Without me, p.8
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       Without Me, p.8
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         Part #5 of Men of Inked series by Chelle Bliss
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  6

  Hung to the Right

  The next couple of days dragged. Work consumed my evenings, but the days seemed to go on for fucking ever. The shop had been relatively quiet, and I spent more time watching the minutes tick by than tattooing.

  By the time Wednesday evening arrived, I was a mess. I had received a confirmation email from Max yesterday. It was one of those that were automatically sent out without a personal touch. We were still on, no matter how it had been sent.

  My hand trembled as I pulled on the door handle at five minutes to seven. A loud grumble rolled in my stomach as I looked but didn’t see her.

  “I’ll be right out!” she yelled from the back room.

  Hearing her voice again made my heart stutter.

  I rubbed my sweaty palms on my jeans and shook out my shoulders.

  Calm down and get control.

  My emotions were out of control.

  The shop was pretty, and looked exactly like it had on her website. A majority of the space was filled with women’s clothing and other feminine items, but about a quarter of the store had menswear and shoes. The light hardwood floor and overhead lighting made the space feel warm.

  As I looked through the men’s shirts, I heard her footsteps behind me. I didn’t turn, pretending to care about the clothes in front of me. My heart pounded—no, it thundered—inside the walls of my chest as I listened to her walking toward me.

  “Mr. Hung,” she said as she came to a stop behind me. “Find anything you like?”

  I closed my eyes and turned with a cocky-ass grin. “I have now.”

  Her mouth dropped open as her eyes grew to the size of saucers. “What the…” she whispered.

  “Max,” I said, reaching out to touch her.

  “Don’t.” She pulled away and took a step back. “What are you doing here?”

  “I’m Mr. Hung.” I laughed, enjoying the double meaning as she glared at me.

  She rolled her eyes, crossing her arms over her chest. “You’re still an asshole.”

  “That may be true, but I still need your services,” I lied. I didn’t need her to dress me. I knew how to look good, but it was my only way in.

  “I don’t have anything to offer you,” she said as she turned her back and walked toward the door. After she opened it, she looked at me. “You can leave now.”

  I shook my head. “I’m not going anywhere. I came here to get your style advice. I’m not leaving until I get what I came for.”

  “Anthony,” she said as she tapped her foot, still holding the door open. “There’s nothing here for you. I don’t have time to play games.”

  “It’s not a game, Max,” I replied as I stalked toward her. No longer was I willing to take a back seat and let her dictate the terms of how the evening would go. This was my show and I was the frontman.

  I reached up, touching her cheek with my fingertips. It felt just as I remembered—soft and silky. Even though her face wasn’t flushed, her cheeks were warm to my touch.

  “Max,” I whispered on her lips. “Everything I want is here, standing in front of me. I won’t leave until I get what I want, either. It’s not a game, Kitty Cat. I’ve never chased anyone in my life.”

  She stared up at me with big eyes as her breath tickled my lips. “Anthony,” she whispered as her lip touched mine. “I can’t.”

  “Stop denying that you want me too. Do you feel it?” I whispered.

  Her eyes closed as she melted into my touch. “I just can’t.”

  I wanted to argue with her and prove her wrong. There was no way I’d believe she couldn’t. It wasn’t an option. Without trying to convince her with words, I pressed my lips to her mouth and tasted the sweet gloss that lined them. The spark from weeks ago felt more like a raging inferno.

  She pushed my chest as I held her to me. Her lower half inched away as I gripped her back with one hand. She felt it. I knew she felt it.

  “Anthony,” she murmured as she stopped trying to escape.

  “Max,” I moaned as I dug my fingers in her hair. I kept kissing her, not wanting to break contact.

  When I felt her lack of resistance, I released her lips. As I rested my forehead on hers, I stared at her mouth. It was slightly parted, swollen, and red, and it glistened in the light.

  “Why?” she whispered before she pulled her upper lip into her mouth and licked it.

  Our heartbeats thundered wildly in our chests as our bodies touched. I slid my hand down her back and settled it next to my other hand, which was already holding her to me.

  “I don’t know.” I was honest with her. I didn’t have a fucking clue what it was about her. Something didn’t want me to say goodbye and let go of the single night I’d spent in her bed.

  It wasn’t fucking her that had my mind in a tizzy, but something about her. I’d never met someone who had so invaded my thoughts after a single kiss. Hell, I’d never had anyone invade my thoughts unless it was while I was jacking off and replaying our sexual escapades. With Max, it was something more, and I couldn’t put my finger on it.

  “I tried to forget about you, Max. I tried everything to forget about you and rid myself of your memory.”

  “And?” she asked with a breathy voice as her eyes locked with mine.

  I blinked, taking a moment to collect my thoughts. I sucked in a breath and started to speak. “It didn’t work. I’ve been going out of my mind. You’ve haunted my dreams and filled my thoughts every waking minute.” I blew out the breath I hadn’t fully released.

  “It’s not fair,” she said, closing her eyes.

  I pulled her closer. “What’s not fair, Max?” I asked, trying to hide the confusion that undoubtedly was written all over my face.

  “I feel it, Anthony. There’s something that happens when I touch you.” She kept her eyes closed as she continued to talk, her voice dropping to a whisper. “I’ve never felt that with anyone before. Maybe it’s just been so long since I’ve let a man touch me.”

  “Are you sure you aren’t a lesbian, Max? If you are, I’m okay with sharing you, and it’s totally sexy.”

  The seriousness of the moment was broken as she started to laugh. “Oh my God, seriously?” she asked through her laughter. “You think I’m gay still?”

  “You said it’s been a long time since a man has touched you,” I replied, feeling my face begin to heat. I felt like a complete idiot. Obviously, I’d been wrong when I’d assumed she liked to lick pussy as much as I did.

  “You’re an idiot.”

  Yep, I felt like the biggest moron on the planet. Sweat started to collect on top of my brow as I stood there. What the fuck had I done? I’d started out strong and made a complete ass out of myself.

  “I’m not gay, Anthony,” she said as she stopped laughing and looked up at me. “No one has touched me in years. We’ve been over this before.” She swallowed hard as her eyes dropped to the floor.

  “Max.” I touched her chin, bringing her eyes to mine. “I’m sorry I just assumed. For whatever reason you’ve sworn off men, I beg you to give me a chance.”

  “I can’t.”

  I really started to hate the word can’t. There was no such thing. Either she didn’t want to or something else was holding her back.

  “Yes, you can.”

  “You don’t understand, Anthony. I can’t deal with a relationship right now. Or ever, for that matter. It’s not for me. If it were, I’d give myself to you in a heartbeat.”

  I held her by the arms, holding her away from me just far enough to look at her entire face. “What’s stopping you? I’ll do anything to make it happen.”

  She shook her head and frowned. “There’s nothing you can do.” She still hadn’t looked me in the eyes as I held her at arm’s length.

  “Max, look at me,” I said, gripping her tighter, but not enough to hurt.

  When she didn’t look up, I repeated myself.

  “Max,” I commanded. “Look. At. Me.”

  As her eyes met m
ine, I could see the tears that had collected in them. When she blinked, a single tear slid down her cheek, leaving a dark, glistening trail on her skin.

  “Kitty Cat, you can have me. There’s nothing stopping us. I don’t get why you’re playing hard to get.”

  “I just can’t.”

  “Have a boyfriend?”

  “Anthony, I said no one has touched me.”

  “Maybe he’s a prick who doesn’t have sex with you. We’ve established you aren’t gay. Have kids?”

  “I don’t have any children.”

  “Want kids?” I asked, cocking an eyebrow at her and trying to hide a smile.

  “Never.” Her response was swift as another tear drifted down her face and caught on her jaw before falling to the floor.

  “It’s okay. We can practice a lot.” I wanted to make light of the situation. She’d brought the mood down and made the air in the room feel heavy.

  “You’re impossible.”

  “I know, but only because I want you so much. Give in to me, Max, and I can make anything possible. I’ll move heaven and earth if you give me a chance to get to know you. I don’t think I can go through life wondering ‘what if?’ I’d be a shadow of myself, walking through a world where I knew I’d missed something spectacular.”

  “How do you know we’d be spectacular, Anthony?” she asked as her shoulder sagged and she relaxed into my hold.

  “I’ve never felt fireworks when I kissed someone. I’ve never dreamt of anyone night after night as if it were a fucking nightmare. I want to eat, breathe, and live you, Max. I don’t care if it’s only for a short while. I have to explore what’s going on between us.”

  “Anthony, it’s not right.” Her eyes dropped back down.

  “Is it because I’m white? I know you said it wasn’t before, but I can’t think of anything else. What’s left? It has to be because I’m white.” I looked at her. I couldn’t think of any other reason. I’d covered all the bases, every obstacle that might keep us apart.

  “No!” she shot back as her eyes flew to mine.

  “Is it because of your brother?” I asked, because I could understand that. Lord knows we’d tortured Izzy and every man who had tried to get in her pants.

  “What about him?” she asked as her eyebrows drew together and her lips pursed.

  “Obviously he hates me. He made that very clear. Maybe he doesn’t like me because I’m white.”

  My parents had raised me to not judge a person based off the color of their skin but by the composition of their character. A man was nothing if he wasn’t true to his word and honorable. I didn’t care if they were white, black, green, or purple. I judged them by their acts and not the amount of pigment in their skin.

  Everyone bled the same color and had the same feelings on the inside. We were the human race that had comingled over the years, creating humanity in its perfection that existed today.

  Shame on her brother if he judged me because of the color of my skin and not the man I was. There were reasons to hate me, but color wasn’t one of them.

  “Yes,” she squeaked and nodded. “He hates you. He told my mother about you and I’m forbidden to see you.”

  “What the fuck?” I asked as I released her and stepped back. I raked my fingers through my hair, feeling the anger begin to boil inside me. “You’re a grown woman, Max. You’re going to let their hatred stop something we both feel? You’re going to let them cloud your judgment and possibility of true happiness?”

  “Anthony, you have to understand—” she began, reaching out for me.

  I shook her off. “There’s nothing I need to understand, Max. Either you’re the master of your destiny or you let others control you and become a slave to your wants.”

  “You did not just play the slave card on me,” she whispered as her face transformed from sadness to highly pissed off.

  “I didn’t mean it like that.” Fuck. Really, I hadn’t. She needed to be an adult and tell her family to fuck off.

  “It sounded really shitty.”

  “I want you to make your own decision. Your family doesn’t have the right to deny you your happiness. Or mine, for that matter. I don’t care what color you are. We both bleed red, Max.” My anger simmered below the surface, ready to break free. “We’re not living in the 1950s, for shit’s sake. Get a grip, Max. Clearly, you have other thoughts. I didn’t hear you saying no to my big white cock as you screamed my name.”

  She winced. “You just wouldn’t understand.”

  “I don’t. I wasn’t raised to look at a person’s skin color. When I look at you, Max, I see beauty. The inner glow and fierce attitude that emanate from you have drawn me to you.”

  “My family is my everything, Anthony.”

  “Mine is too,” I hurled back at her. “But I wouldn’t let them dictate my future.”

  “I can’t.”

  “Fucking stop saying that shit!” I yelled, slamming my hand down on a display case next to me.

  She jumped from the loud clatter of the jewelry display as it moved with the impact.

  “Don’t tell them,” I begged. “What if you don’t tell them about me? I don’t need to come over for dinner on the weekends. I don’t care if I ever meet your parents. All I want is you. Just you. Only you, Max.”

  She closed her eyes as tears streamed down her face and fell to the floor. “I don’t know.”

  “Max,” I pleaded. “Give me—no, give us—a chance. I don’t want to look back and wonder what could’ve been. Maybe we’ll fall apart and the flame we have for each other will fizzle out. At least we’ll know we tried. To deny ourselves the ability to know if there’s something more between us is just plain cruel.” I stepped toward her, cradling her face in my hands as I caught her tears with my thumbs.

  Small crinkles formed near the corners of her eyes as she strained to keep them closed. Her tears grew until she trembled in my arms.

  “I want to say yes, Anthony. I want to more than anything,” she sobbed.

  “Then do it.” I brushed her skin with my lips, basking in her softness. “Be the strong woman I met in the bar weeks ago. I don’t care if I have to hide as long as I’m with you.”

  She kept her eyes shut and didn’t respond.

  “I’ll hide in the shadows for you. I’ll be your dirty secret. As long as I get to touch you, kiss your lips, and see where the sparks lead us, I’ll do anything. Just don’t shut me out.”

  “Okay,” she whispered as her eyes fluttered open. Tears hung in her eyes, ready to fall again as she looked at me. “I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you. Your touch stayed with me for days, Anthony. It scorched my skin, burning hotter than the sun. I can’t promise a future, but I can give you the now.”

  Taking a long, slow inhale, I felt relieved that she had given in. All I wanted was the now. We could implode and collapse like the tallest skyscraper during demolition, but I wanted to know we’d tried. That I hadn’t let her run away without exploring the first true feelings I’d ever felt for a woman.

  That was how we began.

  I hadn’t been expecting him. I thought I’d done enough and been cruel to the point he’d never want to cross paths again. Naturally, I was wrong. He wasn’t the type to give up, but the one thing I thought I had going for me was that I was just as bullheaded as he was.

  As he turned around, my heart stopped. I felt a void inside my chest from the rhythmic beating that I’d grown to ignore, but when it ceased I took note. I wanted to jump into his arms and kiss his face but I refrained.

  I tried everything I could think of to get him to understand we couldn’t be together. The problem with that was he didn’t believe a word of it. I felt the spark just as much as he had. Maybe even more since I hadn’t let anyone touch me for years.

  I’d lied to him. I couldn’t believe what popped out of my mouth when I felt backed into a corner. I’d pay someday for that shitty-ass lie. My family wouldn’t care that he was white. Denzel was engaged to
a white girl, after all. It was the only thing I could think of, though. I figured I could hide behind my family and he’d back off.

  But when he kissed me, I couldn’t say no to him any longer. Feeling the softness of his lips against mine, tasting him again, and being in his arms made me want to give in and throw my grand plan out the window.

  Maybe if I went on one date with him, I’d find out that I didn’t really like him. Maybe I only wanted him because I was lonely and horny. An official date with Anthony would be just the ticket. After spending an evening with him and actually talking, I’d be done with him.

  His cocky attitude would drive me away and his need to feel he’d captured me would wane. Soon, it would all be over and I’d go back to my simple life and the overuse of my new vibrator whom I affectionately nicknamed Tyrese after watching a Fast & Furious movie.

  I could go back and be happy again. Couldn’t I?

  7

  I Fondue You

  The first official date we had was simple. We went to dinner and ended up at her place. I’d like to pretend I was a true gentleman, but it would be a lie. Yes, I opened her door, pulled out her chair, and all that bullshit my father had taught me as a young man, but I didn’t waste time before getting her in the sack again.

  I couldn’t. No matter how badly I wanted to wait, I couldn’t. It was hard to be patient and wait when I wasn’t sure if the offer would still be there tomorrow. Plus, I was a greedy fuck.

  She hadn’t promised forever, but she had said that I could have her now. It was more than I’d ever promised anyone, and since she had my head all messed up, I took what I could. Months ago, before Max, I wouldn’t have wanted a second chance. There was no way I’d have accepted taking a back seat and hiding from the people in our lives. Somehow, she made it okay.

  I went from not wanting a relationship to being her dirty secret in what seemed like the blink of an eye. Oddly enough, it didn’t make me feel inferior or weak. I felt renewed and like anything was possible. Maybe I could be a rock star. Possibly, my destiny wasn’t to be alone. Who knew what the future held? I’d always thought I did. I had a set path and I followed it.

  Meet ’em. Fuck ’em. Leave ’em.

  Roles had reversed, and now, I was the one willing to accept that course of action.

  I wanted to show her that I had another side. The non-asshole one that could be sweet. Naturally, I didn’t know where a romantic restaurant was, so I Googled it. Listed first was the place that served cheesecake by the tons. I’d been there once and hadn’t felt an ounce of romance as I’d listened to Suzy chatter on about school. I went for option two listed in the search—The Melting Pot.

  I knew they served fondue, but what I hadn’t expected was the amount of time we’d be sitting there. The dinner took hours.

  Between the cheese and the meat courses, I thought I’d try and get to know more about the woman who sat next to me. I knew the basics. Name: Maxine. Age: mid-thirties, but she wouldn’t be specific. Occupation: stylist. She had at least one brother and a mother who didn’t want her to date a white man. Best Friends: Nita and Malia. That was all I knew about her. Not much to go on, and maybe that was why I liked her as much as I did. She was mysterious and magnetic, and I knew that our touch caused sparks.

 
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