Paige groaned. “We watched a documentary about them in one of my chemistry classes. That company poisons everything…our crops, our soil, our water…hell, they’re killing off the whole planet.”
“I know.” He nodded grimly.
“What are we gonna do?”
“Excuse me? We have to do something,” she cried, tossing her hands in the air. “We can’t just sit here with our thumbs up our butts while they destroy Haven with toxic sludge.”
“Easy.” He cupped her cheek. Like always, Paige instantly relaxed. “That’s not going to happen. I found out today that if Preston-Chem wants to build a plant within the boundaries of Haven, which encompasses all three of our ranches, they’ll need approval from the Haven City Council.”
“Thank god that will never happen.”
“It already did.”
“What?” she screeched. “How? How have we not heard anything about the approval? I mean, come on…this is Haven. The phone lines would have been burning up so badly, the gossip guild would have to go door-to-door to keep spreading the news.”
Austin started chuckling, which confused and irritated her even more.
“I don’t know what you think is so funny. Preston-Chem is bad news…really bad. They have so many corrupt politicians in their pockets. And don’t even get me started on all the oligarchs who fund them. I’m talking the richest bastards on—”
Austin cut her off with a kiss so potent and blistering it erased all thought from her brain. Well, all but the one where he stripped her naked, laid her back on the soft red blanket, and made her scream louder than the grackles screeching in the trees.
Unfortunately, he ended the kiss before their clothes even had a chance to come off. Which was probably for the best, since anyone who happened to stroll by the pond could see them.
“May I continue?”
He dropped his voice to the same deep and buttery baritone he used when they got kinky in the bedroom. As always, waves of heat rushed up her body and goose bumps peppered her skin.
Paige quickly tamed her arousal and nodded.
“I was livid when I realized the council had secretly approved Hale’s plan. So much so that when I hung up with McGraw, I hauled ass to Mayor Berger’s office. I stormed in and demanded to know why the council voted to destroy Haven.”
“You should have asked how much money Hale bribed them with.”
Paige was now livid, too. Livid that the council had cast the secret vote and livid that they’d been so greedy and short-sighted they ignored how their decision affected the whole town.
“At first Berger tried to dismiss me. When I told him we’d hired our own lawyer and what McGraw had uncovered, Berger was furious. Long story short, Hale lied to the mayor. Told him a Fortune 500 farm equipment manufacturer wanted to build an assembly plant on our land. Then he sweetened the pot by touting the thousands of jobs that would need to be filled. How Haven would soon be bustling with those workers buying and building homes, and how our local businesses would make money hand over fist.”
“That lying sack of pig shit,” Paige spat. “What happens now that the council has given Hale their approval?”
“I had no idea, so Berger and I called McGraw. When our conversation was over, Berger barked at his secretary, Alice, and told her to call the other members for an emergency meeting.” Austin glanced at his watch and grinned. “I’m sure they’ve already unanimously voted to rescind their approval.”
“So, what happens next?”
“Nothing. It’s over. Without the council’s okay, there won’t be any chemical plant, and Hale can’t harass us anymore.”
Relief and happiness exploded through her veins. Paige let out a triumphant yell as she climbed onto Austin’s lap, slung her arms around his neck, and kissed him hard. The warmth of his hands splayed across her back coupled with the firm yet supple texture of his lips made her head spin. And when his tongue made a slow, decadent sweep, Paige whimpered and melted against him.
Austin tucked her tightly to his chest, then rolled over, pinning her to the blanket as he hovered above her. As they fed off one another’s passion and need, the kiss turned raw. The heat of his body, searing through her clothes, was a magical and maddening kind of bliss. Paige pawed at his shirt as the ache to feel his bare skin melded to hers spiked. Seemingly annoyed with the barrier as well, Austin shifted his weight to one elbow before tugging the tail from his jeans.
Suddenly, the rumble of an engine hummed in the air and subtly vibrated the ground beneath her back.
Their bodies tensed in tandem. Austin tore from her mouth and rolled away with a bitter curse. Paige swallowed her disappointment, then sat up and scooted to the far side of the blanket as a big black pickup lumbered and bounced across the clearing.
“Son of a bitch,” Austin spat, shoving his partially freed shirttail back into his jeans. “It’s my brother.”
“Houston…as always. I should have known he’d decide to go fishing after Dad gave us the day off in celebration of Hale’s defeat.”
“I need to go.”
As Paige started to stand, Austin stretched across the blanket and clasped her wrist.
“No. I’m tired of sneaking around. Tired of hiding. Tired of being the pawn in this ancient Hatfield and McCoy feud that has nothing to do with us,” Austin announced, taking Paige’s hand and helping her to her feet.
She was tired of it all, too. But she doubted Duke Carson would kick his oldest son off the family ranch for sitting with her on a blanket at Miller’s Pond, the way her grandpa would for simply speaking to Austin.
“I am, too, but…”