Just With You

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CHAPTER 21

Standing in front of my floor-length mirror, I take in my reflection, making sure I look good for tonight. I chose a pale shimmery pink dress, cut off midthigh in a floaty material, the top halter style. My long brown hair is wavy, and I went heavier on my makeup than I normally would, with a dark red lipstick and smoky eyes.

Stepping into my nude sky-high heels, I move to my vanity and spritz myself with Jace’s favorite perfume. Picking up the small clutch on my bed, I’m putting my essentials and the tube of lipstick I’m wearing into it when my doorbell chimes. Butterflies ripple through my stomach, and I rush to the front door. I haven’t seen Jace yet today, claiming I had a last-minute work thing so I could surprise him this afternoon with the party.

Pulling the front door open, I find Jace standing on my doorstep in a short-sleeved navy button-down, tight black dress slacks, and dress shoes to match. His hair is brushed back off his face, and he’s got the perfect amount of stubble like always.

“Holy fuck,” he breathes, stepping inside the living room.

“Happy birthday, Jace,” I whisper and press a soft kiss to his lips, wrapping my arms around his shoulders.

“You look fucking perfect. I’m the luckiest man in the world, Stella Cole.” His woodsy cologne surrounds us, and if it wasn’t for what’s waiting for him at the bar, I’d have his pants down in a heartbeat, but I force myself to keep control.

“Come on, birthday boy. We have somewhere to be.”

“Is it your bed?” he jokes, and I smirk.

“Tonight. And your bed.”

“Oh yeah?” He raises an eyebrow at me.

I laugh. “Yeah. And for the record, I’m not bringing anything with me to your house, so I hope you have something I can wear.”

Jace groans and holds the front door open for me, locking it behind us as we go. He helps me get into his car, and I settle my dress around me, nervous to see his reaction to the party. I have no idea if he’s gonna like what we’ve done.

Jace gets in and I direct him to Walker’s. For a moment he looks disappointed, shocked that’s all we’re doing, and I internally cheer. We got him, and my nerves are gone. He has no idea what we’re gonna be walking into.

When we pull into the parking lot, he strolls around the hood before coming to get me. Grabbing my left hand, he presses his lips to the back of it and gives me that smile I love so much. “Thank you, Stell. I’ve never really celebrated my birthday once I hit thirty, so dinner with my best girl and then her in my bed sounds like the best gift ever.”

He pulls the heavy wooden door open and ushers us inside. As soon as we step into the bar, we see that it’s pitch black, and I sense him whip his head around to me. “What the hell?”

“Shit, are they not open?” I ask him, the code for Brody, and suddenly the bar is lit up.

“Surprise! Happy birthday!” is shouted from all around.

Jace jumps back and I laugh, the look on his face one of complete shock and happiness. Turning his head to me he throws his head back and laughs, scooping me up in his arms.

“Thank you,” he whispers, and I kiss him hard.

“You’re welcome.”

Setting me down, he keeps a tight hold of my hand as he begins to greet and thank everyone. I see Garret on the other side of the room, and he raises his beer bottle at me. I nod at him with a smile, and his wife, Sadie, beams at me from beside him. I met them both last week when we doubled for dinner, and they’re such good people. Jace is just surrounded by goodness, and I’m so grateful to be part of it now.

I see Jules across the room grinning in excitement, so I tap Jace on the shoulder to give him a heads-up. Releasing my hand, he drops to a knee and holds his arms out. She races across the room to give him a huge hug, and he tosses her up in the air.

“Happy birthday, Jace! Auntie Stella invited me and my daddy. Are you surprised?”

“Yeah, sweetheart, I was pretty surprised. And I love the party dress. Very grown-up looking.”

She blushes, and Mason comes over to us, holding a hand out to Jace. He wishes him a happy birthday and kisses me on the cheek.

“You look beautiful, Stell. So much like Mom it’s not even funny.” He clears his throat and then heads over toward the bar. My eyes mist but I blink them away, pasting on my best smile. Mason and emotions are not two things that usually go hand in hand, and lately he’s been showing them an awful lot more often.

I know he’s happy for Jace and me, but deep down I think he’s scared he’s losing me. That it’s no longer just the three of us. I want so badly for Mason to find someone to settle down with, but he’s always focused on making Jules a priority.

“So, was this all your own doing?” Jace asks, breaking me out of my head.

“Nah, man. It was me too,” Drew says and gives Jace a hard hug. “Happy birthday, bro. Thirty-five looks good on you.”

“I know. You don’t have to remind me.”

Jace shoves Drew and they mess around. I just shake my head and walk over to the bar to get my own drink.

“Hey, Stella, what can we get you?” Brody asks, his arm around a gorgeous blonde with huge brown eyes.

“You got any Riesling back there?” I question, and he nods.

The blonde smiles at me. “Hi, I’m Lindsey, this idiot’s wife. It’s so nice to meet you.”

“Lindsey, hi. Heard so many great things about you from Jace.”

Brody slides a wineglass toward me, and I take it with a smile. Looking around the room, I watch Jace interact with all his friends and family. As I take a sip of wine, I feel an arm come around my shoulders. Looking up, I find Clint standing there with a wide grin.

“My boy picked good. And great party, Stella. You and Drew got him real good.”

He doesn’t say any more, just turns around to get his own drink. I turn back to the party, music beginning to pump through the sound system. Drew and I spent a couple hours together on FaceTime the other night getting the music coordinated, making sure we added just the right amount of country to not annoy Jace but also satisfy our love for it.

Once Ed Sheeran starts singing about a castle, everyone starts dancing and having fun. I find Jace toward the back of the room. He holds an arm out to me, and I set my half-full glass down and walk over to him. Immediately he pulls me into his arms, and we start dancing, his face buried in my neck. I run my hand up and down his back as we sway to the music.

It’s only hours later, when the bar is filled with regular customers and his party begins to disperse, that I realize the smile never left his face all night. Drew and I pulled off our surprise, and it was worth every second.

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