After having been kicked off the family ranch by his father, Marc Poulson has made a new home for himself as the foreman of the Double R Ranch. His fellow ranch hands are his family, but he’s still not complete without Casey Morgan, his counterpart at the neighboring Del Rio Ranch. In the middle of a feud with his one-time best friend, Marc struggles to understand why Casey would rather take a swing at him than talk to him. He wants to put the past behind them and rebuild what they once had and make their relationship stronger than ever, but Casey is having none of it.
Casey has his own demons to deal with, and Marc serves as a reminder to things he’d rather forget. Casey can’t see beyond the past and continues to make mistakes that put both him and Marc in harms way. After one close call too many, Casey must decide whether his past is more important than his future, or if he can live with Marc walking out of his life—possibly forever.
“EARTH TO Marc, come in, Marc.” Rick made a show of waving his hand in front of Marc’s face. He waited until he had Marc’s attention. “Did you hear anything I said?”
“Sorry.” Marc glanced at him, but the lure of Casey Morgan was too strong to ignore. He returned his gaze to linger on the blond who had walked through the doors of the bar a moment earlier. “I was distracted.” Half of the bar separated them, but he knew from experience that the chances of avoiding a confrontation were slim to nil.
“Obviously.” Their companion, and coworker, Jason snickered.
“What is it with you and him?” Rick’s gaze danced between the two men. “You two can’t be in the same room together without going for the jugular.”
“It has nothing to do with you.” Marc didn’t want to get into it and was desperate to stop the barrage of questions before they could start. “You concentrate on yourself and let me handle my own problems.”
Marc tracked Casey’s progress through the bar until he sat at a table with two of the hired hands from the Del Rio Ranch. As the foreman for the Del Rio, Casey was the direct counterpart of Marc’s position at the Double R. The owners of the two ranches were close friends, and up until a few months earlier, so were Casey and Marc. It was amazing how one thing could cause friends to become bitter enemies, and it was nothing more than a misunderstanding.
“We lost him again.” Jason needed to wipe the smirk off his face.
“Knock it off.” Marc forced his attention away from Casey and back to Rick and Jason. “What were you asking?”
“Never mind.” Rick shook his head. “Since we have tomorrow off it can wait until Monday. No sense in talking ranch work if we don’t have to.”
“Sounds good to me.” Jason finished off the beer in front of him.
Marc swallowed the last of his own drink and headed toward the bar for the next round. Despite being the sole bar in town, it wasn’t busy, and within a couple of minutes he was turning to head back to his table with three fresh beers. As he turned, his shoulder brushed against a newcomer, and Marc turned to apologize, but the words stuck in his throat when he found himself face-to-face with Casey. If he’d realized Casey had the same idea, he would have stayed in his seat and let one of the other two go.
“Poulson.” Casey’s greeting dripped with hostility.
“Morgan.” Fuck the apology. Marc pushed past him but stopped when Casey mumbled something under his breath. His entire body went stiff, and he struggled to breathe through the anger. He should have ignored it and walked away, but it built inside him until he was seething with every breath he took. “What the hell did you say to me?”
“You heard me.” Casey leaned against the bar and tried to stare him down.
“That’s bullshit and you know it.” Marc took a determined step forward. He had a couple of inches on his former friend and wasn’t above trying to intimidate him. Not anymore.
“It’s not bullshit if it’s the truth.” Instead of backing down, Casey straightened up, anger flashing in his eyes.
“I’ve had it with this crap.” Marc clenched his jaw. He’d tried to keep his cool, but if Casey was itching for a fight that bad, Marc was ready and willing to oblige. He ignored the little voice in his head telling him it was a bad idea. Marc plunked the bottles he was holding onto the bar, flexed his hands at his side, and waited. He wouldn’t throw the first punch, but if Casey did, he wouldn’t walk away. “I wasn’t the only one there, and you damn well know it.”
“You may as well have been.” Casey sneered and grabbed the beer the bartender set down. He tried to shoulder his way past, but Marc refused to move.
Marc reached out and grabbed ahold of Casey’s arm to keep him there. “Oh, I don’t know about that. When are you going to admit you liked it?”
With a wrench of his arm he whirled Casey back around. The bottle clutched in Casey’s grasp slipped free, shattering on the floor, and beer splashed up onto their boots. Their gazes collided, and Marc could see the fury simmering in Casey’s eyes. Determined to use his height advantage, he took a step forward until there were a mere couple of inches separating them, forcing Casey to look up to meet his eyes. When Marc didn’t release his hold on him, Casey knocked his hand away.
“Don’t.” As cliched as it sounded, if looks could kill, Marc would drop dead on the spot. “You have no fucking right to touch me.”
“Like this?” Marc reached out with one hand and shoved Casey’s shoulder.
“Bastard,” Casey replied.
“Point being?” Marc repeated his earlier action, this time putting enough force behind it to cause the infuriating man to stagger into the table behind him.
“Go to hell.” Casey growled and turned toward his table.
“I’ll meet you there.” Marc laughed and moved to grab the beers from the bar. He heard one of the Del Rio hands yell and turned a second too late. Casey’s fist connected with his jaw and sent him stumbling back into the bar.
“Fucker!” Marc launched himself toward Casey and placed a couple of well-aimed blows to Casey’s stomach and ribs. It didn’t bring near the satisfaction he’d expected. Instead, regret trickled through him and was enough to throw off his concentration. Casey didn’t hesitate to take advantage, but Marc managed to deflect the blow with his shoulder. He grunted in pain as the next one connected with his ribs. Thank god Casey hadn’t managed to land a shot to his liver. That would have had him writhing in agony.
Shelving his feelings of remorse to study later, Marc shoved Casey hard enough to send him careening into a nearby chair. Taking advantage of gaining the upper hand, he pressed on and within moments Marc was rolling on the floor with Casey as they each tried to gain domination over the other. Marc managed to land a few more punches, but then someone grabbed his arms and pulled him away. His entire body hurt, but he ignored the pain and struggled to get free.
“Fuckers. Let me go.” The more he fought, the tighter he was held. Despite his attempts, Marc was no match for the men intent on dragging him away. Through the haze of anger he saw two men pull Casey to his feet and resumed his struggles, but there was no freeing himself.
The adrenaline drained out of him, and, as his vision cleared, he recognized the two men holding Casey back as the two hired hands from the Del Rio Ranch. He turned his head to see who had him and met Rick’s gaze. A groan slithered from his throat as he looked on his other side and found Jason regarding him as if he was a snake about to strike.
“You can let me go now.” Marc tried to jerk his arms free.
“Sorry, boss man, can’t do that.” Rick’s grip tightened to the point Marc was sure he’d have bruises. On top of the ones he’d have from Casey.
“You’ll fucking pay for this.” Casey struggled against the two men holding him, blood flowing unimpeded from his nose.
Marc glanced at his hands and winced at the blood coating his split knuckles. With his quarry now out of his reach, he allowed Rick and Jason to lead him toward the exit. He couldn’t believe he’d been goaded into yet another fight. Though, if he was honest, he’d egged Casey on as well. Now he had to figure out how he was going to explain the night’s events to his boss, once word got around, and it would. That should be fun. Rick and Jason almost had him to the door when it opened and revealed the lean body of the sheriff blocking their escape.