Release Date: Mar 30, 2009
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Publisher Link: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/
Amazon Kindle: Sutcliffe Cove
Amazon: Sutcliffe Cove
Blurb: Seeking first-time riding lessons in the rolling hills of Connecticut, Gerald Saunders is pleased to discover Sutcliffe Cove. The current proprietor, Brett Sutcliffe, welcomes the beginner, and Gerald quickly finds a home away from home at the farm as he spends more and more time volunteering there. Over the course of a few months, Gerald and Brett build a strong friendship, but it's not until Gerald is off on vacation that the two men realize their friendship could be so much more... sexually satisfying, emotionally intimate, or even warmly loving. But Gerald is so laid back, Brett just isn't sure what to do next. Move forward and deepen their relationship? Or back off and just be
The paved road led from the minor highway back into the trees, leaving the city behind. It was a pocket of quiet surrounded by bustling civilization, somehow untouched yet maintained. The road wound through the trees, eventually leading into the wide green spaces of the horse farm named Sutcliffe Cove.
Gerald Saunders steered his car down the lane, enjoying the difference in scenery, surprised at how nice it was here. He’d have never thought a place could remain so unspoiled here in the heart of Connecticut.
A black-painted split wood fence lined the road up to the cluster of buildings: a couple barns, a long line of stables, a big old farmhouse, and some smaller outbuildings. He could see the road led beyond the parking area back behind the stables and figured that must be for horse trailers. He pulled up beside a sedan and parked.
Brett Sutcliffe looked up at the sound of a car pulling into the gravel parking lot. His father had resisted paving it, saying asphalt was harder to maintain, and Brett kept it gravel because he liked the warning he was about to have visitors. He leaned on the pitchfork he was using to muck out stalls and watched the long, lanky form climb out of the car. The automatic appreciation of a well-built body brought a smile to his face. The man moved with the same controlled grace as the thoroughbreds Brett loved to watch but would never have the money to own. And there was never any harm in looking. As the man drew closer, he took automatic note of the dark hair and eyes and the surprisingly light complexion—the man must spend most of his time indoors.
“Welcome to Sutcliffe Cove,” he called, drawing the man’s attention to him. “Can I help you?”
Gerald turned when he heard the voice and raised a hand halfway in greeting. “I found your web site when looking for riding lessons,” he said. “Am I in the right place?”
“You are indeed,” Brett agreed, mentally sizing up a new client. “Have you ever ridden before?”
“Once, and I wouldn’t call it riding. On a trail up at the state park,” Gerald said reluctantly, looking a bit abashed. “But I loved it and thought I might try some lessons.”
“I’m glad it piqued your interest,” Brett replied easily. “Although trail riding in the state parks isn’t quite the same as riding on your own. Those horses could do the trail rides on their own, they’ve done it so many times. Were you thinking group lessons or private lessons? We offer both at various times and with a variety of instructors.”
Gerald shrugged one shoulder, a gesture Brett found quite endearing. “Don’t know enough to have an opinion, really. What would you suggest?” Gerald studied the other man as he spoke, noting how laid back and friendly he was. He seemed really comfortable in his own skin. His cowboy hat hid most of his hair, but the reddish scruff on the other man's face made Gerald envious of the freedom not to have to shave everyday.
“It’s a question of how fast you want to learn and how much you’re willing to pay,” Brett replied honestly. “You’ll make progress much more quickly in private lessons because they’ll be tailored specifically to your ability instead of to the level of the entire class, but they’re also more expensive.” He glanced over the obviously fit body. “You’ll also get a better workout in a private lesson because you’ll be actively riding the whole time instead of spending part of your time waiting for the other people in the class to do each exercise.”
“Sounds like the way to go then. At least until I decide whether I want to stick with it,” Gerald said agreeably. Money wasn’t a problem; he was comfortable enough to indulge in something like this, and he didn’t have any other plans for the time being.
Always the entrepreneur, Brett started calculating income while he looked forward to the opportunity to ogle the brunet under the guise of helping him improve his form. “So when would you like to start?”
“I don’t have any other commitments beside work right now. I finish up about four most days,” Gerald said, thinking about how long it would take him to get here after leaving the office. “I could be here five-ish during the week and any time on weekends.”
“Then the next question is how often you want to ride,” Brett said, mentally examining his schedule. “I have openings on Tuesdays and Thursdays at six, and several different times on Saturdays and Sundays. Just a warning, though. It’s a lot harder workout than it looks, so you may want to start slow and build up. Beginner riders often find once a week is all their legs can handle for the first few months.”
“I don’t want to ruin it right off,” Gerald admitted. “I’m in pretty good shape. How about Tuesdays and Thursdays?”
“Sounds good to me. We generally ask for the month’s payment up front, but we’ll give you the first lesson free so you can decide if it’s really what you want to do before you commit to the full month.”
“Thanks, that’s really great,” Gerald said, smiling. “I’m Gerald Saunders.”
“Brett Sutcliffe,” Brett replied, pulling off his glove and extending his hand. “It’s Tuesday. Do you want to start tonight or wait until Thursday?”
“Now’s good,” Gerald said, peering at the man who must be the farm's owner. He looked to be about the same age as himself and tanned from working outside so much. “I’m here.” He shook Brett’s hand with a firm grip. “You look busy, though. I can go walk around awhile.”
“Mucking stalls is a never-ending process,” Brett admitted. “I’ve got some kids who volunteer on the weekends in exchange for free lessons, but during the week, I’m not as lucky.” He stood the pitchfork against the manure cart. “Shah’s out in the pasture. He won’t care how long it takes me to finish up. He’d rather be out there than cooped up in his stall anyway. Let me give you the fifty cent tour.”
“Sure. Is Shah one of the horses for lessons?” Gerald asked as he followed Brett along the outside of the building.
“No, he’s my pride and joy,” Brett replied. “He’s a purebred Arabian, the only stallion in the barn. I got him when he was a foal and helped train him myself. There he is, along the back fence. The one with his tail high. He’s a proud old man.”
Gerald looked where indicated to see the obviously spirited stallion. Even with his untrained eyes, the horse was gorgeous. “I bet he’s popular with the ladies,” he joked.
“Very,” Brett agreed. “He’s sired about a dozen colts since we started breeding him. We have about fifty horses here on the property. Most of them are privately owned, but about twenty of them belong to the stables, and those are the ones we use for lessons unless the owners are taking lessons. Then they ride their own animals, of course. The farm’s about a hundred acres. Most of it’s pastureland for the horses when they aren’t being used, plus the buildings you see here.”
“Quite a set up,” Gerald commented, turning in a slow circle to look around. “And since you’re pretty much inside the city, it’s convenient. Although to look around, I would think we were miles and miles out of town.”
“When my great-great-great-grandparents bought the land, it was miles out of town,” Brett replied with a laugh. “It was great in high school when I still thought I wanted to pick up girls. They’d come out to see the horses, and it wasn’t so far away that their parents would have a problem with it.”
Gerald chuckled and grinned. “Possibility of rolling in the hay, huh?” He looked Brett up and down, and his lips twitched into a smile. He could see the appeal, though it didn’t register any more than that thought. “Girls go for the rugged cowboy look.”
“I don’t pay much attention to what they go for these days.” Brett chuckled. “I don’t have time for their drama anymore. I did get a few good tumbles out of it, though.”
“Women aren’t the only ones who do the drama,” Gerald murmured, looking back out into the pasture. “But I steer clear anyway. My work gives me enough of that as it is.”
Brett laughed, glad once again to have escaped the drudgery of office life. “No, the horses are pretty damn good at it too. Come on, let me introduce you to Tiny. He’ll be a good start for you, I think.”
“Tiny, huh? That sounds reassuring.” Gerald said, shoving a hand into a jeans pocket. “Maybe,” he tacked on.
Brett snickered and led the other man to a stall at the end of the stable block. A black head poked out through the door at their approach, whickering softly. Brett stroked the velvet nose, batting it away when the horse lipped at his shirt pocket in search of a treat. “After lessons, Tiny,” he scolded affectionately. “You have to earn that carrot first.”
He grabbed a halter and lead rope and stepped inside the stall to fasten them and walk the animal out into the breezeway. Tiny followed docilely, perfectly content to be tied to the hitching post. “Tiny, this is Gerald. Gerald, meet Tiny.”
Gerald sighed and nodded, looking up at the huge animal. “How did I know?” he said drolly. The horse’s back was above the level of his shoulders, and he was just over six foot tall. “You pick him on purpose, don’t you?” he accused Brett. “If a beginner can get over the scary thought of riding him, then they’re good to go?”
“No,” Brett disagreed with a firm pat to Tiny’s flank. “I pick him because he’s the gentlest animal in the stable. He’d rather fall over himself than have a rider fall off. And on the rare occasion when he can’t stop someone from falling, he’s more upset than they are. I swear he cries when someone falls off. His eyes get all sad and his lower lip quivers just like a baby about to start bawling.”
Amused, Gerald patted Tiny’s shoulder, and the horse snuffled and nudged Gerald back with his head, drawing a laugh. “I think we’ll get along fine, Tiny,” he said.