I tore away from Mal, trying desperately to catch my breath. He was panting too, his green eyes dilated. Stunned was probably a good word. Sordid wasn’t too far behind. After all, we were mauling each other’s mouths in public.
I stood there staring at him, shaking. Holy shit. What the hell had just happened?
“That was fun!” He grinned, looking at me like he’d just discovered a new game. One that he really, really liked.
My heart was trying to burst out of my chest, Aliens style. I couldn’t blame it for wanting to run for cover. This was insane. I had to keep this shit locked down. What if he’d been able to tell what it did to me? He’d call off our arrangement in a heartbeat.
Time for some damage control.
“It was nice.” I gave him a pat on the cheek.
His arrogant grin slipped.
People all around us continued clapping. They were also all facing the other way, though many gave us sideways glances. I turned and went up on tippy toes, to see what was going on. In the open front doorway stood Ev in a simple ivory gown. I saw the whites of her big surprised eyes from across the room. Beside her stood David in a suit similar to what the rest of the guys wore. Slowly, he got down on one knee. I was too far away to hear what he said, the room too noisy. But then Ev was nodding and crying and mouthing the word “yes.”
“Davie wanted to do a surprise second ceremony,” Mal said, joining in with the clapping. “She doesn’t remember last time—it was a quickie drunken Vegas wedding–so he’s doing it over for her.”
“Th-that’s sweet.” I licked my lips, ignoring the lingering taste of him. So good.
His arm slipped around my waist and it was all I could do to keep still, to not try and move away. Some breathing room would be great. Just until I got my body back under control.
“I think everyone saw us, yeah?” he said.
“Mm.” Without a doubt, we’d established ourselves as a couple. We’d probably managed to momentarily upstage the bride and groom. Excellent. They’d be inviting us back here for sure.
A man dressed in a bling-covered Elvis jumpsuit burst out of the hallway, sporting a big black wig and all. He began to sing “Love me Tender” as played by the string quartet. Everyone laughed and smiled. Ev started laughing and crying. They repeated their vows and even my eyes misted up after I got myself back under control. It was so wildly romantic. Jimmy moved quietly through the crowd and slipped his brother a ring. The gentle smile on his face surprised me just a little.
Ever so damn slowly my heart rate returned to something nearing normal. I glanced over my shoulder at Mal. At first I couldn’t work out what he was looking at. His attention was fixed on an older couple on the other side of the room, Ev or David’s parents, perhaps? He looked unhappy. The distance was back in his eyes, the line between his brows. Then he caught me watching. He frowned and returned his gaze to the front.
“Can you believe Davie got her another ring after three months?” Mal whispered in my ear. “He is so f**king wrapped around her finger. It’s ridiculous.”
“They’re in love. I think it’s sweet.”
“At the rate he’s giving her diamonds, she’s going to have a tiara by Christmas.”
It was one thing for me to be caustic within the sanctity of my own skull. But I hated hearing Mal be so against the idea of love or coupledom or whatever it was that had set him off.
“What?” he asked, seeing my down face.
“I can’t decide if you sound jealous, bitter, or what.”
“I was making a joke,” he said, eyes wounded. “Tiaras are funny. Everyone knows that.”
Mal just blinked. His mouth, those gorgeous wicked lips of his, did not move.
Another round of applause thundered through the room as the remarkably swift service wound up. Though they were already married, no point dragging it out. Or maybe it only seemed fast to me. They kissed and flashbulbs lit the room. People crowded in to congratulate them.
Happy, happy times. What a joyous occasion.
“Back in a minute,” I said, squeezing out of Mal’s embrace. I needed air, space, shit like that. I needed to get my head on straight. My overreaction to his kiss had unnerved me big-time. Things were cooler and calmer out on the balcony. I knew having Mal cozy up to me at events would be weird. I’d expected feelings, sensations. Nerves, awkwardness, even mild titillation I could understand, but blow my mind, swamp me with lust, and make the world disappear? Not so much. He’d been right, there was every chance Fatal Attraction loomed large around the corner.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, coming up behind me.
“Nothing. Everything’s fine.”
“If I say its fine, its fine,” I gritted out.
“You’re acting weird.” He walked toward me, hypnotic eyes messing with my mind. “That was an awesome kiss,” he said.
“It was okay,” I lied, giving him a serene smile.
“It was okay?” One of his brows arched skyward. “That’s it?”
“Anne, you nearly tore off my clothing. I think it was better than okay.”
“Oh, sorry. Was that overkill? I figured with the way you were going at me we were aiming for over the top.”
He stopped. “Going at you?”
“Well, it was pretty full on.”
“Was it, now?”
Another shrug. “You have to admit, there was a lot of tongue.”
He stepped closer, getting into my personal space. My heels needed to be taller. This wasn’t the sort of situation where I wanted to be looked down upon. I clenched and unclenched my fingers behind my back, flustered as f**k but trying not to let it show. This was not me. I didn’t allow my life to get messed up by men. Been there, done that, had bought the T-shirt and worn it until it had ratty little holes in it.
“I warned you there’d be tongue when we were making our agreement,” he said.
God help me, had there been tongue. Lots and lots of it. I could still feel his, sliding against my own, turning me on. Phantom tongue. There was every possibility Malcolm Ericson was driving me insane. He needed to be stopped. But the best I could do right then was to steer this conversation the hell away from all things oral, stat.
“Yeah, about our agreement … why did you say you needed a fake girlfriend?”
“We already talked about that.”
“You didn’t tell me anything.”
“Told you as much as I’m going to.” He paused, glowering down at me. “Why are you trying to turn this back onto me? What’s wrong, Anne, not feeling defensive over one little kiss, are you?”
“No. Of course not.” I crossed my arms. “But we agreed to keep sex out of this. Generally, people not ha**ng s*x don’t need to talk about tongues.”
“You really want to keep talking about this? Really?”
“You have no idea how much, pumpkin.”
“Great. Let’s discuss it.” Maybe I should just throw myself over the balcony. It couldn’t be that far down. The laws of physics aside, I might bounce. You never know. “You said you’d put your tongue in my ear, Malcolm, not halfway down my throat.”
“I didn’t put it halfway down your throat.” His eyes narrowed. “I’ve never had any complaints about the way I kiss before.”
I said nothing.
“This is bullshit. You liked it. I know you did.”
“It was nice enough.”
“Nice enough?” he asked, tendons tightening in his neck like he intended to Hulk out on me. “Did you just call my kiss ‘nice enough’?”
“We’re just pretending, Mal. Remember? Why don’t you calm down?” I stepped back, giving him a calm smile.
He stepped forward, his green eyes blazing bright. “That kiss was not just f**king ‘nice enough.’”
“Don’t you think you’re overreacting just a little?” I tried to laugh it off.
He was not appeased. “No.”
“I guess we just don’t click that way. Which I think is pretty lucky given the situation, right? It keeps things uncomplicated, just the way you wanted them, right?”
“Careful there. I think your ego’s showing. Not every girl needs to fall at your feet.”
“Ha. No, Mal, I don’t.”
“Stop it.” I glared at him. Good god, rock stars were so childish. Spoiled brats.
The silence between us was deafening, the depths of space couldn’t compete. We had the bubble thing going on again. Inside the condo didn’t exist, there was no party, no music, light, and chatter. But I could control this situation. No way would my head be getting messed up by some rock star who’d be gone in no time.
“I want a do-over. Now,” he demanded.
“No way.” I put a hand to his chest, trying to hold him back. It didn’t help. His heart beat hard against the palm of my hand even through the layers of clothing.
He loomed ever more threateningly closer, licking his gorgeous lips. “Right now, Anne. You and me.”
“I don’t think so.”
“I can do better.” And closer.
“You don’t have to prove anything to me, Mal.”
“You’ll like it this time, promise.”
If I liked his kiss any more I’d have heart failure. “Truly not necessary.”
“Just once more,” he said, his voice intoxicatingly low and smooth, lulling me into compliance. Damn him. “No big deal. Just give me one more chance.”
His mouth hovered above mine, the anticipation tying me in knots. Damn it, I wasn’t going to stop him. Not even a little. I was the worst.
“Trouble in paradise?” Jimmy Ferris stepped out onto the balcony, his trademark sneery smile in place. I could have kissed him for his timely intervention. Except kissing was what had gotten me into this mess.
“Hiding from Lena?” asked Mal calmly.
Jimmy flicked his dark hair back. His gaze slid to me before moving onto the city lights below. There was a non-answer if I’d ever seen one.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” Mal snorted. All of his intensity had evaporated into thin air, thank god. “We’re all good thanks, bro. Just picking out names for our future children. Anne wants Malcolm Junior for a boy but I said no, absolutely not. Kid should at least have a chance at a life out from underneath the shadow of his old man.”
“That’s real big of you,” said Jimmy.
“I know, right? Being a parent is all about the sacrifices.”
Mal slid his hand behind my neck, rubbing at the tight muscles. “Relax,” he ordered. “It isn’t good for the baby.”
“I am not pregnant.”
“Ah, shit, that’s right. We were s’posed to be keeping it quiet. Sorry, pumpkin.” He smacked himself in the forehead. I would’ve been happy to do it for him.
“Don’t worry,” said Jimmy. “We’ve been friends since we were kids. I know when he’s talking shit.”
I wish I did.
“Who’s pregnant?” asked David Ferris, wandering out onto the balcony with his wife in one hand and a beer in the other.
With a look of great pride, Mal rubbed my belly. Any roundness was far more likely due to a weakness for cake than any acts of procreation.
“I’m not –”
“We were keeping it on the down low,” said Mal. “We didn’t want to upstage you two lovebirds.”