"Carter sided with Dad, big f**kin' surprise. Like Colt, he's expectin' it'll get him to the front of the line when Dad comes to his senses and lets us see our mother," Cam said.
"I won't change my mind," Carson said. "This ain't a negotiation. You don't get a vote. I've said my piece. And I'm really glad your mother can't hear you right now."
"She can't hear us because we're not even on the same floor with her!" Keely said.
Enough. "I'm done here." He looked at Cal. Then Charlie. Then Vi. "I'll let one of you know if there's news or a change in Carolyn's condition and you can pass the news on to them. I can't…"
Vi moved in and patted his arm. "Say no more. You do what you have to and we'll take care of this."
"How are we supposed to get through the next week not knowin' nothin'?" Kimi demanded.
Carson looked at her. Then his children. "You can survive without her for a week. Better that than puttin' her at risk and tryin' to survive without her for the rest of your lives."
He walked out.
Upon returning to the empty ICU waiting room, he slumped against the concrete wall. Even if he closed his eyes he'd still see the anger, bewilderment and resentment aimed his way. His kids' reactions were much worse than he imagined. He might've relented and reminded them that although they couldn't see Carolyn, they could visit him in the ICU waiting room. But their sense of entitlement and anger toward him-not at the horrible situation Carolyn was in-guaranteed he didn't want them around. He had enough emotional upheaval right now.
Nurse Lissa's voice broke through his misery. "They'll get over it. I've seen this happen dozens of times. Actually it's more the norm than you'd think. These situations bring out the worst in people. And it sucks when people who love each other lash out at each other out of fear."
He'd gone beyond fear. He was straight up terrified.
"We have a tiny ICU here-two rooms. Right now the other room is empty, which means you are the sole occupant of the waiting room. If you're truly worried that your children will overstep their bounds and try to press the visitation issue, then you need to make a list and only those on the list will have access."
"Then they'll have to go through eye-recognition software, thumbprint scanners and all that fancy tech stuff?"
She smiled. "Not quite. But the regular rules state no kids under twelve, one person at a time, no one who's been in a foreign country for the previous six months, no one with an autoimmune disease…and anyone on your blacklist."
"Lemme think on it."
"Am I allowed to leave?"
"Of course. But anytime you leave this environment you take a chance. I understand that people have jobs and lives. But if you can put it on hold for the duration, that'd be best. And it'll also…prove to your kids that you're not just paying lip service to the infection threat."
"Thank you. I…" Carson didn't know what else to say.
"It's my job. I'll get everything set up so you can spend a few minutes with her before the twenty-four hour isolation starts. I'll be back in half an hour."
Okay. He could keep himself occupied for thirty minutes.
His thoughts bounced all around the place. But after he'd calmed a bit, one memory jumped front and center. The first time he saw her at the dancehall…
Fifty years earlier…
"See that sexy blonde over there? I'm gonna marry her."
Calvin McKay squinted at his twin brother Carson as if he'd grown horns. "What the hell, Carse? Who you eyeballin' now?"
Carson pointed with his beer bottle to the woman leaning against the bar, trying to look as if she was a regular at this honky-tonk-and failing miserably. His eyes moved over her, slowly, so he didn't miss an inch of her curves.
Sweet Jesus she was sweet.
With her long sweep of honey-blonde hair, heart-shaped face and full lips outlined with red lipstick, she commanded a lustful second, third and fourth look from every man in the room.
So why was she still alone?
Because she's waiting for you.
"Who is she?" Cal asked.
"No idea. Never seen her around here before." Women who looked like her were in short supply in Wyoming.
"Maybe she's just passin' through," Cal offered.
"Then I'd better make my move and convince her to stay permanently." Carson drained his beer and adjusted his hat. "How do I look?"
"How much you been drinkin'? You never give a shit about that."
"It's never mattered before."
Cal shook his head. "Right. You're so full of it."
"Fine. You look like you're already imagining her in the cab of your truck with her skirt pushed up and her panties pushed down, while you're pounding away between her thighs."
"I ain't that obvious."
"No, you're much smoother than that, but admit that we McKays have the f**k 'em and leave 'em reputation because of you, Carson."
"Bullshit. You and Casper and now even Charlie think you're so much more discreet, but you ain't."