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Authors: Seraphina Donavan

Carter (Bourbon & Blood Book 3) (7 page)

BOOK: Carter (Bourbon & Blood Book 3)
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“Your privacy fence is falling apart. It won’t make it through the winter,” he explained. “Naturally, you’re not going to be out there fixing it yourself. Hiring a handyman, Josie, is your only option… and after I repair the fence, then we can discuss payment.”

“Payment?” she asked. “Really? Now I’m supposed to pimp myself for home repair?”

“It’s really good home repair,” he promised. “It’ll be mutually beneficial. In fact, I’ll guarantee that and the fence.”

She felt herself caving. All of her protests collapsing under the weight of his wicked grin and the knowledge that he was absolutely right.

“You do realize we’re crazy, right? That there’s no way whatever we’re doing is going to end well?” she asked.

His expression grew shuttered, the teasing light leaving his eyes. For a moment, just for a split second, she thought maybe she’d hurt him. But then she dismissed the thought. She was a diversion for him, heretofore unconquered territory. Women were disposable to Carter, they always had been and always would. If she let herself think any differently, she’d wind up broken hearted for sure.

“Why are you borrowing trouble, Josie?” he asked softly.

“Just stating the obvious… you’ll get tired of me. Or I’ll get tired of you. The odds of us getting tired of each other at exactly the same time and walking away on good terms? Yeah, those are pretty damn slim.”

He shook his head. “You can’t control everything, Josie.… I don’t know where this is going. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend every minute of the time we have together anticipating the end.”

She had hurt him, she realized, stunned that she even possess the power to do so. At the very least she’d nicked his pride. “I don’t mean to be difficult… but I have to protect myself, Carter. I don’t want o get my heart broken.”

“I’m not an asshole, Josie! I don’t make promises and then bail on them,” he said defensively. “I’ve never been anything but honest with any of the women I’ve dated.”

She shook her head sadly. He didn’t understand, but then he wouldn’t. “For all that, for all the women that just fall at your feet, you don’t understand us at all… You don’t have to lie to us, Carter. We lie to ourselves. We build these elaborate fantasies in our heads of how things will work out. We plan weddings and houses and babies… there’s a whole universe of expectation tied up in nothing more than a first date. So, when I say this is going to end, I’m not saying it because of you, Carter. I’m just reminding myself to stay focused on what’s here and now, and not what I want it to be down the road.”

He didn’t respond, just stared at her like she’d started speaking in tongues and he didn’t have an interpreter present. Josie grabbed her keys and marched toward the door. She wasn’t mad at him, but she was more than a little mad at herself.

It was all well and good to talk about keeping her distance, of reminding herself that theirs was a finite arrangement, but it didn’t stop the flare of hope in her. It certainly didn’t do anything to lessen the fact that all she wanted, more than anything else in the world at that moment, was to be curled up in his arms. If ever there was a reason to turn tail and run, that was it.

She needed space, she needed perspective and she needed to find some way to armor herself against the hurt that was going to coming crashing down sooner or later.

A
fter Josie left
, Carter stared at the door for the longest time. She tied him up in fucking knots, he thought bitterly as he walked into the kitchen to grab a beer. It was perverse to want her, an exercise in misery since she was clearly the most prickly, contrary and difficult woman who’d ever walked the face of the earth.

Using the antique bottle opener mounted to the wall, he popped the lid off the beer. He didn’t actually want to drink it. He didn’t want to sit around in his apartment and mope about her. Putting the bottle in the sink, he grabbed his discarded shirt from earlier then put on his boots.

Heading out into the night, his aimless drive wound up taking him to the farm. The lights were on in the barn so he knew Emmitt would be up. Letting himself in, he drove right up the open doors of the barn and then climbed out of the truck.

There was no telling what he would find inside. As the local vet, Emmitt tended to keep a lot of sick or injured animals in the barn if they couldn’t be treated at their home or fit in the exam rooms of the attached clinic.

But it wasn’t an animal emergency that had Emmitt out there so late. He was putting down fresh straw in the stalls.

“You do realize that it’s almost midnight,” Carter pointed out.

“You do realize that if you want to talk, you better be willing to work,” Emmitt said and tossed the pitchfork toward him.

Carter caught it by the handle and sighed. He should have stayed home. Still, he walked over and started spreading the straw. It was hard work, burning the muscles but soothing the mind.

“So why are you out cruising around in the middle of the night?” Emmitt finally asked.

“My evening didn’t go as planned.”

“Her husband came home early?” Emmitt shot back.

“You’re not funny,” Carter said. “I don’t mess with married women… that I know of.”

“If it’s midnight and you’re in my barn instead of someone’s bed, there’s a problem,” Emmitt shot back.

Carter finished spreading the straw in the stall and went for another bale. Hoisting it onto his shoulder he carried it over and set it down, using a pocket knife to snap the twine that bound it. “Let’s just say we move in different circles… There’s some conflict there.”

“Church lady?”

Carter frowned. “How do you figure?”

Emmitt laughed, a rusty sound that was rarely ever heard. “That’s the only circle you don’t run in. Either step up or step off, Carter. If you want her, you have to meet her where she is… and if you’re not willing to do that, let her go.”

Yeah. He wasn’t going to church with Josie. He wasn’t going to sit there in the front row under the disapproving eye of her daddy. That shit was not happening. “You give shitty advice, Emmitt.”

“I give good advice that you don’t like. Now shut up and spread that straw. I’d like to get to bed sometime before daylight.”

“Why the hell are you up doing this right now, anyway?”

Emmitt lifted another bale and carried it back to the larger of the stalls. “Had an emergency earlier today. Horse broke its leg. Had to put it down… Old man Jeffers. Between his bad hips and his dementia, I couldn’t leave him to handle it. So I borrowed a backhoe and got one of the neighbors to help me with it. Took all damn day.”

Emmitt Hayes, the Surly Saint, Carter thought with a bitter laugh. “Half the town thinks you’re a hateful bastard and the other half thinks the pope should be knocking on your door.”

“He’s a hundred damn years old. He could break a hip looking at that damn backhoe! What was I supposed to do?” Emmitt demanded.

Carter didn’t say anything else. Just spread straw in the various stalls. Emmitt was just as locked down by what people in Fontaine thought as the rest of them were. That didn’t make his current situation any clearer though.

Feeling his muscles burning from slinging the pitchfork around and feeling the bite of the handle in his hands, he realized he probably should have just stayed home and drunk the beer.

7

J
osie listened
to the hum of power tools as she stood upstairs in her bedroom. True to his word, Carter had shown up with a load of wood and his tools and was out back repairing her privacy fence. Meanwhile, she was upstairs trying to figure out what to wear to seduce him when he came inside. Of course, he didn’t require a whole lot of seduction, but it felt good to dress for him, to put something on her body just so he’d have the pleasure of stripping it off her.

The idea of having him in her bedroom was strange. She’d never had any man in her bedroom, period. Other than a few painfully inept encounters in her dorm room at college and then the boy she’d dated her last year at UK who only wished he could be called a minuteman, she’d never had men in her space. Certainly never a man like Carter, who seemed to leave his mark on everything.

The backyard grew silent, the hum of power tools faded, the soft thump of the hammer was gone. Josie reached into the drawer and retrieved a black nightie that she’d bought on impulse and never worn. The silk slithered over her skin, falling to the middle of her thighs. The deep V in the front was supported by the thinnest spaghetti straps in creation, but the back dipped even lower. It barely covered her ass from above or below.

She ran the brush through her hair just as she heard the back door open. Moving to the bed, Josie had intended to arrange herself in an alluring pose, but Carter had taken the stairs quicker than she expected. She was on her knees in the middle of the bed when she heard his low whistle.

“You’ve been holding out on me,” he said. “That’s enough to give a man a heart attack.”

“Maybe you should come closer in case I need to give you CPR?” she shot back.

“I need a shower first,” he said. “I’m disgusting.”

All she could think about was Carter naked in her shower, water pouring down over his tanned skin. God above. “Bathroom is through there,” she said, pointing to one of the doors just across the hall. “But the only soap I have smells like roses.”

He walked toward her, kissed her hard on the mouth and as he pulled back, said with a grin, “I’ve smelled like worse things… Do not move from this spot, Josie Marcum. I’m going to get cleaned up, and when I come back in here, I’m going to show you just how dirty I can be.”

It was a damn good thing she was on the bed already because when he said that her knees would have buckled. The heat of his gaze and the sensual promise of his words had all but laid her low.

Carter disappeared across the hall and Josie flopped back on the bed. He’d told her to wait, but the temptation of him wet and naked was more than she could bear. The second the shower turned on and she heard the rings of the shower curtain sliding closed her decision was made.

Climbing from the bed, Josie opened the bathroom door and stepped inside. Carter’s clothes were on the floor. She stepped over them as she stripped the nightie off.

“I told you to wait for me,” he said, his voice carrying over the sound of the water.

“I thought we’d have more fun in here,” she replied, opening the curtain just enough to step into the tub behind him.

Carter turned and rinsed the shampoo from his hair. He reached for her bottle of conditioner and she smirked at him. “What?” he demanded.

“If I wasn’t staring at ever growing proof to the contrary, Carter, I’d swear you were a girl.”

“It makes my hair feel nice,” he said simply. “And you like my hair, so don’t even pretend you mind.”

She did like his hair, and just about everything else about him. In that, she was totally caught. That didn't mean she was going to feed his gargantuan ego, though. “But if you ask to use my flat iron, it’s a deal breaker. Clear?”

“If I ask for your flat iron,” he said, as he worked the conditioner through his hair, “Then you can just take my balls as payment. They’d be useless to me after that anyway.”

When he was done with his hair, he pulled her close, plastering her to him and spun them around. The spray was warmer than she’d expected and she let out a squeak.

“Too hot?” he asked.

“I’ll get used to it,” she said.

When her hair was completely saturated, Carter turned her again so that her back was to his chest. He squeezed some of her shampoo into his palm and began to work a lather into her hair. He didn’t just wash her hair. He massaged her scalp, his hands kneading and easing knots of tension she hadn’t even been aware existed. He rubbed her temples and then the tender spot just behind her ears, working his way down to her neck.

“Oh, sweet lord. I feel like I’m melting,” she said.

Carter grinned. “Then I’m doing it right.”

She leaned against him, practically unable to support her own weight. He rinsed the shampoo from her hair, then applied a liberal amount of conditioner and repeated the whole process.

If anyone had told her that having a man wash her hair for her would be one of the most erotic experiences of her life, she would have thought they were crazy. But then she was naked in the shower with Carter and it would be impossible for it to be anything less. She heard his name, she thought about sex. She saw him, she thought about sex. He touched her and she wanted to climb him.

With her hair rinsed clean, her head resting against his chest, Carter tugged her closer. She could feel the hard ridge of his erection pressed against her. Her body responded accordingly. The rush of heat between her thighs was intense and instant.

His hands moved from her neck down to her shoulders, then slipped lower. They coasted up and down her back in soft, slow strokes that left her shivering before sliding around her waist and then back up to cup her breasts. His fingers closed over her nipples, squeezing just a shade beyond gentle, leaving her gasping.

“I want you all the time,” he said, whispering against her ear. “I wake up thinking about you… I go to bed thinking about you. The way you smell. The way you taste. You drive me crazy.”

She wanted to answer, to tell him that he drove her crazy too. But she couldn’t think, much less form words, with his hands on her, with his body pressed against her.

His hands continued to roam—kneading, caressing, teasing. If he hadn’t been supporting her weight entirely, she would simply have collapsed into a puddle at his feet.

“Carter, I feel like I all I ever do is beg you to hurry… but dammit, hurry!” she said.

Josie felt him grin against her neck, just before he nipped that same tender spot with his teeth. “You have to learn to be patient, cupcake… The longer you wait for it, the better it feels.”

She started to respond but a noise from outside made her heart literally drop to her feet. The garage door was opening.

“Someone’s here!”

Carter sighed as he stepped back from her. “Which window do I need to climb out of?” The note of disappointment and anger in his voice was impossible to miss.

“None of them! You just have to hide!” she hissed.

“Where?” he demanded.

“Just stay here,” she said. “No one has any reason to come up here to the bathroom.”

He looked at her like she’d lost her mind. “I’m just supposed to stand here in the shower and wait for you to get rid of whoever it is? Did you forget that my truck is parked outside?”

“I’ll lie,” she said decisively. “I’ll tell them that Bennett picked you up to help him move something and you’re coming back for it later.”

He frowned at her then. “You came up with that really quick… been planning what you’d say for a while?”

There was something in his tone that told her he wasn’t playing. He was pissed. Really pissed. “Carter, the only people who have the code for the garage are my parents and my grandmother. It sure as hell isn’t Nana back from Florida! I can’t tell them you’re here!”

“No. Of course, you can’t,” he agreed reasonably.

Carter was never reasonable. “I don’t know what you want me to say,” she said lamely.

“I want you to say that you’re not ashamed to be seen with me… but we both know that’s not going to happen. I might not have a lot, Josie, but I do have some pride, and I don’t think I’m gonna let you take it from me.”

“I can’t fight about this with you right now! They’ll be inside any second!” She didn’t even want to think about the kind of disaster that would result from her father finding a naked Carter Hayes in her house.

“We’re not fighting about it, Josie. Just go. See your parents.”

Josie got out of the shower and he turned the water off. He stepped out behind her and she handed him a towel. He took it without a word and began to dry his hair. It wasn’t just his pride. She’d thought that at first, but she could see it in his eyes. She was hurting him when it never even dawned on her that she had the power to.

“Carter—.” She stopped, unsure of what to say to him. It didn’t change anything for her. She was still the daughter of the most upstanding minister in town, and every thing she said and did still reflected on him and the church. And Carter was so much more than anyone realized, including her, but in a town like Fontaine that would never matter.

“Just go,” he said.

Josie grabbed a robe from the back of the door and headed across the hall to dress. Sweat pants and an ancient t-shirt on, she headed down the stairs where her parents were standing at the kitchen door surveying the work in the back.

“You didn’t have to hire Carter Hayes to fix the fence, Josie,” her father said. “I would have done it for you.”

“He gave me a really good price,” she lied. It felt wrong. Everything about it felt wrong.

“Well, it doesn’t look right,” her mother said. It was clear from Deborah’s sharp gaze that she
knew.
This clearly didn’t jive with her earlier admonishment to be discreet. She could see from her mother’s rigid posture and cold gaze that Deborah was livid. “That boy’s truck parked in front of your house will cause talk, Josephine.”

Josie stiffened. “What does it matter? People will talk if they want to talk, either about me or about someone else! I hate all the gossip and judgement. You should too,” she said accusingly. “Maybe you need to write a sermon about people minding their own business?”

William Marcum frowned at her. “Do not speak to your mother that way, Josephine!”

“Don’t come into my house and tell me what I should and shouldn’t do when I’m a grown woman,” she shot back. “I’m not a child. I’m entitled to live my life without your interference!”

Deborah drew back as if she’d been slapped. “I can’t believe you’d speak to us this way, Josephine. After everything we’ve done for you!”

Josie felt it then. The guilt and the shame crawled beneath her skin and the whispered words of every single member of her father’s congregation echoed in her mind.
You’re so lucky they took you in. You should be so grateful they saved you. Where would you be if God hadn’t called them to open their home to a poor orphan?
But for the first time, there was anger with the guilt. Anger that what should have been done out of love had been reduced to a currency to control her.

Her voice quivered as she spoke. The anger and the hurt, not to mention the resentment that had building for years was all bubbling just below the surface like a volcano ready to explode. “You have done a lot for me. And I’ve never been anything but grateful… but that doesn’t mean I have to live my entire life trying to earn your love and acceptance. You both need to leave.”

William stepped forward. “Your mother didn’t mean it that way, Josie. We’re lucky to have you and we both know it. There is nothing you could ever do that would make us think differently.”

He meant that, or at least he believed he did. But if they really felt that way, wouldn’t they have said so before? During all the conversations where she stood there beside them after church and people praised them for taking her in and raising her like their own, wouldn’t they have said then that she was their own? “Then maybe you should have told the congregation that. All I’ve heard my whole life is how you sacrificed, how you gave up so much for me… I’m a burden. I’m proof of your Christian duty and nothing more.”

“That’s not true. We’ve never made you feel that way!” Deborah protested.

“You just did!” Josie protested. “But more to the point, you never once tried to stop everyone else from making me feel that way.”

The tension in the room was so thick it could be cut with a knife. The silence stretched between them, growing heavier by the second. Finally, William said, “We’ll go. We just wanted to make sure you were okay. But you’re clearly upset and us being here isn’t making it better.”

It was a peace offering of sorts, but she didn’t want it. She didn’t want to be placated and made to feel like she was being humored or patronized. She had a right to feel the things she did. “No, it really isn’t… and which one of my neighbors is your spy? Or is it the whole damned street?”

Her father looked at her in a way that made her feel petty and small. “Watch your language. I understand that you’re upset, and yes, one of your neighbors called, but they were concerned about you. If Carter Hayes is in this house, it’s abundantly clear you want him to be, so we’ll go.”

Josie watched them leave and immediately wondered what she’d done. She’d yelled at her parents. Not even as a crazy ass, hormonal teenager had she spoken so sharply to her mother. She’d been mean, petty and spiteful. She’d rebelled against them.

“Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God.” She just kept muttering the phrase over and over again, shocked at her own behavior and terrified that she’d ruined things forever.

After a few minutes, Carter came down the stairs. His wet hair was slicked back and he’d dressed in the same clothes he’d discarded earlier. He didn’t look mad anymore. He looked… resigned.

“I’m going to go,” he said.

“What?” Josie couldn’t make sense of what was happening inside her, much less what anyone else was saying to her. She felt sick, scared and like her whole world had just tilted.

“I’m going… you’re not in any kind of condition for whatever we were going to do earlier. And you need to get yourself cleaned up and go over to your parents,” he added.

BOOK: Carter (Bourbon & Blood Book 3)
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