Cowboy take me away, p.44
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       Cowboy Take Me Away, p.44

         Part #16 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James

  you’re all about to get your comeuppance and be forced to sell everything.”

  The next thing happened in slow motion.

  Cord stepped forward, hitting Timmons with such force in the sternum that the man dropped back to his knees. Then he clocked him in the ear and the guy was back on the floor, writhing in pain. Cord stood over him, vibrating with rage. “Shut your fuckin’ mouth about my grandpop. You ain’t fit to speak his name. And I can guarantee you the McKays are gonna be around for a long goddamned time, so get used to it.”

  “Out,” the bouncer said to Carson and Carolyn. Then he pointed to Cord. “You ain’t old enough to be in here anyway, pup, so beat it.”

  None of them said a word until they were in the parking lot.

  Cord spoke first. “Dad. It’s not true, is it? That we stand to lose the ranch?”

  “No, son, it’s not true. Your Uncle Casper is tryin’ to pull some shit, but that’s all it is: a big pile of horseshit ’cause he’s got no other play. Makes me sick that my own brother is running his big mouth all over the place because he can. Puts all the McKays in a bad light.”

  “Pissed me off what that guy said about us.”

  “I noticed that,” Carson said dryly.

  “This happened a lot to you, didn’t it? Havin’ to fight when some asshole started talkin’ shit about the McKays.”

  Carson wiped his bloodied mouth on his other sleeve. “It’s still goin’ on. I expect it always will. The bouncer was right about one thing. I’m getting too damn old to fight.”

  “Not from where I was standing.”

  A beat passed and then Carson grinned at Cord. “Your old man’s still got it, eh?”

  “Looks like. Lucky thing you’ve got five sons, one daughter and five nephews to set folks straight on what it means to mess with the McKays.”

  Carolyn frowned. Why hadn’t Cord included Casper’s four sons in that tally?

  Because he sees them as part of the problem, not the solution.

  Those kids couldn’t help their parentage, and they were only little boys. But guaranteed they’d turn out bitter like their father if they didn’t have a better influence. In that moment she knew she’d try to foster a relationship between the cousins—even if she had to fight her husband to make it happen.

  She tuned back in to hear Carson say to Cord, “Nah, we’re good. Your Ma is gonna take care of me, right, sugar?”

  Her eyes met her husband’s. The lust glittering in those blue depths liquefied her bones. As soon as they were alone the man would have her pushed up against the side of his truck pounding into her, or he’d have her bent over the tailgate slamming into her.

  And she couldn’t wait.

  She rested her hand on Carson’s chest. “Let me grab my purse from Cord’s truck and then we’re good to go.”

  Carson didn’t respond, but the sexual heat and urgency rolled off him.

  Carolyn grabbed Cord’s sleeve. “Come on.”

  After she’d shouldered her purse, her oldest son got right in her face. “Ma. Dad is scaring me with the way he’s actin’. There’s a look in his eye I’ve never seen before so I think it’d be better if he rode home with me.”

  Cord was on the cusp of manhood; she suspected he already had experienced the pleasure found in a woman’s body. And even if it might embarrass them both, he needed to understand the full spectrum of the night’s events. “Your father would never hurt me. Fighting revs him up. I know how to handle him and what he needs.”

  His eyes widened and then he blushed. Embarrassed by his blush, he retorted, “I don’t know why I’m standin’ here feelin’ shocked about you and Dad getting…” He shook his head as if to clear the mental image. “It ain’t like the walls upstairs are that thick between the bedrooms. Just drive safe.”

  “I will. Don’t wait up.”

  After she’d become her grieving husband’s refuge, letting him lose himself in the potency of their physical connection, welcoming his body powering into hers, she soothed him, bringing him to the calm after the storm.

  Whether it was the booze or crashing from the post-fight and post-sex adrenaline high, Carson finally opened up about his father’s passing. The man’s tears were rare and that much more heartbreaking when he sobbed in her arms.

  They didn’t return home until the middle of the night.

  Once they were in their bed, Carson reached for her again, almost desperately. He made love to her with such tenderness, with such sweetness, with such devotion, she couldn’t stop the tears from falling even as she shuddered in pleasure beneath him.

  Afterward he kissed her, keeping the physical connection of their bodies. “I love you, Caro. I ain’t an easy man to love. I’m grateful every damn day that you see past what’s on the surface and know the man I am down deep. It’s never scared you—even when it’s scared me. You give me more happiness and love in one day than I ever thought I’d have in a lifetime. Thank you.”

  She’d been married to the man nearly twenty years and he still had the power to surprise her. To move her. To remind her that she, too, was lucky.

  The images turned fuzzy and then disappeared entirely. Then she floated in that gray matter again.

  No! I want to go back. I want to relive what happens next. I have to remember it all!

  But as Carson’s words, “Come back to me. I’m right here. Where I’ve always been, where I’ll always be. I love you. Please. Come back to me,” registered as the end of their time together, the grayness became black, swallowing her completely.

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Hospital, Day 4—early evening

  “Funny, you don’t look like the anti-Christ.”

  Carson jolted awake. God. How long had he been asleep? He squinted at the clock. Only fifteen minutes. Between the flashbacks and the dreams, he had a serious time disconnect.

  “Dammit. I woke you up, didn’t I?”

  “Uh, yeah.” He blinked and tried to orient himself. He looked at his daughter-in-law. “Hey, AJ. Sorry I’m out of it.”

  “Which I expected, given the circumstances. I won’t ask if there’s been any change, because even though you banned everyone from the ICU, you would’ve let someone know.”

  “Of course I would have.” He paused. “They really are painting me out to be the anti-Christ, ain’t they? I didn’t ban them from the ICU waiting room, just the ICU itself.”

  AJ opened her mouth to say something, but then closed it again. “Why don’t you sit over here?”

  “That bad, huh?” he said as he lowered himself into a different chair.

  She moved in behind him, setting her hands on his shoulders. “Just relax and let your head fall forward.”

  “What’re you—”

  “I’m massaging your shoulders and your neck because I can see your tension.”

  “AJ, darlin’, you don’t have to do this.”

  “I know. It’s my way of contributing to your well-being since rumor has it you’ve already gotten plenty of cookies.”

  “Damn, girl, you didn’t bring me cookies? You can just get the hell out of here, right now.”

  She laughed. “No secrets in the McKay family. But in all seriousness, I know my sisters-in-law have been here and have told you we’re on your side in this decision. But I’ll also point out that you passed on the stubborn male McKay gene to your sons, so it is partially your fault. The extreme reaction of them being unwilling to listen to reason is why we’re all so ticked off. They’ve got it in their fool heads that you’re just being petty because you can be. Granted, I didn’t grow up in your household, but I’ve never seen you as that kind of man. Then or now. So they’re just bein’ jerks because they’re scared.”

  He forced himself to breathe slowly and steadily as she dug her thumbs into the back of his neck.

  “Your kids have had some tragedy in their lives, but they’ve not had to deal with the trauma of havin’ a sick parent or losing a parent. I have. Macie has. Channing has. I
ndia has. Domini has. Jack has. And your McKay offspring don’t know the sense of helplessness that comes with that loss. Or the feeling of desolation that eats at you, sitting in the hospital day after day, praying for a miracle. Please don’t take that as we don’t have hope Carolyn pulls out of this. We all do. It’s just we all understand where you’re coming from in having to make hard decisions because we’ve seen similar situations and watched our parents struggle with it.”

  “I suppose you’ve tried to explain that to them?”

  “Tried bein’ the word. I let Cord have his rant and then I calmly pointed out his emotions were overcoming his common sense. That’s when he stopped talking to me.” She started a slow rub on his shoulder blade. “I’d say it’s been quiet around our place, but Cord isn’t the chatterbox in our family anyway.”

  “Speaking of… How is Miss Avery?” Carson asked slyly.

  “Busy. She’s almost got her father convinced to buy her a horse—no pony for her because she’s a real cowgirl.”

  “I don’t have a saddle to pass on to her, since Keely has claimed all her old tack. Not that I think Jack will let Piper get on a horse.”

  “That’s too bad. I say hook them early on the love of horses. That way once they’re older and they love riding above all else, when they need discipline, making them exercise and groom their horse, but not letting them ride it is the best punishment.”

  Carson turned his head to look at her. “Which of your kids is in need of discipline?”

  AJ gently turned his head back where it was. “Will I sound bitter if I say all of them?”

  “I don’t know. What’s goin’ on?”

  “Cord and Ky…I don’t even know where to start with them.” She started kneading harder. “Ky is a good kid. Sometimes he misses curfew, but I’m sure Cord did too at that age.”

  “Hell, that boy missed his curfew more often than he made it home on time.”

  “Seems my husband has conveniently forgotten that fact. It drives Cord crazy that Ky is on his phone all the time.”

  “Afraid I’ve got no experience with that, except the phone calls we got from parents demanding, ‘Do you know what your sons have been up to?’ which wasn’t fun.”

  “That hasn’t happened to us so far. And I don’t want to interfere because I think Cord and Ky oughta figure it out themselves. If that was all that’s been goin’ on, it’d be enough. Except now Foster has decided to be a country singer. Since he got that guitar for Christmas all the kid wants to do is stay in his room and jam. Cord has to get after him to do chores. Then on a day last week when Cord and Ky were especially not fun to be around, Foster convinced Beau to do his chores.”

  “Ain’t Beau a little young to be doin’ anything by himself?”

  AJ worked her way down his spine. “Yes. Which Foster knows, but Beau just wants Foster to pay attention to him, so he’ll do anything he says. Luckily I caught wind of it before Beau took off with the BB gun to kill snakes out in the bull’s pasture. I tracked Cord down and told him to deal with Foster. He turned pissy and asked why disciplining our sons always fell on his shoulders.”

  She’d become aggressive with her massaging. “Uh, AJ, darlin’, you’re getting a mite rough with my saggy old man skin.”

  “Oh. Sorry.” Then she whapped him on the arm. “Saggy old man skin, my behind. I hope Cord’s in as good shape as you are when he’s your age—if I don’t skin him alive first.” She sighed heavily. “Anyway, where was I? Right. Cord passing the buck. I was like…what? You think you handle all the discipline? Bullshit. Who had to deal with Vaughn biting other kids at daycare? Who had to go to the school when Beau stapled Julia Ragland’s dress to the bulletin board while she was still in it? Who had to attend a parent-teacher conference about why Foster’s grades have slipped since he got that damn guitar? Me! All in the last two months of school when my husband was busy doin’ ranch stuff.”

  Carson wondered if he was supposed to offer advice or if this was one of those listen with your mouth shut conversations.

  AJ’s hands stilled. “I just dumped my problems on you without even thinking.”

  “Which is fine, because other people’s worries allow me to forget my own for a little while.”

  “Did you and Carolyn have this problem? Where one person has a different vision of what’s goin’ on than the other?”

  “It was better and worse at different times as the kids were growin’ up. Sounds like Cord is hardest on Ky, whereas I came down hardest on Colt. And look how that ended up. Colt hated me for a while and I didn’t even know it. He was drinkin’ and partyin’ and sleepin’ around to the point he wound up in rehab. I won’t say the similarities are there between Cord and Ky, but I ain’t gonna say it’s not a possibility given the stubborn streak Cord has. I will say that even if Carolyn and I disagreed in private about discipline, we never let it affect our united front.”

  “So far we’ve been able to manage that.”

  “Then you’re already ahead of the curve. What worked best for us was takin’ the discussion outta the house. We went out to dinner where we knew we couldn’t yell at each other.”

  She laughed. “I’ll try that.” She dropped her arms around his neck and squeezed. “Thanks for listening to me blather.”

  “Thank you for the massage.”

  “We all hate this.”

  “I know.”

  “Since no one is home at your place, I’ve been fielding phone calls from your friends. I guess as your oldest son’s wife I’m supposed to be in the know. Got people who want to bring over casseroles and such.”

  “Tell them that their offers of food will come in handy when Carolyn is home recovering.”

  “I will.” AJ moved to stand in front of him. “Carson, is there anything else I can do for you?”

  “Yeah, there is. I watered the garden and the flowers on the porch when I went home…yesterday? Time is a blur in here. So if you have a spare moment or even if Ky’s got time to do it I’d appreciate it. Carolyn wouldn’t be happy if everything turned dead and brown on my watch.”

  “Since you’ve been right here by her side I think she’d probably cut you some slack. But I’ll send Ky over to check.”


  “Take care. I could say this a hundred times and ninety-nine times you wouldn’t take me up on it, but if you need anything, call.”

  As soon as she disappeared around the corner, he wandered to the window, his hands in his pockets.

  It’d be another fifteen minutes before he could pay Carolyn his hourly visit. He watched the comings and goings of the vehicles in the parking lot below. A fixer upper old Ford truck screeched into the lot. A teenaged boy hopped out of the driver’s side and held the door as a blonde girl slid out, her high heels connecting with concrete. They indulged in a passionate kiss and a quick round of grab ass. Then after the couple cleared the tailgate, another boy exited the passenger side and joined them. The guys looked enough alike that they had to be brothers. The girl turned and laid a sloppy wet kiss on the second boy, keeping the first boy’s arm looped around her waist and the other boy’s arm draped over her shoulder.

  Even in his wild youth he’d never shared a girl with Cal—it seemed creepy, in his opinion—but it wasn’t for lack of offers. And if the rumors were true, his sons and his nephews had no such dilemma about sharing a woman or two. Or three.

  Thank heaven those days worrying what his boys were up to were long behind him, because his sons were too damn young when they’d started sweet talking girls out of their clothing.

  Carson still remembered how the first phone call about those wild McKay boys had turned Carolyn’s world upside down. Like Cord and AJ, they’d been in a similar disagreement about which of their boys many sins were his responsibility to deal with…

  The door to the machine shed slammed.


  Not the hey let’s go upstairs and roll around between the sheets tone he was hoping for from his
wife whenever she sought him out. “Yeah?”

  “Do you have any idea what your sons did?”

  He hated conversations that started like this. “What?”

  “Colby and Colt lied to us last night. They weren’t at youth bingo night at the church.”

  “Where’d they go?”

  “They picked up Karen Ayers and went to the lake. Get this; they convinced her since we’re born naked that God prefers everyone swim naked as a way to honor him.”

  “And the girl fell for that cheesy line?”

  “Yes! So both of our sons spent the evening frolicking naked, at a public lake, with a sixteen-year-old girl!”

  Oh hell. He tried not to laugh and focused on fixing the lawn mower engine that’d crapped out again.

  “Carson McKay. This is not funny. I received a very angry phone call from Karen’s mother, demanding an apology from us, for letting our sons run wild. And an apology from our sons, to her and her daughter, for taking advantage of Karen.”

  “How’d Karen’s mother find out about Karen sneakin’ off and goin’ skinny dippin’ in the name of God with Colby and Colt? Because I doubt either of them boys were dumb enough to walk her to the door afterward when they were dripping wet.”

  “That is not the point! Did you even hear a word I said?”

  He looked up at her. Yes, his wife was mad as hell, but she’d always been so damn cute whenever she got her dander up, so he was having a real hard time not planting a kiss on that pouty mouth. “What is the point?”

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