About Ranch Manny
Author: BA Tortuga
Word Count: 70300
Page Count (pdf): 290
Date Published: 02232021
Publisher: Turtlehat Creatives
Heat Rating: 2 Rainbows
File Types available: pdf, epub, mobi
This title has been moved to KU. If you missed it use the contact form to email Julia!
Trace is down on his luck, out of his teaching job, and on the road with his young daughter Susannah. Just as he’s contemplating tucking his proverbial tail between his luck and heading back to his ex or his parents to ask for help, a job opportunity falls into his lap. What he’s not sure about is working for a handsome cowboy. On a ranch. In the middle of nowhere.
Cowboy Brent has a ranch to run. three kids he inherited when his cousin passed away, and an elderly ranch hand with Alzheimer’s to care for. He needs help, stat, and when Trace falls shows up at the local diner, Brent doesn’t hesitate, even though he knows people might question Trace’s rainbow dreads and piercings.
As Trace struggles to fit in and do his ranch manny job, and Brent tries to make time to breathe, the two of them find common ground and gradually a burning heat for each other. But can they make a real home together, or will everything fall apart as they both try to keep up with all their responsibilities, and face a life or death situation for all of them?
“Trace Redding, what the hell are you thinking, Trace? Have you lost your goddamn mind?” Nate’s voice snapped through the phone line, the frustration as present now as when they’d been lovers.
“Just…” What was he supposed to do? Trace Redding had never expected to be in this position. Not now, not even in his wildest imagination.
Sitting in a nasty-assed hotel room south of Austin, with a hundred dollars in his pocket, everything he owned in a two-door hatchback, and Christmas lights still twinkling outside even though it was the third of January.
“Just what? You can’t—you have a kid, for fuck’s sake! You have to be sensible.”
“I am!” He was, wasn’t he? He hadn’t asked for this, none of it. He hadn’t asked to lose his job. He hadn’t asked Taneshia to die. Or to lose the apartment.
“How? How exactly are you being sensible? Come home.” Nate was just growling, which Trace had thought was cute once.
“Home?” He couldn’t have held back the bitter laughter if he’d tried, and he didn’t try too terribly hard.
“Yes. Home. Here to Austin. You and Susannah can sleep in the living room until you get your job back.”
He shook his head, even though Nate couldn’t see him. The last thing on earth he wanted was to sleep on the couch that used to be his while the man that also used to be his was happily humping Ivan or Igor or whatever the hell the guy who’d replaced him was named. He couldn’t do that. He couldn’t ask his little girl to do that. “No. No. I can figure out something. A lot of these little school districts have to need help.”
“Round Rock needs subs. Come on, man. You work the second half of the year, a semester or two, and you’ll be back in like you were never gone.”
Right. Like he was never gone. “I was let go, man.”
“Well, yes. You stopped going to work.” Smartass.
Like it was so easy. It had taken Taneshia one nine-month period to die—from nasty cough and diagnosis to gone. That was it. Trace had been her help, had seen her naked and bald and broken, which was so sad considering that, although he was the father of her child, he’d never intended to see her so intimately. God, what a mess. Still, he wouldn’t take it back.
“It wasn’t like I didn’t try.” He sighed. “Look, let me think about it and call you back, Nate. I… I appreciate the offer.” Those last words tasted like sawdust.
“Just do it, man. Cut your hair, hide your ink, and come back to work. I’ll get you an interview.”
“Like you helped me keep my job?” It wasn’t fair. He knew it wasn’t, but damn, it rankled. Nate taught high school; Trace taught elementary. When he was outed, his option to keep his job was to find a woman, have a baby. Just like that. So, he did it—by the letter of the law if not the spirit. He found a woman. He jacked off in a cup. They had a baby. Taneshia wasn’t supposed to die, dammit.
“Look, asshole. You didn’t have to go out and have a baby with a Black lesbian activist! You were on shaky ground before the cancer, and you know it.”
“I know. I know.” He looked at Susannah, who was frowning in her sleep. “I’m sorry I made a mess of things. I’ll call back soon.”
“Bye.” He hung up, panting softly, trying to keep from bursting into tears. Oh God. He was a fuckup. Like a giant, bleeding fuckup.
His whole life had been one big, out-of-control freight train for years, but this was a new low. He got up and headed to the little bathroom to stare at his short dreads, wondering if Nate was right. He’d started growing his hair out when Taneshia had lost hers, and it had slowly become a promise between him and Susannah. A little something to hold on to when her momma had turned into a hurting, crying stranger.
He hated to cut them off, but what if it was that simple? Hide his weird again. Get back on his feet.
It was an obvious answer to a shit problem. He couldn’t borrow another dime from his folks. Taneshia’s parents in New York had cut off their daughter twenty years ago when she came out, and they sure as shit wanted nothing to do with their granddaughter now. Nate would be able to put them up for a week or two so he could get a paycheck. It would be okay.
Taking a deep breath, Trace reached for his suitcase. No way was he about to leave his kit bag in that bathroom, so he dug it out, then pulled the scissors from it.
Sighing, he removed his labret and his nose piercing and stowed them away. Then he grabbed one dread—this one bright red—and reached up to saw it off, but a sharp, panicked scream made him jerk, slicing deep into his ear.
“Dad-O! No! No, no, no, no, no!” Susannah grabbed for the scissors, getting blood on her little hands, which sent the screams wailing higher. “Dad-O! No! No die!”
“Hey. Hey, no. I’m okay.” He dropped the scissors on the bed, grabbing her in one arm while he used the other hand to snatch up one of the shitty hotel towels to hold to his ear. “I’m fine, baby.”
“No die. No die. Dad-O! No!” She reached up and grabbed his hair, holding on so tight that she was going to pluck him bald as she howled. “Dad-O. Love you.”
“I love you too, baby.” He wanted to scream. His ear throbbed, his head ached, and his little girl was hysterical. Why couldn’t he do anything right?
“No die like Mommy. ’Kay? No.”
“Baby, I’m not going to die. I’m not. I was going to cut my—”
“Okay. Okay. I won’t. I promise.”
She patted his cheeks with her little hands. “Promise-promise?”
“Promise-promise. I… I have to get a job.” He was a good teacher. He was. He was unfortunately a shitty employee.
“Uh-huh. Go to work? You remember when Mommy went to work?” Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t. Half the time he thought Taneshia was already a myth for Susannah, her Santa Claus.
“Uh-huh. You teached.” She nodded, her tears already drying.
“I did. I taught at a school.” And he’d loved it.
“Now you teach me.”
Trace chuckled. He supposed so. He wasn’t sure what he was teaching her, but he was definitely the idiot in charge.
She hummed some silly little tune, cuddling up against his chest, so he left the bathroom to take her back to bed. Poor baby needed to rest while he decided what to do. And maybe looked to see of he’d cut his earlobe off and put his piercings back in. Why not?
He held her, watching the watery light of the TV. Rest, and then he’d find something to do with his life.