“Diesel, get the lemon pie and start giving everyone who’s had to sit here and watch the drama going on while they choked on their food due to nothing to drink, a free slice,” Ethel ordered, then pointed at Bray. “You find a seat. Stay in it. If you go running off again I’m liable to get my shotgun off the wall in my office and chase you down. Are we clear?”

I paled. Ethel was threatening Bray. Oh dear God. I didn’t look back at him but the low laughter from his chest was my second surprise for the evening. “Yes, ma’am. We are clear.”

He’d sounded respectful. Not sarcastic. I started to turn back to look at him and Ethel snapped her fingers. “No you don’t! Focus is this way, dear.” She winked at me and went back into the kitchen.

Diesel stalked past me following her. Either he was going to argue that Bray needed to leave or he was angry about giving out the pie. I was pretty sure it was the former. He was angry at Bray. Not that it was his business to be. I wondered how long they had been standing there arguing when I walked out. Bray had a short temper and seeing Diesel advancing on him like that made me panic. I didn’t know what Bray would do next, but an image of Diesel sprawled out on the floor flashed through my mind.

Grabbing the water pitcher, I started making my way around refilling drinks and checking on the few customers we had left. My cheeks were warm from the pink stain on them. All eyes had been on the three of us.

“Two good lookin’ young men like them fighting over you,” Mrs. Warrior said in a loud whisper and a grin as I filled her cup with water. “Reminds me of my younger days.”

Mr. Warrior made a sound in his throat. “Who was fightin’ over you, Jane? I shoulda given you to ‘em and they could have saved me a lot of trouble and money.”

The Warriors had been married sixty years. I knew this because they’d told me more than once. The also fought regularly, and Mrs. Warrior flirted with the other senior citizen males in the place. She must have been pretty once because she carried herself as if they all were looking at her.

“I should have chosen one of the rich boys who wanted to court me. It would have been a more exciting life. I’d have gotten to see New York City. I always did want to see that big ole tree at Christmas they have there.”

Mr. Warrior rolled his eyes. “What rich boys? You sure you aren’t getting your life confused with one of them stories you watch?”

Mrs. Warrior straightened up in her chair, correcting my assumption that is wasn’t possible for her to sit any straighter. “The summer people,” she said as if Mr. Warrior was too beneath her to know what that was. “The wealthy came to the beaches back then for its seclusion from the big city,” she told me matter-of-factly. “My momma worked for several of them.”

“Your momma cleaned their toilets. Stop jabbering like you were highfalutin and let the girl do her job,” Mr. Warrior grumbled.

I smiled and hurried to the next table. I knew from experience sticking around would get me put in the middle of their fight and I wasn’t interested. I chanced a glance back at Bray to see he was still here. His gaze following me. He didn’t seem angry to be told to take a seat. Or in a hurry to leave. He was . . . different.

“Can I have a coffee to go, sugar?” the man at my next table asked and I snapped back to attention trying not to think about Bray. Not yet anyway. But he was here. He hadn’t left me. He’d left to come back to me. I didn’t know what to think about that. Or if I could believe it.

“I don’t reckon that one is leaving,” the man said, then winked at me.

My already warm cheeks flared with heat and I hurried to get him a coffee to go for the road. I could tell by the smell of tobacco, wrinkled clothing and endless consumption of coffee that he belonged to the semitruck outside.

Diesel was walking out with the pie and a scowl on his face as I got to the drink station.

“You’re smarter than this, Scarlet,” he said under his breath.

I didn’t respond to him. This was a guy who had driven his drug dealing friend’s car around and gone to jail for him. He wasn’t that sharp himself. Besides he didn’t know our story. He assumed he did. And I hadn’t asked for his opinion.

“The guy is a player. He likes the chase,” he continued.

I looked up at him. Forced a smile. “You have several people waiting on their free pie,” I said with fake cheer, then went to take the trucker his coffee and leave him his bill.

“Can I get more sweet tea, Scarlet?” Hansel Meyers asked. He was a thirty-year-old who lived with his mother and wore bow ties. He also ate here for dinner on her Bingo nights. To most people he was pathetic or pitiful, but he had a mom who loved him. Wanted him around. I thought he was lucky.

I grabbed the tea pitcher and tipped it to give him a refill.

“Thank you,” he said shyly. He always turned bright red from the roots of his receding hairline to this chest when he spoke to me.

“You’re welcome, Hansel. I’ll leave your bill right here,” I replied.

I started to walk off and he blurted out, “If things don’t work out with the others, I’m free this weekend.”

I would be willing to bet Hansel was free most weekends. I simply smiled at him and nodded. I didn’t know the correct words to say there. My eyes quickly darted to Bray who was covering his mouth discreetly with his hand. His eye danced with laughter. He was laughing . . . and trying to hide it.

The Bray I know wouldn’t care about Hansel’s feelings. I stood there staring at him again confused. The warmth in his eyes as he stared back at me made my chest feel funny. It wasn’t something I was familiar with. It felt nice. No . . . better than nice. It was as if I had been dipped in a tingly peppermint bath. I shivered.

“Jesus,” Diesel muttered disgusted as he walked off.

I ignored him because he didn’t understand. Bray Sutton wasn’t only the first man I ever trusted to love, he had also been my first for many things. He was the first man I ever felt safe with. That was important to me. Right now, I was feeling something new and I couldn’t put a name to it. Maybe it didn’t need a name or explanation. I just didn’t want it to ever go away. With Bray, you never knew when he would be gone.


AFTER THE DINER had emptied and Scarlet was putting chairs on top of tables, I stood and did the same. She paused and watched me for a moment. I grinned and continued. She left me to do finish, then began vacuuming the floors so she could mop them.

Gasoline walked in once, but turned and walked back out. Scarlet didn’t seem to notice and I knew he was disappointed. He wanted her attention. I was happy she didn’t even have to pretend not to care. We had enough to work through. Another guy would have made it harder. Not that I wouldn’t have fought for her and fucking won, because I would have. I was just glad it wasn’t an obstacle. I didn’t want to focus on drama shit with another guy when I knew Scarlet had a lifetime of damage to heal from. The reminder of all I’d read made me feel ill again. I swallowed hard and took a deep breath

I knew grabbing her and holding her while I demand she work through this—to cry, wail, hit me, all of the things I wanted to see her do—weren’t the way to handle it. Even I knew that much. I was pretty damn sure once she knew I’d read her diary she was going to be furious. Figuring out how to break that to her without her shoving me out of her life was important. Not that she could get rid of me, but fighting to stay would only make this harder.

Tags: Abbi Glines South of the Mason Dixon Romance
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