“Congrats, you two. She’s beautiful.” Holding my new niece in my arms, I run my finger down the side of her tiny cheek, her skin softer than anything I’ve ever felt. Hadley Nacole Walker came into this world only a few hours ago, and I couldn’t be happier for my best friend.
Being careful with the precious bundle in my arms, I lean down to kiss Sadie’s cheek, the smile on her face permanent.
“Thank you, Jace. I’m glad you were able to sneak over here,” she jokes, motioning to my work uniform. I was out with Eli when we got the call that Sadie was in labor, but Garret told me he’d call when she was born. There was no need to rush over.
She’s got a full head of dark hair, and even in her sleep she looks just like her mommy. I’d bet my life that she’ll have Garret’s blue eyes though.
“So Garret tells me you met someone. When do we get to meet her?” Sadie asks, her eyes full of love.
“Soon. It’s only been a month or so, but she’s something special. I could totally see myself ending up with her.”
“Damn, man. Falling in love already, huh? Such a sap,” Garret jokes, and if it wasn’t for his baby in my arms, I’d smack him upside the head.
“No I’m not, jackass. But for the record, you were in love with this one for months before anything even happened. At least I’m dating Stella.”
“Watch it, fucker.”
Chuckling, I pull Hadley closer to me and whisper, “It’s okay, sweetheart. Your daddy has a filthy mouth, but Uncle Jace will teach you manners.”
Sadie laughs, and Garret tries like hell to narrow his eyes at me, but he loses the battle. The little pink bundle has everyone wrapped around her finger when her eyes blink open and she lets out a tiny sigh.
Yeah. I’m a complete goner.
“Sorry I’m late. There was road work on the street next to my house, but I’m here.”
Apologizing profusely, I give Ashley a squeeze and sit down across from her. We’re at Walker’s Taphouse for dinner and drinks. It’s been a few weeks since we closed out the Katy James case, and my heart still aches thinking about it. But getting the call just a bit ago from Jace that Garret and his wife had their baby was a reminder that there’s still a whole lot of good and beautiful in this world. Jace sounded like such a proud uncle, and I have to admit, it turned me into a big old pile of mush.
“No worries, girl. I was just enjoying the eye candy at the bar,” she jokes, and I follow her line of sight to see a group of guys who all look to be in their midtwenties sharing a pitcher of beer.
“My best friend’s a cougar. Who could have guessed?”
Feigning hurt, she tosses her hair back, and we both burst out laughing.
Our waitress comes to the table, and we each order a glass of wine and decide to share the chicken nachos for dinner. When our drinks arrive, we clink them together and I take a sip, the chardonnay the perfect end to the day.
“So, how’s Jace?” she asks, taking a drink from her own glass.
“He’s great. Busy with work, but we know how that is.”
“I have no idea what you mean.” Ashley laughs, twirling the stem of the wineglass between her fingers.
“I’m going to his parents’ for dinner tomorrow night,” I tell her, and her eyes widen.
“How do you feel about that?”
“Honestly?” I ask, and she nods, reaching out to grip my hand for just a moment. “I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve known from pretty much the beginning that Jace comes from a tight-knit family. He talks about them all the time. And the truth? Losing Mom and Dad doesn’t mean I can’t handle meeting other people’s families. Yes, it makes me sad, and I know deep down that they would have loved Jace. He’s so much like my dad. They’d have been fast friends.”
I pause to drink some more wine, and Ashley doesn’t say anything, just waits for me to continue.
“I can’t change my past, Ash. It’s been a long time, and I’ve come to terms with it. I miss them something fierce, but they’re gone. I can’t change that. Maybe this is my chance to have my own family again.”
My friend gives me a warm smile, and we both look up to see our waitress coming toward the table with our food. Handing us small plates and napkins, she asks if we need anything, and Ashley tells her we’re all set.
The rest of the night is filled with laughter and catching up on what’s going on in Ashley’s life. She tells me that she’s still seeing that guy from the bar, not that I’m surprised. She did nothing but gush about him after that night.
We’re waiting for the check to come when my cell phone beeps with a text, and I steal a glance at my phone to see it’s Jace.
“Do you mind?” I ask her, and she shakes her head at me.
Jace: Hey, you excited for tomorrow?
Stella: Can’t wait. I’m gonna bake some brownies to bring, if that’s okay?
Jace: Dad will love you if you put walnuts in them.
Jace: I really wish I hadn’t agreed to overtime. I miss you.
Stella: Miss you too.
Jace: I’ll call you tonight. Have fun with Ashley.
Stella: Be safe.
Sighing, I tuck my phone back into my purse and watch Ashley swipe the check from the table. “I got it this time. You can pay next time, babe.”
“Sounds good,” I agree.
“What’s wrong? You didn’t seem so happy just a second ago.”
“I miss him. Is that normal?”
Humor glints in her eyes. “Normal? To miss your boyfriend? I think so.”
“He’s not my boyfriend.”
She gives me an “Are you fucking kidding me?” look, and we both laugh.
“Okay, he’s my boyfriend. But still. I just saw him two nights ago, and we spend every free moment we have talking on the phone or texting.”
“Yes, goofball. It’s normal to miss him. You’re starting to fall in love with him, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, I am,” I sheepishly admit.
As we’re walking outside a few minutes later, I give Ashley a hug and tell her I’ll see her Monday at the office. Getting into my car, I go to plug my cell into the charger when I pull up my texts and send another to Jace.
Stella: My spare key is under the blue potted plant on my porch. I don’t care what time you get off, come over tonight.
Jace: It’s gonna be well after midnight.
Stella: I don’t care. Please?
Jace: Okay. Don’t stay up for me though. I’ll be quiet when I come in.
Stella: See you later.
It doesn’t take long before I’m pulling into my driveway, tired and ready to hop in the shower. Grabbing my keys and purse, I head inside, locking up as I go. Kicking off my heels at the front door, I walk back toward my bedroom and switch the light on. Stopping at my bureau to grab an oversized shirt to sleep in, I go right into my bathroom and turn on the water. Making sure I tie my hair up in a knot, I take the fastest shower possible and jump out, drying off and changing into the shirt I laid out.
Throwing the wet towel into my hamper, I grab my cell from where I left it and plug it in, setting it down on my end table. Shutting my light off, I pick up my Kindle from the top of my desk and climb into bed, getting comfy so I can settle down with the latest book from my favorite author.
When my eyes start to grow heavy, I switch the device off and set it on the table next to my phone. I check for any new messages, and when I don’t see any, I roll over to my side and close my eyes, sleep taking no time at all to overtake me.