Rode hard, put up wet, p.41
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       Rode Hard, Put Up Wet, p.41

         Part #2 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 
Page 41

 

  Her stomach pitched when she thought of Carter. She hadn’t seen him since the day he’d squared off with her father. Which was why laboring excessive hours at the diner hadn’t bothered her. She needed distance and time to think about what’d happened.

  Contrary to what other people thought, she hadn’t been mad at Carter for what he’d done. She’d been upset by the fact he’d cared enough about her welfare to challenge her father. In front of everyone, his family, his friends. Carter had been worried about her getting hurt. Or dying.

  Dying.

  She’d never had a man worry about her for any reason, let alone for her personal safety. It was cool. It was weird.

  It was confusing as hell.

  So, Macie didn’t know if she was supposed to throw herself at Carter in gratitude for his protective instincts. Or take her father’s side for his.

  Talk about riding the mental merry-go-round ’til it made her dizzy.

  And that didn’t even take into consideration the L-word.

  Macie was pretty sure she loved Carter. But how did she really know for sure? She had absolutely nothing in her life to gauge it by.

  Loving her mother didn’t count. Neither did the idea she was starting to love her dad.

  The skeptic reminded her she’d known Carter McKay for a little over two months.

  How could she possibly love him?

  Didn’t love take time to build? Did she think she loved Carter because of the incredible sex? Because he understood her? Because he calmed her fears? Because he made her feel daring? Because he went out of his way to share silly and sweet things with her? Because he showed her sides of himself no one else knew? Because he thought she was beautiful and worthy of his art?

  Or did she think she loved him strictly because he’d paid attention to her? When he’d made that same accusation to her father, it caused a ricochet effect, and the opposite reaction from what Carter probably expected. Instead of questioning her motives and actions regarding her dad, Macie questioned her motives and actions where Carter was concerned.

  Which always led back to the “Do I love him?” question. Or a scarier scenario: What would she do if Carter told her he loved her? What would he expect? That she’d follow him while he lived his dream? What about her dreams? Would Carter be ready to make the same sacrifices for her?

  The most troubling question? Was she prepared to give up the relationship she was establishing with her dad, for the ups and downs of romantic love? Would her father do the same thing for her?

  “Macie?”

  Her head snapped up and she looked at Velma. “Sorry. I’ve had a lot on my mind lately. ”

  “I imagine. Well, I don’t want to add to that burden, but I’m afraid I have no choice. ”

  Whoa. Was Velma going to fire her?

  “Don’t look at me like that, squirt. It ain’t nothin’ bad. I’ve been crunching some numbers, and I think I can afford to hire another part-time cook. ”

  “Okay. ”

  “You’re probably thinking; how’s that affect me? I’m just gonna say this straight out: I want you to stay in Canyon River. Part of the reason—well, most of it actually—is pure selfishness on my part. I like you. I like what you’ve done for this place on a number of levels. The other part is: I think you like it here—at the diner and in Canyon River—

  and you need an excuse to put down roots. Or at least you need a reason to try to put down roots. ” Velma’s eyes softened beneath her glasses. “You ain’t never had what most of us have taken for granted. I know you’re curious on whether it’s worth it, or if it’d be just another heartache. I look in those pretty hazel eyes and I see wisdom beyond your years. ”

  Macie managed to swallow the last of her beer over the lump growing in her throat.

  “Here’s what I propose: I’ll pay you a decent salary. You’ll be the head cook, and we’ll mix it up so you’re working all shifts. ”

  “You want me working breakfast, lunch and dinner?”

  “No, I’m sayin’ it’d be smart to sprinkle your good recipes and sunny personality around all the main meals. On my days off, I’d want you out front doin’ my job. ”

  “Schmoozing the regulars and belittling the help? I’m so all over that. ”

  Velma smiled. “See? We’re on the same page. I think it’s some kinda cosmic sign.

  Besides, you are young enough that if after a year it don’t work out, you can move on.

  What do you have to lose?”

  “Nothing, apparently. But I need to think about it. Not just a couple of days, but a couple of weeks, okay?”

  “Sure thing. You’ll still be workin’ here while you’re tryin’ to make a decision?”

  “Yeah. And I’d appreciate it if we could keep this between us. Just us. There’s already a million pros and cons in my head. I don’t need anyone else adding their opinion. ”

  “Consider it done. And remember, I always close down for ten days at the end of this month. Gives me time to regroup after the summer months and gear up for the fall. ”

  As Macie drove back to the Bar 9, she knew Velma’s offer complicated matters in her life, rather than providing a clear solution.

  When she reached for the door handle to the camper, she noticed a piece of paper taped by the window. Her heart beat hard as she unrolled the scroll.

  At the top was a sketch of a rodeo clown. Crying as a bull, which looked suspiciously like a caricature of her father, gored him in the butt. The words I’M SORRY

  took up the entire middle of the page. Below that, he’d written: I miss you. Come see me when you get home, doesn’t matter what time. We’ll talk.

  Do normal couple things. And have pie. A helping of humble pie for me, darlin’ ~ C ~

  Macie stared at the paper for the longest time. She whispered, “Carter McKay, you are such a dumbass. ” And right then, she had no doubts that she was indeed, completely, madly in love with him.

  Chapter Thirty-two

  “Excuse me. Is this the studio of famous Wyoming artist in residence, Carter

  ‘shoulda been a cowboy’ McKay?”

  Carter spun around and grinned. “Jack! You bastard. ’Bout goddamn time you got here. ”

  “You do realize I’m not living in Denver anymore and I had to fly in? I’ve been stuck in the rental car for five hours. Without satellite radio. ” He dropped his duffel bag and scowled. “Can you please tell me why every single station around these parts plays nothing but that goat yodeling crap?”

  “Hey, some of us like Western music. ”

  “Yeah, well, you’re a hick, so I expected that much from you. ” Jack stalked over and grabbed him in a bear hug. “Good to see you, man, you look like shit. ”

  “Gee, thanks. ” Carter gave Jack—all six-foot-four, two hundred odd pounds of him—a quick inspection. “You look a little tight-assed yourself. Wearin’ pinstriped underwear under your pinstriped suits these days?”

  “Fuck off. Where’s the beer?”

  “In the cooler by the door. ”

  “Cool. You care if we sit outside? I’ve been cooped up all damn day. Need some of that fresh mountain air. ”

  “Nope. I need a break anyway. ”

  Once they’d settled in lawn chairs with the cooler between them, and a cold beer in each hand, Jack sighed. “So where’s the fire?”

  “What’d you mean?”

  “Why was it so damn urgent I haul balls up here?”

  Carter didn’t say anything for several minutes.

  “If it’s anything less than you telling me you’re dying, I’m going to beat your sorry ass into the dirt, McKay. ”

  Carter kept staring off into space, lost in the vast prairie and his guilty thoughts.

  “Shit. I was kidding. You aren’t dying, are you?”

  “No. ”

  “Then what?” Recognition dawned on Jack’s face.
It’s about a woman, isn’t it?”

  “Yep. ”

  “You knock her up?”

  Carter tossed his beer can off to the side of his chair and cracked a fresh one.

  “Nope. ” He downed half the contents. “I’m crazy about her. So crazy about her in fact, that I want you to do something for me. ”

  “What? Be your best man?”

  “No. I want you to fuck her. ”

  Beer spewed out of Jack’s mouth. “Jesus Christ, Carter!”

  “What?”

  “You can’t just blurt out something like that…dammit. ”

  He waited.

  “I don’t even know what the hell to say. ”

  “Simple. Say yes. It ain’t like we’ve never had a threesome, Jack. ”

  Jack stared at him. “True. But it’s been a few years and we were usually drunk. And neither of us gave a crap about the women who were bold enough to take us both on.

  That last time, hell, we didn’t even bother to learn her name. ”

  Man. Had he really been that callous?

  Yes. Maybe Carter was more like his wild brothers than he cared to admit.

  “What’s really going on here, McKay?”

  “Honestly?”

  Jack nodded.

  “You laugh and I’ll kick your ass, former linebacker or not. ” Carter fiddled with the tab on the beer can. “This woman? I had impressions about her, almost like cognitive daydreams, before I ever met her. Drove me crazy, I kept tryin’ to work her likeness into clay, and wood, or on paper. Nothin’ worked. Then I actually, physically met her. Yeah. I was a little freaked out about it. And she’s better in real life than in those dreams. ”

  “What’s her name?”

  “Macie. ”

  “How long have you known her?”

  “Seems like forever. ”

  Jack frowned. “She a cowgirl?”

  “What makes you ask that?”

  “You’ve always had a thing for sweet little country girls. ” Jack scowled again.
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