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Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Melanie come to the door. His number across her chest, hot as hell shorts and boots that made him want to do very good bad things to her.

April cleared her throat. She shook her plastic cup of iced coffee. “I need a refill.” She stalked to his office, brushing past Melanie. Melanie stumbled back, catching herself on the door.

“I’ll be expecting you at six, Carter.” Leah hoisted her purse higher on her shoulder. “And I’ll expect you to be civil to April.”

“Just civil?”

“As a matter of fact, I’d like for the two of you to work things out.” Glancing around the garage, she lowered her voice. “I’m not getting any younger, and I would like to enjoy some grandchildren before y’all ship me off to the nursing home.”

He loved his mother. He really did, but this interference, this maneuver and attempt at manipulation? It didn’t sit well with him, and he knew he wasn’t the only one Leah did this to. Every one of the Ambrose siblings had to deal with her wants and wishes.

“No one’s shipping you off to the nursing home, Momma.”

She smiled, one full of win. “Such a sweet—”

“We’ll take you out back and put you out of your misery first,” he teased.

Stunned, Leah’s jaw dropped. “Carter Mason Ambrose! I—”

A woman’s squeal of surprise caught their attention, and they turned in time to find Melanie’s outfit covered in iced coffee. April stood beside her, a fake horrified look on her face.

Beau raced to Melanie with a clean towel in his hand. She flashed him a smile and began to wipe at the ever-spreading wet spot.

“I am soo sorry, Myrtle.” April threw her cup into the trash. “I’m sure Carter can buy you another shirt and maybe Goodwill has another pair of those unfortunate shorts.”

Melanie’s face turned bright red. He knew for a fact that she shopped at Goodwill. Hell, he still remembered all the times she would come over to his house to share her finds with his sister, making a big deal over second hand clothes, because she couldn’t afford Wal-Mart.

“Doubtful,” Melanie muttered, eyes downcast.

Carter stood there, not sure exactly what to say or do. He couldn’t yell at April, because he wasn’t sure if it was an accident, and Beau had beaten him to the punch with the towel.

Finally his mother spoke. “Melanie, you bring those to my house and I’ll get the stains out for you. No sense in throwing out good clothes.”

“If that doesn’t work, I’m sure April will be happy to replace them,” Carter said, with a pointed look at his ex. He walked to Melanie, not giving a shit what his April or his mother thought. “I’m so sorry. Are you okay?”

“It’s not your fault.” Eyes glistening, she dried off her hands and threw the towel on a nearby counter. “I’m fine. The coffee wasn’t hot.”

“I’ll do my best, but those hips of yours, Marsha...”April tsked and flipped her hair over her shoulder. “It’ll be hard to find that size where I shop.”

“God, I want to punch her,” Melanie muttered, which only made Carter feel worse.

He raised his brows at his ex and pointed at the door. “Out. Don’t come back either.”

“You can’t make—”

“Let’s go, April,” Leah said, her dark blue eyes narrowing. “I have errands to run.”

Stopping his mother as she turned, he said, “I’m not coming to dinner, not while she’s there. Understand me?” God he hated taking such a sharp tone with his mother, but this—this was unacceptable.

“Fine.” With that, Leah marched out of his garage, April on her heels.

“I’m going home.” Melanie disappeared into his office, reappearing two seconds later with her purse and keys.

He strode to her, blocking her path. “Are we still on for tonight?” His eyes dropped to her br**sts, her ni**les were hard against the wet material. “Looks like you got the dirty part all covered.”

She shot him a look of disbelief. “Are you serious?”

Letting his head fall back, he counted to ten. “I was teasing.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not in the mood.”

“For anything,” she added as she skirted around him.

***

Nothing like coming home to a cold, empty house. Louis must have forgotten to pay the propane bill. Again.

Sighing, Melanie pulled on her robe and headed to the kitchen in search of chocolate.

Her phone rang and she answered it. There was lots of yelling in the background and the sound of slot machines being played.

“Melanie.”

“Hey Daddy. Did you forget to pay—”

“Our luck has change, sugar. I won big tonight!” A woman laughed, low and husky over the phone. “Must be the good luck charm that came with me.”

She froze, standing in the middle of the living room. “Is Raylene with you?”

“Now don’t get all preachy on me.”

“Answer me.”

Louis paused. “Yeah.”

Why couldn’t she catch a break? Of all the women in Holland Springs, he had to pick the one married to Carter’s uncle. It was like God had it out for her.

“But the real question you should be asking is how much.”

Again, Louis put her between a rock and a hard place. Pretty soon, she wouldn’t have any breathing room. “How much?”

“Twelve grand. I’m on a roll!” Another whoop in the background.

“Guess you’re not going to cash out and come home, are you?”

“I can double this, sugar. Pay you back and help get you out of that trailer faster. Do right by your momma. I can feel it.”

Tears pricked at her eyes. She bit her lip, then forced a smile. Why? She had no idea, because it wasn’t like Louis could see her tears or her smile. “That’s good, Daddy.”

“Wish me luck, before I have to go.”

“Good luck,” she whispered.

“Be back on Monday.”

She ended their call, made her legs work again and tossed her phone on the counter. It landed with a thud. She needed more than chocolate; she needed a drink.

Someone pounded on the door just as she opened the freezer. “Be right there!” Ms. White had mentioned bringing back Louis’ shears once she got off of work.

Before she could do an about face, the knock turned into a consistent pounding. “Hold your horses. I’m coming.” The pounding grew louder. That couldn’t be Ms. White. Stopping by the only window in the living room, she peeked out and saw Carter standing at her door.

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