Except Macie hadn’t shown up.
Was it intentional on her part? He’d disappointed her so many times that she’d decided to give him a taste of his own medicine? It was no less than what he deserved.
Yet, it seemed out of character for her. Macie had always been forthright even when she was a little girl. If she’d changed her mind, she would’ve come right out and told him.
Would it feel worse if she’d just plain forgotten about their plans? No. The worst thing would be if Macie had blown him off because she’d gotten a better offer.
From that damn Carter McKay.
He’d felt so guilty last night after he and Gemma hit the road, when he realized not only had he left Macie alone in a strange place, he hadn’t even asked her if she’d wanted to ride along with them to Beulah. Then, when he’d heard about the nasty storms rolling across Wyoming, it’d made him stir-crazy not being able to reach her, especially after calling her for hours.
So he had to sit in a motel room twiddling his thumbs, wondering if his daughter was all right, letting that goddamn guilt gnaw through him. Keeping Gemma at arm’s length so she wouldn’t see how badly he’d f**ked up again.
It should’ve pleased him to learn that Carter McKay had the wherewithal to check on Macie. Instead, it burned his ass. Oh, not because he’d found Carter in his daughter’s bed early this morning, but because he should’ve been there for her, her father, not some heart breakin’ wild goddamn cowboy.
Yeah. He was some great man. He could drown in the sea of regret of all the things he hadn’t done for his daughter. Hell, he’d been trying, bobbing along, swimming, mostly sinking, in that cesspool of remorse for a dozen years. He’d spent a few years shame-faced and shit-faced. Compacting his bad behavior with bad decisions. He’d spent a few more years wallowing in sex with any woman who’d crossed his path. All the while he cursed his bad luck and Macie’s mother. Blaming everyone but himself for his lack of parenting skills.
He’d finally wised up.
Cash supposed it’d make a more interesting story if he credited the change in himself to a vision, or because he’d received ancient wise words from a Lakota holy man. But the truth was, when Macie turned sixteen—the same age he was when he’d fathered her, the same age his father had been when he’d fathered him—he realized not only wasn’t he ready to be a grandfather, he’d never learned how to be a father.
That was just plain f**king sad. At that point, Cash knew he had to change and be the one to break the ugly cycle.
Luckily, Macie had her head screwed on straight, no thanks to him. She was a bright, kind, sweet, funny, beautiful young woman.
A young woman. He couldn’t help but think of her as a child. Cash took another swallow of beer. Was it because he hadn’t been around during her childhood and he’d always see her as kid? Or did all parents see their offspring that way? Macie was mature and wise in so many ways…yet in others…she seemed so damn young.
So were you.
At her age, he’d had a six-year-old child, not a six-year-old car. The autumn Cash turned twenty-two, he’d won his first championship gold buckle and his first big payout.
That same fall, Macie would’ve entered first grade. He didn’t even know the name of her elementary school. Or where she’d lived. A brief memory of her sweet face and big brown eyes flashed in his mind. Had she cried and gripped her mother’s hand? Did she think of him and wonder for the millionth time why her daddy wasn’t around?
God. How did he ask Macie any of this shit without sounding like a dolt? Without reminding her of all he’d never been to her?
Would they ever figure out this father/daughter relationship? When it appeared they’d both find excuses to let it remain the same f**ked up way it’d been for years?
He jumped at the sound of Gemma’s voice behind him.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt you.”
“You’re not. It’s okay. Just sittin’ here thinkin’.”
Gemma scooted next to him on the cement step. “Macie’s not back yet?”
“Maybe she got called in to work.”
“Be a little hard for Velma to reach her when Macie’s cell phone is dead and in the camper.”
“Yeah. I checked.” He set aside the empty bottle and sighed. “Go ahead and remind me she’s an adult.”
Gemma didn’t say a word.
The sweet, low tones of mourning doves rose and fell in the early twilight. A bull roared in the north pasture. The humid air seemed to amplify the normal sounds and every breath he sucked into his lungs was heavy. Oppressive.
Cash took off his cowboy hat and hung it on the metal railing so he could rub the knot at the base of his skull.
“Just a headache.”
“Probably from tension. Want me to rub your neck?”
He glanced at her. “You wouldn’t mind?”
“No. I like touching you, Cash. It doesn’t always have to lead to the bedroom.”
Gemma’s sweetness soothed him somewhat.
“Come on. Scoot down on the next step and lean back.” Once she’d settled him between her thighs, she asked, “Can I unbraid your hair?”
“I could claim a too-tight braid as the source of your headache, but the truth is, I’ve been dying to get it loose so I can run my hands through it. Been afraid to ask you if I could.”
Cash looked at her over his shoulder. “Why? Do I scare you?”
“Is this about what happened in the barn?”
Her cheeks flushed and she dropped her gaze. “No.”
“That wasn’t a real convincin’ no, Gem.”
“Fine. I like everything you do to me. But that’s why…oh, never mind.”
“No. Tell me.”
“I want equal time to do things to you.”
That was all? He relaxed. “Okay. I’m listenin’.”
“So far this relationship has been pretty one-sided.”
“It’s been two days, Gemma.”
“Oh. Seems longer, doesn’t it?”
Cash didn’t know how to take that comment so he let it go.
Gemma loosened his hair and massaged his scalp, derailing his train of thought. He groaned with appreciation at her magic touch.