So much for Cord being the healing bridge between the McKay and West families. It’d taken a tragic death to do that years later when a new life should have.

“Carson?”

He’d been so lost in thought, he hadn’t heard anyone approach. He faced his daughter-in-law, Macie. “Hey, darlin’, what’re you doin’ here?”

“Checking up on you.” She set a brown paper bag on the chair. “Feeding you since I suspect you’re living on Dr. Pepper.”

“It keeps me awake and satisfies my sweet tooth.”

“Like father like son. Carter can’t get enough of the stuff either. And before you ask, Carter isn’t here. He went home for a few days since…”

“Since I won’t let him see his mother.”

Macie shook her head. “He supports your decision. I don’t know if you remembered him telling you that during the big blow-up.”

“I remember. I just wasn’t sure whether he’d changed his mind and had thrown in with the others.”

“No. He’s working on a big commissioned piece that’s due the end of the month and he can block everything out when he’s got the welder going.” She smiled, but it didn’t warm her brown eyes like usual. “Though I doubt it’ll be easy for him to keep his head from spinning this time. He’s freaked out about this situation with Carolyn.”

“Everyone is.”

“How are you holding up? Really.”

Carson plunked down and she settled into the chair beside him. He didn’t know Macie as well as his other daughters-in-law since she and Carter lived in Canyon River. What he knew of her he liked; she was passionately protective of Carter and had supported them financially through the lean years of Carter’s career as an artist. Now that his son had made a name for himself in the world of western art, as well as earned hefty commissions on his pieces that provided a high standard of living for Macie and their four children, Macie could’ve quit her job managing two restaurants. But she claimed she enjoyed the work and messing around in the kitchen—and that attitude reminded him of Carolyn. His wife still tried new recipes for him as well as cooked meals for shut-in members of the church, new parents, grieving families—anyone in the community in need.

“Carson?”

His gaze connected with hers. “Sorry. I’m prone to driftin’ off into a trance-like state without warnin’, which tells you how I’m holdin’ up. Poorly.”

“What can I do?”

“Tell me about my grandkids.”

“They’re all healthy, so I’m not dragging some kid crud along with me.”

“Is Thane helpin’ out his Grandpa Cash with the bull ridin’ school this summer?”

“As much as my dad will let him and Ryder help out. Sometimes Thane comes to the restaurant with me. He thinks loading the industrial dishwasher is big fun.”

“Caro’s trained me to do that. ’Bout the only thing I can do in the kitchen besides make a mess. What’s Parker up to?”

“The kid loves baseball. I swear we could spend every weekend at the ball fields and he already practices three times a week.”

“Me’n Gran-gran had planned to visit in a couple of weeks to watch him pitch. Has Spencer been bitten by the baseball bug this summer too?”

“He’s all about the rodeo. He keeps warning us he’s gonna be a bulldogger.” She mock shuddered. “The thought of my child throwing himself off a horse onto another animal at breakneck speed almost makes me break out in hives.”

Carson smiled. “Carolyn used to say the same thing. I’m pretty sure she closes her eyes when her grandsons do it. What’s my sweet little Poppy seed been up to?”

“Rescuing critters. She found motherless kitties and a nest of baby mice last week. She put them all in the same box in the barn so they wouldn’t be lonely. It’ll be interesting to see if the mice become catnip. Carter wanted to tell her trying to make them one family wasn’t a good idea, but I said to let her be. If anyone could get kittens and mice to coexist it’d be our daughter.”

“Sounds like the kids are all good. They to the fightin’ stage yet? I remember it drove Carolyn crazy in the summer when the boys were together all time and they’d start fightin’ constantly.”

“That hasn’t happened. But sometimes I feel our kids aren’t as close as they should be. I hear all these fun stories about Carter’s growing up years and wonder if our kids will have those kinds of memories.”

“I think the memories always seem better in hindsight. I know some of the stuff they reminisce about wasn’t the great time they make it out to be.”

“As an only child I don’t have anything to compare it to. So I’m like, go outside and build a tree fort together! Make some memories! They just look at me like I’m crazy and ask if they can play video games.”

“It’s a different world. Makes me an old timer to say that, but it’s true. And you can’t force your kids to like each other. You hope they do, but there’s gonna be times they can’t stand the sight of one another. If you’re lucky they’ll outgrow it. Sometimes we don’t.”

Macie’s gaze turned shrewd. “You’re talking about you and Casper.”

He shrugged. “I won’t lie. None of us particularly liked him, even from the time we were kids.” Carson looked down at his hands. He’d automatically clenched them into fists thinking about his brother. After Charlie had told him and Cal about the physical abuse Casper had inflicted on Dalton as a boy, he’d wished he could dig up that bastard so he could beat the f**k out of him one last time. He’d never hated anyone as much as he hated his brother in that moment. That old rage surfaced, tempting him to go looking for a fight. But he was pretty sure no one would take on a seventy-four-year-old man unless he cased the local retirement center.

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