“You don’t have a lot of good ones, do you, Zoey?” He turned to face her, moving his arm around her waist.
“I have some, but none that I have pictures of. I had a little sister. I don’t even have a picture of her.”
Stump stroke her side, making sure to stop just below her breast. “Aren’t there some other family members you could contact who would have pictures?”
“I tried. My stepmother’s parents took a lot of pictures of Aubrey. And me, too. I called them to ask if I could have a few, and Tracy’s sister said she destroyed them because my father was in them.”
“Baby….” He had never choked up in his life, but after reading her letters and knowing what she lived through, it made him want to cry like a fucking baby. That she had been denied a picture of her baby sister had him wanting to rip her stepmother’s family to shreds.
Zoey had only been a child, and if they spent any time with her, they would have known how loving and sweet she was, and how much she cared for her little sister.
“I can’t blame them,” she continued. “I don’t want any pictures of him either. He wasn’t a nice person. He killed my stepmother and Aubrey.”
Stump pulled her closer, laying his cheek on the top of her head, not wanting her to see the emotion that was tearing him apart. “I’m sorry, baby.” He had to focus on the closet door to remain strong. Zoey needed something she never had before—a loving shoulder to cry on.
“I don’t want children ever.”
The revelation shocked him enough that he pulled back to stare into her face.
Zoey was made to be a mother. She was so nurturing and loving that any child she brought into this world would be the luckiest kid on earth.
“Tracy and Aubrey weren’t the first ones he killed. I think he killed my mother. The authorities tried to find her and couldn’t. Julian tried to help me find her, and we couldn’t. I only have an address.”
“Maybe the authorities didn’t look hard enough. I can help you look for her. Ice will help, too—”
“I don’t want to know anymore. I had to let her go. Dad got mad at me one time when I kept wanting to go back for my dog. I had told him I’d written my mom and she would go get Bandit for me. Dad laughed at me and said she could find him buried under the back porch. I don’t want to find out if he killed my mother, too. I don’t think I could bear it.”
“I don’t think you could either,” he said softly. “Just because he was fucked up doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have children. Monsters are made, not born.”
“I killed him, Stump. I shot him until I ran out of bullets, and I would have shot him more if I hadn’t, and I’m not sorry. I would do it again. I do in my dreams…. How can I have a child when I still feel that way?”
He brought his hand behind her head and started untying the knot that held her headband in place. “Maybe you let go of the wrong person in your life.”
She stilled her little hands that had still been stroking his chest. “What do you mean?”
“It wasn’t your mother you should have let go of. You have to let go of your father.”
“You think so?”
“Is your back better?” she asked, hesitantly resuming her stroking of his chest as she brought one hand to his arm, caressing the length of his bicep.
“I know you are.”
She slid her hand under his arm to gently massage his back. “It would be easier if you took your shirt off.”
“Help me sit up.”
Rising with her help, he then let her pull off his T-shirt, which she threw to the side of the bed.
“Lie back down slowly.”
“Okay.” Lying on his side, he tugged her back down, smoothing her hair back as she began massaging his back.
“I’m not hurting you, am I?”
“Baby, no. It feels good.” Her touch was so light it felt as if a dove’s wings were brushing over his skin. “You know what I see when I look at you?”
“A beautiful dove that I want to reach out and touch. I’m afraid if I do, you’ll fly away.”
“I’m not going to fly away. I can’t,” Zoey whispered.
“Because I don’t think I could leave you behind.”
“You’ll never have to run again. If you want to leave, you’ll be on the back of my bike.”
She massaged up the length of his spine. “I like touching you.”
“I like touching you, too,” he said huskily. “I want to kiss you, Zoey.”
“I want to kiss you, too,” she whispered, scooting closer to him.
“You go first. I don’t want to get any signals crossed.”