Rode hard, put up wet, p.22
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       Rode Hard, Put Up Wet, p.22

         Part #2 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 
Page 22

 

  “Did you love Jorgen?”

  “No. ”

  “Still, you were so young when all that happened. I’m surprised you never married and had more kids. ”

  “After the shit I’ve told you, you think I’d subject a kid to havin’ me as a father?” Or a woman who’d want me as a husband. He didn’t say it, he just shifted his weight on the hard cement. “What about you and Steve?”

  “What about us?”

  “You never had kids. On purpose?”

  “We would’ve welcomed a baby. Just didn’t happen. And Steve was old-fashioned.

  He didn’t want fertility tests to figure out the problem. Nor did he warm to the idea of adoption. I know some folks look at me with pity because I’m childless. But you can’t miss what you’ve never had. ”

  “True. What would you do if you ended up pregnant now?”

  Gemma choked. “What? Lord, Cash, I’m forty-eight—”

  “You ain’t been through menopause yet, have you?”

  “No. Have the symptoms, though. ”

  “Don’t matter. My unci had her last baby when she was fifty-one. She thought it was menopause. So, I guess that means we’d better make sure we’re usin’ condoms, much as I hate it. ”

  “I hate it too but I guess you’re right. ”

  Darkness had fallen. The yard light clicked on. Pretty soon bugs would be out in full force. Cash was tired of talking. Spilling his guts hadn’t alleviated the ache in his heart or his head. Gemma seemed to sense his mood change.

  She smoothed his hair away from his face. “How’s your head?”

  “Still hurts. ”

  “Want me to keep going?”

  “Nah. Thanks for the offer though. I think I might just pop a couple aspirin and crawl in bed. ” He stood and grabbed his empty beer bottle. “Probably be best if I slept in the guest bedroom tonight so I don’t disturb you. ”

  “But that’s not necessary—”

  “’Night, Gem. ”

  He didn’t look back. He couldn’t take her look of pity.

  And he knew she wasn’t ready to see what he couldn’t hide in his eyes.

  Chapter Sixteen

  Headlights swept the windows above the sink. Water splashed in the mud puddles and the red taillights disappeared.

  Macie was back.

  Gemma didn’t move from the kitchen table where she’d been working on the ranch books. She glanced at the clock. Cash had been in bed for two hours. She’d resisted checking on him, more worried she’d find him awake and avoiding her than sleeping off his headache.

  Things had taken a strange turn today. Not only because he’d fucked her senseless in the barn, but because he’d opened up to her. She suspected he was filled with regret about showing her that tender side of himself and the guilt he carried.

  Did Macie know? Did she care?

  How did Gemma reconcile wanting to be with Cash outside of the workday, when she knew he felt guilty that he wasn’t spending that time with his daughter?

  She jumped at the four solid knocks on the glass window of the screen door. She said, “Come in,” and Macie slipped inside and hesitated by the wall.

  “Hey, Gemma. How’s it going?”

  “Good. How are you?”

  “Okay. ” She glanced at the doorway to the living room. “Umm. Is my dad around?”

  “Yeah. But he had a bad headache and he’s in bed. ”

  Macie’s eyes filled with concern. “Is he all right?”

  “I hope so. ” Gemma expected Macie to say a quick goodbye and disappear back to the camper. It surprised her when Macie pulled out a chair and plopped down.

  “Is he mad at me?”

  “Why would he be mad at you?”

  “Because he and I were supposed to go horseback riding tonight. I fell asleep at Carter’s. When I woke up it was already dark. ”

  Ah. No wonder Cash acted so melancholy. “He didn’t act like he was mad. Maybe a little disappointed. ”

  “Crap. I never meant…I just lost track of time. ” Macie sighed. “Story of my life.

  Story of our life actually. Seems like our plans are always interrupted. ”

  Macie left her as good an opening as any to broach the subject. “Does it bother you that your dad is here working for me rather than hitting the backroads with you? That was your plan, right?”

  “Yeah, but I’d never put any stock into it beyond getting to hang out with him. We talk on the phone at least once a week, but it’s not the same. It’s been a rough year for him. ”

  “How so?”

  “Realizing he’s too old to rodeo fulltime. Having to take shit jobs just to make ends meet. ” She shot Gemma a sheepish look. “No offense intended. ”

  “None taken. ” Gemma sipped her cold coffee. “What about you? Are you taking a shit job just to hang out here?”

  Macie grinned. “No. I was thrilled to find work in a restaurant. Mucking out stalls would be my idea of a shit job. ”

  “You working a lot?”

  “We’ll see. I think Velma is testing me. Or punishing me. I’m waitressing some. I’d rather be in the kitchen. ” She pointed to Gemma’s cup. “Got any more coffee?”

  “In the pot. ”

  She stood. “You want a reheat?”

  “Sure. ”

  Gemma watched while Macie made herself completely at home. It was weird to think this beautiful young woman was Cash’s daughter. It was probably equally weird for Macie to sit down with her father’s boss.

  And her father’s lover.

  Yeah. They weren’t ready to go there yet.

  “So, you’re doing some modeling for Carter?”

  “I guess. He’s been pretty mum on what it’ll turn out like. ”

  Gemma frowned at Macie’s baggy black sweats. “Those seem a little informal for the kind of art Carter does. ”

  “Let’s just say there was an incident with my clothes today, and Carter lent me these. ” Casually, Macie said, “It’s pretty cool you’re letting Carter live here this summer. ”

  “It works, since he’s willing to help me out. ”

  “How long have you known him?”

  “Since he was about ten. Technically, that’s how long I’ve known the whole McKay clan. ”

  “So what’s his family like?”

  “His folks are nice. His brothers are sweet-talkin’ hell raisers. The youngest, his sister Keely? She’s hell on horseback. They’re a close bunch. All the boys except for Cam live around the McKay ranch. ” She blew on her coffee and looked at Macie.

  “Why?”

  “Just curious. Dad doesn’t seem to have a high opinion of them. ”

  “Yes, he does. He just don’t like the fact Carter is sniffin’ around you. ”

  When Macie didn’t respond, Gemma said, “You thought of how to break it to your dad you’re doin’ more than posin’ for Carter?”

  “It’s that obvious?”

  “No. But wearing Carter’s clothes and the love bites on your neck might tip him off. ”

  “Crap. ”

  Gemma waited and hid a smile behind her cup.

  “I know I just met him, but he’s so…intense. I don’t know if he’s feeding me lines about his art or what. And I sure don’t want my dad to say—”

  “—I told you so?” Gemma supplied.

  “No. I don’t want Dad to think I’m a fool. Especially when I’ve yet to see a single thing Carter has drawn or painted or sculpted or whatever he does with clay. And I’m not just talking about when he’s supposedly using me as a subject. Wouldn’t you think he’d have something that he made where he lives?”

  Gemma set down her cup and stood. “Follow me. I want to show you something. ” In the living room she unhooked an 8 X 10 frame from the wall next to the china cabinet and passed it to Macie. “Carter drew that for me. ”

  “Hol
y cow. It’s beautiful. This was your husband?”

  “Yeah. ” She let her gaze skim over the pencil and charcoal portrait of Steve. “Carter gave that to me about a year after Steve died. Somehow he managed to capture not only Steve’s personality, but his soul. ”

  After a solid minute passed, Macie slowly raised her eyes. “That’s what I’m afraid of, Gemma. That he’ll see too much. ”

  Gemma’s heart lurched. Macie was so like Cash in so many ways. “I wish I knew what to say to that, Macie, but I don’t. ”

  “That’s okay. Thanks for not spewing a buncha bullshit. I’d rather have the truth. ”

  “Me too. ”

  Once they were back in the kitchen, Macie glanced at the papers strewn across the table and said, “It’s late. I didn’t mean to interrupt. ”

  “You didn’t. Honestly? I was glad for the company. You do know you’re welcome here—both in the house and on the ranch. If I hadn’t made that clear, I meant to. ”

  “Thanks. I should go. ” Macie stopped and turned around. “If my dad wakes up will you tell him I was here and I’ll see him tomorrow?”

  “Sure. ”

  “’Night, Gemma. ”

  “’Night. ”

  Gemma watched the flashlight bobbing across the yard. Only when the lights in the camper were flicked off and she knew Macie was safe did she head for bed.

  Chapter Seventeen

  “Medium-well. Baked potato with sour cream and a side of…what is the vegetable tonight?”

  “Creamed corn. ”

  The man scowled. “Disgusting. Give me the salad with Thousand Island dressing.

  On the side. No onions. No tomatoes. No carrots. Light on the bacon bits and cheese. No croutons. ”

  Macie expected him to say “light on the lettuce”. She waited for more instructions and the customer stared at her like she was an idiot. She pasted on a smile. “Got it. Your salad will be right out. ”
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