Without me, p.13
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       Without Me, p.13
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         Part #5 of Men of Inked series by Chelle Bliss
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  Ma ignored him and turned her attention back to me. “Why didn’t Max want to be in a relationship? Is she like your sister?”

  “What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Izzy asked as she dropped her fork onto her plate with a loud clatter.

  “You know.” Ma grinned as she looked over at Izzy. “Difficult.”

  “I’m not difficult,” Izzy said before her mouth hung open.

  James laughed first, followed by everyone else at the table.

  “I just didn’t want to be tied down and I still don’t, but James has made it hard to say no,” she grumbled.

  “Izzy, we don’t want to hear about your sex life,” Suzy teased.

  Izzy’s face turned red as she closed her eyes and dragged in a breath. “Shut it, Suzy. Less talking, more eating.”

  “She has her own reasons, Ma,” I said.

  “You’re being cagey, son,” Pop interjected. My old man never said much, but when he did, it was usually to call one of us out on our bullshit.

  “Pop, she has some personal issues that stopped her.” I rubbed my face and debated telling the family about her illness.

  “Ex-husband?” Mia asked, finally entering the conversation.

  “No. Health issues,” I blurted out.

  I knew it was going to turn into twenty questions and I’d eventually tell them just to shut them up. My family was notorious for their nosiness. I figured I didn’t need to hold out.

  “Oh no. What’s wrong?” Mia asked as her doctor side kicked in.

  I glanced down at my mother as she pitched forward, listening intently.

  “Her father was sick, but he’s now passed. It’s a genetic condition called ataxia. So the short story is that she didn’t want a relationship because she didn’t want to burden someone in the future.”

  Mia stared at me for a moment with her eyebrows kitted together. “Wow. That’s a rare condition, Anthony.”

  “You know about it?” I asked, hoping she could shine some light on the topic.

  “Yeah, a little bit. I know the basic neurology, but it’s so rare that not much is learned about it unless you study neurology as your specialty.”

  “Tell us about it,” Ma said to Mia, ignoring her food.

  I’d spent some time over the last week researching ataxia online. I spent hours on the Ataxia.org website reading about the condition and the stories of people affected.

  Mia stated the same information I’d found on the website, but explained it in more detail. She said that, often, people appear to be drunk when they aren’t, presenting the same symptoms of unbalanced walking and slurred speech.

  “Is there a treatment?” Ma asked behind her hand.

  Halfway through Mia’s explanation, my mother had covered her mouth to hide her emotion. Even though she didn’t know Max, her heart was breaking. It was probably out of sadness for me, but she had a tender heart. Once she met Max, she’d be shattered.

  Mia shook her head and frowned. “No, Ma. There isn’t. No treatment and no cure.”

  “What the fuck?” Mike asked before he sighed. “With all the advances in medicine, there’s still nothing, baby?”

  “No. It’s so rare that little money is spent on funding the research. There is a research clinic at USF in Tampa that has done some amazing work. But no breakthroughs yet.”

  “So, it’s genetic?” Pop asked. Even though he looked impartial, I knew he fed off my mother’s emotion.

  My parents were major donors at Mia’s clinic. They’d always loved to help the community, especially when it pertained to health.

  “It can be. Not all types of ataxia are genetic. Even when it is, the person only has a fifty percent chance of having the defective gene,” Mia answered, giving me a weak smile. “Has she been tested?”

  I chewed the inside of my mouth. “I honestly don’t know, Mia.” I tried to recall our conversations about ataxia and if she’d said that she had been or not, but I was drawing a blank.

  “If she hasn’t, she needs to be. There’s a fifty percent chance she doesn’t have the gene that causes ataxia.”

  “Well, shit,” I whispered as I grabbed my phone.

  “Does it only affect adults?” Joe asked.

  Mia continued to answer questions about the condition as I texted Max, needing to find out if she’d been tested.

  Me: Hey!

  Max: Hey yourself.

  Me: Question for you.

  Max: Shoot.

  Me: Have you been tested to see if you have the gene?

  I tapped my foot, feeling nervous as I waited for her answer. I tried to focus on Mia as she spoke, but my attention kept reverting to my phone. She didn’t answer immediately, and the waiting was killing me.

  Finally, she replied.

  Max: No.

  At that point, I stared at the phone, totally confused. With the way she’d had her fate figured out and she was all doom and gloom, I would’ve bet money on the fact that she had been tested.

  Me: Why not? Maybe you don’t have it.

  Max: I know it’s in me.

  I sat there dumbfounded and confused as hell. Mia had said that a person only had a fifty percent chance of carrying it. At the track or in Vegas, those aren’t great odds, but when dealing with sickness, there was a decent chance she didn’t have it.

  Me: You need to be tested, Max.

  Max: I don’t need to spend $5000 on a genetic test when I already know the answer.

  I stared at my phone and wanted to rip my hair out. I held my head in my hand and rubbed my forehead. Her thinking was off. There was no price tag that could be placed on knowledge. It was a steep price to pay, but I’d gladly fork over the money for peace of mind. If I were in her shoes, I’d sell everything I owned to find out the truth.

  Me: You only have a 25% chance of carrying the gene, Max.

  Max: How about if I tell you that you have a 25% chance of living. Sound like good odds?

  Me: Don’t be unreasonable. There’s a 75% chance that you’re going to have a long, healthy future.

  Max: Meh. I have it. There is no doubt in my mind.

  I took a laugh and sighed. Women were impossible creatures. They liked to say that men were hardheaded, but I’d never met a reasonable woman. Once they made their mind up about something, it would be easier to become President of the United States than to get them to change their mind.

  Me: We aren’t done talking about this. I’ll be over later.

  “What’s wrong, baby?” Ma asked across the table.

  I looked up at her and blew out a puff of air. “Max has never been tested. She’s being a hardheaded woman like the rest of you and claims she doesn’t need a test to tell her what she already knows.”

  Mia’s head jerked in my direction. “What? She’s never been tested? You need to get her to do it, Anthony.”

  “I know, Mia,” I said. “That’s easier said than done.”

  “I wonder why she’s so sure she has it.” Mia rubbed her chin as her eyes shifted.

  “I don’t know. Who knows what a woman is thinking. Ever.” I rubbed my forehead as I felt a pressure start to build. I could feel the fight before it happened.

  Max would throw a fit, but I wasn’t dropping the topic. She’d be tested and we’d know for sure what her future would be. If we were going to be a couple, there was no way in hell I’d let her “feeling” dictate our life.

  12

  Confrontation

  Max had told me not to come.

  I’d do everything in my power to get her to agree to take the test. It didn’t matter if it showed that she carried the gene. At least we’d know for certain. But if it cleared her of a fate like her father, it opened up a world of possibilities for both of us.

  I was nervous as I walked up her sidewalk. I knocked on the door and could feel the sweat that had collected on my palms. My stomach flipped, both from excitement and fear. I was scared as hell of the fight that was about to happen. Max wouldn’t make it easy, but
I’d spent my entire life dealing with Gallo women. They could teach a course on standing your ground and getting your way.

  I knocked again. I could hear music inside, but it didn’t sound loud enough to muffle the sound of a knock.

  “Max!” I yelled into the door. “I’m not leaving until you open the door!” I pounded on the door this time and then followed it with two rings of the doorbell. “Max! I’ll bust the door down if you don’t open the damn thing up.”

  Just as I stopped, the door flew open. Max stood there in a pair of booty shorts and a black tank top. I wanted to reach out and rip her clothes off, but I was here for more important things.

  “Don’t you get the hint?”

  “Listen, woman. We’re going to have this talk.”

  “There’s nothing to talk about, Anthony.”

  “You need to let me say my piece and then you can tell me to fuck off like you used to do.”

  She sighed before a small smirk spread across her face and disappeared. “I just have to listen to you?”

  “I’d prefer you to do as I say, but listening will work for now.” I smiled, knowing I’d find a way to get her to see the light.

  Since she’d confessed, she’d become a different woman. The hardass girl I’d met in the bar had melted away. When she’d opened the door, pissed-off Max had returned.

  “I’ll listen, but I’m not promising anything.” She opened the door more and waited for me.

  As she closed it, I grabbed her and pulled her to my body. I’d missed her. We’d seen each other yesterday, but the time apart had moved slowly. Plus, I wanted her to feel my touch and remember the spark we’d had before she’d shut me out. That sizzle was what made us different.

  I kissed her deeply as I ran my hands over her back. Her smell had intoxicated me from the moment I’d met her, and even now, it had that effect on me. I breathed her in, getting lost in her scent and the softness of her skin.

  “Hey,” I murmured as I stared at her lips.

  “Hi,” she mumbled before pulling her lips into her mouth and running her tongue along them.

  I grabbed her hand, bringing her to the couch with me. I wouldn’t let her sit across the room. I needed closeness, and more importantly, she needed to feel our connection.

  I wanted to drag her onto my lap, but instead, I let her sit and planted myself beside her. I needed to look into her eyes and for her to see my face. Grasping her hands in mine, I started to talk. “I know you said you don’t need the test to know you have ataxia, but what if maybe, just maybe, you’re wrong?” I asked, keeping my voice calm and level.

  “Anthony.” She sighed like we’d gone over this a million times. “I don’t need a test to know what I have brewing inside my body. I can feel it. Every time I trip or drop something, I know it’s just the beginning.”

  “Max, that’s ridiculous.” I regretted the words as soon as they’d left my lips. “I didn’t mean that.”

  “Yes, you did,” she said as she closed her eyes and inhaled.

  “Look at me,” I said as I squeezed her hands. As soon as she opened them, I spoke. “Some people are just clumsy. You can’t base your entire future on an assumption.”

  “I can.”

  “For the love of all that is holy,” I muttered through gritted teeth. Time to change tactics. “Do you have feelings for me?”

  She blinked a couple of times but maintained eye contact. “Yes,” she said on a drawn-out breath.

  “If I walked out the door right now and never came back, would you be upset?” I didn’t know exactly where I was going with this conversation.

  “I don’t want to admit it, Anthony, but I’d be devastated.” She looked down at our hands and frowned.

  “Really?” Dumb thing to say, but devastated wasn’t the word I’d expected to hear. Yeah, I knew she’d be sad, but devastated, not at all.

  “Yes,” she replied, bringing her eyes to mine.

  “What about the other times you threw me out? You didn’t care then?”

  “I was upset, but I did everything in my power for you not to want me. I had to push you away. Now, you know everything and I can’t deny I have feelings for you.”

  “Like ya love me?” I asked, jutting my chin out.

  “I lo—”

  “Don’t say it. Not yet,” I blurted.

  “Why? I’ve admitted it in front of my mother.” she whispered as her forehead crinkled.

  “If you’re going to say those words again to me, you have to admit you’re willing to give something of yourself that I don’t think you’re ready to do just yet.”

  “I’ve told you everything, Anthony. I’ve given more to you than I have to most people in this world.”

  “Max, you immediately shut me down when I said I wanted you to be tested.”

  “But—”

  “No buts. You did. If you ‘know’ you have the gene, what would it hurt to get the test?”

  She sighed and blew out a breath, puffing out her cheeks. “Can’t you just believe that I already know?”

  “I can’t.” I threw the line she’d muttered to me more times than I could count in her face, and the corner of her eye twitched. “I won’t accept it until you have the test.”

  “Jesus,” she mumbled, and rolled her eyes.

  “You’ve lived your life for too long based on the assumption that you’re going to have the same future as your father. What if you don’t have it? Imagine how different life could be.”

  “I don’t know. The idea of getting the test is scary.”

  She confused me. How could a test be scary when she was adamant that she had the gene necessary to cause ataxia?

  “Why?”

  “Because maybe…” She paused, closing her dark brown eyes for a moment as she bit her top lip. “There’s a small part of me that still holds on to the hope that I’m not doomed. Maybe I won’t be in a wheelchair. If I have the test and they say I have it, then there’s no hope.”

  My confusion grew deeper. Women. How could she think knowing would be worse?

  “Max, knowing gives you power. If they say you don’t have it, then you can live life without the giant ticking time bomb hanging over your head. If you do have it, then we can plan for the future and live every day like it may be our last.”

  “Why do you have to make so much sense?” she asked with a small smile on her face.

  “’Cause I’m a man. We’re more logical and less emotional.”

  She shook her head and her mouth grew slack. “You did not just say that,” she whispered.

  “I did, and I stand behind that statement.” I brought her hand to my mouth and brushed the delicate flesh with my lips.

  “Anthony, I still stand behind the statement I made the first night. You are an asshole.” She laughed, leaning forward and planting a kiss on my lips.

  “As long as I’m your asshole,” I murmured into her mouth.

  “Mm, you are.” Her hands slid up my arms as the kiss deepened.

  “Not throwing me out again?” I asked with our mouths still attached.

  “Nope. You owe me big for agreeing to have the test done. I expect payment tonight,” she replied, raking her fingernails across my scalp.

  I felt a tingle down my back as her fingernails tickled my neck. Tonight, I’d give her a performance worthy of a standing ovation. Something that would make her dream of more, want it so badly that she’d get the test done to keep me.

  I’d be lying if I said that what we had was all based on sex. It wasn’t. The sex was amazing—some of the best I’d ever had. The thing that brought me to her and kept me coming back for more was her attitude—which was sometimes shitty, but then so was mine—and the tiny sparks of electricity when we touched.

  No one in my life had caused my body to come alive from a single caress. The moment I’d kissed her in the bar with my cocky-ass “I know you want me” attitude, I had known I was doomed. When my lips had tingled, feeling her long after I’d left, I
had known I’d be lost to her forever.

  I moved away and gripped the back of my shirt, pulling it off my body. She did the same and removed her tank top. As the cool air of the room glided over her nipples, they stiffened. Her body was amazing, soft, and begging to be touched.

  “Lie back,” I said as I stood up, unbuttoned my jeans, and wiggled them down my legs.

  “Just jumping right in, are ya?”

  “Nope. The jeans were killin’ my cock, babe. Shit this big can’t be contained when it’s hard for you.” I smiled. Then I tipped over, grabbed her shorts, and pulled them down her legs. “I plan to eat your pussy until I get lockjaw or you beg me to stop. I just wanted to get comfortable for the feast.”

  “I want to get lost in you tonight. Make me forget everything in the world except your touch.” She relaxed into the couch and closed her eyes as I nestled between her legs.

  I placed my hands on her thighs, caressing her skin with my palms as I glided them back and forth. Soft wisps of hairs rose underneath my touch as her skin became dotted with goose bumps. Her lips trembled as she pulled the bottom into her mouth and bit down on the tender flesh.

  “Anthony,” she whispered.

  When my hands drifted down her legs, I clutched them behind her knees. Unable to wait any longer to taste her, I pulled her legs apart and brought her body closer to my face. Leaning forward, I planted my lips on the soft skin above her knee. Skimming across her flesh, I peppered the surface of her body with kisses. I had become consumed by her scent and riveted by the feel of her.

  As I followed an invisible path up her legs to her inner thigh, her body shuddered in my hands. She sucked in a breath, causing her breasts to jut out as her back arched. I could smell her arousal—the sweet smell of want I’d missed when we had been apart. It intoxicated me more than any liquor I’d ever absorbed.

  Hovering over her pussy, I brushed the soft black tendrils of hair that dotted her flesh with my nose. Nothing else dominated my thoughts more than devouring her and lavishing in the taste of her. Then I captured her wetness on my tongue as I licked her pussy.

  I pulled her forward, using my hands behind her knees to gain better access. I wanted to bury my face in her pussy and make the world disappear. She yelped as I got carried away by the moment and drank of her taste.

  It wasn’t that I only wanted to bring her orgasm after orgasm, she needed to remember me long after I’d been with her, staking my claim. Even if she hadn’t said that I owned her, I knew I did, and so did she. The funny thing was she owned me too, but even scarier was that she held my future in her hands.

  As I lapped at her flesh, she held on to the cushion, trying to brace herself
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