I'm so excited, Branded is out now. Read the first chapter below.
Revenge might have been what drove Jung-Hwa Gangjeon, known as Jump, to Caldwell Texas and Crazy Hills Ranch, but something darker has kept him there. Desire is awakened his first night in town, leaving him questioning everything about his life, his past, and his future.
Finding a sexy young man sleeping on a park bench wasn't what Bruce Long expected from his night sift as a Deputy Sherriff, but at the first sight of the man, he knew he wanted more than just a name. But getting the skittish Jump to settle enough to accept his love is harder than Bruce ever imagined. Lust and passion spin its web, leaving both Bruce and Jump branded with desire.
Jung-Hwa hated his name. No one in the system ever pronounced it with the right inflection, some of his foster parents butchering it so badly he didn't recognize it when they called for him. The last time someone had said his name correctly, like perfectly, had been the day his mother died. Then all hell broke loose and he’d wound up being passed from one foster family to the next, his life never the same again.
After years in the system, he’d been given his mother’s things on his eighteenth birthday, which happened to be the day he left his last foster family. Glad to be out of the system and rid of his foster parents, he'd left without a backwards glance. Two weeks ago, one week after he'd received the packet of papers, he’d sat down at a back table in Starbucks and searched through the pictures and papers, fighting to keep his heart hard as the story of their life together played through his mind.
On the back of one very old photograph, he’d found his mother’s writing. The photo was his baby picture, taken the day he’d been born. The names on the back were his, his mother's, and Gresh Miller. In tiny print beside the man's name was the word father.
He’d been so angry his mother had known the name of his father and yet hadn't put in on his birth certificate, he’d almost ripped the photo in half. After finding some tape to hold the photo together, he made a plan to search for the Gresh dude. He dug around on the streets of Houston and discovered his father owned a ranch. That they needed another hand was a bonus he hadn’t expected. He would work here, getting to know Gresh’s men, his friends, and people who could tell him everything he needed to know, then he’d sock it to his father. The old fart deserved any pain Jung could bring down on him. Gresh had abandoned Jung-Hwa's mother, leaving her to raise a child on her own without any support.
Jung-Hwa had grown up so poor, he hadn’t known kids actually received Christmas presents until he was in his teens. His clothes had been bought at Goodwill, and his shoes never fit right as the toe imprints of others had been pressed into the sole long before he wore them.
That his father had lived in opulence was a sucker punch to his gut. When he’d shown up at the ranch in a borrowed truck, he'd been so angry, he’d acted like a dick to the first young guy he’d seen, thinking the man was Gresh’s son. He wanted Gresh to suffer, and fucking over his son would be priceless. Really, he didn't have any idea what he was doing, but pure anger ran through his veins and he wanted to cause pain. After talking to the cowboy, he no longer thought the man was Gresh’s son, possibly just another ranch hand since he’d gone into the bunkhouse instead of the main house.
Another truck pulled up and this time he didn’t assume anything about any of the men. He waited patiently until one man came over, his hat pulled down low on his forehead, obscuring his eyes.
"I’m Jamie. Can I help you with something?"
"Hello, my name is Jump." He’d made that nickname up on the way over, not wanting to clue Gresh in on his presence if the man knew of him. It wouldn’t do for the old shit to know Jung-Hwa, his son born of a Korean mother, was on his property.
"Jump, interesting name."
He shrugged. "It’s what people call me."
"Okay, Jump, what can I do for you?"
"I’d like a job."
Jamie pushed back his hat and looked him up and down. Jung knew he wouldn’t measure up. He was small because of his Korean heritage. All the men on his mother’s side had been short, minuscule compared to American men. The size would do him no favors in manual labor. Jamie looked as though he was going to tell him to leave. The need to get back at Gresh wove through him and he spoke up.
"I’m a hard worker. I’ll do anything, and I’m strong. I may not look like much, but I can pull more than my own weight."
Jamie smiled at him and scrubbed his hand over his face. "Okay, I’ll tell you what—I’ll give you two weeks to prove your worth. Give me a reference, and after I call them, you can start tomorrow."
Jump froze; he didn’t know anyone other than his caseworker. God, he’d been a shit to the man this last year. He was screwed six ways till Sunday. Not only had he not asked if he could borrow Lyndon’s truck, he’d told the guy to fuck off the last time he’d seen him. It was time to get Lyndon’s truck back to the parking lot in Houston before Jamie called the man and Lyndon realized the vehicle wasn’t where he’d left it.
"Sure, let me write that down for you. And I’ll need a ride from town in the morning. I don’t have wheels. The truck is borrowed."
"No problem. I’ll have one of the guys swing by the feed store early tomorrow. Just be there by eight and they’ll bring you back here. Room and board is included in your pay so the cash is less than you’d get working in other jobs but the food is great."
Food was always a motivating factor for him. Many of the places he’d lived didn’t allow the foster kids to eat snacks. In most of the homes, the refrigerator was actually padlocked and he only ate what they allowed. His stomach grumbled at the thought of food. It had been more than ten hours since his last meal. Tonight he’d have to go dumpster diving before he went to sleep in the park. Damn, he hoped this job worked out. A place to sleep and food to eat was almost too much to hope for.
Then he remembered why he was here—Gresh and revenge, not food and comfort. He needed to keep his head on straight and not get distracted by the luxuries this ranch offered. Fuck, those comforts should have been his from the start, not enjoyed by some rich fat cat who didn’t appreciate anything. He ached to see Gresh pay for the pain he’d caused. He would make the rat-bastard pay if it was the last thing he ever did.
Bruce Long grabbed his police utility belt and pulled it around his waist. He’d put on a few extra pounds, only ten, but still it made a difference. Stupid donut shop. Macy’s wouldn’t be getting his business for the next few months.
"Hey Bruce, you ready for an exciting night of crime fighting?" Brody asked as he pulled off his hat, revealing a shock of red hair sprinkled with gray. Bruce hoped he never got that old but it was inevitable. Brody didn’t look anything like his younger half-brother, Jamie. Twenty-eight years separated the pair and it was more than obvious when they stood side by side.
"Now, Sheriff," Bruce said, "You know it will be just as dull tonight as it is every other night."
"Yeah, glad you work here now, boy. The town is growing since they put in that factory south of town. More people—"
"I know, I know. More people means more crime. Anything happen today?"
"Nothing. Not a damn thing. I'm not wishing for anything bad, but hell, it would be nice to have something happen. Maybe a little excitement."
Bruce eyed the leftover treats from this morning, his tongue tingling with anticipation. He was leaning toward grabbing a donut, diet be damned, when Brody stood and stretched, his big belly poking out over his belt. Bruce turned away from the box of treats, planning on stopping by the grocery to pick up an apple. For dinner tonight, he'd grab a salad without the dressing instead of a burger with fries.
"I'm done for the day. I'll see you in the morning," Brody said.
"Sure thing, boss. Give Suzie a hug. Tell her I'll be there next Saturday for the party." Bruce poured himself a cup of fresh brewed coffee, sniffing deeply as the aroma wafted through the office. He never drank the crap Brody made in the morning. Heck, he was a coffee snob, ordering special beans all the way from a roaster in North Carolina.
"Damn, I can't believe my youngest is turning twenty-one. I sure as hell thought you two would end up dating." Brody slapped his hat on his head, covering his red.
Bruce choked on his first sip of coffee, sloshing a little over the side as he set the mug down. He glanced at his shirt, glad he hadn't spilled any on his clothes. The dribbles running down his chin dripped on the carpet as he leaned over and reached for a tissue.
"What's wrong, son? Having issues with drinking? You know Suzie's had her eye on you for years. You're not that much older than she is."
Bruce stared at his boss. Did the man have no clue?
"Anyway, you bringing a date? I sure would like to know what girl has caught your fancy."
"Um, I don't think I'll be bringing a girl. You know—never mind. I'll be there on time."
"Well, I'm out of here." Brody ambled out the door, shoulders slumped and head hung low.
Damn, that's not what Bruce wanted to look like in twenty years. Twenty-six and already having to fight the weight issue wasn't cool. Gym, salads, chicken, and no donuts—shit, his month was going to suck.
Without the sugar hit, by nine he was ready to drop. He stopped by the convenience store, ignoring the candy aisle, and headed straight to the coffee pot. After filling up an extra large cup, he went to pay but the cashier waved him away. Guilt always hit him when he took coffee for free but he understood their position. They wanted him stopping by to keep the criminals away. It made sense.
"Thanks, Millie. So are you working all night?"
"Yes, sir, Officer Long."
He cringed. Officer Long, what a horrible name. All he could think of was porn stars and exotic dancers. "I'll stop by, might sit in your lot for a few hours. You feel uncomfortable at all, give me a call. My cell should be on your list somewhere."
"Sure, got it. And I won't hesitate to call, but nothing bad ever happens around here."
"Have a good evening," Bruce called as he headed out the door.
Bruce spent the next hour driving around the city, checking down back alleys and puttering around. He stopped at the park to take a piss in the bathrooms. When he'd signed up as a deputy, he'd been given keys to most of the city buildings. Having their trust meant the world to him. Of course now, after Brody's questions about him dating Suzie, he wondered if anyone in the government offices knew he was gay. He'd never hid anything. All through high school and into technical school, he'd never dated girls. Of course none of the guys had caught his fancy either, but he hadn't hid his sexuality, at least he thought he hadn't.
After finishing up in the bathroom, Bruce wandered around the park, shining his flashlight over the bushes, searching for wild animals. He came around a stand of greenery and stopped dead still. A person had taken up residence on the park bench. The guy's mouth hung open, soft snores tickled Bruce's senses leaving him curious more than anything.
He pushed away his interest and allowed anger to race through him as he moved closer to the sleeping form, ready to wake the scumbag from his slumber. Caldwell had no homeless and they wouldn't. This wasn't Houston. Anyone who lived here could find a job and a place to live, or they could move on. He swung his flashlight up, illuminating the sleeping form, revealing plump lips and a sharp jaw. The guy was young, his almond hued skin almost pristine.
Movement behind the dude's eyelids made Bruce pull the light away. He didn't want to wake the kid, not yet—at least not until he'd had time to study his features. Hell, how old was this guy? Bruce moved his flashlight to illuminate the young man's face. He sucked in a breath, amazed by the beauty. Lust pumped hot through him as he took in the delicate features. Holy crap, he was a total skank, perving on this guy. He fucking hoped the kid was at least eighteen. Damn, he didn't want to have to deal with a runaway. Most kids didn't want to go into foster and runaways ended up in juvie all too often.
Bruce stepped close and poked the dude with the end of his flashlight. The sleeping lump moved, rolling away from the light.
"Time to wake up."
The smile was quick on his lips as he imagined kissing this guy awake and getting the same reception once the dude woke up. Hell, he had to stop thinking that way.
"Get up. Come on. Wake up. You can't sleep here."
The kid went from zero to sixty in seconds, taking off across the grass. Bruce was bigger and awake and thus had the advantage. With a quick step and a bit of a jog, he was on the kid, holding onto the back of his shirt. First, the guy's right arm came in for a jab and Bruce caught it before any damage occurred, then the left jab flew through the air. Bruce deflected the blow—not that it was hard since the kid was small and half asleep.
"Okay, enough of that. Calm down." Bruce pulled the dude into a hug, pinning his arms at his side. Only after they were pressed close together, their bodies touching in a most intimate way, did Bruce realize his mistake.
The young man glanced up, his mouth turned down in a frown. "Let me go."
"You going to swing at me again?"
"Maybe." A smile quirked up the corners of his mouth, sending a jolt of lust straight to Bruce's groin.
Bruce narrowed his eyes, hoping to intimidate the guy just a bit. "Give me your name."
"You asked for my name. It's Jump, like J-U-M-P, Jump."
Bruce let up his hold, allowing Jump to move away. He placed one hand on his gun, the other holding his flashlight. "Okay, Jump, why are you sleeping here?"
"I have to be at the feed store by eight."
"Hey, that's early for me. Okay? No way I would have made it all the way from Houston."
"Why do you need to be at the store?"
"I have a job."
"At the store? You do know they open at six, right?"
Jump rolled his eyes and Bruce wanted to pull the guy into his arms and kiss him until he agreed to no longer roll his eyes when Bruce spoke. A little discipline wouldn't hurt Jump. Bruce's fingers tingled as he thought of pulling Jump over his knees and pinking up his rear.
"No, I have a job out at Gresh—Crazy Hills. I'm working at the ranch out there. They're picking me up in the morning for my first day."
"How old are you?"
Jump looked Bruce up and down, his gaze staying on Bruce's crotch far too long. Bruce's unease grew as Jump licked his lips and his nostrils flared.
"Hey, my eyes are up here and I asked you a question. How old are you?"
Jump smiled and his gaze met Bruce's. "I wasn't looking at your eyes, and I can be however old you want me to be. Want me to bend over and moan, daddy?"
Bruce felt sick to his stomach. Jump wasn't too far off the mark. He was undeniably attracted to the young Asian man, but he sure as hell would never touch a guy under eighteen. And even then, he would be careful. But hot damn, he was attracted to Jump like he'd never been attracted to another man before.
"Your age. Or do I need to arrest you?"
Jump straightened and glanced away. "I'm eighteen."
"Give me your drivers license." Bruce took his hand off his gun and held it out, no longer thinking Jump would be any threat.
"Fine." Jump reached into his back pocket and pulled out his license, handing it over.
"Jump? Yeah right. How do you pronounce your real name?"
"Um, okay so how about—"
Jump place both hands on his hips and shot Bruce an angry glare. "You can't say it."
"My name. Say my name."
Bruce looked down at the license in his hands then back at Jump. Pronouncing difficult words always made him sweat. It wasn't that he was stupid, he just got letters jumbled at times. The incredibly sexy man across from him would laugh and he'd lose any chance with him. Fuck, it's not like he had a chance with the guy anyway. Jump was beautiful, and Bruce, if he were honest with himself, was a slightly overweight hick deputy with learning difficulties that still plagued him when he had to read.
"You can't do it."
"Wrong. You're nothing but a fat, stupid hick."
The smug look on Jump's face was too much. White-hot anger raced through his veins. Never before had he wanted to abuse the power of the uniform, but right now, with Jump laughing at him, he wanted to teach the guy a lesson. He wasn't stupid, and he wasn't fat. Okay, maybe he'd gained more than ten pounds, but he sure as hell wasn't stupid. Bruce blew out a breath and fisted his hands.
"You are making it very hard to be nice to you."
"What, you going to put me in cuffs and pound me? Maybe you like to shove little guys—"
"Enough." Bruce roared, shutting Jump up and causing him to jerk away. "You can't sleep here, but I'll let you sleep at the station."
Jump backed away. "Are you locking me up?"
"No, but it's too dangerous for you to sleep here. I could have done anything to you."
Jump sucked in a breath and his eyes flashed heat. His gaze roved over Bruce, stalling on his crotch again. That woke up his dick and made him wish he could go back to earlier in the day and put on tight undies instead of loose boxers.
"So, Mister Deputy, what would you have done to me?"
Bruce swallowed his desire, focusing on the job as he struggled with an answer that wouldn't make him sound like a skank. He glanced away and then back at Jump, meeting his gaze. "Jump, I wouldn't have done anything to you. I was saying that someone else could have. Now, if you'll go back to the station with me, I can let you sleep in one of the cells."
Jump frowned and looked like he was about to take off. Bruce wanted to pull the little guy into his arms and hold him tight, taking away that feral look of fear coming from his dark eyes.
"I won't close the door. I just want to offer you a safe place to sleep, and in the morning you can have some coffee before you take off. I'll even make sure you wake early enough to make it to the feed store on time."
Jump bit his lower lip, sucking the plump curve into his mouth, driving Bruce crazy with want. Those huge lips would feel wonderful on him. He pushed the thought away, concentrating on Jump's sad eyes instead of his delicious mouth.
"Come on, I promise you'll be able to leave whenever you want. The place is dry, maybe not the best place, but it looks like a small storm will be coming through at about four in the morning. You'll be more comfortable if you come with me."
Jump's shoulders dropped and he nodded once. "Sure." He reached under the bench and grabbed a backpack, drawing the strap over one arm.
Bruce led him back to the cruiser and unlocked the doors, opening the passenger side instead of the back seat. Jump shot him a look, frowning before he stepped into the car.
"First time in the front of a cop car?"
Jump grunted and closed the door. He sat with his hands on his lap, eyes forward. Bruce slid into the driver's seat and started the car, trying like hell not to even glance at Jump. By the time they'd pulled up at the station, he'd convinced himself he wasn't attracted to Jump. Then Jump opened the door and exited the car, his tiny, tight ass encased in perfect jeans on display. Bruce lost the battle with his libido, his dick jerking against his leg.
He forced images of horrible traffic accidents into his mind, thinking about the process of detailing a scene and all the measurements he'd have to make. That tamed his cock a bit as he guided Jump into the jailhouse. It wasn't homey, and the place was cold, but it was safe and dry. He handed Jump a blanket and pillow, keeping his fingers from brushing Jump's accidently.
"It's not the most comfortable bed. I've caught sleep here plenty of times. Hopefully you'll be able to grab a few Zs before your first day at Crazy Hills."
"Thanks." Jump dropped his pack next to the sleeping shelf and pushed at the mattress. "You going to stand there and stare at me all night long?"
"Sorry." Bruce scuffed his feet on the floor outside of the cell, feeling more and more like a stupid hick. "I'm going up front. If you need anything, don't hesitate to ask. Hopefully we won't get any drunks. They can get a bit smelly."
Jump lifted one eyebrow, his lips plumped in a slight pucker as he stared at Bruce. The guy was trouble with a capital T, and Bruce hated that he was attracted to the young man. At least he didn't have to worry about being attracted to an underage kid since Jump was eighteen. Bruce was crazy for wanting him though. Jump looked like he had street smarts, had probably been in trouble a lot. The young man was brash, he had a wild look about him, and he was so damn beautiful Bruce wanted to never let him go.
As he made his way back to his desk, Bruce checked his pockets and realized he'd held onto Jump's ID. He slid into his desk chair and stared at the name on the card then glanced at his computer. He shouldn't. It would be wrong to look up the information. The kid wasn't under arrest nor had he done anything wrong.