Rode hard, put up wet, p.49
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       Rode Hard, Put Up Wet, p.49

         Part #2 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 
Page 49

 

  “Fuck!” Carter threw his cell phone against the wall. It cracked in two pieces and plastic shards scattered everywhere. Like he cared. Like anyone had called him.

  Jesus. The last couple days had been a fucking nightmare. After his fight with Macie, he’d needed a day to cool off. When he’d swung by the diner around the time she usually clocked out, he saw the faded sign on the front door: Closed until further notice.

  Why hadn’t she told him?

  Who said she didn’t? Maybe you didn’t hear because you haven’t really listened to her in the past few weeks.

  Talk about being a self-centered asshole. Dammit. This art show had sucked the life out of him. Had it sucked the soul and the conscience right out of him too?

  Yes.

  Regardless. He needed to talk to her to set the record straight. To make her understand.

  Carter didn’t bother calling Macie’s cell phone; he knew she wouldn’t answer. He’d called the Bar 9, in the guise of asking Gemma about Macie, but Gemma was curt with him. And vague.

  Why?

  Because Macie was gone?

  No. She wouldn’t just leave without saying goodbye.

  Would she?

  Sure she would. Cash and Gemma were getting married soon. Summer was ending.

  Macie couldn’t live in the camper forever, and he knew she valued her independence too much to move into the main house. She probably felt like a third wheel. And with the diner closed, maybe she’d figured it was time to hit the road.

  Or maybe someone encouraged her to hit the road.

  Red rage built inside him. He wanted to hit something, but it sure as hell wasn’t the road.

  Carter burned rubber getting to the Bar 9.

  Cash Big Crow was leaning on the fence when Carter’s truck screeched to a stop.

  He jumped from the cab. Four angry steps later he loomed over Macie’s father.

  “Where is she?”

  “Haven’t we been through this once before, McKay?”

  “Where is she?”

  “If she wanted you to know, you would. ”

  “You sent her away, didn’t you?”

  Cash faced him. “Don’t you come here, accusin’ me of something, when you are the one who chased her away. ”

  Carter took a threatening step closer. “I did not. ”

  “What did you do to her?”

  “Nothin’! It was a stupid misunderstandin’. ”

  “Explain it to me then. ”

  “It ain’t my fault she freaked out about—”

  “About what?”

  He paused and said nastily, “If she wanted you to know, you would. ”

  “Don’t you pull that smartass shit on me, son. I ain’t in the mood. You came to me so you’d better start talkin’. ”

  “Fine. Macie saw a couple of the pictures I painted of her. She didn’t like them, and then she forbid me from displaying them at the showing. I told her tough, they were goingup. It pissed her off and she stormed out. I ain’t seen her since and I need to talk to her. ”

  Cash glared at him. “It more than pissed her off. Accordin’ to Gemma, Macie left here in tears. ”

  Left? “Where’d she go?”

  “Tell me ’bout these pictures that upset her so badly. ” Comprehension dawned on Cash’s face. His eyes filled with rage. “Only one kind of pictures that’d make her cry. ”

  Carter didn’t look away.

  “You painted nudie shots of her?”

  “Nudie? The correct term is nude. ”

  “Did she consent to that?”

  “She posed for me voluntarily. ”

  “But she didn’t volunteer to pose for you naked, did she? That’s why she’s so goddamn upset. ”

  “I don’t see the big deal—”

  Carter didn’t see the punch Cash aimed at his jaw until it landed. He staggered back.

  Rather than taking a swing, Carter rushed Cash and they hit the dirt in a tangle of flying fists.

  Cash kneed him in the stomach. Carter rolled and his elbow connected with the side of Cash’s head. Cash flipped over and ground Carter’s face into the gravel. Carter reared up and head butted Cash in the jaw. That knocked Cash back and Carter followed up with a hard right jab to Cash’s ribs. Cash kicked Carter’s knee, knocking him flat before Cash pulled back and punched Carter square in the eye.

  Grunts, sweat, dirt, blood fueled their rage. Neither one backed down. Seemed like the fight lasted an hour, but it’d probably only been a minute when Gemma’s voice boomed, “Break it up! Both of you!”

  Cash took advantage of Carter’s distraction and threw a right cross that clacked Carter’s teeth together. Blood burst from his lip. Enraged, Carter swung high, his fist grazing Cash’s eyebrow.

  Then they were both sputtering and soaking wet.

  Gemma aimed the hose at them until they moved apart. Still coughing, spitting, bleeding, trying to find a way to get another lick in.

  “I said knock it off! Jesus. What is wrong with you two?”

  Cash glared through the blood dripping in his eye. Carter dabbed at his bloody mouth and swollen lip.

  “Carter, why are you here?”

  He didn’t answer.

  “Let me guess, Macie. ”

  He grunted.

  “Haven’t you done enough damage to her without pounding on her father too?”

  “He took the first swing. ”

  “And I’ll take the last one, you—”

  “Cash. Enough. ”

  Silence.

  Gemma sighed. “Carter. I think it’s time you pack up your stuff and get back home. ”

  Even through the throbbing in his ear, Carter knew she didn’t mean home to the trailer. Why did the thought of leaving the Bar 9 make his head hurt worse and make it harder to breathe? “You ain’t gonna let me explain, are you?”

  “I don’t need to hear your excuses. You took advantage of Macie and I ain’t gonna stand for it. ”

  “It’s not what you think. I love her. ”

  “You’ve got a piss-poor way of showin’ it. ”

  “You know, this is bullshit. ” Carter staggered to his feet. “None of you have even seen the damn pictures. They are a tribute to her. And you’re—” he pointed at Cash,

  “—actin’ just as immature about this as she did. Yes, they are nudes. So what? Macie didn’t get her way with me by forcin’ my hand, so she ran away, like I suspect she always does. You’re frustrated that she left you too, so you’re takin’ it out on me. I did nothingwrong but create beautiful art of the beautiful woman I love for the world to see. ”

  Gemma helped Cash stand. She swiped the blood from his face and murmured in his ear.

  Cash looked at Carter. “You’re right, you aren’t anything like your brothers. The McKays I know have honor. ” He limped up the porch steps.

  Talk about a sucker punch.

  “Cash shouldn’t have taken a swing at you. But you shouldn’t have expected any less from him either. ”

  He waited.

  “Macie asked me to keep the truth from him on what you’d done to make her leave. ”

  “Is she comin’ back?”

  Gemma stared at him. “What do you care? You got what you wanted. ”

  “That ain’t fair. ”

  “Why are you doin’ this?”

  “What’s the big deal? They’re just pictures. ”

  “Then put them in your bedroom. Or in your studio. Not on a public wall in an art gallery. ”

  “But they’re good pictures. ”

  “I imagine they are. What you can’t see, Carter, is that this isn’t only about Macie being naked. Maybe we are hicks, and we don’t understand your art, but we do understand that you do not exploit the person you love. Ever. You protect them. You go out of your way to shelter them, not to expose them. ”

 
I love her. ”

  “That’s not love. You took everything she freely gave you and used it against her to make yourself look good. And then had the balls to make her feel small for questioning your right to do it. ”

  “But see—”

  “I see by the stubborn set to your jaw that you’re digging in your heels and won’t listen to reason. And you think we’re acting childish? Macie is hurting, Cash is hurting, hell, I’m hurting. You’re hurting everyone around you and the only one who thinks what you are doin’ is right, is you.

  “Don’t bother to clean up the trailer before you leave. I’m givin’ you two days to clear out. ”

  Gemma turned on her heel and hustled in the house.

  Carter stared at the slamming door, staggered by their accusations before he limped to his truck. Had he just lost everything he never thought he’d find? To hell with Macie and her father, and Gemma too. Everyone in the whole fucking world could go straight to hell. No one understood him. No one ever had and it was apparent no one ever would.

  He snagged the bottle of whiskey from the passenger seat and chugged a mouthful of liquid fire. Maybe he’d discover the answers to his questions in the bottom of a bottle.

  Four days later Carter was still half-drunk from his four-day bender.

  He was sprawled on the floor in the barn contemplating studying the back of his eyelids when the door opened and a splinter of light gouged his retinas.

  “Jesus, it stinks in here. ”

  “Yeah, like your barn don’t stink, Cord. ”

  “I’m just sayin’…”

  Bootsteps shuffled, kicking up dirt and hay dust.

  “Christ. He’s what stinks. ”

  “Think he’s dead?”

  “Roll him over. ”

  “I ain’t touchin’ him. ”

  “Colt, you are such a pussy. ”

  Carter grunted. “I ain’t dead. ” He managed to roll on his back. He opened his eyes and squinted. The McKay Posse—Colby, Colt and Cord glared down at him.

  “What the fuck are you guys doin’ here?”
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