Cowboy take me away, p.22
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       Cowboy Take Me Away, p.22
 

         Part #16 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James

  “It won’t be ready for me’n Caro. So I’ll stay in the trailer and let you have it.”

  “We’d better measure them windows and order replacement materials straight away.”

  They didn’t speak again until they’d passed by Spearfish. Sometimes they could jaw on all day; other days they’d barely speak two words to each other.

  “You plan to ask Carolyn’s dad about marryin’ her?”

  “And give him a chance to say no?” Carson shook his head. “After we’re engaged I might ask for his blessing. But I doubt he’ll give it.”

  “Does that bother you? Or I guess maybe the real question is do you think it’ll bother her?”

  Carson hadn’t considered that. “Shit. I don’t know.” He paused. “I hadn’t thought about how Dad will react either.”

  “Good luck with that. I’ll be hidin’ in the barn during that yelling match,” Cal said.

  “And to think I was gonna ask you to stand up for me.” He scratched his chin, as if deep in thought. “Charlie is a better bet than Casper for my best man.”

  “Piss off. I’ll do it.”

  He laughed. “Then if Dad’s an ass about it you better back me up.”

  “Don’t I always?”

  Since Carolyn’s family was aware they were dating, he could call her at home. Still, he was relieved when she answered the phone and not one of her brothers. “Wests.”

  He smiled just at the sound of her voice. He was so gone over this woman. “Hey, sugar.”

  “Hey yourself, cowboy.”

  And yep, he heard that answering smile in her voice.

  “How was your day?”

  “Short. Yours?”

  “Better than yesterday.”

  “Good. What’s goin’ on tonight?”

  “Not much. Supper is done. Mom had a rough day so she’s already tucked in for the night. Why?”

  “Got time for me?”

  He heard her move and in his mind’s eye he saw her twisting the phone cord around her finger. “Always. What did you have in mind?”

  “How about if we meet at the Ice Cream Palace.”

  “You’ve got such a sweet tooth, cowboy.”

  “Mmm-hmm. But you’re about the sweetest thing there is.”

  “Smooth, too.”

  “Now I’m thinkin’ about what smooth, sweet thing is my favorite to eat.”

  “Carson McKay,” she hissed in a whisper.

  “What? I was talkin’ about tastin’ your sweet pu…ddin’.”

  “You are ornery tonight.”

  “Just anxious. How soon can you be there?”

  “An hour.”

  “See you then. Drive safe.”

  Damn case of nerves had him pacing. He stopped and studied the living room and kitchen area of the trailer, wondering what it’d be like having Carolyn living here. No doubt she’d fancy the place up. The kitchen would see more use. He grinned. So would the bedroom.

  Imagining them being together all the time, for the rest of their lives didn’t scare him, it seemed…right in ways he’d never had faith in before he’d met her.

  For once Carolyn hadn’t arrived before he did. She’d parked in the back of the lot, away from the families with rambunctious kids.

  The woman was a ray of sunshine in a dress the color of lemons. When she beamed that glorious smile at him, he almost dropped to one knee and proposed right then.

  Not exactly romantic.

  He couldn’t help but pick her up and spin her around before he kissed her. Her soft mouth opened beneath his with sweet heat and he didn’t fight the possessive growl that no other man would ever know her kiss.

  She gently touched his cheeks. “What?”

  He let his mouth drift to her ear. “I missed you today.”

  “I missed you too. Thank you for last night. You’ve taken me out to eat two nights in a row.”

  “Been my pleasure.” She clung to him, which was unusual since they were in public. “Something else goin’ on?”

  “Just having a moment.”

  “What kind of moment?” Carson tipped her chin up. “Tell me.”

  Those beautiful blue eyes locked to his. “I can’t believe I’ve only known you four weeks.”

  “Is that good or bad?”

  “Honestly? Both. Good because I like being with you. If we’re not together then I can’t wait until we are together again.”

  “What’s the bad part?”

  “I don’t have experience with this so I don’t know if it’s…normal.”

  “Normal,” he repeated. “Not sure I follow.”

  Fire flashed in her eyes. “Is it normal to be in love so soon? Or am I just reading too much into it because you’re my first—”

  “Boyfriend?” he supplied.

  “No. My first lover,” she said crossly.

  Another growling sound escaped. “First lover? Got news for you sugar, I’m gonna be your only goddamned lover. Ever. No man besides me will ever touch you. Understand?”

  “What are you saying?”

  “I’m sayin’…” Shit. What was he saying? Everything he’d wanted to tell her just vanished. He closed his eyes.

  Think. Focus. Throw it out there even if this isn’t the way you wanted to do it.

  “Carson?”

  His heart thumped. He cleared his throat, trying to dissolve the lump of fear blocking his vocal chords. The instant he stared into her eyes, he calmed. “Marry me, Carolyn West.”

  Her mouth fell open.

  “I’m not kiddin’ around this time, not that I was when I asked you the first night we met, because I think that’s what led us here. To the real deal.” He brushed soft kisses across her mouth, taking advantage of her shock, thoroughly tasting the velvety pillow of her lips. “Marry me.”

  She continued to gape at him.

  Jesus. Did he have to hard sell her? “I ain’t rich, but we’re building up our cattle business a little more every year.” He nuzzled her cheek. “I’ll make a good husband to you, I promise.”

  “Why?”

  “Why what?”

  “Why do you want to marry me?”

  Carson reclaimed her eyes with his. “Because I can’t imagine my life without you in it.”

  Tears welled and then they spilled free. “For real?”

  “For real. Forever.” He swiped the wetness away with his thumbs. “Say yes. Say you’ll be my wife. Say you’ll be mine.”

  She whispered, “I’m already yours. So yes. I’ll marry you.”

  “Thank God.” He managed to keep his kiss tender, despite the urge to give in to the passion that erupted between them. After several soft, sweet kisses, he murmured, “Give me your left hand,” against her lips.

  Carolyn placed her left hand on the side of his face. The simple, loving touch stirred everything inside him.

  Carson kissed the inside of her wrist and stepped back. He shoved his hand in the front pocket of his jeans and pulled out the ring. Taking her hand, he slid the platinum circle on her third finger. “If you don’t like it, we can take it back and get you something else.”

  “I can’t even see it with your hat blocking my hand.”

  “Sorry.”

  She raised her hand to eye level. She gasped, her right hand flew to her mouth and the waterworks started again.

  How the hell could she even see the damn thing through her tears?

  “Sugar? You okay?”

  She shook her head yes, then no… And then she started hiccupping which made her cry harder.

  He had no experience with this stuff. What was he supposed to do?

  Figure it out because you’ll be dealing with this woman’s emotions—good and bad—for the rest of your life.

  “C’mere.” Carson wrapped her in his arms and held her until she calmed down.

  She stepped back and wiped her face. “I’m probably a mess. I need a tissue. Just a moment.” She rummaged in her purse. She gave him her back as she blew her nose. Then
she brushed some sort of powder over her face before she faced him again.

  “Better?”

  “In shock. Huge surprise, McKay.” She smiled shyly and walked back into his arms.

  Carson kissed her forehead. “I’d apologize for popping the question in the parking lot of the damn Ice Cream Palace, but it’s probably a good indication.”

  “Of what?”

  “Of the fact I ain’t a romantic kinda guy. I’ll try to be that guy. But I ain’t good at that hearts and flowers shit.”

  Carolyn laughed. “I guess time will tell, won’t it? I’ll forgive you for not being a romantic if you’ll overlook that I don’t have the faintest idea what it means to be a rancher’s wife.”

  His mouth brushed her temple. “You’ll spend a lot of time nekkid in our bed.” His lips traveled, skimming the top of her ear. “I can’t wait to wake up with you every morning and hold you in my arms every night.”

  “That was pretty romantic.” She studied her left hand pressed against his chest. “The ring is beautiful.” She bit her lip and that stemmed another round of tears. “Is it something that’s been in your family?”

  “Why would you think that?”

  Her gaze hooked his. “It’d make sense that you could propose on the spur of the moment if you already had the ring.”

  “Like I had it on hand and I was just waitin’ on the right woman to give it to?”

  She nodded.

  “Wrong. I bought this ring specifically for you. Today.”

  “You did?”

  “Uh-huh.”

  “That’s seriously romantic.”

  Carson placed his large hand over her smaller one and traced the stone with his thumb. “So you like it?”

  “I love it.” She pecked him on the mouth. “I—” a kiss, “—love—” another kiss, “—you.”

  “I love you too.”

  She teared up again. “That’s the first time you’ve said that to me.”

  His eyebrows rose. “It is? Huh. I thought I’d said it before.”

  “It doesn’t count when we’re naked.”

  “Sure it does.” He chuckled and kissed her nose. “What’re we doin’ tonight?”

  “I’m still in shock. Can we go someplace quiet where we can make plans?”

  “You don’t wanna tell your family?”

  She shook her head. “It can wait until tomorrow. I don’t want anyone to ruin tonight because it’s ours.”

  Happy as he was that she didn’t have rose-colored glasses on when it came to their family situation, it put him on edge knowing big obstacles were in front of them. “I’d offer my place—which will be our place soon enough—but once we’re alone I’m gonna be all over you.”

  “How well I know that.” She smirked. “How happy I am about that. Let’s have a sweet treat here while we talk. And if we get through all that…” her lips teased his ear, “…we’ll see about you getting a taste of my sweet pu…dding.”

  Damn, he loved this woman.

  Later on that night, Carson couldn’t very well say that men didn’t give a shit about wedding planning stuff—even when it was true.

  “We’ll need to meet with the priest right away and I’ll get started making my dress.” She fiddled with her ring. “How long of an engagement do you want? I was thinking the first part of October for the wedding.”

  “October? Not happening, Carolyn. That’s too damn long.”

  “When do you see us getting married?” she countered.

  “Within a month. But if I had my way? We’d apply for a marriage license tomorrow and make it official as soon as the law allows.”

  That stubborn chin came up. “We are getting married in the Catholic church. End of discussion.”

  “Fine. There shouldn’t be a problem since I don’t have to convert. We’ll be husband and wife no more than one month from now. That’s my end of discussion point.”

  “But…why are you so adamant on the short time frame?”

  Carson took her hand. “I want to start spendin’ my life with you now. Not months down the road. Why don’t you just admit the only reason you don’t want this wedding to happen so soon is because you’re afraid people will gossip that we had to get married.”

  Her eyes flashed guilt.

  “I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks, Caro. The sooner you learn that about me the better.”

  “That’s not the only reason you want it done in a month. You afraid I’ll change my mind?”

  He smiled at her. “No, I ain’t afraid you’ll change your mind. It’s just…this is the slow time of year for us. That means I can spend a lot of time with you.”

  “During that free time you’ll teach me things so I’m not a greenhorn ranch wife?”

  “Yep.” Carson ran the pad of his thumb over her knuckles. “But why’re you a greenhorn? My dad said the Wests owned Ag land?”

  “We did. I mean we do. The land was my grandfather’s and he passed it on, but Dad had no interest in ranching. He started working in the coal mine when he was sixteen. He and my mom lived in the ranch house until Stuart was born and they needed something bigger. That’s when they bought the place we live in now.”

  “So they just abandoned the house and the land?”

  “Dad leased it out until Harland was old enough to take over. I wasn’t raised around cows. Or horses. They sorta scare me.”

  Carson grinned. “I’ll have you ropin’ and ridin’ in no time, Mrs. McKay.”

  “That sounds weird.”

  “No, sugar, it sounds perfect.”

  Chapter Fifteen

  Carolyn

  She was up at five a.m. when her father came into the kitchen to grab his lunch pail. He grumped around, half asleep, so maybe it wasn’t the best time to talk to him, but he needed to hear the news from her.

  “Dad. I need to talk to you about something.”

  He froze, his hunched shoulders straightened when he turned around. His brown eyes were sharp, the cloud of sleep gone. “If this is about Kimi comin’ back early, like I told you ten times before, it ain’t happening.”

  “It’s not about Kimi. It’s about me. And Carson.” She thrust out her hand and couldn’t help but smile at how the diamond shone even in dim light. “We’re getting married.”

  Then her father was right in her face. “Did that son of a bitch knock you up?”

  “What? No!”

  “Don’t you lie to me. I see how he looks at you. A man only looks at
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