Without me, p.22
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       Without Me, p.22
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         Part #5 of Men of Inked series by Chelle Bliss
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  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.”

  “Always?”

  “Always.”

  “Ice cream?”

  “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.

  “What?” I asked as I sank back into the couch and watched Tamara while she tried to push the giant sliding glass door open.

  “How much our lives have changed in five years.”

  “Yeah,” I said as I kicked my feet up on the coffee table after Izzy slid the door open for Tamara. “Everything has changed, but in the best way possible.”

  “I can’t believe Izzy is having twins. God has a sense of humor.” Joe slapped me on the leg. “She’ll get hers.”

  “The fact that she’s having boys is the best thing ever.”

  “It’s her curse for always bitching about us.”

  I nodded with a laugh. “It is. It’s going to be interesting to see how she deals with them.”

  “James is going to have his hands full.”

  “He already does.”

  “I what?” James asked as he walked into the room with a cup of coffee.

  “Have your hands full with our sister.”

  “Ugh,” he whined as he sat down. “She’s a beast.”

  “They all are,” Joe said.

  “I don’t know how much longer I can take the pregnancy deal. She’s so damn demanding.”

  “That’s Izzy.”

  “Dude, it’s so much fucking worse. Oh, and while you’re all laughing at me, ever think God is cursing you two because he gave ya girls?”

  Joe and I looked at each other and grimaced. We’d pay penance for all the havoc we wreaked on womankind. Hopefully the baby inside Max was a boy. I didn’t know how I could deal with two girls. I needed a boy to even things out.

  Just then, Lily ran into the room screaming and headed straight for Mike.

  “Lily,” he called out as he held out his arms. “What’s wrong?” He searched her face and wiped away a tear.

  “Daddy, Tommy.” She pointed toward the kitchen.

  “What did Uncle Tommy do now?” Mike asked as Thomas walked into the living room.

  “I was just having fun with the kids. Chasing them, but I snuck up on her and scared her.” He grimaced.

  “Lily, it’s just Uncle Tommy. He won’t ever hurt you.” Mike stroked her blond hair, holding her head to his chest. “You’ll be okay, sweetheart.”

  “Sorry, Lily,” Thomas said as he kneeled down in front of her and Mike. “I won’t do it again.”

  “Okay.” She sniffled, wiping her nose with the back of her hand.

  “Soon, you can scare your own kid,” Mike said as he kissed the top of Lily’s head.

  “He’s barely walking. I don’t think I’ll be able to scare Nick for a while.”

  “He’ll be running before you know it,” I replied as I thought about how rapidly time had passed.

  Five years ago, I was alone and not looking for love. Today, I had a beautiful wife, an amazing daughter, and a baby on the way. Everything about the family had changed. We were all parents, or about to be. It was no longer about us, but about our kids.

  Ma was beyond ecstatic. She had become the official babysitter, begging for us to drop off the kids and go out for a night. She spoiled the kids, but then again, we all did. The Gallo kids would grow up not wanting for anything. They’d probably be monsters by the time they were teenagers.

  Life couldn’t get any better than it was right now. I was thankful to have a beautiful daughter, a loving wife, and an amazing family. The house had been bursting at the seams every Sunday since the kids started to arrive. They’d be close cousins and probably give us heart attacks as they grew. I hoped to God that Tamara would be a calm child and a recluse as a teenager. The thought of her having a boyfriend someday made me break out into a cold sweat.

  I tried to enjoy the little moments in life, savoring the small things, such as tiny kisses from my daughter, the way she laughed with Max when they played on the floor during the day, and holding my wife in my arms. I’d worry about the future when it arrived, but for now, I’d bask in the happiness that surrounded me.

  It is bittersweet to type “The End”. There will be more Gallos to come. I’ve fallen in love with them and I can never say goodbye. They may pop up in other series too. Also, I will continue to write novellas as long as readers want to read about them. Thank you for your kindness, support, and love of the Gallo family.

  Turn the page for a sneak peek of

  Sinful Intent – ALFA PI Book 1.

  Sinful Intent Sneak Peek

  ALFA PI Series Book 1

  Prologue

  Since leaving the army a month ago, I’d been lost. For the last eight years, I did everything on their schedule. Without someone yelling in my ear, I didn’t know what the hell to do.

  Sleeping had become a challenge; even being awake wasn’t easy anymore. Nightmares haunted me after I passed out, and memories while I was coherent had me searching for anything to make me forget.

  This wasn’t me. I wasn’t the one who needed a crutch to survive. The one thing I knew was that I needed a purpose. I had the drive, but had lost the direction in which it pulled me.

  When the invitation to my cousin’s wedding arrived in the mail, I threw it in the pile of junk mail that sat unopened, not giving it another thought.

  My mother called a week before the wedding and asked if I’d RSVP’d. She’d been up in my shit since the day I came back. I loved the hell out of the woman, but she could be a major pain in my ass.

  Even though I told her there was no way in hell I wanted to be around family, she told me I had to go. Just like the military, saying no to her was unacceptable. She’d walk into my house and drag me out by the ear, even at my age.

  “All right, Ma.” I rolled my eyes as I dug through the pile of unopened mail on my kitchen counter.

  “You need to see your family. It’ll do you good to be around the Gallo side.”

  “Why?” I asked, even though I already knew the answer. They were her side and, therefore, superior.

  “They have their lives together. Sal knew how to raise boys.”

  “Are you saying I’m not a good man, Ma?”

  “Morgan, you know that’s not what I mean. You need to get out of this city for a little while and clear your head. Plus,” she added, drawing out the S, “I need you to accompany me on the trip. You know I hate traveling alone. The suitcase is always too heavy for me to lift, and I get lost easily.”

  I blew out a shaky breath and closed my eyes. She knew I wouldn’t say no to her. “Fine, Ma. I’ll take you to Izz
y’s wedding. But I won’t be happy about it.”

  “Thank you, baby. I’ll call and let your aunt Maria know to expect us. I want to get there a couple days early. I’ll book the airfare. You just show up sober enough to be allowed on the plane, Morgan. Understand?”

  “Yep, loud and clear.”

  “I love you,” she said as she disconnected the call.

  I had a couple of days to get my shit together to see her side of the family. I hadn’t seen the Gallos since I was fresh out of high school and on my way to basic. Izzy was just a gawky teenager with a sharp tongue, and the boys… They were Gallo through and through.

  I wouldn’t say I was very different from them, but I had some DeLuca blood in me. I knew if I didn’t enlist in the military, I’d easily fall into a life of crime and violence, unlike the Gallos. They were the better branch of the family tree.

  The only upside I could see would be spending a couple of days in sunny Florida instead of freezing my balls off in frozen Chicago. I’d have to spend most of the trip listening to my mother drone on about life and how it was time I found a good woman to settle down with—it was the same conversation I’d had almost every day for the last month.

  Before I could even get up from the table, my phone rang again.

  “What now, Ma?” I barked as I pushed the chair back.

  “I spoke to your aunt and everything is set up. You’re going to stay with your cousin Joe while we’re there, and I’ll stay with Mar and Sal.”

  “Do I get a choice in this?” I squeezed my hand into a tight fist, trying to channel my annoyance.

  “Nope. Everyone else is full. Joey will be happy to have you.”

  “I’m going to get a hotel.” I hated staying with people, especially when I hadn’t seen that person in ten years. I knew them as well as I knew my father. He’d walked out of our lives the day I graduated from high school.

  “No, you’re not. That would be such a slap in the face. You’ll stay with Joe and Suzy; she’s such a sweetheart.”

  “We’ll talk about it later. I have stuff to do.”

  “Start packing, Morgan. I booked our tickets for the day after tomorrow.” Click. The phone went silent. It was hard to argue when there was no one there to argue with. Ma was the queen of hanging up before I could say anything more.

  As I stared out the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Lake Michigan, I rolled my neck and counted to ten. I could handle a few days with the family. Maybe they’d help get my mind off all the fucked-up shit I’d seen. My faith in humanity had evaporated while I was in combat, but the silence and calm of being a civilian had me climbing the walls.

  I needed to get out of here. Old friends, the kind who only knew trouble, had been lighting up my phone since I returned. They were the last type of people I needed to be hanging out with. As a kid, I found myself in trouble more times than I like to remember—small crimes, petty theft, and other bullshit things kids do. The last straw came when we stole a car and were quickly popped for the crime.

  Instead of spending time in jail, I was given an option—enter the service and turn my life around or head to the slammer and do a small stretch. The army seemed like the better choice. At least I’d have my freedom and could see the world. That’s the line they use to sell it, at least. The only part of the world I saw was more like hell than an actual foreign country.

  It did straighten me out and made me the man I am today. The last thing I needed was to hook up with my buddies who never left the life. I knew they were still pulling jobs that could land them in prison for much of their natural life. I’d just been given my freedom, and there was no way in hell I’d give it up to make quick money.

  Spending quality time with my quiet family should help me relax. Right?

  Who was I kidding?

  The Gallos had never been quiet a day in their lives. They were loud and obnoxious, but they were everything I had grown up with in life. It was time to get my shit in order to head down to the Florida sunshine and get the fuck away from the Windy City.

  Letter to Readers

  Dear Reader,

  I thought long and hard about the storyline in Without Me. I didn’t want his story to be the classic “boy meets girl” and they eventually live happily ever after. One day I was driving to my parent’s and Ed Sheeran—Thinking Out Loud started to play on the radio. For the first time, I really listened to the words. Inspiration hit me.

  Ataxia is personal to me. My father has ataxia and was diagnosed about five years ago after having symptoms for over ten years. He’d always assumed he had a stroke and other people always thought he was drunk.

  When we heard the news, it was devastating. He went through extensive testing, but we’ve never been able to find out what type of ataxia he has even to this day. He still walks, but with the assistance of a walker. He refuses to give up on life. He still washes the floors on his hands and knees to help my mother and does other household chores to stay active.

  I struggle with the decision each day about being tested. His insurance turned his claim down years ago to have genetic testing completed. I can have the test done today, but do I want to? I don’t know if I want to know. I know sometimes it’s best to hear the worst and plan, but I just can’t. At this point in my life, I just can’t. I’m a little like Max in that way.

  It’s not that I feel I’ll develop it, but I don’t know if I want to know with certainty. It’s too scary for me. Someday I may be strong enough to face my fear and be tested. Today isn’t that day.

  My father is my hero. He’s faced this illness with grace and courage. He never complains or shows sadness, but I know it’s changed him. A man who could once do anything, at least in my eyes, now has trouble carrying a cup of coffee. I want to do everything in my power to help him. If I could make him better, no matter the cost, I’d do it. He was my first love and will always be my daddy.

  Hold the ones closest to you a little tighter, love them a little more, and protect them with all the strength you have. No one knows how long we have on this planet and we need to enjoy each moment. There’s nothing sweeter than life.

  Thank you for taking the time to read my letter and to fall in love with Anthony and Max. I hope you’ll take a moment and leave a review. Don’t worry. I have more stories up my sleeve.

  Sincerely,

  Chelle Bliss

  About the Author

  USA Today Bestselling Author, Chelle Bliss, currently writes full-time after leaving her high school history teaching position of ten years. Writing gives her a creative outlet that teaching didn’t allow.

  She has finished two series and is currently working on the third, ALFA PI due out early summer 2015.

  She resides in Florida with her cats, hamster, and man. She loves to chat, feel free to follow her on Twitter or like her page on Facebook. Join the Bliss’ Newsletter to get the latest information on future work by Chelle Bliss.

 
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