Cowboy take me away, p.30
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       Cowboy Take Me Away, p.30

         Part #16 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James

  outside. Setting up the wooden blocks and toys inside. Sneaking him ice cream. Jed just came over and plucked Cord from Carson’s arms and headed into the barn.

  Since he’d become a father himself, Carson wondered how much his dad helped his mother when they were babies and toddlers. He couldn’t imagine having two little Cords to keep track of—like his mother had dealt with, with him and Cal. Having two kids in two and a half years would be hard enough.

  He waited by the fence for his dad and son to return, wondering how to broach the subject of a pay increase. Things were tight and he was making the same money now as he had when he and Carolyn first got married.

  They wandered out of the barn, Grandpop in a deep discussion with Cord about something when a Buick tore up the driveway and slammed on the brakes in the middle of the yard.

  Then a tall, gray-haired man climbed out of the driver’s side and angrily stormed toward them.

  The potentially dangerous situation had Carson snatching Cord away from his dad.

  “You!” The man pointed to Jed. “Are you Casper McKay’s father?”

  “Who wants to know?”

  “I do.”

  “And who the hell are you?”

  “Patrick Tellman.” Then he sneered at Carson. “Another one who can’t keep his pants zipped. You’re populating the whole area with McKays, ain’t ya?”

  “You’re about to meet the business end of my shotgun, comin’ on McKay land and insulting me and mine.”

  “Is Casper your son?” he demanded.

  “Yes, he is. What’s he done now?”

  “He knocked up my daughter, that’s what he’s done.”

  Carson glanced at his father, but the man didn’t show a lick of emotion.

  “Who’s your daughter?”

  “Of course you gotta ask that since rumor has it all of your sons are notorious for catting around in three counties.”

  “Stop with the insults and get to the point,” Carson warned.

  “Who is your daughter?” Jed asked again.

  “Joan Tellman.”

  Not a name Carson recognized. Last he knew Casper had been seeing a woman in Spearfish named Donna.

  “So your daughter Joan is pregnant and she claims Casper is the father?”

  “Claims?” Patrick Tellman moved in toe to toe with Jed. “Casper is the father. My Joan is a good girl and swore to me Casper was the only man she’s ever been with. But I can understand why you’d be suspicious since a sweet Christian girl ain’t your sons’ normal type.

  Wrong. Carson thought of his Carolyn—a good Catholic girl to the core. She embodied decency and goodness. He accompanied her to church hoping some of her ways would rub off on him. God knew he could use it.

  “Don’t seem like she’s showing such good Christian values if she’s pregnant outside of wedlock,” Jed said evenly, and Carson knew he was trying to retain his cool. “Has your daughter mentioned this to Casper?”

  “No. That’s why I’m here. Father to father. I’m telling you I expect Casper to marry Joan as soon as possible.”

  Jed McKay didn’t say anything. Then he gave Patrick Tellman a resigned look. “I’ll talk to Casper today and I’ll have him contact Joan tonight.”

  “And if she doesn’t hear from him?”

  “She will. I guarantee it. You have my word.”

  That seemed to satisfy the man. He nodded, spun on his heel and marched back to his car. His exit from the ranch was more subdued than his entrance.

  Carson really wished he’d been long gone when this went down.

  “That dumb fucker,” his dad said and Carson knew he wasn’t referring to Patrick Tellman.

  “No kiddin’. I didn’t know he was seein’ this Joan woman.”

  “Never heard her name before today. But that don’t mean nothin’. Only woman you ever brought home was Carolyn. And you had your share of rumors long before that.” Jed sighed. “I need a goddamned shot of whiskey.”

  Here was his chance to escape. “I’ll leave you to it. Let me know what happens.”

  “I already know what’ll happen—Casper is getting married.” He pointed at Carson. “You ain’t goin’ nowhere. In light of this there’s some ranch business to straighten out.”

  Cord fussed and Carson set him down. “What ranch business?”

  “Something I wanna run by you before I tell Casper and Charlie. The Ingalls place I’m buyin’ has a house. Since you and Cal work so well together, I’m leaving you both here and I’ll be sendin’ Casper down there. Charlie too. Eventually.”

  Carson had a brief flash of anger. That house was way nicer than the trailer he and Carolyn lived in. Now with a baby on the way and a busy two-year-old it’d be an even tighter fit for four. Why hadn’t his father considered giving him the house?

  Because he’s punishing you for moving out after your mother died.

  He knew better than to complain, so he deflected. “When we have this discussion, I don’t want you to let on that I’d heard about these change in plans before they heard it from you.”

  “Why’s that?”

  He watched Cord picking up rocks. “Because they already accuse me of getting special treatment from you.”

  “They meaning Casper.”

  Carson shrugged.

  “Last I checked I’m still makin’ the decisions for the ranch. It ain’t favoritism if I decide it’s what’s best.”

  “So will I be headin’ down there to work those new sections? Will they still be comin’ up here?”

  “We’ll do what needs done.”

  That was his dad’s answer to everything. We’ll do what needs done.

  Meanwhile Casper would skate by with the minimum amount of work and get paid the same amount as Carson did. And now he’d be adding travel to his day.

  Doin’ what needs done, my ass.

  He’d make sure the new sections of land were ready for cattle, but he would not help Casper get his house ready for his bride.

  Just then Casper and Charlie pulled up with Cal following behind them in his truck.

  “Now’s as good a time as any to talk to them.”

  “You plan to pull Casper aside afterward?”

  “Nope. He done what he done. Ain’t no reason to hide it.”

  Fuck. This day just got better and better.

  As soon as Casper, Charlie and Cal were out of their vehicles, their dad said, “Meetin’ in the dining room.”

  Carson felt his brothers’ curious gazes but he focused on Cord. “Come on, son, and leave the rocks. We’re goin’ inside.”

  “Don’t wanna!”

  I know how you feel, kid.

  He held his hand out and Cord took it.

  Once they were seated at the table, their father zeroed in on Casper. “What kind of fool are you? Man named Patrick Tellman paid me a visit today, informing me that you knocked up his daughter, Joan.”

  Casper’s face turned bright red and for a second Carson worried his brother was about to have a stroke. “She’s pregnant?”

  “So it seems. She swears you’re the only man she’s ever been with.”

  “She says she was a virgin, but I don’t see how that could be. She’s one of those women who’ll do anything in bed. And I mean anything. She had to learn that kinky shit someplace.”

  “How long have you been dating her?”

  “I never dated her,” Casper shot back.

  “Fine. How long have you have been proddin’ her?”

  “I met her five months ago. But I ain’t been with her for over a month and a half.”

  “You just fucked her when you felt like it and walked away?”

  Casper glared. “I wouldn’t be the first man to take what was offered.”

  “You’ll be the last man when it comes to her.”

  “What are you talkin’ about?”

  “You’re doin’ the right thing for once in your life and marryin’ her.” He looked at Cal. “Seems you’re the only one who has
n’t impregnated a woman, so let that be a lesson to you to keep your goddamned pants zipped.”

  Carson shot Charlie a questioning look and Charlie seemed equally confused.

  But Casper interrupted before Charlie could speak. “You can’t make me marry her.”

  “Yes, I can. You will take her as your wife or you’re out.”

  “Out. Out of what? Out of favor?” He aimed his glower at Carson. “Too fuckin’ late for that.”

  “I’ll kick you out of the house. You’re off the ranch and on your own. Since I own your truck, pay your wages and you’ve been livin’ in my house your whole life, you got a lot to lose by thinkin’ you can get around this. I’m done putting up with your laziness and lies. It’s time you own up to your responsibilities, Casper.”

  “So I’m bein’ punished.”

  Yeah, some punishment. By being a fuck up you’re giving him a house and land of his own? Maybe I oughta fuck up.

  “Since you’ll soon have a wife and a child, you’re movin’ down to the Ingalls place. Charlie will eventually live down that way too, but for now he’ll be makin’ the drive every day from here.”

  Charlie stood. “This is bullshit. What’d I do? Nothin’. Now you’re sendin’ me thirty miles away?”

  “Like I told Casper. Your options are to do what you’re expected to or you’re out.”

  “Yeah, yeah, I get you’ve got the biggest set of balls in the McKay family. But I also know why Casper is such a big prick. He gets it from you.” Charlie left.

  Carson’s eyes met Cal’s. Charlie had been in a funk since his jailbait girlfriend had suddenly moved away a few months ago. With the way Charlie talked, they half-expected to show up one morning and find him gone. Their youngest brother was the smartest of the lot. He owned his truck so he did have the means to leave if he so chose.

  “You got anything to add?” their dad asked Cal.

  “Just the same thing that me’n Carson have brought up several times. Dividing the land so we’re each workin’ our own section. The way it sets now it’s not equal pay for equal work.”

  “You just had to get a shot in at me, didn’t you?” Casper demanded. “You act like I don’t do nothin’ around here.”

  “You do about half as much work as Carson, get paid the same and he has a wife and kid to support,” Cal snapped. “That ain’t a shot, that’s the honest truth.”

  “Enough,” their father said. “Only thing that’s changing is Casper is getting married and movin’ out.”

  Carson looked at his son, wearing secondhand clothes, and swallowed his pride. “So this ain’t the time to ask for a pay raise?”

  “Not when I just bought the Ingalls place.”

  “Even if we have a good year?”

  “Depends. A bonus might be in order, but you know any profits pay off existing debt and then what’s left goes in the expansion fund. It’s about the long term and the future.”

  Think before you speak.

  But Carson couldn’t hold it in. “So in the short term, I have three mouths to feed, plus soon a fourth, on the same salary you’re payin’ yourself and your single sons. Think on the fairness of how we’re raising beef for other folks to eat, while your grandkids and the future of this ranch are eatin’ canned beans and powdered milk because that’s the only food I can afford to buy for my family.” He glanced down at Cord. His lip quivered and his blue eyes were enormous with fear. Great. Now he’d scared his son. He picked the boy up and nuzzled his cheek. “It’s okay. Let’s go home to Mama.”

  Carson had made it to his truck when he heard Cal say, “Wait up.”

  He opened the passenger door and set Cord on the seat. “Stay down, okay?”


  Then he faced his twin. “What?”

  “Is it really that rough for you and Carolyn?”

  He felt his cheeks heat and he looked away. “Yeah.”

  “Dammit, Carse, why didn’t you say something?”

  “Because it’s embarrassing. I put off askin’ him and now I see I shoulda kept my mouth shut. Jesus. I hate that I damn near begged for a few extra bucks and he didn’t even consider it.” Carson closed his eyes. “Casper fucks up, knocks up a chick that he doesn’t even like and he gets a house? I don’t know where Casper gets the idea I’m the favorite child because from where I’m sittin’ in my cramped trailer? He is.”

  “I’ll give you some of my salary if it helps. I just spend the extra on stupid shit anyway.”

  Between his frustration and his brother’s kindness, he might just break down. He took in a deep breath and let it out before he patted Cal on the back. “Thanks. I mean it. But I can’t take your money.”


  “But I will let you buy me a bottle or two of whiskey if you promise to drink it with me when I drown my sorrows about bein’ broke.”

  “That I can do.”

  “Gotta get home and check on my wife.”

  Cord had sacked out by the time Carson pulled up to the trailer. He carried the boy inside and placed him in the crib—boots and all.

  Carolyn was stretched out on the bed in their room, a washrag over her eyes, a package of saltines on the dresser next to a Coke.

  He perched on the edge of the bed. “Hey, sugar. How you feelin’?”

  “A little less like dog poop than I did when you left.”

  “Sorry. What can I do?”

  She lowered the cloth from her eyes. “Where’s Cord?”

  “Sleepin’ off a drunk on the tractor. That boy needs to learn how to hold his whiskey.”


  “He crashed.” Carson slipped off his boots and crawled up next to her. “C’mere. I need to hold you.” He tucked her under his arm and she rested the side of her face on his chest. He closed his eyes and breathed her in. Within a few minutes the world of the McKay ranch faded. She gave that to him. Calmness. Softness. She was the one thing in the world that was completely his.

  “Carson, sweetheart, what’s wrong?”

  Money is tight, my father is a controlling ass, I’m pissed off at Casper, money is tight, I’m worried about you with this pregnancy and have I mentioned money is tight?

  But he couldn’t—wouldn’t—add extra stress on her. He’d sworn to her on the day they married he’d spend his life making her happy, and taking care of her, so he’d keep his worries to himself.

  “Nothin’. Everything is as it should be when we’re together like this.”

  “I agree. But you’re not telling me everything. So start talking, cowboy.”

  Where to start? “Looks like you’ll be getting a sister-in-law in the next couple weeks. I’d say she’s lucky since she’ll be movin’ into a real house down on the new south section of the McKay Ranch and not a shithole trailer, but the fact of it is, she’ll still be married to my asshole brother Casper no matter where they live, so maybe she ain’t as lucky as she seems. I just wish…”

  Carolyn sat up.

  Carson kept his eyes closed. Then he felt her straddling him and her hands landed on his chest.

  “You wish what? That I hadn’t gotten pregnant again?”

  His eyes flew open and he put a protective hand over her belly. “God no. I love that we’re adding to our family.”

  “You wish we were moving to that ranch house you showed me? Because to be honest? I’m happy we’re staying here. This is our home. It’s small but it’s ours. I love my garden spot. I can drop Cord off at Agnes’s place whenever I have work to finish for Maxine.”

  “I wish I was makin’ enough money that you didn’t have to take those jobs. It feels like I’m failing to support you and our family.”

  She slammed her hands down by his head on the mattress so they were eye to eye. “It falls on both of us to provide for our family. I won’t watch you kill yourself while I’m sitting here twiddling my thumbs whenever Cord naps. Doing piece work keeps me sane, keeps my skills fresh. I imagine things will get busier with a new bab
y, but I don’t ever want to hear you say you don’t support this family. You love me. You love our son. You work hard. You make me happy. If that’s not support I don’t
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