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“She insulted me. But it’s fine.” I just needed to know she’d never get near him. Now my soul was at peace. “Carry on with your partying.”

Mal’s face hardened, his mouth drawing tight. “What the f**k did she say?”

“Doesn’t matter. I might get another drink. I have no idea where I left mine and suddenly alcohol sounds like a really good idea. I feel I need the social lubrication.” I started toward the kitchen, all well once again with my world. Justice would prevail. Mal’s pants were closed to the woman.

A hand hooked my elbow, drawing me back into the bathroom. It was a nice bathroom. Dark gray stone surfaces, shiny chrome features. A great bathroom, really, but I didn’t need to spend quite this much time in it.

“Mal?”

He slammed the door shut. Whoa, his eyes. There was not a single hint of happy. “What did she say to you?”

“Hey, really, it’s okay.” I rested my hip against the counter, setting the right example and trying to play it cool. This level of emotion had not been expected.

“Anne.”

“I just needed to know she wasn’t going to get what she wanted, namely you. Blame it on my little black vindictive heart,” I joked.

He did not laugh.

Face still set in furious lines, he stalked toward me, backing me into the counter. The hard gray stone edge connected smack bam with the bruise on my back from earlier. It hurt.

“Ouch.” I rubbed at the sore spot, wincing.

“What?”

“I think I’ve got a bruise from the kitchen bench. Your fault.”

He harrumphed in a strangely sexy manner (it had truly never occurred to me that noise could be a turn-on). “I already said sorry about that.”

He picked me up by the waist and set me on top of the counter. His able hands pushed my knees apart as far as my skirt would allow and he stepped between.

“Ah, hey there.” I put my hands to his shoulders, pressing against the cool material of his suit jacket. “Ease back a bit.”

“Tell me what she said.”

“Why? You going to challenge her to a duel? Pistols at dawn?”

“You read too many books.”

“No such thing!” I cried, aghast.

“No duel. But I’ll sure as hell have her ass thrown out of here.”

“Mal, seriously. I dealt with it. It’s okay.”

He just stared at me.

“I very politely thanked her for her opinion and told her to go f**k herself.”

The tension in his face eased a little. “You told her to go f**k herself?”

“Yes, I did. I channeled my inner Scarlet O’Hara and took none of her crap.”

“Good. Liking that boundary. And you’re okay now?” He set his hands on the counter either side of my hips, meaning we were damn close. Much closer with some clothes missing and we’d almost be together in the biblical sense.

“I’m all good. Though my bottom lip sort of hurts. No more biting.”

He huffed out a laugh. “Yeah, yeah. I figured that when you pulled half my hair out to get me off of you. You know you can be kind of vicious, pumpkin. I like that.”

I smiled and he smiled and everything was fine and dandy.

“You’re definitely not going to sleep with her though,” I said, just to be sure. I really didn’t like the woman. “Seriously.”

“My dick doesn’t go near anyone that’s rude to my friends. That’s not cool.”

“Your dick has good taste, then.”

His eyes went kind of hazy.

“Mal?”

“Hmm? Sorry. I like the way you say ‘dick’ and ‘taste’ in the same sentence.”

“Right.” So not going there. I squirmed ever so discreetly on the countertop. “Thank you for worrying about me. But we should go back out and join the party. People probably want to use the bathroom.”

“There’s four more.” Soft as a feather, he brushed his lips across mine. Every nerve in my body kick-started at the contact.

“I’ll make you feel better, Anne.”

“Ah, yeah. I already said I was feeling fine. And you remember that line in the sand you drew about us not getting involved in a sexual manner and stuff? You’re messing with it big-time tonight.”

“It’s not a problem.”

“It kind of is. I don’t want to be your joke, Mal.”

“My joke? What the hell are you talking about?” His hands slid around to my butt and suddenly I was pulled in against him. All of him. And by the feel, there was a lot of him in a good and hard mood.

I squeaked and wrapped my legs around his hips. Honest to god, I didn’t mean to. It was an accident. When he pressed his c**k against me it made thinking impossible. My hormones were seizing control. All of this talk of babies had obviously given them ideas. Still, I made a token effort to resist. “Okay, big guy. That’s enough.”

Gently, he kissed my bottom lip. “Still hurting?”

“Totally cured.” Oh I hurt, I ached. A bit more of the pressure from his pelvis, making my mind reel, would do the job, however. I rocked against him, unable to stop myself. My eyelids slid half closed. Damn, he felt good.

“You’re not my joke, Anne. You’re my friend. One I am very f**king into for lots of reasons.”

I couldn’t help but smile. “You’re my friend too.”

“But you know, it’s okay for us to relax and have some fun.” He demonstrated this point by kneading my ass. “You don’t have to be so wound up all the time. I’m not going to let anything bad happen.”

Malcolm Ericson might have been a lot of things, but omnipotent wasn’t one of them. Bad things happened. It was a fact of life.

“What are you thinking about?” he asked, grinding himself against me once more, derailing my sadness.

“Nothing.” Sex. Stress. A bit of both, really.

“I really like your dress.”

“Thanks. The suit’s nice; you look incredible.”

“I been thinking about this kissing problem we got.”

“There’s no kissing problem. Everyone believes we’re together so … job well done Team Mal and Anne.” I raised a fist high. “Yay.”

He chuckled softly. “See? You can be funny.”

I gave him what had to be a dazed smile. Man, he was beautiful, especially up close like this. He angled his head and nudged my cheek with his nose, kissing the corner of my mouth. Fingers toyed with the zipper on the back of my dress. Not moving it, just casually threatening me with its imminent descent. Good god, did I enjoy being threatened in this way by him. My ni**les hardened, more than ready to be on display. They so had no sense.

“Been thinking,” he said. “Maybe you need to be kissed in other places.”

The man was a f**king genius.

Ever so slowly, he tugged the zipper down an inch or two. His smile dared me to stop him. Pity I’d lost all power over my limbs. The zipper went lower, loosening the bodice of my dress, making the front gape. Mal slipped a finger in the neckline, drawing the black lace out a ways.

“You not going to stop me?” he asked in a soft voice.

“Any minute now.” Not a chance.

Then he looked down. Hopefully, he appreciated br**sts of all types. If he was a size-based guy, this would not end well.

“Anne. Fuck.” He swallowed hard. A very good sign. Softly, his fingers traced over the hollow at the base of my throat.

“Yes?”

“You are so damn–”

Somebody hammered on the door, knocking me out of my lust fog.

“Mal, it’s time,” a voice hollered.

No. NO!

“Wha–?” Mal turned, scowling, while I got busy frantically holding my dress in place.

The door opened and Ben stuck his head in.

“Fuck’s sake, man,” said Mal, voice tight and furious. “Anne could’ve been naked.”

Ben scoffed. “You never cared who saw what before. And if it’s an issue, there’s a lock on the door, dickhead.”

“Rules have changed.”

“Shit, man,” said Ben, flashing his teeth in a big smile. “You’re actually serious.”

“Of course I’m f**king serious. This is my f**king girlfriend, you moron.”

Ben’s gaze flitted over my body. “Yeah well, your f**king girlfriend’s pretty cute. You know what? I think I like her.”

Every part of Mal tensed. There was fire in his eyes. “You–”

“No.” I grabbed hold of the lapels of his jacket. “No fighting.”

He looked at me, nostrils flaring. What was it about weddings that invited so much drama?

“I mean it,” I said. “This is Ev and David’s special night.”

But Ben was apparently having far too much fun to stop now. “Remember that time we shared a girl in Berlin? That was good … real good. Always thought I’d like to try that again. What do you say, Anne? Up for a bit of fun? Promise we’ll take good care of you.”

Mal snarled and I lunged, getting him in a strangle hold. I was basically hanging off him. Damn, the man was strong. Ben might be huge, but given Mal’s current mood, I wouldn’t bet against him in a fair fight. The muscles in his neck were bulging.

“Mal?” I said his name in my super calm and in control voice. Under different circumstances I’d have probably made an awesome therapist. “Are you listening to me?”

“Yeah.” His hands gripped my ass, taking some of my weight. A good thing. Dangling from someone’s neck was harder than it looked.

“Everything’s fine. Ignore him,” I said. “Ben, get out.”

The jerk waggled his eyebrows at me.

“Now.”

“Sure, Anne. No worries.” He winked at me, closing the door.

“Be calm, Mal. The bad man is gone.”

“I’m calm,” he growled, holding me to him.

“He didn’t mean it. He was just messing with you.”

“Didn’t you see the way he looked at you? Idiot meant it.” Mal hugged me tight. “Piece of shit’s bad as Jimmy sometimes. Should have kicked his ass.”

“Hey now, harness that inner caveman. You’re very aggressive tonight.”

“I don’t like people saying stuff about you. You shouldn’t have to put up with that.”

“Well, that’s sweet. But I don’t need you beating up anybody for me.”

“Four of us have been beating each other up since we were kids. It happens.” One handed, Mal tugged my zipper back up into place. Then he pierced me with a hard look. “You didn’t want to, did you?”

“Generally, I do prefer one penis at a time. It’s a failing of mine, I guess …”

“Good.”

I gave him a kiss on the cheek because a jealous Mal was an awesome sight. “What was he talking about ‘it’s time’?”

“Davie wants to play a few songs for Ev. We gotta go back out.” He sighed and sat me back on the counter. His hands rubbed over my sides. “You okay?”

“Yes.”

Still he frowned.

“You know, you can be kind of intense sometimes, Malcolm Ericson.”

His watched me in silence.

“You come across as this happy-go-lucky-type dude most of the time, but you are in fact a man of many layers. You’re kind of complicated.”

“Surprised?”

“Yes. And no.”

“And you call me complicated. You gonna dance with me later?” he asked, shaking off the bad mood.

“I’d love to.”

“You wanted another drink, didn’t you? C’mon, let’s go get that before I set up.” He lifted me down, his hands on my hips, treating me with the utmost care.


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