Just With You

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CHAPTER 26

JACE

“Let’s grab a beer this weekend, man,” Eli says, bumping knuckles with me.

I nod and reach down for my duffel. We had to pull a double, and I’m beat as hell.

It’s been a few weeks since I told Stella about the accident, and our relationship has only grown stronger. It’s hard to believe that it’s been four months since we met at Whiskey Nights, and I know without a doubt in my mind that she’s it. She’s my forever. We both have the next couple shifts off, and I plan to do little more than watch baseball and hang out with my girl.

I’m walking out to my car when my cell phone starts ringing from my pocket. Pulling it out, I see it’s my brother.

“What’s up, Drew?” I answer, unlocking my car when I arrive next to it. Tossing my bag on the back seat, I get in and start the engine.

“Got plans tonight?”

“No, Stella’s coming over. I think we’re gonna grill and have a fire. You wanna come over?” I ask, hitting the dash screen to connect my phone. My brother’s voice comes booming out of my speakers as I pull out of the parking lot.

“Please. Dad came by today.” His voice is filled with frustration, and I shake my head.

“Didn’t go well, I’m guessing?”

“I’m heading to your place. We can talk when I get there.”

Drew ends the call, and I grip the steering wheel harder.

Turning into my driveway ten minutes later, I find his truck waiting for me, Drew sitting on my front porch. Climbing out of my car, I stride toward him and notice he’s got an open six-pack sitting at his feet.

“Please tell me you opened that here,” I ask, raising an eyebrow.

“You know I did.”

I sit down next to him, and he hands me a beer. I twist the top off, propping my feet up on the railing. “What happened, brother?”

Drew takes a pull from the bottle. “Why haven’t we ordered new chairs for the waiting room?” he growls, imitating our dad’s “pissed off” voice. “Where the hell are the files from last year? Why aren’t you charging more for oil changes?”

“Damn.”

“Made sure to remind me that I’m gonna drive all those years of his hard work into the ground. We’ve actually gained a new client who’s gonna make us fucking bank, Jace, but he doesn’t care.”

“I’ll talk to him,” I offer, but Drew shakes his head.

“He’ll just tell you he’s trying to help me, but he’s completely different when he comes in. It’s like I’m his manager and he’s still in charge. Mom said he’s been having a hard time adjusting to retirement, but it’s been three years. When is he gonna get used to it?”

“Probably never. Drew, it was his baby for thirty years. When he handed it down to you, I think he expected to still be included in it, to still be a part of it. You’ve changed everything and made it yours, and we’re all damn proud of you. But it has to sting a little.”

Drew huffs and finishes his beer. Grabbing another, he leans back in the chair and trains his eyes on me. “I know, but I had to make it mine. It’s the family business, I get that, but now it’s mine. Dad didn’t just ask me to work there, he gave it to me. Left it to be run by me, and that’s what I’m doing.”

Crossing my legs, I look over at him, seeing the tension all over his face. “You need to talk to him, Drew. Like actually talk to him. And not at the office where you both get all wound up. You can’t keep fighting with him like this. It’s not healthy. You and Dad have always been close, but this bitching at each other needs to end. Either let him have some sort of involvement with the place, or set boundaries and don’t let him push you around.”

“You’re right,” he says, head dropping back in defeat.

“Damn right I am. It’s why I’m the older brother.”

“You’re the older brother ’cause Mom and Dad screwed without protection.”

Groaning, I toss my beer cap at him, and he laughs. “Screw you. That is so not a picture I needed to pop into my head.”

“You’re welcome, Jace.”

Flipping him off, I finish my beer and hold out a hand for him to pass over another. He does, and I’m taking a sip from it when my cell beeps with a text. Swiping the screen to unlock it, I smile when I open the message.

Stella: Heading back to the office to file a few things. Still want me to stop and grab groceries?

Jace: Do you mind? Drew is here, by the way.

Stella: Tell him hi. Is he staying for dinner?

Jace: Yeah, he got in another fight with Dad.

Stella: Oh man. Okay, I’ll call you when I’m heading over. You boys behave.

Jace: Doing our best, baby.

Smiling, I set my phone down on the table between our chairs and look up to find Drew shaking his head at me.

“What?”

“Nothing,” he says, motioning to me with his bottle. “You’re just so fucking gone over Stella, and you don’t even know it.”

Scoffing, I cross my arms over my chest and tip my head back. “Trust me, I know it.”

A couple hours later, I’m down in my backyard with Drew splitting wood for a fire. I haven’t heard from Stella, and I check my watch to see what time it is. Five thirty.

“What time is she coming?” Drew asks, swinging the ax over his head before splitting the log in two.

“Not sure. She said she had to go file some paperwork, and depending on the case, it could take her awhile. Then she’s stopping to grab groceries. She’s making chicken alfredo. You’ll survive until then. Otherwise, you’ll miss one hell of a meal.”

Drew laughs and we get back to work.

We’re just about done with the wood when my cell phone starts ringing, and I grab it from my jeans. Finding a phone number I don’t recognize, I hesitate to answer, but it could be someone from the district.

“Hello?”

“Hello, I’m looking for Jace Miller.”

“This is he,” I say, setting my ax down against the woodpile.

“Hi, this is Shawna Duff calling from Memorial Hospital. We have Stella Cole here, and she told us you were her emergency contact.”

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