“That’s not a good idea.”
“It’s the best idea I’ve had in a long time. Be ready.”
“For me to be the man to give you everything you’ve ever wanted.”
Gemma and Carter were lost in their own thoughts on the way back to the Bar 9.
Once they hit the sagebrush and wide-open spaces of Wyoming, Gemma sighed. “Sorry to spring this on you, Carter. I was afraid if you knew I was lookin’ for another fulltime foreman—”
“—that I’d bail on you? Come on, Gemma, you know me better than that. I promised I’d be here all summer. Despite the shitty opinion Cash has of the McKays, you know we always keep our word.”
“That you do.”
“What’s really goin’ on?”
She didn’t take her eyes off the gray ribbon of bumpy road. “I wasn’t sure he’d say yes.”
“So? It ain’t like he’s the only man for the job. Shoot, there’s lots of guys around here more than qualified.”
Gemma angled her chin from Carter’s shrewd eyes so he couldn’t see her blush.
“Hellfire and damnation. He is the only one you wanted, ain’t he?”
She paused. “Yup.”
Carter sighed. “I ain’t gonna ask why.”
She probably couldn’t give him a good answer on that one even if he did ask.
“Just so you know, what happens between the two of you after the barn door closes ain’t my business. You don’t hafta worry ’bout me blabbin’ your private business to everyone or pokin’ my nose in where it don’t belong.”
Gemma looked at him. “Thanks.”
“But that goes both ways.”
“Meaning, I won’t stay away from Macie just because her father wants me to.”
Lord. He was just as bull-headed as the rest of his family. She waited, knowing he wasn’t finished.
Carter drummed his fingers on his thigh. “Remember last week when I was cleanin’ stalls like the devil possessed my soul, and you asked me what the hell was wrong with me?”
“It was her.”
“How’s that possible? Didn’t you just meet her today?”
“Yep. This is gonna sound dumb, but she’s been in my head for the last month. This fuzzy image in my mind that’s only partially there. Been drivin’ me crazy, tryin’ to capture her. I’ve tried painting her, sketching, working with clay. When I saw her today?
Flesh and blood and real? At first I thought I’d gone completely ’round the bend.”
Gemma couldn’t withhold a shiver. “That’s some spooky serious shit, Carter.”
“Don’t I know it. Normally I don’t believe in that kinda karma and fate voodoo crap, but I ain’t about to chalk it up to coincidence neither. Nor am I gonna let the new foreman chase me away from his daughter just ’cause he thinks he can.”
“Macie is an adult, but I don’t think that’s gonna matter to Cash,” Gemma pointed out. “He still is her father.”
“That’s hard for me to believe. Jesus. How old was he when she was born? Like twelve?”
She smiled. “Probably more like sixteen. He made it sound like he hadn’t been around much when she was growing up.”
“Probably because he was too busy growin’ up himself. Where’s her mother?”
“Dead, from what I understand.”
Carter whistled. “Harsh. Anyway, from what I remember Colby tellin’ me, Cash knows his stuff ’bout livestock. So I ain’t gonna cause problems with him while we’re workin’.”
“I appreciate that.”
“But I expect him to do the same.” Carter faced her again. “The only person with the power to tell me to get lost is Macie, agreed?”
“Agreed. But I ain’t gonna get in the middle of this.” Gemma figured she’d have her hands full dealing with her situation with Cash. She turned down the gravel road leading to the trailer on the outskirts of her property. “I think it’s best if I show Cash the ropes for evening chores, don’t you?”
She circled the barn so the front end of her truck was pointed to the road. “Can I ask you one more favor?”
Carter’s hand froze on the door handle. “What?”
“Can you give us—me, Cash, and Macie—a night to settle in? Macie’s agreed to stay in Cash’s camper, but I doubt he’ll just dump her off.”
For a second it appeared Carter would argue. He scrubbed the back of his neck and sighed. “I guess. I have some new ideas to sketch. I’d probably lose track of time anyway.” He opened the door and hopped out. “See you bright and early, boss lady. Try and get some sleep.” Carter grinned and slammed the door.
Sleep. Right. Cash seemed pretty anxious when they parted ways. The heat and promise in his eyes nearly burned her from the outside in.
Neither of them would be getting much sleep.
When Gemma ventured out of the house in the early evening, she noticed Cash had already parked his camper between the old wooden barn and the metal granary. The spot was perfect. It’d keep the aluminum camper sheltered from the oppressive dry summer heat and it was set back far enough from the main house to offer them—and Macie—
privacy. The generator at the back of the camper hummed. She saw Cash carrying an armload of assorted items out of the camper, but no sign of Macie’s car. Once Cash caught sight of her climbing in the truck loaded down with the horse trailer, he loped over.
“Where you parkin’ that rig, eh?”
“Over behind the other barn.”
“Back ’er in and I’ll unhitch the trailer.” He frowned. “Why’d you drag that thing along to Buffalo? It’s empty, ain’t it?”
“Yeah. I stopped at a ranch outside of Haroldsville to look at a couple of mares to breed. Decided not to take them, but I needed the trailer just in case.”
Cash’s gaze narrowed. “What was wrong with ’em?”
“Nothin’. The guy wanted too much money.” It burned her ass the guy thought she was too stupid to know he’d been trying to screw her over. But Gemma doubted Cash would understand she’d been dealing with that mentality since Steve had died.
After he’d unhitched the horse trailer, Cash wiped his brow with his forearm and stared at her.
“When we’re done with chores, I expect you show me where to put my stuff in the house.”
“Just so we’re clear. I will be sleepin’ in your room, in your bed.”
Yowza. Gemma nodded and proceeded to show him around, detailing what needed to be done in the morning. She finished the tour in record time. He dragged his duffel bag up the porch steps and dumped it on the kitchen table. Before she opened the door leading upstairs, Cash pressed her against the wall and kissed the holy hell out of her.
When she could breathe again, she tipped her head back and blinked at him. “You hungry?”
“Not for food.”
“Point me to the shower, winyan. I’ll not come to you the first time smellin’ of a barnyard.”
Feeling reckless, she nipped his chin and tugged the end of his braid. “I wouldn’t mind. The bathroom is the second door at the top of the stairs.”
“While you’re cleaning up, should I ask Macie to supper tonight?”
“Nah. We stopped outside of Canyon River and grabbed a burger. She said after she settled in she was goin’ right to bed. Been a long day on the road for her.”
Cash shouldered the bag and gave her a gorgeous smile. “Don’t go nowhere, Gem.”
Gemma stepped back and anxiously rubbed her hands over her bare arms as Cash disappeared up the stairs. Lord almighty. The man could melt her with just a look. Was she ready for this?
To make sure, she raced to the guest bath, quickly rinsed off the road grime and combed her hair. After she scrubbed her teeth, she changed into clean clothes, a low-cut tank top and a short skirt.
Dusk had fallen, sending purpled shadows across the yard and darkening the interior of the house. She sipped a beer and gazed out the kitchen window, reluctant to flip on the overhead lights. Talk about magnification of her wrinkles and her age, hell, magnification of all her flaws. Would candlelight make it too obvious she had plenty to hide?
The door creaked and she jumped. She heard the soft pad of feet across the linoleum.
The scent of sandalwood soap, toothpaste and warm male skin enveloped her. Heat from his body seared her back as he brushed damp, soft kisses over her bared shoulder. She trembled and nearly dropped the beer before she upended the remainder and gulped it down.
Cash chuckled by her ear. “Nervous?”
“Me too. But that ain’t gonna stop me.” His teeth nipped on her earlobe and she shivered as he suckled the sting. “You expectin’ anybody tonight?”
“Good. C’mere, sexy lady.” Cash turned her into his arms and his soft lips nibbled up the side of her neck. “I’m dyin’ to touch you.” His finger traced the lace strap of her tank top. “Take off your shirt.”
Gemma pulled back and looked at him. “Right here?”
“Right here, right now.” When she made no move to move, he frowned. “There a problem?”
“Besides that we’re in the kitchen?”
“Does that bother you?”
“Well. I thought…”
“Ah. That’s the problem. You’re thinkin’ too much.” Cash walked to the door and locked it. Then he snagged a blue bandana off the counter. He folded it crossways in a long strip.