And I think I’ve done it. I’ve convinced her—won her over. Jenny belongs to me and all is right with the world. Have to admit, it was easier than I’d anticipated. I knew I was good—but I didn’t realize I was that good.
Until she puts my hand down, wipes her cheeks, and looks me in the eyes. “But I’m in love with JD.”
I shake my head. “You’re just lonely. I was gone too long.”
“No,” she insists. “I’m in love with him. It happened fast, but it’s strong and it’s real. You need to accept that.”
My next words are past my lips before I have time to think them. “I’ll come home. I’ll quit the firm, Jenn. Set up an office in town. I’ll come back.”
Her lips part, her voice breathy with surprise at hearing the words she never expected. “There’s not much of a need for a defense attorney in Sunshine.”
“I can practice other types of law.”
Her eyes narrow. “You would hate that.”
I cup her jaw. “I’ll do it—for you and Presley. If that’s what you need, I will.”
Her brows pinch together—half with heartbreak, half with anger. She steps away from me, her voice breaking. “I do not want to be the sacrifice you make! I never did! We both deserve better than that.”
And then she launches herself at me, wrapping her arms around my waist, her soft warmth aligned with mine, burying her face in my chest, refusing to let go. I hold her right back, tight and safe, kissing the top of her head, murmuring gentle words, pressing my nose to her hair because it smells so sweet.
We stay like that for a while, until her tears are all dried up. And it just feels . . . sad. Like the very last minutes of a funeral.
“I’m marrying JD on Saturday, Stanton. I need you to understand.”
I grip her arms and lean back, so she can see my eyes. “It’s a mistake. I came here for you. I’m not giving up on us. Understand that.”
“You don’t know—” she starts.
But then I get an idea and I cut her off with a comically heavy Alabama accent. “I’m not a smart man, Jen-ney. But I know what love is . . .”
She covers her ears, and squeaks, “Don’t do that! Don’t you Forrest Gump me! You know that movie makes me cry, you evil sonofabitch.”
She punches me on the arm, both of us almost smiling.
“Yeah, I know.” I sweep her blond hair back, letting the heat of my hand seep through her T-shirt, rubbing my thumb along the ridge of her collarbone. “Does he know that? Does he know you like I do, Jenn?” I step closer, leaning toward her. “Does he know how much you like those long, wet kinds of kisses or how licking that spot behind your—”
Her hand covers my mouth. She peers up at me with patient amusement, like I’m an incorrigible adolescent. “That’s enough, you. He knows me—some things better than even you. What he doesn’t know, he’ll have plenty of time to find out.”
I stick out my tongue, licking circles on her palm.
She squeals and snatches it away.
“I want you to meet him, Stanton. He’s a good man. You’ll like him.”
I cross my arms. “If he’s breathing, there’s no way I’m gonna like him.”
Jenny jerks her thumb toward my truck. “C’mon, take me home. Presley will be done with cheerleadin’ soon.”
“Let’s pick her up,” I suggest as we walk side by side to the truck. “Together. She’ll like that.”
I reach out to hold Jenny’s hand, like I’ve done a million times before, but she moves it away. I frown. Then I snatch it, not letting her escape, purposely entwining all of our fingers.
She gazes impassively. “You done?”
Holding her eyes, I slowly bring her knuckles to my lips. “Darlin’, I have not even begun to start.”
She stares up at my face, looking like she can’t decide if she wants to laugh or burst into tears—maybe both at the same time. Her hand cups my jaw, her head shaking.
“Oh, Stanton, I know I’ve turned this whole thing into a shit-show . . . but I have missed you.”
After I drop Jenny off at her parents’ house, I bring Presley to mine. She and Sofia seem to hit it off when I introduce them in my old room. Then the two of us head outside, tossing a football. My throw spirals through the air, arching midway, then comes to rest in her hands. A perfect pass.
It’s nice to know I’ve still got it.