The light in her pretty brown eyes faded. “Yes, especially after—never mind.” She turned away, but not before he saw tears welling.
Crossing the distance between them, he put his hand on her elbow and turned her to face him. “Louis gambled his money away.” Everyone knew about her dad’s gambling. And when Louis Smith got a wild hair to bet it all, he usually lost his shirt. Usually Melanie had to find a way to pick up the pieces.
Her lower lip trembled as she nodded. “I gave him almost all of my money from my House Jar…to pay the rent.”
Ah, hell. “How often does he ask for your help?”
She lifted her chin. Damn, Louis did not deserve the excuse she was getting ready to make for him. “Not that often. Just every couple months or so.”
Carter let go of her elbow and rubbed the bridge of his nose, not trusting himself to speak at the moment. Someone needed to take Louis in hand, because Carter knew every couple months or so actually mean every other month. At that rate, Melanie would never move out of her dad’s place.
“Please don’t tell anyone, especially not Zoe. You know how she is and I can’t take any money from her.”
Why she trusted him with this, he had no idea. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. About three years ago, he’d found her sitting along the side of the road with two suitcases and a huge bag slung over her shoulders.
So, Carter had offered her a ride. Turned out, she and her dad had been evicted from their rental. All they’d let her pack was her clothes and some personal items. Louis had been up in Cherokee, presumably trying to change their luck.
He’d driven her back to Holland Acres Mobile Home Park and paid what was owed, plus two extra months. He would have paid more, but Louis might have gotten the wrong idea.
Carter still remembered the kiss Melanie had given him in thanks, soft as a butterfly’s caress and more potent than moonshine. But he had stopped her, really himself, before things had gone any further.
“You know I won’t.”
Her nose crinkled a little as she smiled. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” He couldn’t help but dust his thumb over her bottom lip. Her breath hitched and it was all he could do to not kiss her right then. “How about I give you an advance?”
“A what?” she asked and he could have sworn she stepped closer to him.
Tilting his head to the side, he let his thumb find the corner of her mouth, then coast along the line of her jaw. Melanie really was a pretty little thing. Always had been and mischievous as hell, too.
She leaned into his touch, her eyes closing and chin tipping up. Black lashes brushing the tops of her cheeks and barely visible freckles. “You shouldn’t hide those.”
“Hide what?” Her sweet breath fanned over his face.
“Men don’t like freckles.”
He chuckled, continuing his exploration of her face and easing his hand behind her neck. He wanted to undo the ridiculous bun she’d put her hair up in. “This man does.” Then he said the worst thing possible. “In fact I’d like to see if you have freckles in other places.”
Of their own volition, his fingers came from around her neck and coasted over her clavicle, down to the deep vee of her shirt. He nudged it to one side, watching in pure male satisfaction as goose bumps appeared. A perfect line of golden dots disappeared underneath her lacey black bra. Her br**sts rose and fell, breaths coming out in little pants that made him harder than before.
“Then I’d spend some time connecting the dots with my tongue,” he added, tracing the lace at the edge of the cup.
Eyes popping open, she gaped at him. “You would?” she all but squeaked.
It was as if someone had clipped his fender and woke his ass up. He dropped his hand and high-tailed it out of his office. “Be back later. I need my files organized,” he called over his shoulder.
Melanie stared after him, watching in disbelief as the door slammed closed. Then she walked over to his chair and flopped down in it, her heart still beating a mile a minute. Her ni**les were hard and she was wet and throbbing between her thighs. Dear Lord, the man had barely touched her.
There was no way she could get anything done. At least not right now. She needed time to calm down. She needed to talk her best friend.
Picking up the receiver, she quickly dialed Zoe’s number.
“Yay,” Zoe squealed into the phone. “Wait, what worked?”
Melanie rolled her eyes. “Brain hasn’t kicked in yet?”
“I stayed up until four a.m.writing,” Zoe said with a yawn.
“Well your brother said he liked my freckles and wanted to see where else I had them,” Melanie crowed. “And some other stuff, too.”
“Carter said that?”
“Oh yeah. He’s coming ‘round to my way of thinking.” Melanie should’ve taken the opportunity to touch him, only she had been scared that he would reject her.
There was silence on the line, so long that Melanie thought Zoe had hung up. A sliver of self-doubt tried to pierce her victory.
“Mel, you know I love you, right?”
Oh crap, this couldn’t be good. “And I love you, too.”
“I’ve never lied,”—There was a pause and Melanie’s forehead wrinkled—“about things that could possibly hurt you. I also know how much you love—”
“Just spit it out, Zoe.”
“Evangeline said that April called Carter last night, wanting to get back together. He’s supposed to meet her for dinner this evening at Jack’s.”
Melanie’s heart fell to the pit of her stomach and she blew out a shaky breath. “I’m off tonight, but thanks for warning me.”
“I’m sorry, honey. I really am, but I don’t want you to get hurt,” Zoe said, her voice sincere. “Carter’s not the type to string women around, but you’re my best friend and I don’t want to take the chance. Sometimes men, even ones you have high opinions of, turn out to be real asshats.”
“You and Gabriel have another fight?”
“No, he’s been really sweet. Distant but sweet. Then again, Summer Holland is back in town and living with Patrick Johnson. I don’t think Gabe is too happy about that.”
“Carter’s helping out her sister, Rose,” Melanie said, grabbing a yo-yo in the shape of the globe. She spun it around on the desk top. “I swear there is something about those Holland girls. It’s like they have supernatural powers or something. Heck, if I liked women, I’d date one of them. Only downside would be that if there was a bad breakup, I’d no longer be able get my coconut bath and body stuff.”