“You’re not going to find out a damn thing from me.” Another step down and now the rain fell on Louis. “I know your kind. Take a girl out, sweet talk her, let her drive you car and then knock her up before you leave her high and dry. Only my girl was too smart for you.”
She was also stubborn as hell, too. But Carter didn’t figure Louis wanted his opinion on the matter. “I get it. Someone took advantage of your cousin or sister or some female relative and I’m real sorry about that. But—”
Louis shoved him, the strong smell of Jack Daniels invading Carter’s senses. “Not some relative. It was Bobbie Ann and I’m not going to let it happen to her daughter.”
“What do you mean Bobbie Ann’s daughter?”
“Melanie ain’t mine, not by blood anyway.” Louis swayed to one side. “But I made a promise to look after her. So I did.”
All this time, people, including Carter, had thought Louis was a no good, shifty loser that couldn’t commit to a radio station. “Does she know?”
“’Course she does. I don’t keep secrets from her.”
Well, she sure as hell had kept it from him. Although it really wasn’t anyone’s business, including his. Especially his. But he wanted it to be. He wanted every little thing about her to be his business. Rain dripped from the roof onto his nose. “Sir, I know you don’t like my kind, but I’d like to have a conversation with you. A serious one about your daughter. One that involves me making a promise to you about taking care of her, like a man should.”
“A man who respects her should,” he added, just in case Louis got the wrong idea.
Louis narrowed his eyes at Carter, reminding him so much of Melanie in that moment that he wasn’t sure she wasn’t Louis daughter by blood.
Finally a smile broke over his face and he clapped Carter on the back. “Come on in, son. Let’s get you dry and have a drink.”
“This mean you’re going to tell me where Melanie is?”
“That all depends on you, son, that all depends on you.”
The door shut behind Carter.
It had been almost three weeks since Melanie had last spoken to Carter, but as she entered the town limits of Holland Springs, a fresh wound on her heart exposed itself.
Years would need to pass before she’d be able to get over him. Maybe more if he didn’t stop trying to re-friend her on facebook or sending her private messages that she refused to read. And if he invited her play Scrabble with Friends one more dang time, she was going to choke him with some real life Scrabble pieces. Only that would require her actually seeing him and then she’d be right back where she started.
Her cell phone rang, the tune identifying her best friend as the caller.
“Remind me why I agreed to work on Valentine’s Day?” Melanie made a left onto Pine Drive. Jack’s restaurant stood on the right, the parking lot already full.
“Because you’re a glutton for punishment,” Zoe said, her voice teasing though the cell phone.
“Apparently.” Melanie pulled her car into her usual parking spot at the back of the restaurant and cut the engine. “You and Gabriel going out tonight?”
Uh-oh. “Did y’all break up again?”
“No.” Zoe laughed, but it sounded a little strained. “I thought I’d be available in case my best friend needed me after she got off of work.”
Thankful for her friend, Melanie closed her eyes and said a little prayer. “I’ll bring the dessert. There should be tons of leftovers. Last year, the pastry chef screwed up the order and we ran out. This year, Jack had her make twice as much.”
“Yum-my. See you later.”
Melanie opened the car door. “Bye.” She grabbed her purse and dropped her phone inside of it, then started for the restaurant.
Jack met her at the back door, his large frame taking up most of it. “Change of plans.”
Shrugging out of her coat, she threw it over her shoulder and secured her ponytail more tightly. “You don’t need me?”
“I wish,” he said, his brown eyes teasing. His bark was always worse than his actual bite. “Anyway, some big shot has rented out the entire back section and—”
“You want me to take care of him?” She brushed past Jack and headed inside. Kneeling down by the flatware station, she shoved her coat and purse under it. Then she grabbed her apron, looped the straps around and tied it in the front. “No problem.”
“Slow up.” Jack’s booming voice made her freeze in place. “The guy’s already in there, but his woman is running a little late, as usual.”
Why wouldn’t they have ridden together? “I’ll go get his drink order first.”
“Okay, what’s going on, Jack?”
“Get rid of the apron and go fix your hair and makeup.”
Melanie bristled. “How about I just go home?”
Jack held out his hand. “Apron, please. Then do the rest.” As she untied and handed him her apron, he said, “You’ll thank me later.”
“Doubtful,” she muttered, heading to the bathroom. There was absolutely nothing wrong with her make-up and standard issued ponytail. She looked exactly like a waitress, because that’s exactly what she was tonight. “Forget it, I’m going in.”
She walked into the dining room, only instead of the usual noise, it was eerily quiet. Every table was full and every eye was on here. “Oh-kay,” she muttered. Unsure of what to do, she smiled and searched the room, trying to find a familiar face to share with her what was going on. But all she found were a familiar pair of sexy green eyes.
Her heart bungeed to her toes, then almost jumped out of her mouth.
Carter Ambrose, in all his racing glory, made his way to her, skirting around tables and chairs. He held a bouquet of roses in one hand and a small, blue box in the other. He stopped only a few feet away from her.
Finally she found her voice. “You’re the big shot?”
“If that’s what you want to call me,” he said with a heart-stopping grin. “Anyway, I came down here to ask you something, Melanie.”
She heard a wolf-whistle from the crowd and found Carter’s youngest brother, Heath, ready to let another one loose. Only his mother smacked on the back of the head before he could make good on it, then gave Melanie an encouraging smile.