The Wades Visit the McGees
Travis and Toni had been home from their honeymoon for a week. They were both
still trying to catch up the three and a half weeks they’d been gone. Travis was
in his office on the phone and computer and Toni designated an hour to go
through the cards congratulating them on their wedding. She was writing a little
note to each thanking them for their thoughts.
She pulled out a touching card from Liana and Ben. She sat back in her chair and
looked at it for a moment remembering how Liana and Ben had made her first
wedding to Richie special by lending them the carriage. Her marriage to Travis
had been a family affair that included the Glenridge family as they thought of
their employees. It was time they put the Richie business behind them. This was
her life now and if they were to remain friends as she hoped, then somebody had
to make a move. She was well aware of Ben’s disapproval of her. She hoped that
didn’t spill over onto Liana.
She walked from their bedroom to Travis’s door.
“Umm?” He looked up from his computer.
“We don’t have any plans for Saturday do we?”
“No, can’t think of anything. Got something in mind?”
“Yes, I’d like to invite Liana and Ben over for the day. I know you’ve been
talking about riding the fences and over Glenridge. Maybe he’d like to join
“Well, love, I rather doubt he’d like to join me in anything but you go ahead
and invite them. I’ll be a good boy.”
Toni grinned, “you’d better.”
“I actually like Wade.” He sat back in his chair and looked at her. “His problem
with me is you.”
“Why don’t we try and fix that. I like Liana a lot. We were good friends at one
“Well, you go ahead and call her then. I’ll take up the slack.”
Toni went back to her desk and picked up her phone and called Liana.
Livvy was in her high chair in the kitchen and Liana was working on dinner when
the phone rang. Answering it, she carried it with her to check on her roast.
“Hey, Liana, this is Toni. I wanted to call and thank you for the card. That
was really sweet of you and Ben. I’m just catching up or I would have called you
It was so good to hear Toni's voice. Liana had always loved her. Her divorce
from Richie Roberts had been a tough time. Richie was Ben's lawyer and Ben
considered him a good friend. On top of that, Ben was an old-fashioned kind of
man. To him, a woman didn't leave her husband for any reason, unless he was
doing something to hurt her physically.
And when Toni moved in with Travis McGee so soon after leaving Richie, that had
sealed things for Ben. Ben was a loyal man and his loyalty was with Richie, in
spite of the fact that he liked Travis. Then, there had been the birth of both
Livvy and Toni's baby, Liana's kidnapping, and everything else that had gone on
in both their lives. There hadn't been much of a chance for getting together.
"Toni!" she exclaimed. "It's so good to hear from you. How are Travis and the
“They’re fine. Travis and I were glad to get home to Cole. He latched onto his
daddy as soon as he saw him. Travis carries him around like a backpack. How’s
little Livvy and Ben? I so want to see her and I’ve got an idea if ya’ll are
"Ben's the same with Livvy." Liana laughed. "He takes her everywhere and
she'd rather be with him than anyone else in the world. I swear, I can't help
getting a little jealous sometimes, but at the same time it's so sweet to see
"We're free on Saturday as far as I know. What do you have in mind?"
“I had this idea that maybe ya’ll could come over and spend the day at
Glenridge. You and I can get caught up and the men can go do men things for a
while and then we can have dinner. Travis cooks a good steak on the grill. Bring
Livvy and she and Cole can get acquainted.”
"That would be so great!" Liana exclaimed. "But- I'm not sure Ben will want
to come. You know how he is."
"I don't feel that way," she said quickly. "But Ben is old-fashioned and he's
loyal to Richie and-"
"Oh, the heck with it," she finally said. "We'll be there. I'll get him there
one way or the other. He likes Travis and if the two of them can just get
together I'm sure they'll get along well enough."
“Travis likes Ben too and he knows Ben has a problem with me. Travis wants to
ride the fences. He hasn’t been out on the property on horseback in awhile.
That’s right up Ben’s alley so maybe that will help. Let me know if there’s a
problem, Liana, otherwise we’ll expect you on Saturday anytime ya’ll can get
"We'll be there," Liana told her. "I'll see to it."
Toni did a little skip dance into Travis’s office. “Mark it on your calendar.
Saturday it’s the Wades and I volunteered you to grill steaks.”
Travis looked up and smiled. “All right…good job, Toni.”
Talking Ben into going to the McGees' on Saturday proved to be a tougher job
than Liana had anticipated. Or maybe she just made it tougher herself, she
would think later. When she first told him about the visit, Ben's response was
a flat and final 'No', which she had already anticipated.
She tried every argument she could think of to try. First, that Toni had always
been her friend from the time they'd arrived in the Glen. Then, that Richie
himself had already told them that he was not angry with his ex-wife. Next,
that she knew Ben liked Travis McGee. None of it worked.
Finally, she hit upon one of the few things besides his baby daughter that would
sway Ben Wade. She looked him straight in the eye with a pleading look and
said, "Please. For me."
Now, in the SUV on the way to Glenridge, Ben was wondering to himself, not for
the first time, what it was about Liana that could get to him. Had gotten to
him from the first time he'd met her. Olivia was sleeping in the back seat and
here they were on their way to the McGees. Dammit!
Liana practically ran to the front door when they reached Glenridge, Ben walking
behind her more slowly with Olivia, who was always happy as a clam with daddy
holding her. Liana waited impatiently for him to reach her before knocking on
the front door.
Toni handed Cole to Travis and let him open the door. She was a little nervous
now. Not because of Liana who she hugged tightly when she saw her.
“Welcome to Glenridge.” Travis shifted Cole and held out his hand to Ben.
“Liana.” Toni smiled. “So good to see you.”
"McGee." Ben had to shift Livvy as well, in order to take Travis' hand, but to
Liana's relief he did it. "Good to see you."
The glance he turned on Toni was not so friendly, but he nodded, then said,
"Mrs. Roberts. How are you?"
Toni could sense Travis swelling up. “Well, I guess that just proves that men
really don’t buy cards and sign them. Thank you for the wedding card. Travis and
I appreciated it.” She knew what he was doing but it only reflected on him and
not on her and Travis or Liana.
Travis laughed a little and Toni knew it must have cost him. “You’re behind the
times, Ben. Toni hasn’t been Mrs. Roberts for about four and a half weeks now.
Come on in we got babies to compare.”
Liana had almost gasped aloud when Ben called Toni 'Mrs. Roberts'. She knew
what he was doing and Toni and Travis had to know as well. She didn't know what
to say and was relieved when Toni spoke up.
Ben had made his point and he didn't care what anyone thought about him for
doing it. He was about to answer Travis' remark that he was behind the times
when he saw the look on Liana's face. For her, and only for her, he held his
tongue and said no more.
The look in his eyes softened when he turned them on Olivia. "Comparin' babies
I can do," he said to Travis. "But I'm tellin' you, my little princess here is
Travis led him into his living room and they sat down with their babies on their
knees. “This is Cole and he’s my prince. What do you think about the little
princess?” Cole was looking at Olivia interested in someone his size. He shook
his fist at her and baby babbled. “I think he likes her.”
Toni took Liana’s arm and guided her toward the kitchen. “Whew” She turned
around and smiled. “I’ve made some iced tea. Maybe we need to leave them alone
for a minute with the babies. They won’t come to blows holding them.”
"I'm so sorry, Toni." Liana looked at her helplessly. "Ben is just impossible
when it comes to some things and this is one of them."
“It’s okay, Liana, he’s made it plain on other occasions that he doesn’t care
for me. I don’t care, really I don’t as long as you and I can be the adults and
still be friends. I’ve always liked Ben and I still do. I just hope he won’t say
anything else around Travis because Travis won’t take it. He’s very protective
Toni pulled out the glasses and ice happy to have something to do because she’d
very much like to go in there and slap Ben’s face.
"I don't think he will. That warning look I gave him ought to keep him
silent." Liana looked upset. "Ben has double standards where men and women are
concerned, you know. The fact that Richie had an affair--Ben sees that as
something men do. You leaving him, though- To Ben, that's just something women
don't do. They're supposed to stay married at all costs."
“That’s a very archaic attitude to have. There’s more to it than just Richie’s
infidelity and I’m sure he knows that too. Sometimes we make mistakes in life.
Some we can live with and some we can’t. I know I’ve got it right this time.
Travis and I were meant to be together. Don’t worry about it Liana. Ben can’t
hurt me.” She handed Liana a glass of tea.
“Richie and I are actually on pretty friendly terms now. His son, Michael and
Travis’s nephew, Tee, have become good friends. They spend a lot of time
together so naturally Travis and I see and talk to Richie.”
"That's good." Liana took a sip of her tea. "Richie's still seeing Nonnie?"
“As far as I know he is. He says she keeps him on a carrot and stick kinda
thing. You know Richie, he’ll hang on for that carrot.” Toni laughed. “I like
Nonnie, she’s a smart lady in my book.”
In the living room, Ben was holding Olivia facing Cole so that they could look
at each other. "You got that boy ridin' yet?" he was asking Travis.
“Well, I have but don’t tell Toni. He sits right in front of me on the saddle.
I take him up to a calf and he wants to grab ‘em. He’s not afraid of anything.”
Ben grinned. "I been ridin' Livvy too, holdin' her. If Liana knew, she'd kill
Travis grinned back. “It’s a whole different thing being a father. I never
thought much about it until Tee was given to me. My sister’s boy. He was all she
had and she left him to me when she died. I think it stirred up something in me.
I wanted one of my own.” Travis kissed the top of Cole’s head. “I know you must
feel the same way about yours. It changes you a little. My daddy told me it
would and I didn’t believe him.”
Ben's eyes dropped to Olivia, who smiled up at him and reached a hand up to his
face. His voice became quiet, still, thoughtful. "Never thought 'bout havin'
one in my life 'fore Liana told me she was pregnant. Scared the hell outta me,"
"Been on my own since I was eight years old. No mama, no daddy. How the hell
was I s'posed to know how to be one myself?" He ran one finger down Olivia's
soft, pink cheek.
“I think it’s all on the job training. I just know he’s got to have what he
wants and needs and we make sure he gets it. Travis looked up at Ben. “I know
you went through sixty kinds of hell when your Livvy was born. I’m glad Liana
and Livvy came through it all right.”
"Don' know what I'd be without 'em." Ben's voice was still quiet, but then his
"Livvy gets what she needs and wants all right. Up at all hours 'a the night
with her." He gave her a scolding look. "Cole sleep all right?"
“Cole does not sleep through the night and neither do we. Our three week
honeymoon was spent mostly sleeping. Toni might grab a nap during the day but I
can’t do that. We definitely live on his schedule.”
"Livvy ain't got a schedule," Ben smiled. "Do you, darlin'? She wakes up when
she wakes up an' so do we. Whether we like it or not."
“She’s a little beauty.” Travis smiled and wondered at the man who had insulted
his wife just a little while ago and now was crooning over his daughter. It
still stuck in his throat. He’d promised Toni he’d behave and so he was.
“I don’t know if you’re up for it but I thought we might ride out over the
property. I’ve been meaning to do that since we got back but there always seems
to be something else to do.”
"Now, that I'd enjoy," Ben said heartily. "I take it we'll be leavin' these
two here, though?" He indicated the babies.
Travis chuckled, “I’d say so since the mothers are in the kitchen. I don’t
think we’d get by with it today.”
"My life'd be hell," Ben said. "Liana'd have me sleepin' down at the stables
with the horses."
He got up and headed in the direction of the kitchen.
Travis deposited Cole in Toni’s lap and gave her a quick kiss. In answer to the
unanswered question in her eyes he winked. “We’re going ridin’ for a while but
will be back in plenty of time to cook the steaks.
Ben tickled Livvy's tummy with his beard before handing her off to Liana. "You
be good for your mama, you hear?"
Liana looked up at him with a question in her eyes. "Back in a little while,
darlin'. You know I ain't one to miss a good steak."
Ben wasn't one for being demonstrative in front of others, but the long, intense
look in his eyes at her always had nearly the same effect as a kiss, she thought
to herself. It felt as though he'd physically touched her and Liana felt warmth
and contentment go through her as she returned that look with one of her own.
After being together for awhile, and with so many things about him that couldn't
always be said in front of other people, they'd developed their own way of
communicating with their eyes.
"See you in a bit," she told him in husky voice.
Travis paused at the door and looked back at Toni. He smiled a little and
lifted his chin. She was nuzzling Cole’s neck.
She inhaled Cole’s sweet baby smell and a trace of Travis.
“Ready?” Travis asked.
Saturday was a day off for the Glenridge people. Travis and Ben would be
saddling their own horses. He led the way down to the well kept stables and
stopped at his horse, Benzi’s stall.
“You can have your pick but I’d recommend Ribbon. He’s a good mount.”
Ben took a look at the black horse. He was big and looked strong and
spirited. Going into the stall, he laid his hand against the side of Ribbon's
neck, looking into the horse's eyes. "You'll do fine, boy," he told the horse.
Travis took Ben up to the high point on his property where he liked to come and
contemplate his life.
“I like to come up here because you can see just about the whole of Glenridge.
Makes this old Sydney boy proud.”
"Nice-lookin' spread you got here, McGee," Ben told him. "How's a city boy
come to take up ranchin'?"
“I won the lottery, Ben, and I had so much money I didn’t know what to do with
it. I started buying things for my parents. Filled up their little house with
junk. I had a financial advisor who talked to me about investing in property,
maybe a weekend place; that sort of thing. I came out here and looked at this
station and realized this is where I wanted to be. I mean I ran the gamut from a
drunken binge to rehab before this place popped up. It was a chance to get my
folks out of the city. Dad had retired and had nothing to do. Here he’s busy as
a bee. I can’t think of any place I’d rather be than Glenridge.”
The lottery. Ben was amused. Maybe he should have told people that's where his
money came from. Still, money was money, however you got it.
"Started workin' when I was twelve years old myself. Saved every penny I could
and started investin' it. Seemed I had a knack for pickin' jus' the right
things to invest in. They paid off. Big."
He looked thoughful. You know, I always bought real estate and I owned a lotta
things, but 'til I met Liana an' come here, I never thought 'a nothin' I owned
as home. Traveled around all the time. Never had no real home. She's what
makes it home. Her an' Livvy."
“Toni and Cole are my home. I know what you mean, Ben. I made a few
missteps…married the wrong woman or I don’t know maybe she was the right one at
the time but she wasn’t cut out for living out here and I wasn’t cut out for
living in Sydney and running with a crowd of toffs. I like it better here, I
want to smell grass and cattle not exhaust fumes.
“We’ve got some charity events coming up and we’ll have to go to Sydney and
spend a little time there but I always know this is here and I’ll be returning
"Hadn't travelled much a'tall since we moved here," Ben told him. "Jus' for
our honeymoon. Liana's a homebody an' I guess I'm gettin' that way too. We go
to Sydney once in awhile, but I'm satisfied at the ranch."
"Been thinkin' 'bout runnin' a few beeves like you got here."
“Oh yeah, gonna turn your horse ranch into a cattle ranch? It’s a lot of work,
mate. Just keeping them healthy, you know? We grow our own food here and every
damn thing on this property is inspected and reinspected. Consumables is a whole
different ball of wax. We had a big scare after the flood. I had to buy their
feed and animals started going down. Had the health department out here and I
was sweating blood that it was hoof an mouth but it turned out to be bacteria in
the feed. We dug a hole and burnt the sumbitch.”
"Trouble, huh?" Ben asked him, smiling. "Might be a good challenge.
Somethin' else to put my mind to."
Travis grinned, “I guess we all need a challenge. That’s what this place was
for me when I came here. I didn’t have a clue but I got a good manager, hired
some good people and then I went to ranchin’ school right here at Glenridge. I
learned it from the ground up. We got a pretty good stable going here too but
it’s nothing like what you’ve got. We got work horses cause that’s what they
"My horses work too," Ben said. "Jus' diff'rent kinda work." He leaned back
on his horse.
"What you figger'd be a good number 'a cattle to start out with? Got plenty of
acreage for 'em, but I'd wanna start out small an' learn, 'fore buildin' up."
Travis looked at him a moment. “Maybe a hundred head. That’ll give you a feel
for it. You looking to give me some competition?”
"Who? Me?" Ben's expression was amused. "But I do like a good steak myself,
and mebbe if I can grow my own I won't have to pay you for 'em at that butcher
Travis shrugged, “I’ll give you the name of a bloke to contact. I’ve bought a
lot of my stock from him. That damn butcher shop is Dad’s. I didn’t want any
part of it. I’m happy with wholesale. Retail’s a whole different ballgame. I
guess running the store gives him something to do. He built his house, that’s
the rooftop down there, then I reckon he run out of projects. Me, I don’t ever
run out. I got too many irons in the fire.”
"Know what you mean," Ben told him. "I'm fixin' to open a club just outside
Coffs Harbour. Drinks, gamblin'. Mostly for the tourists, but everyone's
welcome. You'll hafta check it out for yourself."
“I’m not much for gamblin’ but I’ve been known to drink.” Travis grinned.
"I never trust a man that hasn't been known to drink." Ben returned the grin.
"If he ain't never been tempted, there's somethin' off about 'im in my book."
“There are times I’ve let it get the best of me. I thank God there were people
who cared enough to pull me out of a bottle.” Travis adjusted his hat
remembering the pit he’d fallen into after Jan asked for a divorce. All the days
and nights he’d lain drunk on his boat in Sydney burning up Toni’s cell phone.
And there were times, Ben thought to himself, when he wished drink could have
gotten the best of him. He could never remember a time when he'd lost his
control. Of liquor or anything else. Because he'd had no control at all as a
child, he'd made up for it by making damn sure he controlled everything as an
adult. There'd been times when he'd actually longed to relinquish it, but it
was too ingrained in him, too rigid a part of his life for him to allow that to
happen. With Liana, he came the closest he'd ever come.
"The bottle's a damned bad taskmaster," he said now to Travis. "Guess we all
got our own demons." He was thinking now of Richie Roberts and the affairs that
had ended his marriage to Toni, but he said nothing of that to Travis.
“Thankfully I’ve put mine to rest. Toni’s the best thing that’s ever happened
to me and she gave me Cole. A man can’t ask for more than that.”
"Feel the same way about Liana," Ben told him. He looked off into the distance
for a moment before continuing.
"How you an' Roberts gettin' along nowadays?"
“Once we got past wanting to beat the shit out of each other, we get on fine. In
fact, Tee’s over there tonight spending the night with Michael. I’m not saying
we’re ever gonna be best mates but we’re okay. He handles my legal matters here
in the Glen…we can talk to each other.”
"You know, if Liana had an ex-husband, I'd want to kill him." Ben's voice was
quiet, matter-of-fact, truthful, without a hint of amusement or sarcasm.
Travis looked at him and believed him. There was something about Wade that made
you believe statements like that.
“For a while there I was feeling the same thing. For what he took from me and
the way he treated Toni, yeah…I wanted to wipe the ground with him. While I was
trying to work things out with Jan and Toni was thinking he was gone to the
clinic I had him followed. Like I said, we won’t ever be best mates but I’m a
civilized man. I’ve put that behind me now. Toni and I have a good marriage and
one that’s gonna last until we kill over. It takes all kinds, I guess, I just
ain’t his kind.”
"You an' Miz Roberts ever think you was doin' the same thing to him that he done
to you?" Ben couldn't resist asking the question out of loyalty to Richie. He
still couldn't bring himself to call Toni 'Mrs. McGee'. And, divorce or no, in
Ben's mind, they had done the same thing--he'd taken another man's woman.
Travis’s eyes flashed. He felt his temper rising up in him. For a moment he
couldn’t say anything.
Quietly he said, “That’s the second time you have referred to Toni as Mrs.
Roberts. She is my wife and I’ll thank you to show her and me some respect.” He
spat the words out.
“Toni didn’t lie to him about whether she could conceive a child, he lied to her
and compounded that lie by being unfaithful not only with my wife at the time
but with other women as well. Maybe that don’t mean nothing in your book but it
does in mine. It was over between them before she ever came to me. Not that it’s
any of your fuckin’ business.”
There was no flash in Ben's eyes. Just a cold, hard look. "Don' b'lieve in
divorce. Never did. Woman marries a man, it's s'posed to be for the resta her
life. Roberts is the first friend I ever made out here. An' somethin' I do
b'lieve in is loyalty to friends."
Ben had feared Liana's leaving him before, but he'd never considered divorce.
Liana didn't believe in it either. That much he knew.
"I'll say this much, McGee." He grinned suddenly. "I do admire a man that
stands up for his woman like you do."
Looking off toward the herd, he said quietly, and from the pain and confusion of
his childhood. "Never could understan' how somebody could tell somebody else
they love 'em, but then go off an' leave 'em." His mother was on his mind, as
she always was when this kind of subject came up.
“You can have all the friends you want to, Ben, but when you disrespect my wife
you disrespect me and I don’t take that lightly.” Travis was still hot and he
gave Ben a hard look back. Who the hell did he think he was talking to him like
that about Toni.
“I know what love is, I know what true, honest to God, love is and Toni showed
it to me.”
“If your loyalty to Richie Roberts prevents you from accepting my wife then I
don’t think we have much to talk about.” His horse was side stepping and he
brought him around.
Ben said no more, but followed Travis as he rode. He liked McGee and he found
himself wanting to be friends with him. But what he believed had been ingrained
in him since childhood. Ben didn't know how to bridge that gap. It was far
from being the first time that his values and beliefs had been at odds with the
way things were in the world now. The difference was that before he'd never
Until Liana, he admitted to himself as he and Travis rode silently. It was her
that had changed everything in his life. Her that had led him to settle down,
live in one place, and have a family. But no woman could change everything, he
realized. Not everything. Some things about him would never change, regardless
of his wife and daughter and how he felt about them. He could only hope that
they would love him anyway.
Love. He'd allowed that to come in and that made everything different. So, how
did he go about accepting Toni and having a friendship with Travis McGee and
still uphold his loyalty to Richie Roberts? And how did he accept her when he
believed as he did? Ben resolved to talk with Liana about that when they
reached home. To ask her advice. She was better than he at relationships.
Despite her being younger than he, she'd had a lot more experience with them.
Travis was trying to cool down his temper. He’d been insulted by a guest and
that didn’t sit well with him. People didn’t fuck with his family. His family
was everything to him. That damn fool riding behind him was evidently trying to
get a rise out of him. It crossed his mind that he’d promised Toni to behave. He
was trying his best. Still…what did being friends with that bastard Roberts have
to do with anything? Did that give Wade the right to insult his wife…hell no it
He had intended to take him down to the dam and show him how his land had
flooded during the big storms the year before but now he turned and headed for
To Ben's way of thinking, he'd done nothing to insult Toni Roberts or Toni
McGee or whoever the hell she was now. He was simply stating things the way he
saw them and was the truth insulting? Not in his mind.
At the stables, as they dismounted and unsaddled their horses, he said quietly.
"McGee, you're wantin' me to change somethin' I b'lieve an' that ain't an easy
thing to do. I understand your feelin's for your woman. Hell, I'd feel the
same way 'bout Liana. I could tell you I accept things just as they are, but if
I did I'd be lyin' an' I think you'd know that. So, exactly what is it you're
wantin' me to say?"
“You can start by acknowledging the fact that she’s my wife and not Richie
Roberts wife any longer. You can continue by apologizing to me and if that don’t
suit then fuck you. I don’t give a shit what you believe. Facts are facts, man.”
Travis pulled the saddle off his horse and put it away
He removed his hat and ran a hand through his hair staring across at Ben. “The
truth is Toni and Richie are divorced. The truth is Toni and I are married.
Richie’s accepted it He’s got his own shit going, he’s moved on and its time you
Ben had put his own saddle away and he turned to look at Travis. "It's truth
enough that you're married," he said quietly. "An' I can 'pologize if I've
upset you an' Toni, if that's what you wanna hear."
Travis looked him in the eye for a moment and put out his hand to shake,
"But-" Ben went on, before taking his hand, "-it don' change what I b'lieve and
I'd be lyin' if I said it did." He didn't put out his hand yet. He wasn't sure
Travis would still want to take it.
“I said I didn’t give a shit what you believed. Just keep it to yourself around
"Fair enough." Ben took his hand and shook it. "Now, I think you said
somethin' earlier 'bout a steak?"
Travis took a breath, “Yeah, steak and a cold beer.”
"Nothin' better'n those two things to cement a friendship," Ben told him with a
grin. "That an' babies. An' whatever else goes on, them two women of ours seem
to get along fine."
“That they do, Ben, Toni thinks a lot of Liana. They’ve been friends for a long
time.” Travis and Ben walked out of the stables and up toward the house. Out
back he had a grill area and he went over and opened up the grill.
“Guess I’d better get this thing fired up.” He busied himself with the grill and
turned to Ben.
“One thing you should know about me, if we’re gonna be mates, trust comes slowly
but once it’s there it doesn’t go away. You can’t push me but I’ll stand by ya
if need be.”
"Glad to hear it," Ben told him. "You're somebody I'd want on my side." That
he meant sincerely.
Travis opened a cooler he’d stocked earlier and handed Ben a cold beer. “I
believe your drink is whiskey but this will wet your throat”. His attention was
drawn to the corner of the house.
Toni and Liana had been out walking in the gardens. She’d taken her out to the
gazebo where she and Travis said their vows.
Toni grinned and looked at Liana, “I see they’re both still alive and appear to
Ben returned his grin, as he swallowed half the beer. "So are we. I'd say
that's a bigger accomplishment."
His gaze softened as he looked at his wife. The sun put soft glints and
highlights into her brown hair. Looking toward him, her eyes were anxiously
questioning for a moment, but they relaxed and smiled as she saw both of them
"They're back faster than we thought, but at least they don't look like they
plan to kill one another," she said to Toni.
“Maybe they figured it out.” Toni winked at Liana.
“I see you’ve got the grill going already.” Toni went to Travis and he slipped
his arm around her waist. “Would you believe both little people went out for a
nap at the same time. We put them on a quilt in the floor of the den.”
He gave her waist a squeeze and she looked up at him as he took a swallow of his
beer. “Everything okay?” she said quietly.
“Oh, yeah, we’re cool.” Travis replied.
Liana hugged Ben and he allowed himself a brief hug in return, not usually
feeling comfortable with showing affection in public. She was happy he and
Travis were getting along.
"You mean Princess Livvy went to sleep at this time 'a day?" Ben was amused.
"Not her usual nap time."
"I think she and Cole wore each other out playing," Liana told him. "They seem
to like each other just fine."
“I’ve already done the salad. Do you want to add some shrimp to the grill with
“Sure, let’s bring the steaks out and get ‘em going.”
“Back in a minute.” Toni said and went hand in hand inside with Travis.
"So-" Holding Ben's hands in both of hers, Liana looked up at when they were
alone. "You think you two will get along?"
"We got our diff'rences," Ben said thoughtfully. "But I think we jus' might
pull it off. I think I mighta learned a coupla things from you, darlin'." He
grinned at her.
Once inside Travis headed for the fridge for the steaks and Toni came up close
behind him. “All right, what didn’t you tell me?” He’d been a little too quick
with the ‘cool’.
“Not anything you need to worry about. I like Ben and I think we got some things
settled between us.”
“I knew you had to swallow hard when he called me Mrs. Roberts.”
“I don’t think that will happen again.” He took the steaks out and turned around
and kissed her. “You said you had some prawns?”
Toni had a feeling something had happened between Travis and Ben but whatever it
was it was settled. She was glad because it would make things easier for her and
“They’re behind you, darling, in the fridge.”
With the tray loaded they came back outside to the grilling patio.
Ben was finishing up his beer and he glanced at Toni as she and Travis emerged
from the house.
"You gotta get up at all hours 'a the night with Cole like Liana does with
Livvy?" He hesitated for a brief second and then added, "Mrs. McGee?"
Toni smiled, “Ben, I think we’ve known each other long enough you can call me
Toni. And yes, we’re still getting up with Cole. In fact tonight he’ll be up
until all hours since he’s having an extra nap today.”
“The only time we had a full night’s sleep was when we were on our honeymoon,”
"My sympathies," Ben said with amusement. "A honeymoon's a helluva time to get
a full night's sleep."
"We forgot the diff'rence 'tween day an' night when we was on ours." That made
Liana squirm a bit with embarrassment and he knew it.
“We made good use of our days,” Travis said by the grill.
“What?” He grinned at Toni. “We were on the boat most of the time and there
wasn’t much else to do…you weren’t complaining.” He teased her.
“That’s not something to talk about.” Toni goosed him in the ribs.
"Didn't hear no complaints outta this one neither." Ben was eyeing Liana.
"Course, she was too tired to talk most of the time."
"Benjamin Wade!" Liana's face was a deep, becoming shade of rose. "I was
Her tirade was interrupted by Ben's chuckling. Waiting for it to stop, she
crossed her arms and gave him a warning look. "You may not get much sleep
tonight either. That leather sofa in the living room's not too comfortable."
Travis looked at Toni and winked. It was nice to hear somebody else getting in
trouble besides him.
“Yours is coming.” Toni winked back.
He grabbed his chest, “I can hardly wait.” He laughed and turned his attention
to the grill, “How do ya like your steak Ben, Liana?”
"Rare," Ben told him. "It's the only way to eat 'em."
Liana was watching him with a smile on her face, but also a look of concern.
She'd never seen Ben let down his guard this much with someone who didn't
already know him, like Dan or Frank Parker. He was acting as though he'd been
settled and neighborly all his life. It was good to see him this way, but it
worried her too. She didn't want him to reveal too much.
Travis was in his element. He was a social being at heart. Toni watched him
over the grill and handing out beer. She looked over at Liana and Ben, in love
and happy with each other. This is the way life was to be lived. And
Travis…sometimes she wanted to pinch herself…it wasn’t a dream, he was hers and
Cole’s and she loved him with all she had to give. But it was dinner time. She
couldn’t go over and slide her hands around his waist and up his chest like she
“Liana, you wanna give me a hand? I thought we might eat out here if it’s okay
with everyone. Better check on the babies too.
Starting toward the house, Liana said, "Livvy's probably ready to be checked
on. She's not known to nap for long at a time."
"Oh-" She looked back at Ben. "Go get that pecan pie I brought out of the
car. I almost forgot it. And don't eat it on the way back!"
"Damn!" Ben glanced over at Travis. "Thought she'd forget it an' I could have
it all to myself when we got home."
Travis laughed and began sorting out the prawns to grill.
Toni stuck her head in the den and found Cole chewing on a remote. “Now how did
you get that young man? “ She took it away from him and checked his diaper.
“Just like a man, wake up and find the remote.”
Liana was laughing as she picked Olivia up and checked her diaper as well. The
little girl was sitting up on the quilt and watching Cole interestedly as he
chewed. "And this one's cheering him on."
"You know," she said to Toni. "Livvy's only been in the world for a few months,
but I can't imagine life without her now. Ben's softened a lot since she was
Toni finished up Cole’s diaper and looked over at Liana, “I never thought of
Ben as a hard man but I do know babies change a man. It’s calmed Travis down a
lot.” She thought briefly of Richie and how having a child didn’t change him at
all. ”I suppose it depends on the man and what he has inside to begin with.”
"I guess so." Livvy was fussing and Liana playfully tapped her on the nose.
"Ben-" She hesitated a moment. "Ben had a rough life when he was a child. He
was orphaned at a young age. It left him with some hard feelings about a lot of
“Umm, I suppose it would have an impact on the way you see things. We’ve got Tee
and while he appears to be a well grounded boy, he still has a lot of problems.
Thank God he’s got Travis. And you know, Travis had the opposite problem from
Ben. Travis was near mothered to death. He sees it now and takes on the
responsibility of Tee, not letting his mother run Tee’s young life. They’ve come
to words over Tee. I like Sarah and we get along good but I know how she can
Toni picked up Cole and kissed him. “Ben’s lucky to have you, Liana.”
"Travis is lucky to have you too. Not trying to break open old wounds, but I
don't think Richie realized just how lucky he was."
“That old wound has scarred over, Liana. He and Travis are very different men.
I don’t worry about Travis lying to me about important things or being
unfaithful. He’s very devoted to me and Cole. I think I’m the lucky one and I
would never have had a sweet little boy like this if I’d stayed married to
Reaching over and shaking Cole's little hand, Liana smiled at him. "I hope Ben
and I have a boy next."
“Oh, already planning for another are you?” Toni smiled. “This is it for us. I
can’t have anymore. You know I spent three months in the bed before Cole was
born. He was worth it but I’ve been advised not to get pregnant again. I’ll just
have to come over and borrow your Livvy if I start feeling girlish.”
"I'm sorry," Liana said sympathetically. "I can't imagine not being able to
Blushing a little, she dropped her eyes. "We're not planning anything, but
we're not trying to avoid it either. Ben says he'd be happy with a dozen."
“Ha, that’s because he doesn’t have to be fat for nine months.” Toni stood up
with Cole. “Looks like we’re going to have to ask for help after all. Can’t
carry food and plates and babies all at the same time.”
Ben grinned from ear to ear as he took his daughter. "You awake, Princess? You
ready for steak?"
"Gonna make her a meat and potatoes girl," he remarked to Travis.
Travis smiled at the feminine little baby. “She’s a daddy’s girl already.”
Toni came out with Cole in a stroller. “Watch him, love, I’ve got work to do.”
“He’s not going anywhere, are ya boy?” Travis squatted down beside the stroller.
“You grow a few more teeth in there and you’ll have a steak too.”
Toni pulled things from the fridge and baked potatoes from the oven she’d had
warming. It was all going well outside. She smiled as Liana came into the
kitchen. “I know it’s not over till It’s over but I smell success along with
"Me too," Liana told her. "And I'm happy about it. I think they have a lot in
common, both being ranchers."
Outside, Ben was saying to Travis, "You'll have to come over to our place. Get
a good look at the horses. I'm real proud 'a how the new ones are workin' out."
“I’d like to do that, Ben.” Travis turned the grill off. “We’re all done here,
it’s all up to the ladies now.”
Liana heard him as she came out of the house carrying a tray. "We're about
ready to dig in," she announced. "And don't forget to save room for some pie."
It was a good meal easily put together and Travis cooked the steaks perfectly.
Finished with his steak, Travis took Cole on his lap and gave him a spoon to
bang on the wooden table.
Toni served Liana’s pie. “Mmm, this is good. I can’t remember when I had pecan
pie.” She gave Travis a forkful.
“It is good but I’m not much on sweets.”
“Except chocolate.” Toni reminded him.
“Chocolate is in its own category.” Travis grinned.
Having enjoyed his steak, Ben was tucking into his pie. Livvy was on his knee
and, occasionally, he put his finger into the pie and fed the sticky syrup on it
to the baby, who sucked on his finger for every last bit. "There's nothin' like
pecan pie made outta Georgia pecans," he told Travis.
"Ben!" Liana scolded him. "Stop feeding Livvy all that sweet pie!"
“Georgia pecans. You get ‘em shipped over?” Travis asked.
"Yep," Ben told him. "No better place in the world to get pecans. You want
some, I can send some over." He was grinning and ignoring Liana's scolding as
Livvy still sucked on his finger.
“I don’t know much about the states except for LA and Virginia. Toni’s mother
lives in Virginia.” Travis stood Cole up in his lap.
"You want peaches and pecans, there's no finer place to get 'em than Georgia,"
Ben said. "Matter of fact, that's where I met this peach." He looked over at
“I knew she was from Georgia. We’re both southern women and that should alarm
and please you both at the same time.” Toni grinned.
"Oh, I been scared to death since I met her," Ben grinned. "But the pleasin'
part, that's been damned good too."
Travis reached over and took Toni’s hand. “I love a particular southern woman.”
“You aren’t scared?” she asked teasing him .
“Of you, hell yes.” He kissed her fingers.
"I never knew we were so frightening," Liana said to Toni, as she took Livvy
from Ben and wiped the stickiness off the baby's mouth.
“Neither did I,” Toni replied. “Travis doesn’t look too frightened.”
“Not right now, I’ve got Cole to protect me.” He laughed.
"You gonna protect Daddy?" Ben asked Olivia.
She gurgled at him. "Of course she is," Liana told him.
Looking over at Toni and Travis, she said, "She's daddy's girl through and
through. Of course, Ben's the first person who ever held her." The
circumstances of the baby's birth went through her mind all over again and she
gave a brief shiver.
Toni smiled, “there’s not much chance of Cole becoming a mommy’s boy. Travis
has had him with him since we got home from the hospital. I had one of those
little slings you wear like a backwards backpack and Travis is the one that used
it. I’d wake up from a nap and look in the nursery and Lee or Tomalee would tell
me Travis had him out in the calf barn or somewhere out in the cattle pens. It
would scare me to death sometimes.”
“Now you know he was safe with me, Toni.”
“I know but he was so tiny then.” She reached for Cole.
"Ben has Livvy in the stables constantly." Liana sighed. "And when he doesn't
have her, either Dan or Frank does. Her mother doesn't stand a chance."
“I’m going to have to feed him, all these food smells are making him hungry. No
steak for you, young man.”
“Baby pap, poor fella.” Travis gave him up to Toni.
"The same for you, young lady," Liana said to Livvy. "If daddy hasn't ruined
your appetite with pecan pie!"
After the women went inside with the babies Travis lit a cigarette and leaned
back in his chair.
“It’s been a pretty good day, Ben. I’m glad we got to know each other a little
and maybe cleared the air between us. You’ve got a fine family but you know
"Yeah, I do." Ben leaned back as well, his belly full of pie. "You got a good
fam'ly yourself, McGee." He refrained from saying any more than that.
"You know, I been thinkin' that mebbe you an' me an' Meridius oughta get
together. Form some sorta association. Us all bein' ranchers. You run cattle
an' we don't, but that might be about to change. Could be good for all three of
“That might me something to think about. Meridus keeps pretty much to his side
of the ridge up there. He’s got some nice horses he’s breeding. I really don’t
know anything about associations but my manager probably does. He’s from
Arizona, your neck of the woods at one time I believe.”
"Spent a little time there,"Ben said slowly, grinning. What had been the best
time of his life until lately, but no one knew about the circumstances of his
time in Arizona except Dan and Liana, and he preferred to keep it that way.
"Mebbe your manager'd wanna talk to Dan. See about gettin' somethin' started."
"An' I'll be expectin' you an' your wife to come to the openin' 'a my club in a
coupla weeks too," he went on.
“I’ll tell Jimmy to check with Dan.” Travis opened another beer and handed one
across to Ben. “As for the opening, we’ll be back from Sydney by then as far as
I know. We’ll stop by.”
Ben took a long drink. "Do much gamblin' apart from the lottery?" he asked
“I’m not a gambling man, Ben, so no, I don’t. I didn’t even gamble on the
lottery. I was in a bar drinking and the bloke next to me said he’d sell me half
a lottery ticket if I’d stand him a few drinks. So I did…and the damn thing
won.” Travis gave him a wry smile. “Right place, right time…it ended well for me
but the bloke must have had the unlucky half of the ticket. He’s dead now.”
Travis took a long drink from his bottle. It was still a painful memory for him.
Ben could see hurt on Travis' face, but in his mind there was nothing to be hurt
about, especially not if everything he'd heard about the scum who'd had the
other half of McGee's ticket was true.
"Don' guess we'll be seein' much of you at the club after openin' then?"
“Probably not, Ben, to be honest with you. We might stop in for a drink now and
again when we’re in Coffs.”
"Be glad ta have you," Ben answered. "But spread the word aroun'."
Finishing his beer, he went on, "Right now, I better see if I can get Liana
started for home. I've enjoyed it, but we got a coupla mares near foalin' time
I'd like to check on."
“We’ve thoroughly enjoyed having you, Mate.” Travis looked up at the sky for a
moment. “It’s been a good day.”
"Yeah, it has. Maybe now we're on the right foot, you and the missus'll come
for supper one night next week?" Ben issued the invitation, not at all sure if
McGee would want to take him up on it.
I’d like to take a rain-check on that if I may. We’re bound for Sydney next
week. Thank-you, Ben, we’ll do that soon.” Travis agreed for Toni’s sake.
“We’ve had a couple of barbecue’s here but Toni and I haven’t done much
socializing with our neighbors. We probably need to do something about that. All
I can say is it’s been a year of happenings but we’re pretty much settled now.”
"Found it pretty easy to settle m'self," Ben told him, realizing that he was
startled to be saying it and even more startled that it was true.
"Liana's been easy to settle down with."
Travis smiled a little at Ben’s expression. “You find the right woman and the
settling takes care of itself.”
Ben headed into the house, Travis following after him. He had a hard time
convincing Liana to get started for home. She'd missed Toni and was glad to be
talking with her again. Finally, they had Livvy's things repacked into her bag
and were on the way to the door.
"I've missed you, Toni." Liana hugged her as they stood just outside the door.
"You have to promise me that you'll come over to see us soon."
“I will. I’ve missed you too. You can’t beat girl-talk between friends.” Toni
squeezed her hand and gave Livvy a kiss.
“Ben, thanks so much for coming we’ve enjoyed having ya’ll here today and Cole
has a new friend.”
Travis had Cole balanced on his hip, “Wave,” he held the baby’s hand up and Cole
waved his fingers.
Livvy was on Daddy's arm, waving her fist and babbling. "I think she's sayin'
bye." Ben grinned broadly at her.
Travis slipped an arm around Toni’s waist, “Well, you know the way to our door
now, come back and see us again.”
"Same to you, McGee," Ben told him with a grin. "You'll hafta come over an'
have a look at my horses."
“I’ll do that, I might bring Tee with me, he’d love to see the foals.”
"Any time." Ben was always ready to show off his horses.
"Lets get goin' then," he said to Liana. "Or them mares is liable to foal 'fore
we get home."
"Bye, Toni," Liana said, one last time. "Be sure you come with them. You can
see everything I've done to the yard, all the flowers I've put in.
“I can’t wait, Liana. Bye for now.” She waved as Ben stowed them in his
vehicle, buckling Livvy into her seat.
Travis looked down at her and smiled. “You okay now?”
“Yes, yes I am.” She was still smiling leaning into his shoulder and waving
until they were headed out the drive.