Cowboy take me away, p.16
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       Cowboy Take Me Away, p.16

         Part #16 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 

  Carolyn pulled up. She waved and waited for Beverly to tear herself away from what looked like a lecture. When she got in the car, she said, “I can’t wait to be out of here.”

  “What’s going on?”

  “My parents think things are going too fast between me’n Mike. They’d really put up a fuss if they knew he intends to propose before he leaves.”

  “Beverly! That’s great!”

  “I know. I’m excited. Mike wants to get married as soon as he has a place for us to stay on base. Can you imagine? Me living in Georgia with all the other military wives?”

  Happy as she was for her friend, Beverly was her only friend, and if she moved away, Carolyn would feel even more isolated.

  Maybe you’ll be spending all of your time with Carson anyway so it won’t matter.

  She could hope.

  “…I’ve never wanted a big wedding anyway. I just want to be with him. I hope he gets stationed all over the world.”

  “You’ll have to send me postcards from all of the exotic locations.”

  “I promise. Enough about me.” Beverly turned in the seat and scrutinized her. “What’s going on with you? Still a housewife in training?”

  Carolyn scowled. Beverly constantly harped on how Carolyn was a “slave” for her family whenever she came home, and then she pointed out they managed just fine when Carolyn wasn’t around. “Since you’ll be a housewife long before I will, Bev, maybe you’d better pay more attention to what your mother does around the house.”

  “I already know how to do all that stuff. It’s just my mother likes to do it so I let her.”

  I like to do it too.

  Beverly poked Carolyn’s leg. “We were talking about you. Anything new with wild man Carson McKay?”

  She blushed.

  “I knew it! Tell me!”

  “We’ve spent some time together.” She slid Beverly a sideways glance. “I told my family I went over to your house Monday night when I was with him.”

  “I can’t believe you’re sneaking around with Carson. I’m so happy for you.”

  “Really?”

  “You deserve some fun. So what fun things did you two get up to?”

  Carolyn blushed again.

  “No,” she breathed. “Did you really…?”

  “Yes.”

  “All the way?”

  “Yes.” She bit her tongue to keep from adding—and more than one time!

  “And?” Beverly demanded.

  “And it was perfect.”

  Beverly squealed. “I told you!”

  “Well, now I believe all the hype about it.”

  She laughed. “Are you meeting him here tonight?”

  Her hands tightened on the steering wheel. “He’s been busy the last couple days.”

  “He didn’t call you and tell you his plans?”

  “What would happen if my dad or one of my brothers answered the phone? Even if Carson didn’t say who he was, there’d be questions about why a man is calling me and if I am seeing someone why I haven’t introduced him to my family. And if they found out he’s from the McKay family? I’d end up locked in my room for the rest of my life.”

  “Gotcha. I still don’t understand about the West/McKay feud thing.”

  “Me neither. No one talks about it so Carson and I ignore it.”

  “Speaking of ignoring…I hope you’re not mad that I’ll be leaving with Mike for a while.”

  “I’ll be fine. But I have to leave as soon as the dance ends so if you need a ride home, make sure you’re waiting by the car.”

  “My folks didn’t even notice Mike brought me home last time, so don’t wait for me. Besides, maybe Carson has already made plans to get you away from the dance so you two can be alone.”

  Carolyn laughed when Beverly waggled her eyebrows suggestively.

  The pasture next to the dancehall was filled with cars. Carolyn told herself she wasn’t searching every vehicle they passed for Carson’s truck.

  Beverly grabbed her arm after she lost her footing beside a gopher hole. “I don’t know why I bothered to wear heels to walk through a cow pasture.”

  “Because you’re trying to impress your man.”

  “Nothing impressive about manure stains on satin pumps.”

  “And it’s your unlucky night because I don’t have a helpful household hint on how to remove those stubborn stains,” Carolyn said wryly.

  “That’s what I love about you, Carolyn. Your ability to laugh at yourself and at me.” Beverly wrapped her arm around Carolyn’s waist. “As happy as I’ll be to see Mike, I’d really like to just hang out with you tonight and talk. I thought we’d have the whole summer to catch up and now it looks like—”

  “You’ll be getting ready to become Mrs. Mike Flannery.”

  Beverly giggled. Then she groaned. “I don’t know why I giggle every time I hear that.”

  “What time is Mike supposed to be here?”

  “In half an hour. Let’s go up to the bar and see if we can sweet talk the bartender into serving us.”

  The dancehall was owned by the community, so anyone of any age could be on the premises, but in order to drink, you had to show an ID that proved you were twenty-one. Or married to someone who was twenty-one. Or were a pretty girl who knew how to flirt with the male bartenders, as Beverly had learned.

  But inside it was wall-to-wall people and the line to the bar was twenty people deep.

  “Screw this. I don’t need a rum and Coke that bad,” Beverly complained. They exited out the opposite side near the front entrance and Carolyn scanned the area.

  “If he’s here, he’ll find you.” She tugged on Carolyn’s blond hair. “You’re hard to miss.”

  “We’ll see.”

  Beverly fired up a cigarette. “So your folks don’t suspect anything?”

  “I told my mom I met Carson, but nothing more. My dad doesn’t pay much attention to me unless I haven’t cooked.”

  She rolled her eyes. Then she said, “Great. Just what I didn’t need tonight.”

  “What?”

  With her cigarette Beverly pointed to a group of women beside the stage. “See them? Catty little witches. The brunette is Edie, stay away from her. The skeletal-looking blonde is Tammy. If she sees me she’ll try and pretend we’re great friends and then she’ll rip on me the second my back is turned. The chunky one in the middle? That’s Missy. She’s getting married in a couple of weeks.”

  “Did you go to school with them?”

  “Yes. Unfortunately I have to be nice to them because they’re customers. They were in the fabric store the other day looking for ribbon for their bridesmaids’ dresses.” She blew out a stream of smoke. “You haven’t been in for anything new. What’s keeping you away?”

  “I’m doing some piece work and alterations for Maxine Granger for the next few weeks so you probably won’t see me.”

  “Too bad. I love to see what you’re creating.” She blew out a stream of smoke. “Wait, you’re working for Maxine?”

  “Yeah. Why?”

  “Because Maxine made Missy’s wedding dress. And her bridesmaids’ dresses. When they were in looking for add-ons for the dresses before the final fittings, they were complaining that they didn’t know the seamstress that Maxine had pawned off on them. I’m assuming that’s you?”

  “Most likely. But they haven’t scheduled an appointment yet.”

  “Maybe you’ll get lucky and they’ve found someone else.”

  They talked clothes and fabric trends. Beverly was the only friend Carolyn had who cared about that kind of stuff.

  Then her friend’s face lit up. Mike must be here.

  She scanned the crowd for signs of Carson, but with so many cowboy hats she’d never find him that way.

  “Carolyn, we need a huge favor,” Beverly said.

  “Sure.”

  Mike draped his arm over Beverly’s shoulder. “I had to hitch a ride here after working in Aladdin because I left my car i
n Spearfish. I’ll pay you for gas if you could give us a ride.”

  “To Spearfish? Now?”

  “Yeah.”

  She couldn’t say no because Beverly had done tons of favors for her. “Of course I can take you.”

  Beverly grinned. “Thank you.”

  They loaded up in Carolyn’s car and drove the forty-five miles to Spearfish. Mike filled her tank before she got back on the road. As the turnoff to the dancehall loomed, Carolyn debated on just driving home. Nearly two hours had passed and if Carson had gone there tonight looking for her, he probably thought she was a no-show.

  But what if he’s still there waiting for you?

  She made the turn.

  There were even more cars. She found a spot at the far back of the lot and started toward the building. When she noticed Carson’s truck parked at the end of a row, her belly got all fluttery. She passed couples in various states of public displays of affection and in stages of undress. Guys were standing in groups drinking and laughing. She didn’t stop walking when they whistled at her.

  At the door she showed her hand stamp and weaved through the crowd, figuring she’d find Carson at the bar. A hand circled her waist and spun her around.

  Her brother Thomas grinned at her. “Fancy meeting you here.”

  “Hey. I didn’t think you were coming tonight.”

  “Nothing else to do around here.” He tugged on her hand. “Let’s dance.”

  “Thomas—”

  “One song. Come on. I learned some new moves.”

  She laughed. “All right.”

  The dance floor was so crowded they could barely move. And Thomas was so determined to show off the swing dancing spins they ended up dancing to three songs. By that time she could hardly breathe and she walked out the open side door for some fresh air.

  Large and small groups were scattered everywhere. Would she look stupid or desperate if she just wandered around by herself? Probably. But what choice did she have if she wanted to find Carson?

  It didn’t take her long to find him. He was in a group of four guys with his arm slung over the shoulder of one of the women Beverly had pointed out earlier. The nasty brunette.

  Her stomach, her heart, her hopes—everything inside her crashed. She thought about all the things Carson had said to her. Had it all been a line?

  How will you know if you don’t ask?

  What if she confronted him and he humiliated her in front of these people?

  What if she did nothing?

  Could she really look him in the eye and act like she hadn’t seen his arm around the brunette the next time she saw him?

  Did she scurry deeper into the shadows? Or step out of them entirely?

  Her feet seemed to make the decision for her.

  “…and you know that’s all they want from you,” said the cowboy to Carson’s left.

  “Don’t matter,” Carson said and took a swig of beer. “They know what they’re getting into with me.”

  “I’ll get into it with you,” the brunette purred.

  Carson turned his head and whispered something in her ear that made her laugh and snuggle closer.

  As Carolyn stepped forward, she noticed she hadn’t been in the shadows as much as she’d hoped because Carson was staring right at her—with no emotion whatsoever. He didn’t bother to drop his arm away from the woman. Not an ounce of guilt crossed his face.

  Say something.

  “I wondered if you’d be here tonight.”

  He inclined his head to his posse. “We were hangin’ out until I find something better.”

  Direct hit. He’d already found someone better.

  “Hey darlin’,” the cowboy on Carson’s right drawled. “Come hang out with us.”

  “Yeah, Carson. Ain’t ya gonna introduce us to your pretty friend here?”

  A muscle in Carson’s jaw moved. He slowly lifted his beer and drank before he said, “Nope.”

  “Aw, come on. You’ve already made your pick for tonight. I’m makin’ this little gal my pick.”

  “No, you ain’t. I’m guessing she came by to say she’s gotta get on home.”

  Don’t stand there looking pathetic.

  But she, Carolyn West, was the very definition of the word pathetic right now. She didn’t have the experience to deal with this type of rejection, so no matter what she said, Carson would be aware he’d crushed her hopes under his boot heel.

  “Yes, I’m going home. Goodbye, Carson.”

  Grateful for the darkness, she walked away.

  Chapter Ten

  Carson

  You are a total asshole.

  Carson let his arm fall away from the brunette as soon as Carolyn disappeared from view, but his self-hatred remained.

  “Who was she?” the woman cooed.

  “Nobody.”

  The fuck she was. She was everything.

  Let it go. Let her go. You planned to do this, remember?

  That was the last fucking thing he wanted to do. Pissed off—mostly at himself and his goddamn cowardice—he took another long pull from his flask. Waited a minute for the booze to quell the burning inside him. No help. He still wanted to punch someone.

  Good thing there was an abundance of drunken assholes who’d jump into a fight without much prompting.

  The brunette’s hand slithered up his torso from his belt buckle, stopping on his chest. “Where were we? You mentioned something about going back to your place.”

  The thought of having this woman in his bed—the bed he’d had Carolyn in just two nights ago—caused a sick churning in his gut. “Sorry. Not in the cards tonight.”

  “But you said…”

  “I changed my mind.” Carson walked off.

  She shouted something at him but he didn’t care.

  He kept a spare bottle in his truck. After several mouthfuls of Windsor, he went looking for trouble.

  Immediately he saw his target. Bob Delray. Big-mouth, know-it-all asshole. And he had a couple of his loser buddies backing him. Even better. With any luck, all four of them would jump in.

  He’d barely reached the edge of the group when he heard “McKay” and then snide laughter. He marched up to Bob, who had an inch on Carson’s six-foot-two frame. Bob outweighed him by a good fifty pounds, but all of that was fat.

  “Heard my name,” Carson said, getting right in Bob’s business. “Got something to say to me?”

  “Don’t recall speaking directly to you, McKay, so just keep walkin’.”

  “How about I don’t. How about I stay right fuckin’ here until you prove you can keep that fat trap of yours shut.”

  Bob stepped forward, his gut leading the way. “How about you make me.”

  Carson’s answer was an uppercut to Bob’s jaw. Before Bob recovered, Carson nailed him in the sternum.

 
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