Office manager Sam Emery is unemployed and out of luck. When his emotionally abusive wife demands a divorce, he contacts the one person he has left, his brother, Neil. He doesn’t expect Neil to reject him, but he also doesn’t expect the news of his divorce—and of his sexuality—to be met with such acceptance.
Neil takes Sam to Lang Downs, the sheep station Neil calls home. There, Sam learns that life as a gay man isn’t impossible. Caine and Macklin, the station owners, certainly seem to be making it work. When Caine offers Sam a job, it’s a dream come true.
Jeremy Taylor leaves the only home he’s ever known when his brother’s homophobia becomes more than he can bear. He goes to the one place he knows he will be accepted: Lang Downs. He clicks with Sam instantly—but the animosity between Lang Downs and Jeremy’s home station runs deep, and the jackaroos won’t accept Jeremy without a fight. Between Sam’s insecurity and Jeremy’s precarious position, their road will be a hard one—and that’s without having to wait for Sam’s divorce to be final before starting a new life together.
Threedays later, Neil met his brother Sam at the bus station in Yass. The lines of stress and worry on his brother’s face made him frown. “You look like shit.”
“Good to see you too, arsehole,” Sam replied, hugging Neil more tightly than necessary.
“Come on,” Neil said, grabbing Sam’s sole suitcase. “Let’s get out of here. We’ve got a long drive ahead of us. Or do you want to eat something first?”
“Five hours or so,” Neil said, “and most of that is through the tablelands, where there’s nowhere to stop if you get hungry. I can shout you lunch, here or in Boorowa in an hour or so, if you don’t think you can wait until we get home.”
“Lunch would be good,” Sam admitted. “I… haven’t been eating well.”
Neil had noticed how gaunt Sam looked, but this confirmed it. “Kami, the station’s cook, will get you sorted in no time, but for now we can go to the Yass Hotel. It’s nothing fancy, but it’ll fill you up.”
“What about that one?” Sam asked, pointing to a small restaurant across from the bus station.
“We don’t eat there,” Neil said, his voice cold. “One of our jackaroos nearly got killed there last spring, and nobody lifted a finger to help him. His brother had to come running to the hotel for help.”
“In a town this size?”
“They didn’t take well to him being a poofter,” Neil explained.
Sam didn’t reply. Neil gritted his teeth when he saw the tense look on Sam’s face. He didn’t want to fight with his brother, especially when he was down and out, but Sam was going to have to keep his opinions to himself. Neil wouldn’t tolerate slurs against Caine and Macklin from his brother any more than he would from any of the other jackaroos on Lang Downs.
“So tell me about the station,” Sam said once they’d reached the Yass Hotel and had ordered lunch. “I mean, I know it’s kind of remote and I know you raise sheep, but that’s as far as it goes.”
“That’s about all there is to tell,” Neil said. “I told you about Molly when we got engaged. Everything else is pretty much what you’d expect from a station. Well, except Caine. He’s a Yank. He owns the station.”
“How did that happen?”
“His great-uncle founded the station. When he died, it passed to Caine’s mum in the States, but she’s not young and wasn’t going to move here to run it, so Caine came. Last year at Christmas, she gave it to him outright. You know, I bet he could use a hand figuring out all the paperwork, taxes and shit. He’s got a head for business, but he’s still a Yank. You could keep your hand in.”
“If he’ll let me help,” Sam said with a sigh.
“Why wouldn’t he?” Neil asked. “You lost your job because the owners retired. You weren’t fired or laid off or anything like that. It’s not your fault you couldn’t find a new job.”
Sam shrugged. “He sounds like a good bloke. Is he married?”
Neil choked on his beer. He’d been hoping to put off this conversation until later, but short of lying, he didn’t see a way around it. “Last time I checked, two blokes can’t get married here. Macklin’s name is on the deed, though, and he moved out of the foreman’s house and into the big house a year ago, so I figure that’s close enough.”
“You work for a gay couple?”
“Sam, you’re my brother and I love you, but if this is going to be a problem, you need to tell me now so I can get you a hotel room in Yass.”
“No, it’s not a problem,” Sam said quickly. “I’m just surprised. We didn’t exactly grow up in a tolerant house.”
Neil shrugged. “Caine saved my life and nearly died doing it. And he did it after I found out he was gay and said every nasty thing I could think of to him. He’s earned my loyalty.”
The arrival of their food forestalled Sam’s reply, and he ate with such gusto that Neil didn’t press for more of a reaction. He wasn’t in the mood to listen to all the homophobic bullshit he’d grown up with. He was a different man now, a better one, he hoped. If Sam could just give Caine and Macklin a chance, he’d see they deserved his respect.
They finished eating and headed north toward Boorowa. “Do you need anything?” Neil asked. “Supplies of any kind? Once we leave Boorowa, there’s nowhere to stop.”
“No, I’m fine,” Sam said. “Alison let me keep everything of mine.”
“One suitcase?” Neil responded.
“I left some stuff with friends,” Sam said. “I didn’t figure I’d need suits on the station.”
“No, you won’t,” Neil agreed. “So tell me. What happened with you and Alison? Last time I saw you, I thought you were happy.”
“She wanted someone with a job, and I wanted…. It doesn’t matter what I wanted. She wanted out, and I’m not going to fight her.”
“Is there someone else?” Neil asked.
“I didn’t ask her,” Sam said.
“What about you?”
“No one that matters.”
“You slept around and it didn’t even mean anything? That’s low, Sam.”
“It wasn’t like that,” Sam insisted. “I….”
“You what, Sam?”
“I married her because it’s what Mum and Dad expected. I didn’t feel like I had a choice, and at least I liked Alison. We got along well enough, but that’s it. I never really loved her. I don’t know if she loved me, but she doesn’t anymore, and I’m fine with that. Dad’s gone. He can’t be disappointed in me now, so it doesn’t matter anymore.”
“What are you talking about? Why would you marry Alison if you didn’t love her? You could have found someone else.”
“You already said it,” Sam said. “It’s not legal for two blokes to get married.”
“You’re gay? Why didn’t you say something?” The words were out before Neil could consider them, the only thing he could think of to say in the wake of such surprising news. Sam had been married! Neil had never dreamed his brother might be gay.
Sam shot him a look of such incredulity that Neil flushed. “Sorry, that was stupid. Of course you didn’t say anything while Dad was alive, but you still didn’t have to get married. I didn’t. Not until I met the right girl.”
“Yeah, but you aren’t gay. You might not have met the right girl, but you knew you would someday. I didn’t have that, and you were gone. You didn’t have to listen to him constantly after you left, going on and on about the family name and being a man and getting married and having children. Thank God Alison and I decided to wait to have kids.”
“Did she know about you?”
“Not when we got married. After I lost my job and couldn’t find another one, things got… tense at home. Money was tight. I felt like a failure for living off her income. We fought all the time. We agreed to a trial separation nine months ago, with her helping me out with the rent, but I think that was almost worse, because she was supporting me completely. I wanted to feel good. I wanted to spend a few hours with someone who didn’t make me feel worthless.”
“So you did what? Hooked up with some random guys?”
“Yeah, pretty much,” Sam said. “It was stupid. I knew it when I did it, but it felt good too. They didn’t care that I didn’t have a job. They didn’t care that I was in the closet. They just cared that I’d let them do whatever they wanted to me. Alison kept on about getting a new job, always threatening to stop paying my rent if I didn’t get my act together. She actually had a lead on one, but it was with a cousin of hers, and he made it pretty obvious he’d only be hiring me out of pity. I turned down the job and told her I’d find somewhere else to live. There’s no way I could go back to that.”
“I wish I’d known,” Neil said. “I’d have tried to make it easier for you.”
“There’s nothing you could have done,” Sam said. “I had to fuck up to see how bad off I was.”
“So what now?”
“Now nothing,” Sam said. “I won’t fight Alison for anything when we can finally file for divorce in three months. She gets the house, the car, everything, because she’s paid for most of it, and I don’t want the black mark on my name if I ever get a lead on a job somewhere that might care if I’m gay.”
“There’s not a lot of opportunity for anonymous sex, gay or straight, on the station,” Neil warned. “There’s a couple of other jackaroos who are gay besides Caine and Macklin, but Chris and Jesse are shacked up, and the others will be leaving when the season is over in a few weeks.”
“So I’ll do without,” Sam said with a shrug. “It won’t be the first time.” He hesitated, then added, “I got enough of faceless fumbling this year. I’d rather do without until I can meet someone. I know that probably won’t happen on the station, and really, starting a relationship before I’m even divorced would be stupid, but I’d rather do without than feel like a cheap trick again.”
“I thought you said it made you feel good?”
“The sex, yes. Afterward, no,” Sam explained. “I don’t imagine you want details.”
“Not really,” Neil said with a grimace. “I might not let anyone say anything about Caine and Macklin, but I don’t need to know what goes on in their bedroom. Same goes for you.”
Sam’s smile was the most genuine Neil had seen since he’d picked his brother up at the bus station.
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