I know I’m a grown adult but until the night you came barreling around the house when I was trying to save the chickens, Grandpa’s been the only person on the planet who’s ever truly seen me…or listened to me.
Austin suddenly realized Paige wasn’t with Johnny, she was simply trying to placate her grouchy grandpa. The knife of jealousy slid from his heart, and Austin used the logic from Paige’s lips to stem the flow of bitterness from his past.
Sadly, he had no way to ease the anger of Raymond’s proud smile. Only the confidence that Paige had been honest with him the months they’d been secretly together. Whatever visions of grandeur or marriage that were dancing in the old man’s head would be put to death once Austin and Paige returned from San Antonio next month.
As his ugly jealousy slowly bled from his system, Austin continued following them. It gutted him that Paige had spent her life so starved for attention that she’d purposely let her grandpa believe she was interested in Johnny. Of course, depending on what illness the old man was suffering, he might truly be living on borrowed time. Austin couldn’t fault Paige for wanting her grandpa’s last days to be happy ones. He totally understood her motives, but he didn’t like it, and he especially didn’t like how cozy she and Johnny looked.
She’s only doing it to keep the old man happy.
That reassurance was still rolling through his brain when Johnny bent and whispered into Paige’s ear. Her eyes and mouth widened in shock as her cheeks turned bright crimson. She shot him a mock scowl, then a sassy grin, then tapped her ice cream to his nose, leaving a dollop of chocolate on the tip. Johnny cinched her tighter before trying to wipe the ice cream off his nose and onto her neck. Paige threw back her head and laughed as she wriggled free.
Their playful flirting was so carefree and natural, Austin’s vision turned red.
She’s been fucking playing me this whole time.
Self-preservation begged him to walk away, get in his truck, and leave.
But when Johnny wiped the ice cream off his nose, snagged a still giggling Paige around the waist, and dragged her against his body, Austin snapped.
Boots pounding against the pavement, he stormed to the couple and glared down at Paige. “Are you having fun?”
She blinked up at him and started to smile until she realized he was being sarcastic. Confusion crawled across her face as she tore from Johnny’s hold.
“Get away from her, you land-grabbing thief,” Raymond barked.
“Shut up, old man,” Austin snarled without even bothering to look his way. “I asked you a question, little girl.”
When Johnny tried to intervene, Austin’s lip curled, and a low, intimidating growl rumbled up from his deep in his chest. “Back off. This doesn’t concern you, boy.”
Panic lined Paige’s face as she grabbed Austin’s hand and started tugging him toward the Hangover.
“Stay here. I’ll be right back,” she barked at Raymond and Johnny.
Refusing to be led around by the little girl, Austin clasped her elbow, then ushered her into the bar.
Gina looked up from behind the counter and smiled. “We’re not open…yet. Shit. What the fuck is going on?”
“We need privacy to…talk,” Austin barked.
Gina cocked her head and narrowed her eyes. “Sorry, Carson. You’ll have to talk in front of me. There’s no way in hell I’m leaving Paige alone with you until you calm your shit down, mister.”
The accusation on Gina’s face was like a two-by-four upside Austin’s head. He was acting like a fucking caveman, frightening Gina and likely scaring Paige as well.
Austin exhaled a heavy sigh and scrubbed a hand down his face. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be so—”
“It’s okay,” Paige whispered.
“The fuck it is,” Gina snarled. “You two grab a table and discuss whatever you need to, but my happy ass is gonna stay parked behind this bar.” She leveled Austin with a warning glare. “If you make me pull Martha out from under this bar, I’m gonna crack your skull with her. You got it?”
Austin pressed his lips in a thin, tight line and nodded. “You won’t need the baseball bat. I promise.”
“I’ll hold you to that promise. Y’all want something to drink?”
“Nothing for me,” he replied, then glanced at Paige and bit back a curse.
She looked lost, confused, and scared. Austin cursed under his breath, then skimmed a hand down her arm and gently clasped her fingers. “I’m sorry. I lost my shit out there. It’s just…when I saw you laughing and flirting with Johnny—”
“Flirting?” Page snapped. “I wasn’t flirting with him!”
“What the hell do you call it then? Why’d you blush when he whispered in your ear? And why’d you smear ice cream on his nose?”
Paige looked at him as if he’d lost his mind. Yeah, he probably had, but it was over a good cause. Before he could blink, Paige’s expression went from shock to rage. She ripped her hand from his and slapped both of hers on her hips as she got up in his face.
Behind him, Gina softly chuckled.
“You want to know what he whispered in my ear? He told me Elenore Macon asked if Johnny had given me the big ol’ beef injection. Yeah, I know the poor woman has lost her mind, but I blushed because it embarrassed me.”
“Well, has he?” The question slid off Austin’s lips before he could stop it.