Written for the lovely Maderr's Boys and Sunshine Challenge last summer. (Check out her website at amasour dot com!)

Out to Pasture

"You sold him what?" Mason ground out between gritted teeth as he dropped a bale of hay in front of a stanchion. The cow currently in the stanchion was attempting to become the world's first contortionist bovine as it tried to get a hold of a bite or two.

"I couldn't help myself," his idiot twin brother, Henk, cackled. "He led that calf home like a damn dog. Funniest damn thing I ever saw. God, if I'd had a camera." Mason grabbed another bale, noting as he did so that the cows had already decided to forgo waiting for Henk to get off his lazy ass and cut the bales open for them.

"That's just damn mean." Mason rolled his eyes. Leave it to Henk to welcome some poor yuppie city kid to the neighborhood by encouraging every misconception the guy could possibly have about living in the country. "Hey, a little help here?"

Henk ambled his way over and started halfheartedly splitting open the bales and shoving them in front of the cows' greedy mouths. The barn itself was dusty as usual and cutting open the bales just added to it, but the haziness of it all had a romantic quality to it as the sun shined in from the open doors. It was, of course, completely undone by the cows bawling and a rather loud belch from Henk.

But it didn't matter, Mason loved it. Sure, it was hard work and not always as rewarding—or as profitable—as he and his brother wished, but he wouldn't trade it for any other career. No cramped cubicles, no annoying commutes, no bitchy people to put up with day in and day out. Course the cows, at times, were just as much a pain in the ass.

And the hours sucked. Four thirty in the morning wasn't exactly his favorite time of day.

Still, he loved it. He loved being outside and he loved tinkering with the tractors and he loved the solitude. He put up with Henk because he'd always put up with Henk.

"Hey, he's the one who wanted a cow. I was just obliging," Henk made it a point to announce as he reluctantly got a bale and brought it over. Mason was beginning to get suspicious.

"You sold him a heifer?"

"Oh hell no. He wanted a 'baby cow'. So I sold him Runt."

"Jesus Henk." Mason grabbed another bale and dumped it less than happily on the ground. "Runt? Why? I mean…why?" Henk needed a hobby, he decided grumpily. Or a new soap opera to follow or something.

"Oh god, you shoulda seen him," Henk told him waving his baseball cap around happily as he leaned up the door frame and watched Mason do all the goddamned work. "He was all smiles and talking about how great it would be to have fresh milk. I just died. Died dead."

Good, because Mason wasn't too far behind in contemplating homicide. He and Henk got along pretty good for siblings, but there were moments when Mason wouldn't really mind taking a two by four to Henk's sense of humor.

"You're gonna be lucky if he don't kill you dead with that fancy car of his." Which Mason had seen Henk drooling over every time it drove past to get to the old Franklin place.

"And you're welcome, little brother, cause now you have an excuse to talk to him." Henk grinned from ear to ear. And Mason scowled.

Yup, his brother definitely needed another soap to follow. Because Mason was sure that he didn't want the bastard meddling in his love life. "Yeah, don't do me any more favors, big bro."


Connor loosened his tie as he watched his new cow eat the grass off his new front lawn. Who would have thought that he, Connor Mansfield the third, would one day be living out on a farm with a cow he'd just bought from the dairy farmers who lived down the road. It was almost too bizarre to contemplate. When his corporation had transferred him out to this little Podunk nowhere to help set up their newest factory, he'd been a little apprehensive.

But, this place was beginning to prove him wrong. He loved the farmhouse he'd purchased from a little old widow who had wanted to move into town. He'd felt guilty at first, but Mrs. Franklin had assured him that the farm was too much for her to handle with her arthritis and then she'd sworn at the damn cats for eating the dog's food again which had kind of spoiled Connor's impression of her as a sweet little old lady, but it was fun all the same.

In fact, everything here was fun. He lived off of a gravel road instead of two stories above a three-lane highway. In the morning, there were songbirds instead of car alarms.

And in the interest of embracing the new life his career had abruptly thrown him into, he had bought a cow. Granted, it was a baby cow, but it would grow and then maybe he'd learn how to milk it and before he knew it he'd be a regular at this whole farm living.

"So, baby cow. You need a name." He reached over from the front step and gave the calf a tentative pat, which it ignored. "What're good names for cows, huh? Maybel? Blue Belle? Daisy? You know, I think I like Daisy. You look like a Daisy." Maybe he could get a blue dog collar at the grocery store. Of course, the cow wouldn't be able to wear it for long, but it would be cute for a while. And it would give him a better way to stake the cow out in the front yard until he figured out how to turn something in the decrepit and somewhat hazardous old barn into a place to house Daisy.

Toeing off his expensive loafers, Connor pulled off his socks and rolled up his trousers. There was a cool breeze and it more than made up for the fact that it had been a really hot summer. The old farmhouse didn't have central air, among many things, and Connor had tried to make do with fans, but he'd put in a window AC unit last night and had the best night's sleep in over a month. He just hoped that the place held in the heat as well in the winter as well as it seemed to in the summer.

Out here in the shade though, with the breeze and his toes wiggling in the grass, it was perfect.

Even better yet, it was thousands of miles away from his parents and their political aspirations. The dinners and the parties and the social charity events were all a thing of the past. His father couldn't try grooming him for senatorhood from here. His mother wouldn't be able to constantly set him up with unmarried young socialites. No more tux and ball gown affairs, no more pandering to lecherous old perverts in stilettos that his mother cheerfully called friends. His brothers and sisters had taken to that life easily. They'd loved the social intrigues and the connections and the drama.

But it hadn't been the life Connor wanted. He'd become an engineer in spite of his father's resistance to the idea and his mother's tearful pleadings with him to reconsider a political science major instead. He'd risen through the ranks at Camden Inc. and was now more management than engineer, but he loved it all the same. And while he'd been uncertain of leaving everything behind and moving out into the middle of nowhere, he was ultimately glad he'd done it.

Granted, he fit no better here than he had back home, but here no one pestered him about it, so it was fine.

He was completely startled out of his thoughts though as Dozer began barking frantically, his little Pomeranian butt scampering up the driveway to fearlessly attack the ankles of whatever stranger had dared to invade his territory. Poor mutt was a glorified poodle with Doberman aspirations.

"Yo, Dozer, knock it off, mutt," the stranger said with obvious familiarity as he smacked lightly at the dog with a dusty and beat up looking baseball cap. It wasn't weird that the stranger knew Dozer's name. The dog, after all, had come with the house along with about half a dozen completely feral cats that Connor only saw when he fed them. The weird part was that Connor recognized him from a distance.

"Henk," he called with a wave.

"Actually, it's Mason," the man called back. "Although, don't feel bad," he added drawing closer, "Henk's my identical twin brother. I came over one time to mow old lady Franklin's front yard when I was, oh, 'bout ten probably, and she just about scared the crap out of me chasing me back down the road yelling that if I ever came near her Azaleas again she was gonna castrate me. Seems Henk had come over, telling her he was going to weed her garden when in reality he'd only been over to pick flowers to give to Mom to get his ass out of trouble. So, seeing as how he didn't want to get into trouble all over again, he told the old biddy that he was me. Henk's got an odd sense of humor, and he enjoys encouraging cases of mistaken identity. Trust me, you aren't the first."

Wow. For a farmer, he was amazingly talkative. Cute too. Connor mentally told himself to shut his mouth before Mason realized he was gaping like a slack-jawed idiot. "Oh, well, I should have known." Connor flung a hand out awkwardly, feeling his face heat up as Mason shook it with a grin. "You don't smell."

He wanted to crawl into a hole in the ground. And his father thought he was prime politician material. Obviously, the man had been smoking one too many contraband Cubans in his spare time. Mason, however, seemed vastly amused by it. "Well, I did shower before I came over. Although, I have to confess, I think Henk has some kind of odor problem," Mason whispered conspiringly before giving Connor a wink.

"Sorry," he mumbled before reaching out to give Daisy a pat on the head. The calf jerked its head, but then went back to peacefully sniffing at the ground. "I'm Connor, and that there is Daisy. I just bought her from your brother."

"Her?" Mason asked cautiously, and Connor turned to look at him confused. On second glance, there were obvious differences between Mason and Henk. Although, it was entirely possible that it might just have been the situations. Henk had a much more jovial and energetic approach. In fact, he hadn't stood still the entire time Connor had been over at their place buying Daisy.

This twin, on the other hand, seemed very deliberate and lost in thought. Even if he was more gregarious than Connor had expected the typical farmer to be. "Yup. That's Daisy. Although, I have to confess that I don't know a lot about raising cows. I'm not even really sure what to feed her."

"Well," Mason paused. "How much do you want to know?" he asked cautiously.

"Everything," Connor answered promptly, grinning as Mason shooed Dozer away and plopped down beside him on the porch step.

"First, I think he probably needs a place to stay that doesn't involve a dog collar, a chain and a stake in the ground."

Connor nodded. He could see the reason in that. "I've got a barn, but half the roof's caved in and I don't think she'd like it much in there, but if I shoo the cats out of the funny small building over there," he gestured a hand over to a small shack that stank to high hell, but that was what he considered his best option at the moment. "She could probably live in there until I figure out how to fix up the barn."

"Maybe," Mason mumbled, looking. Connor could tell though, that he sounded very doubtful about the whole thing. "It might work for a couple of months until he got older. Whatcha gonna feed him?"

Connor looked at him blankly for a moment before replying. "Grass."

Mason smiled at him, and Connor immediately felt his hackles rise slightly at the indulgent look that slid across Mason's face. "What about the winter? And most cows need more in their diet than just grass. There's hay, feed corn, alfalfa, oats," Mason rattled off, looking down at him with an amused smirk on his face. Connor had let the comment about the dog collar and the stake slide, but this was different. "It's a lot of work, taking care of these animals. You just can't go to the local pet store and pick up a bag of dog food to dump in a bowl for 'em."

"So, I'll grow some if I have to." Connor stood, dusting off his trousers in a prissy huff. He winced inwardly, but there really wasn't any hope for it. Maybe he didn't know anything about cows or raising cows, but he wasn't an idiot. And he didn't appreciate being talked down to. He got that kind of crap enough from his wonderfully successful rich and famous siblings. "I'm sure I can figure it out if I have to."

"Look, I don't mean anything by it. I'm just thinking that maybe you didn't know what you were getting into when you bought Ru—Daisy, I mean. My brother's a born salesman, even when he's being a complete dumbass. I can buy back the calf from you, and you won't have to worry about it."

Great. Mason thought he was too stupid and incompetent to raise a cow. Well, screw him. Connor scowled back. "Well, I'd love to go into this more, but I have work that needs to get done." He pulled his shoes up off the porch and opened the screen door. Dozer scampered in, and Connor tried to keep his dignity as he followed.

Of course, that only lasted as long as it took to scramble to the bedroom window where he watched Mason walk back down the driveway after slinging his baseball cap back on and sticking his hands in his pockets.

Sighing, Connor slid to the floor. Pity. He'd wanted to have at least one friend here. Didn't look like that was going to happen now.

Dozer licked his face, and Connor scowled in disgust.


"Oh my god, Henk! You have five seconds to start running," Mason roared as he banged open the kitchen door. Used to such tantrums, their two hound dogs didn't even flinch.

"Wha?" Henk peaked out from the extra bathroom, hair wet and toothbrush hanging limply out of his mouth. "D'you talk to CCB?"

If anything, that made Mason's blood boil more. Cute City Boy. Damn Henk and his inability to separate fiction from reality and realize when to keep his nose the hell out of Mason's business.

"Yes, I talked to him," Mason gritted out. The damn talk hadn't gone that well either. Henk knew that Mason inevitably screwed it up when it came to conversation. He talked too much, too long. Said the wrong things. Damn it all to hell, there was a reason he was a goddamned farmer and not a therapist or something.

And then that man had looked at him with big blue eyes and called Runt Daisy and all rational thought had fled. Half because it was just funny, and half because Connor had looked so enthusiastic about it.

And now he was going to kill the person who had sold Connor a calf that he had no clue how to take care of.

"He didn't sheem adversh to the look," Henk winked and gestured to his face as he grinned around the toothbrush.

"You have five seconds," Mason ground out.

"To wha?"

"Run, dumbass. You know the drill. Your butt is goin' in the creek," Mason yelled right before he charged.

And yes, so he got some delight out of the high-pitched girly squeal Henk made as he scrambled out the front door and down the front drive in nothing but a towel.


Mason made sure to cut the engine to his truck long before he actually made it to the driveway to the Franklin place. It would mean more grunt work for him, but so be it. He wasn't planning on getting up at the crack of dawn tomorrow. Henk was doing the morning milking in return for Mason not actually throwing him butt naked into the scum-covered creek. Mason figured the aversion came from the last time he'd thrown Henk in and Henk had come out covered in leeches, with one leech in particular attached to his little buddy.

And as far as Mason was concerned, it was always good to know a brother's weakness so it could be used against them in times of need.

He popped open the back of the truck and grabbed the closest two bales, tucking his fingers under the twine and hauling them up. It wasn't that far of a trek to the porch, all things considered. The moon was out, so he could see where he was going, and the calf was still tied up by the house. Mason could see that Connor had readjusted the stake so that the cow could actually get up underneath the roof of the porch, if for some strange reason Daisy wanted to.

He thumped the two bales down out of reach of the calf. He cut open one of them, though and put about a forth of it next to the sleeping animal on the grass.

He felt absolutely ridiculous doing this, Mason decided as he journeyed back to the truck, pulling out another two bales. Connor obviously had no idea how to take care of a cow and the sooner the man got rid of it, the better. The longer dear little masculine Daisy stuck around, the more likely Connor was to get attached to him. And while calves were cute, full grown bulls didn't quite have the same qualities.

Still, he had to make up for being such an asshole earlier about it. Sighing, Mason made one last trek, pulling out a Rubbermaid bucket with a lid that was full of feed. He hefted it onto the porch with a grunt, but didn't realize his mistake in doing so until Dozer started barking his fool head off. Damn dog. Stupid little shit hadn't noticed the entire time Mason had been hauling hay, but putting the feed bucket on the porch had startled the ever watchful rat into action.

Mason contemplated briefly, the idea of running like hell.

"Who's there?!" Connor yelled, bursting out the door moments later, much to Mason's quiet amusement. Since Mason had opted instead of running for sitting on the porch next to Daisy, giving the calf an absent minded pat as it chowed down, he had a clear view of Connor's boxer clad figure.

The baseball bat and the glasses gave him pause though.


"Yeah, figured I needed to make amends for earlier," he mumbled, jerking a shoulder towards the hay bales. "What's with the bat?"

"I thought you were a burglar or a serial killer or something," Connor admitted, looking more than a little dazed. Mason was pretty sure he was still half asleep too, because he was blinking owlishly and didn't seem all that perturbed about talking to his neighbor in his underwear in the middle of the night.

"Out here on this road?" Mason raised an eyebrow. They weren't near any major highways and it was at least five miles on gravel roads to get from these two farmsteads to an asphalt road. "Yeah, we get a lot of 'em out here."

Connor, it seemed, picked up on the sarcasm despite the sleepiness, because he scowled at Mason. Mason wished, once again, that he'd kept his damned mouth shut. "Old habits die hard." Connor waved away.

"What's with the glasses?" Okay, so he couldn't keep his damned mouth shut to save himself. Mason resisted the urge to groan and hide his face in his hands. He settled instead, for staring impassively at Daisy.

"Huh? Oh, I wear contacts during the day. My mother says my glasses make me look like an egghead and she refuses to be seen in public with me wearing them. Got to be a habit to wear the contacts," Connor muttered, pulling off the glasses to rub at his eyes. "What time is it?"

"Two fifteen," Mason answered after checking his watch. And he had to say that Connor's mother was entirely wrong. If anything, the glasses just added to Connor's winsome appeal. And standing there shirtless, he looked damned lickable to Mason, with his dark blond hair sticking up at odd angles, and the beginning of stubble on his chin. He looked a lot less like the hotshot exec he'd first appeared to be this afternoon, and Mason had to say that this look here certainly fit him better. There just wasn't much arrogance or stuffiness to the way Connor held himself. Despite his complete lack of knowledge of cows, there was something about the Franklin place and the country in general that seemed to suit Connor. And Mason would be stupid to ignore the fact that he was not as impervious to it as he appeared. "Well, g'night neighbor," he said abruptly, standing up and slamming his baseball cap back over his head before he accidentally opened his stupid mouth and blurted that all out.

Both Connor and the calf seemed startled by his actions, however, as both blinked at him in confusion. "Good night?"

Mason nodded and then briskly walked back to his truck, ignoring Dozer nipping at his heels the entire way there.


Connor felt his face heating up as he pulled up his driveway to see a familiar figure sitting on his porch step. Dozer, the faithless little mutt, was on his back; stomach exposed and seemed to be enjoying every second that Mason's callused but graceful looking hands scratched him affectionately.

He was halfheartedly debating the idea of pulling the car back around and heading back to town to skulk until he was sure Mason would be gone. He still couldn't believe he'd come at the man last night in nothing but his underwear and a baseball bat. His parents would have fainted dead at the sight. Whether from the shock of a stranger on the front step or Connor acting in such an undignified manner was up for debate.

Either way, Connor was embarrassed. It was quite all right for lovers to see you naked, and if the pool boy caught you in your skivvies after a raunchy tryst with the major's wife, that was all fine and dandy. But one did not approach family, friends or neighbors in anything less than a three-piece suit it seemed from his experiences.

And Mason, the incredibly handsome and rather nicely built farmer from down the road, had seen him practically naked.

Connor knew, just knew, he was bright red as he opened the car door and walked towards his front porch. A big gangly looking hound dog greeted him halfway, and Connor had to assume that it belonged to Mason since he'd never seen the mutt before. It was friendly enough though, and he managed a grin as he scratched behind one of the dog's big floppy ears.

"Down, Trotter," Mason called out as the hound attempted to jump up on Connor's suit. Mason's words, however, seemed to send Dozer into a tizzy, and at the sight of Connor, the little fuzzball monster started racing around and yapping its fool head off.

Connor was used to it. Dozer was both the cutest and most obnoxious pet he'd ever had the privilege of having. And he couldn't quite keep a smile off his face as the ten pound fury scampered off, attempting to chase Trotter, who had to outweigh him by a good forty pounds, away from Connor.

"Mason," Connor greeted quietly, finding he couldn't quite meet Mason's direct gaze. "How're you tonight?"

"Fine," Mason brushed off and Connor snuck a glance to see Mason's amused look. Great. He was so glad he could provide some entertainment. "I'm really here about Daisy, though."

Connor frowned and looked at the calf in question. Daisy was happily munching on the hay Mason had brought over. She was still staked out in the front yard, though, because Connor had yet to find the time to fix up some other kind of accommodations for her. He'd been caught up at work all week, and by the time he got home, the sun was where it was now, just about to set on the horizon. There simply hadn't been enough time.

"What about her?" he asked, finally turning to face Mason directly. Mason's old baseball hat was in his hands, so Connor could get a glimpse at his short brown hair. His brown eyes were as open and as direct as Connor remembered them too, and he hoped against hope that he wasn't blushing again as Mason favored him with smile, his white teeth standing out against his rather tanned face.

Connor had seen a lot of beautiful people in his time. His parents' friends, the parade of escorts his brothers and sisters had always brought around. Every party he'd ever been to in his life had seemed to be peopled with gorgeous, dressed to the hilt, rich folks.

But none of them seemed to hold a candle to Mason's almost simplistic charm. Or the dimples that were forming on his cheeks as Connor reminded himself not to drool.

"Well, that's part of the problem right there. I meant to say something earlier, but what makes you think Daisy's female?" Mason leaned closer, stretching out one jean clad leg almost dangerously close to Connor. Fidgeting, Connor decided to ignore it.

"Well, she's black and white, isn't she?"

"So?" Mason actually looked confused. Connor rolled his eyes.

"So, aren't all black and white cows female? They're milk cows, aren't they? You can't milk a boy cow," he stated matter-of-factly.

Mason looked stunned. His mouth worked soundlessly for a moment before his face crinkled into a smile and he started laughing. At first, Connor smiled politely, not entirely understanding what was so damned funny. And then he got irritated when Mason didn't seem to be forthcoming with the reason.

Finally, the man stopped to breathe out, "Daisy's most definitely a boy, Connor. That cow ain't never gonna give you milk, I'm sorry to say. Didn't you notice that his plumbing was a bit off for that?"

Connor felt his face heating up, and this time he was a lot less happy about it. Forget being merely embarrassed, he was beginning to feel completely humiliated. "It's an honest mistake," he grumbled. That only seemed to set Mason off laughing even harder.

Yes, because it was so damned funny to play tricks on the city slicker. Connor scowled. Just how long had Mason and his brother been having a right good laugh at Connor's expense? Sell the city idiot a male calf and spend a week laughing as he named it Daisy and talked about milking it and taking care of it and living the farm life. He must have been the most entertainment they'd stumbled across in a long, long time. He was so glad he could be the butt of their joke.

He was about to stumble to his feet when Mason threw an arm around his shoulders, pulling him close. "You're so damned cute, Connor," Mason murmured with no little amount of mirth before leaning in and sliding his lips lightly across Connor's. Stunned for a second, Connor leaned closer as Mason's slapped him lightly on the back in what Connor could only think of as a friendly way. Maybe it hadn't been quite the cruel joke Connor had imagined it to be. Mason was smiling a huge smile at him and Connor felt himself tentatively returning it.

Mason was warm and he smelled of grass and hay and dirt and sunshine. Moving closer, he slid a hand over the side of Mason's face, feeling the stubble from a day old beard there. Mason had kissed him. His eyes fastened on Mason's lips for a moment before he felt himself lean in for another kiss, pressing his lips against Mason's.

Mason's big hands slid from his shoulders to around his waist, pulling him closer as they slid underneath his suit jacket and splaying against his back. His mouth was hot against Connor's and for a second, Connor threw caution to the wind and opened his mouth against Mason's, sliding his tongue into Mason's mouth aggressively, liking the way it made Mason groan. Momentarily, Connor wanted to slide in as close as possible to him. He wanted skin on skin and body against body.

But then Mason broke the kiss, pushing Connor back slightly. And Connor watched as the horror crept into Mason's face. "Wait, we need to slow down for a minute here."

While he should have been used to it, Connor felt something inside him snap at the same time too. He was good enough to play jokes on. He was good enough to tease with a kiss that meant nothing. But he wasn't good enough to actually participate back. They weren't friends and they barely knew each other. Hadn't Mason proved that with the whole Daisy debacle?

Connor wasn't the kind of guy people got serious with, and he was an idiot for forgetting that. He wasn't the kind of guy that hung out casually with friends or that had significant others or who had much of a life outside his own awkward bumblings. Hadn't he moved out here to the middle of nowhere because he'd been so inept at being social? Hadn't his family proved to him time and time again that being with other people just wasn't something that was part of his milieu? Mason hadn't meant anything by the friendly little peck. Connor was the one who'd taken it for more than it was and who had taken it too far. And now Mason was sure to think he was a…a slut or something with delusions of grandeur.

Stupid Connor. Stupid green and naïve Connor. It was like he'd learned nothing from living with his life-sucking family.

"I think you should go," he said quietly, sliding off of Mason's lap with as much dignity as he could manage. Which he was sure, at this point, wasn't very much.

"Connor wait," Mason called, but Connor wasn't in the mood to. He'd reached his limit with his own stupidity for one day. Tiredly, he walked through the kitchen past the living room and into his bedroom where he collapsed face down on his bed.

Dammit, he didn't want to have to move again.

He liked it here.


Mason was currently not speaking to Henk. Mostly, because the way Mason figured it, the whole Connor problem was directly his brother's fault.

Here, for the first time, was a sweet, if somewhat prickly guy, who Mason had become interested in, and Henk had totally ruined his chances for some damn joke over a thrice-damned cow. The creek, Mason vowed silently, was going to be the least of Henk's worries.

He grabbed a can of pop out of the fridge and headed out of the kitchen back out into the yard. He was almost halfway to the barn before he spotted the figure slowly making his way down the road towards the house. Trotter and Batman, his brother's hound, were already racing up the drive to greet him.

And even from the distance, it wasn't hard to tell that it was Connor, leading Daisy down the gravel road like a dog on a leash. His brother was right; the sight was damned hysterical.

But given how things had ended yesterday between them, Mason wasn't much in the mood for laughing. He headed up the drive a bit more sedately than the dogs, meeting Connor at the mailbox as Connor tried to drag a rather reluctant Daisy towards the driveway.


"Is Henk home?" Connor muttered between gritted teeth, and Mason silently vowed that Henk was going to find his ass in the creek every day for the next week straight.

"No. He's in town getting a part for the combine."

"Is he going to be home any time soon?" Connor's whole demeanor was practically icy. Mason hid a small grin. Man, but Connor could puff up when he was pissed off.

"Nah, he usually hits the bar with a friend or two and they stay up until three in the morning playing video games when he goes in for parts." Mason shoved his hands in his pockets to keep from fidgeting nervously.

"Dammit," Connor muttered under his breath, but Mason heard it all the same.

"Connor?" Mason tried, getting his attention, "it's not a problem for us to buy Daisy back. I'm really sorry my brother was such an ass in the first place. If you want, the next time we get a heifer in, we can sell her to you and I'll help you out getting everything set up." He tried to extend an olive branch, hoping this would help smooth things over between them. He liked Connor. He wanted to see more of Connor. And dammit, if Connor didn't stop chewing on his lip like that Mason wouldn't be able to stop himself from just leaning in and getting a taste of it, too.

Connor looked floored at the offer. More than Mason wished he would have. He really hadn't meant any harm with all the laughing yesterday. The whole idea of it had just been too funny, add his nerves to that, and he hadn't been able to stop himself.

And Connor's kiss had kept him up for a good portion of the night.

"You would? But what about Daisy?"

Mason looked down at the calf in question as it went after a patch of clover by the mailbox. "We'll probably end up selling him to someone else. No big deal."


Mason blinked and looked at Connor, certain that he'd heard wrong. "No?"

"No. I did some research on the Internet. You'll castrate him." Connor's face positively turned green and Mason had to choke back a laugh. So Connor was a bit of a soft touch. Well, it explained the fact that he'd kept Mrs. Franklin's obnoxious Pomeranian. "And you'll sell him and he'll become dog food. Or someone's prime ribs. So, no."

"I don't think you're quite equipped at your place to keep a bull, Connor," Mason tried to point out gently. Connor nodded in agreement, however.

"Yeah, I know. I tried to fix the barn and it collapsed around my ears," Connor sighed heavily. "I want to board him here."

"Excuse me?"

"Look, I know it can be done because my bitchy sister always did it with every last one of her ass biting bitchy horses," Connor told him sourly. "It's not Daisy's fault that he was made the butt of a joke. And I refuse to see him suffer for it. Since I can't take care of him at my place, I want to board him here. I don't know how much you know about me, but my parents are loaded. I'm a regular trust fund baby," Connor snorted self-depreciatingly. "And since I don't plan on living it up in the ritzy life outside of Malibu, I can more than afford however much you feel like charging." Connor threw his arms over his chest and looked every inch as if he were bracing for a fight from Mason.

As far as Mason was concerned though, it was an excellent idea. "It sounds feasible to me, but you'll have to work it out with Henk," he said solemnly.

"Why?" Connor demanded exasperatedly. Mason grinned then, taking a step closer to him, a hand resting on the mailbox as he snagged Connor's tie and pulled him closer.

"Because it doesn't seem a good idea to mix business with pleasure," Mason murmured softly against Connor's mouth before sliding his lips across Connor's. This time, he coaxed Connor's mouth open and he aggressively took advantage, sliding his tongue in and tasting. He delighted in the small moan Connor made in the back of his throat and Mason reveled in the way Connor smelled of clean sweat and aftershave.

This time, Connor broke the kiss, pushing him back. "But I thought you didn't like," Connor trailed off in obvious confusion.

"Look," Mason felt his face heating up, embarrassed that he'd acted so badly. But Connor had taken him a bit by surprise yesterday, and he doubted the way to anyone's heart was by almost coming in one's jeans over one lousy kiss. "I'm not good at this sort of thing. I don't do it often, and when I do, it usually ends before it begins. But I really want to take you out to dinner on Friday and I really, really want to be able to kiss you again." He decided to lay the bare bones of the situation out.

Connor gave him a somewhat uncertain smile. "Are you pulling my leg again?"

"No," Mason said emphatically. "I'm not the jokester in this family anyway. Henk is. And even if I were in the mood for joking, I wouldn't joke about this."

Connor gave him a long, hard look and Mason tried not to let it unnerve him.

"Dinner on Friday sounds fun. And, ah," Connor turned bright red, to Mason's amusement, "I wouldn't mind kissing you again," he blurted out in a fast whisper.

Hooking an arm around Connor's neck, Mason pulled Connor closer. "Good," he murmured happily.

Somewhere in the distance he could hear Dozer yapping up a storm. And this time, they both laughed as they turned slightly to see the fuzz ball kicking up dust as he ran up the road towards them.

The End.