“Drew, hand me that wrench,” I say, giving him a nod of thanks when he sets it in my hand. Reaching up, I twist the valve shut and slide out from under the counter. We’ve been working all day on updating his master bathroom, and I just finished the new drain.
Drew was busy getting the new flooring carried up here, and I look around the room for the water I brought up. Finding it on the windowsill, I twist it open and down the rest.
“Break time?” I ask Drew, and he nods.
“Yeah, let’s order a pizza or something, I’m fucking starving.”
I follow him downstairs to the kitchen, settling on a stool while I wait for him to order. Grabbing my cell from where I left it on the counter, I shoot a text to Stella, letting her know I’ll only be a bit longer. She’s spending the day washing and organizing all the baby clothes. The baby shower is a little over a month away, and I have no idea where we’re gonna put stuff. We already have so much. We installed the car seat bases in the back of my truck last week. Stella started crying, blaming it on her hormones, but I just kissed the hell out of her and wiped them away.
Thirty minutes later, Drew and I are quickly making our way through a large pepperoni and mushroom pizza when my cell phone starts ringing. Groaning, I wipe my mouth with a napkin and turn around to check the display. It’s an unknown number with a Knoxville zip code.
Hitting Silence, I set it down on the island, and Drew looks at me with his eyebrow raised. “Who was it?” he asks, and I shrug, taking another bite of pizza. When it beeps not much later, informing me of a new voicemail, I put it on speakerphone to listen to the message.
“Hello, this is James Klein calling for Jace Miller. Jace, I’m not sure if you remember who I am, but I need to speak with you about my client, Barret Jones.”
The rest of his message sounds garbled, like my head is underwater. Drew’s hand clamps down on my shoulder, his other hand pausing the message. Shaking my head, I look at him through clear eyes, and he asks if I’m okay.
Jerking my head up and down, I tell him to hit Play so I can get this over with.
“If you could please call me at your earliest convenience, it would be appreciated.” He rattles off his phone number, and the voicemail ends.
“Fuck, man. What do you think that’s all about?” Drew asks me.
“No idea. Last I knew he still had another eighteen months before he could apply for parole, so who fucking knows.” Just hearing that man’s name makes me want to plow my fist through the wall. I pull up James Klein’s number and call him back before I can think twice about it.
“Mr. Klein? This is Jace Miller calling you back. Sorry, I was in the middle of dinner with my brother.”
“Not a problem.”
“So, what can I help you with? Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I have no desire to have a conversation about that man.”
“None taken, but about why I’m calling. Barret Jones passed away last night in his sleep.”
The entire room tilts, and I have to grip my phone tight so I don’t drop it to the floor. Bile climbs in my throat, and I have to swallow past it. Drew must notice something is wrong, because he presses down on my shoulder, his eyes locked on mine.
“What…? I mean, how?” I ask, my voice tight with pain.
“Heart attack, they believe. I know this is a lot to ask, but is there any way you can come down to my office? An item was left in his cell addressed to you.”
“What kind of item?”
I clench my jaw, and Drew leans his forehead to mine, gripping the back of my head. Anger is coursing through my veins, and I want nothing more than to send my phone shattering against the wall, but I force myself to remain calm.
“Listen, no offense, but I’m not feeling too great about coming to get something left to me by the man who almost killed me and took two other people’s lives.”
“I understand, and if it would be easier, I could mail it to you, but that could take several days. I can meet you at my office at ten tomorrow morning.”
“Send me the info and I’ll be there.”
Curtly ending the call, I slam my phone down on the island.
“What the hell, Jace?”
“He’s dead. Barret Jones is dead,” I tell him before racing to the bathroom, everything I just ate coming up in seconds. When I’m done throwing up, I lift a shaky hand to flush the toilet, standing to rinse my mouth out and wipe it with the back of my hand.
Drew’s standing behind me, his expression filled with pain.
“Fuck no, I’m not okay.”
He steps into the room to hug me, and I grip the back of his shirt. He releases me and lets out a deep sigh. “So what do you need to go to Knoxville for?”
“They found a letter in his cell addressed to me.”
“Goddammit,” he growls, and I nod, resting my hands on my hips. “Do you want me to call Stella?”
“Nah, I’m gonna head home. Are you busy tomorrow?” I ask.
“No. Need me to come with you?”
“I don’t want her sitting in a car for six hours this late in her pregnancy, so if you don’t mind, that’d be great.”
Drew shakes his head but then narrows his eyes. “You need to tell her.”
“I will. After I get this over with.” Brushing past him, I head for the kitchen where I left my cell, scooping up my keys as well.
“Jace, you can’t keep this from her. You need to go home and tell her what happened.”
“Leave it alone, man. I can’t have her worrying about me.”
“She deserves to know what we’re doing tomorrow. Don’t be a dick.”
My anger is steadily rising, and fast, so without another word, I march from his house, heading for my truck. It’s been a long-ass time since I felt this way, and I don’t like it. Not one fucking bit.
The drive back to our house doesn’t take long, and when I pull in the driveway, I kill the engine and just sit there for a minute, head down on the steering wheel. My phone alerts me to a new text, and when I look, I see it’s from Drew.
Drew: Should I call Mom?
Jace: Yeah. I can’t make that call right now.
Drew: I didn’t mean to piss you off, bro.
Jace: It’s fine. I’ll be at your place around 7 tomorrow.
Drew: Okay. Think about what I said, all right?
I don’t answer him, just lock my phone and climb from my truck, then stride inside. The house is quiet, and after kicking off my boots at the door, I shrug out of my coat and toss it on the couch. I go in search of Stella, not finding her in the kitchen. Going to the main hallway, I hear her voice and poke my head into our bedroom.
There’s only one other place she’d be, so I quietly inch my way down the hallway, peering into the nursery. I find her sitting in the middle of the room with her back to me, surrounded by piles of baby clothes, the pink and purple hues standing out against the light carpet. I don’t announce I’m there, just listen to her talk softly.
“You girls are gonna be here so soon, and we are so excited. Just you wait till you meet your daddy. You’re gonna fall head over heels in love with him.” She reaches for a yellow onesie, folding it on top of her belly like it’s her own little folding table.
I smile at the sight, and she continues speaking before I can walk inside.
“He’s a police officer, so he goes out and protects people every day. He’s a hero, babies. I am so proud of him, plus he’s pretty easy on the eyes with his bright blue ones. He’s the best man I’ve ever known.”
My chest is tight with emotion, so I back up and go into our bedroom, dropping down onto the edge of the bed. Hanging my head into my hands, I groan, unsure of what tomorrow is going to bring me. But what I do know is Drew is right. I can’t lie about where we’re going or what happened. Falling back on the bed, I pick my feet up and rest them on the mattress, knees pointed up toward the ceiling.
“Jace, are you home?” Stella’s sweet voice filters from across the hall, and I clear my throat.
“Yeah, babe, just got in.”
I lie there in silence for a few minutes, sitting up as she comes into the room. My heart stops at how beautiful she is. Her long hair is in a messy-looking bun on top of her head, a few strands hanging loose in front of her face. She’s not wearing makeup, so her freckles are on full display. As she’s moved further into the third trimester, she’s been living in baggy T-shirts and leggings, loose-fitting dresses for work, but today she’s in a black tank top tight around her belly and a pair of gray sweatpants.
She’s the epitome of perfection.
“You’re back early. You and Drew finish everything up?”
She gives me a funny look, clearly trying to figure out what’s going on. I stretch a hand out to her and she comes over to me, sitting on my lap as best as she can, resting her hand on top of her belly and winding her other arm around my neck. Her fingers play with the strand of my hair at my neck, and she looks deep into my eyes.
I shake my head and fight like hell not to break down on her. After all, I have no idea what the letter even is, and I know deep down I shouldn’t be upset. The bastard who killed Bryan and Casey is dead. I’m not happy he’s dead—I’m not a cruel man—but I’m also not sad either.
It just doesn’t seem fair that he went to sleep and never woke up.
Bry and Casey didn’t have such an easy fate.