“Okay, then give me your number,” he said, tugging his cell from his back pocket.
“You can’t put my number in your phone,” she gasped.
“What if I call and your dad or brothers see my name pop up?”
“They won’t. I’m gonna add you in as…Payton,” he said, tapping on the screen before handing her the device. “Type in your number. When you get in your truck, I’ll text you mine.”
A forbidden thrill swept through her as she clutched his phone.
“What should I change your name to?” she asked, typing in her number.
“I don’t care as long as it’s no ex-boyfriend’s name.”
He didn’t need to worry about that. She didn’t have any exes.
“Okay, I’ll call you…Ashton.”
“Is he someone you know?”
“Yeah.” She smirked. “He was a pretentious frat boy who sat next to me last semester in English.”
“What the… You think I’m pretentious?” Austin gaped.
“No! That’s why it’s the perfect alias for you.”
“Ah.” He nodded. “Clever girl.”
“You’re pretty damn clever yourself.”
But are we clever enough to keep from getting caught?
“I-I should probably get going.”
Before she even took a step, Austin snaked his arm around her waist and hauled her tight against his chest again.
“We’re not finished yet. This isn’t over.”
“I know,” she whispered, staring at his swollen lips.
“Good,” he murmured, then cupped her nape and claimed her with a searing kiss. Releasing her far too soon, he flashed a blinding smile. “Drive careful, little girl.”
“I will.” She breathlessly nodded.
Turning, Paige walked to the edge of the alcove before cautiously peeking around the corner. Relieved that the coast was clear, she lifted her chin and strolled to her truck. She’d barely closed the door when her cell phone chimed with Austin’s number and a text that read, Until next time.
Struggling to tamp down her giddy excitement, Paige entered his alias and number in her contacts while he watched her from the shadows. After starting the engine, she flashed him a shy smile and tiny wave before backing out of the parking space and heading home.
She’d barely made it out of Haven before a pair of headlights—from the vehicle speeding up behind her—flashed in her rearview. Gripping the steering wheel, Paige prayed it was Austin. Just in case it wasn’t, she eased off the gas pedal and steered toward the edge of the road to give the speed demon room to pass.
But it didn’t. The vehicle stayed right on her ass.
Suddenly, her cell phone chimed. Plucking it out of the cup holder, she glanced at the text from…Ashton.
It’s me behind you. Making sure you get home all right.
Tears stung her eyes. It had been years since anyone cared enough to watch over her. Oh, her grandpa loved her—which was more than she could say for her mom—but bless his heart, Raymond Nelson didn’t have a nurturing bone in his body.
As she neared the Carson ranch, Paige slowed and stuck her hand out the window before giving a little wave. But Austin didn’t turn onto his own property. Instead, he continued following her.
“He wasn’t kidding about making sure I made it home all right.”
Her heart expanded and a smile speared her lips.
She slowed again to turn onto her grandpa’s drive. Austin flashed his lights and continued down the road. Knowing he’d have to pass her again to go home, she quickly parked the truck by the barn, then sprinted toward the front of the house.
Paige had barely reached the porch when she saw his headlights coming her way. Austin flashed his brights again and waved out the window. Pulse skipping and her stomach turning crazy somersaults, Paige grinned and waved, then watched until his taillights disappeared.
With a wistful sigh, she stepped inside the house.
From the family room, she heard the television blaring and her grandpa snoring even louder. After rounding the corner, she found him stretched out in his recliner, like always, sleeping like the… Don’t go there.
Paige snagged the faded afghan off the arm of the couch and gently draped it over him. Pausing, she studied the even knitted rows, wishing she had memories of her grandma, who’d made it. Paige had been a baby when her dad and grandma died in a car accident. She didn’t know why her dad had decided to come visit his folks on a Wednesday. Or why he’d left his wife and daughter behind in Branson. All Paige knew was that on the way home to Haven from the airport in Dallas, they’d unknowingly driven into a heavy fog and straight into a massive pileup on the interstate. Seven other people died along with her dad and grandma.