Cowboy take me away, p.32
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       Cowboy Take Me Away, p.32

         Part #16 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 

  “Mama.”

  Carolyn turned from the stove. She adjusted Colby on her hip and looked at Cord, playing with his barnyard animal set on the living room floor. “Whatcha need, sweetheart?”

  “When’s Daddy comin’ home?”

  Good question. As it was well past dark the man should’ve been home two hours ago. “I don’t know. Maybe something came up.” Lying to herself was one thing, but she didn’t want to lie to her son about why Daddy preferred to spend his evenings elsewhere.

  Carson McKay, you are in for it when you stumble your drunken self home.

  During the slow season, her husband spent a few evenings a week in town. Having a few drinks and laughs with other ranchers, guys he’d known all his life. Carolyn didn’t begrudge him that time. The man worked hard throughout the year and deserved to kick back.

  But in the past, he’d always gone out with Cal. Since Kimi was seven months pregnant with twins, Cal went straight home to his wife every night.

  Remember when Carson used to do that?

  Yes. Even after Cord had been born he’d rather be home with them than chugging beer with his buddies, even for one night.

  When had that changed?

  During her second pregnancy. After his fight with his father.

  Caring for Cord all day and the constant nausea and tiredness with baby number two had given her less energy for her husband. Carson’s weekly trip to the Silver Spur had changed into twice a week.

  Then after Colby’s birth, in addition to taking care of a two-year-old and a baby, she tended their enormous garden, took on sewing projects for Maxine, and with Agnes’s encouragement, she’d become involved with Ladies Circle at St. Ignatius.

  So the fact Carson could entertain himself seemed like a blessing. Then last year after Kimi returned to Wyoming, had a whirlwind affair with Cal, ended up pregnant and married and practically living next door, she spent her free time with her sister. Carson didn’t seem to mind, and even if he had she would’ve happily pointed out all the time he spent outside ranch work with his brothers.

  But it hadn’t come up.

  They’d been married seven years. They had a five-year-old, a three-year-old and—she placed her hand over her belly—another one on the way. Something she hadn’t told her husband because he hadn’t been around lately.

  The sound of stomping boots brought her out of her woolgathering. She glanced over to see Cord reaching for the door handle.

  “Whoa there, little buckaroo. What’s the rule?”

  “Don’t go outta the house without askin’.”

  “Right. So what are you doing?”

  Cord’s sweet face formed a scowl. “Mama, I asked if I could go lookin’ for Daddy and you didn’t say nothin’.”

  “Because I didn’t say no you figured that meant yes?”

  He nodded.

  She’d have to be much more literal with her boys from here on out. “Sweetie, your daddy isn’t close by.”

  “Why not? Where is he?”

  “I’ll call Uncle Cal and see if I can’t find out.” She kissed Colby’s forehead. “Play with your brother.”

  Another scowl.

  Just as she reached for the phone to call Kimi, it rang. Sometimes it was uncanny how much she and her sister had the same train of thought. “McKays.”

  “Carolyn. It’s Francine. How are you?”

  Not her sister, but the head of the Ladies Circle, calling to discuss the care packages they’d been assembling for missionary purposes. “I’m fine, Francine. How are you?”

  A pause. “I’m doing well, thanks for asking. And I have…something that I need to discuss with you.”

  She knew they needed another coordinator for catechism class, but she really couldn’t add another thing to her duties. “I’d be happy to talk about it next week after the meeting; right now—”

  “Carolyn, dear, this has nothing to do with your volunteering at the church. This is personal. And I feel the need to preface this by saying I’m not telling you this out of malice or spite. This isn’t some two-bit gossip I’m passing along thirdhand. This is something I witnessed myself, just last night.”

  “What?”

  “I saw your husband with another woman.”

  Her lungs and her vocal chords seized up, but somehow she managed to squeak out, “Where?”

  “We had supper at the Silver Spur. I had to use the facilities and when I passed the back room, I saw Carson.” A pause. “With some woman.”

  “Who?”

  “To be completely honest, I’m not sure who the woman was. It was dark back there. And they were…” She cleared her throat. “Cozied up together is the simplest way to put it.”

  Carolyn half sat/half fell onto a kitchen chair. “You’re sure it was Carson?”

  “I wouldn’t be calling you if I wasn’t sure. I wrestled with telling you, but I thought you’d want to know. I know I would if it were me.”

  Her head spun. Carson. Her Carson. The man who claimed to love her more than anything, the man who swore he’d spend his life making her happy…was cheating on her?

  The bottom fell out of her world.

  Francine said, “I haven’t told another soul. Trust me, I won’t. I hope it’s a misunderstanding and I saw the situation out of context.”

  “I hope so too, Francine.”

  “If you need anything, anything,” she stressed, “please call me.”

  “I will. And thank you for your honesty and your discretion. I’ll get to the bottom of it right away.”

  “Blessings to you dear, you’re in my prayers.”

  As soon as Carolyn hung up, the sick feeling that’d taken root grew ugly, thorny stems and began to spread. She folded her arms on the kitchen table and laid down her head, squeezing her eyes shut against a flood of tears.

  Had her attention to the boys, and her sister, and her other responsibilities driven him into another woman’s arms?

  She scrolled back the past week or so, trying to remember if Carson had acted weird. Or guilty.

  He’d been freshly showered when he came to bed last night.

  To wash off the scent of another woman’s perfume?

  She’d chalked up his distance to him being tired and stressed about money.

  You’re making excuses for him.

  No. But she hadn’t been much of a wife to him lately either.

  And how is that? You cook for him, you wash his clothes, clean his house and raise his children.

  What about sexually? She hadn’t seen to his needs—or he to hers in the past month.

  Because he’s getting what he needs from someone else.

  A sort of red rage began to build in her, supplanting the feeling of desolation.

  How dare he. She would not be cast aside. She was more to him than a cook, maid and babysitter. How long had it been since he’d acted like she mattered? When had she accepted that an occasional glimpse of the loving man she’d married was better than none?

  She couldn’t even remember the last time they’d had a conversation that didn’t involve ranch work or kids. She couldn’t remember the last time he’d done something sweet or thoughtful for her.

  But you’ve done plenty of sweet and thoughtful things for him.

  A little finger poked her in the side. She lifted her head and looked into Cord’s enormous blue eyes. Serious eyes. Eyes like his father’s. Love for this child swamped her and she hugged him tightly. He reached up, wreathing his arms around her neck and she rubbed her cheek against the baby-smooth softness of his skin.

  “Me too!” Colby shouted and tried to worm his way between them.

  Cord whispered, “Mama, why you sad?”

  She leaned back. “How could I ever be sad when I have such wonderful boys to make me smile?”

  Colby scooted under her arm and rested his head above her breast with a sigh.

  “I have an idea. How would you guys like to spend the night with Aunt Kimi and Uncle Cal? Then tomorrow after
I pick you up we’ll get ice cream.”

  That brought a sweet smile to Cord’s face. “With marshmallows?”

  “And a cherry on top.” She kissed Colby’s dark head. “Let’s get jammies and your toothbrushes.”

  “And Bully,” Colby said.

  Her son loved the stuffed bull Carson had won for him at the fair last year. “Wouldn’t dream of leaving Bully behind.”

  The boys tore off and Carolyn dialed her sister’s number. Before Kimi even said hello, Carolyn said, “I need you to watch the boys tonight. That’s all I can say right now.”

  But it wasn’t Kimi on the line. Cal said, “No problem.” A pause. “Is this about Carson?”

  “Yes.”

  “Ah hell, Caro. Do you know what you’re doin’?”

  Did Cal know about Carson’s recent activities at the Silver Spur? Did Kimi know that Carson might be stepping out on her? How long had it been going on? Was she the last to know and the laughingstock of the town? Sweet, obedient Carolyn McKay sitting at home popping out kids while Carson McKay ran wild and made her look like a fool? “Why didn’t you tell me?”

  “Because I don’t know what’s goin’ on with him either, so don’t assume nothin’, okay? Carson has been a real jackass to me the last two months. If we ain’t directly workin’ with each other, then I avoid him ’cause I don’t like the way he’s been actin’. I’m glad you’re callin’ him on his shit.”

  This was why she loved Cal. He was loyal to his brother, while not willing to kiss his ass or overlook his faults. “Thanks. I’ll drop the boys off in ten minutes.”

  After she returned home it took forty-five minutes to get ready. But she wasn’t certain if dolling herself up would even matter. One last swipe with the eyeliner and another coat of siren red lipstick and she studied her reflection. Not a trace of frumpy housewife stared back at her. In fact, she looked so different in these clothes and heavy makeup she wondered if Carson would recognize her. She wondered why she didn’t put more effort into looking like this all the time.

  Turning sideways she only noticed a slight swell in her abdomen. When pregnant with Cord and Colby she hadn’t started showing until five months.

  Too bad she couldn’t knock back a shot of whiskey to calm her nerves. She slipped off her wedding rings and headed to the car.

  The Silver Spur had a decent amount of cars in the parking lot for a Thursday night. Carson’s rig was parked up front. As if he’d been there a while.

  Her heart raced as she sauntered in, but she held her head high. The normal buzz of anticipation filled the smoky air as the band tuned up. She hadn’t been in here in ages and scored a spot at the end of the bar, within view of the back room. Standing on tiptoe, she saw a hatted head in the last booth, but with the amount of cowboy hats in Wyoming it could be anyone.

  The bartender stopped in front of her. “What can I get you tonight, beautiful?”

  “How about a whiskey Coke—hold the whiskey.”

  He grinned. “Comin’ right up.”

  Carolyn didn’t study the people to see if she’d recognize anyone. She leaned an elbow on the bar and checked out the space, as if it was the first time she’d been in.

  “Here’s your drink, darlin’.”

  She tried to pay him but he waved her money off. “You’re doin’ me a favor by classing this place up.”

  Two minutes later the first guy approached her. “You new to town?” he asked. “Because I haven’t seen you in here before.”

  “You sure?”

  “I’da remembered a fox like you.”

  She smiled. “You spend much time at the Spur?”

  “More than I should, probably.” He sipped his beer. “What’s your name, pretty lady?”

  “Sugar,” she lied. “What’s yours?”

  “Tater.”

  “Interesting name. Are you from around here, Tater?”

  “Yep. But I’m on the road a lot.”

  “Oh. Are you a truck driver?”

  “Nope. I’m a rodeo cowboy.”

  Carson’s choice words about the guys who ran the circuit jumped into her head and she affected an awed look—totally fake—not that the guy noticed. “For real? What’s your specialty?”

  “Ropin’.” Then he launched into an explanation of the strategy involved that was complete crap.

  Carolyn saw movement in the back room. Carson stood to let the dark-haired home-wrecker out of his side of the booth.

  The band launched into “Your Cheatin’ Heart”.

  How appropriate.

  Despite the rage boiling her blood, she managed a calm, “Tater, I feel like dancing.” It’d been a couple of years since Carson had taken her out. Since before Colby had been born.

  “Anything you want, darlin’.” He reached for her left hand—it felt weird not only to have her ring finger bare, but to hold another man’s hand besides Carson’s.

  Tater didn’t smash her body to his or let his hands wander. He was all about the dancing, performing all sorts of twists and fancy turns, dips and double twists. By the time they returned to the end of the bar, she was thirsty.

  “Need another?” the bartender asked her.

  “Water would be great.”

  “And a Coors,” Tater said.

  The bartender sent him a dirty look. “You oughten be here tonight, Glanzer. Shouldn’t you be home with your family?”

  “Not your business. Just hurry up with the damn drinks.”

  Okay. That was rude. And what did the bartender mean that Tater should be home with his family? Was he married with kids? Good Lord. Maybe this bar had become the place to openly cheat on your wife. When Carolyn caught him salivating over her cleavage, she fought the urge to cross her arms over her chest.

  The band launched into another tune and couples headed for the dance floor.

  “You’re a good dancer, Sugar.”

  “Thanks. So are you. You have all kinds of moves I’ve never seen.”

  Tater leaned in, his eyes zeroed in on her breasts. “I have more moves than that. I’d love to show you the best ones. Course, those are done horizontally.”

  And…they weren’t talking about dancing. Her cheeks flamed and she looked down. But her gaze landed on his gigantic buckle.

  “Like what you see down there?”

  Her head snapped up.

  He laughed, as if he’d caught her checking out his crotch.

  The bartender slid her drink over and handed Tater a bottle.

  Carolyn was trying to come up with something that’d make Tater leave when someone pushed into her from behind, sending her careening into Tater. The glass crashed to the floor but not before water soaked her front side. It seemed everyone in the bar had turned around to look at them.

  “Damn. Are you all right?”

  She glanced up when Tater brushed droplets from her chest. Why was his other hand gripping her butt cheek? There wasn’t water back there.

  “Get your fucking hand off my wife’s ass right fucking now.”

  Tater released her immediately. “Wife? What the hell is goin’ on here?”

  Carson was right in Tater’s face. “Yes, she’s my wife. Touch her again and I’ll rip your fuckin’ arms out of the sockets. Understand?”

  “Sugar, you shoulda told me you were married. Not that I blame you for bein’ out lookin’ for something better, since this guy is an asshole.”

  “Shut your mouth,” Carson snapped.

  “Or what? You’ll punch me? Bring it, fucker. I ain’t been in a fight for weeks and I’m more than happy to take out that pent-up aggression on you.”

  Carson shoved him.

 
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