“Fishin’!” Colt said with pride.

“You didn’t think to tell anyone where you were goin’ at seven o’clock in the damn mornin’? You just took off?”

“We wanted to surprise you and catch fish for breakfast since we don’t got no food.”

Carson tried to remain calm and not thrash the crap out of them. Where the hell had they thought they’d catch fish around here? The stock dam?

“But we didn’t catch nothin’,” Cam said, dejected.

“That’s cause you don’t even know how to cast a line,” Colt scoffed.

“Do too!”

“Do not,” Colt mimicked.

Cam stopped. Holding his pole with both hands, he yelled, “Do too! Watch this!” Then he started wildly waving his pole around and let the fishing line fly. “Hey. Where’d it go?” He spun the reel and jerked on the line hard.

Colt screamed and bent over.

For the fifteen seconds it took Carson to reach Colt’s side, he feared Cam had hooked Colt in the eye. He said, “Where’d it get you?”

“My leg!”

“Which leg? Son, stand up so I can see it.”

When Colt straightened, Carson saw the hook imbedded in the back of Colt’s calf, deep enough to have threaded through the skin in two places. It’d gouged out a chunk of flesh before it’d caught. This was beyond him being able to yank the damn thing out with a pair of pliers.

Fuck. Looked like he’d be making another goddamned visit to the emergency room.

Carson took out his pocket knife and said, “Hold still.”

“Dad! It ain’t that bad! Don’t cut off his leg!” Cam yelled.

“For the love of God, Cameron. I ain’t gonna cut off his leg. I’m cuttin’ the fishin’ line.”

“Oh.”

“Can you get the hook out?” Colt asked, craning his neck around to gauge the damage.

“’Fraid not. Gonna hafta take you to town.”

Cam had dropped the pole and crouched to check it out. “Well, it don’t look that bad. Ain’t hardly bleeding at all. With how loud you screamed like a girl I thought I’d see the hook stuck in the bone and blood gushing everywhere.”

Colt spun around and punched Cam in the eye, knocking him on his ass. “Ain’t that bad? How’d you like it if—” he growled and lunged.

Carson was quick enough to stop Colt from pouncing on Cam, who was now holding his face and wailing. “Knock it the hell off, both of you. This is getting f**kin’ ridiculous.”

“What’s goin’ on? We heard screamin’.”

Cord and Colby—holding Keely—stopped five feet from where Cam was curled into a ball. And Colt was bleeding.

“Colt has a fishin’ hook stuck in his calf, so I’m taking him to the hospital. You all stay here. And stay in the damn house.” He rested on his haunches in front of Cam. “Lemme see.”

“I think he popped my eyeball.”

Mr. Dramatic. The kid should be an actor. “Then you’d better let me look at it so I know whether I’ll need to take you to town with us.”

Cam moved his hand.

Carson sucked in a sharp breath. Already swollen. The kid would have one helluva shiner. “Can you see?”

“Sorta.”

“Put something cold on it.” He addressed his oldest sons. “Watch TV or something until we get back. If your mother calls, not a word about us bein’ at the hospital, got it?”

“Yes sir.”

He gestured to the poles and buckets. “Get this stuff put away.” Then to Colt he said, “Stay put. I’ll get the truck.” He checked to make sure he had his wallet. In fifteen years with six kids they’d been to the ER once. Once. The first time he’s left alone with the kids? He was on his second trip in less than twenty-four hours.

Yeah, his wife was gonna lose her mind.

Cord rapped on the driver’s side window.

“What?”

“Probably better stop at the store while you’re in town since there’s nothin’ to eat around here.”

Colt ended up with four stitches but it’d taken the doctor longer than he expected to remove the hook. After the doc had cleaned the area, and Carson had seen the level of grime on Colt’s skin, he swore that kid was taking a shower if he had to hose him down himself.

At the grocery store he’d ended up with a cartful of food—all quick, all junk, all of which would make his sons happy.

Luckily there wasn’t big trauma at home. Things were somewhat normal except for Carter being loopy from his pain meds. Keely had crashed, face down on her stuffed animal in the middle of the living room floor—but at least she was napping. Cam had a bag of frozen peas on his face. Colby was sprawled out on the couch. Cord was in the bathroom. Again.

That’s when Carson realized it was damn near two o’clock and he hadn’t checked cattle. How the hell had he forgotten? Now he had to feed the horde before he could feed the herd.

Lunch was eight cans of Spaghettios, a dozen hot dogs, two bags of barbecue-flavored potato chips, a box of Twinkies—all washed down with a gallon and a half of chocolate milk.

As soon as he chucked the paper plates from lunch, he wandered into the living room. “I need to check cattle.”

Cord sighed and stood.

Carson shook his head. “You’re in charge…and hold off on your bathroom visits until we get back.”

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