“Bullshit! The minute you found out she’s set to inherit every damn acre when she gets married, you couldn’t wait to get in line.”
Austin’s jaw fell open. Paige hadn’t mentioned a word about inheriting the old man’s ranch. Was that the reason she’d left civilization behind and moved to Haven? No, she wasn’t the mercenary type. Was she?
Austin shoved the disturbing thought from his brain. “I don’t want your land, and I sure as fuck don’t want to marry Paige.”
As the words flew off his tongue, images of her dressed in white, carrying a bouquet of pink roses, and smiling like the sun as she walked down the aisle of the First Baptist Church of Haven, seared Austin’s brain.
The fact that he actually didn’t hate the visual sent a shocked and terrified tremor skidding through him.
“Liar,” Nelson bellowed as he reared back. Fire was shooting from his eyes as he pointed a bony finger at Austin. “You stay away from me, my granddaughter, and my ranch, or I’ll blow your fucking head off. You hear me, boy?”
“I hear you, old man. Now hear me…climb your stubborn ass down off your high horse and do what’s right for Paige.”
As Nelson lunged toward him, Emmett stuck out his cane and tripped the furious man. As Nelson sailed toward the pavement, eyes wide and arms flailing, the memory of Paige—the first night they’d met—sobbing against his chest, completely coming undone over fear and worry about her sick grandpa, slammed Austin’s brain.
It would totally crush her if the old man got hurt.
Without a second thought, he dove forward—slamming his knee into the pavement, sending pain exploding up his thigh and down his shin—and caught Raymond.
Shock lined Nelson’s face before a glimmer of thanks skipped across his eyes. Then all too soon, his familiar angry sneer slid back in place.
You’re welcome, asshole.
“All right, break it up, you two,” Jasper barked. Moving through the parting crowd, he wrapped a hand around Nelson’s arm and helped him to his feet. Then he glanced at the people still gawking and waved his hand. “Show’s over. Go on about your business, y’all.”
Biting back a howl, Austin did his best to ignore the pain and stood, careful not to put too much weight on his screaming knee.
When everyone began shuffling away, Emmett moved to join them.
Jasper scowled and splayed his hand across the Bigfoot hunter’s chest.
“Everyone but you, Emmett. You just take a seat on that bench over yonder. When I’m done here, you and I are gonna have a little talk.”
Mumbling under his breath, Emmett followed Jasper’s instructions and finally got out of the way.
“This isn’t the OK Corral or the Wild West, boys,” the sheriff began, pinning both him and Nelson with an angry scowl. “You two keep this bullshit between the two families out of my town, or I’ll throw you both in the same cell and let you fight it out there.”
“Ain’t gonna be no fight as long as this land-grabbing son of a bitch keeps his filthy paws off my Paige,” Nelson spat. “Ain’t no Carson going to defile her or soil her reputation as long as I’m still alive.”
Austin knew it was best if he kept his mouth shut, but he was done putting up with the old man’s anger, hatred, and threats.
“Paige is an adult, you old fool. You may not like it, but she’s quite capable of making her own decisions.”
“We’ll see about that,” Raymond snarled.
As he turned and stormed to his truck, Jasper locked Austin with a derisive stare until Nelson drove away.
Jasper shook his head. “Mind telling me what the hell that was all about?”
“I had to try and talk to him one last time.”
“It doesn’t matter. I have my answer.” Austin pulled his keys from his pocket and climbed into his truck. “Thanks for your help.”
“Where do you think you’re going?” Jasper barked.
“Home. I got work to do.”
“I’ll be by later…to talk.”
“Don’t bother. There’s nothing you can do,” Austin assured.
Brain swarming with questions, she warily eyed the blond, green-eyed, ruggedly built twentysomething man who’d been sitting beside her on the porch, sipping sweet tea, for the past ten minutes. He’d asked to speak to her grandpa, but when she explained he’d gone into town, the man announced that he’d wait, then introduced himself as Johnny Tassel—Grandpa’s new ranch hand.
That had shocked the shit out of Paige and explained why her grandpa had spent the past week piddling around in the bunkhouse. He’d been getting it ready for Johnny’s arrival…without mentioning a word about the new hire moving in on the ranch.
“When did Grandpa hire you?” she asked.