Mack Garrett loves the rolling hills surrounding his Northern California dude ranch. Leading vacationers on horse trails with his two best friends is enough—romance is definitely not in the cards. When a sexy tourist shows up at Clean Slate, he’s as far from Mack’s type as can be. So why is the handsome city slicker so far under his skin in less than a day?
Roughing it in the middle of nowhere isn’t anywhere near Wes Bentley’s idea of fun. Then he lays eyes on the gruffest, hottest papa bear he’s ever seen. But Mack is as hard to pin down as he looks—distant, sharp-tongued, and in desperate need of a shave. Until a campout gone wrong strands both men in the mountains with nothing to do but get to know each other.
Mack intends to keep his closely guarded heart out of Wes’s very talented hands. But for a seven-day cowboy, Wes is packing some long-term possibility. The cold country air can do wonders for bringing bodies together—but it will take more than that to bridge the distance between two men whose lives are worlds apart.
This book is approximately 90,000 words
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"How come you look like you stepped barefoot on a horse pie?"
"Dunno, how come you smell like one?" Mack Garrett replied to his best friend. He raised his head, not at all surprised to see Reyes Caldero standing in the open doorway of Mack's small office. Reyes wore heavy boots and stomped around in them in a way that told you the man was coming long before he appeared.
"Looking over the roster for this week's guests." Mack held up the tablet with said roster on it, then pulled a face. He opened his mouth, but Reyes cut him off.
"Oh no, you're not," Reyes said. He stalked over to the desk. "I know you've got more responsibilities now, but don't you dare say you aren't coming out tonight."
Mack sighed, unsurprised Reyes had read him so well. Mack and their other best friend, Colt, had a tradition of going clubbing in San Francisco on Saturday night, looking for fast and dirty hookups. Reyes accompanied them on occasion, usually to drink and dance and let off steam. "I really shouldn't go into the city."
"Yes, you should, especially since you're the one who convinced me to go with you and Colt this time." He knuckled Mack hard in the shoulder. "You are not leaving me alone to go clubbing with that man."
Mack couldn't help chuckling at the mental image of the more reserved, introverted Reyes clubbing alone with their excitable, flirts-with-everyone friend Colt Woods. "I need to make sure everything is ready for the new guests tomorrow."
"You've got hours to do that, my friend. Besides, maybe you'll run into your last hookup, the guy you said had a cowboy fetish and knew how to deep throat."
"Not interested in repeats, you know that." As much as Mack had enjoyed that particular encounter, he wasn't looking to date. And he absolutely wasn't interested in a new relationship, not after his last one ended with Mack's heart shattered.
Reyes nodded with understanding. "No repeats, but at least come out to dance. Saturday night is the only time we're not on call for guests and are allowed off the ranch grounds for fun and thrills."
"Says the guy who'd rather spend his Saturday reading a book."
"I like books better than people."
True enough. Reyes only occasionally dated — both men and women — and he'd never been a big fan of random hookups. He'd never come out and identified as bi, but Reyes also wasn't a big fan of labels. He seemed content enough in his solitary lifestyle, and that was good enough for Mack.
"What if I help you finish your work?" Reyes asked. "Tell me about the new guests."
"We've got a bridal party."
Reyes let out an exaggerated groan as he leaned against the doorframe. He was one of the most easy-going cowboys on the ranch, and even he found them stressful. Bridal parties at the dude ranch were rare, but they often tended to be the neediest and most disruptive because of their size.
"You think I can still switch my week off with Slater?" Reyes asked.
Mack grunted. "Doubtful. Slater bolted the second it hit three o'clock, and he's had an hour to make his getaway. He's probably in San Jose by now."
"Chill out, pal, it's not that bad. This one is only five people."
"Really? Seems small. Our last bridal party was eighteen people."
"Trust me, I haven't forgotten." While Mack had enjoyed the novelty of the couple being gay, their friends had been high-strung and extremely anti-dirt. And dirt was impossible to avoid on a ranch in Northern California. "Maybe it's going to be a small wedding."
Mack glanced at his tablet and the list of names. "One woman and four guys. The reservation was placed by the Best Person to the bride, a Wes Bentley."
Reyes frowned. "Like the actor Wes Bentley?"
"Seriously? American Beauty. How can you not remember his eyes?"
Mack thought back to the film in question, which he'd seen once, in the theater. "The daughter's creepy boyfriend who filmed plastic bags blowing in the wind?"
Reyes rolled his eyes. "You have absolutely no taste in movies."
"Yes, I know, you've been telling me that since we were fourteen."
"You said Pulp Fiction was terrible and overrated."
"It is." Mack had wanted to set fire to that VHS after Reyes forced him through the film.
Reyes grunted. "You were mad that D2: The Mighty Ducks didn't get an Oscar nomination. Your film taste carries no weight with me. Ever."
Mack laughed at the familiar rebuttal. At fourteen, he'd been too busy obsessing over the male cast of a teen hockey comedy to really care about art films or cinematic storytelling breakthroughs. He'd wanted to watch Joshua Jackson ice skate. He still kind of did. The actor had barely aged a day since Dawson's Creek.
"Anyway," Mack said, "no, I doubt the Wes Bentley who made the reservation is the actor, but I guess we'll find out in the morning."
"True. How many guests total?"
"Sixteen, so almost a full house, and one of them's a family."
Figuring out the rooming arrangements wasn't usually Mack's job, but he'd been taking more responsibilities to help his aging grandfather work less and enjoy his ranch a little bit more. Arthur Garrett was a proud man, and even though he'd never admit out loud that he was slowing down as he neared his seventy-eighth birthday, his age and newfound forgetfulness worried Mack. After all, Arthur was the only blood family Mack had left.
Reyes had been family ever since they were twelve years old and jointly put cherry bombs in the girl's bathroom toilets at school. Mack's other best friend, Colt, had been in his life far fewer years, but he was family, too. Within the same six-month time period, each man had quit his previous career and moved to the ranch to find ... something. Something new.
And to start over, away from the pain in their pasts.
Mack was still getting used to figuring out the sleeping arrangements for guests. He was in charge of overseeing the horses, guest interaction with horses and the camping trips. Simple things. Putting warm bodies into rooms in a way that made sense didn't come naturally to him, so he waved Reyes over.
"Tell me how this looks," he said, handing him the tablet.
Reyes scanned the rooms and the names attached, which was linked to the guest registration information that asked: Are you comfortable sharing a room with a stranger of the same or opposite sex? Other variations of the question gave Mack enough information to guess. The second floor of the guesthouse had four four-bunk rooms, each with a private bathroom. Sometimes strangers ended up bunking together — which also meant every other week, someone had an issue on arrival day and bunks had to be switched around.
Arthur had always rolled his eyes and muttered about tourists being coddled.
"No, this looks good," Reyes replied. "The bride said she didn't mind sharing with strangers, so putting her into a four-bunk room with the three single ladies is good. It all looks good."
"Always looks good on paper."
"Whatever." Mack took the tablet back. "Food delivery here yet?"
"Truck pulled up a few minutes ago. It's actually what I came to tell you. Arthur, uh, put the order in wrong."
Mack groaned. "Shit, what are we missing?"
"We're light on flour, eggs and bacon."
All breakfast staples for the guesthouse kitchen. "Great."
Every week, Arthur placed a food order for the next week's guests, and the food was trucked over Saturday afternoon. Arthur had been placing the order for years, and it was another weekly ranch task he was hanging on to tightly with his wrinkled, arthritic fingers. But this was the third mistake in four months.
He followed Reyes out of the barn and into bright May sunshine that had him squinting the whole hundred yard walk to the guesthouse. Their usual delivery guy, Juno, was standing by his truck talking to their cook, Patrice, and they both went perfectly still at Mack's approach. Mack was well aware that his squint made him look perpetually pissed off, but there wasn't much he could do. It was the only face he had.
"I'm so sorry," Juno said as soon as he was within earshot.
"It's not your fault," Mack replied, trying to put the guy at ease. He looked like he was ready to jump out of his skin. "Give me your list."
Juno handed over a paper printout from the grocery store that handled their business. Arthur preferred dealing locally, so Mack had to be nice and fix this without accusing anyone — not his best act. Mack logged into the business records and found their copy of Arthur's order. They matched.
"Our mistake," Mack said, handing the list back. "Go ahead and accept the delivery, Patrice. Figure out the difference. I'll run into town and buy what you need."
"Bless you," Patrice said. A genuinely sweet lady, Patrice had been on the ranch for decades. She prepared every meal, kept the rooms clean, and generally doted over the guests, especially the children.
Juno and Patrice went off to restock the kitchen pantry.
Mack pivoted one-eighty to stare at the main house. The last original building on the property, the hundred-and-fifty-year-old single-story ranch home looked pretty good under a new coat of paint. Its wide front porch no longer sagged, thanks to Colt's handiness with a hammer and nails.
"You gonna tell Arthur?" Reyes asked.
"I have to. He'll wonder about the in-town credit card purchase if I don't."
"How do you think he'll react?"
"He'll brush it off as a one-time problem, like he always does."
"You think Arthur would be more receptive to it coming from Judson?" Reyes asked, spookily following along on Mack's silent train of thought. Twenty-four years of friendship did that.
"I doubt it matters who tells him. Once is a mistake. Twice is something to watch. Three times is a pattern and potentially a problem."
"You gonna come into town with me for the extra supplies?"
Reyes shrugged. "Why not? We'll get it done so you don't have an excuse not to come into San Francisco with me and Colt."
Patrice came outside with a handwritten list. "Here you go, hon."
"Thanks." Mack stuffed it in his pocket. "I'll text Judson about the grocery trip, and then we'll get going. I can talk to Arthur later."
"Good luck with that chat," Reyes said.
Mack felt kind of bad about buying out the store's entire stock of bacon, but it was a breakfast staple at Patrice's table — both the one she set in the main dining room for guests, and the smaller buffet she provided for the ranch hands in the back room. This was why they ordered ahead of time: so the store's owner could fill their needs without depriving his own customers.
One of the stock boys brought boxes out of the backroom to use for the groceries, instead of wasting a bunch of plastic bags. Reyes bought himself a bag of barbecue potato chips, which had been a favorite of his since forever. Mack studiously avoided the ice cream aisle. Ice cream always reminded him of Geoff, and he didn't need to get depressed on his Saturday night off.
He and Reyes packed up the bed of the ranch's pickup truck with their supplies, then puttered back through town. Garrett had a meager population of five thousand, give or take, and had been settled during the gold rush.
Mack hadn't even known the town existed until about ten years ago, and now he couldn't imagine leaving. He loved knowing more about his roots, and he loved this old, dilapidated town.
The truck ambled through the worn downtown, past town limits, to where Mack could safely press on the gas. Their police force was tiny, but they gave out tickets for anything they could in order to keep funding their own jobs. Their town barely kept afloat year after year, as the population continued to dwindle. Arthur had long lamented he couldn't do more to drive tourists into Garrett itself.
"Stop it," Reyes said.
"Stop what?" Mack retorted. "Driving? We don't want the bacon to cook in the sun."
"Jackass. It isn't your job to save this town, and you know it."
"Maybe, maybe not. There's a lot of my family history here, buried on this land."
"Even so, worry about the ranch first. You still gotta talk to Arthur about the supply order snafu."
Mack grunted. A small part of him hoped Judson had taken care of that chore, but he'd yet to get a text about it. Mack would probably end up confronting his grandfather himself, and that would suck. He wasn't afraid of confrontation. Hell, Mack had been Los Angeles County SWAT for four years. No, he was more afraid of the emotional damage this might do. Reminding an old man he was just getting older.
He parked in front of the guesthouse. Reyes and Patrice helped him unload the truck and store the supplies in the kitchen's industrial walk-in. When they finished, Reyes took the empty boxes over to the garbage shed — the place they hid their garbage and recycling containers so they didn't kill the feel of the ranch, or attract unwanted pests. Behind the shed was also a compost pile for food scraps. The ranch made extra cash for the horse rescue by turning the compost into a nice fertilizer to sell to town residents. The smell stayed downwind of the guesthouse, so it had never been an issue. Not that it should be. It was a ranch. The place smelled like horses and dirt.
Mack would never forget the guest two summers ago who'd carried a bottle of air freshener with him everywhere the first day, until he tried spraying it around the horses. After that, Mack banned its use to the guesthouse.
He moved the pickup to its usual spot east of the main house, next to Judson's personal vehicle, and the garage that housed four ATVs that the staff had free range to use.
"Mack!" Arthur's voice dragged his attention to the front porch. He stood at the top step in his ever-present denim overalls, the purple undershirt making his white hair and beard stand out even more.
A widower from a young age, Arthur had served in the Army for a lot of years, before turning a struggling cattle ranch into a successful vacation spot and horse rescue. And while no one was getting rich working here, he took care of his staff. But he was also aging, and sooner or later, he'd have to retire from the business end of things and turn control over to his general manager and foreman, Judson Marvel.
"Yes, sir." Mack strode over to the porch, shoulders straight.
"You got the sleeping arrangements done for tomorrow?"
"A while ago. I posted it so you could take a peek, but Reyes double-checked me. It's good."
"Excellent. Food delivery come okay?"
Mack stifled a sigh; Judson hadn't talked to him. "It came, but we had a slight hiccup. You under-ordered again. Three staples."
"Well, shit." Arthur frowned. "You checked —"
"I checked your original order against the one Juno had on him. They matched. Reyes and I went into town a bit ago to get what extra Patrice needed. You'll see the charge on the business card."
"I'm sorry about that. Honest mistake."
"On flour, bacon and eggs that you've been ordering for ten years?"
Arthur's shoulders slumped. Mack loved his grandfather and hated seeing him upset, but this was about the business. Arthur's business, and they both had to protect it.
"We fixed it, but this is the third incident in four months," Mack said. "This coming week, just let me or Judson double-check you before you send the order over. We all need a second set of eyes sometimes. Just like I had Reyes double-check me today."
"Makes good sense. Better for business."
"And I think the store will appreciate it. I bought out all of their bacon."
Arthur's eyes lit up with silent laughter. "Hopefully no one in town wants a BLT for dinner tonight."
"They would be shit out of luck."
"How's our new batch of guests look?" Arthur descended the four wood steps to stand next to Mack. They had similar heights and builds, and some folks swore they saw Arthur in Mack, but Mack never could.
"Not too bad. Married couple, small family, two groups of friends and a bridal party. Sixteen total."
"Good, good. You and Colt going out tonight?"
The abrupt conversation shift startled Mack. He'd come out to Arthur years ago, right after Arthur came out to him — gay his entire life, but hiding it for decades until he said fuck it, I'm out. Hence his purple T-shirts and the rainbow flag proudly displayed on their flagpoles each day next to the American flag and the California state flag. The Clean Slate Ranch was gay-friendly and proud of it.
"Yeah," Mack replied. "Reyes is coming out for a change."
"You're never going to meet someone if all you ever do is visit bars and dance clubs."
Mack shrugged. "I don't want to meet anyone right now."
"Hmm. Maybe, maybe not. Why don't you try those dating apps on your phone?"
"What's with the sudden urge to marry me off?" That came out with more anger than necessary. "Sorry, I just ... I'm not ready."
"It's been nearly five years, son."
"I know how long it's been, believe me." Long enough that he could think about Geoff without his heart breaking wide-open, but not long enough that he was ready to risk his heart a second time. Losing Geoff had hurt too damned much.
Excerpted from "Wild Trail"
Copyright © 2017 A.M. Arthur.
Excerpted by permission of Carina Press.
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
Very good book
3.5 stars- Wild Trail is the first book in Miss Arthur’s new Clean Slate Ranch series set on a dude ranch in Northern California. This also happens to be my first book by the author. I enjoyed a lot about the characters, romance, and book will likely continue the series because the secondary characters intrigued me. Unfortunately, as much as I liked aspects of Wild Trail, it felt a tad corny and overly dramatic, which kept me from really losing myself in Wes and Mack’s story. As far as characters and romance, Wild Trail was good but had BIG characters that aren’t understated in any way. Wes and Mack meet when Wes travels to the Clean Slate Ranch where Mack works as a guest coordinator and horseman. I liked both characters well enough, though I thought the author overplayed their roles as flaming city-slicker and gruff cop turned ranch hand. It wasn’t that she made them unlikable, just a little over-the-top for my personal taste. Despite their immediate mutual attraction and some heavy flirting laden with gratuitous cowboy sexual innuendo, Wes and Mack were hesitant to commit to more than a vacation fling because of previous relationship woes so a bulk of the story is them fighting their connection. For the most part, I enjoyed getting to know both men and learning their backstories. I was pleased when the over-the-top behavior decreased a little as the story wore on and the romance developed. However, just as I was really getting into it, a cheesy line would appear leaving me rolling my eyes and less enthused to keep reading…so, yeah, a little up and down for me. I enjoyed the plot and conflicts though I found Wild Trail to be a bit predictable. The multiple side plots were a nice touch, even trying to add a little mystery and suspense, but I was disappointed when the surprise revelations weren’t all that surprising. I was pleased the reveals weren’t drug out too much, liked their resolutions, and liked where the book ended with Wes and Mack as a couple, so again- good and bad here. While I definitely had a few issues with Wild Trail, the characters were likeable, the setting was fun and different, and my interest piqued enough that I’m definitely planning on trying book two in the series. I think if you’re intrigued by cowboy meets city-slicker romances, don’t mind some cowboy puns and theatrics from characters, Wild Trail can be a fun read with a unique setting. *eARC received via Netgalley. The author and publisher had no influence over this review*
STRONG START TO A NEW SERIES ✩ ✩ ✩ ✩ FOUR-STAR ✩ REVIEW ✩ ✩ ✩ ✩ > > Judging a Book by it's Cover > Looking Deeper Third-person Wes booked a one-week vacation at a dude ranch at his sister's request for her wedding party, despite hating the dust, dirt, and horse smells that he knew would accompany it. Mack is one of the horsemen on the ranch and the owner's grandson, having come to Clean Slate Ranch only five years ago after a tragic accident caused him to flee the big city for a quieter, more peaceful life. Their attraction was immediate and though they tried to fight it, it was a losing battle. Secondary cast was varied, most were enjoyable. Dialogue was smart and natural. The interaction was enjoyable. The plot is full and busy, as is any series debut... introducing a new cast to the readers and building a new world for them to live in. While there were some standard conflicts with predictable resolutions, there were some elements of surprise tucked within. The conclusion is solid enough with its implied HEA that I feel will carry on in the background of future books in the series. I'm interested in seeing if Reyes and Miles end up with a book together or if Colt and Avery reconnect. I look forward to reading more of this series. . Rating: [R] ~ Score: 4.3 ~ 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". ***** ⭐ ⭐
I really, really enjoyed this book! Wild Trail by A.M. Arthur is book one in the Clean Slate Ranch series. Cowboys, a marshmallow-filled alpha, and a city-slicker charmer made this a quick read. Wes Bentley is in charge of his sister’s bridal party and what his sister really wants is to spend a week at the Clean Slate Ranch, roughin’ it, so to speak. Wes is really in it for the cowboys, but there’s much more to this western ranch than meets the eye. The last thing Mack needs is another charming actor rattling his cage. And yet, he can’t keep his eyes off Wes. When things heat up—both off and on the ranch—Mack will need to decide if letting go of the past is worth the risk. I was instantly transported to the west, and I just loved it! Mack really wants to make something of the ranch and he loves the wide open spaces and working with his best friends and his grandpapa. Wes disturbs the solitude. But there are many secrets on the ranch that bring them together with two different dreams that threaten to tear them apart. There were lots of twists, and I flew the pages like wildfire. Mack’s got the grumpy thing going on, and oh, do I love my alphas growly. Wes’s humor, however, made this book for me! His personality really shines. Although both of their backgrounds ran a bit too similar, I loved watching these two together. Sparks galore! This was the perfect cuddle up and read story. Lots of fun, steamy sex, and plenty of romance that gave me the heart clutches. 4.5 stars!