Cowboy take me away, p.5
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       Cowboy Take Me Away, p.5

         Part #16 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 

  Her gaze swept the plates and pots and pans. “Half an hour to do the dishes and fifteen minutes to change.”

  “Leave the dishes tonight. I’ll help you do them in the morning.”

  Carolyn snapped him with a dishtowel. “Now I know you’re meeting a girl if you make that promise to get me moving.”

  Thomas blushed. “Just go get ready.”

  She styled her hair in long blonde waves. She slipped on a sleeveless plain white button-up blouse and added a snug-fitting baby blue cardigan. Feeling daring, she tugged on the pair of blue jeans her friend Cathy had given her. Cathy’s wealthy grandparents lived in Chicago and owned a clothing company so Cathy had scads of fashionable clothing that she loved to share.

  A quick brush of powder, thick black eyeliner and a couple of passes of mascara made her eyes look more dramatic. She finished off with a coat of red lipstick.

  She tucked her money, lipstick and ID in her back pocket—how wonderful was it not to have to carry a purse?—before she slipped on her heels.

  Thomas leaned against the Pontiac he’d inherited from Darren. His eyes went wide. “Jesus Christ, Carolyn, what the hell are you wearing?”

  “Language,” she snapped. Her brothers cursed like sailors. It drove her crazy.

  “You can’t wear pants. People will think you’re a guy.”

  Carolyn tossed her hair and stuck out her chest. “Really? I look like a man? This Randy you’re introducing me to is into guys?”

  “Jes—jeez, that’s disgusting and beside the point. Now go change.”

  “No. This is perfectly acceptable, completely fashionable attire to wear to a ballgame. And besides, I wore clothing like this all the time in Montana,” she lied.

  “Right. I can’t see the nuns or the priests being onboard letting you prance around in that get-up, let alone Aunt Hulda.” He shook his finger at her. “You get any shi—crap about that outfit? Don’t come crying to me, wanting to go home. You’re stuck.” He climbed in the car and slammed the door.

  As soon as they hit the paved road, Carolyn cranked up the radio. She was switching back and forth between the county station and the rock and roll station, singing along, when Thomas reached over and turned the music down.

  “If you didn’t like my singing you should’ve said so.”

  Thomas shook his head. “You were born with an angel’s voice, sis. I turned it off because I need to talk to you about something.”

  “Okay.” She had a warning flutter in her belly because Thomas was never serious.

  “You’ve been back here for three weeks. Mom and Dad expect you to stay the summer but have you given any thought as to what you might do come September?”

  She picked at the tiny balls of fuzz on her sweater and dropped them in the ashtray. “No. I mean yes, I’ve thought about it but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. Mom needs someone to take care of her; she has for years, so I’ll probably—”

  “No, Carolyn. I know you want to help, but you didn’t go away to school just to come back here and become Mom’s sole caretaker after you graduated.”

  She turned sideways in her seat and gaped at him. Then why did he—and her brothers—expect her to do everything for their mother? “But—”

  “I’ve decided to go to college,” Thomas blurted out. “I want a job where I don’t have dirt on my collar and under my fingernails every damn day. So I’m moving to Denver with Randy at the end of the summer.”

  “How will you afford that?”

  “I’ve been saving money since I scored that first job at Woolworth’s. You still considering taking up your friend’s offer to move to Chicago?”

  She shouldn’t have mentioned that to her nosy brother. Now he’d nag her even more. “I’m not sure if Cathy was serious or just being nice. And I don’t know that I’m cut out for life in the big city.”

  “Do me a favor—don’t tell Cathy no just yet. By the end of the summer you’ll probably be more than ready to get out of Wyoming.”

  “Is that why you’re leaving here?”

  Thomas didn’t speak until he’d parked in the lot behind the ball field. Even then he stared straight ahead instead of meeting her gaze. “There’s no place for me here. Harland is trying to run a ranch. Darren is helping his father-in-law in his sheep business. Marshall has a great job with the railroad. Stuart is happy as a carpenter. I only took the job at the coal mine after I graduated from high school because I didn’t have other options. Now I do.”

  As much as she hated the thought of Thomas not being around every day to annoy her, she understood his need to set himself apart. “Have you said anything to anyone about your plans?”

  He shook his head. “Not until I get the final application approval paperwork from the college.”

  “Well…I can probably keep that information to myself, but it’ll cost you.”

  Thomas’s soft gaze sharpened. “Cost me what?”

  Carolyn poked him in the chest. “I don’t want to be stuck doing all the dishes all summer. You help me and I’ll keep quiet.”

  Thomas twisted her finger, like he did when they were kids. “Fine, you little extortionist. Let’s watch the ballgame.”

  The baseball game was boring. So boring Carolyn found herself yawning a couple of times.

  Thomas’s friend Randy seemed decent, he was definitely nice looking and had the build of an athlete, but he stayed focused on the game as if it was the World Series. He sat next to her and every once in a while he’d pat her leg. His touch didn’t cause that fluttery feeling in her stomach like when Carson McKay had gently stroked her face. A shiver rolled through her, thinking about Carson’s rough-tipped fingers gliding across her skin.

  “You cold?” Randy asked.

  No. Just imagining another man’s touch.

  She shook her head.

  “It’ll be plenty hot at Dusty’s tonight,” Thomas said.

  The game finally ended and all three of them crammed into the front seat of Thomas’s car. Since she had to straddle the hump in the center, her right thigh pressed against Randy’s left leg, and he considered that a sign she wanted to get closer. He stretched his arm across the back of the seat and curled his hand over her shoulder.

  Randy said, “Who all are we meeting here?”

  “Everyone that went to Buddy’s last weekend.”

  “Including Millie?”

  Thomas tensed beside her. “Probably.”

  Randy leaned in to whisper, “Your brother’s got it bad for her. I imagine the two of them will sneak off somewhere to be alone, so I’m glad you’re with me tonight.”

  Carolyn didn’t like the way Randy assumed they were together. She definitely didn’t like the way he placed his wet lips directly on her ear. She discreetly scooted closer to Thomas.

  “We’re here,” Thomas announced.

  The bar looked packed to capacity. She paid the cover charge—over Randy’s objections—and immediately headed for the bar. She recognized a few people from the dancehall the other night. Several women gave her outfit a sneering once-over or laughed.

  They’re just a bunch of Wyoming hillbillies and wouldn’t know trendy clothes if they bit them on the behind, she repeated to herself as she waited for her Coke. She decided to practice her wallflower impression when she heard a familiar shriek behind her.

  “Carolyn West, I didn’t know you’d be here!”

  She faced Beverly. “It was a last-minute thing.”

  “Good Lord, what are you wearing?”

  Carolyn cocked her hand on her hip. “Jeans. They’re the height of fashion every place besides backwards Wyoming,” she said very loudly.

  Beverly hooked her arm through Carolyn’s. “I gotta get me some of them. So who are you here with?”

  “Thomas and a friend of his.”

  “Which friend?”

  “Randy somebody.”

  “Randy Peeler?” she said with a gasp. “He is so dreamy.”

  Not as dreamy as Car
son McKay.

  Seemed she’d set him up as the gold standard.

  “But watch Randy,” Beverly warned. “Evidently he uses those fast hands for more than just pitching, if you know what I mean.”

  “I already figured that out. But thanks. Where’s Mike?”

  “Talking to some guys who are here on leave. I’m glad you showed up.”

  They gossiped for the next half hour. Mike returned and claimed Beverly for a dance. Just as Carolyn spied the perfect hiding spot, Randy loomed over her.

  “There you are. Let’s dance.”

  Carolyn barely had time to set her drink down before Randy was dragging her onto the dance floor. He pulled her flush to his body and would’ve tried to slip his knee between hers if she hadn’t clamped her legs shut.

  Randy laughed. “There it is.”

  “There what is?”

  “The Catholic school upbringing. Loosen up.”

  Her brother actually liked this creep? She managed a fake smile. “I’d be a lot looser if you quit holding me so tightly.”

  She was ready to escape after one dance with Randy, but he kept blathering on. When the third song started, she begged to take a break. He kept his hand in the small of her back as he escorted her off the dance floor, acting like they were together.

  “Would you like a drink?”

  “Another Coke would be good.”

  He wrinkled his nose. “So you don’t drink alcohol either?”

  Either? Was he about to make another crack about her being raised in a convent? “No.”

  “Fine. I’ll be back.”

  Randy situated himself so close to her she had to hold her drink in her left hand because she couldn’t move her right arm.

  She studied the crowd, hoping her brother or Beverly would rescue her from rambling Randy. When he said, “I like you, Caroline, you’re a good listener,” she’d had enough. The idiot didn’t even know her name. “Will you excuse me?”

  “The bathrooms are down the far hallway,” he said helpfully.

  But Carolyn left through the front door. Ignoring the lewd stares and drunken comments, she cut around the side of the building where it was dark and blessedly free of people.

  She paced, wishing she hadn’t come, wondering how long she’d be stuck with Randy while Thomas messed around with that Millie person, who he hadn’t even bothered to introduce her to.

  Maybe she should just go wait in the car.

  Unsure what to do, she continued to pace.

  “You’ll wear out them pretty shoes if you keep doin’ that, sugar.”

  Carolyn whirled around.

  Carson McKay leaned against the side of the building, his white shirt a beacon in the darkness. As she walked toward him, she noticed the red glow of a cigarette in his hand as he brought it to his mouth and puffed.

  “I didn’t know you smoked.”

  He exhaled and dropped the butt to the ground, extinguishing it with his boot. “There’s lots you don’t know about me. So did your family fill you in on what bastards the McKays are?”

  “No.”

  “Didja even tell them you were with me? Or did you keep that to yourself because you were embarrassed?”

  “Did you tell your family that you asked a West to marry you?” she volleyed back.

  Carson studied her. Or at least she thought he did; she couldn’t read his eyes beneath the brim of his hat. He pulled his flask out of his pocket and drank. But he didn’t say a word.

  As much as she didn’t like Randy’s constant chatter, Carson’s silence wasn’t any better. She backed up. “See you around, Carson.” She turned, intending to head back to the parking lot.

  “Your butt looks good in pants.”

  She froze. Then she faced him. “Excuse me?”

  “You heard me. So keep walkin’ away from me real slow like, so I can enjoy the view.”

  Carolyn erased the distance between them in six angry steps. “I oughta hit you again.”

  “I don’t recommend you try it.” He lifted his head and met her gaze—the heat in his eyes should’ve sent her running. “I thought maybe I’d exaggerated how beautiful you are, especially after I learned your last name. But I’m standin’ here, starin’ at you like a fool because your beauty struck me dumb for the second time.”

  The thing was? The man was completely sincere. He watched her with a sort of awe she found very appealing. “That makes up for the butt comment.”

  He smiled that full out dimpled grin and her belly fluttered. “Oh, I meant every word of that, too.”

  Being this close to him…didn’t seem close enough.

  Hold on, sister. You don’t know this man.

  But I want to know him.

  “Carson. What are we doing?”

  “I don’t know about you, but when I saw you talkin’ with that guy and dancin’ close with him, I wanted to break his face so I had to get the hell outta there.”

  That matter of fact, almost possessive tone sent a spike of heat through her. “If you want to hit him, aim for the jaw. Maybe that’ll shut him up.”

  He smiled and reached for her hand. “That bad?”

  “The worst. My brother Thomas invited me to hang out tonight and then ditched me with him.”

  “Getting ditched seems to be a habit of yours.”

  “But I’m the one doing the ditching now. He’s inside. I’m not.”

  His fingers drifted across her knuckles. “Didn’t seem like you wanted to ditch him during the two songs you danced together.”

  “You saw that?”

  “Haven’t been able to keep my eyes off you from the moment you walked in.”

  “I didn’t know you’d be here.”

  “Had nothin’ better to do. I was tryin’ to take my mind off this beautiful blonde I met night before last.”

  “Were you looking for another woman to distract you?”

  “Maybe.” Carson brought her hand to his mouth and kissed it. “Would me bein’ with another woman bother you?”

  “Yes, it would bother me.”

  He tugged her and she fell against his body. “Then maybe you oughta be my woman and I’ll only be with you.”

  Carolyn tilted her head back to say yes, and found Carson’s mouth descending on hers. He tasted so good, so male. The trace of tobacco and whiskey just made the kiss more intoxicating.

  Then his hands were sliding around her hips and down to her behind. She felt the imprint of every one of his fingers pressing into her flesh as he palmed her cheeks.

  Carson changed the angle of the kiss, taking it even deeper. She followed his lead, letting her fingers curl into his hard pectoral and wrapping her other hand around the back of his strong neck.

  His scent, his taste, his touch, if she lived to be a hundred she’d never forget this moment.

  She made a small protest when he finally slowed the kiss. But he didn’t let go of her. “Carson, I don’t—”

  “Ssh, just let yourself settle.”

  How did he know? Was he feeling just as untethered as she was?

  Those strong hands slid back up to her hips. “You are the very definition of temptation.”

  “Sorry.”

  “Don’t be.” He rubbed his lips across her hairline at the top of her forehead. “So you really didn’t tell your family about me?”

  “It’s none of their business.”

  “I like your feisty side.”

  “Did you say anything to your family?”

  “Just to my brother Cal. He thinks I’m crazy.”

  She frowned.

  He smooched her mouth. “Let’s talk about something else.”

  “Like?”

 
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