Miles Arlington needs to get the hell out of San Francisco, and heading north for a job near Clean Slate Ranch seems like just the thing. It doesn’t hurt that his secret crush slash onetime rescuer happens to work at the ranch. Miles has never been one for the outdoors, but the superhot Reyes has him ready to saddle up.
Reyes is happy to keep things casual, even though his heart has other ideas. And when Miles is forced to confront his past again, Reyes and Miles will have to put all their trust in each other if they want any chance at building a future together.
One-click with confidence. This title is part of the Carina Press Romance Promise: all the romance you’re looking for with an HEA/HFN. It’s a promise!
This book is approximately 86,000 words
Carina Press acknowledges the editorial services of Alissa Davis
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"Mack needs your answer by the end of the week, dude, or he'll have to start interviewing other people." Wes Bentley bounced from foot to foot next to the service station, his unexpected presence making it difficult for Miles Arlington to properly do his job.
Miles reached past Wes to grab microgreens for the appetizers he was plating. "I can't believe you came to my job to solicit me for another one," Miles snapped. Not really annoyed with Wes about the solicitation, but because Wes was impeding his normal plating routine by being there in the first place.
Wes no longer performed for the Gala Dinner Theater, but he was still good friends with the owners and had kitchen access. And while it was a Tuesday night in February and not super busy, Miles still didn't appreciate the interruption. Miles had worked here as a line cook for nearly three years now, and he prided himself on his professionalism.
"It's time sensitive, and you weren't answering my texts," Wes replied. He snared a piece of cooked shrimp off the line, too fast for Miles to swat his hand away. "Besides, this needs the personal touch, because I really want you to do it. Think of the freedom of running your own kitchen."
Miles grabbed a squeeze bottle so he could sauce and finish his apps. To be honest, he was intrigued by the idea. A few weeks ago, Wes had called and proposed Miles move out to the tiny town of Garrett, California, and be the head chef for the ghost town attraction opening in April. The saloon's menu would be small and as authentic to the mid-1800s time period as possible, and Miles could be in charge, instead of a line cook who occasionally got shouted at by his boss.
But Miles hadn't taken it seriously until tonight, when Wes crashed his evening.
"I like this job." Miles wiped a stray smear of sauce off one plate, then put them in the window for the servers. "Table six, order up!"
The next ticket was waiting, and he got the right plates for it.
"Yeah, maybe you like this job, but do you love this job?" Wes asked. "And I know you're stressing about finding another roommate when I move out."
A fresh wave of anxiety unsettled Miles's stomach. He was absolutely not looking forward to living with a stranger, male or female. He'd shared an apartment with Wes for two years, and they'd become best friends. But Wes had found a boyfriend last summer, and they were building a house together out on the vast property owned by Mack Garrett's grandfather. It was set to be finished in mid-March, and while Wes promised to pay his share of the rent until the lease was up in June, the rest of the year was staring right back at Miles and mocking him.
"I'll figure something out," Miles said. "Will you move? I can't reach my food."
"Sorry." Wes shifted six inches to the left. "Come on, the salary Mack is offering pays more than this job, plus you get December and January off. How is that not awesome?"
"I don't know." He finished the next four plates and stuck them in the window. All appetizers had to be out before the theater production began, so this was the most hectic part of Miles's night. It irritated him that Wes was here now, but he also couldn't dismiss all of Wes's good points.
More importantly, moving would get him out of the city and far away from Dallas, whose harassing texts had started up again last night.
Maybe leaving San Francisco behind wasn't an altogether bad idea.
"You can't tell me you didn't love it out there," Wes added. "You took, like, a bazillion photos of the ranch."
"I do love it there." Last May, Miles, Wes, and several of their friends had taken a vacation at Clean Slate Ranch, and it had been the most relaxing week of his life. Miles had ridden a horse again for the first time since he was a teenager, and he'd loved the wide-open spaces and natural beauty.
Wes was efficiently laying out every good reason for Miles to leave, and Miles couldn't think of one reason to stay that wasn't rooted in his need for routine and dislike of change. But maybe change was exactly what he needed to stop existing day-to-day and to really start living. Wes leaned his hip against the counter and pitched his voice as low as he could with the din of the busy kitchen all around them. "You're my best friend, and I'd really like you to do this with me. You're a fantastic cook. Help me make this ghost town awesome."
Miles put six new appetizers into the window, then glanced at his last ticket. He made Wes wait while he plated spring rolls, added the garnish, and set the final app order in the window. "Table twelve, order up!"
"Give me one good reason for you to say no," Wes said.
Miles cleaned his prep station, because entrée orders would come in any minute, and their head chef hated dirty stations. The idea of running his own kitchen intrigued Miles. He hadn't set out to be a chef, and he'd sort of fallen into this job. He enjoyed it, but all he did was plate the food he was taught, in the exact same way, over and over. Even when Chef added a new dish, Miles had to cook and plate as he was told. The only time he got to really experiment was at home, and only when he had extra cash to try new things. Playing with a unique, old-time menu could be a lot of fun. Living at the ranch would be a dream. He'd stay close to his friends, especially Wes, when Wes wasn't off following his actor's heart and filming a new role on a TV show or movie.
"So are you going to put me out of my misery or keep me in suspense here?" Wes asked.
"Arlington!" Chef yelled from farther down the line. "Quit yakking and focus on your food. Bentley, get out of my kitchen!"
Once Chef looked away, Wes blew a raspberry in his direction.
"Very mature," Miles said.
"That guy never liked me, anyway. I wish I could be there when he finds out you're quitting."
"I haven't said I'm quitting, and he has a point. I need to work, so buzz off."
"Okay, okay." Wes flashed him another big grin. "Seriously, think it over, and we'll talk again when you get home, but you know you want to do this. I'm super excited about it. I mean, you were there when my horse spooked and accidentally dragged me to the ghost town site."
True story. During an overnight camping trip on the ranch lands, Wes's horse had gotten away from him and they ended up discovering the bones of an abandoned California ghost town. His not-yet-boyfriend, Mack, had fallen in love with the place, and he decided to invest settlement money into turning those old bones into a living attraction.
"Sophie and Conrad were there, too, when you found it, but you aren't bugging them to work there."
"Yeah, well, they have other careers and Sophie wants to start trying for kids."
Sophie was Wes's little sister, and she'd married Conrad Massey at the ghost town site last fall. It had been a beautiful ceremony against an in-progress backdrop, but Wes regularly updated Miles with photos of the town. Most of it had been built from scratch, based on careful research by their historian, Avery Hendrix, but a handful of original buildings had been reinforced so they would withstand the test of time. And a lot of tourists.
"Good for them," Miles said. "Are you going to be the crazy uncle who spoils their kids rotten?"
"You know it. But they're coming out for opening day, so they're still involved."
"Awesome. Now get out of here. I'm busy."
"Later, and thanks again!" Wes skipped out of the kitchen, making no move to hide his excitement or his flame. Wes didn't wear subtle in his clothes, or his personality, and it totally worked for him. Miles, on the other hand, did his very best not to be noticeable.
Entrée tickets started coming in, their expeditor shouting off orders to be fired, and Miles lost himself in his work for a while. Busy, steady work that didn't demand more than careful hands and attention to detail. Plating the same food, night after night, and for the first time, Miles felt ... bored.
Maybe a change of job and scenery would do him some good, get him out of the funk he'd been in since his birthday last April.
His gut squirmed, and Miles banished those thoughts to the back of his mind.
The final entrées went out around nine, so Miles set about cleaning his area and putting food into the cooler. Their pastry chef would handle desserts at the other end of the line. Miles had just finished and tossed his towel into the wash bin when Stacey, one of the servers, popped her head into the kitchen.
"Hey, Miles," she said. "There's a guy out here asking about you. I told him I wasn't sure if you'd gone home or not."
"Who is he?" Miles asked.
"He wouldn't tell me his name, but he's kind of cute, dark hair. Seems a little intense, though."
Unfortunately, that description could fit any number of people, including both Dallas and Reyes. "Is he Latino?"
"Nope, average frat-boy-style white guy."
Miles swallowed back rising bile. "Can you tell him I've already clocked out and left?"
"Definitely." Stacey disappeared.
He was ready to clock out and go, but he fussed around the kitchen, helping other cooks complete their nightly clean-up. He clocked out, then hung around for another thirty minutes to be safe, before exiting the rear employee door.
No one else was in the parking lot except for two dishwashers having a smoke, so Miles found his car and got inside. Normally, he'd take the bus instead of bothering to drive, but last night's texts had unsettled him, and his own car felt safer than public transportation.
Then he noticed the piece of paper stuck under his windshield wiper. Miles looked around several times but didn't see anyone nearby. He opened his door to snatch up the paper, then hit the locks right away. His fingers shook a bit as he unfolded it.
"You can't avoid me forever, Miles. You're mine."
Miles balled up the note and tossed it into the back seat. "Fuck that." He started his car, then began backing out. One wheel thumped weirdly, though, and his car wasn't quite even. Alarmed, Miles got out and circled the vehicle, only to find the front passenger tire flat.
"Fuck my life."
He'd changed his own tire before, so that wasn't the issue. His issue was the quiet, isolated private lot, and the fact that it was late at night, and his ex was quietly stalking him again. He could risk putting on the spare, or he could leave the car until morning and take the bus. It wasn't like the owners would have him towed.
He compromised by asking one of the dishwashers for help, lying about not having changed a tire before. Juan rolled his eyes and agreed to assist after insisting Miles pay attention so he could do it himself the next time. Miles kept one eye on Juan and the other on the parking lot, mindful of their surroundings. But he felt safer next to a big, burly guy and a tire iron. When Juan was finished, Miles offered him ten bucks for the assist, but Juan waved him off.
"First lesson is free, amigo," Juan said with a friendly grin. "Just don't do it again."
Miles made a mental note to hit up a mechanic he trusted to look at his tire. Hopefully whatever was wrong could be patched, because he couldn't afford a new tire right now.
You could if you weren't so stubborn and reached out to your damned parents.
Yeah, that was happening the day after never.
He drove home with a weird feeling in the pit of his stomach, half convinced Dallas was following him. He'd never given Dallas his current address, never invited him over, but this could be new-level stalking shit.
Moving to Garrett is the best thing to do. Probably changing my number again, too.
In that moment, Miles made the decision to take the job. Once he moved, he'd change his number and cut off all ties to San Francisco. Start over with a new job and a new life.
Wes was in the living room working on his laptop when Miles got home. He still spent the bulk of his weeknights at the apartment, because Wes and Mack didn't have a lot of privacy on the ranch — not while Mack was still rooming with Reyes. But that would all change in a few weeks, when their house was finished.
Sometimes Miles found it hard to believe that his flighty, f lirtatious roommate was settling down and building a freaking house with his partner.
At least one of us is happy.
"Hey," Wes said. "I had Avery copy me on his food research. Do you know people ate something called Vinegar pie? That sounds awful."
"I doubt it's all vinegar," Miles replied, "but yeah, that sounds kind of gross." He was also slightly intrigued by what else was in that pie. "And I'm glad you got that stuff from Avery, but before I officially say yes to the job, I have questions."
Wes shut his laptop and leaned forward, eyes gleaming with excitement. "Ask away."
"First of all, where would I live? The motel?"
"I've already leveraged Mack on that one. With him moving in with me, it leaves Reyes with an extra bunk in their cabin. We'll just swap roommates, so you don't have to shuttle to and from the motel, or rent a room from a stranger in town."
"But aren't those cabins one room?" Without a locked door to put between himself and his roommate? No way.
"Yeah, they're one living space, but you know Reyes, so you won't be bunking with a stranger. And you're my BFF, so if he ever did anything to scare you, Mack would beat the crap out of him."
Wes's promise made him smile, because it was an empty threat. Reyes wouldn't hurt or scare him, but living with the guy? His secret crush? The super-hot, super-quiet Latino cowboy he'd befriended this past year, who seemed to have as many demons as Miles?
Good God, that was a bad idea.
"Is Arthur okay with it?" Miles asked. "Mack's his grandson, but Arthur is still the ranch owner."
"Yes, Arthur's cool with it, and you can either ride up to the ghost town on a horse, or you can borrow an ATV from the shed. Believe me, I've thought of everything." "You said the ghost town opens in April, but the apartment lease isn't up until June."
"So sublet it until the lease runs out," Wes replied. His smug grin told Miles he knew he'd won. "Or just pay the rent, like I am. It's not like you'll have to pay on the cabin, so think of all the money you'll save on rent and utilities."
God, that was too good of an argument to pass up. Miles could actually have a small savings, instead of living paycheck to paycheck and subsisting on boxed mac-and-cheese. "Fine. I accept. I'll move to Garrett."
Wes let out a soft whoop and bounced on his toes. "Yes! Thank you! This is going to be awesome."
"When do you need me?"
"Well, Avery has already done a ton of research on the food of the time period. You can plan and test recipes while you give your notice here, but I'd plan to move by the end of March. That way you can settle in and get used to your new kitchen, Chef Miles."
Miles grinned. "I kind of like the sound of that." Another thought struck him. "Is Reyes okay with us living together? I don't want to upset him if he was looking forward to a single cabin."
"Reyes is the coolest cat in the universe, and yes, Mack asked before I said anything to you about it. Reyes likes you." Wes wiggled his eyebrows. "He did come to your rescue with Dallas, after all."
The mention of that night, and Dallas in general, made Miles's stomach sour. Running into Dallas again last November had been nearly as traumatizing as the reason why Miles was avoiding him in the first place. Dallas had sneaked up behind him at Club Base, where Miles was hanging out with his and Wes's mutual friends, and he'd practically dragged Miles away to yell at him for not answering his calls or texts. Miles had been terrified of his former best friend and occasional lover. He'd always been possessive of Miles, but this was next-level crazy.
Miles had been super grateful when Mack's best friend, Reyes Caldero, stepped in and put an end to it all. And whatever Reyes said to Dallas, the texts and calls had ended.
"Stop," Miles said, not in the mood for this sort of teasing. "Reyes was being a friend, and it worked, because Dallas hasn't bothered me in months."
Until last night.
"Good," Wes said. "If he does, let me know, so I can sic Mack and Reyes on him."
Miles conjured up a believable smile. "I will." A yawn caught hold, and Miles tried to hide it behind his hands. God, he was exhausted.
"Hey, why are you home so late, anyhow?"
Miles shrugged like it didn't matter, but his pulse still jumped with anxiety. "Had a flat, so I needed to put the spare on."
"Really?" Wes gave him his full attention, and Miles realized what he'd said. "Why did you drive? You never do that."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Saddle Up"
Copyright © 2018 A.M. Arthur.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
OMB!!! I just cried the last few chapters it was so good!!!
These are some of the best LGBT books I've ever read and I hope there are more on the way.
I’ve been waiting impatiently to get my hands on A.M. Arthur’s Saddle Up, and it delivered. If you’re on the lookout for a contemporary m/m western, I recommend you start with this series! I gobbled this one down! Reyes Caldero came to the Clean Slate Ranch a while back, but he keeps his past close to the chest. The only person who has come close to breaking down his walls is all kinds of wrong—but oh, so right! Miles Arlington has a stalker ex, and he needs out of San Francisco. An opportunity working at a ghost town is just what he needs. But he’s rooming with a man who gets his libido running for the first time in too long. Can he trust the newfound feelings? There’s so much character development, especially on Miles’s part that it just kept me flipping pages. Miles is shier and he has gone through hell. He needs to heal, but he also needs someone to make him feel safe and alive again. I was rooting for him from the beginning. And Reyes is so sweet, too. He gives Miles space to just be…and oh my gosh, it hit me in the feels. But Reyes has one big ole secret of his own. This was a roller coaster of a read, but I’d go through it all over again. There are some pretty dark moments for Miles so beware there are content warnings for sexual assault, stalking and rape. There is also mention of suicide. If you’re looking for a tale that grabs you and has you invested in two people and their journey to healing, you’ll find this book fits the ticket. 4.5 stars!
Thanks to Netgalley and Carina Press for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. I really love Clean Slate Ranch. It's one of my absolute favorite MM Romance series, and it just works for me. I've been waiting for two books now to get to Miles story, and the hints dropped since book one proved true as Miles and Reyes finally got their day in the sun, and it was chock full of heartache, struggle, and two broken people find their missing pieces together. I don't want to spoil the story, but if you're a fan of N.R. Walker's Red Dirt Heart, this series should be on your to-read pile. Add it, and get to it as soon as you can, because you'll love this ranch where people come to start over, find their way, and make a new life.
4.275 ~> Slow Starter but Back Half was Great! ✩ ✩ ✩ ✩ 4-STAR ✩ REVIEW ✩ ✩ ✩ ✩ > > Judging a Book by it's Cover > Looking Deeper Third-person As much as I love this author and her series, I found the first half of the book less enjoyable. The beat and broken attitude of one and the self-inflicted punishment of the other was becoming annoying. I'm so glad that they finally got over it, right before I'd reached my limit of angst from grown men! I devoured the second half of the book, not wanting to put it down until I was finished. Reyes is about a decade older than Miles, but they both have a world of baggage and issues. Miles ends up scoring the chef position at Bentley via his bff, Wes. Reyes has taken the head cowboy position now that Mack's moved up to oversee the Ghost Town full time. Though there are other vacancies, Miles is assigned to bunk with Reyes, which acts as a double-edged sword. Both are attracted to the other, without the other knowing of course, but Miles is still afraid of intimacy and Reyes feels undeserving of any goodness. Add an abusive, obsessive ex, a dangerous blast from the past, health scares, and Hot Coffee going missing and there's plenty enough drama for two books! By the end, most issues were glossed over and it felt like that was the end of the series, however, there were more areas that need more followup, perhaps in another book. Overall, the conclusion was solid, though. . Rating: [R] ~ Score: 4.275 ~ Stars: 4 ========================== ⭐ ⭐ **** Disclosure of Material: I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and the Author/Publisher with the hope that I would voluntarily leave unbiased and unsolicited feedback. I was not asked, encouraged, or required to leave a review - nor was I compensated in any way. I am posting this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising". ***** ⭐ ⭐
Miles and Reyes get their HEA! Saddle Up is book 3 in the Clean Slate Ranch series but it also stands alone well. I think this is my favorite of the series books. It really got me in the feels departments. The story touches on some pretty heavy subject matter (non-consent in someone's past and something else that would be a spoiler) but never in a gratuitous way. We met Miles in book one and you could just tell that there was something going on by the way he acted and now we get to find out in Saddle Up. He ends up being a much stronger person than I would have guessed from his earlier appearance in the series. Reyes was also a quiet character in the first two books and now we find out why he is that way. Something truly awful in his past threatens his budding relationship with Miles. It's something that he's never even told his best friend, Mack. I loved how we get to see Miles grow and become a strong person in this book. While Reyes loves to take care of Miles he's also proud of how strong he's become and how he is able to handle a nasty ex-boyfriend. When Miles finally learns Reyes secret things take a bad turn but this is a romance and it's "part of the Carina Press Romance Promise: all the romance you’re looking for with an HEA/HFN. It’s a promise!" I wouldn't mind visiting Clean Slate Ranch again, and again, and again. A review copy was provided by the publisher via NetGalley but this did not influence my opinion or rating of the book. ***Reviewed for Xtreme-Delusions dot com***