Rode hard, put up wet, p.18
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       Rode Hard, Put Up Wet, p.18

         Part #2 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 
Page 18

 

  The McKays gathered around a table piled high with food—laughing, smiling, happy.

  Normal pictures of a normal family with fond memories.

  Something like jealousy twisted in Macie’s gut. She didn’t have any pictures like that. She had a few happy memories from her childhood, but no documentation.

  What would it be like to have that connection? To people? To a single place? To have a history?

  Someone like Carter would never understand that even as she craved that kind of bond, the idea of permanence scared her to death.

  As she studied the second row of pictures, her face burned like she’d peeked into a forbidden window to the subject’s soul. She knew without a doubt Carter had snapped these photos.

  The first one was a close-up of his parents. His mother’s hand rested on his father’s weathered cheek. An intense love was apparent on their faces and they seemed unaware of anything but each other.

  The second photo was of a dark-haired brother, wearing the duds of a rodeo cowboy.

  He hung on a metal fence watching the action in the arena, a far-away look in his eyes.

  The next one was of the man with the baby, except he was alone, exhaustion lining his face as he threw a hay bale from the bed of a beat-up truck, oblivious to the beautiful pearly orange glow of the sunset behind him. The black and white picture of his sister showed her grinning in pigtail braids, not yet woman, not quite girl, innocence and deviltry mixed with an innate sensuality. The last snapshot was of the brother who was probably the source of the bad McKay reputation, given he had a gorgeous blonde stripper perched on each knee, a big cigar clamped between his teeth and a bottle of Jack Daniels in his hand.

  No other pictures of the soldier. No intimate glimpses into Carter either. She wondered if any members of his family had such introspective pictures of him? Or did he hide behind his art? Use the camera and his sketch pad as a shield? Was there a deeper reason for the distance she glimpsed in him when others were around?

  So what would the pictures he’d taken of her reveal? Would her face, her heart, her soul, be an open book?

  Did he intend to showcase her frailties and failings as part of his art? What would she do if he did? Although Carter claimed to know her, how much did she really know of him? She shoved the paranoid thoughts in the back of her mind.

  Macie exited the trailer. The air was muggy and humid, heavy with the promise of rain. A light mist created banks of fog, hiding the beautiful landscape and the enormous sky. She’d forgotten her shoes, so she picked her way to the barn across the pea-sized gravel, one barefooted step at a time. She stopped when she saw the barn door was ajar and she heard a strange noise from inside.

  Déjà vu.

  Or a repeat of the sexy dream she’d had of a trio of hot cowboys?

  Dammit. The blurry line between reality and fantasy was making her nuts. To ensure she was fully awake, she pinched the inside of her forearm. Hard.

  Damn that hurt. But at least she knew she wasn’t dreaming. Macie took a deep breath and quietly slipped inside.

  Artificial light shone in the main room from a large metal cone-shaped fixture. Soft, twangy music drifted from an unseen boom box. An explosion of art supplies—jars, paints, brushes, jumbo rolls of paper, machinery, long pieces of wood, sticks—covered every available flat surface. Carter might keep his living area immaculate, but his workspace resembled a pigsty. The irony wasn’t lost on her, as the man had set up shop in a barn.

  She allowed her gaze to focus on him. Good God. The man was nearly naked. A ratty cowboy hat on his head was about the extent of his attire. He’d changed out of jeans and wore a stained pair of sweatpants hacked off above the knee. Few men looked better out of clothes than in them, and Carter McKay was one of those lucky men.

  Lucky her. She swallowed the puddle of drool forming in her mouth.

  Carter hadn’t noticed her. He was working an enormous chunk of greenish clay, adding smaller blobs. She couldn’t see his face, but she could hear him singing along with the radio. She smiled. Who would’ve thought he could carry a tune? Keith Urban had nothing to worry about, but Velma might have a new contender for the open mic contest next Friday night.

  Macie was strangely content just to watch Carter, fascinated by his controlled body movements. The muscles in his shoulders bunched as he lifted his arms. As he pushed and pulled the clay, corded muscles popped up on his forearms. A thin line of sweat trickled down his spine and disappeared into his low-slung sweatpants. She wished she could see his hands. Those long, clever fingers smoothing and shaping, plunging deep.

  Outside the mist morphed into a steady, soft rainfall. The clean scent of rain wafted through the open door, but did nothing to cool her off. Seemed nothing could make her take her eyes off him, either.

  She’d thought Carter was sexy when they’d first met, but it was nothing compared to the way she felt when she looked at him now. Despite his overwhelming intensity, he was sweet and thoughtful and had a body made for pure sin. She wanted him. Wanted his clay-covered hands on her. Molding her breasts. Leaving a muddy trail down her belly.

  Leaving moon-shaped clay marks from his fingernails digging into her hips. Seeing his big handprints on the inside of her thighs.

  Tasting clay and passion on his lips. Scraping her nails down his sweat-coated back.

  Clutching his ass. Watching lust fire in his eyes as he took everything she offered him.

  Right then she knew she wouldn’t deny him a damn thing.

  Thunder cracked outside.

  Macie gasped at the intrusion of reality into her little fantasy world.

  Carter spun to glare at her. “Jesus, Macie, what are you doin’ in here?”

  “I-I woke up a little while ago—”

  “And you just snuck in to spy on me in my private studio?”

  His angry look doused her steamy thoughts. “No!”

  “Then what the hell—” He paced toward her, then back. “Fuck. ” Angrily he wiped his hands on a towel. “Never mind. My own damn fault. Shoulda put a lock on that goddamn door. ”

  “I-I’m sorry. I’ll go. ”

  The gentle rain changed to a torrential downpour. More thunder boomed. The wind howled and the door smacked shut.

  “No. That’s okay. Hang on. Just let me—”

  The last thing she saw before she fled was Carter flinging a sheet over the globs of clay and mysterious shape on the table.

  Macie couldn’t blame the way she trembled solely on the change in the weather. The change in Carter had a lot to do with it.

  Stupid girl. Stupid to hope he’d be different. When would she learn nothing ever changed for her when it came to her relationships with men?

  Water splashed up to her ankles, as she couldn’t avoid mud puddles. Had she left her keys in her car?

  He’d glared at her like a disobedient child.

  A sharp rock tore at the skin on the bottom of her foot and she stumbled. She righted herself and kept limping along in the downpour. Why in the hell had she parked so far away?

  Maybe it was a cosmic sign she should drive far away and never look back. Good plan.

  “Macie!”

  Don’t look back. He’ll convince you to stay—only temporarily—and you need to keep running.

  She’d counted to ten when a hand landed on her shoulder and jerked her to a stop.

  A BOOM of thunder nearly burst her eardrums.

  She screamed.

  Strong male arms wrapped her against a warm bare chest. “Hey. It’s okay. I’ve got you. ”

  “No! Let me go. ” Being wet and mad made it easy for her to slither out of his grasp.

  Her hair hung in her eyes, obscuring her vision, her dress was sopping wet and stuck to her calves like plastic wrap.

  Still, Macie ran.

  Until two steel bands immobilized her completely. She’d only
taken three steps that time.

  “Macie. Calm down. ”

  She thrashed and shrieked.

  He put his mouth directly on her ear. “It’s me. Carter. ”

  “I know who you are, dumbass, why do you think I’m trying to get away?”

  Carter spun her to face him, keeping his hands gripping her upper arms. “What is wrong with you?”

  “You won’t let me go. You’re keeping me here against my will. I just want to go home. ”

  The clouds rumbled and she went absolutely still.

  Silence.

  “You’re soakin’ wet, scared out of your mind and in no shape to drive. ”

  “I have to get out of here. ”

  “No, you don’t. You need to take a deep breath and calm down. ”

  “Don’t tell me what to do!”

  The threat of thunder gave way to another loud boom and before the noise quit, Macie screamed again.

  Carter cupped her face in his hands. “Look at me. Jesus, Macie, you’re scarin’ me. ”

  “And you’re pissing me off. Let. Me. Go!” She knocked his hands away, dodged sideways and ran.

  This time she made it about ten steps when she heard— Riiiippppp. Carter had caught her by the back of her dress.

  She whirled around, leading with her fists, losing her footing as she yelled, “You bastard. ”

  He lunged for her as she slipped in the mud and they both fell to the soggy earth.

  She scrambled to her hands and knees and tried to crawl away from him.

  He snagged her ankle, rolled her on her back and pinned her to the ground.

  Macie thrashed and bucked like a penned wild animal. She was scared by the storm, mad at Carter for treating her as callously as every other man in her life, but mostly mad at herself for acting like a child in the face of a thunderstorm. Again. Breathing hard, she closed her eyes and managed not to scream at another deafening roar of thunder.

  Carter locked her wrists in one of his hands and pressed them above her head, while his hard body trapped hers.

  “Look at me. ”

  She shook her head.

  “Please. Macie. Let me help you. ”

  “It’ll help me if you let me go. ”

  “No. ”

  “You can’t do this to me. First you snap—”

  “I’m sorry I yelled at you. ”
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