Tru blue, p.14
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       Tru Blue, p.14

           Melissa Foster
 
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  She shook her head, wishing it were that easy. “No. I feel too much to ever be that cold. People like you and me? We can’t turn off our emotions like that. The cruel joke is that when I was a teenager and all my friends got their periods, mine never came. It turns out, some dreams aren’t meant to come true. I was born without a uterus and with a shortened…um.” This part was much harder to admit, even though she’d dealt with it long ago. It wasn’t exactly something any woman wanted to say to her boyfriend.

  Truman was looking at her with so much empathy, it made it easier for her to admit the rest.

  “A shortened vagina. It’s called MKRH. It’s not hereditary or genetic. It’s a rare congenital birth defect. I don’t mean to gross you out—this is way too much information—but I didn’t want to give you half the story. I’ve never told anyone but my best friend about this.”

  She looked away, embarrassed. With a tender touch, he drew her face back toward his.

  “Gross me out? This is your body, and there’s nothing gross about it. Honestly, I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary…down there. Making love to you was the best experience of my life. Literally.”

  He kissed her so intensely she wanted to keep kissing instead of revealing the rest of the story, but she’d made up her mind, and she truly wanted him to know.

  “That’s because of the wonders of medicine. I had surgery when I was younger to fix that part, but I can never bear my own children.” She placed her hand over her barren belly. “I’ll never know what it feels like to have my baby inside me.”

  “Oh, sweetheart. I’m so sorry.” His voice was thick with sorrow.

  “Thank you, but I’m actually lucky. I was born with ovaries, so I can use a surrogate one day if I ever decide to go that route. Someone can still give birth to my babies.”

  “I can’t pretend to know what it feels like to be a woman and know I couldn’t carry my own children, but what I do know is that whether you give birth to your children or not, any child who grows up with you in their life will be damn lucky.”

  “Does it bother you that I can’t get pregnant?” she asked carefully.

  A sweet smile appeared on his handsome face and he shook his head, gathering her in his arms again, more gently this time, somehow knowing she no longer needed to steal his courage—he’d already given her enough.

  “No, sweetheart. It doesn’t bother me.”

  He pressed his lips to hers in a series of slow, intoxicating kisses, easing all her fears.

  “If there’s one thing I’ve realized with Kennedy and Lincoln,” he said quietly, “it’s that whether they’re yours in the traditional sense or not doesn’t matter. The heart doesn’t care about bloodlines or birth parents. It just seems to know how to love in the same way our lungs know how to breathe.”

  Chapter Seventeen

  OVER THE NEXT week, Truman and Bear installed the fence around a play area in the side yard and began working on the office renovations. In the evenings, Bones and Bullet swung by to help, and Gemma and Dixie, who had become fast friends, took the kids on walks or hung out in the yard while Truman and the guys worked. More often than not, they all hung out and had dinner together, grilling out back and playing with the kids. They hadn’t begun building the wall in his apartment yet, but they’d get there. With Lincoln’s early-morning feedings, and working late into the evenings on the renovations, Truman’s days were long and exhausting, but he didn’t mind the hard work, and he loved working alongside his buddies.

  He gazed out across the grass at Gemma, heading his way with his little boy in her arms. She looked sexy as sin in a pair of cutoffs, a white T-shirt, and a purple hoodie as she made her way through the knee-high grass with Kennedy, who looked adorable in a pair of pink leggings and hoodie he’d bought her the first night they’d met. It had been eight days since they’d first made love, and their sex life had gotten hotter and their love had grown deeper with every passing day. Regardless of how tired he was at the end of the day, all it took was one of Gemma’s sweet smiles to rejuvenate him. Every night after the kids went to sleep, they fell into each other’s arms in a ravenous tumble of hunger and need. And later, after they’d devoured each other, satiating their erotic greed, they made love. Two totally different experiences, both intimate and meaningful and both devastatingly satisfying. He was having trouble remembering a time when she hadn’t been part of his life.

  Gemma waved a hand in front of him, as if he’d been zoning out, which he totally had, and whispered, “If you keep looking at me like that, you’re liable to burn my clothes off.” She went up on her toes and kissed him.

  “And that would be bad because…?”

  She shifted Lincoln to her shoulder and patted Truman’s butt. “Save it for after they’re in bed, lover boy. If you burn my clothes off now, we’ll never get to the beach.”

  He’d lived there for half a year and he had yet to go down to the harbor. The evening out was Gemma’s idea. The kids need to get to know their community. What better way than a stroll by the water and a cone at Luscious Licks? She knew how to be a family. That was just another of a long list of things he adored about her. Although she spent most nights at his place, when she had stayed at her own apartment, he’d dropped off drawings for her at the boutique in the morning, as he had before. He’d feared sharing the ghosts of his past with anyone, but Gemma wasn’t afraid of the demons that had driven him to create such darkness, and it was cathartic getting some of the poison that ate away at him out of his system. Their lives were coming together seamlessly, and Truman was beginning to feel like he had a real family. If only he could get a handle on Quincy, but he’d dropped off the grid again.

  “Ice cweam,” Kennedy chimed in.

  Kennedy thrust a fistful of wildflowers toward him, reminding him of what Gemma had said about wishing she’d been allowed to run through a meadow and just be a kid when she was younger. It astonished him that she had no spite in her, despite her upbringing. The love she showed him and the kids was so genuine, sometimes he felt selfish for accepting it so readily.

  “We’re going, sweetie.” Gemma smoothed a hand over Kennedy’s hair, untangling a wayward lock from the pink barrette she’d put in it.

  That was just one of the little things that Gemma took the time to do for the kids that made him think about her childhood. Who put barrettes in her hair when she was a little girl? Her nannies? Or was that another thing she’d missed out on?

  They drove down to Luscious Licks. Another first for Truman. The pistachio-colored building had two giant sculptures of ice-cream cones out front. Truman lifted Kennedy up, and she pretended to hold one while Gemma took a picture. Taking kids out for ice cream was such a normal thing to do for most people. But Truman had been so busy trying to hold his and Quincy’s lives together when they were growing up, ice-cream shops weren’t even on his radar. Now his mind sped down the path of possibilities. Could life be like this? Normal? He wanted that so bad he could taste it.

  Carrying Lincoln, he draped his free arm over Gemma’s shoulder and leaned down for a kiss. “Thank you,” he said quietly.

  She looked up at him with a curious expression. “For?”

  “This is another first for me, and if I hadn’t met you I might have missed out on it altogether.” She’d not only expanded his and his kids’ worlds, but she’d changed him without even trying. He no longer felt as guarded as he always had.

  He held open the door for Gemma to pass through, and a pretty woman popped up from behind the counter.

  “Gemma!” She looked to be in her midtwenties. Her hair was pinned up in a messy bun and held in place with a…straw? Wiping her hands on a towel, she came around the counter with a bright smile. “Who have you brought for me to meet today?” She crouched in front of Kennedy.

  Kennedy moved behind Gemma’s leg and peered around it at the friendly woman. Gemma placed a hand on Kennedy’s back, soothing her so sweetly and naturally Truman’s heart gave a little tug
.

  “Hi, Pen. This is Kennedy.” Gemma knelt beside Kennedy. “Kennedy, this is my friend Penny. She loves to give little girls ice-cream cones.”

  Kennedy blinked warily at Penny. She had come out of her shell at home, but she was still tentative around strangers.

  “What’s your favorite flavor?” Penny asked.

  Gemma glanced up at Truman. “That’s what we’re here to find out.” She lifted Kennedy into her arms and walked over to the freezer, allowing Kennedy to see all the vats of colorful ice cream. “I think we need to taste a few.”

  “A girl after my own heart,” Penny said. She rose to her feet and smiled at Truman. “But first, who is this tattooed man with the baby following you around? A stalker?”

  “I can’t believe I didn’t introduce you.” Gemma touched Truman’s hand, looking at him with that expression that made his stomach go funky. “This is my boyfriend, Truman. And this little guy”—she tickled Lincoln’s cheek—“is his little boy. Kennedy’s brother.”

  Those five words stole his focus.

  My boyfriend and his little boy. Truman had never been a boyfriend before. Hearing Gemma claim him like that, so readily and with pride in her eyes, reinforced how important of a role it was. For both of them. Hearing her call Lincoln his little boy made him want to correct her, because they’d become so close, the kids felt like they were theirs, not solely his, but he held his tongue.

  “Gemma’s boyfriend? And you’re a package deal with these two adorable kids? Where have you been hiding?” Penny went in for a hug. Then she squeezed his biceps and patted his stomach.

  Truman looked over her head at Gemma, who laughed at his discomfort.

  “Nice to meet you, too, but I’m not carrying any weapons if this is a pat down.”

  “Pat down? Ha! This is a feel up.” Penny laughed and walked around the counter. “I gotta get my feels where I can.”

  “Once is all she gets,” Gemma said.

  Truman loved the territorial glint in Gemma’s eyes.

  Kennedy tasted a bunch of flavors, finally settling on birthday cake, and as they ordered, sadness swept through him. He was sure Kennedy had never had a birthday cake. He glanced at Gemma, who looked like she was thinking the same thing. They were so in sync, in the bedroom and out, and it never failed to surprise him.

  By the time they said goodbye to Penny, Kennedy had come out of her shell. She waved with a sweet smile and a mouthful of ice cream as they headed outside.

  “Let’s take the stroller down to the beach. It’s too nice of a night to drive.” Gemma opened the trunk of her car, and Truman handed her Lincoln so he could set up the stroller.

  She brought so much joy into his and the kids’ lives, he couldn’t wait to show her how being with her had changed him. He’d taken advantage of the evenings when Gemma hosted events to finish the painting he’d begun what seemed like a lifetime ago. The demons that used to propel his every move had morphed to something altogether different, and it was reflected in his latest painting. For the first time since he was a teenager, when he’d first begun painting in the junkyard, he wanted to share it with the woman who brought light to his darkness.

  “Isn’t Penny great?” Gemma’s voice pulled him from his thoughts.

  “Yeah. Is Penny always like that?”

  “Yes. She’s a riot, isn’t she?”

  He lifted Kennedy into the stroller, then lowered the infant bed in the back and settled Lincoln in with his blanket. He gathered Gemma in his arms, heat blazing between them as their bodies connected. “I don’t like other women touching me.”

  Gemma went up on her toes and pressed her lips to his in a delicious ice-cream kiss. “I think that might make you the perfect boyfriend.”

  “DON’T WE HAVE enough pictures?” Truman asked as he lifted Kennedy into his arms and brushed off her tiny bare feet.

  Gemma smiled, knowing she’d take a million more. Truman had built a sand castle with Kennedy. They’d collected shells to put in a bowl at the apartment and had watched the sun set while Kennedy tried to outrun the waves creeping up the shore. Gemma had taken tons of pictures. She’d taken one of her favorites when Lincoln had gotten fussy. It was a beautiful picture with the moon rising in the background and Lincoln cradled against Truman’s broad chest. Truman was looking down at Lincoln like he was the most spectacular sight he’d ever seen, and Lincoln’s little hand reached for his cheek.

  This had been the most perfect evening Gemma could remember.

  “You’re going to be happy you have these.” She shoved her phone in her pocket and helped Truman settle Kennedy in the stroller. “We need to make photo albums so you can embarrass Lincoln with his first girlfriend and Kennedy with her prom date or before she gets married. Those are important rites of passage for a little girl.”

  “Did you go through those rites of passage?” He pushed the stroller onto the boardwalk and pulled Gemma against his side.

  She looked up at his handsome face. He’d been working so hard lately, but he looked more relaxed than she’d ever seen him, and she realized she had been more relaxed lately, too. Truman was so attentive toward her, and every time he saw her he lit up, like he’d been thinking about her all day and he was happily surprised to see her, even if they’d made plans. It was an amazing feeling to be adored and cherished. They may have come from different sides of the tracks, but at some point those tracks merged, because he understood her like no one else ever had.

  “No. All our pictures were posed,” she admitted, remembering those awful times when she was told what to wear, how to stand, and even how wide to smile.

  Way deep down inside, she’d wondered if she’d built up hope for finding someone unattainable, a man who would be happy with her and with life instead of making her feel like she was never enough, as her parents had. Truman erased that deep-seated fear. The only thing he wanted more of was her.

  “Well, then, I’ll need to take lots of pictures of you when you’re not expecting them.” He slid his hand around her neck and gazed into her eyes. “I’m falling so hard for you, Gemma. I want to right all the wrongs you’ve had done to you.”

  He was so thoughtful and caring and so much deeper than any man she’d ever known. Falling? She leaped over the edge. Goose bumps raced over her skin.

  “I’m falling for you, too.”

  A group of guys walked by and Truman tightened his hold on her. She loved his possessiveness. She’d caught him watching the guys on the beach who noticed her, tossing out back-off stares like confetti. She’d also noticed him acting just as protective over the kids. As Kennedy ran from the waves, he did the same, looking like a giant beside the petite toddler. And when people glanced into the stroller to look at the pretty baby—and Lincoln was a very pretty baby, with his downy-soft reddish hair and creamy skin—Truman stood with one hand on his little boy, watching the friendly strangers like a hawk. But right now all that intensity was focused on her, and she’d never felt anything so luxurious or so hot.

  “I’m one hell of a lucky bastard.” He drew her into another delectable kiss.

  The kids fell asleep on the way back to the car, and Gemma’s head lingered in the clouds as they put the children to bed. Truman turned on the radio by the monitor, as he did every time they went out to the deck after putting the kids to sleep, and took her hand as they left the kids’ room. As soon as he shut the door, he pinned her hands above her head, pressed his body into hers until her back hit the wall, and kissed her. The force of the kiss sent the pit of her stomach into a swirl of heat and lust. His hips ground into hers as he took the kiss deeper, moaning intensely, the vibrations obliterating her brain cells.

  When their lips parted, he bit her lower lip and gave it a tug. “I have been dying to do that all night.”

  She slid her hands up the back of his head and pulled him in to another kiss. He smelled like sea and sand carried on the wings of desire, and she wanted to drown in him.

  “Come with me,” he
said against her lips.

  She’d go anywhere with him. Do anything with him.

  If only her legs would move.

  His mouth curved into a gratified grin. “God, I love when that happens to you.” He wrapped an arm around her waist, his legs becoming hers. “Come on, sweet girl. I want to show you something.”

  He grabbed the baby monitor, locked the doors, and led her outside, kissing her again before heading down the back steps.

  “Does the one-eyed python want to play in the grass tonight?” Getting down and dirty outside had been hot the first time, and the heat between them had only amped up since.

  Crushing her to him, he pressed his mouth to hers again, showering her with the most exquisite kisses.

  “My snake always wants to play in your grass.” He rubbed noses with her and her heart soared. “But I want to show you something before I tear those clothes off and have my wicked way with you.”

  “Mm. I like that ‘wicked way’ idea.” She followed him through the gate and into the junkyard, holding him a little tighter. She’d never been back there, and it was pitch-dark.

  Truman dug his phone out of his pocket and turned on his flashlight app, illuminating the mass of rusted and mangled cars she’d seen from his deck.

  “Stay close,” he said, holding her against him.

  “Why? Is something going to come out and bite me? Because it feels like there might be monsters down here.” She clutched his arm, and he chuckled.

  “No. Because I want you close to me.” He grinned down at her, aiming the flashlight at the ground. Even in the darkness she saw the heat in his eyes. He kissed her again, long and mind-numbingly slow, successfully kissing away her worries.

  He guided her around a van, and when he lifted the light, a sea of ghosts came to life. She clutched him tightly again as she took in the frightening images. Dark eyes shadowed with tortured dullness, claws and fangs and skeletons pushing out of doorways. Men’s faces, gaunt and glassy-eyed, had swirls of smoke drifting upward from evil-looking, twisted mouths. Every car in sight had a different scene painted on it. And she knew they were ghosts of Truman’s past. She moved on shaky legs, less from fear than from the harsh reality of the poisons of his past surrounding them. Horrific, incredibly detailed, and artistic images came to life on car doors, across hoods and side panels. Villains painted on the inside of the windows, clawing to get out. She’d never seen anything so alive with fear, hate, and vulnerabilities. Like his sketches, they were all done in shades of blacks and grays, the nuances so slight and yet so real, she could feel the pulse of breath coming from them.

 
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