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“What about you? You weren’t seriously keeping your legs crossed until douche came to his senses, were you?” He sat in the middle of the velvet couch, pulling me down beside him, keeping me close.

“No, I’ve dated. Just not recently.”

“How not recently?” He picked up a remote and the huge TV came to life. His arm rested on the back of the couch behind me, the flat of his hand beating out a fierce rhythm.

“What do you feel like watching?” I asked.

“Not going to tell me?”

“A few months.”

Some old horror film was on. From the eighties, if the big hair and spiral perm were any indicators. A pair of barely concealed br**sts bounced their way across the screen. A woman screamed.

“This looks good,” Mal said.

“Mmm-hmm.”

“You don’t scare easily, do you?”

“No. Though it does make me sad when Johnny Depp gets turned into tomato soup.”

“Bet it does.” He smiled. “You know, I meant what I said.”

“About what?”

“About you.” He looked straight ahead, never meeting my eyes. The light from the TV lit the angles and planes of his perfect face. “I like you.”

“Thank you, Mal.”

Then why weren’t we having sex? Obviously, he didn’t like-like me. He just liked me, like he’d said.

My mind starting spinning all over again.

“You didn’t say you liked me back,” he prodded, sounding the tiniest bit insecure if my ears weren’t deceiving me.

“Oh, well.” I turned to look at him, squinting, ignoring the screaming still coming from on screen. “You are …”

“I’m what?”

“So …”

“C’mon, pumpkin, you’re taking too long. Spit it out.”

“Very …”

“Fuck it. I’m just gonna compliment myself.”

I sighed long and loud, enjoying this immensely.

“You’re hopeless at this,” he bitched.

“How about stupendous? Does stupendous work for you?”

“Hmm.” He gave me a small, satisfied smile. “Yeah. That’s not bad. I mean, it definitely starts to cover the glory that is me.”

“And egotistical. So very egotistical.”

“You lie.” His fingers danced over my sides, making me giggle and squirm. “I am humble perfection.”

“No. Don’t tickle me.”

“Admit I’m your reason for being. Admit it!” His arm came around me, pulling me back into him as I tried to escape. “Shit, don’t fall off the chair again. I can’t take any more hits to the head to save you.”

“Stop tickling me, then,” I huffed.

“Tickling you. Please. As if I’d be so immature.” A hand came up and gently pushed my head onto his shoulder and the arm around me tightened. “Shh, quiet time now.”

The warm buzz filling me was ten times better than anything alcohol could ever provide. No, a million times better, because it came with the added bonus of smelling and feeling like Mal Ericson.

“Relax,” he said.

“I’m relaxing.” Stuff happened on the big screen. None of it mattered. My eyes drifted closed as I concentrated on him. Whatever his reasons for being here, there was little chance I’d ever get what I wanted. It was the human condition to always want more. That being said, what I had for the moment was pretty damn good.

CHAPTER TWELVE

People were arguing again when I woke up. Only this time, there was no yelling. Heated whispers passed straight over my head.

“Why is my sister asleep on top of you?” asked Lizzy.

“Because I’m her boyfriend,” Mal answered. “Who are you? Anne didn’t say anything about having a sister.”

“She didn’t?”

“No. And how many people have f**king keys to this apartment, anyway? You forget the sliding bolt for a moment and it’s open city.”

“With Skye gone, just me and Lauren as far as I know.”

“Don’t say that name. She gets upset when you mention it. Her eyes go all sad and it totally bums me out.”

“What, Skye?”

“Yeah,” he growled.

“Fine, fine.” A pause. “You’re kinda hot, aren’t you?”

A disinterested grunt.

“I’m not hitting on you, idiot. She’s my sister and this is my suspicious voice. Don’t I know you from somewhere? Your face is very familiar.”

The fingers connected to the big hand cupping my ass tightened. What it was doing there, I had no idea. But did I like it? Yes. Yes I did. I was sleeping on a bed of Mal. Talk about heavenly. I couldn’t even remember falling asleep. Obviously, it had happened sometime during the gory horror movie because we were still on the velvet couch in the living room. My sister was here so it had to be Sunday morning, our day to do our duty and call mom. We always performed this unpleasant task together.

I did not want to move. Not until Wednesday at the very earliest. I was mildly hung over.

But more than that, I didn’t want to get off of Mal.

“What the hell did you do to her? Her lips are all puffy and bruised.”

“Are they?” Mal’s body moved beneath me as he no doubt lifted his head to check out the damage. “Shit. Ah, yeah. She’s a bit of a mess, isn’t she? But how was I to know if she was into biting or not if I didn’t try it out?”

“She’s not,” said Lizzy. “Or at least, I don’t think she is. Anne’s never seemed like the biting type to me. She’s more … restrained.”

“Restrained?” Mal laughed softly. “Yeah. Why don’t you go check out her bed, then tell me how restrained she is.”

Footsteps followed by a gasp. “Fuck me. It’s totaled.”

“My pumpkin’s an animal when she gets going.”

“You call her pumpkin?” My sister’s voice was filled with awe. “Does she actually answer?”

“Well, she pretends to hate it. But secretly, I know she loves it. Her face goes all soft and everything.”

Oh good god, enough. I’d basically raised this girl; she didn’t need to hear this sort of shit. Any authority I’d once had would be dust. I cracked open an eyelid. “Quiet, Mal.”

“I am your servant in all things.”

“What time is it?” I asked as a yawn almost cracked my jaw in two.

“Mal? Did she call you Mal?” asked Lizzy, coming up close beside us. My sister and I didn’t look much alike. Her hair was a pretty caramel color as opposed to my carrot. Her features were more delicate than mine, though we both had mom’s strong jawline. “No. Way.”

Ha, this would be fun.

“Strangely enough yes, way,” I said, my voice ever so slightly smug. “Mal, this is my little sister, Lizzy. Lizzy, this is Malcolm Ericson.” My sister hadn’t been quite as big a Stage Dive fan as me. Doubtful it would stop her from fangirling out, however.

As suspected, Lizzy squealed like a loon. Both Mal and I winced. “Oh my god, Anne loves you. She had an entire wall of her bedroom dedicated to you.”

“No!” Shit, how had I not seen this coming? Fear choked me. Someone had to tackle my sister, now. Take her down and lock her in a cupboard. It was absolutely for her own benefit, but mostly mine. I tried to lunge at her, but strong arms held me trapped. “Lizzy. Shut up. Please shut up. He doesn’t need to know that.”

“Tell me more, Lizzy,” demanded Mal. “A whole wall, did you say? That is fascinating. I definitely need to know more.”

“No you don’t.”

“Hush, Anne. I’m listening.”

My arms weren’t long enough to cover Lizzy’s mouth. I had to settle for Mal’s ears. I fought him, but he shook off my hands far too easily, the wily man.

“She used to write your name on her thigh in permanent marker,” my traitorous wench of a sister reported. It was official: Lizzy sucked. There was a good chance I’d soon be an only child if she kept talking. Given mom rarely noticed she had children at all, the loss shouldn’t be too debilitating long-term.

“That’s a lie!” I cried, breaking out into a cold sweat.

“Did she write it on her inner thigh? I bet it she did, the minx.” Mal grabbed my wrists, holding them against his chest. An effective means of stopping me from beating him bloody. “Did she draw little hearts with arrows sticking out of ’em too?”

“I don’t know.” My beloved sister settled into the wingback, crossing her legs. “But she did practice signing her name as Anne Ericson all the time.”

“I am so touched you’d take my name, pumpkin.” Mal attempted to smooch my fists. “No shit, that’s awesome of you. Means the world to me. My family is gonna love you.”

“La–la-la-la,” I sang at the top of my voice, drowning them both out as best I could.

“And she’d watch Stage Dive videos over and over. Except for the one where you kissed that girl.” Lizzy clicked her fingers, her face tensed in concentration. “’Last Days of Love’, that was the one. She flat-out refused to watch it, would leave the room if it came on.”

Beneath me, Mal’s body shuddered because he was laughing his ass off. The man was in hysterics. Even his eyes were bright with unshed tears, the douche canoe. A big hand curled around the back of my head, pressing my face into his neck. “Aw, Anne. Were you jealous?”

“No.” Yes. Horribly, horribly jealous. That kiss had ravaged my teenage soul and made me listen to sad songs for almost a year.

“My poor girl.”

“Shuddup.”

“I didn’t mean to kiss her. My mouth slipped,” he said, trying for earnest and failing. “I swear I was trying to keep myself pure for you. Tell me you believe me, please.”

I called him something foul.

He laughed even harder, making the whole couch shake.

Given he wasn’t letting me go any time soon, I hid my hot face in his neck as invited. Everyone in the room, I hated them. I hated them hard. It was tempting to bite him but he’d probably enjoy it. He’d certainly spent quality time nibbling at my lips and jaw after cornering me yet again at the party last night. His kissing crusade had almost undone me, but it had taken my sister to do the real damage, my own flesh and blood.

Now Mal knew everything. I was doomed.

“Lizzy, be a good girl and fetch me a pen,” said Mal. “I need to write your sister’s name on my junk, right now.”

Honest to god, I tried not to laugh. I tried so hard.

“How about I go make coffee instead?” Lizzy hauled herself to her feet. “You know she usually has breakfast cooked for me by now, every Sunday at ten o’clock on the dot. You’re a bad influence on her, Mal.”

“Let me get dressed, I’ll take you both out.” He smoothed his hand over my back. “Can’t have my future sister-in-law getting mad at me already.”

“Won’t you get hassled?” Lizzy hollered from the kitchen.

“People have usually been pretty cool around here when I’ve visited. But I’ll wear a hat and sunglasses. And I can call up some security if needed.”

“Why don’t I cook us something? It’s got to be my turn by now,” said Lizzy. The clanging of pots and pans and the running of water accompanied her statement. Maybe my sister wasn’t so bad after all.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Soooo.” Mal smacked a kiss on the top of my head. “You weren’t just a little into me. You’re my biggest fan. You love me.”

“I don’t love you.”


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