"That is not the point! Did you even hear a word I said?"
He looked up at her. Yes, his wife was mad as hell, but she'd always been so damn cute whenever she got her dander up, so he was having a real hard time not planting a kiss on that pouty mouth. "What is the point?"
"Your sons are running wild."
"Sugar, they're teenage boys. They're gonna go a little wild sometimes. See what they can get away with. They'll do dumb shit. Same as we all did."
"You're excusing their behavior?"
"No." He stood and twisted his neck side to side to alleviate the throbbing in his head. "How did Karen's mother find out about her daughter's trip to the lake with the McKay boys? The town gossips?"
"I guess Karen confessed everything to her mother this morning."
"Everything? Was skinny dippin' all those three got up to last night? Or did something else happen?"
Her eyes widened. "You mean, like, did one of the boys have sex with her?"
"Did you ask Colby or Colt if they were messing around with her?" He didn't add: or if both of them were? At the same time?
"No. I came straight here to talk to you about this situation so you could deal with them."
That's when Carson lost his sense of humor. He wiped his hands on a greasy rag. "Why does this fall on me? Because I've got a dick? Or because I almost talked you into skinny dippin' with me when we were young and wild so I oughta know a young man's mind?"
She threw up her hands. "What has gotten into you?"
"Caro, I'm serious. I wanna know why when the boys do something wrong, that doesn't have to do with the ranch, I have to be the hardass about it and you get to swoop in and bake them goddamned cookies."
"If you ever stepped foot in the kitchen to actually cook something for your children, I might be able to laugh at that comment."
"See? You even turned the cookie-baking comment into another thing I'm doin' wrong."
"Being a little defensive, aren't you?"
"Do you blame me? Whenever one of the boys does something that requires discipline, it falls on me. That ain't fair. As I see it, you took the phone call from Karen's mother, so you oughta talk to Colby and Colt about what happened."
The confusion in her eyes made things clearer for him. She hated that her boys were growing up and keeping secrets from her, and she wanted to believe they'd done nothing wrong, but she was afraid to ask.
There were levels of wrong, but Carson didn't believe for a second either of his sons would ever disrespect a girl or a woman and force her to do something she didn't want to.
"Here's where I'm at. Our boys are good-lookin'. You know it. I know it. They know it. Hell, everyone in town knows it. I'm betting Karen climbed into Colby's pickup willingly, stripped off her clothes willingly, and had herself a good old time swimming buck-assed nekkid with our boys. But at some point she started feelin' guilty about it. Or her mother got nosy, demanding to know what Karen had been up to and Karen didn't want to admit she'd had fun, so she changed her story to one where the wild McKay boys forced her into getting naked and goin' swimming with them."
"I'm just supposed to chalk it up to boys being boys? Excuse my sons' behavior because they're McKays?"
"No, but it'll go a long way in tryin' to explain it."
"You are an exasperating man, you know that? This is why you need to deal with this. I have no experience with this wild teenage behavior, Carson. None. And you do. Lots of experience."
"If me'n Cal and Casper and Charlie had done half the crap that was blamed on us, we'd be in jail right now. Sundance is a small town, Carolyn. Rumors spread, and change so much that usually what the end person hears ain't close to the truth of what really happened. This won't be the only time we'll hafta deal with it. So we'd better come up with a way that I don't always end up bein' the bad guy."
"That's how you see it?"
"You heard me. Bull. I'll agree when it comes to ranch work and chores you crack the whip. But how often do you have to do it? Hardly ever because the boys don't want to disappoint you, or get extra chores for leaving things undone. Whereas I have to ask five times to get the garbage taken out, and then whichever boy deigns to do it, mutters about me being a nag. Same thing happens when I tell them to put away their clothes. Or to pick up their rooms. Or to help with the dishes. I can't be the disciplinarian because they don't listen to me. I'm just the nagging mother."
"Caro, that's not true."
"How long has this been goin' on?"
She rolled her eyes. "Years. So maybe I am using the gender argument when it comes to teenaged boys. But do you really believe they'll have an open conversation with their mother about sex? Cord wouldn't look me in the eye for two weeks after I found that Playboy magazine in the bathroom. He reacted the same way after that night at the Rusty Spur and I all but told him that fighting made you horny and you were about to ball my brains out in your truck."
He sighed. "All right, all right, I get it. I'll talk to them. But fair warning that if I do this, chances are slim Karen's mother is getting an apology."