You gotta be fucking kidding me. There’s no way that can be Paige Nelson!
His pulse raced and thundered in his ears as his mouth turned dryer than the desert. Even though he’d heard rumors that Raymond’s granddaughter had returned to Haven, Austin was struggling to reconcile the girl from his memory to the woman holding the gun. The gangly, freckle-faced, braces-wearing girl with a scarlet ponytail he’d seen nearly a decade ago was long gone. In her place was a heart-stopping, soul-stealing vixen so erotic and gorgeous the cells in his body spontaneously combusted.
Though he had no business ogling the offspring of his dad’s nemesis, Austin couldn’t peel his gaze off the beauty.
How the hell did Paige go from that to this?
“Go on, get out of here before I kill ya…once I figure out how to aim this damn cannon.”
Her tone of voice displayed the same desperation in her fingers as she struggled to reload the long rifle while maintaining eye contact with the pack of coyotes darting in the copse of trees near the fence.
Austin had no idea what possessed Old Man Nelson to build his chicken coop next to the hedgerow. Clearly, the man was more than evil…he was stupid. Darting a glance around the backyard, Austin wondered why the idiot wasn’t outside defending his chickens instead of his city-girl granddaughter.
Before he could ask, one of the coyotes charged the fence. A terrified scream pealed from Paige’s throat as she jumped back, tripped on her bare feet, and landed on her ass…accidentally pulling the trigger of the shotgun.
As a spray of buckshot sang past his head, Austin dropped to the ground while his heart nearly launched out of his chest.
“Put that thing down before you kill yourself,” he yelled, cautiously lifting his head.
Paige screamed again as she turned and hoisted the gun his direction. Staring at both barrels aimed toward his face, Austin pressed his nose to the dirt, praying she didn’t pull the trigger again.
“For fuck’s sake, put the damn gun down, Paige,” he yelled.
“Who are you? How do you know my name? What are you doing here?” Her voice dripped with fear as she rattled the questions off in rapid succession.
“It’s, me, Austin Carson. Now stop pointing that damn thing at me?”
“A-Austin? W-what are you d-doing here?” she stammered as the weapon clattered to the ground. Lifting his head, he watched Paige rise to her feet and dust off her backside with a scowl. “You know you’re not supposed to be here. If anyone—”
“I’m a grown man. I’ll do whatever the hell I want, little girl.”
Pushing himself off the ground, he brushed the dirt off his hands and clothes before striding toward the fence.
“What do you want?” she asked, defiantly lifting her chin.
“I came to”—shove that shotgun up your granddad’s ass—“see what the hell was going on over here. I got a mare fixin’ to foal. All those shots you’re firing is freaking her out so much she’s about to kick out of her stall.”
“I’m sorry your horse is stressed, but so am I! Grandpa told me to keep those carnivores from stealing any more of the chickens.”
“Why isn’t he out here taking care of them himself?”
“He’s not here. He’s at the hospital,” she moaned as her shoulders slumped in defeat.
Austin opened his mouth to ask what was wrong with the surly bastard when Paige’s chin quivered and fat tears started spilling down her pretty, porcelain cheeks.
He’d made plenty of women cry out with pleasure, but had zero experience with one crying real tears. But watching Paige come undone from heartache was new and kind of frightening. Acting on instinct, Austin rushed inside the coop, wrapped Paige in his arms, and hugged her tightly against his wide chest.
As the heat of her tiny body penetrated his clothing and the scent of clean soap and sweet wildflowers filled his senses, a thunderclap of arousal roared through him. Austin closed his eyes, savoring every sublime second ,while Paige clung to him and sobbed into his shirt.
His head swam.
His pulse quickened.
And his cock began to thicken and grow.
What the fuck?
His body had never responded to any woman so instantly or viscerally before. Austin didn’t know what was happening. He only knew that the unparalleled hunger he felt toward Paige was wrong and deadly dangerous.
Stop hugging her. She’s not even old enough to drink yet, asshole, screamed his brain.
Austin knew he should put some much-needed distance between them, but he couldn’t muster the will or the desire to sever the sublime sensation of her soft, sweet body meshed to his. It was as if Paige had been made just for him.
“H-he was in so much pain, but he w-wouldn’t let me take him to see Doc Knight,” Paige wept. “Finally, I called the sheriff’s office and asked Francine to send the ambulance so Cody and Zander could haul him to the hospital.”
“When? I didn’t hear any sirens.”
“I told Francine to tell them to come in quiet so Grandpa wouldn’t yell at me.”
The thought of the cocksucker yelling at her sent a wave of fury wending through Austin’s veins. Tamping down the desire to rip Old Man Nelson’s heart out with his bare hands, Austin simply held Paige tighter.
“You did the right thing,” he assured as a tremor skipped through her body.
“I know, but he was so m-mad at me once they arrived. I-I wanted to go with him to the hospital, but he wouldn’t let me. He told me to stay here and protect the chickens. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I didn’t know how. When those damn coyotes started howling, I grabbed his shotgun and some bullets. I tried to scare ’em off. I did. B-but they kept coming b-back,” Paige stammered on before breaking down all over again.
Austin held her close, murmuring the same platitudes he’d uttered to Rumor in the barn as his dad’s words echoed in his ears.
There’s more to life than cows, horses, and ranching.