Cowboy take me away, p.52
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       Cowboy Take Me Away, p.52

         Part #16 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James

  Yep, his baby girl had done very well in choosing the man to spend her life with.

  As he watched Jack walk away, phone to his ear, he knew the man couldn’t fathom retiring.

  Funny how the years had crept up on him. One day he was a young, married man wondering how he’d support his growing family, then in the blink of an eye he was wondering how he’d spend his days because he had all this free time…

  Carson, Cal and Charlie were at the Golden Boot discussing retirement after they’d handed over the reins of McKay Ranches. Casper hadn’t been invited for a celebratory beer after the stink he’d raised about being forcibly retired. Carson was glad his boys got along well, for the most part, with each other and with their cousins.

  “So it will sink in at some point, right?” Cal asked. “That we don’t have to oversee what they’re doin’ on a daily basis?”

  “I guess. None of us have been doin’ as much as we used to. Seems like I’ve been semi-retired for a while anyway,” Carson said.

  “I hear ya.” Charlie sipped his beer. “What did Dad do in retirement?”

  “It wasn’t like he officially retired. He couldn’t do the daily work after the first heart attack. Mentally he was fine, but ain’t a whole lot of ranch work that’s mental. Menial?” Carson grinned. “Hell yes.”

  “After that last heart attack, he kept up with what his grandkids were doin’ as long as he didn’t have to venture too far from our place.”

  “I doubt Kimi kept him entertained,” Charlie said. “So my question remains the same. What did he do all day?”

  “He watched TV in his room.”

  “That’s it?”

  Cal shrugged. “I dunno. While Dad didn’t have nothin’ to do I sure did. I worked that section pretty much by myself. Then at night, I spent time with Kimi and the boys. After the twins went to bed if Dad was still up we’d bullshit about stuff. I never heard him say he was bored.”

  “I sure as fuck don’t want my retirement to be sittin’ around and watchin’ goddamned TV,” Carson said.

  “I’m sure your kids would love to dump some of the two hundred grandkids you have off on you every day,” Cal said.

  “Piss off, Cal.”

  “Maybe you oughta tell Carolyn you’re worried about bein’ bored. She’ll have you in the kitchen learnin’ to cook in no time,” Charlie added.

  “You can piss off too, Charlie.”

  Cal and Charlie laughed and knocked their beer bottles together.

  Carson’s gaze traveled around the Golden Boot. “Maybe we oughta start a bar. This place needs some competition.”

  “It has competition: Ziggy’s, Twin Pines, the Rusty Spur. Though I’ll admit I liked that place better when it was the Silver Spur years ago,” Cal said.

  “Place was a fire hazard, which is why it burned to the ground. After the owners rebuilt it and renamed it the Rusty Spur, Carolyn made me take her there for a drink. She figured since the old place and old name was gone, then her lifetime ban oughta be lifted too.”

  “Was it?”

  “Yep. I think the new manager was a little scared of her, to be honest.”

  “Any of your kids ever hear the story of their Mama’s bar fight?” Charlie asked.

  Carson shook his head. “I can’t be sure someone else didn’t tell them about it.” He leaned back in the booth. “Charlie, you seem all het up about retirement.”

  “I am. I never had time for hobbies besides huntin’. Don’t think I’m the sort to take up golf. Don’t wanna be in Vi’s hair all damn day.”

  Cal leaned forward. “I know what you can do. Start a senior citizens bull ridin’ circuit. As the father of PBR World Finals contender Chase McKay, I’ll bet you’d get lots of interest and sponsorships.”

  “Piss off, Cal,” Charlie said. “I don’t see you offerin’ up any ideas on how you’ll be spendin’ your days.”

  “I’ll be bangin’ my wife.”

  “That’ll kill three minutes,” Carson said dryly, “then whatcha gonna do the rest of the day?”

  “And you can piss off too,” Cal said to Carson.

  Another round of beers arrived. Carson looked at Lettie. “You a mind reader?”

  “I’d be blushing for sure if I was reading your mind, Carson McKay,” Lettie shot back. “I’ve known you since your brawling days. Not that I ever saw that trait passed on to your sons.” She winked. “They flirt with me just as much as you do.”

  Carson snorted. “You’ve been flirtin’ with me for forty-some years.”

  “And you love it.” Lettie sighed. “We were hot stuff back in the day, weren’t we?”

  “Yes, we were. Hot tempered, hot bodied,” he grinned at her, “hot to trot.”

  “Anyway, this round has been paid for. Enjoy.”

  They looked at each other and shrugged.

  “Did either Kimi or Vi mention the urge to travel?” Carson asked.

  “We get to several of Chase’s PBR events during the year. Don’t know if the boy will make it to Vegas this year. But besides that? Not really. Vi mentioned it’d be fun to take a family trip to Disney World with Quinn and Libby and the grandkids.”

  “That’d be my idea of hell,” Carson grumbled. “God knows I love the grandkids, but there are so many of ’em we’d have to rent out the whole damn hotel.”

  “Kimi is content to stay home,” Cal said. “Says she traveled enough after she graduated from the nunnery.”

  “What about Carolyn?” Charlie asked.

  “That’s the thing. I don’t know. We’ve never really talked about it. Like Kimi she’d rather stay home. But I wouldn’t mind hittin’ the open road and seeing some sights.”

  Carson remembered that was the exact moment he decided to buy a RV. That way he and Carolyn could take off whenever they wanted and they’d still have the comforts of home.

  In fact, he remembered thinking it was the most brilliant idea in the history of ideas. And since he was feeling more than a little smug, he decided he’d keep this fantastic idea to himself, lest one of his brothers take it and steal his thunder.

  He’d make the purchase a surprise. He had a few months to research the best model. Next summer he’d just drive it on home. He couldn’t wait to see the look on her face.

  But five months later, when Carson pulled up in front of the house and honked the horn, he hadn’t expected Carolyn’s expression to border on horror as she walked down the porch steps.

  After hopping out the driver’s side door, he bounded up the sidewalk toward her. “Isn’t she a beaut?”

  “What in…” She closed her eyes and inhaled slowly. He recognized the posture as Lord give me patience but he’d seen it directed at the kids, not at him.

  Maybe she was just stunned he’d done something so thoughtful.

  “Sugar, come on and see the inside. You’re gonna flip. It’s got everything.”

  His ears must’ve been playing tricks on him because he swore he heard her mumble, “Including a maid?”

  He pointed out the front area. “The seats are plush. Like sittin’ in my easy chair drivin’ down the road. And above us? We just slip a piece of padded wood across and it becomes an oversized bunk.” He led her to the kitchen. “I figured you’d love the full sized stove and oven. And the table folds down so it can be a living area or an extra bed.”

  “Handy. I can make whoever is sleeping there breakfast in bed.”

  “Exactly.” He paused. Wait a second. Was that…sarcasm?

  Nah. He had to’ve misheard her.

  “Down here you’ll find the bathroom.” He led her down the short hallway and pulled the folding door open. “With a corner shower it’s bigger than standard. Same with the toilet.” He gestured to the cabinet beside the door. “There’s a compact washing machine and dryer in there.”

  She didn’t seem too impressed.

  “Check this out.” Carson opened the door to the bedroom. “A king-sized bed. And look at all the storage.”

“For laundry, cleaning and cooking supplies no doubt.”

  “No, I think it’s mostly closet space. But you can put whatever you want back here.” He perched on the edge of the bed and patted the mattress. “Shall we break it in?”

  “Right now?”

  He lifted an eyebrow. “You busy doin’ something else?”

  “Actually, yes. I was about to bake brownies and I’m starting supper. But maybe later?”

  He stood and kissed her forehead. “Sure. But do you like it?”

  “It’s…something all right.”

  Later that night Carson convinced her to return to the camper, expecting she’d want to explore on her own. He was pretty damn proud of himself for figuring out how to hook up the satellite TV without pestering his kids for help.

  After being married for so many years, he was all-pro at seducing his wife. But the whole time he was making love to her—or trying to—she didn’t seem that into it.

  He stopped moving and looked down at her. “Am I boring you or something?”

  Carolyn opened her eyes. “No, it’s fine.”

  Fine? That less than enthusiastic response made him more determined to feel her clinging to him and moaning in his ear as she came undone. He nuzzled her throat, scattering those little sucking love bites she loved so much down the arch of her neck. When even that didn’t create the shivering and moaning effect, once again he stopped moving. “What’s goin’ on with you?”

  “I can’t relax.”

  “This is supposed to relax you.”

  “Well, it’s not, it’s just making me more tense so can we just get it over with please?”

  “Over with?” That stung. He eased out of her body and pushed to the end of the bed, waiting for the soft caress of her hand assuring him she didn’t mean it. Waiting for her to ask if they could start over. Because in all the years they’d been married, she’d only left him hanging like this a few times.

  Carson felt the bed shift and glanced over to see her…grabbing her clothing.

  What the hell?

  Carolyn wouldn’t meet his gaze as she slipped on her bra and hooked it behind her. “Look, I’ll catch you later before we go to bed. I’m just really not in the mood right now.”

  No kidding.

  She didn’t stop and kiss him or touch him at all. She just breezed past him, leaving him nekkid and alone with a flagging erection and a sense of unease.

  That night in their bed she’d kept to her word and more than made up for her odd behavior in the camper bedroom earlier.

  Still, he knew something was going on with her.

  A dose of the grandkids always cheered her up. He asked Colby and Channing if they could take their four boys to the lake for the weekend.

  Gib, Braxton, Miles and Austin were highly impressed with the RV. Carolyn had just closed the garden gate when he pulled up and honked. Was she ever speechless when the grandsons spilled out, chattering a mile a minute about their surprise weekend camping adventure with Grandpa and Gran-gran.

  Carolyn scooped Austin up and perched him on her hip, smooching his chubby cheek. “You boys ready to go camping?”

  They all shouted, “Yes!”

  Then his wife smiled at him—and it wasn’t a nice smile. “Let’s go.”

  “Right now?”

  “You busy doin’ something else?”

  Why was she tossing his words from yesterday afternoon at him? “No.”

  “Good. I’ll just grab my purse and lock the front door and we’ll hit the road.”


  She whirled on him. “But what? Isn’t this the appeal of having a camper? We can just take off whenever the mood strikes us?”

  “Yeah, but sugar, we don’t have any food or supplies.”

  She flapped her hand at him. “Minor details.”

  Maybe she planned to stop at the grocery store on the way to the lake.

  But she insisted they check into the campground to secure a good spot. Once they’d paid the fees and parked, everyone was hungry and there wasn’t so much as a breath mint in the camper to feed four hungry boys and two adults. So they trekked to the marina convenience store and bought thirty bucks worth of food.

  They roasted hot dogs and marshmallows over the campfire. The kids ate every bit of it.

  When bedtime rolled around, Carolyn insisted he sleep with the boys in the bunk; she worried one of them would fall off in the middle of the night. She and Austin took the bedroom and they all slept in their clothes since no one had remembered to bring pajamas.

  The next morning Carson returned to the marina convenience store and bought thirty bucks worth of donuts, milk and juice, which the boys devoured in one sitting. Since Carolyn didn’t swim, she kept Austin in the camper with her.

  The boys had brought swimming trunks, but no towels, so after they’d exited the water they’d had to dry off in the sun. Upon returning to the camper, once again the boys were starved.

  Instead of traipsing back to the overpriced convenience store, Carson pulled up stakes and they drove into town for lunch. When neither their grandsons nor Carolyn seemed too keen on camping another night, they dropped the boys off and headed home.

  Home. It was a pretty nice place to be. After polishing off a half a dozen cookies, Carson plopped in his easy chair to watch TV.

  So the camping experiment hadn’t gone too well the first time. Next time they’d be more prepared. He’d drifted into a mental road map of the places he’d like to visit when Carolyn snatched the remote out of his hand.

  He looked up to see her planted in front of him, wearing her pissed-off face.

  “How long have we been married?”

  He opened his mouth to answer and she cut him off.

  “In all those years have I ever told you it was my fondest dream to own an RV and travel the country?”


  “No, I haven’t. You know why? Because that is my idea of hell. That is the single most asinine thing you’ve ever…” She made a huffing noise and leaned forward to jab her finger into his chest. “You don’t cook, so who would be responsible for all the meals? Me. You don’t clean, so who would be responsible for keeping the camper tidy? Me. You don’t grocery shop, so who would be responsible for stocking the camper pantry? Me. How is that a fucking vacation for me, Carson McKay? It isn’t. And it makes me think that you don’t know me at all if you believe I’d want that nomadic life. Our life is here. Not with strangers at some senior citizens RV park playing bridge and comparing pictures of our grandkids. How the hell much did that camper cost?” She jabbed him in the chest again. “For that kind of money, we could fly wherever we wanted. We could stay at a five star hotel. We could eat at a different restaurant every night and still have money left over to do it again…ten or fifteen more times! That is a vacation. Dragging the whole damn house with us so I can cook and clean in an itty bitty space while you watch satellite TV in your plush captain’s chair ain’t gonna happen. Ever.”

  She stood and placed her hands on her hips. “Monday morning you will return that camper to the dealer. Tell them you changed your mind.”

  His mouth dropped open. “Do you know how much money we’ll lose if I do that?”

  “Do you know how much more money you’ll lose if I divorce your stupid ass for expecting that’s how I’d spend my retirement?”

  Holy shit. She wasn’t serious…was she? “Caro—”

  She drilled that sharp index finger into his chest, punctuating every word. “I. Am. Not. Kidding. Me or the camper, Carson McKay. You choose.”

  After the camper was gone, they never spoke of it again.

  Chapter Thirty

  Hospital, Day 7—morning

  Carson had overslept, and the nurses hadn’t woken him so he’d missed three visits with Carolyn. By the time his visitation window arrived and he’d dragged himself into her room, he was a wreck.

  “Hey sugar. I’m sittin’ here beside you. I know you can hear me. I need you to hea
r me. Come back to me. I need you to know that I’m right here, I ain’t goin’ anywhere.

  “I’ve tried to stay so positive every time I’m in here. But the closer it gets to them pullin’ you out of this, the more I worry that you’ll wake up in pain.” He studied the rise and fall of her chest. “Every time you brought a child into this world, I hated the pain it caused you. Even when you swore it was worth it in the end, I wanted to shoulder that burden.”

  In his mind—maybe his crazy mind?—he heard her soft, I know that.

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