“Uh-huh. And that wouldn’t give your dad a very good impression of me, would it?”

“Well, he already doesn’t like you because you’re a West—”

Carolyn shoved him.

He laughed. “Just kiddin’, sugar.”

“Carson? You still up there?” his dad shouted up the staircase.

“Yeah. We’re comin’ down.” He sighed. “And that is why I don’t live here anymore. Snoopy damn man.” They moved past the closed doors, taking the narrow set of stairs back to the main floor.

“They built this house with servants in mind, didn’t they?”

“I guess. These stairs came in handy when we were sneakin’ back in after curfew.”

She gasped. “I can’t believe a good Catholic boy like you would do that.”

“Just because Father Dorian called me that don’t mean it’s true.”

His dad was waiting in the kitchen. The aroma of coffee filled the air.

Rather than hanging back, Carolyn walked over to the counter. “If you’ll get plates and a pie cutter, I’ll dish up.”

Carson didn’t offer to help. His dad needed to make up for being an ass. If he’d had his way, his father would’ve been denied pie, just like her family had been.

They carried their plates and cups into the dining room. After a couple of bites, Jed McKay said, “This is good. Thanks for bringing it. I hafta get my sweet fix at the diner.”

“You tick off all them women who were dropping off coffee cakes, pies and cookies?”

His father iced him with a look. “Yep. Not interested in getting married and that’s what they were all angling for.” He looked at Carolyn.

She smiled. “Rest assured, Mr. McKay, I’m not interested in marrying you.” She shoved a bite of pie in her mouth.

Carson about choked on his coffee.

“You don’t look old enough to get married. How old are you?”

“Dad—”

“That’s fine, Carson, I’ll answer. I just graduated from St. Mary’s. I’ll be nineteen soon.”

“You sticking around these parts?”

“We’ll see. I’m here over the summer.”

He sipped his coffee. “How’s your mother?”

Then everything started to fall into place. Talking to Carolyn’s mother after lunch, she’d asked about his dad. Obviously they knew each other. How well? Then he remembered the story Thomas told him about Eli West putting Jed McKay in the hospital years ago.

Had that been over Carolyn’s mother? That made the most sense. No wonder the men hated each other. And it had nothing to do with the supposed blood feud between Eli and Jed’s fathers.

“Right, son?”

He looked at his dad. “What?”

“I asked if she’d been at the dancehall last night when you mixed it up.”

“I told him I’d already left and he said it was a good thing,” Carolyn inserted.

He wasn’t about to let his dad deliver a lecture about fighting. He’d been hearing that same lecture since his first fight at age ten. He finished his coffee and stood. “We gotta run.”

Startled, Carolyn pushed back from the table and said, “Excuse me. I need to use the facilities,” and disappeared down the hallway.

As soon as she was out of earshot, his dad warned, “Don’t go getting serious about her.”

“Why not?”

“She’s too damned young for one thing. She’s the daughter of Eli West for another.”

“She’s also Clara’s daughter.”

“Don’t matter. I don’t want you seein’ her again.”

“What you want don’t matter to me because I am seein’ her and I’m already serious about her.”

His father crossed his arms over his chest. “It should matter because I hold all the cards for your future. Be a mighty bleak one for you if you see her in it.”

“So you’re…threatening me? You get off on makin’ me jump through hoops. So go on and tell me, Dad. If I don’t break it off with her, you’ll disinherit me? Kick me off the ranch?”

“You mark my words, boy, that girl will—”

“I left you a slice of pie, Mr. McKay,” Carolyn said as she breezed back into the dining room. “I promised the rest to your son.”

“I’ll just bet you did.”

Would Carolyn think less of him if he took a swing at his old man?

Probably.

“Come on, sugar, we got places to be.”

Carolyn held the pie in one hand and he grabbed her free hand. “Nice meeting you, Mr. McKay.”

They were out the door before they heard his dad’s response. They were out of the driveway before Carson spoke. “Sorry about that.”

“What did he say to you that prompted our quick exit?”

“Nothin’ worth repeating.” He pulled off to the side of the road. “When I talked to your mom today she asked about my dad. Doesn’t it seem odd that my dad would ask about your mom?”

Her eyes went wide. “Do you think they…?”

“Dated? Snuck around? Maybe. Maybe even behind your dad’s back when he was dating your mom. Seems to be the reputation McKays have.” He paused to breathe. “Years ago Eli put my dad in the hospital.”

“I didn’t know that! How’d you find that out?”

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