Macie was still sprawled on her back. Using tender, soft strokes, he wiped her belly and thighs. Rinsed, and cleaned the stickiness from between her legs. Then he crawled in bed beside her, giving her no choice but to let him hold her.
Carter knew her silence was an attempt to put distance between them. Not a chance in hell of that happening. He kissed the top of her head. “So, I guess me fuckin’ you in the ass tonight went beyond normal couple stuff, huh?”
Macie burst out laughing. “You are a dumbass, McKay.”
“I love it when you sweet talk me, Amazin’ Macie.” He growled, “That was the hottest sex I’ve ever had.”
“Was pretty hot on my end too.”
“Might be a little sore. But it was worth it.”
“I’m glad. I’d never do anything to hurt you.”
“You’d be the first.”
He closed his eyes and breathed her in. “What changed earlier tonight? We were talkin’, getting along just fine with our clothes on and then, wham, you were on me like a bear on honey.”
“It was watching you eat my pie. You tried to be polite and savor it, but in the end, you devoured every bite. Then went back for seconds. You moaned, smacked your lips and would’ve licked the plate clean if your momma’s good manners hadn’t been so ingrained in you.”
“You flat out enjoyed it to the fullest extent.” She paused. “That’s the way you make me feel sometimes, Carter. Like you wanna be all polite and gentlemanly, but in truth, you’d rather swallow me whole. And you don’t give a damn whether or not I like it.”
“That doesn’t bother you?”
“A little. But when I saw that side of you tonight, I didn’t think. I just reacted.”
And it didn’t scare her? “Well, it might not be the best side of me, but it is there. And you’re the first one who’s seen it.”
“I’m glad to be your first at something, too.” She snuggled into him. “I’m tired.”
“Sleep. But I am gonna wake you up and make love to you later. A couple of times maybe.”
“Remember the sore comment?”
“I’ll be gentle.” His hands swept down her lithe, pliant body, curled against his.
“You never know, I may even be sweet and romantic.”
A week later, Gemma said, “Macie, can I talk to you for a sec?”
Macie stood and wiped the dirt from the bunch of leaves. “Am I in trouble? I saw the patches of mint and just started picking—”
“It’s okay. I’d forgotten all about this part of the garden.” Gemma leaned on the fence and peered at the wild tangle of vegetation. “Seemed pointless to plant a garden after Steve died. No reason to can vegetables for one. Looks like the herbs have taken over.”
“There’s no shortage of sage in Wyoming, that’s for sure.”
An awkward pause lingered as the sun beat down on them and the gnats swarmed.
Macie wiped sweat from her brow and slapped away the bugs. “So, what did you need, Gemma?”
“Help. Colby and Channing McKay will be here tomorrow morning. Cash and I are headed over to Meeteetse to look at a couple of bulls tonight and won’t be back until late.”
“What needs done?”
“The house is cleaned and ready, but I haven’t had time to cook anything.”
Macie relaxed. Cooking, she could handle. Cleaning the barns? Yuck. “You have a menu planned?”
Gemma shook her head. “But the freezer and the pantry are both full so there’s plenty of food to choose from.”
“Will I be working around dietary restrictions? Is Channing a vegetarian or anything?”
“No. I think it’s illegal to be a vegetarian in Wyoming.”
She smiled at Gemma’s teasing tone. Things were getting easier between them. It was an odd balancing act, with Gemma being her dad’s boss and lover—Macie was never sure when one role was more predominant for him or for her. And Gemma made a point not to intrude on time Macie spent with her dad. So they were both careful not to offend or overextend themselves or their opinions.
“So you won’t mind helping out?”
“Not at all. Might not be politically correct not to aspire to be a world-class chef, but I like to cook. I like to cook for lots of people.”
“That makes one of us. How are things going at the diner?”
“That stinks. Unless you like havin’ time on your hands?”
“Not really. I like to stay busy, though I do have more time to try out recipes when I’m not flipping burgers. Sitting around drives me crazy.” She shot Gemma a sideways glance as they started toward the house. “Would it be all right if I weeded that garden spot? Clem promised me a few tomato and pepper plants. I’d like to try my hand at gardening.”
Gemma didn’t hide her shock. “You’ve never had a garden?”
“Mom and I didn’t stay in one place very long. Certainly not long enough to see the fruits of my labors.”
“You can do whatever you want, Macie. I want you to think of this as your home for as long as you’re here, okay?”
“You have time to come up to the house right now and hash this cooking business out?”
“What were you gonna do with the mint?”
“Dry it. Maybe sprinkle some in a batch of brownies.”
“See? You’re creative. I never would’ve thought of that.”
An engine revved in the machine shed, then sputtered and died. Metal clanged on metal.
Gemma frowned. “Damn old tractor. Something’s always broken around here. I wish your dad would just forget about it.”
“Not a chance. I never knew that Dad loves to tinker with engines. My Escape is running like a champ now, thanks to him. He has some kind of magic hands.”
“I’ll second that,” Gemma muttered. Then she stopped in her tracks and looked up, her mouth open in shock.
Macie laughed. “Not touching that one, Gemma.”
“Foot in mouth disease runs in my family.”
“Carter’s too. So the McKays are descending on us. What is his brother Colby like?”
“Charming. Candid. Generous. He and Channing are great. You’ll like them.”
But will they like me? Rather than dwell on that, or if Carter was going to present them as the couple he insisted they were, she focused on the jobs at hand. Inside the kitchen, Macie made lists and took notes of where assorted pots and utensils were kept.
Gemma said, “I know it’s only a little after noon, but do you want a beer? I sure could use one.”
“That’d be great.”
“Pull up a chair.”
They sat at the table, drinking in silence. Finally Macie said, “Why are you looking at bulls?”
“For breeding bucking bulls.”
“Once everything is squared away on the Bar 9, are you gonna try to get back into the stock contractor business?”
Gemma looked surprised that Macie remembered. “Good question. That’s what I’d planned.”
“I’m wondering if I’m doin’ it only because it’s what Steve would’ve wanted. Being a contractor is a lot of work and a lot of travel. Which wasn’t so bad right after Steve died, when I didn’t wanna be alone here, where every damn thing reminded me of him and the hole in my life.
“It was fun for a couple of years. Getting to know the cowboys and their families.
Changing things up from town to town, a different rodeo every week. It felt like an extended family, appealing thought to me since I’m low on family.”
Macie bit back me too and listened.
Gemma cleared the huskiness from her throat. “But then things went downhill fast.
Mike Morgan had a career-ending injury courtesy of one of my steers. Colby was almost killed by a bull in Cheyenne. Some of the other cowboys I’d been friends with for years dropped out ’cause they couldn’t make a living rodeoin’. After I quit seeing Cash around the circuit, I realized he was a big part of why I’d liked it so much in the first place.”
After that personal admission, Macie waited in vain for a look of dismay to cross Gemma’s face.
“It was my damn pride that kept me away from him. That and fear.” She laughed.
“And my age.”
“Gemma, you’re hardly teetering toward the grave.”
“Part of me knows that. The other part, the skeptical part that looks in the mirror every morning? That part sees wrinkles, gray hair, and luggage under my eyes, and seems to have the upper hand, calling me an old hag.”
“Ageism sucks on either end.”
Gemma gave her a thoughtful look. “Meaning?”
“You think you’re too old to do what really makes you happy; everyone thinks I’m too young to know my own mind.”
“I’ve never thought of you that way.”
“That makes one of you.”
“Even your dad?”
“He made mistakes when he was young and wants to make damn sure I don’t repeat them. Although I appreciate the fact he wants to protect me, I am an adult. Sometimes I feel like I never was a kid.”
“Cash keeps reminding me age is only a number.”
“I agree. But that means I’m a very old twenty-two.”
“What does that make me? A very young forty-eight?”
“Yep.” Macie winked. “Why, we’re practically the same age.”
Gemma grinned and clinked her bottle to Macie’s. “I’ll drink to that.”
Her dad walked in as she swallowed the toast. “My two favorite ladies.” He kissed the top of Macie’s head, then stood behind Gemma and squeezed her shoulders.