Slowly waking up, I roll over and find myself alone in my bed. I sit up, the blanket pooling in my lap as I yawn loudly. Climbing out of bed, I make a stop in my bathroom to empty my bladder and brush my teeth. As I head out to the living room, I prepare myself to be disappointed if Jace took off, but the banging noises coming from my kitchen tell me otherwise. Carefully peeking into my kitchen, I have to suppress a laugh when I see the mess on my counters.
He’s standing with his back to me, wearing a pair of impossibly tight jeans and a white tee. His hair looks darker, still damp at the ends. He’s attempting to cook breakfast, but from what I can see, it’s a lost cause.
While his attention is still on the stove in front of him, I slip into the kitchen and step up behind him, wrapping my arms around his waist from behind.
“Morning, Stella.” He chuckles, spinning around to drop a kiss to my lips.
“Morning. You smell good,” I say, leaning forward to bury my nose in his neck.
“Ran home to shower, and now I’m making us breakfast.”
“I can see that,” I joke, moving around him to pick up what I’m assuming started as a pancake but resembles more of a piece of charcoal. “Should I throw this out in the yard, start a campfire?” I joke.
With a laugh, Jace grabs me around the waist and hoists me up onto the counter.
“I know, I’m a man who can’t cook. Shocking, right?”
“Not even a little,” I tease, kissing him as I wind my arms around his neck.
“You could have cleaned up here, you know,” I say softly.
“I didn’t want to be presumptuous. I actually only live a couple miles from here, so it didn’t take long.”
Shaking my head, I place a kiss to his lips, unable to believe a man like him even exists.
“Why don’t you go take a shower, and I’ll clean this mess up. We can go somewhere for breakfast,” he says, brushing my hair off my face.
“Give me ten minutes.”
Hopping down, I head back to my bathroom to get ready. Pulling my hair up on top of my head, I hop into the shower and hurry through my routine. When I’m finished, I step into my bedroom to get dressed. Pulling on my favorite jean shorts and a pink tank, I shove my feet into my Birkenstock sandals and decide I’m good to go. I don’t bother with any makeup, but I do pinch my cheeks a little to bring some color to them.
I find Jace waiting for me in the living room, his feet up on the coffee table. He’s looking down at something on his phone, and I take a moment to just stand there and drink him in. He’s got just the right amount of stubble, and his dark blond hair is brushed back off his face. He’s freaking beautiful. Weird to call a grown man in his thirties beautiful, but he really is.
“You ready?” I ask, making my presence known.
“You know it.”
Standing from the couch, he grabs his keys from his pocket and strides over to the front door, unlocking it and then holding it open for me. With a smile, I grab my purse from the entry table and head out after him, locking the door behind us.
“So where are we going?” I question, stomach growling loudly.
“You ever been to that diner a couple blocks over?”
“No, but I’ve heard good things about it.”
Jace holds the passenger door open for me, and I climb inside, watching him jog around the hood. A second later he drops down behind the wheel, looking at me with a huge grin.
“Their food is amazing.”
With a roar of the engine, we pull out of my driveway. Jace rolls the windows down, and I grab my sunglasses from my purse. It’s a beautiful day already, and it’s only just begun.
I’m looking out the window when I feel a hand on my bare thigh. I find Jace focused on the road, his rough hand gripping my leg. Reaching down, I thread our fingers together and lean over to kiss his cheek.
“So, tell me something about yourself,” I begin, using his words from last night.
“What do you want to know?”
“Everything, but for now, whatever you want to tell me.”
Jace makes a show of thinking of something, and I laugh at him.
“I have a nephew, Paxton. He’s almost one month old, and I swear, Stella, he is the coolest baby in the entire world.”
“Drew’s little boy?”
He laughs. “No, my good friend Brody. He and his older brother Garret are like brothers to me, so I consider Paxton to be my nephew. Garret has been my best friend for a long time. We were partners for over a decade, but he’s moved up in the department. He’s a detective now, working big cases. He’s one hell of an officer.”
“You sound pretty proud of him,” I muse, turning in my seat to face him.
“Yeah, I really am. I miss working with him, that’s for sure. But Eli Holt, my new partner? He’s pretty awesome. I trust him, and that’s the most important thing.”
“Oh, I’m sure. You have to know the person you’re riding with every day has your back.”
We pull into the diner, and he turns to me with a large grin. “Ready?”
“Let’s do it,” I tell him, and my stomach growls again, causing us to laugh.
We walk inside together, and Jace grabs my hand while we wait to be seated. When we’re taken to a booth in the corner, he waits until I’m sitting down before sliding in across from me.
“So, what else do you have planned for today?” I ask, reaching for the menu.
“Up to you. Whatever you’d like to do,” he tells me with a wink, peering at me over the top of his own menu.
“Oh yeah? Okay. Well, I’m totally down with having a movie marathon of chick flicks, and wine and chocolate and—”
“Okay, fine. I’ll take the reins,” Jace cuts me off with a grimace.
I go to say something more, but an older woman steps over to our table, her smile growing wide when she trains her eyes on my date.
“Well, Jace Miller, I haven’t seen you in almost a month. How you doin’, sweetheart?”
Jace laughs and gets up from the table, pulling her into a bear hug.
“Doing great, Aunt May. How are you? How’s Uncle Eddie?”
“You know your uncle. The old geezer is still busy making me crazy.”
“Good ole Uncle Eddie. I haven’t talked to Gen in a while. How’s she holding up?”
A look of sadness crosses her face, and I watch a similar look pass over Jace’s.
“She’s doing all right, honey. We’re hoping things will change, but you know my daughter. Just as hardheaded as her daddy. But enough of that. Who’s this pretty thing with you?”
Jace hooks his arm around his aunt’s shoulders and turns her toward me. “Aunt May, I’d like to introduce you to this pretty lady here. Stella Cole, this is Aunt May, my stunning and favorite aunt.”
Reaching out to shake her hand, I give her a warm smile that she returns. “It’s very nice to meet you, May. Jace told me this was the best place in town for breakfast.”
“That’s my nephew, always doing good by his family. And breakfast here is all right. It was better when I was the one cooking it, but now I just host and mingle with our customers.”
“Well, what would you recommend? I’m up for anything,” I tell her, setting my menu back down on the table.
“Veggie omelet, home fries, and bacon. Best we have.”
After some more small talk, May heads back over to the counter, and we’re left alone.
“She’s really sweet,” I muse, looking over my shoulder at her. I have to force back the prick of tears when I realize just how much she reminds me of my mom.
“Aunt May is the best. She’s married to my dad’s younger brother, and she’s my godmother. We all grew up together. Our family is super close.” “Who is Gen?” I ask, brushing my hair off my shoulder.
“My cousin. She’s a few years younger than me, but we were best friends growing up. She’s a schoolteacher a few towns over. I haven’t seen her in way too long. She’s dating this guy who’s a real piece of work. We’re all worried about her.”
“I’m sorry,” I say, reaching across to grab Jace’s hands. He smiles at me, and goes to continue when he’s interrupted by the waitress finally coming over to our table.
“Hi, I’m Stacy, and I’ll be taking care of you today. What can I get you?”
I order May’s suggestion, and Jace orders enough food for an army. I raise an eyebrow at him, and he laughs. “I’m a growing boy, what can I say?”
“Pretty sure you’re full grown,” I mumble, my cheeks heating when I realize how that came out.
Jace just laughs at me, and after a minute of dying from embarrassment, I laugh along with him.
Stacy comes over with a pot of coffee and a couple mugs a few moments later, filling them for us and then leaving us alone.
“So, you said you have an older brother. You guys tight?” Jace asks me, taking a sip of his black coffee.
I stir cream and sugar into mine and nod at him.
“Yeah, he’s my best friend. He’s five years older than me, but we’ve always been really close.” I avoid telling him that he raised me after Mom and Dad died; I’m not ready to have that conversation. Different time and a different place, maybe.
“In case I didn’t tell you, you look beautiful this morning.” He gives me that devilish smile of his.
“Thanks. I didn’t feel like bothering with makeup, so I apologize for the bags under my eyes. A certain handsome cop wore me out last night.” I wink.
He reaches across the table and cups my cheek, leaning over to give me a soft kiss. Pulling back, he gently rubs his thumb over my bottom lip. “I like seeing your freckles.”
“If you say so,” I mumble, then turn my head away from him as the waitress brings our food over. My stomach growls at the plate of food in front of me. It smells delicious, but I start laughing when I see Jace has three in front of him.
“I’d love to know where it’s all gonna go,” I tease him, reaching for my fork.
“Good genes. Plus, I work out every day. I mean, you saw my smokin’-hot bod, Stella.”
“What mirror do you look into, Miller?” I ask, reaching for the napkin ring next to me.
“The one in my bathroom,” he retorts, not missing a beat as he reaches for his cup of coffee. Rolling my eyes at him, I dig into my food and instantly know I made the right decision asking May what she suggested. The food is incredible, and I watch Jace practically inhale his.
“Told you,” he says between bites. “This place is the best.”
“I’m coming here every single day,” I groan, shoveling more home fries into my mouth and then giggling around it when Jace shifts around in his seat, clearly uncomfortable.
“Can you not make noises like that, Stella? Jesus, the things that does to me.”
We finish our breakfast while making small talk, and I swear every time he smiles, I melt. Jace just has a way of drawing you in, and it’s not hard to find myself under his spell.
While we wait for the check, he reaches across the table for my hands and holds them tight in his.
“So, a couple blocks over is this great nursery. Wanna help me pick out some flowers?” I ask, laughing when his eyes widen in shock.
“Like help you pick them out or push the cart? ’Cause I know nothing about gardening.”
“Like spend some time with me and push the cart,” I tease, which earns me a wink in return.
Stacy brings the check and Jace grabs it, reaching into his back pocket for his wallet and then leaving a few bills on the table. Helping me up from my seat, he walks me out of the restaurant, kissing Aunt May on the cheek as we pass by her.
“So nice to meet you, sweet Stella!”
“Nice to meet you!”
Waving at her, we head out the door and step out onto the sidewalk. Jace looks down at me, squeezing my hand tight.
“Let’s go get you some flowers, Stella Cole.”