Bare for You

Outback Skies, Book 4

Lexxie Couper

Chapter 1

You ready to be a taxi service for a week, mate?”

Ryan Taylor looked up from his contemplation of his beer just in time to see Wallaby Ridge’s senior constable drop into the seat opposite him.

Shoving aside the not-so-cheery thoughts that had been plaguing him for the day, he gave Charlie Baynard a wild grin. “Hell yeah. Who wouldn’t want to fly a pollie from the big smoke around for five days?”

Charlie waved a hand at Lacky, letting the owner of the Outback Skies pub know he wanted his usual without actually saying a word. Instead, he laughed at Ryan. “That pollie is the federal minister for the arts and culture, Mr. Taylor. And as one of our duly elected representatives, deserves your respect.”

Ryan chuckled. “Well, given that that duly elected representative is paying me three times what I’d normally make during a week-long mustering job, and I’m likely only going to be in the chopper three out of the five days, I’m going to give him all the respect I can.”

Charlie let out his own chuckle. “And by respect, I assume you mean…?”

With a grin, Ryan raised his eyes to the slightly beaten dark brown Akubra on his head. “Bring out my best hat, of course.”

Taking his beer from Lacky, Charlie shook his head. “I’d give anything to be a fly on the wall inside that chopper of yours this week.”

“You think the city boy’s going to have a cultural awakening?”

“If you call a gay heli-musterer cowboy who looks like Hugh Jackman flying him around the Outback for a week a cultural awakening, yep.”

Ryan adjusted the hat on his head and winked. “Hey, I’m just your typical Aussie bloke.”

Charlie raised his beer, his lips twitching with a smirk. “To typical Aussie blokes.”

Raising his own beer, Ryan tapped the edge of his sweating glass to Charlie’s. “To typical Aussie blokes.”

Both men drank deeply for a silent moment. Around them, the sounds of the Outback Skies’ patrons—only a handful this early on a Friday afternoon—danced on the hot air.

“Speaking of typical Aussie men—” Charlie leant back in his seat, the handcuffs hanging on his hip chinking against each other, “—how’s your love life?”

Ryan snorted. “One of these days, I’m going to get used to you and your blunt approach to conversation.”

Charlie raised an expectant eyebrow and waited for an answer.

With a shake of his head, Ryan settled back in his own chair, adjusted his hat again and took another slow pull from his beer.

“That good, eh?”

Swiping at his lips with the back of his hand, Ryan laughed. “Better than good. Last night I went to bed with Ryan Gosling. It was incredible.”

Charlie burst out laughing. “Ryan Gosling? That’s who floats your boat? I always had you pegged for a Brad Pitt man.”

Ryan shook his head with a grin. “Nope. Ryan Gosling. With glasses. Preferably the geeky kind. It’s the whole preppy, clean look that does it for me. It just makes me want to scruff ’em up. Get ’em real dirty and—”

“Okay, okay.” Charlie raised his hand, laughing. “You win. I’ll never ask about your love life again.”

Ryan smirked at his friend over the rim of his glass. “Chicken.”

“Who’s a chicken?”

Turning his attention to the man joining them at the table, Ryan threw a sideways nod at Charlie. “The senior constable here asked me about my love life.”

Across the other side of the table, Dr. Matt Corvin paused mid-descent into the chair to shoot Charlie a look of melodramatic shock. “I know you’re brave, Baynard, but that brave?”

Charlie snorted. “I bailed on the answer.”

Nodding a thanks at Lacky as the pub owner deposited his normal beer in front of him, Matt settled himself into his seat. “Not ready for the details? Chicken.”

Charlie laughed. “I’m not really sure how this conversation became about me and my lack of courage, but I think it’s time to steer it back to the subject at hand.”

Raising his beer to his lips, Matt cocked an eyebrow. “Which is?”

“The federal minister for the arts and culture,” Charlie answered.

“Ah, that’s right, the minister’s arriving this afternoon, isn’t he?” Matt turned a cheeky grin on Ryan. “And you’re flying him around for the week. Looking forward to that?”

Ryan rolled his eyes. “What is it with you blokes thinking the pollie and I are going to clash? I know how to behave myself, ya know.” He flicked a quick glance to the brim of his hat hanging low over his forehead. “Look? I even put my best hat on for the joker.”

Charlie snorted. Matt laughed.

Grinning at them all, Ryan shifted his butt on the chair. “If Evan was here, he’d tell you all to shut up. Fine time he picked to head off to the Big Smoke.”

“If Evan was here,” Matt said, reaching for the peanuts sitting in a small bowl in the middle of the table, “he’d be the ringleader. Consider yourself lucky he’s not. Just out of interest, how is your love life? Are you seeing that guy from Dubbo again? The one who spelt out Ryan Taylor is hot with hay bales on his property?”

Charlie’s eyebrows shot up and he looked at Matt. “How do you know about this bloke and I don’t?”

Matt tossed a peanut into his mouth. “I’m Ryan’s doctor,” he said around the legume. “I know everything.”

With a chuckle, Ryan rose to his feet. “And on that rather disturbing note, I’m outta here. The minister is touching down in about an hour, and I have to get the chopper ready to fly him out to Broken Downs. See you next week.”

Before his mates could harass him further about Lyle, the Casanova from Dubbo, Ryan drained what was left of his beer and exited the pub.

The smile on his face faded as he crossed to where his pickup—as beaten and worn as the hat on his head and just as beloved—sat on the other side of the dusty main road.

Lyle had turned out to be a lying bastard who was just trying out the gay thing while his fiancée was overseas visiting her sick grandmother.

Ryan hadn’t under any circumstances thought the guy was the one, but for the three weeks they’d been seeing each other, he’d felt…happy.

Not that he wasn’t happy. His life was pretty damn good. He loved his job, he loved living in the Outback, and his mates—Charlie, Evan and Matt—were the best bunch of blokes a guy could know.

But mates, no matter how open and relaxed they were about his sexual preference, couldn’t always fill the emptiness he occasionally felt, and Lyle had had a way of tracing his tongue up the line of Ryan’s spine that had flooded that emptiness with a deep, hot sense of—

Lust. Just lust. And now it’s done, so move on. Get your head straight and move on.

Letting out a wry chuckle, Ryan pulled open the driver’s side door of his pickup and climbed behind the wheel.

Five days of playing taxi to an uptight politician would, at least, keep his mind out of the bedroom. Hard to mope about licking your bruised ego when you were flying a member of Federal Parliament all over the Outback.

An hour later, his Bell 250 now free of empty Coke cans, dirt and his dog-eared copy of Isherwood’s A Single Man, Ryan stood on the side of the red-dust-covered asphalt that was Wallaby Ridge’s runway and watched the Cessna Citation that carried Jeremy Craig come in for landing.

He adjusted the brim of his hat and let out a slow breath.

Jeremy Craig. The minister for the arts and culture. Arts and bloody culture.

Oh boy, this was going to be painful.

* * * *

“The PM sends you his best, Minister,” Jeremy Craig’s assistant offered into the phone, a soft crackling of the connection the only hint of the vast distance between them. “And tells you not to forget you have a breakfast meeting with him when you return Thursday.”

From his seat in the Cessna Citation, Jeremy studied the arid landscape below. This high in the sky, one could be forgiven for thinking the Australian Outback was just the product of a painter denied anything but a palette of ochers and reds. The red dirt stretched beyond the horizon, marred only by clumps of grass trees, yellow spinifex and tenacious eucalyptus trees.

It was a breathtaking sight to behold, one a city boy like Jeremy recognized as both culturally significant and strangely stirring.

He thought of attempting to describe the view to his fellow politicians when he returned from his visit—public servants who had never stepped foot outside of Australia’s capital cities for fear of exposure to substandard cappuccinos, or those who sniffed at the very notion there was existence beyond the country’s coastal borders.

Those politicians would find this trip to such an isolated area a hardship. They’d complain and moan and begrudge the forced time away from their metropolitan offices. They’d spend the three-and-a-half-hour flight working out how they could claim their upcoming overseas vacation as a tax expense rather than taking in the unique beauty of the Outback’s grandeur below.

A grandeur he was about to spend five days visiting, thanks to his position as the federal minister for the arts and culture.

When the PM had requested Jeremy officiate the opening of Wallaby Ridge’s first indigenous art gallery—a move the PM viewed as politically sound—Jeremy had jumped at the chance.

For one, it gave him a chance to get away from the backstabbing and power playing of Parliament House for a while.

For another, it would allow him a chance to absorb himself in something he genuinely loved—art and Australian culture

More than that, it allows you to escape the constant pressure of the persona you’ve chosen to wear, doesn’t it? You may not be able to completely relax out here but at least you don’t have to worry about the ever-present scrutiny of the media and your—

“Minister?”

Jeremy jerked himself from the reverie, bringing his attention back to his assistant on the other end of the telephone connection.

“Sorry, Linda.” He shifted his butt on the plush seat, noticing for the first time the hint of buildings away off in the far distance. “I was woolgathering.”

“Isn’t that the minister for agriculture and rural livestock’s job, sir?”

Jeremy laughed at the young woman’s joke even as he adjusted the glasses on his face. “It is, Linda. But he’s not the one about to land in Wallaby Ridge, is he?”

His assistant chuckled. “Enjoy your stay in the Outback, sir.”

Jeremy disconnected the call and returned his focus to the township the private plane was now approaching. Wallaby Ridge, a thriving Outback community of roughly seven hundred people and his home for the next five days.

Those five days were planned to the minute. There was the art gallery opening, along with various appearance and appointments acting as the prime minister’s representative. A visit to the Mutawintji National Park, where he would take in the ancient Aboriginal cave paintings, and a goodwill trip to the local Aboriginal community. The latter two would require transportation via helicopter and, according to the itinerary Linda had supplied him, his pilot was a man called Ryan Taylor.

Taylor was to meet him when he touched down. He would then fly Jeremy out to the deputy prime minister’s newly rebuilt Wallaby Ridge homestead—situated 242 kilometres away from the town proper—where Jeremy was setting up office for the week.

Jeremy let his thoughts linger on Australia’s deputy leader for a moment. There had been many backroom conversations and mutters about the man, most focusing on his dubious relationship with a multinational mining company. Rumour had it he was about to announce his exit from political life, a retirement touted as being forced by the PM.

According to Linda—who seemed to know the move of every politician in federal politics before they made them—Jeremy was but two party-room elections away from being named his replacement.

Was Jeremy ready to become Australia’s deputy prime minister?

He didn’t know. What he did know was he loved his country more than words could describe and would do anything required of him to make it an even better place to live.

Including denying that which would destroy his political career.

A soft tone filled the plane’s interior, followed a second later by the sole flight attendant’s arrival at his side.

“We’re landing in a few moments, Minister,” she said, leaning towards him. Her smile—and her eyes—suggested any invitation he extended would be accepted.

His political advisors would most likely encourage the dalliance. The last time Jeremy’s name was linked to a sexual scandal as such, his popularity with male voters had skyrocketed. Surprisingly, so had his popularity with female voters aged eighteen to twenty-five. Of course, that scandal had seen him pitted against a rock star for the affections of Natalie Thorton, the dean of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. It was very likely the approval may have had something to do with the celebrity status of his so-called rival.

“Thank you—” he flicked her nametag, strategically pinned just above her breast, a quick look, “—Tabatha.”

She straightened, trailing her fingertips across the back of his shoulder as she turned and walked back to the cockpit.

He smiled, his gut clenching.

If only she knew…

Tidying the papers in front of him, he closed the file and then placed it into his briefcase. If Linda had been here with him, she would have not only done it for him, but she’d have made certain his tie was straight and given him the name of Wallaby Ridge’s mayor before the plane touched down.

Of course, Jeremy was of the opinion the Australian taxpayer shouldn’t pay for his assistant to be in the Outback with him when he was capable of surviving the week without her. And Linda was of the opinion she would serve him better staying close to his political rivals and peers. He couldn’t argue with her. When it came to his career, his assistant knew the game and played it to perfection.

Like his assistant, he too played the game very well. He’d become a master at it.

He’d needed to. As much as he loved his country, Australia was not ready for the kind of prime minister he wanted to be. And Jeremy’s sights were very much set on that position.

“Keep playing the game, Jeremy.” He settled back in his seat, prepared for the upcoming jolt of landing. “Keep playing the game.”

At his low murmur, Tabatha filled the cockpit’s entryway. “Is there something you want, Minister?”

He studied her, noting the way the figure-hugging uniform she wore accentuated the curves of her hips and the fullness of her breasts.

It would further his reputation if he indeed found himself in bed with her. News of his sexual prowess would leak to the media, and once again, his numbers with the male voters of the country would jump.

“Anything I can do for you?” she asked, holding his stare.

What would she do if he said, “Yes, Tabatha. Blow me right now. As we’re landing.”

How soon would the whispers begin in the press? Minister for the arts and culture, Jeremy Craig, once again lives up to his reputation as a ladies’ man, this time during an official visit to the Outback.

Was that why the PM had offered his private plane for the trip?

Drawing a slow breath, Jeremy shook his head. “I’m fine, thank you.” He gave her a smile. “You should buckle in. Get ready for the landing.”

He didn’t wait to see if she returned to the cockpit. Instead, he directed his attention to the window and the blurring stretch of red earth and endless expanse of blue sky beyond it.

Five days.

He was here in Wallaby Ridge for five days, as far from the political machinations and ever-present media scrutiny of Sydney as he’d ever been.

For five days, he could—perhaps—forget the secret he kept from everyone including Linda. Submerge himself instead in the rich cultural experience of the Outback during the day, and the remote isolation of the deputy prime minister’s rural homestead at night.

What were the odds of meeting anyone out here who stirred in him that which he kept deeply repressed anyway?

The screech of the plane’s tyres, along with the sudden G-force pushing at his gut, saved him from pondering the answer to that question.

A few moments later, with the plane at a complete halt, Tabatha once again appeared at his side. “If there’s anything else you require, Minister…”

She left the invitation hanging.

As before, he returned her offer with a warm but neutral smile. “Thank you. Not right now, no. Will you be joining me on the return flight?”

He could tell by the way her lips curled the question had achieved its intended purpose—a suggestion of the possibility of future relations without the necessity of actual interaction.

Playing the game at its most subtle and finest.

“I will be, Minister.”

He let his smile stretch wider. The smile of a man with a beautiful, friendly woman before him. “I shall see you then.”

And with that, he rose to his feet, gathered up his suit jacket and briefcase, adjusted his glasses and made his way to the exit door of the plane, now being opened by the pilot.

Wallaby Ridge, here I come.

* * * *

“Okay, Taylor,” Wallaby Ridge’s mayor—a man with a comb-over only God could forgive, and a sense of humour of similar ilk—said on Ryan’s right, giving Ryan a sideways glance. “Chin up, chest out, hands to yourself.”

Ryan let out a low chuckle and repositioned his hat on his head to shield his eyes from the red sun setting behind the plane. “Watch yourself, Barney. Your bigotry’s showing.”

Before the mayor could bluster out an indignant, “I was only joking”, the door to the plane swung completely open and a tall man stepped out onto the top step.

“Fuck me,” Ryan whispered, staring at the man. Staring at his broad shoulders, his sandy-blond hair, his narrow hips and chiselled jaw.

Ryan’s throat squeezed shut. His gut clenched. His balls rose up. His cock twitched in his jeans.

“Fuck me,” he repeated, his mouth dry. “It’s Ryan fucking Gosling. In glasses.”

Chapter 2

Oh no.

Jeremy swallowed, frozen on the top step of the plane’s steps despite the baking heat. Down on the runway, the man in the cowboy hat, chambray shirt and faded jeans looked up at him.

Oh God, this is inconvenient.

The man’s exquisitely shaped lips formed words Jeremy couldn’t hear.

Jeremy swallowed again. Fuck me. That’s what the cowboy had just said. Fuck me.

Sucking in a swift breath, Jeremy couldn’t stop himself raking a slow inspection over the man. A tightening sensation bloomed in the very pit of his gut, radiating through his groin to his balls. Balls suddenly heavier and more…there than they had been a second ago.

Oh God, no.

“Everything okay, Minister?”

Jeremy cleared his throat at Tabatha’s question. “Just a bit taken back by the heat,” he offered over his shoulder to the flight attendant now standing behind him.

Heat. Hot. So hot. So inconveniently hot…

His balls throbbed, letting him know in no uncertain terms he’d seen something he liked.

A lot.

Before he could stop himself, he returned his gaze to the waiting cowboy.

The unknown man seemed to be staring into his soul. Even from this distance, Jeremy couldn’t miss the intensity in his blue eyes. Nor the way his Adam’s apple slid up and down his throat. Or the way his broad chest swelled with a deep breath as Jeremy’s gaze roamed over him, stretching the chambray tauter over pecs Jeremy suspected would be sculpted to perfection by hard manual labour.

A thick spasm claimed his cock, and he cleared his throat again, shuffling his feet this time as he jerked his stare away from the man in the cowboy hat.

So inconvenient. So damn inconvenient…

Movement on the man’s right caught Jeremy’s unsettled attention.

Another man looked up at him, this one short and round with the most amazing comb-over Jeremy had ever seen. The white material of his short-sleeve shirt was damp under his armpits, spreading sweat stains the likes of which Jeremy had never seen.

Jeremy focused his mind on those blooming stains in an effort to erase his unexpected reaction to the cowboy.

Sweaty armpits, sweaty armpits, sweaty armpits. Nothing remotely arousing or sexy about sweaty—

“Is there something else I can help you with, Minister?”

There was no suggestion of sexual dalliance in Tabatha’s question this time. This time, Jeremy detected confused concern.

You’ve been standing frozen on the top step for an eternity, man. Of course she’s confused.

With a third clearing of his throat—he’d need a drink of water ASAP—he twisted to face her. “Sorry. I’m going. Thank you for making the flight pleasant.”

The hopeful seductress returned in a flash at his words. Tabatha curled her lips into a sultry smile. “You’re more than welcome. I look forward to attending to you on your return flight. Enjoy your stay in Wallaby Ridge.”

And with a barely felt trailing of her fingers over his wrist, she took a step back into the interior of the plane. Leaving Jeremy with no other recourse than to turn and make his way down the stairs towards the two men waiting for him on the runway.

One was no doubt Wallaby Ridge’s mayor.

The other…

Please don’t let the other be Ryan Taylor. Please don’t let the other be—

“Minister Craig.” The squat man with the ludicrous comb-over met him at the bottom of the plane’s short steps and snagged his hand in an enthusiastic shake before Jeremy offered it. “Barnaby Doyle. Mayor. Welcome to Wallaby Ridge.”

Behind Barnaby, the tall man in the cowboy hat watched Jeremy receive the hand pumping from hell with a small grin.

Jeremy didn’t miss the way the edges of his eyes crinkled a little. Or the flash of white, even teeth behind perfectly defined lips. Or the hint of a dimple in his right cheek.

His gut clenched some more. His balls grew heavier. His cock twitched again.

Biting back a groan, he offered the mayor a smile.

This is not good. Not good.

“Thank you for the warm welcome, Mr. Doyle.” He extracted his hand and shot the cloudless blue sky sweeping overhead a wry smile. “Although I wouldn’t have minded a cooler one.”

The cowboy chuckled.

Jeremy wished he hadn’t. The effect the relaxed sound had on Jeremy’s body was disconcerting. And rather appealing.

So goddamn inconvenient.

As before, he had no hope of stopping his gaze slipping to the inconvenience in denim.

Their eyes met.

Fused.

A frisson of raw desire shot through Jeremy. His heart smashed fast into his throat.

The cowboy’s nostrils flared, even as he reached up and rubbed at the back of his neck.

“Sorry,” Mayor Doyle burst out, embarrassment clear in his voice. “I should introduce you to the man who’ll be responsible for getting you around our breathtaking home. Minister Craig, this is Ryan Taylor.”

The name—wholly expected and three times as unwanted—stroked Jeremy’s sanity. He smiled at the cowboy, who was now stepping forward, hand extended.

It took Jeremy’s brain all of about three seconds to register the sublime curve of Ryan’s biceps beneath the sleeve of his shirt, the latent power in the expanse of his shoulders; three seconds during which the desire to see the man shirtless burned through Jeremy with fierce hunger.

And then those interminable three seconds of mental torment were shattered by Ryan’s long, strong, calloused fingers wrapping around Jeremy’s in a firm handshake.

At the innocuous contact—one men all over the planet shared every day—another jolt of concentrated desire sank into Jeremy’s groin. At the jolt, Jeremy’s throat seized up, his pulse turned into a pounding canon and his cock throbbed.

Ryan Taylor’s gaze held him imprisoned. As did the warm dryness of his palm pressed to Jeremy’s. And the undeniable interest in his blue eyes. “G’day, Minister Craig.”

“Please,” Jeremy croaked, incapable of doing anything but. “Call me Jeremy.”

Ryan inclined his head in a single, shallow nod. Their stares didn’t break. “Jeremy.”

A distant part of Jeremy’s brain—the part that played the political game oh so very well—recognised his and Ryan’s handshake had extended beyond the socially accepted duration. The part of his mind cataloguing every sculpted bulge of the man’s body beneath his faded blue shirt didn’t care one iota.

Ryan Taylor was singularly the sexiest man he’d ever laid eyes on. Ever.

“Ryan,” he said, echoing Ryan’s nod. “So, you’re the one who’s going to be stuck with me for the next five days? Flying me around?”

The edges of Ryan’s eyes crinkled. “I’m the one that’ll be taking you to the heavens and back on a daily basis, yes.”

At Ryan’s side, the mayor chortled. “Now we’ve got introductions out of the way, we can get to it.” He directed a guileless smile at Jeremy and smoothed a palm over his comb-over. “So tell me, Minister, is it hot enough for you?”

* * * *

Forty-five minutes. That’s all it took for Ryan to know he was in deep shit.

Forty-five minutes.

Jeremy Craig, minister for the arts and culture, didn’t just push all of his sexual buttons. Jeremy Craig pushed all his intellectual buttons as well.

Thank bloody God, Barnaby accompanied them on the flight to Broken Downs. If the mayor hadn’t been on the helicopter, Ryan was pretty bloody certain he would have made a fool of himself.

And by fool of himself, he meant outright confess to the minister he wanted to bend him over the nearest surface and fuck him, first with his tongue, then with his cock.

Jesus, what the fuck was he going to do?

The flight to the deputy prime minister’s Wallaby Ridge homestead was the longest, most torturous forty-five minutes of his life.

Minister Craig sat beside him, his suit immaculate, his voice smooth and composed, his lips forming words of witty intelligence and articulate observation.

Ryan hung on each one, remaining silent.

Barnaby sat behind Ryan, shouting over the constant thrum in the chopper’s interior despite the fact all three men wore headphones with mics attached.

The mayor—unused to such an important official guest to the town—babbled on about Wallaby Ridge’s history. He filled Jeremy in on the birth of the town over two hundred years ago, how it came to be thanks to the nearby cattle stations of Farpoint Creek and Acacia Springs and their need—back at the start of Australia’s British colonization—for ongoing supplies.

Jeremy made all the appropriate noises at the appropriate places. He asked questions that showed an understanding of the spiritual importance of the land to the local indigenous community.

When the mayor—foolishly, in Ryan’s opinion—waved aside the notion the indigenous art gallery was long overdue in the area, Jeremy very politely revealed a deep knowledge of the cave and rock art located in the Mutawintji National Park.

Ryan didn’t miss the subtle reproach in the minister’s voice as he expressed to Barnaby how the Aboriginal people of the area deserved not only recognition but also respect for their culture.

By the time they landed at Broken Downs, Ryan was as hard as a fucking pole.

“Going to do a systems check.” Killing the engine, he removed his headphones and turned to cast Jeremy and Barnaby a relaxed grin. At least, he hoped it looked relaxed. With the way his body was behaving, he may very well have been grimacing like a starving deviant. “Minister, I’ll be back to collect you tomorrow morning. Around seven.”

“There’s no need for you to leave the helicopter in the first place,” Barnaby, ever the bigoted sycophant, informed Ryan. “I’ll see the minister gets settled in.”

Without another word to Ryan, the mayor opened the back door and climbed out of the cabin.

A heartbeat later, Jeremy opened his door and alighted from the chopper.

He stood outside, his gaze—concealed now by dark sunglasses—levelled at Ryan.

“Coming, Minister?”

Ryan ground his teeth at Barnaby’s shout.

A small smile tugged at Jeremy’s lips, and then, with another one of those single nods, he closed the door and proceeded to cross to where the mayor waited.

If it hadn’t been for the fact Ryan was sporting a rather sizeable hard-on, he would have followed them into the homestead, just to see Barnaby squirm.

Unfortunately, he was sporting wood. Wood hard and thick enough to make its presence known the second he stood.

Wood, he had to admit, that may or may not be totally misplaced. Because despite the instant and immediate vibe he’d gotten from Jeremy Craig—one that damn near had seared his lungs it was that hot—as far as Ryan knew, the minister was straight.

Straighter than straight.

Adjusting his jeans around his engorged cock, he waited until the mayor and Jeremy disappeared through Broken Downs’s main door and then tugged his mobile phone from his hip pocket.

Tapping on the Google app, he adjusted the crotch of his jeans again and typed Jeremy Craig gay into the search field.

The first page of results listed more than one news article about Jeremy’s political stance on same-sex marriage.

Ryan tapped the first one, trying not to fidget in his seat. Beyond the helicopter, the raucous laugh of a kookaburra split the serene Outback silence.

Pulse pounding, although who the hell knew why, Ryan read the Sydney Morning Herald’s article from a year ago.

“He supports it.”

His whisper sounded louder and more relieved than it should have.

Relieved.

Jesus.

Scrubbing at his face, Ryan let out a ragged laugh.

“What are you thinking here, Taylor?” He removed his hat, scratched at his head, rubbed at the back of his neck and returned his hat to his head.

He scrolled through the next few pages of search results, looking for any link to any site that discussed Jeremy’s sexuality.

There were a few malicious, anti-politics sites that declared with venomous vitriol that Jeremy had to be gay, citing his glasses, designer suits and haircut as proof. Other sites of the same ilk hinted that his reputation as a ladies’ man, and the string of beautiful women always on his arm at official functions, were just beards, there to reinforce the lie the minister was straight.

Those sites, however, also had posts and articles claiming things like the prime minister was born in New Zealand rather than Melbourne, that the Queen had an illegitimate son living in Perth, and that Australia was on the cusp of leaving the Commonwealth and becoming a republic due to a handshake deal with the US of A.

None of the information he read could be taken seriously.

Which didn’t give Ryan any further clarity on the molten sexual chemistry he felt between him and the minister.

Until Lyle, the Casanova from Dubbo, had entered his life, Ryan had never been wrong when it came to recognizing a fellow gay man. Or a straight one, for that matter.

Nothing about Jeremy said gay. Nothing.

And yet…when their eyes had met…

Are you trying to justify the insta-lust you felt for the minister? The hard-on you’re sporting right now?

The chopper’s pilot-side door swung open before he could contemplate an answer.

“Minister?” Ryan said, staring at the man standing in the open helicopter door.

Fuck, why did the bastard have to look so fucking—

“I told you,” Jeremy growled, staring back at him through spotless lenses, “to call me Jeremy.”

And with that, he reached a hand through the opening, cupped the back of Ryan’s head in a strong grip and crushed Ryan’s lips beneath his.

~

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