Looking down at his partner's sleep-softened features, Rick
couldn't help but smile, knowing how blatantly false the
innocent illusion was and how irritated Andrew would be at the
thought. He reached out to touch Andrew's shoulder, "Wake up
for a minute, Andy. I'm leaving now," he said.
Andrew struggled to open his eyes and look up at the fully dressed
man, "What?" he muttered sleepily.
"I'm leaving now," Rick repeated. "It's a long
drive to Maple Creek and I don't want to miss the start of the
Sitting up slowly, Andrew nodded his understanding and held out his
arms. Rick sat down on the bed to draw him into a tight
embrace. "I'll miss you," he said softly. Andrew
muttered an incoherent agreement into his chest. "Don't
forget about the wheat board meeting tonight. It starts at seven
and I won't be back from the auction until tomorrow morning,"
he reminded Andrew.
Andrew was suddenly wide awake and griping expressively, "I'd
rather sand my dick than sit through another one of those
"Andrew!" Rick growled, taken back by his lover's
"Well, I would," Andrew protested. "I about died of
boredom last time." He wormed his way out of Rick's grasp and
dramatically flopped back onto the bed to glare at the ceiling.
"It's a very important meeting, Andrew. We need to know what
was said so we can decide what we'll seed this spring."
Shaking his head, Andrew turned on his side away from Rick, stating
flatly, "I'm not going."
"You're going," Rick said firmly, placing his hand on
Andrew's shoulder and turning his irritable partner to face him.
"I need to be at the auction and one of us needs to be at that
You can ask your Dad or one of your brothers what happened,"
Andrew said, his voice more pleading than defiant now. "I
don't want to go."
"It's boring!" Andrew insisted again, looking at Rick
with beseeching eyes.
But Rick shook his head, saying dryly, "Of course it's boring,
it's a CWB meeting Andrew. You can handle being bored for a
couple of hours."
"I've got things to do," Andrew tried.
"What things?" Rick demanded. When Andrew's only answer
was to shrug his shoulders, he said sternly, "Listen to me,
Andrew. This isn't a request. I expect you to be at that
Not willing to venture over the clear line Rick had just drawn,
Andrew groaned and relented, "Okay, okay."
"It's our farm and it's important that we get that
information firsthand. We need to look out for ourselves,"
Rick explained, reaching under the blankets to rub Andrew's bare
Ashamed of his ill temper, Andrew apologized, "I know. I'm
sorry for arguing."
"Okay," Rick said, leaning forward to kiss Andrew good-bye.
"I'd better get going; the auction starts at one o'clock."
Returning the kiss Andrew clung to Rick for a moment. They
hadn't been apart overnight since moving to the farm and his
strong reluctance to see Rick leave caught him by surprise.
"Don't go," he said. Then ashamed of his need, he pushed
away, "Jesus, Sorry," he laughed self-consciously.
"It's only for one night."
"You okay, Andy?" Rick asked, reaching out to rub the back of
his hand over his lover's jaw, feeling the roughness of his early
"Sure," Andrew said, shrugging. "And don't worry;
I'll go to the meeting," he assured him.
"Thank you," Rick said. He gave Andrew another tight hug
before reluctantly releasing him to pick up his overnight bag.
After Rick left, unable to fall back asleep, Andrew got up to prowl
the barn and farmhouse, disturbed for the first time by the quiet of
their isolated home. But completing the day's chores without
Rick's help left Andrew with little time to dwell on his solitude
and the day passed quickly. When it was time to leave for the
meeting the dogs rose from their bed on the porch to follow him
expectantly to the truck, but Andrew shook his head and told them
The parking lot at the community center was almost full when Andrew
arrived, pulling his truck into one of the last spots. It was
unseasonably cold for so late in the winter and he shivered in his
light jean jacket when he got out of the warm truck. Small groups
of people were gathered around the entrance of the building to visit
or smoke a last cigarette before the meeting. But Andrew hung back,
feeling out of place without Rick, even though several of the men
nodded in friendly recognition. He spotted Rick's father and two
of his brothers across the room but before he could make his way to
them the meeting began and Andrew found a seat in the back row.
The drone of the chairman's deep voice quickly sent Andrew's
mind wandering far from the dull topic of wheat yields. He mentally
shook himself and straightened in his chair, trying to concentrate
on the discussion but it made little sense to him. He really
hadn't paid attention at the other meetings he had attended with
Rick, knowing that his partner was following every detail closely.
And he admitted reluctantly to himself that he had given Rick's
attempts to educate him more about the farm's workings, little
notice too. The thought of being unable to explain the meeting to
Rick in any satisfactory way panicked him and only added to his
difficulty grasping what was being said.
He eyed the door at the back of the room. No one here would notice
or care if he slipped out. The idea of escaping this uncomfortable
situation to drink beer in the nearby bar suddenly seemed
irresistible. Before he gave himself any time for further thought,
Andrew was up and out the door. The smooth soles of his cowboy
boots gave little traction on the icy sidewalk and he slipped and
cursed his way the short distance to the bar.
With the meeting in session, the bar was deserted and the bored
young server had a bottle of beer in front of him in moments. He
drank steadily to avoid giving what he'd just done any real
consideration and by the time the bar was flooded with customers
from the adjourned meeting, Andrew was well on his way to being
Looking up, Andrew focused his bleary vision on the man in front of
him. Broad shoulders and a barrel chest filled out a sheepskin
jacket, a handsome face prematurely leathered by the climate was
framed by thick, dark hair just beginning to gray. Shit. Rick's
father. Andrew looked down, ashamed of his obviously impaired
"How are you doing, son?" his deep voice rumbled. Andrew
shrugged as the older man pulled out a chair to sit beside
him. "Did Rick go to the auction?"
"Yes, sir," he said, carefully to keep from slurring his
words. "I was at the meeting." It wasn't a real lie as
he HAD been at the meeting but Andrew couldn't meet the other
man's eyes. Joe looked closely at him, taking in the signs of a
young man who had been drinking for a while but to Andrew's
relief he didn't comment.
"How you getting home, Andy?" he asked.
"Uh, I have my truck..," started Andrew, and added when he
saw Joe's eyes narrowing at the idea of his driving.
"I'll just sleep in it tonight."
But Joe was shaking his head, pinning Andrew with a hard stare,
although his voice remained warm and even, "It's twenty
below, boy. You'll freeze to death."
Jesus, thought Andrew, that's where Rick learned that look from,
squirming uncomfortably in the older man's gaze. He wanted to
take offence at being called boy but since Joe called all his sons,
grown or not, boy he really couldn't justify any outrage.
Although he felt very much like a badly behaved boy right now,
caught in that disapproving look, knowing he'd done wrong.
"I'll drive you," he said simply, as if Andrew
wouldn't dream of refusing. "Let me tell the boys where
I'm going." He stood up and started towards the table where
his two sons were sitting, drinking with friends.
"Wait," protested Andrew, startled by Rick's father
making decisions for him. Even though Rick and his father were
close, Andrew had only known him a short time. "I can't
leave my truck here."
"It's safe here," Joe assured him. "Rick can drive
you into town in the morning."
Andrew's head swam at the thought of explaining the evening to
After Joe filled his sons in on his plans he returned to Andrew's
table, waiting while he took out his wallet and paid the impressive
bar tab. There was no hiding the reality that he'd had a
considerable amount to drink. Andrew lurched unsteadily when he got
to his feet and the older man reached out to take his arm, saying
comfortingly, "You're all right. Come on."
The cold air when they stepped outside revived Andrew a bit and the
two men walked cautiously down the icy sidewalk to Joe's truck.
Unlocking the passenger side, he helped Andrew into the truck and
slammed the door. Andrew shivered violently in the cold as the
other man got in the driver's side and started the motor.
"Sorry," Joe apologized, looking with sympathy at
Andrew's thin jacket. "It'll have to warm up a few
minutes." He cranked the heat up and they waited in silence
for the engine to warm enough to be able to drive. Finally Joe
pulled out onto the street to start towards Rick and Andrew's
His head lolling against the back of the seat, Andrew was asleep
before they were out of town, his soft snores filling the truck
cab. Joe gave him an appraising look, with six sons he was well
used to carting foolish young men home from the bar. If he was any
judge, this one would be hurting in the morning
When he pulled the truck into the yard, Joe gave Andrew's
shoulder a nudge. "Hey, Andy, we're home."
Groggily, Andrew looked at the other man, starting in surprise as he
realized the face in the half-dark of the truck cab was that of
Rick's father. Awareness of where he was and why, hit suddenly
and he fumbled with the door handle in his haste to get out of the
truck. The dogs, who had rushed to greet him in a paroxysm of
happiness, crowded around and in his drunken state he tripped over
one of them, landing hard on all fours. Kneeling on the hard-packed
snow he tried to gauge the distance to the house, wondering if it
was worth the effort to stand up or if he should just continue on
his hands and knees. The decision was abruptly taken from him when
a hand the size of a dinner plate closed on his arm and hauled him
to his feet. "This yard is icy, boy. You should put some salt
down," Joe said tactfully.
Not letting go of Andrew's arm, Joe fished his own key out of his
pocket to open the door and the two men entered the dark house.
Flipping on the light switch, he led the unsteady young man through
the kitchen to the couch in the living room. "Anything needs
doing?" he asked. "Dogs fed? Horses okay?"
At least he'd done all the chores before he'd left, Andrew
thought as he sank gratefully onto the couch and he was able to give
a truthful nod.
"Do you want to go upstairs to bed?" Joe asked. "Or are
you going to sleep here?" He gestured to the couch where Andrew
The thought of navigating the steep staircase made Andrew's
decision easy. "Here's good," he conceded.
As the older man set about making him comfortable, finding him a
pillow and blanket, pulling off his tight cowboy boots, Andrew could
see where Rick's nurturing side had been encouraged too. Despite
the straightforward kindness of Rick's father, Andrew still
cringed with humiliation at the situation. He prided himself on his
toughness and self-reliance; it had taken him a long time to be able
to let Rick care for him in any way. To be vulnerable in the eyes
of Joe, a man he wanted to impress filled him with shame. He lay
down and turned his head into the pillow to hide the tears that
welled up in his eyes.
"Night, Andy," Joe said gruffly. He turned off the lights
and locked the door on the way out.
Oh God, Andrew thought, his gut churning with remorse, he hadn't
even thanked Joe. He'd driven him all the way home, nearly an
hour round trip, and he hadn't even thanked the man.
The morning sunlight streaming through the window of the living room
woke Andrew. Mercifully, dawn arrived late in winter. He sat up
cautiously, testing the state of his stomach and head. Virtually
immune from hangovers, a mild headache was the only side effect of a
night of hard drinking.
He stumbled to the bathroom to relieve his aching bladder before
going to the kitchen to gulp orange juice from the carton. His cast
iron stomach didn't betray him, keeping down the liquid, so he
made a cup of coffee. Sitting at the kitchen table, sipping it
slowly, he began to think about damage limitation.
He was in deep shit, and rightfully so, if Rick found out he blew
off that meeting to sit in the bar all night. He wondered if there
was any hope of Rick's father not mentioning last night. The
older man didn't seem the type to rat a guy out, at least
intentionally. He knew he had a pretty slim chance of getting away
with it but Andrew was a gambler at heart and the risk of the lie
seemed reasonable, considering the consequences. Nervously Andrew
bit his nails, thinking of likely excuses for his truck being
abandoned in town. A dead battery seemed the best scenario and he
moved onto the next issue. He knew nothing about what happened at
that meeting and he wracked his brain trying to think of whom to
call and ask. He decided to hope for inspiration while he showered.
Still woefully uninspired after his shower, he went to see to the
stock. Working fast he was almost finished in the barn when he
heard Rick's truck pull into the yard and the dogs start their
joyous barking at his arrival. Instead of the happiness that Andrew
should have felt at his lover's return, he felt his mouth dry and
his stomach tighten anxiously. He heard Rick call his name and he
gave an answering shout.
Despite his worry, seeing his partner come through the barn door
made Andrew's heart leap and when Rick opened his arms, he went
to him without hesitation. Safe in Rick's embrace, Andrew could
feel the temptation rising in him to simply blurt out what he'd
done and he had to squirm free before it overwhelmed him.
"Missed you," said Rick as he unwillingly released his
wriggling lover. "Where's your truck, Andy? I thought you
weren't home when I didn't see it."
Andrew turned away, unnecessarily rearranging the bridles that hung
against the barn wall, "Well, I went to that meeting last
night," he said with false virtuousness. "And when I went to
leave the truck wouldn't start. The battery must be dead."
"That's too bad, Andy," Rick said with concern. "How
did you get home?"
Andrew stared blankly at him.
"Andy? How did you get home?" Rick asked, a little
impatience creeping into his voice.
"Uh, I ran into your Dad. He gave me a ride," he admitted,
hoping like hell the older man wouldn't see fit to tell Rick
exactly WHY he'd given him a ride.
"That's good," said Rick. "What about the meeting,
Andrew? How did it go?"
"Oh, fine," Andrew said dismissively. "Can I tell you
about it later? I want to get my truck."
"Sure," said Rick, shrugging. "I'll get the booster
The ride to town never seemed longer to Andrew as he struggled to
keep up an almost continuous monologue to avoid discussing the
meeting. Occasionally Rick would take his eyes off the road and
shoot a curious glance at his typically uncommunicative partner.
Prying more than two sentences out of Andrew was normally an
impossible feat. And he couldn't help but notice that his
partner's upper lip was covered in sweat, even in the chilly
He was even more concerned when Andrew's truck started the first
try, the battery mysteriously charged. Deciding this wasn't the
place to confront Andrew about his obvious lie, Rick didn't
comment on it.
The two men arrived back at the farm within minutes of each other
but Andrew immediately went to the barn to finish the rest of the
chores. Not sure what to think of Andrew's strange behavior,
Rick carried his overnight bag into the house to unpack. He started
a simple lunch and went to the barn to call Andrew. He found him
stroking his mare's neck, lost in thought.
"Andrew?" Rick said quietly, trying not to startle Andrew or
the horse. But his partner still jumped at the sound of his voice
and in response, the horse shied nervously in her stall. "Sorry,
lunch is ready." The two men walked back to the house in silence.
Stirring his soup, Andrew kept his eyes determinedly fixed on the
bowl's contents, avoiding Rick's direct question.
"Andrew? I asked you a question."
"Sorry, what was it again?" He looked at Rick, his eyes wide
in false innocence.
"What did they say at the meeting?" asked Rick.
Taking a deep breath, Andrew gathered every scrap of half-baked
knowledge he had about wheat and spun it into a semblance of what
COULD have been said at the meeting. He waited, his stomach
twisting, for Rick to call him on the ridiculous lie and simply
When that didn't happen, falsely buoyed by Rick's apparent
acceptance of his lie, he plunged on with his story. Rick listened
without comment to Andrew's nervous ramblings.
"Okay," Rick said finally. "You'd better eat your
soup before it gets cold." Andrew's lunch lay, untouched, as
he talked. Rick was used to his partner plowing through any food
that was put in front of him. Hard work and youth gave him an
almost insatiable appetite. But even after Rick encouraged him to
eat, Andrew just idly played with his food.
It was painfully apparent to Rick that Andrew had either not
attended the meeting or if he had, hadn't bothered to pay any
attention whatsoever. That he was now trying to wriggle his way out
of trouble by being dishonest saddened him, he had thought the trust
in the relationship had grown enough that Andrew wouldn't resort
to reflexively lying.
"Not hungry?" asked Rick, his own appetite waning at the
thought of Andrew lying to him.
"No, I guess not," said Andrew uncertainly.
"I…I..don't feel so good."
And he didn't look so good, thought Rick. But as much as he
sympathized with his partner's discomfort, the trust issue was
far too important for Rick to push Andrew into confessing. It was a
decision that couldn't be forced and one that Andrew had to make
on his own.
"What's wrong?" asked Rick gently, reaching out to take
"I don't know," Andrew said, withdrawing from Rick's
"Why don't you lie down for a while? The chores are done for
now," Rick suggested.
"Okay," he agreed without argument, a sure sign of how badly
he felt, Andrew never lay down without an argument, sick or not.
"Go on," Rick said, nodding toward the staircase.
"I'm going to clean up the kitchen."
Shoulders slumped, Andrew moved hesitantly towards the stairs. He
stopped and looked back at Rick, waiting.
"I'll be there in a minute," he reassured him. "Go
When Rick went to the bedroom a few minutes later, he found Andrew,
sitting on the side of the bed, still fully dressed. "Come
on," he ordered softly. "Take off your clothes and get into
But Andrew didn't move to obey, his troubled eyes seeking out
Rick's in mute appeal. Sighing, Rick sat down on the bed and
began to undo the snaps of Andrew's denim shirt. He helped
undress his unresisting lover to his boxers and t-shirt,
turned back the covers of the bed and maneuvered him to lie on his
back. With gentle hands, belied by their size, he rubbed
belly, until the stiffness of the muscles eased a bit, and his
breathing had settled into a regular pattern.
"I'm going to read for a bit," said Rick. "Just call
me if you need anything."
Nodding, Andrew turned onto his side, feeling the ache of unshed
tears behind his eyes. Despite Rick's careful massage his
stomach was still in knots and he curled into a ball, trying to ease
the hurt. He struggled in vain to make himself comfortable and find
at least temporary solace in sleep but he remained wide awake,
unwillingly mulling over the story he'd told Rick in his head.
Angrily, he tossed in the bed, powerless to stop his guilty
conscience from tormenting him. He'd certainly done far worse
things in the past without it being such an ordeal, he thought
bitterly. He was getting soft. It was an unsettling thought for
someone who had always counted on his toughness to see him through a
sometimes hard life.
Rick sat on the couch, staring at the unread book he held in his
hands, hoping like hell his partner would come clean and tell him
the truth about last night. He didn't honestly know what he was
going to do if he didn't. A small sound from the doorway caught
his attention. Rick sighed in relief. Andrew stood, looking very
uncertain, twisting his t-shirt in his hands. Rick held out a hand
to him, "Come sit with me."
Desperately craving the comfort of Rick's embrace, Andrew
hesitated, knowing he didn't deserve it. He made his way to the
couch where he sat on the edge, well away from his partner.
Andrew shook his head. He sat for a few minutes longer, in
uncomfortable silence, until he drew a deep breath and blew it out
shakily. "I went to that damn meeting," he said defensively.
Rick didn't comment, only nodded encouragingly for Andy to
"But I went to the bar after a bit," he said, his jaw still
set at a belligerent angle.
"Why?" asked Rick, his lack of surprise at Andrew's
"It was all bullshit. I couldn't understand a fucking word
they were saying." Rick could hear the tears as well as the
anger in Andrew's blunt declaration.
"I don't understand, Andy. We've gone to these meetings
together before. You never seemed to have trouble understanding
what was going on."
Not wanting to admit he hadn't been paying attention at the other
meetings, Andrew went on the offence, "I guess I'm just
"Andrew. I KNOW how smart you are. Don't pull that crap on
me," Rick growled.
"I work hard," blurted out Andrew suddenly, crossing his arms
protectively over his chest.
That statement made no sense at all to Rick and he shook his head,
confused, "I know you work hard, Andy. You're an extremely
hard working man. But I don't understand what that has to do
with you not going to a meeting, like you promised?"
"I don't see why I have to go to meetings and shit. Why
can't I just do the work?" he pleaded.
Finally, understanding was dawning for Rick. He took Andrew's
hand in his and sought out his worried eyes, "Because you're
not my hired hand, Andy. You're my partner."
Instead of being pleased at Rick's declaration, Andrew's eyes
filled with tears of distress, "I don't know how, Rick.
I've never done this shit before."
Knowing this was a critical moment in their relationship, Rick
knew he had to honest. Andrew was still a young man who up until
now had been living a life of limited responsibility on the rodeo
circuit, his only concern to win enough purse money to pay his
expenses to the next town. He was obviously frightened of taking
on the decisions of a more settled life. Rick had known men who
never made that transition, drifting through their whole life,
living on the bare essentials, scared to make a commitment to anyone
"I don't expect you to make decisions about the farm alone,
Andy. At least not yet. But I do expect your input and your
opinions. I need them to make this place work."
"I'm not real used to that," Andrew confessed miserably.
"It's okay," said Rick gently. "I'll help
you." He drew Andrew closer and he smiled in relief when his
laid his head trustingly against his chest. Encircling him with his
strong arms, Rick bent and kissed his cheek. Andrew released a
shuddering breath and relaxed against Rick's solid chest.
The two men sat in silence for several moments, both of them lost in
their separate feelings of relief. Finally Andrew asked
softly, "You're going to spank me, aren't you?"
"Yes, I am." Feeling Andrew stiffen in apprehension, Rick
tightened his embrace reassuringly, but his voice was stern, "You
knew better than to leave that meeting. And to lie to me about
"I know," whispered Andrew, curling up closer against Rick.
Rick waited, letting Andrew take his time gathering his nerve. When
he moved to sit up, Rick released him and said quietly, "I'll
get the paddle."
Andrew nodded, keeping his head down, hiding the tears that already
filled his eyes. When Rick returned to sit beside him on the couch,
Andrew stood briefly and then bent over his partner's lap, not
wanting to delay the punishment any longer. He'd felt guilty
Rick rubbed his back in acknowledgement of his cooperative attitude
before he tugged the knit boxers down to Andrew's knees. Feeling
the vulnerability of his now bare backside, Andrew started to
instinctively rise off Rick's lap but was stopped by his
lover's strong arm around his waist. "Rick?" he said
anxiously. "I'm sorry."
"I know," Rick reassured him. "This is for leaving that
meeting and for lying to me. Lying is something I take very
seriously, Andy. Lying will always earn you a paddling."
"Yes, sir," Andrew replied, his voice thick with tears. He
lay still in acceptance when Rick began to paddle him, until it
became impossible not to flinch and twist reflexively at the
repeated swats. After twenty firm strokes, Rick stopped and put the
paddle down on the low table in front of the couch. On the verge of
full fledged crying, Andrew turned back to look hopefully at his
Rick shook his head though, hitching him closer to his hard stomach
and finished the punishment with his hand. Even though Rick's
calloused hand was marginally softer than the paddle, the intimacy
of his palm on Andrew's bare bottom reduced him to tears
immediately. "Sorry," he sobbed penitently. "Sorry."
The spanking over, Rick stretched out on the couch and arranged his
crying partner beside him, cradling his head on his chest. The
tears gradually slowed and the hiccupping breaths evened out and
Rick gently wiped Andrew's face with his rough hands. "Did
you really get a ride home with my Dad last night?" Rick asked
"Yes," moaned Andrew, his acute embarrassment obvious.
"I was so drunk too. Didn't he tell you?"
"No," said Rick. "He wouldn't tell me that. And I
haven't talked to him today, anyway."
"I thought that's how you knew I was lying," confessed
Rick couldn't help the twinkle of amusement in his eyes, "I
knew because you're a terrible liar, Andy."
"I am not!" protested Andrew, ridiculously offended. And it
was true; he'd lied lots of times, without anyone being the wiser.
Rick laughed out loud at his partner's outrage. "That's
not an insult, you know."
Andrew smiled ruefully, but then his eyes filled again, "I guess
it's a lot harder to lie to someone you love."
"I guess it is," said Rick softly, drawing Andrew close again.