Rode hard, put up wet, p.50
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       Rode Hard, Put Up Wet, p.50

         Part #2 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 
Page 50

 

  “Thinkin’ about killin’ you now that we know you ain’t worm food,” Colby snapped off.

  No mistaking it. His brothers were livid.

  “Ma wouldn’t let you. ” In the tense air Carter’s voice sounded rusty as old nails.

  “Don’t bet on it. She was worried sick. No one could reach you on your cell. Your agent called their house. Then your buddy Jack called. The last straw was when Gemma called mad as hell because you were supposed to have cleared out. Instead, she found you passed out in the barn. Ma was halfway down the driveway with the shotgun before Dad stopped her. ”

  “Shit. ”

  Colt hunkered down. “You’re lucky Keely distracted Dad while we were leavin’ this mornin’ and he ain’t here. Jesus. What’s wrong with your face?”

  “Got into a fight. ”

  “Yeah, we sort of figured that,” Cord said. “Why is Gemma throwin’ you off the Bar 9?”

  Carter slowly sat up. “Because Cash Big Crow looks about as bad as I do. ”

  “You took after Cash? I thought you had more brains than that, college boy. ”

  “He took the first swing but I probably deserved it. Probably deserved way more. ”

  “Cord, grab his other arm,” Colby said.

  The two of them hauled Carter upright. Pain slammed into his head. Sorrow into his soul. How had he fallen so far so fast? This time last week he’d been on top of the world.

  Now everyone knew he’d crashed and burned.

  “I’m fine. You guys can go now. I’m sure you’ve got more important shit to do than babysit me for Mom. ”

  Talk about sounding like a whiny prick. Carter shook off his brothers’ hands and their help.

  “Mom ain’t the only reason we’re here,” Cord scoffed.

  “Yeah. You might be a total shithead, but you’re still a McKay. And you know we take care of our own, bro, no matter what,” Colby said.

  Carter bit back the urge to bawl. His brothers were pissed off and sporting the gruff attitude they’d inherited from their father, but they were still here. If he’d been wrong about them, what else had he been wrong about?

  Everything.

  Still, if they saw one grateful tear sliding down his bruised cheek, they’d cheerfully punch him in the face and give him something to really cry about.

  He sighed.

  “Jesus. Don’t breathe on me,” Colt complained. “You reek, Carter. How long’s it been since you showered or changed your clothes?”

  Carter tipped his chin down and looked. Huh. He still had on the same bloodied shirt and dirty jeans he’d worn when Cash handed him his ass. And he’d worn it on for a couple of days before that when Macie walked out on him. “Probably a week. ”

  “Man, that’s just nasty. ” Colt walked to the other side of the barn.

  “You been sittin’ in here for four days mopin’ over her?”

  “I’ve been busy workin’. ”

  “Workin’ on two bottles of Jim Beam it looks like,” Cord said.

  “Don’t you judge me, asshole. If you knew the hell I’ve been through—”

  Cord’s cruel laugh cut him off. “You don’t wanna get into a pissin’ match with me on that one, boy. ”

  “I ain’t a boy. ”

  “Then stop actin’ like one and be a man. ”

  “Fuck off, Cord. You think you’re the only one in the family who’s been kicked in the goddamn balls by love?”

  “Come talk to me about love after it castrates you. ”

  “Enough. ” Colby shoved his hat back and scratched his forehead. “We’re takin’ you home. What of this artsy fartsy stuff are we haulin’ back to the ranch?”

  “I’m not leavin’ here. This is where I live now. ”

  Colt’s bootsteps stopped.

  “The hell you are,” Colby retorted. “Gemma’s throwin’ you out. ”

  “And you’re helpin’ her?”

  “You need some distance and perspective. ”

  “No. I need her. ”

  “Holy shit. ” Colt whistled. “Who is she? Look at those tits. Them babies are definitely real. Man, I could suck on those nipples for hours. How come you’re not doingmore raunchy pictures like—”

  Carter stalked to where Colt stood, grabbed him by the shirtfront and shoved him hard. “Don’t you talk about her like that. Don’t you fuckin’ look at her like that or I will rip your fuckin’ head off. ”

  Colt shoved back. “If you didn’t want no one lookin’ at it, why’d you paint it? You shouldn’t have left it right there for everyone to see. What’s the big deal?”

  What’s the big deal?

  Hadn’t he posed that same question to Macie? And Cash? And Gemma?

  The big deal was he didn’t want anyone else looking at these pictures of Macie.

  Ever.

  The truth slammed into him like a Wyoming coal train.

  Jesus Christ. How had he ever thought he could stand by and let other men ogle naked pictures of the woman he loved?

  Then why had he painted them?

  Because he could. Because he was cocky. Because he wanted everyone to know he—Carter, the quiet, laid-back, invisible McKay—was worthy of that kind of intense love from a woman like Macie.

  It sickened him to think he’d been so focused on showing the world and his family how special his art was, that he’d lost sight of how special Macie was. How special what they had together was.

  Carter’s gaze connected with the picture. This was his Macie. How he saw her. It didn’t matter that she was naked in body; she was naked in spirit too. She didn’t show those sides of herself to everyone. Just to him. And he didn’t want—he had no right—to share it. He didn’t need to immortalize what she was on canvas when he could have the flesh and blood version looking back at him just like that every damn day.

  He stumbled backward over an old milking stool and landed on his butt. He couldn’t speak because he wanted to throw up.

  “Carter? You okay, bud?”

  “I have to get rid of them. ”

  His brothers exchanged a look. Cord said, “Get rid of what?”

  “The pictures of Macie. ” He pointed to a stack of frames against the far wall. “There are more like that. ”

  “More?”

  “They were gonna be part of my show. The biggest part. ”

  “You’re fuckin’ kiddin’, right?”

  His bleary-eyed gaze zoomed to Colby. “No. ”

  Colby stared at him in silence for several seconds. “There are things between a man and woman that should stay private, and I ain’t just talkin’ about sex. Lines you don’t cross. Stuff you don’t share with nobody. ”

  “I didn’t get it until now. ”

  “At least you figured it out before you put up them pictures. I see they didn’t teach you everything in college. ”

  “I know it’s stupid, but I’m just so crazy in love with her I wanted everyone to know it. To see how lucky I am. To brag that this…perfect woman is mine. That she picked me.

  That she loves me. ”

  “What do you care that the whole world knows that?” Colt said. “Jeez, Carter, the only important thing is you know. ”

  Colby and Cord both gave Colt an odd look.

  “I-I have to get rid of them. Burn them. But I don’t know if I can. Because it is her, lookin’ at me, and it’d be like I was destroyin’ her or a part of her…”

  Cord’s gaze hooked his. For once no accusation or condescension burned in his eyes.

  Just compassion. “I’ll do it. ”

  Carter nodded. “Thanks. I have to make this right. I don’t even know where to start. ”

  “A shower would be good,” Colt suggested

  “Then I’m thinking you need to eat a helping of crow. ” Colby grinned and smacked Carter on the back. Hard. “A big helping of Big Crow. ”

&
nbsp; Carter groaned. “No. Anything but that. ”

  “Look at it this way, at least your face ain’t gonna look any worse when he gets through with you this time. ”

  Chapter Thirty-eight

  Gemma sagged against Cash as they watched Carter McKay’s pickup zip down the gravel road. “You okay?”

  “Yeah. ”

  His arms tightened around her but he said nothing for several minutes. Finally, he kissed the top of her head. “I’m glad Macie wasn’t wrong in fallin’ for him. I’d hate to think…”

  She waited for a response that was a long time in coming. “Hate to think what?” she prompted.

  “That my daughter would believe all men she allowed in her life would let her down at some point. God knows I did. ”

  “Cash, you’re working on changing that. Macie knows you’re trying, that’s why she’s sticking around. Even before Carter showed up full of apologies, you and I both knew Macie wasn’t goin’ nowhere. She wants to be in your life. She wants to count on you. We both know that kinda trust ain’t gonna happen overnight. Nothin’ worthwhile ever does. ”

  He sighed. “I hope they can work it out. My girl deserves a chance at happiness. ”

  “Speaking of chances… I was a little surprised you didn’t bust Carter’s chops and gave him a second chance. ”

  “Takes a big man to admit he was wrong. Takes a bigger man to apologize and swear to make it right. Besides, where would any of us be without second chances, eh?”

  Gemma knew the smartest thing she’d done was taking a chance with her heart, and getting a second chance at love. “Every day you give me a new reason to love you, Cash. ”

  “I still think I got the better end of the deal. You see the best in situations and people, not the worst. How you saw beyond a vagabond rodeo Indian cowboy with ties to nothingand no one—”
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