"The most important thing to remember is you never hold a kicker, and you never draw to an inside straight. At least, that's what your Uncle Beauregard says. Personally, I think there is something to be said for reckless abandon. Sometimes you gotta take a chance with those inside straights."

Ben had volunteered to put his son to bed half an hour ago, but somehow once he'd gotten Beau upstairs, all thoughts of bed were gone and Ben had ended up explaining some of the finer points of poker to Beau. Ben had thought his brother was crazy the first time he'd seen Beauregard do something similar with Bret, but he'd soon discovered there was a lot of satisfaction in explaining the family business to his son. Granted, he was sure Beau didn't understand a word of what he was saying, but the boy would gleefully watch the cards as Ben worked with them.

"I'm sure you already know Beauregard can be a bit dramatic at times."

Beau babbled something unintelligible making his father laugh. Ben would swear that sometimes Beau was responding to him even if he wasn't quite talking yet. Words were only a matter of time, though. Beau's first birthday was rapidly approaching and lately his babbling had become more frequent and persistent.

While Ben was looking forward to the day he could talk to Beau and have him really answer back, it hardly seemed possible Beau was almost a year old. Sometimes he found himself wondering where the last two years had gone. It was as if he been in a hotel room one day hearing he was going to be a father, then he had blinked and suddenly his boy was about to celebrate his first birthday. Two years may have gone by fast, but a lot had changed during that time; he had changed. Frankly, the man who had seriously contemplated leaving Hattiesburg after letting Abby walk out of that hotel room nearly two years before had been a selfish jerk. Looking back on that time now, he wouldn't change a thing if he could.

Ben ran his hand over Beau's blond hair and smiled. "I should probably start watching what I say around you. You'll be big enough to repeat it all soon."

More babbles came from Beau before he cackled.

"Bentley Maverick."

Ben turned to see Abigail standing in the doorway, a reproachful look on her face.

"You were supposed to be putting him to bed. He looks more awake than ever now."

He offered a sheepish smile. "We were just talkin'."

"And playing cards?" She sighed. "Belle was right; the two of you really can't help it, can you?"

Abby was trying to be stern but Ben could tell she was fighting back a smile. He knew both his wife and his sister-in-law held some reservations about his and Beauregard's intentions to teach the boys poker. He also knew they had both accepted there wasn't much they could do about it. He shrugged. "He enjoys it. It's like a bedtime story."

"Your bedtime stories wake him up instead of putting him to sleep, and he may be the only person you play with tonight if you don't get him to sleep. You said you'd put him to bed and you're going to. You're not leaving with Beauregard while he's still awake."

"Yes, ma'am."

Abby smiled sweetly before going back downstairs.

Ben looked back at his son. "All right, boy. No more cards tonight." He started to gather the loose cards. "Daddy's gonna be in trouble if you don't go to sleep."


Ben's movements with the cards ceased abruptly. He looked down at the boy on his lap who was gazing at him with wide eyes. "What did you say?"

Not surprisingly, Beau said nothing but babbled some more nonsense.

Ben stared at his son wondering if he'd heard anything at all. Maybe he'd been thinking about it too much tonight. Perhaps the word Ben thought he'd heard was nothing more than all the other attempts at words Beau had been trying to put together the last several weeks.

Abandoning the cards, Ben lifted Beau so their eyes were level. "Beau, who am I? Can you say Daddy?"

Beau cackled.

"Daddy. Can you say that? Daddy."


Ben was certain he'd heard that correctly. He grinned. "You're amazin', son."


Grinning from ear to ear, Ben jumped up. "Abby," he called. "Abigail."

Seconds later he heard Abby's feet running up the stairs. "What's wrong?" she cried rushing into Beau's room.

"He said daddy."


"He just said daddy."

Abby took Beau from him. "Will you say it for Mama?" She pointed to Ben. "Who is that?"


Abby kissed Beau's cheek. "Oh, my sweet boy. You're so smart." Beau squealed. "And so wide awake," she added rolling her eyes.

"You think my reaction got him a little wound up?" Ben asked doing his best to give Abby an innocent smile.

"A little."

Ben grinned. "But he did say daddy."

Abby smiled and kissed Beau again. "Yes, he did."

Beau reached for Ben. "Da."

Abby smiled as she passed him over. "I was going to offer to put him down for you, but it seems he's smart enough to know what he wants."

"You're gonna have to help me out a little, son," Ben said accepting his son. "Your Uncle Beau's gonna be here soon and Mama said I can't leave until you're asleep." As much as Ben wanted to sound disgruntled, he found it hard to do with Beau's head on his shoulder.

"I suggest you stop talking and playing cards then," Abby said with a laugh. "And I'll leave you alone too." She kissed both of them and left the room.

Once they were alone Ben looked back to Beau. "You heard the lady of the house, son. No more talkin'."

Turning down the lamp, Ben sat in the rocking chair quietly shushing Beau every time the babbling started up. It took a few minutes but soon Beau was still and quiet. After that it didn't take long for him to drift off.

Ben slowly stood and placed Beau in his bed. He stood over his son a minute once again struck by how his life had changed, and how much the changes he was sure would ruin his life had actually made it immeasurably better. "Good night, son. I'll see you tomorrow."

He left the room shutting the door behind him and was surprised to find Abby in the hall. "So you didn't abandon me."

Abby didn't answer; she merely looked at him.


She smiled. "Have I told you how much I love you?"

"Not today."

Abby wrapped her arms around him, laying her head on his chest. "I love you."

Ben was about to respond when Abby suddenly giggled.

"Is that amusing?" he asked.

"Daddy," she said lifting her head and looking at him. "I like the way that sounds. I like the way it sounds when Beau says it."

"So do I."

"I was thinking about us earlier; how we started. Can I tell you something?"


Abby leaned back into him. "There was a time I wasn't sure we'd ever be here. When I went to your room that day, I didn't think you'd care at all."

"And I proved you right." There was still a small amount of self-loathing that went along with that statement.

"For a while, but when you came to my room and asked me to marry you . . . ." Abby trailed off. "Oh, I love you, Ben."

Ben kissed her head. "I love you too. It took us a while to get here, and it's hasn't been the easiest ride, but we're here."

She looked up again. "Yes, we are." She stepped away. "You should finish getting dressed. Your brother will be here soon."

"I can stay."

Abby laughed. "Go on. I'll see you in the morning . . . daddy."

A word that had made him cringe two years ago was now a word he couldn't hear enough. Before going downstairs, he gave Abby a grin. "I really do like the sound of that."