Sometimes the brightest stars need to come home…
Henry Bright has a picture-perfect life as a rising star in the country rock scene—fortune, fame, and more lovers than he can shake a stick at. But something is missing. The glitz of Nashville is nothing more than glitter and tinfoil. Searching for authenticity in his life, he completes his DVM in veterinary medicine and returns to Wyoming. He takes a job as a vet at the Triple Star Ranch, hoping to find meaning and connection. He just didn’t expect to find love.
Trip Colton’s wife died over thirty years ago and he figured that was it for love. But the moment he meets Henry, he can’t get the younger man off his mind. The problem is, he’s never been attracted to a man before and the realization throws him for a loop. Dating is hard at any age, but Trip’s out of practice and wooing a man is completely different than wooing a woman.
When Henry’s former manager, Jordie, tracks him to Wyoming and begs the star to come back to the music biz, tensions damage the fragile connection between Henry and Trip. Jordie will do anything to convince Henry to return, even playing on his prejudices and hinting at Trip’s infidelity. But when the bank keeps calling with alerts on Henry’s accounts, he suspects there’s more going on with Jordie than a simple comeback music tour. Ultimately, Henry must choose where his heart lies, and who to trust, before he loses more than his chance at love.
“Welcome to the Triple Star. Are you checkin’ in?”
“No, sir. I’m a new-hire today. My name’s Henry Bright. I was told to see Tom Colton?” Henry’s gut clenched as he waited for the wide-eyed stare and fan recognition.
“Oh, right, the new vet. I’ll just let Tom know you’re here.” The young man nodded and pulled out his cell to type a text without so much as a blink.
I’ll be damned. He doesn’t know me.
Henry’s world slipped sideways for a moment before it righted itself. I’m still anonymous? He stood nonplused for a few moments. He didn’t have to stand long. A handsome blond man in a black Stetson and worn jeans sauntered into the reception area and Henry tried not to gawp.
Holy shit, that guy’s gorgeous. Were all the men on the Triple Star handsome? Henry straightened, glad he’d trimmed his beard that morning.
“Afternoon. I’m Tom Colton. You must be Ransom’s friend.” Tom held out his hand to shake.
“Yup. Henry Bright, your new vet.” He shook Tom’s hand, enjoying the calluses on his palm.
“Welcome, Henry. Let me take you out to the barn so you can see the facilities before we get you settled into your new place.” Tom gestured for the front doors. “We’re awfully glad you’re here. When Byron broke his leg, we weren’t sure what we were gonna do.”
“To be honest, I didn’t know what I was gonna do when I got home to Wyoming a few days ago.” Their breath fogged in the cold afternoon air as they strode across the yard to the barn.
“Oh, you’re from here?” Tom held the barn door open.
“Yeah, born in Casper, grew up in Chugwater.” Henry nodded as he stepped inside. “Just me and my mama. But it turned out all right.”
“I’d say so if you got your vet’s degree from Texas A&M.”
Henry shot Tom a look, waiting for the other shoe to drop. He’s gonna mention the music career, right? The silence stretched as they passed by stalls and stable hands. The comforting smells of hay, leather, and horse filled his nose, but Tom didn’t seem like he had anything to add.
What the hell?
They stopped at a door near the back of the barn, and Henry realized the veterinary clinic had been attached to give the doc easier access to the animals. Glass double doors opened into a small waiting area to keep the dirt and dust of the barn from the other surgical rooms. Linoleum tiled floors swept from the waiting room to the operating clinic through a solid oak door. It was a simple setup, but had lots of room for the bigger patients. Another set of solid double doors opened to the outside so the larger occupants could be brought in or out easily.
“Wow. Have you always had a live-in vet?”
Tom shook his head. “Yeah, but only because Byron is my dad’s old friend and could afford to trade skill for room-and-board. But as income came in for the therapy ranch, we were able to expand and hire him full-time. We still lend him out to the other nearby ranches, but mostly he does his work here.”
“Wow.” Henry said again. “Will that be part of my duties, too?”
“Maybe, but I think most folks will come here.” Tom gestured for Henry to precede him. “Pretty nice, right? We tried to make it as state-of-the-art as we could. We’re a bit far to get to the Cheyenne clinics if the timing’s critical.”
“Yeah, it’s real nice.”
Tom nodded. “Let me introduce you to my dad, Trip Colton. He runs the therapy side of the ranch. I just clean out the barn.” He grinned as Henry laughed.
But his laugh disappeared in a wash of surprised attraction as his gaze rested on the older man who’d been wiping down the metal counters.
Holy hell and damnation.
Steel-blue eyes looked out over a crooked nose and silver stubble filled the man’s cheeks. He was currently bare-headed with his gray hair cut damn-near military short and had broad shoulders unbowed by age. Crow’s feet marked the edges of his eyes and deep laugh lines framed his sensuous mouth. Henry had the unrelenting urge to kiss them.
Whoa back there, son. He didn’t know Trip’s sexual orientation and he wasn’t about to fuck up his new job on the first day by coming onto one of the co-owners of the ranch.
“Dad, this is Henry Bright, Ransom’s friend and certified veterinarian. Henry, Trip Colton.”
Trip wiped his hands on a rag and held one out to Henry. “Good to meet you, Mr. Bright.” He grasped Henry’s hand and froze, surprise lifting his brows. “Damn, I just recognized you. You’re Henry Bright, the Kick-ass Cowboy Country star. You have some fantastic music. What the hell are you doin’ here workin’ as a vet?”
And there it was. Henry knew he couldn’t hide forever, and he hadn’t really tried, but after no one had seemed to know him, he thought he’d have a bit more time.
He pulled out his best ‘aw-shucks’ smile. “I got tired of the bullshit in the music industry. There wasn’t much that was real anymore. It wasn’t really about the music, it was about the music execs and the marketing and the image and the parties. I got so sick of it, I quit and went back to the other thing I loved to do. Workin’ with and healin’ animals.”
“Holy shit, are you serious?” Tom looked like he’d been hit in the back of the head with a two-by-four. “I’m dumber than a bag of hammers. I should’ve at least recognized the name.”
“It’s all right. Most folks don’t know about my veterinary degree.” Henry shrugged.
“And I’d bet dollars to doughnuts most folks wouldn’t understand why you walked away from such a lucrative career, either.” Trip nodded, a sexy, lazy smile curling his lips.
Damn, that man’s sexy. Henry tried to rein in his attraction. This was his boss in some capacity and while Ransom’s ranch catered to the LGBTQ community, the Triple Star didn’t have that reputation.
“Yeah, the amazement and disbelief are common when I mention it to anyone. So, if y’all would be willin’ to not make a big deal out of who I am, I’d appreciate it.”
“Not a problem. We’ll start callin’ you Doc Bright and if you don’t spontaneously burst into song, you should be fine.” Tom grinned. “Most of the folks who come here are too wrapped up in their own issues to worry about pop culture icons.”
“Good to know, but easier when everyone assumes I’m nobody.” Henry nodded. “This is a great facility for vet work. I’m impressed.”
“Top of the line.” Trip beamed as he looked around. “Tom and I have worked pretty hard to get it up and running, and some of those horses need as much therapy as the people out there.”
“Aw hell.” Tom grimaced as he pulled his phone out of his pocket. “Sounds like Emery needs help getting the last of the fence repaired before the snow starts for real. Will you be okay showin’ Henry around, Dad? I gotta get this done.”
Please, oh please, let Trip show me around.
“Yeah, yeah, not a problem, Tom. You got ahead.” Trip waved him off and Henry did a mental fist-pump. “Well hell, what do you want to see next? The patients, the lodge, or where you’ll be stayin’?”
“Let’s start with the patients and then you can show me the place I’ll be livin’.” Hell, anything to spend more time with the hot older cowboy. He might not be gay, but that didn’t mean Henry couldn’t enjoy his company. “I should probably get to know the critters I’ll be lookin’ at.”
“Yeah, you should. And all of them have personalities. Old Mags is probably the most difficult of all of them, but she’s too good a horse to just put down, so we put up with her.” Trip nodded as he ambled out of the veterinary facilities.
Henry followed behind him. Because I don’t know where I’m going, not because I’m lookin’ at his ass. And what a nice ass it was. Taut and square, hugged by some sexy faded jeans, Henry let himself fantasize about running his hands over those hard muscles. It would probably be the closest he ever got to Trip’s body.