Finding a Hart

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Chapter 23

Stephanie

After watching two movies with my best friend, during which we’d somehow managed to drain two bottles of wine, I ended up sleeping in her bed next to her rather than in my own. It was a testament to how little I normally drank when I woke up with a small hangover the next morning. That was when we decided to go out to eat.

Alyssa was completely relentless after we saw Jared at the diner where we grabbed breakfast. After she kicked me- twice-, she immediately turned on the interrogation.

“You totally weren’t exaggerating when you said he was good looking. When are you two going to finally go out?” she asked with a huge grin on her face. I shook my head and cleared my throat.

“We can’t, Lyssa. He’s a client now.”

Alyssa rolled her eyes and tossed a sugar packet at me. “If that’s your only excuse, it’s a weak one. I bet your boss would tell you that, too.”

“That’s not the only thing. He has a newborn baby,” I replied quietly as I grabbed my jacket. Alyssa followed suit and we both climbed out of the booth. “He needs to be able to focus on Chris. Besides, he seemed to accept being just my friend a little too easily.”

“Just your friend,” Alyssa repeated as she linked her arm through mine. “Those friendly looks you two shared just about set my panties on fire.”

“Whatever,” I said with a scoff.

Alyssa laughed and lightly slapped my shoulder “It’s been too long for you. You’ve forgotten what attraction is.”

“I have not,” I muttered as I gently shoved her away. “It’s not like that.”

My vibrant friend stared at me for a minute before opening the passenger door of my SUV. “Sure. I’ll leave it be for now.”

The two of us hung out at home until it was time for me to head to my parents’ later that afternoon. I tried to get her to go with me but she waved me off, saying she had some work she needed to do.

Marco wasn’t there but everyone else was, including Austin’s fiancée, Rhea. Even though they weren’t married yet, I absolutely adored Rhea. She and Austin started dating during his freshman year of college, when she was a sophomore, and they’d ended up accidentally pregnant two years later. Rhea graduated a month after Lila was born and my brother would be doing the same that winter.

My brother was in the backyard with Dad and Tanner and the three of them were putting together the new soccer goal my mom had just bought for the grandkids. Eldon was in the family room watching TV and Mom was in the kitchen making dinner. She had shooed everyone out but Stella, who was helping out by standing on a chair and stirring something in a bowl.

“Look at her go,” I said happily as Lila crawled across my parents’ living room floor towards where Bri was waving a graham cracker as bribery. “You’re in trouble now.”

Rhea released an exaggerated sigh. “For real. Austin baby-proofed the apartment but it’s exhausting keeping her out of everything.”

“Just wait until she’s walking and can reach more,” Kate said next to me, rubbing her large belly. “Tanner learned to climb way too fast and Stella was just quick on her little feet. Maybe this guy will be mellow.”

“I doubt it,” Briana chimed in once Lila had taken the cracker and crawled back to her mother. “He’s going to want to keep up with his siblings.”

“How are things going with you, Steph? Are you seeing anyone?” Rhea asked, wiping Lila’s hands with a cloth. My mind flashed to Jared but I just smiled and shrugged my shoulders.

“I feel so out of the game after almost ten years with Troy.”

“Troy hasn’t had that problem,” Eldon chimed in as he appeared from the kitchen with a beer in his hand. “I saw him when I was out last night and judging by the way he and the brunette were dancing, he ended the night on a great note.”

“Eldon!” Kate admonished at the same time Rhea frowned and Briana muttered, “Oh, shut the fuck up.” I just shrugged, though. Despite Eldon’s best attempts, there wasn’t any pain that came along when I heard about Troy moving on. I just wanted him to be happy.

“Good for him.” I looked at Briana and smiled. “When we first broke up, he was worried that he didn’t have any game after all of these years. I’m pretty sure he just has to smile and a flock of girls will come running.”

Bri grinned in response. “I always said your boyfriend was superhot.”

“Thanks for letting me know, Eldon. I’m really happy to know he was out having fun last night.”

Eldon rolled his eyes and disappeared back into the kitchen. The second he was gone, Kate shook her head.

“I’m so sorry. He’s been in a really bad mood lately and is just acting like a dick.” Stella yelled from the kitchen that she needed to go potty and my sister hefted herself off of the ground, waving off those of us that said we’d go instead. “Be right back.”

“Lately?” Rhea muttered once Kate was gone. “He’s always been a dick. How does she not see it?”

“And why is she getting up to go take her daughter to the bathroom when Eldon should be helping?” Briana added, a look of disgust on her face. Before I could reply, Kate reappeared and took her place on the floor again. “Mom got her for me.”

The rest of us dropped the subject and Briana told us a little about the wedding her best friend Shaylee was planning to her boyfriend, Drew. The two of them had met at a lakeside summer camp in Maine and were planning on getting married there in June, shortly before the camp started back up for the summer.

Shaylee had been a fixture in our lives for years. Her parents still lived just down the street and she and Bri had been wreaking havoc since they were in diapers. She was a great girl and another person I loved like a sibling. She was also a sibling I’d caught in bed with Austin when they were teenagers. They hadn’t done anything but I’m pretty sure virginities would have been lost if I hadn’t come home for lunch that day. Not one of us spoke of it again.

Dinner was just like any other Sunday evening and I made it home to an empty house a few hours later. I took the opportunity to sit with my laptop at the kitchen table and get caught up on my notes, finally heading to bed around midnight. I spent Monday morning in court and most of the afternoon in meeting after meeting. By the time I actually sat at my desk, it was already after four. I was just logging into my email when Robin appeared in front of me.

“I need you to attend the departmental meeting tomorrow in my place.”

The water I had been in the middle of swallowing went down the wrong tube and I ended up coughing like a maniac

“What?” I croaked, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. “Why?”

She put one hand on her hip and gave me a stern look. “Because one day you’ll have my job and I need you to be comfortable with this stuff. It’s time, Gibson. Dress to impress. I’ll email you everything you’re going to need.”

I stared at the empty doorway long after she left. I was flattered with the responsibilities she kept handing down to me but the thought of having to present and answer questions posed by the big-wigs made me nervous.

Once I’d come to terms with what needed to be done, I scrolled through the forty emails I had and replied to the ones that needed it. Once those were done, I picked up the handset again and dialed the number in my planner. A man answered after three rings and I instantly smiled.

“Jared? It’s Stephanie Gibson.”

“Vanilla Latte, hey. I didn’t recognize the number.” He was talking softly and I imagined Chris in his arms as he slept.

“This is my office phone.” I cleared my throat. “Is now an okay time to talk?”

“Yeah, yeah. Of course. Give me a second to put him in his bassinet. I just got him to sleep.”

We both went quiet for a moment as the phone rustled and he whispered to the baby. After another moment, he spoke again at a normal tone.

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