“Offer still stands, Carter,” she said.
“Still not interested.” He side-stepped her and moved into the kitchen. “Anything else I need to carry in there.”
“Key Lime pie.” Leah handed him the pie plate and pie cutter.
“But the only person who likes this is Melanie,” he said, his brow furrowing. He hated the taste of lime, unless it was in the neck of a Corona. Or on Melanie’s tongue. He smiled.
Leah raised her cobalt blue eyes, studying him. Heat rose up his neck and he pulled at the collar of his shirt. “And your point?” she asked, then she passed him a plate of blueberry cobbler. April’s favorite. Was this to show him how compatible he and April were because their taste buds were similar? Color him confused as hell. “Set this on the hutch, please.”
Once he set the desserts on the hutch, everyone seemed to file in the dining room at the same time, even his aunt and uncle were there. Although, they weren’t looking too happy about being seated by one another.
“Where’s everyone else?” Carter ticked his chin up at Melanie and pulled out a chair for her. A sweet smile lit up her face and she started forward.
“Baseball practice and job obligations, bless their hearts.” Leah cleared her throat. “I thought it might be fun to have place cards at the table.”
“Yippee,” his baby sister Evangeline said, twisting her fingers in the necklace at her throat.
“Why would you think that?” Lawton asked, making his wife smile wider. Oh yeah, his dad was in for it now. That smile had been known to make grown men quiver in their boots.
“Because April suggested it.” Leah held one up. “She handmade each one. Don’t you think they’re pretty, Raylene?”
“Gorgeous.” Carter’s aunt glanced at Leah, then at the table. “Looks like I’ll be sitting between my favorite nieces.” She cast her gaze at April. “Did you decide where everyone will be?”
April smiled like the Cheshire cat. “I did.” Suddenly she gasped and a little frown marred her forehead. “I forgot about you, Missy.”
“It’s Melanie.” Carter could have sworn he heard Melanie’s teeth grind together.
“Sorry, Miranda.” April gestured to the kitchen. “You can always sit at the kids’ table.”
“We don’t have a kids’ table,” Zoe snapped, then turned to Melanie. “You can sit beside me.”
“She’s sitting with me,” Carter said, putting his arm around Melanie’s shoulder.
“Enough drama.” Leah threw her hands up in the air. “Sit.”
Silence descended upon the room as everyone found a seat and began to pass around plates of food.
“What in the—” Carter’s dad stood, moving to the window and parting the lacey curtains. “Oh good Lord…I’m eating in the other room.” Lawton picked up his plate, silverware and drink and left the dining room.
“Raylene! It’s me, Louis.”
All eyes turned to Carter’s aunt. Her fork was frozen in the air, halfway to her mouth. Then those same pairs of eyes found Melanie.
“Didn’t you pay the man?” John asked.
Melanie inwardly cringed. Please make him go away, she prayed, or at least make Carter’s Uncle John keep believing that was exactly why her daddy was here.
“I know you’re in there, sugar,” Louis shouted. “Don’t take him back. I know we had words but I didn’t mean it. C’mon and give me another chance.”
“Another what?” John asked, his face turning dark.
“Oh, God,” Melanie whispered, looking down at her plate. Her face had to be red as a firecracker.
“I’m leaving you, John,” Raylene announced, placing her fork on the table.
“For him?” John jerked his thumb at the window.
Raylene slowly rose to her feet. “I’m not happy here, John. Not with you or him.” She took a deep breath. “I want out of this marriage and this town.”
“Raylene,” Louis shouted again, and Carter’s aunt shook her head, stomping out of the room. John followed her, the door slamming behind him.
“Roast anyone?” Leah asked, a bright smile on her face.
“No, thank you,” everyone seemed to say at once.
Carter’s mother stood. “I need to get…well, something.”
“I’ll come with you, Mrs. Ambrose.” April hurried after her.
Oh goody, Melanie thought with a grim smile. Now the two of them would spend the next thirty minutes talking about her and her daddy, with lots of bless their hearts thrown in.
“I’ll go check on Dad.”
As soon as his sisters were out of sight, Carter turned to Melanie. “You knew about this?” Carter asked, his tone more than accusing. He sounded down-right pissed.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t think it was anyone’s business.” And she’d been ashamed as hell.
He threw his napkin down. “Your dad is messing around with my aunt, my married aunt, and somehow that’s not anyone in this room’s business?” Leaning back in his chair, his jaw worked.
“What was I supposed to say? Pass me the gravy and oh by the way, my dad’s been sleeping with your married aunt. Besides, he didn’t mess around with Raylene all by his lonesome. From what I understand she’s a willing partner in all this,” Melanie snapped. She hated this, hated defending her dad. Especially to Carter of all people.
“You shouldn’t have lied to me.”
“I didn’t lie to you,” she said, smacking her hand on the table. “I didn’t tell you.”
“Lie by omission is still a lie,” he reminded her. “It’s the one thing I’d thought you’d never do to me. Ever. That’s a deal breaker for me, Melanie, and you know it.”
Melanie choked back a sob of fury and helplessness, wishing she was anywhere but here. Wishing she hadn’t gone with him to Charlotte, wishing she’d never tried to make Carter see her as anything but his sister’s pain the ass best friend.
At least if she had, then she would always wonder what would happen between them, instead of knowing for sure. And for sure, this was it for them.
“How could you help break up a marriage, Melanie?” April cried as she walked back in the dining room, with Leah hot on her heels.