Cowboy take me away, p.55
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       Cowboy Take Me Away, p.55

         Part #16 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James

  Her eyes flew open. “Don’t go. Please.”

  He kissed her fingertips again. “I ain’t goin’ far. I brought a bag of your beauty stuff from home. I’ll send it in with the nurses. It’ll make you feel a little more you, okay?”

  She didn’t look convinced.

  “I promise I’ll be right outside.” He spoke to the nurse. “It won’t take you long to get her beautified, ’cause she’s always beautiful, but how long do you expect you’ll need?”

  “An hour? If it goes quicker I’ll track you down.”

  “I’ll be in the waitin’ room. Where I’ve been for the past seven days.”

  Walking out of the room was harder than he’d imagined. He needed a damn cigarette. Instead, he cleaned himself up. Although it was almost one in the morning, he started making phone calls. He could’ve just called Keely or Kimi and had them pass on the news, but after the tension of the last week, his kids needed to hear directly from him. The fairest way to do it was by birth order. He promised he’d call as soon as the doctors cleared her for visitation.

  At the fifty-nine minute mark, Carson returned to her room.

  The nurse was massaging Carolyn’s calves. They’d changed her hospital gown. She was still on oxygen. She sipped from a mug and a tray with toast and Jell-O sat on her adjustable table.

  She blinked at him, her face blank. Then something clicked and she offered him a soft smile. “You’re back.”

  “I told ya I’d be.”

  “Man of your word,” she murmured.


  The nurse adjusted the blanket over Carolyn’s lower half. “If you need anything, please hit the call button. But you should be aware that we’ll be coming in every thirty minutes to check on you.”


  Then they were truly alone for the first time in a week.

  Carson moved to the head of the bed. He framed Carolyn’s face in his hands. Before he said a word, he kissed her. Softly at first since he wasn’t sure if her mouth hurt from the ventilator tube. She tasted of toothpaste. She tasted like home.

  She circled her hands around his wrists and held onto him.

  More tears fell. His. Hers.

  He kept the kiss easy and sweet. Then he rested his forehead to hers. “I love you. More than anything in this world.”

  “I know. I love you too.”

  “Thank you for comin’ back to me.” He kissed the corners of her mouth, tasting salty tears. “I was so goddamned scared you wouldn’t.” Shit. Should he have admitted that?

  Carolyn pushed on his wrists so she could look into his eyes. “I heard you talking to me.”

  “You did?”

  “Yes. Every time I heard your voice I surfaced from wherever my subconscious was. You talking about your memories of us kicked me into mine. But then…” Tears spilled out the corners of her eyes. “I wasn’t sure if any of it was real.”

  “Any of what?”

  “Our life together. If I’d imagined it. If I’d somehow died and found a level of hell where hearing your voice reminded me of what I wouldn’t have again. I’d be lost forever floating in nothingness.”

  He kissed her palm. “I’m here. This is real. We’re real. Been the real deal for fifty years.”

  “Thank God.” She slumped back against the pillows. “Stay with me.”

  “Try and get me to leave.”

  After fifteen minutes of silence, it became apparent that not only was she highly uncomfortable, she was very agitated.

  “Need something?” he asked casually.

  “A different bed. This mattress is lumpy.”

  Nothing he could do about that.

  “It’s cold in here. I can see my breath.”

  “You want another blanket?”

  “No. I want them to turn on the heat.”

  The logical part of his brain answered, “It’s summer, heat isn’t an option.” But the part of him that wanted to soothe her responded with, “Maybe they’ll bring you an electric blanket.”

  “Maybe they should just move me to a different room with a better bed, better ventilation and better food.”

  Carson leaned over and kissed her pouty mouth. “Have I told you how happy I am that you’re complaining about everything?”

  “I’m not complaining about everything,” she said crossly.

  “As long as it ain’t me in your crosshairs, I don’t care.”

  “The night is young,” she warned. “You could still end up there.”

  The doctors had mentioned she might be out of sorts for several days and the best way to deal with it wasn’t to ignore it. “Sugar. What’s goin’ on with you?”

  “Why didn’t you tell me that they’d sheared my head like a sheep’s butt? I hate having half a head of hair. They should’ve shaved me bald.” Her annoyance quickly morphed into tears. “I look hideous.”

  “No, you look beautiful and alive.”

  “I want it gone.”


  More tears fell. “My hair. What’s left of it.”

  “You sure?”

  She nodded.

  “I thought you might. I already talked to India about comin’ in and helping you—”

  “Absolutely not, Carson. No one can see me like this. Do you understand? No one.” She cried harder.

  Shit. “You want me to get the nurse?”

  “No. You’re the only one I trust to do it.”

  “Wait. You want me to trim your hair?”

  “You used to give the boys haircuts.” She closed her eyes again. “It’s mortifying that I’m so weak I can’t hold my head up.”

  “Good thing you’ve got me here to hold you up.” He pushed the nurse’s call button.

  Nurse Lissa hustled into the room. “You rang?”

  “Can you find a set of hair clippers? She’d like me to fix the chop job.”

  “I’m not sure what protocol is on that, so I’ll check and get back to you.”

  “They’ll say no,” Carolyn said in a voice devoid of hope after the nurse left the room.

  “You don’t know that.”

  “Don’t yell at me.”

  “I’m not.” He counted to ten. “Why would I yell at you?”

  “Because I’m acting crazy.”

  He chuckled. “Sugar, I survived six pregnancies with you. I remember them crazy times very well. So open them pretty blue eyes and gaze at me adoringly like you’re prone to. That’s how I’ll know for sure you’re you.”

  That earned him her first smile. “Cocky cowboy.”

  Nurse Lissa returned with an orderly pushing a wheelchair. “You’re cleared to do this with my supervision but we can’t do it in here. Brian and I will get you in the wheelchair.”

  Carson hung back.

  They wheeled her into a small lab-looking room. After replacing the dressing on the back of her head, Nurse Lissa fastened a hair salon style cape around Carolyn’s shoulders.

  “Sugar, you sure this is what you want?”


  He adjusted the guard on the clippers. “Ready?”

  “Just do it.”

  He hoped she hadn’t noticed how bad his hands shook as he gave her a buzz cut. He really hoped she hadn’t seen his tears rolling down his cheeks as chunks of her beautiful blonde hair hit the floor. “There. Take a look.”

  She squinted in the hand mirror. “Mona at ‘Hair It Is’ doesn’t need to worry that I’ve found a new stylist, but it looks better.” Her fearful eyes met his. “Doesn’t it?”

  “You always look beautiful to me, Caro. You know that.”


  “No buts.”

  “The kids—”

  “Will be happy to see you. None of us loves you for your hair.”

  That and a few kisses quelled her tears and her fears.

  Back in the room, Carolyn became subdued. Her voice sounded scratchy and he suspected it might be hurting her to talk after having a tube shoved do
wn her throat for a week.

  “What else is botherin’ you?”

  “My head hurts.”

  “Want me to get the nurse to give you some pain meds?”

  She shook her head and winced. Then she closed her eyes. Two big tears rolled down her cheeks.

  It would’ve hurt less if she’d punched him in the chest. Gently, he curled his hands around her face. “Caro. You’re killin’ me. How long’s your head been hurtin’?”

  “A while.”

  “You need to take something for the pain.”

  Another shake of her head. Another wince.

  “Why in the hell…” He remembered the docs had said she might act unreasonable and he had to be the reasonable one. “It’ll help you feel better.”

  “It’ll knock me out. Then what if I go back to sleep and this time I don’t wake up? I can’t take that chance. Ever. I’ll live with the pain.”

  He felt so goddamned helpless. This was another thing the doctors had warned him about: paranoia the coma would come back even when it was damn near medically impossible. He pressed his lips to her forehead. Then he kissed away her tears. “Sugar, look at me.”

  She opened her eyes.

  “I’ll ask if they can give you something that’ll dull the pain but won’t put you out. Okay?”

  Her gaze searched his. “Promise me you won’t trick me about this?”

  “I promise. If they can’t guarantee it won’t put you under then I won’t let you take it.”


  He brushed his lips over hers. “Be right back.”

  Five minutes later he trailed into the room behind Lissa. She piggy-backed a clear packet of liquid onto her IV. “This will help.”

  “Good. She needs it.” Carson lowered the bedrail so he could move in closer. He stroked her head. Something about that stubble…he couldn’t stop touching it. He couldn’t stop touching her.

  “That feels nice.”

  “Anything else I can do?”

  “Since I’m pretty sure the meds will knock me out even when they swore they don’t, I want your promise that you’ll sleep with me.”

  “Much as I can’t wait to get my hands on you, think about what you and me goin’ at it does to your heart rate. You want the nurses to see that on the monitor and race in here and see my ass in the air as I’m bouncing on you?”

  “Even when I’m decrepit in a hospital bed, with bad hair and a bad attitude, you’re scheming to nail me.” She smiled softly. “It’s good to be me. But I’m serious. I want to sleep in your arms tonight, Carson. I’m never scared when I’m with you.”

  He stroked her cheek. “Did you have nightmares while you were under?”

  “Only that I’d never find my way back to you.”

  “You did.” He kissed her cheek. “Make room for me while I get undressed.”

  Lissa, the night nurse…

  Lissa hadn’t been in to check on Carolyn McKay for forty-five minutes. She’d gotten sidetracked but the monitor readings were normal so she wasn’t worried. As she entered the room she was making a mental checklist of all the things she needed to accomplish before shift change so she didn’t notice them at first.

  But when she reached the foot of the bed she stopped and stared.

  At some point in the last hour, Carson McKay had crawled into the hospital bed with his wife. The gruff rancher, always decked out in boots, jeans and a long sleeved western shirt, at all hours of the day or night, had donned a hospital gown and a pair of flannel pants. His bare feet stuck out the end of the bed, but she could see beneath the blanket his legs were entwined with Carolyn’s.

  Carolyn had curled into him, resting her head on his chest, her left hand clasped in his right. He’d draped his left arm across her back and palmed her butt. The posture couldn’t have been more intimate even if they’d been naked.

  Feeling intrusive, Lissa backed out of the room until her shoulders hit the wall. She couldn’t stop the tears.

  Justine, the other night nurse was right there. “Lissa? What’s wrong?”

  “Nothing. Everything is right.”

  “Then why are you crying?”

  Lissa gestured to the room with her head. “I’ve been taking care of her for a week and watching him. It broke my heart because he was just so…lost without her. Now watching them together? That’s the first time I’ve ever really seen the I-can’t-live-without-you kind of love that everyone talks about. They have it. They’ve had it for half a century.” She sniffled. “Now they’re wrapped up in each other’s arms, sleeping in that small bed, because they couldn’t bear to spend another night apart. I can’t imagine loving someone that much.” She glanced through the doorway to the room. “I want that. I want a man who will be by my side for the next fifty years. I’m done settling for good enough.”

  “Good for you. But you know him sleeping in ICU is against the rules.”

  “Her vitals have improved in the last hour and that’s all that matters, right?”


  “Let them be. After all they’ve been through they deserve this.”

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  Carolyn didn’t know why she was nervous to see her own kids. She’d birthed them, nursed them, raised them and cherished them. She’d let them go when they started families of their own.

  Everything was so disjointed.

  She still didn’t feel like herself.

  She’d lost a week of her life.

  A week in which she’d relived her life-long love affair with Carson McKay.

  Part of her feared this hospital scene was just another memory. That she was dying and this was her life flashing before her eyes.

  Upon waking in Carson’s arms in the small hospital bed, she’d been hit with the dizzying sensation of being plucked out of the void of her mind and shoved into a memory.

  She’d panicked and fought against it.

  No! I want to stay here, in this time.

  Evidently her reaction had sent her heart rate soaring. The nurses burst into her room to see why their monitor screen had gone crazy.

  That’s when they’d kicked Carson out of her bed, but he’d refused to leave her room. He’d insisted the doctors check her out thoroughly. Immediately. The stubborn man made a real nuisance of himself until he got his way.

  Speaking with her doctors didn’t alleviate her anxiety. They’d performed a complete examination on her—physical and psychological—that took an eternity. Some of the questions they asked her didn’t make sense. But she wondered if that was part of the test—if she could differentiate between gibberish and jabberish.

  Was jabberish even a word? But that’s what some of the tests they’d given her had looked like. Gibber-jabber.

  She’d drifted in and out as they’d awaited the test results. Finally the doctors had declared her on track to recovery.

  Except…the doctors had taken Carson out of the room and spoke to him out of earshot. She’d been a little pissy about that. It was her brain. If there were problems with it she deserved to know.

  When the staff delivered her food, she managed to eat half of it,
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