Rode Hard, Put Up Wet Page 34

“Grounded? Need I remind you I’m twenty, not ten?”

Gemma lifted her eyebrows. “Need I remind you the legal drinkin’ age is twenty-one, and you doin’ a half-nekkid—”

“Fine. I’ll shut up now.”

“Good. Besides, that thing is not one of them wussy bulls they use in cowboy bars and charge you five bucks to try. That one of Colby’s is a nasty piece of machinery and the closest to getting on the back of a real bull. It’s dangerous.”

“Told ya so,” Amy Jo said.

“Why don’t you try to stay out of trouble and see if Cash’s daughter needs any help in the kitchen?”

“Her name’s Macie, right?” Amy Jo inquired politely. “She seems nice.”

“She seems young.” Keely demanded, “Hey, are you using her as free slave labor just because she’s too young to know better and because Cash is working for you?”

“No. She’s a professional cook and she’s older than you, smarty.” Gemma debated on mentioning Macie’s relationship with Carter, but Keely would find out soon enough.

“No way. How old is she?”


Keely and Amy Jo exchanged a look. And a grin. Then they ran to the house.

Gemma yelled, “No askin’ her to buy you guys booze. You ain’t old enough to drink!”

“Well, I am. Let’s get shitfaced.”

Gemma turned and smiled at Channing. “Macie’s camper is empty and I know she’s got beer.”

“You’re on.”

Once they each had a cold one, Gemma said, “Married life agrees with you, Mrs.


“Does it ever. Colby makes me ecstatically happy. I thank my lucky stars every day that we found each other.”

“You should. How you getting along with the McKays?”

Channing swigged her beer. “Great. Carolyn is awesome. Don’t see much of Cord or Colt. You know what Keely is like. Carson would like me more if I was knocked up. And before you ask, no, I’m not pregnant, and since we’ve been married less than a year, no, we aren’t actively trying to populate the world with more wild McKay boys.” She smirked. “We are practicing a lot though.”

“Some things never change.”

“Speaking of pregnant…how is it that I never knew Cash had a daughter?”

“No one knew.” Gemma shared what she’d learned. “So, he’s workin’ for me, but he’s also tryin’ to have a relationship with Macie.”

“What’s she like?”

“She’s a good kid. Hard worker. Sweet, but not a pushover. Wise beyond her years.”

Gemma shot Channing a sly look. “And she’s doin’ some serious practicin’ with your brother-in-law Carter.”

“No way.”

“Yep. Though they pretty much keep to themselves.”

“Colby is so going to pay for not telling me that bit of family gossip.” She paused.

“Cash doesn’t have a problem with Carter and Macie doing the nasty right under his nose?”

“He has a big problem with it. Not a lot he can do; they’re both adults.”

“True. So, tell me about you and Cash doing the nasty. He finally wear you down?”

“Nope. I finally swallowed my pride and tracked him down.”


Gemma downed her Coors. “And I am so in love with that man it’s not funny.”

“’Bout damn time you realized that.”

“But it didn’t start out that way. I’ve always liked him even when that weird connection between us scared me to death. When he agreed to take over the Bar 9

foreman duties with certain personal stipulations, I didn’t know what to expect. Cash has always been a loner. He’s set in his ways. He can be a little ornery. A little distant.”

“Now why does that sound so familiar? Hmm. Do I know anyone else who fits that description?”

Gemma swatted at Channing. “Smarty pants.”

“I couldn’t resist.”

“Then he introduced me to Macie and I saw a side of him that broke my heart. He feels so much emotion, the only way he can contain it is to fall back on what he knows and act the part of a stoic Indian. But again, when he’s with me, whether we’re workingor playin’, he lets his guard down, and I see the true Cash Big Crow. The great, humble man who’s been knocked around by life, who’s learning from his mistakes and is still standing proud and tall. He wants to be a better father, a better worker, a better lover, a better man. He ain’t got no quit in him, Channing. And it makes me love him even more.”

“Does he know how you feel?”

Gemma shook her head.

“Why not? You aren’t still worried about your age difference?”


“Then why haven’t you told him?”

“It’s complicated. There’s Macie and his guilt about her. He works for me. And I don’t want to do anything that will put a damper on the sex that absolutely blows my fucking mind.”

Channing leaned forward. “Dish the details.”

“It’s hot and spontaneous and fun.” She hesitated and blurted, “And dark.”

“Dark like kinky dark?”

“No dark as in: we always have sex in complete darkness. Or he makes me wear a blindfold. I’ve never seen his body completely nude.”


“Yeah. So I have to wonder: Is it a shyness thing?”

A calculating look entered Channing’s eyes. “I doubt it. Those circuit cowboys are used to stripping down to their underwear in a whole room full of strangers.”

“That don’t make me feel better, Channing.”

“Sorry. Go on.”

“Then I wonder: Is he weirded out by my body? I sag in spots. Maybe he’s noticed the pockets of fat and wrinkles, but he’s okay touching it if he doesn’t have to see it?”

Channing choked. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard you say, Gemma Jansen.”

“You wouldn’t think it was ridiculous if was you in the damn dark all the time.”

“There has to be a reason he insists on darkness. He’s not burned or physically scarred?”


“Some weird secret tribal tattoos?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Then it has to be emotional. Maybe a woman laughed at him once and he swore he’d keep all sexual activity hidden in the dark.”

“He ain’t got nothin’ to be ashamed of.”

“Is it a different kind of Indian thing?”

Gemma’s beer stopped halfway to her mouth. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Shoot. Then I’m out of ideas. But I think you need to force the issue so you can tell him how you feel. Being in luuurrrrve and all?”

“Right. He’s only been here two months and I’m gonna confess my love for him?

He’d hit the South Dakota state line in record time.”

She rolled her eyes. “Give him a little credit. And yourself too. He probably feels exactly the same way.”

A bunch of male whoops echoed from the yard.

“Sounds like the mechanical bull is functioning.”

Channing scrambled to her feet. “I better make sure Colby isn’t showing those boys how it’s done.”

At the paddock, Gemma sidled up to Macie. “You sick of cookin’ yet?”

“Nope. Thanks for sending Keely and Amy Jo in to help me.” She gave Gemma a mocking sideways glance. “I managed to accomplish absolutely nothing, but I sure had fun.”

“Good. You deserve fun. I’d forgotten Keely was close to your age.”

“Whenever Carter’s mentioned her he makes her sound about twelve.”

“Where is Carter?”

“No clue. I thought he’d be here by now.” Macie sighed. “He tends to lose track of time when he’s working. That’s all he’s been doing lately.”

“Any idea on how his pieces are coming? I know last time I talked to him he was a little behind schedule.”

“Carter sort of mumbles about it when I ask. I’ve never seen a single finished piece.

Yesterday he was disassembling an old tractor for parts for some kind of sculpture. Said he needed to weld so he shooed me home.”

Gemma sensed a problem but opted not to press Macie to talk about it.

They focused their attention on the men standing next to the mechanical bull. Colby explained something, complete with hand gestures. A round of laughter broke out. Then Cash stepped up; the crowd stepped back.

“You ever seen your dad ride?”

“A couple of times. I know he’s pretty good but I still think he’s crazy for doing it.”


When Cash climbed on the back of the machine, Gemma’s stomach clenched. Colby turned the machine on high. Barely two seconds passed before Cash was on his ass on the ground.

Macie gasped.

“Easy, hon. He’s fine. Just watch.”

Sure enough. Cash stood, put his hat on his head and climbed back on. He nodded at Colby. Four seconds later Cash was on his hands and knees in the dirt. A minute later he was back on the bull.

“He’s gonna keep doing it, isn’t he?” Macie said. “He’ll keep doing it until he gets it right, or until he figures out what he’s been doing wrong.”

“I reckon. He don’t know the meaning of the word quit. When it comes to anything.”

“I’m glad. It makes me hopeful.”

“Me too, Macie. Me too.”

Chapter Twenty-six

Firelight skittered across the ground, cutting through the shadows. Wood crackled, sending a shower of orange sparks skyward. The air was temperate, reminiscent of bathwater. His family was here. The food was good. The beer was cold. The soft twang of Western music drifted in the background. Nights didn’t get any better than this.

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