“How’s that possible? Didn’t you just meet her today?”
“Yep. This is gonna sound dumb, but she’s been in my head for the last month. This fuzzy image in my mind that’s only partially there. Been drivin’ me crazy, tryin’ to capture her. I’ve tried painting her, sketching, working with clay. When I saw her today?
Flesh and blood and real? At first I thought I’d gone completely ’round the bend.”
Gemma couldn’t withhold a shiver. “That’s some spooky serious shit, Carter.”
“Don’t I know it. Normally I don’t believe in that kinda karma and fate voodoo crap, but I ain’t about to chalk it up to coincidence neither. Nor am I gonna let the new foreman chase me away from his daughter just ’cause he thinks he can.”
“Macie is an adult, but I don’t think that’s gonna matter to Cash,” Gemma pointed out. “He still is her father.”
“That’s hard for me to believe. Jesus. How old was he when she was born? Like twelve?”
She smiled. “Probably more like sixteen. He made it sound like he hadn’t been around much when she was growing up.”
“Probably because he was too busy growin’ up himself. Where’s her mother?”
“Dead, from what I understand.”
Carter whistled. “Harsh. Anyway, from what I remember Colby tellin’ me, Cash knows his stuff ’bout livestock. So I ain’t gonna cause problems with him while we’re workin’.”
“I appreciate that.”
“But I expect him to do the same.” Carter faced her again. “The only person with the power to tell me to get lost is Macie, agreed?”
“Agreed. But I ain’t gonna get in the middle of this.” Gemma figured she’d have her hands full dealing with her situation with Cash. She turned down the gravel road leading to the trailer on the outskirts of her property. “I think it’s best if I show Cash the ropes for evening chores, don’t you?”
She circled the barn so the front end of her truck was pointed to the road. “Can I ask you one more favor?”
Carter’s hand froze on the door handle. “What?”
“Can you give us—me, Cash, and Macie—a night to settle in? Macie’s agreed to stay in Cash’s camper, but I doubt he’ll just dump her off.”
For a second it appeared Carter would argue. He scrubbed the back of his neck and sighed. “I guess. I have some new ideas to sketch. I’d probably lose track of time anyway.” He opened the door and hopped out. “See you bright and early, boss lady. Try and get some sleep.” Carter grinned and slammed the door.
Sleep. Right. Cash seemed pretty anxious when they parted ways. The heat and promise in his eyes nearly burned her from the outside in.
Neither of them would be getting much sleep.
When Gemma ventured out of the house in the early evening, she noticed Cash had already parked his camper between the old wooden barn and the metal granary. The spot was perfect. It’d keep the aluminum camper sheltered from the oppressive dry summer heat and it was set back far enough from the main house to offer them—and Macie—
privacy. The generator at the back of the camper hummed. She saw Cash carrying an armload of assorted items out of the camper, but no sign of Macie’s car. Once Cash caught sight of her climbing in the truck loaded down with the horse trailer, he loped over.
“Where you parkin’ that rig, eh?”
“Over behind the other barn.”
“Back ’er in and I’ll unhitch the trailer.” He frowned. “Why’d you drag that thing along to Buffalo? It’s empty, ain’t it?”
“Yeah. I stopped at a ranch outside of Haroldsville to look at a couple of mares to breed. Decided not to take them, but I needed the trailer just in case.”
Cash’s gaze narrowed. “What was wrong with ’em?”
“Nothin’. The guy wanted too much money.” It burned her ass the guy thought she was too stupid to know he’d been trying to screw her over. But Gemma doubted Cash would understand she’d been dealing with that mentality since Steve had died.
After he’d unhitched the horse trailer, Cash wiped his brow with his forearm and stared at her.
“When we’re done with chores, I expect you show me where to put my stuff in the house.”
“Just so we’re clear. I will be sleepin’ in your room, in your bed.”
Yowza. Gemma nodded and proceeded to show him around, detailing what needed to be done in the morning. She finished the tour in record time. He dragged his duffel bag up the porch steps and dumped it on the kitchen table. Before she opened the door leading upstairs, Cash pressed her against the wall and kissed the holy hell out of her.
When she could breathe again, she tipped her head back and blinked at him. “You hungry?”
“Not for food.”
“Point me to the shower, winyan. I’ll not come to you the first time smellin’ of a barnyard.”
Feeling reckless, she nipped his chin and tugged the end of his braid. “I wouldn’t mind. The bathroom is the second door at the top of the stairs.”
“While you’re cleaning up, should I ask Macie to supper tonight?”
“Nah. We stopped outside of Canyon River and grabbed a burger. She said after she settled in she was goin’ right to bed. Been a long day on the road for her.”
Cash shouldered the bag and gave her a gorgeous smile. “Don’t go nowhere, Gem.”
Gemma stepped back and anxiously rubbed her hands over her bare arms as Cash disappeared up the stairs. Lord almighty. The man could melt her with just a look. Was she ready for this?
To make sure, she raced to the guest bath, quickly rinsed off the road grime and combed her hair. After she scrubbed her teeth, she changed into clean clothes, a low-cut tank top and a short skirt.
Dusk had fallen, sending purpled shadows across the yard and darkening the interior of the house. She sipped a beer and gazed out the kitchen window, reluctant to flip on the overhead lights. Talk about magnification of her wrinkles and her age, hell, magnification of all her flaws. Would candlelight make it too obvious she had plenty to hide?
The door creaked and she jumped. She heard the soft pad of feet across the linoleum.