Duncan's World

an excerpt

Chapter One

Kyle stood in the dark, watching the cowboys coming and going from the arena. He tried to stay away from them. It wouldn't do to have any of them catch him staring too closely at their asses. Sighing, he shook his head. They shouldn't wear their jeans so freaking tight then.

The professional bull riding circuit was a gay boy's wet dream, but dreaming and doing anything about those fantasies were two different things. Kyle might be gay, but he wasn't dumb. He liked his head attached to his shoulders and his bones unbroken. So he peeked and stayed out of the riders' ways.

Hell, it wasn't like any of them knew his name anyway. He was Clayton MacDonald's youngest boy. That was how most in the rodeo knew him, and he let it stay that way. Drawing attention wasn't good for his health, not if his father found out about it. Clayton didn't like anyone getting more of the limelight than he did, not even Rusty, Kyle's older brother, who was following in their father's footsteps. Rusty rode the bulls like their father did and he was good at it. Someday, Clayton would have to relinquish the family riding crown, but their father was holding onto it with both hands at the moment.

When only a few trucks remained in the parking lot, Kyle figured he was safe to go in. He slipped inside and headed to where they corralled the bulls for the event. The men bedding down the animals grunted at him and handed him a pitchfork. All they knew about him was he did the heavy work without complaining, all for the chance to spend some time with the bulls.

"Hey there, Blackie," he murmured to the one-ton bull in the pen closest to him.

The large Brahma-cross snorted at him, and Kyle smiled. In the event's program, they listed the bull as Texas Tornado and he was one of the rankest bulls on tour. He had a tendency to hook a rider once the man was down and try to gore him. That was the reason Blackie no longer had horns. His owner cut them off so he wouldn't hurt any more cowboys.

Kyle forked a quarter bale of hay into the bull's pen before resting the fork against the bars and reaching in to rub Blackie's nose.

"You're the only one he'll let do that."

Jumping back, he grabbed up the pitchfork and ducked his head. No one was supposed to touch the animals, except the owners and their workers. It ensured no one poisoned them.

"Sorry, sir," he mumbled, not bothering to look up.

A pained grunt drew his attention, and he peered up from under his hat brim. The tall man slowly straightened from the wall and stepped into the low light shining over the bulls' pens. Kyle's jaw dropped. Holy shit! Duncan Hornsby spoke to him.

"Don't worry, kid. I've watched you a couple times after one of my guys told me about Tex letting you touch him. I know you're not going to do anything bad to him."

Duncan took his time walking toward Kyle and, watching through his lashes, Kyle stared at the bull rider. Duncan was only five years younger than Kyle's dad, making him seventeen years older than Kyle. Yet where Clayton was slowly allowing his body to fall apart, Duncan kept in shape. A shape as gorgeous as most of the younger men on the circuit. As he studied the man, Kyle realized he was limping badly.

Where he found the courage to do what he did next, Kyle never knew. Setting aside the pitchfork, he hurried over to Duncan and eased his arm around the man's waist.

"Put your arm over my shoulder and lean on me. We'll get you to the bucket over by Blackie's pen."

"I don't think I should lean on you, kid. I might cause you to break like a toothpick."

"I'm tougher than I look. What did you do to yourself?"

One step, accompanied by a sharp in-drawn breath. Duncan leaned on Kyle, who stiffened his back to take the man's weight.

"Old back injury. Acts up from time to time. I need to remember I'm not as young as I used to be."

"Is the bucket too low? There's a bench a little farther down the aisle." He gestured to where the bench was located.

"The bench would be easier." Duncan grimaced. "I'm going to kill that jackass MacDonald one of these day. The man's been gunning for me since I came on tour."

Kyle bit his tongue. Hell, yeah, his father would be gunning for Duncan, who was the top-ranked bull rider on tour and had been for the past three years. He stole Clayton's glory and his crown. Kyle's father wasn't above fighting dirty to get it back.

Once they got Duncan situated on the bench, Kyle went on with his feeding. The bulls snorted and bellowed at him as he moved along. He petted the ones who allowed it and avoided the dangerous ones.

Duncan watched him, and Kyle could feel his cheeks heat because of the way the man stared at him. Don't get any ideas, boy, his mental voice sneered at him. There's no way that man is gay, and even if he was, why would he go for a skinny kid like you? He hated it when his inner voice was so logical.

"What did MacDonald do?"

The question was more to take his mind off Duncan's presence than to find out what childish trick his father pulled.

"He slammed me into the chutes after the round. One of the rails was just the right height to aggravate my back."

Shaking his head, Kyle frowned. "Why didn't you do something about it?"

He would have heard if Duncan and his dad had gotten into a fight.

"Beating him in the arena is punishment enough for a guy like that." Duncan's laugh was deep and settled low in Kyle's groin. "I'll be paying for it tonight, though. Hope I can move tomorrow. It'll suck if I tighten up and can't ride."

"I have some liniment you could use. I put it on my horse after we're done riding. He's pulled a few muscles in his legs and it keeps them loose and warm."

Duncan's chuckle drew Kyle's gaze and he met the man's sparkling dark eyes with his own smile.

"Great. Now I'm an old horse who needs to be babied along."

Kyle finished the pens on the left side of the aisle and started on the right side. "Oh, Benjy isn't old. He's a Thoroughbred. They start training them way too young, and he was racing by the time he was two. Unfortunately, he was injury prone and never could figure out how to win. So his owners retired him, and my mom bought him for me."

He tossed a couple forkfuls of hay into the pen where two bulls fussed and pawed at the ground. He ignored their antics.

"What do you do with him?"

"Benjy and I ride in eventing. He wasn't much for flat racing, but give him fences to jump at speed and he loves it."

"Eventing?"

"Yeah. It's three days with dressage the first day, cross-country the second and stadium jumping the third day." He launched into a detailed description, rattling off information Duncan probably didn't want to know. When he ran out of steam, he tossed the final bunch of hay into the last pen and put the pitchfork back.

Realizing he had been babbling for several minutes, he checked Duncan to see if he'd bored the man to death yet. Duncan had his head leaning back against the wall, his hat tugged down over his eyes, which appeared to be closed. Kyle grinned ruefully and shook his head. The one time he had a gorgeous man speak to him and he talked the man to sleep.

"What's a kid like you doing here then? If you like all that fancy Eastern stuff, what brings you to feeding bulls and eating dust at rodeos?"

Duncan's questions caused Kyle to jump. Guess the man must have been resting his eyes.

"Family."

He left it at that. No point in letting Duncan know who Kyle was related to. He didn't want Duncan to think he was like his father. He wandered over to where he'd dumped his backpack before the event started. Digging around, he found the bottle of liniment and turned to hand it to Duncan.

"Kyle, why the hell do you come back here? You know how Dad feels about you feeding the bulls." Rusty pushed through the doors, frowning at Kyle.

Standing, Kyle flushed, but didn't say anything. He dropped the bottle on the bench next to Duncan.

"Come on. Dad wants you back at the room before we head out."

"I'm old enough to take care of myself," Kyle mumbled. He was twenty, for God's sake. He could function perfectly well out in the world on his own.

Rusty sneered. "He just doesn't want you to do something stupid that'll interrupt his raising Cain tonight. Try to insure we don't have to save your ass or anything."

Duncan moved and caught Rusty's gaze. Kyle's older brother lost his sneer and put on a respectful expression.

"Hornsby."

"MacDonald." Duncan tipped his hat slightly.

Kyle kept his mouth shut. He slung his pack over his shoulder and started to follow Rusty out of the arena.

"Hey, kid."

Stopping, he took a breath and turned to face Duncan. The bull rider smiled politely.

"Thanks for the stuff and if you want to feed Tex, you're more than welcome to any time."

Wow...okay. That was more than he expected to get from the older man. He dipped his chin. "Thanks, sir."

They made it halfway across the parking lot before Rusty lost his shock. Kyle staggered as Rusty slugged him in the arm.

"Dad's going to have a shit fit when he finds out you talked to Hornsby."

Rubbing the spot Rusty hit and knowing it was going to bruise didn't make Kyle any happier about his brother dragging him back to the room like a two-year-old.

"What the fuck does it matter? And who's going to tell him?"

"Dude, you know someone'll mention it, just to get a rise out of him. You better keep your head down for the next day or so. At least until you head back to the ranch. Oh, and stop feeding the bulls. Sometimes I think you do it on purpose to piss the old man off."

Kyle shifted his bag to the other shoulder and ran his fingers through his hair. "What does it matter? I take care of the bulls he's raising back home."

"They're not pets. They're working animals. We aren't supposed to coddle them or treat them special." Rusty repeated the oft-heard mantra.

"Whatever. Dad doesn't pay any attention to me, so I figure I'm safe until one of the owners complain. At least Hornsby won't be."

His brother snorted. "I don't know what you gave him, Kyle, but for your sake, I hope Dad doesn't find out."

Their dad was pacing the floor when they entered the hotel room fifteen minutes later. He whirled, and Kyle got a glimpse of his scowl seconds before he was pinned to the door with his father's fist twisted in his shirt.

"I told you to come right back here after the round."

The smell of whiskey on Clayton's breath caused Kyle's eyes to water. A hard shake and Kyle's head bounced off the door with enough force for him to see stars. He froze and dropped his gaze, having learned the hard way that meeting his father's eyes was tantamount to challenging the man, especially when he'd been drinking. Clayton was alpha dog in their little pack and, at times, he felt the need to remind everyone.

Rusty slipped into the bathroom. There would be no help from his brother this night. Kyle knew he should resent Rusty's lack of support, but too many years of too many fists had proved to him that there was no way to turn aside his father's anger.

"I'm sorry."

In an instant, Kyle knew it was the wrong thing to say. Clayton jerked him away from the door and pushed him across the room, where he collided with the dresser. He bit his lip to keep from crying out. Shit, another bruise, and from the way his father stalked across the room, there would be others before Clayton and Rusty left for the bar.

"You're sorry all right. A sorry ass excuse for a son and a man. God, if I didn't know better, I'd swear your mother cheated on me to spawn such a pussy like you."

Kyle's head snapped sideways as his father backhanded him. Something wet trickled down his chin and he wiped it off. Looking down, he saw red smears over his arm. Another split lip. It was a wonder he could even talk with all the fat lips he'd gotten over the years from this man.

His father might claim that Kyle couldn't possibly be his, but looking at the two of them in a mirror, there was no doubt Kyle was Clayton's son—his spitting image in every way except body type. Kyle was short and slender like his mother.

Too late, he realized he was trapped between the dresser and the wall. Clayton drove a fist into his stomach, and Kyle doubled over, painfully glad he hadn't eaten dinner yet. A left hook caught him in the side of the head and he slammed into the wall, sliding down it to curl in a ball. Christ, don't let him kick me.

Clayton was drawing his foot back when a knock on the door stopped him. "Stay put," he ordered.

Kyle snorted softly, unfolding enough to hold the hem of his T-shirt to his lip. Like he was going anywhere the rest of the night.

"We'll be right there," his father said to whoever stood in the hallway.

Shutting the door, he glared at Kyle who pushed himself up onto the bed. "Don't get blood on anything. There's a five on the TV. Order something to eat."

Clayton pounded on the bathroom door. "Come on, Rusty. The guys are waiting."

Rusty followed their father without a glance toward Kyle. It was only when the door shut that Kyle flopped back on the floor and buried his head in his arms. Tears streamed down his face, as all the while he told himself it could have been worse. He could be pissing blood for the rest of the week or struggling to breathe with a broken rib. He ignored the voice in the back of his mind that told him he really was a pussy for not standing up to his father's abuse.