- A Serialized Novel -

Sorting out Carson's legacy only leads to more questions.

Author’s Note: Unfortunately, it’s not quite as striking a difference when Carson is in costume as it is for Mackenna.

Carson in Costume

“Okay, do me a favor and get all the laughing out of the way now so that I don’t have to deal with it later. Oh, and maybe it’ll shore me up for when my brothers start in on me. No, nothing will help with that, but you could maybe try.”

“I could offer to beat them up for you,” Mackenna told him, setting down her spoon and taking a sip from the coffee mug. Mac would give her a look—he was all for Grandma’s rule about no drinks in the Maxwell, but she was still fighting a hangover and wanted the coffee for her own peace of mind if nothing else. “Would you want that?”

“I have a feeling someone will be fighting today,” Carson said, and she nodded, putting the cap on the cup and turning to him. “Well? Do I look stupid and ridiculous?”

She looked him over, shaking her head. No, it wasn’t as much of a transformation as hers was, what with the dress thing, but the vest worked for him. Put on the suit coat, and anyone would hire him for his next job—or for a few other things that she had no business thinking about. He looked sharp, clean, good. He didn’t seem much like the man she’d seen in hideous sweatpants or even that business suit of his, at least in appearance. No, this was a definite improvement. She liked it.

“You’re sure?”

“Come on, Carson. How is this that different from what you wear to work every day?”

“Well, there’s the band on the arm, and the collar is different, and it’s got a fob watch, too, and what am I doing? I must look like an idiot.”

“You look fine. I’m the one that looks ridiculous.”

“Uh huh. Not for a second.”

She smiled, about to wrap her arm around his when she saw his cuff. She tried to lift his hand to get a better look at the shirt, but he pulled away. “I was hoping you’d tell me to forget it. This isn’t going to work. I mean, the shirt doesn’t even button properly.”

“If it’s under the vest, no one would know. I can’t tell,” she told him, setting down her mug and catching his hand. “That’s a creative way of dealing with the fact that I forgot the cufflinks.”

“Oh. Cufflinks. Right. That explains why they didn’t have any buttons.”

She nodded. “Yeah. They’re probably in the Woodsman or maybe in Shadow. Mac has a few sets, and they get around places. Not that he’s worn that suit there in years. I’m not sure he was ever as trim as you. Look at you. All nice and crisp.”

“I feel stupid. I can’t believe I’m doing this.” He lowered his head, running a hand through his hair. “I don’t know how I’m going to face my brothers. They’re going to make fun of me all day.”

“I told you—I’ll beat them up for you.”


She grinned, almost looking forward to it, but then a camera flash startled them both, and they jerked, looking back at Natalie. She snapped another, a smile on her face. “You two make a nice matched set there. Here, stand closer together and give me a real smile. I swear I just need one. Well, maybe two. It’s not every day that we get someone dressed up as nice as the two of you.”

“Oh, this isn’t even the full look, Natalie,” Mackenna said, knowing that there was no point in trying to avoid the picture. She wrapped her arm around Carson’s and smiled even as he stiffened. “The hats are in the truck.”

“I get a hat? Will it cover my head so no one will recognize me or will I be more humiliated?”

“Well, you can take your pick. There’s a couple bowlers and driving caps, and it’s up to you which you feel is better. We’ll make sure you get one or the other before you start out. That reminds me—we keep forgetting the sunscreen, and someone’s going to end up burned at this rate.”

“Should be you with all that red hair.”

She rolled her eyes. “Who says it’s not dyed?”

“Too natural for that, and your last name is Gilreath.”

“Not every Scot it is a redhead.”

He nodded. “I suppose they’re not. Well, that’s disappointing. I rather liked the idea of your hair being real. The curls and all. It was a look that suited you, but if it’s all a lie…”

For some reason, it bothered her to have him thinking that it wasn’t natural. She didn’t know why. She’d joked about her hair and everything for years. Part of that was a defense mechanism—all those wonderful kids who wanted to mock the carrot top or compare her to famous redheads like Pippi or Wendy or Anne of Green Gables—but she’d never been bothered by people assuming it was fake, not before him. “It’s real.”


Mackenna frowned a little, not sure what was in the look he was giving her just then, but the camera went off again, and she couldn’t think about that now. “Come on. We’d better get into town before we’re really late.”

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