Staring down at my phone for the hundredth time today, I will it to light up. A text. A phone call. Anything to tell me Jace is doing okay. He’s been gone for closing in on five hours, and I’m worried about him. I thought he’d check in at some point, but he hasn’t.
When it still doesn’t go off, I fight the urge to call him and set it on the coffee table, moving into the kitchen to get a glass of lemonade. I finished putting the baby clothes away, and I’m expecting a delivery later in the week with the custom outfits I bought them for coming home.
I’m setting the pitcher back in the fridge when my cell phone beeps from the living room. I waddle in to check it, because yes, at almost thirty weeks pregnant with twins, I waddle. There’s no cute way to describe it. Grabbing my phone, I’m surprised to see a text from Drew, and my heart instantly drops.
Drew: We’re about 90 minutes out. You home?
Stella: Yeah. How’d it go?
Drew: Not good. He got sick before we left the parking lot, and I just pulled over so we could grab some food. He’s hurting, Stell.
Stella: Are you driving?
Drew: I didn’t trust him behind the wheel.
Stella: Tell him I love him. I’ll see you soon.
Drew: I will.
A tear escapes down my cheek and I brush it away, curling up in the corner of the couch. Grabbing for the remote, I turn the television on and settle on some reruns of Supernatural, Jensen Ackles the only thing that can make me stop worrying about Jace.
I must have dozed off, but I jerk awake at the sound of a car door closing. Glancing out the window, I see Jace’s truck in the driveway, both him and Drew climbing down from it. I rush to pull the door open, and my heart aches at the sight of Jace. His face is pale, and his eyes are red rimmed. I expect him to haul me straight into his arms, but he brushes past me, heading for our bedroom.
Drew steps up onto the porch and gives me a sad smile. I hold the door open for him and pull him into a hug, burying my face in his chest.
“I’ve never seen him like this, Stell.”
Drew pinches the bridge of his nose and shakes the emotions away. “We weren’t even in the office ten minutes. Jace had no interest in making small talk with the attorney of the man who killed his friends. Klein was perfectly nice, and he gave Jace the letter, and we left.”
“He read it.” It’s not a question on my mind.
“As soon as we got into the truck. He didn’t tell me what it said, but it’s shaken him up. He didn’t talk the whole ride home, but I could tell he was seconds from breaking the whole time.”
My eyes burn, and I look out the window. “He picked you up, didn’t he?”
“Yeah. I called my dad after I sent you the texts. He’s a few minutes away. I’m gonna have him drive me home. There’s nothing I can do for him. He needs you, Stella.”
Biting down on my bottom lip, I give him another hug, not moving away from him until I see Clint pull in the driveway.
Drew squeezes my shoulder. “Let me know how he’s doing, okay?”
I don’t get a chance to answer him before he’s gone, jogging down to his dad’s truck. I step into the open doorway to wave at Clint. He raises his arm in response, and then I shut the door behind me.
Walking through the house, I find Jace in the bedroom, rifling through the top drawer of the dresser.
“Hey,” I say softly, but he doesn’t acknowledge me. Standing in the doorway, I wait for him to say something, but he just keeps looking for whatever it is he wants.
“Jace,” I try again, and this time he turns to me.
“Have you seen my boxing tape?”
“The shit I tape my hands up with. It’s white and I normally keep it in the drawer so I don’t lose it.”
“Why do you need it?” I ask, moving into the room so I can stand next to him.
“Because I want to work out.”
His answers are short and clipped, and I want nothing more than to pull him into my arms and hold him, ease his pain somehow. But he’s not ready, and I don’t want to push him. I’m scared of what will happen if I do.
“Fuck it.” He slams the drawer shut and stalks out of the room.
Alone, I rub my hands over my stomach and whisper, “Daddy needs us now, babies.”
Stepping into the hallway, I hear a kitchen cabinet slam shut and I follow the noise, finding him rummaging around looking for a glass. Pulling down one of the glass tumblers, I set it on the counter in front of him, and he mumbles a thank you. The cabinet on the end holds the few bottles of liquor we have, and he yanks down the Jack Daniel’s, pouring more than a few fingers’ full in the glass, knocking it all back at once.
He goes to pour more and I hesitate, wanting to stop him. Jace isn’t a huge drinker, only having a beer if he’s with friends or family. I’ve never seen him toss back liquor like this in the almost year we’ve been together. His hand shakes as he lifts the bottle of whiskey, and he sets it back down, abandoning the alcohol for the back deck.
“Jace, it’s freezing out there,” I say, but the door slams shut behind him, my words unheard. Sighing, I set the tumbler in the sink along with the other few dishes. Placing the bottle in the cabinet, I go back to the sink and clean the few things in there, setting them in the strainer to dry.
When Jace still hasn’t come back inside ten minutes later, I decide to go after him. Stopping in the living room to stuff my feet into my clogs, I grab his heavy hoodie and tug it over my head.
The air is bitter as I step onto the back deck. Jace is sitting on the patio furniture, head in his hands, elbows resting on his thighs. Shivering, I make my way over to him and reach out to run my hand over the back of his head. He lifts his head to me, and my heart doesn’t just break.
He has tears pouring down his cheeks, and he looks more like a lost little boy than the grown man he is. His chest hitches on a breath, and he pulls me onto his lap, arms going around my waist. I clutch him to me as he buries his face in my chest, and the second I kiss his temple, he breaks. This strong, capable, wonderful man splinters into a million pieces. The hoarse sobs coming from deep in his chest cause my own tears to fall, his body shaking with the force of his cries.
“It’s okay, Jace. I’m here, baby. Just let go. I’ll catch you.”
His arms tighten around me, and I cry with him. His pain has become my pain, and I know that no matter how much I wish I could take this away from him, I can’t. So I hold him close, refusing to let go. He needs to know it’s okay.
He needs to know he’s loved.
And he is.