“No skin off my nose.” He shrugged. “And he’s a douche who deserves what he gets. Turning up here, acting like you owe him something.”
I wrapped my arms around myself. “I’m sorry he was rude to you. I had a word with him. That won’t happen again.”
He snorted out a laugh. “You don’t have to protect me, Anne. I’m not that delicate.”
“Beside the point.” I took a sip of coffee.
“You know, I can live with you using me to get at him. Hell, we’re already using each other, right?”
Something in the way he said it stopped me. If only he wasn’t hiding behind his hair, I could see him better, gauge where this was going.
“No reason why we can’t milk this baby for all it’s worth,” he said.
“You’d do that for me?”
He half smiled. “If that’s what you want. Pushing asswipe’s buttons is too easy but I’m willing to make the effort. Hell, this body was born to make mortal men jealous.”
I smiled back at him, cautiously. Not committing to anything. This situation called for serious thought. The temptation to leap was huge.
“I do think he’s right about one thing. You can do better.” Green eyes stared me down. There was amusement there, as always. He seemed to be daring me, pushing me to see what happened. I really wanted to push back.
“But whatever,” he said, rolling his shoulders back in some sort of overdeveloped shrug. “Your call. After all, you’ve known this guy for how long?”
“Two years you’ve been into him and never done a thing about it? You must have your reasons, right?”
“Right,” I said, sounding not the least bit believable.
He laughed and right then, I disliked him just a little. I’d never openly admitted my thing for Reece to anyone and here was Mal, ever so sweetly rubbing my face in it. Thing was, the status quo with Reece was infinitely preferable to anything I’d had since I was sixteen. If he settled down with someone else, my heart wouldn’t be broken. But who knew, we might get together one day.
Why act when doing so little was serving me so well?
The big blond guy mocked me with his eyes, smirk in place. He knew. I don’t know how he knew, but he definitely did. Man, I hated being a foregone conclusion, especially to him. Hated it with the passion of a thousand fiery hells.
“Alright,” I said. “Let’s do it.”
He stopped laughing.
“I’m serious. I want to make Reece jealous. If you’re still willing to help me, of course.”
“Said I would not a minute ago. Didn’t think you’d actually go for it, but …” He picked up his cup of coffee and drained it. “This should be interesting. Exactly how much do you know about being a heartbreaker?”
“I need to be a heartbreaker?” Across the other side of the living room, the bathroom door stood wide open. A wet towel sat forgotten in the middle of the floor. Mal’s boxer briefs lay abandoned alongside.
I needed to do some cleaning today.
“Problem?” he asked.
Funny, when Skye had lived here, I’d usually wound up doing the bulk of the tidying for her too. It hadn’t occurred to me at the time. A leftover habit from running a household early, most likely.
“What is it, Anne?”
“Your towel and dirty clothes are on the bathroom floor.” I pointed to them, just in case he’d forgotten where the bathroom was.
“Random change of topic.” Mal sidled up next to me, standing closer than he needed to. “But you’re right. They are indeed decorating the floor and doing a lovely job too.”
He said no more.
The dirty laundry lay there, taunting me. And I’m pretty sure that Mal in his silence did the same. Either that or I was a neurotic mess. It was a close call.
“Whatcha gonna do about it, pumpkin?” he asked in a quiet voice.
“I really don’t like you calling me that.”
He made a dismissive noise in his throat.
I sighed. This was one war I’d likely never win. If taking over the care of a thirteen-year-old had taught me anything, it was to pick my battles.
“That’s not my problem,” I said.
“You need to tidy up after yourself,” I said firmly.
“That a boundary I’m hearing there?”
I stood taller. “Yes, it is. I’m not your mommy. You need to pick up your shit, Mal.”
He grinned. “I’ll get right on that.”
“Thanks.” I smiled back at him, feeling lighter already. “What was that about being a heartbreaker?”
“You’re going to smash me in two, after showing the jerkwad what a momentous girlfriend you make, of course.”
I’d only ever been on the receiving end of heartbreak. But f**k that too. Bad habits could be broken. “I can do that.”
Mal looked away.
“Not doubting you, pumpkin. Not doubting you at all.”
Lauren barged in a bit before six in the evening. Or she tried to. The door rattled. Next came the swearing and banging.
“Anne! What’s wrong with your door?”
I undid the new sliding bolt and she thundered into the room.
“Your door’s broken,” she said, her brow creased.
“No, Mal had a new lock put on it. He was worried about security.”
A bald, muscular man had appeared after Mal disappeared off to band practice. Apparently, rock stars outsourced household chores to the head of their security team. This guy had the new sliding bolt installed in no time. He was eerily efficient and uberpolite. The whole experience had weirded me out a little.
“Hey, wow. You look great.” I said, taking in her slick dress and hairdo. A beautiful white orchid sat behind her ear. “What are you all dressed up for? Where are you off to?”
“What, this old thing?” She smoothed a hand over the slinky caramel-colored silk dress. “Thanks. And can I just take a moment to say, awesome job landing Malcolm Ericson. He probably doesn’t deserve you, but go you.”
“When he told me the story, I couldn’t believe it. Love at first sight. That’s beautiful.” Shit, her eyes actually misted up. “I think you’ll be wonderful together. And why aren’t you dressed, by the way?”
Right then, Mal strode out of the second bedroom in a black three-piece suit. Since when had wearing a vest looked so f**king hot? My lungs shrunk a size. Either that or the oxygen in the room had been mixed wrong. He was beyond slick with his hair tucked back behind his ears, the angular line of his jaw perfectly smooth. I’d barely gotten used to him half na**d and now he was throwing Armani at me. I never stood a chance. Prostrating myself at his feet was the obvious reaction to such a heavenly sight. How I managed to remain upright I have no idea.
Forget Bond and his ilk. I’d take a drummer in a suit any day of the week.
With a low wolf whistle, Lauren looked him over. “Malcolm. Who’s a pretty boy?”
“Only pumpkin is allowed to objectify me,” he said, straightening his cuffs. French cuffs with cufflinks.
“Fuck me,” I muttered, then smacked a hand over my mouth because crap, my mouth. It was an idiot determined to make an ass out of me.
“Anytime.” He winked. The liar.
“Your pumpkin needs to get ready,” said Lauren, ignoring our carrying on.
He looked me over and frowned. “Anne, Davie wants everyone dressed up. You can’t go in jeans and a T-shirt.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The party. Pumpkin, c’mon. We don’t have time to mess around.”
I shook my head, clueless. “Okay, you two. I have no idea what you’re talking about. Will someone please clue me in?”
“I told you about this.”
“Like you told me about you moving in here?”
“You didn’t tell her you were moving in with her?” asked Lauren, voice low and deadly.
“It was a surprise,” he said, recovering quickly. “A great big beautiful romantic gesture because I knew how much my Anne wanted me with her. She was just too shy to say so. Look at her! The woman practically worships the ground I walk on. And you heard her, demanding I sexually service her at all hours of the day. I can’t do that shit from afar, you know?”
Lauren raised a brow. “You told me she okayed it and had forgotten to give you a key, Mal.”
“Which was basically the truth.” He threw his hands out wide. “C’mon, ladies, we don’t have time for this.”
“Anne, I’m so sorry,” said Lauren.
“It’s fine. I’m happy he’s here.” And though a tempting idea, throwing something at him right now wouldn’t actually help. I took a deep breath and tried to keep calm. “Let’s get back to the ‘What the hell is going on here’ question. We’re meant to go to something formal tonight, I take it?”
“I told you.” He pulled out his phone, flicked through a few screens then shoved it in front of my face. “I’m a f**king great boyfriend, see?”
The message on screen read: AMEX ON TABLE. DRESS UP TONIGHT. My name, however, was nowhere in sight. Sure enough, over on the dining room table a black credit card sat waiting. I’d figured he’d just forgotten the thing. Him leaving it for me to go on a spending spree had never crossed my mind.
“It says you sent this to someone called Angie,” I said tightly. “Not me, Mal.”
“I did?” He glared at the phone. “Shit. Sorry.”
“Who’s Angie?” asked Lauren.
“Fucked if I know, but apparently she’s still looking for the card.” He laughed. “As if I’d give it to just anyone. Right, sorry. Anyway, Anne, can you throw something on? We gotta go.”
I scowled at him and didn’t move an inch. “Try again.”
“It’s a thing at David and Ev’s, a wedding anniversary party. Not that it’s even been a year, but whatever. Davie put lots of effort into it and asked us all to dress up. I’m sorry I screwed up telling you.” He fell to his knees, hands clasped to his chest. “Please? I’m sorry. I’m really f**king sorry. See, look, I’m on my knees, Anne. I’m groveling just for you.”
“Okay. I’ll go. Next time, please make sure I get the message.”
“I will. Thank you. Thank you so much,” he gushed. “You’re the best, pumpkin.”
There was only one really good dress in my wardrobe. A vintage black lace dress from the fifties. I’d bought it for my twenty-first birthday last year. I liked to believe I’d just stepped off the set of Mad Men in it. Luckily, my hair wasn’t looking too bad hanging loose. Some concealer, mascara, and lip gloss were about as primed as I could get in less than five minutes. One of these days I’d have time to go all out getting ready to meet the members of Stage Dive. Just not today.
Out in the living room, the pair of them bickered.
“I can’t believe you accidentally messaged some stray instead of your girlfriend,” said Lauren.
“Does my girlfriend seem bothered? No. So remind me again, what business is it of yours, hmm?”
“If you hurt her, Ev and I are going to take turns disemboweling you with a shovel. Be warned.”
A gruesome mental image, but I had to smile. It felt good to have friends watching my back.
Mal scoffed. “You can’t disembowel someone with a shovel.”
“Sure you can. It’s just messier.”