Long time gone, p.13
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       Long Time Gone, p.13

         Part #16.5 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 
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  “I’ve never played with them. Maybe you could show me?”

  Cord nodded. “Someday I’m gonna have a real log house.”

  “No!” Colby yelled. “Mine.”

  “No yelling at your brother, mister,” Carolyn said. “You can share your toys.”

  “That always worked out so well for us,” Kimi said dryly.

  Then Colby held his arms out for Kimi to take him.

  “That’s new,” Carolyn murmured when she handed him over. “He’s in the mama, mama, mama stage.”

  “He’s solid, isn’t he?”

  “Both of them take after their Daddy.” She smoothed back Colby’s dark hair. “Come inside. I put coffee on.”

  The inside of the trailer hadn’t changed much, except now there were toys scattered around.

  Colby wiggled to be let down and he and Cord scampered off down the hallway.

  Carolyn poured two cups of coffee and gestured for Kimi to sit at the table. “I’d love for you to stay with me, but as you can see, there’s not enough room here for us.”

  Kimi wrapped her hands around her cup. “I’m surprised with all the land the McKays are buying up that there hasn’t been another ranch house you could move into.”

  “I stay out of ranch business. I’m sure as the wife of the oldest McKay there’ll come a time when I’ll have to be involved. But right now, taking care of my husband and two rambunctious boys, and doing piece work, keeps me too busy to worry about it.”

  She didn’t respond; she just stared into her coffee cup.

  An uncomfortable silence followed.

  Carolyn sighed. “I’m sorry. I know we’ve avoided talking about this. Or maybe that’s just me because I know I was wrong. I should’ve told you what was going on with Mom. I shouldn’t have listened to Dad or Aunt Hulda.” She fiddled with the crocheted coaster. “The fact I didn’t know you’d had a big row with Mom and Dad that night after I got married… Honestly, I know now that what our dad and aunt wanted shouldn’t have factored in at all, because neither of them could see past their animosity.”

  “How’d you find out about the fight?”

  “Aunt Hulda told me when we discovered you’d taken off right after the funeral service.” Carolyn’s chin wobbled. “I felt like the most horrible person in the world, for not giving you the chance…” She held her hand over her mouth and started to cry.

  Kimi stood and hugged her, letting her own frustrated tears fall.

  When the crying had abated, Kimi said, “I was mad. I don’t know if seein’ her before she passed on would’ve made a difference, if I could’ve gotten over my anger at her, but I hated that I was the only one of all the kids who didn’t get to make that choice.”

  “I know.”

  “And after I’d cooled off, I was still pissed on your behalf. I realized Dad would’ve expected you to do everything. Our brothers knew what was goin’ on and they didn’t help you, did they?”

  For once, Carolyn didn’t hedge and try to put a happy spin on it. She just shook her head.

  “I’m sorry for that.” She sighed. “I don’t want this to have a hold over us anymore. So can we put it in the past?”

  “It’s already there, as far as I’m concerned.” Carolyn dabbed at her eyes with a dishtowel. “I’m glad you’re here, Kimi. And before I start grilling you about Cal, I need to know if I’m supposed to tell Dad or any of our brothers that you’re back in Wyoming.”

  Kimi returned to her chair. “You’re in contact with all of them?”

  “Dad? Yes. He stops by to see the boys when he knows Carson isn’t here. I want my kids to grow up around cousins since we didn’t have that. I go over to Harland’s because he’s got a sweet little boy named Dag and Sonia doesn’t seem to be in the best health. Darren has changed a lot since he and Tracy had their boy Luke. I hardly ever see Stuart and Janet. Thomas hasn’t been home since Mom’s funeral. Neither has Marshall after he took that job working for the railroad in Cheyenne.”

  “It’s a happy thought, Caro, but with our brothers, if the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…”

  “Wrong,” she said with a sharp edge. “Kids are innocent. And just because someone was raised by shitty parents, that doesn’t mean they’ll automatically be shitty parents themselves. I’d never treat my boys the way we were treated.”

  Kimi set her hand over Carolyn’s clenched fist, shocked that her sister had cursed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t say that to piss you off. There’s no doubt in my mind that you’re a wonderful mother, and heaven knows you didn’t have a great example.”

  “Thank you. Aunt Hulda said to me once that it’s more important to be a good parent when you’ve had a lousy one just so you know it’s a choice, not an inherited tendency.”

  “Smart woman, Aunt Hulda.”

  “Yes. So, enough about me. What’s going on with you and Cal?”

  This might prove tricky since she really didn’t want to admit she’d been with Cal that week after the funeral. And if Carolyn had known about it, she would’ve brought it up. “We’ve stayed in touch over the years.”

  “Really? Why?”

  “I like him. A lot. He’s funny.”

  Carolyn’s eyebrow rose. “Calvin McKay is funny? Like ha-ha funny?”

  “Yep. And he’s sweet, and thoughtful, and real.” And he is just as fantastic out of bed as he is in it. “We’ve been pen pals and it just turned into something more.”

  “Did he know you were coming here?”

  She nodded. “He just didn’t know when.”

  That calculating look darkened Carolyn’s eyes. “The chicken coops he built were for you?”

  “Yeah.”

  “The fact he’s gutted the entire second floor of his house and added a bathroom…that was for you too?”

  “I don’t know about that. To be honest, we didn’t make it that far last night or this morning.” As soon as she said that she blushed.

  “So when you pulled into Wyoming, you went looking for him first?”

  Crap. “Yes.”

  “And you two are more than friends?”

  “Uh-huh.”

  “Then you’re not here to visit. You’re moving here. To be with Cal.”

  Kimi lifted her chin defiantly. “Yes, I am.”

  Carolyn shrieked and jumped up from the table. Then she pulled Kimi into her arms and danced around with her, laughing. “This is the best news I’ve ever heard! You’re gonna be living up the road from me! Our kids will grow up together, and we can do things together all the time. Oh, Kimi, I’m so happy I could just scream!”

  “Uh, you already did.”

  She laughed. “I’ve missed you so much. All the women around here are a lot older and they never want to talk about or do anything fun. All they do is complain.”

  “Well, the West girls are gonna shake things up for sure.”

  They grinned at each other goofily. Carolyn shrieked again and hugged her hard. “Love you, little sis.”

  “Love you too.”

  The door to the trailer opened. Two big men filled the doorway. Then two little boys came tearing down the hallway.

  Carson scooped both boys up. “That’s a fine welcome home at noon.”

  Kimi watched Cal watching Carson with his sons. Did Cal even realize he wore a look of longing? Then when his eyes met hers, it changed into a look of pure joy.

  “Who wants ice cream?” Carson asked the boys. “Uncle Cal has said today is a day for celebrating and he’s gonna buy us lunch in town.”

  “That sounds like a great idea. Why don’t you get the boys in the car? I’ll grab my purse and we’ll be right out,” Carolyn said.

  Carson carried the boys out the door.

  Cal started to follow but Carolyn grabbed him by the shirt sleeve. “Ah-ah-ah. Not so fast. I have something to say to you.” She leaned in and got her mean face on. “Make my sister happy or else I’ll gut you like a trout.”

  Kimi choked back a laugh.

&
nbsp; “I’ve been waitin’ for years for the chance to make her happy every day.”

  “Good. Then you will call the priest, or go to the justice of the peace, but I’ll not stand for you two living together without being officially wedded. You hear me? No need for either of you to add to the McKays’ bad reputation. So you’ve got a month to get it handled.”

  “Carolyn!”

  Cal draped his arm around Kimi’s shoulder and pulled her close. “No need to worry; I’ve got it covered.”

  Carolyn smiled and breezed out the door.

  Kimi looked up at Cal and he kissed her before she got a word out.

  When they broke free, she put her hand over his mouth so she could speak her piece. “I love my sister, but she doesn’t get to set down ultimatums for us.”

  He nipped her fingers and she moved her hand. “Lord, woman, you think I don’t know that? Do you really think a guy who built you two chicken coops doesn’t have a plan?”

  “Oh. Forget I said anything.” She cocked her head. “Okay, so what’s the plan?”

  “I want to take you out on five dates.” He kissed her. “One for every year you were gone.”

  “Cal. As of last night, we live together. Why do we need to date?”

  “It’ll make me happy. And I waited to be with you for five years; you can give me five dates before we make it official.”

  How did she ever get so lucky to be loved by this man? He’d loved her enough to let her go. And she’d loved him enough to come back. “Fine. But no fish places. If I never see a piece of Alaskan salmon or king crab again it’ll be too soon.”

  Epilogue

  Five months later…

  Cal walked into the Dairy Queen and stopped in his tracks when he saw the hot-bodied blonde staring at him as she provocatively licked an ice cream cone.

  Goddamn he loved her. Loved her like a crazy man. Things were better between them than he ever imagined they could be.

  She sauntered closer. “Hey, handsome husband-to-be.”

  “Hey, beautiful bride-to-be. I thought I might find you here.”

  “I should hate that I’m so predictable.” She licked her cone. “I delivered some eggs and I had a craving for ice cream.” She looked at him. “Would you like some? I’m buying.”

  “Nope. I’m good.” He put his hand on the small of her back and steered her to a booth along the wall.

  After they sat, she eyed him warily. “What?”

  “Darlin’, we’ve gotta talk.”

  “About what? When I’m gonna make an honest man outta you?”

  Cal had popped the question two weeks after she’d moved back to Wyoming, so they’d been engaged for four and a half months. But Kimi was dragging her feet on setting an actual wedding date. Part of that was because she’d been so busy getting her chickens all in a row with her egg business. The other part was she liked the notoriety of living in sin with a McKay. He wasn’t pushing her; he had her in his bed every night and that’s all that mattered to him.

  Until now.

  “No, darlin’, we have to talk about your cravings.”

  “Are you worried I’m gonna let myself go and get fat now that I’m wearing your engagement ring?”

  Jesus. “No. But sweetheart, you have been putting on some pounds—”

  Splat. Kimi dropped her ice cream cone on the table and covered her hands with her face. Then she started crying.

  Great. But he had no choice but to push her. “Kimi. Look at me.”

  “No! Why should I? Why would you even want to look at me? You think I’m fat!”

  “No,” he said calmly, “I think you’re pregnant.”

  Her hands fell away. “What?”

  “You’re pregnant, aren’t you?”

  Surprisingly, she didn’t hedge. “How’d you know?”

  “Intuition.”

  “Because you work with pregnant cows all damn day?” she retorted.

  Not touching that one. Avoiding the cone in the middle of the table, he picked up her hand and kissed her knuckles. “Have you talked to Caro about this?”

  She shook her head.

  “Why not?”

  She bit her lip and stared at him.

  “Are you upset that now it’ll seem like we had a shotgun wedding?”

  Again, Kimi shook her head.

  “Darlin’, you’re scarin’ me. What’s goin’ on?”

  “Promise you won’t get mad.”

  Fucking loaded question. “I promise.”

  “It’s weird.”

  “I’m used to that with you.”

  “I’ve been planning to take you someplace fun for our honeymoon. I thought we could go to Florida or even California. I saved up a lot of money when I lived in Alaska, and I always wanted that to be travel money. But now, because I’m pregnant, we won’t get to go. Probably we won’t get to go anywhere besides Devil’s Tower ever again.”

  Cal didn’t understand the need to travel all over the damn place. But he knew people who loved it—his wife being one of those people. “I promise that we’ll go other places besides Devil’s Tower. We might not get to Paris or New York City while we’re raising kids, but we can take a vacation someplace every year.”

  “I want that in writing because I know ranchers don’t take sick days or vacations.”

  “Fine. We’ll add it on as part of our wedding vows. Because, sweet darlin’, you are gonna marry me as soon as possible. I’m thinkin’ before the end of the week. And I promise you—our lives won’t be over because we’re havin’ a baby.”

  “Okay.”

  He wasn’t convinced she’d heard any of what he’d said. She’d been high and low in the last month—sometimes within mere minutes of one emotion overtaking the other, so her extreme reactions was more an indication of her pregnancy than the round middle she’d recently developed. “What else is on your mind?”

  “That I’m a hypocrite.”

  He waited.

  “I always swore I’d never be happy living in Wyoming. And yet, here I am, looking forward to spending the rest of my life right here with you.”

  “Sweetheart. That doesn’t make you a hypocrite.”

  “What does that make me?”

  “Smart enough to change your mind when you know you’re part of a good thing.”

  She gave him a cocky smile. “Together we are a great thing.” She glanced down at the ice cream cone melting all over the table. “Holy shit. Why didn’t I notice this is making such a mess?” She slid out of the booth and raced to the counter, pulling napkins out of the dispenser, ran back to pick up the cone, then made a beeline for the garbage can, then back to the table.

  He watched her with an amused expression. He’d nicknamed her the blonde tornado, but in her current emotional state he’d keep that to himself.

  When she finally sat down, with another ice cream cone, she said, “What? Stop staring at me. I’m eatin’ for two.”

  “That’s not why I’m staring.”

  “Then why? You want a taste?”

  “Of the ice cream? No. Of you? Like you wouldn’t believe.”

  “And?” Kimi did a swirling thing with her tongue around the rim of the cone.

  “And I’m havin’ the same thought now as I had six years ago when I first saw you.”

  “What’s that, cowboy?”

  “That my cock is really jealous of that ice cream cone right about now.”

  She grinned. “Maybe I’m just practicing.”

 
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