“Thanks,” I told him. I was grateful for him standing beside me through the socializing part. After having to face Bray and Brent, I wasn’t emotionally stable enough to walk around and pretend I was fine. Nothing was fine with me.

He walked me right up to Dixie, pulling out the chair beside her. “This where you want her?” Dallas asked Dixie.

“Yes, thank you Dallas,” Dixie replied as she grabbed my hand in hers. “This is how it should be,” she told me.

I tried not to tear up, but I couldn’t help tearing up a little. My eyes stung. “Who was supposed to sit here? I asked.

“Meg, but she’s moved down one. I told her already. She doesn’t mind.”

I didn’t like Meg very much right now. I’d seen Bray walk over and talk to her. She’d flirted and batted her eyelashes at him. It had been ridiculous. And exactly what I should expect.

My face must have given my thoughts away because Dixie leaned in close to my ear. “You know how Bray is. Asher made sure nothing would happen. He spoke to Asher,” she whispered.

I had witnessed that too. I’d immediately known what was happening when Asher showed up and took Bray away from the females. The relief I’d felt was ridiculous. As if I had any reason to care. There was nothing between Bray and me. All it had ever been was lust on his part. I had never been special to him. He’d never treated me the way a man in love treats a woman. But he had been what I wanted. He’d been an escape.

“It’s fine,” I assured her.

“I saw you leave with Brent. Everything okay there?” she asked.

I nodded. “Closure,” I told her.

She gave me a kiss on my cheek. “Thank you for being here. I know this was hard to do.”

I leaned into her and hugged her waist. “You’re more important to me than them . . . than that.”

Dixie sighed. As if she didn’t quite believe me but wasn’t going to argue.

The boys began arriving and taking their seats. Asher smiled lovingly at Dixie and gave me a nod. “Hello ladies. I’m starving.”

Dixie laughed, flying into Asher’s arms and resting her head on his chest. They’d been doing that a lot today. It was as if she couldn’t get close enough to him. I imagined that was a safe wonderful feeling. One I was never going to know. I envied that.

“Let’s eat,” Dallas said with excitement.

Meg arrived beside me and I forced a smile at her as I sat down. “Hello, Meg.”

She had visited Dixie once a year when we were in junior high, but I’d barely seen her over the past five years. She’d grown to be beautiful. Her braces and freckles had morphed into something much more appealing.

Her white, very straight teeth gleamed with her smile. Her smile alone was worth the braces she had worn for many years. “Hey, Scarlet. I’m glad you got to come. I know it made Dixie’s day having you here.”

“Me too. I didn’t want to miss it.” I wasn’t sure what part of the story if any she might know. I’d go along with the friendliness.

“Hello, I’m Sadie,” a pretty blonde said leaning over Meg and holding her hand out. This was Brent’s girlfriend. She was pretty and looked sweet. Exactly what he needed. I had never been sweet.

“Scarlet, nice to meet you,” I told her, shaking her hand formally.

She seemed pleased and completely oblivious to who I was. “You’re Dixie’s best friend? Right? Brent said you had come to town as a surprise. That’s great,” she said as she let go of my hand and sat down next to Meg, still leaning forward to see me.

“Yes. I got off work at the last minute and was able to get here on time.” That wasn’t a complete lie.

“That’s awesome!” she said with more enthusiasm than was necessary.

The last girl I didn’t know walked up and smiled at Sadie. She whispered something to her. They began chatting and she didn’t appear to be interested in me. Glad I didn’t have to live through another introduction, I relaxed and took a drink of water from the glass in front of me.

“Shelly is a bit of an ass. At least from what I have seen. She’s a friend of Dixie’s from physical rehab. She volunteers there and worked with Dixie for a while. They became friends. But she’s not the nicest person. She’s kind of rude and blunt. No filter at all,” Meg whispered beside me.

At least I understood why she was a bridesmaid now. She’d worked with Dixie during a hard time. Dixie could accept any personality. I was proof of that. When you’re as sweet as Dixie, no one is ever rude to you.

“I am fine without getting an introduction,” I told her.

Meg smirked. “She had her eye on Bray and he picked me to talk to today,” she sighed. “Until Asher put a stop to it of course. He didn’t speak to her and she’s being nasty about it.”

Always Bray. His sexy bad boy swagger intrigued them all. It had intriqued me too at first. Until it was more. Intense. I began to cling to it, to him. That had been my mistake.

“Bray doesn’t seem like the kind to obey anyone though. I wonder if I still might have a chance,” Meg added wistfully.

This was where I should keep my mouth shut. Not talk. Just nod and listen.

“If you want a quick fuck then Bray’s your guy. If you want a call back, then go for Steel. He’s the better man.” Even as I said it I felt guilty. I knew there was more to Bray. That deep down he was a good man. That he could be. He didn’t show that to the world, but I knew he had it in him. Saying he didn’t felt wrong.

“That’s what I’ve heard. But that’s all I need. I head back home tomorrow. No plans of returning any time soon,” Meg replied with a naughty grin. She had no idea how addicting Bray Sutton could be.

A server appeared in front of us and began filling our wine glasses. It gave me something else to do. Drink the wine. Ignore the Bray girl talk. Pretend like Meg wasn’t going to be touched by Bray tonight. Because she was right. Bray didn’t care about rules. He wasn’t listening to any commands. He’d respect them until Asher and Dixie drove away. Then he’d get Meg and change her world.

Unable to help myself, I glanced down the table and watched Bray drink from his glass. He was looking straight ahead, and Brent was speaking to him. I saw him barely lift his shoulder in response to whatever Brent had said. Brent appeared annoyed and reached for his glass. When I started to look away Bray’s gaze swung to me and I froze. He knew I’d been watching him. I could see it there in his expression. It was fierce. It was knee weakening, and he was challenging me.

I should look away. Someone would notice. But the longer he stared at me the harder it was to let go of that. I missed him. Even though being with him had caused pain over and over. Being without him was harder. Or maybe it was all this love and joy around me. Making it was me thinking I could have had that. It would have never happened with Bray. I knew that.

Dixie’s hand rested on my knee and squeezed. I jerked my gaze from his and studied my glass as I calmed my heart rate that had accelerated. He was still watching me. The heat from his gaze was making my spine tingle. Damn you, Bray Sutton.

A server placed salad in front of us. Although my stomach was too tied up in knots to eat I was thankful for something to do. Anything to keep from looking at him again.

“It’s just him isn’t it?” Dixie whispered.

Tags: Abbi Glines South of the Mason Dixon Romance
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