Rode Hard, Put Up Wet Page 15

“To do what? Finish what we started before my dad interrupted?”

Carter lifted his eyebrows. “Don’t pretend it was one-sided.”

“I’m not.”

“Good. But the main reason I want you to come over is because I need you to pose for me.”

Not the answer she’d expected. “Seriously?”

Carter pulled on his jeans and she couldn’t help but stare at his ripped abs. Damn.

She’d been so close to letting her fingers do the walking down that yummy muscled torso and beyond.

“Seriously. I never kid when it comes to art.”

Her gaze flew to his. He’d gone from playful to deadly serious. “I suppose. I’m not scheduled to work today anyway.”

“Work here on the Bar 9? That could be fun. You and me—”

“I’m not working here on the ranch.”

“Then where?”

Would a polite look of distaste cross his face when he discovered she was just a cook? “I took a job as a cook and a waitress at the Last Chance Diner.”

Carter’s eyebrows lifted again. “When did you do that?”

“The day we met at the rodeo. Dad and I stopped for supper and I saw the help wanted sign.”

“Ah. So are you any good?”

“At what?”

His hot gaze lingered on her mouth before a mischievous smiled curled his lips. “At cookin’ of course, what did you think I meant?”

“Can you blame me for being suspicious? Especially after all the innuendos dripping from your silver tongue?”

“Baby, those aren’t innuendos, but the gospel truth. And I can’t wait to show you all the tricks my silver tongue has in store for you.” The tight black T-shirt went over his head, covering up his abs of steel. Dressed, he grinned and leaned over her. “I’ll be back as quick as I can. Be ready.”

He brushed his lips across hers and vanished out the door.

Carter had to remind himself no matter what went on with Macie, Cash was still essentially his boss. Surprisingly enough, he and Cash worked well together—albeit in complete silence. They unloaded the new mares and helped Gemma pick up the debris from the storm.

The morning was muggy. The wisps of clouds didn’t stifle the heat. Luckily the night’s rainfall kept the dust to a minimum. With three of them working, it didn’t take long to clean up the broken tree branches. By the time they finished, the electricity was back on.

After Gemma and Cash drove off to check cattle, Carter moved his truck from the ditch where he’d been forced to leave it during the storm. Before he climbed out, Macie emerged from the camper, twirling her car keys in her hand. It pleased him to think she’d been waiting for him.

He smiled and let his eyes roam over her. “Darlin’, you look—” good enough to eat


Macie fussed with the straps on the long gauzy white dress. “Is this all right? I didn’t know what to wear.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

Her gaze snapped to his. “No nudes. If this is where you tell me I’m supposed to get naked—”

“No. I’ll be workin’ on portraits. Pen and ink or charcoal; I haven’t decided which.

I’ll wait to see how the light is today.” She’d look stunning in any light. As he studied the angles and lines of her beautiful face, that intriguing expression appeared again.

“What? You’re staring at me.”

“Get used to it, ’cause I’ll be doin’ it a lot.” His comment seemed to make her more uncomfortable so he backtracked. “Doesn’t look like you’re ridin’ with me.”

“I’ll follow you in my car, that way I can leave when I want.”

He didn’t like it, but he managed a bland, “Fair enough.”

Carter’s place was a couple of miles up the road—shorter on horseback. Driving the potholed gravel road on autopilot, he imagined Macie riding bareback, a beaded buckskin dress sliding up her slender thighs, her curtain of silky hair flowing behind her as she rode wild and free across the Wyoming prairie.

The image froze in his mind. It would work as a still life as well as a medium-sized sculpture. He’d need to capture the texture of the fringe and the beads, the smooth line of her leg, the flexing muscles of the racing horse and the proud set to her chin.

So intent was his brain on cataloging the minute details that he jumped when a loud knocking echoed next to his head. The fog lifted and he saw Macie frowning at him through the driver’s side window. Carter glanced around. Whoa. He hadn’t realized he’d stopped the pickup.

Carter offered her a guilty smile before he hopped out of the truck. “Sorry. I lose track of time when I get to thinkin’. Come on. The studio is in the barn.”

Macie trailed after him without comment.

He gathered his supplies and attempted to create professional distance. “I want to take advantage of this light. So we’ll start outside.” He threaded the strap to his camera over his head and caught her staring at it.

“Are you going to take pictures of me?”


“So once I’m done posing for them I can leave?”

“Technically…yes.” His eyes searched hers. “But I want you to stay. Will you?”

After a moment she nodded.

“Good. Grab that stool.” By the time he’d arranged her, gazing across the field comprised of red dirt, gray rocks and acres of sagebrush, he’d entered the zone where everything boiled down to light and shadow. Nothing existed but curves, lines, and angles used to fill the blank white space on his sketchpad.

Carter expected her nervous chatter. But she may as well have been a statue. She didn’t speak. She scarcely moved. A couple of times while she’d been lost in thought he quietly snapped pictures. He’d managed a good outline when her soft sigh drifted to him on the wind.

Absentmindedly he asked, “Need something?”

“Yeah. To use the bathroom.”

He glanced at the timer clipped to his bag and cursed. Three hours had passed.

“Sorry. We can take a break.”

Macie slid off the stool and ambled toward him. Automatically he closed his sketchbook—a move that wasn’t lost on her.

She frowned. “I’m beyond a break, Carter. I’m tired. I think I’m gonna head back to the ranch.”

“You can’t.”

She gave him a droll stare. “What do you mean I ‘can’t’?”

“I need you here. I’m behind on this portion of the show. I told you earlier I need you to stick around and you agreed to stay.”

“Not indefinitely.”

After witnessing her meltdown last night he knew it wouldn’t take much to spook her, and he’d never been particularly even-tempered. “I’m just askin’ for today.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t realize you meant all day.”

“You should have.” He stood. “Look. How about if you take a nap while I finish up some other things in the barn?”

“I suppose I’ll be napping in your bed?”

“Would that be so bad?” He couldn’t look at her as he waited for her response. It’d be just like him to screw this up from the get-go.

“Yes. No. I don’t know. What am I doing here, Carter? Even you have to admit this whole situation is just plain…weird.”

“I ain’t gonna admit any such thing. This feels right. I can’t explain it but on some level you must feel it too or you wouldn’t be here.” Vowing to keep it light and easy, he hefted the bag over his shoulder and gave her a cheeky grin. “Come on. I’ll tuck you in.

Maybe after your nap you won’t be such a cranky pants.”

“Was that a crack at my age, McKay?”

“If I promise you milk and cookies afterward will you stop pouting?”

A frustrated noise left her throat. A swish of lace brushed his calf as Macie pushed past him.

He snagged her arm. “Hey. I was kiddin’.”

“It wasn’t funny. Do you know how many people look at me and then treat me like I’m twelve? I thought you were different.”

“I am.”

“Never mind. Let me go.”

Carter felt the air whomp from his lungs. “I’m sorry. I was bein’ an ass. It won’t happen again.”

“Forget it. Just let me go.”



“Please what?” Carter dropped his bag and crowded her against the trailer. “Please you? That I can do.” She fought him until he cupped her face in his hands and kissed her.

Jesus. Her mouth was so warm and soft. Her opposition evaporated when his tongue breached her lips and slid inside. Lord almighty he loved the way she responded to him.

He allowed the kiss to stay just a shade shy of demanding. He kept his hands on her head, rather than making a play for the breasts he’d been dying to touch.

Macie broke the kiss and his grasp. “Stop.”

“Why?” he whispered against her lips.

“I won’t have you blaming me because you didn’t get any work done today.” She ducked under his arm. “I’m sure I can find the bed on my own.”

He watched as she scooted inside and slammed the door in his face.

Well, hell, she’d certainly put him in his place. Maybe he didn’t have to treat his muse with kid gloves after all.

Chapter Twelve

“All accounted for,” Gemma said.

“Were you worried?”

“Yeah. Some of the new mommas bolt with the herd during thunderstorms and leave their babies alone to fend for themselves. Usually I find at least one dead calf. Then I gotta listen to those mommas bawling in the pasture and calling for their baby. Never get used to that sad sound, so I’m glad not to be dealing with that today. Got plenty of other stuff going on.”

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