“Besides, you said my lie by omission was a deal breaker for you,” she added.

For long minutes, it seemed, he stared at her, like she’d grown another head. “You’re right.”

Her mouth dropped open. “I am?”

“Yet at the same time, so completely wrong.” He turned away from her, hands clenching into tight fists. There was a tic in his jaw. “Go home Melanie. I’ll text you later this week—maybe you’ll be in a better frame of mind and willing to listen to me.”

She stared at him. At his strong back and broad shoulders. At his clothes that cost more than what she made in tips in a month. Then she took a good look at his parents’ house, the house he’d grown up in. Everything belonged to them. No one would be banging on their door in the middle of the night, evicting them. It personified security.

It screamed for her to get out. They were from two very different worlds and no matter how many times their paths crossed, it wouldn’t change things.

Her little impromptu speech had made sure of it. She’d accused him of being some hypocritical, rich frat-boy type who, when he had nothing better to do, slummed with her while no one was looking.

“Good bye, Carter,” she said, walking out of the dining room and to the front door. She passed April and Leah along the way, huddled in the family room and whispering.

Zoe intercepted her at the door, green eyes so like her brother’s. A fresh wave of tears threatened to fall. “Where are you going?”

Back to where she belonged. “Home.”

“Why?” Zoe asked and Melanie knew her best friend wouldn’t stop until she got an answer that made sense. Only problem: Nothing made sense to Melanie.

Not anymore.

“I can’t stay here. Carter’s moving to Charlotte for good. Oh but he’ll visit for holidays.” Melanie wiped under her eye with a knuckle. “Who knows when you’ll move again, too?”

“Never again. Memaw’s old house needs so much work, and I don’t know where to start,” Zoe said, her eyes watery. “Besides, I can’t leave you. You’re my best friend.”

Melanie hugged her tight. Sniffing, Melanie let go of Zoe and put her hand on the door knob. She could hear her dad pleading with Raylene to talk to him. “I think I’m going to take my Aunt Bethany up on her offer to come work for her at the Crab Shack. Just last week, she said it wasn’t healthy for me to keep living with Louis, that I needed to spread my wings and maybe even try for college again.”

“Two hours isn’t that far away,” Zoe said with a sad smile, then her expression turned fierce. “But I’m still going to give my jerk of a brother a piece of my mind.”

Trust her best friend to take her side, no matter what. “Don’t go too hard on him. I’m the one who ended whatever it was we had.”

Zoe blinked. “Why would you do that?”

“Because…” Carter appeared in her line of vision and she swallowed. “I really need to go. Text me later, okay?”

Glancing over her shoulder, a knowing look covered Zoe’s face as she turned back. “Got it. Let me know if you need anything.”

“I will,” Melanie promised, panic setting in as Carter began to walk their way. She wrenched open the door and flew outside, stopping by her dad. “It’s time to leave, Louis.”

“Not until Raylene talks to me,” he said, dropping to his knees beside the car that Raylene currently occupied with her husband. Louis’ truck was parked in the way, making it impossible for them to back out.

White hot fury rose inside of Melanie, roaring like a tornado about to do major damage to everything in its path. She grabbed Louis by the arm, pulling him up. “You’re making a scene and embarrassing yourself.”

“No I’m not. I’m a man in love, fighting for my woman.” Oh my God, her dad was drunk off his ass. Looking around she saw Carter standing on the porch, his arms crossed as he stared at them. Fury gave way to mortification. Her body ran hot then cold and back to boiling as her cheeks heated.

“I’ve had about all I can take today,” she said, her voice not as firm as she wanted it to be. “Please.”

That seemed to wake Louis up. He blinked and ran a hand through his wild hair. “Sorry, sugar.” He held out his hand. For a moment, she looked at it. Louis had stolen from her and his choices made her cringe and want to hide, but he was still her daddy. And he’d always taken care of her the best way he knew how.

She took his hand and squeezed, smiling up at him.

“Ready to go home, hummingbird?” he asked.

“Yep, I’ll drive.”

Louis stumbled. “You can drive stick again?”

“Carter taught me how.”

Her dad grunted. “Isn’t that something?” She had thought so. Still did if she was being honest.

Together they walked to his truck and got in. As she drove down the long dirt road, Melanie couldn’t help but feel that she’d left of piece of her heart behind.

Who was she kidding? She’d given Carter her whole heart years ago.

Chapter Seventeen

For a long time, Carter stood on the front porch, staring after tail lights that he could no longer see.

She’d left him, not even given him time to explain. Yes, he’d been mad, but mostly at the morons for screwing up a marriage and bringing everyone else into their misery. The rest of his fury had been divided between her not trusting him with the truth and him not being trustworthy enough for her to confide in.

April Billingsworth didn’t deserve to have an emotional response from him. Or a conversational one. She sure as hell didn’t deserve to be in the same room, breathing the same air as Melanie either. But honestly, if he said all that, he’d only look like a jerk. Besides, Melanie could take care of herself, with that sassy mouth of hers.

A sassy mouth that he wasn’t too sure would be kissing him anytime soon.

“Coming inside?” Zoe asked from the doorway.

Hell, no. “Not while April’s still here,” he said.

Zoe grinned, all mischievous and knowing. There was the sister he’d missed seeing. “I think she’s worn out her welcome.”

“The only woman who’s ever measured up to our mother’s standard—fat chance of that happening.”

“Yeah, well, you didn’t hear the little talk momma had with April.” Zoe laughed. “It wasn’t pretty at all.”

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