Cowboy take me away, p.37
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       Cowboy Take Me Away, p.37

         Part #16 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 

  your kids are being dickheads, huh?”

  “I get why they’re pissed off but it ain’t gonna make me change my mind.”

  “Hudson, Ellison and McKenna are all healthy little pigs. Colt told me to make sure to tell you that I wasn’t carrying germs to you.”

  “I appreciate it. How is Colt?”

  “Worried sick about his mother. And you. He’s cut himself off from his brothers and Keely. I take that back—he talks to Carter because they’re the only ones who aren’t assholes.”

  “Tell Colt I appreciate it.”

  “The reason he hasn’t come by isn’t because he’s following Cord’s stupid edict of ‘all of us or none of us’ but because he’s hurting, Carson. He’s hurting real bad. He’s always seen you and Carolyn as invincible. This is the second time in the last four months that he’s had to face that you’re not. He… Never mind.”

  Something else was going on that caused Indy such distress. Carson set his uneaten candy aside and leaned forward. “Tell me what’s worryin’ you.”

  “It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen Colt this close to…wanting to take a drink.”

  His stomach dropped. “Has he touched the stuff?”

  India looked him in the eye. “No. He’s talking to me, which is good. He’s going to AA meetings every day and talking to his sponsor, which is even better.”

  “I am so fuckin’ relieved to hear that.”

  “I know. Most people probably wouldn’t have dumped that extra worry on you when there’s so much weighing on your mind right now, but I’m not one to pretend stuff is sparkly fucking rainbows when it isn’t.”

  “Which is one of my favorite things about you, Indy darlin’. So how is Colton coping if he ain’t hitting the bottle?”

  “He’d like to beat the fuck outta someone. Kane even offered to mix it up with him, but wisely Colt declined. So he’s chopping wood. Lots and lots of wood.” She smirked. “And that gets him a better coping mechanism because seeing that sexy man with his shirt off, muscles dripping sweat, does it for me every damn time.” She laughed. “TMI, I’m sure.”

  “Funny thing? Carolyn used to say the same thing about me.” He grinned. “TMI, I’m sure.”

  “Touché, old man.”

  “Now tell me about my grandkids.”

  India groaned. “Pigs in clothing, that’s what the three of them are. I should start calling them the three little devil pigs. I do not understand how they can make such a huge freakin’ mess in such a short amount of time. I about fell on my ass this morning because they’d left markers all over the floor. I stepped on a huge ball of paste they’d just dropped on the carpet. Then I looked around and thought, where the hell was I when the bomb dropped? My house is destroyed. As easy as it’d be to say the place becomes a pigsty when Colt is home with them, that’s not even close to the truth. The kids aren’t ever left unattended and we’re both at our wit’s end on how to deal with it.”

  “If I had a nickel for every time Caro said the same thing to me? I could’ve hired a maid for her a long damn time ago.” Carson cracked open his soda. “Darlin’, no offense, but Hudson is old enough to know better. He’s the ringleader, ain’t he?”

  “Yep.”

  “Over the years the kids were growin’ up, I came home a coupla times and found my lovely, calm wife threatening to buy herself a bullwhip to use on her sons.”

  “Did Carolyn spank them?”

  “Neither of us did unless the kid did something life threatening, but that was only when they were little. Spanking never had any effect.” He chuckled. “One time when Cord was probably nine or so, he decided to build a mud wrasslin’ pit out past the barn in a shallow spot where water collected. Evidently he and Colby and Colt were havin’ a big old time out there, mucking around like pigs in…” He paused. “Anyway, they came strolling up to the house, near dark, clothes covered in mud, acting like it was no big deal. Carolyn was very pregnant with Carter at the time, and Cam was two. She’d hit the end of her rope. She lined them up on the sidewalk and sprayed them down with the hose. And by that time of day it’d started to get cold.”

  “Go on, I’m taking notes.”

  “After she’d hosed them down, she made them strip to their underwear and sprayed them down again, warning them to stay outside until they dried off, because if she found even one speck of mud anywhere in her house, she’d drag them back outside by their ears and spray them again—but they’d be buck-assed nekkid.”

  India grinned. “She find any mud?”

  “Nope. What I’m tryin’ to say is she had patience with the fact they were messy boys—up to a point. She knew we’d be pickin’ up after them, that goes along with havin’ kids. But if the messes were extreme or frequent, the kids had consequences. Sounds to me like a little hosing down might do your hellions some good—figuratively speakin’, of course.”

  “You’re right. I’ll mention the mud pit wrestling incident to spark Colt’s memory.”

  Carson asked about India’s Ink—her tattoo shop—and they chatted for another ten minutes or so. But as always, Carson kept an eye on the clock as his time with Carolyn crept near.

  “I probably better go home and check if the boys roped and tied up the dining room chairs with the vacuum cleaner cord again. Or if McKenna tried to flush something else down the toilet since her attempt at flushing her blanket failed last week.” She threw up her hands. “What is girls’ obsession with that? I remember Eliza doing the same damn thing.”

  “No matter what anyone tells you? Girls ain’t easier than boys.”

  India reached in her purse. “I did bring something for you. It might be a little stupid and corny, so don’t laugh, okay?”

  “Never, darlin’.”

  She handed over a small cloth envelope. “It’s a sachet I made using Carolyn’s favorite scent from Sky Blue. I thought you could…I don’t know, put it in your pillow out here or something. Maybe if it smells like her you’ll sleep better.”

  Carson was too choked up to say anything when the sweet scent of his wife filled his lungs.

  “Sorry, stupid idea, I’ll just go now.”

  He clamped his hand on India’s knee. “You are just a sentimental little angel under all them devil tattoos, ain’t ya?” He looked up at her and didn’t bother hiding the moisture in his eyes. “It’s perfect, Indy. Thank you.”

  “You’re welcome.” She squeezed his hand. “I do ask that you don’t ever show it to Carolyn, master seamstress, because my sewing skills leave a lot to be desired.”

  “You got it.” He kept hold of her hand, not knowing how to even ask her what he needed to.

  “Carson? What is it?”

  He sucked in a big breath and slowly let it out. “They shaved Carolyn’s head, all the way to the top of her scalp except for the very front. She’ll need a scarf or something to hide it when she comes out of the coma because she won’t want anyone to see her like that. I went home today and just grabbed a bunch of stuff, not knowin’ what I should bring her. Since you’re good with hair and accessories stuff, I know she’d trust you to help her, and not fall into a blubbering wreck like Kimi and Keely would if I asked them.”

  “I’d be honored to help her.” She firmed her quivering chin. “Bet she never thought she’d be so tight with a foul-mouthed tattoo artist after that first time she called me out on not being the appropriate woman for her precious son.”

  “Don’t kid yourself for a second she didn’t love how fast you rallied to Colton’s defense and bitch-slapped her down to reality—her words, not mine.”

  “I’m just glad you both see Colt as the amazing man he is now, and not the fuck up he’d been. It means a lot to both of us.” India pushed to her feet. “Take care of yourself, old man. Give our love to your better half. And for god’s sake, eat something more than just candy bars for supper, will ya?”

  “No promises.”

  Carson dusted the Snickers and used the facilities. By the time he
returned to the waiting room, the nurse was ready for him.

  Inside the room, he parked the rolling stool next to Carolyn’s bed, placing one gloved hand on her forearm and covering her hand with his other.

  “Hey, sugar. I’m sittin’ here beside you. I know you can hear me. I need you to hear me. Come back to me. I need you to know that I’m right here, I ain’t goin’ anywhere.”

  He launched right into his one-sided conversation. “It’s your lucky day. India stopped in. She was goin’ on and on about the new tattoo she designed for you. A gigantic bear, its jaws open and dripping saliva. She thought the image appropriate since you’ve always been a scary mother bear when it comes to your cubs—no matter how old they get. We were thinkin’ she could ink it above your McKay brand. That way you’d have a tat above and below your belly button. And you know how much I love tracin’ that tattoo with my tongue.”

  Sometimes he still couldn’t believe his wife had gotten herself tattooed, between her hipbones right above her mound.

  He laughed. “Okay, sugar, that was a total lie. Indy sends her love, as does Colt. I think she showed up because she needed someone to complain to about her kids bein’ pigs. Devil pigs in clothing, was how she phrased it. I know you felt that way a time or twenty when the boys were growin’ up. I told her about the time you hosed the boys down…”

  As soon as Carolyn heard Carson’s voice she stayed still, soaking up every syllable. It seemed as if she hadn’t heard from him in days, but she knew it might’ve only been hours since she existed in the void of nothingness. The doors to her memories were no longer visible and randomly accessible. That scared her. Those memories were her only hope of staying tethered to the life she had and the world she needed to return to. Now the only time she could access those memories was when Carson spoke of the past.

  She remembered the mud hole incident, but that wasn’t the memory that popped up first…

  Boys.

  Why did she have to give birth to all boys?

  Five rough and tumble McKay boys.

  Why couldn’t she have had a sweet daughter? An angel who didn’t have an aversion to baths, who wouldn’t wrestle in the living room, who wouldn’t constantly shove food in her mouth and five minutes later go looking for more? A little doll she could clothe in frilly dresses and darling hair ribbons. A quiet child.

  But this is what she got.

  Five destructive boys.

  Who had wreaked utter havoc in the house in just four hours.

  Someone had let the dogs in the living room—dogs with muddy feet.

  Then the boys had left their manure-covered boots inside the kitchen door, so now her kitchen reeked like cow poop.

  Dishes covered the counters. The last person who used the milk hadn’t bothered putting it back in the refrigerator.

  Carolyn followed the wreckage to the living room. Dirty socks, comic books, Ag magazines, toys and more pieces of clothing littered the floor. Not to mention wrappers from Halloween candy were everywhere—on the couch and chairs, the coffee and end tables. She even found gum stuck to one of the lamps. In two places.

  Gum!

  The dining room table was piled with book bags, textbooks, crayons, coloring books, glue sticks, school projects and papers thrown haphazardly on the floor, on the chairs and on the sideboard.

  With her blood pressure rising, she headed down the hallway and poked her head in the small bathroom. The toilet lid was up; it looked as if someone had sprayed the toilet, the walls and the floor with urine—oh, and then had forgotten to flush the toilet. The sink was covered in grimy soap scum and the bar of Lava was on the floor. She glanced in the mirror—not that she could see herself clearly because someone had smeared soap everywhere.

  That did it.

  She’d been gone since one o’clock this afternoon to work the election polls. This was how her sons reacted to being unattended in the house…for just a few hours? She shuddered to think what she would’ve found if she’d left them alone all day.

  Enough.

  She stormed out of the house and found her five little pigs between the machine shed and the barn, on the old barrel they’d rigged up for Colby’s bull riding practice.

  “Cord, Colby, Colton, Cameron and Carter McKay, get your butts up on the porch pronto!”

  When they weren’t moving fast enough to suit her, she barked, “Now! Or so help me God I will get a switch and use it on each one of you!”

  Even after they were lined up on the sidewalk, the five of them were screwing around, pushing each other and shoving. Cam was trying to bench press Carter over his head.

  “You will stand there like statues and listen to every word I say. Is that understood?”

  Mumbles.

  “I said, do you understand?”

  “Yes, Ma.”

  Carolyn glared at each boy in turn, from her oldest to her youngest. None met her gaze.

  “My job is taking care of my family. It’s a job I take great pride in. Raising good boys, making our house a happy place to live and to come home to.” She paused. “Do you think I was happy to come home today and find that god-awful mess? It looks like I’m raising bears in that house, not boys. Bears! But I could forgive bears, because they are animals and do not know any better. But you boys are not wild animals and every one of you knows better. I will not let you disrespect what I do every day. I work just as hard as your father and you’d never do to him what you did to me. What do you think would happen if you just went into the barn and took his tack and threw it all over the place?”

  They looked at each other warily but were smart enough not to speak.

  “So why is it all right to destroy the inside of my house in four hours? Just because I’m not here to tell you not to? The don’t-be-pigs rule is the same regardless of whether I’m here or not! Did you assume I’d clean it up like I’m the hired help? Or do you think because you’re boys that you can just leave all the inside dirty work to women? I don’t appreciate…” She began to melt down.

  Just as Carson started up the driveway.

  Carolyn hastily wiped her tears. This wasn’t something she wanted him to see. Or deal with because he ended up meting out the boys’ discipline most of the time.

  “Ma. We’re really, really, really sorry and we’ll clean up our messes and do everything you want and it’ll never ever ever happen again; just don’t tell Dad,” Colby said in a rush.

  “Yeah, Ma, please don’t tell him,” Cord added. “We’ll go in and fix it and we’ll be really fast.”

  Colt was totally panicked. “We’ll be grounded until next summer if Dad sees you cryin’ ’cause he’ll know it’s our fault.”

  “Dad said any time we made you cry he’d whip our butts,” Cam added. “He’ll probably even take away Christmas!”

  Three-and-a-half-year-old Carter didn’t really know what was going on—not that he was innocent on the mess-making front, but he let out a horrified, “No Santa?”

  Cam whispered something in his ear that had Carter blurting out, “Sorry, Mama.”

  She let them sweat it out until Carson parked. “Okay. You’ve got one chance. I want every bit of the mess gone, including the muddy dog prints, including the disgusting bathroom, including the barn boots that somehow ended up in my kitchen. You will work together, you will get it done in two hours, and then you will tuck yourselves in bed without any supper. Got it?”

  “Yes, Ma, thanks, we’re so sorry—”

  Carolyn pointed at the house. “Get. Moving.”

  Their shoes left tread marks on the concrete they left so fast.

  Carson meandered up to the house. Lord, she loved her husband’s ambling walk; it allowed her plenty of time to check him out. Dressed in his new Wranglers and a white button-up shirt with subtle stripes of navy and gray, wearing a gray wool vest, his black hat and black boots, he was a man who turned heads—especially hers, since he was every bit as handsome and sexy as the day they’d married.

  He kiss
ed her first, like he always did. When he pulled away to ask questions, she pulled him back to deepen the kiss. Which only stalled him for so long.

  Those blue eyes were mighty skeptical. “What’s goin’ on with the boys?”

  “Nothing. I was giving them last-minute instructions.”

  “On what? ’Cause from where I was sittin’ it looked like you were givin’ them what-for.”

  Carolyn looped her arm around his waist, directing him toward his truck. “I told them since I’d dressed up to work the election, and you were in your cattleman finery after spending the day at the St. Onge sale barn, that you were taking me out for supper.”

  “That right?”

  “Do you have a problem with that?”

  “None whatsoever. Where you thinkin’?”

  “Twin Pines.” They had notoriously slow service, which just might save her boys behinds and give her a chance to cool down.

  “Why there?”

  “Maybe I wanted to dance with you. It’s been a while.”

  “That it has.” Carson helped her into his truck. On the way to the supper club he held her hand as they talked about their days.

  As always, living in a small town they ran into several people they knew at Twin Pines. In the last decade the McKay Ranch had become a very successful cattle operation and Carson’s advice was sought after. As for Carson’s claim people had long memories around here, none ever brought up his wild drinking and fighting days.

  The food was good. Carson teased her about choosing linguine with shrimp for her meal, but it was definitely something she didn’t cook at
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