Cowboy take me away, p.2
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       Cowboy Take Me Away, p.2

         Part #16 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 

  “For anyone.”

  “Even you?” Kimi asked.

  “They’re allotting me five minutes an hour. That’s it. And since she’s my wife, those five minutes are mine and mine alone.”

  He steeled himself against Kimi and Keely’s recriminations, because the looks on their faces indicated they were about to let fly.

  “That’s not fair. You should give the rest of us a chance to—”

  “If you say to say goodbye to her, Keely, so help me God I will have you goddamned banned from this hospital, do you understand? There will be no sayin’ goodbye, no thinkin’ this is the end for her because it is not.” So much for keeping calm. “Carolyn needs positive thoughts. No cryin’ or carryin’ on. Which is why the two of you—” he pointed to Keely and Kimi, “—ain’t getting anywhere near her when she’s in this state.”

  “Dad. You are being completely unreasonable. If you’ll just let us talk to the doctors—”

  “No. I’ve already handled that.”

  “Without input from any of us,” Cord said.

  “Wasn’t your decision to make.” His gaze swept over his children. “Any of yours.”

  “We are here for you—for both of you. Don’t shut us out.”

  Carson briefly closed his eyes. This had to be said—no matter how much it hurt them, or hurt him—so they understood he needed their obedience.

  “I am shutting you out for a very good reason.” He looked at Keely. “How often have your kids been sick in the last two months? Six, seven times?” He gestured to his sons. “Same with all of you. You have no idea what your kids have been exposed to. When you come here after bein’ around them, you’d be exposin’ her to all of them germs and infections your kids have been exposed to. A simple infection could kill her. Kill her, do you understand me? I will not take that chance with her life.”

  “The doctor actually said that?” Kimi asked skeptically. “Because I want to hear that for myself.”

  Nurse Lissa stepped forward. “Legally the only person the doctor has to explain the seriousness of the risks to is Carson, Carolyn’s husband. Just because you don’t like what he’s telling you doesn’t mean he’s making it up.”

  “So none of us can see her,” Cord stated flatly.

  “And it sounds like we won’t be welcome in the ICU waiting room either, since we have contact with our germ-ridden kids,” Colby added hotly.

  Carson opened his mouth to tell them that wasn’t true, but Cam cut him off.

  “So will we have to hear updates on her condition second hand? Third hand? Just like I had to hear on the goddamned scanner that my mother was in the fuckin’ ambulance on the way to the hospital?”

  “Cam,” Colt said sharply. “Shut it.”

  “He didn’t call any of us,” Cam snapped. “We’ve all been on the receiving end of his ass-chewing for not informing the family of things going on in our households. And then he doesn’t let any of us know that Ma has had a serious accident? Then we had to sit out here for eight fuckin’ hours before he came out to even talk to us? That’s wrong, Dad. That’s why we’re pissed off.”

  “Now you’re just throwing down an edict without discussing it with us. She’s our mother,” Keely said.

  “And she is my wife. She’s been everything to me since the moment I met her. So I won’t stand here and argue that you have rights when they directly conflict with mine.”

  “This is exactly what we’re talkin’ about,” Cord said. “You’re in shock, you ain’t thinkin’ clearly and you need one of us to help you navigate all of this.”

  And he lost it. “Because I’m an idiot rancher who don’t understand plain English. How about this for plain English: get out. All of you.”

  Arguing erupted. Kimi with Cal, the kids with each other.

  Nurse Lissa pulled him aside. “Are you okay?”

  “No. I haven’t been okay since I saw her hit the ground and…” His voice broke and he took a second to compose himself. “Carolyn is the backbone, the heart and soul of this family. It is unimaginable to them that she’s in this state. I know they all want to see it—see her—for themselves; only then will it become real.”

  The noise escalated and Keely whistled to get everyone’s attention. “So what’s it gonna be, Dad?”

  “He already told you how it’s gonna be,” Vi said, inserting herself between him and his children. “And this is how you support your father? By discounting everything he’s told you? I’m appalled by the selfishness I’m hearing.”

  “Vi—”

  She held her hand up to Charlie. “None of you have been in this position and I hope none of you ever have to be.” Vi pointed at Carson. “His wife is fighting for her life and you’re fighting with him. Think on that. You all need to take a break. Go home to your families.”

  Everyone stared—or rather glared—at Vi but no one contradicted her.

  “Ma is our family,” Cord said. “We have a right to be here. We have a right to see her.”

  “What is it you want from me, Cord? A fight?” Carson said wearily. “Fine, I’ll give you one. Get out. I don’t need this bullshit or guilt from you—any of you—for doin’ what the doctor ordered.”

  “You ready to throw all of us out? It’s the six of us against you. We can have you declared as incapable of making medical decisions.”

  Jesus. That gouged deep into the heart of him.

  “Whoa, don’t include me in your petty threats,” Colt said. “Dad made a decision, it don’t make me any less worried about Ma, but I will respect it. So suck it up and don’t fuckin’ argue with him for once, Cord.”

  “Who’s sucking up now?” Colby snapped. “You’re just hopin’ by takin’ his side that Dad will let you see her and that’s a crock of shit, Colt.”

  Carter stepped forward. “Listen to yourselves. This is how you want it to be? We take sides for or against Dad? You’re idiots if you think acting like this is gonna change his mind. He has every right to ban you, especially with your selfish attitudes about what your rights are. His rights, when it comes to Mom, trump ours. Always have, always will, and we’ve always known that.”

  “Carter sided with Dad, big fuckin’ surprise. Like Colt, he’s expectin’ it’ll get him to the front of the line when Dad comes to his senses and lets us see our mother,” Cam said.

  “I won’t change my mind,” Carson said. “This ain’t a negotiation. You don’t get a vote. I’ve said my piece. And I’m really glad your mother can’t hear you right now.”

  “She can’t hear us because we’re not even on the same floor with her!” Keely said.

  Enough. “I’m done here.” He looked at Cal. Then Charlie. Then Vi. “I’ll let one of you know if there’s news or a change in Carolyn’s condition and you can pass the news on to them. I can’t…”

  Vi moved in and patted his arm. “Say no more. You do what you have to and we’ll take care of this.”

  “How are we supposed to get through the next week not knowin’ nothin’?” Kimi demanded.

  Carson looked at her. Then his children. “You can survive without her for a week. Better that than puttin’ her at risk and tryin’ to survive without her for the rest of your lives.”

  He walked out.

  Upon returning to the empty ICU waiting room, he slumped against the concrete wall. Even if he closed his eyes he’d still see the anger, bewilderment and resentment aimed his way. His kids’ reactions were much worse than he imagined. He might’ve relented and reminded them that although they couldn’t see Carolyn, they could visit him in the ICU waiting room. But their sense of entitlement and anger toward him—not at the horrible situation Carolyn was in—guaranteed he didn’t want them around. He had enough emotional upheaval right now.

  Nurse Lissa’s voice broke through his misery. “They’ll get over it. I’ve seen this happen dozens of times. Actually it’s more the norm than you’d think. These situations bring out the worst in people. And it sucks when people who love eac
h other lash out at each other out of fear.”

  He’d gone beyond fear. He was straight up terrified.

  “We have a tiny ICU here—two rooms. Right now the other room is empty, which means you are the sole occupant of the waiting room. If you’re truly worried that your children will overstep their bounds and try to press the visitation issue, then you need to make a list and only those on the list will have access.”

  “Then they’ll have to go through eye-recognition software, thumbprint scanners and all that fancy tech stuff?”

  She smiled. “Not quite. But the regular rules state no kids under twelve, one person at a time, no one who’s been in a foreign country for the previous six months, no one with an autoimmune disease…and anyone on your blacklist.”

  “Lemme think on it.”

  “Good idea.”

  “Am I allowed to leave?”

  “Of course. But anytime you leave this environment you take a chance. I understand that people have jobs and lives. But if you can put it on hold for the duration, that’d be best. And it’ll also…prove to your kids that you’re not just paying lip service to the infection threat.”

  “Thank you. I…” Carson didn’t know what else to say.

  “It’s my job. I’ll get everything set up so you can spend a few minutes with her before the twenty-four hour isolation starts. I’ll be back in half an hour.”

  Okay. He could keep himself occupied for thirty minutes.

  His thoughts bounced all around the place. But after he’d calmed a bit, one memory jumped front and center. The first time he saw her at the dancehall…

  Chapter Two

  Fifty years earlier…

  “See that sexy blonde over there? I’m gonna marry her.”

  Calvin McKay squinted at his twin brother Carson as if he’d grown horns. “What the hell, Carse? Who you eyeballin’ now?”

  Carson pointed with his beer bottle to the woman leaning against the bar, trying to look as if she was a regular at this honky-tonk—and failing miserably. His eyes moved over her, slowly, so he didn’t miss an inch of her curves.

  Sweet Jesus she was sweet.

  With her long sweep of honey-blonde hair, heart-shaped face and full lips outlined with red lipstick, she commanded a lustful second, third and fourth look from every man in the room.

  So why was she still alone?

  Because she’s waiting for you.

  “Who is she?” Cal asked.

  “No idea. Never seen her around here before.” Women who looked like her were in short supply in Wyoming.

  “Maybe she’s just passin’ through,” Cal offered.

  “Then I’d better make my move and convince her to stay permanently.” Carson drained his beer and adjusted his hat. “How do I look?”

  “How much you been drinkin’? You never give a shit about that.”

  “It’s never mattered before.”

  Cal shook his head. “Right. You’re so full of it.”

  “I’m serious.”

  “Fine. You look like you’re already imagining her in the cab of your truck with her skirt pushed up and her panties pushed down, while you’re pounding away between her thighs.”

  “I ain’t that obvious.”

  “No, you’re much smoother than that, but admit that we McKays have the fuck ’em and leave ’em reputation because of you, Carson.”

  “Bullshit. You and Casper and now even Charlie think you’re so much more discreet, but you ain’t.”

  “Don’t get your hopes up that she hasn’t already been warned about your wild ways.”

  “Guess we’ll see, won’t we?” Carson tossed his bottle in the trash.

  He kept his gaze on her as he cut through the crowd. He must’ve looked like a man on a mission because no one got in his way.

  When he stood behind her, close enough to catch a whiff of hair spray and her perfume, his heart knocked in his chest. Even his damn knees knocked. Why did this feel so important?

  She sensed him and turned. Her eyes, the pale blue color of a summer Wyoming sky, widened slightly. Those tempting red lips parted and she unconsciously backed up.

  Carson took advantage of the opening and stepped up to the bar so their bodies were mere inches apart. “You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. How about we skip all this dating bullshit and just head straight to the altar?”

  Her confused eyes roamed his face. “Did you just ask me to marry you?”

  “Yep. So what d’ya say?”

  “Does that line usually work for you, cowboy?”

  He tucked a section of silky blonde hair behind her ear. “It ain’t a line. And trust me; I’ve never said those words to another woman in my life.”

  “You don’t even know my name.”

  “I’m guessing…Angel?”

  “Angel? Really?”

  “That’s a sight better than my first thought, which was…Cherry.”

  Her face flushed pink.

  He followed the delicate curve of her ear with the tip of his finger to the start of her jawline. “What is your name?”

  “Carolyn.”

  “Carolyn,” he repeated, and continued to feather his thumb across that soft skin. “Pretty.” Something primal overtook him and he leaned closer, almost desperate to feel the press of her lips against his. Desperate to make his claim. He lowered his head and brushed his lips over hers just one time.

  Her plump lips were unyielding and her whole body stiffened.

  Determined to get the reaction he needed, he let his lips linger, silently coaxing her to open her mouth in invitation and accept his kiss. To accept him.

  Her exhale bounced off his lips as a sexy sigh.

  Oh yeah. You’re all mine now.

  Feeling like he’d won a battle, he eased back.

  That’s when she slugged him in the jaw.

  If he hadn’t been paying better attention she might’ve done some damage beyond the blow to his pride.

  Fire flashed in her eyes. “Don’t ever do that again,” she snapped. “Walk your smarmy cowboy self away from me right now.”

  “That ain’t gonna happen.” Ever.

  “Do you always go around kissing women without their permission?”

  Carson cocked his head. “Never. I am sorry for takin’ advantage of your sweet nature, but damn, sugar, I wanted a taste of you. Bein’s we’re gonna be married and all.”

  Her shoulders snapped back. “Sweet nature? After I hit you?”

  Funny that she didn’t balk at his married comment but being called sweet got her back up. “Beneath that right uppercut you are sweet, aren’t you?”

  “You don’t know anything about me.”

  “So tell me all about you. Every last little thing.”

  “You are unbelievable.”

  “So are you.” Carson couldn’t tear his gaze away from her and had to ball his hands into fists to keep from touching her. “How often do you hang out in dancehalls?”

  She rallied against his intensive stare, lifting that stubborn chin. “None of your business.”

  “But it is. I’m offerin’ to watch your back—and your front—” he winked, “—if you wanna cut loose.”

  “What makes you think I need your help ripping it up? Maybe I could teach you a thing or two about getting wild.”

  “Doubtful.” Without breaking eye contact, Carson swiped the drink sitting on the bar in front of her. “You a whiskey and Coke girl? Or a rum and Coke girl?” He put the lowball glass to his lips and drank. “Just as I thought. You’re a Coke straight up girl. That’s real wild.”

  “There’s no rule that says I have to drink alcohol when I come to these dances.”

  “True. So if you’re not here to drink, then you must be here to dance.” Carson reached for her hand and threaded their fingers together. “Would you please dance with me, Carolyn?”

  She bit her lip. To keep from lashing out at him again?

  “Come on, sugar,” he cajoled with a smil
e. “I asked all nice and polite this time.”

  “Does that dimpled smile get you anything you want?”

  “I’m hopin’ it does this time.”

  “I don’t even know your name.”

 
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