Bring Me Back: Epilogue



“All right. Dig in, everyone.”

The corners of my mouth curve up as I watch Phoenix proudly set down the tray of sausage and peppers that she cooked for today’s BBQ.

Wilbur sits at her feet, tail thumping hard against the deck as drool drips from his mouth.

“You did this to him, you know.” Phoenix points the serving spoon at Leo. “I know you’re the one who’s been sneaking him table food.”

Leo snatches the spoon out of her hand, feigning offense. “I have done no such thing.” He scoops a heaping spoonful of sausage and peppers onto his plate. “But you’re welcome, because he’s a big, bad pit bull now.”

I lean forward and smack the back of his head. “Guests get served first, idiot.”

He gapes at me. “This isn’t my house. I am a guest.”

Tyler peers into the tray of sausage before glancing up at his sister. “You cooked this, and you didn’t set the house on fire?”

My eyebrows shoot up as I turn my attention to Phoenix. “You told me you didn’t set fires in the kitchen.”

Phoenix’s eyes widen. “It was one time, and I was twelve years old.”

“Dad had to call the fire department.”

“He shouldn’t have let me cook on my own.”

Tyler’s shoulders shake as he laughs.

Phoenix snatches Jenna from his arms. “You’re the only one who has my back here, kid.”

Jenna babbles like she agrees with her aunt.

“You know I have your back.” I lean over and tickle Jenna’s tummy. “I just didn’t realize I needed to keep a fire extinguisher handy.”

“I was twelve!”

Jenna lets out a loud giggle, and everyone sitting around the table laughs.

“At least your man cooks.” Gabby pats Tyler’s hand. “Where can I get me one of those?”

Leo spreads out his arms wide on either side of his body, talking around a boulder of food in his cheek. “Right here, baby. I’m the younger version with more stamina and a bigger—”

“Mouth,” Dad finishes, cutting him off. “A much bigger mouth.”

Leo winks at Gabby. “You know what I’m talking about.”

Phoenix smiles wide, looking around at our friends and family, and my heart swells. I’ll never grow tired of seeing her happy.

Drew clears his throat from across the table and slides back his chair as he stands. “I’d like to raise a toast to Nix.”

We all lift our drinks.

“Not only are you the best friend, sister, and girlfriend we know, but as of last week, you’re officially the best author we know.”

Dad blows a whistle through his teeth, and Phoenix’s cheeks tinge with a pretty pink color.

“We’re so proud of all you’ve accomplished, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store in your future.” He lifts his Solo cup higher. “To you, you badass.”

We cheer in accord and tip back our drinks.

Phoenix hugs Jenna close and rests her head on my shoulder. “Thank you for all your support. I don’t know where I’d be without each of you helping me along the way.”

I press a kiss to the top of her head. “You’d be exactly where you are right now because you are strong, and you can do anything you put your mind to.”

She tilts her head up and brings her lips to mine. “I love you.”

“I love you, beautiful.”

Phil wipes the corner of his mouth with his napkin. “Nix, have you seen Cory at all lately?”

She nods, her smile diminishing like it always does when she thinks about Cory. “I visited him last week.”

“How’s he doing?” Dad asks.

“He’s making progress since they got his meds regulated.” She looks at Drew. “He’s lonely there though. You know how it was in the beginning.”

“He has you, Nixie.” Leo rubs her back in small circles. “He’ll be okay.”

Tyler shakes his head. “I still don’t understand why you didn’t press charges. The kid almost killed you. He would’ve killed James if you didn’t—”

“Drop it, Ty.” Gabby holds up her hand. “We’ve been over this so many times. Phoenix doesn’t have to explain herself again. She wants to help him instead of putting him through the system, and I agree with her. It’ll give him a better chance at rehabilitation. Putting him in juvie wouldn’t help his mental health.”

Phoenix flashes her sister-in-law a grateful smile. “Everyone deserves a second chance, and I’m going to do everything I can to try to help him.”

Tyler and Phil exchange a glance, but I shake my head at them. Not here.

My first instinct as a cop is to put someone like Cory behind bars. But after listening to how Phoenix feels and realizing that Leo could’ve ended up in the same situation had he not given up drugs, I had to try something different. Clearview helped Phoenix, as well as Drew and many others struggling. Cory deserved a chance too.

Phoenix perks up again. “What about you, little bro? How has your EMT course been going? I feel like I barely see you without your nose in a book anymore.”

“It’s going great. There’s a hot chick in my class.” He waggles his eyebrows. “She’s totally into me, of course.”

Dad grimaces. “It’s a miracle you haven’t gotten anyone pregnant.”

“I’m safe, Dad. I use protection. You taught me how, remember?”

“I try to forget that time in my life. You were so inquisitive.”

Sadie presses her palm to her cheek. “I’m dreading that part of parenting.”

“Now, being a grandparent, on the other hand…” Dad swings his gaze in my direction, eyes bouncing between me and Phoenix. “That I’m looking forward to.”

Phoenix chokes on her water, and Leo slaps her back.

I pinch the bridge of my nose. “Dad, we told you, we’re not having kids. You can cut the guilt trip.”

“Don’t worry.” Leo puffs out his chest. “I want at least five kids, so I’ll make up for all the kids James doesn’t have and carry on the Russo name.”

Dad looks up to the sky. “God help us all.”

As if she understood the entire conversation, Jenna lurches off Phoenix’s lap and dive-bombs into my arms.

I chuckle and scoop her up. “You want to come to your uncle James, don’t you, baby girl?” I stand with her and walk over to the edge of the deck, letting everyone enjoy their meals.

I press my lips against her soft, wispy hair and breathe in deep as I gaze out at the calm lagoon. It’s incredible how much different life is now than it was last year.

“You know, Jenna, there’s something you should know about life: Things always change, even when you don’t realize it’s happening. There’s no way to predict the future, what will come, good or bad. But everything ends up right where you’re supposed to be. So, when things seem bad, just have faith that they will turn around, because they will.”

My restless soul is content now that it has found its counterpart. Everything’s better with Phoenix.

Jenna opens her mouth and slobbers all over my cheek—her favorite game where she tries to bite me with her two tiny shark teeth, and I pretend it hurts as I howl in pain. Kid thinks it’s hilarious.

Phoenix hums, sidling alongside us. “Why is it such a turn-on seeing men hold babies?”

“Men?” I arch a brow.

My man.” She slides her hand up my arm, squeezing my bicep. “Want to sneak inside and make some babies—minus the babies?”

I glance at the table.

“Everyone’s busy eating,” she whispers. “They won’t even notice we’re gone.”

I grunt. “Leo will.”

“Let him hold Jenna. He loves it.”

True. Leo thinks he’s the favorite uncle.

He’s not.

I hold out Jenna in front of me. “Sorry, kid. I’ve gotta leave you with your second-favorite uncle.”

Phoenix disappears inside the house, and I drop Jenna off with Leo.

He chuckles to himself, knowing damn well where we’re going.

I get to the bedroom—our bedroom, since I moved in—and pull Phoenix close.

Her hands disappear underneath the hem of my shirt, sliding up my stomach to settle on my chest. “What were you saying to Jenna out there on the deck?”

I skate my lips over her neck. “I was telling her about life.”

She lets out a soft giggle. “The meaning of life to a one-year-old?”

I bite her shoulder and drop the strap of her dress. “Not the meaning of life, smart-ass.” I continue kissing across her collarbone to the other shoulder and drop that strap too. “I was just letting her know that when things seem bad, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Phoenix peels off my shirt and peppers kisses all over my skin. “You’re my light, you know that?”

“You’re mine.” I tug her dress until it’s pooling at her feet and pop the clasp on her strapless bra. “I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

She moans as my fingers glide between her legs.

“I’m going to love you forever.” I lick her nipple, swirling around her hardened bud. “I’m going to care for you.” I graze my teeth over it before switching to the other. “I’m going to cook for you.”

Phoenix hums. “That’s my favorite part.”

I give her ass a firm smack, and she grins. “You’re only with me for the food, huh?”

“And this.” She yanks down my shorts and palms my dick through my boxers.

“Food and sex. It’s easy to keep you happy.” I drop to my knees and drag my tongue over her clit, continuing to speak against her skin. “I’d give everything I have to keep you happy.”

She hums, threading her fingers through my hair.

“Through all your ups and downs, and mine. Through the good times and bad.”

She moans again, arching her back to give me more of her.

“I’m going to be there for you, loving you, through it all.” I toss one of her legs over my shoulder. “We are forever.”

She’s breathless when she whispers my name. “James?”

“Yes, sweetheart?”

“I’ve always got your six.”

“And I’ve got yours.”


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