He squeezed back. “She’s young, and you’re gonna have to work with her a lot before you can ride her. But if you train her right from the start, she’ll always mind you, and she won’t let you down.”
“My first horse. Yay! I feel like an eight-year-old girl. Dad, thank you, thank you, thank you! I’ll ride her, and pet her, and feed her, and take her for walks everyday, and she’ll be my best friend…”
“You are such a smarty-pants.”
“How cool is that? Pretty soon I’ll be clip-clopping along on my very own horse, shootin’ varmints with my new rifle.”
“You bought her a rifle too?” Gemma asked.
They both turned around. Her dad’s face lit up like the bug zapper. He wrapped his arm around Gemma’s shoulders and kissed her temple. “Well, yeah. She needed her own gun out here in the wild wild West.”
Macie watched her father and Gemma mooning over each other. They were so deliriously happy; she didn’t begrudge them a bit of it. It spilled onto her. And rather than his relationship with Gemma driving a wedge between her and her father, it seemed to strengthen their bond.
Happy. Were she and Carter happy?
Despite the fact she and Carter lobbed the “L” word back and forth, things hadn’t changed much in the last two weeks. He’d locked himself in the barn to finish up the final pieces for his show and she’d worked mega hours at the diner. They hadn’t talked about what would happen after his show was over. They hadn’t talked at all about her deciding to take Velma’s offer to help run the diner. Carter had been so…obsessed with his work that he hadn’t asked about hers. It shouldn’t have bothered her, but it did.
It means your job in a small time diner isn’t as important as his big art show.
Macie hoped with the diner closing for a little over a week they’d get to eek out time.
If not, well, she did have a horse to train. She couldn’t wait to tell him. After giving her father another hug, she drove to Carter’s place.
Although his truck was there, he wasn’t in the trailer. She hesitated at the barn door.
He was protective of his space and she never ventured in uninvited after that first day.
She yelled, “Carter?”
“Carter? Are you in here?”
She slipped inside. It wasn’t the same pigsty she’d remembered from last time when he’d given her the erotic painting lesson. No jars of mineral spirits or rolls of canvas, sections of thin boards or mysterious pieces of machinery covered the ground.
Damn dark in here though.
Macie reached for the light. Once her eyes adjusted, she found herself looking at paintings of herself. Everywhere. But not only was she buck-assed naked in the pictures, she was lost in the throes of passion. Or just looking lost. Each one focused on a different (naked!) part of her body. The disturbing part wasn’t that the pictures were just…parts.
They were parts of a whole person. Of her. Showcasing her expressions. Her moods. Her secret thoughts. It was all there, on her face. Atop her naked body.
Tears stung her eyes. This is what he’d been creating? Pornographic images of her?
No wonder he’d acted so secretive.
She wasn’t a prude. She’d seen art exhibits with nudes. No doubt the pictures were excellent. But that was a catch-22 because she couldn’t pretend it wasn’t her plastered on canvas. Her heart, her soul and—good heavens were those her thighs?—spread wide for the world to see.
Surely he didn’t plan on exhibiting these in his show. He couldn’t be that thoughtless, could he?
The barn door opened. Macie stood her ground even when she wanted to flee.
Carter trudged in. He stopped and looked at her, then at the paintings she’d seen, then back at her. “I didn’t want you to see them like this.”
“When were you going to show me?”
“What? You were just going to spring these on me at your showing?”
Her stomach roiled. “Too bad. You can’t show them.”
“You cannot display those pictures of me, Carter. I won’t let you.”
“Let me? It’s a done deal. I have a show in two weeks.”
“Postpone it until you can make something else.”
Carter laughed softly. “Right. I don’t have time.”
“Come on, Macie. Be reasonable.”
“Reasonable? I’m naked in them. What does me being naked have to do with Western art?”
“Oh, so people in the West don’t get naked?”
“You know what I mean. Aren’t there supposed to be sculptures of horses or cowboys riding through sagebrush?”
“I’ve already fulfilled those requirements in other mediums and other pieces.”
“So you don’t need to show these.”
“Yes, I do. What’s the big deal? You agreed to pose for me.”
“Not like that! I told you no naked pictures.”
“I thought you were kidding. You know, like you were kidding about wanting a cowboy ménage?”
“Not the same thing, Carter. I specifically said no nudes, several times, remember?”
“I’d never agree to this. Ever. Not even half-naked. Especially not…” Completely exposed. Had he been gauging her facial expressions while they’d been making love so he could reproduce them on canvas? Was that all she’d been to him? A muse he could fuck and use?
He stared at her blandly.
“Don’t do this.”
“Do what? Show the world how much I love you? How much I love every part of you? That’s what the pictures are, Macie. Love.”
“That is not love. That is porn!”
Carter sighed and raked his fingers through his curls. “I was afraid this might happen.”
“What? That I’d freak out about strangers seeing my bare body painted in every conceivable position?”
“No, that you wouldn’t understand.”
Macie wanted to scream. Instead, she snapped, “I wouldn’t understand? Because I don’t have a fucking Masters of Fine Arts that I can’t see I’m utterly naked?”
“Stop actin’ like a child. It’s art. It’s my art. And to put it crudely, darlin’, I don’t give a shit if you like it or not. This collection of stylized portraitures are the best I’ve ever done and I’ll be damn proud to display them at the gallery.”
Hollowness replaced her earlier joy. “Is that all I am now? A collection of portraitures to you?”
“See? You’re confusin’ you with the pictures.”
“No, you aren’t a thing. These pictures are an extension of you. How can you not see that?”
“How can you not see how wrong this is?” She swallowed with difficulty because her mouth was bone dry. “Please. I’m begging you.”
A muscle in his jaw flexed.
“Carter. Please. Don’t show them.”
“Don’t display these.”
He looked away.
“If you loved me you wouldn’t do this.”
Carter’s hard gaze boomeranged to hers. “If you loved me you wouldn’t ask me not showcase my best work.”
Macie wondered if he could hear her heart breaking in the silence. Without another word, she turned and walked out.
And this time, he didn’t chase her down.
Luckily her father was gone when she returned to the Bar 9. She suspected the pictures—or Carter McKay—wouldn’t live to see another day when he found out.
Just imagining her dad, or anyone else, looking at those paintings made her stomach hurt. She didn’t remember ever feeling so alone. So helpless. So literally heartsick. Lord, she needed someone to talk to. Since her best pal Kat was hours away in Denver, she tracked down Gemma and poured out the whole story.
After the tears settled, Gemma assured her she hadn’t acted like a child; Carter had stepped over the line. Besides soothing her and listening without judgment, Gemma didn’t have any advice, beyond offering to run interference with Macie’s dad if Macie needed to get away to think things through.
So with a week’s vacation looming, rather than mope around the Bar 9, Macie packed her bags and did what she did best: ran.
Two days later
“The foundry in Gillette, Wyoming, called me, in Denver, to ask why you hadn’t picked up your statues. They’ve been sitting there two weeks? Which means they’re not finished. And here’s where, as your agent, I remind you of the major showing you have in less than two weeks.”
Carter scowled. He knew better to answer his cell when his agent called and he was in such a vile mood.
“What is going on, Carter?”
“Nothin’ I can’t handle. Look. I was just on my way to Gillette—” a total lie, “—to pick them up. They won’t need a lot of polishin’ so they are essentially done.”
“My advice is to get them on a truck as soon as possible. What else is the gallery waiting for?”
“I shipped the major pieces last month. I’m finishin’ up some portraits, but I ain’t shippin’ those directly.”
“Because I want to hang them myself.”
Buck swore. “No way. That was not in the contract. The gallery will have an absolute fit.”
“You do not get a say in how anything is exhibited, McKay, least of all paintings.
Your job was to finish the art work, theirs is to display it.”
“Then get the contract changed. Ain’t that your job?”
Silence on the receiver. “My job is to look out for my client. Which I’m doing, by telling you not to push the issue on this, because you are wrong. Get the paintings packed up. Either ship them by next Friday or I’ll have the gallery send a truck for them. And the cost of that, my friend, will come out of your pocket, not mine.” Buck hung up.