“Wrong. Carter won’t let you get away with half the shit that Colby does. So give it up.”
“If they don’t let me try it, I’ll sneak out on my own and do it.”
“Oh, no you won’t. I’ll tell.”
“You are supposed to be my friend and back me up on this.”
“I am your friend. And if you wind up dead, who will I room with in Denver? We already paid the deposit. We’re finally gonna whoop it up, away from—”
“How’s it goin’, girls?” Gemma asked.
Amy Jo gasped and whirled around guiltily.
Keely jumped. “What are you doin’ sneakin’ up on us, Gemma?”
“Seein’ if you were up to no good.”
“She’s always up to no good,” Amy Jo grumbled.
“Don’t I know it.” Gemma smiled. “I couldn’t help but overhear you talkin’. You two movin’ someplace?”
“Yep. We’re getting the hell out of Dodge and starting massage therapy school in Denver in September.”
“It’s a temporary move,” Amy Jo amended. “The school has an accelerated program, so we’ll be living there for a year.”
“Both of you? Together? In an apartment? With no supervision? Sounds like a disaster.”
“Sounds like an episode of Sex in the City: Wild Wyoming Women.”
“You should’ve seen the look on Dad’s face when I told him I wanted to open a massage parlor.”
“Good Lord, Keely.”
Keely smiled cheekily. “Well, I’m glad you’re here. We were just talkin’ about a…man versus woman situation. Men always havin’ the upper hand, tellin’ us what we can and can’t do. You think you could ask Cash if—”
“No. And if I see you anywhere around that mechanical bull, Miz McKay, I’ll tell your dad what I saw you doin’ in Cheyenne last year. That oughta get you grounded, oh, for life.”
“Grounded? Need I remind you I’m twenty, not ten?”
Gemma lifted her eyebrows. “Need I remind you the legal drinkin’ age is twenty-one, and you doin’ a half-nekkid—”
“Fine. I’ll shut up now.”
“Good. Besides, that thing is not one of them wussy bulls they use in cowboy bars and charge you five bucks to try. That one of Colby’s is a nasty piece of machinery and the closest to getting on the back of a real bull. It’s dangerous.”
“Told ya so,” Amy Jo said.
“Why don’t you try to stay out of trouble and see if Cash’s daughter needs any help in the kitchen?”
“Her name’s Macie, right?” Amy Jo inquired politely. “She seems nice.”
“She seems young.” Keely demanded, “Hey, are you using her as free slave labor just because she’s too young to know better and because Cash is working for you?”
“No. She’s a professional cook and she’s older than you, smarty.” Gemma debated on mentioning Macie’s relationship with Carter, but Keely would find out soon enough.
“No way. How old is she?”
Keely and Amy Jo exchanged a look. And a grin. Then they ran to the house.
Gemma yelled, “No askin’ her to buy you guys booze. You ain’t old enough to drink!”
“Well, I am. Let’s get shitfaced.”
Gemma turned and smiled at Channing. “Macie’s camper is empty and I know she’s got beer.”
Once they each had a cold one, Gemma said, “Married life agrees with you, Mrs.
“Does it ever. Colby makes me ecstatically happy. I thank my lucky stars every day that we found each other.”
“You should. How you getting along with the McKays?”
Channing swigged her beer. “Great. Carolyn is awesome. Don’t see much of Cord or Colt. You know what Keely is like. Carson would like me more if I was knocked up. And before you ask, no, I’m not pregnant, and since we’ve been married less than a year, no, we aren’t actively trying to populate the world with more wild McKay boys.” She smirked. “We are practicing a lot though.”
“Some things never change.”
“Speaking of pregnant…how is it that I never knew Cash had a daughter?”
“No one knew.” Gemma shared what she’d learned. “So, he’s workin’ for me, but he’s also tryin’ to have a relationship with Macie.”
“What’s she like?”
“She’s a good kid. Hard worker. Sweet, but not a pushover. Wise beyond her years.”
Gemma shot Channing a sly look. “And she’s doin’ some serious practicin’ with your brother-in-law Carter.”
“Yep. Though they pretty much keep to themselves.”
“Colby is so going to pay for not telling me that bit of family gossip.” She paused.
“Cash doesn’t have a problem with Carter and Macie doing the nasty right under his nose?”
“He has a big problem with it. Not a lot he can do; they’re both adults.”
“True. So, tell me about you and Cash doing the nasty. He finally wear you down?”
“Nope. I finally swallowed my pride and tracked him down.”
Gemma downed her Coors. “And I am so in love with that man it’s not funny.”
“’Bout damn time you realized that.”
“But it didn’t start out that way. I’ve always liked him even when that weird connection between us scared me to death. When he agreed to take over the Bar 9
foreman duties with certain personal stipulations, I didn’t know what to expect. Cash has always been a loner. He’s set in his ways. He can be a little ornery. A little distant.”
“Now why does that sound so familiar? Hmm. Do I know anyone else who fits that description?”
Gemma swatted at Channing. “Smarty pants.”
“I couldn’t resist.”
“Then he introduced me to Macie and I saw a side of him that broke my heart. He feels so much emotion, the only way he can contain it is to fall back on what he knows and act the part of a stoic Indian. But again, when he’s with me, whether we’re workingor playin’, he lets his guard down, and I see the true Cash Big Crow. The great, humble man who’s been knocked around by life, who’s learning from his mistakes and is still standing proud and tall. He wants to be a better father, a better worker, a better lover, a better man. He ain’t got no quit in him, Channing. And it makes me love him even more.”