Cowboy take me away, p.56
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       Cowboy Take Me Away, p.56

         Part #16 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 

  despite the fact it had zero flavor. She stared at the evening dinner menu choices, but again the words on the page were a jumbled mess. She’d have to ask Carson to find her reading glasses.

  The therapist forced her to walk around. Moving about had buoyed her spirits even when she’d kept a snail’s pace up and down the hallway.

  Carson hadn’t complained. He’d just hovered. Encouraged her. Held her up when her body and her will had started to falter.

  Exhausted and sore from working her muscles after a week of no activity, she returned to her room. But her fear about getting lost in sleep kicked in again. She couldn’t breathe, she couldn’t think, she couldn’t settle down until Carson climbed in bed with her.

  Luckily she’d slept without dreams.

  But again she woke in a panic.

  Carson calmed her down before the nurses barreled in. “Hey, sugar. Listen to me. If something doesn’t feel right, you need to tell someone. If you’re havin’ headaches or hallucinations or you’re feelin’ paranoid, some of that is a normal reaction as the drugs are getting washed out of your system. Don’t be embarrassed. Don’t try and hide it. The doctors can’t help your recovery process if they don’t know what they’re dealin’ with.”

  She closed her eyes and nestled her face in his neck. “I’m scared.”

  Carson didn’t say anything; he just trailed his fingers up and down her spine.

  After a bit she began to talk. Then it all spewed out, in a fragmented mess. Her emotions were all over the place.

  “Did that help?”

  “Just being with you helps.”

  “Mmm. I love the sweet talkin’ side of you.” He traced her jawline with his thumb. “You know you can tell me anything, but you oughta rethink your stance on talkin’ to the lady psychologist because I think she can help you.”

  She frowned. “What stance?”

  “You told her you didn’t need her help.”

  “I don’t remember.” Another memory lapse. How many had she had since she came out of the coma? Two? Three? A dozen? “Was I rude to her?”

  Carson shrugged. “I’m sure she’s used to patients tellin’ her to get the hell out of their rooms and to never come back.”

  Her stomach roiled. “I said that?”

  “It wasn’t like you made her cry or nothin’.”

  Carolyn wanted to cry. “Am I going through one of those personality changes? Where I was a nice woman and after bein’ in a coma I become a total asshole?”

  “Hey, it was one incident. You’re entitled to a little bad behavior after what you’ve been through. Don’t get yourself riled up.”

  “Too late.”

  “Sugar, just breathe, okay?”

  “I can’t. I’m suffocating.”

  He kissed her then, a sweet distraction. Soft smooches and the gentle brush of his lips across hers, the tease of his breath mingling with hers while his thumb continued to caress her face with utmost tenderness.

  It settled her. It soothed her. She curled into him. His heart beat steadily beneath her ear. His outdoorsy scent filled her senses.“What time are the kids coming?”

  “Whenever you’re feelin’ up to it. No rush.”

  Carolyn lifted her head from his chest. “I thought they were all fired up to see me since you kept them out of ICU for the past week.”

  “They are very anxious to see you. But they were also warned you might have a setback the first couple of days, so they’re on standby.”

  “Setback? I haven’t had a setback.”

  The look in his eyes contradicted her statement. “Answer me this. How long have you been out of the coma?”

  “Not even twenty-four hours.”

  He shook his head. “It’s been forty-eight hours.”

  Time confusion in the first couple days is an aftereffect for coma patients, the doctors had assured her.

  “You were agitated by the pain, so they had to sedate you and keep you in ICU.”

  “It’s a blur.”

  “It’ll get better.”

  “You’re sure?”

  “No, but whatever happens, Caro, we’ll deal with it together.”

  “I hate that I put you through this.”

  “Just another bump in the road. We’ve had a few of ’em the past fifty years.”

  Later that day Carolyn felt a million times better after they let her shower. It was such a shock to see her hair buzzed almost to her scalp. Carson already said he was used to it and he liked it. Then he’d gone into great detail about all the places on his body he couldn’t wait to feel her rubbing that short hair.

  If the thought of that man’s wicked mouth and skilled hands all over her didn’t speed up her recovery process and her desire to go home, nothing would.

  Carson had summoned their kids. She’d debated putting on makeup so as to not scare them, but nothing would hide the pallor of the last week so she opted to let her age show.

  She was wired as she waited. Carson sat beside her on a tall chair, his hands in near constant motion. Seemed he had a case of nerves too.

  The door opened and her children filed in, lined up by birth order like she used to demand whenever they were in trouble. No surprise they still knew how to do it.

  Carson’s hand tightened on hers. His mouth brushed her ear. “Any time this is too much, let me know and I’ll kick ’em out.”

  “I always make you the bad guy, don’t I?”

  “No reason for us to change that now.”

  Her gaze started with Cord, who gripped a bouquet of flowers from her garden. Then she focused on Colby. His hair held more gray streaks than Cord’s. Her gaze moved to Colt. Still the image of his handsome father, down to his dimpled grin. Cam, her burly boy, wept openly. He’d clamped his hand on Carter’s shoulder, as if his little brother was holding him up. Then she noticed somber-eyed Carter also clasped Keely’s hand. Tears streamed down her daughter’s cheeks.

  None of them said a word.

  She cleared her throat. “What a fine looking bunch.” And because she was feeling ornery, and because these hellions had played numerous pranks on her over the years, she kept a confused look on her face, and said, “Who are all of you again?”

  The room, already silent, went deadly still. The kids exchanged bewildered looks with each other. Then they looked at Carson. And finally at her.

  Just as Cord opened his mouth to speak, Carolyn smiled and said, “Just kidding.”

  “Jesus, Ma, that was mean,” Cam complained.

  “Really mean,” Carter added.

  She flapped her hand at them. “Oh pooh, you all deserved that and you damn well know it.”

  Colt grinned. “And you’re swearing at us? Now I know you had a head injury.”

  Silence.

  Then Colt said, “Ah, too soon?”

  “Ya think, asshole?” Colby shoved him.

  Cord elbowed Colby. “Knock it off, you two.”

  Carson sighed. “Some things never change.”

  “Thank God for that.” Carolyn held her arms open. “Well, kids, come here and give me hugs. Then tell me everything I missed in the past week.”

  They gathered around, pushing each other out of the way to be the first in line.

  Then they all started talking at once.

  She turned her head and looked at Carson.

  He gifted her with that dimpled grin and mouthed I love you.

  That’s when her topsy-turvy world righted itself.

  This chaos was her life and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

  Epilogue

  Ten years later…

  “See that silver-haired fox over there?” Carson said to Cal. “She’s comin’ home with me tonight.”

  “You sure? That guy in the three-piece suit in the corner is eyeballin’ her. Looks like he’s gonna make a move soon.” Cal chuckled. “Of course, he’d have to get up and outta that wheelchair first.”

  “Don’t care if he’s in a wheelchair. He puts
a hand on her and I’ll beat his wrinkled ass.”

  Cal snorted. “Good thing you’re carryin’ around a cane, old man. Your brawlin’ days have been over for a long damn time.”

  “Piss off. That woman has been mine for sixty years. I ain’t ever gonna be too old to fight for her.”

  Carolyn threw her head back and laughed at something Kyler said. She was holding someone’s baby but there were so many kids around that he couldn’t keep track of which ones belonged to whom.

  “She is still something, all right,” Carson said to Cal, never taking his eyes off his wife.

  “Yep. Think she’s got a sister?”

  “I’ve heard that little whip of a thing is mouthy. Think you can handle her?”

  “Been doin’ my level best to handle that spitfire for the past fifty-three years,” Cal said dryly. “Give me another ten years or so and I might have it figured out.”

  Carson grinned. “Been a helluva ride, bein’ married to the West sisters.”

  “Got that right.” Cal lifted his bottle for a toast. “Best thing I ever did was drag your ass to the dancehall that night.”

  He raised his bottle and touched it to his brother’s. “Amen. And if I never said thank you…”

  “You did. So how long is this party supposed to last?”

  “Hell if I know. That’s the good thing about bein’ old; no one expects us to stay for the whole thing. They think we’re goin’ home early and goin’ to bed.” Which was partially true. He’d be taking his wife home to bed, but they sure wouldn’t be sleeping.

  Cal snorted and didn’t say a word, but he knew what was on his brother’s mind, probably because the same thing was on his. “The blonde tornado is givin’ me the stink eye so I’d better see what’s up.”

  Carson’s gaze remained on Carolyn until she sensed him staring at her.

  After passing the baby to Vi, she started toward him.

  The background noise and the groups of people faded away and all he saw was her.

  Carolyn moved slower now. She looked a little different. After her accident a decade ago, her hair follicles had sustained damage and her hair had never grown back the right way. He’d expected her vanity would force her into wearing a wig. But she refused and kept her hair in a military crew-cut style. Those once blonde tresses were completely silver. Now she was the very definition of a hot, sexy and hip grandma.

  She stopped in front of him.

  “You’re still the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. How’s about we run off together?”

  “Does that line usually work for you, cowboy?”

  He traced the edge of her jaw. “It did once. Got me what I wanted and it lasted for six glorious decades. So I wanna make sure you’re onboard for the next six decades with me.”

  “Hmm. Well, I might have to think about it… There are pros and cons.”

  “Such as?”

  “The cons? You are still too handsome for your own good. And you’d prefer to answer all challenges with your fists.You still sneak the occasional cigarette. You cuss like a sailor. You drive like an idiot.” Carolyn placed her hand on his chest, over his heart. “The pros? You’ve got a full head of hair and your own teeth. You make me laugh. You set my blood on fire. You are still the best man I’ve ever known. So, I’ll keep you around for a little while longer.”

  “Whew. I was worried there for a second you might want to upgrade this model for a newer one.”

  “The training period for a new model is far too long. Besides, they’ve replaced all your worn out parts.”

  In the last decade he’d had his other hip replaced and both knees. Most days he felt pretty good. He missed riding. He probably always would.

  Carson leaned forward and kissed her. “How’s my bride?”

  “Been sixty years since I was a blushing bride.”

  “I can still getcha to blush though.”

  “That you can, wild man McKay.” Carolyn fussed with the buttons on his shirt.

  “Something on your mind?”

  She looked up at him, worry in her eyes. “Liesl baked the anniversary cake. She used my Aunt Hulda’s recipe for the traditional German chocolate butter cake we had at our wedding. She’s hounding me to taste it to see if it’s authentic. And I don’t know what to say.”

  Another strange effect of Carolyn’s accident; she’d lost all sense of taste. She could tell the difference between hot and cold; differentiate textures, but nothing else. After the six-month recovery period, when she attempted to return to daily cooking for them, she’d realized she couldn’t cook at all. She had some sort of disconnect in her visual language skills which resulted in difficulty reading and she couldn’t follow the most basic recipe.

  So at age seventy-five he’d finally learned to cook. The only good thing about that? Since she couldn’t taste, she couldn’t tell the meals he prepared tasted like shit.

  They ate out a lot.

  And because cooking had been such a big part of what’d defined her, they’d kept her loss of skills to themselves. Carson told anyone who asked that after fifty years of kitchen duty she’d officially hung up her oven mitts and retired.

  He curled his hand around her face. “Liesl is not lookin’ for the truth, sugar. She’s lookin’ for validation from her Gran-gran because she respects the hell out of you. So tell her whatever she did surpassed the original recipe and you don’t remember it ever tastin’ that good.”

  “You always know just what to say, silver-tongued devil that you are,” she murmured.

  “How much longer do we have to stay?”

  “Another hour or so. They’re doing the whole cake-cutting thing and first dance thing, which is weird because we didn’t have either of those things at our wedding. I doubt they’re expecting us to stick around after that.”

  “Good. I have plans for us.” He brushed an openmouthed kiss at the base of her neck. “Nekkid plans that include you, me, our hot tub and a bottle of bubbly.”

  She laughed. “You really believe that hot tub is the fountain of youth, don’t you?”

  “Yep. Makes me feel twenty years younger.”

  “Lord, crazy man, I love you. You really will be chasing me around when you’re a hundred and five, won’t you?”

  Carson smiled. “Count on it.”

  Check out Lorelei James’s Author’s Notes and FAQs for behind-the-scenes information on the Rough Riders series as well as details on when other characters from this world will get their stories. Explore the McKay-West family trees, a timeline for the series and more at www.loreleijames.com.

  About the Author

  Lorelei James is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary erotic western romances set in the modern day Wild West and also contemporary erotic romances. Lorelei’s books have been nominated for and won the RT Book Reviews Reviewer’s Choice Award as well as the CAPA Award. Lorelei lives in western South Dakota with her family…and a whole closet full of cowgirl boots.

  Connect with Lorelei James:

  on Facebook: www.facebook.com/LoreleiJamesAuthor

  on Twitter: @loreleijames

  email: [email protected]

  website: www.loreleijames.com

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