A/N: This is a slightly different Maverick tale as it stars the elder Mavericks in their younger days, and I have to say MaverickLover2 played a big part in getting this idea out of my head and on this site. The title comes from the song Rake and Ramblin' Man by Don Williams. Weekly updates expected.

"Say something, Ben."

Bentley Maverick stood in front of Abigail Johnson in dumbfounded silence, unable to do anything but stare at her.

He'd been keeping company with Abby for the last four months, ever since he'd come to Hattiesburg. He'd spent more time with her than was normal for him, a week or two was usually his limit, but Abby was different. He wasn't sure why, she wasn't nearly as flashy as the ones that usually caught his eye, but he hadn't been able to shake her, and that wasn't entirely her fault. She'd actually resisted his advances at first. The simple girl had been leery of the gambling man, but his easy smile had won her over in the end. They had started out with dinner one night, and from there things had slowly grown until she had found her way into his bed. That had been a development he'd enjoyed, but he'd always been honest with her, he wasn't the kind to settle down, and eventually it would be time for him to move along. Abby had never protested and she had never asked for anything else.

The last few days he'd started thinking that the time to move along had come. He hadn't yet decided where he'd go or how he'd tell Abby goodbye, but it was time for a clean break. That's what he'd thought anyway until Abby had shown up today with her news. He still wasn't sure he had heard her right. He couldn't have. She hadn't just told him . . . . He shook his head. No, it wasn't possible. It couldn't be. It would ruin everything. His plans, his livelihood; it would ruin his whole life.

"Ben," she cried a note of desperation in her voice.

"What?" he snapped.

"Please say something. Anything." Abigail's voice was trembling now, and her eyes were bright with unshed tears.

Ben snorted a laugh. It was a sharp, harsh sound and made Abby flinch back. "What do you want me to say? You expectin' me to be happy?"

Abby took a step back. She seemed to curl in on herself, her arms going around her middle. "No," she said softly. "I-I . . . I don't expect anything." She stood up straight, her chin lifting. "Excuse me."

As she turned to leave Ben snapped out of the reverie her original pronouncement had put him in. "Abby, wait," he said grabbing her arm. "I'm . . . I'm sorry. I . . . don't go." She gave him a long look before she finally nodded. "Sit down," he said leading her to the settee.

She collapsed more than sat, and immediately dropped her head into her hands. Ben remained standing. "I'm sorry," he said again, guilt beginning to creep in at how he'd snapped at her before. "I wasn't expecting that."

Abby scoffed as she looked up, a spark of anger in her eyes. "You weren't expecting it?"

Ben grimaced before sighing heavily. "Are you sure?"

"Yes." All traces of anger were now gone, and Abby seemed to shrink as she whispered that single word.

Ben also felt himself deflate. It was the answer he'd been expecting, but he'd been hoping by some miracle is wasn't the one he was going to hear.

"What are we gonna do, Ben?" she asked. "What . . . " She bit her lip as it started to tremble, and her arms again wrapped around her middle.

Ben shook his head as he started to pace. What were they going to do? He wasn't sure he was going to do anything. The way he figured it, he had two choices, he could go like he had been planning on doing anyway, or he could stay. Staying would mean the end of everything. His life might as well be over if he did that. It would be the end of everything he knew and loved; everything he craved. It would be the end of his traveling, his poker; the women. Sure he felt a little guilty admitting that last part in light of what Abby had just told him, but it was the truth. He couldn't do it; he couldn't give it all up to stay in one place with one woman. He couldn't be a father.

Abby would be better off without him anyway. When it came right down to it, he just wasn't any good. He wasn't the kind of man for a woman to keep, and it wasn't as if they had planned on this being anything more than a good time. And they'd had a good time. They'd had fun together and Ben had certainly enjoyed their nights, but he didn't love her. Did he? That did give him some pause, but Ben shook the thought off almost as quickly as it came, it was too ridiculous to consider. He wouldn't abandon her of course. He would see that she was provided for until the time came. He'd even make sure she had enough to get back on her feet afterwards.

He almost felt good about his decision and was telling himself that would be the best way when he looked over at Abby and saw the silent tears running down her face. He sighed; he couldn't think this out with her sitting over there crying. It was bad enough that she even had a reason to be crying. "Don't cry, Abby," he said as he sat down beside her and wiped a tear from her cheek.

"I suppose that is an easy attitude for you to take." She wiped her eyes and sat up straighter. "I don't even know why I'm telling you. Why should this mean anything to you?"

She moved to get up and Ben grabbed her arm. "I care."

"Do you?"

"Yes. I do," he insisted when she said nothing. "There are places you can go, aren't there? I mean places for women in your position . . . until . . . well, you know. And afterwards, I'll help. I'll see to it that you have enough to get back on your feet and . . . " He trailed off as a look of horror began to grow on Abby's face.

"Wh-what are you saying?"

He shrugged. He thought it should have been obvious. He was sure she must have thought about the likelihood she would lose her job at the café when it got out she was expecting, and he couldn't imagine her wanting to stay in town anyway. Her reputation wouldn't be worth anything here after delivering an illegitimate child. "You're not gonna want to stay here are you? You'll need to get settled someplace new. Find a room and a job; I can take care of expenses until you do."

Abby gave a humorless laugh. "You . . . you're offering me money?"

"I'm not gonna leave you with nothin' . . . "

"I understand, Ben," she said cutting him off. Again her eyes brightened with tears, but none of them fell. "You don't have to explain anymore. Well, I wasn't expecting much, and you didn't disappoint. I'm sorry I disrupted your evening. We won't bother you again."

Ben was confused. He could understand her being upset, but not at him. "What do you want me to say?"

"I don't want you to say anything, and I don't want your money. I'll find a way to take care of us; without you."

Again Ben had to grab her to keep her from storming out of the room. "You don't have to do that. I'll help. And as soon as this is over and you're free again . . . ."

"Free?" Her voice cracked some, and she yanked her arm out of his grasp. "What does that mean?"

Ben scoffed. "You're not planning on keeping it are you?"

Ben never saw the hand that connected with his cheek coming but he certainly felt it. Abby was a tiny thing but she managed to knock him back a couple of steps with the slap.

"This is my child, Ben," she yelled. The tears were back but she was still standing tall, looking confident even if she wasn't feeling it. "It's your child. Maybe that doesn't mean anything to you, but I'm not giving him away. If you don't have any interest outside of giving me money, then don't let it worry you. I'll manage on my own just fine. Like I said, we won't bother you again." With that, Abby spun on her heel and stalked out of his room.

Ben made no move to stop her this time. After she slammed the door shut, he reached up to rub his stinging cheek, amazed she packed such a punch. He was sorry about the situation Abby was in, he really was, and he'd do anything if he could change it for her. But things were what they were, and he couldn't change anything. What could he do but make sure she had the funds she needed to start over? 'You could stay.' The thought came to him in a voice that sounded a lot like his older brother. 'Do I look like a daddy to you?' was his next thought, and that one sounded more like himself.

Ben shook his head; he wasn't going to argue about this with the big brother in his head. Maybe Beauregard had broken their bachelors-for-life pact and settled down with one woman, and maybe he was doing his best to be respectable. But if Beau had found himself in the situation Ben was in now, Ben didn't doubt his brother's feelings would be the same as his own. Yes, he felt bad about leaving Abby in the situation she was now in, but he'd offered to help. If she didn't want his help well, that was her problem, because he'd offered what he could. Money was the best he could do because there was still a lot of country out there, a lot a poker to play, and a lot of ramblin' left to do, and he wasn't going to give it up. Not so he could hang around here and play house.