Carter leaned back in his seat, closing his eyes and shoving his hands behind his head. His eyes opened. “Yeah. Although now that I know you’re going to be there, I’m liable to change my mind…or yours. In fact, why don’t you come back here for dessert?”

She gripped the doorknob harder. All thoughts of what he really meant by dessert make her knees go weak. “I could do that.”

“I’ll give you half an hour to eat, then get your sweet ass out of there,” he said.

“But it’ll take longer than that to help clear the dishes and wash them,” she protested. She always helped, it was practically second nature.

“Not my problem.”

“What am I supposed to say: ‘Excuse me, I need to go have sex with your son?’”

“Probably not the wisest thing to admit.” He shrugged. “I’m sure you’ll think of something.”

A trickle of doubt seeped into her. He could have told her to tell his family that they were dating or something like that, but maybe after being engaged for so long he didn’t want a real relationship. Maybe he wanted something more casual. “So I guess our relationship is a secret.” Tell me I’m wrong, she silently pleaded.

Something hard glinted in his eyes.

“Seeing how I work for you and all. Plus people would talk and you know how people like to see things that aren’t really there,” she added in a rush.

He grunted, whether to agree with her or not, she wouldn’t know, because his phone rang. “See you later. We’ll talk more about this secret relationship,” he said, then answered his cell. “Jake, you son of a bitch. How’s she running?”

Shoulders drooping, she opened the door.

“Hold on a minute. Melanie?”

Joy rushed through her and she turned to face him. “Yes?”

“Don’t forget to drop off those two packages at the post office for me. I left them by the front door.” He directed his attention back to the phone. “Have you checked the rear axel?”

“No problem,” she mumbled, feeling like the biggest fool on the planet. She snagged the packages and took a deep breath as the sharp January air hit her.

After unlocking her car and placing the packages in the back seat, she got inside and started up the engine. She gripped the steering wheel and let her head fall against it. Reconciling herself with this new-to-her side of Carter wouldn’t be easy. There would be no turning back from it either. Things would never be the same between them.

Oh God, she was being way too dramatic. Just because she’d never had had a friends-with-benefits type of relationship didn’t mean she couldn’t do that with Carter.

Plenty of her other girlfriends did it. Heck, even uptight Kelsey Griggs had her booty call on speed dial. Still.

Lifting her head, she eased her death grip on the steering wheel and put the car in drive. In no time at all she’d dropped off the packages, arrived at the Ambroses’ house and now sat at their huge dinner table.

As usual Leah had cooked a Sunday after church meal and it was only Wednesday evening. Something that Melanie would never complain about. Ever. Unlike on Sunday afternoons when the entire family ate together, only Carter’s parents sat at the formal dining room table, along with Zoe and—Melanie inwardly made a face—April.

“Sorry,” Zoe whispered. “I thought she’d be gone by now.”

Melanie glanced April’s way and smiled. Well, bared her teeth at the woman. “Maybe she’s waiting on a summons from the governor.”

Zoe and Melanie broke out in giggles. Leah frowned at them, then cast a sympathetic glance April’s way. “I know you’re used to better company, sugar.”

“Oh no, ma’am. I think it keeps me grounded to know what those less fortunate than us have to go through. Like eating at a family friend’s house, so she doesn’t go hungry,” April said, returning Melanie’s smile with a smirk. “It’s why I support my father’s initiative—”

“None of that kind of talk at the table,” Lawton Ambrose said. “I have enough trouble digesting as it is.”

Leah shook her head at her husband and tapped him on the arm. “Don’t mind him, April.”

“When are you headed home, April?” Zoe asked and Melanie could’ve kissed her best friend. “I’m sure you have a lot to do, with your dad in campaign mode.”

“Zoe Martha, where are your manners?” Leah scolded. “April is welcome to stay here as long as she likes.”

April looked down at her plate, the perfect picture of demure southern belle. “I’m not sure Carter would like that.”

Leah reached across the table, patting the younger woman’s hand in reassurance. “He doesn’t mind one bit. I spoke to him today about it and he’s so very sorry that he couldn’t come tonight. But you know how he likes to tinker on car engines.”

April shook her head, caramel color hair sliding forward. “That’s nice of you to say, but I think he has other things on his mind.”

“Just give him time to get whatever has gotten into him out of his system. Let him hit rock bottom with the trash so he can realize what a treasure he has in you,” Leah said as she reached for her glass of water and took a sip.

Melanie’s mouth fell open, then she snapped it shut.

“Momma,” Zoe gasped. “That was an ugly thing to say.”

“Oh, you know present company is excluded,” Leah said, then smiled. As if sugar wouldn’t melt in her mouth.

Biting the inside of her cheek, Melanie struggled to stay quiet. She stabbed at the green bean casserole on her plate a few times, before spearing piece of chicken.

“Carter did mention something about one of the local girls. That she was head over heels for him, but he made it clear that he wasn’t interested in a long term thing.” April raised her head and shrugged. “Maybe she gave him something I didn’t, seeing as how I’m saving myself for marriage.”

Melanie choked, earning a swift pounding on the back from Zoe and a would-you-mind look from Leah. “Wrong pipe,” she rasped before taking a drink of sweet tea.

“Too bad Evangeline had cheerleading practice tonight,” her best friend whispered. “I can only imagine what she would have to say.”

Clearing his throat, Lawton rose to his feet. “I’m taking my supper in the living room.”

Just as Lawton left, the phone rang and Leah excused herself from the table.