Southern Secrets (Southern #7) by Natasha Madison




Chapter 1





Asher





"Admit it." I turn around to see Amelia on her horse trotting toward me. Her blond hair bounces up and down as she trots over.

“Admit what?” I ask. I ignore the pull in my stomach when I turn and see her smiling. And not the fake smile she usually gives people. This smile lights up her whole face, making her eyes squint even more. I’ve been around for the past six months, and it’s a smile I’ve tried to see on her face every day. I get off the horse and take him by the reins. The sun shines high in the sky with not a cloud in sight.

“You should be better than me.” I wait for her to get beside me. “You’ve been riding for your whole life.” I chuckle. “I’ve been riding for six months.” Before coming to this town, all I knew how to do was odd jobs here and there. Usually bussing tables or working in the kitchen, now what started out as mucking stalls turned into me making sure all the barns had everything they needed to run.

“Don’t make excuses,” she says as she walks beside me, both of us holding on to the reins of our horses as they walk leisurely beside us. “You said you would smoke me and you didn’t.” She repeats the words I stupidly said last week when she beat me. “Just say it.” She has to be the most competitive person that I know. She can never lose and if she does she just comes back even harder.

We walk into the barn side by side. I place the horse in his stall while I watch Amelia make her way over with her horse to her stall. I watch her for a second longer than I should before turning my head and going to get water.

“So are you going to say it?”

Looking over my shoulder, I find Amelia leaning against the barn stall, dressed in her blue jeans, plaid shirt, and cowboy boots. She arrived with her blond hair loose, but once she saddled her horse, she piled it on top of her head. “What do you want me to say, Amelia?” I fold my arms over my chest. Ever since I came into town, she’s always ready to spar with me. We play this cat and mouse game, unsure of how the other one feels.

“Just say I’m better than you.” She smirks at me, and when I glare at her, she claps her hands together and lets out a howling laugh. I want to march over to her and kiss the ever-loving shit out of her, but instead, I remind myself of what a bad fucking idea that is.

"I’d rather eat crow." I force myself to turn instead of staring at her and watching her laugh. I shake my head as I mouth, "Eat crow? What the fuck?" It shows I’ve been here longer than any other place if I’m starting to repeat phrases like that.

"Come on," she says softly. "It’s time to eat." I look over at her. "You always get grouchy when you go two hours without eating."

"I do not." I glare at her. Why do I let her get under my skin? It’s her turn to fold her arms over her chest. We spend most mornings together and then half of the afternoon on the phone, so it’s no wonder she knows things about me.

"When was the last time you ate?" she asks, and I walk right past her. The sound of her chuckling makes my skin heat.

She jogs to catch up to me. "You usually have a snack at around ten." She keeps up with my long strides.

I stop. "You watching me?" I tilt my head to the side. "That is kind of stalkerish, don’t you think?" I tease, and I want to reach up and curl the strand of hair that has fallen out of her tied hair.

She opens her mouth and closes it again. "Don’t flatter yourself, Asher," she huffs out, turning to stomp away.

As I watch her walk away, Reed and his best friend, Christopher, come up behind me. "She smoked you good," Reed says, dressed in Levi’s and a plaid shirt with his worn cowboy boots. He’s the only one who wears a cowboy hat every Sunday. Reed slaps me on the shoulder, laughing as he walks past me to the food.

Looking around, I’m blown away at how big this barbecue is. Every Sunday, the same people come, yet there are always new faces. I put my head down and walk over to the food table. "Hey." I look up when I hear Ethan walking toward me. "You look like someone stole your dog."

I shake my head as we walk to the table of food. "Just thinking about the things I have to do tonight."

"You know you can take Sunday off," he says. "There is nothing you do on Sunday that can’t wait until Monday morning."

"I know," I say. "But I have nothing else to do." I stop talking when we get in line for the food. Ethan’s wife, Emily, is talking to Chelsea, Ethan and Reed’s sister, and her boyfriend, Mayson. Ethan and Mayson were in the military together, and a couple of months ago, he showed up with a gunshot wound and fighting for his life. This family’s close bond is what everyone wishes for.