“Dude. I thought you’d heard…everybody else in Haven has thanks to Swat Team Evelyn,” Colton drawled. “Paige and I are getting married in a week.”
Look, I know I haven’t been much help since Jade arrived, and I’m sorry. But…dude, we’re getting married in a week.”
Married? Son of a… And I thought her timing was bad before. This is seven ways of fucked up.
“No shit? That’s fantastic. Congratulations, man.” Austin grinned with all the manufactured enthusiasm he could muster.
“Thanks. I’m…crazy about that girl. But, hey, I’ll make sure to drop by Nelson’s place today or—”
“Hey, babe,” Jade interrupted, standing on the front porch, cell phone in hand. “Is tomorrow at two o’clock okay for us to meet with the caterers?”
“Sure. No problem,” Colton replied. Jade blew him a kiss, then pressed the phone to her ear, then closed the door behind her.
Colton let out a heavy sigh. “Sorry. Like I was saying…”
Clearly, the man was overwhelmed and more stressed than he wanted to admit. And Austin quickly realized Colton had enough on his plate. He didn’t need the pressure of Hale threatening to throw his weight around added to Colton’s already overflowing plate.
Austin didn’t mind doing battle with Hale to save the three ranches. He simply didn’t know how he was going to keep his hands, lips, and cock to himself around Paige.
But that was his problem, not Colton’s.
“On second thought,” Austin began with a reassuring smile, “don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of Nelson and Hale. You just focus on your wedding. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event.”
“No, man. You don’t need to carry my burden.”
“It’s no burden. I’m working to save my own place, too.”
“Are you sure?”
“Positive. Jade needs your help a whole lot more than I do.”
“Thanks, man. I owe you. It’s crazy how much shit goes into pulling off a wedding, especially one that’s happening this fast. But when you find the one…when you know, you know.” A crooked grin spread across his mouth before he sobered. “I lost her once and it was hell. No way I’m letting her slip through my fingers again.”
“Then don’t. You do what it takes to keep her, and I’ll take care of Nelson and Hale. I’m well aware you have no intention of selling. I got your back.”
“That means worlds to me, Austin. Thank you. If you or your lawyer need anything from me, just say the word.”
“I’ll keep you updated,” Austin assured.
During the short trek home, he tried formulating a way to talk to Nelson without getting his head blown off.
“Pissing up a rope would be easier,” he muttered, pulling into his driveway.
After grabbing the vitamins, Austin climbed out of his truck as his dad stormed across the yard, wearing a furious scowl. Any other day, Austin would wonder what had crawled up the man’s ass, but he was ninety-nine percent sure he was the reason. Despite the efforts of a few good men, the proverbial cat was out of the bag. Dragging in a deep breath, he steeled himself for battle.
This is gonna get ugly.
But Austin wasn’t a kid anymore. He had to stand his ground.
“Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Austin knew this was the wrong time to be a smart-ass, but he couldn’t stop himself and held up the bottle of vitamins. “Going to the barn to give a few of these to Rumor.”
“No. You’re not. You’re going to march your ass into the house and explain why you were at the Hangover last night, dancing with that bastard’s granddaughter.”
“First of all, I’m not twelve anymore and I’m not marching my ass anywhere. Secondly, I’ll dance with whomever I choose. Your beef with that bastard has nothing to do with me or Paige.”
“My beef with him has everything to do with you, this ranch, and the Carson reputation,” he bellowed. “I can’t believe you, my oldest, most trusted son, would defy me like this. What possessed you to speak to that…that—”
“Watch your words, old man.” Anger seared his veins, but his warning was arctic.
“Girl,” Duke spat. “Let alone dance with her?”
“I did it for—”
“What? A piece of pussy?”
Something inside Austin snapped.
Anger thundered through him as he tossed the vitamins to the ground and stormed toward the man. Out of nowhere, Houston and Dallas charged into him, nearly tackling Austin to the ground. Grappling and yelling, they held him back.
Duke Carson narrowed his eyes, moved in close, and fisted Austin’s shirt.
“Whatever hold this girl has on you to make you forget the respect you’ve been taught enough to charge your own father… You better pull her claws out now, while you still can, son.”
Shaking with rage, Austin shoved his brothers off him and pinned his dad with an angry glare. He hated losing control. The fact that he didn’t until he’d met Paige made him hate it even more. He was embarrassed that he’d charged his dad. This wasn’t the time to try and analyze why Paige unhinged him. There’d be time for that later. Right now, he had to rein in his emotions and lock them down…tightly.
“She doesn’t have any claws in me. I didn’t dance with her for a piece of pussy, I did it for us, this ranch, and the precious Carson reputation. But mostly for you!” he roared.
“What the hell do you mean…for me?” Duke growled.
“Were you gonna go talk to him and help him save his ranch?”
“Exactly. So I did.”
Duke blanched. His eye bulged before turning narrow. “I told you never step—”
“Foot on his land. Yeah, yeah, I know. He told me the same thing with the barrel of his shotgun pointed at my head.”
“H-he pulled a gun on you?” His dad paled.
“Relax. I’m still alive.”
“Don’t ever go there again.”
“I have to, Pa. Colton’s getting married in a week. I’m the only one who can help the old man save his land.”
“Fuck his land. And fuck him right along with it.”