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Trent, a man who’d come from a shit home in Kentucky, held close to him his greatest treasure. Sappy as that shit sounded, he could think of no other way to describe it. It hadn’t even been a year, and she’d already showed him what it was like to truly be loved.
Teal had become his rock, the light at the end of the tunnel, but she had also become more than a beacon towards happiness. She’d become his connection to a new world. One in which he was expected to be open and honest, caring and kind; but most of all, Teal expected Trent to live up to old expectations. The phone started its chiming again, only this time, he recognized the sound as Teal’s email notification, and again he ignored it.
Trent rested his head on his palm and watched the rise and fall of Teal’s chest as she slept. If she woke up now, she’d most definitely curse him out for being what she called a creepy-ass stalker. He took in her slightly parted lips, until she rolled over, giving him a glorious view of her round ass.
His voice must have caught her attention. “What the fuck, Trent?” She rolled back over and eyed him.
Trent took in her mussed up curls and sleep-filled eyes. She slept with a black silk thing wrapped around her head. He found it hilarious that her wild sleeping habits had the material hanging off her head. “What?”
With a groan, Teal sat up. “We’ve talked about this.” She shoved a mass of curls out of her face, the motion pushing her chest out. He was damned glad he’d talked her into sleeping nude.
Trent reached up and squeezed a breast. “Talked about what?” Goosebumps broke out over her skin as he kneaded her smooth flesh.
She shooed his hand away. “Staring at me while I sleep.” She scooted off the bed and Trent followed. “Is it some creepy white man thing?”
He followed her as she headed into the bathroom, taking a quick glance at the clock. He’d need to head to the shop in an hour or so. “Nothing to do with race, baby girl.” Trent moved past her and started the shower. “And everything to do with that fine, plump ass.” He turned around just as she finished brushing her teeth. “One of these days, you’re going to let me fuck it.” He smirked at her grimace, and moved closer.
Throwing a hand out, she stopped him mid-step. “I am going to tell you now. That big thing,” she pointed to his crotch, “isn’t going anywhere near my ass.”
Trent pushed past her hand and pulled her into his arms. He kissed her neck and made his way to her lips. After a searing kiss, he released her and stepped into the shower.
Pushing open the shower curtain, Teal stepped in behind him. “What all do you have to do at the shop today?” She busied herself with washing his back, as he massaged shampoo into his hair.
“I need to go over payroll. And since I’m down a few men,” he sighed, “I may need to do a couple of extra jobs, so we aren’t too far behind after the holiday.” The fact that he was dating a black woman had spread faster than herpes in a whorehouse. “You still staying a week past the forth?”
“Yeah, I took the full two weeks, just like you asked.” She finished his back and adjusted the water to rinse him off.
Trent stuck his head under the stream before he stepped out and wrapped a towel around his waist. “I’d bring you to the shop, but you’d be bored out of your mind. Plus, here, you have TV and food. That’s at least something for you to do.” He dried off, then rubbed the towel over his head. Teal stepped out behind him and he wrapped the towel around her body. Leaning in for another kiss, he pulled back when it wasn’t returned. “What?”
Holding the towel around her, she took a step back and sighed. “I kind of feel guilty about you losing those two guys. Yes, they were racist dicks, but it hurt business.”
Trent took her hand and led her into the bedroom, where he pulled out his work clothes. “It’s been a hassle for sure, but I can assure you, it is all on me.” He wasn’t lying. His own actions had led to him hiring deplorable men in order to keep up a façade. Trent felt like shit that his hotheadedness from years ago had cast a shadow over their relationship today, and he was working hard as fuck to fix the situation. As always though, his past came back to bite him in the ass.
Teal dropped the towel and moved to her suitcase. “So, what about Harper?” She slipped on a pair of shorts and threw one of his shirts over her head. “Have you heard anything since the last letter?”
Talk about my past haunting me . . .
Turning to face him, she picked up a bottle from her suitcase and poured some pink liquid into her palm. Rubbing her hands together, she spread the stuff throughout her hair.
It was odd to him. There was supposed to be some huge difference when it came to a black woman’s hair, versus a white woman’s hair, but Trent hadn’t noticed a thing. Teal got her hair wet the same way Shayla had, and she styled and used similar shit in her hair as well.
“Trent?” Teal’s voice was louder than before, and he realized she’d been trying to get his attention.
He sat down on the side of the bed and stuffed one foot into his boot. Unable to look at her, he kept his eyes on the grimy boot. “No, nothing.”
She sat on the bed, her warm hand grabbing his. “Look, maybe she is still angry at the past.” Trent gave her a withering stare. “I know. She was the one who walked away, but I am more than positive you understand why she left the first time, and her fear of you and your friends the second.”
Trent moved his hand from beneath Teal’s and started on the second boot. Shame lanced through him when he realized that for all the honesty he required from Teal, he was unable to return it. He hadn’t told her the truth about what had happened after Harper had left him standing there like a fool, and he sure as hell hadn’t told her his actions were the reason she went running—not just the tattoo.
Teal could hear the apprehensiveness in her friend’s voice. Sitting up fast, the manuscript fell from her lap and banged to the ground. “What’s happened, Katie? Are the girls all right? Is it Logan? What? You’re scaring me.”
Her voice held such concern, Teal’s heart pounded in her chest. “So, Trent hasn’t called you yet.” Teal’s hackles rose at the mention of Trent’s name. “Shit. I might have overstepped my bounds by making this call, but—”
Teal didn’t let Katie finish her sentence. Her anxiety caused her hands to shake as she spoke. “Katie, what the hell is going on? What do you mean Trent hasn’t called me? He just left but twenty minutes ago.” She glanced at the time on the phone, wondering if time had somehow gotten away from her.
Fear laced Katie’s words. “I just. I just don’t want to piss Logan off.”
“Katie.” Teal waited until she felt she had Katie’s undivided attention. “Fuck Logan. You’re about to piss me off.” The added bite to her words gave way to silence. Teal knew that Logan wouldn’t hurt Katie, so she was unsure as to why she was acting like such a timid mouse. “Tell me what the hell is going on. I don’t care if Logan gets pissed. It’s obviously important, or you wouldn’t have called me.”
Katie’s apprehension kept her silent a moment longer before she spoke. “Trent’s shop was vandalized last night or rather early this morning, I think.”
Teal closed her eyes. Biting out a silent curse she stood and paced the floor. “What do you mean? Did they steal anything? I just don’t get it why the hell—”
Katie’s voice interrupted Teal. “Did anything odd happen with you and Trent last night?” To Teal, it seemed like Katie was fishing for info she already knew.
“Girl, stop pussyfooting and tell me what you know, or so help me, when I see your skinny ass again . . .” Teal’s threats held no real heat. She loved Katie like a sister, but in this moment, she wished she could snatch her ass bald.
Despite the gravity of the situation, Katie chuckled. “Skinny? Not so much. I still have some baby weight to get rid of.”
Baby weight? Teal rolled her eyes. With a scoff, she sat back down. “You look like an hour glass now. It’s the figure every woman wants. Now back to the issue you called about. Talk.”
“Keep in mind, I only heard Logan’s part of the conversation, as he was on the phone. But from what I gathered, Trent got to his shop this morning to find the walls covered with graffiti.”
To Teal, the idea of some punks costing Trent time and money to clean their mess up pissed her off, too, still she didn’t understand why Katie sounded so upset by it. It wasn’t as if he’d been hurt or ended up in jail for beating the shit out the punks.
“Also,” the reluctance was back in her voice. “Trent believes he knows who did it. Apparently, something happened on your date night? Logan asked if Jake, his old lawyer, had anything to do with it.”
Shocked, Teal sat forward. “That asshole was Logan’s lawyer?”
“Was being the operative word.” Katie’s voice held heat.
Teal caught herself and reined it back in. Her words about Logan in the past had hurt their friendship, and Teal wasn’t going down that road again. Especially since he’d been doing well dealing with his past race issues. Teal had learned a great deal about Logan’s past, and while at first, she’d found it hard to believe a white person could suffer such racial injustices, she now realized her beliefs didn’t change what actually happened to him growing up.
While Logan would never know how hard it was to be black in America, Teal had to understand her life was vastly different than Logan’s. They’d both suffered at the hands of the opposite race, and her race’s past and present social injustices couldn’t demean or belittle what Logan had gone through. It was a hard pill to swallow, but she was trying nonetheless.
With a sigh, she said, “I get it.” Past that subject, her mind honed in on Katie’s revelation. “What did Trent say when Logan asked him about Jake’s involvement?” Without thinking, Teal was up and headed to the bedroom.
“I don’t know.”
Teal balanced the phone between her cheek and shoulder as she shoved on a pair of shorts. “Well, what kind of spy are you? Shit!”
“The kind without super hearing, obviously.”
She made quick work of her shirt. “So, what does Logan think happened?” Teal could hear every bit of Katie’s frustration as she spoke.
“He told me to mind my own business.”
Teal laughed through her anger. “Ooh, honey!” Though she was pissed and worried, she wished she could have been a fly on the wall during that argument. “And what did little miss Katie say?” She shoved her feet in her shoes, then headed into the living room in search of the keys to Trent’s spare vehicle.
“You don’t want to know.” Katie huffed. “Why do you sound out of breath?”
Katie groaned. “Damn.”
“Sorry, I’m sure this will cause some friction with you and Logan, but you need to explain to him that you were concerned. I am sure he and Trent have a guy code, just as we have ours.” She headed into the garage and smiled at the old Challenger.
Trent would no doubt flip his lid when he saw her pulling up in his baby, but she needed to be with him. She needed to figure out what the hell was going on. And if she were honest with herself, as tough as she believed she was, she felt a bit unsafe in his house without a weapon.
What if those men had come to Trent’s home thinking he was at work? Trent had guns, she was sure of it, but where were they? And the men at the bar last night were huge ass bastards. What if one of those men had gotten into the house before she was able to get a weapon?
“Look,” her voice wobbled with the irrational fear that those men were coming for her, “I’ll call you later to let you know everything is okay.”
“Hey, are you okay?” The concern in Katie’s voice warmed her heart.
“Yeah.” Once inside the car, she locked the doors before starting the engine. “I am just about to take his baby out for a spin.” She cracked the joke to ease her distress.
Unconvinced, but seemingly not willing to push it further, Katie said, “Okay, call me when you can.”
Teal agreed and placed the phone on the passenger seat. Anger made its way past the fear as she stared at the phone. If Trent had thought those men messed with his shop, then why the hell hadn’t he called her? Shouldn’t he have at least called to ease her mind?
Okay, so he didn’t know she was distressed, but he had a damned clue on who was to blame for his shop. Then it dawned on her. This was Logan’s lawyer. The same man who had shown up on Katie’s doorstep, filling her head with lies about Logan. If he would find Katie’s home and show up there, there was nothing to say he wouldn’t do the same to Trent. With that thought, Teal started the car and backed out of the driveway.
Poe raised his hands. “Okay, enough of the Jake shit. He’s a bastard and you two need to steer clear of the cokehead. Violet will help y’all out as best as she can. She’s good like that.” She bashfully dipped her head at the compliment. Poe stood, pointing to the firework display. “And now, for some circa 2011 non-legal fireworks.”
Teal’s gaze flew to Violet. “Huh?”
“In Kentucky, only certain fireworks are legal. Poe here has bought ones that aren’t.” Trent leisurely made his way over to Teal and helped her up from the table.
“In Vermont, all you need is a permit and you can have all the fun you want.” She threaded her fingers through Trent’s as he led her further into the darker part of the yard.
Poe had set everything up at a safe distance, and Trent had lined up some lawn chairs for the show. Teal made to sit down in one of the three; instead, Trent pulled her back up and sat. Patting his lap, he motioned for her to sit.
Teal complied and wrapped an arm around his neck as she adjusted herself comfortably on him. The stubble of his jaw rasped over her neck as he tenderly kissed her, his warm tongue making its way up her neck until Teal felt the sharp pain of his teeth on her earlobe. She gasped when his hand slipped under her shirt, his calloused hands slipping beneath the cup of her bra to tweak a nipple. Shrouded in darkness, Trent caressed Teal’s breast and tasted her skin, as Violet and Poe made adjustments to the fireworks.
Trent’s ridged cock hardened beneath her, and Teal squirmed atop his lap, listening, as his breaths grew harsher. “You’re gonna make me come in my pants. Is that what you want?” he said, as he tweaked a nipple so hard, Teal squeaked.
His hands and mouth made a hasty retreat as the couple made their way back to them.
Teal glanced around just as the first explosion rocked into the night and set the darkness around them ablaze. Trent stole her attention from the fireworks as he gently took her chin between his thumb and finger to gently turn it to meet his eyes. His loving gaze took in her face, eyes roving over every inch of it. His thumb moved softly back and forth across her cheek causing warmth to spread with his touch. She watched, mesmerized as lights sporadically lit up his beautiful rough-hewn face revealing the awe and longing in his eyes.
Most women searched years for such dedication and love, and no man had ever looked at her that way—until Trent. She’d once told him that he was not what he seemed, and she’d been right. However, she was wrong on her assumption of the man in front of her. For how resilient and steadfast this man seemed, his heart was full of love, and Teal was lucky to have even a fraction of it.
Trent leaned in again. “I need to be in you.” He thrust against her, punctuating each word.
Teal giggled.“I know, but you need to stop.” Trying to push his hands away, Teal fought in vain. “Trent.” She took on a semi-serious voice. “They’ll see. Cut it out.”
He stopped and peeked over her shoulder. “Baby, look.” He nodded and she glanced over her shoulder to see that she and Trent weren’t the only two taking advantage of the darkness. While she couldn’t see much, the firework display intermittently lit up the passionate view of Violet and Poe stealing kisses. Teal turned and righted herself in Trent’s lap. “You are such a bad influence.” She moved provocatively in his lap, his gruff grunting a good indication she was rubbing him in all the right places.
Teal pursed her lips and smacked his chest. Ducking out from under him, she said, “Finish up those dishes. You promised to take me out for dinner tonight.”
Trent went back to finishing up the dishes. “When did this happen?”
“You didn’t think I was going to come all the way down here and allow you to hold me hostage in bed, did you?” She turned and strutted away, her thick ass swaying. “I want to go to that carnival thing in the next town over.” She walked into the laundry room and reached in the dryer. “The one over in . . .” She leaned up and looked to him. Her brow furrowed as she tried to make sense of the word she saying. “Muth-uss-sas?”
“Mathoussa,” he corrected. Turning away, he scrubbed a dish, paying close attention to the bacon grease that still lingered. He listened as Teal went on about her love of carnivals. Her dulcet voice lulled him into a false calm, damned near making him forget his issues with crowded and loud places. Trent could deal with them for an hour or so, but even then, the sick feeling in his stomach and his headaches would start.
His heart raced at the idea of spending more than a second in a crowded, noisy-ass place with complete strangers. He could see how easily anyone could use such a crowded place for their agenda. Hell, the Boston Marathon bombings, the subways in New York, and—
A soft hand gripped his shoulder. “Baby?”
He recognized Teal’s soothing voice as soon as she’d spoken.
“Shit, wait here. Let me get a towel.” Before he could say a word, she’d disappeared into the bathroom.
Trent’s surroundings came back into focus and his gaze moved to the sink. The dish water had a red hue swirling into the sudsy water. What the fuck had Teal made? He didn’t remember any pasta sauce.
The sound of Teal’s feet pounding back to him pulled his gaze up. The fear in her eyes had him pulling her into his arms. “Shit, what’s—”
Teal pulled from his arms just as fast as he’d grabbed her. “Careful!”
He glanced down at her to see blood smeared on her arm. His eyes widened, but she gave him no time to react. Yanking his hand from her, she showed him what she’d gone crazy over. Teal shoved his hand up to his face and Trent saw a large gash from the middle of his palm to his wrist. His eyes widened at the sight.
Trent pulled his hand from Teal. “What the fuck?” He looked to her as if she had the answer.
She swallowed hard before she spoke. “I was talking and I looked up at you. Your shoulders were tense and you weren’t responding to me, so I came over and you’d broken a dish, or a cup or something.”
Shame heated Trent’s face at the look of concern in her eyes. Trent looked away, disgusted by the pity in her gaze; he could take that shit from strangers, but not from Teal. Pushing past her, he headed to the bathroom. He ignored her as she called after him, slamming the door in her face as she attempted to follow him in the bathroom.
Her shocked gasp and thump on the door reminded him of just who was on the other side. She’d raise hell if he left her out there, but Trent just couldn’t bring himself to open the fucking door. Instead, he opened the First Aid kit on the side of his tub and pulled out his supplies.
“Lord have mercy, just open the damn door,” came Teal’s muffled voice.
Trent rinsed the cut under the faucet and assessed his wound. While it was deep, he could get away with using skin glue instead of heading to the nearest Urgent Care center for stitches.
“Hey!” She knocked harder on the door. “You think I’ll be squeamish at the sight of blood?
Trent tried to ignore her voice, but her concern ate at him. After trying several times to work with one hand, he finally opened the door.
Teal stood, leaning against the wall, still holding the towel she’d ran to get for him. “Oh, now you want my help?” Her hand made it to her hip, just as he made to slam the door again.
Teal caught the door with her palm. “Hey, hey, hey.” She entered the bathroom. “Let me see.”
He grunted and held up his hand, wincing when she grimaced. “Aw hell, Teal. It ain’t that bad.” He viewed the wound again, then motioned to the First Aid kit. “Take out that glue there.”
“Glue? Hell no. That nasty shit needs stitches.” Dropping the towel, she took his wounded hand in hers. Moving it from side to side to gauge the depth of the cut. “Maybe not. The bleeding is just a slow trickle.”
Trent watched as she flipped the glue box over several times, reading the instructions. He smiled as her lips moved, but no sound escaped them. Finally, she pulled the pen from the box and removed the cap.
“This may sting a little,” she said, but Trent sensed she was speaking more to herself than to him. Her quiet tone turned to a whisper as she berated the pen for not working as she’d expected it to.
“This fucking thing,” she muttered.
Trent used his unharmed hand to gently pull the pen from Teal’s fingers.
Flipping it over in his hand, he pressed the release button at the top. “Sometimes it sticks.”
She took the pen back and placed it on the counter beside them. Trent opened his hand and displayed it for her. She took the towel and dabbed the wound clean. He felt nothing but her soft warm fingers moving over his skin.
She sanitized his hand, glued the wound shut, and wrapped it in gauze. Her delicate touch soothed him so much that her next words didn’t register. Releasing his hand she asked again, “Does it hurt?”
At her question, he stopped staring at her beautiful face and blinked. Clearing his throat, he glanced down at her handiwork. A throbbing pain pulsed through his hand and up his arm. Why hadn’t he felt the pain until now? Looking back at her, he shook his head.
Cocking a brow, Teal placed a hand on her hip. “Okay, now that we got that taken care of, what the fuck is going on?” Eyeing him observantly she added, “You had that same glazed look in your eyes the day of my crash. Like you weren’t fully there.” She crossed her hand over her chest and sighed.
Trent knew he needed to tell her the truth about his episodes, but that was easier said than done. He’d mentioned his PTSD before, but hadn’t gone in detail about his triggers. He avoided her gaze by moving around, cleaning the bloodied towels. “Glazed look?”
“Yeah, it was as if you weren’t there, Trent. What happened? Was it the carnival?”
Trent turned to her when she went silent. “Ever since my experience overseas, I—” He shrugged, not able to say the words. The last thing he wanted was to talk about PTSD with her again. As if the mandatory meetings all those years back hadn’t been enough, now he’d have to wade through the mess with Teal. He trusted her more than anyone else in his life, but that didn’t make speaking about the illness any less traumatic. He was ashamed and embarrassed.