“No.” He snagged the bag from her hands, and tossed it into the dumpster. “I’ve got it. Where’s Nate? Why isn’t he hauling that heavy thing in the trash for you?”
“Don’t go there.” She scowled. “Don’t go pulling that misogynistic crap on me.”
She spooks so easily now. Paige’s voice echoed in his brain.
Austin raised his hands and took a huge step back. “I wasn’t trying to be overbearing, just wanted to help.”
“Fuck!” she spat. “I’m sorry, Austin. I—”
“Nothing to be sorry for, darlin’.” He winked. “Paige told me she was helping with your beer tent today.”
“She is, thankfully. She’s inside…alone.” Gina smirked. “While you go in and say hi, I think I’ll take a little break out here.”
“Yes. You don’t want to overdo before the party gets going.”
“Speaking of getting going, don’t get overly…busy in there. I’ve got too much work to do to sit out here for long.”
“We’ll keep our clothes on.” He chuckled.
As he stepped into the back room, Paige’s ass flashed like neon as she leaned into the cooler, counting cases of beer.
“You got twelve cold kegs. Nate’s already hauled three outside. I counted sixty-four cases in here. I don’t think you’re gonna run out of beer anytime soon,” Paige called over her shoulder before she stood and closed the door to the big cooler.
“That’s good to know, but I don’t plan on—”
She let out a blood-curdling scream. As she spun around, her eyes were wide and shimmering in fear.
“Whoa. Easy, little girl,” he whispered, gathering her trembling body against him. “It’s just me.”
“I know that now,” she panted. “But with Nate out front and Gina out back, I wasn’t expecting to hear some man’s deep voice behind him. Dammit, Austin, you nearly made me pee my pants.”
“That’s better than shitting them, isn’t it?” He grinned.
“Ha, ha. Not funny. My heart is still racing.”
“Maybe I should give it another reason to beat fast,” he drawled before pressing a passionate kiss to her lips.
Paige moaned and melted against him.
“I like it racing this way much better,” she murmured against his mouth.
Cinching a hand in her hair, he kissed her harder, then eased back as his cock started to thicken and grow.
“Gina warned me she’d be coming back in soon. I should probably go before she grabs Martha and beats me over the head for fraternizing with the employees.”
“She’s not paying me.” Paige laughed.
“No, but you can’t work if you’ve screamed yourself hoarse,” Gina teased, strolling in back door.
“I’ll text you later after I scope out someplace private we can watch the fireworks.”
“Deal. You’ll come by and get a beer before that, won’t you?”
“Every hour on the hour.”
“Oh, my god. You’ll be so shit-faced you’ll pass out before the fireworks even start.
“I didn’t say I was gonna drink them all.” He kissed her fast and hard, then flashed her a devilish grin. “I’ll see you soon, little girl.”
He left her in the back room, rosy-cheeked and grinning, before striding through the bar and out onto the sidewalk.
At one o’clock, after visiting Paige at the beer tent twice, Austin leaned against a light pole and sipped his brew while everyone around him cheered and clapped as the parade went by.
Between the high school marching band and the homecoming queen waving—on the back of Bubba’s prized 1966 red Thunderbird convertible—an eclectic collection of tractors, combines, and flatbeds decorated and loaded with Reverend Thompson and the ladies Bible study group, the Presbyterian choir singing off-key, and bunch of grinning kids and a couple of sheep from the 4-H Club—trekked down Main Street. There was even a clown, who looked a lot like Waylon Marshall, owner of Marshall’s Dry Goods, handing out candy and balloon animals to the kids.
Life in Haven was like living in a fishbowl. But there was a simplicity to the town, and the people, that Austin wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.
When the parade ended Austin ran into his dad and Bubba at Toot’s hot dog and hamburger hut. After they each purchased a burger, they sat on an empty bench outside the new bakery, still under construction, and chowed down.
At three o’clock on the dot, Mayor Berger stepped onto the same platform Austin had received his plaque, and welcomed everyone to the annual Fourth of July Celebration.
Thirty minutes later, after thanking everyone but the company that made the damn streamers, Mayor Berger turned toward the end of the stage and motioned for someone to join him.
Austin craned his neck and blinked when he spotted Johnny, all but dragging Paige up the steps. Anger spiked as he shouldered his way through the crowd, until he was standing right in front of the stage. Austin didn’t know if something was wrong or if the sea of faces was too intimidating, but Paige looked utterly terrified.
“For those of you who don’t know,” the mayor began. “this here’s Johnny Tassel, our good friend Raymond Nelson’s ranch hand.”
“Foreman,” Johnny corrected.
“My apologies, son. Raymond Nelson’s foreman. He’s asking for a minute of your time to make a special announcement.”
Johnny smiled and took the microphone while Paige gaped at him as if he’d grown a second head.
“Thank you, Mayor, and thank you, fine people of Haven. A lot of you have called, concerned about Raymond’s health. It pains me to tell you that Raymond is in a hospital in Denton, fighting for his life.”
No, he’s not.Suddenly, a dreadful thought circled his brain. Fuck. Had Raymond taken a turn for the worse today?
A glance at Paige told him no. If the old man had suffered a relapse or a heart attack, she’d be speeding to Denton to be by his side.
What the fuck is going on?