He looks so good in his uniform. Those muscular arms strain his tight black tee and I want to lean against something and sigh. He wears a pair of black jeans that look as if they were made for him, encasing his strong legs. His belt buckle gleams and his black dress shoes look just polished. Shaking his head, he tells me, “Nuh uh. Called Meems, told her you were comin’ in with me tonight.”

My eyes widen, my mouth gapes and I snap, “You think you could’ve told me, asshat?”

His face drops as he mutters, “The fuck I do now?”

Shaking my head, I exhale loudly in frustration and explain in an almost shout, “It’s a process, Ash! It takes time to get ready to go clubbing. I haven’t touched my hair or makeup yet. I don’t even know what I’m going to wear tonight!”

His face lifts again and he smiles, “The dress you wore last week was hot. Wear that.”

I scoff in disbelief and tell him, “There are rules for dressing, babe! Number one is do not wear the same thing twice in a row.”

His face becomes serious. He stares into oblivion and he nods slowly as if he finally understands my predicament. He stalks past me and goes into my room. I hear him shuffling around and not a minute later he comes back out with tight, long sleeved red and black checkered dress and a pair of plain black pumps.

It could be worse.

It’s actually…not bad.

He looks at me cautiously through wide eyes like he’s expecting me to lose it. I roll my eyes. “Not bad, pinhead.”

He smiles. I’ve never seen Ghost smile like this. It’s an Asher smile. It’s beautiful. It makes me want to fuck up the person who took this smile away from him. I tell him quietly, “You did good, baby.”

It takes me all of fifteen minutes to get ready. Seriously, a freakin’ record for me. I wear the dress and shoes Ash picked for me, and when I walked out of the bathroom, he looked me up and down wearing a stupid smile as if he is proud of his handiwork.

Halfway to the club, he says to me, “Not wearin’ your lips tonight?”

I smirk. I was hoping he’d notice. “I will be. I’ll fix it in the mirror before we head in.”

He has no idea I’m not wearing lipstick because I have plans to do things with my lips before we enter the club.

As soon as he parks his panty-wetting muscle car into The White Rabbit’s parking lot, I wait patiently til he takes out the keys and turns to me. I climb across the seat and into his lap. I place my arms around his neck and smile softly at him. His face softens as he searches me through a tender gaze. We look into each other’s eyes for a short while and my heart races. I lean forward slowly and kiss his lips, so soft it’s barely a whisper. He growls low in his throat and captures my bottom lip, gently nipping it. Opening my mouth, I push my tongue against his and moan at the contact.

I love this man. With all my heart. He’s it for me. I’ll never find another like him.

I press into him, deepening our kiss. His arms wrap around me, constricting me, making me feel safe and warm. I reach up and cup his cheek. He pulls back a little and says, “Say it.”

Confused, I pull back further and look into his hooded eyes. He repeats, “Say it, baby.”

It dawns on me and with a small smile, I tell him sincerely, “I love you, Asher Collins.”

Looking pained, he closes his eyes and rests his forehead on mine. He whispers, “Don’t deserve you. Not even a bit. But as long as you want me, you got me.”

My eyes close and I whisper, “Don’t leave me. Ever.”

“Never. You’re my girl,” he replies seriously.

My heart swells with joy and I breathe a sigh of relief.

Tonight is going to be a good night.

***

As soon as we enter the club, it’s time to commence mission No one suspects a thing.

Basically, Ash and I have to start acting like our old selves. It’s not something I like doing, but I really do want this relationship to be just mine and his for a little longer. At least til he can tell me he loves me. He almost said it this morning but something is holding him back. I felt the waves of frustration radiating off of him. It hurt a little, but I know he’s trying. I’m doing my best to not take it personally. I know what he went through at home. As far as I’m concerned, I’m lucky he’s claiming me as his girl. That’s a big step for lil old Ghost.

Just before we enter the club, he kisses me long and hard. I’d just put on my lipstick but I don’t care. His lips are drugging. His kisses are mind-consuming. I’m a lucky, lucky girl.

Now it’s showtime.

He follows me through the door and squeezes my ass. I turn to him and see he wears his cheeky new happy smile. I’ve only had the honor of seeing it a few times before. I can’t help but chuckle at him. The real Asher is actually quite a goofy guy. Who knew what was hiding under all the broodiness?

It’s early. The club doesn’t open for another half hour. He leads me upstairs to the VIP area. He looks over at me and says, “Got shit to do,” then throws a wink my way and walks toward the security room.

I trot over to the bar to greet Stefan, the handsome barman. I say, “Howdy, Sheriff.”

He looks up at me and smiles while clutching his chest. He teases, “Be still my beating heart.”

Chuckling, I tease, “You know, I could really use a drink. I know you’re busy and all, but I want the most complicated thing you can muster. Make it a double. And I want a show, like Tom Cruise in Cocktail.”

He barks a laugh, winks at me and says quietly, “I ain’t ever too busy for you, beautiful.”

We chat and laugh and just as he starts to make my fancy drink, Tina appears by my side, hugging me and bouncing up and down. She looks at Stefan and says, “Yay! I love when Sheriff puts on a show!”

We whoop and cheer as Stefan flips and catches bottles. He mixes two drinks and hands one to Tina. We both look at it like it’s poison being that Tina’s pregnant. Trying my hardest not to be inconspicuous, I grab her drink and shoot it. Tina cheers me on and as soon as Sheriff turns around, she mouths dramatically, “Thank you, honey!” and runs a hand down her face.

I chuckle at her over-the-top dramatics.

Two hours later, we’re all seated at the booth. Asher is doing a shift of security work so he won’t be free for a few hours, but I’m having so much fun with my friends that I’m happy knowing he’s in the same vicinity as me. Max and I flirt, as per usual. He says some dirty, dirty things that makes even me blush. I spend most of the night laughing my head off at the ridiculous conversations happening and watching Nik and Tina through envious eyes.

I want that.

That carefree relationship. The love. The comfort of knowing you’re committed to your soul mate. I want it all.

Max pulls me into his side and I snuggle him. I love Max. He’s my best guy friend. I feel the booth bench depress and I turn to see a very unhappy Asher glare at me. I flush in guilt, straighten and say in perfect old Nat, “What the hell are you lookin’ at, assface?”

Ash glares at Max, leans closer to me and whispers into my ear, “Shit’s gonna hit the fan, baby. Brace yourself.”

For a second, I think he means he’s going to lose his shit and I’m worried. My worry abates when he nods over to the VIP entrance and my mouth gapes before I burst out laughing.

Oh, shitty shit shit. It’s gonna hit the fan for sure.

When they spot me laughing, everyone turns to look towards the VIP entrance. Mimi, Tina and Lola whoop in excitement. Nik, Max and Trick all wear what the fuck faces. And it’s hilarious.

Nik and Max’s sisters, Leticia, Maria and Isabel stand there all dolled up and waving excitedly.

Here’s the thing.

Isa…she’s only nineteen.

Fucking hilarious!

Rock on!

Chapter Twenty-Three

Coming out

Nik stands and yells out, “Here. Now.”

All three sisters look worried for a second. You see, Nik was a father figure in his household. His father died when he was a teenager so he took over those duties. He is, what I like to call, a fucking champ. I love Nik and couldn’t have picked a better guy for my best friend.

The sisters putter to the table with wide eyes. Nik and Max’s sisters are stunning. Leti is the oldest, Maria is the middle sister and Isa is the youngest…by a lot. Nik is almost sixteen years older than her.

Leti and Maria look like twins. They have long, dark, wavy hair. So dark it could be called black, and big dark-brown expressive eyes like their mama. Isa looks very much the same but she has big expressive amber-colored eyes like Nik and Max. And Isa is a hottie for such a tender age. Nik’s going to have a hernia when she starts dating, if she isn’t already.

Leti, as the oldest tries to pacify Nik. She places her hand up in a wait motion. “Do you think I would take my little sister out to get her into trouble, Nikolai?”

He opens his mouth to speak but Maria cuts him off with a whiny, “C’mon, Niki. Take a chill pill. She’s not drinking. She’s bored at home all alone.” When she says all alone, she takes her hand and squeezes Isa’s cheeks and I burst into laughter.

I love these girls.

Isa shakes off Maria’s hand, dips her chin and says quietly, “It’s okay, Niki. I can go. I don’t want to be a bother.”

My heart silently breaks for her but I see Nik’s is too.

He pulls her into a hug and says, “You can stay, baby, just as long as you don’t drink. I love you a hell of a lot, but I don’t want to lose my liquor license over this.”

Isa smiles and looks up at her big brother like he hangs the stars at night. He looks at her the exact same way and I suddenly miss my sisters. Tina stands and pulls Maria down next to her. They chat immediately about some new clothing that’s come into the store. Mimi hijacks Leti to talk gossip and smack about anyone and everyone. I see Isa look around the table wide-eyed. She feels out of place.

I hate that.

I wave her over, and when she gets close enough, I pull her down to sit on Asher’s side so we’re flanking him and I ask her about school. Ash smiles like a proud father and puts his arm around her. I forgot that Isa is like his sister. She would’ve been only a baby when he came to live with them. She shoots him a sweet smile before her expression turns exhausted. She says, “We’re on a break now. Thank God. I don’t know how much more I can take of it. To think there’s another three years…I think I could pass out.”

Smiling, I tell her, “My sister is in her last year of physical therapy and she says it’s worth the long haul.” She smiles softly and I say, “Hang in there, babe. It’ll be worth it in the end.”

We all chat for a while longer before Trick asks his cousin aloud, “So, Isa baby, you dating anyone?”

She flushes bright red, her eyes wide as she looks across the table at a suddenly stiff Nik and Max. She stutters, “N- No! I mean, no boys asked me out. They wouldn’t anyways. I’m not their type.”

She sounds so dejected that I reach over Asher’s lap to take her hand. I say loudly, “Then they’re stupid because you’re beautiful and smart.”

Ash looks over at me with a soft expression, his eyes suddenly gooey. I shoot him a dark look through furrowed brows and shake my head discreetly. It dawns on him. He clears his throat and scowls again.

Good boy.

Max snaps, “What do you need to date for anyways, Isa? You’re still a baby. Don’t sweat it til you’re older, honey.”

Oooh, shitballs.

I know he was trying to be the supportive brother, but not only did he call his sister a baby in front of his friends, he implied that she needn’t worry about dating…ever.

All the girls gape at Max. Their expressions say surely he’s lost his mind. Suddenly, an Isa I’ve never seen before emerges. Her eyes narrow at Max and she spits, “I’m not a damn baby, Max! I’m fucking nineteen. I’ll be twenty in a few months…and I’ve dated. A lot! And I’ve kissed guys too. Watch!”

She turns, grabs Asher’s face with both hands and pulls his stunned face down to hers. She kisses him with enthusiasm. He doesn’t move a muscle. Too stunned to react, he just sits there and takes it and I want to burst into laughter. So I do.

This is the funniest thing ever!

I love that my family is not the only one with anger issues.

Isa lets go of Asher’s face, turns to her brothers, flips them both the bird and exclaims, “Vete a la mierda!” before standing and stomping down to the ladies room.

Now, I don’t speak Spanish, but it sounded like she told both her brothers to fuck off and by the look on Nik and Max’s faces, I’d say I’m right on the money.

Nik’s face pulls into a frown as he mutters, “What the hell did I do?” He points to Max and accuses, “He’s the knucklehead.”

Leti looks devastated. She turns to Max and demands, “Fix this!”

Maria says to Max through a humorless chuckle, “You’ve done it now, Maxie Boy. Have you ever heard of finesse? Because you need it. In bucket loads. No wonder you don’t have a girlfriend.”

Max opens and shuts his mouth like a gaping fish. At least he has the grace to look guilty. Tina moves to stand but I hold out my hand and say, “Stay. I’ll check on her.” Without waiting for a response, I head over to the VIP ladies room.

As soon as I walk in, I see Isa sitting in one of the armchairs looking sadder than she should be. I plop into the chair next to her and state, “That was quite a show, honey.” She shrugs and I go on, “I gotta say I liked it when you told your brothers to fuck off.” She cracks a smile and I admit, “But my favorite part was when you made out with Ash.”

Isa covers her face with her hands and bursts into laughter. I laugh with her. We both laugh so hard that we cry. Once I get my laughter under control, I ask, “What was that about, babe?”

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