Cowboy take me away, p.20
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       Cowboy Take Me Away, p.20

         Part #16 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 

  “Why not?”

  “She’s too damned young for one thing. She’s the daughter of Eli West for another.”

  “She’s also Clara’s daughter.”

  “Don’t matter. I don’t want you seein’ her again.”

  “What you want don’t matter to me because I am seein’ her and I’m already serious about her.”

  His father crossed his arms over his chest. “It should matter because I hold all the cards for your future. Be a mighty bleak one for you if you see her in it.”

  “So you’re…threatening me? You get off on makin’ me jump through hoops. So go on and tell me, Dad. If I don’t break it off with her, you’ll disinherit me? Kick me off the ranch?”

  “You mark my words, boy, that girl will—”

  “I left you a slice of pie, Mr. McKay,” Carolyn said as she breezed back into the dining room. “I promised the rest to your son.”

  “I’ll just bet you did.”

  Would Carolyn think less of him if he took a swing at his old man?

  Probably.

  “Come on, sugar, we got places to be.”

  Carolyn held the pie in one hand and he grabbed her free hand. “Nice meeting you, Mr. McKay.”

  They were out the door before they heard his dad’s response. They were out of the driveway before Carson spoke. “Sorry about that.”

  “What did he say to you that prompted our quick exit?”

  “Nothin’ worth repeating.” He pulled off to the side of the road. “When I talked to your mom today she asked about my dad. Doesn’t it seem odd that my dad would ask about your mom?”

  Her eyes went wide. “Do you think they…?”

  “Dated? Snuck around? Maybe. Maybe even behind your dad’s back when he was dating your mom. Seems to be the reputation McKays have.” He paused to breathe. “Years ago Eli put my dad in the hospital.”

  “I didn’t know that! How’d you find that out?”

  “Thomas told me. He overheard it from Roscoe.”

  “Then it’s true because Roscoe is my dad’s one decent friend.” She looked at him. “I thought all the bad blood was between your grandfather and mine.”

  “It was. But it appears that’s not where the bad blood ends between the Wests and McKays.”

  Carolyn set the pie on the dash and scooted closer, uncurling one of his hands from the steering wheel. Then she curled that hand around her face. “Maybe we’ll be the generation that ends it.”

  Or maybe by being together they were starting a third-generation feud.

  Carson didn’t give a damn about what’d happened in the past. When he looked in Carolyn’s eyes, he saw his future.

  “That’s a pretty intense look you’re giving me, McKay.”

  He smiled and gently kissed the inside of her wrist. “Better?”

  “Sweeter, definitely. So where to now?”

  “I’m supposed to be meetin’ my brothers at the Silver Spur.”

  “You hang out in a bar on a Sunday?”

  “Yep.” And just to be ornery, he said, “I’ve been to your church today, now it’s time for you to come to mine.”

  Somehow he’d forgotten she could hit that hard.

  Cal had taken their usual booth in the back. He stood when they approached.

  “Cal, this is Carolyn West. Caro, this is my brother, Cal.”

  “Nice to meet you.”

  “Likewise.

  “Cal is short for…?”

  “Calvin. Can I get you a drink?”

  “I’ll take a Coke.”

  Carson gestured for her to sit on the inside. “I’ll take a double shot.”

  Cal raised both eyebrows in a silent “That bad?” and Carson nodded before he slid in next to Carolyn.

  “Where are your other brothers?”

  “They’ll be here soon.” She was looking at him strangely. “What?”

  “You and Cal aren’t identical twins but you look an awful lot alike.”

  “And?”

  “And I’m just wondering if your other brothers look like you two.”

  “Why such a curious kitty?”

  “Because you’ve met my brothers. None of us look anything alike. My sister Kimi is blonde like me, and she’s the spitting image of our mother, but Harland is the only one who looks anything like our dad.”

  “Huh. Same thing happens with cattle. Once in a while we get some weird color mixes.”

  She laughed.

  “What?”

  “I think that’s the first time you’ve brought the conversation around to cows.”

  “I can pretty much guarantee it won’t be the last time.”

  Cal returned with the drinks.

  It was hard for Carson to sip his double shot of whiskey and not slam it.

  Cal and Carolyn hit it off right away. He relaxed a little.

  “Well, who we got here?” Casper said, grabbing a chair and flipping it around before he straddled it. “Didja bring dates for all of us? ’Cause if we get to pick, I’m choosing her.” He offered his hand. “Casper McKay.”

  Carson batted his brother’s hand away. “This is my girlfriend, Carolyn, so keep your paws off her.”

  Casper lifted his in hands in surrender. “No harm in tryin’.”

  Charlie slid into the booth next to Cal. “I told you they wouldn’t sell to me. Go up there and buy your own damn beer.”

  “Fuckin’ little brat. What good are ya if ya can’t keep the booze flowin’?”

  “I drive your drunken ass home, remember?”

  “Right. Guess you are good for something.” Casper stood and headed to the bar.

  “He is pissin’ me off today,” Charlie said. “Ever since we fought them guys last night, he’s been talkin’ about knockin’ fool heads together.” He snorted. “Big fuckin’ talker. He’s usually passed out in the truck when the real fightin’ starts.”

  Carson didn’t want to dissect last night’s dust up, or anything about last night. “Carolyn, this is my youngest brother Charlie. He’s usually more polite than this. Charlie, my girlfriend, Carolyn.”

  “Shit. Sorry. Sorry for sayin’ shit.” He rubbed his hand on his jeans before offering it to Carolyn. “Nice to meet you. What’d you say your last name was?”

  “It’s West.”

  Charlie’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. “West? As in…”

  “Yeah, that West,” Carson finished.

  “Now I know why Dad was bein’ such an ass when we stopped at home to get some money before we came here.” His gaze slid to Carolyn. “No offense.”

  Cal rubbed his hands together. “Who wants to play pool?”

  “What’s the bet?”

  “Same as usual. Buck a game.”

  “I’ll play ya,” Carson said. He tugged on a hank of Carolyn’s hair. “You can be my good luck charm.”

  Carolyn didn’t say much as they played pool. She seemed more amused than bored.

  Cal beat Carson. Then Cal lost to Charlie. Charlie then lost to Casper. Carson challenged Casper and Casper beat him.

  Normally Casper would’ve been impossible to sit with after winning. He wasn’t acting the least bit cocky, which threw Carson off. Then Casper offered to teach Carolyn how to play and she surprised them all by accepting.

  “So what the fuck did Dad say to you today, Carse?” Cal demanded. “You had two damn doubles.”

  Without taking his gaze off his brother and his girlfriend, he said, “Dad threatened my future with the ranch. He didn’t come straight out and say he’d kick me off and cut me out, but he sure as fuck implied it.”

  “That’s a crock of shit,” Cal said. “He knows he can’t run the ranch without you. He also knows if he cuts you out we’ll all walk—at least I will.”

  “Me too,” Charlie said. “But I ain’t so sure about Casper.”

  “He’s too fuckin’ lazy to step up,” Carson said. “And if we all walked? Dad would be forced to hire men, which we know he ain’t gonna do.”
r />   “Only McKays work McKay land,” Charlie mimicked their father’s favorite edict.

  “He’d have to sell, which won’t happen because he just bought two new sections in the last year.”

  “I knew he was bluffing as soon as he opened his mouth,” Carson said. “Still pissed me off. He just had to speak his piece when Carolyn was in the next room.”

  “Did she hear him?”

  Carson shook his head. “But she knows something happened.”

  “How’d things play out with the Wests today?” Cal asked.

  “Worse than with Dad. Eli wouldn’t even eat at the same table as me. Only reason I sat to the table at all is because of Carolyn’s mother.”

  “I dunno, Carson. She’s pretty and she seems real sweet, but is she worth the trouble?

  Carolyn laughed right then and the sound flowed through him like liquid happiness. He wanted to say, “She’s definitely worth everything I have to go through to make her mine,” but his brothers would rag on him endlessly for such a sappy comment, so he merely said, “Yep.”

  Chapter Thirteen

  Carolyn

  Carolyn waited on the front steps of Carson’s trailer, her leg bouncing as she tried to focus all her restless energy in one place. She probably could’ve gone inside—she knew neither Carson nor Cal locked the door—but waltzing in without an invite would feel like trespassing.

  The sun beat down, frying the top of her head, making the skin on her arms sting. Thankfully she hadn’t worn stockings or they’d be melted to her legs.

  She should’ve gone home. The sun porch would’ve cooled off by now. She could strip, lie on her bed and let the breeze wash over her, hoping it’d wash away the ugly words that’d been tossed around today as if she wasn’t there.

  She’d done an onsite first fitting in Moorcroft for Missy Ludwig, the bride, and her two bridesmaids, Tammy and Edie, the catty women Beverly had pointed out to Carolyn. And to make matters more fun, the first bridesmaid she fitted was the brunette, Edie, who Carson had his arm around. Her nasty glower could’ve torched Carolyn’s hair.

  Carolyn had stayed professional, just like her aunt had taught her, when Edie started asking questions.

  “So you’re really dating Carson McKay?”

  “Yes, I am.”

  “How long has that been going on?”

  “Three weeks.”

  “Longer than most. That’s probably just because you’re not from around here.”

  “My parents live here.”

  “But you didn’t go to school here. Where’d you go?”

  “A Catholic academy in Billings.”

  “You were studying to be a nun?” She laughed. “That would be a challenge for Carson McKay. Trying to sweet talk a nun candidate out of her habit.”

  “Turn to the left please.”

  Edie paused as she admired herself in the mirror. Then, “You sure Carson hasn’t dumped you and you just haven’t realized it yet?”

  Do not let your hand slip and jab her with this pin.

  “He was downright hostile to you that night at the dance when he had his arm around me and invited me back to his place.”

  Tell her you and Carson had a fight and he was just using her to make you jealous.

  No. She wouldn’t stoop to that level. “We’ve been out almost every night for the last two weeks. I’m surprised you haven’t seen us.”

  “But I didn’t see you out with him last night. Looked like he was having a good old time without you. And he wasn’t alone.” Edie smirked at Carolyn’s look of surprise. “Oh, sorry, you didn’t know?”

  “I know what I need to.” After Carolyn finished pinning the hem, she said, “Turn.”

  “Yeah, right. Bet you don’t know what kind of man Carson really is. He’s using you; he uses everyone. It’s a game with him. He’ll see if he can get you to fall into his bed and he’ll fuck you over as you’re falling for him. Then he’ll drop you like a bad habit—not that he’s dropped any of his own bad habits. He’s done the love ’em and leave ’em thing so many times, with so many girls, it’s no wonder he had to go looking elsewhere for fresh meat.” Edie’s piggy eyes scanned Carolyn head to toe. “Young meat.”

  Carolyn blinked at her.

  “Oh, sweetie. Are you gonna cry?” she cooed maliciously.

  Like I’d give you the satisfaction. “Of course not.” She jerked on the bodice. “Maybe you should think about wearing a padded bra with this dress so there’s not such a huge gap in the bust line. There’s nothing I can do to fix that.” She couldn’t manage a smile. “You’re done. Go ahead and hang the dress on the back of the door and send in the next bridesmaid.”

  Edie unzipped the dress and let it fall to the floor. She kicked it at Carolyn. “You hang it up. You’re nothing but the hired help around here.”

  Heat blazed in her cheeks as she shook out the dress and hung it up.

  The don’t let her get to you self-advice didn’t work.

  Tammy the bridesmaid was equally nasty.

  As Carolyn packed up her notions bag, she overheard them in the room next door, talking about her as if she couldn’t hear every blasted word.

  What is she thinking, screwing around with Carson McKay? Does she think she’s got a chance with him? Please. The only person that man will ever commit to is himself.

  I know she’s not from around here, but is she stupid? He’ll use her and move on.

  I wonder if she’s seen the notches in his bedpost? A friend of mine swore me to secrecy that she’s actually seen them.

  I bet after he dumps her she’ll slink away in embarrassment.

  I heard their families have some kind of feud going on and Carson only took her out on a dare from his brothers to make her family mad.

  But had Carolyn stood up to them? No. If she spoke her mind she’d come off as a screech owl. Better just to smile and move on.

  She’d knocked on the bedroom door and all conversation ended like someone had sucked the oxygen out of the room. “I’ll be back in two weeks for the final fittings. God bless and have a peaceful evening.”

  Then she’d driven to Maxine’s shop and ditched the dresses. At loose ends, she backtracked here.

  Even as her tears fell she knew they were stupid and pointless. Crying never solved anything. Did she really want Carson to find her sobbing on his steps? Then he’d have another one of those “you’re too young for me” moments—which were becoming rarer by the day. But still.

  Carolyn wiped her eyes and stood. Before she made it to her car, Carson’s truck barreled up the gravel road, a dirt rooster tail trailing behind him.

  He slammed on the brakes and bailed out of his truck almost before it stopped. “Well, ain’t you a pretty sight to come home to.”

  She threw herself into his arms.

  “Hey, now. Much as I love havin’ you wrapped around me, I just got done workin’ and I reek to high heaven.”

  “I don’t care. I just need…”

  He covered her mouth with his. He tasted like coffee and man. She
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