Rode hard, put up wet, p.23
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       Rode Hard, Put Up Wet, p.23

         Part #2 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 
Page 23

 

  The diner was busy enough for the next hour she didn’t have time to wish she was slaving over a hot grill instead of bringing Clem, a regular with a sweet tooth and a toothless smile, his tenth cup of coffee.

  “Order up, Macie,” TJ yelled from the kitchen.

  “Thanks. ” She tossed a sprig of parsley on top of the plate and delivered it to her customer. Hopefully he was her last customer of the night. She was ready to go home and knock back a beer or six.

  “What’s wrong?” Velma asked as she dumped two ladles of French dressing on a bowl of iceberg lettuce.

  “I don’t know. I’m just cranky. ” And horny. Which made her even more cranky. She was never horny. Or she’d never been until Carter McKay sent her hormones into overdrive.

  Why were her hormones causing problems now? Simply because it’d been a week since she’d seen or heard from Carter?

  Yeah, she knew he was working. Although, she hadn’t heard that from him directly, but from Gemma. Luckily her father hadn’t chimed in about Carter’s absence a couple of days after finding him in her bed. Evidently there hadn’t been any projects around the Bar 9 that required Carter’s help either. Which meant her dad had plenty of time to spend with her. Which was great. They’d gone horseback riding twice, and she’d spent her free mornings watching him work with Gemma’s horses.

  So why was she so cranky?

  Instead of taking out her frustrations on customers, Macie snuck into the kitchen and chopped celery and green peppers for the Western-style potato salad for tomorrow’s lunch special. Dicing onions always made her cry. She’d leave that task for the morning.

  Unless she needed another reason to hide out in the kitchen. And cry.

  She’d restocked the dry goods and was rolling silverware when the wind chimes clanked behind her, signaling more customers.

  Macie groaned. “Velma, can you take the next table? I forgot to—” drink all the cooking sherry in the pantry, “—check the apples for worms—”

  “—don’t worry, I got it handled. Mmm. Mmm. Lord, I wouldn’t mind handling him. ”

  “What?”

  “Nothin’. ” Macie heard the spritz spritz of Velma’s breath spray and then Velma cooed, “Howdy there, sugar. Why don’t you rest them fine legs, sit and take a load off?”

  Sugar? Macie turned and saw Carter standing in the middle of the diner. Ignoring Velma, ignoring everyone, just staring at her.

  Still feeling cranky, she demanded, “What are you doing here?”

  Without a word, without taking his eyes off hers, Carter stalked behind the counter.

  When he stood in front of her, he curled his hands around her head and slanted his mouth over hers. He kissed her like she was air, like she was food, like she was everything.

  Damn him.

  The diner was dead quiet except for the sound of heavy breathing. Hers mostly.

  Carter pulled back scarcely a millimeter and whispered, “That is what I’m doinghere. Oh. And this is why I’m here too. ” He kissed her again. Like she was naked.

  “Can I get some more coffee back here?”

  “Hush up, Clem,” Velma snapped. “This is better than the dinner theater down in Lingle. ”

  But Clem’s whiny voice brought Macie back to reality. She retreated from Carter’s irresistible kisses.

  He crowded her again. “I want to talk to you. I need to talk to you. ”

  “Sit down. You’re not supposed to be back here. ”

  “It’s okay with me,” Velma said cheerily.

  “You’re not helping. He already thinks rules don’t apply to him. ”

  Carter grinned.

  Macie pointed at the counter. “Sit. ”

  “I missed you. ”

  “Carter—”

  “I missed you something fierce, Macie. Don’t be mad at me. ”

  “Aw. See? The man is here to apologize. ”

  “Stay out of it, Velma. ”

  Macie snagged the coffee pot and dodged Carter’s wandering hands. When she returned from refilling Clem’s cup, Carter was seated safely behind the counter studying the menu.

  “What’s good?”

  Velma answered, “Well, the New York strip is on special. But you oughta try the chicken breast in lemon vodka sauce. It’ll knock your boots off. It’s Macie’s recipe. ”

  Carter shot Macie a sly smile. “Is that the secret sauce you used to poach my eggs the other mornin’?”

  Velma choked on her coffee.

  Macie sputtered, “B-but I never—”

  “—have time to cook for me when we roll out of bed, so I sure appreciate it when you do, darlin’. ”

  She leaned over the counter. “I am so going to kick your ass, McKay. ”

  Carter scooted closer so they were practically nose to nose. “Did you say kiss?”

  “No, you smug bast—”

  He pressed his lips to hers once. Twice. Then he whispered, “Play nice, or I’ll be forced to show you what I do to naughty girls. ”

  “Back off, or I’ll be forced to show you how the bucket of rocky mountain oysters in the cooler came to be earlier this morning. ”

  “Ouch. ”

  Clem waved her down and Macie headed to the cash register. She chatted with Clem, ignoring Velma and Carter’s whispers and laughter. Only after Velma had taken Carter’s order and disappeared into the kitchen, did she return to the counter where Carter sat, watching her like a hawk.

  “Are you really mad at me?” he asked quietly.

  She fiddled with the water pitcher. “No. ”

  “Good. So. When do you get off?”

  Whenever I think of you.

  Dammit. Her stupid hormones were a menace. No. This stupid man was a menace to her normally well-behaved hormones.

  “Macie?”

  She refocused. “Umm. In about an hour. ”

  “Cool. I’ll hang around and wait for you. ”

  “Don’t bother. I’m sure you have plenty of other things to do. ”

  His eyes narrowed. “You are mad. ”

  Before she could deny it, Velma burst through the swinging doors holding a gigantic ice cream concoction decorated with whipped cream and two cherries. “Here’s your root beer float, hon. ”

  “Thanks. ”

  “Extra whipped cream, just like you asked. ”

  Carter smirked at Macie. “You know how much I like sweet, thick cream. ”

  Heat flashed between her legs. Bad, bad hormones.

  No. Bad, bad man.

  “This is pure artistry, Miz Velma. Mmm. Mmm. ”

  “You would know. ” Velma cocked her head at Macie. “Carter here is an artist. ”

  “So he says. ”

  The spoon stopped halfway to Carter’s mouth. His blue eyes went as cold as the ice cream in his float. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  Macie addressed her comments to Velma. “He tells me he’s an artist, and says he’s

  ‘working’ but the truth is, I’ve never seen a damn thing he’s supposedly created. ” She shrugged. “So I’m just wondering if his whole ‘I’m an artist line’ is just that. ” Macie locked her gaze to Carter’s. “A line. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have onions to chop. ”

  She half-expected Carter to sneak in after her offering all sorts of sweet-talkingexcuses, or for Velma to butt in, but no one bothered her. The knife thwacked into the acrylic cutting board, cleaving the onion in two. Her tears fell unchecked until she swiped them away with her shirtsleeve. Stupid onions always made her cry.

  What she’d said to Carter was true and it bugged the crap out of her that he hadn’t shown her a single thing he’d drawn or molded or carved. Him calling her his beautiful muse in that sexy, low voice of his while he fucked her unconscious didn’t count. It didn’t count when he whispered promises about immortalizing her likeness in clay either.

 
She wanted to see actual, physical proof. Of something.

  Macie frowned. Was that why he’d freaked out when he caught her in his studio?

  Because he didn’t want her to find out he wasn’t working? Maybe he was blocked. She’d heard artists got blocked just like writers. Maybe that’s why he claimed he needed a muse. She’d be even more skeptical of his motives if she hadn’t seen the stunning portrait Carter created of Gemma’s husband.

  But he’d drawn that one years ago. What had he been doing recently?

  Irritating the hell out of her damn hormones.

  She put the situation out of her mind as she cleaned up and changed clothes. When she returned up front, she wasn’t surprised Carter wasn’t waiting for her, but his absence did cause her a tiny pang of disappointment.

  Velma said, “You ready to go?”

  “Yeah. ”

  Before Velma hit the lights, she said, “He left something for you on the counter. ”

  “What?”

  “Take a look. ”

  Macie spied a cheap placemat on the spot where Carter had eaten. She picked it up and stared in disbelief.

  It was a pencil drawing of her. A close-up. Specifically of her brooding, in the diner’s kitchen, her face half hidden in shadow as she gazed longingly at something beyond the white edge of the paper.

  Her eyes met Velma’s. “Do I really look like this?”

  “Like what, sweetheart?”

  Lost.

  Velma shuffled over and peered at the drawing. “Well, you do look sad in this picture. But you’ve been kinda mopin’ around the last week, so I think it’s a pretty accurate depiction of your mood. No denyin’ the man has talent. That’s for damn sure. ”

  She looked at Macie and smiled. “No denyin’ the man also has it bad for you. ”

  “But—”

  “No buts. Swallow your pride, squirt. He might’ve hurt your feelin’s over something this week, but remember: He came lookin’ for you tonight. ” Velma patted her cheek.

 
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