"Why would you think that?"
Her gaze hooked his. "It'd make sense that you could propose on the spur of the moment if you already had the ring."
"Like I had it on hand and I was just waitin' on the right woman to give it to?"
"Wrong. I bought this ring specifically for you. Today."
"That's seriously romantic."
Carson placed his large hand over her smaller one and traced the stone with his thumb. "So you like it?"
"I love it." She pecked him on the mouth. "I-" a kiss, "-love-" another kiss, "-you."
"I love you too."
She teared up again. "That's the first time you've said that to me."
His eyebrows rose. "It is? Huh. I thought I'd said it before."
"It doesn't count when we're naked."
"Sure it does." He chuckled and kissed her nose. "What're we doin' tonight?"
"I'm still in shock. Can we go someplace quiet where we can make plans?"
"You don't wanna tell your family?"
She shook her head. "It can wait until tomorrow. I don't want anyone to ruin tonight because it's ours."
Happy as he was that she didn't have rose-colored glasses on when it came to their family situation, it put him on edge knowing big obstacles were in front of them. "I'd offer my place-which will be our place soon enough-but once we're alone I'm gonna be all over you."
"How well I know that." She smirked. "How happy I am about that. Let's have a sweet treat here while we talk. And if we get through all that…" her lips teased his ear, "…we'll see about you getting a taste of my sweet pu…dding."
Damn, he loved this woman.
Later on that night, Carson couldn't very well say that men didn't give a shit about wedding planning stuff-even when it was true.
"We'll need to meet with the priest right away and I'll get started making my dress." She fiddled with her ring. "How long of an engagement do you want? I was thinking the first part of October for the wedding."
"October? Not happening, Carolyn. That's too damn long."
"When do you see us getting married?" she countered.
"Within a month. But if I had my way? We'd apply for a marriage license tomorrow and make it official as soon as the law allows."
That stubborn chin came up. "We are getting married in the Catholic church. End of discussion."
"Fine. There shouldn't be a problem since I don't have to convert. We'll be husband and wife no more than one month from now. That's my end of discussion point."
"But…why are you so adamant on the short time frame?"
Carson took her hand. "I want to start spendin' my life with you now. Not months down the road. Why don't you just admit the only reason you don't want this wedding to happen so soon is because you're afraid people will gossip that we had to get married."
Her eyes flashed guilt.
"I don't give a damn what anyone thinks, Caro. The sooner you learn that about me the better."
"That's not the only reason you want it done in a month. You afraid I'll change my mind?"
He smiled at her. "No, I ain't afraid you'll change your mind. It's just…this is the slow time of year for us. That means I can spend a lot of time with you."
"During that free time you'll teach me things so I'm not a greenhorn ranch wife?"
"Yep." Carson ran the pad of his thumb over her knuckles. "But why're you a greenhorn? My dad said the Wests owned Ag land?"
"We did. I mean we do. The land was my grandfather's and he passed it on, but Dad had no interest in ranching. He started working in the coal mine when he was sixteen. He and my mom lived in the ranch house until Stuart was born and they needed something bigger. That's when they bought the place we live in now."
"So they just abandoned the house and the land?"
"Dad leased it out until Harland was old enough to take over. I wasn't raised around cows. Or horses. They sorta scare me."
Carson grinned. "I'll have you ropin' and ridin' in no time, Mrs. McKay."
"That sounds weird."
"No, sugar, it sounds perfect."
She was up at five a.m. when her father came into the kitchen to grab his lunch pail. He grumped around, half asleep, so maybe it wasn't the best time to talk to him, but he needed to hear the news from her.
"Dad. I need to talk to you about something."
He froze, his hunched shoulders straightened when he turned around. His brown eyes were sharp, the cloud of sleep gone. "If this is about Kimi comin' back early, like I told you ten times before, it ain't happening."
"It's not about Kimi. It's about me. And Carson." She thrust out her hand and couldn't help but smile at how the diamond shone even in dim light. "We're getting married."
Then her father was right in her face. "Did that son of a bitch knock you up?"