Ari was what I needed to remind me who Bray Sutton was. I’d thank her . . . if I didn’t hate her.


I STOOD THERE. Watching the tail lights of Scarlet’s white Camaro drive away. Deep down I’d known she wasn’t ready to stay. Not once had she truly smiled and meant it, but I had wanted her to stay so damn bad I’d let myself believe she would.

Going after her was my first thought. Begging her. All the shit I’d spent the evening doing. If Ari showing up was all it took to send her fleeing, then I had no hope of ever really having Scarlet.

She wanted the fucking fairy tale Dixie and Asher had found. Scarlet was smart enough to know I wasn’t the one to give it to her. Brent would have, but she hadn’t loved Brent. She thought she loved me. If she did . . . she’d have fucking stayed. No matter what.

“Let her go,” Steel’s voice wasn’t welcomed. No one’s was. I wanted to be alone.

“Do I look like I’m moving?” I snarled, angry that he thought he could advise me.

Steel sighed, and that meant he was going to keep talking. Fuck me.

“She seems better. Different. I think wherever she is and whatever she is doing has been good for her. If she’s running back to it, then she must agree.”

Her leaving had nothing to do with that. It had to do with getting away from me.

“She’d scared of me. Of what we have. I can’t love her, and she wants romance.”

Steel didn’t speak up right away. Love and forever weren’t exactly things he was knowledgeable in. I wouldn’t point that out. I was a bastard at times, but even I wasn’t going to throw salt on that shit today. He didn’t need it.

“Then she has gotten smarter. She knows that and she wants more. She respects herself now.”

I glared at him wishing he would leave me the hell alone. “I respect her. That ain’t our fucking issue.”

He shrugged. “Not the way I’m talking about.”

I was done with this conversation. Going back to that tent wasn’t happening. Dixie would give me frowns, Asher would be pissed. No one would fucking care that Scarlet had left me twice, now.

I walked toward the truck instead.

“You can’t be serious!” Steel called out.

I kept walking.

“Dixie and Asher haven’t even left yet!”

I threw up a hand and waved. “Tell ‘em I said congrats and shit,” I replied.

“Momma is gonna kill you,” Steel warned me.

That was possible. But I wasn’t going back. Even for my momma. I needed to be alone. Face this shit again and not end up in a black hole for weeks. Losing Scarlet was not going to put me under again.

“For once I your goddamn life think about someone other than yourself!” Steel yelled.

That caused me to pause. I should have just keep walking but fuck if I didn’t need to defend myself after that comment. Turning around slowly I leveled my gaze at Steel. “My leaving is thinking about someone else. Asher don’t want me here right now. I’m gonna need to get drunk. I’m angry. Fucking furious. I don’t need to be at this wedding. So back off me Steel. Go be the good guy somewhere else. Your lecturing me is about to cause a motherfucking scene.”

“STEEL!” Asher called out.

We both swung our attention to see Asher standing just outside the tent watching us.

“Leave it,” he said. “He needs to go. Don’t try and stop him. Come back here and let him go.” The authority in Asher’s voice was something we’d grown up with. He was the oldest. He was the one everyone respected.

Steel shot me one more frustrated glare, then headed back to the tent. I shifted my gaze back to Asher. He gave me a short nod, then turned and went back to his party. Back to his wife.

Fuck that sounded weird. Wife. Jesus why would anyone want one of those? And why would they be so damn happy about it? Seems like a life sentence to me.

“Is he fucking leaving?” Dallas said as he came from the dancefloor looking at all of us.

“Yes, Dallas. He is. Go back to dancing,” Asher replied.

Dallas stared at me as if I was an alien. “That’s shit!” he told Asher while looking at me.

“That’s not your business, kid. Get back in there and have some more fun.”

Dallas, like Steel, would do as Asher told them. Although neither was happy about it.

“Tell Dixie I said she made a beautiful bride and congrats for me,” I told Asher, feeling a tiny sliver of guilt over leaving.

He smirked. “Okay.” He was amused by my guilt. Fucker.

“Momma is gonna kill ‘em,” Dallas said loudly.

“No she won’t,” Asher said, then put his hand on our large baby brother’s shoulder and led him back to the others.

I stood there a moment watching them go. Wishing I found happiness in things the way they did. They’d all been so damn jolly when we were kids. I never understood them. When Asher had broken up with Dixie it had been the first time in my life I’d seen him go dark. Sure, we’d all been upset when dad died, but it hadn’t been a dark cloud over them.

Darkness seemed to follow me. It was a part of me. Held onto me. Joy wasn’t my friend. Scarlet had been the closest thing I’d experienced to happiness. It was one reason I was desperate to have her near me.

Dixie met Asher as they reached the tent. She lifted her eyes to me and with sad smile, waved to me before Asher put his arm around her and they went back to their party. She understood.

If Ari hadn’t shown up there was a good chance that Scarlet would still be here. But what good would that do? She’d have left eventually. Other girl would have come up to me. Said something stupid. Given Scarlet a reminder of the life I’d lived. Then she’d have gone.

Maybe it was better this way. Get it over with. Find a way to move on.

Brent hadn’t tried to stop me before I got in the truck. The only brother who wasn’t watching my every move. He was too consumed with Sadie. Good. Fucking perfect. That wouldn’t make Scarlet stay either.

Glancing back in the rearview mirror I pulled away from the house. Left the music and noise behind me. I was tempted to go sit at the lake and sulk in my depression. But I wasn’t sinking that low. I would find a distraction. Whiskey. My life. The same shit I always did. Why change now. I had no reason to try.


BEFORE I STARTED working, I needed coffee. Sleep had never come last night. I had tossed and turned, then finally got up and cleaned house . . . or trailer. Walking in the backdoor of the café I went for the coffee pot. Netty would have had some made for an hour now. She had to come in early to start the biscuits. They sold out faster than she could make them.

Netty held up a hand in a wave as I walked into the kitchen. “Didn’t think I’d see you back here for a couple days,” she called out. The large white bowl she used to make her biscuits for that past thirty years was in front of her.

“No reason to stay after the wedding,” I said, and got a cup down to get myself some coffee.

“I didn’t make that pot. It’s strong as shit,” Netty warned me.

I glanced around. Who else was here this early? I came in early every day to get the dining room ready. Ethel would get here in about twenty minutes. Jim would show up right before we opened. The swinging door that led to the back were the freezer was located suddenly moved and a tall blond-headed guy I’d never seen in my life came walking through. He was holding a package of bacon.

Tags: Abbi Glines South of the Mason Dixon Romance