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|Without Me(Men of Inked #7) by Chelle Bliss|
My stomach dropped. “Stop right there,” I said, holding up my hand. “You will not disrespect Max. Candy, I don’t know who you think you are, but this is a family affair and I’d prefer another waitress.” I put my arm around Max, drawing her head to mine and placing a kiss on her cheek.
“So would I,” Max inserted as she glared at Candy.
“I was going to say that we were at the Ritz and you two were talking. Jesus, I’m not total trash. Congrats, asshole,” she retorted before stomping off.
“What the fuck was that about?” Denzel asked, turning to watch Candy storm away.
“Anthony always had problems with the ladies,” Mike answered for me.
“There weren’t any problems, that’s the issue,” Max said.
“Enough about Candy, for shit’s sake. I have the woman I want sitting next to me and nothing and no one will ruin it,” I declared.
“I’ll go get another waitress,” Denzel said as he left the table.
As the girls began to chat, I kept my eyes trained on Denzel. He spoke with the bartender, motioning to our table with his head as their eyes found their way to our spot. Before he walked back to the table, he found Candy and grabbed her by the arm. They were having a heated conversation from the looks of it. She kept glancing toward our table as she spoke to him.
“All set,” Denzel said as he sat back in his chair.
“What was that about?” Max asked, tilting her head toward where Candy and Denzel had just spoken.
“Nothing. Just making sure we’re left alone.”
“Denzel, you don’t always have to come to my rescue,” she said as she rolled her eyes.
“You’ll always be my baby sister, and I’m sure as these fine gentleman sitting here can attest to, I’ll protect you forever, Max.”
“Men are impossible.”
“We’ve known that for years.” Mia snickered. “Welcome to the Gallos.”
“Don’t worry,” Izzy told Max. “They think they run the show, but we know who really holds the power.”
“Lies,” I muttered as a new waitress set down three bottles of Dom Pérignon chilling in ice buckets at the center of the table and another girl placed champagne flutes in front of each person.
Joe, James and I grabbed a bottle and started to fill the glasses. When everyone had a full glass, Joe stood from his chair and held the champagne in the air, clearing his throat.
“We have a lot to celebrate tonight. First to Max and Anthony and their upcoming wedding: may you find the happiness that only lives in the movies. I never thought I’d live to see the day, but I’m damn proud of you. Max, welcome to the family and I hope you always find it in your heart to forgive my brother for being such an asshole.”
“It’s what I love about him most,” Max added as she raised her glass higher.
“I thought it was my giant cock?” I teased, which earned me an elbow to the ribs.
Joe continued, ignoring my comment, “We’d also like to celebrate Thomas returning safely to the family. Angel, thank you for making my brother happier than I’ve seen him in a long time.” Thomas and Angel both nodded at Joe with smiles. “Denzel and Brenda, welcome to the family. What used to be five is now twelve. We’ve been blessed and the best is yet to come.” He raised his glass and everyone followed suit.
“Big pansy,” Mike muttered as he lifted the glass to his lips.
“Don’t fuckin’ start with me,” Joe growled, setting his glass on the table.
“So, Max,” Mia said between sips. “What kind of dress are you going to wear?”
“I don’t want to know,” I said quickly. “It’s bad luck.”
“Dumbass, its bad luck to see the bride in the dress before the wedding.” James sighed and rubbed his forehead.
“I don’t give a shit. I’m taking no chances.”
“Why don’t we switch places so the girls can all gab while you boys talk about whatever it is you talk about?” Brenda said.
“Fantastic plan,” Mia said, shooing Mike away. “Everyone switch.”
“But I want to sit next to my fiancée,” I whined, and didn’t move.
“Fine,” Izzy said with a groan. “You two stay where you are and the rest of us will move. Because, ya know, the universe revolves around your ass.”
“I know it does. At least for tonight, since it’s our celebration, little sister.”
“Whatever,” she whispered, and rolled her eyes again.
James leaned over, speaking in Izzy’s ear. “If you roll your eyes one more time, I swear I’m going to spank your ass.”
I sat up straight. James had threatened Izzy. I’d never heard him say he’d spank her. I thought about standing and intervening, but I changed my mind when she looked him right in the eyes and rolled her beautiful blues backward.
He bit his lip, hiding his amusement as he gripped her arm. “Excuse us. I need to talk to Izzy really quick,” he said as he tipped his head to everyone. Izzy smiled and almost skipped away as James kept hold of her.
“What the fuck was that about?” Mike asked as he sat down next to me.
“You don’t want to fuckin’ know,” I replied as I shook my head. “Some shit you just can’t unhear.”
“Shit is the truth, brother.”
It was the first night in a long time that everything seemed to fall into place. As a group, we just fit together. The additions of our significant others didn’t make our love diminish or alter the way we felt for each other. No. It had made us a stronger unit and a force to be reckoned with. We were the Gallos—even Denzel would get his honorary membership for the way he handled Candy.