"That's why you're hidin' out here?"
He nodded. "I didn't want them to die alone."
Carson pressed his lips to Carter's sweaty forehead. He was such a sweet boy.
Then Carter said, "But then I was scared that maybe you'd whup me for killin' them, so I was hidin'."
He had to work hard not to laugh. "You didn't kill them. They're pretty sick though. But that's their own doin'. They're greedy pups and they don't know better than to eat everything in sight. I'm thinkin' maybe they learned their lesson."
"Sorry, Daddy, I just wanted to help."
"I know. I'm sorry that you've been sittin' out here by yourself, while your brothers…" He sighed and set Carter down. "Let's make sure the door to the feed stall is shut tight before we head back to the house."
The morning of day three, Carson called Cal and asked if he wanted to come over with Kade and Kane for a couple of hours so he and Cord and Colby could get some work done. His brother laughed, said no way in hell, said it wasn't his problem that Carson had three times more kids than he did and hung up on him.
So as to not have a repeat of the previous day, leaving the kids unattended in the house, Carson and Colby saddled up. Cord drove the feed truck and his siblings rode along. He led the cattle through four pastures and Carson and Colby followed behind wrangling the strays. What should've taken two hours took four and a half.
By the time they returned home, the boys were starved and fighting, and Keely had a complete meltdown because Colt threw the wildflower she'd picked out the pickup window.
Lunch was a free for all and as he looked in the refrigerator, he wondered where the hell all the food had gone. And how they could be completely out of dishes when the boys complained that he wasn't feeding them?
He shooed the kids out of the kitchen and loaded the dishwasher just to have some peace and quiet, knowing Caro would probably fall over in shock if she saw him. It wasn't that he believed domestic chores were women's work-over the years he'd offered to help out, but his wife made it very clear that the house was her domain and any help she needed she'd get from their children. He figured her stance was because if she accepted his help then she'd have to reciprocate and help him with cow stuff.
Afterward Carson sat down with a cup of coffee.
Within five minutes he heard, "Dad?"
He glanced up from the newspaper-the first chance he'd had to read two-day-old news-and saw Colby leaning in the doorframe. "Yeah?"
"I need to work on my ropin' skills for junior rodeo."
"Ride and rope?"
He nodded. "Been workin' on stationary ropin' and I gotta step it up for the meet at the end of the month."
He'd been promising the kid since last week he'd help him get in some practice time. "All right. As soon as Keely is up from her nap we'll head out there."
Colby snorted. "She ain't sleepin'. She's been bouncin' and singin' ever since you put her in her crib."
Great. He drained his coffee. "Get saddled up. I'll send Cord to gather calves. Where is he?"
Colby jerked his chin toward the stairs. "In the bathroom. He spends more time in there lately than a girl. Me'n Colt and Cam have had to start goin' outside."
Oh hell no. Cord wasn't…
Yes, of course he was. He was that age. Where once he could whack off that's all he'd ever want to do.
"Tell him to get his ass out of the bathroom. I'll round up the boys and Keely. You okay with me bein' your hazer or would you rather Cord did it?"
"All right. But it'll be a short session."
Carson had Colt and Cam carry the bench from the picnic table outside the corral, while he carried Keely. With her mother being gone, the girl had serious abandonment issues. Or maybe she was just cranky from day two with no nap.
Piece of cake, right?
He told the smart voice in his head to f**k off.
The area offset from the barn was just a dirt pasture-not a setup per rodeo specs, but it'd work for Colby's skill level. Although he knew if any of the boys took a serious interest in rodeo, they'd have to invest in space and equipment.
He passed Keely off to Colt and squatted down so all three boys were paying attention to him. "Your butts don't leave this bench, understand?"
"What if I hafta go to the bathroom?" Carter asked.
"What if a big rattlesnake comes out of a hole in the ground and its fangs are dripping poison and it acts like it's gonna attack us?" Cam asked with a straight face.
He gave Cam a level look. "Even then. And maybe you oughta back off the evil critter scenarios in front of the littler kids?"
Cam sighed and kicked at the dirt. "I told Ma that readin' would just get me in trouble."
"This ain't gonna take long, so you all just sit here and watch us." Carson hustled to ready his horse. Once he mounted up, he noticed four angry mama cows outside the corral bellowing at their calves. The calves were too busy frolicking inside the pen to pay attention.
Colby was working his rope, keeping his horse Bart reined in. That gelding liked to bolt and Carson didn't trust any of his kids besides Colby to handle the ornery thing.