“I live here. This is my home now.”

This couldn’t be more appealing than the large house she’d lived in with her parents. Unless they’d finally divorced or her mother had moved out. “Did your parents move?” I asked.

She shook her head no. Emotion filled her eyes. Tears she seemed determined not to shed. “No. But I’m not going back there.”

I knew her mother was a crazy whore. Most of the town knew it. Momma had mentioned her mother before and referred to her as sorry. Which was the same as calling her a whore. Sorry was a deep insult coming from Momma.

But her dad was successful. He was known for overlooking his wife’s infidelity. When Scarlet had graduated high school, he hadn’t been there. Neither of them had. Dixie had been upset about it. But Scarlet hadn’t seemed to care.

“Why?” I asked when she didn’t say more.

She inhaled deeply. “This is my new life. Where I want to be. That life, my parents, that . . . I don’t want to go back there. Ever.”

What the fuck? “Did something happen with your mom?” The woman was insane.

She shook her head.

“What about your dad?” Had he shown up and upset her?

She shook her head again. I waited, hoping she’d say more. I had always known she wasn’t close to her parents. That her relationship with them was tense. If she could stay away from home she did. No one seemed to care. The nights she’d slept with me in my truck so we could park and fuck all night, not once had they called looking for her. Worried that she wasn’t there. It had seemed odd.

“He’s not my real father,” she blurted out like she was having to force herself to admit it. “I was the result of an affair, my mother had with his younger brother. He’s my uncle. My real father died in a hunting accident when my mother was still pregnant with me.” Her eyes were wide, surprised. As if she couldn’t believe she’d just told me this.

Holy shit. I didn’t know what to say to that. I wanted to ask her if she was sure. If this wasn’t a bunch of bullshit that her mother had told her. But the way her face was fighting against the emotion trying to break free I didn’t have the heart to keep drilling her with questions.

“How long have you known?” I asked, wondering how long she’d held onto this.

“Since I was nine.”

Motherfucker. “Jesus, Scarlet. Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

She turned her head from me. Her mouth in a tight line. She appeared angry about something. Was she mad I was asking questions? “We didn’t talk much Bray. We fucked.” The hard tone her voice had taken caused me to study her closer.

“I’m going to be late for work,” she said, moving back from me. She tugged at her towel to keep it from falling. As if I didn’t know every inch of her body naked.

“Get ready then, but Scarlet this isn’t over. We have more to talk about.”

She didn’t say anything more. The door closed firmly behind her. Too firmly.

I stood there staring at the door she had walked through and started making plans. I wasn’t going to let her stay here. She wasn’t happy here. She was a survivor and I hadn’t realized it until now.

Once I had hated myself for wanting her. For fucking craving her. Because I thought she was into playing games. I grouped her with the others. Assumed she was silly and wild. It was nothing like I thought.

When she stepped back through the door, I knew what I was going to do. I would plan. Prepare. But I knew.

Scarlet glanced at her phone. “We have ten minutes to get there.”

“Then you better get your ass in the truck,” I replied in a lighter tone, hoping to ease the tension suddenly thick around us.

She gave a nod, then did just that. All the while not looking at me.

Scarlet

GOD! WHAT HAD I been thinking? Saying something that private, that close to the truth, aloud. No one needed to know those things. It would lead to more questions. Demanding answers I would never give. He was too close. Having him with me, was . . . amazing. It made my safe little trailer perfect. It didn’t smell of mildew with Bray inside of it. The scent of mint and leather now filled it. Bray made things brighter.

Allowing myself to want this led me right back down a path with no hope.

“You going to be silent the entire ten-minute drive to the diner?” he asked, breaking the silence.

I couldn’t look at him. I knew he wanted me to. I just couldn’t. I’d opened up. Said too much.

“Scar, what’s wrong?”

Sighing, I continued to look out the passenger side window. “Nothing. I am just trying to figure things out in my head.”

“What things?”

“Explaining to you that I want the life I have here. I’m happy. Content. I wasn’t there.” Maybe happy was going overboard. But secure. Free of the . . . the dirty, ugly world I’d lived in. The secrets, the mask I wore daily to cover my reality. That was behind me. No amount of counseling that doctors put me in had felt this free. Besides, if I’d told a psychiatrist my real issues I’d have been thrown in the system real damn fast. Away from Dixie. And I needed Dixie then. She was my means of survival.

“You were unhappy back home?” he asked for clarification.

I nodded but said no more. I was done with this topic. He sensed it and the rest of the trip we didn’t speak. When he parked in front of the diner, I grabbed the handle to bolt, expecting him to grab my arm and ask me more. To say something. But it wasn’t until I was halfway to the back door that it dawned on me he wasn’t chasing me. He wasn’t calling my name.

He was driving away.

Stopping, I turned to look as his truck was pulling out onto the main road. Not leading to my trailer. He was headed back North. Back to his home. My shoulders slumped. My throat clogged. It was what I knew had to happen but it’d been so damn easy.

“You coming in to help, or standing out here contemplating the day?” Diesel asked.

I jerked my head around to see him tossing a bag of garbage into the dumpster.

“Shut up,” I snapped. Back to being angry with him.

“And she’s back. Crabby just like I like it,” he said with sarcasm.

I stalked past him and into the kitchen.

“He’s not worth it. If he didn’t stay and beg you then he should drive off.”

I wanted to yell at him some more. He thought this was simple. That I was some shallow girl wanting attention from a bad boy. That it was about love and happily ever after. The idea made me furious. I hated him judging me by others. Because I wish I could be like others. I wish I didn’t have this fucked up head and insecurities and fears. I wish I hadn’t seen the monsters and ugliness at a young age.

And I wish my mother had stopped him. The first one. The ones after that. I wish she’d been the loving mother that protected her child. Or just a human with compassion. That would have helped me too.

“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” I said in a low but firm voice as I glared at him.

“Then enlighten me,” he shot back.

I began to laugh. Not the kind that came from amusement. But the kind that came from demented cruel pain. He’d been in prison for a few months. I’d live in prison for years. My safe childhood had been a world of fear, dirty, and terror when another man came into my room and called me “princess.” A man my mother allowed in there.

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