Why had he left the photograph there, standing right there in a leather frame on the dresser top? More important, why was the photograph here at all? I had gone into his room to put his things together so they could take them down to Hayden along with the body, and there it was.

To some extent the whole success of the Wolf Creek Ranch had hinged on J. Harvey Kincaid's patronage and good will. He had been coming to Wolf Creek for as long as I could remember. And where J. Harvey Kincaid went, everyone else of note followed. He was the pied piper of world literature, an icon of unique proportions.

Back almost in pioneer days, my grandmother had taken a large acreage of homesteaded land in a remote Rocky Mountain valley dipping down into northern Colorado from dusty Wyoming that few others could find let alone want. And she turned it into a dude ranch for celebrities writers, movie stars, and politicians mostly who either wanted to retreat from the pursuing world for a short time or wanted to hunt animals and bag them in privacy.

J. Harvey Kincaid had been one of the latter. He was already a writer of legendary status when he started coming to the ranch in search of the majestic elk in the high, snowy regions of the Rockies bordering on the Medicine Bow National Forrest. He said he identified with the elk, and indeed he had every reason to do so. He wrote celebrated men's novels of male bonding in challenging and dangerous circumstances, themes, and situations that bring out the grit and nobility of strong and bold men. His writing brought him fame and international awards. And his books invariably inspired noble and strong and bold movies that won international awards on their own merits despite the fact that they missed casting the ideal protagonist J. Harvey Kincaid himself. He was the epitome of the rugged, handsome, square-jawed, determined man battling the elements, whatever they were and winning and possessing what and how he pleased.

He had come to our ranch three or four times a year from the time I was a child, and my father took him up into the upper slopes of the Rockies, no matter the weather, and they stayed out there for three or four days at a time or for as long as it took to bring back an elk. I always held him in awe; everyone did. He had a rich, deep, expressive voice befitting his stature, both physical and intellectual, and he could tell a story as overpoweringly as he could write one. For years I would sit under the dining room table as he dominated and enriched the dinner conversation no matter what other celebrities were in residence.

As I said, my father was always the one to take him into the mountains. That is, until he died unexpectedly. I was off at college when my dad died. We had had our problems and had left much unsaid, but I loved him deeply. When he died, I had to leave college and come back to the ranch and do my share in filling the gigantic hole in maintaining a demanding business that his death had created. And there was so much to do that I didn't have time to grieve for my loss.

J. Harvey Kincaid stepped in to fill a great void. The first summer after my father's death he came to the ranch three times rather than his usual single time during a season. And he made sure that the regular celebrities came as well and that new ones started to come. He saved our business for us.

On the third visit he spoke at dinner of missing his trips up into the mountains in search of the mighty elk. I, of course, offered to take him hunting as my father had done for nearly two decades. We owed him everything.

I had little idea how to track elk that had been my father's specialty but J. Harvey Kincaid was a patient man, a very patient man. We rode across the isolated ridges for days, searching near the tree lines, where Kincaid said my father often took him. By the third day our horses were worn out, and Kincaid suggested that we just lay by in a stand of cottonwood trees next to a fast-running stream in a sheltering ravine he remembered from previous trips.

We ate that night over an open fire, leaning against the saddles we had slung on the ground between the bank of the stream and the line of cottonwoods. J. Harvey Kincaid was his charming best, weaving stores of male bonding and the raw challenge of man against nature in that rich baritone voice of his, in words that were strong and raw but also mesmerizing in their poetry.

The air was crisp and slightly chilly, and Kincaid called me over to sit beside him as he leaned against his saddle so that we could share the blanket. He said we would be so much more comfortable making maximum use of our shared body heat. And I believed him. I had always believed him.

We sat there, against each other, as J. Harvey Kincaid continued weaving the magic of his stories. He asked me questions about what I thought of male bonding, of how close one man could be to another, how much support they could give each other in struggling against the elements. And he helped me provide the answers. He asked me about my connections with my father, and I started to cry, the grieving gripping me now, at last. He kissed my tears away. And he kissed my cheeks. And he kissed my lips. He told me not to cry, in that mesmerizing poetic baritone voice of his. He told me he loved me, and no one had told me that before, not even my father.

He asked me if I trusted him and if I loved him too. And then, at that moment, I surely did. He was a connection to my father. He was the savior of our ranch. He cared for me and comforted me. He unbuttoned my shirt and comforted the hollow of my neck with his lips, and then he comforted my nipples and my belly with his hands and his tongue.

He was unbuckling my jeans and slowly unbuttoning my fly, all the time telling me that he loved me and wanted to take care of me. And asking me if I loved him and trusted him. And I did and I told him so. And he told me again of the joys and comfort of male bonding and said he wanted to bond with me. And he asked if I loved him enough to bond with him. And I did. I yearned for male bonding. And I told him so.

He told me it would hurt at first but that it would become glorious and that it would be a connection unlike any other. That it would wash my grief away. He told me that a man fought through the pain for what was important, and asked if I was ready to give myself to him. To trust him to take care of me. He was handling me, stroking me through the open fly of my jeans, and it was a new, pleasant sensation.

He asked me again if we could bond, out here in the crisp mountain air, in the beauty of nature in front of a crackling fire. And I said, 'Yes, oh yes.'

And I'm sure I meant it.

He was kissing my penis now and urging me to follow his lead. He had his member freed from his jeans and it was thick and long and hard. I tried to do as he was doing but I gagged and he didn't. He tasted salty and his tool was hot and hard and throbbing and was pushing at me. Between my lips, the unsheathed tip pushing against my inner cheeks and depressing my tongue, pushing deeper inside. I gagged again, but then got the knack of handling him.

He was murmuring at me, giving me encouragement and guidance. Telling me how beautiful my body and my penis were, asking me how his attentions felt. And when I told him I was embarrassed at how I was filling out but that I was feeling pleasures I never had felt before, he told me that I was doing the same for him. That we were bonding beautifully, that I was pleasing him very much but that we could bond even closer.

Did I want to bond even more fully?

Yes, oh yes.

It would hurt at first, but only at first, he was saying. There, could I feel that?

Ohhh, yes I could. I'd never had anything going in there, only coming out. But, maybe . . . Oh, yes.

He parted my lips with two of his fingers and told me to suck on them. And while I did so, I felt a finger of his other hand moving underneath me, circling the rim of my hole, before moving a bit inside again. And rotating around. Urging me to stretch out.

He stopped this, but only for a moment, as he stripped off my clothes and then his, and we were both naked, skin sizzling on skin underneath the encasing woolen blanket. He had my butt cheeks at an angle against one of his hips. He was holding my side close to his with an encircling arm and the two fingers I had been sucking on were now at the rim of my hole. He put his chin on my shoulder and kissed me in the hollow of my neck. I lurched in a slight, sharp sense of pain as the two moistened fingers slowly pushed into my passage, deeper and thicker than the previous exploration.

I was trembling and whimpering now, and he started speaking to me in low, melodic tones again. Telling me the story of a mountain man and his best friend, out alone for months in the mountains, in a camp not unlike this one. Of how much they depended on each other and how grieved they were at the death of a mutual friend. How they needed to comfort each other. How they need to bond. To bond closely. To become one so that they could face the elements together. To express their love. To do so in natural ways, the ways of time immemorial. Of how wonderful they felt when they had bonded. How there was pain at first, but quickly great joy and release of all their grief and fears.

One of my legs had been coaxed to lay astride his thighs, and I could feel the insistence of his manhood laying hot against my own thigh. I was trying to listen to him, but my attention was increasingly going to what those fingers were doing inside me. Moving deeper. Moving in, separating, spreading me inside, and then coming back out. And then moving in deeper than before. The pad of one had found a very sensitive point, and what it was doing to me made me tense up and I felt like I had to piss and to jack off all at the same time. I was groaning and moaning, trying to let J. Harvey know that something was happening that he might want to stop if we didn't want to be embarrassed.

But then I jacked off. I tried covering myself with my hands, ashamed, hoping he hadn't noticed. But he just laughed and cooed at me and told me that this was exactly what I needed to do. That this was all a stop, a necessary milestone, toward ultimate male bonding. A good reaction. A very good reaction.

To show he wasn't angry or upset, he lowered his mouth to my penis and licked me clean from what I had shot off there. All the time he was telling me this was exactly what was supposed to happen. That this is what happened to those men in the mountains as they moved toward perfect bonding that ended their grieving.

Could I feel as those men did, he asked.

Yes, yes I could.

Was I man enough to pass through the pain of the initiation into the bonding?

Yes. I was as much a man as either of those he was talking about. I was my father's son.

Yes, yes you are, he said. Did I trust him? Did I love him? Did I want to get beyond the grieving and would I let him help me do that? Was I ready to move into the bonding?

Yes. Please. Now.

While still encircling my chest with one arm, he lifted my pelvis with the strong hand of the other arm and centered my hips over his and slowly lowered my passage on his throbbing tool. I cried out as he impaled me, as he slowly pulled me into his lap. I was grunting and moaning and whimpering, and he was sighing and whispering encouragements to me and telling me how good I was doing and how well we were bonding and how nice and tight I was and sweet oh, how sweet. And how much he loved me for bonding with him. For being the first to bond with me. That this was very special for him.

I was settled completely down in his lap now, and he was encircling my chest tightly with one arm and holding my belly hard against him with the hand of the other, holding me in place while the impossible invasion and stretching of his hot cock was slowly being accommodated by my virgin passage.

About the time I thought I had managed the pain and we had totally bonded, however, the movement started. He had his hand wrapped around my waist now and he was lifting and pulling me down on that throbbing tool of his. I was crying out for him to stop or at least to slow down and he was telling me that just a bit more and we'd be beyond the pain and into heaven. And then we were, and I was crying out for him to do it forever. There was still pain, but now I was feeling the passion, the wonder of this bonding thing he'd been telling me about.

He was stroking me up and down on his pole faster and going deeper inside me with each stroke. He was trembling as much as I was now and making animal sounds and using that beautiful voice of his to make love to me with his words just as much as he was by making us one, a single pistoning machine, moving toward release, his cock stroking up into my channel.

I was arching my back against his heaving chest, trying to make us one. My head was flung back and he was kissing me deeply on the lips and swabbing the insides of my mouth with his tongue when he lurched and I felt the flow of him burbling deep inside me.

We sat there entwined for many minutes, as we both worked to bring our ragged breathing under control and he let his hands glide all over my body and his tongue coat me with honey-toned words of how well we had bonded.

Then he told me that we could only really keep the depth of that feeling through frequent bonding, especially at first, and would I give myself to him a different way? Would I show my trust and love by putting myself entirely in his power?

Shortly thereafter, I was bent, completely naked over the seat of a saddle, my belly against the leather, my butt in the air. The saddle had been placed between and a little in front of two cottonwood trees, with the leather straps ending in metal stirrups angled off toward the trees one toward the tree on the left of the saddle and one toward the right. J. Harvey Kincaid had tied one end of a rope to each of the stirrups, run it around a cottonwood tree and tied the other end around each of my wrists so that I was held there on the saddle, not going anywhere, denied the use of my hands. Open to him. All of my trust in him.

And then a towering, naked J. Harvey Kincaid crouched down behind and above me, his thighs encasing mine, and he thrust his cock into my puckered, tilted-up hole and rode me hard to a second ultimate bonding. The second time was not as painful for me, as I was well lubed from his first ejaculation inside me.

And I thoroughly enjoyed the third time, when he had turned me on my back so that my hips were raised up onto the saddle. I particularly felt the bond of this third merging of our bodies, because I could see his eyes. I thought I could see how much he loved me in his eyes. I thought I could see the honesty of all that he wrote and believed about the ultimate goodness of male bonding.

That feeling held for a good three years of his visits to the ranch three and four times a year. Each time I took him hunting into the mountains and each time he bonded me deeply and repeatedly. For those three years, I did believe that he was making love to me that he loved me. But I grew up. For the eighteen years after that, to today, I came to know that he was just fucking me.

But his patronage continued to help the ranch survive and prosper.

For twenty-one years I took him into the mountains to bag his elk and me. I even began to identify with the elk. Each time he came to the ranch, he'd call ahead to make sure that I would be there and free to hunt with him.

But not this time. Not for this visit. He had called, yes. My son, home from college for the summer to continue learning to take over the management of the ranch, had answered the telephone and told J. Harvey Kincaid that I wouldn't be here for the week he wanted to visit. I would be up in Laramie at a rodeo. I didn't necessarily need to go to the rodeo in Laramie, but we had reached the stage in my son's training that he needed to face whatever problems came up in the ranch operations on his own without me there to guide and save him from any bad decisions. I wouldn't be around forever. He needed to stand on his own.

He and I hadn't gotten along all that well for several years. We had been inseparable when he was younger, but then something happened something I'd never learned the reason for that had cooled him toward me. But this ranch was our family income. He knew that, and he was willingly trying to learn the business from me even while holding me at arms length. He seemed particularly upset the day that J. Harvey called to set up his next visit.

And J. Harvey had gone ahead and come, even when I wasn't going to be here. He'd never done that before.

When I returned from Laramie, my son was nowhere to be seen.

'Where's Jamie?' I asked the first ranch hand I ran up against. 'Charlene's at reception; Jamie should be there.'

'He's up in the hills with that writer guy, Mr. Raven,' the cowboy told me.

'That writer guy?' I asked, totally confused. Why had Jamie left his responsibilities here to go off with some dude?

'Yeah, that one you always hunt with, Mr. Raven. Jamie was in kind of a fix because the guy showed up and wanted to go huntin' and you weren't here. Jamie said he had to make a choice; he couldn't be in two places at once, but he knew how you were always saying how important this Kincaid guy was to the ranch. So he went on up into the hills with him to hunt elk, like you always do. Left Charlene in charge. She seems to be doing OK, if you ask me.'

I wasn't asking him. I was confused. Kincaid. J. Harvey had come ahead even knowing I wouldn't be here.

That was two days ago. Now Kincaid was dead. Brought down slung over a horse. The cowhands said Jamie told them it was a hunting accident. But I hadn't seen Jamie. I'd been too busy calling Hayden and making the arrangements. The sheriff down there would be up in a couple of hours and he'd be the one to be asking questions.

But here, in my hand, was the source of a question I hadn't really wanted answered. The photograph. It was an old photograph. Two men standing by a makeshift sling between poles holding the carcass of an elk. A photograph at least three decades old. Two hunters. Kincaid on the left and my father on the right. And the way Kincaid had his arm wrapped around my father, I knew. I suddenly knew. I wasn't the first Raven Kincaid had bonded with. And whatever happened up in those mountains two days ago, Kincaid had meant me to see this photograph.

My son. Jamie. It hit me then, and I lurched out of Kincaid's room, stopping briefly at the fireplace in the main room to throw the photograph into the flames, and then out into the dusty courtyard. In search of my son. Before the sheriff arrived.



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