Sensing Teal’s stress, he moved closer, wrapping her in his embrace as she pulled the phone to her ear and spoke. “Mother?” Her tone held no warmth, but the chilling air one would offer an unwanted guest or stranger. Though, behind the chill lay anger—sharp and deep-seated hate. Her ridged form melded easily into his, accepting the soothing embrace he offered.
Later, he’d ask why she still hadn’t told her mother the news about their marriage. Thinking on it now, it felt good to throw that in the woman’s face. Fuck, his mother-in-law was a straight up bitch.
His wife gripped the phone hard enough to crush it, her anxiety evident in her tense posture and attitude. Trent knew the fear a parent could wrought in a child. He knew the sense of fear his stepfather had placed in him with each swipe of the belt or cigarette burn. But for Teal, he sensed a different brand of fear. The kind of fear Trent had faced every day in his life—the fear of disappointing everyone around you.
Trent massaged her shoulders, squeezing the tense muscles. The acrid stench of entrenched mother-daughter dysfunction settled in the air.
She sighed heavily. “I’m sorry.” Her tone brokering not a hint of apology. “The condo has new occupants now. You cannot stay there.” Trent had never heard hide nor hair from Teal’s mother in the time they’d been together. Though he had no example of the actions of a good mother, Trent knew that a mother who gave at least one fuck about her kid would pick up the phone in a year.
Teal had promised to inform her mother about their nuptials, but it’d seemed she failed to do so.
“Now isn’t a good time. We have—”
Trent glanced down at her silence.
Teal pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed. “We don’t have room.” She stopped again, her body tensed.
Trent pulled back. Not even thinking to lower his voice, he asked, “What the hell does she want?” Annoyance flared to life when she ignored him and continued to speak, or rather be spoken to.
He recalled every memory of Teal’s references to her mother. Not a damned one of them gave him the cozy-grandma feel he’d hoped Emma Mae would experience. Between his own human incubator and Teal’s mother, Emma Mae didn’t stand a chance. But that was where he and Teal came in. It was their job to offer their daughter what no one had ever been able to offer them—unconditional love and protection.
Teal glanced up, ire burning bright in her eyes as her mother spoke, knowing whatever was being said would be something he’d loathe. What the fuck was going on in that conversation?
Teal shook her head. “Maybe for a day or two, but that’s all.”
Teal threw her head back and sighed. “Mother, I am not jobless—per se.” Her harsh tone withered, transforming into one of uncertainty. She bit her lip. Finally, sick of not being able to hear both sides of the conversation, Trent pulled the phone from Teal’s hands and place the call on speaker.
Preoccupied with the stress wrought by an overbearing mother, Teal didn’t complain. She merely sagged against the counter, her body shaking in anger as her mother spoke. “And, if you don’t have a job, it isn’t like you can’t accommodate your sister and I. Teal, always so damned head strong, even when you are in the wrong.” A strained sigh sounded through the line. “Despite our commonalties—”
“We couldn’t be more different.” Teal finished.
Trent’s eyes narrowed at the woman’s words. He couldn’t have this nonsense in his house for a few reasons. The first being, Teal’s reaction to her mother’s phone call alone. It spoke volumes to the stress that having her in his home would cause his wife and child. Shit was already tense over that email and his endless hours of overtime.
Hell, he knew Teal wanted to take the job, even after her promise to stay at home with Emma for a year. He needed to nip this shit in the bud, and fast.
“I just don’t think it is a good time now,” Teal said. “I have too much going on, and with the baby—” She placed her head in her hands as if she’d already admitted defeat to the request.
A loud huff sounded. “You want to tell me what is really going on over there? And what damned baby are you talking about? Why is it Katie—a child who is not my own—the only one willing to talk to me about what is going on? Teal, what the hell have you done to your life?”
At that, Trent snatched the phone and ended the call. Thinking better of it, he turned the device off. He then turned and gripped the counter, using it to hold him up. “What the fuck was that about?” The anger he felt wasn’t directed at Teal, but at her mother.
Placing her head in her hands, she turned to him. “I haven’t told her anything about our life yet.” Sheepishly, she looked up at him.
Trent shrugged. “And why would you?”
Teal’s stressful gaze turned to one of confusion. Her dark eyes tracked over his face, no doubt in search of answers. Trent reached up and caressed her cheek. She leaned into him, causing his chest to expand at her acceptance of the comfort he had to offer. She always made his chest tighten with pride and his heart accelerate with need. Each touch felt more intense than the next.
He couldn’t let her feel bad about this. “Baby, since you’ve been with me, she’s called you how many times? She didn’t even know what was happening in your life until she needed a fucking place to stay.” He waited before he spoke again. Waited for the Teal he knew, the Teal she hid from the world to surface from behind that tough as nails exterior. “When you needed her most, where was she? You did shit on your own until you met me, and now we do things together, as a family.”
Teal nodded. “I know, but you know just as well as I do how a mother can fuck with your mind.”
He chuckled. “Don’t bring me into this.”
Teal slapped his chest. “You know what I mean, Trent.”
And he did, he just didn’t want to get in to the heavy why of it. His past and her present were far from his mind when Teal pulled back to stretch. Arms raised over her head, her chest thrust out, pushing her heavy breasts front and center. Trent started to reach out and she batted his hand away.
“Explain something to me?”
Trent cocked a brow. “What?”
“How do you . . .” She bit her lip, struggling with what she wanted to say. “How did you get over having shitty parents?”
Okay, that took him right out of the nice haze the sight of her breast had put him in. Cock soft and a churning feeling in his gut, Trent took a receding step back.
Teal reached for him. “Hey, sorry. I know we don’t talk about this. I just—I guess I am just wondering how you dealt with it.”
He sighed. This was what he loved and hated about Teal. She took from him, things he’d never offered a soul—the truth about how his past had molded him.
“My mother is a completely different beast than yours. Polar opposites to be exact.” The vault of long repressed memories opened and his head filled with the pain and suffering of the past. “Where your mother forced the importance of a good education on you, mine reminded me that I was the reason she’d dropped out of high school.”
Trent shrugged, as if learning his mother despising him hadn’t carved a valley in his heart. Teal’s soft hand on his cheek jolted him from his thoughts and he focused on forgetting the fear, the past, the anger, and the lies. And now, all that was left was Teal and Trent, two souls who’d crashed into one another leaving a maelstrom in their wake.
“My mother played a role,” Teal said. “She was cruel and kind. You never really knew which monster you’d wake up to in the morning.”
“But she offered you kindness?” Trent had wished his mother knew the definition of the word.
Teal shook her head. “Not in the way you think. I’d have preferred her cruelty.”
Confused, Trent lifted her chin to meet her gaze. “Why?” Was the only word he could speak. He’d known the cruelty of his mother and felt it at his father’s hands. He couldn’t fathom anyone wanting such pain and suffering in their lives.
“Because, at least then, I knew where I stood. The mood swings and the mind games fucked me up. Every morning my sister and I would sit at the breakfast table waiting for my mother to come around the corner.”
Trent placed his hands over Teal’s arms and caressed her smooth skin as she spoke.
“It was misery waiting. My stomach would be in knots and my head dizzy.”
“But she never beat you?” Trent asked.
“No. But sometimes I wonder if it would have been better if she had hit us. Physical wounds heal, but the mental breakdown she put us through . . .”
Trent felt the goosebumps on her skin, along with a shudder that rolled through her body. He eased her closer. If he could, he would protect her from her past and the pain that littered her memories. “Any kind of abuse can leave emotional scarring, Teal. I don’t wish that on you or anyone else. This is why we took Emma Mae.” Placing his hands on either side of her, he said, “Do you want your mother in your life?”
She peeked up at him. “I’ve worked very hard to keep her away from me.” She glanced away, and tears filled her eyes.
He hated her tears, but he told himself that he would be the only person who ever saw them, and the one person to always soothe them.
The room seemed to almost darken and center on her; the only illumination, a greenish glow from the overhead microwave clock. The wind danced around outside the house slapping against the shutters sending falling swirls of dust up and into the black night sky. Trent sensed all of this, knew it like the back of his hand.