Without me, p.18
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       Without Me, p.18
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         Part #5 of Men of Inked series by Chelle Bliss
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  “I can’t say for certain, sir. Her brother tested negative, but her father was never tested before he died. We’re unsure of what type of ataxia he had, therefore it makes the test results sketchy.”

  “Sketchy? That’s not very helpful.”

  “Anthony,” Max said, as she stroked my arm. “Doctor, so there’s no real way to know if I’ll get it or not.”

  The doctor shook her head as her brow furrowed. “I’m afraid not. It’s a waiting game from here on out.”

  I thought I’d be happy to hear that she was negative, but all it did was make everything so uncertain.

  I blew out the breath I’d been holding and gulped. I felt like my throat had closed, and even the simple act of breathing was difficult. I thought I had prepared myself for the worst, but knowing that it could still happen made my chest ache.

  “How long?” I blurted out without thinking.

  “Until the onset of symptoms if she’ll develop it?” the doctor asked.

  I blinked a couple of times, trying to focus. “Yes,” I replied, and held Max’s hand tighter.

  “It’s hard to say. Symptoms can begin at any time.” She gave a half-smile that wasn’t reassuring at all. “Max, how old was your father when he started to experience onset of symptoms?”

  “His late fifties, and he died about ten years later.”

  “I’d say she’ll probably follow the same timeline if you do develop the condition. You’re only in your mid-thirties. You have probably twenty years before you’d start to notice major changes in your coordination. But remember, there’s a chance you will never develop ataxia.”

  Twenty years. Only twenty fucking years. It seems like a long time when you’re looking forward to something happy, but when it’s bad news, twenty years isn’t long enough. It feels like a heartbeat and passes in the blink of an eye.

  “Twenty years,” Max whispered, and closed her eyes.

  “We’re doing clinical trials at various clinics across the country. Hopefully in the next ten to twenty years, we’ll have a cure or at least a treatment.” The doctor folded her hands on top of the desk and leaned back.

  “So, what do we do now, doc?” I asked.

  “Just live life like normal, but there are things someone can do to possibly delay the onset of symptoms.” She rubbed the arm of her chair with her hand as she looked across the desk.

  “Such as?” My patience was hanging by a thread.

  “It seems that alcohol and tobacco can have an effect on the rapidity of symptoms. It’s important to limit the consumption of both.”

  “Shiiit,” Max drawled.

  I looked at her with a steely stare. If it meant I’d have her healthier longer, then I didn’t care to ever have another sip.

  “Max,” I said.

  “I didn’t say you couldn’t have a drink. Just not every day and in large quantities.”

  “Fine,” she snapped.

  “What else?” I asked, ready to move on from the conversation about trivial shit like beer.

  “It’s important to keep the muscles strong. Regular workouts and weights will help when symptoms begin. Often, patients lose muscle tone as the symptoms progress. So having a good amount of muscle beforehand will help keep her stronger for a longer period of time.”

  I could do that. I worked out all the time and I could always get Mike to work with her. He’d love to help out in some way, and the man knew how to build muscle.

  “So, I can’t drink and I have to work out?”

  “In the scheme of things, it’s no big deal. We can work out together. We got this.”

  “I’m not a girl who spends time in a gym. I like my softness. I don’t want to look like one of those hardcore bodybuilders. I embrace my curves.”

  “I embrace them too.” I couldn’t stop my smile. She’d left that open for me to comment. “We won’t make you hard.”

  “Here’s some literature about ataxia for you to read.”

  “Thank you, doctor,” Max said before she let out a loud sigh.

  “Make an appointment on the way out. We’ll monitor you with yearly physicals to watch for coordination loss and other signs. That way, it doesn’t sneak up on you if you start to develop any symptoms.”

  “I will.” Max stood from her chair and gave me a weak smile. “Ready?”

  “Yeah.” I squeezed her hand as I climbed to my feet. I hadn’t let go the entire time in the doctor’s office, and I didn’t want to let go now. “Thank you,” I said to the doctor as I followed Max out the door.

  I wanted time with her. Twenty years, ten years—it didn’t matter as long as we had some time together. She hadn’t accepted my proposal—she’d brushed it off until later.

  I still wanted to marry her.

  I wouldn’t leave her, and I wouldn’t make it easy for her to leave me. She wasn’t a selfish person. An individual who is truly selfish would’ve hid the condition and walked through life as if everything were fine. Max had done her best to push me away, but I didn’t let her.

  We walked to the car in silence, stealing small glances at each other as we wandered through the parking lot.

  Was it better to know? I didn’t know anymore. If I were ill, would I want a stopwatch placed on my life? I’d heard my entire life that knowledge was power, but I’d now say that it was crippling. I felt like the button had been pressed and each second that ticked by was one second less that I’d have a healthy Max.

  When we approached the car, I smashed her into the door. “Are you okay, Max?”

  She stared up at me with a half-smile. “Yeah.”

  I touched her cheek, resting my palm on her skin. “Max, it’s okay if you’re not okay.”

  She melted into my touch, closing her eyes. “I know I’ll get it, Anthony. No matter what the test states. I dealt with it a long time ago.”

  “Hey,” I said, needing to look into her eyes.

  She opened them but looked at my shoulder.

  “Look at me, Max,” I commanded, not about to play a game as her eyes met mine. “You can play the hardass, Max, the one who doesn’t give a fuck about anything, but I know the truth. We got great news today, baby. Stop being a pessimist.” I placed my lips on her forehead, brushing my nose through her hair.

  “I’ve just believed it for so long, it’s hard to think anything different.”

  “It doesn’t matter what she said, Max. I love you and want to spend the rest of my life loving you.”

  She grabbed my sides, digging her nails into my skin. “Take a day and think about it.”

  “I don’t need a day.” I backed away and stared down at her. “We’ve spent enough time dicking around.”

  “Can you take me home, Anthony? I’m tired and want to lie down.” She peered down at the ground and squeezed me.

  “Sure, but I’m staying with you. I need to hold you.” I wanted to curl into a ball and bring her into my cocoon.

  Before she could respond, I crushed my lips to hers. I inhaled her scent, the cherry lip gloss she’d used over her lipstick to give it the shine. I didn’t care about that, but I enjoyed the smell and taste. The fullness of her lips on mine sent the expected sparks of electricity through my body.

  By the time I broke the kiss, her breathing was ragged. I needed to bury myself inside her and get lost in the feel of our bodies together. It would help block everything else out and make it about us in that moment. There would be no illness, no future, just our bodies connected and working as one.

  As I opened the door, I said, “I love you, Max, and I’m here to stay.”

  She just smiled, sliding into the seat before staring out the front window. I needed to remind her of the happy things in life.

  No longer did I live life for me. Now, it was about us.

  The man wouldn’t take no for an answer.

  I’d given him a final chance of bowing out of the entire clusterfuck that was my future. He refused, pressing forward and dropping to one knee. When he did, my knees
became weak.

  Never in my life did I think he’d propose. Especially since we hadn’t known each other for that long. I couldn’t even form a coherent thought when I realized what he was saying to me.

  I know the doctor said I was negative, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that someday I’d face the same fate as my father. Maybe in time I’d feel at ease and be able to believe that I’d have my happy ending.

  Anthony made me want to believe it was true. The impossible now felt probable, and for the first time in a long time, I felt hopeful.

  No one knows their future, but it doesn’t cripple them and stop them from finding their happiness. Why should I let it stop me? I needed to live my life one day at a time, loving Anthony, and being truly happy. I’d lived long enough with the cloud over my head.

  16

  Miracles

  Max and I had been going back and forth about marriage since the day we’d received the results. Months ago, she hadn’t wanted a boyfriend, but I hadn’t given up and eventually got my way. Getting her to agree to be my wife was a much harder fight. Being who I was, I was willing to stick with it until the end. I wouldn’t give up.

  “Say yes,” I commanded her through gritted teeth. “Say it.” I slammed my dick into her. Fuck, she felt so damn good.

  If I could have done it, I’d have stayed this way, with our bodies connected. There wasn’t an hour of the day that I didn’t think of her pussy, the feel, smell, and taste of it.

  “No!” she said, shaking her head.

  Max was in front of me, bent over on all fours. Her beautiful ass was on full display as I pulled out. I couldn’t help but glance down and watch my cock as it moved in and out of her.

  “Max, you know what I want to hear!” I rubbed both cheeks with my palms, caressing them as I waited for her response.

  “No!” she yelled into the mattress.

  My hand came down hard on her tender flesh. A loud crack echoed through the room as she howled.

  “Say it, Kitty Cat. Whose pussy is this?” I kept rhythm, trying to keep her on the edge both mentally and physically until she relented.

  Her side profile was visible over her shoulder as she sank down into the bed, but she kept her ass in the air. Then she sealed her eyes shut as she whispered, “Yours.”

  “Louder. I couldn’t hear you. Whose?” I gripped her hips.

  “Yours!” she screamed as I drove my rock-hard shaft into her wetness.

  “Whose woman are you?” I trailed one hand down her spine, running my fingertips over each bone.

  “Yours!” she called out before she sucked in a breath.

  Seeing her this way, with my cock inside her and at my mercy, was such a heady feeling. I felt drunk on lust and power with her beneath me.

  I pulled all the way out, hovering over her opening. “Whose wife are you going to be?” I figured that, maybe if I threw it in during the heat of passion, she’d finally say yes. I wouldn’t let her forget it, either.

  When she didn’t respond, I released her hip and smacked her ass harder on the same exact spot I’d struck earlier.

  “Ouch,” she cried as she tried to crawl forward.

  I didn’t let her get away, dragging her back with a tight grip on her hips. I peppered her back with kisses until her body sagged into the mattress.

  “Say you’ll be my wife, Max.” It was the only thing in the world I wanted to hear.

  I slid my fingers between her legs, creating a V. I stroked her clit as I pounded into her. Her pussy contracted as the orgasm began to build inside her.

  Just as her breathing changed, I cupped her sex and waited. I wouldn’t let her come until she gave in and said yes. No fucking way would I give her that pleasure without hearing those words.

  “I can’t,” she whined as she wiggled, trying to get friction from my fingers.

  I still fucking hated that phrase. It was worse than no.

  “You can,” I whispered in her ear as I stuck my cock as far as it could go inside her.

  “Anthony, please,” she said, pushing her ass backward.

  “Max,” I said as I moved my fingers enough to make her body shudder, “if you want to come, you’ll say yes.”

  “You’re an asshole,” she snarled as she glared at me over her shoulder.

  I kept my voice low as I said into her ear, “I know. Now, say it, baby.”

  “Okay. Okay. I’ll marry you,” she said.

  Not my shining moment, but I’d fucking take it.

  Just as I started to move again, I tweaked her clit, feeling her body tremble, and my phone began to ring.

  I ignored it, letting it ring until it went to voicemail. Nothing was going to stop me from fucking the shit out of her until we both collapsed into a sweaty pile. Seconds later, the phone began to ring again.

  “Oh, God,” she moaned as she fisted the sheets in her hands. Her ass began to sway as I continued to charge forward and chase the orgasm.

  “Ignore it,” I bit out, too deep to stop.

  As my movement became sporadic, the phone began to ring again. I didn’t stop. Hell, I couldn’t stop. Pinching her clit between my fingers, I brought her over the edge with me as we both screamed through the pleasure.

  By the time my body stopped shuddering from the aftershocks, the phone had rung at least ten more times. She lay beneath me, breathing heavily.

  “You better get that,” she said as she collapsed.

  I grabbed my phone off the nightstand and looked at the caller ID. “Damn it,” I blurted out when I saw that it was my mother. Total cock-block move. She’d never called me over and over again. It wasn’t her style.

  I hit the call back button and waited. She picked up on the second ring.

  “Anthony!” she shrieked.

  “What the hell, Ma?” I asked as I moved the phone away from my ear.

  “It’s Suzy. She’s in labor. Get to the hospital now.”

  I shook my head. “Ma, I understand you’re excited, but it’s going to be hours until she has the baby. I’ll be there when I can.”

  “Come now, and bring Max,” she said. Then she hung up.

  I looked at the phone, wondering where my mother had gone and who the hell was occupying her body now. She’d become a ball of stress as Suzy’s date had come closer.

  “You don’t even need to tell me.” Max chuckled, trying to push her body up, but her arms were still too unsteady. “I guess we better go.” She spread her arms out.

  My legs were burning and my entire body felt like jelly. I didn’t even know if I could move without falling down.

  “We have time.”

  “Oh, no. We are not making your mother wait.”

  “Jesus, Max. Come on. Lie here with me for a minute.”

  “No,” she said as she pushed me away.

  I fell on to my back, sprawling out as she climbed to her feet. “You just had to lie there and enjoy the fucking. I was the one doing all the work.” I smiled, knowing I’d get a shitstorm for that comment. Women had it easy. “Next time, you can hop on top and do the work.”

  “Puh-lease. It isn’t that difficult, Anthony. Get your ass up,” she demanded as she pulled at my foot.

  “Maybe I need to fuck you again. You’re way too mouthy.”

  She giggled, slapping the bottom of my foot. “Later. If you’re good, I’ll give you more pussy later.”

  “Shit, I’ll just take it. You said it’s mine, Max. I take possession very seriously.” I placed my palms on the mattress and lifted myself up. “Give me five minutes.”

  “You have five minutes while I go get ready. Then we’re leaving,” she called out over her shoulder as she disappeared into the bathroom.

  I stared at the ceiling and knew that the moment I brought up marriage again she’d deny ever saying it. Or she’d say that I’d blackmailed her to get the answer I wanted. We needed to announce it to the family. If Max cared that much about disappointing my mother, I’d find a way to make the wedding happen.
<
br />   * * *

  We strolled into the hospital forty-five minutes after my mother had demanded our presence. The maternity waiting room was filled with Gallos. We were the only ones missing.

  “Anthony!” Ma called out as soon as she saw us. She hustled toward us with a giant smile on her face. “It’s happening. I’m going to be a grandmother. Oh my God, I’m going to be Nona!”

  “Ma,” I whispered as I hugged her. “Breathe, woman.” I chuckled. I didn’t know the last time she had been so worked up.

  “I am. I am.” She rubbed my back, quiet giggles shaking her body. “She’s been in labor for hours. She’s already pushing. The baby will be here any time now.”

  “Hey, Pop,” I said as I watched him over my mother’s head.

  He was pacing an invisible path across the waiting room. “Son.” He nodded and continued on his endeavor to wear out the linoleum.

  “Don’t mind him. Births always make him nervous. This is such an exciting day. It couldn’t get any better.”

  I smiled at her and felt that the moment was right. “It can, Ma. Everyone, Max and I have an announcement.”

  I didn’t fucking dare to look at her. I could feel her stare boring a hole through my head.

  She tugged on my arm and whispered, “What the fuck are you doing?”

  I ignored her. “Today, Max agreed to be my wife,” I announced.

  Izzy clapped, Ma screamed, and my brothers and Pop smiled.

  “Asshole,” Max mumbled, loud enough for me to hear.

  “Another daughter.” Ma approached Max and pulled her into her arms.

  Max spun with my ma in her arms and glared at me. I just smiled, knowing there was no way out for her now. She’d agreed earlier, and now the announcement had been made.

  We were officially engaged.

  Joe burst into the room before everyone had finished giving their congratulations to Max and me. “It’s a girl!” he yelled, raking his hands through his hair. “A girl.”

  “Yes!” Izzy cheered, and raised her arms. “Thank you, God,” she said as she fell to her knees and looked toward the ceiling.

  “Congrats, brother.” I held out my hand to him, grabbing his arm. I could see
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