Tru blue, p.17
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       Tru Blue, p.17

           Melissa Foster
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  After they trick or treated at a few more houses, the others headed to Whiskey Bro’s to catch the costume party, and Gemma and Truman took the kids home.

  They’d forgotten to leave on the outside lights at the apartment. Truman turned on the flashlight app on his phone, illuminating the path around the building. He carried Kennedy in one arm, his other hand resting protectively on Gemma’s lower back. Lincoln was fast asleep in her arms.

  “He made a damn cute Pooh bear.” He smiled down at Gemma. “And you put every princess, other than our little princess, to shame.”

  “Thank you.” She stopped walking to pull him closer for a kiss. “This was so much fun. I’m glad I got to share the kids’ first real Halloween with you.”

  “Me too, sweetheart.” He glanced over her shoulder at movement in the grass. Stepping in front of Gemma, he lifted his phone, aiming the flashlight toward the shadows, and his world tilted on its axis.

  Quincy lay facedown in the grass.

  “Stay here.” The few feet between them and Quincy felt like a mile. He crouched beside his brother, still holding Kennedy. Please don’t be dead. Don’t you fucking die on me. He rolled Quincy over, quickly grabbing his wrist in search of a pulse, feeling the slow beat beneath his fingers. Thank God. He did a quick visual inspection of his unconscious brother, looking for stab wounds or bullet holes. Fuck. He didn’t know what he was looking for. Quincy’s nose and mouth were bloody, his face bruised on the right side, with a gash over his right cheekbone. Truman rose to his feet.

  “Get the kids in the car, Gemma.” The command came out harsh as he walked swiftly with a hand on Gemma’s back, moving her forward, scanning the property in case whoever beat up Quincy was lurking.

  “What happened? Should we call the police?” The fear in her voice was palpable.

  She looked over her shoulder, and Truman stepped behind her, blocking her view. He didn’t want that ugliness anywhere near her and the kids. His fucking brother had brought his nightmare to his doorstep, and he had no idea what else might follow.

  “No police. If I have any interaction with the police, I have to report it, and I’ve got no black marks on my record since my release. I’m taking him to the hospital.” He put Kennedy in her car seat, then took Lincoln from Gemma, who seemed too stunned to focus, and strapped him in.

  He pressed Bear’s speed-dial number and lifted his phone to his ear while opening the driver’s door for Gemma.

  “Bro?” Bear answered.

  “I need you.”

  “On my way.”

  “Truman!” Gemma demanded. “Talk to me. Why are we leaving? Is Quincy okay? What happened?”

  He looked into her eyes and tried to slow his racing mind long enough to give her the answers she deserved. “I don’t know what happened or how Quincy got here. All I know is that he’s breathing, but he’s badly beaten and unconscious. I’ve got to get him to the hospital. But if this was a drug deal gone bad, whoever did this could come back. I want you and the kids safe—and you can’t be safe here until I know what happened. I don’t even know if anyone’s been in the apartment.”

  “Okay. Oh God, Truman. What about you? What if someone is here?” She looked around the yard. “I hope Quincy’s okay.”

  “Me too. But you have to go.”

  She hugged him quickly. “I’ll go, but I need the kids’ stuff.”

  Two sets of headlights raced down the driveway. Bear’s and Bullet’s trucks skidded to stops and their doors flew open. Bear, Bullet, Bones, Dixie, and Crystal stalked across the parking lot. Crystal made a beeline for Gemma.

  Truman filled in the others as quickly as he could. Bones went to help Quincy. Gemma told Bear what she needed, and he went to retrieve it from the apartment.

  “Gemma, I know this is scary, but I have to get back to Quincy and get him to the hospital, and I can’t do that until I know you and the kids are okay. Please go.”

  She looked around the yard with fear in her eyes and nodded. “Please be careful.”

  “I will, baby. I love you, and I’m so sorry.” He glanced into the car at the kids, feeling like he was right back in the hellhole he’d grown up in. He was not going to fail them. Not tonight. Not ever. That shit was going to end here and now.

  Chapter Twenty

  GEMMA AND THE girls put the kids to sleep in her apartment, with Kennedy on the bed and Lincoln in the playpen Bear brought over shortly after they arrived. Gemma was a nervous wreck, worrying about Truman and Quincy and feeling completely out of her element. She paced the living room, a million questions racing through her mind.

  “I’ve never been through anything like this before,” she said to no one in particular. Lifting her eyes to Bear, who was sitting on the couch next to Dixie with his elbows on his knees, she asked, “Is this what it was like when he was growing up? Are the kids going to be safe there? Is Truman safe?”

  Crystal tried to embrace her, but Gemma pushed out of her arms.

  “Sorry,” she said to Crystal. “I’m too nervous to stand still.”

  Bear lifted serious eyes to her. “Truman knows what he’s doing. He’s been down this path with his mother.”

  “His mother,” she repeated, feeling a mix of sadness and anger. “I should be there with him. He must be so scared for Quincy.”

  “Bones is with him,” Bear assured her. “The best thing you can do is stay here with the kids. He’d be worried sick if you and the kids weren’t safe. He’s already texted me to make sure I don’t let you go back to the apartment. As if I would.” He scoffed. “We won’t know what’s really going on until we hear back from him. Bullet’s at the apartment keeping watch. Nothing was touched inside, and there were no signs of a break-in, which is good.”

  She checked her phone, but there were no messages from Truman. “He texted you?” She couldn’t hide the hurt in her voice.

  “Watchdog texts,” Dixie said. “That’s what my brothers call them. It’s what they do when they don’t have time to talk but they want to make sure everyone’s okay.”

  Bear rose from the couch and showed her the message from Truman. I love them, man. Watch them as if they’re your own. Keep them away from the apartment until we know what’s up.

  She looked up at Bear, feeling like she was floating at sea without a raft. “I don’t know how to do this. Or how to live this way.” She thought of the kids, and fear spread through her.

  “You don’t have to,” he assured her. “We do. And none of us would ever put you or the kids in harm’s way.”

  She looked at Crystal, who said, “I believe him. He’s handsy, and he’s territorial with things that aren’t his, but I believe the dude.”

  Bear laughed. “Sugar, you haven’t seen handsy.”

  “And you worry about Crow around me?” Dixie scoffed. “Please.” She put an arm around Gemma and led her to the couch, sitting down beside her. “Gemma, Truman is one of the best, most loyal men I know. It’s really hard to separate him from everything that’s happened tonight, especially when you’re so upset. But remember that Truman has never done drugs. He’s spent his life protecting Quincy, and paid a heavy price for doing so. He doesn’t know how to turn that off, no matter how much he loves you. And he does love you. Hell, that man is so in love with you, he built a bedroom and made sheet forts. But the truth is, you need to dig deep and think about whether you love him enough to deal with Quincy’s drug issues. Because tonight could happen again. It might not, but it could, and only you can decide if it’s too much for you to handle.”

  TRUMAN KNOCKED ON the door to Gemma’s apartment bleary-eyed and exhausted. It was seven thirty in the morning and he’d been up all night. The door swung open and Gemma launched herself into his arms. He’d texted her a few hours earlier to let her know that Quincy was out of the woods, and her simple text—Good. I love you—had comforted him. But that was nothing compared to holding the woman he loved in his arms.

  “I was so worried.” She kissed his cheeks, his l
ips, then his cheeks again.

  He soaked in every second of her attention, feeling his tilting world right itself. “Hey, sweet girl.” He rubbed his nose over hers, needing their secret silent affections as much as he needed their verbal ones. “I missed you.”

  “Me too. Are you okay? Is Quincy okay?” She searched his face, and he knew he looked like hell. Until the second she was in his arms he’d felt like hell, too. Now he felt exhausted, but better.

  “Yeah. Let’s go inside and I’ll fill everyone in.”

  He found Dixie sitting at the table with Lincoln on her lap and Bear on the couch, his head resting back against the cushion, eyes closed. He leaned down and kissed Lincoln as Bear pushed to his feet.

  “All good?” Bear asked, giving him a quick embrace.

  “Yeah.” He looked around. “Where’s Kennedy?”

  “Tooman!” Kennedy ran down the hall with Crystal on her heels. Both wore a ponytail secured with a big pink bow.

  He scooped Kennedy into his arms and hugged her tight.

  “She’s got Gemma’s love of all things frilly.” Crystal shook her head, sending her long black ponytail swinging from side to side.

  Kennedy wiggled out of his arms and went to Bear, freeing Truman up to claim Gemma again. “Thanks for everything, you guys.”

  Crystal put her hand on her hip and glared at him. “You’re welcome, but we’re not leaving until we get the scoop.”

  “I figured as much, but I gotta sit down. I’m beat.” He sank down to the couch, pulling Gemma down beside him and pinching the bridge of his nose as he tried to figure out where to begin.

  “Quincy’s in rehab,” he finally said.

  “He is?” Gemma and Bear asked at the same time.

  “He hit rock bottom.” Glancing at Kennedy, he chose his words carefully. “He owed a guy money. He’s lucky they didn’t…” He didn’t want to say kill in front of Kennedy. He finally had a shred of hope that Quincy would clean up his act and become the brother Truman believed he was destined to be.

  “They know where you live?” Bear asked.

  Truman shook his head. “They dumped him over the bridge. He walked the seven miles to my place and collapsed.”

  “So, is it safe to go back there?” Gemma asked tentatively.

  “Yes, but I want to talk to you about that after I get some sleep.”

  “Okay.” She touched his hand and smiled.

  The simple show of affection warmed him all over.

  “Is this forced rehab?” Bear asked.

  “No. He went willingly. It was actually his idea. He said he’s been thinking about it ever since I sent him away from the shop.” He squeezed Gemma’s hand. “He can leave anytime, but it’s a thirty-day program with the possibility of extending it to ninety if he needs it.”

  “Dude, how are you affording that?” Bear asked.

  “What good is money if you don’t use it to help your family?” He’d used his savings, and even if he had to work twice as many hours, he’d figure out a way to get his brother the help he needed.

  “I hear ya.” Bear touched Crystal’s arm. “Come on, sugar. Let’s give these guys some privacy.”

  “I’m not your ‘sugar,’” Crystal snapped.

  Bear chuckled.

  Crystal hugged Gemma. “Do you guys want me to take the kids for a few hours so you can rest?”

  “No,” Gemma said. “I think Truman needs to have them here.”

  She knew him so well. “Thanks anyway, Crystal. I appreciate the offer.” He embraced her, then took Lincoln from Dixie. “Thank you all for staying over and helping out.”

  Dixie hugged him. “No worries, and ditto on the offer to babysit. When you guys need it, I’m around.”

  “Thanks, Dix.”

  After everyone left, Truman sank down to the floor with Lincoln sitting between his legs and Gemma beside him.

  “How are you really doing?” she asked him sweetly.

  He watched Kennedy playing with her toys and looked at Lincoln’s little fist curled around his index finger. “I’m relieved and hopeful, but I know how it is with addicts. They can want to be clean, and in a blink of an eye they’re chasing the dragon again.”

  “I’ve never been through anything like this. I was pretty terrified last night. Is that what it was like for you growing up?” She went up on her knees and slid an arm across his shoulder.

  It was embarrassing how much he craved and needed her touch. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. I hate that you and the kids had to go through that. When we were growing up, I was so focused on taking care of Quincy that everything else was a blur. Going to school was a reprieve, and coming home was a nightmare. Last night, when I saw Quincy lying there, I was thrown right back there, to finding my mother passed out after school, or coming home to an empty house and she’d show up sometimes days later.”

  He cradled her face in his hands and said, “I don’t want you or the kids to ever see anything like that again. If Quincy doesn’t get clean, I’ll lay down the law with him, and he won’t come back.”

  She shook her head, her eyes serious. “You can’t do that, because even if he isn’t ready now, one day he might be. And if you’re not there to help him, he’ll have nowhere to go.”

  “Jesus, Gemma. What did I do to deserve you?”

  “I ask myself the same thing about you, Tru. Dixie said some things that really made me think about us last night. I don’t want to change anything about you. I was honest when I said I was terrified, and I second-guessed everything for half the night, because I’ve never been around anything even remotely similar to drugs or alcoholism, or even biker guys.”

  She paused and nibbled on her lower lip, making his stomach knot up.

  “But I’ve never been happier, or felt more loved, in all my life than I am when I’m with you. And I love your kids, and I know that when we’re together, we’re safe. You took care of us before taking care of your own brother. I don’t know how to deal with what Quincy is going through, but you didn’t know how to raise babies. I have to believe we found each other for a reason, and I know you’ll help me figure out how to deal with Quincy if it comes to that.”

  Lincoln patted Truman’s leg and they both looked at his sweet, smiling face.

  “See?” she said. “Lincoln has faith in us, too.”

  “Come here, sweetheart.” He held her close. “I’m so happy to finally be home.”

  “But we’re at my apartment,” she said. “We never spend time here.”

  “You and the kids are home to me, Gem. Wherever you guys are is where I want to be.”

  She pressed her lips to his in a tender kiss. “Me too.”

  “I’ve been thinking all night about the apartment. I don’t think there’s any risk to our being there, but I want you to feel safe wherever we are. So if you’d rather not stay there, I’ll understand.”

  “I know you wouldn’t put me or the kids in danger, so I’m okay staying there if you really believe we’re safe. Besides”—she lowered her voice to a whisper—“those apartment walls hold the story of our secret sexy nights and all the things that led us to where we are in our relationship. And the paintings on the cars out back are the story of your life, which I know mean a lot to you, even if you painted them with the intent of never looking back. I can’t imagine not being there.”

  Chapter Twenty-One

  GEMMA AND CRYSTAL sat at the table in the back of the boutique going over their schedule of events for the next week, but Gemma’s mind refused to focus. It had been a little more than two weeks since Quincy went into rehab, and Truman had made arrangements for Dixie to watch the kids so he could visit him this afternoon. He hadn’t said much about Quincy since Halloween night, and he’d kept so busy finishing and painting the bedroom, Gemma wondered if he purposefully didn’t give himself time to slow down and think about it. The nights she worked late, she’d found him out back painting dark, stormy images again. She knew he was struggling, but when she trie
d to talk to him about it, it was as if he couldn’t breathe. He didn’t shut her out. He simply didn’t have much to say beyond, It’s a waiting game. Only time will tell. It’s up to him now. She got the feeling it was killing him not to be able to step in and complete the rehab for his brother to ensure a positive outcome, and that broke her heart.

  “I was thinking we should have penis cakes,” Crystal said.

  “Uh-huh.” She hoped the visit went well and wished he’d allowed her to go with him, but he wanted to keep her protected from the poisons of addiction.

  “I slept with Truman.”

  “Uh-huh,” Gemma said absently.

  Crystal grabbed her shoulders and shook her. “Woman! Go toward the light!”

  Gemma shook her head to clear her thoughts. “What? Sorry. I was thinking about Truman’s visit with Quincy.”

  “Well, you just approved penis cupcakes for the Cunningham party, and you didn’t seem to care that I slept with your boyfriend.”

  “What?” Her eyes nearly bugged out of her head. “You did not!”

  “Of course not, but boy do I wish I had something to confess, because you were totally out of it.” She pushed the calendar to the middle of the table. “Want to talk about it?”

  Gemma sighed. “There’s nothing to talk about. I’m just worried about him. He cares so much, and I just hope Quincy doesn’t let him down.”

  “He’s a big boy. If Quincy fucks up, he’ll go on, just like he has for the past however long it’s been since Quincy’s been using drugs, right?”

  “I guess, but I hate that he might get hurt.”

  “That’s because you L-O-V-E him.” Crystal looked dreamily toward the ceiling. “You fell in love, and now you hurt when he hurts. That’s how it happens, you know.”

  “I do, Crys. I really, truly love him. And I love his kids as if they were my own. And you want to know the greatest thing?” Gemma didn’t wait for an answer. “He loves me just as much. It’s crazy! He’s all the goodness and all the love I’ve hoped for my whole life wrapped up in one delicious creature. And he’s all mine.”

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