He cocked his head. “Interestin’.”
“That you have the face of an Indian princess and the mouth of a truck driver.”
Against her better judgment, Macie smiled. “I’ll admit that line was better.”
“I ain’t usin’ a line on you.” Serious once again, he stared at her steadily. “What’s your name?”
“What’s yours?” she countered.
She mimicked his posture and cocked her head. “Interestin’.”
“That you have the face of a Viking warrior and the name of a Georgia peanut farmer.”
His enormous grin, with a side of deep-set dimples, nearly knocked her off her game.
Damn. This Carter guy was trouble with a capital ‘T’.
“You always such a smart-mouth?”
She shrugged. “It’s a gift.”
“Or a curse.” Still smiling, he leaned closer. “So, what is your name?”
“Pretty. A little odd, a little flowery, but it fits you.”
Macie frowned. “Was that an insult?”
“Not at all. Anyway, Amazin’ Macie. You from around here?”
“Just passin’ through?”
“With who? By yourself? Or with your family?”
“A little of both.”
One dark blond brow winged up. “Meaning?”
“I came here by myself, but I’m meeting my dad. Going where the road takes us.
Looking for work and adventure.” Her brain urged her to walk away; her legs didn’t listen. “What about you? You from around here?”
“Nope. I’m on a day trip. I live in Wyoming.”
“Where you’re an artist.”
“What’s your area of study?” She held up her palm. “And if you say female nudes, I’m totally out of here.”
A cagey grin curled his mouth, making him look oh-so-naughty. “I’ll tell you exactly what magic I can create with these hands if you let me buy you beer.”
Hell yes. Then maybe you could give me a hands-on demonstration of your magical hands.
No. Bad, bad idea, Macie.
“Whoa.” His strong grip around her forearm kept her from bolting. “Just one beer.
It’ll give me a chance to explain why I chased…” A sound, half sigh/half groan rumbled from his chest. Then the blunt tip of his finger traced the outline of her face from her temple to her chin and down the curve of her throat. “Goddamn. You are stunning. I want to paint you like this. Fire and interest warring in your eyes.”
“Say it again,” he growled. “I wanna hear my name on your sweet lips as I’m touchin’ them.” The rough pad of his thumb slowly swept her bottom lip. He stared into her eyes. “So soft. And warm. A perfect fit for mine.”
The way he was looking at her made her feel like she’d suddenly developed a case of sunstroke. No man ever acted like he wanted to crawl inside her head, mark her soul his and claim her body as his own.
You just met him. No one feels that. It’s a trick.
“Say yes, Macie.”
“Say yes to what?”
“To everything I ask you.”
Her stomach cartwheeled.
“It sounds crazy, we just met, but I know you. I want…”
“Want what, Picasso?” she murmured.
“You’re playin’ with fire, askin’ me that question, darlin’.”
“’Cause my very explicit answer would make you blush like a virgin and run screamin’ for the Black Hills.”
Everything surrounding them—sunlight, tinny music from the carnival, whoops from the grandstand, the sugary, greasy scent of fried Twinkies—faded into the background.
Boldly, she said, “Try me.”
Carter’s shaking fingers smoothed a flyaway hair from her cheek. “Oh, I’d try you.
I’d test you. I see what your eyes are offerin’ me, and I’d take it all, without apology.”
Totally out of your league with this man, Macie. Cut and run.
“Then I’d give that need, that passion, that obsession, that control, that lust—right back to you. Times ten.”
Pure sexual heat overloaded her circuits. “Oh.”
“Yeah, oh. Not what you expected?”
“Because that kind of fascination isn’t usually aimed my direction.”
“Straightforward. I like that. I expected you to play coy.” The back of his fingers continued to lightly caress her damp skin. “I want to paint you, sculpt you. Do you in every medium.”
“You sure that wasn’t a line?”
He shook his head. “There’s a reason we both ended up here today, Macie. Don’t know why, but I ain’t about to argue with fate. Or question my good fortune.”
A hot tongue of desire licked along her veins.
“So what’s your answer?”
“Take your damn hand off my daughter.”
“Move it or lose it, son,” Cash ordered. “Now.”
Macie snapped out of her sexual stupor. “Back off, Dad.”
“Like hell. Who is this joker?”
Gemma said, “Cash, wait—”
“I told you to stay away from—”
“—you.” Macie stomped over and came nose to nose with her father. “Which I did.
You can’t blame me for not waiting around for you to ditch me.” Again.
Cash’s eyes and his voice softened. “Oh, honey-girl, I ain’t gonna ditch you.” He shot Carter a dark look. “But it appears you decided to ditch me with the first loser wannabe cowboy that comes along, eh?”
Gemma cleared her throat.
Macie and Cash both swiveled to look at her.
“Cash Big Crow, meet Carter McKay. Carter, Cash is the new foreman I hired for the Bar 9 Ranch. You two will be working together.”
“You gotta be fuckin’ kiddin’ me,” Carter muttered.
Macie frowned. Her dad had taken a job? What’d happened to them hitting the road this summer?
“McKay?” Cash repeated. “You’re related to them slimeball McKays from up around Crook County?”
Carter’s gaze hardened.
“Cash! What a thing to say,” Gemma chided. “You’ve been friends with Colby McKay for years.”
“I am friends with him, just as long as he and his wild brothers are far away from my only daughter.”
“Macie is an adult,” Carter pointed out.
“True,” Gemma said.
“Jesus, Gem.” He threw his hands in the air. “You know the bad reputation them McKay boys have!”
“With all due respect, sir, I’m nothin’ like my brothers.”
Cash whirled on Carter. “Yeah? I ain’t some dumb Indian. I traveled the rodeo circuit with Colby. I know what he’s like—like breeds like, so I ain’t lettin’ a McKay within two miles of Macie.”
“Well, that’s gonna be difficult, since we’ll all be living together on the Bar 9 for the next few months,” Gemma said dryly.
“All? Me too?” Macie asked suspiciously. Her gaze darted from Gemma to her dad and back to Gemma.
Gemma nodded. “You are welcome to stay as long as you want. Cash said he’d set up his camper for you. I’ll warn you there might be some chores involved if you’re living with me.”
Macie’s head spun. This was all happening way too fast; hooking up with her dad, him taking a new job on the spur of the moment, meeting the woman she suspected would be more than Dad’s new boss, and trying to figure out what weird connection she and Carter shared, mostly whether it was real or wishful thinking on her part.
Her dad lowered his voice. “Truth is, I need this job. But I want to spend time with you, that’s why I’m here. Can we try it for awhile and see how it goes? If it don’t work, we can go on as planned?”
What other choice did she have? Besides, wouldn’t this provide them with neutral ground? If trying to establish a father/daughter relationship wasn’t working, would it be easier to place blame on outside forces? Such as the stress of a new job, or romantic relationships or an unfamiliar setting? She could leave and he wouldn’t be forced to give up a good job opportunity. She briefly closed her eyes. “I guess.”
“Then I guess it’s unanimous,” Carter said. “We’ll be one big, happy family all summer.”
Cash took a menacing step toward Carter. “You ain’t part of the family. If I see you around I’ll kick your sorry—” Gemma grabbed Cash’s shirtsleeve and tugged him out of range.
While Gemma and Cash argued, Macie glanced at a grinning Carter. “Why’re you smiling like that? He’d like to scalp you.”
“I noticed. Your dad’s a bit protective, huh?”
It was a surprise to her.
Carter moved until he loomed over her. “I am curious as to where he’s keepin’ your chastity belt.”
“He won’t think so when he realizes nothin’ will keep me away from you this summer, Macie.” The sexual heat in his eyes changed the color from sky blue to indigo.
“A little sure of yourself, aren’t you?”
“Yep. And I’ve got a few belts and ropes to keep you right where I want you, in case you need a little convincin’.”
Sweet, hot pleasure rippled through her.
Carter’s warm, firm lips grazed her ear. “I’ll come to you tonight, okay?”