Dark. Dangerous. Messed up. Yeah, I may be all of those things, but with her I’m not. She taught me how to love, how to be a one woman man. Except now my woman wants to leave me, ‘cause I can’t promise her forever. I know I’d never want anyone else but she wants the ring to prove it. Not to mention the baby. But if she knew about my past she’d run far and fast. Then I’d have no choice but to chase her, ‘cause I can’t let her get away.
I hate him. I love him. I want him. I need him. I hate myself for being weak and caving every every time he touches me. But I can’t help myself. He’s just that good. I can’t get over him if I’m always under him, but he’s not letting me go without a fight and you’d have to have an iron will to resist this man.
She was killing me and she knew it. My ex-girlfriend and business partner made it her daily mission to torture me. She flirted with the customers, agreed to dates with a few regulars, I’d even caught her kissing one in the dark hallway leading to our office. My reaction? I put my fist through the wall, scaring the shit out of her boy-toy and earning a stern lecture from her.
Cory claimed I had no right to tell her what to do or who to do it with. She’d given me an ultimatum. Marriage. Babies. Or she was done with me. When push came to shove I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t put that ring on her finger. I watched what my old man went through when my mom left us. I couldn’t let Cory put me through that shit. So I let her go.
Only we had to work together. Every. Goddamn. Day. And I was slowly losing my mind.
“Cory get a new tat, boss?” our bartender asked, looking at the perfect swell of my lady’s ass as she bent over to take a customer’s order.
Not your lady anymore, a little voice reminded me. Bullshit. She’ll always be mine.
“Yeah, I think so.” I wiped down the bar, trying not to notice the way she filled out those tight black jeans.
Memories came flooding back. My lips on her. Hers on me. Her riding me. Taking her up against the wall. Going hard all night… into the morning.
“Gimme a Jack, man.” I’d been drinking too much since she dumped me, but I couldn’t seem to help myself. My mom left my old man because of the bottle. Now it seemed like I was destined to follow in his footsteps.
Johnnie raised an eyebrow, but didn’t question me. He just did as he was told, poured, and sild it across the slick surface.
“Why don’t you just buy her out?” he asked, obviously reading my thoughts.
I tipped my glass back, my back to her. “She won’t let me.” I’d offered half a dozen times. Just like she’d offered to buy me out. But we both loved this bar. And we were stubborn. We wanted to make the other one suffer.
“You two are gonna wind up killing each other.” He gestured to the glass in my hand. “I’ve been working here five years and ain’t never seen you drink like this.”
Johnnie was my right hand man and I loved him like a brother, but I didn’t need to hear him telling me shit I already knew. I was self-destructing and I didn’t know how the hell to put the brakes on.
“Shit,” Johnnie whispered, his dark eyes travelling to the door.
I curled my hand into a fist when I spotted the punk who’d had his tongue down my woman’s throat last week. The reason I’d had to patch the drywall to repair the damage I’d caused. “What’s he doing here?” I asked, standing. “I told him not to show his face in here again.”
Before I could kick his scrawny ass out Cory approached him, slaying me with her dimples, just like she did every time I saw her smile.
She was a tiny little thing with a huge rack. That was the first thing most guys noticed about her, but four years of being mine meant it had been a long time since another man had been stupid enough to put his hands on her. Seeing that same dumbass who hadn’t heeded my last warning wrap his arms around her had me seeing red.
“That’s it. I’m gonna mess him up.”
“Mace, don’t man,” Johnnie said, trying to grab my shoulder. “It’s not worth it.”
I shook him off and stalked across the bar, going toe-to-toe with my least favorite customer. “What’re doin’ back here, asshole? Didn’t I make it clear I don’t wanna see your face in my bar again?”
“Excuse me,” Cory said, grabbing my arm. “It’s my bar too. And I told him he could come in anytime he wanted.”
I knew I’d regret the day I let her invest in my dream. She’d been a real estate agent at the time and she was making big bucks. I was a bartender who used to serve her at a club she and her girlfriends frequented. She convinced me I was wasting my time working behind someone else’s bar when I should be lining my own pockets. She was the first person to ever believe in me and since my old man had left me a little coin when he died, I had some cash to burn. The rest, as they say, is history.
“Why are you doing this?” I narrowed my eyes at her. “You wanna watch me bleed?” I said, only loud enough for her to hear. I turned my forearm over to reveal the colorful tattoo snaking over my wrist and up my arm. The one bearing her name. “You want to destroy me? ‘Cause you’re doin’ a hell of a job of it.”
“Excuse me, Eddy,” she said to the guitar playing asshat watching our exchange. “I need to have a word with my partner.”
She grabbed my hand and hauled me through the crowd and down the narrow hallway to our shared office and just that brief physical exchange tore me up. I wanted her hands on me again. Up my shirt. Unbuckling my pants. Wrapped around my shaft.
“Why do you keep doing this?” she asked, slamming the door and throwing her hands up in the air. “It’s like you’re trying to prevent me from getting on with my life.”
I sat on the edge of the desk sulking. Because I knew she was right. I couldn’t give her what she needed but I was trying to prevent her from finding a man who could. It was messed up. I knew that. I just couldn’t help it. I loved her. I loved her so goddamn much that living without her was destroying me.
“I just don’t want to see you with a jackass like that.” I curled my hands around the edge of the desk as I watched her. Her long, blond, wavy hair was sweeping down her back as her high heels clicked across the worn wood floor as she paced the small, cluttered room. “He probably wouldn’t even know how to please you.”
And if that visual didn’t make my blood boil. The thought of another man pleasing her hit me like a wrecking ball, knocking the wind out of me. My girl loved oral. And before too long it was going to be some other’s dude’s shoulders spreading her legs, taking what was mine.
“How do you know that?” she demanded, planting her hands on her curvy hips. “You don’t know what he’s like in bed. Unless you and he have-”
“Don’t even.” She liked messing with me and after so many years together she knew exactly how to rattle my chain.
Her full lips turned up in a half-smile. “You don’t get to tell me who to sleep with, Mace. Just like I don’t get to tell you.”
What a joke that was. I didn’t even think I could get it up for another woman. Her ass wouldn’t be as round as Cory’s. Her tits wouldn’t be as big. Her lips wouldn’t be as lush. Her eyes wouldn’t be as blue. I’d find something wrong with her. ‘Cause she wasn’t Cory. It was as simple and as screwed up as that.
“I don’t see why you’d want anyone else.” I rubbed the bulge in my pants, the one I got every time I looked at her. “You’ve had me. You know what it feels like to have the best.” Was I arrogant? Yeah, sure. But I knew she hadn’t even gotten off with a man in the room until she met me. I made it a point to give her so many orgasms in a night she was literally pleading with me to stop ‘cause she couldn’t take anymore.
“Is that all you ever think about?” she asked, rolling her baby blues at me. “Sex?”
“With you?” I grinned. “Pretty much.”
But that was a lie. I missed everything about her, from the way she smelled to the way she felt curled against my chest when she fell asleep. I even missed those gay-ass antique marts she used to drag me to and the girly movies she’d force me to watch. I missed the massages she’d give me after a hard workout or the way she’d model new lingerie for me. I missed it all.
“I need you to just back off,” she said, gently. “Please, Mace. I want us to keep working together. I think we’re a really good team. But I need some space.”
I didn’t want to give her space. I wanted to crowd her against the wall and kiss her until she remembered how much she loved me. How much she needed me.
“You can’t date customers,” I said, biting the inside of my lip. “It’s not fair, Cor. I can’t deal with that shit.”
She threw her hands up in the air. “Where do you expect me to meet guys? I’m here all the time or at the gym.” She glared at me. “And you’ve scared off all the guys there too. You know my personal trainer told me last week that he wanted to ask me out but he was afraid you’d kick the shit out of him.”
I got into mixed martial arts when I was twelve. I would kick the shit out of him. “That’s not my problem,” I said, shrugging. “Guess you’ll have to find somewhere else to pick up.”
“Don’t you want me to be happy?” Her tone was soft, almost pleading. “I want you to be happy. Why can’t you want the same for me?”
“Sorry if my idea of a good time isn’t watching some asshole stick his tongue down your throat.”
“He could be a great guy,” she said, stepping into my personal space. “The best thing that ever happened to me. He could be madly in love with me, treat me like a queen, want to marry me and have half a dozen babies with me and you still couldn’t be happy for me, could you?”
I knew those were all the things she wanted and deserved, but she was right. I couldn’t be happy for her if she found them and that made me a grade-A asshole, because even though I claimed to love her I was too selfish to put her first.
No one had ever taught me to love selflessly. My old man was a selfish drunk who made it impossible for my mom to stick it out. She didn’t love me enough to take me and my brother with her. Women had only ever used me for the pleasure I could give them. Cory was the only one who’d ever given a shit about me. And I didn’t want to lose that. I couldn’t lost that. Not to some other guy.
“No, I couldn’t.”
She shook her head, looking sad. “You used to be my best friend. The one person I could count on. I miss that guy so much.”
I missed him too. I hated the bitter, resentful asshole I was becoming, but I didn’t know what to do about it.
Cheryl Douglas is a USA Today bestselling author who lives and breathes her writing: when she’s sleeping, watching TV, driving, reading, it’s always in the periphery of her mind. Her imagination rarely takes a holiday, even when she escapes to a sandy beach with her husband and son, she’s planning, plotting, outlining, and daydreaming.
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