Cowboy take me away, p.25
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       Cowboy Take Me Away, p.25

         Part #16 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James

  Carolyn’s outfit. “Did you make that?”

  “Yes. You like it?”

  “I love it. I’m jealous that you’re so talented with a needle and thread. I think Aunt Hulda has given up that I’ll ever be a seamstress of your caliber.”

  “Oh pooh. You’re just impatient.”

  Kimi looped her arm through Carolyn’s. “I’m impatient to get the hell out of here. Let’s go.”

  Aunt Hulda appeared to be dozing in the rocking chair. No sign of their mother. She must’ve gone back to her room. As they passed through the living room, Aunt Hulda said, “Carolyn, when you get back we need to work on your wedding dress since the wedding is in two days.”

  “I know. We won’t be gone long.”

  Once they were in the car, Kimi pulled out a pack of cigarettes. “Thank God. I’m dying for a smoke.”


  “What? Everyone smokes.” She lit up and blew a stream of smoke out the window.

  “But you’re sixteen.”


  “Swearing, smoking… Are you drinking too?”

  “Sometimes.” She took another drag. “But I’m not having sex…unlike some people.”

  “I’m almost nineteen.” Her grip tightened on the steering wheel. “Besides, we are engaged.”

  “Uh-huh. Bet you weren’t engaged when you did it with him the first time.”

  Carolyn did not want to have this conversation with her little sister.

  “How was it? And if you don’t talk to me about this I’ll assume it was bad.”

  “Not even close to bad. It was…intimate.”

  “There’s a brilliant statement.”

  “I’m serious, Kimi. Being skin to skin, with all the kissing and touching and the urgency. It is rapturous.”

  “Did it hurt?”

  She grinned. “Not bad enough to make me not want to do it again.”

  Kimi laughed. “Fine. So it really is one of those things I have to experience for myself?”

  “Yes.” She changed the subject. “What’s the gossip from St. Mary’s?”

  “Not much. Aunt Hulda keeps me busy so I don’t get to see anyone. But the rumor is you’re pregnant and that’s why you’re havin’ the hurry-up wedding.”

  She shrugged. “Pretty much the consensus around here too.”

  “That doesn’t bother you?”

  “It bothered me worse when people assumed I’d let Carson use and discard me.” She smirked. “But I’m the only woman wearing his ring.”

  “Doesn’t it scare you to know you’re going from taking care of one household to doing the exact same thing with him?”

  Carolyn looked at Kimi sharply. “That doesn’t sound like something you’d say. Is that what Aunt Hulda said?”

  Kimi inhaled another drag and flicked the cigarette butt out the window. “She talked to me about it. And I know she wants to talk to you too. So I’m giving you a warning that it might not be the I’m so happy for you conversation you expected.”

  “She’s far from the first one to express her unhappiness or disappointment in the marriage.”

  “Well, I, for one, am happy for you.”

  She smiled. “Thanks.”

  They pulled into the Ice Cream Palace but she didn’t see Carson’s pickup. Kimi hustled inside while Carolyn waited in the parking lot.

  Carson roared into a parking spot—the man drove like an idiot. He hopped out and strode toward her. She couldn’t see his eyes beneath the brim of his hat but she felt the heat of his gaze. He blocked her with his big body and without so much as a hello, lowered his mouth to hers and kissed her.

  And kissed her.

  When she tried to break free, he made that growling noise and said, “I’m not done,” against her lips.

  Finally he lifted his head and grinned. “Hiya, sugar. You looked so pretty standin’ there I just needed me a little taste.”

  She placed her hand on his chest and found his heart beating like mad. Seeing her got him excited? Or kissing her got him excited? Either way, she loved that about him. “Hiya yourself, cowboy.” She saw Cal leaning against the building by the door, waiting for them.

  Carson pressed his hand into the small of her back, guiding her forward.

  “Hey, Cal.”

  “Hey, Carolyn. You’re lookin’ good today.” He leaned forward. “You sure you wanna marry this guy?” He jerked his thumb toward his twin. “He’s kinda bossy. I’m much more laid back.”

  “I’m gonna lay you out flat if you keep tryin’ to steal my woman, jackass.”

  “She’s fair game until you say them vows, so I just want her to be sure.”

  She gazed at Carson, knowing her face shone with adoration. “I’m sure.”

  They walked into the Ice Cream Palace.

  At that moment, Kimi turned around. She offered Carson a cursory look, then her focus was entirely on Cal. She gave him a little finger wave and took a long lick of her ice cream cone.

  He sucked in a sharp breath. “Sweet mother of God, I think I’m in love.”

  “Oh for Christsake,” Carson muttered.


  “Please tell me that’s your sister.”

  Carolyn got in Cal’s face. Or she tried to, but he couldn’t tear his gaze away from Kimi. That forced her to snap her fingers in front of his eyes. “Hey, McKay, focus.”


  “Yes, that’s my sister, my younger sister. She’s sixteen. Do you hear me? Six. Teen.”

  Cal bestowed the slow, sexy grin that had women falling at his feet. “Well, darlin’, she ain’t always gonna be sixteen.”

  Kimi sauntered over, ignoring everyone but Cal. “Please tell me you’re not my future brother-in-law?”

  “I’m not. But darlin’ girl, I’m damn near certain I’m your future husband.”

  She blinked coquettishly. “Then maybe you and me better get acquainted…?”

  “Calvin McKay. You can call me Cal. Better yet, call me anytime you want.”

  “Jesus, Cal. Give it a rest.”

  Carolyn elbowed him in the ribs.

  “Sorry.” Carson offered his hand. “Kimi? Glad to finally meet you. Caro has told me a lot about you.”

  “Likewise.” Kimi tore her attention away from Cal and narrowed her eyes at Carson. “Make my sister happy or else I’ll gut you like a trout.”


  But she’d already refocused on Cal. “Let’s leave the lovebirds alone and you can tell me why such a handsome man as yourself is still single.”

  “Because I was waitin’ for you.” Then, as they walked off, he whispered something in Kimi’s ear that made her laugh.

  “Well, that was unexpected,” Carson said.

  “No kidding. Kimi is the biggest flirt I know. I hope he doesn’t put stock in anything she tells him.”

  “Cal’s the same way. We’ll let them hash it out. There’s something I wanna run by you.”

  “Sounds serious.”

  “Not really. You want a cone or something?”

  “Just a Coke.”

  “Sit. I’ll get it.”

  Carolyn sat where she could keep an eye on her little sister and future brother-in-law.

  Then Carson scooted into the booth seat across from her and blocked the view. “Here.”

  “Thanks. So what’s going on?”

  “We hafta scale back the honeymoon. I planned to take you to Denver for a few nights. Stayin’ at the Brown Palace and headin’ down to Colorado Springs to ride the Pike’s Peak Railway. But Dad’s bein’ a controlling asshole. He knew we’d be on our honeymoon, and yet he set up a meeting next week with the Timmons family. They want to sell their homestead a little ways south of here. It’s a great piece of land and if anyone can charm them into sellin’ it’s me, not my old man. So instead of goin’ to Colorado, I thought we could spend a few days in Yellowstone. You ever been there?”

  She shook her head.

  “Me either.
He picked up her hand and brushed his mouth across her knuckles. “So you’re okay with it?”

  “Of course, Carson. I don’t care where we are as long as I’m with you.”

  “You’re sure?”


  “You won’t mind spending our wedding night at the trailer? Because it’s too far to drive to Cody after the wedding Sunday.”

  “That means you can take me to bed sooner, doesn’t it?”

  He bestowed that wicked grin and her stomach cartwheeled. “I suppose that is an upside.”

  “Are you staying at Cal’s the night before the wedding?”

  “Yeah. Why?”

  “I need to drop off the rest of the stuff from my bridal shower the day of the wedding and it’s bad luck for the bride and groom to see each other before the ceremony. I just want to make sure you won’t be there.”

  “I won’t be. In fact, I’ll be so busy between now and then, not only with my regular day-to-day stuff, but tryin’ to make Cal’s place habitable since I’ve kicked him out of the trailer, that I probably won’t see you until the wedding.”

  She breathed in deeply and let it out slowly.

  “What, sugar?”

  “It’s just exciting to think that after today the next time I’ll see you is when you’re standing at the altar waiting for me, ready to become my husband.”

  Carson kissed her ring. “Damn, woman, do I love the sound of that.” He slid out of the booth. “Wish I could stay but I gotta git.” His eyes narrowed at Kimi and Cal, practically sitting on top of each other in the corner. “Go ask the manager if he’s got a hose. I think we’ll have to spray them two down to get ’em apart.”

  After they’d finished supper, Kimi shooed Carolyn away from the dishes, reminding her that she had a wedding dress fitting with Aunt Hulda.

  Thoughtful of her sister, but Carolyn suspected Kimi only volunteered so she wouldn’t have to spend time with their mother.

  Her aunt sat in the wicker chair in the sun porch fanning herself, her sewing basket by her side. “Let’s see what you’ve come up with.”

  “It’s not really a custom wedding dress. Maxine had a base form in satin and I thought a lace overlay on top and tulle netting on the bottom would fill it out. It’s simple, but I’m wondering if it’s too simple?”

  “Put it on.”

  Carolyn pulled the plastic bag down the dress hoping she hadn’t created a mess of static. Keeping her back to her aunt, she stripped to her bra and undies. She took the dress off the hanger and stepped into it. The lace sleeves were the hardest part to get on.

  How hard would it be for Carson to take off?

  Not something she should think about with her aunt in the room.

  She walked backward to the chair. “Can you zip me up?”

  “Bend down just a little, child.” Zip. “There. Now turn around.”

  When Carolyn turned, the bottom made a swishing noise against her calves. Because the base form was short, she’d opted for a tea-length dress rather than a full-length gown. She peeked at her aunt from beneath lowered lashes, half afraid she’d see disapproval. The sight of her aunt’s tears shocked her.

  “Carolyn. You look beautiful.”

  “You really think so, Aunt Hulda?”

  “Yes.” She dabbed at her eyes with an embroidered handkerchief. “I came prepared because I expected this.”

  “I’m just happy you’re not crying because you think the dress is ugly.”

  She laughed. “No. But I will suggest a few adjustments. I like what you’ve done with the lace overlay and how it leaves the strapless satin base visible. But I think the neckline is too high. A modified boat-style with rolled lace will accentuate your graceful neck. Show it off while you can, sweetie, because you’ll have an old lady wattle like mine before you know it. Where’s the extra lace?”

  Carolyn picked up the bag containing scraps. “So just add that on?”

  “First clip the top section. That’ll be easier than trying to cut the side seam and roll it since you’ve added sleeves.” She had a long piece of lace that she’d gathered and draped just below Carolyn’s collarbones. “Like that.”

  “Can you pin it please?”

  She reached for the pincushion. “I also think you should add something to the waist. A sash perhaps, in a wide swath of gathered satin that mimics the drape of the lace. You’ve got such a trim waist. Be a pity not to draw a little extra attention to it too.”

  They’d worked in silence for many years, so the quiet never bothered her. But an expectant pause hung in the air this time. “Is there something on your mind, Aunt Hulda?”

  “Child, are you sure you want to marry this man?”

  “Why would you ask me that?”

  “Because I’m an old meddling busybody.” She pulled another pin from the pincushion. “Or because it happened very fast.”

  “I’m not pregnant,” Carolyn said defensively.

  “Of course you’re not. This suddenness brought to mind that old saying ‘Marry in haste, repent in leisure’ so I want to hear that you’re entering into this marriage for the right reasons.”

  “What are the right reasons?”

  “There aren’t any besides love.”

  “That’s why I’m marrying him; I love him.”

  “It’s also important you have things in common. I was very happy to hear he’s a Catholic boy.”

  Carolyn smiled, wondering the last time someone called Carson a boy. “I understand that, but I also think we’ll find common interests after we get married.”

  A moment of silence followed as her aunt pinned the lace.

  “You know, I’ll grant you that argument, Carolyn.”

  “Thank you. But I’m not trying to be argumentative, I promise.”

  “I realize that. And I hope you realize I’m not trying to discourage you from marrying him. I worry you don’t have anyone to talk to because you’re isolated here. Kimi is living with me; your friends from high school are in Montana. And your mother… Has she been helpful at all in offering you advice or even just lending a willing ear?”

  “About Carson?”

  “About him, about marriage.”

  “She has, actually. I told her about Carson the night after we met. She told me not to let past grievances with his family be a deciding factor in whether I pursued a relationship with him.”

  Her aunt harrumphed. “Smart advice from my sister for once. But I’ll remind you since there’s bad blood between your families, there will be a dividing line between those who will accept your marriage to this man and those who won’t. Are you prepared to forego a relationship with your brothers and possibly your father to be with Carson?”

  Carolyn didn’t even hesitate. “Yes.”

  “That right there gives me the answer to all of my questions.” She paused. “Turn.”

  Then Carolyn was facing her aunt. “Thomas said something to me a few weeks ago about you.”

  “And what was that?”

  “That you offered to pay for mine and Kimi’s private Catholic education because you felt guilty about taking something away from the church and wanted to give something back by turning us into nuns.”

  “Your brother is wrong. I paid for your education because I didn’t want you to be an indentured servant to your family.”

  “There’s nothing wrong with pitching in and taking care of your
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