Tru blue, p.3
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       Tru Blue, p.3

           Melissa Foster
 
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  “This is my truck.” He stopped beside an old blue truck, the type with front and rear seats. “How do you know so much about kids?”

  She lifted a shoulder. “I own a princess boutique. You should bring Kennedy down for social hour sometime. It might help bring her out of her shell.” She met his sharp, serious gaze. His eyes were the bluest of blue, and beyond compelling, but they were also haunted and wary, moving stealthily over the parking lot.

  “Princess boutique? I’m not even going to try to guess what that is.” He unlocked the door and laid Kennedy on the seat. She stirred, and he leaned in, whispered something, and brushed a kiss to her cheek.

  Everything he did with the children was touching and tender. When they were shopping, he hadn’t gotten irritated when Kennedy got whiny. He’d simply lifted her into his arms and soothed her. She’d seen parents less patient with their own children, and these were only his siblings. She wondered why he had them, and for how long, given all the things he’d had to purchase. She was glad she was there to help, or he’d have forgotten shoes and baby wash and other things big brothers didn’t ever think about.

  “Want me to hold Lincoln while you get the car seats ready?” She reached for the baby and he bristled. “Truman, do you seriously think I’d help you buy all this stuff and then do something harmful to your baby brother? I’m offended.”

  A pained expression washed over his face. He lowered Lincoln from his shoulder and kissed his cheek. Love thickened the air between him and the baby, and it was just about the most beautiful thing Gemma had ever witnessed. It lasted only a few seconds, but in those seconds she knew this big, burly man’s heart was wrapped around his two precious siblings.

  “I’m sorry.” The edges of his mouth tipped up in a small smile, the only smile she’d seen that wasn’t aimed at the children. It was the slightest shift in his expression, but it softened all his rough edges, and when he set those emotive blue eyes on her, her stomach tumbled.

  “I appreciate all of your help. I’m just not used to…” His jaw clenched. “I just want to be careful with them.” Careful didn’t begin to describe how he was with them. Attentive, protective, and loving might scratch the surface. When he’d told her about their diaper rashes, the pain in his voice and expression had nearly taken her to her knees.

  “I’ll be extra careful,” she assured him.

  When he set the baby in her arms, the familiar longing reared its needy head. And when she got a whiff of Lincoln’s sweet baby scent, it soothed that ache. Truman’s hands cradled her forearms as the baby settled into them, and Gemma checked out his tattoos. Why were they all blue? And what did they mean? She’d never been interested in men with tattoos or guys who were hard. Truman was a mysterious mix of many things, and because of that he came across as a little dangerous, but there also was something genuinely tender about him that made Gemma’s heart beat faster.

  He made quick work of unloading the bags into the back of the truck and unboxing the car seats, his muscles flexing and bulging with his efforts. Since Kennedy was sleeping on the passenger side, he carried the baby seat around to the driver’s side and set it in the middle of the bench seat.

  “You should really put that in the backseat. He’ll be safest there.”

  “The back? What if he chokes or something?” He lowered his voice, glancing at Kennedy, still fast asleep on the passenger seat. “I won’t be able to see him. I’d rather have him up front.”

  “Then you have to turn off the airbags. Infant car seats are made to only face backwards. You have to hook in the base with the seatbelt, and then the bucket snaps into it.” His perplexed expression told her he had no idea what she meant. “Here. Hold Lincoln and I’ll show you.”

  He took the baby from her and watched as she climbed into the truck and proceeded to give him instructions on turning off the airbags once the truck was started, and hooking the base to the infant seat in place. She knelt on it and tightened the belt. “You have to make sure it’s secure.”

  She shifted into the driver’s seat and he stretched across her lap and carefully set Lincoln in the car seat. His arm brushed her breasts, sending heat coursing through her body, but he was so focused on the baby she didn’t think he noticed.

  He turned and smiled, bringing their faces so close she could feel his breath. She drank in his handsome features, seeing past his wild scruff. His cheekbones were chiseled and strong. His lips were a darker pink than most and bowed in a way that made her want to kiss them. His eyes swept over her face with an expression of concern—for the baby. As it should be.

  “Can you show me how to hook him in?”

  “Um, yeah. Sure.” Let me just reel in these crazy hormones. She showed him how to hook the belts and secure the baby, then turned to climb out of the truck, and he was right there.

  His thick arms stretched over his head, his hands resting on the frame of the truck, blocking her exit, and those piercing blue eyes locked on her. Her pulse skyrocketed.

  “You know a lot about babies.”

  She breathed a little harder. “I’m a woman. We know things.”

  His eyes searched hers for what felt like a very long time, and then he cleared his throat and turned away, leaving her with heart palpitations. She watched him circle the truck and lift Kennedy into his arms, settling her against one shoulder as he retrieved the other car seat and set it in the truck.

  Realizing he probably didn’t know how to secure that seat either, she hurried after him. “Here, let me.”

  She climbed onto the runner so she could reach over the car seat and buckle the seat belt, and felt his very large, very hot hand press against her lower back. She bit her lower lip, equally turned on by his touch and nervous that he really could be dangerous. Dangerously loving toward these babies. Okay, I’m going with turned on.

  And maybe a little nervous.

  He peered around her as she secured the car seat into place and explained the steps to safely buckle Kennedy into it. When she turned to step down, he wrapped one thick arm around her waist, lifting her from the runner. For the briefest of seconds she felt all his hard muscles pressed against her, and her body flooded with heat again. He set her on her feet and placed Kennedy into the car seat, completely oblivious to the sparks he’d ignited.

  How is that even possible?

  He closed the truck door and grabbed her bags from the cart, glancing around the parking lot. “Where are you parked?” His eyes landed on her Honda Accord, parked two rows away beneath a streetlight. “Oh, man. Someone got sideswiped.”

  “That would be me,” she said, reaching for the bags. “Some jerk hit me when I was at work and drove off. My insurance company will increase my rates if I file another complaint.”

  “Another…?” Amusement filled his eyes.

  “I’m a bad-driver magnet. I’ve been hit twice. Well, three times if you include the latest one.”

  “Bring it by Whiskey Automotive tomorrow after you get off work. I’ll fix it for you free of charge. No need for the insurance company to get on your case, and it’s the perfect way for me to thank you for your help.”

  “That’s way too much for the little help I’ve given you.” Was he crazy? It was at least a few hundred dollars’ worth of work, if not more.

  He stepped closer, and her heartbeat quickened again. He seemed even taller and broader against the light of the moon, and so stably rooted he made her feel defenseless and vulnerable. He was studying her, and he wasn’t exactly smiling, but he no longer had that guard-dog look he’d had when she’d first seen him.

  “You saved me hours of wandering around Walmart and hundreds of dollars from almost buying the wrong diapers, foods, baby clothes, and God knows what else. Bring your car by the shop tomorrow.” He said the last sentence with staid calmness, leaving no room for negotiation.

  She wanted to take her car in, if for no other reason than to see him again, but it felt wrong accepting something so big for the little help she’d g
iven him. “But—”

  He pressed a long finger to her lips, successfully disarming her with his sudden and arresting smile. “Bring it by the shop when you get off work. I’ll fix it over the weekend so you have it by Monday morning. It should only take a few hours, but we have loaners at the shop, so you won’t be without a car.”

  “Truman, that’s too much,” she insisted. “Won’t it need to be painted?”

  “I don’t think so.”

  “But how…?”

  “I can’t tell you all my secrets. You’re very good with baby stuff. I’m very good with my hands.” A glimmer of heat sparked in his eyes. “Bring it by tomorrow. Now get out of here so I know you’re safe before I take the kids home.”

  She nodded and took a step away, turning back to say, “Remember not to lay Lincoln on his stomach when he sleeps. And use the ointment on their rashes. That’ll help a lot.”

  “I’ve got it,” he said, watching her unlock her door. “Thanks again. See you tomorrow.”

  She felt his steady gaze watching over her as she climbed into the driver’s seat, just as he’d stood sentinel over his siblings. As she drove out of the parking lot, her ice cream long ago forgotten, she’d never been so happy for a hit-and-run.

  Chapter Four

  TRUMAN WAS CONVINCED he’d just experienced the longest morning of his life, following the longest night of his life. He’d put the kids to sleep in his bed last night, put the groceries away, then set to work putting together the crib. Lincoln had woken up what seemed like ten minutes later, but in reality was probably an hour, and two hours after that he’d woken up hungry again. This morning was a mad rush of feeding, changing, bathing, and changing again—a far cry from the lackadaisical mornings he was used to, when the biggest rush he’d faced was getting downstairs to the shop by seven thirty. He hadn’t even taken a shower because he was afraid to leave the kids. How did single parents manage?

  Tomorrow he’d take a shower right after Lincoln’s crack-of-dawn feeding, when his little brother went back to sleep.

  It was seven forty-five and here he was feeding Lincoln again, this time in the shop. The kid was an eating machine. Meanwhile, Kennedy was playing happily in the playpen, but he knew she was too big to stay in there for long. He’d have to figure out some sort of schedule. Hell, he’d have to figure out some sort of life.

  The door to the office opened and Dixie Whiskey poked her head into the garage, her red hair and wide smile lighting up the garage. “We’re here, Tru—” Her eyes widened, and she breezed into the garage, her spike heels tapping out a fast beat across the concrete floor. Her older brother, Bear, followed her in. “Aw! Whose baby is that?”

  The Whiskey family owned the garage as well as Whiskey Bro’s, the bar down the road. Bear and Dixie worked days in the auto shop office and some evenings at the bar.

  “Mine, now.” Truman pulled a burp rag from his back pocket and tossed it over his shoulder, then shifted Lincoln and patted his back. This morning the baby had spit up all over his shirt when he’d forgotten the burp rag. Gemma would probably roll her eyes at that, too.

  Bear flashed a wise-ass grin. “Thought you couldn’t have conjugal visits in prison.”

  “They’re my siblings,” Truman said sharply. Lincoln let out a loud burp. “That’s a good boy.”

  “What do you mean they’re your siblings?” Dixie crouched by Kennedy. “And what’s this precious girl’s name? Hi, sweetie. I’m Auntie Dixie.”

  Kennedy frowned as Dixie picked up a toy from the playpen.

  “It’s okay, princess,” Truman reassured her. “Aunt Dixie has funny hair, but she’s nice.”

  Dixie stuck her tongue out at him and Kennedy giggled.

  “That’s Kennedy, and this little guy is Lincoln.” He met Bear’s serious gaze and lowered his voice so Kennedy wouldn’t hear him. “My brother decided to resurface last night. Our mother overdosed. He was a mess, and these two were living in a crack house. Last night was a nightmare. You don’t mind if I keep them here in the shop with me, do you? Just until I get things under control?”

  “Hey, your family is our family. Whatever you need.” Bear ran a hand through his thick dark hair. He and his siblings, Dixie, Bullet, and Bones, were part of the Dark Knights motorcycle club, and with the exception of Dixie, the names they used were their biker names. Bear had once wrestled a bear, and he had the scars to prove it. Bullet was ex-Special Forces, and Bones was a doctor.

  Truman had grown up in the next town over, and he’d met Bear at a classic car show when he was just sixteen. Bear had taken Truman under his wing, given him a job, and taught him how to work on cars. He’d worked around whatever schedule Truman had been able to keep and had knocked the sense back into him every time he’d strayed even slightly from the straight-and-narrow path, like by skipping school to work. He’d even allowed Truman to bring Quincy with him to the shop, since their no-good mother was never around to take care of him. Once Truman had learned to drive, Bear had lent him a car, eventually selling him the truck he now used, and they’d been close as brothers ever since. The Whiskeys were the nicest, most reliable people Truman had ever known, and he was proud to be considered part of their family.

  “What’s the plan?” Bear asked. “And how’s Quincy?”

  Truman sighed. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t stop wondering that himself. He’d called his brother before going to sleep last night, but hadn’t heard back.

  “My plan? Make sure their lives don’t suck, and as far as Quincy goes, I already threw years of my life away so he could have a life.”

  “And…?” Bear knew him so well. Unlike Truman’s no-good mother, Bear had visited him weekly when he was in prison, and he’d brought Quincy a time or two. But Quincy had stopped returning Bear’s calls, and eventually he’d fallen completely off the radar. Truman knew how hard Bear had tried to find Quincy and get him on a cleaner path, but users knew how to disappear, and Quincy had learned from the best.

  “I tried to call him last night,” Truman admitted. “He hasn’t returned my calls, but in fairness, I told him to stay away from the kids until he’s clean. I’ll help him when he’s ready, but, man…” He cradled Lincoln in his arms and kissed his cheek. “They don’t even have birth certificates. He never even told me they existed, and the way he let them live…” He ground his teeth together in an effort to bury the anger simmering inside him. “He can’t be trusted around them.”

  Bear put a hand on his back. “I hear ya, bro.”

  “Listen, do you think Bones can get a pediatrician to check them out, no questions asked? Just until I get my arms around what to do. If I bring them in to a doctor, they’ll ask all sorts of questions, and there’s no way I’m letting them get tied up with Social Services. I just need a little time to figure things out, but I have to know they’re healthy.”

  “Of course. I’ll call him in a sec. Just let me…” Bear scooped Lincoln into his tatted-up arms and rubbed noses with the baby. “Love the way babies smell.”

  “Gemma helped me pick out baby wash and baby shampoo and about a million other baby things.”

  “Gemma?”

  Just hearing her name made him smile. He didn’t even want to think about how it had looked last night, two kids out with him at midnight, dressed in his shirts, while he stocked up on everything under the sun. He was surprised she’d even offered to help. She’d probably thought better of it this morning and would stay as far away from this end of Peaceful Harbor as she could. My loss. But he couldn’t help wondering what might have happened if they’d met under different circumstances. Different lifetimes.

  Kennedy reached for him, bringing his mind back to the moment. “Come here, princess.” Princess. What is a princess boutique anyway?

  Bear and Dixie were looking at him expectantly, and he realized they were still waiting for a response about who Gemma was.

  “I met her last night at Walmart when I was out buying all this shit.” He looked at K
ennedy and corrected himself. “Stuff. She helped me find everything—clothes, food, bottles, diapers. Man, there’s so much that they need. I’m not complaining, just saying. I never realized how much work babies were. This is all so messed up. Thursday morning I was checking in with the parole office and thinking about how I only had thirteen more months of that…” He glanced at Kennedy again. “Fifteen hours later, and thirteen months feels like a flash in the pan.”

  “There are other ways to handle this,” Dixie said carefully. “You don’t have to raise them, and it wouldn’t make you a failure or mean you’re a bad person.”

  Truman had thought about that when he was wiping shit off his hands at four o’clock in the morning and then again at seven when he realized that even taking a piss was a group process. But they were his blood, and he wouldn’t turn his back on blood.

  “I failed Quincy. I’m not going to fail these two.”

  “I JUST DON’T see what you’re worried about.” Crystal pushed her jet-black hair over her shoulder and heaved the other end of the box she and Gemma were carrying to the storeroom. She was in full goth-princess mode, from her dark lipstick to her chunky black leather boots and black lace stockings, tutu, and blouse. “Were the kids clean?”

  “They appeared to be freshly bathed.” Gemma pushed the door open with her butt, holding it for Crystal to get a foot through, before inching into the room. They’d just received the new stock of rebel-princess clothes, and she was excited to see them. She’d dressed carefully this morning, choosing her Brave princess outfit, a short blue velvet dress with a thick gold belt and strappy leather sandals. She wasn’t normally nervous around men, but with Truman, she needed all the courage she could muster.

 
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