Rode Hard, Put Up Wet Page 52

“You’re a fighter. It’d be easy for you to say, ‘My father neglected me my entire childhood, so screw him.’ Instead you’re here, fightin’ to have a real relationship with him.

“Because you’re accepting. You don’t try to change people. You accept your dad for who he is now. And his feelin’s for Gemma never made you seriously question his feelin’s for you. Mostly, the accepting thing gets to me because you get me, the real me and accept me for who I am. You’ve taught me to accept myself. I’ve never thought I was worthy of the kind of love you’ve given me. And I want to spend the rest of my life lovin’ you, givin’ it back, times ten.”

When she still didn’t say anything he added, “And because you make the best goddamn pie I’ve ever tasted.”

Macie had never been so scared or so hopeful or so paralyzed by emotion in her life.

Carter began to walk toward her. “Be brave, Macie. Fight for me. Love me. Accept what I’m offerin’ you. Take a chance on me.”

“Carter—” He seemed upset she hadn’t thrown herself into his arms. She put one hand on his chest, stopping him.

“Please.” His eyes searched her face. “Oh, my sweet darlin’, why do you have that horrified look?”

She whispered, “Because the person you described? That’s not me. I’m not brave.

The thought of putting down roots scares me to death. Most of my life I’ve run instead of staying to fight because I’ve never had anything worth fighting for. I accept you, the real you, but will you accept me? The real me? The unsure, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants person I feel like inside everyday?”

“Macie. Didn’t I just tell you—”

“Listen to me, Carter McKay. I don’t have huge ambitions besides living my life happy. I like working in a diner. I don’t aspire be a polished woman hanging off your arm at big, fancy art shows.”

Those blue, blue eyes flared anger. “I’m sorry, did I ever say I wanted or expected anything from you besides what you are?”

“No, but—”

“Did I say, ‘Macie, go to cookin’ school’ or ‘Study this book on the influence of cubism on 20th century art’? Hell, what kind of ambitions do you think I have? Last time I checked, darlin’, I lived in a crappy rented trailer in nowhere Wyoming, and my income is close to poverty level.

“I’ve acted more immature in the last two weeks than you have in your whole life—

and why the hell am I tellin’ you this?” He tossed up his hands. “I’m supposed to be sellin’ you on spendin’ your life with me, not encouragin’ you to run, though, now, it probably sounds like you should get as far away from me as possible.”

And then she knew. When Carter didn’t offer her flowery promises, sweet words and romantic bullshit about the perfect life they’d have together as they rode off into the sunset, she knew they’d be okay. They’d make it work. She just had to be brave and fight and take a chance on him. On them.

Macie stood on tiptoe and got right in his face. “I’ll admit, your lines have improved since the first time I met you, cowboy. But if you ever use them on another woman, I’ll kick your butt worse than my dad or your brothers ever thought of.”

Then she threw her arms around him and kissed him.

“Thank you. Oh, Macie darlin’, I love you. I love you so damn much.” He peppered her face with kisses. “I’m so sorry I hurt you. So sorry. Thank God I didn’t lose you.

Thank God.”

Carter didn’t let go of her for the longest time.

“No more nude pictures of me ever, Carter. Promise me.”

“I promise.” He smiled down at her. “Marry me.”

Her heart leapt into her throat. “Shouldn’t we wait and live together first?”

“No. I want my ring on your finger. I want to start the rest of our life out right. No running away when the going gets tough, for either of us. We stick together for better for worse, forever.” His eyes turned serious. “Besides, I already asked your dad if I could marry you.”

“Did he say we’re too young to settle down?”

“He said age was just a number and there are no age restrictions on when you might find true love. But most importantly, he said yes.”

How had she gotten so lucky to have not one, but two good men in her life?

“Wanna go meet the rest of the McKay family before we head home to the Bar 9?”

Home. That sounded nice. “They’re here?”

“Yep. They fell all over themselves to be here when I told them I was takin’ my girl dancin’.”

“You don’t dance.”

Carter twirled her in a clumsy circle and tromped on her toe. Then he stopped and cradled her face in his hands. “Macie, with you in my life, I can probably fly.”

Tears spilled down her cheeks. “You are such a dumbass, Carter McKay. But you’re my dumbass and I love you.”

And they raced outside to dance together under the Wyoming stars, young, hopeful and wildly in love.