Rode hard, put up wet, p.13
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       Rode Hard, Put Up Wet, p.13

         Part #2 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 
Page 13

 

  “Macie? Where are you?”

  She had to be hearing things. Why would he be here now?

  The deep voice became louder. “Macie? It’s me. Carter. Carter McKay. ”

  “Carter?”

  “Yeah. Where are you?” Ooof exploded from his lungs as she tackled him. She wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs clamped his waist like visegrips. She’d didn’t care he was sopping wet; she didn’t care that she immediately burst into tears.

  “Hey, now. Ssh. It’s okay. I’m here, darlin’. I’ve got you. Ssh. Take a deep breath. ”

  He slammed the door shut with his foot, and walked sideways through the galley style kitchen. He cursed when his knee hit the edge of the mattress and they half-fell on the bed.

  Macie clung to him.

  Carter shifted her body. He settled her on his lap, not attempting to disentangle the death grip her limbs had on him. His hands stroked her back, soothing her. He rested his chin on her head.

  Her breath stuttered. She buried her face in his solid warmth. After she’d regained some semblance of calm, she sighed.

  “Better?” he murmured.

  “A little. ”

  “Pleased as I am to have you in my arms, can I ask why you’re actin’ so…”

  Please, don’t say childish.

  “…skittish?”

  Although thankful he wasn’t making fun of her, she couldn’t find the guts to answer.

  “Macie?”

  She wasn’t surprised he kept prodding her. But it was his gentle tone that made her whisper, “Because I hate storms. ”

  “I kinda guessed that. ”

  Rain beat on the roof in the silence, mocking her fear.

  “I’ve been terrified of them since I was a kid. ”

  “Why?”

  She didn’t answer.

  “It might help if you tell me what happened. ”

  Macie suspected he wouldn’t quit pestering her until she told him the truth. “When I was about four, I woke up in the middle of the night during a bad thunderstorm. We were living in a two-bedroom trailer in Texas. I went into my mom’s room, only to find she wasn’t there. So I crawled in her bed and waited for her. Scared out of my mind that someone had broken in and kidnapped her. I hid under a blanket, but I couldn’t even cry because I thought maybe the bad guys would hear me and come back. The lightning was so close I remember the hair on my arms and the back of my neck standing straight up.

  “Then a hailstorm blew through and hailstones the size of baseballs pounded the roof, and beat on the side of the trailer hard enough the bedroom windows broke. Glass covered the floor. Everything was soaking wet from the rain. I remember it was so dark and I was alone and I couldn’t move. For hours. It seemed like I spent a solid lifetime in that bed. Whenever it storms it reminds me of being helpless and alone—”

  “Ssh. Macie, darlin’, I’m here. You’re not alone now. ” Carter rocked her.

  She released another shuddering sigh. “My mom never understood why I was afraid, so I’ve never told anyone else. ”

  “I’m glad you told me. ”

  “Yeah, well, it seems kind of embarrassing not to have outgrown that childhood fear. ”

  “It seems perfectly justified to me. Besides, we all have fears we try to hide. ”

  “Even you?”

  He laughed softly. “Even me. ”

  Macie lifted her head and peered in his eyes. “You know mine, it’s only fair you tell me yours. ”

  “Promise you won’t laugh?”

  She nodded.

  Absentmindedly, he brushed the damp hair from her cheek. “See, I’m way worse off than you because I have two. The first one is, I’m petrified of dancin’. ”

  “You’re afraid of dancing?”

  “Stupid, huh?”

  “Why? Did you have a cowgirl spurn you at a junior high dance or something?”

  “No. I’m afraid I’ll look like a fool. It is a bone-deep fear that keeps me far, far away from weddin’ dances and the dance floor in honky-tonks. ”

  “You’ve never two-stepped?”

  “Nope. ”

  “Slow danced?”

  “Nope. ”

  “So, your high school prom?”

  “Skipped it, but I went to the kegger afterward. ”

  “Huh. ” She fingered the collar on his T-shirt. “No woman in your life has tried to teach you?”

  “Not a lot of women in my life, Macie. ” He laughed softly. “Besides my mom. And to further emasculate myself, I have a fear of monkeys. ”

  “Why?”

  “I think it stems from The Wizard of Oz and those damn flyin’ monkeys. My brothers found out my fear and used to torture me, tyin’ me to a chair and replayin’ those scenes with the flyin’ monkeys over and over. Same goes for Planet of the Apes. Then when I was older I read a short story about a possessed toy monkey—you know the kind that you wind up and it plays the cymbals?—this monkey had the power to make people kill and go crazy. ” He shuddered. “Not cute and cuddly creatures. Hairy overgrown rats, that’s what they are. ”

  A crack of lightning flashed outside the window, followed by a booming crash of thunder; Macie jumped and hid her face against his chest.

  “Easy. ”

  A couple of beats passed as rain pounded on the roof.

  “You okay?”

  No. “I’m better than I was. ”

  “Glad I’m good for something. ”

  “I just don’t understand why you’re here. Or how you knew…”

  “Gemma called me to tell me she wasn’t gonna spook the new horses and drag them through the storm. She and Cash would be stayin’ overnight in Spearfish. I figured that meant you were here alone. When the electricity went off, I thought I’d better check on you. ”

  Gemma had called him? Not her dad? Rather than analyze that, she said, “Thanks. ”

  “No problem. Plus, I wanted to apologize for not showin’ up last night. ” His thumb swept the top of her ear, causing gooseflesh to break out on her neck. “Gemma said you probably needed time to settle in. I should’ve ignored her and listened to my gut and come here like I planned. ”

  “I wondered what happened. I figured maybe it’d all been—”

  “—a line? What I said to you at the rodeo grounds wasn’t a line, Macie. I’ll keep tellin’ you that until you believe it. ” His mouth grazed her temple. “So, you wanna pack your stuff and come home with me?”

  Macie didn’t respond. Despite the fact Carter was being sweet and thoughtful, she didn’t want to be away from everything familiar.

  Right. Nothing about this situation was familiar. But it smacked of trouble to just let Carter swoop in and take care of her. She knew better than to rely on anyone besides herself.

  “Macie?”

  “Thanks, but I think I’d rather stay here. ”

  “Is it because you’re afraid of leavin’ and goin’ out into the storm?” He paused and leaned back to look at her. “Or just afraid of me?”

  “Maybe a little of both. ”

  Carter considered her for a moment. “Well, I didn’t bring my toothbrush, so you’ll have to share yours. ”

  “You’re staying here? Why?”

  “And miss my chance to show off my cowboy manners by helpin’ a little lady in distress?” Carter grinned. “Not on your life, darlin’. ”

  “But. That doesn’t mean I’m gonna—”

  “I have nothin’ else in mind for tonight, I swear. ”

  Macie gave him a skeptical look.

  “That doesn’t mean things won’t change in a heartbeat after you’re not lookin’ at me like a scared rabbit. ” He traced her cheek with the back of his hand. “Fear is the last thing I wanna see in these beautiful brown eyes when I take you the first time. ”

  Not make love to her. Take her. Despite her lingering fear of the
storm, his words sent a thrill through her.

  “Although, I ain’t chivalrous enough to sleep on the couch. ”

  “If you didn’t bring a toothbrush, I don’t suppose you brought pajamas either?”

  A slow smile lit his face. “I’ve never been overly fond of pajamas. ”

  The thought of sleeping all night next to a naked Carter…Lord. You’d think she was bone-cold from the sheer amount of shivers racking her body.

  Lightning spiked nearby, accompanied by a deafening crack of thunder. She gasped and threw herself against him again.

  “Hey. It’s okay. ”

  After she quit shaking, he stood. “Maybe we should crawl in, pull the covers over our heads and try to forget about the storm. ” Carter peeled back the denim comforter and smoothed the rumpled sheet. “You first. ”

  Macie heard rustling sounds as Carter stripped down to nothing.

  The camper shook from another gust of wind. The covers were lifted, the bed dipped and a hot, hard male pressed against her.

  Carter swore under his breath. “Darlin’, your skin is clammy and you’re freezin’.

  Come here and let me warm you up. ”

  “Carter—”

  “Innocent warmin’ this time, Macie, I promise. ” His hands drifted up and down her back, and he tucked her against his chest.

  She relaxed and let him calm her. She began to block out the sounds of the storm and synchronized her breathing to his.

  After awhile he murmured, “Better?”

  “Mmm. ”

  Carter kept his caresses light, but constant. Another few minutes passed and he said,

  “Can I ask you something?”

  “Yeah, I guess. ”

  “Does your dad know what happened to you when you were a kid? About your mom leavin’ you alone and your fear of storms?”

  “No. ”

  “Why not?”

  Yeah, why not? That same smarmy voice persisted.
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