He reined Deacon to a stop beside Gemma’s barn. Then he dismounted, removed the saddle, blanket and bridle, and led his horse into the last stall. He shoveled a bucketful of oats in the trough and stepped from the dim barn outside into the warm night air with a nearly moonless sky.
Instead of working on plan B and deciding which sweet, romantic words to use on Macie, he found himself irritated he had to be thinking of that kind of shit at all. Why was he sneaking in on horseback? Why couldn’t he just drive his damn truck right up to Macie’s door? Who cared what her father thought?
Evidently Macie did. Which meant he had to care too.
Dammit. Carter glanced at Gemma’s house. Pitch black. He walked toward the faint light glowing from Macie’s camper and put his boot on the pullout step. Should he have brought flowers? A bottle of wine? She probably wouldn’t consider a handful of rainbow-colored condoms and a bottle of lube very damn romantic.
He rapped on the door. The music inside ended abruptly. A curtain fluttered and the door swung outward.
“No. It’s me. Carter.”
Was that disappointment in her voice?
She peered behind him, squinting at the darkness. “What are you doing here?
Where’s your truck?”
“I didn’t drive. I rode my horse.”
“Oh. Do you want to come in?”
He’d forgotten how cramped it was in her camper. Especially since they were avoiding touching. He sat on the bench next to the foldout kitchen table.
“How are the projects going? Sculptures this week, right?” she asked.
Carter looked at her. Really looked at her. And was struck dumb by his stupidity and pride. He couldn’t believe he’d grumbled about having to romance her. She was beautiful and sweet and funny; he was the luckiest guy on the planet for getting a chance to woo her.
“I miss you, Macie.”
“What?” Her hand flew to her throat. A nervous gesture? From stand-offish Macie?
“I miss you.”
“I miss you.”
“You already said that.”
“It bears repeatin’.”
Talk to her. Ask her questions. Show her you’re interested in her mind, not just her body.
“So what were you doin’ before I barged in?”
She pointed to the tin on the table next to him. “I was just about to have a piece of pie. You hungry?”
For you. I want to savor you. I want to devour you.
“You sure? It’s a new recipe and I have whipped cream. Not fresh, it’s the canned kind—”
“Have you even been listenin’ to me, Macie?” He stood and crowded her against the small refrigerator imbedded in the wall. “I said I miss you.”
“How can that be? It’s only been two days since we—”
“—fucked? Yeah, I know. But it’s been a couple of weeks since we talked. Really sat down and talked. Or fought. Or did anything but f**k like wild rabbits then disappear into our separate little hidey holes.”
“Sorry to be such a disappointment to you.”
“There ain’t a single goddamn thing about you that disappoints me, that’s what I’m tryin’ to tell you. I miss you.”
“Then why are you here scowling at me?” She held up a hand and he automatically stepped back. “Besides the ‘missing me’ thing you keep bringing up?”
Carter smiled. “Because I wanted to see you. Can we just hang out and talk? Act like a normal couple?”
Her hazel eyes turned shrewd. “Are we a couple?”
“Hell yes, we’re a couple. A normal couple, doin’ normal couple things. Talkin’ an’ shit.”
“Fine.” Macie cocked her head. “A normal couple would sit down and have pie.”
“Then dish it up, darlin’. Extra whipped cream on mine.”
Once they were seated across from one another, Carter took a bite. He groaned.
“That’s the best pie I’ve ever tasted.” Another quick bite elicited another heartfelt groan of delight. “My mother would wash my mouth out for sayin’ that to anybody but her.”
Macie finally smiled at him. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. Where’d you learn to cook?”
“Self-taught out of self-preservation.”
Another bite of ambrosia. He moaned again. “Meaning?”
“My mom didn’t cook. I needed to eat. My first job was in a restaurant. I like to experiment with food. I’d still rather cook than waitress, but the money is better waiting tables.”
“Ever thought about goin’ to cookin’ school?”
“Now and again, but I wasn’t the best student. I don’t want to study in a specific area like French, Italian, European or vegetarian dishes. Being a fulltime sous chef would be boring. Same goes for a pastry chef. Or a baker. I don’t think I’d do well with people telling me what I don’t know, or telling me what to do all the time.”
“No? I’m shocked.”
She swatted at him. “Plus, I like mixing it up and doing it all myself. I’ve heard some of those specialized schools suck the creativity right out of you.” She gave him a sheepish look. “I wasn’t talking about the kind of stuff you do. Art.”
“But it’s true there too. The instructors make you learn how to do it the ‘right’ way so you can eventually do it your own way.” He shoveled in the last chunk of flaky crust and chewed slowly, drawing out the taste. “Then when you do the kind of art that makes you happy, no one thinks it’s real art. It gets called ‘folk’ or ‘rural’ or something that belittles it.”
“That’s happened to you?”
“Every damn day.” Whoa. He’d finished his dessert in record time. He looked over at her full plate; she’d scarcely eaten a bite. Shrugging, he helped himself to a taste of her pie. “Then there’s the whole all ‘artists are g*y’ mentality. I’m constantly getting hit on.”
“Never in a million years would I look at you and peg you as g*y.”
“Which is why I’m the perfect foil, darlin’.”
“The last guy I dated? He was an artist and I found out in a rude fashion he was g*y.”
“Yeah? If anyone could turn a man from the dark side, it’d be you.” He scooped in two more heaping forkfuls of caramelly goodness and sighed. “A couple of the bolder ones thought I was playin’ hard to get, so they tried to convert me.”