Tru blue, p.4
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       Tru Blue, p.4

           Melissa Foster
 
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  “Were they afraid of him?” she asked as they set the box down with a thump.

  “No, but I got a little chill from him, which was nothing compared to the holy-shit-this-guy-is-all-man vibe he gave off. He wore testosterone like aftershave. It just seemed weird, that’s all. Kennedy had no shoes on. It was like he’d taken them out of bed, only he didn’t even have a crib for the baby.”

  Her heart warmed with thoughts of Truman soothing Lincoln and the sweet way he’d caressed Kennedy’s face and spoken so reassuringly to her. “He loves them. That much was clear. But the rest is curious, don’t you think?”

  Crystal pulled a box cutter from a shelf and sliced open the top. Her hair veiled her face, and she gave Gemma a you-know-what-I-think glance through the thick strands as she yanked open the box. Withdrawing a little black leather vest, she held it up with a gratified smile. “Being a rebel princess myself, I would have dropped off my car first thing this morning, gotten my fill of those glorious tattoos you described, a scorching-hot kiss—or ten—and I’d have left him wanting more. You’re the story seeker, the pushy girl no one sees coming. I’m surprised you didn’t march right in and interrogate him to get all those lingering questions answered. You even wore your princess Brave dress. So what’s the deal?”

  She laughed. Crystal was the leather to Gemma’s lace. She was brash where Gemma was pushy. Gemma had rebellion in her, but while her favorite rebellious outfit was a pink and black schoolgirl type miniskirt, lace-up black high heels, a frilly white shirt, and distressed leather jacket, Crystal was full-on biker dark—leather pants, boots, and bustier showing as much cleavage as possible. Still, they clicked like a seat belt and always had each other’s backs.

  “I don’t interrogate.”

  Crystal set her hand on her hip and glared at her.

  “Okay, maybe I do, but I didn’t with him. There’s something about him that stopped me. I could kick myself right now because I almost did what you said this morning, but something about him made me become this…” She plucked out a pretty pink princess dress from another box.

  “Aw, Gem. That’s because you might usually be Princess Confidence, but something about this guy has unearthed the fatherless girl who worries that everyone has hidden emotions, hidden agendas, or that they’ll just plain let you down. And from what you told me about how protective he was, I think that’s scaring you, too, because it’s what you always wished you’d had.”

  Chills feathered over Gemma’s skin. Her parents had lavished her with all the things they wanted for her, protected her with a gated community, nannies twenty-four seven, and a smothering, rigid schedule. As she got older she realized that her parents were incapable of giving her the only thing she’d ever wanted—the type of love that couldn’t be bought, security and comfort that was born from that love, and the freedom that went along with loving someone so much you wanted to see their dreams fulfilled.

  “Which explains, Gemma girl,” Crystal teased, bringing her back to their conversation, “why you’re still here at almost seven o’clock on a Friday night when we closed an hour ago and Mr. Hotter than Hell is waiting for you to drop off your car, which we all know is code for Bring That Sexy Bod Over.”

  Gemma rolled her eyes, although the thought had entered her mind.

  Crystal’s eyes widened. “Oh my God. Could it be? After all this time of going out with guys you have zero interest in, you’ve finally met a guy who makes your heart go pitter-patter? Or even better, makes your coochie tingle and throb, and—”

  Gemma threw the pink dress at her and she dodged it with a laugh.

  “That’s it! You like this tattoo-covered badass. The ‘you’re just asking for trouble’ type of guy you’re always warning me about. You like that über-alpha growl and testosterone-laden cold shoulder.” She sauntered out of the stockroom blowing on her fingernails, then swiping them up and down the center of her chest. “My work here is done.”

  Gemma groaned and followed her out. “God, you’re annoying. Why did I hire you again?” They’d met in a coffee shop in Peaceful Harbor when Gemma was scouting areas to move to after college. Crystal was a straight shooter like her, which was why they’d clicked from the moment they’d met. Crystal might be brasher and darker in looks and dress, but they both held strong to the no-bullshit attitude that made the business—and their friendship—a success.

  “Because you love me.” Crystal fluttered her lashes. “And because I’ll give it to you straight.” She set her hands on Gemma’s shoulders and said, “Go forth, sweet maiden, and conquer your Neanderthal.”

  Gemma couldn’t help but laugh.

  “That’s just it. I do like him. He intrigues me in a way I can’t ignore. But you know me. I never like guys this fast. And despite the tattoos and grunts, he’s not a Neanderthal. Neanderthals don’t have hearts that practically climb out of their chests.” She warmed just thinking about the way he’d held the children, the way he’d spoken to them and looked at them. And when she thought of the way he’d looked at her, her body went white-hot. She grabbed her purse from behind the counter and a bag of goodies she’d packed earlier and headed for the front door. “Wish me luck.”

  “I wish you long-hard-cocks-and-balls-of-steel luck. Promise me you will stop overthinking and rebury the unearthed worries, because otherwise you’ll never give him a chance.”

  “I promise,” she said over her shoulder, hoping she really could.

  “I want complete details! And don’t give me any of that we didn’t do anything bullshit, because in your head, you already have. I see it in your eyes!”

  Gemma headed out the front door, careful not to glance back and reveal the other sexy thoughts she was currently having.

  Chapter Five

  WHISKEY AUTOMOTIVE WAS located just outside of the main part of town, near the bridge that led out of Peaceful Harbor. A bridge Gemma had rarely crossed in the four years she’d lived there. She liked the comfort of the small close-knit community in the seaside town, which was so different from the exclusive gated community in which she’d grown up. Through her shop, she’d become a member of the community, with repeat clients and many friendships. The move had been a purposeful one, and it had worked out well. She might not ever be able to escape the pain of her father’s suicide, but at least she no longer had to look into the pitying expressions of those around her. She’d kept that part of her life to herself, confiding only in Crystal after one of her awful mother’s phone calls.

  As the shops faded in her rearview mirror, her thoughts returned to Truman, and a thrill raced through her. Oh yeah, the guy had definitely piqued her interest in all the best ways.

  She drove past Whiskey Bro’s, a shady-looking bar with motorcycles parked out front she hadn’t given much thought to until now. Was Truman a biker? A mile or two down the road she saw the Whiskey Automotive sign, and she turned down the long driveway, heading toward the building in the distance. The closer she got, the more nervous she became. What if he was just being nice and didn’t really expect her to take him up on the offer to fix her car?

  What if he offered his services as a way to see me again?

  Butterflies took flight in her stomach.

  She parked in front of the long building. Three of the four bays were closed. Light flooded the fourth. The right side of the building served as the office, with glass windows and signs for tires, mufflers, and other automobile supplies. She hadn’t looked at their hours, and she was glad to see that someone was still there. She hoped it was Truman.

  She grabbed the goody bag she’d brought for Kennedy, stepped out of the car and followed the sound of music coming from the bay, where she saw Truman with Lincoln nestled in his arms and Kennedy hanging on to his pants leg. Kennedy wore one of the pretty dresses they’d picked out last night. Gemma saw the playpen and wondered if the kids had spent the day there while he worked.

  Truman reached for a backpack on the floor and turned as he hoisted it over his shoulder. Their
eyes connected. Connected wasn’t nearly strong enough of a word to describe the force of his powerful gaze as it locked on hers, drawing her forward along an electric river. Lightning seared through her veins, sizzling and burning with every step. His lips curved up in a genuine smile and his sharp blue eyes raked slowly down her body, and she remembered she was still wearing the short princess dress. His grin turned lustful, and she thought she might melt right there on the spot.

  “You came,” he said with what sounded like relief.

  “Is that okay?” She felt her insecurities rising and thrust them down deep, refusing to overthink any part of tonight. She hadn’t felt this turned on in…ever.

  Kennedy peered out from around his leg and lifted her hand beside her face in a slow, shy wave.

  Gemma waved back, watching Truman lift her into his arms like she was light as a feather. The little girl put her head on his shoulder, and his smile turned slightly apologetic as he closed the distance between them. “We were just heading upstairs.”

  She glanced at the door he’d motioned to.

  “My apartment.” He shifted his eyes to Lincoln, who was fast asleep in his other arm.

  “Oh. I’m sorry I came so late. I can bring the car by tomorrow, or…” She should have come earlier, since she was sure he hadn’t asked her to come by so he could see her again.

  “Are you in a hurry?” he asked a little gruffly.

  “No, but I don’t want to—”

  He smirked. “Sure you do. Come on up.”

  She followed him through a door and up a set of stairs, worrying about the Sure you do. Was her interest that obvious? “I can come back another time. I should have called to see what time you closed.”

  “You’re here now,” he pointed out. At the top of the stairs, he managed to turn the doorknob while holding both kids, then pushed the door open with his foot.

  She followed him into a loft-style apartment. Wide-planked wood floors ran beneath a comfortable-looking brown couch with deep cushions. She wanted to crawl onto it with a book and disappear for hours. No, she wanted to crawl onto it with Truman and…She forced her eyes away from the sex-pit sofa, taking in a number of sketch pads and the Parenting magazine he’d bought last night littering the coffee table. Across the room glass doors led to a deck, and to the right of them, a large alcove housed several tall metal tool chests and a wooden workbench with a variety of tools hanging on the wall above it. Beside that stood a beautiful big arched window. To her left was an open kitchen with the bottles, jars of baby food, and other things they’d bought the night before. She glanced up at the exposed rafters in the ceiling. The tidy apartment was masculine and rough, like Truman. She felt like she should lower her voice an octave or ten before speaking.

  “Can I at least help you somehow? Want me to take Kennedy while you lay Lincoln down?”

  He eyed the little girl. “I’ve got her.” He lifted his lips in a half smile and kissed Kennedy’s forehead. “I’ll be right back.”

  He disappeared through the hallway to their right, and she took a few steps into the apartment, listening intently as Truman’s low voice filtered in from the other room. She knew it was rude to eavesdrop, but he sounded so calm and sweet, she couldn’t help herself. She heard the water turn on as he talked Kennedy through brushing her teeth. Then it became quiet again, just his steady footsteps moving across the floor.

  She couldn’t make out his low, soothing murmurs. Curious, she stepped to the edge of the hallway, and his voice became clear.

  “And Tinker Bell met Snow White in the forest, where they made applesauce.” Oh boy. He’d mixed up his fairy tales. She smiled, listening intently as he continued his tale. “And the biker boys carried Tinker Bell in a special carriage to a beautiful field where Winnie the Pooh was waiting with a big jar of honey…”

  She couldn’t suppress her smile at the silly story, and tiptoed away, setting the bag of goodies she’d brought on the end table. She sat down on the couch to wait and picked up one of the sketch pads that was lying open, gingerly leafing through the first few pages, then slowing to take a better look. Graffiti-style sketches of people and animals filled every page, mesmerizing her with their fluidity and tortured expressions. A kaleidoscope of blacks and grays created eyes, angry mouths with viperlike fangs, contorted, tormented faces, dragons, and more. Their depths and emotions clawed off the page, bringing rise to goose bumps on her arms.

  A large tattooed hand came down over the edge of the sketchbook, and she looked up into Truman’s hard expression.

  “I’M SORRY. I was just…” Gemma’s brows knitted, her eyes pleaded, and then a devastatingly sexy smile spread across her lips. She splayed her hands in the air and shrugged, looking so fucking adorable it was hard to remain irritated at the intrusion of his privacy. “I was being nosy. I can’t help it. It’s who I am, and those drawings are amazing. Are they yours?”

  Truman tossed his sketchbook on the table, trying to wrap his head around the web of emotions that were twisting and tangling inside him. In the past twenty-four hours his life had careened in every direction, and he felt like he was trying to balance on two wheels instead of four.

  “They’re nothing.”

  “Nothing?” Her voice arced up with surprise. “They’re bold and dramatic, and so different from anything I’ve ever seen.” She went for the sketch pad.

  “Please don’t.” His stern tone stopped her midreach.

  Her eyes darted to him, challenging and confused. She leaned back on the couch and her dress hiked up temptingly high on her thighs.

  Shifting his eyes away from that enticing sight, he said, “They’re really just mindless doodles.”

  “You’re one hell of a talented artist if those are mindless doodles. I could feature you in one of the community newsletters I write for my boutique. I bet you’d get some interest in commission work.”

  He crossed the room to the kitchen to try to cool down from the heat stroking through his core. He didn’t usually like pushy women, but her confidence, and the look in her eyes, made him long to take her in his arms and possess that sassy mouth of hers. “Can I get you a drink?”

  “Nice change of subject.” She popped off the couch and joined him, like a sinfully sexy ray of sunshine. Now that he wasn’t in the midst of last night’s nightmare, he saw Gemma more clearly. She was even more beautiful than he remembered. In her flat-heeled sandals she was about a foot shorter than him, and the dress she was wearing was like icing on the Gemma Wright cake—and he was ravenous. The bright color, the way it hugged her lush curves, and the thick gold belt gave her an edgy look, which contrasted sharply with the demure outfit she’d worn last night.

  He needed to get a grip, because not only was an ex-con with two babies not high on any woman’s hot list, but he had other priorities. Not to mention that he had no free time or a bedroom, making even the thought of taking her a ridiculous one.

  “I have to confess, in addition to looking at your drawings, I heard a little of the fairy tale you were telling Kennedy, but um…I think you mixed up a few of the stories.”

  “I can’t tell her the real stories. She’s seen enough bad stuff in her life. So I made up a night-night story for her.” God, he sounded like a pussy.

  Her eyes warmed.

  Maybe it’s good to sound like a pussy. Jesus, he had more important things to worry about.

  “You made up a night-night story just for her?”

  He ground his teeth together. “Yeah. I’m surprised you didn’t sneak a look at that sketch pad, too. I’m drawing it out so she can see pictures. It’s not a big deal. Can we please talk about something else?”

  “Yes, but making Kennedy her own fairy tale book is the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard. And I have to say it one more time. Seriously, Truman, your drawings are incredible. Why don’t you want me to see them?”

  Because they come directly from my soul. “It’s not personal. I don’t show them to anyone.”

 
Well, you should. They’re really good.” She looked at him like she wanted to push him for more answers as she had last night, but then she glanced over at the jars of baby food on the counter, and her expression changed. “I feel bad about showing up so late. Please don’t feel like you have to entertain me. You were getting ready to come upstairs when I got here, and you probably have a million things to do while the kids are asleep. I was only supposed to drop off my car. I can go.”

  “It’s fine,” he said, cringing at his sharp tone. It wasn’t her fault she’d come along at a time when his life was crazier than a three-eyed buffalo, and he didn’t mean to make her feel like she was an imposition when he’d spent the day hoping she’d show up.

  Softening his tone came easier than expected. “I’m glad you’re here.” He liked the way her expression brightened at that. “My life is not usually this fragmented. Hell, I’m not usually this fragmented. If you had come by at this time any other day, you’d have found me working on a car. But now…I’m managing schedules for three, and I don’t even know their schedules yet.” If they even have schedules. He opened the refrigerator, which was full of the groceries they’d chosen last night. “How about that drink?”

  “I’m not a big drinker,” she said. “Do you have anything nonalcoholic? I like wine. It’s not that I don’t drink, I’m just not in the mood.”

  “Unless iced tea, apple juice, or water have alcohol, I think we’re good.”

  “Iced tea is great, thanks.” She watched him intently as he poured the drinks. “Can’t you ask your mom about the kids’ schedules?”

  He bristled, though he should have anticipated the question. It was a reasonable one. He handed her a glass and nodded toward the living room, then opened the doors leading to the deck to let fresh air in before he suffocated.

  “She’s not around,” he said as he sank down to the couch beside her. He felt guilty leaving their mother’s cremation for Quincy to handle, but he had more important things to deal with—two very small people with very big issues.

 
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