“Fast work,” said David with a hint of a smile.
“My boys can swim.” Mal winked.
“I don’t think you can actually tell that soon, dickhead.” Jimmy crossed his arms, leaning against the wall of windows. “Science and stuff, right?”
“A real man knows when his woman is knocked up, Jimbo. I don’t expect you to understand.”
“A real man, huh?” Jimmy pushed off the window, walking slowly toward Mal. His smile would’ve given a shark second thoughts. Hell, they were both smiling. What was it about males that they felt this primal need to beat the shit out of each other for the fun of it? Why?
“Guys,” said Ev. “No punching at my do-over wedding, playful or otherwise.”
“What about bitch-slapping?” asked Mal, swinging his arm in Jimmy’s direction.
“Let’s not.” I grabbed his hand and dragged it down by my side before he could do anyone any damage. “And Jimmy is right. Forty-eight hours is a bit too soon to tell. Not that we’re trying,” I hastened to add.
Mal’s brows drew in as he gave me a wounded look. “I can’t believe you’d side with him against me. That really hurts, Anne. You, of all people, should know my sperm is of superior quality.”
“You wouldn’t believe how long I could go never hearing you talk about your spunk, man.” Ben shook his head.
“Don’t be down, dude. It’s only natural my alpha sperm would make you feel pitifully inadequate.”
With a long groan, Jimmy covered his face. “You should have just let me hit him. If anyone ever needed some f**king sense knocked into them …”
“I’ll hold him down,” Ben offered.
“Knock it off,” said David.
Mal opened his lips, eyes alight with glee. So I slapped my hand over his mouth, quick smart.
“Mal, why don’t we discuss your sperm later?” I suggested. He kissed my palm and slowly I lowered my hand. “Thank you. And we are not having a baby.”
“Okay, Anne. Whatever you say, Anne.”
Ben laughed. “What, you pu**y whipped now?”
Without comment, David reached out and smacked the bigger man over the back of the head.
“Thanks, Davie.” Mal drew me back into his arms.
“That was for Anne,” said David. “Enough embarrassing shit while the girls are around. Act your f**king age, guys.”
“A shovel, Malcolm. A rusty old shovel. That’s your fate if you upset my friend. Keep it in mind.” Ev stepped forward to give me a kiss on the cheek. “I wish you all the luck in the world with him. You’re a brave woman.”
“Yes, I’m beginning to think so.”
“I like the way he looks at you,” she said quietly. “That’s new.”
“Your second wedding was beautiful.” I gave her my biggest, brightest smile, sidestepping the subject of my new fake boyfriend entirely.
Ev threw an arm around her husband’s neck, smacking a kiss on his cheek. “Yes it was. It was amazing.”
“Love you, baby.” David kissed her back.
“Love you too.”
He whispered something in her ear. Something that made her giggle. “We can’t–my parents are here. Later.”
David’s mouth turned downward.
“Does this mean you’re coming on tour, Anne?” asked Ev. “Please say yes.”
“Absolutely!” Mal hugged me to him, squeezing me tight enough to make me wheeze. My feet even briefly left the ground.
“I don’t know about that. I haven’t had a chance to ask for any time off yet.” I wiggled around until Mal gave me breathing room. He didn’t allow me much beyond it, however. No biggie, I could ignore him and the crazy feelings he inspired, both. It would’ve been cool to experience life on the road, but I wasn’t actually invited. Plus work, Lizzy, real life, and all that. “When does the tour start, by the way?”
“First show’s in Portland in five days’ time.”
“Five days?” I hadn’t been able to afford tickets when they went on sale a few months back. And of course they’d sold out in a matter of minutes. Denied attendance, I’d deliberately ignored what the bulk of the city was buzzing about. Call it petty jealousy, if you will.
My time with Mal was so short. My stomach dropped and my heart ached. The knowledge hurt. No matter how scarily stupid his kisses made me, I didn’t want him to go. He made life better, brighter. How idiotic of me to have gotten attached. I hadn’t meant to, but the evidence was clear.
“Don’t look so sad, pumpkin.” He gently cupped my chin, eyes serious. “We’ll work something out.”
“Guys, they’re ready to do photos.” Lauren stood in the doorway, a full champagne flute in hand. After some grumbling, Jimmy headed inside. Ev and David, arm in arm, followed behind him.
“Great acting,” whispered Mal, laying a soft kiss upon my neck. “I honestly thought you were about to burst into tears.”
Funny, I’d thought I might too. I huffed out a laugh and gave him my best fake smile. “I played one of the wicked witches in my middle school’s production of The Wizard of Oz.”
“That explains it.”
“It was basically just lying down dead at the start, pretending to be squished while wearing cool red shoes.”
“Bet you were the best squished girl ever.”
“Thanks. And pregnant? Really?”
He rolled his eyes and pressed a kiss to my cheek. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Just got carried away. Do you forgive me?”
I held out for all of two seconds. “Yes.”
“Thank you. That’s very kind of you. I really didn’t mean to stress you out in your delicate condition.”
“Coming?” asked David, looking back over his shoulder.
“I’ll just wait out here,” I said, stepping back from Mal while I still could. Immediately the cold evening air rushed in, chilling me.
David shook his head. “No, Anne. You too. If you’re with him, you’re family. Let’s get it done with so we can kick back and relax.”
“You heard the groom.” Mal grabbed my hand, drawing me in again. “Just one thing first.”
With the gleam in his eye, I should’ve known. His lips descended, pressing against mine. His arms wound around me, hauling me up against him. My gasp of surprise was just the entry into my mouth he needed. Turned out he knew how to evil laugh and kiss me senseless at the same time. I shouldn’t have been surprised about that either. Despite that, the kiss was soul-shatteringly gentle. He kissed me sugar sweet until my head spun and my heart pounded. My knees knocked and my girl parts cried mercy.
And still he kissed me.
“How was that?” he asked eventually, staring into my undoubtedly dazed eyes. “Better?”
He breathed out through his nose, his brows drawn tight. “Shit, I’m still not getting it right. I’m going to figure this kissing thing out. I am. We just gotta keep trying. Never say die!”
I was done for.
I studied my reflection in the hallway mirror as the party continued out in the living room. One side of my bottom lip was slightly bigger than the other. Honestly, it was. I looked ridiculous. The drummer was nuts. He’d always been riding the edge of needing immediate admission to a nice, soft, padded white room. And for a while, it had even been kind of charming in an offbeat fashion. But now he’d officially lost all semblance of control.
Did I like biting? No. No I did not. Same went for nibbling and most especially hickeys. The mark on my neck did not impress and I’m pretty certain there was a bruise just above my ass from him grinding me into the kitchen counter.
Needless to say¸ his rough lovin’ experiment hadn’t been a success.
“God damn maniac.”
“Sorry?” asked the woman waiting beside me for the main bathroom.
“Nothing. Just cursing out loud.” I gave her a bland, social smile. “Don’t mind me.”
She nodded and reapplied her lip gloss with the precision of an artist before proceeding to positioning her br**sts. What were the chances of me having an early-twenties growth spurt and developing br**sts like those? I wished.
“You’re with Malcolm Ericson, right?” she asked.
“Right.” I wouldn’t say that I preened exactly, but I did run my fingers through my hair.
The smile she gave me seemed less than sincere despite being blindingly bright. “I think that’s really brave of you.”
“Dating out of your weight range like that.” Her eyes met mine in the bathroom mirror. They were a dark, evil, pretty hazel kind of color. “I mean, you’re clearly not at his level. But why not enjoy him while you can, right?”
I checked in the mirror. But amazingly enough, there was no steam coming out of my ears. My mouth opened, but it took a moment for me to find the words. “Did you really just say that?”
“What?” She did a nervous giggle, hair-flicking thing.
“I’m a complete stranger to you.”
“Hey, I think it’s great. Go sister and all that.”
What petty jealousy bullshit. No way was I giving this bitch the power to make me feel little. “I’m not your sister. I have a sister and she would never say something like that to me.”
The woman’s perfectly glossy lips popped open.
“Seriously, honey,” I said. “Your manners are appalling. Go f**k yourself.”
The bathroom door opened and I took my turn, closing the door with a little more zest than needed. My shoulders were up around my ears when I strode back out to the party, the slight throbbing in my lip almost forgotten. I did not look back at the bitch.
People. God damn it.
Hard rock music thumped through me, keeping my agitation fresh. I wanted to hit something. Not someone, but something. Just give an innocent wall a smack with my hand to let out some of the pressure building inside me. I slowed down my breathing, tried to quiet my ranting mind.
Everything was fine.
Mal, Jimmy, and Ben stood to the side, sipping their drinks, ignoring the hopeful glances of the girls nearby. Crap, was this what it was like for them all the time? It had to get old. A few paces away, Lena chatted to a woman her own age. Her gaze kept sliding back to Jimmy in a way that didn’t exactly express professional interest. Imagine that.
Out of the confined space, I could breathe again. It was all good.
“What’s up?” Mal asked when I got closer.
Behind us, the woman strutted out of the bathroom, throwing my fake boyfriend a big fake grin. Not a hint of shame about her.
“Promise me something,” I said.
I stopped, smiled. “You didn’t even hesitate.”
“You’re pissed about something.” He leaned down, making our conversation private despite the packed room. “What’s wrong?”
“Promise me you won’t sleep with her.” I nodded to the beast in question. She was now busy talking to an elderly man, smiling and nodding. In all likelihood, she was Ev’s cousin or something equally harmless, not the Harpy Queen of Darkness. Still didn’t make her behavior right.
Also sometime soon, I should try to not insult someone every time I entered this building. A great idea.
“I won’t sleep with her,” said Mal.
“And you won’t have sex with her either.”
He rolled his eyes.
“Just to clarify.”
“What’d she do to you, Anne?”