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  • Without Me(Men of Inked #7)(28) by Chelle Bliss
  • “Do you only have one brother?” I asked as I poured more wine in our glasses while we waited for our oil pot to arrive.

    “Just the one.” She played with the edge of the napkin her water glass sat on, rubbing it between her two fingers.

    She was dressed in a simple black cocktail dress. Her hair was pulled up into a ponytail, and the ends cascaded over her shoulders, stopping above her breasts.

    I knew that the prick didn’t like me, but I was thankful there was only one brother I had to watch out for. “Damian, right?”

    She rolled her eyes. “Denzel. Like the actor.”

    “Sorry. I was paying more attention to you than what you called him.”

    “Simple mistake. What about you? Any siblings?”

    “I have three brothers and a sister.”

    “Jesus.” she shook her head. “I’d go crazy with multiple Denzels. Your poor sister.”

    “Trust me,” I replied as I toyed with the stem of my wineglass. “Izzy handles her own affairs.”

    “Are you saying I don’t?” she shot back as she cocked an eyebrow.

    “No. No.” I sighed. Fuck. It wasn’t what I’d meant, exactly, but maybe I’d said it with a hint of sarcasm. “You certainly can hold your own, Kitty Cat.”

    “So, you and your brothers never butt into her love life?”

    I wanted to lie. Truly, I did. But I didn’t think it would be right. “Yeah. We’ve been known to butt in a time or two.”

    She laughed, a sweet, soft laugh. “What is it with men always feeling like they need to rescue us?”

    Like a dumbass, I replied, “We have to protect what’s ours.”

    “Say that again?” she said with a confused look on her face.

    “It’s ingrained in us. Part of our DNA. I can’t ever stop protecting my sister. She’s my family and always will be. Even if she’s wrong, I’ll protect her with my life.”

    “Most of us don’t need saving, Anthony.” She lifted her wineglass and stared at me over the rim.

    “I didn’t say anything about saving. It’s more about protecting, Max.”

    “That’s what guns are for.” She grinned on the glass and winked.

    “You carry?” I asked, feeling a little afraid of her.

    Girls with guns could be a very deadly combination, especially when I had a very good chance of pissing them off.

    “Always.” Her eyes shifted to her evening bag that was sitting on top of the table, next to the wall.

    “Why?” I asked.

    “Because a girl could never be too careful.”

    “Of me?”

    “Of anyone, Anthony.”

    It was laughable, but endearing.

    “Max,” I said as I set my glass down and inclined forward. “If I wanted to kill you, I would’ve done it already. I wouldn’t have to sit through two hours of fondue to do it.”

    “Already thinking about offing me?” she asked.

    “I don’t live in an episode of The Sopranos.”

    Stereotypes crossed all nationalities and racial lines. We all knew what the stereotypes were. Italians weren’t usually portrayed in the best light—especially males. Often, we were characterized as mobsters. Seen as dangerous criminals looking for a racket to make our money and “offing” anyone in our way. It was the furthest thing from the truth, but the Hollywood depiction stuck in the minds of all non-Italians across the world. I couldn’t blame her for pigeonholing what she didn’t know, but I’d work on changing her attitude.

    “I didn’t mean to offend you.” She tapped her fingernail on the glass.

    “You didn’t. Tell me about your father,” I said, trying to change the subject.

    “He’s been dead for about three years.” A frown covered her face. “He was the best dad ever.”

    I could’ve argued that point. Sal Gallo had to be the best dad in the world. My pop was my rock. He was the thing that held the family together. I’d never admit that to my mom, though.

    “I’m so sorry to hear that. That has to be hard.”

    She nodded slowly, looking down at her wine. “It is. He suffered for a long time before he passed. It’s horrible watching your father wither away before your eyes.” Her fingers swept over the bottom of the glass, making a figure eight. “It was the worst thing I’d ever gone through in my life, Anthony. The day my father died, I didn’t know how to feel. I loved him more than anything in the world, but to watch someone suffer is the most excruciating thing you can ever experience. Have you ever lived through something so traumatic it altered your view of the entire world?” Her eyes rose to mine, a thin layer of tears lining the inside.

    I thought about it and concentrated on my breathing. I had been blessed with the health of my family. “No. I haven’t.” I shook my head. A small fissure of guilt went through me at the luck I’d had in life. Unlike a majority of people, I had money, looks, and health.

    “Be glad for that. You know how you want to protect your sister—or anyone in your family, for that matter?” she asked, blotting her eyes and capturing the tears on her napkin.

    “Yes. Like I said, I’d do anything to keep them safe.”

    “Imagine if there was nothing you could do. You had to watch as they slowly deteriorated before your eyes. No matter how hard you tried or how many doctors you visited, there was nothing you could do.”

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire