“How was work?” Stella asks when she steps into my living room hours later, shoes in her hand.
“It was good. Got to see Matt Waterhouse. Some shit went down at his place, and I had to help him out.”
Stella freezes, leg up in the air as she pulls on her sneakers. “Wait, back up. Matt Waterhouse? As in Matt Waterhouse, guitarist for Dark Roads, only the hottest country band ever?”
“The one and only.”
“How do you know him?”
“The band comes into Brody’s whenever they’re in town. I’ve met them all a bunch of times.”
Stella marches over to me and smacks me in the chest, though not hard, and I laugh. “What was that for?”
“I can’t believe you never told me you knew them. I love Dark Roads.”
“I guess I didn’t really think about it. Next time they’re in town, I’ll make sure you meet them, okay?”
Stella kisses me softly and lets out a deep sigh.
“Okay, fine. But I’m still jealous. You ready to go?”
Making a show of looking down at my jeans and sneakers, I nod. She just shakes her head at me and reaches for her purse on the couch.
As we head toward Mason’s place, she tells me about her day, and I find myself just watching her, the late afternoon sun streaming over her face. Three months I’ve had this amazing woman in my life, and every day gets better than the one before it.
“So, tell me, Mase. When are you gonna find yourself someone to settle down with?” I’m standing next to my brother as we finish washing the dishes from dinner while Jace and Jules play Sorry in the living room.
Mason scoffs. “Yeah, ’cause I have time for that, right, Stell?”
Knocking my hip against his, I shake my head. “You have plenty of time. You just need to make it. Jace and I both have demanding jobs, and we still make time for each other almost every day.”
“Okay, but neither of you has a ten-year-old daughter thrown into the mix, an ex who you have to co-parent with, and a job that, while you’re successful at, you hate.”
Mason hands me the last plate to dry, but I set it in the drying rack, abandoning the towel I was using. “Wait, what?”
“Forget I said anything,” he tells me, reaching into the fridge for a beer. He offers me one, but I shake my head at him.
“Mase, talk to me. What’s wrong at the office?”
Taking a long pull of his beer, he rubs his forehead and sinks down at the breakfast table, motioning to the chair next to him.
“I love selling real estate, Stell. You know that. And I’m really fucking good at it. But lately business has just slowed down. The market isn’t the greatest, and I’m starting to think I need to change my focus, move to commercial business.”
“So why don’t you do that?” I ask, crossing my arms over my chest. “Mason, I know you better than anyone. Your drive is unlike any other agent you work with, and you know it.”
“Because I’m scared to, okay? Twenty years ago, this job was a means to keep you with me. I couldn’t lose you to the system, no fucking way. And now I have a daughter to support. I can’t just risk it all, Stella.”
Mason drains the rest of his beer and slams it on the table, his eyes pained, features filled with stress and agitation. Uncrossing my arms, I take his hands in mine to calm him down, looking deep into his brown eyes, the same as mine.
Our dad’s eyes.
“Listen to me, please.”
Mason nods once. “I’m listening.”
“You can do this, I promise you that. And you aren’t alone. You never were. You had me, goof. But now you have Jules and Jace in your corner, and we’ll be there for you the whole way. And I know you won’t fail, Mase.”
Squeezing my hands, he releases them and wraps his arms around my shoulders. Burying my face in his shoulder, I take a deep breath and pull away to kiss his cheek.
“Little sister, I love you something fierce, you know that?”
“As much as I love you.”
Rising from the table, I go into the living room to check on Jules and Jace to find them sitting on the couch together, Jules curled up into Jace’s side, sound asleep. Leaning over the back of the couch, I wrap my arms around his shoulders.
“There’s the most beautiful woman I know.”
“Sure, sure,” I joke, releasing him to round the front of the couch. “How long’s she been out?”
“Can’t be that long. We only turned this on twenty minutes ago.”
“Weren’t you playing a game when we left the room?”
“Yeah, and she beat me in less than ten minutes,” he says, rolling his eyes when I laugh.
“That’s my girl,” Mason says from behind me, and Jace carefully extricates himself from the couch. “I’ll bring her upstairs in a minute.”
“We should get going,” Jace tells him, and Mason nods.
“Thank you guys for coming over tonight. And Jules enjoyed herself, clearly,” he jokes.
I give him a hug. “Love you, Mase. Think over everything, okay? If you need me, I’m here.”
“Love you too, Stell. Drive safe, you two.” Mason gingerly lifts Jules off the couch and carries her upstairs, leaving Jace and me to see ourselves out.
Starting his car, Jace gives me a kiss and backs out of the driveway.
“Thank you for coming with me tonight, Jace. Jules loves seeing you, and even though he’s a man of few words, so does Mason.”
“I love your family. It’s not a problem spending time with them.”
We’re about halfway home when I set my arm on Jace’s leg and reach up to kiss his cheek. He smiles but keeps his focus on the road. Kissing down his neck, I slide my palm up his leg, his cock beginning to harden under my touch.
My hand becomes more insistent and he groans, hips flexing under my touch. “It’s okay, Jace. I can be quick.” Flipping the button on his jeans, I run my tongue down his neck, reaching for the zipper.
“I’m driving, babe. We….” He’s breathing heavy, and his nostrils flare.
I duck my head toward his lap when his hand comes down on my wrist, moving me back into my seat.
“Fuck, Stella. Stop!” His voice booms in the small space, and my eyes widen. The hand he was just holding my wrist with jerks back to the wheel, clenching and unclenching it.
Jace?” I say quietly, but he shakes his head at me.
“No. You don’t do that shit when I’m driving, you hear me, Stella?”
“I’m sorry, I was just messing around. You don’t have to be such a jerk about it.”
“It’s not up for debate. Understood?” His words are hard, angry, and I stare at his profile before turning to look out my window, blinking the emotion from my eyes.
Thankfully, we pull into his driveway a minute or so later, and when he kills the engine, I jump from the car. He’s right next to me, and when we step inside, I rush to the bathroom and lock it behind me. Sitting on the edge of the bathtub, I scrub a hand over my face and try to figure out what just happened.
Months. Jace and I have been together for months and he’s never gone off like that. At first I felt humiliated that he didn’t want me, but my decade in the field I’m in tells me otherwise.
Something was wrong.
Forcing the thoughts away, I turn the water on so I can take a fast shower. Stepping out of the bathroom a few minutes later, I don’t see Jace in the bedroom. Pulling on a pair of boy shorts, I stroll to his bureau and grab one of his T-shirts, slipping it over my head. Leaving my wet hair hanging down, I go in search of him, finding him sitting on his back deck stairs. It’s almost September, the night air fairly cool. Sinking down next to him, I lean my head on his shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” I say, and he presses his lips to my forehead.
Jace stands from the steps and goes back inside, leaving me alone. Looking back at him, I watch him close the door and I hunch over, resting my head on my knees.
I have no idea how long I sit out there, but when I start to shiver, I head inside, making sure to lock the door. Grabbing my purse, I pull out my cell phone and check my emails.
Not having anything but junk mail, I scroll through the photos on there, most of them recently of myself and Jace. My heart hurts, and maybe even my feelings, but the kiss he gave me earlier shows that he’ll talk when he’s ready.
Striding to the bedroom, I find Jace sitting up in bed, watching highlights from the Braves game. His eyes meet mine, and I think he’s going to start talking, but I watch him swallow hard and turn back to the television.
Fine. I guess you aren’t ready yet.