Boys south of the mason.., p.5
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       Boys South of the Mason Dixon, p.5
 

           Abbi Glines
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  Asher’s words were giving food to my fantasy world and I knew reality would soon slap me in the face again.

  “Why?”

  He stood there staring at me for what seemed like an eternity, but probably no longer than a few moments. “Just meet me out at my truck. Is that okay with you? I need to shower and get my things first.”

  I could have been strong here and said I was going with Sellers, even though I hadn’t been planning on doing that. Asher didn’t know that.

  “I need to tell Sellers,” I said, instead.

  His shoulders seemed to ease some, but not completely. He stood at a distance from me, his body wound, tense and alert. He just replied, “I’ll tell him.”

  I wasn’t okay with that. “I should tell him,” I said.

  Asher sighed. “Fine. You tell him. But do it now.”

  Then he turned and headed for the door. There was no other explanation. Nothing. Not a word.

  “Asher,” I called, needing something more from him. Any answer.

  “Yeah?” he asked, looking back at me, but holding the door with one hand.

  “Why?” That was all I could manage to say without showing him all I was feeling.

  “I,” he paused, looking torn over what to say exactly. “Just . . . please . . . Dix.”

  Somehow, that was all I needed to hear at that moment. I didn’t need anything more.

  “Okay,” I whispered.

  He smiled at me with relief in his eyes, then opened the door and left. Alone in the library again, the smell of books returned to my senses and the silence became almost deafening. But now those things would forever hold a memory for me. One I’d never forget. It may not mean much, but I couldn’t stop a small smile.

  I slipped my books back into my bag, placing Sellers’ speech in my pocket. I wouldn’t be needing it. I was going to be honest with him and tell him the truth, one that had suddenly changed in the last few minutes.

  There was a parking lot between the school and the field house. I spotted Sellers walking my way. He was already showered and dressed, in a pair of jeans and a football tee shirt, his hair still damp, but styled in that messy way he always wore. I knew that being honest with him was the best thing to do, but I still felt bad about it.

  “You ready?” he asked while grinning.

  “Uh, about that, thank you for the invite. It was very nice and any other time I would have enjoyed going. But Asher . . . he’s . . . ah . . . asked me to go with him. I’ve wanted that for a very long time. It wouldn’t be right to go with you when my mind would be stuck on Asher.”

  I felt like I stumbled on my explanation. Did it even make sense to anyone but me?

  Sellers gave me a crooked grin. “So that’s where he went so quickly after practice.”

  “Again, thank you, and I’m so sorry.”

  “It’s okay, Dixie. I get it.”

  “Thanks,” I repeated, quickly turning and walking away, eager to leave this awkward conversation. I hurried toward Asher’s truck.

  “You’re welcome,” Sellers called out.

  I turned back, confused as to what he was saying. Sellers chuckled, gave a small shake of his head before he walked away himself. Had he known Asher would do this? Was that why he asked me to go out with him to begin with? And if so, why would he do that?

  I stopped at Asher’s truck and although it was unlocked, I didn’t get inside. I waited. Just as I turned back to see if he was coming, I saw him headed toward me. Like before, he looked determined. His eyes locked on me. My cheeks heated up, again, the intensity of his eyes overwhelming me with trepidation. My body felt warm and I knew I was forgetting to breathe from the short rapid gasps coming from my mouth. I didn’t know how to control my reaction to him.

  When he got to me, I expected him to stop and open the door for me. Instead, the bag he carried in his hands dropped to the ground, his body crowding mine, as he pressed me up against his truck. Both his hands cupped my face before Asher Sutton’s lips met mine. Hard yet soft, demanding yet tender, Asher tasted me like I was his last meal, and I was sure if he hadn’t moved his hands to my hips and jerked me closer to him, I would have slid to the ground and blacked out. My legs were weak and my body trembled. Nothing had prepared me for this. Nothing had ever been this life altering. I felt like I was hit by a lightning.

  And my world would never be the same after that.

  Asher Sutton

  MY BEDROOM REMAINED the same. It had once been the attic, but when I turned thirteen and got tired of sharing a bedroom with both Brent and Bray, I made a deal with Momma. If I cleaned out the attic and turned it into a bedroom, she would get me a window unit so I would have air in the summer when needed. For warmth, I ran a cheap ceramic heater.

  It took a month, but when I had it all cleaned up, Momma kept her word. The other boys complained that I got my own room, but she reminded them I was the oldest.

  When I’d moved out, no one tried to take it. I’d expected the twins to fight over it, but surprisingly they didn’t. It was then that guilt tugged at me. Was it because they all hoped I would come back home?

  I threw my duffel bag on the floor and sank down onto my bed. I missed home. I loved it here. I loved having my brothers around me, working the same land my father had worked. This was my life, or it had been, until the day it all came crashing down and changed everything forever.

  I took the secret with me, but I wouldn’t be able to keep it a secret any longer. Steel had to know. His heart would be broken for a while, but mine had been shattered beyond repair. Steel would survive this, he’d move on eventually. I had to believe that.

  The nagging thought that Dixie had so easily fallen in love with someone else was driving me crazy. Just because I couldn’t fill the void she’d left in my life didn’t mean she shouldn’t move on either. I wanted Dixie to be happy and knowing I was going to hurt her again, only made what I had to do even worse.

  Heavy footsteps told me I had company. I was expecting Steel. I knew when I walked out of Jack’s that he’d follow me home. Yes, I’d gotten jealous when he’d called Dixie “baby,” but that wasn’t why I’d left. The real reason was so fucked up that it hammered in my head and I knew I had to tell him. I couldn’t sit back and watch this again. He had to know now.

  Lifting my gaze from the floor, I met Steel’s concerned yet determined expression. He was here to fight for her. To make sure I didn’t ruin his chance with her. I had to tell him.

  “I love her,” my younger brother said, breaking the silence around us.

  “She’s easy to love,” I replied.

  Steel’s lips tightened. He didn’t want to feel as if he had to compete with me. “You crushed her and then you left her. Now she’s mine, Asher, mine. I’ll fight for her if you make me.”

  I stood and watched as Steel tensed up. Did he think I would hurt him? I’d protected him and beat the shit out of more than one bully over the years. He was my brother. I wanted him to be happy. Had letting Steel have Dixie been our only problem, I would have walked away and let them be happy. But that was not the problem, as much as I wished it were.

  Walking over to a corner of the attic, I moved a loose board from the floor and bent down to retrieve an old shoe box. My world ended the day I discovered it three long years ago. Every good memory I’d had in my life up to that point had been centered around my Dixie. The contents of that box had taken all that away, ruining the memories, and leaving me a broken man.

  I dusted it off because it hadn’t been touched since the day I found it while moving some furniture around so that the bed wouldn’t hit the squeaky board directly over the living room. I’d been making plans to sneak Dixie up here that weekend, but that never happened.

  Sinking back down on my bed, I held the box with care. It caused me agony just to touch it knowing what was inside. There was no doubt or question that what it held was true. Looking up at Steel, I knew that I wasn’t just going to end any hope he had of a future with Dixie
, but that every memory he had of our father would also be altered forever. The same as mine had been.

  “I never deserted her. Never stopped loving Dixie.” I spoke, then lifted the lid. “Steel, I found this three years ago. I didn’t intend to share it. But I also never planned on one of my brothers falling in love with my girl.” I then shook my head. “She’s not my girl. She can’t be my girl.” Reaching into the box, I removed the letters, the paper folded and unfolded so many times, the edges were worn from the handling. “This is why she can’t be your girl either,” I said, holding the letters out to my brother.

  Steel was watching me with fear in his eyes, as if he’d understood the truth before he even looked inside. “What’s this?” he asked, his voice shaky, unsure.

  “It’s the reason why I left her. The reason I can’t have her. Why you can’t have her either.”

  Steel opened the first letter. I couldn’t watch him as he read it. I dropped my head into my hands and waited in silence. His world was going to be forever changed. Just as mine had been. And I was powerless to save him from the pain.

  All the letters, but one, were written by Dixie’s mother. In each she tells the man she is writing how much she loves and misses him. She begs him to take her away from her life so that they can start a new one together. The passion in her words would’ve been moving, if not for the fact that each and every one was addressed to my own father. A man I had once admired. A man whose name I had been proud to bear. A man I had mourned when he died. A man who’d deceived us all.

  “This is . . .” Steel said with effort, before I felt the mattress sink beside me, as Steel sat down with a sigh. “I just can’t . . .” he muttered and coughed.

  “Keep reading,” I told him as the acid in my throat burned.

  I’d memorized the last letter she had written to him. Every word was branded on my brain.

  Vance,

  I won’t keep writing these letters to you. Not if you’re going to continue ignoring me. I don’t agree with the words you said. I believe we can have happiness together. This child inside me deserves us both. It will be a part of you just as those boys are. You said you loved me. You said being with me made you feel young again. Complete. You said complete. But now, I’m carrying your child and you won’t speak to me. Is it because she’s pregnant again? I know she’s your wife but I have a husband too. One I’m willing to walk away from. One I’m willing to leave for you.

  Does that mean I love you more? Because I’m willing to tell him the truth? That I love you. That this child inside me is yours. Proof that the passion we have for each other is worthy of a chance. I won’t keep you from your boys. I know you love them as you should. But you don’t love their mother. You love me. I know that.

  Be with me, Vance. Fix the mistakes of our past. We messed up all those years ago by going our separate ways. My heart has been yours since I was fifteen. It will always be. Don’t leave me. Don’t turn your back on our child. That would destroy me.

  I love you forever and always,

  Millie

  My father cheated on my mother.

  Dixie was my sister.

  The sickness slammed into me again, the words in that letter replaying in my head. I’d made love to Dixie. I’d been inside her and it was like heaven. I’d never experienced anything like it again. Yet, it had been sick and wrong.

  “Did you show these to Mom?” Steel asked. His voice sounded strained. I understood what he was going through.

  “No. And I never will,” I replied, dropping my hands into my lap and looking over at my brother.

  He was staring straight ahead at the wall with the letters clasped tightly in his hands. “He was a bastard. A lying bastard,” Steel said, his pain heavy on each and every word, emphasizing what he was feeling.

  “Yeah, he was,” I replied. I wasn’t going to argue that. He had also allowed another man to raise his child as his own. These letters were all dated months before Dixie’s birth. Before Steel’s. How could he do that? The final letter was one from my dad. It had erased any doubt I might have had about the truth. Dad claimed Dixie was his, but he’d said he loved us more. He wanted my mother and his boys. He couldn’t leave us and he’d told her she needed to let him go. Her child would be Luke Monroe’s. The man I knew to be Dixie’s father.

  There wasn’t another letter after that. Not in this box at least. Dixie’s mother had run off when Dixie was a toddler, leaving Luke to raise her alone. When Dixie had been five, Luke Monroe remarried a woman named Charlotte, who adored and cherished Dixie, eventually becoming the mother Dixie never had, and although Charlotte loved her fiercely, Dixie had always wondered about her birth mother, even planned on finding her one day. She longed to know why she had left her.

  I never wanted her to find Millie Monroe. I hoped the woman was dead and had taken this secret with her to the grave. Dixie could never know. She’d had too much loss and pain in her life. It was why I’d suffered on my own. To protect her. Always to protect her.

  “Why didn’t you tell her?” Steel asked.

  I turned to Steel, studied his face, the hurt and disbelief visible in his eyes, as he realized his world was slowly crumbling. But I also saw that he wasn’t putting her first. He wasn’t focused on protecting Dixie from this ugly secret.

  “Because I would die to shield her from this kind of pain,” I replied. Because I love her more than you ever could. I didn’t say those last words aloud, but we both knew they were true.

  “I can’t tell her, can I, Asher? You aren’t going to let me explain? I have to hurt her like you did?”

  I stood and moved away from him. I needed some distance between us. He was thinking about himself first, and not her. That infuriated me the most. Steel had planned on making a life with her, yet he wasn’t willing to sacrifice his happiness for Dixie’s.

  “The pain you’ll cause her by breaking it off with her is nothing compared to the kind of pain . . . Steel, I made love to her. I’ve been inside her . . . took her innocence . . . and, dammit, I’m her brother! That’s fucked with my head ever since . . . ripping me in two . . . sickening me . . . crushing me again and again. Because, I never stopped loving her.”

  Steel sat and stared at me silently. Several minutes passed as he mused. I waited for him to argue with me, but he didn’t say a word.

  Finally, he rose, and held the letters out to me. “I won’t tell her. I won’t tell anyone,” he said, his voice thick with emotion. “I love her, too . . . fuck, this is sick. Does Luke not know? He’s let us both date her. Hell, I’ve asked her to marry me.”

  I shook my head. “Of course he doesn’t know. He woulda never let us date Dixie. This whole fucked up shit happened because the only two people who knew are now gone forever.”

  I took the letters and held them away from me, what they said so deplorable, it was hard to even grasp them. “How am I supposed to hurt her?” Steel sounded so torn. I’d been where he was. Wanting to explain it all to Dixie. Every time she looked at me with those big sad eyes, I wanted to tell her how much I loved her, but it was wrong, the entire thing twisted. This would only hurt her worse. She adored Luke Monroe. Not only would telling her mess her head up, but it would take away the security of knowing her daddy loves her. It would likely destroy Dixie.

  “This will kill her, Steel. You know that,” I said in a timid, lost voice.

  He shook his head and then buried his face in both hands as we both stood there in silence. I understood what he was feeling. I’d lived it every day. Missing Dixie with every breath I took. This wasn’t going to get easier for him. But Dixie would eventually heal and find happiness. That was all I had to hold onto. Knowing one day she’d get the life she deserved and all the fucking joy in the world. My girl belonged in the sunshine. This sick twisted darkness had been mine to suffer through, and now my brother would share it with me.

  Steel turned to leave. I didn’t stop him. I knew he needed time and space. Being alone was best for now. I s
tood there listening to his footsteps as he walked away from this room, these letters . . . knowing he would have to hurt her in order to save her from harm. Again, she’d suffer because of this sin, never knowing why it was happening.

  “Be gentle with her! Please!” I yelled, unable to stop myself.

  Steel paused at the top of the stairs. “Nothing about this is gentle. I don’t know how I could be gentle.”

  Once I knew, I hadn’t been able to even look at her. There were so many things I should’ve done differently. She deserved more from me than what I’d given her. “Hold her when she cries,” I said. More than anything else I wished I’d done that, instead of just walking away and letting her suffer alone.

  Kissing Dixie was the moment. That moment I didn’t know could exist. But sitting in my truck outside my house after taking her home made me realize I’d finally found it. She was it. I didn’t care about any other girls. Wasn’t interested in ever touching another one again. Not after that kiss and the way she looked at me, the same thoughts and feelings I was experiencing reflected in the depths of her beautiful eyes.

  Focusing on how right this felt was easier than thinking about the age difference. Or the fact her dad was probably going to beat my ass. Shooting me was also an option. But love made you crazy and fearless, and none of that seemed important to me right now.

  The driver’s side door jerked open. “What the fuck you sitting out here for? I got a piece of ass waiting on me and I need to go. Get out!” Bray’s usual annoyed look was plastered on his face.

  “It’s past curfew,” I pointed out.

  “Yeah, well, Momma is in bed and you kept the motherfucking wheels all evening. How am I supposed to go get some pussy if you’ve got the truck?”

  “Jesus, Bray!” He had very little respect for females. A sex addict through and through. He was also insensitive and harsh. I wasn’t sure why females loved him. Brent looked just like him, but was nice, kind, easy going. Yet, the women gravitated to Bray.

  I got out of the truck and leaned close to smell him. Had to make sure he wasn’t drinking.

  “Get off me. I haven’t had anything to drink.”

  “Just making sure. It’s my job.”

  He laughed. “Ain’t your motherfucking job. Hey, have you nailed Liza
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