Cowboy take me away, p.48
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       Cowboy Take Me Away, p.48

         Part #16 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Hospital, Day 5—afternoon

  “Of course you’re bringing him cookies,” the nurse said. “That’s pretty much been his diet. You’re good to go in.”

  Carson watched as Chassie Glanzer came around the corner, holding a paper bag.

  She smiled and passed it over. “I’m sure you heard what’s in here.”

  “Yeah, it’s pretty quiet up here.” He peeked inside. “These are gigantic. What kind are they?”

  “Rancher cookies. They’re a mix of chocolate chip and oatmeal with butterscotch chips, peanuts and M&Ms. They’re a favorite in our household.”

  “I can see why. Thanks, darlin’, now supper is covered.”

  “I’ll be honest; I wish I wasn’t bringing them to you at all.” She sat next to him. “Any news from the docs?”

  “Nope. Still the same.”

  “I figured. India has kept me updated.”

  Usually Keely passed on news to her West relatives. “Indy stopped by. But she wasn’t bearing cookies.”

  “Trust me, Uncle Carson, if she had you wouldn’t want to eat them. I love her, and she has many talents, but cookin’ ain’t one of them.”

  “That description fits me too.” He set the bag aside. “How’re the kids?”

  “Healthy, first off, or I wouldn’t be here. Enjoying the summer. They’re pretty involved in 4-H. It sucks we had to start our own club since no one wanted us in theirs. But with Colt and Indy’s kids and ours, and now the Anderson triplets from up the road wanting to join, we’re making inroads.”

  “It sucks that you gotta make inroads at all. People oughta mind their own business and not worry about what someone else is doin’ behind closed doors.” While he didn’t understand two guys wanting to be together, he also didn’t understand why half the damn couples in the county were together either.

  Chassie leaned her head on his biceps—a very un-Chassie-like reaction. She’d always been a sweet and shy girl, thoughtful, kind, nothing at all like her asshole father. If she’d acted anything like Harland West, Carson would’ve put his boot down and kept Chassie far away from Keely.

  “I’m sorry,” Chassie whispered. “Sorry this happened to Aunt Carolyn and sorry that you’re goin’ through hell.”

  “In the words your generation are so fond of, it sucks all around.”

  She laughed softly and sniffled.

  He couldn’t deal with her tears—which he suspected were as rare as Keely’s, so he changed the subject. “What’re your men up to?”

  “Getting ready to turn the bulls out. They’ve remodeled my goat pens into an actual barn and they’re putting the finishing touches on it, and I gotta say, it is awesome. My men made sure everything is state of the art.”

  “I’ll bet they did. Colt brags on you all the time, about how successful your products are.”

  “Colt is sweet and currently one of two of your kids who ain’t on my shit list.”

  “Who’s the other one?”

  “Carter. Them two are the only ones…” She shook her head. “Not my business or my drama. Anyway, you and Aunt C oughta swing by our place sometime and check out my new goat grotto.”

  “I promise we’ll do that when Carolyn is feelin’ up to it.”

  “I love how optimistic you are about her recovery.”

  “I refuse to accept that she won’t recover.”

  “In all the years my mom was sick, I never heard my dad say anything like that about her. I hated that he’d pretty much accepted she was gonna die.”

  “Behavior he learned from your grandfather Eli West,” was all Carson said.

  Chassie glommed onto that comment. “I know some of the backstory about why the Wests and McKays feuded all those years. But it was always more personal between you and my dad. Why?”

  Carson met her serious gaze. “Harland was your father, so I won’t say anything that’ll disrespect him…except my issue with him was how he treated my wife—his sister. I never wished the man ill, but I never thought he’d done right by his family either. So darlin’, I’ve always been happy that you ain’t a chip off the old block.”

  “Me too. As I was driving here, thinkin’ about all the times I spent with Aunt C, and how wonderful she’s always been to me, from the time I was a kid, then after Dag died, and especially how accepting she was—you both are—after me’n Trevor and Edgard became a family…” Her chin wobbled and she looked away until she regained control. “Anyway, I remembered that last time me’n Keely and Ramona went to church camp. Keely ended up in a fight—no surprise, but the real surprise was learning that she hadn’t gotten that fighting mentality just from you, but from her mother.”

  “Few people know how much of a scrapper Carolyn West McKay really is beneath that sweet and proper church lady persona.”

  “I saw it firsthand and, man, was I ever impressed. I’ve never forgotten it. As a matter of fact, when we were dealin’ with all that bullying a few years back with Westin, I remembered that incident at camp and how fierce she was and I’d promised myself I’d be exactly like that when it came to my kids. And now I am. Because of her.”

  Choked up, Carson patted Chassie’s leg. “Girl, you’d better be tellin’ your aunt that to her face because it’d mean a lot to her comin’ from you.”

  “I will make a point of blubbering all over her while she’s recovering.” She lightly kissed his cheek. “Take care of yourself. You need anything, just call.”

  After she’d left, he helped himself to a cookie. He’d polished off two by the time the nurse informed him to suit up and head in.

  As corny as it sounded—hell, as silly as it felt—for the last five days he always started those five minutes the same way, hoping the repetitive words would get through to her.

  “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 paused, but kept stroking her arm.

  “I must look like a man with a sweet tooth, ’cause Lord Almighty, woman, everyone’s bringing me cookies. So I ain’t gonna lie, I’ve pretty much been existing on cookies and Dr. Pepper the past few days. I’ve gone to the cafeteria a few times, but the food is shit. I figured you let the grandkids eat as many cookies as they can shove in their greedy little mouths whenever they visit us, so no passin’ judgment on me.

  “The latest cookie fairy was your niece Chassie. That little gal has always had a tough row to hoe, so I’m happy to see she’s doin’ well and she’s come into her own. She invited us over to see her new goat grotto. I reckon I might even try that goat cheese you all have been raving about. The funny thing? As thick as she and Keely have always been, she’s ticked off at our daughter. Then she went on to remind me of that time Keely got kicked out of church camp. Do you remember that? After she left, I got to thinkin’ that you never really told me what happened that day. As far as I know, you might’ve punched a nun. Or socked a priest. But I’d like to think you would’ve told me since you know how hot it makes me when you get your back up and come out swinging.”

  “Mr. McKay. Time’s up.”

  “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.”

  Punched a nun? Socked a priest? Really Carson?

  Carolyn hadn’t strayed far from the last time he’d visited—or maybe she had and she just didn’t know it. But it seemed as if she’d been right there this time, hearing every word from the moment he started to speak. And she felt that pang of separation as acutely as he did.

  I want out of here. Please. Let me go. Find a way to bring me back.

  But whenever she fought against the darkness it enveloped her more quickly.

  She batted aside the cobwebs in her mind, focusing on the memory until the thread appeared that led her straight to the phone call that started it all…

  “Mrs. McKay?”


  “Yes. Who is this?”

  “This is Sister Grace from the Holy Rosary Church Camp in Grass Springs.”

  Her heart about stopped. “Has something happened to Keely?”

  “No, she’s fine, considering. She’s…”

  Carolyn waited for the nun to stutter out the issue.

  “Directly to the point, your daughter has become a bit of a discipline problem.”

  Not exactly a newsflash. In the past two years, Keely resented going to church camp, even when she attended with her cousin Ramona, who she didn’t get to see often. But Carolyn had warned her to suck it up; it was only fourteen days out of her summer. “Is Keely playing pranks again this year?”

  “Not to my knowledge.”

  Carolyn didn’t want to ask, but at age fifteen, Keely was already turning male heads. “Has she been visiting the boys’ cabins? Because I’ll remind you that she does have five older brothers and a dozen male cousins, so she tends to prefer the company of boys to girls.”

  “Mrs. McKay, that is not the problem either.”

  “Then please tell me what my daughter has done to earn the discipline problem phone call.”

  “She started a fight with not one, but two other girl campers. A fist fight,” Sister Grace clarified.

  “Good Lord.” Carolyn bit her lip to stop from asking how bad the other girls’ injuries were because Keely knew how to throw a punch, take a punch, and had no qualms about using her fists to get her point across.

  Just like her father.

  Or just like you.

  It shouldn’t have been a point of pride for Carolyn that her daughter never backed down from a fight—yet it was. Not that she’d ever admit that to anyone. “Was Keely injured?”

  “Not as much as the other girls.” She paused. “In light of this latest infraction…we’re requesting that you come to camp and pick your daughter up.”

  She froze. “Excuse me? You’re kicking Keely out of church camp?”

  “Are you fuckin’ serious?” Carson said behind her. “That girl is givin’ me a goddamned ulcer.”

  Carolyn whirled around and glared at him.

  “I’m sure you understand our decision. We cannot tolerate that type of behavior at a church camp where young people are supposed to be learning to exhibit Christian behavior and live lives of kindness and compassion.”

  “While I understand your reasoning, I’m just as interested to know what provoked my daughter into that type of reaction. Because she only comes out swinging when she’s backed into a corner or if a member of her family is threatened.”

  Silence.

  Which meant there was more to this incident than her hot-headed daughter just hauling off and slugging someone. “Sister Grace? What aren’t you telling me?”

  “We’ve gotten a statement from two other campers about how the situation started—but the statements are conflicting. And the parents of the girls your daughter attacked are demanding that Keely be removed from camp.”

  “I can drive up there today and get her,” Carson offered. “I always thought makin’ her go to church camp was punishment anyway.”

  “Hush,” she hissed at him.

  “Excuse me?” Sister Grace said.

  “Sorry, Sister, I was talking to a yapping dog.”

  Carson grinned and let loose a howl.

  Not funny, she mouthed at him. “Am I correct in assuming the other girls involved in the altercation are also being sent home?”

  “No, since your daughter was the instigator—”

  “Did Keely admit she started the fight?” Carolyn demanded.

  “Well, no.”

  “So my daughter just got caught fighting with the other two girls. All you have is those girls’ word that Keely started it, and I’ll bet one of those conflicting reports you mentioned, backed Keely’s version of events, didn’t it?”

  Silence.

  “Sister Grace, I’ll be more than happy to come to camp and discuss possible solutions to this predicament with you, the other camp counselors, my daughter, the girls involved and their parents. So please call me back when you’ve set up a time for that meeting to take place. God Bless.” She hung up and tossed the phone aside. Bracing her hands on the counter, she closed her eyes, giving herself a mental pat for the foresight to end the conversation, rather than making it worse by tearing into a nun.

  They’d call back. They had to. So she had some time to calm down or come up with a plan of attack.

  Bad choice of words.

  Carson moved in behind her. Those strong arms wrapped around her—just like she needed them to—and he placed a tender kiss on the back of her neck. “What can I do?”

  “I don’t know. I don’t want to be one of those mothers who rushes in and defends her child, regardless if that child is in the right or the wrong, so the kid never learns to deal with the consequences. We’ve always made the boys deal with this stuff. I’ve never swooped in after one of their many, many, many fist fights.” She took a breath. “I tell myself it’s different with Keely, not because she’s the baby, but because she’s a girl. I tell myself that boys are boys, and McKay boys come by their need to solve problems by using their fists naturally.”

  “Evidently so do McKay girls.”

  “Carson—”

  “Sugar, I’m not bein’ flip.” He turned her around. “When the boys were wronged, damn straight we made it our business to get to the bottom of it. Remember when Colt was in junior high and Mark Whaley tried to get him kicked off the basketball team by claiming Colt was beatin’ on him in the locker room? Then Mark showed the coach the bruises to prove it? We backed our son, took the Whaley kid and his parents to task, and the truth came out in the end. Colt didn’t have it in him to be a bully. We knew that.” He lovingly tucked her hair behind her ear. “We’ve stood behind our sons, and this sorta thing has happened to each one of them at least once, partially because their last name is McKay. You know that’s something I dealt with for years. As did my brothers all because our dad was the original instigator and folks around here have long memories.”

  “And short fuses,” she murmured. “I remember I’d watch cowboys squaring off in the bars and then beat the tar out of each other. The next weekend they were best drinking buddies only to mix it up in the parking lot a few hours later. So I’d convinced myself it was a cowboy thing.”

  “That’s part of it. Add alcohol and most guys think they’re ten foot tall and bulletproof. But I also wanna point out that when Carter went after John Cagle and busted his nose and two teeth? We didn’t defend his actions because Carter was in the wrong that time, fightin’ over a girl. We made him deal with the consequences of his actions.”

  Carolyn slid her arms around her husband’s waist and buried her face in his neck. “My man. Always the voice of reason. Thank you.”

  “Anytime, sugar.” He kissed her forehead. “It’s been important that me’n you are on the same page when it comes to disciplining our kids.”

  She looked at him. “So what do we do if these girls said something that ticked Keely off, and because she’s a hormonal teenage girl she just decided to start throwing punches?”

  “That girl has one trigger for her temper: when someone talks down her family. The level of crap that’s said to her is proportional to whether she hurls verbal insults back at them, or if she punches them in the mouth to get them to shut it.” He paused and his eyes slid away.

  Her eyes narrowed. “What?”

  “Or the other option is our sweet and sassy, but sly daughter decided she’d had enough of church camp and knew exactly what it’d take to get kicked out.”

  She sighed. “That thought had crossed my mind too.”

  “If that is the case…gonna be a long, shitty summer for her. And I do mean shitty, ’cause I’ll have her scraping up cowshit, and horseshit and I’ll even lend her to her Aunt Kimi to clean up chickenshit.”

  “Agreed. I wonder how long it’ll be before they call b
ack?”

  The phone rang.

  “Might not be them,” Carson pointed out.

  Carolyn sidestepped her husband to grab the phone but she kept her hand on his chest. “McKays.”

  “Mrs. McKay? This is Sister Grace again. We’ve set up the meeting for three hours from now. You’ll be able to make it?”

  Just barely. It was a two hour and forty-five minute drive to the camp. “Of course. Thank you, Sister Grace, for handling this so quickly. I’ll see you soon.”

  Carson picked up her hand and kissed her palm. “Want me to come along?”

  Yes. This man was her rock and she was his. But he’d worked himself to exhaustion the past week to the point he hadn’t tried to get down and dirty with her—which was saying something. They needed that intimate connection even if it was just quick missionary position sex that was over too fast. She kissed him with more passion than their usual peck of affection. “Stay here and get some rest because no matter what happens I’ll need something to take my mind off this later.”

  “That I can do.”

  Holy Rosary Church Camp was nestled in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains. The setting was gorgeous—it’d always exuded a spiritual vibe,
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