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“That’s really great of you. But how about another night?”

“You got plans?”

“Sort of.” Because sitting alone brooding while wearing one of Mal’s T-shirts constituted plans.

Reece rubbed his chin with the palm of his hand, his brows drawing downward. “Anne, realistically, you had to know this was coming. He’s Malcolm Ericson. The guy’s a living legend.”

“Yeah, I know.” My shoulders caved in on me. In standard measurement, I stood about two-feet tall. I couldn’t have felt any smaller.

“Guys like that don’t have a reputation for stable relationships.”

“I, ah … I get that. I do.”

“Hey, you’re great. It’s his loss.”

“Thanks.”

Ugh. The pity in Reece’s eyes … kill me now. A bottle of tequila was now included in tonight’s plans. Rock on. This was why I never much bothered with dating, this whole moment right here. Penises were out and self-love was back in. Not that it had ever really left.

I needed to put my life back into context. Mal was the one being a jerk. I’d done nothing wrong. Except for having no idea how to handle a difficult situation, of course.

“Guess we should get back to work.” I wasn’t really achieving much, but still, a token effort should be made what with him paying me and all.

Reece crossed and uncrossed his arms, watching me. “Listen, why don’t you take the rest of the day off? I’ll close up.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.” He smiled, dimples popping. “God knows I owe you some hours. You’ve never even taken a sick day.”

“Thanks, Reece.”

***

My big old claw foot tub was the best place in whole wide world. Nothing could compare. Life seemed so much better from within its warm, soapy watery confines. If I ever had to move, it’s what I’d miss the most. I’d been in there, soaking, for a good solid half hour. Frankly, I had no plans to ever get out. I was perfectly content to laze around, staring at the tiles on the wall and thinking of nothing.

Raging, great open seas full of nothing.

Right up until the front door crashed open. I bolted upright, adrenaline pumping through me.

“What the f**k?”

“Anne?” Mal yelled.

Then the bathroom door crashed open too. I grabbed the white towel hanging off the rail overhead, holding it against my chest. Straightaway, the material started soaking up water.

“Anne.” Mal stomped in, electric with rage. It spiked out his hair and darkened his eyes. The bathroom door slammed shut behind him.

“Mal?”

“What is this?” he growled, shoving his cell in my face.

“Um, your phone? What the hell are you doing in here?”

“The f**king texts you’ve been sending me, I mean.”

“What?” I stared at him, flabbergasted. “Get out.”

“No.”

“You want to discuss my texts, you can wait till I’m out of the tub and have some clothes on.”

“We’ll discuss them now.”

For this conversation, I needed armor. The damn towel wasn’t working at all. I crossed my arms over my chest, huddling in on myself. “Those messages are me trying to be friendly after yesterday. You barging in here like this, though? I’m not feeling so friendly anymore. Get the f**k out, Mal.”

“You’re breaking up with me by text.” Not a question, a statement. One that made me just a small part livid, though the crashing of doors and yelling might have played a part in it too.

Was he insane? No, seriously, was he?

“That little asswipe Reece push you into this?”

“No,” I snapped. “Reece has nothing to do with this. And I can’t really be breaking up with you because remember the part where we were never really together? Where it was all fake?”

“It was, huh?” He squatted beside the tub, hands gripping the edge so hard his knuckles whitened.

“Get out.”

“I’m not going anywhere till we talk this out.”

The vestiges of self-pity disappeared, replaced by flat-out rage. How dare he?

“If you want to talk this out, then you might want to stop acting like a dick. Busting in here and yelling at me, accusing me of crap … not smart.”

“That right? Why don’t you tell me what I’m supposed to do since I’m not so smart and all.” He loomed over the side of the tub, eyes bordering on manic. “Tell me how I’m supposed to handle this, Anne. And use small words, okay?”

I tried to sit up, the water sloshing. Could he have picked a more awkward time and place for this? And how had he turned into the victim here?

“I didn’t mean …” I started, but gah, f**k him. If he wanted to get all insulted, he could, with my compliments. I cleared my throat, tried again. “Big picture. You didn’t come home … back here, to the apartment last night. I assume you were with Ainslie. Your friends are probably going to know that, right? So our cover is blown.”

“I wasn’t with Ainslie,” he ground out.

Everything stopped. “You weren’t?”

“No; I played drums till I calmed down, then I did some drinking with the guys. Davie said to give you some time to cool off. I crashed in Ben’s hotel suite.”

“Word to the wise, next time when it comes to us, try talking to me instead of Davie.”

He let out a slow breath. “Okay.”

“You just crashed in Ben’s suite?” This version of reality differed so wildly from the hateful version I’d been playing in my head. It wouldn’t sink in at first.

“Yeah, I did.” His dark green gaze roamed my face. “I didn’t think when Ainslie came up to me after practice. How it would look and everything. Didn’t think at all and then I didn’t handle it right.”

He paused, but I had nothing. It was all I could do not to burst into tears of relief. Not that I was a crier. I’d blame it on PMS but it was nowhere near my time of the month.

“I f**ked up and I hurt you,” he said, deflating. “I’m sorry.”

“Oh, no, you didn’t hurt me.” I held my eyes wide open, trying to keep my shit together. “I mean, it might have been nice if you’d answered one of my texts but … yeah, no, I wasn’t hurt exactly.”

His brows rose and for a moment, he said nothing. “You looked hurt.”

“Well, I wasn’t. I was fine.”

He just watched me.

“Really.”

The smudges were back beneath his eyes. It seemed Mal hadn’t gotten any more sleep last night than I had.

“Everything’s good,” I said, not believing it but hoping he did. Meanwhile, I was still bare-ass na**d in the bath, horribly exposed. “Now can you please leave?”

Mal’s brows rose. “You’re alright?”

“Yep. There’s the door.”

“I didn’t hurt you?”

“Noooo.”

“Okay,” he said eventually, thumb rapping out a beat on the edge of the tub. “So the deal is still on and everything’s cool?”

“Sure, I guess so. Why not?” I gave him my very best big, brave smile, clutching the wet towel to my br**sts, my knees drawn up to help cover downstairs.

He breathed out hard through his nose, sat back on his heels. This was good. He was accepting it and we were moving on, thank god.

“We’re fine. No worries.”

Then he slowly shook his head. “Christ, Anne. You’re so full of shit I don’t even know what the f**k to say to you right now.”

“What?” My screech bounced off the tiled walls, echoing around us.

“You heard me.”

“But–”

His hand held firm to the back of my neck and he slammed his mouth down on mine. My words were forgotten. His tongue slid into my mouth, teasing me. His hand cradled my head, holding me out of the water. I gave myself up to it, the demanding press of his lips and the scratch of his stubble. I angled my head, getting closer, going deeper and pulling him into me. If I drowned, it’d be worth it.

There was no finesse. Raw hunger took over.

I didn’t realize he’d started climbing into the tub with me until half the water sloshed over the sides. No more of this splashing nonsense, we made a god damn waterfall. He got in, jeans, T-shirt, Chucks and all, his legs tangling with mine. One strong arm wrapped around my waist, holding me to him, the other he braced on the top of the tub. Someone had to keep us afloat because I was too busy getting my hands beneath his T-shirt. I could’ve kissed him for days, but getting him na**d was important.

“Off,” I demanded, dragging the material up.

“Hang on.” He pulled back onto his knees. With one of his hands and two of mine, we got rid of that sucker.

The feel of his hot skin and hard flesh was so fine. My fingers couldn’t travel far enough fast enough. I wanted to learn every inch of him. My mouth found his again and yes. I groaned and he clutched me harder. We were pressed together, skin on skin for the most part. My pebbled ni**les rubbed against his chest.

Fuck yeah, friction.

Friction was beautiful, but wet denim sucked. I wiggled a hand under the back of his waistband, grabbing onto his tight ass. His h*ps flexed, pushing against me, grinding into me. There was every chance the bath wasn’t big enough for this. We’d make do. My elbow clocked the side, vibrating my funny bone. It hurt like a bitch. He must’ve noticed, because the next thing I knew we were rolling. More water cascaded out onto the floor.

“On top,” he grunted.

“’Kay.”

His hands slid over my skin, trying to keep hold. “Fuck, you’re slippery.”

The man knew how to use his body. All I could do was hold on, my hands tangled in his long hair. His mouth traveled over my collarbone, up my neck, finishing with his teeth at my jaw. Every inch of my skin broke out in goose bumps. My tummy tensed. A large hand palmed my ass, squeezing. Wet denim wasn’t so bad after all. Grinding my pu**y against the ridge his hard-on made felt rather nice. Not as nice as he’d feel bare, but still.

“You hear that?” he asked.

“What? No.” The only thing I could hear was my heart pounding. And anyway, who cared? Now wasn’t the time for listening. It was the time to feel and I felt f**king fantastic sitting astride him. Luckily I knew how to prioritize. I fit my lips to his, kissing him deep and wet.

He broke away, turning his head aside. “Wait,” he said, followed shortly by, “shit.”

Distantly, from ever so far away (like the next room), there it was.

“Malcolm? Honey?” It was a woman’s voice, accompanied by several sets of feet. We had company.

What on earth?

“Mom?” he answered, his face skewed with disbelief.

Oh shit, he’d left the front door open.

“We got an earlier flight,” his mom called. And for the record, she sounded like a very nice woman. But shit, I didn’t want to meet her like this. What a wonderful first impression.

“You did?” asked Mal.

“That’s not a problem, is it?”

“Your parents are visiting?” I queried in a furious whisper. “Right now?”

He squeezed his eyes shut and whispered back, “Did I forget to mention that?”

“Mal? Honey?” his Mom called. “Everything okay?”

“No, no. Not a problem at all, Mom. Everything’s good.”

“We were just so excited when you told us about Anne.”

“She is pretty damn exciting.” He gave my br**sts a long look. “Got to agree with you there.”

“We really wanted to just get here and meet her. I guess we should have warned you.”


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