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|Without Me(Men of Inked #7) by Chelle Bliss|
“Wait!” I yelled, not ready to say goodbye.
“Come on, Max. This fool isn’t worth your time and I don’t feel like spending the night in jail again for assault.”
If I didn’t know better, I’d think he was a Gallo. Although I wanted to fight him just to show that I was worthy, I knew it wasn’t the way. If some dickhead was fucking with Izzy, getting in a fistfight with any of my brothers wasn’t the way to win her heart. I couldn’t let my temper and need for her cloud my judgment.
“I’m ready,” she said as she reached for her purse.
I clenched my hands at my sides, and it took everything in me not to reach out to her.
Without another word, Max and Denzel turned and headed for the door.
“Turn and look at me,” I repeated over and over as I watched her stroll toward the exit. I held my breath, waiting for it.
Before she disappeared through the doorway, she turned and gave me one quick glance before vanishing in the shadow of her brother.
I sucked in a breath, feeling like I’d been hit by a ton of bricks. Never in my life had I experienced something so powerful. To have it ripped away from me so fast and without any warning hurt like hell.
This wasn’t the end.
It couldn’t be.
I wouldn’t give up on finding her again.
I needed to know her.
I craved her.
The feel of her skin, the way her mouth tasted—they’d left me wanting more. And I never gave up on something I wanted. Not without a fight.
Evade and Capture
I spent the next two Friday nights at the Ritz hoping to run into Max. Instead, I ran into Candy.
Again, I explained to her that I wasn’t interested. If Maxine walked in and saw me with Candy, everything would be shot to hell. Candy was a persistent little thing, but I did my best to rid myself of her.
On the third Friday night, I finished my drink and headed for the door. It was another night wasted, ending in failure. Tucking my hands in my pockets, I walked down the sidewalk toward the parking garage. Ybor City was busier than normal tonight. People lined the streets, filling the tiny café tables outside. The lights over the street twinkled, and there was energy to the area I’d often missed after a night of playing a gig. Usually, by the time I walked out of the Ritz, the only thing I cared about was getting home. I didn’t stop to take in my surroundings.
As I walked by the Corona King, something made me stop. When I turned toward the tables, I saw her.
Maxine was sitting toward the back, near the doors, nursing a beer. She didn’t see me as she was typing on her phone, oblivious to the world.
Staying out of her line of sight, I walked the outside edge of the tables and headed straight for her. It might have been my only chance to talk to her again. I wasn’t going to let it slip past me.
She didn’t notice my approach or that I stood behind her, watching her movements. Tonight, she wasn’t wearing a T-shirt—she had opted for jeans, heels, and a white off-the-shoulder top with lace sleeves. Her black, pin-straight hair was pulled back into a low ponytail that trailed down her back. She simply looked stunning, more beautiful than I remembered.
“Is this seat taken?”
Her body stilled, the furious typing on her screen ceasing. “It’s taken,” she replied without even a glance.
“What about the other two chairs at the table?” I wouldn’t give up that easily. I knew stubborn women, and eventually, I could wear away their steely veneer.
“Those are too.” She started to type on her phone again, pretending I wasn’t there.
“When your friends get here, I’ll get up,” I said as I pulled out the chair and made myself comfortable.
“For the love of God,” she muttered, closing her eyes as she set the phone on the table.
“I happened to be walking by and saw you sitting here alone. I had to stop and say hello. It would be rude of me not to.” I relaxed back in the chair, resting my elbow on the arm.
It took everything in me not to place a kiss on her luscious lips. Instead, I ran my finger across mine, trying to soothe the ache I felt.
“Did you just get done singing?” she asked, staring straight ahead. She still hadn’t looked at me. All progress I’d made the first night had vanished.
“You noticed me,” I whispered, thrusting out my chest.
“What?” she asked, tearing at the label on her beer.
“You noticed me singing.”
“How could I not? You were screeching like a howler monkey.” She rolled her eyes.
“You’re a horrible liar, Max.” I loved the sound of her name. Although “Kitty Cat” would always hold a special place in my heart, Max sounded badass, and she was that and more.
I knew it.
One look at her and I had known she was the most interesting woman in the world. If nothing else, I needed to get to know her. I wouldn’t rest until I did.
“What was your name again?” she asked as she balled up the paper she’d torn off her beer bottle with her fingertips.
Normally, I’d have been wounded by a woman forgetting my name, but I wasn’t. She knew my name. I knew she did. She was fucking with me, pretending I wasn’t important enough to remember. But her body had once again betrayed her. As soon as she’d heard my voice, she’d frozen. Whether she admitted it or not, she remembered me.
“Why do you have to lie, Max? You know exactly who I am.” I dropped my hand from my face and drifted forward in the chair. Resting my hand on the table, I moved my fingers within centimeters of hers.