The pasture was starting to singe under the heat of the July sun. Rob Carver stood at the top of the hill, eyes shaded by the brim of his hat, and surveyed the land around him. The cattle had all moved down to the bottoms, lying in the shade of the willows. The grass there was still green, but for how much longer?
Pointless wondering about it. The best he could do was to keep the herd well watered and hope he didn’t have to buy in any feed.
Rob whistled for Lex. The collie came bounding up from wherever she’d been hiding, and he reached down to pet her behind the ears.
“You feeling hot, old girl? Fancy a swim?” Her panting sped up. He could swear she was nodding her head in response. “Come on then. Let’s take a break.”
They headed down through the high meadows, butterflies flitting lazily through the wildflowers around them. His father had been talking about cutting the hay a month early this year, seeing as how it was all pretty much dried out before it was even cut. If they left it too late, it would be worthless as winter feed. But the thought of spending the next week out here on a tractor in this relentless heat, arms burning and dust flying up into his face…
Rob shook his head and strode through the long grass, feeling it whip against his shins. No point wallowing in self-pity. He’d chosen this life. Loved this land. He knew how to make the best of it. Compromise was a way of life. The small rebellions against his father were all the sweeter in contrast to his usual obedience.
Like now. He should be heading back to the barns and fetching wire to mend the top fences, but he’d do that this evening instead. Just so long as his father didn’t catch him swimming…
But he wouldn’t. His father considered that part of their land worthless for farming and took no further interest in the woods or the river. Or the secret lake.
The water would be icy, easing the itchy heat prickling all over his body. Rob grinned and broke into a slow jog. It was too hot for running, but definitely not too hot to swim.
He entered the woods at the bottom of the hill, slowing down a little to enjoy the relative cool of the shade. But Lex shot ahead, and her enthusiasm was contagious. Rob pounded after her with a whoop on his lips.
He burst out of the trees into the open clearing by the lake. The deep waters of the small pool reflected the quarry wall towering behind and the unbroken blue of the sky.
And there, standing on top of the cliff was a naked man, poised to dive.
Before the warning shout could leave Rob’s lips the figure jumped. But no, jumping wasn’t the right word. He flew through the air like a bird, flipping over in an impossibly graceful arc. And by then it was too late to call. Anything that broke the diver’s concentration could be dangerous. There were boulders underwater waiting to ambush the unwary, but the diver had aimed himself for the deepest point. He’d be okay.
Rob let out the breath he’d been holding, his shoulders relaxing down. The man breached the water with barely a ripple. And with him hidden from sight, annoyance surfaced.
This was Rob’s secret. Rob’s land. Who the fuck was this trespasser?
“Lex, go get him. Bad man. Intruder. Go on.”
But the stupid mutt just trotted to the water’s edge and began drinking.
A head surfaced in the middle of the lake.
“Tommy?” Tommy Freestone?
Tommy’s eyes widened. Yeah, that was him. His hair was the wrong colour—too dark—and his skin paler than Rob remembered. But there was that twitch of a grin. The one that invited mischief.
“Come on in, the water’s lovely,” Tommy said.
“Yeah, right. Fucking freezing, more like.”
“Come on. Get your kit off. You know you want to.”
Rob’s stomach flipped, excitement pooling low in his belly. He took a deep breath, willing his wildly hammering heart to calm down. Tommy hadn’t meant it like that. Probably thought Rob had trunks hidden under his shorts. Three years ago Tommy had made it amply clear where he stood on the whole boy on boy thing, which was about as far as away as possible. Over a hundred miles away, in fact. They’d barely spoken again before Tommy had gone off to London for his art degree.
He stole a quick glance at Tommy’s body under the cover of stripping off his T-shirt. All he could see above the water were a pair of pale shoulders, still slim, but now boasting muscle definition where previously he’d been all skin and bone. Nice. But out of bounds. His stupid cock had better remember that before he stripped his shorts off.
It was only when Rob started on his fly that he remembered he was wearing a white pair of undies. Bugger. He’d look like one of the blokes he tossed off to on Tumblr in wet tighty-whities. Not as ripped as them, obviously, but wet white cotton didn’t hide much. He hesitated, fly drawn down and thumbs tucked through his waistband.
“What you waiting for, Carver? Scared it’ll be too cold?” Tommy clucked like a mother hen. “Even Lexi’s getting wet. Hey Lex, over here. Come to Tommy. Yes, you’re pleased to see me, aren’t you?”
Sure enough, Lex was ploughing into the water, tail wagging eagerly. Life would be so much easier if Rob could be more like his dog. If he could just bound up to the men he fancied and sniff their crotches shamelessly. Damn, that really wasn’t helping the semi-on situation.