Branded as trouble, p.40
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       Branded as Trouble, p.40

         Part #6 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 
Page 40

 

  Yeah, he remembered her all right. The redhead. He dialed her number. “Ginger? It’s Colt McKay. What can I do for you?” He waited while she explained. A big grin broke out when she finished.

  “Sure I can meet you. Tomorrow night? At Dewey’s? It’s a date. ”

  Chapter Twenty-one

  The bell on the front door clanked.

  India threw her sketchbook on the counter and stretched. Talk about a slow day. She slapped on a smile and entered the main part of the store, which showcased the Sky Blue product line.

  “Good morning. Something I can help you with?”

  The woman turned around. Carolyn McKay.

  India tried not to let her smile slip. She’d known Carolyn for a few years, in a professional capacity, as India the saleswoman who tempted Carolyn with new Sky Blue products. Was she supposed to act differently now that she was dating Colt?

  “Hi Carolyn. How are you?”

  “Fine. And you?”

  I’m dragging ass because your son fucked me senseless and we didn’t use protection, so I could very well be pregnant with your grandchild.

  Not a good answer. TMI, as Keely would say. “I’m good. You looking for something in particular? I’m afraid the lavender and sage hand lotion is backordered until next month. ”

  “Thanks for letting me know. But that’s not why I’m here. ”

  “Oh?” Brilliant response, India, maybe you oughta be totally stupid and her if she’s here for a tattoo.

  “Did you have a good time at our house Sunday night?”

  “Yes. The food was wonderful. Colt has always told me what a great cook you are. ”

  Carolyn beamed. “Really? Sometimes I wonder if any of my family pays attention to what they’re eating. It’s good to hear my efforts are appreciated. ” She paused. “Do you cook?”

  “God no. Seems pointless for one. I tend to go for fast and easy. ” That hadn’t come out right.

  A knowing look entered Carolyn’s eyes. “I see. My niece Chassie tells me Colt is a good cook, not that he’s invited his father and me over for dinner. ”

  Colt’s choice of dinner guests was not India’s issue. “He is a great cook. ”

  “He’s cooked for you?”

  Crap. She’d fallen right into that one. “Yes. Since I can’t crack an egg, I have to reciprocate in other creative ways. ” Ooh. And didn’t that sound totally suggestive?

  “I’m sure. ”

  “That’s not what I meant—”

  “And it’s not important. Anyway, I was surprised to hear you were dating my son. Aren’t there…rules against that sort of thing?”

  India frowned. “Rules?”

  “A. A. rules. About a sponsor not becoming intimately involved with a sponsoree. ”

  Carolyn was fishing. The relationship between the sponsor and sponsoree wasn’t spelled out on purpose, according to the A. A. guidelines. If she’d done any sort of research—and India would bet money Carolyn McKay had read up on A. A—she’d know that.

  What Carolyn wanted was confirmation India was now—or had been—Colt’s sponsor. India wouldn’t betray that confidence, especially since early on Colt demanded everything about his A. A. life be kept from his family, as was his right.

  India said, “With all due respect, Carolyn, I’m sure you understand I’m not at liberty to discuss A. A. business with you. ”

  “Oh sure. I just wondered. I worry. ”

  “You worry about Colt? Or about me dating Colt?”

  “Both, I guess. ”

  At least she hadn’t lied. “Why?”

  “Can I be honest with you? You look like a straight shooter. ”

  India took it to mean she looked low-class and acted crass. “By all means. ”

  “My worry is that Colt has come to rely on you too much. ”

  “Too much?”

  “At first it was understandable, he needed the support of others who’d been through the same types of…things. But it’s been a couple of years. Isn’t time he weans himself from A. A. ?”

  Weans himself? Jesus. Was this woman for real? Did she understand anything about what an addict goes through every damn day? “Recovery is a lifelong process. It doesn’t have a shelf life. Or a convenient timeframe. And the level of involvement in the A. A. program is just as individual as the journey it took to get there. We don’t demand or command members. Participation is strictly voluntary. ”

  “I realize that. I’m not talking only about A. A. I’m talking about you. ”

  “What about me?”

  “Do you realize Colt’s pulled away from his family almost completely in the time he’s been with you?”

  “I hate to argue with you on the family issue, but that’s not true. Colt spends lots of time with Cam. And with Kade, Skylar and the girls. He helps Buck out. I know for a fact he, Chassie, Trevor and Edgard have breakfast together most Sunday mornings. ”

  That didn’t placate Carolyn. In fact, it seemed to distress her even more. “Which is all good and well, but Colt doesn’t come over to our house for Sunday brunch or supper. He doesn’t have much to do with Cord or Colby or their families unless I organize it. He and Carter used to be close, but not now. Can you explain that away as easily?”

  “Carter lives in Canyon River. Maybe because Colt works with his brothers almost every day, he needs a break in his off ranch hours?”

  Carolyn’s owl-eyed expression said India was clueless. “A break? There are no ‘breaks’ in ranching. For any of us. Especially in such a large-scale operation as the McKay Ranch. Especially in a family business. And him needing a break from his family is just plain ridiculous. ”

  “Maybe it’d be healthier if you did take an occasional break from one another. God knows Skylar and I get along better when she’s not in my face all the time. ”

  “You might be that way, India, but Colt isn’t. He never has been until he met you. I know my son. ”

  “No, Carolyn, that’s the crux of your problem. I don’t think you know Colt at all,” she said softly.

  “And you do? Since you’ve come into his life he’s built a house in the boondocks. He doesn’t go to dances or to church. He never goes anyplace where he might meet a decent woman to settle down with now that he’s cleaned up his act. ”

  Decent woman. Evidently a woman who loved her son body and soul, who accepted him as he was, who believed Colt McKay was the most loving, most sincere, most thoughtful, most wonderful man she’d ever known…didn’t qualify as a decent woman.

  Oh. That stung. Big time.

  Don’t cry. Don’t you give this woman a reason to offer you false comfort.

  Yet, even as she was bleeding inside, India knew Carolyn wasn’t being malicious. Only acting on a mother’s concern, as misguided, misinformed as that concern might be.

  “Look, India. That might’ve come off sounding a little harsh. I like you. I always have. I just want you to understand not to take it personally when Colt—”

  “What? Moves on? Decides he’d prefer a sturdy, native Wyoming ranch woman to a tattooed, pierced freakshow like me?”

  India leaned across the counter. “That way of thinking is exactly why he’s distanced himself from your family. None of you know him anymore, nor have you taken the time to get to know him. And that is just plain sad. ”

  “How are we supposed to get to know him if he’s with you all the time?”

  “Who Colt chooses to spend his time with is his business. Is that what this is about? He’s choosing me over you?”

  A startled look darted across Carolyn’s face. Her eyes teared up.

  “But the thing is, he’s not always choosing me. He has a life you don’t even know about. A life that has nothing to do with the ranch. ”

  Carolyn’s mouth opened to protest. India stopped it with a wave of her hand.

  “Did you know Colt plays in a charity ba
sketball tournament a couple times a year? Did any of you bother going to cheer him on?

  No. Did you know he takes boys in the Little Buddies program horseback riding on his land? So he can talk to them one on one about staying away from drugs and alcohol? No. And he did go to a dance, a community dance. For charity. Were any of the McKays, besides Colt and Buck—”

  “Are you talking about the dance Colt brought a date to? A nice girl who he embarrassed when he was found in a janitor’s closet with…you? Trust me, we heard all about that one. Just like we’ve heard about all the rest of his sexual escapades for the last twenty years. ”

  India felt all the blood drain from her face.

  Carolyn’s eyes went wide as if she were surprised she’d spoken out loud. “I’m sorry, that didn’t come out right. I’m just frustrated.

  None of my boys are talking to each other or to me. And I thought…”

  “If you warned me to stay away from Colt it might fix your family problems?”

  “Heavens no. I’m warning you to expect that type of response and attitude from people around here, who always expect the worst from the wild McKays. I’m afraid there’s more than a little trouble that’ll come your way if you are involved with my son. ”

  “I welcome it. ” She pushed back from the counter. “If you’ll excuse me, Mrs. McKay, I have a tattoo customer scheduled that I need to get ready for. ”

  India spun on her heel and managed to walk to the backroom with dignity she didn’t feel.

  ***

  A whispered voice pierced the silence and darkness.

  “You ready?”

  “Ready for what? What’s happening?”

  “You know. ”

  “No, I don’t. What’s going on? Where am I? Indy? Is this some kind of sex game, sugar? Because I can’t see it to enjoy it. ”

  A slice of awareness glimmered on the edges of his subconscious.

 
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