Austin knew exactly what he had done. He’d let the past not only dictate his future but royally fuck it up. Let the stupid and naïve, butt-hurt eighteen-year-old still rattling around inside him call the shots instead of manning up and exorcising his shit once and for all.
It was sad, ironic, and infuriating that, after keeping his heart on lockdown all these years, he was the one who’d crushed it again, not Paige. He should have trusted her. Should have kept believing that he deserved the love she’d given him. Instead, he’d let the doubt and jealousy that had stained his soul for years destroy the best thing that had ever happened in his life.
He imagined wrapping one fist around Ginny’s evil soul and the over around his immature eighteen-year-old self, then slammed them both on the table. Tossing his head back, he roared as he crushed them both to dust beneath the onslaught of rage and regret for pushing Paige away.
“He’s taking this better than I thought he would,” Dallas murmured.
“Hush,” his dad chided.
Austin barely heard their exchange; he was too busy trying to figure a way to repair the damage he’d done…a way to put the pieces of Paige’s broken heart back together. Suddenly, in the midst of the chaos crowding his brain, Houston’s words pierced the pandemonium. She’s moving to San Antonio today.
Snapping his head toward Houston, Austin barked, “When?”
“When is Paige leaving? What time?”
“I-I don’t know,” he stammered. “I’ll text her and ask.”
“What do you mean you’ll text her? Why the fuck do have her number?”
Houston held up his hands. “I am not your enemy, bro, so back the fuck down. She gave it to me last night so she could text pictures of the baby to us.”
His brother’s answer lessened Austin’s knee-jerk jealousy—something he still hadn’t managed to assassinate. “Fine. Text her, then delete her number. Understood?”
“Will do.” Houston tried to bite back a grin but failed.
While he tapped out the message, Austin swallowed the fear clogging his throat and looked toward his dad for the sage advice only he could offer. “I-I have to fix this, but I don’t know how.”
“If Paige hasn’t left yet, I’ll go to Nelson’s with you while you talk to her.”
“No. Raymond will kill us both.”
“How much do you love her?”
Without an ounce of hesitation, he replied, “Enough to die for. But I’m not letting you die with me.”
“Nobody’s dying today,” he assured with a loving smile.
As Houston’s phone chimed, Austin nearly broke his neck, whipping toward the sound.
“She says she’s not leaving until after lunch. She wants to know why I’m asking.”
“Tell her you want her to text you when she gets to San Antonio so you know she made it safely,” Austin instructed.
San Antonio. Their trip. The ring!
“Shit!” Austin barked, lunging for the back door. “I’ll be right back.”
After sprinting across the yard, he raced into his house, up the stairs, and to his office. After yanking the drawer open, he fisted the velvet box, then rushed back.
“Where did you go?” his dad asked.
“Home. To get this.” Austin opened his hand and lifted the lid.
“Damn,” Dallas murmured, staring at the slender white-gold band and generous diamond, shimmering in the kitchen lights and sending prisms dancing over the ceiling.
“That’s… Wow. What is that called?” Houston asked.
“Expensive,” Dallas chuckled.
“I mean the cut, asswipe.”
“The jeweler in Denton called it a radiant cut. I don’t know what that means, I just bought it because I thought it was pretty and that Paige might like it.”
“It is pretty, son. She’s going to love it.” His dad smiled. “You did good, Austin. Real good.”
Pride warmed him for a long second before an icy foreboding sluiced through his veins. “Don’t get too excited, y’all. There’s a good chance Paige will turn me down.”
“Before or after Nelson blows your head off?” Dallas cackled.
“Before, I hope,” Austin murmured. “I don’t have the heart to hear her say no.”
“Then let’s get a game plan made so she won’t.” His dad winked. “Dallas, whip us up some breakfast, if you please.”
“I’ll get us some coffee.” Houston grinned, trailing Dallas into the kitchen.
While the scent of sausage filled the air, the men started lobbing ideas.
“Just tell her you love her, son.”
“It’s going to take more than that, Pa. I said some awful, terrible things to her last night.” Austin cringed.
“That only leaves one choice…pucker up and kiss ass.” Dallas grinned.
“You’re not helping,” Austin drawled, scrubbing a hand through his hair. “I’m not sure she’ll accept my proposal, but I think I can convince her to give me a second chance. Once she knows I truly am sorry for fucking things up so badly, I’ll pull the ring out and try again.”
“I think that’s a smart, sound plan.” His dad nodded.
“But how do I convince Nelson I only want Paige and not his fucking land?”