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|Uncover Me(Men of Inked #6) by Chelle Bliss|
“How are you and James?” Mrs. Gallo asked as she spooned the sauce over layers of pasta.
“We’re better than ever, Ma,” Izzy replied, setting the tray of eggplant on the trivet.
“He’s a good man, baby. I’m so happy for you.”
“Good isn’t a word I’d used to describe him.” Izzy laughed, tossing the mitts on the counter before snagging a serving platter from the cabinet.
“I have a feeling he’s a lot like your father—”
“Stop right there,” Izzy interrupted, turning to look at her ma. “There are things a child should never hear, and that’s one of them.”
Mrs. Gallo laughed a big, bellowing laugh, her body shaking as her cheeks turned pink. “Child, how do you think we got five kids?”
“You’re like the Virgin Mary, Ma.”
“Not after your father got his hands on me. I don’t think I left the confessional for a month. I had a lot of repenting to do.” Her laughter grew louder as Izzy winced.
“See the shit I have to put up with in this house?” Izzy asked, throwing her hands up.
“Izzy, I don’t feel sorry for you at all. Be thankful you have a mother to talk with like this.”
Both sets of eyes looked at me, sadness written all over their faces.
“What do you need me to do next?” I asked, trying to change the subject.
“That’s it,” Mrs. Gallo said, walking up to me and once again giving me a hug. This time, it was gentle and brief. “Let’s get my future grandbaby nourished.” She placed her hand over my stomach and looked up at me with a cheerful expression. “Maybe someday I’ll be feeding one inside you.”
Oh shit. I couldn’t imagine having a baby now—or in five years. I didn’t even have my shit together. I didn’t have an education or a career, and the last thing I wanted to be was barefoot and pregnant.
“Don’t start that shit, Ma. You’re going to scare her away. One baby at a time.”
“You’re next, Izzy. I can feel it.”
“You better be feeling something else, because that is not happening anytime soon. I’m too young and having too much damn fun to have a baby ruin everything.”
“Izzy,” her mother scolded her. “Babies don’t ruin anything. They bring so much joy.”
“Yeah. They also bring a lot of shit and sleepless nights. I’ll skip that mess for now.”
“You’re ridiculous. I love all my kids.”
“Uh huh,” Izzy muttered, grabbing the meatballs and heading into the dining room.
I picked up salad and bread, following Izzy as we made a couple of trips back and forth. We filled the glasses with drinks and made sure everything was laid out to her mother’s liking before Izzy yelled, “Dinner!” from the middle of the room.
Seconds later, everyone was jockeying for a spot at the table. Thomas casually strolled in, pulling out a chair for me and waiting for me to sit before he did the same next to me.
The conversation flowed easily as the family mercilessly teased each other throughout dinner. Joe seemed like a cool dude with a hint of scary. I’d seen his type around the strip club, but he seemed utterly devoted to his wife and future child. He doted on her, refilling her plate and paying close attention to her every need. He wasn’t an asshole biker, but a loving husband with that I’ll-kick-your-ass-without-apologizing quality about him.
The brunette—Mia, I learned—was a doctor who ran a local health clinic for the needy population in the area. The smile on her face never left while she talked about work. I wanted that feeling. I wanted the sense of doing something good with my life.
Mike seemed like a brute. He was huge, the beefiest of all the Gallo men. He was a jokester, though, and I could tell he had a big heart. But I couldn’t figure out the Mia situation. I could tell he loved her, and everyone kept hinting about marriage, but he kept changing the subject. There was more to the story, and I hoped it would come out on girls’ night out.
Anthony was the oldest and the only unattached of all the siblings. He seemed pissed off about love, grumbling under his breath during dinner. Everyone gave him a lot of shit, telling him that, someday, a girl would have him by the balls. I swear I heard him say that they were already taken, but he’d spoken so low that I couldn’t be sure.
Through the entire dinner, I kept glancing down at Mr. and Mrs. Gallo. Even after all the years they’d been together, they were still madly in love. It was evident by their constant touching and sideways glances. I envied them for having such a strong relationship, and wondered if that would be Thomas and me in thirty years. Allowing myself to think that way might be dangerous, but I could have a dream.
The love and acceptance in this room hit me like a ton of bricks as I took stock of those around me. No matter what they said or how they joked, behind it all was love. They accepted and loved each other.
Not once in my entire life had I sat around a table like this. I had been to huge gatherings—mostly biker parties or celebrations where members wandered about, scarfing down plates of food and bullshitting—but nothing like this.
Wondering what Christmas would be like, I imagined happy children giddy to open their presents as they sat around the tree. When I was young, I’d been lucky to get a small trinket from one of the guys my mom had been fucking at the time. I felt robbed of my childhood the more I watched this family interact. Hell, I’d been robbed of the family experience in my adulthood too—and I was pissed.