When hunky aspiring country singer Billy Eagan heads to Nashville in search of his big break, a relationship and love are the furthest things from his mind. Taking a foreman’s job at the Lazy H ranch and not knowing how he will be accepted, Billy decides to fly under the radar and stay as closeted as he can without denying who he really is. It’s immediately confirmed that he made the right decision when he discovers that homophobia is still alive and well in Tennessee.
Then Billy gets his break and meets gorgeous record label executive Ian Dillon. Their worlds collide both professionally and personally, and Billy falls hard. But Ian is still haunted by the mysterious betrayal of his one and only lover, and knowing Billy possesses the power to emotionally destroy him, Ian decides to cut his losses and simply walk away. Determined not to give up on the man he loves, Billy secretly starts to unravel the past and quickly finds that it’s not what it appears. Can Billy rescue Ian’s heart, or will bigotry and hatred win over love?
Billy Eagan left New Orleans for Nashville with a dream and a few thousand dollars in his pocket. He was born and raised in the Big Easy and was the first in his family to leave the city and his loved ones behind. New Orleans is a town rich in history and tradition; she forces you to love her, and most never leave her embrace, but Billy had bigger-than-average dreams and he wasn’t about to stay put and live the simple life, no matter how he loved his family and his home. His middle-class upbringing had taught him to work for everything he wanted, but his parents had taught him to dream, dream big and never give up on those dreams. He understood and was saddened because he felt sure their encouragement was the result of the dreams they had given up on to raise their family.
Billy’s father worked long hours and wasn’t around much in the early years, and because of that, they’d never really bonded like most fathers and sons do. As Billy reached his teens, his father’s work schedule lessened, and wanting to find something that he and Billy could do together, he picked up a hobby of raising quarter horses. They soon discovered a mutual love of horses which became the catalyst for what would become a very close relationship. Up until the time Billy seriously began pursuing his music career, they spent every afternoon riding and practicing, and together they competed on weekends at the surrounding area rodeos. His mother, on the other hand, was a stay-at-home mom with a great love of music who chose a career of looking after her family over her own ambitions.
From very early on, Billy’s musical abilities were encouraged and nurtured by days of “helping” his mother with chores set to music. In the years after his older sister started school and before his younger sister was born, he had his mother all to himself from eight in the morning until three in the afternoon. They never watched daytime television but spent their days listening to such musical greats as Dinah Washington, Etta James, Percy Sledge, BJ Thomas, Timi Yuro, Tammy Wynette, Brenda Lee, and George Jones. Eventually it was his turn to start school, which was a disaster for the first few weeks. He went each day, kicking and screaming, but really longed for the days of riding on the back of a canister vacuum cleaner while he and his mother sang “When a Man Loves a Woman.”Those days bonded his love of music to his soul.
In his adolescent years, Billy had always felt somehow different and of course didn’t understand why. When he hit puberty and discovered his attraction to men, the pieces of the puzzle started to come together. At first he didn’t understand it, but he instinctively felt it was wrong. So he fought to keep the feelings hidden and hoped that if he ignored them long enough, they’d go away. But they didn’t, and although his family was very close and always around him, he felt mostly alone. In the eighth grade he’d tried out for a singing part in the school’s rendition of Beach Blanket Bingo and, much to his surprise, got the lead. From that point forward, the quiet and shy little kid became an outgoing and funny young adult. He auditioned for every musical at all the local playhouses and, because of his great singing voice, got the male lead virtually every time. In his heart, he was sure that singing and performing was what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. In his senior year of high school, he taught himself to play guitar and formed a small band. In the beginning, his band played mostly school functions, but after graduation, they started playing local clubs and weddings and began to build up quite a reputation. It was at one of their wedding gigs that he met the first woman he would seriously date. She was fun and attractive and came from a fairly prominent New Orleans family. Still repressing his feelings and attempting to satisfy a desire to be normal and fit in with society, he married her. Unfortunately, she didn’t share his love of music. Soon after they married, she decided that she didn’t want him in clubs night after night chasing a pipe dream and God only knows what else and demanded that he give up the music business. So in the end, he did what his parents had always taught him never to do and put his dreams aside for the sake of his marriage. Six long months of Billy trying to change the person he was to become what she wanted him to be took its toll on both of them and ultimately the marriage. They both realized that although they loved each other, they’d never really been in love, and they called it quits. One year later, the divorce was final, and Billy was free to give his dreams another shot.
Being very naïve and still in denial, he attributed the divorce to youth and failed expectations, but deep down, he knew it was much more. As he matured and became more comfortable in his skin, he faced what he’d known most of his life, dealt with those feelings, and embraced his homosexuality. He eventually told his family, and much to his surprise, they were not as shocked as he had expected them to be. Their only sadness was because they knew he would have to learn firsthand about hatred and persecution. With time everyone adjusted except his father. Although Billy’s father never stopped loving him, Billy felt a new emptiness in their relationship that affected him greatly, mostly because he’d never really felt he had earned his father’s respect, and above all, he wanted and needed it. Now that he’d faced his demons and was rebuilding his life, Billy was again focusing on his dreams. He’d slowly made his way back into the local music scene as a solo act. After several years of playing the Crescent City, nothing was really happening for him, so he made the decision to move to Nashville and give it all he had. On the morning he left, his family was there to send him off. He started his car and rolled down the window for a final goodbye. His mother kissed him, and his father shook his hand and said, “I’m proud of you, son. You’re leaving everything you know behind and making a new life for yourself, and that takes real guts.”
Billy thought back to the many things he had done to hear his father say those words, but he’d never realized that actually leaving his family behind to chase his dreams would be the thing that made his father the most proud. He left with a sense of comfort that warmed him to the core. Billy’s drive from New Orleans to Nashville was long and uneventful. The uninterrupted hours of interstate, with country radio stations fading in and out, gave him a great deal of time to plan a strategy, at least a short-term strategy. The first day he arrived he would find a hotel, look for a day job to help with expenses, and then look for a more suitable place to live. As the first few days passed, he missed his family terribly but was nonetheless energized with the infinite possibilities of the unknown. Nashville was his new home, and for as long as it would have him, he was happy to be there.
The first week, as planned, he searched the want ads for a position that would sustain him financially. He answered several ads and, within a few days, had a great lead. The position was for a foreman at a large horse farm in Mount Juliet, just outside of Nashville, called the Lazy H Ranch. He set up an appointment to meet the owner at ten o’clock the next morning. It wasn’t his dream job, of course, but it would pay the bills until he found something in the music business. When Billy turned in under the large iron arch etched with “The Lazy H Ranch,” he looked down at his watch to confirm he was right on time, nine forty-five. Billy drove down the dust-covered road, and after a half mile or so, he saw two large barns on either side of the drive with what looked like an old farm house that he assumed was used for command central. When he got out of his truck, he was looked over, more than greeted, by a rough and unfriendly looking sort. The man was short and stocky, carrying about thirty extra pounds on his frame. His skin was scarred from years of acne, and his teeth were stained from what appeared to be chewing tobacco, as indicated by the Styrofoam cup he spit into. Hoping this wasn’t the owner, Billy introduced himself and learned the man was a ranch hand named Buck Stevens. Buck directed him to wait near the east barn and someone would be with him shortly. Billy waited around for about forty-five minutes, and no one approached him. He was about to go back and remind Buck that he was still waiting when he saw a tall, ruggedly handsome man walking in his direction. The man, who reminded him of an older version of the Marlboro Man from the old cigarette commercials, walked up and offered his hand. “Hi, I’m Jules James. I’m the owner of the ranch. Are you William Eagan, by any chance?” “Yes, sir, but I go by Billy.” The two shook hands and looked each other over for a few seconds before Jules broke the silence.
“I had just about given up on you, son. I thought your interview was at ten o’clock.” “It was, sir,” Billy replied. “I arrived at nine forty-five, and Buck told me to wait at the east barn and someone would be with me in a minute. I was just about to go back and see Buck when I saw you walking over.” “That’s funny,” Jules said. “I told Buck to have you meet me at the west barn. I have a mare about to foal and I want to be there in case there are any problems.” “I’m sorry about the confusion, sir,” Billy said. “Would you like me to come back?” “No problem,” Jules answered. “Why don’t you walk with me to the west barn and we can have a chat along the way.” “Yes, sir,” Billy said, and the two men headed to the stables.
On the short walk, Billy filled Jules in on his experience with horses and why he was in Nashville. Jules, of course, had heard the same story many times before but listened intently and offered words of encouragement. They soon reached the stall housing the expectant mother. The mare was lying on her side, and as they watched her tense up every few minutes, it was apparent she still had some time before she’d deliver. Billy thought she looked a bit distressed but held his tongue and tried to get a better gauge on the situation. As they examined the mare more closely, Jules continued to tell Billy about the ranch operations and the job he had available. After the examination, Billy was sure something was wrong. More convinced now, he mentioned it to Jules. “Good call,” the ranch owner said. “I was just about to tell you I’m certain the foal is breached.”
Billy spent the next several hours helping Jules try to get the foal in the right position for a natural birth. Eventually they succeeded, and by late afternoon the little filly was born healthy. Once the danger had passed, the two men, impressed with each other’s abilities, cleaned up and headed back to the tack room to put the supplies away. As they entered the tack room, Buck was filling up the feed barrels and looked up and eyed Billy. “Well, Billy,” Jules said, “I’m pretty impressed with your knowledge and skill. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve seen as much as I need to see. If you want the job, it’s yours.” Before Billy could speak, Buck turned around with a disgruntled look on his face and stormed out of the tack room, brushing Billy’s shoulder in the process. “Wow,” Billy said. “What was that all about?” “Oh, don’t pay him any mind,” Jules replied. “He interviewed for the job, but I just don’t think he has the skills to be a foreman. He’s a little hotheaded for my taste.” “If I take the job, is he going to be a problem for me?” Billy asked. “Don’t you worry, I’ll deal with him,” Jules said. “Does this mean you’ll take the job?” “Yes, sir,” Billy replied, and the two men shook hands.
On the way back to the office, Jules said, “My wife and I own a little club on Broadway, and I’m headed there for a couple of beers, then right back here to check on our little one. You want to join me?” Billy said, “Sure,” and within ten minutes they were on their way downtown. When Jules’s truck pulled up to Jean’s Magnolia Saloon, they got out and headed inside. As Jules opened the door to the lounge, Billy’s eyes struggled to adjust to the dark lighting as he glanced around. It was much larger than it looked from the street, he guessed about the size of a small supermarket. On one side, a large mahogany bar ran the full length of the room. Opposite the bar was a raised stage with a colorful set of drums, an electric keyboard, and various musical instruments on stands. In the center of the room was an expansive oblong dance floor surrounded by split-rail fencing with openings at each end and what looked and smelled like fresh sawdust scattered about. Overstuffed chairs in numerous groupings, along with high cocktail tables and barstools, provided ample and comfortable seating.
Jules immediately led Billy up to the bar and introduced him to a beautifully matured, very well-dressed woman behind the counter pouring beer from a tap. His first thought was that she must be Jules’s wife Jean, and his second thought was that she didn’t look like she belonged behind a bar. She was tall and slender, about five foot nine and around a hundred and twenty-five pounds, give or take. Her smile was beaming. With her dark brown hair and deep brown eyes; she appeared to be the epitome of joy, strength, and sincerity. Billy had heard the term “ageless” before but had never really understood it. It had nothing to do with how young a person looked, although this woman looked very youthful. It was really about natural style and confidence.
“Hey, hon,” Jules said, “this is Billy Eagan. He just joined the Lazy H as our new foreman, but he really wants to be a country singer. Billy, this is my wife, Jean.” Jean stuck out her hand, and Billy said, “Pleased to meet you, Mrs. James.” “Nice to meet you, Billy, and please call me Jean. Welcome to Jean’s Magnolia Saloon. By the way, you any good?” “Well, ma’am, I’ve been told I am by more than just my family and friends,” Billy replied, “and I sure hope no one’s been pulling my leg.” Jean smiled. “Monday nights once a month, we have open mic and you’re surely welcome to join us. Many celebrities got their start here. We have a regular crowd of talent scouts that hang around on open mic night just to see if they might just catch the next best thing.” “When’s the next one?” Billy asked. “Tomorrow night, but you better show up early because every newcomer dreaming of stardom will be here and ready to go. And the best thing is, the winner gets to be the opening act for the headliner for the month until the next open mic night. We open the mic at ten, but you better get here by eight to sign up. We only have time for ten acts before the regular house band starts. I hope to see you tomorrow,” Jean added as someone down the bar called her name. “I’ll be here,” Billy said as Jean walked away. “And thanks.”
Jules and Billy sat at the bar enjoying small talk for an hour or so, getting to know one another at a leisurely pace. Jean came and went as business dictated but always came right back and joined the conversation. Finally, after another bartender showed up to relieve Jean, she landed on the barstool next to Billy. “So what’s the hot topic you two seem to be so involved in?” Jean asked. “Oh, we were talking about the ranch,” said Billy. “Jules was telling me you guys live in Lebanon but that he sometimes stays at the ranch when he needs to pull a double, or when they’re expecting a foal, things like that.
So how long have you two been married?” “Forty-nine years now and still going strong,” Jules said as he reached behind Billy and gave Jean a squeeze. “What about you, do you have a girlfriend, son?” “Uh, no, sir,” he replied. Jean chimed in, “I don’t mean to assume anything, but do you have a boyfriend?” “Uh, not at the moment, ma’am,” Billy said with a grin.[/toggle_framed]