Buck swore. “No way. That was not in the contract. The gallery will have an absolute fit.”
“You do not get a say in how anything is exhibited, McKay, least of all paintings.
Your job was to finish the art work, theirs is to display it.”
“Then get the contract changed. Ain’t that your job?”
Silence on the receiver. “My job is to look out for my client. Which I’m doing, by telling you not to push the issue on this, because you are wrong. Get the paintings packed up. Either ship them by next Friday or I’ll have the gallery send a truck for them. And the cost of that, my friend, will come out of your pocket, not mine.” Buck hung up.
“Fuck!” Carter threw his cell phone against the wall. It cracked in two pieces and plastic shards scattered everywhere. Like he cared. Like anyone had called him.
Jesus. The last couple days had been a f**king nightmare. After his fight with Macie, he’d needed a day to cool off. When he’d swung by the diner around the time she usually clocked out, he saw the faded sign on the front door: Closed until further notice.
Why hadn’t she told him?
Who said she didn’t? Maybe you didn’t hear because you haven’t really listened to her in the past few weeks.
Talk about being a self-centered ass**le. Dammit. This art show had sucked the life out of him. Had it sucked the soul and the conscience right out of him too?
Regardless. He needed to talk to her to set the record straight. To make her understand.
Carter didn’t bother calling Macie’s cell phone; he knew she wouldn’t answer. He’d called the Bar 9, in the guise of asking Gemma about Macie, but Gemma was curt with him. And vague.
Because Macie was gone?
No. She wouldn’t just leave without saying goodbye.
Sure she would. Cash and Gemma were getting married soon. Summer was ending.
Macie couldn’t live in the camper forever, and he knew she valued her independence too much to move into the main house. She probably felt like a third wheel. And with the diner closed, maybe she’d figured it was time to hit the road.
Or maybe someone encouraged her to hit the road.
Red rage built inside him. He wanted to hit something, but it sure as hell wasn’t the road.
Carter burned rubber getting to the Bar 9.
Cash Big Crow was leaning on the fence when Carter’s truck screeched to a stop.
He jumped from the cab. Four angry steps later he loomed over Macie’s father.
“Where is she?”
“Haven’t we been through this once before, McKay?”
“Where is she?”
“If she wanted you to know, you would.”
“You sent her away, didn’t you?”
Cash faced him. “Don’t you come here, accusin’ me of something, when you are the one who chased her away.”
Carter took a threatening step closer. “I did not.”
“What did you do to her?”
“Nothin’! It was a stupid misunderstandin’.”
“Explain it to me then.”
“It ain’t my fault she freaked out about—”
He paused and said nastily, “If she wanted you to know, you would.”
“Don’t you pull that smartass shit on me, son. I ain’t in the mood. You came to me so you’d better start talkin’.”
“Fine. Macie saw a couple of the pictures I painted of her. She didn’t like them, and then she forbid me from displaying them at the showing. I told her tough, they were goingup. It pissed her off and she stormed out. I ain’t seen her since and I need to talk to her.”
Cash glared at him. “It more than pissed her off. Accordin’ to Gemma, Macie left here in tears.”
Left? “Where’d she go?”
“Tell me ’bout these pictures that upset her so badly.” Comprehension dawned on Cash’s face. His eyes filled with rage. “Only one kind of pictures that’d make her cry.”
Carter didn’t look away.
“You painted nudie shots of her?”
“Nudie? The correct term is nude.”
“Did she consent to that?”
“She posed for me voluntarily.”
“But she didn’t volunteer to pose for you naked, did she? That’s why she’s so goddamn upset.”
“I don’t see the big deal—”
Carter didn’t see the punch Cash aimed at his jaw until it landed. He staggered back.
Rather than taking a swing, Carter rushed Cash and they hit the dirt in a tangle of flying fists.
Cash kneed him in the stomach. Carter rolled and his elbow connected with the side of Cash’s head. Cash flipped over and ground Carter’s face into the gravel. Carter reared up and head butted Cash in the jaw. That knocked Cash back and Carter followed up with a hard right jab to Cash’s ribs. Cash kicked Carter’s knee, knocking him flat before Cash pulled back and punched Carter square in the eye.
Grunts, sweat, dirt, blood fueled their rage. Neither one backed down. Seemed like the fight lasted an hour, but it’d probably only been a minute when Gemma’s voice boomed, “Break it up! Both of you!”
Cash took advantage of Carter’s distraction and threw a right cross that clacked Carter’s teeth together. Blood burst from his lip. Enraged, Carter swung high, his fist grazing Cash’s eyebrow.
Then they were both sputtering and soaking wet.
Gemma aimed the hose at them until they moved apart. Still coughing, spitting, bleeding, trying to find a way to get another lick in.
“I said knock it off! Jesus. What is wrong with you two?”
Cash glared through the blood dripping in his eye. Carter dabbed at his bloody mouth and swollen lip.
“Carter, why are you here?”
He didn’t answer.
“Let me guess, Macie.”
“Haven’t you done enough damage to her without pounding on her father too?”
“He took the first swing.”
“And I’ll take the last one, you—”
Gemma sighed. “Carter. I think it’s time you pack up your stuff and get back home.”
Even through the throbbing in his ear, Carter knew she didn’t mean home to the trailer. Why did the thought of leaving the Bar 9 make his head hurt worse and make it harder to breathe? “You ain’t gonna let me explain, are you?”