Cowboy take me away, p.1
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       Cowboy Take Me Away, p.1
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         Part #16 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James  



  Dedication

  Thank you to my readers who’ve stuck with the Rough Riders series for the past seven years…it’s been a journey I’ll never forget and I’m so glad I got to share the McKay family with all of you.

  Now sit back and enjoy this story of young love that grew and matured during life’s joys, triumphs and sorrows, a love that stayed the course and is still going strong after fifty years…

  Chapter One

  Carson McKay ambled across the yard, his pace measured as he surveyed his western kingdom on the high plains of Wyoming. Everywhere he looked he saw proof that he’d poured a lifetime of blood and sweat into this ranching operation. His slow gait wasn’t due to taking time to smell the freshly mown hay, but mostly from his hip replacement surgery two months ago.

  According to his doctor, the years he’d spent in the saddle contributed to the problem.

  But the hours he’d spent on horseback defined him. To him the only thing better than a good horse was a good woman—although his wife would argue that point.

  Speak of the devil.

  Carson squinted at the image on the horizon moving closer. Since his doctor had ordered him not to ride for six months, his wife had taken over exercising his mare, Sheridan. Although Sheridan was getting up there in years, the old gal still had a spark of feistiness. But her attempts to show Carolyn who was boss had ended when Caro started carrying a riding crop. Just the threat of it kept Sheridan in line.

  He kept his gaze on the horse and rider burning up the pasture. As always, Carolyn was a sight to behold astride a horse. Despite the woman not being born to the saddle, she’d learned to ride after they’d married. She defined beauty and grace no matter what she did.

  And he was a lucky, lucky man.

  He raised his arm to greet her but she didn’t acknowledge him. That’s when he noticed Sheridan was tearing across the field at a full gallop like the hounds of hell nipped at her hooves.

  Why the hell wasn’t Caro reining her in? Carson shouted, “Pull back!” but they kept coming in hard and fast.

  Carolyn angled forward, desperately reaching for…?

  Shit. Looked like the bridle had broken and Carolyn had lost the reins. Sheridan’s Achilles heel was if she got spooked, she wouldn’t stop until she’d reached the safety of the barn.

  Just then Sheridan’s ass end skidded out and she came to an abrupt stop.

  Everything happened in slow motion.

  Somehow Carolyn managed to hang on…until Sheridan reared up, throwing Carolyn off with the force of a bucking horse. In a blink of an eye, Carolyn hit the ground.

  Despite the shooting pain in his hip, Carson started to run.

  The panicked voice in his head screamed, why the fuck wasn’t she moving? Even as logic dictated she’d probably gotten the wind knocked out of her.

  Carolyn hadn’t stirred by the time he’d reached the gate. Or by the time he’d closed it behind him.

  His silent plea, please let her be okay, please let her be okay, repeated on a continual loop until he got close enough to see that she wasn’t okay. Not at fucking all.

  Carson fell to his knees in the dirt beside her. In shock, he couldn’t do anything but stare.

  Her eyes were closed, her face was slack, her arms and legs were akimbo. At least her neck didn’t look broken.

  It wasn’t, was it? She was breathing, wasn’t she?

  Carolyn’s phantom voice, urging him to stop gawking and do something, prompted him to press his fingers into the side of her throat, checking for a pulse.

  Faint, but there.

  Thank God.

  He placed his hand on her chest. Shallow breaths, but he could feel her lungs laboring.

  “Caro? Sugar, can you hear me?”

  No response.

  He pulled his phone out of the leather case hooked to his belt and dialed 911.

  “Crook County dispatch. What’s your emergency?”

  “This is Carson McKay. My wife got thrown from her horse and she’s not movin’.” Dispatch asked a few more questions, which annoyed him and he cut the dispatcher off with, “Just send the goddamned ambulance.” He rattled off his address by rote as he stroked Carolyn’s cheek. Somehow he kept it together when he saw the blood seeping out from underneath her head. “And hurry.” He ended the call.

  Then he picked up her hand, pressing her palm to his face. When he heard Sheridan’s distressed whinny, he forced himself to leave Carolyn’s side.

  Sheridan came right over when he whistled. He unsaddled her first and then removed the bridle. He didn’t bother to check the bridle’s malfunction; he just threw it beside the saddle and returned to his wife. She still hadn’t moved.

  “Stay with me, sugar.” Needing to assure himself she was still alive, he rested his lips against the pulse point in her wrist, praying help arrived soon.

  The ambulance took them straight to the Spearfish hospital.

  Carson filled out the pages of paperwork—without complaint. But he did it by her bedside while the doctors assessed her. He observed from across the room when they shaved the back and top portion of her head. He kept one hand wrapped around the metal rail of her hospital bed when they wheeled her to X-ray. He reclaimed his chair when they returned to her room. He never said a word. He listened. He observed. He prayed.

  A lot.

  Then the medical personnel gently but firmly removed him from her room. He paced in the waiting room for family members of trauma patients.

  Trauma.

  One hour stretched into two, into three, into four. When the nurses asked if he wanted to speak with his family members gathered in the main waiting area, he said no.

  At hour six, two young doctors, Dr. Vincent and Dr. McMillan, the neurologist from Rapid City, scooted two chairs in the waiting room across from him.

  “Mr. McKay. As you’re aware, your wife hadn’t regained consciousness since the injury. We know from the X-rays that the blunt force trauma of impact with the ground has caused her brain to swell. We’ve taken no course of action yet simply because we needed to observe her these past few hours. Sometimes patients come out of these incidents on their own. That is not the case with Mrs. McKay. During our observation the swelling in her brain has increased considerably.”

  Considerably. Jesus. “Does she have brain damage?”

  “Too soon to tell.”

  “So, what now? I just sit here and hope she opens her damn eyes?”

  “No. With what we’ve observed we can detail our proposed treatment.”

  “Which is what?”

  The doctors exchanged a look. Neither man seemed old enough to practice medicine and that didn’t set Carson’s mind at ease.

  The dark-haired doctor spoke first. “We’d like to place your wife in a medically induced coma.”

  Carson opened his mouth to say the fuck that is happening.

  “Hear us out. We’ve already given your wife an IV of Mannitol that reduces cranial pressure from swelling via drainage. But it hasn’t worked as well as we expected. So Dr. Vincent—” he gestured to his red-haired colleague, “—your wife’s anesthesiologist, has proposed using a sedative called Propofol, normally used during surgical procedures, to put Mrs. McKay into a temporary coma.”

  “Ain’t she already in a coma?”

  “Technically, yes. But putting her in a medically induced coma gives us control—not her body—and with the drugs we can bring her out of it at our discretion. It also allows time for the brain swelling to decrease, which hopefully will limit the amount of permanent damage to the brain tissue.”

  “This isn’t an experimental procedure? You do this all the time?”

  Dr. Vincent nodded. “It’s the best possible
way to deal with the altered metabolism in the brain that’s caused by injury. With pharmaceuticals we can keep the brain from shutting down and maintain other important body functions. But that also means your wife will be on medication to keep her heart pumping and medication to keep her blood pressure steady. Plus we’ll put her on a respirator to mechanically control her respiration rate.”

  Dr. McMillan rested his elbows on his knees and leaned closer. “We’ll keep her chemically sedated only as long as we have to. There are other risk factors with this treatment. Pneumonia and blood clots being at the top of the list—muscle paralysis is a possibility too.”

  Carson’s head spun. He had to remind himself they were talking about Carolyn, the woman he loved, being hooked up to all sorts of nasty machines with chemicals being pumped into her body.

  “We’ve conferred with our colleagues at the neurosciences department at Denver General Hospital—getting a second and third opinion—and they’ve agreed our proposed treatment has the best chance of success. If you agree we’ll need to get this underway immediately.”

  “Is there another option?”

  “If we do nothing there’s a chance—albeit an infinitesimal one—that her body will spontaneously heal.”

  “Or she might never…” Recover. Carson closed his eyes. No fucking way. He couldn’t—he wouldn’t—accept that.

  “Is there someone else you need to discuss this with before making a decision?”

  He thought of his kids. Carolyn was their mother, but she was his wife—his entire damn life—so this decision rested solely on his shoulders. “No. Go ahead and treat her.” He swallowed hard, trying to dislodge the lump in his throat. “How long will she be…?”

  “A minimum of five days. Most likely a week to ten days. Since she has an open wound on the back of her head and the brain used it as a conduit to try and dump excess fluid, the risk of infection is extremely high—much higher than normal. As soon as we have your consent, we’ll dress the wound and put her in a sterile environment.”

  The docs exchanged another look.

  “What aren’t you tellin’ me?”

  “After she’s hooked up to the respirator and EEG, we’ll move her to ICU. Visitation will be limited.”

  His eyes narrowed. “How limited?”

  “We’ll allow…five minutes an hour.”

  “That time is allotted for other family members. Not for me, right?”

  Dr. McMillan shook his head. “That includes you. To be completely honest, we’re mandating no visitors for the first twenty-four hours as we’re adjusting her medication levels and when the risk of infection is highest. I cannot emphasize this enough. Your wife is highly susceptible to infection.”

  “Make no mistake; I ain’t leavin’ her side even in the twenty-four hours she don’t know I’m here. I may only get five minutes an hour with her, but the other fifty-five minutes of the day I will be right outside her door.”

  “Mr. McKay, I’m not sure—”

  “I am one hundred percent sure that I will not leave my wife alone in this state. If that’s gonna be a problem for you, say so now.”

  “As long as you know the only reason we’re putting these restrictions on visitation is to protect her.”

  Carson nodded. Then he sighed and rubbed the back of his neck.

  “Other questions?”

  “Not right now, I’m still tryin’ to get a handle on all this.”

  “Understood. It’s a lot to process. We have work to do, to get the treatment started.”

  And he had nothing to do but sit around and wait.

  “Mr. McKay?”

  Carson glanced up at the nurse. “Yes?”

  “Your wife has been moved to ICU.”

  He pushed to his feet. “Any change in her?”

  “I don’t know. I’m only passing along the information about the room change.”

  “Thank you.”

  The young nurse—her nametag read Lissa—waited for him by the door. “I’ll take you to where your family is waiting.”

  Any time before when he’d had to deal with hospital visits or waiting around for any kind of news, he’d had Carolyn as his buffer. As his rock. When it’d been a prolonged wait, like when they were holed up waiting to hear word on Cam when he’d gone missing, they’d taken turns bolstering each other. Always in private. Not because he’d been ashamed of his fear and grief, but because he’d never had to explain it to her. Or she to him. They just understood each other on a level that defied logic.

  Carson said, “It’d be a huge favor if you were there as I explain the situation because they ain’t gonna like it.”

  “Of course.”

  They rode the elevator from the second floor to the main level.

  How was he supposed to deal with his kids’ upset over the situation when he hadn’t figured out a way to deal with his own yet? Especially when in doing the only thing he could to protect her, he’d piss off his kids and Carolyn’s sister by enforcing the “no visitation” rule.

  She’d do it for you. If your life was on the line you can bet your ass she’d bar the damn door without apology.

  But his sweet, wonderful Carolyn could get away with that. His kids would just think he was being an asshole, because he’d been that man more than a few times over the years.

  Carson paused outside the waiting room, taking stock of his family.

  Cord paced. Colby sat in the corner with his head resting against the wall. Colt stared out the window. Cam studied the carpet. Carter twisted and untwisted a magazine between his hands. Keely prowled the perimeter. Carson’s brother Charlie watched TV, his wife Vi by his side. Carolyn’s sister Kimi sat beside his brother Cal.

  Keely’s head snapped up. Then she was throwing herself into his arms. “Daddy! What happened? No one will tell us anything besides Mama’s been admitted. Please tell me she’s okay. Please.”

  Carter pried Keely away from him. “Keels. We talked about this. Back off and let Dad talk.”

  A million expectant eyes bored into him.

  Just spit it out.

  “Carolyn was exercising Sheridan. Near as I can tell, something broke in the bridle. Then it spooked the horse and she reared, throwing your mother off. I saw it happen so I was able to get to her immediately. She was instantly knocked unconscious. I called an ambulance and we’ve been here ever since.”

  “Has she regained consciousness?” Cam asked.

  “No. She’s had X-rays and tests and they’ve been observing her. Her brain swelling increased to the critical stage.” He paused. “She’s in a medically induced coma. In doc speak that means they’ve taken control of her body with drugs and machines, tryin’ to reduce swelling and circumvent permanent brain damage.”

  “For how long?”

  “Five days to a week. Or longer.”

  He waited as that sunk in. And he could tell by the way they were gaping at him it’d take them time to process it—not that he had a handle on the situation. He was a mess.

  Couldn’t they see that?

  No. They’d see him as they wanted to and he braced himself for the upcoming fight because guaranteed it’d be a doozie.

  “You’re sure that was the best choice? Or was that the only choice the doctors gave you?” Keely demanded. “Who did you have advising you on the medical procedure? Did you even call Doc Monroe?”

  He loved his daughter, but it took every ounce of restraint not to snap at her. “Doc Monroe is not a neurologist. Dr. McMillan is. I agreed with their proposed treatment plan because it has the greatest chance of success.”

  “But I think—”

  “I do not give a good goddamn what you think, Keely. I made the decision for my wife. And if you think I made that fuckin’ decision lightly, think again.”

  Silence.

  Carson inhaled a slow breath and tried to keep his tone even. “As long as you’re all here, listen up because I’m gonna say it one time and there will be no arguin’. Carolyn has an
open wound on the back of her head from the fall which was oozing brain fluid. The risk of infection is very high, especially in the comatose state she’s in with all her primary body functions bein’ maintained by chemicals or a machine. She’s in ICU and there’s no visitation for the first twenty-four hours.”

  “Then after that?”

  “Extremely limited.”

  “For anyone?” Keely asked.

 
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