Tru blue, p.6
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       Tru Blue, p.6

           Melissa Foster
 
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  Like this morning.

  The scene in the bedroom played out before him once again—her calm, interested gaze, the way she’d licked her lips, like she wanted to remove his towel and taste him as badly as he wanted to devour her. While neither had said anything about their encounter, the heat between them had amped up to inferno levels. Every time their hands grazed, sparks ignited. Every glance smoldered. As a result, he’d been sporting a hard-on at half-mast all morning. Luckily, Dixie and Bear weren’t coming in today, so there was no one else to witness his ridiculous half-cocked barrel.

  “Anyway,” Gemma said, bringing him back to their conversation. She was telling him about her princess shop.

  Truman listened as she described the differences between a two-year-old’s birthday party and a seven-year-old’s, which apparently includes a walk down a red carpet with lights and music and lots of fanfare.

  “We do manicures and pedicures, hair and makeup, but that’s not the best part. The best part is watching the kids pick out their outfits without their parents telling them what to wear. Some of the primmest girls pick leather and lace, while some of the tomboys pick frilly dresses.” Her eyes lit up, and she looked past him, as if she were watching a scene unfold in the distance. “And then there’s this moment when it all comes together and these little girls suddenly become different people. That’s even better than watching them pick out the clothes, actually. That moment of revelation and freedom when they realize they can become anyone they want to be. I love that.”

  For the first time in as long as he could remember, he began seeing something other than dark images taking shape in his mind, and his fingers itched to create without being driven by frustration. Gemma was artistry in motion. As she told him about her shop, he imagined painting her. He envisioned ribbons of yellow, pinks, and orange interspersed with blues and purples for her hair. He imagined painting her face in a flurry of swirls and feathery strokes of pastels with bold streaks of navy and black for those seductive glimmers that shined through. And her body? All those luscious curves and strength could only be painted as a mix of flawless beauty and sweet rebellion, with golds, pale greens, yellows, and hot pink.

  “Now that you know my passion, will you tell me about your drawings?”

  He shook his head to clear his thoughts. “You’ve seen them. Tell me more about you.” He wanted to know everything, even if he wasn’t ready to reciprocate. “Why princesses?”

  She narrowed her sharp eyes in that serious but playful way she had. “Why drawings?”

  He shifted his attention back to her car to avoid the question.

  “You’ll let me barge into your apartment at the crack of dawn, but you won’t talk to me about your drawings?”

  He smiled and glanced at her again. “Pretty much.”

  She rolled her eyes. She did that a lot instead of pushing him, which he liked. It gave him time to think. But truth be told, no one ever pushed him, and he kind of liked it when she did. He liked knowing she was interested in him even though he knew when she really got to know him, she’d walk the other way.

  “If you won’t talk to me about your drawings, and you won’t share any more details about your mother, then tell me how it is that I’ve lived in Peaceful Harbor for a few years now and I’ve never seen you around.”

  She’d peppered him with questions over breakfast, while he did the dishes, and when he’d thrown a load of laundry into the washer. She’d asked the same questions in ten different ways. She was adorably persistent.

  “Do you frequent this end of town?” he asked, knowing the answer. There wasn’t much down by the bridge, save for Whiskey Bro’s.

  “Well, no, but you must come into town sometimes.”

  He concentrated on working the dent from her door. “Sure, when I need something. I pretty much keep to myself, and I only moved here a few months ago.”

  “Where did you live before that?”

  Behind bars. He wasn’t about to go there. He kept his eyes trained on the interior of the door. “Where did you live before moving here?”

  “I grew up two hours from here.”

  He chanced a glance. She was winding a lock of hair around her finger, looking so at ease, with a casual and beautiful smile that reached her eyes. Man, she killed him with that smile.

  “Was it anything like Peaceful Harbor?”

  She shook her head. “No. I grew up in a very different environment. I wasn’t allowed to play in the grass with a doll for hours. I lived a rigid life in a gated community with music lessons, etiquette classes, private language tutors…” She wrinkled her nose.

  “Why’d you come here?” Her lifestyle was a world away from his, which was another reason he should keep his pants zipped.

  “Let’s see.” She released her hair and met his steady gaze. “Gated community, music lessons, private tutors.”

  He laughed softly at her candor. “Most people would give anything to have those things.”

  “Most people have no idea how awful those things are. All I ever wanted to do was flit around with fairy wings, dress up in ten-dollar costumes, and build a tent out of sheets. I had this dream of running through meadows without a nanny watching over me, you know? Just being a kid, maybe having a tea party with those plastic little cups and fake tea. Just once it would have been nice to have homemade vanilla cupcakes instead of a three-tiered ganache birthday cake. It would have been so easy for my parents to give me any of those things, too. And time,” she said dreamily. “A few minutes of their time without any sort of agenda would have been the best gift of all. I wouldn’t have cared what we did. We could have sat in an empty room and talked for all I cared.”

  She drew in a deep breath and looked away. “According to my parents, I wanted to ‘live the life of a pauper instead of a princess,’ and maybe they were right, because I didn’t care about any of the things they did. I never wanted to play the piano or learn French.” She shook her head. “I’m sorry. It’s not a nice word. ‘Pauper,’ was theirs, not mine.”

  He glanced at Kennedy and realized pauper was a step up from the conditions in which she’d lived. “It’s not offensive.”

  She nodded, her expression relieved. “All I wanted was time. Time with them, my own time to run and play and be a kid. I would rather have had nothing and been loved like I was everything than have everything and feel like a commodity for them to show off.”

  At first glance, he didn’t think they’d have anything in common, and he wondered how he could be so attracted to someone who came from such a different world. But the more he learned about her, the more he realized they did have things in common. Important things that he’d never expected.

  “So, why princesses? It seems like you would want to go in the opposite direction.”

  “Because Princess for a Day isn’t about just being a frilly little princess who’s given anything she wants. It’s about being whoever the children dream of being. We have rocker princesses, academic princesses, construction worker princesses. You name it, we offer it. Goth, frills, leather, lace, tomboy, twisted…I wanted to call it You for a Day, but the marketing specialists I spoke to said no one would know what it was or who it was for.” She shrugged. “So I went with princess. What was your childhood like?”

  He turned his attention back to the car, grinding his teeth together. “How many times can you ask the same questions?”

  “How many times can you avoid them?”

  “Pretty damn many.” He lifted his gaze and she was smiling again. “What?”

  “You’re cute when you’re trying to be all macho and evasive.”

  He laughed. “Cute? Lincoln’s cute. Kennedy’s cute. I make you nervous, remember?”

  “Yeah.” She pushed from the doorframe. “I’ve rethought that particular adjective. I think ‘feverish’ is a better term.” She turned away and joined Kennedy in the yard.

  How was he supposed to concentrate with that knowledge bouncing around in his head? He
tried to focus on repairing the dent, but his mind kept looping back to Gemma. He’d thought about her a lot last night as he was pacing the apartment in an effort to coax and soothe Lincoln back to sleep. When he’d heard the knock on the door this morning, he was sure the other shoe was dropping and feared the worst, like the police coming to tell him they’d found his brother lying dead somewhere, or the authorities coming to take the kids away. When he’d seen Gemma through the glass, not only had he been relieved, but he’d been excited. He liked being around her, despite her incessant questions. In fact, her curiosity was part of her appeal.

  The gentle cadence of Gemma’s voice carried him through the meticulous and time-consuming work. A little while later, she carried Lincoln into the garage and another wave of happiness swept through him. He rose to take Lincoln, feeling slightly off-kilter by the rush of emotions.

  “It’s okay. I can feed him,” she said.

  “I must be holding you up from something. You’ve been here for hours.”

  She flashed a sweet, careful smile. “Sick of me already?”

  “Not even close,” he said, stepping closer. “But you’re not a babysitter, and you’ve been here since dawn.”

  “I don’t feel like a babysitter. I like getting to know you and the kids.”

  He brushed his fingers over Lincoln’s forehead, glad it felt cooler. Holding her gaze, he let his hand drop to her arm. Electricity spiked along his skin, but it was the way her lips parted and the dreamy sigh that slipped out that had his heart beating faster.

  “Wouldn’t you rather be someplace else?”

  Without a word, she shook her head. The urge to take her beautiful face between his hands and claim the kiss he’d been dying for was so strong his hands began to twitch. One kiss, one taste, he told himself. It had been forever since he’d kissed a woman out of passion rather than as a means to an end.

  “But I was thinking,” she said, breaking his train of thought, “I’d really like to take Kennedy to my shop and let her play there.”

  Kennedy slipped her hand in his. He wasn’t ready to let her out of his sight yet. “How about if we all go after I finish up here?”

  “Like a date?” Her eyes shimmered with mischief.

  He slid his hand from her arm to her waist, and man did that small touch feel incredible. She was soft and feminine, and the breeze carried the faint scent of vanilla from her hair. He wanted to smell that scent on her skin, to taste it in her sweat when she was in the throes of passion. They looked at each other for a long moment, a sensuous thread weaving between them. This was dangerous territory. She deserved a man without a torrid past, but he wanted her.

  He wore the skin of a killer and bore the heart of a lover. That was the tangled web of lies he’d created to protect those he loved, and it would forever more be the cloak that shrouded him. Once he revealed his past, she’d never look at him like this again.

  He leaned forward, intent on taking that kiss in case this was all there would ever be.

  “Tooman,” Kennedy’s voice chirped, severing his tunnel vision.

  They both looked down at the innocent-eyed little princess with the crooked tiara. That was the first time Kennedy had said his name, shaking up his whirling emotions even more.

  He scooped his little sister into his arms and glanced at Gemma, who was blinking rapidly, as if she were trying to settle the wild wind they’d stirred, too.

  “Yes, princess?” he asked Kennedy.

  “Hungy.”

  Returning his gaze to Gemma so there was no escaping the desire or the intent in his voice, he said, “Me too, princess. I’m ravenous.”

  BREATHING WAS SUPPOSED to come easily and naturally, not hitched and ragged. And thinking? Gemma had always been a fast thinker, but after spending most of the day with Truman and the kids, she’d come into the boutique to get things ready for their arrival, and her thoughts kept scattering, circling back to the voracious look in Truman’s eyes before lunch and the way his hands had lingered on her skin at different points throughout the afternoon. And when he’d tripped over her wearing nothing but a towel? Her entire body heated up with the memory of how aroused they’d both been. She’d never felt this type of all-consuming lust, and it was wreaking havoc with her body and her brain.

  She sat down to strap on her gold Mary Janes. She always dressed up for the kids’ parties. Tonight she was dressing up for Truman as much as she was for Kennedy. She’d taken forever deciding which outfit to wear, wanting to look sexy, but not like she was trying too hard. She’d finally settled on wearing one of her favorite costumes—Passion Princess. It was a sexy little number with puffy sleeves adorned with white bows that fit around her upper arms, leaving her shoulders bare. The dress was baby-blue satin with gold trim, an iridescent paisley print, and tiny gems lining the sweetheart neckline. It laced up the back and tied off with a large white bow. The golden overlay skirt hung low in the back, leaving her thigh-high stockings on display in the front. The midthigh-length skirt had the same golden paisley print with white lace trim on the bottom, and a white tulle underskirt gave the outfit a flirtatious bounce.

  She pushed the blue satin headband into her hair, drawing the sides away from her face while leaving a few long tendrils hanging free. She pulled on white gloves that covered her finger to elbow and fastened the steel-blue choker with a blue gem that reminded her of Truman’s eyes dangling from the center around her neck. Her stomach was doing somersaults at the prospect of Truman seeing her dressed like this.

  Taking a quick look in the mirror, she couldn’t stop smiling. She loved this outfit. It truly was her favorite. It was the right amount of sexy to make it appropriate for an adult and still fairy tale enough to alight all those magical feelings fairy tales were known for. She’d spent so many years dreaming of being someone else and making up stories in her head to escape her lonely, dull life that it made dressing up in costumes even more fun. She lived out all of the fantasies she’d never had a chance to as a little girl, which made coming to work even more enjoyable.

  She went into the play area to put all the final preparations into place, setting out the baskets and racks of clothes for Kennedy and the cute little activity gym she’d picked up on the way over for Lincoln.

  Her phone vibrated with a text, and Crystal’s face appeared on the screen. It was nearly six o’clock. She was surprised Crystal had waited so long to prod her for details about her day. They’d talked late last night and Gemma had filled her in on her plans to see Truman this morning.

  She opened and read the text. Does he have any ink below his belt? Winky and smiley face emoticons had never cut it for Crystal. She was more visual than that. Hence the next thread of images lighting up her phone—a string of tattooed penises.

  “Ouch,” Gemma mumbled as she typed her response. I don’t know, but that looks painful, so I hope not. We haven’t even kissed yet. I’m not sure I’ll survive a kiss!

  Crystal’s response was immediate. Won’t survive a kiss? Oh, man. I think I might have to crash my car.

  Gemma scowled. Oh no you won’t! Hands off! Gotta run. He’s going to be here any minute. Kennedy’s playing princess tonight.

  The next text came seconds later. And you’re playing hide the sausage?

  Another text. Wizard of O?

  Her phone vibrated like it was on steroids as her friend’s texts rolled in. Princess Swallows? Prince Cunnilingus? Hokey Pokey? Are you going to help him LET IT GO?!

  Gemma laughed as the bells on the front door chimed the boutique’s special magical tune and Truman came in holding Kennedy’s hand and carrying Lincoln in his car seat. She put her phone on the counter and he set those beguiling blue eyes on her and swallowed hard as she approached, making her melt like a Popsicle. Her stomach spun into knots. She loved knowing she was breaking through that gruff barrier he tried so hard to keep up. Although when he’d come out of the bathroom in that very thin towel, it was hard not to notice just how much she affected him.


  “Hey there.” Averting her eyes from his piercing stare, she noticed that he’d changed into a pair of low-slung jeans that hugged him in all the best places. Great, now she was staring at his junk—and trying not to wonder if it was tattooed. Damn it, Crystal!

  “That’s a…” He licked his lips, his eyes drifting slowly down her body, lingering on her thigh-high stockings. “That’s a great outfit. We might need more princess days in our lives.”

  She wanted to wrap that compliment around her like a velvet cape, but the way he was visually devouring her made her skin tingle with anticipation of a touch she hoped might come. She needed to get herself under control and focus on the kids or she was going to turn into a noodle-legged, swooning mess.

  Shifting her eyes away again, she locked the door behind them and said, “I’m glad you found it, and I see you took my advice about Lincoln’s car seat.”

  “Your directions were perfect, and whoever thought this up was brilliant.” He lifted the baby carrier, his wolfish grin morphing into an adoring brotherly smile aimed at the happy baby.

  How did he do that when she was still mentally untying the knots that hungry grin had given her? She crouched beside Kennedy, feeling the heat of Truman’s gaze return. The wolf was back! Maybe she should have worn her Little Red Riding Hood outfit.

  Chapter Eight

  “TRU, HOLD STILL. You’re almost done.” Gemma worked the top buttons on Truman’s white poplin jacket—the fifth or sixth outfit she and Kennedy had picked out for him. “I’ll have you know, this Prince Charming outfit is very much in demand.”

  “With you working the buttons, I bet it is,” he said under his breath.

  She stood before him in those white thigh-high stockings he was dying to take off—with his teeth—nibbling on her lower lip. Her eyes were set in pure concentration as she shifted and smoothed, running her hands all over his chest and shoulders and sending titillating explosions directly to his core. From his vantage point, he had an enticing view of the swell of her breasts. Her sexy princess outfit pushed them up adeptly, creating cleavage so deep he wanted to bury himself in it and never come out. She was the epitome of sultry innocence, and he was nothing short of a gawking, lecherous dude who was quickly losing the struggle to keep his hands to himself.

 
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