“Barret Jones is dead,” I whisper, and her eyebrows pull down in confusion.
I can’t make myself say the words, and I swallow furiously against the emotion welling in my throat. She must notice how much I’m struggling, because understanding dawns on her face and she has both her arms around me seconds later.
“Oh my gosh.”
“His attorney called me. I have to go to Knoxville tomorrow. They found a letter for me.”
“I’m coming with you.”
“No, I can’t let you do that. It’s a three-hour drive each way, and I don’t want you cooped up the whole time.”
“I can’t tell you what it means that you want to be there,” I begin, pulling away so I can touch my forehead to hers. Her eyes are bright with unshed tears, and I rest my thumb over her bottom lip, gently rubbing back and forth. “Please don’t fight me on this, Stell. I want you home, safe and sound, so I know tomorrow will bring me some sort of happiness.”
“Then I’ll be here waiting for you. Promise me something?”
“Promise me that you’ll be okay.”
My heart clenches at her words, and I give her a gentle kiss. “As long as you promise you’ll be here when I get home. I’m scared to go,” I admit, tears springing to my eyes. “I’m scared of what I’m walking into. The second I got the phone call, I felt like I was back in that car.”
“Take off your pants.”
If she didn’t look serious, I know for sure I’d burst out laughing, but instead I do as she says. When I’m in just my T-shirt and underwear, she pulls the blankets back and pats the bed. Kicking off her own sweats, she climbs in and curls herself into me, entwining our legs. Her belly is pressed between us, and I rest a hand on top.
“I will always be here, Jace. I’m never going anywhere. And if you change your mind, the passenger seat has my name on it. I can’t promise tomorrow won’t bring pain, and I know you’re hurting, but I’m here, okay? Whatever happens, you aren’t alone.”
Tucking my face in her neck, I take a deep breath and inhale her scent, the smell of lilacs surrounding us.
Stella’s right. I can get through anything with her in my arms.
Her and my sweet babies.
Blowing the horn, I drum my fingers on the steering wheel while I wait for Drew to get his ass out to my truck. He comes out a minute or two later, pulling a navy beanie down on his head, his usual brown leather jacket on. He jogs over to the passenger side and hops in, buckling his seat belt.
“I grabbed you a coffee,” I tell him, motioning to the paper cup in the center console.
“Thanks, brother. You ready?”
“Not even a little bit.”
And with that I back down his driveway, pulling onto the interstate ten minutes later, my truck headed straight for hell.
We make small talk for most of the drive, mostly about work and Stella. I tell him she’s been busy organizing the girls’ room, and he smiles at me.
“She is gonna make one hell of a mom.”
“Yeah, she really fucking is. How about you? You meet anyone special?” I ask. Drew has such a down-to-earth and goofy personality, but I know deep down, he wants to find someone.
“Nah, not really. To be honest, I haven’t been going out much. Long-ass shifts have kept me pretty occupied. I’ve been thinking about hiring another mechanic so I can catch my breath.”
“You should,” I tell him, eyes on the road as I reach for my own coffee.
“I’m working on what to advertise on the website.”
“You need any help?” I ask.
“No, I got it handled, but thanks.”
We lapse into silence, and I turn the radio up just a tiny bit, Drew laughing at me when the country music comes spilling through the speakers. I don’t change it though, glad to have a small piece of Stella with me in the truck.
The trip is easy, and before I know it, we’re in Knoxville. Drew enters the address into my dash GPS, and it directs us toward town, not far from where that fateful night began. I haven’t been back to this area since the accident, and my stomach clenches with the thought.
I find the law office easy enough and park out front, not many cars in the lot.
“You want me to come in?” he asks me, and I nod.
Gripping my shoulder, he gives me a half hug over the console and we climb down, heading right inside. The waiting room is sparsely decorated, and we make our way over to the small desk off to the right.
“Hello?” the older woman greets us, a phone headset on, her smile bright and cheery.
“I’m Jace Miller. I’m here to see James Klein.”
“Let me go tell him you’re here. Just a minute.”
Getting up from her seat, she disappears down a hallway and comes out a couple minutes later with James Klein, a man I immediately recognize. After all, he was in the courtroom every day next to Jones while he sat like a statue, never saying anything. Never showing any emotion.
No goddamn remorse, not even at sentencing.
“Jace Miller, good to see you.”
“Wish I could say the same. Let’s get this over with.” I’m being a douchebag, and I know it, but I don’t care much at the moment. Drew’s looking just as tense as I am, and we follow Klein when he holds his arm out toward a set of offices.
We step inside, and he takes a seat behind his desk, folding his hands in front of him.
“I understand this is hard, but I want you to know that I wouldn’t have asked you here if I didn’t think the letter was of importance and time sensitive.”
“Did you read it?” I ask, and he shakes his head.
“No, but I got to know Mr. Jones well over the years, and I know it’s of the upmost importance that you were given it directly.”
Klein reaches behind him for a large manila folder, pulling out a small white envelope, slightly dirty and wrinkled. He hands it over the desk and I take it from him, a bit surprised. I was expecting something formal and not so personal.
Turning it over, I find my name written in messy handwriting, and I let out a shaky breath. “Thank you,” I tell him sincerely. James Klein isn’t the enemy; he’s just the reminder of the worst night of my life. Standing from my seat, I extend a hand to him and he shakes it, his lips pressed in a tight smile. “If there’s nothing else, I think we’ll get going.”
“No, nothing else. Take care of yourself, Jace. And if there’s anything I can do for you, just let me know.”
I give him a curt nod. Drew shakes his hand as well, and we leave the office, my stomach in knots.
“That was quick,” Drew mumbles as we hit the lobby.
I ignore him, pushing my way out the doors. I don’t stop moving until I’m in my truck, shut inside with my thoughts. Drew gets in next to me and gives me a pained look, and I drop my eyes to the letter.
Sliding my finger under the seal, I tear it open, knowing this letter could change everything.
And the thought fucking terrifies me.