Tossing a fist pump in the air, he leaned back in the chair at his desk, clasped his fingers behind his neck, and grinned. He’d never booked a hotel room before, much less a luxurious spa suite with a private balcony overlooking the famous River Walk in San Antonio. Not only was the hotel and spa fancy as fuck but also a stone’s throw away from the Alamo.
Austin was as excited as a kid at Christmas. He couldn’t wait to escape the prying eyes of Haven and spend five glorious days alone with his little girl.
He could already imagine the awe on Paige’s face when he opened the door to their suite, escorted her inside, and popped the cork on the bottle of champagne he’d arranged for their arrival…along with a dozen chocolate-covered strawberries. He’d fill her glass, then they’d step out on the balcony, toast one another and their time alone, then drink in the bubbly as well as the River Walk below.
After a glass or two of champagne, when Paige was nice and relaxed, he’d carry her into the bedroom and lay her down on a layer of fresh rose petals he’d just finalized with the concierge. Austin prayed he’d covered all the bases, but romance and relationships were a foreign language.
“Hopefully, the language of love is universal. If I fucked up and forgot anything, I’ll make it up to her in other ways.”
Eyeing the drawer of his desk, Austin slowly pulled it open. The little blue velvet box was right where he’d left it five days ago—the day after he’d sliced himself open and told Paige about Ginny. Paige had held him in her arms, whispered loving reassurances, and promised it would be all right as he broke down and purged the pain he’d hauled around for too many miserable years.
She’d forced his eyes open and made him see that he was capable of giving and receiving love. It was an awakening he’d never expected to happen.
He finally knew the difference between sex and love.
And regardless of what their families wanted, Austin wasn’t going to risk losing Paige or her love for anyone or anything. Not his dad, his brothers, or the ranch. If push came to shove and he was forced to choose between legacy or love, Austin had no qualms about leaving it all behind.
Paige was worth it.
Austin picked up his phone and tapped out a text letting her know he’d taken care of everything for their getaway. She immediately replied with a string of emojis, including a pair of puckered red lips. With a chuckle, he pocketed his phone and headed out to the barn.
After turning Rumor and Glutton out into the pasture, Austin stood and grinned as the colt pranced around, chasing a butterfly. Rumor eyed her son briefly, then lowered her head and continued munching the grass.
“Hey, you’re just the man I’m looking for.” His dad strode in beside him and clapped him on the shoulder.
“I just got off the phone with Mayor Berger.”
“He wanted to personally invite the Carson clan to the Lion’s Club Ice Cream Social tomorrow evening. You’re going, right?”
“Hadn’t really thought about it.”
“You gotta go.”
“Dammit, son. Just say you’ll go and show up. All right?”
Duke Carson was a lot of things, a hard worker, an honest man, and a good father along with many others. But he wasn’t savvy or cagey when it came to keeping secrets.
“Tell me why.”
“I can’t. Dammit. It’s a surprise.”
“You know I hate surprises. Spit it out.”
“All right, but you have to act surprised tomorrow, understand.”
“No promises until you tell me what the hell is going on.”
“The mayor wants to present you a plaque for all you did to save the town from that damn chemical plant.”
Austin closed his eyes and moaned. “You accept it. After all, it was your lawyer who saved Haven.”
“I ain’t getting up on stage so the whole damn town can gawk at me. Hell no. You did the work; you get the accolades.”
“I don’t want to stand up in front of them anymore than you do.”
“Too bad. You’re the hero. You gonna show up and accept your award or not?”
“Do I have a choice?”
Austin groaned and scrubbed a hand over his face. “Then I guess I’ll be there.”
“Great. I’ll call the mayor back and let him know.” His dad laughed.
Though it sounded rusty and hoarse, it warmed his heart. If standing in front of the whole town, accepting an award made his old man that happy, Austin would do it every day of the week and twice on Sundays.
Thirty-six hours later, mentally calling himself every four-letter word on the planet, Austin stood, legs shaking, beside the mayor on a platform in the middle of Main Street, staring out into a sea of faces.
He now understood his dad’s aversion to… getting up on stage so the whole damn town can gawk at me.
And gawking they were.