Jack hummed along with the radio as he organized the tack room in the main barn. It was a good day, late spring, with clear indications of the coming summer everywhere around him, green pastures and happy horses. Except Stella, who was bitchy, but she always was when she was in foal.
"Quit your whining, lass. Not worth it. You'll get out in a minute, but we have to wait until the boys clear out. You'll get all upset when Romeo is anywhere near," he scolded the mare he could hear making noise in what the other ranch hands called "Jack's Barn."
"You know, it's quite endearing when you use that word, right?" A female voice asked from outside the tack room, and Jack rolled his eyes a bit before turning around.
"It's your husband's fault, Mer. You know that." Jack smiled as he walked out of the room and into the barn.
"Oh, I know all about his 'lads' and 'lasses', trust me. Even though you've been married to this place longer than I've been married to him, I still say living in that house 24/7 gives me the privilege to say I get to listen to his accent and funny Scottish words more," Meredith said as she wrote something on one of the chalkboards on the wall. She and Jack's boss, Seamus, had been married for six years now, and Jack was envious of the way the two looked at each other. Seamus had once told him that when a McRae found what he was looking for, he grabbed it and held on to it, no matter if it was land, a horse, or the perfect mate.
"What's up?" Jack asked, nodding to the board which held the general information everyone needed to know.
"Oh, just that the farrier is coming over to check on Lucky and Tessa on Monday," Mer said and then looked at the door leading to Jack's Barn. "She okay in there?"
"You know her. I think I'm actually more nervous than she is. Luckily she's more bitchy." Jack chuckled as he walked to the adjoining doorway and peeked into the mare's stall.
"I hear Rick and Eli are going to go out to the back fence. They might not be back until late, so don't get all worried if Flash and Ginger are missing later," Mer said on her way out of the door.
"Right, thanks. When's Seamus going out?" he called after her.
"Soon. He's finishing some paperwork. If you want to get rid of Romeo, just saddle him for Seamus if you have time." She waved her hand as she walked toward the house again.
It was a pretty decent gig, being the stable master of Seamus's ranch. Ten years ago the young Jackson Way had gotten on the bus elsewhere in Texas and ended up in town. From there he had hitched a ride to Red River Ranch or the "Triple R" as it was known around here. No, he had no appointment, but he had heard that the Scotsman who had bought the place some years before needed more men. The locals were saying good things about the foreigner, and it encouraged Jack to try his luck. It turned out that the "foreigner" had lived in the States for most of his life.
When he walked into the main house, he had been terrified. He'd heard that Seamus McRae was a massive man with a booming voice and very little patience for stupidity. At twenty-five Jack wasn't quite sure if he was over the stupidity yet. He hoped so, because with his five-foot-ten frame, he was no match for someone who they said was at least six four and built like a draft horse.
Needless to say, he was quite surprised when the Scot had been a jovial, easygoing fellow who, despite his size, had laughed a lot and been very friendly. It took Jack half an hour to get hired as a stable hand, and he hadn't left since. A couple of years after he had been hired, the old stable master, Greg Jenkins, had retired and moved to Houston where his daughter was living. Jack had been nervous as hell. After all it wasn't something he would ask for, the job.
He didn't have to ask. The evening before Greg's departure in the gatehouse, as the staff's quarters were called, there was a knock on the door. Seamus walked in, and the youngest ranch hands cleared out. Only Greg, Jack, and some others were left.
"Lads," Seamus had greeted them, and everyone, even Greg, who was a good fifteen years older than the boss, had murmured a greeting. "Jackson, can I talk to you and Greg in private?" Seamus had asked and that had cleared the room completely.
They had sat in the kitchen and Seamus had looked from Jack to Greg and back before grinning widely. "So, Greg here is leavin' us to go live with his lass. Now I'm wondering who should be the stable master. What do you two have to say to that?" Then Seamus had leaned back in his usual style and grinned at them again.
"As I see it, Jack is more than capable. Besides, he knows more about the breeding side of things than I do. I'm more of a straightforward cowboy type with the horses. If you're going into breeding, you need him here. He might be a tad young, but he can do it all," Greg had said and Jack had been in awe. First of all, it was the most he had heard the older man talk, ever. Secondly, he was getting praise, which didn't happen often at all. Not because he was doing a bad job or anything, but because Greg just didn't give praise to anyone.
"Jack?" Seamus's eyes had turned to him, and Jack had swallowed hard.
"Well... I mean sure, I want the job more than anything. There's just...." He swallowed again, fidgeted, and then blushed. At twenty-seven he was pretty much over the whole blushing thing or so he had thought, but no.
"Aye?" Seamus had asked and raised a brow at his stuttering.
"I'm... there's something you need to know... about me. Before you hire me for anything more than a stable hand." Jack had forced the words out and then cleared his throat when all he got was silence. He looked back at Seamus and forced the rest of his confession out, "I'm gay."
"Oh...," Seamus said, and Greg looked away. Jack tried to figure out what it was Seamus was thinking, but couldn't really come to any conclusions. Then all of sudden a huge grin was back on Seamus's face, and he laughed heartily, much to Jack's surprise and shock.
"That certainly explains the last three years. I mean you never seem to be quite as lively as when the carnival is in town. And I happen to know that a certain blond plays on your team." Then Seamus had laughed even more, and Jack had blushed beetroot red. Even Greg had chuckled under his breath.
Had he been that transparent? His first year at the ranch had been okay, but when the carnival came into town and he had gone to the bar with the ranch hands, he had met Peter. Now Peter was nothing like Jack. He was a six-foot-two blond god. A god with piercings and tattoos and a lanky body with lean muscles and the most erotic voice Jack had ever heard.
Yeah, he had fallen hard and fast and spent three nights in Peter's trailer, having the time of his life. That was how it went from there on--every year, for three or four nights at the end of July, the carnival came in. Jack would sneak away from Three R and get fucked into oblivion by the gorgeous Peter.
"Eh... yeah...," he had mumbled, and after a moment Seamus had gotten more serious again.
"You gotta know that it makes no difference to me. Hell, I have a nephew who's gay, and I never had any problem with that. I mean I might have been raised as a Catholic, but it's my folks' beliefs, not mine," Seamus had said. "So you want the job or not?"
"Hell yes!" Jack had grinned. They had shaken on it. And that had been it.
"Oh, if you ever have any trouble with anyone on the ranch, you come straight to me, you hear? It's not something I'll tolerate. Just like I don't tolerate any sort of racism," Seamus had said very, very seriously before leaving the gatehouse again.
The next morning the trio--Jackson, Greg and Seamus--were at the main barn when the ranch hands came to get the horses for their tasks around the ranch. It didn't seem to surprise anyone. Nobody was against Jack's new position. Some of the older guys even told him they'd know where to start looking for broodmares, and he got congratulated a lot. Then the little crowd dispersed, and he was left alone in his new kingdom.
"Jack's Barn" came along that same year, a few months later. They renovated the empty part of the old barn and made it fit for mares and foals. Everything was top of the line, and the old main barn got touched up too. When everything was done, Jack hired two people, with Seamus's approval, to help with the barn duties part-time. That made Jack able to work more on the mares and the research he needed to do to find every mare the perfect counterpart stallion to produce the best possible foals.
Now, seven years later, the business was flourishing. They had seven mares and two stallions of their own. Not that many really, but the quality was what they were looking for and every year their yearlings were auctioned in the next big city for top dollar. Nobody was complaining. The cattle were still the main moneymaker of the ranch, but Jack and his horses weren't doing badly either. It was something he took pride in. After all, before coming to the Triple R, he had been told he'd never be anything good, nothing but a no-good faggot who deserved everything bad that would happen to him. Yeah, it hadn't been pleasant back home just before he left.
This year was special, though. Stella, Jack's favorite mare, was in foal, and this foal was different. It was a mix, for one. They usually only bred quarter horses, but this foal's sire was a thoroughbred. The second difference was that it wasn't just any foal, it was Jack's foal.
Until now he hadn't had a horse of his own. He didn't seem to be able to make that special connection to any of the horses in either barn. There were plenty to choose from, but no. He was picky, and he got teased over it. Sure he had a few he preferred over the others if he had to go riding for something, but not one he loved. Maybe it was sentimental, at least a couple of the ranch hands thought so, to want a deeper connection with a horse like that. Usually he rode Red, a big quarter gelding that was fine, but a bit of a bore most of the time. He only got excited when he got to race after cattle, and Jack really wanted his horse to have a bit more spark than that.
He hoped this foal would be it. His horse. At least it had all the theoretical chances of being it. He was hoping for a filly, but had a feeling that it was a colt. A filly would have been easier to train, but then again colts were more straightforward types. No matter what people said, stallions were Jackson's favorite kind of horses. If you let them run you over, they would do just that, but if you treated them fairly and didn't isolate them from other horses, they were great. It didn't mean he wanted a stallion for himself, though. Then again, he could handle one, and it could always be gelded later.
The closer the due date came, the antsier he got. That day was easier for some reason. He was in a better mood, at least for now.