Tru blue, p.20
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       Tru Blue, p.20

           Melissa Foster
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  He shook his head, turning serious eyes toward her. “Not for me.”

  “Why not? I don’t understand.”

  He took her hand in his and the air around them shifted, filling with unease.

  “Gemma, they’ll never give the kids to me with a conviction of voluntary manslaughter on my record. Why would they?”

  “Because you’re their brother and you’re good to them. You served your time, and it wasn’t like you randomly went out and committed a murder.” She hadn’t thought about his conviction with relation to his custody of the kids.

  “That won’t matter. I’m sure they’ll go into the system. They’ll take them away from me. I can’t risk that.”

  She pushed from the bed, arms crossed. “No. No, they can’t do that. You don’t know that they’ll do that.”

  “I can’t chance that they will.”

  “What do you mean? How will you get custody?”

  “I mean I’ll do what I have to to keep them with me, where they belong.”

  She shook her head, still confused.

  He rose to his feet and went to her, speaking more soothingly. “Bullet knows a guy who can get fake birth certificates so I can enroll Kennedy in school next fall, and—”

  “What? You can’t do that.” This couldn’t be happening. “Truman, you can’t start their lives off with a lie. They’ll have that hanging over their heads forever.”

  “They’ll never know.” His eyes filled with regret.

  She took a step away, confused and upset. “But we’ll know. I can’t be part of something illegal. And you can’t either.” She reached for him, hoping to change his mind. When he took her hand, familiar electricity traveled between them, too strong to be overshadowed even by a disagreement this powerful.

  “Tru, you need to think this through. You just said you’re waiting to get through the rest of your parole period. But won’t this count as doing something illegal? Can’t they send you back to prison for breaking parole? And then what would happen to the kids?”

  Tension brought out the veins in his neck. “What do you expect me to do?” He released her hand and paced. “They’re my family. I can’t let them go into the system to be raised by someone else.”

  “I know you can’t.” She went to him, and he reluctantly stopped pacing, his mouth tight, eyes narrow. “But neither one of us can afford to break the law. There has to be another way.”

  “I will not risk having them taken away,” he said with finality that came across loud and clear.

  But Gemma wasn’t done with this conversation.

  “I can’t be involved in any part of this, Truman. Do you understand that? I can’t be part of something illegal, no matter how much I love you or them.” She held his steady gaze, his jaw working overtime.

  “Gemma,” he pleaded. “They’re my kids.”

  “And you’re the man I love. They’re the kids I love.” She took his hands, softening her tone. “You’re my Tru Blue, and for all intents and purposes, you’re their father. Are you willing to risk going back to prison because you’re afraid of what might happen if you try to do things the right way? The legal way?”

  “I’m doing this for them,” he insisted. “They’ve been through so much already.”

  “I get that, Tru. But manipulating the law isn’t the right thing to do, no matter how you look at it. Can’t you ask someone who knows about these things? If Bullet knows those kinds of people, maybe he also knows an attorney who can help you figure this out. I just can’t see jumping into this with your eyes closed when there might be another way.”

  “What if I lose the kids by trying to find out?”

  They both fell silent.

  “This is so fucked up,” he finally said with a pained expression. “All I want is to take care of them.”

  “I know. But I can’t do something illegal. I can’t risk that, not even for the kids.” Tears welled in her eyes at the heartache billowing off of him and the choices before them.

  “I don’t want to lose you, and I don’t want to lose them. Don’t ask me to make that choice.” He gathered her in his strong arms. His heart was beating as fast as hers.

  “Don’t ask me to look the other way,” she said.

  The sadness in his eyes nearly took her to her knees. “What if it’s the only way I can keep them?”

  Tension pressed in on her and she fell silent, unwilling to form an answer and hoping she wouldn’t be forced to.

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  TRUMAN FOLLOWED A woman down the hall of the rehab center hoping he was doing the right thing. After his and Gemma’s perfect evening had turned into a shitty night, he hadn’t slept a wink. He lay awake all night holding her and trying to figure out what to do. By the time she left this morning to go to work, and then to the fundraiser, he still didn’t have any answers. But at least he had an idea, and an idea was better than nothing. He couldn’t chance losing the kids, and he didn’t want to lose Gemma, either. The way he saw it, Quincy was his only hope.

  He stepped into the same room he’d been in the last time he’d visited Quincy, only this time it felt different. Because this time he was going to ask something of his brother that he wasn’t sure he had the right to ask. Something he hoped would motivate Quincy to finish the program and stay clean.

  Something that had the power to backfire.


  Quincy came through the door a few minutes later, and for a beat all the air left the room as they stared at each other. The counselor had told Truman that Quincy was doing great, making progress. Past the worst of it doesn’t mean any of it is easy. Quincy’s face was clear of bruises, his eyes were sharper, and his movements weren’t as jerky and tense.

  “Hey,” Quincy said.

  His friendly yet tentative tone took Truman off guard. He’d half expected him to still be angry and combative despite what the counselor had said.

  “Hey.” Still unsure of how to read him, he waited for his brother to make the first move.

  Quincy stepped forward, lifted one arm, as if he were going to reach for Truman, then dropped it to his side again, his eyes coasting to the floor.

  Truman couldn’t leave it at that. He stepped forward and embraced him. Quincy’s arms hung limply by his sides, and Truman’s heart sank again. As he released him, his brother’s arms came around him, bringing tears to Truman’s eyes. Figures. If anyone could make him look like a pussy, it was Quincy.

  They embraced for a second, maybe three. Long enough for Truman’s gut to right itself again. Quincy stepped back and nervously waved toward the chairs. “We should…”

  “Yeah.” Truman took a seat, relieved by the change in his demeanor. “Listen, I’m sorry for upsetting you last time.”

  “No, man. It’s all good.” He tucked a lock of hair behind his ear.

  That simple movement unearthed an avalanche of memories inside Truman. He sat back, feeling like he’d seen a ghost. Quincy used to hate it when Truman would try to get him to cut his hair, and he’d had a habit of tucking it behind his right ear. How could something so small feel like a good sign? A huge sign? A sign of his brother becoming the person he’d once known?

  “How are the kids?” Quincy asked, taking Truman by surprise again.

  “Good. Great, actually. They’re why I wanted to see you.”

  Quincy nodded. “I’ve been thinking about them a lot. The way they lived. The way I let them live.” He looked away. “I…”

  “Quin, don’t, man. Don’t do that to yourself.”

  He lifted a sorrowful gaze to Truman. “Did I fuck them up forever?”

  “No,” he said emphatically. “You did not. They have good lives. They’re happy, Quin. They’re so fucking happy.” Unexpected tears welled in Truman’s eyes, and his brother turned away, his eyes suspiciously damp as well. Truman cleared his throat to try to regain control of his emotions.

  “Good. She didn’t use when she found out she was pregnant. There was this gu
y.” He looked at Truman, his blue eyes serious and narrow. “You don’t want to know what it was like, but she did it, man. This user was some kind of doctor turned crackhead or something. I don’t know. He could have been bullshitting. But he knew what to do. He helped her through withdrawal, and when she gave birth”—he shook his head with a disgusted expression—“he was right there giving her drugs.” Tears filled his eyes, and he swiped angrily at them. “But the babies were born okay. And they’re okay now, right?”

  “Yeah,” Truman said, wiping his own tears—tears of anger for what their fucking mother had put Quincy and the kids, and him, through. He reached for Quincy, and his brother leaned willingly into his arms, crying openly.

  “I’m sorry, Tru. I shoulda…You never would’ve…”

  Truman grabbed his face and made him look into his eyes, as he’d done so many times when Quincy was a boy. “Don’t. Not for a second. The past is the past, and nothing we do or say can change it. Your life starts now. Here. Your past will not define your future, little brother. You got that?”

  Quincy grabbed his wrists, tears streaming down his cheeks. “How can you look at me after the way I ruined your life?”

  It was all Truman could do to touch his forehead to Quincy’s and close his eyes, when he wanted to shake him until he believed him when he said it wasn’t his fault.

  “Goddamn it.” He pulled back, staring at the heartrending guilt looking back at him. “She did this. Not you. Not me. She did it. She brought that fucker and a hundred others like him into the house, and she put our lives in danger. Do you get that, Quin? Do you understand that is where the blame belongs?”

  He nodded, gritting his teeth and sucking in one ragged breath after another. “Yeah. But I still feel guilty as fuck.”

  Truman pressed a kiss to Quincy’s forehead, then released him.

  Quincy laughed and shook his head. He swiped his forearm over his tears and blew out a breath. “Man, we’re a couple of pussies.”

  They both laughed, and boy did it feel good. His brother was coming back. He’d come out from under the cloud of drugs and he was right there within reach. Truman hoped what he had to ask would motivate him to keep moving in the right direction. It had to. For all of their sakes.

  “Want to relieve your guilt?”

  Quincy cocked a brow. “Fuck, yes.”

  “Then do me and the kids a favor. Get clean and stay clean. I need your help, man.”

  “You’ve never needed anyone’s help.”

  Truman sat back and crossed his arms. “I have. When I got the kids I needed help. A lot of it. The Whiskeys stepped in, but Gemma saved us. She’s been right there the whole time, and I love her, Quin. I love her so damn much, and if I don’t figure this out, I’m going to lose her.”

  He told Quincy about his dilemma with the birth certificates. “I need you to get clean, get a job, and make a stable life so you can apply for guardianship of the kids. I’ll still take full responsibility for them, but at least they’d have legal paperwork and remain in the family. They won’t have to live a life built on lies, like we have.”

  “Man, bro. No pressure there, huh?” Quincy blew out a breath.

  Truman’s heart sank. “I know it’s a lot to ask. But Gemma loves me despite what she believes I did. She believes in me, Quin, and I want to do right by her. I want to do right by the kids.”

  Quincy swallowed hard. “This would be so easy if I had fessed up to killing that prick in the first place.”

  “We can’t go back, and I wouldn’t even if we could. I’m not throwing you under the bus, Quincy. Not now, not ever. She’ll never know the truth, no matter how much I love her.”

  “That’s gotta be killing you.”

  A chill ran down Truman’s spine with his brother’s challenging stare. “If leaving you with Mom didn’t kill me, nothing will.”

  Quincy was quiet for a long moment, his eyes moving over the table, the floor, everywhere except meeting Truman’s gaze. When he finally did, it was with worry etched into his expression. “What if I fuck up? I can’t make any promises. You of all people know that.”

  Truman had been over the possible outcomes so many times since last night he had them memorized. “I’m not going to fill your head with bullshit. I believe in you, and I want to believe that you have faith in yourself, but we both know it’s a crapshoot. It’s going to be a daily battle of willpower, and I’ll be right there to help you through. I’ll get a bigger place so you can move in until you’re on your feet or feel strong enough that you won’t need me there. Whatever it takes, Quin. I’ll be there for you.”

  “For the kids,” Quincy uttered, shifting his eyes away again.

  “For them and for you.” Truman leaned forward, grabbing Quincy’s attention again. “And for me, bro. I want my brother back, and I’ll do whatever it takes to help you stay clean.”

  “All of this for Gemma.” Quincy held his gaze. “She must really be something.”

  He couldn’t deny that asking him to apply for guardianship was because of Gemma, but that wasn’t why he wanted him to get clean. “It’s not just for her. It’s for all of us. She’s right about the kids. I don’t want them growing up worrying about fake papers. Clean slate, bro. That’s what they deserve. That’s what you deserve.”

  Quincy sat in silence for a beat too long, making Truman’s gut twist tighter. Then he rose to his feet and said, “And what about you, Truman? What do you deserve?”

  That was a loaded question. His lie had spurned Quincy’s guilt and separated them for six grueling, life-changing years, which had allowed their mother to get him into drugs. Truman knew he deserved more than he was born into, but what that was exactly, he wasn’t sure.

  “Who the hell knows?” he finally answered. “But I know what I want.”

  The side of Quincy’s mouth quirked up, amusement reaching his eyes. Damn, did that look good on him. So much better than the darkness he’d been haunted by when he’d first arrived at the rehab center.

  “A normal family life and peace of mind that you’re okay.” He hugged Quincy and gave him a manly pat on the back. “Think about it. That’s all I’m asking. If it’s too much pressure, then I’ll figure something else out. What matters most is you getting clean. I can figure out the rest.” Truman reached for the door.

  “Where are you heading now?”

  “The courthouse.”

  Quincy’s face blanched.

  Truman patted his hand over his heart. “To the grave, bro. I’m just going to ask some hypothetical questions about guardianship to see what I’m up against.”

  Before Gemma left this morning he’d asked her if he was going to lose her over this. As he left the rehab center, her answer sailed through his mind. I hope not.

  He was going to do everything in his power to make sure he didn’t.

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  IF THERE WAS one thing her mother did well, it was hosting black-tie events. Gemma stood beside one of many marble columns in the majestic ballroom of her stepfather’s mansion, taking in the grand affair. Every detail had been attended to. From the valet parking to the shine on the marble floors and the quartet playing at the head of the room, the event was perfectly executed. Elegant candelabra graced every table alongside fine china and the best silver money could buy. Handsome men dressed in sharp black tuxedos with crisp white collared shirts and perfectly slicked-back hair sipped champagne with gorgeous, gown-wearing women draped on their arms—women who had undoubtedly spent hours in spas preparing for their evening out while their children were cared for by hired help. Gemma’s stomach turned at the memories that chased that thought. She remembered those days all too well. Her mother would come home looking radiant, with every strand of her golden hair in place and makeup that made her look young and beautiful. Friendly, even. Gemma had been mesmerized by her mother’s transformation on those nights. Mommy, you look so beautiful, she’d say with hopes that the makeup had truly brought out a more pleasan
t side of her mother. Yes, thank you, darling. Don’t touch, she’d say on her way to wherever was more important than giving Gemma five minutes of her time.

  The children, who were pointedly invited to this event for publicity purposes only, had been quickly swept away to another ballroom, where they were cared for by the nannies who accompanied them as well as by several staff her mother had hired solely for this occasion—after publicity pictures had been taken, of course.

  Not for the first time, Gemma wondered why she’d traveled almost two hours to attend the event, when she had more important things on her mind. Like trying to convince Truman to do the right thing with the kids. When they’d parted that morning, things were tense and uncomfortable. She’d been on a dead run all day at the boutique, which was a great distraction. But here, all she could think about was how different Truman was from all those pretentious people who probably jetted off every other weekend for adults-only events. Truman would never leave the kids behind. Was she fighting for the wrong things? She had a real birth certificate showing her true lineage, and look how her family life had turned out. She’d have given anything to be raised by a man as loving as him. Maybe Truman’s idea wasn’t the worst, even if it was illegal.

  She glanced at her mother standing across the room with a group of younger men, her smile painted on as thickly as the makeup mask she wore, as she reveled in their feigned attention. She was the It Woman, the wife of one of the most renowned defense attorneys in the world, Warren Benzos, and she was perfect for the role.

  “She looks radiant, doesn’t she?”

  Gemma turned toward the familiar, rich voice of her stepfather. “Yes, she does parties well.”

  Warren nodded, a wry smile on his thin lips. He was in his early sixties, a decade older than her mother. He had a long face and an angular nose that reminded Gemma of a weasel and puffy white hair that looked hard to tame. He wasn’t an unfriendly man. He wasn’t much of anything to Gemma. He’d married her mother and swept her away to one vacation and event after another, leaving Gemma behind. She couldn’t blame him, really. Who was she to him? Baggage of the woman he chose to have on his arm.

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