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The dining room was silent but for the scrape of utensils. Not that Melanie expected April to talk to her, but she did expect April to at least make small talk with Zoe.

“Have you been working out, Zoe? I swear you look sooo much skinnier than the last time I saw you,” April said and Melanie fought the urge to smack the woman. “It’s not healthy to carry all that extra weight, with your face and all.”

“Not that you’re not pretty in your own way,” April added.

Stunned, Melanie could only gape at April.

“I weigh exactly the same as I did eight months ago,” Zoe said, her nose lifting in the air. “And there’s not a dang thing wrong with my face.”

Melanie reached for Zoe’s hand, squeezing it tight. “I think you’re gorgeous, doll. And so does Gabriel.”

“Who are you doing, I mean dating, Melissa?”

“No one,” Melanie said through clenched teeth. “Thanks for asking.”

April leaned forward in her chair. “Already went through all the boys around here?”

“And then some,” Melanie shot back, crossing her arms over her chest. “Now I’m making my way through all the men.”

“Melanie Ann Smith,” Leah gasped, her hand on her heart. “You will not talk like that in front of Zoe. She’s a good girl.”

“I am not,” Zoe snapped. “There are lots of things I’ve done that you know nothing about.” She grabbed her plate, stood up and left the room, calling over her shoulder, “I’m going over to Gabriel’s. Who knows what sorts of things we’ll be doing.”

Melanie almost gave her best friend a standing ovation. Instead she smiled and made a mental note to text Zoe later.

“See what you’ve done,” Leah said, her eyes narrowing.

“What I’ve done?” Melanie said, her nose scrunching on one side. “It’s that thing you’ve invited into your home that started all this.”

“You will not insult—”

“She’s right, Ms. Ambrose. It’s all my fault.” Fat tears rolled down April’s face. “I was only trying to help Zoe. She’s like a little sister to me and I can’t stand to see someone downplaying their looks.”

“What a crock,” Melanie muttered, yanking her napkin out of her lap. “Thank you for dinner, but I need to go, too.”

“Don’t forget to take some key lime pie with you, sugar,” Leah said. “I made it just for you.”

“I will and thank you,” Melanie said, feeling as if her head wanted to spin like a top. The woman had insulted her at Carter’s garage and again at dinner, but had also taken the time to make (and remember) her favorite dessert?

“Something else the matter, Mrs. Ambrose?” April asked as Melanie scraped her chair back and picked up her plate.

“Just my brother, John. I know I shouldn’t talk, but you’re like a daughter to me and well, he and Raylene have been having problems,” Leah said. “He wants to take her a special trip but she always has other plans.”

Oh God. She did not need to hear this, because she had a sinking feeling that Raylene’s plans were Melanie’s dad.

Melanie practically ran out of the room and lobbed her plate on the kitchen counter. Opening a cabinet near the sink, she found some Tupperware and threw in a big slice of pie, then headed out the back door.

Melanie had never left the Ambrose house so quickly in her life, or ever been so happy to do so. Jumping in her car, she started it up and headed home. She had no desire to have dessert with Carter or anyone else for that matter. All she wanted was a bubble bath and a romance novel. Those two things never failed to put her in a better mood.

***

One bubble bath and half a romance novel later, Melanie was still in a foul mood. She tossed the book on the floor and grabbed the towel off the hook, wrapping it around her shivering body. Maybe it was time for some pie.

After drying off and putting on her robe, she walked to the kitchen and rummaged through the silverware drawer for a fork. She took the fat slice of pie out of the fridge and the plastic container, placing it on a paper plate, because there was no darn way she felt like doing dishes. A house without a dishwasher meant that everything had to be done by hand.

One slice of heaven later, she licked the fork clean and chunked it the sink. That she could get tomorrow when she cleaned up her mess from breakfast. As she headed to her bedroom, her phone buzzed and she scooped it up. “Carter,” she muttered.

Where are you? I’m getting worried.

Yeah, she bet he was. He was worried he wouldn’t be getting any tonight, and he was right.

I’m fine.

And?

Oh she knew what that meant. He wanted to know when she’d be coming over there, like some kind of desperate woman. Well here you go, she thought as she sent another text.

Thank you for asking.

This time, her phone rang. Sighing, she flopped down her bed and answered it. “Hello.”

“‘Thank you for asking?’” Carter all but growled into the phone.

“Oh, did I need to send you a note instead of a text?”

“You need to get over here.”

Staring at the ceiling, she counted the glow-in-the-dark stars that had never fallen off. “No.”

“No?” God, she so wish she could see his face right now, because he sounded shocked as hell. A thick sigh later, he said, “Tell me what to do to fix this.”

“How about what not to do?” she asked slowly, then braced for his comeback. He had to have one. Although a very large part of her would die if he did.

“I’m listening.”

Melanie blinked, then glanced at her phone. That wasn’t the comeback she expected. Her shoulders tensed as she thought about exactly what should be on her list of don’ts. “Don’t order me to come to your place just for sex. Don’t ignore me at work…and don’t treat me like a…a—”

“Piece of ass,” he supplied.

“Yes.”

“No problem.”

Tension left her shoulders. It couldn’t be that easy. A woman couldn’t have that kind of conversation with a man and him say ‘No problem’. “I’m still not coming over tonight.”

“Didn’t figure you were.”

Now she wanted to come over to his place. Stay strong, Melanie. “See you tomorrow at work.”

“Sounds good. Oh, and Melanie?”

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