Cowboy take me away, p.50
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       Cowboy Take Me Away, p.50

         Part #16 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 

  their decision.”

  Carson narrowed his eyes at her. “Been givin’ our kids what for, have you?”

  “Between me’n Vi we’ve got ya covered.”

  “I don’t know what to say to that.”

  “You don’t have to say anything. Because it’s fun yelling at someone else’s kids. But I do have to ask if one of your stubborn kids swallows their pride and shows up here…?”

  “Would I turn them away?” He shook his head. “But the parameters haven’t changed for seein’ their mother.”

  “I’ll pass that along.” She stood. “Now get up here and give me a hug.”

  Carson held onto her for several long moments. “Thanks.”

  “You tell my sister I love her. You tell her not an hour goes by that she’s not in my thoughts. You tell her I got no one else to gossip with or share secrets with and I need her to get better soon. You tell her I’m passing on information to the West family so we don’t get accused of only caring about the McKays. You tell her—”

  “Kimi, darlin’, I only get five minutes with her.”

  Kimi laughed, stepped back and wiped her eyes. “Okay. I’m goin’. Take care of yourself.”

  “I will.” He started to say something and then stopped.

  “What?”

  “You’ve been in my life longer than any woman besides Caro. We’ve been through some great times together. Through some real shit storms too.”

  “This counts as one of them shit storm times. And I’ll admit that it wasn’t just me keepin’ Cal away from here. Caro’s been as much a part of his life as I’ve been of yours. The four of us are tied together on so many levels…” She blinked away more tears. “This is eating him alive, Carson. Knowin’ he can’t do nothin’ to help you through it. Or me through it.”

  “What’s he been doin’?”

  “He’s been over at Kade’s, wrenching on that damn hot rod pickup Kade’s been tinkering with for twenty years. Eliza, Shannie and Peyton have been helpin’ him, getting greasy and loving every minute of it, although I don’t think Skylar’s too happy about it.” She smirked. “I figured Eliza is buttering up Gramps to buy her first car sooner than Kade wants her drivin.”

  “Can’t blame Kade. When Keely turned eighteen and bought that Corvette with the money her Grandpa West had left her? I thought about takin’ her car out and totaling it just so she couldn’t drive it.”

  “You tellin’ me Liesl isn’t already scheming for a car?” Kimi demanded.

  “Nope. She’s got Anton to drive her where she needs to go. She’s a bit gun shy on account of her peg leg. Hayden’s not helpin’ Cal?”

  “He’s splitting his time between early morning chores with Kane and workin’ for Ginger at the law office in the afternoons. Maddie and Paul are at camp during the day for a week or so. Rumor has it that Hayden, Ky and Anton are out tearin’ it up at night. Hard to believe I was Hayden’s age when I met Cal.”

  “Doesn’t seem possible. If Keely would’ve showed up at age eighteen and announced she was getting married like Caro did to Eli at that same age? I’da…” Lost my mind and threatened to cut her off like my dad did to me.

  “It’s a different world now. Carolyn was young, but you both knew what you felt was real. Fifty years later you’re still goin’ strong.”

  “Cal said something like that to me the day I decided to propose.” He studied her. “So if in a couple of years Eliza shows up wearing some guy’s ring, you’d be okay with it?”

  “Hell no. And if she got knocked up? I’d shoot the guy if Kade didn’t get to him first.”

  Carson laughed.

  “I know that makes me a hypocrite and I’m good with that.” Kimi stopped before she turned the corner. “Is your truck unlocked?”

  “Yep.”

  “I might bum a smoke or two.”

  “Go ahead. It’ll be our secret.”

  For some reason that released a fresh flood of her tears before she disappeared.

  He didn’t have time to eat his sandwich before his hourly visitation. He washed up, suited up and scooted the rolling stool beside her bed.

  “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 and feathered his thumb over her knuckles.

  “Your pesky little sister just visited. Kimi is missin’ you like a limb. She didn’t carry on as much as I expected, but I suspect she recognized how close I am to the edge and she didn’t want to be the one to tip me over. Guess Cal’s havin’ a rough go of it too. The man is always on an even keel. But do you remember the time she and Cal had that epic fight right after Kade found out he was a daddy…?”

  By the time Carolyn surfaced after hearing Kimi’s name, she no longer heard Carson’s voice.

  Had Kimi been in here?

  No.

  She definitely would’ve made her presence known. Because her crazy little sister knew how to make an entrance…

  Carolyn had spread out the ranch books on the dining room table, lost in numbers and contracts, knowing she had to get it all straight before she could start plugging the information into the computer.

  The front door slammed and she didn’t bother to look up, figuring it was Carson.

  Footsteps—angry ones by the sounds of it—echoed and stopped.

  Aha! There was that lease. She squinted even though she had her cheater eyeglasses on. Wait a minute. This document was supposed to have three pages, not just one. As she shuffled through another stack, she heard the liquor cabinet open.

  “Sweetheart, you must be having an awful day if you’re hitting the Jameson before noon.”

  “I feel a celebration is in order, but mostly I just need a fuckin’ shot to calm my nerves.”

  Carolyn’s head came up so fast her glasses slid off her nose and bounced against her chest, caught by the chain. “Kimi? Ah, why are you breaking into my liquor cabinet when I know there’s booze at your place?”

  Kimi scowled and knocked back a shot.

  “Are you and Cal fighting?”

  “You know Cal and I don’t fight.”

  “Which would explain why you’re so upset and why you’re sucking down my whiskey.”

  She exhaled a long, slow breath. “Dammit, I need a cigarette.”

  “You quit smoking thirty-some years ago. Tell me what’s going on.”

  “I’m a grandma.”

  Now she pinpointed the source of her sister’s agitation: her son. “Did Kane just spring this ‘you’re gonna be a grandma’ thing on you?”

  Kimi shook her head. “That’s where it’s screwed up. It’s not Kane. It’s Kade. And it’s not ‘I’m gonna be a grandma’; it’s I am a grandma. To a baby girl. I saw her today, Caro. A beautiful, perfect three-month-old girl with dark hair and the second I saw those blue eyes I knew she was a McKay.”

  “Where’d you see her?”

  “In Sundance, but I guess they live outside of Moorcroft.”

  Confused, Carolyn said, “They? Who is the mama?”

  “Skylar Ellison. She owns Sky Blue, that all-natural beauty product place. Her sister is that tattoo artist India from India’s Ink. Anyway, Skylar is the one who broke Kade’s heart last year and why he volunteered to leave. He had no idea she was pregnant. Since this is Kade, I believe him because no way would he walk away from a woman carryin’ his child even if she stomped on his damn heart. No way. So I just stormed into the house and blew the whole thing about him bein’ a daddy. Now he’s on his way into town to deal with her and meet his baby girl.”

  “Kimi, that’s a good thing. Kade will happily own up to his responsibilities. You know that.” She squeezed her sister’s hand. “A baby girl! How fun will that be?”

  Kimi smiled. “Damn straight it’ll be fun. We need to go shopping. Wait.” She patted her face. “Do I look like a grandma? Lord, do I look as old as you?”

 
“Nice, Kimi, real nice. Trying to be supportive and you crack age jokes.” She smirked. “Since Kade’s baby mama makes wrinkle cream maybe she’ll give you a good deal on it by the bucket.”

  “Oh, hush. You know you look good, way better than me. Which ain’t fair. You should have ten times more frown lines and gray hair since you had three times as many kids as me.”

  “I feel it most days.” She leaned back in her chair. “Does Cal know?”

  She shook her head. “I came straight here. I figured after Kade talked to Skylar and saw his daughter, he’d call and let me know the details.”

  “Think Cal will be shocked?”

  “Yeah. ’Cause like you said, I’d see Kane in this situation long before Kade.”

  Carolyn helped herself to a shot glass and filled hers and Kimi’s with whiskey. Then she held her glass up for a toast. “Congrats.”

  They both knocked back their shots.

  Kimi cocked her head. “And…?”

  “And what?”

  “I know you were gonna say something else.”

  Carolyn grinned. “Like father like son, huh?”

  “Oh, piss off.”

  “But it’s true,” Carolyn said. “You and Cal went on what? Five dates and then you were pregnant?”

  “Something like that. But there’d been a spark between us since the first time we met before you married Carson.” She wagged her finger in Carolyn’s face. “Although Cal swears he wasn’t a monk pining for me, he claims he was waitin’ for me to grow up and come back here.”

  After their mother’s death, and after Kimi had graduated from St. Mary’s, she’d sworn she wasn’t returning to Wyoming. She worked in Alaska for a few years, until she finally got homesick. By that time Carolyn and Carson had two boys and no room for an extra houseguest so Kimi ended up staying with Cal. She’d pretty much moved in with him and had never left.

  While at first Carolyn had been worried because Cal seemed to have a revolving door to his bedroom, she realized Cal really did worship her little sister. Oddly enough, so did Jed McKay. He had no issue with Cal and Kimi’s hurry-up wedding. And after Jed’s second heart attack, Kimi was the one who suggested he live with her and Cal and the twins.

  Carolyn knew part of the reason Kimi had offered was because Carolyn had taken care of their mother the last year of her life. While Carson hadn’t agreed with Carolyn’s insistence on keeping Clara West’s dire diagnosis from her children, he’d honored the request—only after having words with Eli that forced him to hire part-time health care to alleviate the stress on Carolyn.

  “What’re you thinkin’ about, Caro?”

  She looked at her sister. “Mom dying. Then getting pregnant with Cord and how lucky we are that neither of us inherited her health problems. And I’m thankful that our husbands have always had our backs when it comes to the West/McKay family crap.”

  “True. I’m glad that Dad didn’t ignore his McKay grandkids.”

  “I think he did enjoy spending time with our boys.” Carson had told her many times to wash her hands of her father. But after having her own children, she’d come to understand how far a parent would go to protect those children. Like most men of his generation, her father’s communication skills were lacking; he just expected his word to be law with no discussion. She remembered one time her Aunt Hulda had told her that Eli West didn’t act out of maliciousness, just ignorance. That didn’t explain away his behavior, but it’d allowed Carolyn to forgive him and move on from the past.

  “If it wasn’t for Harland, Darren, Marshall and Stuart’s wives agreeing with us the feud was stupid, I doubt our kids would know theirs at all,” Kimi said.

  Carolyn smiled. “That’s because men act like the cock of the walk but women rule the roost.” Her smile dried and sorrow washed over her. “Harland…was such a hard man. I hated that Dag couldn’t be himself for fear of his father’s reaction. Especially when Thomas and Susan were so accepting when Sebastian told them he was gay. Dag’s was such a senseless death.” She closed her eyes. God had been looking out for Colton. She said a prayer of thanks every day in the last year that her son had gotten the help he’d needed and he hadn’t ended up like Dag. If not for Kade…

  Kimi squeezed her hand. “I know. I’m thankful too. Colt will be all right. They say the first year is the hardest.”

  “I get that. It’s hard that he’s had to isolate himself from his family to keep the sobriety. But whatever works for him, right?”

  “Right.” Kimi sighed. “So damn many secrets in this family.”

  Carolyn shook her finger at her sister. “And quite a few that I wish you wouldn’t have told me.”

  “So you’ve said. That’s because I trust you and I kept them both for a long time. Think of my burden.”

  “I get that Jed loved you because you reminded him so much of Mom. But do you think he told you the truth about what happened to Jonas and Silas McKay because of our West lineage?”

  Kimi jammed a hand through her hair. “Yes. I just wish I hadn’t promised Jed not to tell McKay descendants the truth.”

  “I hated all the questions Keely asked when she did that genealogy paper and I had to lie to her and hide all Dinah McKay’s journals up in the attic. Carson knew something was up.”

  “Well, our grandfather Zachariah West had a valid reason for his hatred toward the McKays: Silas McKay killed his brother Ezekiel and basically got away with it. Maybe it was self defense, but when Silas fled instead of letting a judge decide his fate…it sure made him look guilty,” Kimi said.

  “It didn’t help that Jonas McKay paid Zachariah for the land he’d ‘won’ in the poker match—a few months after his twin escaped from jail. It did look like blood money.”

  “My opinion is Zachariah shouldn’t have accepted the money. But he did and he agreed to keep his mouth shut about it. So like I said, his hatred of Jonas McKay was understandable, but Zachariah wasn’t innocent either. In fact, he helped perpetrate the continuing hatred between the Wests and McKays—without telling anyone why the families were enemies.”

  Carolyn drummed her pen on the table. “It’s sad the McKays and the Wests were just sucked into that mindset. When I first started dating Carson? Even my mother didn’t know the issue between the McKays and Wests. At least that first generation. And I did not appreciate when Mom finally told me that she did sneak around with Jed McKay for a month or so when she was dating our father. So yeah, Jed McKay deserved to get his ass kicked by Dad because we both know if the boot had been on the other foot and Eli West had been sneaking around with Jed McKay’s girl? Jed would’ve come out swinging.”

  “True. Still, it’s creepy to think that our mother slept with our husbands’ father.”

  “Welcome to small-town Wyoming,” Carolyn said wryly.

  “Welcome to family confessions. Jesus. Neither one of us would’ve gone back through the boxes that Dad had kept or the ones we found in the attic upstairs on the McKay side if it wasn’t for Jed spilling his guts to me.”

  “I hate the secrets and lies. Hate it.”

  “Me too. Especially that the McKays lied to everyone. I understand why, but it makes no sense on why Jonas, aka Silas, would make a deathbed confession to his son Jed, about who he really was, because he’d gotten away with impersonating his twin nearly all his life.”

  “Maybe the reason Jed told you about Silas and Jonas switching identities, before Jonas took off, and after he escaped from jail, is because you had identical McKay twins?” Carolyn suggested.

  “Possibly. Jed told me that even though he was a grown man when his father told him the truth—that he was Silas, not Jonas—he had a hard time accepting that his father had killed a man.”

  “It was pretty ballsy of Silas, aka Jonas, to send a letter to his twin and Dinah a couple of years later telling them that he’d settled in Montana.”

  “I think our husbands would hire a private detective to track down the missing McKay descendants if they knew.”
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  “Agreed.”

  Carolyn stared into space. “You think Charlie would search for the son Vi gave up for adoption if he knew the truth?”

  “I don’t know. I was pissed when Jed threw that whopper of a secret at me. How is it right that we know Charlie and Vi have another kid when Charlie doesn’t have any idea?” Kimi shook her head. “That saying confession is good for the soul is a load of crap. I never wanted the burden of Jed’s confessions. Especially when I’m keepin’ those truths about the McKay family from my husband. Me’n Cal never fight, but if he found out that I know all this stuff? He’d really be hurt.”

  “So would Carson.”

  “Which is why I told you,” Kimi said. “It was eatin’ me alive.”

  “I just wish we could talk to Vi about it.”

  Kimi groaned. “Lord, she’ll be fit to be tied when she hears I’ve got a grandchild before she does. I’ve heard her nag and bitch at Libby about when she’s gonna make her a grandmother. The poor woman.”

  “Why some women see fit to meddle in their grown children’s lives…” Carolyn looked at Kimi and they both burst out laughing. “Lord. I couldn’t even say that with a straight face.”

  “That’s my cue to go.” Kimi stood. “Thanks for the ear and the whiskey.”

  “Any time.”

  “Before I forget, are we doin’ anything for the West reunion the weekend of the rodeo?”

 
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