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“Stop that,” I barked, grabbing it from him.

“Stop what?”

“Being nice to me when you’re still an asshole.”

“Man.” He whistled low. “You’ll have to ask your god for a lot of forgiveness with that potty mouth, princess.”

“Don’t call me princess,” I snapped.

“Okay, princess.”

Oh my gosh, I hate him. Instant love isn’t actually a thing, but instant hate? So, so real.

“You all good here, Alex? I’m gonna head to get food,” Jackson said.

“Yup, all good, Jack-Jack,” Alex replied with that same Southern charm.

“Alex?” Jackson’s brow knitted. “Stop calling me Jack-Jack.”

“Okay, Jack-Jack,” he replied, giving me a wink.

“Not so fun when it’s happening to you, now is it?” I remarked.

Jackson just grumbled and walked away.

As I watched him leave, another chill shot down my spine. “Is he always that nasty?” I asked Alex as he began hooking up my car.

“Just maintaining his Chester persona, but don’t take it personally. Jackson’s all bark and no bite. He’s harmless.”

“That’s not what I’ve heard.”

“Yeah, well, people are always spreading some kind of gossip. I’m sure there have been rumors about your family, too, but I like to be my own judge of character.” He grinned and nodded toward my car. “We’re all hooked up here, so you’re free to go. I know Jackson said the car is fried, but if it’s okay with you, I’d love to get under the hood and play around.”

“Oh, no, you really don’t have to. I know it’s an old car, it’s just…” I took a breath.

I was so tired of losing things lately.

“This thing means a lot to you, doesn’t it?” he asked.

“Yes, it does.”

“Then let me try.”

I smiled. “I’d really appreciate that. Thank you.”

“No problem. Cars are like puzzles for me—I love trying to figure out how to make the broken pieces fit together. Here, if you can just fill out this form, then I’ll be out of your hair. I’ll give you a call sometime next week to stop in for an update.”

“Sounds good. Thank you so much. You have no clue how much this means to me.” I filled out the paperwork then thanked Alex one more time, before grabbing the handles of my bags and starting off down the road.

I wasn’t certain if Alex knew it, but I was in desperate need of his kindness, especially after crashing into Jackson Emery and the rain cloud hanging over his head.



“Grace, what’s going on? What are you doing here?” Autumn asked as I stood on her front porch with my suitcase. When life fell apart, I was always thankful that best friends existed.

“Sorry I just stopped by without calling, but my phone died, my car died, and…” I paused briefly as my eyes watered over. “I think my marriage died, too!” I sobbed, covering my face with my hands. I shook my head back and forth and took a breath, trying to pull myself together as best I could. Autumn’s eyes watered over, and she placed her hands against her chest. We were those kinds of friends—whenever one cried, the other’s tears weren’t that far behind.

“Oh my gosh, Grace…” she whispered, her voice cracking.

“I was just hoping I could stay here for a while,” I told her, walking into her place with my suitcase. “I would’ve asked you earlier, but for some reason, I thought Finn would come around and still want me.”

I sat down on the couch and took in a few deep breaths as my head stayed lowered.

My heart, my brain, and my body were all exhausted.

It had been a long day.

“I just…I wish you would’ve called,” Autumn said flatly.

“Yeah, but I know how busy you’ve been,” I said, looking up toward her. Tears were still falling from her eyes, and the heaviness in her stare seemed almost as sad as I felt.

“It’s okay, Autumn. I know I’m a bit of a mess, but I’m better now that I’m…” I glanced at her table, where one glass of water and one opened beer sat. Autumn didn’t drink beer. She always thought it tasted like garbage. “I’m sorry, do you have company?” My chest tightened. Then, I noted a small red thong under her chair. “Oh my gosh, are you on a date? I’m so sorry! I should’ve called.”

“Grace…” she whispered.

Her lips parted once more, but she couldn’t speak. Her body trembled, and no words were coming out of her mouth. I looked around her place and noticed a pair of tennis shoes…shoes I’d seen before. Then there was a shirt sitting on her chair.

My eyes zoomed in on the yellow polo.

I slowly stood and walked over to it.

“Gracelyn,” Autumn whimpered, but now I knew the tears weren’t falling for me, but rather for her own emotions.

I picked up the yellow polo, studying it. It had a rip under the arm and a nasty stain on the bottom that wouldn’t come out no matter how hard I tried.