Without me, p.3
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       Without Me, p.3
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         Part #5 of Men of Inked series by Chelle Bliss
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  “For the love of God,” she muttered, closing her eyes as she set the phone on the table.

  “I happened to be walking by and saw you sitting here alone. I had to stop and say hello. It would be rude of me not to.” I relaxed back in the chair, resting my elbow on the arm.

  It took everything in me not to place a kiss on her luscious lips. Instead, I ran my finger across mine, trying to soothe the ache I felt.

  “Did you just get done singing?” she asked, staring straight ahead. She still hadn’t looked at me. All progress I’d made the first night had vanished.

  Shit.

  “You noticed me,” I whispered, thrusting out my chest.

  “What?” she asked, tearing at the label on her beer.

  “You noticed me singing.”

  “How could I not? You were screeching like a howler monkey.” She rolled her eyes.

  “You’re a horrible liar, Max.” I loved the sound of her name. Although “Kitty Cat” would always hold a special place in my heart, Max sounded badass, and she was that and more.

  I knew it.

  One look at her and I had known she was the most interesting woman in the world. If nothing else, I needed to get to know her. I wouldn’t rest until I did.

  “What was your name again?” she asked as she balled up the paper she’d torn off her beer bottle with her fingertips.

  Normally, I’d have been wounded by a woman forgetting my name, but I wasn’t. She knew my name. I knew she did. She was fucking with me, pretending I wasn’t important enough to remember. But her body had once again betrayed her. As soon as she’d heard my voice, she’d frozen. Whether she admitted it or not, she remembered me.

  “Why do you have to lie, Max? You know exactly who I am.” I dropped my hand from my face and drifted forward in the chair. Resting my hand on the table, I moved my fingers within centimeters of hers.

  “I remember you’re an asshole.” She shrugged as she looked down. Even with her face partially hidden, I could see her smirk.

  “See? You do remember me.” I chuckled, sliding my fingers closer to hers.

  “Barely,” she lied. Then she lifted her head, giving her drink her full attention.

  “Do you want another one?” I asked, noticing that her drink was almost gone.

  “I’m good. I was just about to leave.”

  “But I thought you had friends coming.”

  “I do, but we’re going to go somewhere else.”

  “Can I come?” I asked, knowing she’d say no, but I wouldn’t let her off the hook.

  “No.”

  “Can I get you a drink?” the waitress asked from the other side of the table.

  “I’ll take whatever she’s having, and she’ll have another too,” I said, keeping my eyes locked on Max.

  “I don’t want another drink,” she replied, finally bringing her eyes to mine.

  “She’ll take another,” I said as I glanced at the waitress and nodded.

  “Two drinks coming right up,” she said as she rocked on her feet before walking away.

  “Anthony, listen—”

  “You do remember me,” I interrupted her.

  “Ugh,” she whispered, and blew out a puff of air. “I’m sure you’re not a total tool all the time, but I really don’t have time for you tonight.”

  “Tomorrow, then.”

  “Busy too.”

  “I can wait.”

  “I don’t have time for you ever.” She stared at me without blinking.

  “You’re an amazing actress. Did you ever think about being in a movie?”

  “What?” she asked as her face became distorted.

  “You say things you don’t mean and make them very convincing. If I didn’t know how your mouth tasted and how your breathing changed as I touched you, I may have believed you.”

  “Stop,” she pleaded, holding up her hand. “I can’t, Anthony.”

  “Are you married?” I asked, looking at her hands but seeing nothing that resembled a wedding ring.

  “No, but that doesn’t mean I’m interested.”

  “I beg to differ.”

  “You can beg all you want. The answer is still no.”

  Before I could respond, the waitress set the beers on the table and asked if we wanted anything else. We both shooed her away, ready to duke it out. I needed to change her mind—or at least show her that she could try to deny what she felt but it was very much real.

  “Max, who’s this?” a female voice asked behind Max.

  Fuck. I guessed that part of her previous statement wasn’t a lie. She wasn’t going to be alone tonight, but I was all about crashing a party.

  “No one important,” she sassed.

  I jumped up from my seat, holding my hand out to the beautiful female across the table. “I’m Anthony, Max’s friend.”

  She placed her palm in mine and fluttered her eyes as she soaked me in. “Hmmm. I’m Renita, but my friends call me Nita.”

  I took the opportunity to lean forward and place a kiss on the top of her hand. “Nita, it’s great to finally meet a friend of Max’s.”

  “Likewise. Max, where you been hiding this hunk?” Nita asked as she stared at me and licked her lips.

  At least one female at the table didn’t have a problem showing exactly how they felt.

  “Nita, I don’t know the man. He’s crazy. I told him I’m not interested.”

  Nita sat down, resting her face in her palm. “This is going to be fun.” She batted her eyelashes.

  “For the love of God,” Max whispered.

  “Max likes to pretend we don’t know each other. But I know the feel of her pulse underneath my fingertips when I’m kissing her.” I smiled, glancing over at Max before turning my attention back to Nita.

  Nita’s mouth gaped. “Fuck. That’s one of the sexiest things I’ve ever heard.”

  “You need to get out more, Nita,” Max snapped, grabbing her beer and taking a drink.

  “What can I get you to drink, Nita?” I had a feeling that, if I won her friends over, maybe—just maybe—I’d find an inroad to Max.

  “Yes, I’d love a sangria.” She smiled as she stared at me.

  “Coming right up. I’ll be right back,” I said as I pushed the chair back and left them behind.

  I kept my eyes glued to the windows, watching them to make sure they didn’t vanish as I ordered Nita’s drink. When I returned to the table, they both stopped talking and stared at me.

  “Miss me?” I asked as I set the drink in front of Nita.

  “Yes.” Nita smiled and batted her eyelashes again.

  Max coughed, and something like “traitor” left her mouth.

  “So, what’s the plan tonight?” I asked, curious at what my evening would entail. When I’d thought all hope was lost, I’d stumbled upon her and found a new sense of purpose.

  “Drinks and dancing,” Nita replied as she sipped her sangria.

  “I’m tired. I think I want to just go home,” Max whined, twirling the beer in her hands.

  “Don’t be such a pussy, Max,” Nita teased, glaring at Max.

  “You’re both assholes.”

  “She’s just a grouchy fuck. Don’t mind her. She’s been—”

  “I’m just tired,” Max blurted out.

  I stroked my chin, wondering what I’d missed. There was something Max clearly didn’t want me to know.

  “She’s been what?” I asked.

  “Nothing,” Nita said with wide eyes. Then she gulped her sangria and glanced away from me. “Is Malia coming?” she asked over the rim of her glass.

  Max shrugged. “She’s supposed to be here already, but that girl is always late.”

  “It’s fashionable to be late, and you know her, always being trendy,” Nita replied, still not making eye contact with me.

  “Once she gets here, we’ll head to the club,” Max said before lifting the beer to her lips.

  I wanted to be the bottle, feeling the softness of her lips as sh
e pressed them to me. Reaching under the table, I had to adjust myself to not draw attention to the growing problem in my pants.

  “Where are we headed?” I asked, feeling more hopeful with each passing moment.

  “We’re going to Liquid, but you’re not,” Max replied, giving me a cold stare.

  “Why not?” Whether she liked it or not, I was fucking going. There was no way I’d let her out of my sight now that I’d found her again.

  Nita started to giggle, and Max laughed.

  “What?”

  “You don’t want to go there,” Nita answered, covering her mouth with her hand. “Unless you’re man enough to handle it.”

  “I’m man enough to handle anything, Nita.” I smiled, puffing out my chest.

  “It’s a gay bar.” Her entire face lit up as the corners of her mouth reached for her eyes.

  Damn, she was beautiful—especially when she smiled.

  “So?” I asked. I had always been comfortable in my sexuality. Men, especially gay ones, didn’t scare me. I had gay, straight, and bisexual friends—and a few I couldn’t classify.

  “We wouldn’t want to threaten your manhood,” Max answered through her giggling.

  “Kitty Cat, other men don’t threaten me.”

  “What if they try to hit on you?” Nita asked, raising her eyebrow as her laughter died.

  “I’m not worried about it, Nita. I can handle myself in any situation.”

  “Somehow, I believe you,” she replied.

  “Anthony, I really don’t think it’s a good idea for you to come,” Max stated, crossing her arms over her chest.

  “Are you worried more men will hit on me than you, Max?” I asked playfully.

  “We go to the gay bar so men won’t hit on us, Anthony. So no, I’m not worried.” Max smiled, thinking she had one-upped me.

  “I’ll never understand women,” I mumbled, a little louder than I had intended.

  Nita propped her hands on the table. “It’s like this, Anth. Can I call you Anth?” she asked, pausing for a second before continuing. “We go there because we don’t have to worry about being hit on. It’s nice to be able to drink with our friends and dance without having to worry about guys with grabby hands.”

  “Yeah, you don’t need to worry about that at Liquid,” Max agreed.

  I understood the logic, but that didn’t mean I agreed with it. Even in gay bars, there were men who went both ways. They weren’t as safe from “grabby” hands as they thought.

  “I think Nita and Malia would rather have a girls-only night.” Max nodded toward Nita, giving her a death glare.

  Nita waved her hand at Max and turned her attention toward me. “Malia and I would love for you to come.”

  “Would you now?” I asked, raising my eyebrow and loving the playful nature of Nita.

  “Uh huh,” she murmured as she came closer. “Max would never admit it, but she wants you to come too.” Then she lost it, bursting out into laughter as Max hit her in the arm.

  “Shut the fuck up, Nita. I most certainly do not want him to come.” Max crossed her arms again as she slouched and stared at her legs.

  “Looks like I’m getting here at the perfect time,” a woman said as she walked up to the empty chair.

  “Please save me, Malia,” Max said as she stared up at the leggy female to my left.

  “I’m Anthony,” I said as I hopped up from my seat and offered my hand.

  Malia stepped back and looked me up and down. I felt her eyes appraising me with each passing sweep. “I don’t know who you are, but I’d sure like to find out more.” She slid her hand into mine.

  “Any friend of Max’s is a friend of mine,” I said as I kissed her velvety skin and peered down at her.

  “Fuck. I’ve already made it to ‘friends’ territory?” she asked as she glanced up at me.

  “Max got me first. I’m hers and hers alone, ladies. Unless she wants to share.” I grinned, waiting for Max to chime in.

  “Max?” Malia asked with a hopeful tone.

  “You can have him,” Max shot back.

  “She’s playing hard to get,” I responded, letting go of Malia’s hand and glancing at Max. “I’ve always loved a good chase.”

  “It’s not a chase when I’m not running.”

  “Girl, what is wrong with you? This fine-ass man wants to get to know you and you’re being rude,” Malia said as she sat down. “I need a drink to get through this night, I think. Ma’am.” She waved her hand at the waitress leaving the next table. “Vodka on the rocks, stat.”

  “There’s nothing wrong with me, Malia. I just don’t have time to deal with a boy.”

  “Man,” I said as I lifted my beer to my lips.

  “But he’s a fine-looking man, Max. How could you say no to that?” Nita waved her hand in my direction, motioning up and down. “I mean, hell, I’d jump on him in a hot minute.”

  Max shook her head as she chewed the inside of her lip. “You know why, Nita.” She gave her a serious look.

  “Yeah,” Nita said.

  “Does someone want to clue me the fuck in?” It was the second time I’d heard the statement. There was a secret no one would share. My mind started to fill with crazy things. Imagination could be dangerous.

  “Nope,” Max said, and looked between the two women.

  “Be honest, are you married?”

  “No!” she screeched, vigorously shaking her head.

  I rubbed my chin and thought of all the possible scenarios. “Gay?”

  “God, no. She likes cock too much,” Malia said, and started to laugh.

  “Malia!” Max yelled across the table.

  Malia shrugged as she took a drink of her vodka, her lips hidden by the rim of the glass.

  “Engaged?”

  “No.”

  “Hmmm,” I muttered, trying to think what else would keep her from men. “STD?”

  Please say no. Fuck, it would have been such a shame for the beautiful creature in front of me to have something that would stop me from sinking my naked dick inside her wetness.

  She laughed, giving me a funny look. “No. Jesus.”

  “Well, I’m trying to think of all the reasons you wouldn’t go on a date with me, Max.” I continued to rub my chin and stare at her.

  Briefly, I glanced at her friends to gauge their reactions. They weren’t giving anything away, though. I was sure they were scared of Max—or at least they made it seem to me as though they were.

  “I won’t date you because you’re an asshole. I think we went over this before, Anthony.”

  “Is it because I’m white?” I didn’t want to throw it out there, but it could be a reason.

  Even now, people still seemed to have an issue with race. Not me, but others. Even though segregation had ended more than fifty years ago, people couldn’t let go of the past.

  She shook her head. “I don’t see color, but I clearly know an asshole when they’re in front of me.”

  “I think you have an anal fetish,” I said with a smile. Max had brought up the word asshole more than any other person I’d ever met.

  “You’re impossible.”

  “No, I’m not. I’m easy, Max. You’re the one making this difficult.”

  Max turned to Malia, who was giggling quietly. “What are you smiling about?”

  “I think you two make the cutest couple. Finally, someone who won’t listen to your bullshit.”

  “I’m with Malia,” Nita interjected, raising her sangria in the air. “This could turn out to be a very interesting night.”

  “I’ll drink to that,” I said as I raised my glass and clinked it to hers.

  “Fuckers,” Max mumbled as she chugged the last of her beer and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.

  I’d let her brush me off once, but I wouldn’t let it happen again.

  Tonight, I’d seal the deal and let her know how wrong she was.

  My girls, the two people I shared my deepest, darkest secrets with
, had sold me out. They knew me well enough to know that I didn’t want him tagging along, but they didn’t listen. If I could change things and make falling in love a possibility, I’d be throwing myself at Anthony.

  His cocky swagger and killer smile had hooked me from the moment he asked me for my name. I understood why women willingly threw themselves at him, but I didn’t have that luxury. I’d sworn off men, even those I wanted to get to know, because it would be easier for everyone in the end.

  I know what you’re thinking: what does one night matter? How could it hurt? But this was my life, my future, and my heart at risk of being crushed. I wasn’t willing to open up to anyone. I couldn’t. I didn’t have that luxury, and I wouldn’t claw my way back from a broken heart.

  Nita and Malia had been telling me for months to find someone to be my “friends with benefits,” but I couldn’t do it. I’d always grown attached to people. I’d never been the type to fuck and run. With my luck I’d fall head over heels and wouldn’t be able to climb out of the black hole that would eventually fill my heart.

  I’m not cold-hearted. I’m the average African-American girl. I’ve fought for everything I have. My life never took an easy path; even today I struggle to be taken seriously. Owning my own business as a female doesn’t open as many doors as it would if I had a dick dangling between my legs. I’d made a name for myself in Tampa and done it in a short time. I immersed myself in my work, forsaking love and relationships to keep me sane.

  I’d done a good job and succeeded, until he found me at the King Corona. The first time I saw him at the Ritz, I wanted to get to know him. I wanted to chat and look into his sparkling blue eyes. I was a total bitch to him, but I’d become good at the role. Most men would take the hint and get lost, but not Anthony. It drove him forward.

  What could a night of dancing hurt? I’d get him out of my system and he’d find out that the last thing he wanted was me—the bitchy black girl that doesn’t have time for him in her life. When we said goodbye after dancing at Liquid, I’d
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