Monday, May 27, 2013

Outlast the Night by Ariel Tachna

Author: Ariel Tachna
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: M/M Contemporary Series
Release Date: May 20, 2013

Office manager Sam Emery is unemployed and out of luck. When his emotionally abusive wife demands a divorce, he contacts the one person he has left, his brother, Neil. He doesn’t expect Neil to reject him, but he also doesn’t expect the news of his divorce—and of his sexuality—to be met with such acceptance.

Neil takes Sam to Lang Downs, the sheep station Neil calls home. There, Sam learns that life as a gay man isn’t impossible. Caine and Macklin, the station owners, certainly seem to be making it work. When Caine offers Sam a job, it’s a dream come true.

Jeremy Taylor leaves the only home he’s ever known when his brother’s homophobia becomes more than he can bear. He goes to the one place he knows he will be accepted: Lang Downs. He clicks with Sam instantly—but the animosity between Lang Downs and Jeremy’s home station runs deep, and the jackaroos won’t accept Jeremy without a fight. Between Sam’s insecurity and Jeremy’s precarious position, their road will be a hard one—and that’s without having to wait for Sam’s divorce to be final before starting a new life together.

CAINE NEIHEISEL looked up from the tax forms that were currently driving him batty when he heard a knock at the office door. It wouldn’t be Macklin because his lover and the foreman of Lang Downs wouldn’t bother knocking.
“Come in.”
“I’m sorry to disturb you, boss,” Neil Emery said, sticking his head in. “Do you have a minute?”
“Of course,” Caine said, setting aside the forms. “What can I do for you?”

“I need a favor. My brother Sam called. His wife kicked him out, and he doesn’t have anywhere else to go. He lost his job a year and a half ago, and I know it’s a lot to ask, but could he come here for a month or two? Just until he gets back on his feet?”

“The last time I checked, you and Molly had an extra room in your house. You don’t need my permission to have someone stay there.”

“I’ll have to go down to Yass to get him,” Neil said. “I can send him a bus ticket to get that far, but it’ll still mean taking at least a day off.”

“Just let us know when you’ll be gone so we can get someone to cover your chores.”

“I’ll leave Max with Chris. Chris has learned enough about dogs that he can use Max to help move the sheep down into the valley. I know it’s a bad time to be gone, but I can’t afford to pay for a hotel for him for long—”

“Neil,” Caine interrupted, “I’m not upset. He’s your brother. Of course you’re going to help him out. I don’t know how much luck he’ll have doing a job search from here, but even if all he does is recover from leaving his wife before figuring out how to go back to town, he’s still welcome. We can afford to feed one more.”

“He could maybe help you out in the office while he’s here,” Neil suggested. “He worked as an office manager for a small hardware store until the owners retired and closed the shop. At least he’d feel like he was contributing something instead of taking handouts.”

“We’ll see when he gets here,” Caine said, though the idea of having someone to help him figure out the logistics of Australian tax law and employee benefits regulations would be a huge help. Caine’s degree in business gave him enough background to make sense of the jargon, but the difference in laws had tripped him up more than once.

THREE days later, Neil met his brother Sam at the bus station in Yass. The lines of stress and worry on his brother’s face made him frown. “You look like shit.”

“Good to see you too, arsehole,” Sam replied, hugging Neil more tightly than necessary.
“Come on,” Neil said, grabbing Sam’s sole suitcase. “Let’s get out of here. We’ve got a long drive ahead of us. Or do you want to eat something first?”
“How long?”
“Five hours or so,” Neil said, “and most of that is through the tablelands, where there’s nowhere to stop if you get hungry. I can shout you lunch, here or in Boorowa in an hour or so, if you don’t think you can wait until we get home.”

“Lunch would be good,” Sam admitted. “I… haven’t been eating well.”

Neil had noticed how gaunt Sam looked, but this confirmed it. “Kami, the station’s cook, will get you sorted in no time, but for now we can go to the Yass Hotel. It’s nothing fancy, but it’ll fill you up.”

“What about that one?” Sam asked, pointing to a small restaurant across from the bus station.
“We don’t eat there,” Neil said, his voice cold. “One of our jackaroos nearly got killed there last spring, and nobody lifted a finger to help him. His brother had to come running to the hotel for help.”
“In a town this size?”

“They didn’t take well to him being a poofter,” Neil explained.
Sam didn’t reply. Neil gritted his teeth when he saw the tense look on Sam’s face. He didn’t want to fight with his brother, especially when he was down and out, but Sam was going to have to keep his opinions to himself. Neil wouldn’t tolerate slurs against Caine and Macklin from his brother any more than he would from any of the other jackaroos on Lang Downs.

“So tell me about the station,” Sam said once they’d reached the Yass Hotel and had ordered lunch. “I mean, I know it’s kind of remote and I know you raise sheep, but that’s as far as it goes.”
“That’s about all there is to tell,” Neil said. “I told you about Molly when we got engaged. Everything else is pretty much what you’d expect from a station. Well, except Caine. He’s a Yank. He owns the station.”
“How did that happen?”
“His great-uncle founded the station. When he died, it passed to Caine’s mum in the States, but she’s not young and wasn’t going to move here to run it, so Caine came. Last year at Christmas, she gave it to him outright. You know, I bet he could use a hand figuring out all the paperwork, taxes and shit. He’s got a head for business, but he’s still a Yank. You could keep your hand in.”
“If he’ll let me help,” Sam said with a sigh.

“Why wouldn’t he?” Neil asked. “You lost your job because the owners retired. You weren’t fired or laid off or anything like that. It’s not your fault you couldn’t find a new job.”
Sam shrugged. “He sounds like a good bloke. Is he married?”

Neil choked on his beer. He’d been hoping to put off this conversation until later, but short of lying, he didn’t see a way around it. “Last time I checked, two blokes can’t get married here. Macklin’s name is on the deed, though, and he moved out of the foreman’s house and into the big house a year ago, so I figure that’s close enough.”

“You work for a gay couple?”

“Sam, you’re my brother and I love you, but if this is going to be a problem, you need to tell me now so I can get you a hotel room in Yass.”
“No, it’s not a problem,” Sam said quickly. “I’m just surprised. We didn’t exactly grow up in a tolerant house.”

Neil shrugged. “Caine saved my life and nearly died doing it. And he did it after I found out he was gay and said every nasty thing I could think of to him. He’s earned my loyalty.”

The arrival of their food forestalled Sam’s reply, and he ate with such gusto that Neil didn’t press for more of a reaction. He wasn’t in the mood to listen to all the homophobic bullshit he’d grown up with. He was a different man now, a better one, he hoped. If Sam could just give Caine and Macklin a chance, he’d see they deserved his respect.

They finished eating and headed north toward Boorowa. “Do you need anything?” Neil asked. “Supplies of any kind? Once we leave Boorowa, there’s nowhere to stop.”
“No, I’m fine,” Sam said. “Alison let me keep everything of mine.”
“One suitcase?” Neil responded.

“I left some stuff with friends,” Sam said. “I didn’t figure I’d need suits on the station.”
“No, you won’t,” Neil agreed. “So tell me. What happened with you and Alison? Last time I saw you, I thought you were happy.”

“She wanted someone with a job, and I wanted…. It doesn’t matter what I wanted. She wanted out, and I’m not going to fight her.”
“Is there someone else?” Neil asked.
“I didn’t ask her,” Sam said.
“What about you?”
“No one that matters.”
“You slept around and it didn’t even mean anything? That’s low, Sam.”
“It wasn’t like that,” Sam insisted. “I….”
“You what, Sam?”

“I married her because it’s what Mum and Dad expected. I didn’t feel like I had a choice, and at least I liked Alison. We got along well enough, but that’s it. I never really loved her. I don’t know if she loved me, but she doesn’t anymore, and I’m fine with that. Dad’s gone. He can’t be disappointed in me now, so it doesn’t matter anymore.”

“What are you talking about? Why would you marry Alison if you didn’t love her? You could have found someone else.”

“You already said it,” Sam said. “It’s not legal for two blokes to get married.”
“You’re gay? Why didn’t you say something?” The words were out before Neil could consider them, the only thing he could think of to say in the wake of such surprising news. Sam had been married! Neil had never dreamed his brother might be gay.

Sam shot him a look of such incredulity that Neil flushed. “Sorry, that was stupid. Of course you didn’t say anything while Dad was alive, but you still didn’t have to get married. I didn’t. Not until I met the right girl.”
“Yeah, but you aren’t gay. You might not have met the right girl, but you knew you would someday. I didn’t have that, and you were gone. You didn’t have to listen to him constantly after you left, going on and on about the family name and being a man and getting married and having children. Thank God Alison and I decided to wait to have kids.”

“Did she know about you?”

“Not when we got married. After I lost my job and couldn’t find another one, things got… tense at home. Money was tight. I felt like a failure for living off her income. We fought all the time. We agreed to a trial separation nine months ago, with her helping me out with the rent, but I think that was almost worse, because she was supporting me completely. I wanted to feel good. I wanted to spend a few hours with someone who didn’t make me feel worthless.”

“So you did what? Hooked up with some random guys?”

“Yeah, pretty much,” Sam said. “It was stupid. I knew it when I did it, but it felt good too. They didn’t care that I didn’t have a job. They didn’t care that I was in the closet. They just cared that I’d let them do whatever they wanted to me. Alison kept on about getting a new job, always threatening to stop paying my rent if I didn’t get my act together. She actually had a lead on one, but it was with a cousin of hers, and he made it pretty obvious he’d only be hiring me out of pity. I turned down the job and told her I’d find somewhere else to live. There’s no way I could go back to that.”

“I wish I’d known,” Neil said. “I’d have tried to make it easier for you.”
“There’s nothing you could have done,” Sam said. “I had to fuck up to see how bad off I was.”

“So what now?”

“Now nothing,” Sam said. “I won’t fight Alison for anything when we can finally file for divorce in three months. She gets the house, the car, everything, because she’s paid for most of it, and I don’t want the black mark on my name if I ever get a lead on a job somewhere that might care if I’m gay.”

“There’s not a lot of opportunity for anonymous sex, gay or straight, on the station,” Neil warned. “There’s a couple of other jackaroos who are gay besides Caine and Macklin, but Chris and Jesse are shacked up, and the others will be leaving when the season is over in a few weeks.”

“So I’ll do without,” Sam said with a shrug. “It won’t be the first time.” He hesitated, then added, “I got enough of faceless fumbling this year. I’d rather do without until I can meet someone. I know that probably won’t happen on the station, and really, starting a relationship before I’m even divorced would be stupid, but I’d rather do without than feel like a cheap trick again.”

“I thought you said it made you feel good?”

“The sex, yes. Afterward, no,” Sam explained. “I don’t imagine you want details.”

“Not really,” Neil said with a grimace. “I might not let anyone say anything about Caine and Macklin, but I don’t need to know what goes on in their bedroom. Same goes for you.”
Sam’s smile was the most genuine Neil had seen since he’d picked his brother up at the bus station.

“Thank you.”

“YOU need to go to Melbourne this winter,” Devlin Taylor said, turning to face his younger brother Jeremy. “You need to find a good woman, settle down, start a family.”
Jeremy only barely managed not to roll his eyes at his brother across the breakfast table in the main house. Devlin refused to eat in the canteen with the jackaroos. He said it was “beneath him.” They had been through this discussion of his relationship status more times than he could count. He would get married when he was damn well ready—not likely to happen anytime soon since he wasn’t going to marry a woman and he couldn’t legally marry a man—and Devlin could take his meddling and matchmaking and shove them up his arse. “I was planning a trip to Sydney,” Jeremy replied, “but just for a week or two, to unwind a bit from the summer.”

“That’s not long enough to meet someone,” Devlin protested.

“Maybe because I don’t want to meet someone?” Jeremy retorted. “Not like that. We aren’t having this conversation again.”

“Be careful, boy,” Devlin said as if he were Jeremy’s father, not his older brother. Granted, the twelve years between them meant he and Devlin had never been all that close, never had the shared childhood so many siblings drew on to bond as adults. “People will start talking. You’re thirty-four. That’s more than old enough to get settled down proper. You keep on like you are, people are going to start saying you’re like those pillow biters up at Lang Downs.”

“So what if they think that?” Jeremy replied hotly, not the least because it was true. He hated the term as much as he hated his brother’s homophobic rants, but he could hardly deny he was gay, even if he had conveniently forgotten to tell his brother that one important detail. “Armstrong runs a tight ship at Lang Downs, regardless of who he’s sleeping with, and when you had to fire that fucker who sabotaged their fences, Neiheisel let it go without pursuing you or him. They aren’t hurting anybody by being together.”

“No brother of mine is going to be known as a poofter!” Devlin roared.

“Better an honest poofter than a homophobic bigot who still can’t run a station as well as the ‘pillow biters’ at Lang Downs,” Jeremy shouted back.

Devlin’s angry bellow gave Jeremy the warning he needed to dodge the punch his brother sent flying in his direction. His own ire raised now, he countered with an uppercut of his own, catching his brother squarely under the jaw. Devlin staggered back, then narrowed his eyes as he came at Jeremy again. Jeremy tried to block the blow, but Devlin connected anyway. Jeremy rocked back, catching himself on the edge of the desk in Devlin’s office, and slammed his brother’s face into the wooden surface when Devlin lunged at him again. He had the briefest moment of relief that at least none of the jackaroos still on the station would see them fighting like this before Devlin was up again and plowing his fist into Jeremy’s gut. He doubled over and went for Devlin’s knees. When his brother went down, he stayed there, glaring at Jeremy with such hatred that Jeremy took a step back.

“Get out,” Devlin spat, blood running from the corner of his mouth. “Don’t come back until you’ve got a wife and a respectable life.”

Jeremy closed his eyes for a second, knowing from the tone of Devlin’s voice how deadly serious he was. “I’ll be gone before sunset.”

“And don’t take anything that belongs to the station,” Devlin added.

That would be impossible, since Jeremy had never bothered drawing a salary and bought what he needed with station funds the same way Devlin did, but Jeremy was tired of arguing with his brother. He would take what he considered to be his personal belongings and leave the rest. He could replace anything else once he got a job on another station. He hoped Lang Downs was hiring because that would be an extra punch to his brother’s gut, but if they weren’t, Jeremy figured he had enough experience to get a job pretty much anywhere.

He climbed the stairs to his room, rubbing his jaw where Devlin’s fist had caught him, and proceeded to pack his clothes and toiletries. He considered taking his phone but decided Devlin would just cancel the contract if he did since it was on the station’s account. Looking at the duffel that contained everything in the world he could truly consider his, he scowled at the sorry state of his life. He should have done this years ago.

“I’m taking my car,” he told Devlin when he got downstairs. “I’ll send it back when I get where I’m going.”

Devlin didn’t even look up from where he sat at his desk, a cold pack on his lip.
Jeremy turned on his heel and walked out of the house where he’d grown up, whistling for Arrow, his kelpie, as he went. It was time to shake the dust of Taylor Peak off his feet.

“IT’S too early for Neil to be back, isn’t it?” Caine asked Macklin, looking down the valley at the plume of dust from the gravel road.

“I wasn’t expecting him before dinner,” Macklin said, following Caine’s gaze.
“Are we expecting anyone else?”

“Not that I was aware of,” Macklin said. “I guess we should go see who it is.”
“I can handle it if you want to stay here and finish getting the sheep settled,” Caine offered, though he knew Macklin would refuse.

“No, I’ll go with you,” Macklin said.

Caine gave his lover an indulgent smile. He still hadn’t figured out what kind of trouble Macklin thought he would get into walking across the valley by himself, especially since Polly, Jason’s dog, had been on Caine’s heels all day and didn’t seem inclined to leave now, but Caine didn’t argue either. He could handle whatever or whoever was driving down their road by himself, but that didn’t mean he would enjoy it, depending on what it was.

As the dust cloud approached, Caine could make out a plain black Jeep much like the ones they used at Lang Downs for trips to town. Eventually it pulled up to where they were standing and a man Caine didn’t know climbed out, followed by a solid brown kelpie with the bluest eyes Caine had ever seen on a dog.

Taylor?” Macklin said, tensing at Caine’s side. “What are you doing here?”

Taylor meant Taylor Peak, and that meant their jackass of a neighbor, but this wasn’t Devlin Taylor. This man was closer to Caine’s age than Macklin’s, and much more the typical jackaroo than Devlin Taylor could ever hope to be.

“Sorry to arrive uninvited,” Taylor said, “but my brother kicked me off the station. I’m hoping you’ve got space for one more, for a day or two, anyway.”

“Why did he kick you out?” Macklin asked.

“I got tired of listening to his bullshit,” Taylor said. “I called him on it and he didn’t take it well.”
“That how you got the shiner?” Macklin asked.

“Yeah, but it was worth it,” Taylor replied. “The look on his face was priceless.”
“What did you say?” Macklin asked, his voice sounding amused now.

“He was going on about you two, the way he does when he gets in a snit,” Taylor said. “I told him I’d rather work for you than for a homophobic bigot who still couldn’t run his station as well as the two men he was so determined to insult.”

Caine couldn’t stop the grin that crossed his face. “Caine Neiheisel,” he said, holding out his hand to their guest. “Welcome to Lang Downs.”

“Jeremy Taylor. Nice to finally meet you.”

“So are you looking for a place to crash for a few days or are you looking for a job?” Macklin asked after Caine and Jeremy had shaken hands.

“A job, if you’ve got one, but at this point, I’ll settle for not having to drive to Boorowa tonight.”
“The foreman’s position is already taken,” Macklin said, not quite cracking a smile, although Caine thought he heard amusement in the words, “but we’ve got space in the bunkhouse.”

“It’s a roof over my head,” Taylor said. “That’s good enough for me.”

“Come on, then. We’ll find you a bunk,” Macklin said. “Caine, you want to tell Kami there will be one more for dinner?”

“Of course,” Caine said, even though he was dying to go with them and find out more about their newest stray. But he would have time. He didn’t have to know everything right now.

“SO YOU want to tell me what was different this time?” Macklin asked as he led Jeremy toward the bunkhouse, Arrow following on their heels. “Devlin’s been shouting filth in our direction for more than a year, since he found out about Caine, and he’s been pressuring you to fit into his mold for longer than that.”

“He started in about me getting married,” Jeremy said. “Same shit, different day, but today I just got tired of it. He can shout and threaten all he wants. I’m not getting married because of it, and I got sick of listening to it.”

“That station is your birthright too.”

Jeremy shook his head. “Not in any way that counts. His name’s on the deed. Maybe Dad meant for us to run it together, but he didn’t give me any actual say in it in any kind of legal way that I could enforce. I was at uni still when he died, so maybe that made a difference. Who knows? I’ve spent more than ten years being ignored every time I’ve tried to point out to Devlin a way to improve something. Never mind that I’m the one with the degree in animal management, not him. I’m his kid brother, so I don’t know anything. I got tired of it, and listening to him insult you was one thing too many.”

“You know the rumors that are going to make the rounds since you came here instead of going to a different station,” Macklin said. “Nobody here cares what the gossips have to say, but it might make going somewhere else later harder than if you went to a different station.”

Jeremy shrugged. “They won’t be saying anything that isn’t true. Maybe I never told anybody. Maybe I’d never planned on telling anybody, but that doesn’t make it less true.”

Macklin just nodded like he’d known all along, making Jeremy wonder what was going on behind that inscrutable stockman mask Jeremy knew so well. He’d put it on himself so many mornings he wasn’t sure how to take it off anymore. Had Macklin suspected? Or did he simply accept it that easily? Jeremy wasn’t sure it mattered, and it made him more grateful than he could say.

“It’s up to you what you tell people or don’t,” Macklin said as they reached the bunkhouse. “I’m not one for telling tales.”

“Thanks,” Jeremy said. “It’ll be hard enough in there, being a Taylor. Being gay won’t help.”
“Depends on who you’re talking to,” Macklin said with a grin. “Some of them might consider that a point in your favor.”

“I’m here to work, not to fuck around,” Jeremy said. “I’m not interested in a relationship.”

Macklin laughed. “Where have I heard that before? I appreciate the attitude, but as long as the work’s done, the rest is up to you and whoever you choose to spend your time with. I don’t keep tabs on my men’s personal lives unless they interfere with the job.”

They went inside and peeked in rooms until they found an empty bunk. “You can take a few minutes to unpack if you want,” Macklin offered. “You can meet us at the sheds.”

“And have someone come in and see me and think I’m here without your permission?” Jeremy said, tossing his duffel on the bed. “I’ll unpack tonight after work. By then hopefully everyone will realize I’m here with your blessing.”

“Most of the ones here in the bunkhouse are too new to remember the dustup with Devlin,” Macklin replied. “They might recognize your name, but it’s only the year-rounders, who tend to have houses of their own, who might have an issue with you.”

Jeremy wasn’t sure if that made things better or worse. The jackaroos in the bunkhouse would be leaving in a few weeks, for the most part, off to wherever they spent the winter once the bulk of the work from breeding was done. Jeremy would have the bunkhouse pretty much to himself after that, but the men he would have to work with when the seasonal hires were gone all knew his family, his brother, and the ongoing animosity between the two stations. Or, to be fair, the ongoing animosity Devlin felt toward Lang Downs. Jeremy had never shared that sentiment, even before Caine’s arrival and finding out both he and Macklin were gay, but while Macklin knew that, Jeremy doubted the others would.

“I’ll still make a better impression by coming to work now, since I know there’s work to be done,” Jeremy said.

“There’s always work to be done,” Macklin said with a shrug.

“Then let’s get to it,” Jeremy said. “Come on, Arrow.”


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