“Mom and I didn’t stay in one place very long. Certainly not long enough to see the fruits of my labors.”
“You can do whatever you want, Macie. I want you to think of this as your home for as long as you’re here, okay?”
“You have time to come up to the house right now and hash this cooking business out?”
“What were you gonna do with the mint?”
“Dry it. Maybe sprinkle some in a batch of brownies.”
“See? You’re creative. I never would’ve thought of that.”
An engine revved in the machine shed, then sputtered and died. Metal clanged on metal.
Gemma frowned. “Damn old tractor. Something’s always broken around here. I wish your dad would just forget about it.”
“Not a chance. I never knew that Dad loves to tinker with engines. My Escape is running like a champ now, thanks to him. He has some kind of magic hands.”
“I’ll second that,” Gemma muttered. Then she stopped in her tracks and looked up, her mouth open in shock.
Macie laughed. “Not touching that one, Gemma.”
“Foot in mouth disease runs in my family.”
“Carter’s too. So the McKays are descending on us. What is his brother Colby like?”
“Charming. Candid. Generous. He and Channing are great. You’ll like them.”
But will they like me? Rather than dwell on that, or if Carter was going to present them as the couple he insisted they were, she focused on the jobs at hand. Inside the kitchen, Macie made lists and took notes of where assorted pots and utensils were kept.
Gemma said, “I know it’s only a little after noon, but do you want a beer? I sure could use one.”
“That’d be great.”
“Pull up a chair.”
They sat at the table, drinking in silence. Finally Macie said, “Why are you looking at bulls?”
“For breeding bucking bulls.”
“Once everything is squared away on the Bar 9, are you gonna try to get back into the stock contractor business?”
Gemma looked surprised that Macie remembered. “Good question. That’s what I’d planned.”
“I’m wondering if I’m doin’ it only because it’s what Steve would’ve wanted. Being a contractor is a lot of work and a lot of travel. Which wasn’t so bad right after Steve died, when I didn’t wanna be alone here, where every damn thing reminded me of him and the hole in my life.
“It was fun for a couple of years. Getting to know the cowboys and their families.
Changing things up from town to town, a different rodeo every week. It felt like an extended family, appealing thought to me since I’m low on family.”
Macie bit back me too and listened.
Gemma cleared the huskiness from her throat. “But then things went downhill fast.
Mike Morgan had a career-ending injury courtesy of one of my steers. Colby was almost killed by a bull in Cheyenne. Some of the other cowboys I’d been friends with for years dropped out ’cause they couldn’t make a living rodeoin’. After I quit seeing Cash around the circuit, I realized he was a big part of why I’d liked it so much in the first place.”
After that personal admission, Macie waited in vain for a look of dismay to cross Gemma’s face.
“It was my damn pride that kept me away from him. That and fear.” She laughed.
“And my age.”
“Gemma, you’re hardly teetering toward the grave.”
“Part of me knows that. The other part, the skeptical part that looks in the mirror every morning? That part sees wrinkles, gray hair, and luggage under my eyes, and seems to have the upper hand, calling me an old hag.”
“Ageism sucks on either end.”
Gemma gave her a thoughtful look. “Meaning?”
“You think you’re too old to do what really makes you happy; everyone thinks I’m too young to know my own mind.”
“I’ve never thought of you that way.”
“That makes one of you.”
“Even your dad?”
“He made mistakes when he was young and wants to make damn sure I don’t repeat them. Although I appreciate the fact he wants to protect me, I am an adult. Sometimes I feel like I never was a kid.”
“Cash keeps reminding me age is only a number.”
“I agree. But that means I’m a very old twenty-two.”
“What does that make me? A very young forty-eight?”
“Yep.” Macie winked. “Why, we’re practically the same age.”
Gemma grinned and clinked her bottle to Macie’s. “I’ll drink to that.”
Her dad walked in as she swallowed the toast. “My two favorite ladies.” He kissed the top of Macie’s head, then stood behind Gemma and squeezed her shoulders.
For some reason Macie was pleased he’d acknowledged her first.
“Whatcha ladies doin’?”
“Celebrating Macie volunteering to pull my ass out of the fire. She’s gonna cook up a storm today before the McKays arrive tomorrow.”
“Really? Honey-girl, that’s awesome.”
“No biggie.” Though it was, because she could see how happy it made him.
“You gonna wow them with your special caramel apple pie, eh?” He frowned. “Hey, didja ever bring back that can of whipped cream you borrowed?”
Macie choked on her beer, and waved off her father as he started toward her with a worried look on his face.
Gemma’s eyes narrowed, then widened with comprehension. She hid a grin behind her beer bottle.
“You ready, sweets?” Cash said to Gemma. “We need to hit the road.”
“Soon as I hit the bathroom.” Gemma stood and smiled at Macie. “Thanks again for helping out. I enjoy talking with you. Don’t be a stranger.” She disappeared up the stairs.
“You’ll be okay here alone tonight?” her dad asked. “Last time we left there was a storm—”
“I’ll be fine.”
“Is Carter comin’ over?”
“I’m not sure.”
He fiddled with his cowboy hat. “Call him. I’d feel better if he was around.”
Macie lifted her eyebrows. Dad wanted Carter here? That was a first. “Why?”
“Yeah, well, because I want him to check the cattle before supper. He needs to take care of what’s important.”