The deleted Epilogue from True Romance, book 1 of the True Romance Series
Three Years Later
Tad played the chord progression one more time, trying to get it close to the way he heard it in his head. The words of the new song had come to him in a spark of inspiration after breakfast that morning, and he had spent the better part of the day obsessed with it ever since. After he had scribbled the lyrics down he picked up his black PG Heritage Standard guitar and started to noodle around with the melody. Now, here it was late afternoon and he was still at it. But he frowned as his senses detected something amiss.
It was way too quiet.
He looked up toward the little art table across the room, and his frown deepened when he discovered it was empty. A masterpiece in progress abandoned, but the pint sized artist nowhere to be found.
“Shit,” Tad mumbled under his breath as he stood up and laid the guitar down on the couch. This couldn’t be good. His little artist was on the move, most likely with tiny, paint-covered hands. Disaster in the making to be sure. He stood for a moment and listened for clues. Then the faint sound of a giggle behind him brought a smile to his face.
“I’m pwayin’ hide and go seek, Daddy!”
“I know. Where are you?”
The small laugh grew with the sound of tiny feet hitting the hardwood floor, and Tad turned around just in time to see the cherub-like light of his life running toward the couch.
Tad yelled and lunged for the couch, but it was too late. One perfect, colorful, tiny hand print was left behind on the body of his black Heritage Standard before he scooped the toddler into his arms.
“Uh oh.” The little boy looked up at him with the biggest sea-blue eyes.
“Uh oh is right,” Tad confirmed, and the little boy stuck out his bottom lip.
“Am I in twouble?”
His little voice held a slight tremble, and Tad couldn’t stop the smile from coming. That little pout was always his undoing. He ran his hand over the boy’s abundant dark brown silky curls and sighed. He was the perfect mixture of the two of them. Creamy fawn-colored skin, and bright ocean-blue eyes much like his own. But Tad loved the fact that he had Shelby’s smile.
“No, buddy, you’re not in trouble.” Tad sighed as he looked down at the ruined finish of his guitar. He could almost hear his brother’s voice in his head whispering, “It’s art.” He smiled at the notion. “You know, your uncle would think this was very cool.”
The more he looked down at it, the more convinced he became. Theo would have found a way to preserve it. Gloss over it or give it a protective coating of something, and then hang it on the wall as a work of art. Tad grinned and shook his head.
“Well, I’ll be the only rockstar with a guitar like that, huh?”
The little boy nodded his head in agreement and Tad smiled.
“What am I going to do with you, Theodor Kyle?”
The little boy shrugged his shoulders. “You can paint wif me if you want to.”
Tad laughed. “Maybe later, buddy. Right now, we need to clean those hands. Come on.”
He carried the child into the bathroom and turned on the warm water in the sink. Then he held him up and squirted some liquid soap into the boy’s hands.
“Okay, now rub them together really good.”
As they went about the task of washing his son’s hands, Tad couldn’t help thinking about the unexpected twists and turns his life had taken. It had been over six years now since Jesse Lee James walked into a bar and offered him a shot at the big time. Five years since he stepped off the stage after a show and met the woman of his dreams. Those two events had changed the course of his life forever. If he hadn’t taken the gig with the Outlaw he would’ve missed out on the best thing that ever happened to him — Shelby. That thought always made him think of his brother.
“Would you recognize the opportunity of a lifetime if it came at you? The greatest thing to ever happen to you?”
“Daddy. Want to talk to Mommy.”
His little voice got Tad’s attention, and he set the boy on his feet and turned off the water. Then he grabbed the hand towel.
“Let’s dry your hands off.” He was stalling, attempting to distract the youngster, but it was the safest course of action. “Mommy will be home soon, remember? We can make it one more night, can’t we?”
The little boy nodded his head, and Tad put the towel away. “Okay. Who’s ready for a snack, huh?”
They left the bathroom and Tad spent a few minutes cleaning up the paints and putting them away. Then they headed into the kitchen where he pulled out some carrot sticks and hummus dip, and a couple of juice boxes. They talked about the picture he painted and the nice dinosaur living under his bed while they shared their snack. Finally, the boy looked at him with hummus on his face.
“Daddy. Want to talk to Mommy.”
The desperate plea was back, and Tad glanced at the clock.
“Teddy, Mommy’s in Bolivia, and it’s bedtime there right now. She’s probably sleeping, you know. But she’ll be home tomorrow. You can talk to her then.” The boy began to tear up, and Tad sighed. “Okay, okay. Don’t cry. We’ll give it a shot all right?”
He wiped the child’s face and cleaned up their mess. Then he set the laptop up on the counter, as promised. He pulled the boy into his lap and made the Skype call.
In her room in La Paz, Bolivia, Shelby heard the little chime and her heart leapt. She jumped up and pulled out her iPad. When their faces came up on the screen, she gave them a bright smile.
“Hey! Hi, guys!”
“I’m sorry for the unscheduled call, Shel. Did we wake you?” Tad asked as he stared at her pretty face.
“No, that’s all right. You know I never mind a call from my two favorite guys. Is everything okay?” She searched Tad’s face as she asked the question. She felt so guilty sometimes, leaving them to do her job.
“Well, somebody insisted on talking to his mommy, so…”
“Mommy, I want you to come home now,” the child announced, and Shelby couldn’t help but laugh at his adorable demand.
“Oh, baby, I will be home very soon. I promise.”
“But when?” he whined, ready to tear up again.
“Teddy, you only have one more sleep. That’s all! And then, I’ll be home.”
“There, you see?” Tad chimed in as he held him. “Just like I said. One more sleep and Mommy will be home in the morning. We men can handle one more night on our own, can’t we?”
Teddy nodded his head, seemingly satisfied with that answer. “One more sweep, Mommy okay?”
“Yes. One more, that’s all,” Shelby confirmed.
“Okay. Mommy, I paint Daddy’s ditar!” Teddy sounded excited as he abruptly changed the subject.
“You painted a picture of Daddy’s guitar?”
“No. I paint the ditar,” Teddy insisted, and the sour expression on Tad’s face confirmed the awful deed. Shelby’s eyes grew wide as she looked at Tad.
Tad nodded his head, but said nothing. The look on his face said it all.
“Oh, gosh. Which one?”
“My black Prestige Heritage Standard.”
Shelby’s lips made a perfect “O,” but no sound came out. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
Tad shook his head with a grim smile. “It was my own fault. A game of hide and seek gone bad. I’ll get over it.”
“One more sweep, Mommy. Okay?” Teddy said again, getting their attention.
“Yep, just one more.”
“I wuv you, Mommy.”
Shelby’s heart melted at the sweet words. “I love you too, Teddy.”
The boy jumped off Tad’s lap then and ran into the other room to play, and Tad smiled and shook his head before he turned back to the screen.
“The two week jaunts are hard on him. I tried, but he just wanted to hear it from you. I am sorry about the time, sugar.”
“It’s okay. I’ll get a couple of hours before I have to get ready to leave for the airport. I’ll sleep during the ten hour flight home.”
Tad smiled at her. “Yeah, I don’t think Teddy would forgive you if you missed your flight.”
“It doesn’t sound like it,” she laughed. She watched as Tad glanced up to keep an eye on their happy boy, and she suddenly missed him like crazy. “I’m sorry about the two week stretch, baby. It couldn’t be helped this time. I know it’s been just as hard on you as it has on Teddy.”
Tad looked at her and shook his head. “Nah, it’s fine, sugar. We’ve managed. We always do. Besides, between taking care of Teddy and following me around on tour, you only get to do this four times a year now. You should be able to go out on a two week trek without having to worry about us. I’m perfectly happy to do the Mr. Mom thing for two weeks at a time.”
Shelby smiled at him as she thought about how wonderful and encouraging he’d been when she wanted to go back to work after Teddy was born. Three freelance treks and one photography tour a year — that was their deal. And in the in-between times, she took the occasional speaking engagement and worked on her books. If anyone had told her back when she published the first one that she would publish three more, she would have called them crazy.
“You’re a good man, Thaddeus Kyle.” She reached out and ran a finger over her iPad screen, wishing she were touching his face.
Tad grinned at her. “Well, this good man misses his woman. I can’t wait to get you in my arms tomorrow. I’ve missed you, sugar.”
“I’ve missed you too, baby. You’ll be at the airport in the morning, right?”
“Yes. True is coming over in a few hours. It’s going to be a real guy’s night here at Casa de Kyle, just me and my boys. We’ll watch a nudie flick and drink some beer. Get the baby drunk. Sit around and scratch ourselves.”
He was so adorable when he was being goofy, and Shelby laughed at the visual picture he painted.
Tad smiled at the sound of her laughter. It was still one of his most favorite sounds in the entire world. “Translation, we’re going to order some pizza and watch something three-year-old friendly, like a superhero movie, or the Ninja Turtles or something. True’s gonna spend the night so he’ll be here with munchkin in the morning while I come get you.”
“It’s going to be nice to have some normal family time for a while before you get back on the road with the band.”
Tad nodded. “Agreed. But at least this leg is domestic and the three of us will be in a tour bus. Go get some sleep, beautiful. I love you, Shelby Kyle.”
She blew a kiss at his image on her iPad screen. “I love you too. See you soon.”