Rode hard, put up wet, p.40
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       Rode Hard, Put Up Wet, p.40

         Part #2 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 
Page 40

  His head snapped up. “What makes you say that?”

  “Because you didn’t bother with niceties today. You were scared, you were pissed, and you didn’t hide it from anyone, least of all her. ”

  He clamped his teeth together.

  “You work really hard at disguising your intense side, Carter. Almost everyone believes you are this calm, cool, laid-back kinda guy. ” She plucked the beer from him and drank. “I’ve spent more time with you than the rest of our brothers have, so you’ve never fooled me. I know what you’re really like. Macie knows that side of you too. Or, if she didn’t, she got a taste of it today. But she knew before, didn’t she?”

  “Yeah. ”

  “And it hasn’t scared her off?”

  “Not yet. ”

  “She’s exactly like you, which means she’s perfect for you because she will make your life a living hell. Or heaven on earth. Depending on the day and your collective brooding moods. ”

  Carter was stunned into silence by Keely’s comments.

  “So, no matter what anyone tells you, bro, fight for her. She’s worth it. And I’ll lie through my teeth if you ever tell anybody I said this, but you are worth it too. ” She sauntered off and vanished in the copse of scrub oak trees.

  He’d underestimated his sister on many levels. When had she become so insightful?

  Or had he automatically discounted her lack of understanding about anything important because of her age?

  Was he doing the same thing with Macie?

  Either way, Carter realized everything she’d said was exactly on the nose.

  He also realized Keely had taken off with his beer.

  Happy as Gemma had been to see Channing and Colby, she breathed a sigh of relief after the rowdy crew returned to Campbell County.

  Cash and Carter hadn’t come to a resolution after the blow up over Macie. Far as she knew, Carter hadn’t been back to the Bar 9. Rather than ask Carter to help Cash with chores, it was easier all around if she did it.

  Things hadn’t returned to normal. Since the primary cook had quit at the diner, Macie warned them she’d be working tons more hours. Gemma knew Cash worried about Macie, but she also knew something had changed significantly between father and daughter in the past few days. Not that Cash confided in her, he was determined to figure this out with Macie on his own. Still, she sensed an acceptance, which hadn’t been there.

  Like they’d both let down their guards a little.

  She wished Cash would let down his guard with her. From a purely professional standpoint, they worked well together. They’d spent hours out in the field, fixing fence, tending cattle, watching for wildfires. She’d learned why he didn’t have a place to call his own, and it broke her heart. They’d sat at the table after supper, mountains of paperwork strewn across the table as they discussed the pros and cons of various breeding programs.

  When the stock contracting issue came up, he’d bluntly told her to let it go and to focus on other areas of the cattle business. She’d literally felt the weight of that burden leaving her soul.

  Was that because it’d been one of her final ties to her life with Steve? The Bar 9

  might’ve been Steve’s when she’d moved in years ago, but it was as much hers now as it’d been his.

  The door between the upstairs and main floor slammed. Pine-scented aftershave wafted into the living room and she automatically smiled.

  Cash plopped next to her on the couch, grabbed her hand and kissed her knuckles.

  “You need help with the laundry?”

  “Nah. I’ve got it covered. But thanks. ”

  “No problem. ”

  Sometimes the ease with which he’d inserted himself into her life astounded her. But times like these, it seemed Cash had always been here. Helping her. Loving her.

  Whoa. She loved him. The jury was out on how he felt about her.

  Why don’t you ask him? What do you have to lose?

  Him. She couldn’t stand the thought of losing him. Ever. She’d already waited a year to sort out her own feelings, now was willing to wait as long as it took until he was ready to sort out his.

  “I’m thinkin’ of surprisin’ Macie and buyin’ her a horse. ”

  “Yeah? Is this some guilty throwback to ‘Daddy, will you buy me a pony for my birthday?’ portion of her life that you missed?”

  He nudged her with his shoulder. “No, smarty. She likes to ride. It’d be good for her to learn to train a horse from the get-go. It might also be an incentive for her to stick around here at the end of the summer. ”

  “Things are going well between you two?”

  “Better than I’d hoped, which is why I don’t want her to leave. Selfish, huh?”

  “No. ”

  “Are you okay with it?”

  “Yes, but you know she can’t live in that camper indefinitely. ”

  “I thought once McKay left she could live in the trailer. It even has a barn. ”

  So Cash had already written off Carter McKay. Gemma wasn’t so sure Carter had cashed in his chips with Macie—more like Carter was regrouping. She kept her opinion to herself. “A barn, which would be perfect for her new horse. ”

  “Yep. ” He fiddled with the remote. “By the way, I heard from Trevor Glanzer today.

  He’s on his way through tomorrow night. Is it all right if he crashes here?”

  “Sure. But that’s odd. He just called you out of the blue?”

  Cash aimed the remote. “Wanna see what’s on TV tonight?”

  Gemma heaved a dramatic sigh. “We’re watching TV? The romance has already worn off. ”

  “Can we just veg? I’m bushed, Gem. I know I passed out last night, but you plum wore me out two nights ago. ”

  “You ain’t the one with the sore ass, cowboy. ”

  “Complainin’?”

  “A little. ” She smirked. “Okay, not much. It was hot as hell, waking up tied up. You having your wicked way with me. Telling me precisely all the kinky things you planned—”

  “This ain’t relaxin’ me none. ”

  “Knowing I couldn’t make too much noise, even when your thrusts felt so good I wanted to scream. So hard I could feel your cock all the way in my throat—”

  Groaning, Cash picked her up and tossed her over his shoulder.

  “What are you doin’?”

  “Takin’ you to bed, winyan. ”

  “But I thought you were too tired?”

  “Lucky for you I just got my second wind and a new rope to break in. ” He spanked her butt and she shrieked. “Keep up that dirty talk and I’ll have to try out the gag too. ”

  Chapter Thirty-one

  “Hey, squirt, when you’re done in there can I talk to you?” Velma said in front of the pass-through window.

  “Sure. It’ll cost you a beer, though. ” Macie tossed the metal-bristled scrub brush aside. She used a clean white towel to wipe down the grill and admired the sparkling surface before she shut the lights off in the kitchen and shuffled out front.

  Velma sat at the counter with a ten-key calculator. Long curls of white tape spilled everywhere. Without looking up, she said, “I put a six-pack of Bud in the small cooler.

  Grab me one too, while you’re at it. ”

  Macie popped the tops on the cans and waited, thankful not to be on her feet. Man.

  She was exhausted. She’d been working split shifts the last two days. And with the way Velma was frowning, she figured it wasn’t going to get better any time soon.

  Why stay here? It’s time to move on anyway. You don’t owe anybody anything but yourself.

  It’d been a couple of weeks since her mom’s advice made an appearance. She hadn’t missed it.

  Velma chugged half the beer. “It sucks that TJ up and quit. I don’t know if he was threatened by you or what, but it’s actually a good thing. ”

  “Why would he be t
hreatened by me?”

  “Because you are a damn good cook. And not just the usual diner fare. You’re bringin’ something new and fresh. Something classy. ”

  Macie squirmed.

  “Local folks who hardly ever came in have taken notice. And the changes ain’t drivin’ away my regular customers, which is a plus. The bottom line is my business has more than doubled in the last two months and I am attributing it to you. ”

  “But hey, no pressure,” Macie muttered and swigged her beer.

  Velma stared at her thoughtfully.

  “What?”

  “What are your future plans, Macie? Is the Last Chance Diner a blip on the roadmap to somewhere else?”

  Macie really squirmed.

  When she didn’t answer, Velma looked away and said softly, “I’m sure workin’ in a greasy spoon in Wyoming ain’t your life goal. Probably have loftier ambitions. ”

  Macie placed her hand on Velma’s arm. “Don’t. You’ve built a great business here.

  And as flattered as I am that you think I’ve had something to do with business picking up in recent months, it still is your place, Velma. ”

  “True. But you still didn’t answer my question, squirt. ”

  “I don’t know if I can. You knew I’d only be around a few months. I do like working here better than anywhere else I’ve punched a clock lately. But you should know I’ve just never worked anywhere longer than four months. ”

  “Why?”

  “Honestly? I get bored. Or I get fired. I’ve never had a reason to stick around anyplace and put down roots or whatever. ”

  “But your dad is here, ain’t he? Things are workin’ out with him at Gemma’s place?”

  “Yeah. ”

  “Are things workin’ out between the two of you?”

  Macie smiled. “Better than I’d hoped actually. ”

  “I’m glad. ”

  The clock ticked. The walk-in freezer hummed.

  Velma sighed. “How are things goin’ with you and that good-lookin’ artist feller?”
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