“Mm.” He grabbed the back of his neck, sucked in a deep breath. “You breaking up with me here or what?”
My head shot around. “You want to break up?”
He didn’t respond. For a minute or more, I said nothing and neither did he. We had apparently entered into some messed-up contest of wills. When I gave him a questioning look, he simply raised a brow, waiting me out.
“I couldn’t just leave him sitting here. He’s my friend.”
Mal jerked his chin.
“Was I supposed to let you two arm wrestle over me or something? Because that was never going to happen.”
“We screwed and then you sent me on my way with a pat on the head.” The low, cold way he said it didn’t help at all.
“No,” I answered, matching his tone of voice. “Come on, Mal. You know that’s not what happened. I sent Reece on his way. You I asked to wait in my home. To give me a chance to speak to him.”
He stared at me and I stared straight back.
“Don’t do this,” I said.
“God!” He scrubbed at his face with his hands, growling in frustration. “I f**king hate being jealous. Hate it.”
“Tell me about it.” I threw up my hands in equal frustration. “You are aware that a healthy portion of the vagina-owning population wants to do you? Don’t even get me started about the penis-wielding people, because there’s quite a few of them into you as well.”
“The shit you say …” He sputtered out a laugh. “Fuck.”
The storm seemed to be over, thank god. I leaned my head on his shoulder, needing to get closer. Happily, he let me.
“I don’t usually fight with other people,” he said, rubbing his cheek against the top of my head. “In the band, I usually keep the guys from ripping into each other over stupid shit. Tell a joke, get ’em smiling again.”
“You’re the peacekeeper. But you were ready to rip into Ben the other night.”
“About you. You’re turning out to be kind of a mind f**k for me, pumpkin.”
“Not saying you mean to be.”
“Yeah, that doesn’t make me feel any better.”
We sat in silence. Eventually, he lifted the flowers out of my arms, stood, and headed down the stairs. The only noise the entire time was the soft thud of his shoes on the worn wooden steps. Carefully, he placed the flowers on Mrs. Lucia’s doorstep, before returning to sit beside me. A statement had been made by confiscating those flowers, but what exactly did it mean? That was the question. Mal Ericson was quite the mind f**k himself. And he went on tour in a couple of days. It’d be foolish of me to ignore this oh-so-salient fact. I tugged at the buckles on my boots, all agitated. Too many emotions were stirred up inside of me.
He did that.
“When I was sitting up there, waiting for you, a couple of things occurred to me,” he said.
“Well, you’re my girlfriend for real now.”
I stopped breathing for a moment, thrown. “I think I needed to hear you say that.”
“You have been for a while. Didn’t mean for you to be, but you are. I just have to get used to it.”
Of course, when he put it like that I sort of wanted to physically hurt him. Instead, I sat and waited to see where he was going with this.
“Don’t get mad,” he said. “Just stating a fact.”
“I’m not mad.”
“Liar. See, now this is why we should have gone to counseling when I suggested it right at the start.”
“What?” I scrunched up my nose. “When did that happen?”
“Day after I moved in, when we were sexting.”
“We weren’t sexting, we were just texting. You said you wanted to get a dog too, if I recall correctly. So I really didn’t think you were serious about counseling.”
The slow curl of his lips made something hot and delicious unfurl deep in my stomach. “Pumpkin, I’m always serious when it comes to you. Even when I’m messing around, I’m still serious as shit. Whatever you need, whatever I have to do. It’s been that way since we met. Haven’t you noticed yet? We’re f**king destined or something. I can’t help myself. It’s pathetic, really.”
“Huh.” I stuffed my hands beneath my thighs, giving his words a moment to sink in. “That’s what you figured out waiting upstairs?”
“Yep.” He shuffled closer, pressing his hip to mine. “Think about it. Things were shit and then I met you at the party and you amused me. I wanted more time with you and then I saw Ev’s side boob and Davie threw me out so I had to move in with you. I wanted to sleep with you and we accidentally broke your bed jumping around on it so you had to crash on the couch with me. I wanted to have sex with you and you got bored on the ride home and jumped my bones. See? Destiny.”
I burst out laughing. “That’s beautiful. But I’m not sure it completely makes sense.”
“It’s fate, Anne. Written in the stars. Leave it the f**k alone.”
“You’re crazy.” I hung my head and sighed. What else could I do?
“That’s better. Can’t stand it when you’re sad either.” His arm slipped around my shoulders, drawing me in against him. I grabbed hold of his fingers, just hanging on.
That was better. Everything would be okay. But there was still an issue I was curious about. “Why did you ask me to be your fake girlfriend?”
He shrugged, looked away. “I wanted to spend time with you. You make me happy.”
I scrunched up my forehead. “That’s all it was?”
“That’s pretty f**king important. Guess with Davie pairing up I was feeling a bit lonely or something. I thought we could be friends.”
I just stared at him.
“Needed a chance to get to know you a little better, just you and me alone. Moving in seemed a good way to do that. And you needed the help. Okay?”
We sat in silence for a moment.
“Whatever shit you’re telling yourself, stop it,” he said.
“What? What are you talking about now?”
“Reece.” He rested his head atop of mine. “You’re worrying about him. Stop it.”
“Mal …” How could I explain this to him? The words were weighted in lead, impossible to get out. I hadn’t been thinking about Reece, but now that he mentioned it …
“You didn’t do anything wrong.”
I wiggled out from underneath him, needing to see his face. Since when could he read me and why couldn’t I do the same? He appeared calm and sure, beautiful as sin. His lips sat slightly apart, his eyes serene. Suddenly, the words weren’t so impossible to find after all.
“I hurt him.”
“Maybe. But he’s the one that left you hanging on. He hurt you too.”
“But I fix things,” I said. “It’s what I do.”
“You can’t fix this.” He toyed with my hair, wrapping the short strands around a finger.
“You going to dump my ass? Send me packing?”
“No. Absolutely not.”
He smiled and shrugged. “There you go.”
“You make it sound so simple.”
“It is. I’m your boyfriend now, which means there’s no room for your hipster admirer. He’ll just have to lick his wounds while we lick other things.” He raised a devilish eyebrow.
My head filled with so many needy questions. A hundred and one ways to beg him for reassurance. No god damn way any of it was getting past my lips. He was so insanely perfect and I’d had him inside of me. My body buzzed with the memories, sliding straight toward overload. I wanted him again. Maybe I should just shackle myself to his ankle and be done with it. This could be the answer.
“I didn’t want to upset you,” I said. “But I needed to talk to him alone.”
“Yeah, I know. I was being a dick.” He moaned, looked to the heavens. “That enough of an apology?”
“Yeah. I get Reece is part of your life. I’ll try to be nice to him.”
His hair was in his face again. Carefully, I tucked some behind his ear and then cupped his cheek.
“Hey, crazy eyes. Operation Fake Girlfriend is off,” he murmured. “In case you were wondering.”
“It is, huh?”
“Way I figure it, we’re together until we decide we’re not together anymore. Let’s not put too much thought into it. Let it sort itself out, yeah?”
It was a sound plan, considering we’d only started sleeping together less than an hour ago. “I approve.”
“Glad to have you on board, Miss Rollins.” He covered my hand with his own, pressing it against his face. “I don’t wanna be unduly crass or any shit like that, but I’m worried about something.”
“What might that be?”
I opened my mouth, shut it. “My shirt?”
“I think it’s chafing you. Subconsciously like.” His eyes were intense, his expression grave.
“My shirt is chafing my subconscious?”
“No, I believe it’s chafing the delicate skin of your ni**les and the area around … what’s it called?”
“Yeah, that bit. ‘Cause it’s all pink and sensitive, you know? It’s delicate, so I believe my concern with regards to the harsh and unyielding nature of your shirt is real important even though you have yet to acknowledge the discomfort it’s causing you.”
“You know you could have been one hell of a salesman.” He was so convincing, I almost felt bad for the soft cotton of my long-sleeved top,. “I’m wearing a bra. But my ni**les really appreciate your concern.”
“Yeah, your bra’s in on it too. They’re both against you.”
“No way!” I said. He made it damn hard not to smile.
“I know, right? Thank f**k I’m here to deal with these things.”
“How about we go upstairs and I take my shirt and bra off, would that ease your mind?”
“I’d definitely feel a lot better if you did that, yes.”
“Well, alrighty then. Race you.” I jumped to my feet, barreling up the stairs, giggling. Mal’s arm came around me from behind, lifting me off my feet, pulling me back up against his chest.
“I win,” he said, and carried me into the apartment where we both won, big-time.
Fingers were playing with me. Clever fingers.
My alarm hadn’t gone off for work yet. It was just before dawn. Sleep, however, wasn’t an option with him stirring me up the way he was. Since when was Mal a morning person? Answer, since he wanted sex.
God bless him for his base desires.
I lay on my stomach with him beside me, the hardness and heat of his body a wonderful thing to wake up to. Ever so gently, he stroked me between my legs. He trailed his knuckles softly back and forth along the seam of my sex. Everything low in me tensed in approval. I arched my pelvis, giving him better access to my pu**y. We’d dragged my mattress out into the living room, away from the destruction of my wooden bed frame, and gone at it again last night.
“You awake?” he asked, voice husky from sleep.
He trailed kisses down my spine, making me get all quivery. The graze of his stubble made for a delicious tactile sensory whatever. Yeah, I was still half asleep.
“Okay, don’t mind me. I just need something. Shouldn’t take too long … I’ll try not to disturb you.”