The young man sitting across from me sipping coffee wasn’t what I’d expected when I’d posted an ad for someone to help with the breeding program I was trying to get off the ground at Untamed, the horse ranch I’d inherited from my dad when he died ten years ago. Until now, we’d been a rescue and training center. I had no intention of leaving our roots—the area I lived in didn’t have enough people to take on the unwanted animals as it was. I had an open-door policy at the ranch, and we took in any stray or unwanted animal that came our way, within reason.
My goal was to expand Untamed to be something a little more profitable so supporting all the animals we did wasn’t so difficult. I knew enough about breeding to know I didn’t know nearly enough to do what I wanted to do. That hadn’t stopped me from dismissing the three previous applicants because I didn’t trust that they knew the difference between a mare and a gelding.
Kyle was young, younger than I’d expected when his application had appeared in my inbox a week earlier. His brown hair was cut short on the sides and longer on top, the jeans he wore were fitted but worn, and his plaid button-up shirt was new, but it didn’t appear as though he was trying too hard to impress me. He was impressing me, but not just with his job qualifications. Kyle was gorgeous, well-spoken, and his eyes were mesmerizing. I needed to be careful or I was going to make him uncomfortable with the way I was staring.
“Kyle, how is it you found my job posting exactly?” According to his application, he was living in Columbus, Ohio and had a master’s degree in animal husbandry. I didn’t know how he was old enough to have a master’s degree, and I was perplexed about what he was doing in Tennessee. And judging by his lack of accent, he hadn’t grown up anywhere near the South.
“I’m looking for a change of pace. I already knew I’d have to leave Columbus if I wanted to find a job doing what I love. Over the last few months, I’ve been keeping my eye on job postings out of state. I wrote a script to scan for job ads looking for positions in my intended field. Your post came up, and it seemed like a good fit. I love horses, and I like the idea of being on board during the beginning stages of a breeding program where we can work together and set something up that works for you and the ranch. Coming into a system that’s already in place and just taking over someone else’s job doesn’t sound as rewarding to me.”
Expanding Untamed to include a breeding program had always been my dad’s dream. Unfortunately, he died before it ever became a possibility. It had taken years of saving, and I’d had to sell off a few acres at the back of the property to a development company to have enough money to expand. My dad would be rolling in his grave if he knew I’d sold the land, but the truth was, it was useless land full of dead earth and more natural hazards than I wanted to deal with. I’d be shocked if the development company found a way to make it useable, though they had paid me a hefty price for the property. The influx of cash had given me the ability to give this crazy venture a go. Finding someone who understood animal breeding well enough to walk me through the intricacies of what I didn’t know had been a lot more difficult. The fresh-faced kid sitting across the table from me seemed to have the drive and the education that just might make it work. Not wanting to show him how excited I was, I forced myself to ask more questions.
“What got you interested in husbandry?”
The smile that crossed Kyle’s face was genuine. “It’s actually kind of a backward story. I’ve always loved animals. My grandpa had a small farm in Illinois, and I enjoyed spending time there as a child. He died, and the farm was sold before I was even a teenager, but I’ve always associated ranches and farms with my grandfather and happiness. I knew I wanted to do something to make a difference, I just didn’t know what exactly that would be. My parents tried to pressure me into vet school, but that didn’t feel right. I took rural sociology as an elective during my senior year of high school. We studied agriculture and visited a working cattle ranch for a field trip. Most of my classmates were repulsed, but I was fascinated. I knew then I wanted to go into husbandry.”
I appreciated his honesty. I’d already decided I was going to take him back to the ranch to let him meet the horses and the ranch hands and to see how he felt about the place. If we could make something work, we would.
Kyle sat back in his seat and pulled his hands over his head as his brown eyes sparkled with amusement. “Besides, how ironic is it that a gay man who won’t be reproducing has a career specializing in reproduction.”
I almost spit my coffee across the table.
He didn’t miss a beat as he leaned forward. “Will my sexuality be a problem? Believe me, I knew I was going to have an uphill battle finding a place that would accept me. There aren’t many LGBT-friendly ranches out there. Actually, if there are any, I haven’t found them. So I need to know upfront if my sexuality is going to cause issues. Your ranch sounds nice, and you seem like you’d be a good man to work for, but I’d like to know now if there’s going to be a problem.”
It wasn’t often someone rendered me speechless. Knowing he was gay, I was going to have to work even harder to keep my attraction to him under the radar. I’d be a hypocritical asshole if I told him I had an issue with his sexuality. I was bisexual myself but getting the breeding program off the ground was the most important thing. Even being open with the hands, I wasn’t quite so brazen about announcing my sexuality to people, especially strangers. The guys at the ranch had been introduced to my partners in the past and had never batted an eye, so his sexuality wasn’t going to be a problem. After what was probably too long, I shook my head. “No, your sexuality won’t be a problem at Untamed.”
Kyle’s entire body sagged into the chair as he let out a long sigh. “Great.” All the false bravado he’d been portraying was erased in an instant. It wasn’t until then that I realized how much tension he’d been holding in his body. How many times had his sexuality come between him and a job? I probably didn’t want to know because it would only piss me off.
“Why don’t I take you to the ranch so you can meet the hands and the animals?”
He looked like an excited kid as he nodded. “Awesome!”