Down and Dirty (Shameless Southern Nights)(4)

By: J.H. Croix & Ali Parker

Ken? “No. Who’s that?”

My father looked relieved, shaking his head as he rose from his seat. “No one. Just keep an eye out, okay?”

“Okay.” I stood from my chair, leaning over to keep the receiver to my ear to say goodbye before I left. “I’ll see you, dad.”

“See you next time, Jeremy,” he said, placing his receiver back in its cradle as he turned away from me and waited to be escorted back inside.

I went through the motions to leave, yet another process. It was good to get out. It was damn near suffocating in there. I filled my lungs with a deep breath of air when I finally made it back to the parking lot.

Chapter Two


“Mommy! I smell pancakes.” Austin’s excited voice, still hoarse from sleep rang out. I spun round to face my little boy, rubbing his eyes as he shot through the doorway and ran straight to me.

One of my arms swept out to catch him and lift him up against me while the other saved the pancake in the pan from burning. Setting the spatula aside, I flipped the heat off. I grinned at the main man in my life and gave him a quick squeeze before he wiggled out of my arms.

“You do? I wonder if whoever made the pancakes will share them with you.”

Austin slid out of my arms, stopping to stare up at me. He used to love me holding him, carrying him, but not so much anymore. At five years old, he was strong-willed and independent, refusing to let me carry him around or hold him for too long.

I couldn’t even if I tried. He was too busy running around for me to catch him most of the time. Blinking up at me, his emerald green eyes flicked between the stove, the stack of pancakes that sat beside it and the spatula I’d just set down.

“But you made them,” he pointed out, hands on his narrow little hips as his eyes widened. When he gave me that look, I would just about give up my left arm for him if he asked. “You always share with me.”

“True,” I replied with a smile. “Why do you think that is?”

I put a finger to my chin and pretended to think while Austin burst out in a fit of giggles and gave my leg a quick hug before he scurried to his spot in the kitchen nook. “It’s because you love me.”

“You think?” I asked him, letting my brow scrunch as if I was really confused about this. Austin didn’t buy into my act.

Instead, he giggled again and took a sip of orange juice from the cup I’d set out for him earlier. “I don’t have to think about that one. I know Mom. You love me.”

“I do,” I confirmed, carrying the pancakes to the table. “You love me too?”

I didn’t have to ask, but I liked hearing it all the same. Austin’s eyes were glued to the pancakes when he answered, making me roll mine as I set the plate down. “I do mommy. Of course I love you. You make pancakes.”

“Well in that case, I guess I’ll just have to keep making them,” I teased, watching him as he closely watched me dish up a pancake for him. “Are you going to say thank you?”

Austin nodded, not taking his eyes from the pancake, murmuring, “Thanks mommy.”

He didn’t even need me to pour syrup for him anymore. He grabbed the bottle, made a huge blob on his pancake and scarfed it down.

“I love pancakes.” Austin’s tongue came out to swipe at a glob of syrup on his chin. He grinned widely as we waited for me to pass another one. “I love pancakes almost as much as I love you.”

A serious expression came over his little face, his dark hair sticking up in every direction as his green eyes lifted to mine, then dropped back to the pancakes. He had my coloring thankfully, with the dark hair and the green eyes. I thanked my stars for that because the last thing I wanted was to be reminded of my ex every time I looked at Austin.

“That’s good to know, buddy.” I pushed all images and thoughts of Austin’s father out of my mind. Today was about me and my son. Every Saturday was our time together. Wesley, my douchebag ex, wasn’t going to ruin that for me. “What do you want to do today?”

“We can go to the park?” Austin suggested, eyes lighting up with excitement. There was nothing special about the local park near our home, but he couldn’t get enough of it.

“You bet. Finish your breakfast first, then we’ll go.”

I managed to scarf down half a pancake once I’d gotten all the dishes in the sink before Austin was done and zooming around the kitchen again.

He was almost out the kitchen door by the time I stopped him. “Austin! Hands baby, you have to wash your hands. And we’ve got to get you dressed if you want to go to the park.”