“I’m going to miss you next week. Dirty diapers and all.” I finished snapping my son’s onesie and kissed the bottom of his foot, earning me a toothless smile. I scooped him into my arms and we headed out to the living room. I’d just made it there when the intercom buzzed.
“Mr. Hart,” Kenneth said, his voice professional as always. “I just let Ms. Gibson into the elevator.”
He and Howie no longer asked if it was okay if she come in but were still required to give me notice when she was heading up. If anything, Angela’s reappearance the day before had only reinforced the building’s safety practices.
“Thanks, Kenneth.” I looked down at my son and grinned. “Stephy is here, bud.”
I cracked open the front door just as the elevator chimed and the doors opened to reveal the woman in question. She was dressed in a maroon colored dress that fell to her knees and had sleeves almost to her elbows. The flesh colored heels she had on made those legs look amazing and invoked a couple of dirty fantasies in my mind. I managed to tear my eyes from them just before she found me staring. She smiled when she caught sight of us and stepped into the hallway.
“Hey, Hart boys.”
Chris was tucked in my arm like a football and he turned his head towards Stephanie the second he heard her voice. His whole body began to squirm and his face screwed up like he was going to cry. I chuckled softly and shook my head.
“I still rank second in his life, I see.”
Stephanie followed me inside and dropped her bag so she could take Chris from my arms. “It’s a guy thing. Isn’t that right, sweet boy?” She held the baby in front of her and he immediately smiled, like he hadn’t been on the verge of an emotional breakdown just a minute prior.
“Did you have court today?” I asked as she kicked off her heels and settled onto the couch.
“All morning long. I finally just escaped. Did Kevin or Valerie call you?”
I nodded and settled on the cushion next to her. The detectives had called just an hour before to let me know that Angela had been arraigned. She was booked into the county jail, not able to pay the fifty-thousand dollar bail that was set, and would likely stay there until she either pled out or went to trial.
“You were kind of badass when you were standing up to her yesterday,” I told Stephanie with a grin and she shrugged as she placed Chris against her shoulder.
“If I hadn’t been holding the baby, I might have punched her.”
I chuckled with a slight shake of my head. “I don’t doubt that, sweetheart. Want some lunch?”
“Yes, please.” She sighed dramatically and a sad frown painted her face. “I’m going to miss our lunches next week.”
“You’ll be able to come by the daycare and still snuggle Chris during your lunch breaks if you want,” I told her as I stood from the couch. I was almost to the kitchen when she spoke.
“It’s not just Chris I’ll miss, City Roast.”
I stopped but didn’t turn back to look at her. I had done a really good job of keeping on one side of the line since the night she’d fallen asleep in my lap. The two of us had developed a really great friendship over the past two months and I knew that I would take Stephanie Gibson any way I could get her. I finally glanced over my shoulder and offered her a smile.
“Well, the patrons of Java Express had better remember that the table is the back is ours. And I have a great Hawaiian barbeque place near my office along with a couple of questionable sushi places I’ve been wanting to try.”
She grinned while trying to extract her hair from my son’s fist. “I’ll be brave with you.”
“I was hoping you’d say that.” I continued into the kitchen and made us a couple of sandwiches before returning to the living room.
Stephanie was still on the couch with her feet on the coffee table and Chris against her knees. She was speaking to him quietly and he was just watching her with fascination written all over his face. It didn’t matter what she said, Christopher always paid attention to Stephanie. She didn’t use baby-talk, citing that the nonsense words were useless to everyone, but always had real conversations with my son. Granted, those were usually in a lighter tone or a sing-song voice but I had a feeling that those two might be talking politics by the time he was three.
“I think that you and Ryder are going to get along perfectly. He’s got a few more rolls on his legs but you can’t hold that against him, okay?”
“How is your nephew?” I asked as I placed the plate on the end table next to her. Steph smiled her thanks and moved Chris to the crook of her arm so she could eat with her other.
“I don’t understand how those kids can be so perfect despite having fifty percent of Eldon’s genes,” she replied with a small chuckle. “He’s good, though. The other two adore the hell out of him.”
I’d heard stories about her jerk brother-in-law and already disliked the guy. I could tell that he was one of those men who got off on abusing his power. It was strange, honestly. Everyone in the Gibson family sounded amazing, including those that married into it. Eldon was the only one who stood out. I also knew that if Stephanie didn’t like him, he was probably a terrible person. Steph liked almost everyone and those she didn’t, it was with very good reason.
“What are your plans for the weekend?” I asked her as I picked up my sandwich. She took a bite of her own and swallowed before responding. “Remember Kara from the hospital?” I nodded so she kept going. “Well, Alyssa and I are going out to dinner with her tomorrow to celebrate a promotion she got at the hospital. Otherwise, my weekend is looking to be completely uneventful. What about you?”
“I was going to take Chris over to Dave’s tomorrow for a bit since he has his kids.” I paused and took a sip of my drink. “Want to come over Sunday? We can rent some movies, get some unhealthy takeout, and do absolutely nothing.”
“That sounds like the perfect way to send you back to work.” Stephanie readjusted the baby so he was against her shoulder again. I smiled at the sight of her and Chris together. I never knew that a woman holding a baby could be so damn attractive.
She went back to work an hour later and I put Chris down for a nap so I could get some work done. Despite not having been in the office for more than an hour or two in passing over the past two months, my department was running smoothly. I was anxious to get back to the office on Monday, though. Leaving Chris didn’t sound appealing at all but being around other adults was going to be so nice.
I went to Dave’s the next day and his four-year-old twins basically tackled me the second I was through the door. I laughed and put Chris’s car seat down so I could pull both boys into my arms.
“Let me see.” I looked between them and pretended to be confused for a second even though the boys were fraternal twins. Tyson looked just like Dave, with chocolate brown hair and deep blue eyes. Braden looked like their mother, Jamie, with dark blonde hair and lighter blue eyes.
I fixed my eyes on Tyson and nodded once. “You’re Braden.”
“No.” He giggled and shook his head. “I’m Tyson, Uncle Jared.”
I frowned and looked at Braden. “I thought you were Tyson.”
“You’re silly. I’m Braden!”
I tickled his armpit, doing the same to his brother, and both boys ended up on the floor as they squirmed to try and get away from me. I stopped when Dave laughed above us and he was holding Chris when I looked up.
“Thanks for coming over, Jare.”
I stood up with a boy over each of my shoulders. “Thanks for inviting me. It’s nice to get out of the house to do something other than grocery shopping.”
My best friend wasn’t just someone who could sell ice to a polar bear but also an amazing cook. The whole house smelled like delicious pork roast and my mouth watered instantly. I set the boys back on their feet and they took turns running to their playroom and bringing back something cool they had to show me. Dave ended up giving me back Chris so he could finish dinner and an hour later we were sitting around his table with roast, mashed potatoes, rolls, and green beans. After weeks of eating take-out, I felt like a king.
“Are you excited to be back in the office on Monday?”
I nodded and glanced over my shoulder at the play mat Chris was laying on. “Leaving him is going to suck but having real conversations again sounds awesome.”
“I bet,” he replied with a chuckle. “The daycare is pretty amazing, too. You guys love going to school at Daddy’s work, don’t you?”
Tyson grinned underneath a face smeared with mashed potatoes. “Miss Chrissy is so nice and we have the best slide.”
“See?” Dave laughed softly. “The best slide, Jared. Chris is going to be well cared for there.”
“Well, Steph already checked out the daycare and it has her approval so I don’t think we can get much better than that.”
My friend raised his brows and stared at me for a moment. “You’ve got it bad for this Stephanie chick. Are you ever going to just ask her out?”
“I’m playing the long game and hoping I don’t get permanently stuck in the friend-zone.” I loaded my plate up with more food and shook my head. “I don’t know how to approach it otherwise without fucking things up.”
Braden and Tyson both gasped but it was Braden who spoke. “Uncle Jared said a bad word. You have to put a dollar into the cuss jar.”
“Sorry, guys.” I reached into my pocket to grab my wallet and handed the little boy a five dollar bill. “Do you have change?”
“Nope.” Tyson snatched the bill away before Braden could and both kids took off out of the dining room, ignoring their father’s demand for them to be nice to each other. He shook his head and looked back at me.
“Sometimes you have to just dive in. Don’t be a pussy because then you’ll miss your chance.”
The boys reappeared and we changed the subject. I told him the details about Angela dropping in and he filled me in on the crap I had missed at work.
Chris and I stayed over there until about an hour before his bedtime. I hugged the boys tight and promised to see them soon before thanking my best friend for the awesome food.
I had just put the baby into the bassinet and settled onto the couch to watch a hockey game when my phone chimed. I saw that it was a text from an unknown number and opened it with my brows pulled together.
Unknown Number:Doesn’t she look pretty? –Alyssa