Just With You

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CHAPTER 11

JACE

Sweat dripping down my forehead, I push myself to finish this last mile, feet pounding the pavement as I race back toward home. I have a date with Stella in an hour, and I still need to get showered and changed. Today was a shit shift, and I’m more than ready to spend some time with my favorite person.

We’ve been on a total of three dates in the last two weeks. We both have time-consuming jobs, so although we’ve made an effort to see each other as much as we can, it’s still not enough. Not for me, anyway. Clearly, a one-night stand with her wasn’t something that could stay just one night, and I think deep down we both knew that from the start. She slept curled up to me the entire night, and it took everything in me to not drag her to Vegas and beg her to marry me right then and there so I never had to be without her.

Stella Cole is a game changer.

She makes me laugh and forget about all the shit I see every single day, and I know it’s the same for her. As a social worker, I’m sure she’s had her fair share of crappy days, but she’s always so upbeat and happy that it’s hard to stay down when you’re around her.

Twenty minutes later, I step from the shower into the steam-filled bathroom, wrapping a towel around my waist. Knowing I don’t have enough time, I grab my electric razor and bring my stubble down as close to my skin I can, then quickly run a brush through my damp hair. I told Stella to dress comfortably even though she has no idea where we’re going, so I follow my own instructions and change into jeans and a T-shirt.

I’m heading to the kitchen to grab a water when my cell phone starts chirping in my pocket with an incoming call. Pulling it out, I’m greeted with the photo I took of Stella a couple weeks ago, and I swipe to answer with a smile on my face.

“Hey, you.”

“Jace, hi. I’m so sorry. I hate to do this, but I’m gonna need to cancel tonight.”

Disappointment washes over me, but I push past it. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah, my brother just had a work emergency come up. Something about his clients not having the right paperwork for the closing tomorrow, so he has to rush over and redo something. I have no idea, I’ve never understood real estate.”

“Makes me glad the sale of my place went easy. So what does that have to do with us?” I ask, confused about why I can’t still take her out.

“Jules, my niece. She’s only ten, so Mason asked me to watch her tonight for a couple hours while he goes and straightens everything out. Can we do another night this week?”

It only takes me about three seconds to decide. I hope she’s okay with it.

“What if she comes with us?” I offer.

“What?”

“Yeah, I’d planned on taking you out for burgers and then mini golfing. Bring Jules with us. I’d love to meet her.”

There’s silence on the other end of the call, and I realize she’s whispering to someone. I wait for her to come back to the line, and when she does, I hear screeching in the background.

“Mason is here dropping her off and said it’s okay. Jules is excited, if you couldn’t hear.” She laughs. “Thank you, Jace. It’s sweet of you to share our date with her.”

“You don’t have to thank me, Stell.”

“We’ll see you in a little bit, then. Bye.”

We end the call, and I grab my navy hoodie off the back of my couch. Checking to make sure I have my wallet and keys, I swing out the front door, locking it behind me. Minutes later I’m on the road, country music quietly playing from the speakers. It’s been on that station since our last date, and I have no desire to change it.

Ten minutes later, I pull into Stella’s driveway. Parking next to her car, I climb out and head up her short walkway, reaching out to ring the doorbell. A second later, the door is pulled open to reveal the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met, a smile pasted on her face. Reaching out for me, she winds her arms around my neck, and I take her lips with mine, smiling against her mouth.

“You look fucking beautiful,” I mumble, pulling back to place a kiss on her cheek.

“Stop.” She blushes, and I just shake my head at her. Her long hair is up in some sort of bun, and she’s in a pair of skintight jeans and a loose white blouse that exposes one of her shoulders.

“Never.”

She invites me inside, and I hear footsteps come running around the corner. The kid I assume is Jules skids into the room, a massive smile on her face. She has long brown hair like her aunt, and they even look similar except for Jules’s bright blue eyes.

“Hi, I’m Jules. Are you Jace?”

“I am. It’s a real pleasure to meet you, Jules. I’m happy to have you with us tonight.”

“Me too! Auntie Stella said we get to go mini golfing. I can’t wait!” Her excitement is infectious, and Stella laughs, reaching out to drape her arm over Jules’s shoulders.

“Shall we go?” I ask.

With a nod from Stella, I pull the front door open, ushering them outside. Stella locks her front door and walks hand in hand with Jules over to my car. Opening the passenger side door, I fold the front seat down and motion for Jules to climb in. She squeals with excitement and I chuckle, making sure she’s all set before pushing the front seat back in place for Stella.

“I’ve missed you this week,” Stella whispers to me before stealing another kiss.

Reaching up to cup her cheek, I pull away to look into those brown eyes I love.

“Missed you more.”

After helping her in, I stride around the hood of my car and get in behind the wheel. Starting the engine, I look into the rearview mirror to find Jules dancing to the music, then over to my girl.

“You ladies ready to roll?”

“Let’s go.”

Reaching out, I rest my hand on Stella’s thigh and squeeze. With a roar of my engine, we take off, our new and improved date night ready to get started.

§

“Auntie Stella, you’re winning. But I just need to get a hole in one to tie with you!” Jules holds out her hand to high-five Stella, and they both laugh.

“What about Jace? He’s doing okay, right?” Stella asks, and Jules just covers her mouth and giggles. She holds the card up to Stella, and I watch her struggle to hold the laugh in. My mini golf skills aren’t the greatest, so I have the highest score, which we all know isn’t the goal.

“Okay, okay, okay. I suck at this game. Laugh it up, ladies. But there’s an arcade next door, and you can bet your butts that I’m kicking yours in skeeball.”

“I can’t wait to see that,” Jules singsongs, then runs over to put her ball down at the start of the next hole.

Stella strides over to me, and I toss my arm around her shoulders, pulling her close to my side.

“She’s really sweet, Stell. Your brother’s gonna have his hands full with her in a couple years.”

“I love that girl. I know I’ve thanked you a million times since dinner, but thank you for letting her come. I don’t see her nearly enough, and I know she’s really enjoyed this. Mason’s been stressed with work, and I know her mom is busy with shifts. She’s a nurse in the ICU at Memorial.”

Nodding, I kiss her on the forehead, and we both laugh when Jules starts jumping up and down, her hands in the air. “I did it! Hole in one!”

“That’s my girl,” Stella says, reaching out to hug her. They both do a little celebration dance, and my heart swells when Jules reaches out to hug me really fast. “Thank you, Jace. I can’t wait to tell my dad that I did so good. He’s gonna be so jealous he didn’t come!”

“Next time we’ll invite him with us,” I tell her, and Stella grins at me.

“Let’s go return our clubs, and then last one to the car is a rotten egg,” Stella jokes, and I’m quickly left standing at the final hole, watching them both go running hand in hand back toward the entrance.

Following behind them, I take my time, in no hurry for this night to end. While we were at dinner, Mason sent Stella a text letting her know that everything was settled with work, so we could drop Jules off at his place on the way home if we wanted. Stella and I agreed; that way we didn’t have her out too late. We played two rounds of golf, so it’s now closing in on eight o’clock.

Catching up to the girls, I find them doing some sort of dance together, both laughing and bright-eyed.

“Who wants to grab ice cream?” I ask, and they both cheer. Jules starts doing that floss dance, and Stella reaches out to kiss me, her sweet scent filling my senses.

I need to find out what kind of lotion or perfume she wears and buy stock in it, because it’s officially my new favorite smell.

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