Cowboy take me away, p.23
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       Cowboy Take Me Away, p.23

         Part #16 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 

  a woman that way after he’s sampled what’s under her skirt.”

  “I’m not pregnant,” she said softly, hoping it’d dampen his rage. “We’re getting married because we’re in love.”

  “In love?” he sneered. “Bullshit. The McKays don’t know nothin’ about love. They know lust. Carson’s asshole father knew how to talk his way into the ladies’ drawers.”

  Including Mom’s? jumped into her head unbidden.

  “He was a tom cat, laying down with any woman who was breathing. The reason he married a woman from out of state is because no decent, moral woman in Wyoming would have him. That’s the legacy he’s passed onto his sons. Not love.”

  “You don’t know anything about him. You can’t judge him on the actions of his father.”

  “The hell I can’t! I can judge him on the actions of his father and his lyin’, cheatin’ grandfather too!”

  “So you’re willing to let your sons be judged on your actions? And on your ancestor’s reputations?”

  “The Wests’ reputation was silenced with blood…by the McKays. Why do you think that McKay didn’t ask me for my daughter’s hand in marriage? Because he’s a dishonorable, disreputable man,” he spat, answering his own question. “I’ll never bless this marriage. Never.”

  She’d expected this, yet it still sliced her to the bone. “It doesn’t matter. The only blessing I care about is the one we’ll get from the priest.”

  “I never should’ve let you come back here this summer. I should’ve made you stay with your aunt. She never let you run wild like your mother does.”

  “Run wild? I don’t even know how to run wild since I basically grew up in a convent!”

  “A lot of good that did you—or us, trying to teach you morals. What do you do? Fall in with the first man who pays you the littlest bit of attention.”

  Carolyn hated seeing this nasty side of her father. She always scurried away when he started spewing venom. Not this time. She stood her ground. “I’m marrying him no matter what you say or think.”

  “Then you’re no longer welcome in this house.”

  “Dad. That’s enough,” Thomas said from the doorway.

  Her father whirled around. “Don’t you defend her.”

  “I’m not. I came in to get my lunch pail and to tell you we’ve gotta go or we’ll be late.”

  Then her father iced her with one last look before he stormed off.

  Thomas slipped his arms around her as she stood shock-still. “I’ll always defend you, Carolyn, and your right to make your own decisions. Don’t worry; I won’t let him kick you out. I’ll smooth this over and we’ll talk more later.” He grabbed his lunch and headed out.

  She wandered to the window above the sink and watched the sunrise, a hundred thoughts racing through her mind.

  Carolyn didn’t head to her mother’s room until she’d gotten off the phone with Father Dorian and set up the meeting for early evening. By the end of the night she’d know whether it’d just be her and Carson saying their vows to each other in front of an empty church or if they’d stand before a judge.

  She rapped on the door. “Mom?”

  “Come in.”

  Once inside the always cluttered room, she realized her mom had tidied up the space. “Good morning. How do you feel?”

  “Decent, actually. I slept well for a change.”

  “Good. Would you like breakfast? There’s banana bread and I could make you hot tea—”

  “Liebchen. Don’t fuss. Sit down.” She pointed to Carolyn’s hand. “And for heaven’s sake, show me the ring.”

  Carolyn had a burst of pride, although nothing about the ring was ostentatious. The setting was simple and elegant and perfect.

  “This is beautiful. He knows you, sweetheart. And that’s how love is supposed to be…” She sniffled and reached for a tissue. “Sorry. Tell me how he proposed.”

  When Carolyn finished the story, they were both crying and laughing.

  Her mother placed her misshapen hands on Carolyn’s cheeks. “Is this what you want? A life with Carson McKay? Life as a rancher’s wife?”

  “Yes. I’m surprised I fell for him so fast.” She smiled. “Carson wasn’t. He said he knew when he saw me I was meant to be his.”

  “So the gruff rancher is a romantic at heart?”

  “He swears he isn’t. He even warned me he wasn’t that type of man.”

  “Actions always speak louder than words.” She let her hands fall away and used one to cover her mouth when she started to cough.

  “Mom, are you okay?”

  Her mother waved her off and it seemed to take a while before she stopped hacking. “Speaking of words. Your father didn’t take the news too well.”

  “Did you hear him?”

  “I think everyone in the county probably heard him. I…” She sighed. “His reaction is not unexpected. But this is my home too, so I promise I won’t allow him to kick you out, no matter how much he blusters.” She sighed again. “I wish I could tell you that he’ll come around, but he won’t.”

  “Are you happy for me? Even if Dad isn’t?”

  “I am.” She offered Carolyn a weak smile. “My happiness is partially based on selfishness. By marrying Carson you’ll live close by and I’ll still get to see you. I missed you so much when you were at school.”

  Then why did you send me away?

  “Have you discussed wedding dates?”

  “We’ll be married within a month, if Father Dorian okays it. If not, then Carson will insist on a judge. He wants to do this soon so we can spend time together since it’s the slow season for him.” And after this morning, she couldn’t wait to get out of this house.

  Her mother frowned. “That doesn’t leave much time for planning.”

  “What’s there to plan? I’m asking Kimi to stand up for me; I need a wedding gown and boxes to pack what little stuff I have.”

  “That’s what I mean. You shouldn’t be going into this marriage empty handed. Someone needs to throw you a bridal shower. What about that friend of yours, Beverly?”

  “Mom! I can’t ask her to do that!”

  “Of course, you can’t. I’ll think of something. Now I have an engagement gift for you.” She reached for a velvet box on her nightstand. “This was my mother’s and one of the few things she brought over from the old country. She’d already passed on by the time I married your father but I’d like to think she would’ve given this to me to celebrate finding a husband.” She opened the box. “Go ahead and take it out since my fingers don’t work so well.”

  Carolyn pulled out a beautiful silver bracelet with colorful crystals centered between each link. “I’ve never seen you wear this.”

  “I wore it all the time until it became too difficult to work the clasp.” After Carolyn had it on her wrist, her mother stroked the delicate bracelet with the tip of her gnarled finger. “Don’t be afraid to wear it every day. It’s stronger than it looks.”

  “Thank you. I’ll cherish it forever.” She brushed her lips over her mother’s cheek, getting a whiff of Evening in Paris, her mother’s favorite perfume. For a moment she spiraled back in time to when she was a small child and the pride she felt seeing her mother outshine all the other mothers. Whether attending church with her children or just going to the store or school events, Clara West prided herself on being smartly dressed and well-coiffed. She refused to be stereotyped, especially since she had seven children and her husband was a coal miner.

  “Now let’s call your sister and Aunt Hulda with your exciting news!”

  When Carolyn and Carson met with Father Dorian, he mentioned the required couples’ course before he’d agree to marry them, a class that lasted six weeks.

  Carson refused to take the class. Then he laid on the cowboy charm, emphasizing how important it was to both of them to get married in the church, but he understood there had to be rules. But since they’d both been raised Catholic—Carolyn had even recently graduated from Cath
olic high school—and both sets of their parents had been married in the church, and they intended for their children to be raised Catholic, then didn’t they more than fit the criteria? After a few pointed questions, the priest agreed to marry them on a Sunday afternoon in three short weeks.

  Three weeks until she became Mrs. Carson McKay.

  It seemed surreal—it was as scary as it was exhilarating.

  “Engaged a few days and we’re already actin’ like an old married couple, shopping for groceries on a Friday night.”

  “I’ll remind you I shopped for groceries on Friday nights when I was single too.”

  Carson kissed her hand. “You ain’t single anymore.”

  Like Carolyn’s mother had warned her, her father had not had a change of heart about her marrying Carson. But he still expected her to pull her weight in the West household for as long as she lived there. For the first time he hadn’t given the weekly grocery money to her directly; he’d left it in a sealed envelope on the counter.

  “I can’t wait to have your home cookin’ every day and night.”

  “I promise I won’t be making meals like that for you.” She pointed to Carson’s section of the shopping cart—TV dinners, potpies and canned goods. “You’re not just marrying me because I can cook, right?”

  His lips brushed her ear. “Partially. But the fact you’re a hellcat in the sack weighed heavily in your favor too.”

  She elbowed him in the gut. “Behave.”

  “Never.”

  “Carson McKay. In a grocery store. On a Friday night. Seems God saw fit to bless me for saying the rosary today.”

  They both looked at the gray-haired woman who’d blocked the aisle with her cart.

  She stepped forward. “You must be Carolyn. The rumor mill is churning about you, dear. No one knows anything about the mysterious woman who is marrying Carson McKay.”

  Carson put his arm around Carolyn’s shoulder. “This is the lovely woman I’ve asked to be my wife. Carolyn West, meet Mrs. Agnes Varlo.”

  “So respectful, Carson. Your mother would be proud.” Mrs. Varlo offered Carolyn her hand. “Please call me Agnes. And what Carson didn’t tell you was his mother Helen was my dearest friend for over twenty years.”

  “I’m sure you miss her.”

  “I do, every day, even when she’s been with the Lord for six years.” Agnes kept hold of Carolyn’s hand. “Tell me about the wedding.”

  Here was the first official test with people outside their families since they’d become engaged. “Mr. Impatient insisted we get married as soon as possible before his busy season starts. Not that I know what that means,” she said with a laugh.

  “So you’re not from a ranching family?”

  “No, ma’am. But I’m sure I’ll catch on fast to being a rancher’s wife. Anyway, to answer your question, Carson and I are getting married in Gillette at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in three weeks.”

  “Wonderful! I know Helen would be so happy Carson found a Catholic girl. Father Dorian is officiating?”

  “Yes, ma’am. It will be a very small ceremony, just family and a few friends, but we’d be honored if you could attend since you are a family friend.”

  Agnes teared up. “That would mean a lot to me. Thank you. Now is someone hosting a bridal shower for you?”

  Carolyn shook her head. “My mother has health issues and I’ve spent the last six years attending school at St. Mary’s in Billings, so my friends don’t live around here.”

  “Why, that’s not right. Every bride-to-be deserves a bridal shower.” She paused. “I tell you what. The ladies circle from St. Ignatius excels at these last minute events—I’ll admit we’re more prepared for funerals than weddings—but since I’m the president of circle, we’ll hold a shower for you at the church.”

  “Really? I mean, that is so kind of you to offer, but at this late date I wouldn’t want you to go to any trouble.”

  “No trouble at all. Especially for a new incoming member to the St. Ignatius congregation.” Agnes paused and cocked her head. “I assume you will transfer to our church in Sundance and not drive clear to Gillette every Sunday?”

  Carson ended his silence. “We’re still discussing it, bein’s Carolyn’s family has long-held ties to that church.”

  Carolyn wanted to elbow him. They weren’t even married yet and the man was already looking for ways to get out of going to church.

  “I understand.” But it was clear Agnes didn’t understand.

  “I am thrilled you’re considering hosting a bridal shower for me. It would be wonderful to have my own household items to help make Carson’s house our home.”

  “Consider it done. If you’ll give me your phone number after I meet with the ladies circle I can call you with a firm date. I’ll suggest Saturday afternoon, a week from tomorrow.”

  “That would be perfect.” Carolyn recited her number, watching Agnes write it on the back of her green stamps booklet.

  Agnes tucked the booklet in her purse. “I’ll be in touch. It was so good to meet you, Carolyn.”

  “Good to meet you too.”

  “Carson,” Agnes said.

  “Nice seein’ you again, Mrs. Varlo.”

  She waited until Agnes was out of earshot, before she said, “Wow. That was generous of her.” She smiled. “A bridal shower is so exciting! My mother still has things from hers.”

  “I’m glad you’re excited, Caro, but I told you I’d buy you anything you wanted.”

  “I know, but a bridal shower is a rite of passage for women. And it’ll be good for me to meet women in the community since I don’t know anyone.”

  “Agnes is thoughtful, but don’t think for a second she isn’t already assigning you to several church committees,” Carson warned.

  “I’m grateful, but don’t think for a second I’d pass up a chance to tout my seamstress skills for a price.”

  Carson laughed. “But you don’t have to take in sewing jobs after we’re married. It’s my job to provide for you.”

  “I know. But I’ll go crazy without some sort of work to keep me occupied.” She frowned. She was not looking forward to Missy’s final fitting tomorrow. Might not be so bad if it was just her, but the nasty bridesmaids duo was sure to be there too. “I hope the alterations fit perfectly and I can be in and out of there in fifteen minutes.”

  “These are the women who questioned whether me’n you were really dating?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Where’s the fitting?”

  “At the Methodist Church in Moorcroft.”

  Carson picked up her hand and kissed her engagement ring. “Guess when they see this that’ll squash any argument that we ain’t really a couple.” He released her hand. “Let’s get these groceries paid for. Is someone home who’ll help you carry them in?”

  “I’m sure one of my brothers is,” she lied. Even if they were around they wouldn’t help her, simply because they wouldn’t think of it.

  Part of her wondered if Carson would be that way after they’d been married a while.

  But she watched him unload the groceries from the cart into the trunk and then hold the door open for an elderly woman after he’d returned the cart; she knew his gentlemanly side was ingrained.

  At least in public.

  Carolyn arrived early at the church the next day.

  The alterations for Missy’s dress were perfect. They waited for what seemed like forever before Tammy and Edie made an appearance.

  Missy lit into them. “You’re both hung over? That is just great. If you puke on the bridesmaid’s dress during the fitting you will not be in my wedding, understand?”

  “You’re crabby today. You on the rag or something?” Edie said with a yawn.

  Which sent Missy into another tirade, and Tammy joined in to defend Edie.

  Carolyn wanted to crawl under a rock. These women considered themselves friends?

  “Enough. Get your dresses on,” Missy commanded.

  Bo
th Edie and Tammy dressed in the small church nursery. First Carolyn checked the hems. Good to go. Then she checked the lace panel on the bodice.

  Edie snatched her hand. “What’s this?”

  Tammy leaned over to look. “Is that an engagement ring?”

  “Yes. Carson and I are getting married.”

  “When?”

  “In three weeks.” Carolyn yanked her hand back.

  “Are you pregnant?” Edie demanded.

  “Are you always this rude?” Carolyn said. “That is none of your business.”

  “Ooh. Testy.” Tammy and Edie exchanged a knowing look.

  “Since the dresses fit, I’ll be going.”

  Carolyn exited the room and stopped when she saw Carson leaning
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