“So you’ll miss a day of work.”

“Last I knew you had three other sons who could take up the slack for one damn day,” Carson retorted.

“Cow! Mmmooo,” Cord said, pointing to the cattle slowly making their way to the stock tank.

“That’s right. A cow says moo. What’s a horse say?”

“Giddy up!”

Carson grinned. He loved that Cord had started to talk. “A horse says neigh. Think Grandpop will let you feed his horse some oats?”

“Sure I will,” his dad said. “Get the bucket while I’m finishing this up.”

“Down,” Cord said.

“Nope.”

Cord’s little booted feet kicked. “Daddy. Down.”

“Do you wanna feed the horse?”

He nodded.

“Then you gotta stay close by me. I can’t have you runnin’ around and getting hurt, okay?”

“’Kay.”

For all of Jed McKay’s blustering about having the boy underfoot, it amazed Carson that he was so patient with Cord. Showing him things outside. Setting up the wooden blocks and toys inside. Sneaking him ice cream. Jed just came over and plucked Cord from Carson’s arms and headed into the barn.

Since he’d become a father himself, Carson wondered how much his dad helped his mother when they were babies and toddlers. He couldn’t imagine having two little Cords to keep track of—like his mother had dealt with, with him and Cal. Having two kids in two and a half years would be hard enough.

He waited by the fence for his dad and son to return, wondering how to broach the subject of a pay increase. Things were tight and he was making the same money now as he had when he and Carolyn first got married.

They wandered out of the barn, Grandpop in a deep discussion with Cord about something when a Buick tore up the driveway and slammed on the brakes in the middle of the yard.

Then a tall, gray-haired man climbed out of the driver’s side and angrily stormed toward them.

The potentially dangerous situation had Carson snatching Cord away from his dad.

“You!” The man pointed to Jed. “Are you Casper McKay’s father?”

“Who wants to know?”

“I do.”

“And who the hell are you?”

“Patrick Tellman.” Then he sneered at Carson. “Another one who can’t keep his pants zipped. You’re populating the whole area with McKays, ain’t ya?”

“You’re about to meet the business end of my shotgun, comin’ on McKay land and insulting me and mine.”

“Is Casper your son?” he demanded.

“Yes, he is. What’s he done now?”

“He knocked up my daughter, that’s what he’s done.”

Carson glanced at his father, but the man didn’t show a lick of emotion.

“Who’s your daughter?”

“Of course you gotta ask that since rumor has it all of your sons are notorious for catting around in three counties.”

“Stop with the insults and get to the point,” Carson warned.

“Who is your daughter?” Jed asked again.

“Joan Tellman.”

Not a name Carson recognized. Last he knew Casper had been seeing a woman in Spearfish named Donna.

“So your daughter Joan is pregnant and she claims Casper is the father?”

“Claims?” Patrick Tellman moved in toe to toe with Jed. “Casper is the father. My Joan is a good girl and swore to me Casper was the only man she’s ever been with. But I can understand why you’d be suspicious since a sweet Christian girl ain’t your sons’ normal type.

Wrong. Carson thought of his Carolyn—a good Catholic girl to the core. She embodied decency and goodness. He accompanied her to church hoping some of her ways would rub off on him. God knew he could use it.

“Don’t seem like she’s showing such good Christian values if she’s pregnant outside of wedlock,” Jed said evenly, and Carson knew he was trying to retain his cool. “Has your daughter mentioned this to Casper?”

“No. That’s why I’m here. Father to father. I’m telling you I expect Casper to marry Joan as soon as possible.”

Jed McKay didn’t say anything. Then he gave Patrick Tellman a resigned look. “I’ll talk to Casper today and I’ll have him contact Joan tonight.”

“And if she doesn’t hear from him?”

“She will. I guarantee it. You have my word.”

That seemed to satisfy the man. He nodded, spun on his heel and marched back to his car. His exit from the ranch was more subdued than his entrance.

Carson really wished he’d been long gone when this went down.

“That dumb f**ker,” his dad said and Carson knew he wasn’t referring to Patrick Tellman.

“No kiddin’. I didn’t know he was seein’ this Joan woman.”

“Never heard her name before today. But that don’t mean nothin’. Only woman you ever brought home was Carolyn. And you had your share of rumors long before that.” Jed sighed. “I need a goddamned shot of whiskey.”

Here was his chance to escape. “I’ll leave you to it. Let me know what happens.”

“I already know what’ll happen—Casper is getting married.” He pointed at Carson. “You ain’t goin’ nowhere. In light of this there’s some ranch business to straighten out.”

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