"Keely is cryin'."
Shit. Why hadn't he heard her?
Because Carolyn gets up with the kids at night if they need something, not you.
"I dunno. She's cryin' that she wants Mom."
"Okay. Lemme slip on some clothes and I'll be right there."
"Hurry. Cam said she's been screamin' in her crib for a while."
After Carson dug around in his dresser drawer, he found a pair of cotton pajama bottoms-he'd never worn the damn things before-and a T-shirt. Yawning, he walked down the hallway to Keely's room. She was too old for a crib, but the thought of her having free run of the house all night terrified Carolyn. She stood in her crib rattling the wooden bars like an ape at the zoo.
Cam was trying to talk to her through the wooden slats and she was screaming in his face. As soon as she saw him, she said, "Mommy?"
"Mommy ain't here, punkin, so you'll have to make do with me."
"C'mere girlie." He picked her up and she burrowed into him like a tick, her little body shuddering. He looked at Cam. "You heard her cryin'?"
Then he wondered how that was possible when Cam and Carter's room was at the opposite end of the hall. "Were you in the bathroom?"
Cam studied his feet.
A guilty look if he'd ever seen one. "What were you doin' up at two in the mornin', Cam?"
"I heard a noise on the back porch and it sounded like a mountain lion so I went down to check it out."
Cord snorted. "There ain't mountain lions around here dipsh-" he looked at his dad, "-stick."
"You went outside lookin' for a damn mountain lion at two o'clock in the mornin'?" Carson demanded.
"No. I climbed up on the counter and peeked out the window. Didn't see no eyes glowing back at me or nothin'."
"So you helped yourself to some cookies while you were down there," Cord sneered, pointing at the crumbs on Cam's Indiana Jones T-shirt.
"I was hungry. Then I came up here and heard Keely cryin'. She kept saying she wanted Mommy so I tried to tell her a story to get her back to sleep, but then she started screaming."
"What kind of story did you tell her?" Cord asked. "A monster story?"
Keely lifted her head and hiccupped. "Scawy monsers in my woom, Daddy."
"No, punkin, there aren't scary monsters in your room."
She nodded and pointed at Cam. "He tole me, rawr!-" she made a clawing motion with her hand, "-and den dey get me."
"For the love of God, Cameron, did you really tell your terrified two-year-old sister, at two in the mornin', that there are mon-them things in here?"
"I was trying to help her! She was cryin' and sad…" Then Cam's lower lip started to quiver.
Shit. He was such a big kid sometimes he forgot the boy was only eight.
"It's okay, son. Thanks for ah…tryin' to help. It's late. Just go crawl back in bed."
Cam came over and gave him a side hug before he raced off.
Cord shook his head and left without a word.
Carson brushed the curls out of Keely's eyes. "You ready to go back to bed, darlin' girl?"
She shook her head. "Hafta go potty."
"All right. But then bed, okay?"
Of course it didn't work out that way. It was after three a.m. by the time he'd finished rocking her to sleep and slipped her in bed.
Day two started out well enough. Except for Cam insisting he could make his own toast. Only after the kitchen filled up with smoke and he refused to eat the slice of blackened bread did Cam confess that he'd never used the toaster.
Everyone got cereal at that point.
Carson left Colby in charge while he and Cord did morning chores.
They returned two hours later and Keely was running around the yard in just her underwear and her pink cowgirl boots.
No sign of any of her brothers outside.
Carson scooped Keely up and stormed into the house. "Colby! Why in the hell is your sister half nekkid outside all by herself?"
"What? She was outside? Me'n Colt were just, ah…doin' some stuff in here. I swear she snuck out on her own! She's always, uh, runnin' off on Ma."
Bullshit. His eyes narrowed. "What kinda of stuff were you doin'?" His gaze swept the living room. "Because it looks like a goddamned tornado went through here." That's when he noticed the hammer and a few nails on the coffee table. "What do you need them tools for?"
Colt said, "We hung up a picture for Ma. As a surprise."
He swore both boys looked at the ceiling and whistled.
Colt pointed. "It's the one Carter drew her for Mother's Day and she put it in a frame and everything."
Keely squirmed. "Daddy. Down."
"Hang on." He walked over to the framed picture of flowers. They'd done a nice job hanging it straight and he would've been proud if not for the fact he could see the plaster buckling behind the frame. He lifted the picture off the wall the same time Colt said, "Dad, we can explain."