“Then where’d you live when you were growin’ up?”
“With my mom’s parents until I lit out on my own.” Right after he found out about Jorgen’s pregnancy. There was a proud moment in his life, running from his responsibilities.
“What happened to your dad when he got out of jail?”
“Died in a drunk drivin’ accident.”
Thick, uncomfortable silence weighted the air.
“So you’re like me, basically alone?”
“I guess I’d always heard Indians had big families. You don’t have brothers or sisters, aunts, uncles and a billion cousins?”
“I only have one brother, Levon. And he’s repeatin’ the family history.”
“He’s in the pen on narcotics charges. Long story.”
The lift in her eyebrow reminded him of Gemma for some odd reason. “Have some place to be that you can’t tell me now?”
I don’t want to tell you now. Or ever.
Cash sighed. “Long story short: I felt sorry for him after his wife kicked him out, so while I was off rodeoin’, I let him live on the ranch our grandparents deeded to me.
Stupid son of a bitch was makin’ meth in the barn. So when the DEA caught him, the state of South Dakota confiscated the ranch and sold it at auction to pay legal fees, and the hazardous waste clean up bill, and the back property taxes. Nothin’ I could do. I lost the only thing that was ever really mine.”
“I had no idea.” She studied his face. “When did that happen?”
“Four years ago.” Cash finally found the guts to look at his daughter. Comprehension dawned in her big brown eyes, before those same beautiful, wise eyes filled with tears.
Shit. He’d never dealt well with tears.
“Oh Dad. That was right around the time mom died, wasn’t it?”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because you had enough shit to deal with, Macie, without me addin’ to it. I’ve never given you anything—”
Macie threw herself at him, wrapping her arms around his neck and sobbed like her heart was breaking.
Cash held her tightly, offering her comfort she’d never sought from him. Soothing her. Holding her. His child. Feeling like a total selfish prick because on some level, he was happy, happy, that she’d turned to him for something.
Macie’s cries slowed to the occasional hiccupping stutter. Still she didn’t release her grip on him. He had the good sense not to let go of her either.
Finally he murmured, “Better, honey-girl?”
“No. I hate this. I’ve always hated it.”
Cash’s stomach plummeted to the toes of his cowboy boots. “Hate what? Me?”
“No, I hate that I don’t know you. Hate that it’s so goddamn awkward to get to know you. I want everything to be butterflies and rainbows in my life, just once. I want us to finally make that connection and be, I don’t know, like a real family. Instead of polite strangers.”
She started crying again and this time, he cried silently right along with her. Holding the best mistake he’d ever made.
“You probably think I’m a bawl baby, huh?” she asked after a time.
“I never thought I’d be so happy to be wearin’ your tears on my shirt.” He squeezed her hard and kissed the top of her head. “We’re gonna make this work, Macie. We’re gonna be a family, ’cause Lord knows, we both need one.”
She nodded against his chest. Still making no move to leave him.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Why didn’t you ever get married and have another family?”
That question surprised him for the second time. “I guess I never found a woman who would put up with me.”
“I am too. I’m set in my ways, Macie.”
“My way or the highway, huh?”
“But what about when you were younger? Before you got so set in your ways?”
“I figured there was no rush. That I’d have plenty of time to settle down when I was older.” Cash didn’t want to muddy the waters and discuss his relationship with Gemma and all that he wanted from her now that he’d found a woman who would put up with his wicked ways. “The same holds true for you too. You’re young. I’m sure there are things you wanna do. Travel. See the world.”
“My mom was the gypsy type, not me.”
Cash leaned back to look at her. “You want to settle down?”
He kept his tone casual. “With Carter McKay?”
“No. I like it here because you’re here, Dad. But if you’re talking about me and him?
I don’t know. Probably wouldn’t work anyway.”
Cash wanted to tell her it probably wouldn’t and encourage her to nip the relationship in the bud. But he bit his tongue and listened.
“He and I are so different. He’s smart.”
“So are you. You passed your GED when you were fourteen.”
“Hah. He’s got a Masters of Fine Art.”
“That’s not all. He has ties to the land and to his family and I don’t know what that’s like.”
“Is he messin’ with your head? Tellin’ you what you have and what you’ve accomplished in your life isn’t good enough? Makin’ promises that you know he ain’t gonna keep?”
Her eyes narrowed and he recognized that challenging look: He’d seen it staring back at him in the mirror. It gave him a spark of pride that she did have something of him in her after all.
“Can I talk to you about this? Rationally? Or are you gonna run off half-cocked?”
Cash grimaced and pointed to the four clips on the tailgate. “Half-cocked? I’m fully loaded.”
“Kiddin’. I ain’t gonna shoot him.” Yet. “Go on.”
“It’s like he runs hot and cold. He treats me like I’m everything and then the next day, it’s like I don’t exist.”
“He’s an idiot.”
“Yeah.” She smiled and wiped the tears from her face. “Never mind. I’m babbling.