MacNamarasLady, page 11
Minutes ticked by and she gradually gained control of wayward emotions. When she was calm enough, she started her car and headed toward Lucas’ building downtown. T.S. would be working there today and she wanted some answers.
* * * * *
T.S. was whistling under his breath as he installed the last tile and stepped away to admire his work. The bathroom was almost completed. The tub and shower combo were installed. The toilet and sink were in, the walls were plastered and painted. All that was left to be done was the grout, baseboards and trim. It looked good, if he did say so himself.
Justin usually helped him but today he’d called and said he wouldn’t be able to make it. He’d sounded tense, but T.S. hadn’t asked. Not his business until Justin wanted him to know. He’d enjoyed the solitude. He was usually with his crew, working on the latest project or seeing clients to line up future work. It was rare he got the opportunity to work alone these days.
He cleaned up the mess, putting his tools aside, before he glanced at his watch. It was a bit early but he might call it a day and see if he could talk Missy into doing the same. They could pick up something and take it back to her place to eat. Maybe a pizza. His stomach growled in agreement. Yeah, a pizza would definitely work.
He stood at the kitchen sink and scrubbed his hands while his thoughts wandered to Missy. He knew he was spending way too much time with her. Allowing her to become too important in his life. But he couldn’t seem to stop himself. She made him smile. She challenged him in every way possible and he found he liked that. She was smart and sassy and sexy as hell.
Just thinking about her made him hard. Hell, he’d walked around semi-erect for the past four weeks.
A sound behind him made him glance over his shoulder. As if his thoughts had summoned her, there she was. Tall and gorgeous in her high-heeled boots. Her dark brown winter coat brought out the color in her eyes and complemented her skin. He wanted to eat her up.
“Hey, babe. I wasn’t expecting you to show up here.”
“Don’t call me that.” Her harsh reply had him reaching for the towel and drying his hands. Tension radiated from her body and thin lines of stress stretched between her brows.
“What’s wrong?” He started toward her but stopped when she took a step back. If he didn’t know better he’d think she was afraid of him. This wasn’t right.
“What’s wrong?” she repeated. “What’s wrong? I went to the police station today and identified my second attacker.”
T.S. swore under his breath. Damn independent woman. “You should have told me. I’d have gone with you.”
She stared at him as though she didn’t believe a word he was saying. His concern was pushing way into the worried zone. “I wouldn’t think you’d like spending time with the police, considering your past.”
T.S. felt his insides freeze. She couldn’t have found out about his past. He never talked about it. To anyone. Only Lucas and his mother knew about those dark days. He’d cut all ties with his old neighborhood, plus it was old business. Ancient history. “What do you mean?”
“What do you think?” She crossed her arms over her chest. He recognized the defensive gesture for what it was and he braced for the worst. “I found out you’d been in prison. In prison! Why didn’t you tell me?”
He mimicked her pose, crossing his arms over his chest. Every muscle in his body tensed. A nerve beneath his right eye twitched. This was what you got when you opened yourself up. He knew better but he’d allowed it to happen anyway. “It wasn’t any of your business.” His voice was hard and cold.
Missy jerked back in surprise, but quickly collected herself. “How can you say that? We were sleeping together.”
Anger filled him and he lashed out. “Babe, we weren’t doing much sleeping.”
She flinched, but set her jaw in a familiar stubborn line. “No, we weren’t. But I made the erroneous assumption that there was more to our relationship than sex. My bad.”
He raked his hand through his hair. Shit, he hated feeling like the bad guy here. He hadn’t done anything wrong. “Look, it happened a long time ago. I don’t talk about it. With anyone.”
“Fine.” Missy turned and stalked toward the door.
“So that’s it. You’re just going to walk away.” His chest tightened with each step she took.
“You were the one who said it was nothing but sex. Well, I don’t sleep with ex-cons.” She laughed but it wasn’t a pleasant sound. “Scratch that, I guess I have. You’d get along great with my father and brothers. They’re ex-cons too.”
After dropping that bombshell, she left, her boots clicking against the wood floor.
“Fuck.” T.S. balled his hands into fists and thought about driving them through the wall. Thankfully he’d passed that kind of stupid years ago. It would hurt like hell and only mean more work for him in the long run.
He took a step toward the door and stopped. He wouldn’t go after her. He couldn’t. He knew it was pride keeping him from calling out to her, from begging her to stay, to talk this out. But sometimes that was all a man had.
He’d made a stupid fucking mistake as a kid. One step off the straight and narrow and it had messed up his life forever. His only true crime was in trusting his older brother and a girl he’d been smitten with. For that he’d paid. Big-time. He didn’t owe Missy or anyone else any explanations. He’d built a life for himself out of the ruins of his childhood. And he was happy with it.
He absently rubbed at his chest. It felt as though someone had reached into it and yanked his heart out. No, not just someone. Missy.
“Damn it.” He tossed pride away and stalked out of the apartment, hurrying down the stairs. But it was too late. By the time he burst through the door, Missy was long gone. He looked up and down the sidewalk but she was nowhere to be seen.
It was just as well. He wasn’t about to beg the woman to listen to him. She’d judged him without even asking to hear his side of the story. And he’d spent half his life being judged. Those days were over. He’d worked hard to gain the self-respect he had today.
He didn’t need such a closed-minded person in his life. She had such high standards and expected everyone else to live up to them. No one was that perfect.
An inner voice told him that wasn’t fair. Considering what she’d told him about her family, it was a wonder she hadn’t ended up like them. She’d made her code and lived by it, dragging herself out of the cycle of despair, much as he had.
They had more in common than she realized. Both of them, it appeared, were trying to forget a past that just wouldn’t stay buried.
“He should have told me.” Missy was curled up on one end of her sofa with Candy sitting on the other. She had a glass of wine in one hand and a tissue in the other. Thank God for good friends. Candy had come as soon as Missy had called her.
“Maybe he would have in time.”
Missy didn’t want to listen to reason. She wanted her friend to agree with her. “Why did he wait?”
“Maybe because he thought you might react like this. Or maybe because he considers it his past.” Candy set her wineglass on the coffee table, leaned forward and rested her hand on Missy’s leg, squeezing gently.
Missy resisted the childish urge to pull her leg away. “Whose side are you on?”
Candy sighed and sat back, her eyes troubled. “I’m on both your sides.” She tucked a lock of her curly brown hair behind her ear. “Maybe you should have asked him what happened instead of just cutting him out of your life.”
The accusation stung. “I don’t want an ex-con in my life.” Even as she said it she felt a pain in her chest at the thought of never seeing T.S. again. It was almost too much to bear.
It had only been a couple of hours but she felt as though she was in mourning. She fluctuated between righteous anger and profound hurt. It was enough to make a girl dizzy.
Damn the man for making her fall in love with him. And damn her for letting it happ
Candy nibbled on her bottom lip. Missy recognized the gesture and knew her friend was worried about something. “What? You disagree?”
She expected Candy to support her and was shocked when her friend nodded. “I don’t agree at all. Sometimes there are circumstances.”
“You know about my past.”
Compassion filled Candy’s eyes. “I do. I know it wasn’t easy growing up with a violent father who was in and out of prison, an alcoholic mother, a sister who didn’t care about anyone but herself and older brothers who followed in their father’s footsteps.”
That was an understatement. It was hell. She and her older sister had gotten away. The other two had spiraled downward into violence, crime, drugs and alcohol just like their parents had. She set her wineglass aside. She didn’t mind a social drink but preferred not to do so when she was upset. It was an easy path to go down for someone who had an alcoholic mother as an example on how to deal with stress.
“But you’re not the only one who’s had it tough. Some people make mistakes but manage to change their lives for the better.”
Missy hated feeling like she was in the wrong here. “He lied to me.”
“No, he simply hadn’t told you yet.” Candy sighed. “Listen to me. The man built a business from nothing. He works hard and he’s honest. He’s kind and good, if a bit gruff.” She laid out her best argument, trumping all Missy’s. “And he saved you from a brutal attack, maybe even from being murdered. The least you could have done was keep an open mind.”
Candy was right. Missy felt like crap and had ever since she’d stormed away from T.S. She’d simply reacted to the blindsiding she’d received, not taking the time to think before she acted.
Her friend continued. “You have very high expectations, Missy. Sometimes it’s hard to live up to them. No,” Candy corrected. “It’s downright impossible for mere mortals to live up to them.”
The accusation hit Missy like a two-by-four up the side of the head. “Are you saying I’m a snob?” As much as she hated to admit it, Candy wasn’t the first person to point this out to her. The accusation stung, especially coming from her best friend. Usually, it was some guy she was dating, although a few co-workers had pointed the fact out from time-to-time.
Missy prided herself on working hard and being better than her upbringing. She had standards that she set for herself. She saw no reason to apologize for that fact. But the idea that she was judging people, giving the impression she thought herself better than them made her feel sick to her stomach. It wasn’t that way at all. Was it?
Totally miserable, she rubbed her hand over the plush throw blanket that covered her legs. “It’s too late, anyway. I told him it was over.” She shredded the tissue in her hand as a deep well of loneliness and nothingness opened in front of her. All her well-laid plans were in ruins. None of them mattered anymore. Not without T.S.
“It’s never too late.” Candy was an optimist and while Missy loved that about her friend, she herself was more of a realist.
“You didn’t see him or hear him. He was so cold, so withdrawn.”
“I know what you’re going through.”
Missy frowned. “No you don’t.”
“Yes,” Candy countered. “I do. You have to promise me you’ll never repeat a word of what I’m about to tell you. Ever.”
The seriousness in her friend’s tone had Missy sitting up straighter. “I promise.” Candy was her one true friend and she’d never betray that.
“I found out that Lucas had been in prison when he was a teenager. I reacted without thinking and almost threw away the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Missy’s head was whirling with disbelief. “Lucas?” The man was tough as nails, but he owned a coffee shop. Heck, he made the best brownies on the planet. And he’d been in prison?
Candy nodded. She straightened the hem of her sweater. “He assaulted a man. Almost killed him.”
“God have mercy.” Missy fell back against the cushions, hardly able to believe what she was hearing. “Who?”
“It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Lucas made a mistake and he paid dearly for it. He turned his life around and made himself into the man he is today.” Tears pooled in the corners of Candy’s eyes. “He’s strong and loyal and I love him so much. I can’t imagine my life without him.”
Missy handed Candy a tissue as the dots suddenly connected in her sluggish brain. “That’s where T.S. and Lucas met, isn’t it? In prison?”
Candy nodded and used the tissue to dab beneath her eyes, careful not to smear her mascara. “They were both young and had no priors, so they eventually got kitchen duty together.”
“Why was T.S. in prison?” Missy had a deep need to know.
Candy shook her head. “I don’t know. Lucas never told me. But even if I did know I wouldn’t say. That’s his story to tell. You need to ask him.” She glanced at her watch. “If you’re okay, I need to get home.”
“Sure.” Candy had certainly given her a lot to think about. “I’m sorry for dragging you into this.” Missy had put her friend in the middle of things. T.S. was her husband’s best friend.
“Don’t worry about it.” Candy leaned down and gave her a hug. “Everything will work out.”
Missy wished she had her friend’s optimism. Deep down she didn’t believe in happily ever after, at least not in her own life. After she saw Candy out, she dragged herself into bed and curled up beneath the covers. She felt cold without T.S.’ large body curved around hers. In such a short time she’d grown accustomed to having him there.
“What have I done?” Tears rolled down her face and seeped into her pillow.
* * * * *
“Women. Who needs ’em?” T.S. lifted the bottle in mock salute and then took a swig of beer. It was only his second but, in spite of his determination to get drunk, he found himself counting. He couldn’t help himself. He never got drunk. Never let his life get out of his control.
Control, what a joke. His life had blown up around him, thanks to one tall, sexy lady. Don’t think about her, he told himself. She’d been quick enough to toss him away when she found out something about him she didn’t like.
It wasn’t like she was perfect. The woman definitely had issues of her own. But she doesn’t have a criminal background, the logical little voice in the back of his head countered.
Lucas kicked back on the sofa and crossed his booted ankles. “Unfortunately, my friend, we do.”
He shook his head. “You might need ’em, but I sure as hell don’t.” Okay, so now he wasn’t lying just to himself but to his best friend. This was turning out to be one of the shittiest days on record in a long time.
“You keep telling yourself that.” Lucas rested his beer bottle against his jean-clad leg, his fingers dangling it. “Candy’s over at Missy’s. She called all upset.”
Perverse as it was, T.S. was glad Missy was upset. It proved she felt something about him. On the other hand, he hated the idea of her being upset about anything. Shit, he sounded like a girl. Next thing he’d be needing to get in touch with his feelings or some crap like that.
He shrugged. “What Missy does is no longer my problem.” That was something he was going to have to get used to. She was out of his life. Gone. What was between them was done.
The thought of not waking up next to her in the morning, of having her naked body snuggled next to his, having her beneath him hot and moist and begging him to take her— He shut off that line of thinking as every muscle in his body tensed and his cock swelled behind the zipper of his jeans. He could feel the sweat on his brow and absently swiped at it with the back of his hand.
The front door opened and closed as Candy walked in. Lucas was on his feet immediately. “Hey, sugar.”
T.S. looked on as Lucas met his wife at the door with a kiss. Candy was so much smaller than her husband, but there was no hesitation as she went up on her toes to return his embrace. There was such trust, such love bet
Put it away, he ordered himself. That wasn’t for him. Lucas had gotten lucky. Candy was one in a million. So was Missy, that nagging voice in the back of his head protested. She might be one in a million, but she obviously wasn’t his one.
He started to stand, but Candy waved him back to his seat. “Don’t rush off on my account. Sit. Stay for a while.” She took off her coat and hung it by the door. Her boots came next. Lucas took her hand and led her to the sofa, pulling her down beside him.
He lowered his butt back down on the chair, watching Candy like a man might watch a lit stick of dynamite. He hoped like hell she wasn’t going to start on him about Missy. The women were best friends after all. If there was something he understood it was loyalty and friendship.
“How are you?” Her softly asked question made his chest ache.
He shrugged. “I’m okay. It’s no big deal.” He toyed with the bottle in his hand, eventually putting it on the table in front of him.
“Give her some time.” He wished she’d stop talking about it but Candy was just getting warmed up. “Missy was really hurt by this. It hit her hard.”
A fresh spurt of anger surged through T.S. “And you think I wasn’t? She came out of nowhere with this, threw it at me and then left.” That’s what hurt the most. After everything they’d been through together, she hadn’t even asked for his side of the story.
Candy nibbled on her bottom lip, concern filling her face. Great, now he felt even worse. It was a wonder Lucas hadn’t popped him one for upsetting his wife. “I gotta go.” He pushed to his feet.
Candy bounded off the sofa, took a step toward him and threw her arms around him. He held his arms out by his side, not quite sure what to do. He shot Lucas a pleading glance but the ass just sat there and grinned.
“Ah, thanks.” T.S. awkwardly grasped Candy by the shoulders and gently moved her away from him.
But she wasn’t going to let him escape that easily. She grabbed his hand and held on. “Don’t leave. Not yet. Did you have dinner?”
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