“I’m too heavy and dirty.” Sara’s brow furrowed as she looked up at Austin, squinting because the sun was in her eyes.
He had a lot of responses to her comment, but none that he thought she’d be happy about him saying out loud in the large crowd that surrounded them. Leaning down, he whispered in her ear, “I like it when you’re dirty, and I think we both know you’re not too heavy for me to lift up and—”
“Stop!” She slapped his chest and shook her head as a smile spread on her mud-smeared face. “Fine. But only because my ankle really hurts. And this time, it has to be a piggyback ride. I don’t want any more comments and people getting the wrong idea.”
They wouldn’t be. If it were up to him, they’d go to the courthouse today and get married. Him carrying her like a bride would give people exactly the idea he wanted them to have. That way, everyone would know that she was his.
He bent down so she could hop on his back. She nuzzled against his neck and whispered, “I can’t believe I’m letting you do this.”
“I can’t believe you thought you had a choice.”
She playfully swatted him again. “Well, I guess it’s the price you pay for not listening to me. I told you I wasn’t athletic.”
Yeah, she had. And he’d still talked her into doing the annual mud run with him, which he now wanted to kick his own ass for. Not that she’d hurt herself during the run. The race had gone off without incident. No, the injury had occurred when they’d crossed the finish line and she’d been so happy she’d jumped up and down while turning to hug him. On the down part, she’d wobbled and cried out in pain. Thankfully, he’d already had an arm around her, so she hadn’t fallen. But when he’d seen her face go pale, his chest had felt like it was being twisted by a clamp. He’d immediately scooped her up and taken her to the medic. And, yes, he’d carried her like a groom carries his bride over the threshold, which had garnered more than a few whistles and cheers from the peanut gallery AKA Jess, Ethan, Ali, Kade, Brynn, and Axel.
He hadn’t even registered them at the time. All he’d thought about was getting her to a doctor. He’d really only started breathing again once the medic had assured him nothing was broken and it was most likely just a mild sprain. She’d been instructed to ice and elevate it, put an ACE bandage on it, take some ibuprofen, and rest.
Austin saw that once she’d learned it wasn’t broken, she was no longer taking the injury seriously. But he sure as hell was. There was no way she was walking on it until he was convinced she was totally healed.
“I actually had more fun than I thought I would. I mean up until the searing pain.” She teased as she placed a kiss on his neck.
“You really are a brat.”
“Me?” she asked with large doses of innocence and amusement in her voice.
“Yes. You.” Seeing her hurt had made him sick, and she knew it.
While the EMT had checked her out, she’d kept saying he might want to get examined as well, citing reasons like his face being so green his skin matched his eyes, and other creative ways of saying he looked like he was about to upchuck. He’d told her it wasn’t funny, but she’d said she begged to differ, because she was certainly enjoying herself.
He loved that. He loved that over the past two days she’d relaxed, was living in the moment and joking around, even if it was at his expense.
The past two days had been like a dream.
Austin knew the bubble they’d been living in was going to pop. The kids were coming home this evening and the dynamic would change. They hadn’t talked about the future, but he just had to trust that the time they’d spent together had meant as much to her as it had to him. That it’d shown her how right the two of them were. That they fit. That they’re perfect together.
He was so lost in thought he didn’t even realize they’d made it back to the B&B until Sara gasped and told him to put her down.
“What? No.” He tightened his hold when she started wiggling her legs.
Looking up, he saw Charlotte and Trevor barreling toward them. His first instinct was to block them from Sara’s ankle. “Hey, guys. Mommy hurt her foot, so be careful.”
“What happened? Are you okay?” Trevor slid to a stop in front of them.
“Why are you so dirty?” Charlotte asked as she crashed into his legs and wrapped her arms around them.
“We were in the mud run,” he explained as he gently set Sara down.
Trevor’s face twisted. “Why would you run in mud?”
“Good question.” Sara looked up at him with a small smile before turning her attention to the kids. “I missed you so much. I want to hug and kiss you but I’m all messy.”
“I don’t care, Mama.” Charlotte threw her arms around Sara’s legs.
“Hey, sorry to just show up like this. I tried your cell last night but it went straight to voicemail,” Jack explained as he and Valentina approached them.
“Oh, um… I must’ve forgotten to charge it.”
Austin noticed the blush on Sara’s cheeks, and even though it might make him an asshole considering the present company, he liked that he was the one who’d put it there.
Lifting her hand to block the sun, Sara tilted her head to the side. “I checked my messages this morning and didn’t see anything from you.”
“I didn’t leave a message. I wanted to get on the road. I have to fly out this afternoon.”
“Oh, okay.” Sara looked down at herself. “Well, I’m a mess, but if you can just bring their bags in—”
“Actually, I wanted to talk to you.” Jack took a step closer to Sara. “Privately.”
As much as he hated the thought of Jack needing to talk privately with Sara, he hated seeing her flustered and overwhelmed even more.
“I’ll take the kids over to the diner,” Austin offered. “We’ll grab some breakfast to go and be back in about fifteen.”
He may want to eliminate the stress of Sara trying to figure out how to speak to her ex, but he didn’t want Jack to think he had unlimited time with her. It wasn’t that he disliked Jack, he actually thought he was a good guy. He just didn’t want any man thinking they had unlimited time with her.
Her face scrunched up in the adorable, sexy way he loved, and Austin had to stop himself from leaning down and kissing her. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah.” He nodded and gave her a wink. “I’ll drive.”
She smiled at the kids who were already jumping up and down and telling him what they wanted for breakfast. He headed across the street, one hand holding Trevor’s and the other holding Charlotte’s, knowing when they got back, he would make sure Sara didn’t overdo it. He knew this was right. Him. The kids. Her. Them. They were right.
Now all he had to do was convince her.