Boys south of the mason.., p.8
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       Boys South of the Mason Dixon, p.8
 

          
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  One day Dixie would’ve found out the truth on her own and we wouldn’t have been there to help. She planned on finding her real mother at some point. She didn’t need to be blindsided by some bitch who didn’t love her anyway.

  And nothing had changed for me. I loved her as much as before and I wasn’t sure those feelings would ever go away.

  “His bed’s still empty,” Brent said, as he walked into my room.

  “Truck’s gone, too. But his shit is still here,” Dallas added, following Brent. He’d gotten up early to go work out in the barn. It was his normal morning routine.

  “Momma ain’t gonna be happy about this. What’re we gonna tell her?” I asked, looking to Bray for an answer. He shook his head and walked over to the window. “Hell if I know. Can’t tell her the truth. It would kill her dead on the floor.”

  “Sure didn’t matter to Steel that it might kill Dix like that.” Dallas said it like I wasn’t in the room. He just glared in my direction. He’d been pissed at me when he realized Asher had kept it from Dixie to protect her and I had told her anyway. Dallas thought Asher could do no wrong. He didn’t remember our dad because he was too young when dad died. Asher had always been the oldest male in his life, his onlyrole model.

  “Dixie needed to know,” Bray said, looking back at Dallas.

  “Really? Cause you want to keep it from Momma, to protect her just like Asher wanted to protect Dixie,” Dallas quickly shot back. He was two inches taller than Bray and his shoulders were wider and stronger, but we still saw him as the baby of the family. And even though no one else in Malroy messed with Dallas, we still treated him as the youngest.

  “Shut up, Dallas! You don’t understand.”

  “The fuck I don’t! I understand Asher told that dipshit a secret and trusted him to keep it from Dixie. And he didn’t do it,” Dallas accused, pointing at me.

  “Take it down a notch or ten,” Brent said as he walked into the room, squinting against the sunlight streaming in from the window. He was still in his flannel pajama pants, his blond hair sticking up in several directions. He rarely went without a shirt, still hiding the tattoo on his waist from Momma because he didn’t want to deal with what she’d say. Brent was the last one of us anyone expected to get a tattoo. The word “yesterday” was inked on his right hip bone and no one knew what it meant. Except possibly Bray, because those two communicated without words. Their twin bond was fucking freakish at times.

  Bray drawled, “sleeping beauty, glad you could join us.”

  “Y’all woke me up. I bet Momma heard y’all, too,” Brent grumbled, flopping back on Dallas’s bed, which was unmade and torn to pieces. “And for the record, I think it was a shit thing to do for you to tell her that,” Brent added, lifting his head from the pillow to look at me with disgust, before dropping it down and leaving it.

  “Majority vote is you suck,” Dallas said.

  Bray groaned and turned around to shoot an angry glare at his brothers. “It’s done. Shut up and let it go. Now she knows and Asher has got to get a fucking grip. We can’t let him fall off the deep end. He was pretty damn close before this happened. He’s carried this shit around on his own for three fucking years. Remember that. Our goal is to find him. Not sit here and discuss if Steel did the right thing or not.”

  I glanced down at my phone. Dixie hadn’t texted me. I’d almost expected something from her. We’d been fucking engaged . . . well, nearly. Now we were related. My stomach turned again. The only thing keeping me from losing my shit was the fact we hadn’t had sex. We had come close, but she always put the brakes on. As pissed as I was getting, I’m damn sure glad she did. Asher had to live knowing he’d slept with her. And that he’d taken her damn virginity. Fuck . . . I couldn’t imagine that.

  “I can’t imagine what he’s been dealing with. Three years of daily hell. All I want to do is go drink so much I can’t feel a motherfucking thing.” Bray’s scowl deepened and he headed for the door. “Fuck drinking, I’m going to find him,” he said, before leaving us all sitting there, watching him exit the room.

  “Guess that leaves us to explain their absence. Momma’s gonna love this,” Dallas said, moving toward the door himself.

  “I should go with him,” Brent added, sitting up and scratching his head. He wasn’t a morning person and Bray had looked like a man on a mission.

  “You’ll be in his way, and he’ll be gone before you can slide into a pair of jeans anyway. Let him go, you go charm Momma with pretty boy.” I spoke, nodding my head for him to follow Dallas.

  Brent agreed with a tilt of his chin and then left the room, hopefully planning to find a shirt first before he joined Momma and Dallas in the kitchen.

  Asher Sutton

  THIS MORNING AT seven, I’d been sitting in my truck parked behind the football field, when I got a text from Dixie. She asked me where I was. I stared at my phone for ten minutes before responding. She didn’t need to ask me why I was here because she knew. Here, I felt safe. The place was deserted, with school being out, and it was the only place I could think of where I could park and be left alone.

  Half an hour later, the passenger side of my truck opened and Dixie climbed in. She didn’t knock but I was expecting her. I knew she’d come, but then again, I knew Dixie better than anyone else. Better even than Steel.

  Steel.

  I loved him, but I couldn’t be trusted to be around him right now.

  “You been here all night?” Dixie asked.

  “Yeah,” I muttered.

  “You sleep any?”

  “Nope. Not a wink.”

  I hadn’t been able to close my eyes. I wanted to, needing the escape, even for the briefest of moments, but I couldn’t, not when all I saw when I closed my eyes was Dixie sobbing in Bray’s arms. Then I had to fight the urge to go find Steel and beat the shit out of him for doing this to her.

  “Bray came by late last night. He was looking for you.”

  I’d ignored all their texts and calls. My phone was on silent, wanting to sit here alone and think, knowing I wouldn’t find peace. They wanted to make sure that I was alright because they worried about me, but I hadn’t been alright.

  “I was mad at you yesterday. I hated you for a moment. For not telling me. For keeping it from me.” Her soft voice cut right through me. I knew she hated me and had reasons. But hearing it from her lips wasn’t easy.

  “I know,” I managed to croak through the emotion clogging my throat.

  “I get it. I thought about it all last night. I understand, I do,” she said, then her hand touched mine and I flinched, the contact unsettling, confusing.

  “Just wanted to protect you,” I replied, needing Dixie to know that I never meant to hurt her and I’d do anything not to hurt her again.

  “I know that now . . . everything . . . I let myself remember it all. Stuff I’d blocked out because it was too painful, I remembered it all last night. How you used to be with me . . . how we used to be together . . . how sure I was you would love me forever. Then you just turned away without a word. I never understood how you could do that to me. It haunted me. I loved you . . . I loved you so much . . . but you also loved me, too. It’s why you did it. I get it. I understand now.”

  Fuck, this was hard, it was past time we did this, but still, it was brutal. The familiar smell of coconut and honey filled the cab of the truck. It had been so long since I’d been close enough to Dixie to smell her scent. It reminded me of how good she’d felt in my arms, how soft her skin was, like satin, warm satin. And how when I sank into her, molded to her body, nothing had been that perfect. The pleasure on her face had made my heart pound just to possess her. She was mine. Back then, all mine.

  “I can’t do this . . . you . . . I need you to leave. Please. Being this close to you . . . I’m not ready for that. I don’t think I’ll ever be. My heart doesn’t seem to understand I can’t have you . . . that it’s fucking impossible. Please, Dixie.” I sounded desperate. I couldn’t look at her. I nee
ded her to go.

  Dixie moved, but she didn’t open the door. Instead, she scooted closer to me, her smell making me light headed. Fuck, she had to get out.

  “Dix,” I warned, gripping the steering wheel.

  “I’ll leave, but first, would you hold me?”

  How did I tell her no? And how would I let her go if I allowed myself to touch her again?

  “Please, Ash? Hold me this once. I need this.”

  I learned a long time ago that I would do anything, sell my soul for this girl if needed. Now she was a woman and it was no different, so I released my death grip on the steering wheel and rested my arm on the seat. Dixie cuddled against me, then laid her head on my chest. Closing my arms around her, I inhaled deeply, letting her warmth fill my senses one final time. We didn’t have a goodbye. I didn’t give us one. She was right, this was the end, the one we’d needed back then, but I hadn’t been ready to give it to her.

  “I think I’ll always love you. I can’t help that,” she said quietly.

  I knew I’d always love her, but telling her that right now would only hurt her more. Dixie had to move on and find that ray of sunshine in her life, the one I knew she belonged in. A man who would love her unconditionally, give her a home, happiness and children. He’d make her dreams come true. He’d treat her like a princess and if he didn’t, I’d make him wish he was never born.

  I would never have a wife. I couldn’t do that to someone. My heart has belonged to the very same girl since I was sixteen years old. No amount of lies and sin could take that away from me. What I felt for Dixie was pure. Simple truth, one I didn’t want to change. I’d watch her live her life from afar and make sure it was everything she wanted, everything Dixie deserved.

  When I didn’t respond, she didn’t say any more. We sat there for an hour, I held her in my arms one last time and tried to memorize every moment of it. I made plans in my head to make sure that I righted every wrong done to her. It was the only thing keeping me sane.

  The sound of tires on gravel and Bray’s diesel engine suddenly broke us apart. Dixie moved over, opened the truck door and stepped out without saying a word. We’d said all there was to say. I watched her as she walked to her Jeep. She didn’t acknowledge Bray. Instead, she climbed inside and drove away.

  I waited for Bray to come to me. Obviously, he’d found me. I was surprised it took him so long to think about this spot, but I was thankful it took some time. When I saw him approaching my door, I rolled down the window and exhaled.

  “Y’all talk about it?” Bray asked with a scowl.

  “She got her closure,” I said, equaling his scowl with one of my very own.

  “Been looking for your ass all morning and also most of last night. Momma’s cooked a big breakfast.”

  I cranked the truck. “Not sure I’m ready to see Steel.”

  Bray sighed. “He thought she should know. Maybe she did. The girl never moved on. The way you left it wasn’t an ending for her. She wasn’t healing. The wound was still open.”

  “She was engaged to Steel,” I reminded him. Dixie had moved on. Put me behind her. Was going to marry my brother.

  “Shit. She hadn’t even said yes. I don’t think she would’ve been able to until she saw you again. No point discussing that now. We’ll never know.”

  Dixie was going to be okay. Her daddy would reassure her. She’d find a man to love her. I had to believe in that.

  “Let’s go home and eat before Momma comes looking for the both of us.”

  With a nod I said, “See you there,” and dropped the truck into first.

  There was no age difference. At least it felt that way to me. I loved Dixie. I loved being with her. I loved the way her laugh could make whatever shit I was dealing with better. Other girls had never done that for me. Momma said that the way I looked at Dixie was the way Dad looked at her. It was how she knew he was the one and that there’d never be anyone else for him. I felt that way about Dixie.

  As the months began to pass and spring drew closer, I knew I would have to make some decisions about my future. I wanted to sign with Florida, but I couldn’t leave her. My life was with Dixie and abandoning her to go to college wasn’t what I wanted. Football wasn’t my future. It was a way to pay for school. I could get another scholarship somewhere closer. Momma said as long as I used my talent to get my schooling paid for, she didn’t care where I chose to go. I just needed a good education.

  Telling Dixie all this, however, was going to be the difficult part. I’d hinted about staying around, close to her, and she’d always said, “no, you belong in a big fancy college. You love football. I want that for you.” What she didn’t understand was that I loved her more. She was my future. Not playing football.

  I pulled into her drive and she was already outside on the porch doing something, wearing a pair of cut-off jeans and a brightly colored tee shirt. Her feet were bare, but she ran down the stairs, stepping through the grass until she reached me, my heart swelling with joy and pleasure, so damn big it shouldn’t fit inside my chest. This, was all I wanted. Dixie was my nirvana.

  “I wasn’t expecting you for another hour. I’m not dressed yet,” she said with a smile.

  “I got off early,” I replied. My shifts at the grocery store were late only on weekend nights. On school nights, I left at seven. Tonight they’d let me go at five thirty because things had been so slow. Everyone was at home eating dinner and the streets of the town were usually empty as a desert by now.

  “Are you tired? We don’t have to go to Jack’s.”

  I wasn’t tired, but I didn’t want to go to Jack’s either. I wanted Dixie to myself. “I could let Bray and Brent take the truck when they get off work. We could walk down to the lake.”

  “I could go pack us dinner. Momma cooked plenty meatloaf. I haven’t eaten yet,” Dixie offered.

  “That sounds better than a bar full of people.”

  Smiling, she stood on her tip toes. “You go drop the truck off at your house for the boys and I’ll go pack us a picnic.”

  “Deal,” I replied against her lips. It was getting harder and harder not to do more than just kiss, touching and kissing here and there. I wanted it all, but until she was ready, I was happy with what we did do.

  I watched as she ran to the house. Her ass was too damn perfect in those shorts. I’d seen it up close and personal two weeks ago when she’d finally let me kiss my way between her legs. That had been an experience she was happy to repeat and we’d done it a lot since then. Laughing to myself, I climbed back in my truck and headed to the house.

  Bray and Brent both worked at Norton Knolls’ stables. The Knolls raised and trained, then sold race horses, Bray and Brent cleaning the stalls and doing the daily chores. Both were great with horses. They took the job when they were fourteen and needed work in a place they could walk to. During football season, the Knolls had other hands, including Dallas who came in and helped. But seeing as Norton was a football fan, he tended to work alongside them. His wife and my momma were longtime friends, going back way before any of us came.

  I parked the truck and left the keys in the ignition. No reason to take them out. No one was going to come down and steal it. We’d know before they left the city limits. Momma opened the front door and called, “You’re home early. Dinner’s on the stove. I got Women’s Auxiliary at the church house tonight. Momma’s busy, busy, busy.”

  I walked closer to the house before answering, “Dix and me are taking a picnic down to the lake this evening.”

  Momma winced and visibly shook. “I ain’t looking to be a grandmamma yet. You mind that.”

  “Dix ain’t like that, Momma.”

  She scoffed. “It ain’t Dixie Monroe that I’m worried about.”

  I grinned. “She’s different. Trust me.”

  “Yes, she is, so keep it in your pants down at that lake.”

  Momma was never one to beat around the bush when discussing sex with us. She was honest and open about it. Bec
oming a widow by the time we were old enough to need “the talk” about sex probably had a lot to do with that. We didn’t have a dad, so Momma made sure we were all well informed.

  “I’d tell you to take a condom, but I want to believe you respect that girl enough not to be having sex with her out by her daddy’s lake. You should fear Luke enough not to do that.”

  “I love her. Told you that. And yes, even if she asked me to, I wouldn’t do it at the lake.”

  “Luke would shoot you and I’d die trying to save your stupid ass.”

  If God was ever going to leave a woman alone to raise five teenage boys, then he chose the right woman for the task. “No one will die, she’ll remain a virgin, and we will enjoy her momma’s meatloaf, just happy to be together.”

  Momma nodded and replied, “That’s good. Now grab y’all some of that lemon pound cake I left on the counter. You need to contribute to the meal. Ain’t the woman’s job to always feed the man. Best you remember that.”

  I did as I was told, then changed into some clothes that didn’t have that bleach water scent from the mopping I had to do at work, back in the meat department. Once I was ready, I paused by my dresser and opened the bottom drawer. I grabbed a condom because I’d lied. If Dixie asked me to make love to her tonight, I’d chance certain death at the end of a shotgun barrel, with her daddy yanking the trigger.

  Dixie Monroe

  I HADN’T ASKED to see the letters. I’d needed that moment to be about us. If that was the last time Asher Sutton would hold me, then I wanted nothing else. I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to read them. I didn’t know my mother. She hadn’t been around long enough for me to remember her. Reading her words didn’t mean a lot to me. There was someone else I wanted to talk to. Someone who could tell me the truth. And if he didn’t know the truth, then we could find it together.

  The man who’d raised and loved me was my father. Even if he wasn’t my blood. He was my dad, nothing could change that. I just hoped he felt the same way, because I had to face this with him. I couldn’t face it with Asher or Steel.

  Daddy was out at the stable with his newest purchase, a pretty quarter horse that Mom had seen and wanted when they’d gone to the sale, initially to buy some cattle. Mom had married Daddy when I was little. She was a wonderful woman who made him happy. She loved me and we loved her. My family was perfect to me.

 
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