My chest eased. Oxygen began to flow easier. We still waited for the full picture.

“Dallas will suffer from monoplegia. Not because of a spine injury, but because of the brain injury. Although he will be sore and he is bruised it wasn’t a spine issue.”

“So he won’t be paralyzed?” Asher asked with the hope we all held but were too frightened to ask.

“Monoplegia is paralysis.”

Those three words took the wind from us all. Not a sound. Silence. Dallas would never accept a life where he was paralyzed. Bending at the waist I put my hands on my thighs and breathed deep. He was alive. I had to focus on that.

“Monoplegia is a paralysis of a limb. From what we saw before surgery Dallas couldn’t move is legs. This may be temporary. It is very common with a brain injury and with physical therapy many people regain the use of the limbs or at least a great deal of use. If not all.”

No one said a word. We stood there taking it in. Trying to imagine a world where our charismatic, pretty boy baby brother was paralyzed. It seemed impossible. Like a bad dream.

“Is he going to live?” Momma asked.

The doctor nodded. “Dallas is no longer in danger. He will recover, and yes, Mrs. Sutton. Your son will live.”

At those words Momma let out a cry and clung to Asher who was standing beside her. The doctor looked to Asher who nodded. “Thank you. For saving Dallas,” he said. We all wanted to say it but only Asher had the strength.

The doctor smiled. “That kid is a fighter. I don’t think he ever considered dying. I’ve never seen someone fight that hard to live.”

Momma cried harder and Steel came up on the other side of her and held her there. She reached for his hand and squeezed it. Her two eldest sons held her up. Supported her. Brent and I looked at each other.

Once the doctor was gone the room was quiet except for the soft cries coming from Momma. I didn’t know the right thing to say. I wasn’t good at this kind of thing.

“He’s going to live. And with his determination he’ll be walking by Christmas,” Brent said.

The ring from my phone interrupted anything more and I jerked it out of my pocket.

“Hello,” I said, needing good news. Needing to know Scarlet was okay.

“We had a busy lunch crowd come in. Without Scarlet being here we are short staffed. I had to stay. I figured she was sleeping. She’d be fine. After lunch cleared out, I went on over to her trailer. Drove up and her car was gone but the front door was standing wide open. For just anyone to walk inside. I carry a gun and I grabbed it. My heart was pounding as I made my way to the door. I got there and I saw her purse sitting right there on the table with her phone. When I called for her she didn’t answer. I looked all over that tiny place and she wasn’t in there.”

Ethel was rattling on about calling the police and asking the neighbors who I figured were too stoned to be helpful. I saw Asher step away from Momma and take a phone call before I finally stopped Ethel’s never-ending run-on sentence. “You can’t find her and her car is gone?” I asked needing to know if this was the basis of what she knew.

“Yes, and the cops don’t think it’s foul play because her purse and money and all is right here. Not touched. But why would she leave all that? Take off and leave her door open? Something ain’t right.”

I agreed. I was about to ask to speak to an officer when Asher stepped in front of me. I pulled the phone from my ear in case Ethel tried to start talking again about inane shit.

“The Moulton Police station has Scarlet,” he said.

I dropped the hand holding the phone and waited for more. How had the cops here gotten Scarlet if she was in Robertsdale?

“Why?” was all I could think to ask while my brain was scrambling to figure it out.

“Arson,” he said simply. “Her parent’s house.”

Those were only four words. But Asher had no idea just what they meant to me. They explained it all.

“She’s refusing to put on the clothing they are providing. All she was wearing when they got there was a black tee shirt several sizes too big. That’s it,” he finished raising his eyebrows.

I didn’t need details. I just needed to get to her. It was time she was protected. I’d be damned if I let the fucking bastards who raised her pin this shit on her. She wouldn’t suffer any jail time. I’d go to fucking prison for her if I had to. Fuck the goddamn system. They didn’t know what she’d lived through.

“Her car was found just inside the city limits on the side of the road out of gas. They said she walked to her parents’ house, then used matches and” he frowned before continuing—“a diary to start the fire. Or something like that. It’s ashes now but her mother told them she started the fire with a diary.”

My heart slammed against my chest at those words. I began to run. There was no time to explain. Words couldn’t adequately get through to them exactly what the significance of his words meant. Not unless I told them her secrets and I wouldn’t do that. Ever.

“Bray!” Brent called out. I didn’t stop or turn around. “Do you need me?” he added.

Not “She’s not worth it” or “You can’t leave Dallas,” but “Do you need me?”

If I was a sensitive man I might have teared up at that, but I wasn’t. I stopped running, turned to the man that was not only my brother but my twin. “They deserved it. Whatever she did, they deserved it. Now she needs protecting. That’s what I’m going to do.”

Brent didn’t hesitate. He nodded. “Call me. If you need backup. Just call.”

I stood there for the second it took to let that sink in. It wasn’t just words. It was forgiveness. The only way a Sutton boy knows how to deliver it.

“I will,” I said. Without another moment to spare, I continued running to my truck, then I broke every speed limit in the town until I parked my truck in the police station parking lot.


“WHATEVER THE BAIL is I will pay it. But she’s leaving with me.” At the sound of that voice, my head snapped up and I looked through the bars of the holding cell I was in. Thankfully they hadn’t taken me to the actual jail area with the other criminals they had back there.

Bray was here. I’d found out Dallas had taken a life-threatening fall from a horse. He was in surgery and could be dying from what one of the officers we had gone to school with had told me.

Why was he here?

“Bray?” I said his name as I stood up still wearing his shirt. I’d refused to wear the ugly uniform they put on prisoners. I wasn’t a prisoner. I was an arsonist, but they couldn’t hold me if the owner of the property I’d burned down didn’t press charges. And the man I called father a good portion of my life had called about ten minutes ago from Utah and told them to release me.

Bray took three long strides to get to me. His expression fierce. “I’m getting you out. Don’t worry. We can fight this.”

His hand reached through the bars to touch my face.

I started to tell him there was nothing to fight. But the look of love and protectiveness in his eyes stole my words. It was new and I wasn’t sure I’d ever get used to it. This feeling. Knowing I wasn’t alone in the world. Not anymore. The anger I’d had when I saw he had my diary had dissipated as I watched the pages of it turn to ashes at my feet. He knew my pain. He knew my monsters. But if he was going to love me then he needed to know who it was he loved. It was time I accepted that and stopped pretending.

Tags: Abbi Glines South of the Mason Dixon Romance