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  • Without Me(Men of Inked #7)(50) by Chelle Bliss
  • “Hi,” Max said quietly. There was no doubt that the hug had cut off her ability to speak any louder.

    “Son,” Pop called out as he walked in and held his hand out to me.

    “Pop.” I shook his hand, stealing glances at the two most important women in my life.

    “Let me get a good look at you,” Ma said, holding Max by the shoulders and looking her over. “You’re so beautiful.”

    Max beamed at the compliment. “Thank you, Mrs. Gallo.”

    “Maria, please. You’re prettier than Anthony described you.”

    Max shot me a look over her shoulder. For the love of God, why had Ma had to say that? I’d told everyone she was drop-dead gorgeous.

    “Anthony said you looked like a grown-up Rudy from The Cosby Show, but I say you’re a prettier version of Gabrielle Union.”

    Hold up a second. I couldn’t believe that my mother had just told her about my Rudy comparison. I wanted to crawl into a hole. I’d never uttered those words to Max. I had been too worried about my balls to even drop it in passing. Beyond that, I was shocked my mother knew who Gabrielle Union was. The woman was full of surprises.

    “He did, did he?” Max asked, glancing at me as I made my way next to them.

    “Ma, we can drop the BET references. I think Pop needs to take away the controller.”

    Ma smiled and slapped me on the arm. “Baby, I don’t know what BET is, but I know a beautiful woman when I see one.”

    “Who do I look like, Ma?” I asked, fishing for a compliment.

    “What’s that boy’s name?” She tapped her lip as I pulled Max to my side.

    “A boy? I’m kind of old for that.” I squeezed her waist, feeling her body shake from laughter.

    I glanced down at Max and smiled. I was glad she was enjoying herself. She looked more relaxed than she had when we’d walked in.

    “Ahhh. Zac Efron. You look like him.” She nodded excitedly.

    “Ma, he’s, like, twelve.”

    “Oh, no. He’s all grown up now, Anthony. Your sister Googled him. He’s almost thirty. He’s very grown up,” she said as she wiggled her eyebrows.

    “Jesus,” I mumbled. “Kind of pervy, Ma. Don’t you think?” I felt a little uncomfortable.

    “I may be old, son, but I’m not dead.”

    “Pop,” I said, turning to face him. “What do you think of this?” I motioned toward Ma with my head.

    “He sure is pretty,” he replied, and snorted.

    “Nice.” I shook my head.

    Pop cleared his throat, reminding me that I hadn’t introduced him to Max. “Max, this is my pop, Mr. Gallo, and Pop, this is Max.”

    “Max,” Pop said, holding out his arms for a hug.

    “Mr. Gallo.” Max smiled and returned the hug he’d wrapped her in.

    “Sal.” Pop smiled at me over her shoulder and gave a thumbs-up.

    I chuckled to myself, trying not to ruin their moment.

    “Sal,” Max repeated.

    “Shall we go into the living room?” Pop asked as he released Max.

    “Sure.” I nodded, holding Max. “Where is everyone?” I asked, surprised no one else had come barging through the door.

    “I told them to come fifteen minutes later today,” said Ma.

    “You did?” I asked, in complete shock. Never, ever had that happened before.

    “Yes. I wanted to meet Max before everyone arrived. I didn’t want it to be crazy. I thought we could have a few minutes to ourselves before they showed up.”

    “But that’s, like, sacrilegious or something, Ma.”

    “We don’t want to overwhelm her, Anthony.”

    “I’m not breakable, Mrs. Gallo,” Max said. “I have a very large, loud family. I’m used to a lot of people.”

    I knew about her mother and brother, but I didn’t know how large the rest of her family was. Soon enough, I’d find out, and then neither of us would ever have a peaceful weekend alone.

    “We’re good, Max. It was for purely selfish reasons, I assure you,” Ma said. “Why don’t you and Sal go sit down and Anthony and I will grab some drinks before the others arrive.”

    I knew that confusion was written all over my face. My mother never needed help getting drinks. She must have wanted something or had something to say.

    “Sure,” Max said, giving me a small smile before following my pop into the living room.

    “What are you up to?” I asked Ma.

    “Nothing,” she said flatly before turning her back and walking into the kitchen.

    I followed her in and propped myself up on the counter. “Don’t lie, Ma. You have something to say.”

    “She’s beautiful, Anthony. Stunning, actually. I’m so happy for you, son.”

    “That’s it?” I asked with one eyebrow raised.

    “Did you find out her test results yet?” Ma asked as she pulled down four drinking glasses from the cabinet.

    “Not yet. It’s been a couple of weeks, but we possibly still have weeks to go before we hear anything.”

    She sighed. “Tears me up, baby.”

    “What does, Ma?”

    “Thinking of that beautiful girl and what she has to be going through inside.”

    “She’s okay.” I crossed my arms over my chest, knowing that I’d get swatted if I tried to help. My mother never liked any of her boys touching things in her kitchen when it could be avoided.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire