Authors: Dinah McLeod
“Never mind that. What’s done is done. Could you tell me what happened?”
It was the last thing she wanted to do. Yet, because it was Colton, and because she felt like her lie had earned him the right to know, she closed her eyes and recounted the events as best she could. Just the memory had her shivering and wanting to crawl deep, deep under the covers, but Colton was holding her tight and squeezing her hand as she recounted the story.
“I don’t know about this, Scarlett.”
“What?” She furrowed her brow at him. “You don’t know about what?”
“This is the second time in a week you’ve had a nasty run-in with this guy. I don’t like it.”
“Well, I don’t much like him either, which is why he’s an
“Don’t make light of it. This is serious.”
She shrugged, becoming irritable. “I don’t know what you think I can do about it.”
“Well, for one thing you coulda called the cops last night. Did you think of that?” He barely paused for an answer before he continued. “I really think that if you got out of this neighborhood, if he didn’t know where you were…”
“I see.” Her voice was as tight as a rubber band stretched to its limit.
“Scarlett, I’m just trying to keep you safe.”
“Well, I didn’t
you to keep me safe. And I don’t think I
some guardian angel.”
“Really? I don’t think I’d be the only one to disagree with you on that one. Should we invite Mrs. Fettermen over to see what she thinks?”
Scarlett scowled. “I don’t
what she thinks, and I don’t care what
think. I told you before—I don’t have the money that it would take to move. I know that might be hard for you to understand, so I’ll guess you’ll just have to take my word for it.”
“Scarlett.” His voice was full of surprise and sternness all at once.
“I’m sorry. I’m not trying to come across as disrespectful, but at the same time I need you to understand that this is just the way it has to be.”
“Okay?” she echoed, looking up at him with wide, hopeful eyes.
“Maybe you could… I know the trailer isn’t much, but I’d feel a whole lot safer if…”
“Colton… are you asking me to move in with you?”
“Ah, well, not exactly. I mean… well, what if I am?”
She was immediately torn. On the one hand, she knew that he enjoyed living the bachelor life. The piles of beer cans and the sink full of unwashed dishes hadn’t been lost on her. The fact that he would be willing to bring her into his world that had clearly been built for a party of one was touching. On the other hand, they definitely hadn’t known each other long enough to start living together. Her heart was tugged every which way until she wasn’t sure which side of her would win out.
Yet, when she opened her mouth to respond, she suddenly knew what she wanted to say. “That’s very sweet, Colt. Really. But I can’t.”
His brow furrowed in obvious confusion. “Well, why on Earth not?”
“Because I like having my own place.”
“At what cost, though?”
“What do you mean?”
“I think you know, Scarlett.” He ran his hands through his hair, making it stand on end. “I know you want your independence, and I don’t fault you for that, not one bit. But how can I protect you if I’m not here?”
“I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“I just want you to be reasonable.”
“I’m not being reasonable?” Now it was her turn to arch her eyebrows. He should have seen the warning sign for what it was, but it seemed like he wasn’t interested in reading signs at the moment.
“Scarlett, you had a guy push you around in your own apartment.”
“Thanks for the reminder.”
“Look, I’m not trying to be difficult, it’s just—”
“You sure about that?”
He broke off, frowning hard at her. “I thought we already talked about that tone, little girl.”
Oh, no. He wasn’t going to get out of this one by using that stern, authoritative voice of his, no matter
sexy it was. “I think you should leave.”
His frustration turned to bewilderment in two seconds flat. “Scarlett, I’m not trying to argue with you here—”
“Then don’t,” she countered softly. “It’s obvious we’re not going to agree on this one, and I don’t have it in me to argue. So let’s just take a beat and see where we are tomorrow… okay?”
“Okay,” he repeated, but he clearly wasn’t happy about it. Still, he took no time in disentangling himself from her and standing up.
“Talk soon?” As she looked up at him, she wondered if she was making the right decision. She knew he just pushed because he cared about her. That couldn’t be a bad thing, right?
“Yeah. I’ll call you tomorrow.” He bent down and gave her a quick peck on the cheek. When he stood back up, he paused, looking at her. It seemed like he was waiting for her to stop him, but when she didn’t, he walked out of the apartment, reminding her to lock the door behind him.
* * *
“You sure about this, bro?” Jason asked, eyeing Colton warily as he saddled up his horse.
“Reckon I am or I wouldn’t be up at ass-crack of dawn,” he grumbled.
“Woo-whee, what’s got you in such a funk, little brother? Oh, let me guess. It’s some girl.”
Colton cut his eyes at him. “How’d you guess?”
“It’s always some woman or another with you, bro. Though I have to say I’ve never seen you race for one. Is she still holdin’ on to the V-card?”
“Shut up, Jas.”
“Well, shoot, you ain’t got a lick of humor about you this mornin’.”
“It’s too early for it. I haven’t even had my coffee.”
“If it’s too early to crack a smile, I reckon it must be too early to race. You must really like this one.”
“Hmph,” was the only answer Colton would give, despite his brother’s ribbing.
Though he couldn’t use the exact words, Jason really was worried about his younger brother. He’d never seen him wound this tightly before a race, and it wouldn’t help him any. What he needed to be was focused, but loose, and in his opinion, Colton’s mind was anywhere but on the race.
“How’s the shoulder?”
Colton grimaced at the mention of it, but then ducked his head to hide it. Unfortunately for him, Jason had already seen. “It’s alright.”
“Yeah? You wanna prove it?”
His head snapped up and he gave his brother a fierce look. “I don’t have to prove anything to you, Jas.”
“You’re right.” He leaned against the horse stall and appraised his brother. “You don’t. But the way I figure it, the fact that you don’t want to means one of two things: either you no longer care about what I think—fat chance of that—or that shoulder must be botherin’ ya somethin’ awful.”
“Or maybe I just think you should mind your own business,” he snorted. “Ever think of that?”
“Naw, can’t say that I have.”
With an annoyed backward glance, Colton began to lead his horse out of the stall, causing Jason to jump back. “Well, maybe you should.”
“Look, all I’m sayin’ is, she must be someone pretty special.”
Colton gave him a hard look that told him to back off, but Jason wasn’t very good at leaving well enough alone.
“Look,” Colton blew out his breath in a huff, “she just needs the money, okay?”
“So?” he shrugged. “You’ve got money.”
“Yeah, well, maybe I just want to work off some steam, okay?”
Jason was silent for all of a second as he took this in. Then he hooted so loud, it made the horse stamp the ground. “Wait just a minute. Are you tellin’ me—”
“Please, don’t make this into a bigger deal than it is.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it. But since
do you care about what a woman needs?”
“I’m not a complete dick, Jason.”
“Not at all. I’m just sayin’ that you don’t normally keep them around long enough to find out what they
“Your objections have been noted, bro.”
“Does this mean what I think it does?” Jason asked, feeling his grin widen until it was like to split his face. “Should I tell Melisa to start plannin’ a family supper?”
“Knock it off, okay?”
“You know, I think the last time I met a girl of yours was when you needed a ride to your junior prom.”
“Yep. And there’s a reason for that.”
“‘Course,” he replied easily. “You don’t want any of them to get a gander at the more handsome Fuller brother. But I
married, bro, so you can stop worryin’.”
“I gotta go. Race starts in ten minutes, and I’ve listened to your bull long enough.”
“Okay, but just tell me, am I warm? Do you think she might be
‘Cuz I gotta tell you, your third wheel has really been bringin’ me and the wife down.”
Colton had been walking away, but at the question he stopped, his back to Jason. “I don’t know,” he called over his shoulder. “It might be nice to have her meet the family. But if I bring her ‘round, it’ll only be so she can see for herself what a jackass you are. I can’t quite do it justice in my stories.”
Jason took two strides forward and clapped Colton on the shoulder. “Hey, man. Good luck out there.”
“Thanks, bro.” Colton gave him a grin before shaking his hand off and leading his horse out of the stable.
* * *
“Hey.” Scarlett eyed Colton warily on the other side of the counter, holding a pot of coffee in midair. “Did you come for lunch?”
“No, actually. I came to… to give you this.”
She eyed the thick white envelope he slid across the counter, but didn’t move to touch it. “What’s that?”
“Uh, it’s just somethin’ to… to help see you through, for a little while.”
Her brow furrowed as she looked from him to the envelope and back to him again. “Excuse me?”
“Just…” Colton glanced around before leaning across the counter toward her. “You know, for what we talked about. You told me… well, you said you didn’t have the money, so…”
Scarlett’s eyes widened and she took two steps back, recoiling. She moved back so suddenly that a little of the liquid from the coffeepot sloshed out, instantly staining her uniform. She was so shocked right now that she didn’t even notice. “I’m sorry,
Colton looked just as confused as she felt. “You said you needed money, so I got you money.”
“I can’t take that,” she hissed, feeling her body flush from her neck up.
“Of course you can. Why couldn’t you?”
She glanced around to see if their conversation had attracted the attention of the diners. Though they were getting the occasional sidelong glance, so far they were in the clear. She needed to get him out of here before folks began to think they were getting treated to dinner and a show.
“Look, Colton, while I appreciate what you’re trying to do, I
for the money I need, and I do just fine on my own.”
The more she talked—particularly in that reprimanding voice of hers—the more his confusion gave way to irritation. “Oh, really, is that what you call it?”
“If I want to move, I’ll move. It’s that simple.”
“Oh, so you don’t
to move, is that it? You like living in that hellhole, you—”
“Hey!” she protested, none too quietly. Her flush deepened as she felt more stares slide their way. “You need to go.”
“Scarlett, I just came here to give you a gift. I was just tryin’ to be nice—”
She walked toward him and slammed the coffeepot down on the counter. She knew the only restaurant was probably looking by now, but what the hell? In for a penny, in for a pound. “I don’t need you to be
. I am not going to be your kept woman, alright? I’ll live where I want to live, and I’ll live there
Colton shook his head, appearing mystified. “I will never understand women.”
“No, I don’t imagine you will,” she snapped.
His eyes narrowed at her tone, but they both knew there was nothing that he could do about it just then. Not that she would have let him. “Fine. I came to give it to you, and now I have, so I guess I’ll see you later.”
She felt a pang of remorse when she saw him turn to go, but wounded pride quickly stamped it out. “Wait! You forgot your envelope!”
“You keep it. It’s yours,” he called to her over his shoulder.
“But I don’t want it!”
“Neither do I. Guess you’re stuck with it.”
Scarlett watched him walk out the door, her heart twisting in her chest as the little bell over the door sounded. Part of her ached to run after him, but her pride had been damaged enough for one evening, thank you. As her gaze landed on the plain white envelope sitting on the counter, full to busting, she momentarily considered sweeping out her arm and throwing it to the floor, but quickly dismissed the tantrum. She couldn’t afford to act like that—not here, not now. With a sigh, she snatched it off the counter and stuffed it into her apron pocket. She took a quick second to fix the tendrils of her hair that had come loose before she picked up the coffeepot and stuck a smile to her face.
* * *
“So, what was all that about today?” Maisy hopped onto the counter and watched as Scarlett finished tallying her tickets for the night.
“All what?” she mumbled, preoccupied.
“Oh, c’mon.” She smacked her gum loudly. “You know what I’m talkin’ about. What’s with you and the beefcake?”
Scarlett looked up, her mind still stuck on the numbers she’d been working on. “Beefcake? Oh, do you mean Colton?”
“Is that his name?” Maisy twinkled. “
. I’d love to have me a piece of
. So, if you don’t want him…”
“Could you shut up for just a minute, please?” she huffed, losing her place. “I’m trying to finish up.”
. So…is that a no?”
“Maisy!” Scarlett’s head snapped back up once more. “I cannot be having this conversation right now, okay?”
“Okay,” her friend muttered. “Sheesh. I just thought I’d ask, because he was in here the other day lookin’ for ya.”
“So, are you with him, or aren’t you? ‘Cuz you know I’d never step on to another girl’s territory, but…”