Rode hard, put up wet, p.10
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       Rode Hard, Put Up Wet, p.10

         Part #2 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
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Page 10

 

  She glanced at the clock. The red numbers flashed five a. m. No use going back to sleep now—the alarm would ring in another half hour anyway.

  Macie cleaned up, dressed, and braided her hair before she hopped in her SUV and navigated her way to work.

  Late yesterday afternoon, after she and her father finished their meal at the local diner, he’d sped off to Gemma’s ranch to set up the camper. She’d sensed he needed to be alone with his thoughts and to gauge his new responsibilities without her chattering at him. So she’d lingered in the booth, thinking of her best friend Kat, wondering how she’d managed to be a third wheel again. Then she noticed the “help wanted” sign by the cash register and asked the waitress about the opening.

  Velma—the sixty-something owner of the Last Chance Diner—needed a gal Friday to fill in part-time as a cook and waitress. The hours were sporadic, but the pay was decent for rural Wyoming. With Macie’s experience in restaurants, Velma seemed genuinely happy to hire her on a simple handshake.

  Macie was glad her first day would be spent in the kitchen. Between the bizarre dream, and her father ignoring her, beating eggs and dicing veggies would be a productive way to channel her frustrations.

  Inside the restaurant, the rich scent of coffee caused her steps to quicken and she poured a mug before clocking in.

  Velma grinned. “Another caffeine addict, huh?”

  Macie grunted.

  “Well, I’ve already had four cups so I’ve shaken off the cobwebs and started the bacon. ”

  “What time do we open?”

  “Six bells. ” Velma dumped two packages of frozen hashbrowns on the griddle.

  “Most of the early customers are construction workers. They like a big breakfast in a hurry. So I always have a bunch of potatoes and meat done ahead of time. ”

  “Good plan. ” Macie donned an apron, lifted the metal press flattening the bacon to check on its doneness while downing her coffee. “Mostly egg specials?”

  “Yeah. Some with pancakes, most with toast. You have any problems making omelets?”

  “Nope. But I didn’t check to see if there’s anything fancy on the menu like eggs benedict. ”

  Velma poured her another cup of coffee. “No. No huevos rancheros either, no matter how much Diaz begs me to add ’em. ” She confided, “Don’t seem worth it since Diaz is the only Mexican around here. Though he threatens to bring his cousins up from Denver all the time. ”

  “If he asks me, I might just surprise him and whip up a plate. ” She added more oil to the sizzling potatoes. “Most folks assume I’m Mexican anyway. ”

  “I didn’t want to be rude and ask, but are you?”

  Macie smiled. “No. I’m half Lakota Sioux. ”

  “Oh. So the man with you last night? Is he your…”

  “Dad. Cash Big Crow. ”

  “He don’t look old enough to have a daughter your age. ”

  She’d fielded this question often enough it was second nature to her. “He was sixteen when he knocked up my mom. ”

  “I know how that goes. I had my first kid when I was seventeen. ” She shrugged. “It happens. What’s your dad doing around here?”

  “He’s the new foreman for Gemma Jansen’s ranch. ” Macie froze. Maybe that wasn’t supposed to be common knowledge.

  “’Bout damn time Gemma hired somebody decent. She’s been tryin’ to do it all since Steve died. Be workin’ herself into an early grave. ” Velma seemed ready to settle in for a long chat. “Do you know Gemma very well?”

  “No. I just met her yesterday. ”

  “Seems strange she didn’t offer you a job on the Bar 9. ”

  “To tell you the truth, Velma, I’m not much interested in ranching. I’m just tagging along with Dad for the summer, but I couldn’t sit around and do nothing. I don’t want to be accused of being lazy. ” Macie knew her father still struggled against that racial stereotype—of being nothing more than a lazy, freeloading, boozing injun. An attitude she’d run into a time or two herself.

  Velma chuckled. “You ain’t been here for more than twenty-fours hours, and you’ve already got a job, so I think it’s safe to say you ain’t lazy. ”

  “Thanks. ” Macie flipped the hashbrowns. “Just so you know, I’d much rather be back here than out front. ”

  “We’ll get along just fine, Miss Macie, ’cause I’ve had enough years of cookin’ over this hot griddle. I do believe there’s more grease in my veins than blood. ”

  Macie laughed. “Must be why you look so young, Miz Velma. ”

  Velma snapped a dishtowel at her on the way to unlock the front door. “Yes sirree.

  You and I are gonna get along just fine, squirt. ”

  Chapter Eight

  Gemma woke alone. She’d gotten used to it in the last three years, but she still experienced a pang of disappointment.

  Thank God Cash was conked out when she’d come to bed. But in her restless state she couldn’t sleep. When she’d quietly crept out to stare out the window, the tears started.

  Unwanted tears, both happy and sad, as she said goodbye to her past and hello to her future.

  An odd thought occurred to her. Cash hadn’t overheard her crying, had he?

  Pointless to worry about now. She rolled her lazy ass out of bed, realizing she’d overslept by a good hour. Did Cash think she acted the lady of the manor, lolling around between the sheets all day while he was out busting his ass?

  Places were sore on her body that hadn’t been sore in awhile, so she popped a couple of aspirin. She dressed in her usual attire of jeans, boots and a lightweight, long-sleeved cotton shirt to protect her skin from the blistering sun.

  Cash wasn’t in the kitchen. A single bowl and spoon rested in the dish rack beside the sink. No coffee was left warming; the pot was still sparkling clean. Well. Shoot. This wasn’t what she’d expected. Would’ve been nice to share a cup before heading out to feed the cattle.

  She stepped out onto the covered porch, shielding her eyes against the bright rays.

  Cash’s pickup wasn’t parked in front where he’d left it last night, and the ranch truck was in its usual spot. Then Gemma remembered Macie. After devoting last night to her, Cash was probably hanging out with his daughter.

  Gemma didn’t want to interfere, but she had a perverse need to make sure Cash was all right. He seemed a more contentious sort than to take off without telling her where he was going.

  Are you speaking as his lover? Or as his boss?

  She ignored the voices in her head as her strides ate up the distance to the camper.

  She stopped between the outbuildings when she realized Macie’s vehicle wasn’t around either. What the heck?

  As she debated on what to do next, Carter came barreling around the corner of the barn, scaring her half to death.

  “Where is she?” he demanded.

  “Who? Macie?”

  “Yeah. ”

  “I have no idea. Have you seen Cash?”

  “I saw him headin’ out to the west pasture with a load of hay in the back of his truck about an hour ago. ”

  “By himself?”

  “I guess. ”

  “Dammit, Carter. Why weren’t you with him?”

  His eyes narrowed and he countered, “Why weren’t you?”

  She should be beyond blushing at her age. Gemma sighed. “Evidently I overslept.

  Which means Cash is out there doing everything on his own. ”

  “So let him. It is his responsibility now. ”

  “That don’t make me feel any less guilty. This is my place. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to turn over full operations to someone else. ”

  “You’d better at least try. What’s the point of hirin’ someone if you ain’t gonna let him do the work?”

  Her mouth opened, then closed. She couldn’t think of a rational rebuttal.

 
Tires thudded by the barn, sounding abnormally loud in the morning stillness. A drawn out squeak echoed as the gate was opened. An engine gunned and a screech bang followed.

  Gemma hustled toward the sound. Her stomach did a little flip at seeing Cash.

  He yelled, “Mornin’, Gem. ”

  Cash’s smile died the second he saw Carter coming from the direction of Macie’s camper. His neutral expression became a frown when Carter demanded, “Where’s Macie?”

  “If she would’ve wanted you to know, McKay, she would’ve told you. ”

  “You ornery—”

  “Carter,” Gemma said sharply, “enough. ”

  Cash said, “Maybe you oughta be doin’ your job instead of worryin’ ’bout my daughter. ”

  “At least somebody is worried. ” Carter snorted. “Did you see her last night? Or ignore her? I bet you don’t even know where she is. ”

  “As a matter of fact, I do know where she is, and the chances of me tellin’ you just dropped to zero, boy. ”

  Good God. This was ridiculous. “Look. I don’t have time for this stupid male posturing. Carter, what did you get done this morning while Cash was tending the livestock?”

  “I moved the horses into the south pasture. I sprayed down the stalls and refilled the flytraps. Then I prepped Daisy’s medicine. Didn’t know if you wanted me to give it to her or if you wanted to do it. Then I took stock of the rest of the veterinary supplies and made a list for the next time someone goes to the feed store. ”

  Cash seemed impressed. “I noticed them flytraps were lookin’ ratty last night.

  Thanks for takin’ care of it. ” He knocked his hat up a notch and addressed Gemma. “The stock tank out where the cattle are grazin’ is bone dry. I came back to switch out trucks before I head back out to refill the water tanks. ”

  “Is that damn pump broken again? That’s twice in the last month,” Carter said.

  “I wondered. Thought boss lady could help me out. Show me how, or let me figure out the best way to prime the pump. ”
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