Dumping the water out the back door, I turned to fill it and the music cut off. Rolling my eyes, I didn’t look at him.

“I’d like for us to be friends. We work together. I’m trying to get past that icy wall you have built around you like a fortress. Help me,” his voice was lower than normal. It was as if he were trying to get a point across.

Frustrated, I cut off the water and lifted my gaze to meet his. “I don’t need friends.”

He frowned. “Yeah, you do.”

“No. I don’t. I have friends. I don’t want more.”

“You have a job you work at all the time. You leave to sleep, then return. You can’t have any friends,” he argued.

“Why don’t you stop trying to figure out my life? That would be great. I’m not asking you about your prison time, or your stupid name. Do me a favor and stay out of my business.”

I took the mop bucket and headed back to the dining room hoping I got my point across.

“Shane. He’s been my best friend since we were six. His girlfriend just had a baby. They need his income to live. When he chose to sell weed for extra cash and I was pulled over while driving his car because mine was in the shop, the cops found the weed I didn’t know was in there. If I’d claimed it was his, he’d have been busted. They were after him already. He’d been selling to high school kids. I took the blame.” I had stopped walking and was listening, because although I hadn’t asked the story was interesting.

“When I was eight, Pop told me to put gas in his truck while he paid for it. I didn’t want to tell him I didn’t know how. My dad was never home. I was here visiting Pop and El. Pop telling me to pump gas made me feel big. I didn’t want to let him down. I filled the tank, with diesel fuel. And he had to get it towed and drained.”

It took me a moment to realize I was smiling as I stared at the door in front of me I hadn’t walked through yet. His name was a nickname. One he’d been given from a childhood mistake. Not because it was a cool prison name. I made myself stop smiling and I took a breath before turning back to look at him.

He shrugged. “Pop called me Diesel from that day on. Back home I’m Charlie.”

Charlie. His name was Charlie. It fit him better. He was an ex-con but he looked nothing like one. Maybe that was what annoyed me the most. I would be lying if his reason for going to prison wasn’t getting to me a little. My first thought was that went beyond friendship, but then I realized I’d do the same for Dixie. I would think she was insane and needed to be slapped but I would do the same thing.

“Charlie fits you better,” I finally said.

He nodded. “That’s what my mother says. She hates when they call me Diesel. But I like it. Reminds me of a time when life was simple.”

My childhood had never been simple. I didn’t respond.

“You don’t have to tell me why you hate me. But at least tell me why you never smile.”

I’d rather tell him why I hated him. I wasn’t sure I did anymore. How could I hate a guy who did something so selfless for his best friend? “I don’t hate you,” I said, then held my bucket up a little. “I need to finish mopping.”

He just smiled and shook his head.

I started to open the door, then stopped. He had done nothing to me. I was taking my frustration and pain out on him. Being difficult wasn’t fair. He was working just as hard as I was. Turning back to him, I smiled. “If there’s any pie left, I’d like a piece. I’m starving.”

His smile widened, then he held out the pie plate. “It’s yours.”

I sat the bucket down and walked over to take the plate. As my fingers touched the cool tin I said, “Granted you don’t have some nasty prison disease I should know about before I eat after you.”

He was still smiling when he replied, “Only the cooties. Got those in kindergarten from Jamie Quinn and haven’t been able to get rid of them.”

Hearing him say cooties made me laugh. Really laugh. It felt good.

Bray

IT WAS A moment of weakness. Resting my head on the seat I waited in my truck for Scarlet to leave her job at the restaurant. Dallas had written this address on the back of a receipt, then taped it to my bedroom door three days ago. I had taken it and fisted it in my hand. Considered tossing it but knew I wouldn’t. Instead, I placed it in my bedside table drawer. Damned if that thing didn’t taunt me every damn day.

Now, here I was. Giving in. Waiting on her. The familiar white Camaro that I had parked beside was in the back of the building. When I’d driven up the lights were off inside. But her car was here so I waited. I didn’t expect her to be happy to see me. Considering she wouldn’t answer my text or calls, my showing up wasn’t going to thrill her.

Fuck if I cared. She was going to talk to me. This ignoring me shit wasn’t working for me. I missed her dammit. When I wasn’t keeping busy I was thinking about her. She was always there in my head. Sometimes I swear I could smell her scent.

The back door opened and under the outside lighting I could see her face. She was smiling. Laughing even. Confused, I sat up straighter and tried to figure out what she was so happy about when I saw him. A guy. Behind her. Walking out smiling like he was pleased with himself.

Who the fuck was he?

Jerking my truck door open, I stepped out. The sound had caught their attention. Scarlet’s eyes locked with mine as I closed the truck door a little too firmly. Crossing my arms over my chest I leaned against the closed door and held her gaze. She was beautiful even tired and dirty from waiting tables all day.

“Scarlet, you know him?” the guys asked cautiously.

She nodded, then took one step in my direction.

“What are you doing?” she asked me.

“You ignored my text and calls,” was my simple reply. Not I missed you like fucking crazy and had to see you.

“So you came here?” she asked sounding confused.

I gave her a nod. The guy was still there, standing behind her like he might need to protect her. Dick. He needed to fucking leave.

“I left, Bray.” Her statement would have made me smile if I wasn’t so damn tense from the guy standing too close to her. Almost touching her.

“Yeah, I was there. Saw you drive off,” I reminded her.

She shrugged this time as if I should have let her go and been done with it.

“I miss you, Scarlet.” There, I said it.

She dropped her head in her hands. The guy put his hands on her shoulders and that was it. No more. Shoving off the truck with my arm I took several long strides until I was in front of her.

I didn’t want to acknowledge his existence but his hands needed to move off her now. Reaching out I took one of her hands and pulled it gently from her face. She lifted her gaze to me, eyes wide with surprise that I was so close now.

“Baby, he needs to take his hands off you,” I said in a soft firm voice. This was not the time to fucking lose my temper. But addressing him would likely make me do so.

She frowned as if she wasn’t sure what I meant. Did she not even realize his hands were on her? It finally dawned on her and she turned to look back at him. “I’m okay, Diesel. Thanks.” She stepped away from him so that his hands fell away.

Diesel? What the fuck kinda name was that?

“Bray, this is Diesel. We work together. Diesel, this is Bray, my . . . we were . . . he’s . . . a friend.” She stammered over her words like she didn’t know what to say. How to explain me.


Tags: Abbi Glines South of the Mason Dixon Romance
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