missing a part of himself, and didn't know how he could function without it. Jill tried to talk to him numerous times, but he ignored her. He kept telling himself that he would talk to her later, but later never came.

Finally, it was a Friday. The drudgery of the week was coming to a close and Eli could go home to two solid days of struggling to forget. Maybe he would stop at the liquor store on the way home to help with that.

Sometime that afternoon, a phone call came through the switchboard for him. He glanced at the clock. 4:30. Not much longer now, and maybe he could milk this call enough to slip out a few minutes early. All he wanted to do was go home.

He picked up the phone, cradling it between his chin and shoulder as he shuffled through a stack of papers. "Allied Accounting and Business Services. This is Eli, how can I help you?"

The voice on the other end sounded older, with a bit of country flair to the words. "Well, sir, I was wondering if you might be in need of a job."

Eli was thrown for a minute at the abrupt offer, unsure what to say. "Uh, well, I can certainly take your case, but I'd need you to talk to my supervisor first to get the particular details down for your needs."

"No, I mean would you want to come work for me."

Who was this guy? And why was he calling up someone randomly to offer them a job. "What kind of work?"

"I own a ranch and I have been looking at redesigning things a bit and needed some business input on it. I got word that you might be just the man I was looking for to help me."

This didn't feel right. Eli had a suspicious thought come to his mind. "What's your name?"

There was a slight hesitation on the other end before he heard the answer. "Richard Thoryn."

Eli froze, thinking he had heard wrong. He sighed, rubbing his face. "Mr. Thoryn. Did Lance put you up to all this?"

"I'll be honest. He came to me with the idea, but when he explained it to me, I started thinking you might be just what we need out here. I've been trying to work some new life into this place for ages, and someone with your skills might be just what we need."

Eli couldn't believe what he was hearing. A job offer? What kind of stunt was this? "Mr. Thoryn, I appreciate your offer, but I think we both know that your ranch is probably the last place in the world I should be right now."

"I'm not so sure of that. Hell, boy, I've had one of my hands moping around for months now like a kicked pup. He misses you something fierce, and it's not easy for a man to admit when he has feelings for someone else."

He had a hard time with the thought that Lance was possibly as depressed as he was. Eli remembered Lance's biting words, not sure how he could have possibly lost his anger that much. "He made it pretty clear when we talked before that we were over."

"An argument don't count as talking things out. We all say stupid things when we fight. Later, when you think about it, you realize just how little you meant of what you said."

"And there's also a lot of truth said in jest." Eli leaned back in his chair. "I just don't know."

"What will you know until you try?" The man's gentle question tugged at Eli. He could feel his resolve slipping. Richard was a formidable man when it came to bargaining, and he sounded more sure of his need of help than if Lance had just put him up to it.

"Sir, I just don't know. I might be able to recommend someone to help you, but I just don't know if it's a good idea for me to be that person."

"Listen to me, Eli." Richard's voice took on a fatherly tone, and Eli found himself very nervous to hear what might come next. "Lance came to me with this because he wants to make amends. Even more than that, he wanted to find a way for you to be together. He's worked with me for a while now to get it right, hoping it would be a job you'd be comfortable in. Give the boy a chance, and I think you'll find that he's serious. I've known him a long time and I've never seen him this determined to do something before."

Eli felt his resolve crumbling slowly. "Maybe I should talk to Lance about this first."

"Glad to hear it. He's waiting out in the waiting room now. I'd appreciate it if you'd talk with him now. Just hear him out. He's a good man, even if he did something that wasn't the smartest."

Eli thought it over for a minute, closing his eyes against the growing nerves. Could he really see Lance again? His heart ached at the thought of seeing him one more time and things not working. He didn't want to risk it, but he felt he could at least try.

He took a deep breath, steeling himself for what was coming. "Alright, Mr. Thoryn, I'll go talk to him. This doesn't mean I'm agreeing to anything else, but we'll talk."

"Thank you. That's all I ask. But I really do think you could help us. You've gotten to know the ranch pretty well and if you're even half as good at what you do the way Lance described you, then we'd be very lucky to have you."

Hearing the other man's confidence and praise felt strange, and after they had hung up, Eli sat in stunned silence for a few minutes, trying to figure out just what had gone on. Slowly, he rose to his feet and made his way from his office down the hall to the waiting room.

When Eli opened the door to the waiting room, he caught sight of that familiar back right away. It wasn't even that Lance was the only one left in the room. He'd know that form anywhere. Lance stood, staring out the window at the scenery of the cityscape. The cowboy hat that normally sat atop those beautiful dark brown strands of hair was nervously clutched in hands that Eli knew were rough and callused in just the right places. Even fidgeting anxiously, Lance was a sight for sore eyes. Eli didn't realize just how much he had missed the other man until he saw him again.

Eli couldn't make himself move or speak, just drank in the sight of the man he had missed for what felt like ages. The pain of their separation came back fresh when he realized just how much he had come to care for the sexy cowboy. The emptiness that had been in his stomach for months now felt a little less painful as he drank in the vision before him.

As if sensing he was being watched, Lance turned and his anxious look melted into one of joy as they locked eyes. Eli's heart skipped a few beats at the sight of those gorgeous green eyes staring back at him. A little smile broke over Lance's face, tinged with nervousness, and he turned, stepping closer to Eli.

"Guess you just got a phone call."

Eli managed to nod. "Yeah, I did."

Lance fidgeted with the hat in his hands. "Well, what do you think? You think... maybe it might work?"

Eli shook his head slowly. "I don't know, Lance. There's more involved than just the job."

"Like?" Lance raised an eyebrow.

"There's still a lot that we have to work on."

"Tell me what and I'll do anything." The earnest look on Lance's face pulled at Eli's heart.

He sighed. "Us. I don't want you to be ashamed. I want you to be happy to be with me, to not be afraid to tell people we're together."

Lance nodded. "Done." He sighed. "After you left this time, Eli, I felt like a part of me was ripped away. I don't ever want to lose you again, and I'll be so happy if you come back, I'll tell anyone."

Eli stared at him for a long time. "You'll tell Adam about us?"

Grinning, Lance took a step closer to him. "Baby, I'll tell the world. I'll get a tattoo on my forehead, I'll wear a sign day in and day out. I'll hire a sky writer every day. I'll take out an ad in every major newspaper across the country. I'll --"

Reaching over, Eli stopped him talking by covering his lips. He felt a grin pull at the corners of his mouth. "No need for all that. Adam's all that matters." He let his hand slide across that strong jaw for the first time in months, feeling the familiar contours.

Lance smiled, leaning in closer. "Good. Because I already told him. He invited you over for Christmas."

His reaction must have been what Lance was hoping for, because the cowboy's grin nearly exploded over his face. Lance reached up and squeezed Eli's hand, looking at him intently.

"I want to fix this, Eli. I want to make this work."

That was obvious. He'd never seen Lance quite so determined. But his unease still tugged at the corners of his mind.

"Can this really work out? What's to say we won't be like this again?"

Lance ran a hand through his hair. "Fuck, I love you, Eli. I've known that longer than I think I was willing to admit. When you left me the last time, I didn't know what to do. I will do anything to make this work."

"You pushed me away, Lance," Eli reminded him.

"I know, and I've been kicking myself for it every day since. I don't know what I was thinking, baby. I'm a fool, and should be shot for hurting you. But I want to make it right, if you'll let me."

As if his brain were just catching up, Eli suddenly realized what he had heard Lance say. "Wait a minute. Did you say.. did you say you love me?"

Lance smiled at him. "Yeah, I did. I do. I love you, Eli. Took me a little time to realize just what I needed to do about that, but I love you."

Love. It made perfect sense now. Why he hurt so much when it ended. Why he had been so concerned with Lance telling his brother about them. He had wanted it because he loved Lance. Lance, the man who came for him, who planned everything so they could be together. Maybe this really was love.

"You're thinking too hard, baby." Lance's smiling face broke through his thoughts. "Don't think. Just feel."

Lance reached forward and cupped the back of Eli's head, pulling it in to connect their mouths in a desperate kiss. Eli felt his stomach twisting at feeling those lips against his again after so long. He hadn't thought he would ever kiss this man again, and it felt even better than before. He let his hands slide up, getting lost in his dark hair, holding him close. He couldn't help feeling like if he let go, Lance would vanish again, and he would be left feeling empty. Eli felt arms sliding around him and pulling him close to press his body against the cowboy's hard form. It felt like coming home to be resting against that familiar shape.

He broke the kiss, just resting his head on Lance's shoulder and closed his eyes, arms keeping them tight together. He didn't want to move right then, didn't want to think. Eli inhaled the familiar scent that clung to his lover, making him think of horses and mountains. It was a comforting scent. Lance was here. He was apologizing, and asked for another chance. Could he give it? Could they make this work?

He thought back to Richard's call. The man truly was offering him a job out in Montana. It was a perfect chance to move out there, to have a real opportunity for making this relationship work. But deep down, he was scared. Scared of messing up, of taking a risk. Could he really do it?

Then a thought hit him that made him smile. Lance had come to see him, to beg for another chance. To tell him he loved him. If he had taken that risk on him, why couldn't Eli take a risk on the job and relationship? He wanted to be with Lance more than anything, and now he had that chance again. He couldn't turn that down.


Lance stiffened, pulling back to look at him, a nervous look on his face. "What did you say?"

Eli couldn't stop a smile growing on his face. "I said okay. I'll take the job."

* * * * * * *

Eli opened the door of his apartment, walking in and letting Lance follow. He set his briefcase down, feeling a little nervous suddenly. All he could think of was what would happen if things didn't go right this time. He'd already lost his cowboy once, and if he lost him again, Eli didn't think he could recover from that.

Glancing around his apartment, he realized how depressing it was. He hadn't cleaned much lately, not having the desire to do much of anything. As he turned to face Lance, ready to apologize for the mess, Lance enveloped him, pulling their bodies together. In a heartbeat, their lips were attached again, and the pain of the last few months melted. He felt his arms wrap around Lance in return, pressing himself firmly against the cowboy's hard body. He breathed in Lance's scent again -- a mix of leather, hay, and something earthy. It never failed to make him hard.

"I think we need to move this to another room," Lance whispered against his mouth.

Eli chuckled. "Mmm. I think you're right."

Smiling, Eli took his hands and pulled him along towards the bedroom. Once there, he ran his hands down and quickly pulled Lance's shirt away. He let his long, thin fingers stretch out over his chest as Eli leaned down, placing a kiss in the middle of it, his hands exploring over Lance's skin. He had missed this perfectly tanned flesh, the work made muscles on his cowboy's body. Eli let his hands wander, sliding down and making quick work of his clothes. They fell away to pool at his feet.

Lance stepped out of them, grinning as he reached for Eli. "Your turn."

Eli chuckled, spreading his arms. "I'm all yours, handsome."

Lance unbuttoned Eli's work shirt, his hands sliding underneath to roam across his skin. Eli could feel the calluses on his hands, loving the way the rough skin caressed him. Soon, his shirt was on the floor and Lance's hands were working their way down to his pants. He unbuckled his belt and unfastened his pants, shoving them down with his underwear quickly. Eli stepped out of them and they stood there, both naked in front of one another.

Lance looked him over from head to toe, then stared in his eyes with a look of love and appreciation. "You look better than ever."

Eli smiled at his whispered words. "You look pretty damn good yourself, handsome.

Grinning, Lance stepped closer, his hands sliding over Eli's hips as he guided him to the bed and nudged him so he moved back into the center.

Sprawled on the bed, Eli watched Lance move over him. The cowboy practically prowled onto the bed and the sight made Eli's mouth go dry. God he had missed this man. He reached up, pulling the other man on top of him with hands at his sides. Their bodies pressed tightly against one another, just resting against each other comfortably as their lips came together in a tender kiss. Eli had never wanted a kiss so badly before in his life. Even the ones earlier in the living room hadn't been like this. It moved from soft and tender to hot and passionate in a heartbeat. Eli groaned, feeling their cocks rubbing against one another and his hips raised, thrusting against the hard, flat stomach above him.

Giving a little moan into the kiss, Lance pulled back a little to whisper. "Supplies?"

"Nightstand." Eli made a motion to the drawer next to the bed.

Lance glanced over to the nightstand, then back to Eli with a smile. "Been way too long, baby."

Eli smirked. "Just as long for me."

An indescribable look passed over Lance's face. He leaned down, pressing his lips to Eli's tenderly. "I wish I could go back and take back everything stupid I said to you," he whispered sadly.

Eli stroked back his beautiful brown hair. "Hey, we both said things we didn't mean. And that's in the past."

Lance sighed. "I know. I just... I never want to hurt you again."

Eli smiled. "You won't. Now hurry up and get me ready."

Lance grinned at him, kissing him deeply before he sat back and reached for the supplies.

A thought came to him and he smiled. As Lance moved to open up the condom wrapper, Eli reached over and stilled his hand. "Do we need that?"

Lance's eyes widened and he looked at Eli in shock. Before he could say anything, Eli continued.

"Our first night together we didn't. And I've been clean ever since. You're the only guy I've been with since that night. You're the only one I want."

* * * * * * *

Lance felt the air squeezed from him at Eli's confession, amazed that Eli hadn't been with any other men since they first met. He hadn't been with anyone else either, but he had fewer chances living in the country than Eli did. "You're sure about this?"

Eli grinned at him. "I'm sure. I'll claim a head injury if anyone asks, though."

Hearing those same words he used the first time drew a laugh from Lance. He leaned in, kissing the man he was so deeply in love with, feeling like the whole world was right again.

Hesitating, he leaned back a little and looked at Eli. "You know this is it, right? I will never be with anyone but you again, and vice versa."

Eli smiled, reaching over and taking the condom from his hand. "We don't need this, Lance. You are all I need, all I want." He threw the condom away toward the trashcan against the wall. "Now.. it's been long enough since I've seen you or felt you in me. Let's remedy that, huh?"

Lance felt a surge of desire race through him and he leaned over, capturing Eli's lips in a deep kiss. His tongue swept out over his lover's lips, begging for entrance. He wanted to cry for joy when Eli opened to him instantly and allowed him in. His tongue sought out Eli's, twining and dancing with it. He wanted to devour Eli, driven almost mad at his taste. He couldn't believe he had almost lost this man who meant so much to him.

Eli moaned, whispering into the kiss. "Hurry and get me ready. I need you."

Grabbing the lube, Lance poured some on his fingers. He reached down, letting one finger circle Eli's hole gently before sliding in. Eli accepted it eagerly, sighing in pleasure and grabbing Lance's head, pulling him back into a kiss. Lance returned it just as eagerly, slipping a second finger in. He gently stroked them in and out, scissoring them to loosen his lover. Eli began to move his hips against Lance's fingers in no time, so Lance added a third. Slowly, he began to move his lips across Eli's jawline, nibbling just below his ear before working his way down his neck. Lance sucked a red mark up on Eli's neck, watching as it slowly vanished into the flush that covered the other man's skin. He dragged his teeth over the sensitive flesh, hearing his lover's deep groan.

"I missed you so much, Lance."

Eli's whispered words were sweeter than anything he had heard in a long time. Lance leaned in, kissing him deeply. He pulled Eli close to him, looking into his eyes.

"Show me. Show me just how much you missed me, baby." He gently pulled his fingers out from Eli and moved into the center of the bed. He lay back on the bed, smiling at Eli. "I want you to ride me like you did that first night. I wanna feel you move on me."

Eli's smile grew and the look in his eyes told Lance he liked the idea. Grabbing the nearby bottle of lube, he coated Lance's cock quickly, giving it a few strokes that sent a shiver over Lance's spine. Eli settled himself over Lance's hips, one leg on either side of him, and reached back to position Lance's cock at his opening. Slowly, he sank down and Lance groaned as he felt his length being sheathed again in that perfect velvety hot tunnel.

"Oh, fuck." He looked up at Eli, his hands sliding up his lover's legs to rest at his hips. "Just like that first night."

A shiver wracked Eli as he continued to lower himself. Once his ass was resting against Lance's hips, his eyes sought Lance's. The desire in his gaze was intoxicating, making Lance's head swim. Eli began to raise and lower himself and their bodies both shivered in time from the assault on their nerves. It was incredible, being inside him again without that barrier of the condom there. The love and trust that it showed twisted something deep in Lance's gut. This man was the only one Lance ever wanted to share this with ever again.

His hands helped guide Eli as he moved, his hips thrusting up to meet him on his downward stroke. A whimper drew itself from Eli with each slap of flesh meeting. His eyes rolled back in his head and his breath came faster and higher. The sight of his lover in so much pleasure drove Lance even closer to his climax that much faster.

Sitting up, he leaned back against the pillows and pulled Eli up. Lance pulled his legs together, resting Eli's ass on them and sliding his arms under Eli's knees. He nudged Eli to lean back and support himself with a hand on either side of Lance's legs. The position had him thrusting at an almost perfect angle to nail his lover's prostate over and over.

Eli gasped hard at the new sensations. "Right there, oh god yes. Please, don't stop. Don't stop, baby!"

Eli's words were like a drug to Lance, making him feel better than even the sex itself. Lance felt like he was soaring, his body and mind reveling in the fact that he was with the man he loved, buried deep inside him and giving him pleasure again. It was incredible.

He thrust harder, intent on sending Eli over the edge as soon as he could. He wanted to watch him come, wanted to feel his body tremble as he felt the pleasure roll over him. Lance knew they were both close, and he couldn't hold back. He surged up, wrapping his arms around Eli and taking him down to the bed, smoothly taking up a hard, pounding rhythm inside his lover. He panted with exertion, knowing they weren't far from their orgasms.

Eli gasped at the sudden change of position. "Oh, shit. Lance!"

Lance groaned, nuzzling in the curve of Eli's neck. "God, Eli. I love you so much. I thought you might hate me."

Eli clung to his lover, his legs wrapped tightly around the cowboy's lean, muscular waist. "Couldn't.. it would have been easier, but I just couldn't."

Lance squeezed his eyes shut tightly, afraid he might break from all the emotions rushing through him right then. "I'm so sorry, baby. I didn't mean to hurt you."

"Shh.." Eli kissed him, whispering against his lips. "Don't talk about it now. You're here, that's what matters. Just love me."

"Always." Lance caught Eli's lips and deepened the kiss, his hips hurling them closer to their goal. Eli's head fell back onto the bed with a groan. He could hear Eli's voice hitching higher and higher as the air was almost sucked from him. He knew the sound of his lover's impending climax well.

"Come for me, baby. I want to hear you. I want to feel you." He reached between them, hand wrapping around Eli's cock to begin jacking him in a firm, steady rhythm. "Come for me, please."

Eli almost sounded like he was in pain with the groan he gave, his face a mask of tortured pleasure. Lance plowed into him as hard as he could, his hand hitting every sensitive spot on his lover's cock that it could. With a final gasp, Eli's body stilled, muscles clenching as he came.

"Lance!!" Cum poured from him, coating his stomach as his ass clenched around Lance's dick rhythmically. Eli's hands were gripping Lance's shoulders, the nails biting in. The little bites of pain he felt made Lance smile. He'd never seen Eli lose control like that and it made him very hot.

He continued to thrust through Eli's orgasm, giving a final squeeze on his slowly softening cock. Eli panted, catching his breath as he stared up at Lance, a contented smile on his lips.

"Your turn. I want to feel you come inside me. I want you to fill me up."

Lance shivered with a groan. He wasn't far from his own climax, and Eli's talking like that would have him over the edge in no time. His climax hit him hard, and it felt like a bolt of lightning ran down his spine. He erupted, spilling his seed into Eli's hot tunnel. A groan rattled in his chest and lightning zipped along his spine. He felt like his body was turning inside out and emptying into Eli. Lance groaned as his climax began to fade, struggling to keep himself from collapsing on top of his lover. Eli hugged him close, hands roaming his back gently as he began to come down from his orgasm.

Pulling himself from the stupor of having emptied his brains out through his dick, Lance gently eased from his lover and made his way to the bathroom for a washcloth. When they were clean and the cloth was tossed back into the bathroom, Lance crawled back into bed, sliding his arms around Eli and hugging him close. Eli rested his head against Lance's chest, eyes closed and a very relaxed look on his face. Lance smiled, laying his head on a pillow and closing his own eyes. They were quiet for a long time before he heard Eli whisper.


Lance gave a sleepy smile. "Hmm?" he responded, tiredly without opening his eyes.

"I love you too, cowboy."

Eli's quiet confession made Lance's stomach twist and his heart forget how to beat. He raised himself up, looking down into his man's tired, but very contented gaze. A happy smile curved those beautiful, kiss-swollen lips up and Lance felt himself falling even deeper in love.

He smiled, reaching up to trace the lines of Eli's face gently. "I can't tell you how good it feels to hear that."

Eli gave him a tired smile in return. Lance stared down at Eli for a little longer, then he lay back down, wrapping his arms around his lover tightly. He sighed deeply, nuzzling into Eli's soft hair. For the first time in several months, he felt himself drift to sleep quickly, feeling more relaxed than he had in a long time.

* * * * * * *


"Where does this go?"

Eli looked up from the box he was unpacking to see Lance standing in the doorway, holding up a file box.


Lance headed down the hall to put the box away. Eli watched him go, enjoying the sight of that hot ass. They were covered in a comfortable looking pair of running shorts instead of his usual jeans. Moving in July was just too hot for jeans, and Eli secretly hoped it was for his benefit as well. Lance's muscular legs were incredible to look at, especially while he was carrying furniture up and down stairs.

Pulling himself away from his ogling of his lover, Eli began to unpack and put away more of his things. After working out the details with Richard on the job, things moved swiftly. He told his old job he would be leaving and then he and Lance began to look for a place to live. Richard came to their rescue by offering up one of the cabins. He set a very reasonable rate for rent, since having them both living on the grounds would be ideal. It ended up taking less than a month to settle everything and start the process of moving. Eli had been lucky to get almost a week between the movers packing his things and them arriving. He had taken the time to go ahead to the ranch and get familiar with his new job. It also allowed himself to really bond with Lance.

Eli tucked another book onto the shelf in front of him, smiling lightly as he realized this was his home now. He was going to be living here, in the most beautiful countryside he had ever seen, with the man who meant more to him than anyone else in the world. He didn't think life could get any better.

Later that night after a day full of moving and unpacking, Eli lay in the hammock he and Lance had hung on the back porch, staring out in the distance at the fading sunlight and the mountains. The stars were filling the sky and it always made Eli smile to see them. It reminded him of the trail ride where he lay awake, thinking about the cowboy who could sing like the whole word hurt him.

Lance walked out of the back door, carrying drinks in each hand. "Here you go," he said, handing Eli his drink.

Eli took it with a smile, reaching up to pull Lance in for a kiss. "Mmm. Thanks." He took a sip, then set the drink on a table nearby. "Sit with me."

Grinning, Lance maneuvered himself into the hammock next to Eli, sliding an arm around his lover's shoulders and pulling him close. Eli rested his head on Lance's shoulder and just let the gentle swinging relax him. He closed his eyes, relaxing in the slowly cooling air and listening to the sounds of the country.

He gave a deep sigh, a smile curling his lips. "This is where I belong," he whispered.

Lance kissed the top of his head, nuzzling his hair gently. "I'm glad," he whispered in return.

They relaxed in silence for a little while longer before Lance slipped something into his hand. Opening his eyes, he looked down to see what lay in his palm. A gold wedding band rested there, causing Eli's heart to stop beating. He looked over at his lover in shock and was met with a soft smile.

"I almost lost you once because I was stupid. I never want you to question what I feel for you, no matter what I say or do. I would be honored if you would wear this and remember that no matter what, I love you more than anything or anyone else in my life."

Eli swallowed the lump in his throat, reaching up to pull his cowboy down for a deep kiss. He pulled back to whisper, "I love you so much, Lance. I'll never doubt you."

* * * * * * *

Christmas that year was spent in Oregon. Lance got to meet his brother's family and show off Eli. Adam's wife, Sarah, and his daughter Amanda, welcomed their new family with open arms. Amanda, who was a typical horse-crazy 8 year old, was excited at the thought of her uncle working on a ranch. Lance promised that she could get to ride all she wanted when they came to visit. Amanda proceeded to beg her parents for a visit the next week.

New Year's was spent with Eli's family. Eli's parents were thrilled their son finally met a good man. They adored Lance and promised to come visit whenever they could.

Eli and Lance spend much of their free time riding on the trails near the ranch. Now and then, they visit the cave where they spent the night together so many years ago. Their relationship isn't perfect, and they have their moments where anger gets the best of them, but they work it out and stick to the promise they made each other to never go to bed angry.

So far, it's been working.