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“What’s that?” he asked.

“Well, about what you said last night when we got back here. About starting a family.”

His hand paused, covering my right breast. “Starting a family?”

“Yes. You said you were really serious about it. You even threw all the condoms out the window and flushed my pill down the toilet.”

“That’s pretty damn serious. Did we f**k?”

I batted my eyelashes at him and gave him an innocent, if somewhat evil, look. “No. Of course not.”

The whites of his eyes blazed bright. “God … you nearly gave me a heart attack.”

“Sorry.” I kissed his chest. “You did throw all of your condoms out the window. You couldn’t find where I kept my pills, though. Then you lay down and proceeded to name all of our children.”

“All of them?”

“I take it we’re no longer having a brood of lucky thirteen?”

His brows arched up. “Shit. Um, maybe not, huh?”

“Probably for the best. You were going to name three of them David. It would’ve gotten confusing.”

“How much crap did I speak last night, just out of interest?”

“Not too much. You fell off the bed a couple of times, trying to lick my toes, and then you went to sleep.”

He washed the soap off his hands and reached for the shampoo, massaging it into my hair.

“Ouch,” I gasped. “Gentle.”

“What’s wrong?”

“You don’t remember?”

He turned his face slightly and gave me side eyes. “What now?”

“You might’ve accidentally kicked me in the head ever so slightly when you fell off your drumming stool.”

“Oh, no. Fuck. Anne …”

“You didn’t hurt me. It’s just a little bump.”

Face drawn, he carefully washed the shampoo from my hair, starting in on the conditioner. He kept shaking his head, frowning hard.

“Hey,” I said, grabbing his chin. “It’s okay. Really.”

“I’ll make it up to you.”

“You already did.” I placed my hand over his heart, feeling it beat against my palm. “You listened to my story without judging me. You told me what was up with you. Those two things are huge, Mal. They really are. We’re good.”

“I’ll make it up to you more. That won’t f**king happen again.”

“Okay.”

“I mean it.”

“I know you do.”

He gave me cranky eyes and then suddenly smiled. “I know what I’ll get you. Been thinking about it for a while now.”

“You don’t need to get me anything. Though waffles really would be good, I’m starving.” I finished washing off my hair, ready to get out.

“You’re getting more than waffles.” His arms came around me from behind, a hand sliding down between my legs. Lightly, he started stroking his fingers back and forth along the lips of my sex. “First, you need to come too.”

“Okay.”

He chuckled in my ear. “So obliging about your orgasms. I like that.”

I wound my arms up around his neck and held on tight. He raised his hand to his mouth, wetting some fingers. Then one finger slipped through the seam of my sex, tantalizing me. I tingled from top to toe. Slowly he pressed a little inside, then drew back to trace my entrance, spreading the wetness around. He worked me up in no time, my breathing coming fast and shallow. I writhed against his hand.

“You have to stand still, Anne,” he chided me, laying a hand flat against my stomach. Two fingers slid up into me, rubbing at something that felt amazing inside. “C’mon, you’re not even trying.”

“I can’t.”

“You have to. I can’t do this right if you don’t stay still.”

“Oh,” I gasped as his thumb slid over my clit, sending lightning up my spine.

“See? You made me slip.”

The way he loved to tease me was both a blessing and a curse. Fingers drew out, leaving me empty, and all of his attention turned to my clit. He rubbed both sides at once, making me moan.

“Stay still.”

“I’m trying.”

“Try harder.” Lightly, he slapped the top of my sex. The reaction was immediate, my h*ps kicking forward. No one had ever done that before. Every nerve ending in me felt about ready to explode.

“Like that percussion?” he asked.

“Fuck.” It was the only word I had.

He hummed in my ear and went back to working my cl*t even faster. The pressure just kept building. So close.

“Mal. Please.”

He slapped me again and I broke. I cried out, my body caving in. If he hadn’t been there to hold me up I’d have hit the floor. The man probably needed to be locked away for the safety of women everywhere.

The water stopped. He wrapped me up in a towel and placed me like a limp rag doll on the bathroom counter.

“Hey, look at me,” he said, standing bent before me.

“Hi.”

He carefully tucked my wet hair behind my ears.

“I feel like we should touch base about this relationship stuff. And I should probably say something profound here. But I’m not really up to it. Especially not this morning.” He exhaled hard. “You’re an awesome lay, a great girl, I f**king hate it when you’re sad, and I don’t like it when you’re not around. I’m even getting used to the fighting and drama now and then, because the make-up sex is rockin’. And besides, you’re worth it to me.”

The tip of his tongue rubbed over his top lip. “That’s basically it. Not necessarily in that order, though. Okay?”

“Okay.” I laughed, but only a little. He was, after all, being sincere.

“You’re my girl. You gotta know that.” He grinned and put his hands on my knees. “Need anything else from me?”

I paused, gave it some thought. “We’re monogamous?”

“Yep.”

“We’re seeing where this goes?”

“Mm-hm.”

“Then yeah, I’m good.”

He nodded, gave my knees a squeeze. “You need anything from me, I expect you to let me know.”

“Same goes for you. Anything.”

“Thanks, pumpkin.” He smiled, leaned in, and kissed me. “Ready to go on tour, Miss Rollins?”

“Absolutely.”

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

The first day of our official vacation/tour time together, we spent mostly in bed. Waffles were ordered and consumed. In the evening, we left the sanctity of our hotel room to have dinner with his parents up in their suite. Once more, Neil was stalwart and silent, staying close to Lori’s side at all times. Lori was the life of the party. The stories she told about Mal as a kid annoyed him and had me howling with laughter.

My favorite was the time an eleven-year-old Mal and his dad had built a small skate ramp in the backyard and he’d broken an arm, two fingers, and a leg within the first two and a half months. Lori made Neil turn the ramp into kindling. Mal staged a hunger strike that lasted approximately two and a half hours.

To make up for the loss of the ramp, his mom promised him a drum kit.

And so the legend began.

It was a great night. His mom didn’t mention her illness, so neither did we. If Lori weren’t so thin and fragile, and the men so on edge, you could’ve almost imagined nothing was wrong. The more time I spent with her, the more I understood Mal’s devastation. Skate-ramp destroyer or not, Lori Ericson was great. Now that I knew, the quiet despair in Neil’s eyes seemed obvious. He was dying inside, going through this with her.

That was the problem with love, it didn’t last. One way or another, everything came to an end. People got hurt.

When we returned to our room Mal was withdrawn, silent. I put on an action film full of explosions. We watched it together, his head in my lap. When the movie ended was when the night really began. The sex was slow and intense. It went on and on until I barely remembered my own name. He stared into my eyes, moving above and inside me like time didn’t matter.

Like we could do this forever.

The second day, all of their equipment and instruments had been moved from the practice hall to the venue. Mal had a sound check, then a business meeting to attend. I had my own plans. Lizzy came over to keep me and my low profile company. Apparently a couple of reporters were staking out the book shop and my apartment, still hoping for the inside scoop. An old, fuzzy high school photo of me was the best they’d been able to do. It’d run in the local paper yesterday to no particular acclaim.

Fortunately, given her fascination with Ben, Lizzy already had a date lined up for tonight and couldn’t make the concert.

That night, the tour kicked off.

I had barely a week before I had to return to work.

We hung out backstage with the guys until Adrian, their manager, came in, clapping his hands loudly. “Five minutes, guys. We good to go?”

He was followed by a man with a headset and a clipboard or computer of some description. I’d seen quite a few people outfitted this way around. Exactly how much was involved in bringing Stage Dive to town, I had no idea.

Ev and I were watching the concert from the side of the stage beside a collection of massive amps. Holy f**king hell, the roar of the crowd and the energy filling the massive space was amazing. I wasn’t particularly deep or spiritual, but standing there, looking out over so many thousands of people, was an impressive thing. There was a definite vibe.

Stage Dive had sold out the largest concert venue in Portland in record time. Their tour was nine cities stateside, then on to Asia. They’d be hitting several festivals in Europe next spring and summer along with doing more concerts. Somehow during all of this, they’d also spend time in the recording studio. David had apparently been busy writing more songs about the glory of doing his wife.

Ah, true love and stuff.

The music was amazing up this close and personal. I enjoyed myself immensely until I noticed a woman in the front row had my boyfriend’s name written on her tits in big red letters. Kind of hard not to notice when she kept insisting on flashing them.

“Suck it up and smile,” said Ev, her teeth on show.

“Screw her.” I turned my attention back to the drummer, going hard at it. He was flinging his head about, blond hair wild and sweat flying off him. My heart went thump. Let’s not even go into what my loins did.

After an hour and a half or so, Lori and Neil joined us. Both were sporting earplugs and smiles. The looks of pride they gave their son made my eyes mist up ever so slightly. Lori must have noticed, because she slipped her arm around my waist, leaning into me. I put my arm around her shoulder as the band played another song, and then another. Gradually she gave me more of her weight. She didn’t weigh much, but when she started to sway on her feet I gave Neil a nervous look.

He put a hand beneath her elbow, leaning down in front of her with his subtle smile. Lori perked up, waving him away, standing taller. Then her knees buckled and gave out. Both Neil and I grabbed for her, keeping her off the ground. Unfortunately, all of this happened between songs. Jimmy was smooth talking the screaming audience up front of the stage. And despite all of the bright lights, Mal saw Lori stagger. He rose from his stool, standing, watching us. Anxiety lined his face.

Without further ado, Neil swung Lori up into his arms and carried her off. I held my hand up to Mal and nodded, hoping he’d get the message that I’d follow them and do what I could. He must have, because he nodded back at me and then sat down again.

“Come on,” said Ev, grabbing my hand. We ran after Mal’s parents, ducking and weaving around people and equipment. Lena met us just outside the room we’d been in before, backstage. Beside her stood an unhappy Adrian, but then I doubted I’d ever see a happy one.


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