Without me, p.9
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       Without Me, p.9
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         Part #5 of Men of Inked series by Chelle Bliss
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  “Do you only have one brother?” I asked as I poured more wine in our glasses while we waited for our oil pot to arrive.

  “Just the one.” She played with the edge of the napkin her water glass sat on, rubbing it between her two fingers.

  She was dressed in a simple black cocktail dress. Her hair was pulled up into a ponytail, and the ends cascaded over her shoulders, stopping above her breasts.

  I knew that the prick didn’t like me, but I was thankful there was only one brother I had to watch out for. “Damian, right?”

  She rolled her eyes. “Denzel. Like the actor.”

  “Sorry. I was paying more attention to you than what you called him.”

  “Simple mistake. What about you? Any siblings?”

  “I have three brothers and a sister.”

  “Jesus.” she shook her head. “I’d go crazy with multiple Denzels. Your poor sister.”

  “Trust me,” I replied as I toyed with the stem of my wineglass. “Izzy handles her own affairs.”

  “Are you saying I don’t?” she shot back as she cocked an eyebrow.

  “No. No.” I sighed. Fuck. It wasn’t what I’d meant, exactly, but maybe I’d said it with a hint of sarcasm. “You certainly can hold your own, Kitty Cat.”

  “So, you and your brothers never butt into her love life?”

  I wanted to lie. Truly, I did. But I didn’t think it would be right. “Yeah. We’ve been known to butt in a time or two.”

  She laughed, a sweet, soft laugh. “What is it with men always feeling like they need to rescue us?”

  Like a dumbass, I replied, “We have to protect what’s ours.”

  “Say that again?” she said with a confused look on her face.

  “It’s ingrained in us. Part of our DNA. I can’t ever stop protecting my sister. She’s my family and always will be. Even if she’s wrong, I’ll protect her with my life.”

  “Most of us don’t need saving, Anthony.” She lifted her wineglass and stared at me over the rim.

  “I didn’t say anything about saving. It’s more about protecting, Max.”

  “That’s what guns are for.” She grinned on the glass and winked.

  “You carry?” I asked, feeling a little afraid of her.

  Girls with guns could be a very deadly combination, especially when I had a very good chance of pissing them off.

  “Always.” Her eyes shifted to her evening bag that was sitting on top of the table, next to the wall.

  “Why?” I asked.

  “Because a girl could never be too careful.”

  “Of me?”

  “Of anyone, Anthony.”

  It was laughable, but endearing.

  “Max,” I said as I set my glass down and inclined forward. “If I wanted to kill you, I would’ve done it already. I wouldn’t have to sit through two hours of fondue to do it.”

  “Already thinking about offing me?” she asked.

  “I don’t live in an episode of The Sopranos.”

  Stereotypes crossed all nationalities and racial lines. We all knew what the stereotypes were. Italians weren’t usually portrayed in the best light—especially males. Often, we were characterized as mobsters. Seen as dangerous criminals looking for a racket to make our money and “offing” anyone in our way. It was the furthest thing from the truth, but the Hollywood depiction stuck in the minds of all non-Italians across the world. I couldn’t blame her for pigeonholing what she didn’t know, but I’d work on changing her attitude.

  “I didn’t mean to offend you.” She tapped her fingernail on the glass.

  “You didn’t. Tell me about your father,” I said, trying to change the subject.

  “He’s been dead for about three years.” A frown covered her face. “He was the best dad ever.”

  I could’ve argued that point. Sal Gallo had to be the best dad in the world. My pop was my rock. He was the thing that held the family together. I’d never admit that to my mom, though.

  “I’m so sorry to hear that. That has to be hard.”

  She nodded slowly, looking down at her wine. “It is. He suffered for a long time before he passed. It’s horrible watching your father wither away before your eyes.” Her fingers swept over the bottom of the glass, making a figure eight. “It was the worst thing I’d ever gone through in my life, Anthony. The day my father died, I didn’t know how to feel. I loved him more than anything in the world, but to watch someone suffer is the most excruciating thing you can ever experience. Have you ever lived through something so traumatic it altered your view of the entire world?” Her eyes rose to mine, a thin layer of tears lining the inside.

  I thought about it and concentrated on my breathing. I had been blessed with the health of my family. “No. I haven’t.” I shook my head. A small fissure of guilt went through me at the luck I’d had in life. Unlike a majority of people, I had money, looks, and health.

  “Be glad for that. You know how you want to protect your sister—or anyone in your family, for that matter?” she asked, blotting her eyes and capturing the tears on her napkin.

  “Yes. Like I said, I’d do anything to keep them safe.”

  “Imagine if there was nothing you could do. You had to watch as they slowly deteriorated before your eyes. No matter how hard you tried or how many doctors you visited, there was nothing you could do.”

  “Jesus,” I muttered, trying to put myself in her shoes. I couldn’t. It would be too painful to watch something like that happen to someone I loved. “Did he have cancer?”

  “No.” She vigorously shook her head. “He had an incurable disease that’s very rare.”

  “I just can’t…” The words got stuck in my throat. “I can’t imagine what you went through, Max.” I reached across the table and swept my fingers over the top of her hand. “I’m so sorry you had to go through that.”

  Her eyes dipped to where our bodies touched. “It’s over with now,” she said as she wiped the tears away. “I don’t want to talk about it. It’s kind of a mood killer, Anthony.” She gave me a small smile that didn’t match her eyes.

  “Okay,” I sighed. I was ready for a new topic. It seemed that whichever way we went, there were landmines waiting to explode.

  “Tell me about your family. Give me something happy.”

  “Well, I’m about to be an uncle for the first time.”

  “Oh, that’s exciting. When?” She smiled.

  I’d been waiting for her to move her hand from mine, but she kept it there, letting me stroke it with my thumb.

  “This fall sometime. First baby in the family, so it should be interesting.”

  “Babies always bring joy.”

  “Yeah, I’d agree if the pregnant woman didn’t devour every drop of food at Sunday dinner every week. I swear I’ve never seen anything like it.”

  She giggled, and her eyes transformed as her smile kissed the edges of her lips. “I know, right? A few of my friends have had babies, and I wonder the same thing. God, if I look at food, I swear I gain five pounds.”

  She’d look beautiful with a little more weight. Her body was already lush and soft when I touched her, but I wouldn’t complain if she had more to hold.

  “Max, you’d look beautiful no matter how much you weighed.” I smiled at her, and an image of her with a round belly while she stuffed her face full of pasta made my insides warm. It scared the crap out of me. I knew she didn’t want children.

  “You’re just saying that because you’re trying to ply me with cheese, oil, and chocolate tonight.”

  I shook my head and grinned. “You’re beautiful.”

  “Thanks.” She blinked. Then she glanced down at our hands again and had a small grin on her lips. “Tell me more.”

  I moved closer, making sure no one else could hear. “I love the softness of your thighs when I have my head—”

  “No. No. Not that,” she whispered. “I meant about your family. Not sex, Anthony.” She shifted in her seat before looking at me again.
r />   Knowing that the thought of sex with me turned her on brought me happiness. If nothing else, she couldn’t resist me simply because of the number of orgasms I’d brought her.

  “Okay. I work with my siblings at the tattoo shop.”

  “God, I couldn’t imagine working with Denzel. I think I’d kill him.”

  The waitress arrived, placing the pot of oil and a plate of cut-up meats and vegetables besides it. “Do you two need anything else?” she asked.

  I looked to Max, and she shook her head. “No. We’re fine, ma’am.”

  She walked away, giving us the privacy I had craved.

  “We have a lot of fun. We’re all part owners, and sometimes, it gets a little sticky, but for the most part, it’s been great.”

  “You’re lucky. Seems like you have a close family, then.”

  “I do, but one of my brothers is working undercover and I haven’t seen him in ages.”

  “Wow. That’s honorable. When will you see him again?”

  “Hopefully soon. I think his investigation is just about over. It’s like a piece of me is missing when he’s gone.”

  “I know how that feels,” she grumbled as she grabbed a long poker and stabbed at a piece of steak. “At least you know he’s coming back.”

  “True,” I replied, feeling like a complete tool.

  Thomas would come home if everything worked out, but her father? He’d never return to her. I grew silent, cursing myself as I placed a few pieces of food in the pot.

  She repeated the process and stared at me over the table. “It’s okay, Anthony. You don’t need to watch what you say. I like to hear about something other than my family.”

  The butterflies that had started to flutter inside my stomach began to calm with her words. “If you say so,” I mumbled, still feeling like a complete asshole.

  “Did you say you have Sunday dinner? Like, every Sunday?” she asked as she twirled the sticks and turned the meat.

  “Yeah. My mom cooks dinner every week, and we’re required to be there.”

  “What’s she going to do if you don’t go? Ground you?” she shot back, and laughed. “You are a grown-ass man.”

  I chuckled too, knowing that it sounded insane. “You don’t understand my ma. She’s one woman you don’t want to piss off. If you can’t make it, you better call.”

  “You’re scared of your mother?” she asked as she pulled her sticks out of the oil, tapping them on top of her dish.

  “I wouldn’t say scared. I’d say I respect her.”

  “Uh huh.” She placed the first bite of steak in her mouth. “You’re scared,” she said after she swallowed the food.

  “I most certainly am not. My mother is the head of the entire family. I try to never be a no-show out of respect. She spends hours cooking a feast for us and the least I can do is show up. Plus,” I added, grabbing another piece of meat from the pot to cool, “it’s a free meal.” I laughed.

  “So, you’re a cheap bastard?” she teased.

  “What do you think?” I grinned.

  “I’d say you are.” She nodded and looked down at her tiny plate of meat pieces.

  “Fondue isn’t a cheap meal. I never skimp, especially when taking a woman on a date.”

  “Do you do that a lot?” she inquired without looking at me.

  “What?” I asked, furrowing my brow as I watched her.

  “Take a lot of women on dates.”

  I couldn’t help it. I burst into laughter. “Max, I do not date.”

  “Well, what’s this, then?”

  “Let me rephrase that. I’ve never taken a woman on a date before you.”

  “Anthony, be honest. God doesn’t like liars,” she told me as her lip twitched.

  “Max, I’m dead serious. I’ve never found someone I wanted to get to know. Before you, all I cared about was getting them in the sack.”

  “You’ve never had a girlfriend?” she asked with a look of shock.

  “In high school and in my early twenties, but I wouldn’t say I took them to dinner. I wasn’t into wining and dining,” I admitted, knowing I sounded like a complete pig.

  “And you’re saying that women are easy?”

  “I fucked you, didn’t I?” I regretted the words as soon as they left my mouth.

  “Not the first night. I believe you had to work for it.” She smiled as she plopped a piece of zucchini in her mouth.

  “I did. More than I’ve ever worked for anything in my life.” I returned her smile and didn’t feel ashamed that I’d chased her.

  “I’m not worth the effort, Anthony.” She casually tapped the stick on the side of the pot, letting the oil drip off. She’d said it like it was common knowledge and I shouldn’t be offended by her words.

  “But you are, Max.” I set my sticks down, folded my hands in front of me, and looked directly at her. “The spark when we touch tells me you are worth it. Have you ever felt that with another person? Be honest with me.”

  Maybe it wasn’t the combination of us when we touched that had caused the spark. She might have been the one to generate the electricity. Possibly everyone she had ever touched had felt it. The thought that I wasn’t special nagged at me.

  “No, I’ve never felt it before,” she admitted as she stared back at me. “I don’t know what it is.”

  “Me either, but I want to know what it means. You may think you’re not worth the effort, but I beg to differ.”

  She gave me a weak smile and returned her attention back to her meal. The rest of the time at the table was spent with small talk, avoiding all discussion of relationships and the electricity we had together. I wouldn’t push the issue. Trust me, I wanted to, but for the sake of not pushing her away, I kept my lips sealed.

  After she dropped the last piece of angel food cake in her mouth and moaned, she said, “I’m so full.” Rubbing her belly, she sighed as her body sagged. “I don’t know if I’ve ever felt this full.”

  I, on the other hand, felt like I hadn’t eaten. The meal had been so drawn out that my body had already consumed the food. “I could eat more.”

  “I have something you can eat,” she replied with a naughty smirk.

  “You want my mouth on you?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.

  The thought of tasting her pussy made my cock grow harder. I wished I could lay her out on the table and drizzle the melted chocolate over her body before devouring every morsel.

  “Yes.” She nodded slowly, staring at me with hooded eyes.

  “Check, please!” I called out to the waitress.

  8

  Thin Line

  I lay there exhausted, spent, and content. Twirling my finger on top of her stomach, I set my head on her hip and stared at her. Her skin glistened in the light as her chest rose and fell from the exertion of the fuck-fest we’d just had. Thank God I was in shape. If I hadn’t been, I would’ve left her house sore. The woman was a tiger in bed. I’d used everything I had, pulled out all the stops when satisfying her.

  “Exhausted,” she whined as she threw her arm across her face.

  “Me or you?” I splayed my hand out on her stomach, letting it rise with her breath.

  “Me. I swear you’re trying to kill me.”

  “Max, I beg to differ. I thought you were trying to suffocate me when you were grinding your pussy on my face.” I bit my lip, holding in my laughter.

  “Bastard,” she hissed. “I was trying to kill you.”

  “I would’ve gone out a happy man.” I slid my fingers down her stomach before stopping between her legs.

  Tiny droplets of cum twinkled in the light. Her taste was like no other woman I’d been with. It wasn’t because she was black, but there was something about her that made everything better.

  I hadn’t seen Max for a week since our first official date. That evening had been much the same way as this night, but minus the face-riding. I’d wanted to see her before, but between our work schedules and her needing space, we’d waited to see eac
h other.

  The week had breezed by as I’d tattooed, written music, and practiced with the band. I really had no free time, since I had neglected everything in my pursuit of her. But as I lay there with her, everything seemed worth it.

  Peacefulness settled over me as my fingertips grazed her body and felt her softness. The familiar spark hadn’t waned with our separation. When I’d seen her after the week apart, fireworks had gone off. We’d torn at each other’s clothes like we were animals in heat.

  “Do you want to go to my parents’ house for dinner tomorrow?” I asked, wondering if she’d take that step.

  I’d never brought anyone home with me. Honestly, I’d never had anyone worthy of meeting them. Max was different. I thought she’d get a kick out of them and they’d enjoy meeting someone knew. Plus, I wondered how they’d react to her race. I knew my family would embrace her as just another possible childbearing female to bring a new Gallo into the world. Maybe if she saw that my family didn’t mind the race difference, she’d not worry so much about what her family thought.

  When she didn’t reply, I added, “It’s Sunday and I haven’t seen you all week. I thought we could spend the day together, Max.” I trailed my fingers between her breasts, watching her skin break out into goose bumps.

  “No,” she answered. “I can’t.”

  “Have plans?” I asked, not willing to drop the subject.

  “No, I just can’t.”

  “Why not?” I asked in an angry tone, propping myself up on one elbow.

  “Anthony, we’re not a couple. That’s what you do when you’re a couple.” She kept her eyes hidden under her arm.

  “We’re not a couple?” It wasn’t that I was shocked. She had agreed to see me, not be mine. To say that it didn’t sting would have been a lie.

  “No.”

  “Friends?”

  “I don’t know if I’d go that far either,” she replied, and drew her bottom lip into her mouth.

  “What the fuck, Max?” I shot back, my back growing rigid.

  “We fuck, Anthony. That’s it. It’s nice, but we’re nothing more,” she said as her voice grew quiet. “We can’t be anything more.”

  I couldn’t let my anger get out of control. I wanted to scream, but I knew it wouldn’t get me anywhere. I kept my voice low as I spoke. “I’m just a piece of ass to you, aren’t I? You can’t stand up to your family and tell them you have a right to be with me?”

  “Anthony,” she said as she sat up, pulling her knees to her chest. “I can’t give you anything more than sex. You said you were okay with it.”

  “I want to see you, Max. I want to be with you. I’m not asking to go to your mother’s for dinner. This is my family, and I don’t need to hide you.” I climbed off the bed and started to pace. “This is all we’re ever going to be?” I waved my hands haphazardly, toward the clothing that had been tossed in haste. “Just fuck buddies?”

  “I can’t give you more.” She kept her eyes pinned on me, watching me as I paced.

 
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