Cowboy take me away, p.24
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       Cowboy Take Me Away, p.24

         Part #16 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James

  against the wall. Looking like a million bucks in his dark jeans, a blue plaid shirt that brought out his eyes, and his dress cowboy hat. “Carson? What are you doing here?”

  He ambled forward, his eyes never leaving her face. When he reached her he slanted his mouth over hers for a lingering kiss. “I knew my beautiful bride-to-be had an appointment in town so I thought I’d swing by and take you to lunch.” He pushed a section of hair behind her ear and caressed her jaw—a gesture more intimate than his kiss. “I was just missin’ you, Caro.”

  No, the sweet man just wanted to show these doubters that he was entirely hers.

  “That’s a great idea. Let’s go.” She didn’t turn around and see if Edie and Tammy were watching; frankly, for the first time she didn’t care.

  Seemed Carson’s attitude was rubbing off on her.

  Chapter Sixteen


  Carson’s job today was chasing after stray calves that broke away from the herd as they moved cattle to a different grazing area. Casper led the herd, Charlie handled keeping the first third in line, Cal the second third and Carson the back third. They’d had a good go of it so far, but he didn’t like the way the clouds were forming. A spooked herd was a scattered herd, and since they still had one road to cross, that could be problematic.

  Jed usually waited on the road for them with the horse trailer. He’d open the gate to the next pasture and warn the few souls who used that road there’d be a delay.

  But today the man was being a jackass and left them to deal with it on their own.

  Fine. They’d show him they didn’t need his help.

  They moved down the bottom slope that led to the rise where the road bisected their land. From here Carson could see the whole herd.

  Casper kicked his horse to a gallop so he could get the gates open. They’d decided he’d position himself on one side of the road once the first few head of cattle passed through the gate and the herd mentality would keep the flow going. Then Charlie would flank the opposite side while Cal drove the main part of the herd forward.

  It went like clockwork—until that first boom of thunder. Then the last twenty cow and calf pairs bolted. Half went to the left. Half went to the right. Running right down the middle of the damn road in opposite directions.

  Carson whistled at Cal and pointed left, while he reined his horse right, kicking it into a gallop. He didn’t get the runaways stopped for a quarter of a mile. After he’d gotten them turned around, he half-hoped for another boom of thunder to get them back to the gate quickly.

  No thunder, but it started to rain. Which didn’t bother the cattle; in fact, it got rid of the flies for a while. They didn’t have much farther to go. Once they settled the herd near the small stock dam they could ride back to Cal’s place. After all this shit had started with his dad, Carson had moved his horse and his tack to his brother’s barn.

  The rain didn’t let up. It became a torrential downpour. Good for the land so he wasn’t complaining. But the temp had hovered near eighty-five and the rain cooled him down right quick. Since the ground was slippery, they’d slowed the horses.

  At least the wind wasn’t blowing.


  Cal yelled at him, “Ain’t this ridin’ horseback in the rain shit romantic? You and Carolyn oughta try it.”

  “Piss off, Cal.” Then he smiled for the first time in an hour, remembering that hot, wet night he and Caro had spent in the rain.

  It took two hours to get back to Cal’s. Carson tried to put it out of his mind that it would’ve taken them ten minutes to load the horses and fifteen minutes of driving time if their dad had helped out today.

  After feeding the horses and hanging up the wet tack, they trooped into Cal’s house.

  The place was big and it needed a lot of work. They’d fixed what they could until the rest of their building supplies arrived.

  Once inside the main living area, Carson noticed Cal had placed buckets everywhere. “At least we’ll know where to patch the roof when it dries out.”

  “I’m thinkin’ the whole thing needs replaced.”

  “It’s pretty flat, probably won’t take that long. Order the shingles next time you’re in town and I’ll help you roof it before summer’s end.”

  “Won’t you have to ask the little wifey if you can hang out with your brother first?” Casper asked with a sneer.

  “Nah. I’m hopin’ maybe she’ll help.”

  Cal and Charlie laughed.

  “Maybe once she learns the the truth about the ranch she won’t stick around,” Casper said slyly.

  “What truth?”

  “Oh, haven’t you heard? With the most recent land purchase and you getting married that Dad is changing the legal parameters for inheriting the ranch.”

  Carson stared hard at Casper. “What the hell are you talkin’ about?”

  “Dad had an appointment on Friday with the trust attorney at the bank.”

  “What?” Carson and Cal said simultaneously. Then Carson demanded, “Why the fuck would he do that and not tell us?”

  “Because you’re legally tyin’ yourself to a member of the West family. He knows blustering about cuttin’ you off and kickin’ you off the ranch are meaningless threats. He can’t run the ranch without you. And I sure as hell don’t wanna pick up the slack.”

  “No surprise there,” Cal said.

  Casper glared at him. “Poor Cal. Twin to Carson but even that don’t get you close to the pedestal the first born son has been placed on.” Casper smirked at Carson and took a long swallow of beer. “But you tarnished that halo and even put a fuckin’ dent in it by finding the one woman guaranteed to send Dad into a red rage.”

  “How long you been sittin’ on this information, Casper?”

  “I overheard part of the conversation…a couple days after you informed Dad you were marryin’ Carolyn West. I don’t know what all he decided to change but it’s a done deal.”

  Carson looked at Charlie. “Did you know about this?”

  Charlie put his hands up. “First I’ve heard of it, I swear.”

  Goddammit. It was so fucking typical of Jed McKay to do what he wanted and his sons just had to live with the consequences.

  But what if you can’t live with them?

  Then he’d leave. It’d serve his father right if his oldest son found a job working as a ranch hand for someone else. Yeah. He’d stick around just to make Jed McKay look like an idiot.

  Casper stood. “I’m goin’ home. See you tomorrow. Come on, Charlie.”

  Charlie didn’t say anything. He just put his soggy hat back on and followed Casper out.

  After they left, Cal said, “Wanna get drunk?”

  “No. I wanna hit someone.”

  “I ain’t helpin’ you with that. But if you crash here tonight, we’ll confront Dad first thing in the mornin’ about this inheritance change bullshit.” Cal handed him another beer. “You think Casper might be full of it?”

  Carson shook his head. “He was goddamn gloating, so no. He knew about it ahead of time and purposely told us after the fact so we couldn’t do anything to prevent it. He’s such an asshole.”

  Several moments passed where they didn’t speak.

  Cal said, “Come on. Get outta them wet clothes and stop makin’ that huffing noise. It’s annoying as hell. There’s nothin’ we can do about it tonight anyway.”

  “So you might as well crack open the whiskey.”

  Early the following morning Carson and Cal found Jed in the dining room drinking coffee.

  “So what’s this bullshit about you talkin’ to the estate lawyer at the bank and makin’ changes without tellin’ us?” Carson demanded.

  “Mornin’ to you too.”

  “Cut the shit. I ain’t in the mood.”

  Jed motioned to Cal. “Get your brothers up. If we’re talkin’ about this now, I’m only sayin’ it once.”

  When they were all seated in the dining room, Jed said, “Seems you
ve all heard I met with the attorney. I had language added to the original settlement deed and current land holdings.”

  “Which is what?”

  “Everything is still solely in my name, so before you get pissy, I didn’t have to ask, inform or consult any of you on my decision. Now the only person or persons who can lay claim to part of the McKay Ranch are McKay descendants, and even then, if any of you were to have daughters their claim isn’t recognized.

  “In simplest terms, whoever you marry—” Jed looked right at Carson, “—will never inherit an inch of McKay land. You have sons? They’re part of the bloodline, they’re eligible to inherit. Any daughters you might birth aren’t eligible because their children won’t be McKays.”

  “That is the dumbest thing I ever heard,” Cal said.

  “Don’t care if you think it’s dumb. It’s how it is from here on out.”

  “Why’d you do this?” Carson asked.

  His father slammed his hands on the table. “To protect the ranch! Dammit, boy, pull your head out. If this marriage don’t work out between you and that West girl, she could sue you for her fair share of the ranch in the divorce settlement. Over my dead body that’s ever happening. This change don’t keep any of your kids from inheriting, but it will keep your wives from ever havin’ any control.”

  “I think it’s a good idea,” Casper said. “Ranching is men’s business anyway.”

  Cal and Carson exchanged a look and Charlie rolled his eyes.

  “Like I said, the ranch is still in my name so—”

  “Put up or shut up?” Carson snapped. “Fine. I’ll shut up. For now. But here’s some advice, old man. You ain’t gonna live forever. So while you’re tryin’ to protect the ranch from scheming women, maybe you oughta be thinkin’ about how you’re gonna parcel it out before you’re dead and buried and we have to sell every inch of land to pay the inheritance taxes since you didn’t specify an heir.”

  At that point Carson picked up his hat and walked out.

  Chapter Seventeen


  When Carolyn heard a car door slam, she ran out the front door and picked up her little sister in a big hug. “I’m so glad you’re here!”

  Kimi was a tiny thing, six inches shorter than Carolyn, and a carbon copy of their mother. “I can’t believe you’re getting married. Let me see the ring.”

  Carolyn held out her hand.

  “That is beautiful! You are so lucky.” Kimi stood on tiptoe and peered over Carolyn’s shoulder. “So where is the man who stole your heart?”

  “He’ll be here later.” That’s when Carolyn realized she hadn’t even acknowledged her aunt. She skirted the front end of the car and gave the stout woman a big hug. “Aunt Hulda. Thanks for coming.”

  “Happy to be here. Where is everyone?”

  “Dad and my brothers are working. Mom is inside. I thought you could stay in her room, if that’s okay?”

  “It’ll be fine. After we have some lunch, let’s talk wedding plans.”

  Her mother had dressed and joined them at the table. She and Hulda chatted easily, not like they hadn’t seen each other in three years since her aunt had last come to Wyoming.

  “Kimi. How has your summer been so far?” their mother asked.

  “Good. I don’t have the eye for detail that Carolyn does, so I’m mostly tending the gardens.” She smirked. “I still haven’t convinced Aunt Hulda to raise chickens.”

  Hulda harrumphed. “And who would gather eggs, take them to town and feed those loud buggers when you’re back in school?”

  “I told you I’d be happy to drop out of school,” Kimi said sweetly. “It’s not like I’m a top student anyway.”

  “Your aunt is generous enough to pay for your schooling, so you will stick it out, Kimberly,” their mother said sharply.

  Kimi raised her chin. “I go by Kimi now, Mom. And I’m fully aware who is paying my tuition and why.” She pushed away from the table and started clearing plates.

  When their mother opened her mouth, Aunt Hulda shook her head. It occurred to Carolyn that in many respects their aunt was more their mother than Clara West. Did their mother resent her for that? Or after raising five boys was she secretly happy to hand off the job of raising her two daughters to her widowed, childless sister?

  “We’ll get the dishes done and leave the two of you to visit.” Carolyn picked up the leftovers—there wouldn’t have been any had her father and brothers joined them—and headed into the kitchen.

  Kimi had already started running the water and squirted in the soap.

  “I’ll dry,” Carolyn said.

  “But you always wash.”

  “Yes, I always wash and dry when I’m home in the summer so it’ll be nice not to have to do it all myself.” She wrapped her arms around her sister and squeezed. “I’m so happy you’re here. Even if it’s only for a couple of days. And just think, next time you come back? You can stay with me.”

  Kimi turned her head and grinned. “The West girls getting wild! So when do I get to meet my future brother-in-law? Geez. That sounds so weird.”

  “I still can’t believe he’ll be my husband.”

  “Bet you’re looking forward to the wedding night.”

  Carolyn’s cheeks heated and she focused on drying the first plate.

  “Holy shit, Caro, you already did it with him!”

  “Ssh!” She threw a look over her shoulder. “Not so loud!”

  “Oh, hell. It’s not like they can hear us.”


  Kimi rolled her eyes. “So, I wanna know all about it. What it’s like. If it’s as—” she pressed the back of her wrist to her forehead and swooned back dramatically, “—rapturous as all the girls claim it is.”

  The image of Carson staring so intently into her eyes as his body moved inside hers sent a blast of heat through her.

  Then Kimi got right in her face, blonde curls shaking. “Aha! It is! You’re thinking about it right now!”

  “Can we talk about this later?”

  “Fine, but you know I ain’t gonna let this go.”

  The phone rang and Carolyn walked over and picked up the receiver. “Wests.”

  “How’s my beautiful fiancée?”

  She smiled and sagged against the wall. “I’m good. Surprised to hear from you. Kimi and my Aunt Hulda are here. We just finished lunch. What are you doing?”

  “I’ve actually gotta pick up a part. I wondered if you could meet me for a half an hour or so. I wanna run something past you.”

  Carolyn glanced over at Kimi. “Is it okay if I bring my sister? She wants to meet you.”

  “Sure. In fact that’ll work out because Cal is ridin’ along with me.”

  “What time and where?”

  “Say an hour at the Ice Cream Palace?”

  “Can’t wait.”

  “Me either. Later, sugar.”


  “You are grinning like a cat licking cream, Caro.”

  “He just makes me happy.” She wandered back to the sink. “Let’s get these done. I need to pretty myself up since I’m meeting my fiancé. Oh, and he’s bringing his brother.”

  Kimi scrubbed a handful of silverware. “Go. I’ll finish this.”

  Carolyn changed into a sleeveless shirt covered in daisies and white pedal pushers with a ruffled hem below the knee. As she fashioned a headband out of a silk scarf, she watched Kimi fluff up her shoulder-length ringlet curls. She hadn’t changed out of the Bermuda shorts and white eyelet blouse she’d traveled in.

  “How is it that you look older than I do?” Carolyn complained.

  “Right. I look like a chubby-cheeked cherub.” Kimi slicked pink lipstick on her lips. “The eyeliner makes me look older. And I don’t know why you’re complaining. You always look sophisticated.” She gestured to
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