Tru blue, p.2
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       Tru Blue, p.2

           Melissa Foster
 
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  He was afraid to leave Lincoln unattended. He carried the sleeping baby, a clean blanket, and Kennedy into the bathroom. He spread out the blanket on the bathroom floor, laid Lincoln down, and filled the bathtub. His mind traveled to dark places. God only knew what their mother would have allowed to happen to his baby sister. He peeled the dirty clothes from Kennedy’s body, silently praying for the precious little girl to be free from scars and bruises, though he knew her real scars would never be visible to the naked eye. He stripped off the heavy, soiled diaper, cringing at the redness peppering her tender skin, and felt sick knowing Lincoln was probably in the same shape.

  “Okay, princess, time to get you cleaned up.” He lifted her to set her in the tub, and she dug her nails into his arm, wildly kicking her feet.

  “No! No baf!” she cried, pulling her little knees up to her chest to avoid the water.

  “Okay,” he said quickly, and gathered her against him as Lincoln stirred. Renewed anger rose to the surface. What the hell had happened to her? He shushed her, holding her shaking body safely against him and ignoring the urine and feces now covering his arm and shirt.

  “No baf!” she cried. “No baf! Scawy!”

  Lincoln began to cry.

  “Shh, okay.” None of this was okay, but he couldn’t let her sleep in her own shit.

  He reached for Lincoln, who was now in full-blown screaming mode, and held him in his other arm, smearing his sister’s shit all over the front of the baby’s already disgusting clothes.

  “Baby hungy,” she said, and patted Lincoln on the back.

  Of course he was. Truman didn’t know much about babies, but everyone knew they needed to eat every few hours. He needed to buy food, and clothes, but first he had to clean the shit from their bodies. He offered the only thing he could to try to calm Kennedy.

  “I’ll hold you in the bath. Then I need to get food for your brother. What does he eat?”

  She pushed off his shoulder and stared at him like he was speaking a foreign language. Christ, how long had it been since they’d eaten? Upon closer inspection, he could see grime under her fingernails. Her hair wasn’t just tangled and matted, it was layered in grease, and he could see her ribs. He had no choice but to do this the hard way, and he knew her rash would hurt like hell when it touched the water. Better to do this fast than mess around and prolong the torture.

  “Okay, princess, this is the deal.” He set her on his leg, laid Lincoln down, and quickly stripped off the baby’s diaper, revealing a worse rash on his bottom than Kennedy’s. He carefully took off the baby’s shirt, and nearly lost his mind at the sight of a big fucking bruise on the baby’s upper arm. He ground his teeth together to keep from cursing whoever put it there. He held Lincoln against his chest, feeling sick to his stomach. Fighting tears of anger and empathy, he whispered, “Never again, little guy. I promise you. Never again.”

  Truman took off his own soiled shirt and set Kennedy on her feet so he could take off his jeans and boots, leaving on his briefs. “We need to get you two cleaned up. Then we’re going down to the corner to get you and your brother some food and warm clothes.”

  “No baf!” She clung to his legs.

  Tru closed his eyes for half a second to get his emotions in check. He was still waiting for the impact of finding his dead mother to hit him, but she’d already been dead to him for a very long time. That didn’t stop the night from hell from burning under his skin. Between the screaming baby and the stubborn girl, he should be fit to be tied, but it wasn’t their fault they were born to an unfit and uncaring mother.

  He picked up Lincoln and climbed into the bath. Lincoln kicked his feet, crying as Truman washed him. Meanwhile, Kennedy held on to the side of the tub watching them.

  “Baby no like baf.”

  “He’s doing okay,” he assured her, holding on to the baby as he poured body wash into his hands. “You’re okay, right, little bro?” He kissed the baby’s head. “Doesn’t it feel good to get clean?” Lincoln’s cries quieted, and Kennedy cocked her head to the side, her little brows tightly knitted.

  “I think he likes the bath now, princess,” Truman said.

  “Me like baf.” She put her arms around the side of the tub and tried to throw her leg over the top.

  “Whoa.” He lifted her onto his lap with one hand, wishing he had a third arm.

  A short while later, he diapered them, dressed each in one of his clean, soft shirts, grabbed a few crackers for Kennedy to eat in the car, and drove to Walmart.

  GEMMA WRIGHT TOSSED a third pint of ice cream into her basket and reached for a jar of hot fudge from the display beside the freezer. She stopped short, eyeing the caramel topping and rainbow sprinkles, and decided to get all three. It was after midnight, and calories didn’t count after midnight. That was her night-owl rule and she was sticking with it. Especially after some jerk hit her car and took off. Tonight she deserved the biggest ice-cream sundae known to man.

  She headed over to the children’s aisle to check out the new bodysuit tutu her friend and employee Crystal had told her about. As the owner of Princess for a Day Boutique, she was always on the lookout for cute outfits. She spotted a rack of pastel bodysuits with bright fluffy tutus.

  “Thank you, Crystal!”

  Lifting a pink outfit with a white tutu from the rack, she felt the familiar pang of longing wriggling deep inside her. Some girls dreamed of white weddings, expensive gowns, and knights in shining armor—or billionaires in Armani suits and lavish honeymoons. Gemma didn’t need a fancy wedding, or even a gallant husband, for that matter. She did quite well on her own. She had her dreams. They were just a little different from most girls’. All her life she’d sat on the sidelines, first listening to girls complain about menstrual cramps and, later, watching women’s bellies grow with new life. But Gemma was born without a uterus, and oh how she used to wish she could experience those dreadful cramps to determine if they really were as horrid as her friends had claimed and to use them as an excuse to miss gym class. Gemma’s dreams had nothing to do with lavish weddings or anything other than being lavished with love. She dreamed of little chestnut-haired babies and a loving, stable man to father them. A man who knew how to love, not throw money and gifts at them, hoping it made up for his absence. A man who wouldn’t desert his family for all the wrong reasons.

  The sound of a baby crying brought another pang of longing. She gazed in the direction of the noise as the wailing grew louder, and carried her basket to the edge of the aisle, peering around the corner. Her heart nearly stopped at the sight of an impossibly tall man with thick dark hair and untamed scruff holding the crying infant while he paged through a magazine. His heavily tattooed, thickly muscled arms swallowed the child, like he was afraid the baby might slip away if he didn’t hold every inch of it. A little girl sat in the cart with her back to Gemma, surrounded by just about every type of baby food and formula there was. Alarm bells went off in Gemma’s head. Why were these babies out so late? And why was he reading a magazine while the baby was screaming? Gemma had a naturally inquisitive mind, and she was used to it running in crazy directions. She began weaving a story about the guy—his wife left him, and he was a single dad for the first time, totally lost. Or maybe he’d abducted the kids. That was her imaginative side taking over. The side that made up stories when she was younger to get through her treacherously lonely life and wrote the newsletter for her boutique, which included a made-up story for the kids and something interesting and local for parents to check out. She ducked around the aisle again, clutching her basket, mentally figuring out how she could ease that wailing baby’s sadness without seeming too nosy.

  The baby let out a bloodcurdling cry, and she pushed that adventurous, crazy, story-seeking part of herself aside and peered around the aisle again, this time checking out the man more closely. The magazine he was looking at slipped to the floor, and he kissed the baby’s head, murmuring something she couldn’t hear. His big hand covered the breadth of the ba
by’s back like a football. He had deep-set eyes that were currently focused on the unhappy baby. The sleeves of his dark T-shirt clung to his massive biceps, making her wonder what he did for a living. Did they have lumberjacks around here? His jeans clung to powerful thighs, hanging low over black boots. He was sexy in that badass, hardcore way Crystal loved so much. He caressed the little girl’s cheek so gently Gemma could feel it on her own cheek. He pressed a kiss to the top of the little girl’s head, then held her tiny hand, quieting the alarm bells in Gemma’s head.

  “He’s okay, princess. Just hungry. We’ll feed him as soon as we get a few more things and pay for the formula.” He spoke softly to the little girl, his voice full of concern.

  Princess.

  His eyes darted from the baby to the little girl, then back to that sweet little guy in his arms. “Don’t worry, buddy. We’ll get one of everything.”

  She watched him grab one of every size diaper and set them in the cart around the girl, and then he stuffed the ones that wouldn’t fit beneath the cart. She might not have a uterus, but she had ovaries, and they’d just exploded at the love emanating from the slightly intimidating dichotomy of darkness and light before her.

  Chapter Three

  TRUMAN FELT THE unmistakable heat of a stare before he lifted his gaze and saw the long-legged babe watching him. Strands of brown, gold, and just about every color in between fell in loose waves around smooth ivory skin and plump crimson lips—lips he imagined doing all sorts of erotic things. He saw her in brush strokes, imagined painting her delicate chin, her long, slender neck, slim shoulders, and trim waist, and sexy-as-sin curvaceous hips. His body flamed with awareness. Lincoln wailed, jerking Truman’s big head into gear, overriding the greedy little one below his belt, and he stepped between the stranger and Kennedy.

  Her green eyes skittered over his cart. “I guess your baby eats a lot?”

  Her voice was like liquid heat, flowing over his skin, soft and warm like the summer sun, but the thread of curiosity it carried caused him to stand up taller and square his shoulders. He didn’t need anyone slowing them down.

  “He’s starved,” he said gruffly. He grabbed the handle of the cart and bounced Lincoln against his shoulder, trying to quiet him.

  “So feed him.” Her eyes never left his, like a cat that owned whatever territory it crossed, piercing and challenging at once.

  He gave her a deadpan look that he knew translated to, No shit, really?

  “Right.” He pushed the cart past her and she grabbed the side of it. His hand shot out and circled Kennedy. The woman’s eyes dropped to the little girl, eyeing her skeptically.

  “Is it dress like Daddy day?” Her fingers curled around the cart as she reached for a package of formula.

  “Something like that,” he said, watching her open the package and tear the protective cover off of one of the ready-made bottles of formula. She put on the nipple, shook it up, and handed it to him.

  He looked at the bottle, then at her. “I haven’t paid yet.” The last thing he needed was to get harassed for using something he hadn’t paid for. His plan had been to get in, get out, and get home, not get hung up with a pushy little know-it-all, regardless of how hot she was. Lincoln hiccupped between cries, and she thrust the bottle into his hand.

  “It’s not like they’ll arrest you for feeding a hungry baby.”

  “Baby hungy,” Kennedy piped in.

  Truman’s chest constricted. He reluctantly took the bottle and held it to the baby’s mouth. Lincoln sucked, then cried, sucked, then cried.

  “You should cradle him.” She set down her basket and motioned with her arms like she was cradling a baby.

  He shifted Lincoln in his arms. The woman stepped closer. She must have seen wariness in his expression, because she stopped a few inches from him and reached across the short distance. Her hands were soft and warm as she lowered Truman’s elbow, angling Lincoln’s head higher than his feet.

  “There,” she said tenderly, smiling at Lincoln. “That should help.”

  Sure enough, Lincoln drank the formula. Kennedy beamed at the woman, who was looking at Truman like she was trying to figure him out. That was his cue to leave.

  “Thanks,” he said, and took a step toward the front of the cart.

  “Do you know how to burp him?” She glanced in the cart again. “Because it looks like this is Daddy’s first day care assignment.”

  “They’re my siblings,” he said flatly. “And yeah. I can burp him. I think.”

  “Do you have burp rags?”

  He cocked a brow.

  She rolled her eyes and smiled at Kennedy. “Time to educate your big brother.” She began weeding through the formula and diapers in the basket. “Too big, too small. Wow, big brother will spare no expense to diaper you guys. I like that in a man.” She smiled up at him as she set the inappropriately sized diapers on the shelf and tossed in a few others. She stretched to reach a high shelf, the edge of her expensive blouse lifting just enough to reveal a sliver of tanned, taut stomach.

  She might be pushy, but there was no ignoring the effect her curvy body had on him. Great, flash a little more skin and I’ll be juggling a baby and a hard-on. It took all of his willpower to look away.

  “They size these by weight,” she explained. “But they’re always off. So I’d try Swaddlers and Cruisers for him, and are you in pull-ups yet?” she asked Kennedy, who simply blinked up at her.

  “Diapers,” Truman answered, though he had no idea what pull-ups were.

  “Soon enough,” she said, and patted Kennedy’s head. She loaded up the cart with several packages of diapers. “Now, about these formulas. There are all types. How old is he?”

  “I don’t know. A few months.” How the hell did she know he was a boy?

  Hands on hips, she eyed him skeptically. “Thought they were your siblings.”

  “They are,” he growled, reminding himself she was trying to be helpful and she was easy on the eyes. This was also the happiest Lincoln had been since he’d rescued him from that hellhole. Even though he hated asking for help—ever—he could use a little guidance on this messed-up night.

  “Sorry,” he said more kindly. “I’m not sure exactly how old they are.” Because I had no clue they were alive until tonight.

  She leaned over the cart and smiled at Kennedy again. “How old are you, sweetie? Two? Three?”

  Kennedy leaned away, her eyes darting up at Truman.

  “Oh, you’re a shy little one,” the woman said. “Well, I’m Gemma Wright, and I was a shy little girl, too. Let’s get you what you need.” She set her hands beside Truman’s on the cart handle and set those riveting emerald eyes on him again. “You obviously can’t push the cart and feed your baby brother. What else do we need?”

  “We?”

  She sighed, as if she was tiring of his attitude, and picked up the magazine he had dropped earlier. “Parenting. Good choice.” She looked at his white-knuckled grip on the cart. “Are you afraid I’ll steal her? Seriously, just chill a little so we can get your babies out of here and they can get some sleep.”

  She glanced at the Parenting magazine, then leaned in closer, filling his senses with the faint scent of vanilla and woman. He’d never paid much attention to vanilla, but he knew he’d never look at it the same again.

  She lowered her voice. “Obviously you’re trying to be a good big brother. I can walk away and leave you to fumble and juggle your way around Walmart, or you can chill out and take advantage of an offer from a night owl who enjoys helping scary-looking men.”

  “Why would you help someone who’s scary-looking?” he asked gruffly.

  She raked her eyes down his body with more than a hint of interest, licking her lips as her eyes drifted up again. She caught him watching her and rolled her eyes. He’d obviously misread her. What did he know about women like her? She was dressed in slacks and a blouse that probably cost more than his monthly rent.

  “You’re not that scary.
Besides, I can see you’re a softy by the way you treat the kids.” She brushed her fingers over Lincoln’s head. Then she grabbed a bag of something from the shelves and tore it open, laying a white cloth over Truman’s shoulder. “Put him on your shoulder and burp him so he doesn’t get a tummy ache.”

  Truman eyed Lincoln, who was nearly asleep, with the bottle hanging on his lower lip. He set the bottle in the cart beside Kennedy, who was struggling to keep her eyes open, and lifted Lincoln to his shoulder, patting him until he let out an airy burp. This pushy chick knew what she was talking about.

  “What’s your name?” she asked.

  “Truman.”

  “Truman. I like it,” she said, as if he needed her approval. “And the kids?”

  He eyed the children, feeling territorial.

  “They must have names,” she coaxed.

  “Kennedy,” he relented, then brushed his cheek over the baby’s and said, “Lincoln.”

  Her eyes brimmed with amusement. “Does your mother have a thing for presidents?”

  Before he could think of an appropriate response, she wrapped her fingers around the handle of the cart and said, “Okay, then. Let’s get your stuff. What do we need?”

  There were worse things than being helped by a hot chick with a sense of humor. He picked up her basket and said, “Clothes, food, car seats, and a bed.”

  “A bed?”

  “For him.” He nodded at the baby.

  “A crib. And car seats? You have no car seats? How did you get them here?” When he didn’t respond, she said, “Lordy, what was your mother thinking? She could have given you a few lessons in childcare.”

  That might be hard, considering she’s dead.

  GEMMA PUSHED THE overloaded cart into the dark parking lot, while Truman carried both sleeping babies like they were additional appendages. They left a second cart holding the crib and the playpen Gemma had convinced Truman to buy, along with a few other essentials, in front of the store for him to pick up after the kids were settled in his vehicle. She was curious about why the kids were dressed in his shirts, and why at least Kennedy didn’t have shoes on, but every time she pried—which she’d done often over the past hour—he changed the subject. He was so protective and loving toward them, she let it go, despite her curiosity.

 
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