“Why do you dislike me so much, Scarlet?” he asked before I could get to the door.

“I don’t,” I lied.

“Yeah, you do,” he replied with a chuckle. “I can’t figure out what it is I did to you.”

Used his looks to get better tips, made terrible coffee, thought he could smile at me like he did everyone else and have me fall at his feet. “Nothing. You did nothing.” I made it to the door and my hand was on the knob when my phone rang. I stopped, confused by the sound because it was rare that I heard it.

It rang again.

“You gonna answer that?” Diesel asked.

I ignored him and took my phone from my pocket to see a number I didn’t have saved in my phone but I knew all too well. My heart sped up and my grip tightened. Bray.

He’d gotten my new number.

I couldn’t talk to him. Not here. Not now. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t know if I’d ever be ready. I moved my thumb over the decline button and pressed it. Closing my eyes tightly I took a deep breath, then put the phone back in my pocket.

“I’m not him,” Diesel said reminding me he was there.

“What?” I asked confused. Had he said something else that I didn’t catch.

“The guy. The one who made you so damn bitter and angry. I’m not him.”

I wasn’t bitter and angry. Bray hadn’t done this to me. I had. I made my own choices. I wasn’t a hurt female protecting my heart. He was guessing and he was wrong.

“No, you’re not,” I agreed.

“Then why do you look like you would rather slap me than speak to me?”

He wasn’t going to let this go. I needed a moment alone. To get myself together after finding out Bray had my number and had just called me. But Diesel wasn’t going to give me that. Spinning around, I glared at him.

“No guy made me angry and bitter. I made my own choices and I am living with the consequences. And you annoy me. It’s not hate. That’s too strong of a word.”

He grinned. Like what I had just said was funny. “How do I annoy you? Please tell me and I’ll do my best to work on that.” He didn’t sound sincere. Bastard.

“That.” I pointed at his face.

“My face? It annoys you?”

“Yes! Your dimples and your grin. They flash and you get better tips and everyone talks about what a good guy you are. They completely overlook the fact you’ve been in prison. Freaking prison! That’s all okay though because you’re pretty. You can charm them. It’s annoying!”

It felt good to get that off my chest. I probably shouldn’t have said it out loud but it still felt good. Now if I had a punching bag I could get some frustration out on, then I’d be even better.

“You think I’m pretty?” He sounded like he was about to laugh.

“Is that seriously all you heard? You know you’re pretty. You use it like a weapon. It annoys me. We need to get in there and prep for the lunch crowd. I’m sure the new corn casserole Ethel was determined to change is going to cause a fuss with some of the regulars. We won’t have time once they all get here to get things together. I’m going inside now.”

Jerking the door open I stalked inside and let it slam behind me. I liked the idea of it slamming in his face. Maybe mess up his perfect nose. Men shouldn’t be so pretty. It was wrong. Furthermore, it was hard to believe he was ever in prison. He didn’t look like tough enough to survive that.

“You look ready for battle,” Ethel said as I entered the kitchen.

“Mentally preparing for the drama that the corn casserole will create,” I told her with a smile I had to force.

She laughed loudly. “That’s my girl. Get tough,” she said, then looked around. “Have you seen Diesel?”

Ugh. “Yeah, he’s out back.”

She nodded, then headed that way. I used that as my chance to escape to the dining room without having to talk to anyone else. Cleaning the tables and setting them for the lunch crowd would give me time to get over Bray’s call since Diesel hadn’t given me a second of peace.

When the swinging door closed behind me I stopped and pulled out my phone again to look at the missed call. I debated calling him back knowing I wouldn’t. Wonder who gave him this number. Did they think he should have it?

A text appeared as I was staring at my phone, fighting the urge to call him back.

“I miss you.”

That was all it said. Bray could text three words and my chest tightened. My eyes stung with unshed tears and I had to lean against the wall and get myself together. It hurt. Simply because I missed him too. I knew if I didn’t stay away I’d be hurt much worse than this.

I stared at his words a few more seconds, then put the phone away. Dwelling on this wasn’t helping me heal. I wanted to tell him I missed him too. But that would only make it harder.

The door behind me swung open and I closed my eyes briefly, took another deep breath to calm myself then straightened up before moving off the wall.

“Don’t mind me. Continue to lean against the wall. I’ll take my pretty face and get these tables ready. I like to be as annoying as I can,” Diesel said. Did he ever go away?

“I’ve got it,” I told him and grabbed the soap bucket. “Go do something else.”

I didn’t look at him. “Can’t. Ethel told me to come help you.”

Great. Freaking great.

“I didn’t tell her your annoyance with my pretty face. She doesn’t know she’s not helping you out.” He was trying not to laugh again.

I took the bucket and shoved it into his hands. “Fine. Clean the tables. I’ll get the flatware.”

“Yes ma’am!” he said, taking the bucket and not complaining when some sloshed over the edge onto his shirt. I should have apologized for being so aggressive. I didn’t and I walked away feeling guilty about it. Damn his dimples.


IF I LOOKED at my phone too often they’d all notice. Nosy bastards. Since I couldn’t check to see if Scarlet had responded to my text I took another bite of the fried pork chop Momma had made for dinner. Asher and Dixie were having their first meal at our house as a married couple. Momma was asking them about their trip. Don’t get me wrong I was happy for my brother. But damn I was sick of listening to their wedding shit.

It was like never-fucking-ending. They got married. Could we move on with life? Talk about anything else? I glanced at Steel. He wasn’t talking much either and I imagined he felt like I did. Enough already with the happily ever after shit. Not all of us were blissfully happy.

“We still gonna paint the kitchen at your apartment this weekend?” Brent asked Asher.

Asher nodded. “Yeah. Dix hasn’t decided on the color yet though.”

“I have it narrowed down to three. I will know for sure by then.”

Asher chuckled and leaned over to kiss her. Jesus, we were eating. Give it a rest.

“You make pecan pie for dessert?” Steel suddenly asked, standing up from the table. He wanted to leave the table possibly more than I did. Everyone’s eyes swung to him but he acted like he didn’t notice and walked toward the counter.

“There’s peanut butter pie in the fridge too,” Momma told him. Normally, getting up like that while we were all still eating would have gotten him a tongue lashing from her. But she knew. Like we all did. Steel was accepting this. He’d given his blessing even. Didn’t mean he stopped having feelings for Dixie.

Tags: Abbi Glines South of the Mason Dixon Romance
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