“What about a loan?”

She moved to the front door, fiddling with the lock. “Pre-approved.” Giving the door a push, it swung open. “Come see the inside.”

Holding out her hand, she waited for him to take it. He knew if he took her hand that there was no going back to what they used to have or what they used to be. Not even after last night and this morning. But he liked to take chances, even when they didn’t pay off. So, he took a deep breath and pulled his hand out of his pocket to grab hers.

He let her lead him inside, her fingers laced through his. “We won’t get arrested for breaking and entering will we?”

Giggling, she shook her head. “Janie gave me the code, since I’d been bugging her almost every day to come out here.”

As they walked through the two bedroom cottage, she pointed out every little thing she loved about it. He couldn’t help but be caught up in her excitement.

“Out here, I was thinking that I could have a grill and one of those chimineas, so I can roast marshmallows.” She practically skipped to the right side of the deck. “Maybe put a patio set over here.”

Wiggling the deck railing, he frowned. “This needs be fixed.”

“I could hire you as my handyman.”

“If I were planning on staying, I’d love to be your handyman.” The words slipped out, before he had a chance to consider the impact.

“You really are set on living in Charlotte?” she asked in a small voice.

He had to tell the truth; she deserved complete honesty, and he hated liars. “Looks like it, but I’m not a hundred percent.” A look of sadness appeared on her face, but in his next heartbeat it was gone so fast that he was sure he’d imagined it. “It’s not that far away and I plan on coming home for holidays and all.”

“Guess it’s a good thing that you and I are just friends, because most women around here wouldn’t be too happy to know that they man they’ve been sleeping with plans on leaving.”

Just friends? He sure as hell didn’t do what they had done last night and this morning with his friends. But maybe she did. An uneasy feeling settle in his gut, heavy as a tire iron. “Do you usually have sex with your friends?”

“No…at least, not until you.”

That uneasy feeling left him, and he suppressed a grin. He always did like being first.

“What about you?” she asked, running her fingers along the top of the railing.

“Not since my first year of college.”

“Oh, so you’re okay with that kind of relationship with me, then.”

“I’m okay with whatever you need to call it.” But he wasn’t. Kneeling down, he examined the boards. They seemed to be in good shape and the deck hadn’t shook when they’d walked on it. He looked up at her. “How long has it been since anyone’s lived here?’

“’Bout two years. The bank owns it now,” she said as he stood, wiping off his hands. “Hopefully, real soon, I will instead.”

Jesus, he was amazed by her, by her confidence and dedication to a goal that her dad made nearly unreachable with his gambling habits. Whoever she ended up with was a lucky man, because he knew that she’d be that guy’s biggest cheerleader and best friend.

Didn’t he sound all Hallmark-like.

Frowning, he dug his hands into his jean pockets.

“I know what you’re thinking.”

He couldn’t be that easy to read. “I’m all ears.”

“That maybe I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. That a single woman shouldn’t buy a house, because what if she meets a man—”

Pressing a finger to her lips, he gave her a look. “If I thought all of that, what kind of man would I be?” He grabbed her hips, pulling her close. “I find female home-ownership very sexy.”

A little smile pulled up the corners of her mouth. “Oh you do, do you?”

“Yeah,” he said, his voice low.

“Sure you’re not saying that to get in my panties?”

“Please.” He rolled his eyes. “Lines aren’t my MO.” Melanie laughed, her joy contagious and he found himself laughing with her. “You are the sweetest thing, Melanie Ann Smith. And I’m mighty proud of you.”

Brown eyes widened. “I am? You are?”

Instead of answering, he lowered his mouth to hers, kissing her in the afternoon sun. Her arms wound around him as she pressed her body to his. In that moment, something inside of him shifted and all he could think was it was a damn shame he wouldn’t be that man for Melanie.

Chapter Ten

Carter drove home, pushing the car to speeds she would never dare to go, but she didn’t feel afraid. This was Carter and he would never put her in harm’s way.

Carter said something, but she couldn’t make it out over the music blaring.

“What?” she yelled.

Glancing at her, he began again, “I said—” The bass hit, drowning out the rest of his words.

Squinting at him, she mouthed, “Can’t hear you.”

“Turn down the radio.”

Good grief. Why couldn’t he turn it down himself, if it was so darn important? “Men,” she sighed, turning down the music.

“Spend the next couple of nights with me?” he asked.

“Like dates or a sleepover?”

He pulled the car into his garage and cut the engine. Silence permeated the air, until he finally said, “A little of both.”

She faced him, smiling so big that her face felt like it was going to split. “I’d love that.”


The rest of the week passed by in a blur. Melanie had never been so happy in her life. So happy that she barely had any time to dwell of the fact that her dad still hadn’t come home.

Or the phone call she’d overheard Carter having with his Uncle John this morning about his Aunt Raylene leaving John a note about going out to one of those spas on Hilton Head.

“Don’t know why people tell me their problems,” he had grumbled, then moved into his garage.

She heard a series of crashes, and tools falling. “What in the world?”

“Son of a bitch,” Carter shouted and she went running into the garage.

“Oh my God,” she gasped, skidding to a stop.

Beau’s eyes widened but wisely he said nothing. Instead he grabbed some cleaning supplies and went to work cleaning up the mess. Melanie hadn’t been too sure about him when he started. All tough edges on the outside, but inside, where it counted, that boy was softer than the cotton in a field.

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