Without me, p.20
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       Without Me, p.20
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         Part #5 of Men of Inked series by Chelle Bliss
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  Well, she had that shit right. She’d get exactly what she wanted, but only after I had a few mind-blowing orgasms. Even though I hated shopping, I felt completely okay with it as I stood in Nordstrom.

  “Would you like me to start a dressing room?” the salesman asked Max.

  I stood there with my arm outstretched as I held at least ten hangers of clothes that didn’t look comfortable.

  “Yes please.” She took the hangers from my arms and handed them to the man before he disappeared.

  “Got enough?” I asked, hoping that her answer would be yes.

  “Nope. Only a few more things.”

  I sighed and followed her to the next rack that held Armani suits. “What do I need a suit for?”

  She paid no attention to me as she looked through the jackets.

  “Do you just want to torture me?” I whined.

  “It’s for the rehearsal dinner.”

  She pulled the wedding card and she knew damn well I wouldn’t argue. “Okay,” I answered and felt completely pussy-whipped. “Can I wear a fedora?”

  She stopped dead and gawked at me. “You can’t be serious.”

  I nodded with my mouth set in a firm line. “Dead serious, woman.”

  “No hats.”

  “I heard they’re in style.”

  “Where? In the Rolling Stone?”

  “I think I look good in hats.”

  “This is my show, buddy. I say no hats. Especially for the rehearsal dinner.”

  “Wedding?”

  “No,” she snapped.

  “Bossy.”

  “Cocky.”

  “Hey, Max, if you’re really good, we can christen that dressing room with all my cockiness.”

  She laid her hand on my chest and brought her lips within an inch of mine. “You are not going to derail today with sex.”

  “Think of it as an accessory.”

  “It’s not happening.”

  “Killjoy.”

  “I am, and that’s why you love me.” She gave me a quick peck before turning her attention back to the rack of suits that cost more than I’d spent on my entire wardrobe to date.

  “Yeah, that must be it. It wouldn’t have anything to do with your amazing body and tight pussy. It was entirely your sparkling personality that made me fall in love.”

  “Anthony.”

  I could see her smile from the side profile as I watched her in her glory. “You owe me big for today.”

  “You owe me big for being your wife.”

  “Anal, baby.” I laughed as she hit me on the chest.

  I couldn’t be a happier man.

  This magnificent creature before me was going to be mine. Even with my bad sense of style—her words, not mine—and my checkered past, she still loved me. On paper we didn’t work. White boy with tattoos and a total asshole and a black girl with a chip on her shoulder.

  Hell, sometimes I wondered how we got to the point where she was my fiancée. But when my assholishness met her feisty attitude, everything clicked together.

  Honestly, I was drawn to her since she was the only female who hadn’t thrown themselves at me. I had to work for her love. Shit, I had to work just to get her name.

  I felt completely at peace and excited to see what the future held for us. I felt like I was starting life over again. Now I looked forward to each day with an open heart and a good woman by my side.

  Maxine Washington was mine, along with an Armani suit and about twenty other pieces of clothing by people I’d never heard of. My life overfloweth.

  18

  Celebrate Good Times

  “We’re so sad you couldn’t make it to girls’ night out last week,” Izzy told Max as we slid into the booth along the back wall.

  Max smiled at Izzy. “Yeah?”

  “It wasn’t the same without you,” Suzy added, sitting in a chair across from Izzy.

  After Max couldn’t make it to girls’ night out because of some work event, which I found a way to skip, we decided to get together as a group. Everyone came. Max’s brother brought Brenda and all the Gallos, including James. My parents agreed to watch Gigi for the night so we could have a celebration.

  On one side of the table sat Izzy, James, Denzel, Brenda, Max, and myself. In the chairs across from us were Mike, Mia, Thomas, Angel, Suzy, and Joe. Malia and Nita took opposite ends of the table for “maximum view,” as they liked to call it.

  “I’m just glad Suzy could make it out again,” Max said as she brushed Suzy’s long blond hair away from her shoulder.

  Max had grown close to the girls over the last months or so. They rallied around her through text messages, phone calls, and lunch while we were waiting for her results and even afterward. I could never thank them enough for everything they did to make her feel welcome and like a member of the family, especially after the results were given to us.

  “I wouldn’t miss this for the world. I swear that baby is going to be the death of me.”

  “Sugar, you’re the best mother in the world,” Joe said before giving her a kiss on the cheek.

  “Enough of me whining, we’re here to celebrate. Champagne?” Suzy asked with raised eyebrows.

  “Yes!” I said as I slammed my open palm down on the table. “Wait. Can you drink while breastfeeding?”

  She laughed and shook her head. “Technically no, but I have a stock pile of breast milk saved for occasions just like this.”

  “Really?” Mike asked as he blanched. “That’s just so…”

  “Responsible,” Mia added before he could finish his statement.

  “How does that work exactly?” I asked, trying to visualize how the milk goes from breast to bottle. “I mean, do you milk yourself by hand?”

  “Oh, Jesus,” Mia said, slapping her forehead as everyone groaned.

  “You are not that dense.” Thomas shook his head.

  “Yo!” I yelled, pointing at myself. “I know nothing about babies. Women, yes. Breasts, yes. Milking, um, no.”

  “It’s okay, Anthony.” Suzy laughed, reaching across Max to touch my hand. “There’s a machine that pumps the milk out.”

  I scratched my chin, trying to picture it. “Does it look like the breast pumps I can get at Todd Couples Superstore? You know those ones you can use,” I said as I pretended to attach them to my chest, “to get your kink on while you’re eating—” A hard slap to the back of my head stopped me. I glared at Joe, knowing exactly where that hand came from.

  “Just stop.”

  “You’ve turned into a prude fucker, Joe,” I spat.

  “Yep, they’re almost exactly like that,” Suzy replied as she swatted Joe’s arm. “Be nice to him.”

  “Why?” he growled, peering down at her. “He says dumb shit.”

  “He’s curious, baby.” Suzy patted his arm before looking over at me. “They aren’t as fun as the ones you’re talking about, though, Anthony. Your brother can attest to that.” Suzy broke into laughter.

  “I don’t want to know, Suzy,” I said as I blanched. “I like to think of you as an angel.” I smiled as she blushed.

  “What a crock of horseshit,” Izzy declared. “Suzy is one of the dirtiest bitches out there.”

  “Am not,” Suzy said.

  “Are too,” Mia agreed, and threw a sugar packet at Suzy.

  “Izzy, shall we discuss your necklace?” Suzy asked as she raised one eyebrow and gave Izzy a cocky grin.

  “No!” Izzy snapped with wide eyes.

  “What’s she talking about?” Thomas asked, looking between James and Izzy.

  “Nothing,” Izzy said without giving James a chance to respond.

  “I’m not stupid. I know James too well,” Thomas said as he mouthed “we’re going to talk later” to James, who gave him a nod.

  “Why do I always think I’m missing something?” I asked Max.

  “It’s okay, babe. I’ll tell you about it later,” she whispered, and kissed my lips.

  “So,” Izzy drawled, “wher
e’s the waitress so we can get some champagne?”

  Just then a woman popped up out of nowhere as if she was summoned. “What can I get y’all?” she asked as she stared at me.

  I closed my eyes. It was Candy—the Candy whom I slept with more than once and regretted with every fiber of my being. She was a train wreck and I couldn’t shake her. I had to remember to scratch this place off my list.

  “Anthony,” she said. “Long time no see.”

  “Candy,” I replied, avoiding eye contact.

  “Candy,” Max snarled, and squeezed my leg, digging her nails into my skin.

  “Are we celebrating?” Candy asked.

  “Yeah,” I said, and raised my eyes to meet hers. “We’re celebrating my engagement.” I smiled at her, not feeling an ounce of guilt.

  Her face fell as she narrowed her eyes at me. “Well hell, just a few months ago we were—”

  My stomach dropped. “Stop right there,” I said, holding up my hand. “You will not disrespect Max. Candy, I don’t know who you think you are, but this is a family affair and I’d prefer another waitress.” I put my arm around Max, drawing her head to mine and placing a kiss on her cheek.

  “So would I,” Max inserted as she glared at Candy.

  “I was going to say that we were at the Ritz and you two were talking. Jesus, I’m not total trash. Congrats, asshole,” she retorted before stomping off.

  “What the fuck was that about?” Denzel asked, turning to watch Candy storm away.

  “Anthony always had problems with the ladies,” Mike answered for me.

  “There weren’t any problems, that’s the issue,” Max said.

  “Enough about Candy, for shit’s sake. I have the woman I want sitting next to me and nothing and no one will ruin it,” I declared.

  “I’ll go get another waitress,” Denzel said as he left the table.

  As the girls began to chat, I kept my eyes trained on Denzel. He spoke with the bartender, motioning to our table with his head as their eyes found their way to our spot. Before he walked back to the table, he found Candy and grabbed her by the arm. They were having a heated conversation from the looks of it. She kept glancing toward our table as she spoke to him.

  “All set,” Denzel said as he sat back in his chair.

  “What was that about?” Max asked, tilting her head toward where Candy and Denzel had just spoken.

  “Nothing. Just making sure we’re left alone.”

  “Denzel, you don’t always have to come to my rescue,” she said as she rolled her eyes.

  “You’ll always be my baby sister, and I’m sure as these fine gentleman sitting here can attest to, I’ll protect you forever, Max.”

  “Men are impossible.”

  “We’ve known that for years.” Mia snickered. “Welcome to the Gallos.”

  “Don’t worry,” Izzy told Max. “They think they run the show, but we know who really holds the power.”

  “Lies,” I muttered as a new waitress set down three bottles of Dom Pérignon chilling in ice buckets at the center of the table and another girl placed champagne flutes in front of each person.

  Joe, James and I grabbed a bottle and started to fill the glasses. When everyone had a full glass, Joe stood from his chair and held the champagne in the air, clearing his throat.

  “We have a lot to celebrate tonight. First to Max and Anthony and their upcoming wedding: may you find the happiness that only lives in the movies. I never thought I’d live to see the day, but I’m damn proud of you. Max, welcome to the family and I hope you always find it in your heart to forgive my brother for being such an asshole.”

  “It’s what I love about him most,” Max added as she raised her glass higher.

  “I thought it was my giant cock?” I teased, which earned me an elbow to the ribs.

  Joe continued, ignoring my comment, “We’d also like to celebrate Thomas returning safely to the family. Angel, thank you for making my brother happier than I’ve seen him in a long time.” Thomas and Angel both nodded at Joe with smiles. “Denzel and Brenda, welcome to the family. What used to be five is now twelve. We’ve been blessed and the best is yet to come.” He raised his glass and everyone followed suit.

  “Big pansy,” Mike muttered as he lifted the glass to his lips.

  “Don’t fuckin’ start with me,” Joe growled, setting his glass on the table.

  “So, Max,” Mia said between sips. “What kind of dress are you going to wear?”

  “I don’t want to know,” I said quickly. “It’s bad luck.”

  “Dumbass, its bad luck to see the bride in the dress before the wedding.” James sighed and rubbed his forehead.

  “I don’t give a shit. I’m taking no chances.”

  “Why don’t we switch places so the girls can all gab while you boys talk about whatever it is you talk about?” Brenda said.

  “Fantastic plan,” Mia said, shooing Mike away. “Everyone switch.”

  “But I want to sit next to my fiancée,” I whined, and didn’t move.

  “Fine,” Izzy said with a groan. “You two stay where you are and the rest of us will move. Because, ya know, the universe revolves around your ass.”

  “I know it does. At least for tonight, since it’s our celebration, little sister.”

  “Whatever,” she whispered, and rolled her eyes again.

  James leaned over, speaking in Izzy’s ear. “If you roll your eyes one more time, I swear I’m going to spank your ass.”

  I sat up straight. James had threatened Izzy. I’d never heard him say he’d spank her. I thought about standing and intervening, but I changed my mind when she looked him right in the eyes and rolled her beautiful blues backward.

  He bit his lip, hiding his amusement as he gripped her arm. “Excuse us. I need to talk to Izzy really quick,” he said as he tipped his head to everyone. Izzy smiled and almost skipped away as James kept hold of her.

  “What the fuck was that about?” Mike asked as he sat down next to me.

  “You don’t want to fuckin’ know,” I replied as I shook my head. “Some shit you just can’t unhear.”

  “Shit is the truth, brother.”

  It was the first night in a long time that everything seemed to fall into place. As a group, we just fit together. The additions of our significant others didn’t make our love diminish or alter the way we felt for each other. No. It had made us a stronger unit and a force to be reckoned with. We were the Gallos—even Denzel would get his honorary membership for the way he handled Candy.

  After their conversation, I didn’t see her face again the rest of the night. I didn’t know until afterward that he offered her three hundred bucks to get lost for the night or else he’d unleash his sister on her ass. Candy was at least smart enough to take the offer and tell her boss she was too sick to finish her shift.

  As I looked around the table, I realized that much of our wedding party sat around us. The only two people who were missing were a couple of the guys from the band who were going to partner with Nita and Malia. I’d paired them with men who would be able to handle their type of aggression. When they saw pictures of the guys, Nita and Malia both thanked Max. I guess they figured they’d be able to paw a tattooed man and maybe get lucky in the process.

  I sat back, listening to everyone chat as their voices faded. I was the luckiest son of a bitch on the planet. There was so much love at this table that I felt like my heart would burst.

  No longer was I an asshole, but I had drowned in love so deep that I couldn’t remember what life was like without Max by my side.

  In a few short weeks she’d be mine for eternity.

  19

  When Opposites Attract

  “Ma, this is Mrs. Washington,” I said as I held out my hand to Ruth.

  “Ruth,” she said with a small grin.

  “Ruth, this is my ma, Maria.”

  The two women smiled at each other.

  “Ruth?” Ma asked, her eyebrows knitting together.
<
br />   “Maria,” Ruth replied as she held out her arms to my ma.

  I looked at Max and she shrugged. Good thing I wasn’t the only one lost.

  “You look so good, Ruthie. I haven’t seen you in what?”

  “Five years,” Ruth replied as she squeezed Ma.

  “Anyone want to share?” Max said.

  “Oh, child,” Ruth said as she let my mother go.

  “Well, Ruth and I used to be part of a ladies’ group. I joined when we moved here years ago. Sal thought it would be a great way for me to make new friends. We’d meet for lunch once a week and sometimes have drinks when we needed to lean on one another.”

  “So you two, like, know each other?” I asked as I tried to hide my shock.

  “We do,” they answered together.

  “Maria and I would talk often, but when your father started to get sick I didn’t have as much free time. We’d lost contact.”

  “I’m so sorry to hear about your husband, Ruth. I can’t imagine.”

  “Thank you, Maria,” Ruth replied with a small smile. “It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever been through in my life.”

  “Ruth?” Pop asked as he approached. “What are you doing here?” He kissed her on the cheek.

 
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