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black roses

By:samantha christy

. “That does make more sense now that I think about it. So, why didn’t she come with you?”

Frustration spills out of her in a fiery sigh. She turns her whole body in my direction, straining the seat belt taut across her body. I try not to notice the way it tugs on the v-neck of her shirt, accentuating her ample cleavage. “You want to talk? Let’s talk. So, what about you? Do you have a girl in your life?” Her beautifully bitchy eyes burn into me while she awaits my answer. She’s obviously deflecting the conversation back to me so she doesn’t have to talk about herself. Or Charlie.

“Yes. As a matter of fact, I do.” I can’t hold in my smile. Every time I think about Hailey, I’m positive my face lights up with pride.

I can feel Piper studying me. “Huh, you must really love her then.” She says it like it’s such a foreign concept, one person being madly in love with another. It makes me wonder just what happened to her—or who happened to her.

“I do.” I nod my head. “I love her more than I ever thought one human being could love another.”

She straightens herself into her seat and I wonder if I caught just a hint of disappointment cross her face. She reaches for the radio, but hesitates, looking at me first. “Do you mind?”

I shake my head and she proceeds to scan through my presets to find a station that suits her. We drive in silence, with her occasionally singing quietly to a song until she realizes what she’s doing and stops. When my favorite song comes on, a song Hailey and I sing together—well she mumbles, I sing—I glance over to catch Piper doing it again and she blushes. The brief wave of embarrassment that crosses her face is just another indication that there might in fact be a decent person underneath her tough, standoffish exterior. The woman is a spicy mix of contradictions.

The music turns off as my phone rings. I push the button on my steering wheel to answer it. “What’s up, G?”

“Did you get the package?” Griffin asks.

“The package is sitting right here,” Piper says, snidely.

“You could have warned me I was on speaker, Dix,” Griffin says. “And, hi, Piper, this is Griffin. I’m looking forward to meeting you.”

“Yeah, me too,” Piper says, obligingly.

“Sorry, G.” I shrug my shoulders at Piper. “But, yeah, I’ll drop her off and then meet you and Gavin at the gym, right?”

“Sounds good. I’ll be there around four o’clock after my shoot. Thanks for picking her up, Dix.”

“Not a problem. See you then.” I click off the call and the music comes back on.

Piper turns the volume down. “Your friends call you ‘Dicks’?” she asks, wide-eyed.

“Dix,” I say and then spell it out for her, “D-I-X. You know, because my name is Mason.”

She draws her brows in confusion.

“Mason Dixon,” I explain. “As in the line that was the northern limit of the slave-owning states before the abolition of slavery?”

She chokes on a laugh. “Your last name is Dixon?”

She really doesn’t know about me, does she? “No. My last name is Lawrence. It’s just what my friends call me.”

“Oh, right.” She rolls her eyes. “I forgot. Men always need to have stupid nicknames for each other.” She turns the music back up and stares out the window again.

As we make our way into the city, she’s oblivious to my frequent glances. I wonder how this girl came from the same womb as Baylor and Skylar. Aside from the obvious stubborn streak, she’s nothing like them. They are kind and selfless. They would give their right arm for strangers. They love their tight-knit family and Sunday brunches.

So why in the hell, then, do I feel like this one person—this exotic bitch of a woman with her damn sparkly nose—has gotten under every single layer of my thick and callused skin?

chapter three

piper

“Sorry,” Skylar says, laughing as she hugs me for the umpteenth time. “I’ve just missed you so much. And I know you wanted to stay with Mom and Dad, but I think their pipes bursting was fate. You get to stay with me now. It’ll make wedding planning so much easier.”

I look over her shoulder at Aaron, her two-week-old baby who’s sleeping next to Jordan, Baylor’s five-month-old daughter. I close my eyes and try not to think about my sisters’ charmed lives. Okay, so maybe they’ve had bumps and bruises along the way, I mean what happened to each of them was awful, but right now, in this moment—I’ve never seen them happier. Even Skylar, who never even wanted a husband or kids, is positively glowing. And I’ve just been sentenced to live in the middle of it for six weeks.

I silently curse my parents, who decided at the last second to do a major remodel since half their house flooded a few days ago. But that left me with a choice. Stay with Skylar in the city, or Baylor in Maple Creek, Connecticut. Since I have no desire to stay in my childhood home with its bad memories, Skylar got me by default.

I break free from the crushing hug and go sit on the couch, watching my oldest sister pour champagne into three glasses.

“Skylar, did you get the church re-booked for the 15th?” Baylor joins us in the living room with a plate of cheese and the champagne. She hands one to each of us. “Only one drink for Skylar and me since we’re nursing. But you can have the rest, Piper. I’m sure you need it after your long day.”

I nod and take the glass from her. “Thanks.” I don’t bother telling her it’s not the long day—it’s the destination.

I look around Skylar’s townhouse. It’s amazing. Tasteful. Safe.

Then Baylor’s words sink in and I snap my eyes to Skylar. “The 15th? I hope you mean the 15th of April.”

She shakes her head and laughs. “Apparently you have a lot to learn about wedding planning, little sister. There is no way we could pull it off in a month. I have my doubts about being able to organize it in two.”

“Two?” I place my glass down so forcefully, champagne sloshes out the top of it and all over the coffee table. “You said six weeks, Skylar. Six. Not eight. I have to

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