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Without Me by Chelle Bliss (1)

1

The Beginning of the End

I propped myself up on the bar, studying the only woman who hadn’t bothered to make eye contact with me. Not even a smile or a sideways glance. Nothing.

“What’s your name, beautiful?” I asked, trying to get her attention.

Her body inched away as she turned her head to look away from me.

What the fuck was her problem?

I stole a quick glance at the mirror behind the bar. My hair was perfect, just the right amount of stubble was on my face, and my smile was killer. I shrugged and called the bartender over. I needed something cool and smooth after the set.

Singing tonight had set my throat on fire. The change of season wreaked havoc on my system. Even though it had been difficult to sing tonight, it had given me the greatest high. There was nothing like standing on stage and belting out a song that meant so much to me.

“Double Grand Marnier, please,” I told the bartender when he came to a stop in front of me.

He nodded and headed to the other end of the bar.

“Can I buy you a drink?” I asked the woman, who was still ignoring me.

“No,” she replied without giving me the light of day.

Well, damn. Talk about a cold shoulder.

As the bartender placed the drink in front of me, I motioned to her drink.

“She’ll take another too.”

She turned toward me and glared. “I said I didn’t want a drink.”

“Um,” the bartender said as he looked between us.

“She’ll take another.” I lifted my chin to him, giving him the go-ahead for the drink. “Let me buy a beautiful woman a drink. You look like you could use one.” I cocked my head, raising an eyebrow as I threw down the challenge.

“I don’t take drinks from strangers.”

“I’m Anthony.” I held my hand out, waiting for her to touch me.

She glanced at my hand before returning her eyes to my face. “Not interested.” She wasn’t going to make this easy.

“I didn’t offer anything but an introduction and a handshake.”

“Listen,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Yes?” I repeated her actions, feeling a bit playful. Maybe it was her shitty attitude, but I was ready for whatever she had to throw at me.

We stared each other down. I didn’t know what was running through her mind, but I took the opportunity to soak her in. Exotic is the word I’d use to describe her. The rich, caramel color of her skin was darker than any member of the Gallo family. It was smooth and blemish-free, and it glistened like silk in the club lighting. My fingers itched to touch it. I wondered if it felt as soft as it looked.

Her eyes were dark, almost black in the dim lighting or the bar. I wanted to stare into them and see them in the light. In the sunlight, did they show hints of gold and specks of brown? Or did they sparkle as the sun hit them? They fit her face perfectly and sat above her high cheekbones and luscious lips.

She reminded me of Keshia Knight Pulliam, the sexy actress who cracked me up in that Madea movie. I remembered watching her as a child when she was Rudy on The Cosby Show. She was a dead ringer for her, and if I didn’t know better, they could’ve been twins.

Her lips were large and full. They looked like they had been made for kissing and nothing else. The red lip gloss shimmered in the light, the spots of glitter sparkling. It was like a beacon calling me home and begging for my mouth.

My eyes drifted down, and I noticed the way her arms pushed her tits up in the air. The V-neck T-shirt she wore showed the perfect amount of cleavage. Not enough to be trashy, but enough to entice. I was a tits man. Wait. That’s a lie. I was an ass man. Fuck. Who was I kidding? I loved every part of a woman. I could never pick one over another. I wanted the whole package.

“Up here,” she demanded.

When I looked up, one shoulder had dropped and her glare had been replaced by a scowl.

“I’m waiting.” I grinned

“For what?” Her lips formed into a firm line and not even a twitch crossed over them.

She was tough. I’d give her that much.

“Your name.” I reached for my drink without looking. I needed to maintain eye contact or I’d lose any ground I had won. I knew it wasn’t much, but she was no longer ignoring me.

“If I give it to you, will you leave me alone?” Her hands dropped to her sides as her glare disappeared.

“I can’t promise anything, but it’ll make things go smoother if I know who I’m speaking to.” I took a sip, letting the drink coat my throat. The scratchiness of earlier turned into something entirely different, relieving the strain.

“You’re all the same.” She rolled her eyes and sighed. “Why can’t a girl come to a bar and have a drink in peace without being hounded?”

I took another sip, thinking about my response as I studied her. Before I could reply, she grabbed her martini and placed the glass to her lips. Fuck, I wished I were the glass. I wanted to taste her more than I wanted the Grand Marnier that lingered on my tongue.

“First, if you want to have a drink in peace, you need to go to Applebee’s. You don’t come to the Ritz for a nightcap. Also, you don’t have your tits hanging out if you don’t want the attention of a man. You can’t look like that”—I motioned toward her body—“and expect not to be hit on.”

She squared her shoulders as she set her drink back on the bar. If looks could kill, I’d be dead. “Just because I have on a T-shirt doesn’t mean I want to fuck. I live nearby and there isn’t an Applebee’s for miles. This is within walking distance and it’s where I want to drink. I don’t know if you’re clueless or just don’t give a shit, but when someone turns their back on you and refuses to answer your questions, it means they don’t want to be bothered.” She reached for her drink and held my eyes. “You need to get the fuck over yourself.”

Oh my God. I think I’m in love.

Well, not really. But fuck, she had my full attention. Rarely did a woman treat me like shit, and for once, I found it refreshing. Her attitude reminded me a little of my sister, Izzy. She wasn’t known for being warm and fuzzy, but she was my best friend.

“Meow,” I blurted, unable to stop the sound before it left my lips. The one thing I knew was that it would piss her off more.

“You are an asshole,” she hissed, glaring at me as she sipped her drink.

I smiled, thinking at least she hadn’t thrown her drink on me. “I know I am.” I laughed. I knew I was a dick. I’d never claimed to be the nicest guy, but having someone point out what I already knew made me laugh. “So, what’s your name?”

“Kitty.”

“Now I know you’re fucking with me.” I couldn’t help myself as my laughter grew louder. Not only was she the most beautiful woman in the bar, she was funny and had one hell of an attitude.

“I am, but you can call me Kitty Meow.” She grinned and arched an eyebrow.

“I love petting a beautiful pussy,” I purred, moving a little closer to her, “cat.”

“You’re truly a sick fuck, man.”

“Anthony,” I responded, wanting to hear her say my name.

She moved closer, just as I had. Our bodies were close enough that I caught a whiff of her perfume. The muskiness with a hint of flower made my head a bit dizzy. I wanted to inhale her, fill my senses with her, but I thought that would be pushing the envelope. No one ever said that I was a pansy.

“Thanks for the drink, Anthony.”

I didn’t waste the opportunity. I moved my face close to her neck and inhaled deeply. Closing my eyes, I let the scent fill my lungs. It was heavenly and made me want to see if she tasted as good as she smelled.

“You’re welcome, Kitty Cat.”

She drifted away just as my lips were reaching for the flesh of her neck.

“Fuck,” I mumbled, missing the opportunity to lick her bronzed skin.

“Not happening, Tony.” She shook her head, grabbed her drink, and polished it off. “You have a good night.” Then she set her glass down on the bar and picked up her purse.

As she turned to leave, I grabbed her wrist and pulled her toward me. I felt the jolt of electricity that passed between us at the simple touch.

“You can’t leave yet.”

She looked at my hand and then to me. I couldn’t tell, but I bet she felt it too. That lightning that rarely strikes, the thing we all search for. A spark.

“Give me one good reason,” she said, her eyes drifting back to where we were connected.

“I’m not done with you.” It wasn’t the best line I’d ever given, but I had been thrown by the unexpected zing I’d felt when touching her.

“Well, I’m done with you.”

But the funny thing is, she didn’t pull away. When a woman was truly not interested, they’d try to get away or slap me in the face. It had happened once. Only one time in my life had a woman turned me down. I chalked it up to the fact that she was probably into pussy more than cock. Why else would she have said no?

“No, you’re not.” I brought my lips within an inch of hers. “You know you’re not. Don’t you feel it?”

“You’re delusional as well as an asshole.” Her eyes sparkled. The hint of possibility wasn’t lost on me.

I tightened my grip, but not enough to hurt her. Then I pulled her close enough that I could feel her breath on my face. “Tell me you don’t feel it?”

“I don’t.” She glared at me and lied through her fucking teeth.

“Why aren’t you pulling away then, Kitty?” I asked, knowing she felt it every bit as much as I did. I didn’t want to be with another human being on this planet, and I’d bet neither did she.

As soon as I asked, she tried to tug her arm away, but I kept my hold on her. She didn’t make me believe she meant it.

“I don’t know how you’ll react if I do.”

“Liar,” I teased, releasing her wrist but keeping my body close. “Let me buy you one more drink, and if you still think I’m an asshole, I’ll leave you alone forever.”

She didn’t answer right away, looking between the door and me. When her eyes locked on to mine, she finally answered, “Okay. If that’s what it takes to get you to leave me alone forever.” Then she shrugged, set her purse back on the bar, and sat down on the stool. Raising her hand, she motioned to the bartender, holding up two fingers.

She wasn’t going to make it easy on me. I’d have to work for it. My mother always told me that the best things in life needed to be earned and not given.

“So, what do you do, Kitty?” I asked, genuinely interested in more than her body. I wanted to know the woman. What made her tick? More importantly, why was she so damn pissy when it came to me?

“I’m a personal stylist,” she replied, keeping her eyes focused on the bartender.

“So, like, you pick out clothes for other people?” I asked, surprised at her answer. It wasn’t that she didn’t look the part, but jeans and a T-shirt weren’t the attire I’d think a stylist would be caught dead in.

“Yes. I help with their entire look.”

As the drinks were set in front of us, I slid a twenty across the bar and settled the bill. “You shop for a living?”

“Yes,” she answered as she lifted her drink.

I’d hoped for more than curt answers, but felt that nothing would be easy. Maybe the more liquor I got into her system, the easier it would all become.

I must’ve looked surprised, because she asked, “Shocked?”

I tilted my head and studied her. “Not entirely. You have the look of a fashionista, but I wouldn’t expect you to be caught dead in jeans.”

“Fashionista? I hate that word.” She raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure you’re not gay, Tony?”

I closed my eyes, and inhaled before opening them. I wouldn’t let her get me worked up. She was baiting me, and if I weren’t careful, she’d accomplish her goal.

“Honey, if you give me the chance, I’ll prove how wrong that question is.”

She chuckled. A full-on laugh bubbled out of her as she tipped her head back. The sound was magical. When she let her guard down and showed happiness, she was even more beautiful.

“In your dreams.”

“I think you’re the one who’s gay, Kitty Cat. Maybe you prefer the purr over a good prick any day.”

“You couldn’t be more wrong. I love a beautiful cock more than most women, but I don’t like the ones that are attached to an asshole.”

“You wound me,” I said, laying my hand across my chest. “You don’t even know me.”

“I’ve known many guys like you. You think you’re entitled to everything. You get what you want. Girls fall at your feet. You’ve spent your life drowning in pussy and throwing women away like trash.”

I took a heavy gulp of my Grand Marnier and thought about her response. In all honesty, she wasn’t wrong. Would I admit that to her? Fuck no!

“I’ve never thrown a woman away like a piece of trash.”

“Uh huh,” she snorted as she crossed her legs.

Out of nowhere, I heard a voice call my name. Fuck. Now wasn’t the time for Candy to have found me. Candy wasn’t the best example of how I treated women. She had never been my girlfriend, but I had fucked her a couple of times over the last year. I’d say that it was a lack of judgment or maybe too much alcohol, but the girl sucked a mean dick.

“Anthony,” she sang as she sauntered up to us.

I closed my eyes, praying that I had imagined her. When I felt her fingers tangle in my hair, I froze.

“Anthony, I’ve been looking for you. Where ya been?” Her finger traced my ear.

As I opened my eyes, I saw the cocky “I was so fucking right about you” look on Kitty’s face.

I pulled Candy’s hand away from my face and pushed her backward. “Candy, I’m busy right now.”

“But baby,” she whined, as she zeroed in on Kitty, “I thought we were going to spend the night together.”

I shook my head and let go of my grip on her. “No, Candy. We’re not. I told you that last time. You need to move on.”

“But,” she repeated as her mouth gaped open.

“Move along, Candy. I’m sure one of the other guys would love to spend some time with you,” I said, trying to get her to leave me the fuck alone and find a new victim.

“I don’t want them, though. They’re not as much fun as you.” She pouted, clutching her hands in front of her as she stared at the ground.

“Candy, I said no. I’m busy here with Kitty. Can you please excuse us?” Hey, I had tried to be nice, but I thought I’d just gotten a check mark for being a total dick.

When I glanced at Kitty, she was grinning and giving me the “I told ya so” look. For fuck’s sake, Candy had ruined any headway I’d made.

“You’re a total asshole, Anthony Gallo. Your voice sounded like shit tonight. I’m going to find someone with a dick bigger than a hot dog. You suck,” she hissed before she stormed off.

At that point, Kitty broke into hysterics. She covered her face with her hands and laughed and laughed.

“Hardy, har, har, Kitty,” I said, joining in on the laughter.

It was my curse in life that shit happened at the most inopportune time. Candy was the perfect case in point.

“She proved my point perfectly. You are an asshole.” She chuckled harder, enjoying herself and my misery.

“You’re wrong about me. I’ve been a jerk, but if I were a true asshole, I would’ve gone with Candy and left you here at the bar.”

Her laughter faltered at my response. In the old days, or maybe yesterday, I would’ve walked off with Candy. I would’ve taken her backstage, let her suck me off, and walked away a happy man.

“Well, you should’ve gone with her. She seems like a sure thing. I’m just trying to get through the next ten minutes and then I’m out. Forever.” She smiled, wiping the tears that had formed in her eyes.

“You’ll change your mind, Kitty Cat.” I smiled, moving the stool closer to her and sitting. “So, tell me why you’re so cold?”

“I’m not cold,” she said as she squared her shoulders in a defensive posture.

“Yes, you are. Why do you hate me so much?”

“I told you already. I’ve known too many men like you.”

“Maybe I’m different. Maybe I want to know you. You may be the one who changes my view on women.”

“That’s never going to happen. I’m not the one.” She shook her head and let her body relax.

“Kitty, throw me a bone here, woman. I’ve never had to try so hard before. Really, why do you hate me?”

“I don’t hate you. I just don’t have time for you, Tony.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? You’re too busy with your career to fit me in?”

“I don’t have time in my life in general to fit you in. I don’t need the complication in my life. I have enough shit to deal with to listen to your bullshit for more than ten minutes. Life is too short to waste on relationships and men.”

“Whoa. Wait a minute. I never said anything about a relationship. Maybe we can be friends?”

“Not going to happen.”

“Why not?” I asked. I mean, what the fuck? Why couldn’t we be friends? In my version of friendship, I’d have her out of her panties, which I was sure were lace, in less than thirty minutes.

“I have enough friends. I don’t need more.”

“Everybody could use more friends.”

“I’m sure Candy could use one right now,” she sneered.

“Fuck Candy.”

“You have.” She burst into laughter again.

“Smartass,” I growled.

I brushed my fingertips down the top of her arm. Her skin did feel like silk. My eyes hadn’t betrayed me. Now that my hands were satisfied, I wanted to run my tongue along it and see if it tasted as I had imagined. It had to. It fucking had to.

“What are you doing?” she asked as she looked down at my hand, which was still touching hers as goose bumps covered her skin.

“Confirming something.”

“And that would be?”

“Seeing if you felt it too.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

As my hand moved back up her arm, I grazed her breast. She sucked in a breath. I had her. She could deny it all she wanted, but she wanted me. All the sass and bullshit coming out of her mouth was just talk. Her body couldn’t hide what she truly felt.

“Kitty,” I whispered, moving my face closer to hers. “Tell me you don’t feel it.”

“I don’t,” she replied, her eyes growing wider the closer I got.

“You don’t?” I asked as I hovered over her lips.

“I don’t.”

I gave her a quick kiss.

“And this?” I asked as I gave her another peck. “Or that?”

The third time I placed my lips on hers, I kept them there. Her breathing changed as her mouth molded to mine. After sliding my hand up her arm, I held her neck and swiped my thumb along her jaw line.

The taste of the alcohol on her lips mixed with her gloss made my mouth water. Maybe it was all in my head, but I wanted her more than I had ever wanted another thing in my life. I licked at the seam of her lips as she kissed me, begging for entrance. Surprisingly, she accepted, parting her lips and allowing entry.

The tiny victory made me happy. Out of all of my previous conquests, none of them had given me a greater sense of satisfaction than that moment with Kitty.

When she finally touched me, resting her hand on my forearm, I felt the spark ignite something inside me. The kiss had sizzled, but another connection, her reciprocating my touch, caused a detonation of tiny shocks across my entire body.

I had to have her.

I wouldn’t accept no for an answer.

Nothing would make me stop until I had her at least once.

As she squeezed my arm, my cock roared to life. The ache grew unbearable with each swipe of my tongue and her grip on my arm. When I finally pulled my mouth away from hers, she whispered, “Fuck.”

My work here was done. Even though she thought I was an asshole, she felt it too. She couldn’t deny it any longer. Her mouth could move, but she’d be feeding me lines of bullshit.

“You felt it.” I smiled, keeping my hand on her neck.

She didn’t try to detach herself from me as her eyes fluttered open and she looked at me—really looked at me. For the first time tonight, her eyes were soft.

“I can’t,” she replied, and averted her eyes.

“Kitty, you can’t say that after what you just felt, what I just felt.” I shook my head, tightening my grip on her neck. “I’ve never experienced that before with anyone. You can’t shut me out.”

Her hand moved away from my arm like I had just burned her. “I just can’t.” She pushed on my chest with both hands, trying to put distance between us.

“Why not?” I asked, ready to argue the point. I wasn’t going to allow her to give up that easily.

“Let me go,” she demanded, shoving me away.

“Kitty,” I begged, trying to keep our connection. “Please.”

“Get your hands off my damn sister!” a deep voice yelled from behind her.

I froze and peered over her shoulder. Fuck. Just what I didn’t need. A brother. A big brother. A brother brother. Not like “hey, man, this is my brother,” but “hey, this is my big-ass brother and he’s going to kick your white-boy ass.”

Goddamn it.

“I’m not going to say it again. Get your hands off Maxine. She asked you nicely to let her go, but I’m not going to be so damn kind.”

“Maxine?” I asked, finally learning her name, although it wasn’t the way I had wanted to hear it.

“Please let me go,” she insisted with tears in her eyes.

I stared at her, not liking that I had caused her distress. “Okay, man, but only because she asked and not you.” I released my hand, letting her move away.

She scurried out of my reach.

“Let’s get you home, Max,” he said to her.

Max. She had a tough name. It fit her perfectly. This couldn’t be the end. I didn’t want it to be. There was no way in hell I’d let her out of here without at least getting her phone number.

“Max,” I said, holding out my hand to her. “See me again?”

Before she could answer, her brother stepped between us. He was at least six inches taller than I was. He was a beast. He’d give any of my brothers a run for their money, but I’d never been a pussy. I never backed down from a fight. Hell, I’d thrown punches over small shit. Max was worth the risk.

“She doesn’t want anything to do with you,” he stated as he stared down at me.

“I think she can answer for herself,” I replied, moving into his personal space.

“Denzel,” she said, placing her hand on his arm. “Let’s just go.”

“Wait!” I yelled, not ready to say goodbye.

“Come on, Max. This fool isn’t worth your time and I don’t feel like spending the night in jail again for assault.”

Fuck me.

If I didn’t know better, I’d think he was a Gallo. Although I wanted to fight him just to show that I was worthy, I knew it wasn’t the way. If some dickhead was fucking with Izzy, getting in a fistfight with any of my brothers wasn’t the way to win her heart. I couldn’t let my temper and need for her cloud my judgment.

“I’m ready,” she said as she reached for her purse.

I clenched my hands at my sides, and it took everything in me not to reach out to her.

Without another word, Max and Denzel turned and headed for the door.

“Turn and look at me,” I repeated over and over as I watched her stroll toward the exit. I held my breath, waiting for it.

Before she disappeared through the doorway, she turned and gave me one quick glance before vanishing in the shadow of her brother.

I sucked in a breath, feeling like I’d been hit by a ton of bricks. Never in my life had I experienced something so powerful. To have it ripped away from me so fast and without any warning hurt like hell.

This wasn’t the end.

It couldn’t be.

I wouldn’t give up on finding her again.

I needed to know her.

I craved her.

The feel of her skin, the way her mouth tasted—they’d left me wanting more. And I never gave up on something I wanted. Not without a fight.

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