North shivered as he finished emptying the wheelbarrow for what had to be the hundredth time. Who knew horses could make so much of a mess? And in the dead of winter, no less! "No animal should ever shit that much," he mumbled, trying to wipe the sweat from his forehead without smearing grime all over himself.
"A little harsh, don't you think? They can't help themselves."
North spun around, his heart jumping up into his throat. His eyes met Cade's, and he huffed out a breath of relief, watching it fog the air between them. "Shit, Cade."
Cade's gaze dropped to the wheelbarrow for a moment. "I see that."
North laughed and shivered again. "I meant shit, you crept up on me. I was just finishing up."
"Emma Rae and the others are already inside eating." When North took the wheelbarrow back into the barn, Cade followed and leaned against one of the stalls. "Why did you volunteer to stay out in the cold, shoveling shit?"
It took North a couple of swallows before he could manage an answer. Cade looked too damn sexy in his jeans, flannel, and jacket, his Stetson low on his brow. "Why not? No one'd miss me."
Something flashed in Cade's eyes. "That's a pitiful lie, and you know it."
"Bullshit." North yanked off his work gloves and tossed them down. "You sneak me into your room after everyone's asleep, and you kick my ass out before the sun comes up. I'm just a hole for you to warm your dick in, but only so long as you don't get caught. Why would you miss me at the damn dinner table?"
Cade shoved off the stall and stalked toward him, his boots crunching in the hay that lined the barn hall. Cade's face was red, and North knew Cade was pissed. Well, so was he, and he refused to back down. He stared defiantly up at Cade when the rancher stopped a foot in front of him. North's heart was beating so fast, he wondered if Cade could hear it. He didn't want to lose those few precious hours of pleasure and intimacy with Cade, but he didn't like the dirty feeling before and after.
"You saying I'm ashamed?"
North clenched his teeth. "I'm sayin' you're chickenshit."
Steam practically rose off Cade's Stetson. "I've never backed down from a challenge in my life. I'm a grown man!"
"So are your damn kids!" North fired back. "Your sons are grown. Emma Rae's more of a woman than most men can handle. For Christ's sake, they know what we're doing! There's no one to fool, and if they have a problem with us being together, they can say it to our faces. I don't know what the hell you're so afraid of. If you're a grown man, then man up!"
It was a direct challenge, and North was half afraid Cade wouldn't do anything but turn on his heel and walk back into the warm house to his dinner. Cade might have faced down the challenges of having kids, upkeeping his ranch, and even caring for his wife when she was sick, but would staring down the fact he was sleeping with North finally break the camel's back? The silence stretched longer than he liked, and he swallowed thickly, refusing to take back a single word.
"What I do in my bed," Cade snarled, "is of no concern to anyone else on this ranch!"
"It's my concern!" North shouted. "It's my concern, Cade, because I'm in your bed!"
Cade pushed him back into an empty, clean stall, a hand in North's hair while the other bunched in North's jacket. In seconds, Cade's mouth was on his, tongue thrust between his lips. North hadn't yet experienced Cade while the rancher was angry, and it both frightened and excited him. By the time his back hit the exterior wall, his was hard as a rock in his jeans. He gave as good as he took, the kiss savage, angry, and hurt. All North wanted—all he'd ever wanted—was to be acknowledged and loved openly by the men he called lover. Cade was what he wanted now, and he didn't want to hide anymore. Not from Cade's family or his own fans. Music career be damned, he was tired of being a coward!
The kiss seemed to go on forever, both of them refusing to stop or pull back for more than a breath before diving forward again. He wasn't sure what kind of point Cade was trying to make. Hell, he wasn't even sure what point he was making by kissing back so hard, but he couldn't stop. His hands yanked at Cade's jeans, pulled at flannel and the layers beneath.
Cade's thought process must have been a little more organized. Cade went for his jacket first, shoving it over his shoulders and down his arms. Rough hands rubbed against his nipples through his shirts, and North moaned, his own hands stalling for a moment. Cade growled into their kiss at the pause, and North felt his knees go a little weak. Cade's hands went for his jeans, and before he knew it, his cock was exposed, and he hissed at the chill of the cool air against his overheated skin.
"Left the... stable door... open," he panted, finally getting the button and zipper of Cade's jeans open.
"Doesn't matter," Cade growled, and with a rough grip, North was spun around and pushed down into the hay. Cade yanked off one of North's boots, and his jeans were pulled down his waist just far enough for him to get the one leg out. He reached for his other boot, but Cade slapped his hands. "Down!"
"But it's not—"
"It's plenty." And then Cade's mouth was on his again, and all he could think to do was part his legs to welcome the warmth of Cade's body closer as the hay scratched against his ass and leg.
It was more passion than North had seen from Cade since the first night they'd started fucking. Not that North minded slow, deep lovemaking, but this... this was something else. This was something he was sure Cade didn't let out often, and all it did was make North's cock that much harder. He moaned when Cade pulled back enough to wet his fingers, and then their tongues were battling one another again while Cade pushed two fingers inside him. It wasn't as smooth as lube, but having Cade finger him felt too good to stop.
Cade's mouth moved to North's throat. When had Cade ripped open the upper buttons to his shirt? North's eyes rolled back in his head as Cade's teeth, coupled with intense suction, set a deep, throbbing mark on his throat. Cade hadn't dared mark him where anyone might see, and to have it done now... "Fuck!" He worried he'd come right then from the combination of that mark and Cade's fingers pushing in and out, rubbing against his prostate every now and again.
North tried to move his hips, to push into those fingers, but the moment he started shifting eagerly, they were gone. He was about to protest when Cade sat back a little and spat into his palm. North knew what that meant, knew the pain that was about to come, but he couldn't bring himself to stop Cade. He braced himself, but when Cade thrust inside him with almost no glide, everything went white. His nails dug into Cade's flannel shirt as he shouted, pain flashing through him. It made his skin flush, his sinuses sting, his eyes tear up, but—God help him—he was still so hard!
Cade winced above him, and he saw sweat bead in the creases of Cade's brow. The fire in Cade's eyes was even hotter, though, and they stared at each other for several seconds. It made North's heart pound, and his hands tightened in Cade's clothing, his knuckles turning white. They pulled each other close at the same instant, their mouths colliding in another rough, possessive kiss. He battled Cade for dominance, but then Cade made that first nearly-dry thrust, and he gasped. Cade took advantage, groaning as he staked his claim.
After years of careful coordination with his manager over every single fuck North had, this was heaven. It didn't matter that his ass was on fire. It didn't matter that Cade hid everything from everyone. It didn't matter that, in nine weeks, he'd leave the Stallings Ranch and Cade behind forever. The only damn thing that mattered was the taste of Cade in his mouth, Cade's worn hands on his hip and thigh, and Cade's cock pushing into him brutally over and over. North tried to shout, but Cade's tongue muffled every cry, every groan.
North's hands clung to Cade's neck and shoulder. Tears wet his lashes as pain and need and lust warred inside him. And still, his cock strained between their bodies, dark and wet. Cade growled again, moved faster, and North ripped his mouth away to let loose a sharp, pained shout.
"Shut up!" Cade snapped breathlessly. "I don't want everyone knowing what the fuck we're doing."
Pain stabbed at North's heart, sharper than the pain of Cade's unlubed cock inside him. "And what... are we doing... Cade?"
"Fucking." Cade stared down at him, and North thought he was looking up at a stranger. "Jack yourself off," Cade ordered.
North felt a flush steal over his cheeks, but he was so desperate, so aroused despite Cade's harsh, bitter words. Fucking. They were fucking, a word Cade had never used to refer to what they did. It chipped away a little at North's heart, and the tiniest kernel of regret began to settle cold and heavy inside him. Still, he reached between their bodies and took himself in hand, pumping his prick hard and rough, as hard and rough as Cade took his body.
It didn't take long. The combination of pain and pleasure was potent enough to override his emotions. He craned his neck, seeking the comfort of another kiss. Whether Cade indulged him because he loved kissing him or because he just wanted to keep him quiet, North wasn't certain. He came with a muffled shout, his release shooting up over his hand to his abdomen and disheveled shirts.
The moment of blissful pleasure was short-lived, and Cade's thrusts became erratic and even more forceful, ripping away the afterglow North usually enjoyed with him. Cade grunted against his lips, and then he felt the heat and sting of Cade's come inside him. Cade shuddered and twitched above him, and he watched as the pleasure gave way to stillness and silence.
They panted for a minute, and with the way Cade stared at him, North thought the man would speak up. Say something. Anything. Instead, Cade just stared at him in shock, and North finally swallowed thickly, saying the only thing he could think of. "You didn't use a condom, either."
Through a haze of tears North hadn't realized had settled over his vision, he watched Cade's face close off. All emotion drained away, and Cade's eyes became shuttered. And still, Cade said nothing. He pulled out, and North closed his eyes as his ass throbbed and the warmth of Cade was lost. The air was too cold now. The horses were whinnying, restlessly moving in their stalls. North was thankful no tears fell, and he only opened his eyes when he heard the rustle of clothing.
Cade was pulling his jeans up, adjusting his shirts and jacket, grabbing his Stetson. "Get yourself cleaned up. Close up the fucking barn and come inside for dinner."
Cade glared down at him. "Did I ask for your opinion? Finish up your work in the barn, and then come eat. If you don't get to the table by seven, then you don't eat tonight."
And then Cade was striding away, out into the snow and gray sky. North just stared at the open barn door, hoping Cade would come back, would apologize. But there was nothing. Just the slam of the screen door, and then the interior door, of the main house. Blushing deeply, and feeling so fucking dirty, North slowly pulled himself together. How he managed to dress, stow the wheelbarrow, check all the horses' feed, and lock up the barn, he'd never know, but when he stepped into the main house, it wasn't the kitchen he headed to.
North wasn't hungry.
He felt humiliated, used, and pissed. All he wanted was a shower and his bed. North was as cold inside as the world was outside the house, and he worried that no amount of hot water would thaw the ice forming around his heart.