Cowboy take me away, p.19
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       Cowboy Take Me Away, p.19

         Part #16 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 

  While the gravy thickened, she stacked the place settings and delivered them to the table. Her family knew the drill and distributed plates and silverware.

  She brought out the food—roast pork, mashed potatoes, gravy, wheat rolls and a medley of cooked carrots, onions and sugar snap peas. She slid in next to Carson.

  “This surely does look like a feast,” he said, his eyes firmly on the juicy meat.

  “Before we eat, we give thanks,” Marshall said. “McKay, since you’re such a nice Catholic man, would you do the honors?”

  Carson looked startled a split second before he smiled. “Be happy to.” He removed his hat, set it on the sideboard, and bowed his head. “Lord, we thank you for this bounty we are about to receive. We thank you for the rain that sprouted the vegetables and the sun that grew them to their peak of ripeness, and Carolyn’s cookin’ skills that turned them into this mouthwatering delight. We thank you for the soil that nurtured the silage that sustained the pig, for the farmers who deal with the muck, mess and stench of a pig farm every day so that we might enjoy this tender, succulent roasted pork, simmering in its own juices and spices. We thank you for the wheat farmers who toil over their grain harvest every fall, for the mills that grind that grain into flour, and the skill of the baker who can mix water, salt, yeast, sugar and flour into the warm, crunchy, melt in your mouth buttery rolls before us. Thank you for the family you’ve seen fit to bless us with, and may we always remember to give thanks where thanks are due.”

  When Carson took a breath, as if to keep going, Carolyn lifted her head. She crossed herself and said, “Amen.”

  Her brothers and mother followed suit.

  Her mother said, “Thank you, Carson, for such a lovely and heartfelt blessing.”

  Carolyn glanced at her brother who’d offered the dare and smiled to see he’d been put in his place. But her smile dried when she realized she was sitting too far away from her mother to help slice her food into manageable bites. Her arthritis made it difficult to hold utensils and she ate everything with a spoon.

  But her mother had a lot of pride which is why she rarely left the house, or ate meals at the table, so Carolyn couldn’t treat her like a child in front of company.

  Stuart realized the predicament and dished her up potatoes before passing the bowl on. Same with the veggies. When the meat platter reached him, he quickly shredded the pork before he scooped it onto her plate.

  Carson was too busy piling his plate up to notice. Neither did he pay attention when Stuart handed their mother a spoon. Only when Carolyn saw her mother eat several bites did she relax.

  Not that the meal was overrun with chatter. Carolyn wondered what mealtime was like at the McKay table. She managed not to jump when she felt Carson’s hand on her leg.

  As soon as Marshall, Stuart and Thomas finished eating, they left the table.

  Even Carson threw in the towel. “Thank you for inviting me for such a delicious meal, Carolyn. You are one helluva cook. If you’ll pardon my language.”

  She blushed. “Thank you.” Then she eyed the pile of dishes. It’d take an hour to clean this mess up—an hour Carson would be stuck with her family.

  Her mother said, “I’ll keep Carson company while you get these dishes soaking before you take off. I’m sure you two have better things to do than stay around here on such a lovely day.”

  At least she’d gotten a small reprieve.

  There wasn’t much food remaining. She stored the leftovers and stacked everything by the sink. The pie she’d baked sat untouched and she covered it with foil to take to Carson’s father. Not much of a bribe but better than nothing. And her brothers and father didn’t deserve pie anyway. The jerks.

  She considered changing out of her church clothes, but she still had to meet Carson’s family. She ducked into her room and fixed her hair and freshened her makeup.

  Her dad sat in front of the TV. He didn’t look away from it as she crossed the room. He said, “You’re making a big mistake. You’ll choose him over your own family?”

  “Only if you make me.”

  She left and didn’t look back.

  Chapter Twelve

  Carson

  Carolyn kept pinching the pleats in her skirt until Carson stilled the motion by placing his hand on hers. “Sugar. It’ll be okay.”

  “You don’t know that.”

  She had him there. But Jed McKay wasn’t the type to cause a scene—especially not with a woman. If he was displeased, at least in polite company, he wouldn’t say a word. Sure as shootin’ he’d light into Carson when they were alone.

  He angled his chin to the pie sitting on the seat between them. “That’ll go a long way into sweetening him up.”

  “I hope so. I’ve never done this before.”

  “I’m glad I’m your first for a lot of things.”

  She blushed and he grinned. He loved seeing that color on her cheeks because only he knew her entire body flushed that pretty shade of pink when she was naked.

  He had to release her hand to downshift when they reached the gravel road leading to his folks’ house. Trees used as a windbreak obscured most of the three-story house from the road. He cut to the left and parked in front.

  “Wow. This is…big,” Carolyn said, leaning down to peer through the windshield.

  “My grandfather bought it from a bigwig who worked for one of the railroads. The guy started to have it built for his wife before they relocated from the east coast; evidently she demanded a big fancy house. But he died during a flu epidemic and she had no interest in moving here, so she sold it and the land for pretty cheap.”

  “This place looks to have plenty of room. Why don’t you live here?”

  “Dad didn’t approve of the way I was spendin’ my free time. He spouted off that while you live under my roof bullshit so I moved out. We can work together but I don’t gotta live with him. Me’n Cal pooled our money and bought the trailer. In case the back roads confused you, it’s about three miles across the way on McKay land.”

  “Your land stretches that far?”

  It stretched a helluva lot farther than that. “Yeah. We’ve been buying parcels as they come up for sale. Every little bit adds up.”

  “But—”

  “Can we talk about this later?” He curled his hand around the back of her neck and kissed her. “Let’s have a slice of that cherry pie with the old man.”

  No surprise his father hadn’t greeted them on the porch. Carson opened the screen door and knocked loudly on the inner door before he opened it. “Dad? I’ve brought someone I want you to meet.”

  “Where is he?” Carolyn whispered.

  “Probably napping in the living room.” He led her past the staircase to the kitchen.

  Carolyn set the pie on the counter and wandered through the space. “This is lovely.”

  Carson moved in behind her and set his hands on her shoulders. “This was Mom’s domain. Seemed weird to be in here without her after she passed.”

  “I love that you can see the rolling hills and the pasture as you’re standing at the sink.”

  “This house didn’t originally have indoor plumbing, so Dad had everything updated about fifteen years ago.”

  “And it’s probably due to be updated again,” Carson’s dad said behind them.

  Carson kept his hands on Carolyn’s shoulders when they turned around.

  His father stared at Carolyn without saying a word.

  Her body tensed.

  “This is my girlfriend, Carolyn West.”

  His scrutiny increased, but he remained mum.

  “It’s nice to meet you, Mr. McKay,” Carolyn said.

  “West. You Eli’s kid?”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “He still alive?”

  What the hell?

  “Yes, sir, he is.”

  “Thought he’d be dead by now.”

  Again. What the hell was wrong with his dad?

  “Excuse me?” Carolyn said.
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  “Eli West had a big mouth and a lot of nerve. Not a good combination. I figured either someone would’ve killed him or he’d died due to his own stupidity.”

  “Jesus, Dad. Enough.”

  Those blue eyes—eyes just like his—narrowed into mean slits. “You meet her family yet, son?”

  “Had dinner with them today.”

  “They welcome you with open arms once they learned you’re a McKay?”

  Carson didn’t respond.

  His dad’s shrewd gaze gauged the damage to his face. “Any of them responsible for that?”

  “No. Had a little trouble at the dancehall last night but me’n Cal, Casper and Charlie handled it.”

  “That’s why them boys weren’t worth a hill of beans this mornin’.”

  “I don’t have a problem with them getting their work done during the week. But I can see why they’d wanna pull the covers over their heads if you were as much an ass to them as you’re bein’ to Carolyn.”

  They glared at one another.

  “I’m takin’ her on a tour of the house.” He clasped Carolyn’s hand in his and towed her behind him. “This is the dining room. Beyond that in the corner is a parlor, also my mother’s space.” He kept up a brisk pace. “Living room.” Down the hallway, he opened the first door. “This is Dad’s study.” The next room was self-explanatory but he found himself explaining anyway. “This bathroom got added on when they put in indoor plumbing. It used to be a bedroom. On the other side of that wall is the washroom with a washer and dryer.” He pointed to the end of the hall. “Around that corner is another entrance to the kitchen and also a door that goes out to the back porch. Let’s go upstairs.”

  Carolyn stopped. When he turned to ask her what was wrong, she placed her palms on his chest. “Carson. Sweetheart. Slow down.”

  He exhaled and pressed his forehead to hers. “Sorry. It’s just…”

  “I know. It’s okay. I wanted to throttle my family earlier too.”

  He tipped her face up and kissed her, meaning for it just to be a short tender press of lips. But the instant their mouths met, he needed more of her.

  She pulled away. “Let’s get back to the tour.”

  Carson led her up the wide staircase that opened onto the second floor.

  “Are all of these bedrooms?”

  He’d never really looked at the house he’d been born and raised in through someone else’s eyes. “There are eight bedrooms up here now. Don’t know if they had rooms for live-in staff or what. During the remodel they turned one of the rooms into a bathroom. My folks’ room had two connecting rooms, with the smaller room being the nursery. Dad surprised Mom and had them put in their own private bathroom.”

  “I’d love that. We have one bathroom in our house, but I know that’s better than an outhouse.”

  “Yeah, I don’t miss that at all.” He pointed to doors on the opposite ends of the long hallway. “Casper and Charlie both still live here.”

  “Did you have your own room growing up, with this many to choose from?”

  “Since me’n Cal are twins we shared the biggest room until we were probably thirteen. Then we each got our own space.”

  Carolyn touched the wide mahogany molding. “Did your grandparents have lots of kids?”

  Carson shook his head. “They had four or five—I never can remember, but I do know that my dad was the only one who survived to adulthood.”

  “A shame.”

  “With this much space my mom always wanted to have more kids. Felt it was her duty.”

  “My mom did her ‘duty’ and almost died after she lost the last baby. That’s the reason she and my dad have separate bedrooms. The doctor said the next pregnancy might kill her, so they had to stop…” She blushed. “I can’t imagine my parents doing it anyway.”

  He ran his finger down her jaw. “I know what you mean. I’m sure all kids feel that way, thinkin’ about their parents’ bein’ nekkid together. Our kids will probably feel the same about us.” Dragging her against him, he kissed her, his mouth demanding. It’d be heaven to haul her into his old room, pin her to the mattress and fuck her until they broke the antique bed frame.

  She moved her lips away from his. “I know what you’re thinking, McKay.”

  “You do?”

  “Uh-huh. And that wouldn’t give your dad a very good impression of me, would it?”

  “Well, he already doesn’t like you because you’re a West—”

  Carolyn shoved him.

  He laughed. “Just kiddin’, sugar.”

  “Carson? You still up there?” his dad shouted up the staircase.

  “Yeah. We’re comin’ down.” He sighed. “And that is why I don’t live here anymore. Snoopy damn man.” They moved past the closed doors, taking the narrow set of stairs back to the main floor.

  “They built this house with servants in mind, didn’t they?”

  “I guess. These stairs came in handy when we were sneakin’ back in after curfew.”

  She gasped. “I can’t believe a good Catholic boy like you would do that.”

  “Just because Father Dorian called me that don’t mean it’s true.”

  His dad was waiting in the kitchen. The aroma of coffee filled the air.

  Rather than hanging back, Carolyn walked over to the counter. “If you’ll get plates and a pie cutter, I’ll dish up.”

  Carson didn’t offer to help. His dad needed to make up for being an ass. If he’d had his way, his father would’ve been denied pie, just like her family had been.

  They carried their plates and cups into the dining room. After a couple of bites, Jed McKay said, “This is good. Thanks for bringing it. I hafta get my sweet fix at the diner.”

  “You tick off all them women who were dropping off coffee cakes, pies and cookies?”

  His father iced him with a look. “Yep. Not interested in getting married and that’s what they were all angling for.” He looked at Carolyn.

  She smiled. “Rest assured, Mr. McKay, I’m not interested in marrying you.” She shoved a bite of pie in her mouth.

  Carson about choked on his coffee.

  “You don’t look old enough to get married. How old are you?”

  “Dad—”

  “That’s fine, Carson, I’ll answer. I just graduated from St. Mary’s. I’ll be nineteen soon.”

  “You sticking around these parts?”

  “We’ll see. I’m here over the summer.”

  He sipped his coffee. “How’s your mother?”

  Then everything started to fall into place. Talking to Carolyn’s mother after lunch, she’d asked about his dad. Obviously they knew each other. How well? Then he remembered the story Thomas told him about Eli West putting Jed McKay in the hospital years ago.

  Had that been over Carolyn’s mother? That made the most sense. No wonder the men hated each other. And it had nothing to do with the supposed blood feud between Eli and Jed’s fathers.

  “Right, son?”

  He looked at his dad. “What?”

  “I asked if she’d been at the dancehall last night when you mixed it up.”

  “I told him I’d already left and he said it was a good thing,” Carolyn inserted.

  He wasn’t about to let his dad deliver a lecture about fighting. He’d been hearing that same lecture since his first fight at age ten. He finished his coffee and stood. “We gotta run.”

  Startled, Carolyn pushed back from the table and said, “Excuse me. I need to use the facilities,” and disappeared down the hallway.

  As soon as she was out of earshot, his dad warned, “Don’t go getting serious about her.”

 
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