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“Help you with something?”

Rising up on her toes, she let her lips brush against the lobe of his ear. “Instead of calling me to talk dirty, why don’t you come to my place and be dirty with me instead?” Then she whirled around and sashayed to the office, leaving him standing there.

Carter rarely regretted any decision he made, but as his newest employee walked in, giving Melanie a longer than was necessary once over, he was ready to throw the kid out on his ass.

Melanie wasn’t helping things, fussing over Beau like he was some sort of long-lost puppy. “Can I get you a snack, honey?” Carter heard her ask Beau. He rolled his eyes and shoved a box of rags into Honey’s chest.

“Follow me. You need to know what I need from you in order to get a paycheck,” Carter said. “Unless you’d rather have a nap after your snack.”

Beau glanced from Carter to Melanie. “Thank you for the offer, Miss Melanie, but I need to get to work.”

Her brown eyes got all soft, like melted chocolate. “Poor thing, working so hard after school. Did you know he’s helping his Uncle and Aunt out at home, too? All those cousins need looking after. You are such a sweetheart.”

Beau nodded. “It can be hard at times.”

Oh come on. The kid was so full of it. Carter crossed his arms and waited. “If you’re through blessing his heart, I’d really like to get to work on the Mustang.”

Now that got Beau’s attention. “I get to touch that on the first day?” He shifted the box in his arms, pushing his lip ring out with his tongue. “Hell, yeah.”

“No, you’ll be sorting through nuts and bolts. You learned that skill today in Kindergarten class, didn’t you?”

Beau mumbled something under his breath, but the kid didn’t complain. Thirty minutes later, Carter checked on him. Satisfied with the work Beau had done so far, Carter ambled to his office. He found Melanie sitting at the desk he’d bought and had delivered last week, a frown on her face as she looked at the computer screen.

“What’s wrong?”

“Louis came home this morning right before I left for Mr. Henry’s.”

“And?”

The frown grew deeper. “He said he got a job down in Baxterville, but…”

“What state?” He knew she was looking for casinos.

“Alabama.”

He moved to stand beside her, looking over her head to count all the casinos in a twenty-five mile radius of Baxterville. There were dozens of them. Heart aching for her, he settled his hands on top of her shoulders. “Maybe he’ll stay away this time.”

“It’s not a matter of staying away.” She placed a hand over his and squeezed. “It’s a matter of how much he’ll lose or win.”

Reminding Melanie of what an ass her dad was would only serve to make him feel better. Actually, finding a way to put Louis under house arrest would make him supremely happy. However, this wasn’t about Carter. This was about Melanie.

“Let me know what I can do to help,” he said. He meant it. Potential lover or not, he would always be there for Melanie. Whenever she needed him.

“I’m fine.”

He spun the chair around, bending at the knees to get level with her face. There was so much worry in her brown eyes, and all he wanted to do was make it go away. Permanently. “Hey. I mean it. Whatever you need.”

Her lower lip trembled before a smile formed on her mouth. “I know you do, but sometimes, a girl can’t be saved. Sometimes, a girl has to save herself.”

“By moving out.” She nodded and he leaned forward. “I know we’re on the clock right now, but I really need to kiss you.”

“I haven’t taken my afternoon break,” she said, inching closer.

“Off the clock,” he murmured right before he kissed her. Soft lips to his, tasting like sweet tea and the key lime pie he’d brought back from town just for her.

She sighed, her hands coming to rest on his shoulders, and he cupped her face, keeping his touch as light as his kisses. This wasn’t about lust, wasn’t about teasing her. This was about wanting to give without expecting anything in return. She wouldn’t take his money, she wouldn’t take his help, but his kisses…Yeah, he knew she’d take those. Because he would do the same.

Breaking their kiss, he caressed the side of her face and smiled. “Feeling a little better now?” he asked.

Returning his smile, she glanced up and then back at him. “Just a little,” she said with a wink.

“About tonight?” He traced the outline of his racing number on her sleeve. “I’m thinking along with the dirty, we should do something not-so-dirty.”

“Golden Girls marathon?”

Laughing, he rose to his feet. She knew him so well. “Followed by Glee.”

“Betty White and spontaneous singing all on the same night?” She placed a hand over her heart. “A man after my own heart.”

“That’s not all I’m after.”

Rolling her eyes, she said, “Men. You can’t just stop at the heart-melting stuff.”

Tires crunching over gravel had him checking the window of his office. A silver BMW slid in beside Melanie’s Honda.

What the hell was April doing here? The driver and passenger doors opened; April and mother getting out simultaneously. He clenched his jaw. Now that was his mother’s doing, not his ex.

“I’ll be right back.”

“Be nice,” Melanie called after him.

He met the two women in the middle of the garage, right beside Chase Montgomery’s Mustang. April leaned against it, the heavy chains on her purse dragging against it.

“Off the car, April,” he said and she slowly moved away, her nose in the air. He inspected the paint, relived to find it scratch free.

Leah’s eyes rounded. “That’s not how you greet visitors.”

“Neither one of you are visitors,” he pointed out, then crossed his arms. “What can I help you with? Oil change, tire rotation.”

Beau eyed them, his gaze returning to April again and again. Carter shook his head at the kid and motioned to the four foot tall shelf of endless drawers filled with nuts and bolts that Beau hadn’t finished sorting. With a roll of his eyes, he shoved a hand through messy bright green hair and returned to his work.

“Dinner—tonight, since you haven’t bothered showing up for dinner in forever,” his mother said. “‘No’ is not an option.”

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