She exhaled in defeat, tucked her phone away, and started making dinner. Two hours later, Paige, her grandpa, and Johnny sat down at the dinner table. Just as Grandpa started to reach for the mashed potatoes, Johnny cleared his throat.
“If you’d like, I’ll be happy to say grace.”
“Oh.” Grandpa blinked and pulled his hand back with a smile. “Sure. By all means. You a good churchgoing boy, are ya?”
“Yes, sir. My momma raised us to praise the Lord every mealtime and every night.”
This is definitely something new and different.
Paige smiled sweetly and bowed her head. She’d never attended a church service in her entire life. Oh, she’d been in the basement of the First Baptist Church of Haven dozens of times, for the bake sales, flea markets, and a weird game of Bible bingo—where she came in last place, unsurprisingly.
While Johnny thanked the Lord for everything from the food and butter to the damn silverware, Paige lifted her lashes and glanced at her grandpa, anxiously eyeing the mashed potatoes.
When Johnny finally gave a hearty, amen, Paige raised her chin while her grandpa gave a boisterous, “God’s neat. Let’s eat.”
“That’s the spirit.” Johnny chuckled as Grandpa snatched up the bowl of coveted potatoes.
While Grandpa quizzed Johnny about his experience on their family ranch, north of Denton, Paige silently nibbled her food.
“Since you’re new to Haven, young man, take tomorrow off and let Paige show you around our little town,” Raymond suggested.
Mind screaming no, Paige gaped at the old man, then quickly snapped her jaw shut.
“I’m sure she has more important things to—”
“No she doesn’t,” Grandpa blurted. “Paige enjoys going into town every chance she gets. Don’t you, sweetheart?”
Hoping to stop him from offering her up as Johnny’s personal tour guide, Paige flashed a fake, overly bright smile and nodded. “I sure do. I hit the bar every Friday and Saturday night.”
Grandpa blanched, then issued a nervous chuckle. “She goes to visit and catch up with her friend Gina. She owns the bar. They’ve been friends for years.”
“That sounds fun.” Johnny smiled. “I don’t drink much, but once in a while I like to toss back a cold beer.”
“You need to take Johnny with you next weekend, then, sweetheart.”
Before Paige could dream up some plausible excuse to keep him from following her around like a lost puppy, her grandpa turned his attention on Johnny.
“Do you dance? Paige just loves to dance.” He grinned.
Lord, kill me now. Please!
“I have two left feet until it comes to slow dancing,” Johnny confessed sheepishly.
“That’s what she loves—”
“Grandpa,” Paige bit out, forcing a smile she hoped didn’t look like a grimace. “Would you pass the potatoes, please?”
“But you already got a heap on your plate you ain’t ate yet.”
She clenched her jaw, then dropped her eyes toward her plate. “So I do. Silly me.”
As if sensing she was crawling out of her skin, Johnny flashed Paige a little smile before taking another bite of dinner.
“Mmm,” he moaned. “This is the best chicken fried steak I’ve ever tasted. You’re one heck of a cook, Paige.”
“Thank you.” She meant it, too, in more ways than one.
“I don’t mean any disrespect to my momma, but she’s not the best cook in the world.” Johnny cringed. “But you, Paige…you’re a culinary goddess.”
“Thanks.” She pinned him with a stare that screamed, You can stop laying it on so thick anytime now.
With a little nod telling her he heard her loud and clear, Johnny placed his napkin on his empty plate and leaned back in his chair.
“Best darn dinner I ever ate,” he praised, patting his flat stomach.
“Breakfast is at six thirty,” Grandpa announced, following suit and relaxing back in his chair. “Wait till you taste her homemade biscuits. They’re so flaky and buttery they dang near melt in your mouth.”
“I can’t wait.” Johnny smiled and stood. “Dinner was amazing. Thank you, but I need to get back to the bunkhouse and finish putting my things away. If you’ll both please excuse me?”
“Of course. Hope you have a good night.” Grandpa smiled.
Paige waited until Johnny had left through the back door before she sent the old man a scowl. “Please stop trying to shove him down my throat.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, sweetheart.”
“Now you’re just lying to me.” With a huff, she stood and carried her plate to the kitchen.
Grandpa eased in beside her and gently took her hand. “I didn’t mean to shove him down your throat, Paige. I simply want you to give that young man a chance.”
“I told you I would, and I will.”
“Thank you.” He kissed her cheek, then turned and started humming as he walked away.
“If he was a rooster, he’d be strutting,” she tersely mumbled.
When the dishes were done, Paige checked on her grandpa, then wandered down the hall to her room. She stripped off her clothes and tugged on her pajamas, then flopped on the bed.
With a heavy heart, she tapped her cell phone, stared at Austin’s number, and blinked back her tears.