Rode hard, put up wet, p.12
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       Rode Hard, Put Up Wet, p.12

         Part #2 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 
Page 12

 

  A lengthy pause hung in the air before he sighed. ”That’s how you feel?”

  “Sometimes. ”

  “I didn’t mean—”

  “I am a big girl. I’m perfectly capable of seeing to my own needs and taking care of myself. ”

  “This ain’t goin’ the way you wanted, is it?”

  She dropped her gaze to the bottle and her fingers picked at the soggy label. “Dad, nothing ever goes the way it’s supposed to when it comes to us. Something always comes up and changes our plans. No biggie. I’m used to it. ”

  Silence hummed as loud as the air conditioning.

  “I’m sorry. ”

  More silence.

  “I’m always sayin’ that to you, ain’t I?”

  Macie shrugged.

  After a while he laughed. “Well, this is fun. I sure know how to kill a conversation.

  This wasn’t what I had in mind when I came here. ”

  She looked up at him. “Why are you here?”

  “Here as in, here in this camper? Or here as in, here on Gemma’s ranch?”

  “Both I guess. ”

  With a drawn out sigh, Cash took off his hat. He tossed it on the seat beside him and scratched his head. “Mostly, I’m here in the camper because I wanted to explain some things. ” His gaze caught hers. “Or as your mother used to say to me, to give you an excuse on why I’m disappointin’ you once again. ”

  She looked away, but she couldn’t help but listen.

  “When I talked to you last week, hell, for the whole last couple of months, you sounded so down. I thought I could be the one to cheer you up for a change. That’s why I invited you to hit the road with me. But the truth is, I didn’t think beyond that, which has always been my downfall. I tend to live in the moment. ” He gestured to the inside of the camper. “As evidenced by my lack of foresight for my future. Since I ain’t got much of anything. Hell, I still ain’t got much to offer you, Macie—”

  “Dad—”

  “Dammit, you have every right to be pissed off. Why you bein’ so nice to me? Here you are, in the wilds of Wyoming, stuck in a crappy camper, forcin’ yourself to get a job, and probably feelin’ ignored by the person who brung you here in the first place. ” He chugged his beer. “Am I close to right?”

  “Partially. ” She scraped the gummy reside from the glass bottle. “But I can’t help being nice. It’s the way I was raised. ”

  The way he went motionless, Macie knew he was thinking he hadn’t had a hand in that either.

  “You takin’ the foreman’s job did surprise me. ”

  “Surprised me too. Especially since other ranch folks have asked me to go to work for them, but…”

  “But they weren’t her. ” Macie took a big drink. “You have been talkin’ about her a lot for the last year. So what is it about her? Besides she’s a hot lookin’, tough actin’ cowgirl with a big Ford truck?”

  He smiled slightly. “Shee. I could give you some bullshit answer, but the truth is, I don’t know. Been askin’ myself the same question. Why, after I’d ’bout given up on her, that I’d drop everything the minute she asked me to. ”

  “Maybe it’s because she asked. She seems like the type of person who’d prefer to do everything herself. Which I understand. ”

  “Me too. ”

  “So, on a basic level if she has to ask, she really is in need of help. Your help alone, apparently. ”

  “True. ” He shot her a silly grin. “Inherited your smarts from your momma, that’s for damn sure. ”

  The ensuing silence wasn’t uncomfortable for a change.

  Macie finished her beer and pointed at his empty bottle. “You want another?”

  “Nah. I’m good. So tell me about your day flippin’ cakes and bacon. ”

  “It’s always weird starting a new job. My first thought was, sleepy little diner in a sleepy little town. How busy can it be? Man, was I in for a rude awakening. Damn place is hoppin’ for breakfast. I kept up. ” She smiled. “Barely. Velma was happy, so that’s all that mattered. ”

  “Didn’t seem overly busy over the noon hour. ”

  It’d shocked her when he and Gemma strolled in for lunch. It’d shocked her even more that her dad seemed…proud of her. For being a fast cook? Not that there was anything wrong with cooking in a greasy spoon, but for most parents, having their kid working in a diner wouldn’t be a proud parent moment.

  “It stayed steady. I think it creates a shorter lunch rush because people know Velma shuts down the grill at two and doesn’t reopen until five. Day after tomorrow I’ll be working the late shift. Waitressing. Ugh. Not my favorite. ”

  When her dad didn’t comment, and kept his face aimed at the table, Macie leaned forward and said, “What?”

  “You waitressing. ” Cash burst out laughing. “I would’ve loved to see you dumpin’ cold tea on the guy grabbin’ you. Least of what he deserved. I’da clocked him. ”

  Her lips twitched. “Wasn’t funny at the time, but I don’t regret it. ”

  “Good. ” He glanced around the small space. “You’re okay stayin’ here in the travelin’ tipi?”

  “Yep. ”

  “It’s kinda small. Kinda out of date. Probably not what you’re used to, eh?”

  “It’s fine. ”

  “You sure there isn’t anything else you need?”

  Just time with you. “No, really, Dad, this is great. I like this place a lot better than my last apartment. ” There was something oddly comforting about living in a place he’d lived, since they hadn’t ever inhabited the same space. Oddly enough, it felt like home.

  His frown lines deepened. He looked away.

  “What?”

  “I just realized I ain’t been to any of your apartments. Sweet Jesus. Talk about bein’ a bad father—”

  “Stop. You had other things occupying your mind. ” Macie took a chance, reached for his hand and squeezed.

  He squeezed back. “Things change, honey-girl. I want things to change between us.

  I’ll try my damndest to make it so. ”

  “Me too. ”

  “Good. Tomorrow night after I’m done with chores, you wanna go ridin’?”

  “Nothing you can say, Dad, will ever get me on a bull. ”

  He chuckled. “Horseback ridin’, not bull ridin’. ”

  “Oh. Umm. Sure. I just hope I don’t make a fool of myself in front of Gemma. It’s been awhile since I’ve been on a horse. ”

  He paused. “I thought maybe it could just be…you and me. ”

  “Really?”

  No, not really, a little voice reminded her, something will come up and he’ll have to cancel.

  “Really. ”

  Macie told the voice to shut up. “Cool. I’d like that. ”

  “It’s a date. ” He wiggled his hat on his head and stood. “You need anything at all, just call my cell. ”

  Why couldn’t she just go up to the house and ask him in person? “What are you and Gemma up to tonight?”

  When he glanced away quickly, she understood there were certain things she did not need to know about her father—or how he and his boss spent their idle hours. “Never mind. You don’t have to answer that. ”

  “Gemma and I are goin’ to check out a couple of buckin’ horses over by Beulah.

  We’ll be back tonight, but it’ll probably be late tonight. ”

  “Then drive safe and I’ll see you tomorrow. ”

  He wrapped an arm around her shoulder, giving her a quick peck on the forehead.

  “Later. ”

  The familiar scent of horses and leather and sun-baked cotton surrounded her. Maybe she’d be doomed to disappointment, but Macie was happy her dad was at least trying to reach out to her. And she’d be damned if she’d slap his hand away.

  Chapter Ten

  Later that night another rumble of thunder rattle
d Macie’s teeth. Lightning flashes seared her eyes. Wind gusts made the camper shake like an aluminum can. Rain pelted the steel siding.

  The electricity had crapped out hours ago. She had no clue how the backup generator on the camper worked. Her cell phone was completely dead. She couldn’t call her dad—

  not that she would’ve ventured outside in a raging freakin’ thunderstorm by herself even if she’d had explicit instructions on how to fix the damn generator.

  So Macie cowered in the dark, alone, completely freaked out and feeling stupid for being such a scaredy cat. God. She should be over this irrational fear of storms by now.

  Still, she knew if her dad and Gemma were around, she would’ve hightailed it into Gemma’s house. As far as she knew, they hadn’t made it home. She’d like to think her father would’ve checked on her to make sure she was all right.

  He’d sooner check on his horses and cows than on you.

  Stop it. All of it—the recriminations, the neediness, the overpowering fear.

  Yet, her subconscious reminded her in every horror movie she’d ever watched gruesome scenes took place during a thunderstorm—when the female victim was alone.

  Every noise spooked her. She’d tried to block them out by singing “Redneck Woman” at the top of her lungs. Didn’t help. When a crash sounded outside her window, she’d managed not to scream, but panic kept her wide-awake.

  The wind whistled and a new fear arose. Were there tornados in Wyoming? Here she was stuck in a small camper—aka a tornado magnet. Gemma’s house had a cellar. She’d be safe there. Should she make a run for it? But…what if there were electrical wires on the ground? What if she stepped outside onto a live line? Was it worth it to take a chance she might be electrocuted? As she debated, the door to the camper blew open.

  She screamed. She screamed even louder when she saw the hulking, dark figure blocking the doorway. Blindly she reached on the counter for a weapon—hoping for a frying pan, a flyswatter, a can of nonstick cooking spray…anything.
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