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  • Without Me(Men of Inked #7)(18) by Chelle Bliss
  • I wouldn’t allow that.

    In the end, we’d both be hurt and alone.

    As soon as he started to stir, I knew what I had to do.

    Through the entire fight my insides clenched, and not in the way he’d made them the night before. Never before had I felt physical pain from telling someone goodbye. It was better to do it now before I got in too deep and couldn’t allow myself to save him and myself later.

    When his footsteps were no longer audible, I slammed my fists against the floor and let out a cry so visceral and uninhibited that I lost my breath. It took everything in me to stop myself from running after him and begging his forgiveness.

    I’d done it.

    He was gone.

    We were both better off. Right?




    It could’ve been my new nickname.

    Over the next two weeks, I tried to put Max out of my mind and rid myself of her entirely. It had sounded easy, but I found out it was impossible.

    She invaded my thoughts and filled my dreams. Even when I was flipping through the channels on television after work, I’d find her. Goddamn cable television and their late-night reruns of The Cosby Show.

    Friday and Saturday night, I found myself wandering through Ybor City, but I couldn’t find her. I even went to Liquid and had a drink. If someone I knew had seen me sitting by myself, nursing a beer in a gay bar, it would’ve spread like wildfire.

    Sunday morning, I woke up irritated and crabby as hell. All I wanted to do was stay in bed or drink myself into a coma, but I couldn’t. It was the official Gallo Family Dinner, and my mother would kick my ass if I missed it.

    When I walked through the door, I put on my best face. I had to pretend that everything was normal. There was no way in hell I’d let on that I was upset. My family would eat me alive if they found out, especially Izzy. She might have been my younger sister, but that didn’t mean that she didn’t scare the crap out of me.

    I sat in my usual chair and ignored everyone, but that wasn’t anything new. They barely noticed I was there as I stared at my phone.

    How had I not gotten her number? I couldn’t just show up at her door. There was no way in hell I wanted to be that guy. I didn’t even know Max’s last name. Tracking her down would be an issue with only a first name. There was only one way I knew I could possibly find her. Most people had a Facebook profile, and if I were lucky, I’d find her. I started to type Maxine into the search field, but it brought up a bunch of random people. Not one of the photos matched her.

    I sighed as I turned the phone over in my hand. There had to be a way. A commercial caught my attention as I stared at the television while deep in thought. Next weekend was Festa Italiana in Ybor. It was a giant street festival celebrating Tampa’s Italian culture and heritage. It would be the perfect time to find her. I knew that, if I lived within walking distance, I’d be there every night eating and drinking. Who doesn’t love a party?

    It was a week away, though. It was too damn long to wait. I had to at least try to find her before then. Every moment without her seemed wasted. I knew she had told me to fuck off and that she didn’t want to see me again, but I didn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it. There was no way we could have the electricity we did and just throw it away.

    I mean, hell, I hated relationships. The last thing I wanted was to be tied down to anyone, but I wanted to see her again. I opened up Facebook again and decided to take a new approach. I visited fan pages for local establishments and scrolled through their followers. Some places had thousands of people. Instead of choosing randomly, I started at one end of the street and looked up each business in order.

    “Anthony,” Joe barked from his spot on the couch.

    I kept scrolling and didn’t bother to look at him.

    “Hey, douchebag. Are you paying attention?” he asked, and clapped his hands.

    “I’m listening, asshat. I’m busy.”

    “Your face is always buried in that goddamn phone. If you were listening, what do you think?”

    “Of what?” I asked, totally busted. I hadn’t heard a thing they had been talking about.

    Over the years, I’d become very good at shutting them out. You can’t have a large family and pay attention all the time. Fuck, I worked with them too. My ability to selectively hear shit was better than most married people’s.

    “I knew it,” Joe grumbled.

    A piece of candy hit me in the head. “You’re lucky Ma didn’t see that,” I said, flicking the candy from my phone screen to the floor.

    “She wouldn’t care. Izzy asked us a question.”

    I glanced up and looked over at my sister. She glared at me as she snuggled into James’s side. James had weaseled his way into her life. I didn’t know if that was the right term, but Izzy hadn’t always seemed to like him too much. More than likely, it was just her tough-ass exterior. She was like me—she knew any weakness could and would be exploited. We were the lone holdouts in the relationship department, but I feared I’d lost her. More than likely, I was a casualty too.

    “What’s up, Iz?” I asked, placing the phone on my leg.

    She cleared her throat before she took a deep sigh, and her face softened. “I wanted to know about having an open house next weekend. A way to thank our customers for their loyalty.”

    I shook my head, knowing I wouldn’t miss spending next weekend stalking Max in Ybor. “I can’t make it.”

    “What? Why not?” she shot back, and crossed her arms.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire