Cowboy take me away, p.3
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       Cowboy Take Me Away, p.3

         Part #16 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 

  “It’s Carson.”

  “Carson? Of course it’s Carson,” she muttered.

  He bristled. “What’s wrong with the name Carson?”

  Her skeptical gaze snared his. “Nothing. It just sounds like the name of a steely-eyed gunslinger hero who rides in, saves the western town and makes all the ladies swoon.”

  He flashed her another grin. “Only woman I wanna see swoon in my arms is you. So you gonna dance with me?”

  “One dance. But keep your lips and hands to yourself.”

  Just to be ornery, Carson lifted their joined hands and kissed her knuckles. Twice. “No promises on that.” Then before she hesitated, he led her to the dance floor.

  As soon as he’d clasped her hand in his to start two-stepping, the band switched to the slow song “Make the World Go Away.”

  “Where are you from?” he asked.

  She tilted her head back and challenged, “How do you know I’m not a local?”

  Carson’s gaze roved over her beautiful face, drinking in every feature. “A girl that looks like you ain’t ever gonna go unnoticed around here. Or anywhere else, for that matter. So if you lived anywhere nearby I’da heard about you, bein’s I’m local.”

  Her cheeks bloomed pink and she looked away without comment.

  “Carolyn?” he prompted.

  “You’re pushy. And arrogant. And I should be pushing you away.”

  “But yet…you’re not.”

  “I know.” She paused. “It’s confusing. I never…”

  “Me either.”

  “You didn’t even know what I planned to say, Carson.”

  “Yes, I do. Because sugar, I feel it too. And I’ve never felt it before either.”

  She muttered something about a silver tongue. Her soft body and sweet scent had him pulling her closer as they moved together to the music.

  After a bit he said, “I’m still waitin’.”

  “For what?”

  “For you to tell me where you live.”

  She studied the buttons on his shirt. “My family lives outside of Gillette.”

  “The way you said that makes it sound like your family lives there but you don’t.”

  “Very perceptive, cowboy.”

  When she didn’t elaborate, he stopped dancing and said, “Look at me.”

  Her gaze met his. “What?”

  “Whatcha hidin’?”

  “Nothing. Really.” She briefly closed her eyes. “Okay, that’s… I know I’m being vague.”

  “Why?” Damn, he hoped she wasn’t married.

  “Because guys tend to run or make jokes when I tell them the truth.”

  “You escape from prison or something?”

  She laughed softly. “Sort of.”

  Carson knew he’d do anything to hear that happy sound again. “Tell me.”

  “I was born in Gillette. When I turned twelve my parents sent me to Catholic boarding school in Montana. I lived in the dorm during the school year. Then I spent half the summer with my aunt in Billings and the other half down here.”

  “So you escaped from a convent?”

  “That makes a better story than I graduated. Maybe that’s what I’ll start telling people.”

  “Your folks sent you to Catholic school in hopes you’d become a nun?”

  “Possibly. But it didn’t take.”

  “Thank God for that.”

  She offered him a sad smile. “Now they’re pinning their hopes on my little sister, who is still at St. Mary’s.”

  Her tone was relieved and melancholy and embarrassed.

  Carson wanted to press his lips to her forehead—so he did just that. Then he murmured, “I’m glad you’re here, Carolyn.”

  She didn’t protest or try to pull away. If anything, she tucked herself more closely into him.

  Before he got too comfortable holding her, the music stopped and the band announced it was taking a break.

  “Let’s get some fresh air.” Then with a firm grip on her hand, he wove through the crowd and out the side door.

  Those long legs of hers had no problem keeping up with his strides. He didn’t stop until they reached his pickup. “Hang on a second.” The driver’s side door squeaked when he opened it.

  “Carson. I don’t know if I’m—”

  “Just getting a blanket so you don’t get that pretty dress dirty.”

  She crossed her arms over her chest and stood back, watching as he draped the wool blanket over the metal tailgate.

  “Hop on up and take a load off.”

  When she scooted up, he caught a glimpse of the pale flesh of her inner thigh before she tugged her skirt down.

  His dick stirred.

  Needing a distraction from the lust-filled thoughts running through his head, Carson pulled a flask out of his back pocket. “Want a snort of whiskey?”

  She shook her head and started to swing her legs on the tailgate.

  He swallowed a mouthful of booze and rested his backside against the corner of the box. “How’d you find out about this dance? Bein’s you’re not local?”

  “My friend Beverly. She’s the only person I’ve stayed friends with after I changed schools. As soon as we arrived she took off with her boyfriend.”

  “That wasn’t very nice.”

  “I’m used to it.”

  “Then why come here with her?”

  “Because sitting alone at a dancehall is still better than sitting at home.”

  “Alone. Right. I’ll bet as soon as you showed that beautiful face here the guys followed you like lovesick calves and wouldn’t leave you be.”

  She shrugged. “A few did.”

  “Bet I was the only one who proposed to you.”

  “Bet I wasn’t the only woman who’s ever taken a swing at you.” Her blonde hair cascaded over her shoulder when she tilted her head to look at him. “I can’t believe I fell for that let’s get married line.”

  “Like I said, sugar. That wasn’t a line.” Carson moved in front of her, creating space for himself between her knees.

  “So if I called your bluff?”

  “I’d have you in the cab of my truck drivin’ like a bat outta hell to the closest justice of the peace.”

  “Why me?” Her eyes searched his. “Every woman in that place had eyes on you. And you know exactly how good you look, so it’s not like you’re unaware of your appeal.”

  Carson stroked her cheek. “Do I appeal to you? Or should I get nekkid so you can inspect me before you commit to me for the rest of your life?”

  Sweet Carolyn blushed but didn’t drop her gaze. “Don’t you think we should get to know each other before you start planning the honeymoon?”

  “You’re right. Ask me anything.”

  “What do you do around these parts? Go to college?”

  “Do I look like a college boy?”

  Her gaze moved over him from his western shirt, to his jeans and boots and back up to his hat. “Maybe you’re a rodeo cowboy?”

  His lips twisted. “Not hardly. I’m a rancher.”

  “Isn’t that the same as being a cowboy?”

  “Not even fuckin’ close.”

  “Don’t snap at me,” she cautioned, “and watch your language.”

  The woman had a spark. “Sorry. Just because I raise cattle don’t mean I’m dumb enough to get on the back of a bull or a bronc. There are plenty of risks depending on Mother Nature to make or break you in the cattle business.”

  “Doesn’t seem like you like it all that much.”

  “Some days are better than others. I’m a third-generation rancher so it wasn’t like I had much choice.”

  “If you did have a choice and could do something different, what would it be?”

  He steered the conversation back on track. “The better question is how would you feel about bein’ married to a rancher?”

  That startled her. “What?”

  “I am what I am, Carolyn. That ain’t ever gonna change. It ain’t an
easy life—physically, mentally or emotionally. Some years we’re flush; some years we’re broke. Takin’ care of the cattle and the land is always my first priority.”

  “So any woman you marry will have to understand she’ll come second to cows and crops?”

  He watched her eyes, so wise and yet so curious, which was a damn potent combination when she focused it on him. “Yeah.”

  “No wonder you’re having a hard time finding a woman to sign on for that life.”

  “That’s the thing. I haven’t been lookin’.” He twisted a strand of blonde silk around his finger. “Then I saw you.”

  “And…what? You thought I looked like I’d be good with cattle? Or that I’d be a good cook? Or I wouldn’t mind living hand to mouth? Or I had wide enough hips to birth a bunch of ranch hands? That makes no sense.”

  “Now you’re getting it. It doesn’t make a lick of sense that when I saw you standing up at the bar I imagined wakin’ up to you every morning for the rest of my life.”

  Her jaw nearly hit the ground. Then she managed, “You did?”

  “Umm-hmm.” He tickled her lips with the end of her hair. “How old are you?”

  “I’ll be nineteen this summer. How old are you?” she asked.

  Old enough to know better. “Twenty-four.” He dropped his hand and retreated.

  Carolyn snatched his forearm, holding him in place. “Don’t.”

  “Don’t what?”

  “Don’t look at me with regret.”

  “I wasn’t.”

  “Yes, you were.” Her fingers tightened on his arm. “Besides, I liked the way you were looking at me before you asked how old I was.”

  Definitely a spark there. “And how was that?”

  “Like it didn’t matter. Like you wanted to strip me bare and go wild on me.”

  “Is that what you want me to do?”

  She bit her lip. “I don’t know.”

  Carson angled his head closer to hers. “Ever been nekkid with a man, sugar?”

  “No.” She paused. “I’ve thought about it.” Her wide blue eyes locked on his. “I’ve thought about it a lot more since I met you.”

  Holy hell this woman was killing him. She had no idea how sexy the combination of bold, innocent and honest was to a man like him. “Oh yeah?” He slid his hand up her arm and across her shoulder to cup her neck. “You gonna take another swing at me if I take this pretty mouth the way I want to?”

  She lowered her lashes and stared at his lips.

  Enough answer for him.

  Carson tipped her head back and fused his mouth to hers.

  This time she parted her lips and her breath exploded in his mouth. Her tongue sought his, boldly stroking and twining around his. Giving him a complete taste of her. She used her teeth to nip, her tongue to explore. Her lips were soft and yielding, then firm and demanding.

  The kiss blew his mind. While there was no denying their attraction, this immediate passion between them caught him off guard. As did her complete abandonment to it.

  He lifted her off the tailgate and pressed her against the rear quarter panel, keeping one arm behind her back and the other hand curled at the nape of her neck.

  Carolyn’s hands clutched his shirt as she tried to pull him closer.

  Finally, he had to take a breath that wasn’t saturated with her taste and her scent. He moved his lips from the corner of her mouth down to the arch of her neck. “Damn,” he panted against her throat.

  “Are you okay?”

  He dragged an openmouthed kiss up the smooth section of skin, stopping at her ear. “No, I’m not okay. I’m wantin’ way more than a kiss, so I’m thinkin’ we should just go ahead, hop in the truck and find us someone who’ll marry us tonight.”

  She laughed softly. Then she planted kisses along his jaw, her breath whispering across his damp flesh, eliciting his shiver.

  He spun them and leaned his back against the truck, wanting her soft curves pressing into him, wanting his hands on her luscious ass.

  A wolf whistle rent the air. “Take it inside the truck, McKay,” someone shouted.

  Carson scowled at his drinking buddy. “Move along, Tucker.”

  “Looks like you’re the one who’s movin’ pretty fast.”

  Assholes.

  “McKay?” she repeated. “Your last name is McKay?”

  “Yeah. Why?”

  Carolyn stepped back. “I don’t believe this.”

  “I don’t know what you’ve heard, but I can explain—”

  “You can’t.”

  He followed her, hating the wariness that had replaced the heat in her eyes. “At least let me try.”

  “Ask me my last name.”

  Annoyed by the abrupt change in her, he said, “Fine, Carolyn, what’s your last name?”

  “West.”

  That stopped him. “What?”

  “I’m Carolyn West.”

  “You’re kiddin’, right?”

  She shook her head. “My dad is Elijah—Eli—West.”

  Carson had heard that name several times, always attached to a vile string of curses and a rant the likes of which he’d never heard from his closemouthed father. He’d warned his sons to stay far away from all members of the West family. He and his brothers tried to ask questions, but the old man had shut them down without explaining his reasons. Carson had put it out of his mind.

  Then a few years ago he’d crossed paths with Harland West, proudly proclaiming himself Eli West’s oldest son. The loud mouth started talking shit about the “mighty McKays” in the feed store in Moorcroft. Most of what the man shouted at him made zero sense—he’d blathered on about lies, bribes, blood money and theft—but Carson wasn’t about to let it slide. They’d ended up in a knock-down, drag-out fight that left both of them bleeding and pissed off.

  A year or so later, he’d run afoul of Darren West at Brass Tacks, a bar in the Wests’ neck of the woods. Words were exchanged, fists went flying and they were both arrested for drunk and disorderly.

  That hadn’t gone over well with Jed McKay.

  After the ass chewing on a whole new level, Carson became suspicious of why his father refused to talk about the past issues between the McKays and the Wests. He didn’t give a damn if his grandfather—who he’d never met—had wronged the West patriarch or vice versa. He suspected even his father wasn’t sure what’d gone down years ago, which made no sense as to why the man held a grudge.

  But those West assholes held a grudge too.

  Pissed him off that they used their family’s history of bad blood as an excuse to come after the McKays now. That changed Carson’s I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude. He’d jumped into the fray with both boots. So the mention of a younger West sister hadn’t come up when Carson had been trying to beat the fuck out of Harland and Darren West.

  Carolyn’s brothers.

  Fuck.

  The fact Carson wanted Carolyn West with every breath in his body wouldn’t go over well with his father either.

 
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