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|Without Me(Men of Inked #7) by Chelle Bliss|
It was the ultimate payback for being a cocky asshole my entire life. Karma wasn’t done with me yet.
* * *
The day my brother returned home should’ve been a day to celebrate. When he walked in the door, I’d been texting Max and we’d been having a war of words and my mood had turned to shit. Although I wanted to join the rest of the family in welcoming him home, my mind was filled with anger toward Max.
I tried to ignore my phone, pushing her out of my mind while listening to Thomas. Seeing him sitting in my parents’ house brought me a bit of solace even as my world had been turned upside down.
On his second Sunday dinner, Thomas brought his girlfriend. Again, I’d been fighting with Max. It was all we seemed to do lately. My family was too wrapped up in him and his girlfriend, Angel, to realize that I was seriously pissed off as well as depressed. I was thankful, because the last thing I wanted to do was have a long conversation about how I’d become a pansy and joined the dark side.
The only person who noticed was Thomas. Even with the overwhelming reception he’d received after being gone for months, he saw right through me. I confessed, telling him as much about the situation as I felt comfortable with.
Although I wanted to spill my secrets and aggravations to Thomas, he didn’t need the hassle. He had enough to deal with at the moment to have to worry about my dumb ass.
Walking out the door on Max weeks ago had been the easy part. Living with the pain from the aftermath had become excruciating. There were times I wanted to turn my phone off. Seeing her messages every day reminded me that I couldn’t touch her. Even though I wanted to ignore her words and not respond, I couldn’t.
My need for any type of communication got the better of me. The one thing I wouldn’t do was beg her to give me another shot. I was done with that shit. When she begged me to see her, it took everything in me to say no. She asked if we could meet and just talk, but I knew how it would end up. There would be very little talking, lots of fucking, and I’d leave most likely after she threw me out. I wouldn’t do it again. I couldn’t relive the last few weeks.
The pain had finally started to dull, the ache in my chest turning into a twinge every once in a while. I wouldn’t do it. I couldn’t afford the pain. I was too old to deal with the bullshit and life was too fucking short.
When my brother called the family together because Angel had been kidnapped, I didn’t have time to think about Max. We worked together, bringing her home safely. When we arrived at Thomas’s house afterward, the entire family had gathered. Each person had their loved one waiting for them, but not me. I had no one.
To say that it hurt would be an understatement. What I wouldn’t have given to see Max standing there, waiting to see that I was okay. It wasn’t in the cards. I’d only thought about her a couple of times in the last forty-eight hours since the insanity of Angel’s abduction occurred.
But seeing everyone hugging and kissing with tears in their eyes had made me grouchier. Every feeling that had simmered beneath the surface was ready to bust free. I didn’t stay and celebrate with everyone. My heart wasn’t in it. I should’ve been elated, but Max’s absence in my life made me feel like shit.
I grabbed a bottle of tequila on the way home and decided to drink myself into oblivion. I was tired and ready to make it all disappear. What better way to do it than at the bottom of a bottle?
I was mortified and defeated.
The words I wanted to say to him were stuck on my tongue, but I couldn’t say them. Even when my mother threatened me, I still couldn’t. I didn’t want him to know. It was my secret. It was something that only my family and my closest friends knew.
I didn’t want him to look at me differently. I wouldn’t be able to survive it. When he walked out the door yet again, I held back the anguish I felt as my insides were shattering.
“What is wrong with you, Max?” My mother shook her head as she climbed to her feet. “That man seems to really like you, and you’re being selfish.”
“Mother,” I snapped as I jumped to my feet. “If I were selfish, I’d let him be mine. I’m saving him from me. He can’t fall in love with me. He just can’t.” I paced the tiny area between the coffee table and couch. He couldn’t. I wouldn’t allow it.
“He already does, child.”
“Ma, what he says and does are two different things.”
“I can tell by the way he lit up when you walked in the room. I haven’t heard a man fight so hard for the love of a woman. Can’t you see how he feels about you?”
I stopped dead in my tracks. “I do! That’s why I pushed him away, Mama. It’s not fair for him. It’s not right of me to love him.” I began to pace again.
She gripped my arms, stopping me as she shook me. “Baby, you deserve love as much as everybody else. If you don’t get your head out of your ass, you’re going to spend the rest of your life alone.”
“I have you, my family, and friends. I don’t need anyone else.”
“Lies. I won’t be here forever, Max. Your friends and family have their own loved ones. We all need somebody in life. Don’t push away a man that’s willing to fight for you.”
She held up her hand. “I don’t want to hear it. Go tell that man that you love him and make him understand why you’ve been acting like a fool.”
“I can’t,” I whispered as my eyes flooded with tears.