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He stared at me, his lips thin and white.

“I came home one day and she was sitting on the side of her bed with all these little colored pills lined up on her bedside table. She was holding this big glass of water. Her hand was shaking so bad it splashed everywhere, her nightie was all wet. I didn’t do anything, not at first.” That one moment was horrendously clear in my head. Hovering by the bedroom door, torn over what to do. It had to be manslaughter, to stand by and let it happen. Something like that had to stain you.

“I mean, it was so tempting,” I said, my voice cracking. “The thought of not having to deal with her anymore … but then Lizzy and I would have gone into the foster-care system and probably gotten separated. I couldn’t risk that. She was better off at home with me.”

His gaze was stark, his face pale.

“So I stayed home to watch her. She tried to kill herself a couple more times, then gave up on that too, like even dying was too much effort. Some days, I would just wish I’d been five minutes too late. That she’d managed to finish it. Then I’d feel guilty for even thinking that way.”

He didn’t even blink.

“I hate her so much for putting us through that. I get that depression happens and it’s a serious, terrible illness, but she didn’t even try to find help. I would make her appointments with doctors, try to get brochures and information and she just … you know, she had kids, she didn’t have the f**king luxury of just disappearing up her own ass.” Tears slid down my face unchecked. “Dad wasn’t much better, though he did send money. I guess I should be grateful he didn’t forget us entirely. I asked him ‘why’ when he was leaving and he said he just couldn’t do it anymore. He was really quite apologetic about it. Like he’d ticked the wrong box on a form or something and now sorry, but he was opting out. Family? No. Oh shit, did I say yes? Oops! Fucking ass**le. As if saying sorry changes anything when you’re walking out the door.

“You don’t appreciate how much time it takes, running a house, paying the bills, doing all the cooking and cleaning until it’s all down to you. My boyfriend stuck with me for a couple of months but then he became resentful because I couldn’t go out Saturday nights to games and parties and things. He was young, he wanted to go out and have fun, not stay in to look after a manic-depressive and a thirteen-year-old kid. Who could blame him?”

I ducked my head, trying to line up the important details in my mind. It wasn’t easy, considering how much time I’d spent trying to forget. “Then Lizzy rebelled and that just made everything so much worse. She hated the whole world, and who could blame her? At least when she behaved like a selfish, immature kid there was an actual reason behind it, what with her being one. She got busted stealing from this store. I managed to talk the owner into not pressing charges. The scare seemed to snap her out of it. She settled down, got back into her schoolwork. One of us had to make it to college because I tried, but there was no way I was keeping up with school on my own.”

What a f**king scene I was making. I blinked furiously and scrubbed away the tears. “You know, I actually wanted to cheer you up or something. Anything.”

His silence was killing me.

“So that’s my tale of woe.” I gave him a smile. Doubtless it looked as shitty as it felt.

“Mom’s got ovarian cancer,” he said, his voice rough. “They’re giving her a couple of months at best …”

It felt like my heart stopped. Time stopped. Everything.

“Oh, Mal.”

He pushed back his hair, lacing his fingers behind his head. “She’s so f**king happy you’re around. Kept going on about you at dinner, how wonderful you were. You’re her dream come true for me. She’s been wanting me to settle down for a while now.”

I nodded, trying for a better smile. “She’s really great.”

“Yeah.”

“Fuck, Anne. That’s not the only reason why, though … I mean…at first that was a big part of the reason.” He gripped the back of his neck, muscles flexing. “There’s more to it now than making her happy before she’d–” He paused, his lips twisting, unable to say the word. “You know there’s more, right? We’re not pretend anymore. You know that, don’t you?”

“I know that.” This time I totally aced the smile. “It’s okay.”

So our start had been dubious. It didn’t change where we were now.

“Come have a shower with me?” He held out his hand.

“I’d love to.”

He gave me a gallant attempt at a smile.

The bathroom was spacious, white marble with gold trim. We even had a grand piano out in the living room, should the mood strike. Apparently his parents were up in the presidential suite so we’d had to make do with second best. Second best was pretty fine.

He stripped off his boxer briefs. I got the water running at the right temperature, letting the room slowly fill up with steam. Hands slid over me from behind, tugging down my panties, drawing up my old Stage Dive T-shirt. It was the only thing he’d okayed me wearing to bed last night in his drunken wisdom. We were our own small, perfect world in the warmth of the shower cubicle. Mal stepped under the water and it soaked his hair, ran down over his beautiful body. I slid my arms around his waist, resting my head on his chest. The arms he put around me made everything right.

We could deal with things alone. Of course we could. But it was so much better together.

“Worst f**king thing is the morning,” he said, resting his chin on the top of my head. “For a few seconds, everything’s alright. Then I remember she’s sick, and … it’s just … I don’t even know how to describe it.”

I held him tighter, hanging on for dear life.

“She’s always been there. Used to drive us to shows, help us set up. She’s always been our biggest fan. When we went platinum she got a Stage Dive tattoo to celebrate. At the age of sixty, the woman got inked. And now she’s sick. I can’t get my head around it.” His chest moved against me as he breathed deep, let it out slow.

I stroked his back, the length of his spine, up and down, smoothing my hands over the curves of his ass, drifting my fingers over the ridges of his rib cage. We stood beneath the hot water and I soothed him as much as I could.

Let him know he was loved.

I picked up the bar of soap, running it over him, washing him like a child. First his top half, from the lines of his shoulder blades to the muscles in his arms, every inch of his chest and back. Washing his hair was tricky due to the differences in height.

“Lean down.” I poured some shampoo into my hand then rubbed it in, massaging his scalp, taking my time. “Let me rinse it.”

He did as asked without comment, hanging his head beneath the showerhead. Next came the conditioner. Carefully, I finger-combed it through.

“You’re not allowed to cut your hair,” I informed him.

“Okay.”

“Ever.”

He gave me an almost smile. It was definitely getting closer.

Once his top half was done I knelt on hard stone tiles, soaping up his feet and ankles. Spray from the shower drifted down over me, keeping me warm. Face to face with it or not, I ignored his thickening cock. It wasn’t time yet. The muscles in his long, lean legs were so nice. I really needed to look up their names. He flinched when I did the back of his knees.

“Ticklish?” I asked, grinning up at him.

“I’m too manly to be ticklish.”

“Ah.” I dragged the soap over the hard length of his thighs, back and forth. Damned if he wouldn’t be the cleanest, sparkliest rock ‘n’ roll drummer in the whole wide world. Water slid over his body, highlighting all the ridges and dips, the curve of his pecs and the satin of his skin. I should just call him cake and eat him with a spoon.

“You going higher?” Desire deepened his voice.

“Eventually.” I soaped up my hands and put the bar of soap aside. “Why?”

“No reason.”

The “no reason” was pointing right at me all large and demanding. I held it aside with one hand, slipping the other between his legs. His hard dick warmed the palm of my hand. A woman with more patience wouldn’t have curved her fingers around it, squeezed tight. I was so crap at waiting.

Mal sucked in a breath, his six-pack contracting sharply.

“I love your ass.” I said, tracing soapy fingers along the crack before cradling his balls. Every part of him was sublime, body and soul. The good and the bad and the difficult. The times I wanted him to be serious and the times I didn’t have a f**king clue where he was at. He always made me want more while making me profoundly thankful for what I had at the same time.

Because I had him, it was right there in his eyes.

“No idea how I got so lucky.” I nuzzled his hip bone, sliding my fingers over the smooth skin of his cock.

“You love my ass that much?”

“No, it’s more of an all-of-you kind of thing.”

I gave his c**k another squeeze and his eyes went hazy in the way I liked so much. Things had definitely woken up between my legs, but this was all about him. The tips of his fingers drifted over the sides of my face, his touch gentle, reverent.

Enough playing around.

I guided the head of his c**k into my mouth and sucked hard. Hands dug into my wet hair, holding on tight. My tongue flicked over the top of him, teasing the sensitive rim before dipping below to rub against his sweet spot. I took him in deeper, sucking hard, again and again. His h*ps shifted, pressing him farther into my mouth. I’d never perfected the art of deep throating, sorry. Mal made me want to learn. Something told me he wouldn’t be adverse to some practice time. With one hand I cradled his balls, massaging. The other stayed wrapped tight around the root of his penis, stopping him from going too far and gagging me. But I took him as far as I could, pulling back to lavish him with attention from my tongue. Tracing the thick veins and toying with the slit.

The fingers in my hair drew tight, stinging ever so slightly. But it was fine. It was all good. I f**king loved being able to do this to him.

I drew him in deep and sucked hard, working him. He came with a shout, pumping into my mouth as far as my hand would let him. I swallowed.

And they said romance was dead.

He stood, panting, arms hanging slack and eyes closed. Fuck, he was perfect. I slowly stood, my numb knees shaky. After oral, there always seemed to be this moment of shyness. Maybe I should have been smug, thrown in some swagger. There wasn’t really the space for it in the shower, however.

Mal opened his eyes and stared at me, his arms going around my shoulders. He drew me in, placing soft kisses on my face.

“Thanks,” he said, the word muffled against my skin.

“You’re welcome.”

“I’m sorry about your parents, pumpkin. So f**king sorry.”

My fingers tightened on his hips, involuntarily. One day, I’d stop reacting like that and I’d let it go. “I’m sorry about your mom.”

“Yeah.” He rubbed my arms briskly, smooched the top of my head. “We need to think happy thoughts. And order a shitload of bacon and eggs. And waffles too. You like waffles?”

“Who doesn’t like waffles?”

“Exactly. Anyone who doesn’t like waffles should be put in the f**king penal system. Lock ’em up and throw away the key.”

“Absolutely.”

“No more sad stuff today,” he said, voice gruff.

He picked up the soap and started washing me, paying particular attention to my br**sts.

“There’s just one more thing I think we should talk about,” I said, as he worked hard at rubbing some imaginary spot from my left nipple. It felt rather nice, truth be told.


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