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|Without Me(Men of Inked #7) by Chelle Bliss|
She’d forever changed me.
I’d had to fall hard and deep to come out on the other side a changed man.
I’d never go back to where I had been before Max.
I didn’t want to be that man.
I had a purpose in life, and she was in my arms.
Nothing else mattered but living every day to the fullest and never regretting a moment of our lives together.
She was my salvation.
Five Years Later
“Daddy.” A tiny hand tugged on my pants leg. “Daddy,” she repeated.
I looked down at her, and instantly, my heart melted. The little girl had me wrapped around her finger. Her wild, curly black hair framed her face and made her look bigger than she was. Her hazel eyes sparkled with mischief, and she puffed her lips into a frown. At almost four years old, she could already play me like a fiddle.
“What, baby doll?” I asked her as I picked her up and set her on my lap.
“Gigi is being mean, Daddy.” She hugged me, resting her forehead on my cheek. Her tiny fingers found my ear and tugged on my earlobe.
“What’s that bad Gigi doing, Tamara?” I kissed her soft tanned cheeks, inhaling the sweet candy smell of her skin.
We’d made a monster out of Gigi. For a long while she was the only baby in the family. We doted on her and gave her everything she wanted. Even after Tamara was born, Gigi was still spoiled. Everything she did was a big deal. The first time she walked, I swear my mother called everyone in the family and had a celebration.
Even today, I still look at Gigi with a special love. She wasn’t mine, but she was the first baby that tugged at my heartstrings. She was the reason that Max said she wanted a baby. Without Gigi we wouldn’t have Tamara. The first time I held Gigi I knew I’d never be the same. The first time she smiled at me when I made a funny face, I was a total goner.
When Tamara came into my life I thanked my lucky stars. I’d felt a little jealous of Joe when he became a father. I wasn’t through the entire Suzy “eat everything in my wake” pregnancy, but when I saw that little girl, I understood it. He’d have someone who would love him unconditionally and for life. I wanted that. That pure love and someone to call me “Daddy” until the day I died.
“She won’t let me play with her dolly.” She pouted and glanced toward the floor as she toyed with my ear.
“Sweetheart, you have a doll too,” I replied, brushing the stray hairs away from her face.
“I like hers more.” She batted her eyelashes, something she had learned at a young age from her mother.
“It’s Gigi’s doll, Tamara. If she doesn’t want to share it, she doesn’t have to, and it looks just like yours.”
“But hers has a pink dress, Daddy.” She laid her head on my shoulder, resting her forehead on my neck.
“Want to stay with me and watch television?”
“Frozen?” she asked.
“Baseball,” I replied.
“Ew.” She picked her head up and pulled at her lips.
“Why don’t you go see if Aunt Izzy is okay or go see Nona outside with the girls?” I rubbed Tamara’s back as I looked out the sliding glass doors and watched my wife.
Max sat outside, talking as she unconsciously stroked her belly. After Tamara had been born, we’d decided we wanted one more child, but we wanted to wait until we were past the diaper point to have another.
When I’d held Tamara in my arms the first time, I had known I wanted more. As she had grown, she’d become more and more like her mother. Both girls had me. They could get away with murder, and I’d help them cover it up too. I loved them so much, more than I had ever thought possible.
Max’s greatest fear was passing on the disease to her baby, but we decided it was a risk worth taking. No one had a certain future, and we all walked through life with an unexpected fate.
My biggest regret in life was not having children sooner. I wished I’d met Max sooner and started a family. I was an old father. Now that I was in my forties, everything was a little harder. By the time Tamara graduated from high school, I’d be pushing sixty. It’d be tough to chase the boys away, but with the help of a gun, I’d be able to protect her.
“Lemme down,” Tamara said as she kicked her feet and pushed my chest. She slid down my leg, placing her feet on the floor. “Ice cream?” she asked with her eyes big and a smile on her face.
“Not yet. Nona will give you some later, baby.”
“I’m not a baby, Daddy.”
“You’ll always be my baby.”
She shook her head slowly as she frowned. “I won’t be. Mommy’s having a baby.”
I bent down and cradled her face. “Tamara, sweetheart, you’ll always be Daddy’s baby girl.”
“No.” I shook my head and sighed. It was already hard to say no to her. I was totally fucked when she got older.
“Nona will give me ice cream.” She smiled and stuck out her tongue. Tamara marched off and headed right toward Ma to get exactly what she wanted.
She hadn’t picked up the eye rolling yet. I figured I had another eight years or so until that became a habit. She had nailed sticking her tongue out, though. When words failed her, she went with that damn tongue. I couldn’t be mad. It always made me laugh.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” Joe asked as he sat down.