“Letting go of the hurtful past and stopping it from determining my future.”
“I think that’s a wonderful idea. People who can’t move on from the past miss out on a whole lot of living.”
“I finally see that now along with how I’ve allowed her actions to cloud my judgment. Not just with you but in all aspects of my life. I’m ready to wipe the slate clean and start a new chapter in my life.” She couldn’t help but smile at the conviction and serenity in his voice. “I have a question I want to ask you.”
Paige’s heart sputtered then slammed against her ribs. Hope soared and she held her breath, praying he’d say the words she desperately wanted to hear: Will you marry me? His pending proposal was still racing through her brain when reality gripped each letter in an angry fist and crushed them to dust.
As if that will ever happen, scoffed the voice in her head.
No, it wouldn’t. She and Austin were like Romeo and Juliet, star-crossed lovers from forbidden families, destined to be apart forever. Or spending the rest of their lives sneaking around in the dead of night and stealing precious moments, like these, beneath a shady tree.
In theory, they could run away and start a whole new life. Except for one small detail—Austin wouldn’t leave the ranch he was destined to inherit. They’d spent hours, lying in bed, sitting out on his deck, or snuggled up on the couch, talking about their pending inheritances. He was passionate about expanding the herd, adding digital upgrades to the equipment, and streamlining everyday chores to increase the profit margin. Continuing the Carson family legacy was his top priority. Austin would never leave his ranch, for her or anyone else.
Paige wasn’t that committed to the Nelson land. Once her Grandpa was gone, it would crush her to sell his ranch and walk away from the place that held the happiest memories of her childhood. Unlike Austin, she’d do it, but only to spend the rest of her life making happier memories with him.
Sadly, there wasn’t a chance in hell of that ever happening.
Paige swallowed the ball of sadness lodged in her throat and closed her eyes to soothe the sting. Then she inhaled deeply and breathed Austin’s scent and the strength he provided and whispered, “Ask away.”
“What do you think about us running away for an extended weekend?”
Though it wasn’t the proposal she’d foolishly hoped for, the idea of being alone with Austin day and night was a fantasy come true.
Heart sputtering, Paige lifted her head and gaped up at him. “How? When?”
“I don’t know.” He grinned. “But seeing the excitement in your eyes, I vote we start working out some details right now.”
“I second that vote.” She giggled excitedly.
Snuggled up closely, they laughed, kissed, and made plans for their salacious, secret rendezvous as the sun slid toward the horizon.
When it was time for her to leave, Paige mourned leaving the bubble of bliss they’d shared all afternoon while Austin shook out the blanket and folded it up. After walking her to her truck, he pressed her up against the door and kissed her breathless before easing back and leaving her wet and achy.
“I’ll follow you home, little girl,” he announced as she climbed inside the cab.
“Oh, I’m not going straight home. I need to stop at Toot’s and pick up dinner.”
“All right. I’ll wave from the driveway when you pass by.”
“I’ll blow you a kiss.”
“I’d rather you blow something else.” He flashed her a grin so dirty her cheeks warmed.
“Soon, cowboy,” she drawled, then started her truck.
As she bounced across the uneven terrain, memories of Austin teaching her how to take his big, beautiful cock to the back of her throat plowed through her mind. The ache between her legs ignited into a drumming throb while heat rolled up her body.
Paige couldn’t stop glancing in her rearview as Austin followed her back into town. He slowed to barely a snail’s pace as she parked and bounded from her truck in front of Toot’s. She paused and watched him roll by, flashing her a devilish wink before she all but floated toward the diner.
As she stepped inside, the little bell above the door jingled. Every head in the place turned her way. She smiled politely and nodded until she spied Houston, staring at her with an unreadable expression. Gone was the carefree smile he’d effortlessly flashed earlier at the pond. Had his earlier acceptance been nothing but a carefully crafted lie? Or was he simply playing his part as a mortal enemy? That made a lot more sense. After all, they were both on neutral ground in the middle of gossip central.
Tucking away her unanswerable questions, she stepped up to the cash register.
“You need an order to go, Paige?” Toots called from the back of the cafe.
“Give me a second and I’ll be right with you, sugar,” Toots assured.
Paige could still feel Houston’s stare searing the back of her head. Closing her eyes, she drew in several deep breaths to quell her unexplained nausea, then studied the menu posted on the wall behind the register.
Toots appeared a couple minutes later wearing a bright smile. “I haven’t seen you forever, sugar. How you doing?”
“I’m good.” She was now that her nausea had disappeared.
“And your grandpa? Heard he spent a night in the hospital a while back.”
“He’s back to his ornery self.”
“That’s good to hear. What can I get you, sugar?”
“I’ll take three of your fried chicken dinners, mashed potatoes and gravy, and green beans, please.”
“Coming right up.”
Toots had no more dashed away than Houston sidled up beside her.
“Hey,” he murmured.
“I need to talk to you for a minute,” he announced, keeping his voice low. “I now know this thing between you and Austin is serious.”
“I don’t know about that, I mean—”
“Please. I’ve seen the way he looks at you…the way you look at him. I know he’s in love with you, and you’re in love with him.”
She and Austin had never exchanged I love yous. Hearing it from Houston’s mouth was terrifying and delightful surprise. Paige’s heart began beating so hard and fast she worried it might explode from her chest and land on the floor. She had no idea how to respond, which wasn’t a bad thing since she wasn’t sure she could even speak if she tried.
“What do you want from him?”