Cowboy take me away, p.45
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       Cowboy Take Me Away, p.45

         Part #16 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James

  “Your sons are running wild.”

  “Sugar, they’re teenage boys. They’re gonna go a little wild sometimes. See what they can get away with. They’ll do dumb shit. Same as we all did.”

  “You’re excusing their behavior?”

  “No.” He stood and twisted his neck side to side to alleviate the throbbing in his head. “How did Karen’s mother find out about her daughter’s trip to the lake with the McKay boys? The town gossips?”

  “I guess Karen confessed everything to her mother this morning.”

  “Everything? Was skinny dippin’ all those three got up to last night? Or did something else happen?”

  Her eyes widened. “You mean, like, did one of the boys have sex with her?”

  “Did you ask Colby or Colt if they were messing around with her?” He didn’t add: or if both of them were? At the same time?

  “No. I came straight here to talk to you about this situation so you could deal with them.”

  That’s when Carson lost his sense of humor. He wiped his hands on a greasy rag. “Why does this fall on me? Because I’ve got a dick? Or because I almost talked you into skinny dippin’ with me when we were young and wild so I oughta know a young man’s mind?”

  She threw up her hands. “What has gotten into you?”

  “Caro, I’m serious. I wanna know why when the boys do something wrong, that doesn’t have to do with the ranch, I have to be the hardass about it and you get to swoop in and bake them goddamned cookies.”

  “If you ever stepped foot in the kitchen to actually cook something for your children, I might be able to laugh at that comment.”

  “See? You even turned the cookie-baking comment into another thing I’m doin’ wrong.”

  “Being a little defensive, aren’t you?”

  “Do you blame me? Whenever one of the boys does something that requires discipline, it falls on me. That ain’t fair. As I see it, you took the phone call from Karen’s mother, so you oughta talk to Colby and Colt about what happened.”

  The confusion in her eyes made things clearer for him. She hated that her boys were growing up and keeping secrets from her, and she wanted to believe they’d done nothing wrong, but she was afraid to ask.

  There were levels of wrong, but Carson didn’t believe for a second either of his sons would ever disrespect a girl or a woman and force her to do something she didn’t want to.

  “Here’s where I’m at. Our boys are good-lookin’. You know it. I know it. They know it. Hell, everyone in town knows it. I’m betting Karen climbed into Colby’s pickup willingly, stripped off her clothes willingly, and had herself a good old time swimming buck-assed nekkid with our boys. But at some point she started feelin’ guilty about it. Or her mother got nosy, demanding to know what Karen had been up to and Karen didn’t want to admit she’d had fun, so she changed her story to one where the wild McKay boys forced her into getting naked and goin’ swimming with them.”

  “I’m just supposed to chalk it up to boys being boys? Excuse my sons’ behavior because they’re McKays?”

  “No, but it’ll go a long way in tryin’ to explain it.”

  “You are an exasperating man, you know that? This is why you need to deal with this. I have no experience with this wild teenage behavior, Carson. None. And you do. Lots of experience.”

  “If me’n Cal and Casper and Charlie had done half the crap that was blamed on us, we’d be in jail right now. Sundance is a small town, Carolyn. Rumors spread, and change so much that usually what the end person hears ain’t close to the truth of what really happened. This won’t be the only time we’ll hafta deal with it. So we’d better come up with a way that I don’t always end up bein’ the bad guy.”

  “That’s how you see it?”



  “Excuse me?”

  “You heard me. Bull. I’ll agree when it comes to ranch work and chores you crack the whip. But how often do you have to do it? Hardly ever because the boys don’t want to disappoint you, or get extra chores for leaving things undone. Whereas I have to ask five times to get the garbage taken out, and then whichever boy deigns to do it, mutters about me being a nag. Same thing happens when I tell them to put away their clothes. Or to pick up their rooms. Or to help with the dishes. I can’t be the disciplinarian because they don’t listen to me. I’m just the nagging mother.”

  “Caro, that’s not true.”

  “It is.”

  “How long has this been goin’ on?”

  She rolled her eyes. “Years. So maybe I am using the gender argument when it comes to teenaged boys. But do you really believe they’ll have an open conversation with their mother about sex? Cord wouldn’t look me in the eye for two weeks after I found that Playboy magazine in the bathroom. He reacted the same way after that night at the Rusty Spur and I all but told him that fighting made you horny and you were about to ball my brains out in your truck.”

  He sighed. “All right, all right, I get it. I’ll talk to them. But fair warning that if I do this, chances are slim Karen’s mother is getting an apology.”

  Carolyn kissed his cheek. “Thank you. I’ll tell the skinny dipping twins you want to see them in your office.”

  So that’s how Carson ended up having the sex talk with his sons. It helped that he’d had three shots of whiskey before the conversation started.

  Getting summoned into Dad’s office sent the other kids scurrying upstairs to their rooms, because a trip to the office meant they were in big trouble.

  Colby and Colt sat on the padded bench and the two of them nearly took up the entire thing. Carson remembered when he could line up all five boys on the bad bench.

  “Have any idea why you’re both in here?”

  A moment of silence followed.

  Then Colt said, “I know I was drivin’ too fast. And I don’t have any excuse except I wanted to see how fast that truck would do a quarter mile. Colby was just along for the ride.”

  Carson looked at Colby and the boy cracked like mud in the August sun.

  “I know you said you didn’t want me on the back of a bull because I’d break my fool neck, but I had to try it one time. And Colt didn’t have nothin’ to do with it besides drivin’ me there and home.”

  Jesus. He wondered just how many confessions he’d get out of these two if he kept doing his stone-faced statue imitation.

  “That’s not why we’re in here, is it?” Colby asked.

  Carson shook his head.

  “It’s not?” Colt said, realizing he’d made an unnecessary confession.

  “But keep goin’. Let’s see what other shit you boys’ have been pullin’.”

  “Ah, we didn’t mean to get stuck up at Flat Top after the keg, and we’ll get your tow chain back from Dag…tomorrow?” Colt offered.

  “Jesus, Colt, shut your damn mouth,” Colby snapped.

  “Well at least I didn’t tell him about us takin’ Tina and Tonya to—”

  “Shut up!” Colby said again.

  Colt closed his mouth so fast his jaw popped.

  “Since it sounds like we could be here all night with what you two have been up to, how about I get right to it.” He paused. “The name Karen Ayers ring a bell? And before you decide to get cute, I’ll just throw it out there that Karen’s mother already called here and talked to your mother. So she knows that you skipped youth group last night and went skinny dippin’ with Karen.”

  “Mom knows?” Colby said.

  “We’re dead, huh?” Colt said.

  “You think your mother needs to get phone calls like that? Hell no. And not only because she passes the buck on to me.”

  “Is she madder about us skippin’ out on church? Or about us goin’ nekkid swimming with a girl?”

  Carson stared at Colby. Hard. “What do you think?”

  “We’re dead,” Colt said again.

  “You boys cause her enough grief with her havin’ to nag you constantly to get basic household
chores done. Next time you start muttering under your breath when she asks you to do something? Imagine if you’d have the same reaction if I asked you to do something.”

  Colby and Colt exchanged a look.

  “And feel free to pass that advice on to your brothers. Now. Karen Ayers. What in the hell were you thinkin’?”

  A few moments passed. Then Colby said, “We weren’t thinkin’ beyond she’s the prettiest girl in school with the wildest reputation.”

  “Was it her idea to go swimming nekkid? Or yours?”

  “Mine,” Colby admitted.

  “But it wasn’t like we had to beg her to take her clothes off or nothin’,” Colt added.

  “That’s not the way she’s tellin’ it, least not to her mother. Anything else happen you wanna talk about?”

  Colby closed his eyes when Colt opened his mouth. “She let us touch her boobs. Not both of us at the same time, but one of us at a time.”

  Like that made it…better. Christ.

  “That’s all that happened, Dad, I swear.”

  Carson addressed Colby. “Why’d you think it’d be a good idea to take your fourteen-year-old brother along?”

  “I’m almost fifteen,” Colt protested.

  “I took him because goin’ to the lake was his idea,” Colby said.

  Colt tried really hard not to look smug.

  And Carson didn’t know whether to laugh or whap him upside the head.

  “I ain’t gonna pretend that you won’t be tryin’ to have sex as often as possible once you start down that path. I will say I expect you to be responsible, discreet and respectful.”

  Confusion filled Colt’s eyes. “I don’t get it.”

  “He means wear a condom, don’t have sex on the school bleachers and don’t go braggin’ about which girls you’re havin’ sex with. Right, Dad?”

  He wasn’t surprised Colby knew the score, or how to score for that matter. “Yes, condoms, every time, even if the girl swears she’s on the pill. We don’t need a grandkid and you don’t wanna get some crotch rot that’s goin’ around. Discreet also means I don’t ever wanna hear about you skinny dippin’ again, or where you’re dippin’ your wick, and I definitely don’t want your Ma catchin’ wind of it, am I clear?”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “As far as respect? Girls who’re willin’ to have sex with you? Treat ’em right, not like they’re just a warm place for you to stick it in. Sex ain’t only about you getting your rocks off. The sooner you learn that—”

  “The more sex I’ll have?” Colby inserted hopefully.

  How was he supposed to answer that?

  Don’t. Let that one go.

  “Are we in trouble?” Colt asked. “’Cause you weren’t real clear on that.”

  “If I could take away your dicks and give them back to you when you’re old enough to use them responsibly, I would. But since that ain’t an option…”

  His sons looked at each other with relief, not like they’d gotten away with something.

  “As far as the other shit you’re doin’?” He leveled his gaze on Colt. “If I ever catch you drivin’ faster than the speed limit, you’ll be walkin’ everywhere for at least a month, understand?”

  “Yes, sir.”

  Carson’s gaze moved to Colby. “I told you no bull ridin’. Period. And that I’d consider lettin’ you try it when you were eighteen. Until that birthday rolls around, I’d better never hear of you goin’ against this rule I set. Never.”

  “Sorry, Dad. It won’t happen again.”

  “Now go apologize to your mother and ask her if she needs help with anything.”

  They bolted so fast they tipped the bench over.

  Carson reached for the flask in his bottom desk drawer. Good thing he had a few years before he had to have this same talk with Cam and Carter.

  But no way, no how was he ever having this talk with Keely.

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Hospital, Day 5—morning

  He had a bad case of indigestion. Not a good way to start the day. But that’s what he got for trying to eat something healthy; eggs and toast and fruit gifted him with heartburn.

  He should’ve stuck to eating cookies. But he was actually tired of cookies. He swore he heard Carolyn’s phantom laughter in his head.

  The doctors had checked on Carolyn first thing this morning. No change. No plans to ease her out of the coma. They decided she’d “benefit” from two more days in stasis.

  That really increased the churning in his gut.

  Pacing hadn’t helped.

  Neither had catching up on world news on TV. If anything that’d turned his stomach a little more.

  The nurses let him use the private shower and steam room on this floor. Ten minutes of hot water pounding down on him and slipping on a fresh pair of clothes made him feel better.

  He returned to the ICU waiting room to find his grandson Ky hanging around.

  “Hey, Grandpa. I wondered where you’d disappeared to.”

  Carson ran a hand through his damp hair. “Cleaning myself up so your Aunt Channing doesn’t come back and hose me down like we used to have to do with your Uncle Colt when he was a boy.”

  “Uncle Colt? Really? Man, he’s always like…so clean. Cleaner than anyone else, even when he’s workin’ cattle.”

  “Times change.” He dropped into his chair. “So what’s up?”

  “Dad said I was supposed to tell you that me’n Anton and Gib are looking after your horse.”

  “I appreciate that. I’m sure your Gran-gran would say the same.” As much as it pained him to admit, he’d have to get rid of Sheridan. That mare deserved an owner who could give her the care she deserved and that hadn’t been him in the last year. Plus, he couldn’t look at the horse without thinking of the accident.

  Kyler shifted his sneakered feet and glanced at the closed hospital door. Carson couldn’t count the number of times he’d heard the words “spitting image” used to describe a father and son, but Ky was such a carbon copy of Cord—at least in looks—that even he’d mistakenly called the kid Cord a time or ten.

  “How is Gran-gran?”

  “The same. I keep tellin’ myself that’s a good thing. Might be bad if she woke up before the doctors wanted her to.”

  Ky sat heavily in the chair next to him.

  Didn’t seem like the kid wanted to be here—not that Carson blamed him. Chances were he’d been roped into keeping Grandpa company.

  Ky locked his gaze on Carson’s. “Are you and Dad in some kinda fight? He wouldn’t come here himself and tell you about us takin’ care of the horse and we’ve been doin’ it for four days. Then I heard him complaining to Mom about you.”

  “Not gonna repeat what names he called me?” Carson said with amusement.


  “Probably wise. Your dad—and the rest of my kids—ain’t happy about the ‘no visitors’ rule. They think I’m bein’ controlling and paranoid. They believe the rules oughta be different for them since Carolyn is their mother. But she’s my wife, my responsibility. My sole purpose is to do everything in my power to get her outta that hospital bed and home where she belongs.”

  Kyler didn’t even blink at Carson’s snappish response. “I don’t understand why everyone is so bent outta shape about it. I know if it was Mom in there my Dad would be the same way. ’Cept probably worse.”

  Silence stretched.

  Finally Carson said, “You don’t need to stick around if your dad guilted you into comin’ here.”

  “He didn’t. I’m here because I wanted to ask you something.”

  “Ask me what?”

  “What happened between you and Dad that made him move to Seattle?”

  Not what he’d expected and he didn’t know if he should answer. “Son, does your dad know you’re askin’ me about that? ’Cause that wasn’t a happy time for either of us.”

  “He refused to talk to me about it, so I figured I could ask you since you don’t pul
l punches.”

  Maybe this would be the one time he would.

  “I wouldn’t be asking if I didn’t need to know so I can make a decision.”

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