“At least let me introduce you to him. I want Houston to see for himself that you’re not a threat simply because your last name is Nelson.”
Paige nibbled her bottom lip and nodded, praying this whole situation didn’t turn into a bloody brawl among brothers.
Paige was shaking like a leaf as Austin threaded his fingers through hers while Houston parked beside the other pickups, climbed from the cab, and walked their way.
Darting a curious gaze between them, Houston’s stare stalled on their coupled hands. Paige’s heart sputtered and her mouth went dry.
“Hey,” Austin greeted with a wary expression.
“Hey.” Houston nodded. “I thought you’d come here to go fishing like me, but I see I was mistaken.”
Austin squeezed her hand. “Paige, this my brother Houston. Houston, this is—”
“I know who she is, asshole,” he chided with a chuckle, then extended his hand. “Nice to finally meet you, Paige.”
Inwardly, she released a billowing sigh and shook his proffered hand with a smile. “Likewise.”
“I asked her to meet me here so I could give her the good news,” Austin explained.
“Smart. It’s a whole lot safer out here than knocking on Raymond’s door and getting shot.” A crooked smile kicked up a corner of his mouth.
Biting back a laugh, Paige shook her head. “Grandpa wouldn’t ever really shoot him. He was just—”
“Yes, he would,” Austin countered.
“Oh, my god. He would not.” She gaped. “I can’t believe he’s fooled you of all people.”
“He wasn’t fooling when he pointed that shotgun at my head.”
Before Paige could respond, Houston spoke up. “I vote we don’t find out. It’s a whole lot better if you keep sneaking over to Austin’s place in the middle of the night.”
Page blanched and snapped her head, pinning Austin with a deer-in-the-headlights stare.
“How do you know she’s been—”
“Dude. You know I get insomnia now and then. I’ve been sitting on my deck for months, staring at the stars and trying to find the off switch to my brain. I’ve seen Paige tiptoe past my place a hundred times.”
Concern, not fear, lined Austin’s face. “I didn’t know you were struggling. What’s going on?”
“Nothing.” Even Paige could tell Houston was lying. Clearly he didn’t want to share his troubles in front of her. “It’s…just one of those things. It’ll pass eventually.”
“If you need to talk—”
“I’ll be sure to do it during the day when you’re not so…busy.” Houston flashed a mischievous grin, then glanced at the pond and sighed. “You two have…fun. I’m gonna head on out.”
“I thought you were gonna go fishing?” Austin eyed his brother suspiciously.
“Meh. I changed my mind. I think I’ll head to the library and talk to Al for a bit. She’s been… I don’t know. A little off, lately.”
“Maybe it’s just that time of the month.” Austin shrugged.
Slapping her hands on her hips, Paige whirled on him and scowled. “Why is it, when a woman is upset, worried, pissy, or angry, men always assume it’s PMS? Yet when a man gets upset, worried, pissy, or angry, we women don’t automatically blame it on semen backup or blue balls or something.”
Austin and Houston gaped at her for a long second before they both started howling with laughter. Laughing so hard it stole the starch out of her and made it hard to keep from grinning. Houston held his stomach with one hand and wiped the tears from his eyes with the other, while Austin slung his arm around her waist and pulled her to his chest, laughing like a loon.
“I-I’m sorry,” he stammered, still chuckling madly. “I didn’t mean to offend you or the female population.”
She lifted her chin defiantly, ready to tell him where to shove his apology, until she saw the hungry flicker in his eyes as they stilled on her lips. Thankfully, his back was to his brother. Still, Paige bit back a moan, quickly slapped a placid smile on her face. Then she murmured Houston’s name, pointedly staring at the man over Austin’s shoulder.
With a sneer, he whispered, “Can’t believe I’m getting cock-blocked by my own brother.”
Biting back a laugh, Paige darted a furtive glance Houston’s way. His expression told her their byplay hadn’t gone unnoticed. Though he wore a carefree smile, he held her with a piercing stare until Austin turned to face him.
“I’m out. You two enjoy this beautiful day. Paige, it was a pleasure to meet you.”
Was it?She wasn’t so sure.
“You, too.” She forced a polite smile as Austin clapped him on the back and walked him to his truck.
As Houston climbed in behind the wheel, he murmured something to Austin. Paige couldn’t hear what he’d said, but she didn’t miss the pride glowing on Austin’s face.
Paige was glad that what could have been an ugly confrontation had ended amicably…she hoped. She smiled and waved as Houston drove away, then smiled much wider when Austin strolled her way again.
“So, what do you have planned for your day off?” she asked as they settled back down on the blanket.
“The only plan I had was meeting the sexiest, sassiest girl on the planet, here by the pond, so I could give her some good news…and sneak a kiss or two.” He winked. “What about you? What plans did you make for today?”
“The only thing on my list was laundry, but I already finished that.”
A wicked smile tugged his lips. “What do you say we ease back onto the blanket, cuddle up close, and watch the clouds roll by?”
“I say that’s a marvelous idea.”
Cupping her nape, Austin kissed her so softly and tenderly, tears stung her eyes as he slowly eased them both back to the blanket. When he ended the kiss, Paige tamped down a whine of disappointment until he pulled her snug against his side.
“I’ve been thinking a lot since the other night when I told you about Ginny.”