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Too Sweet: Chapter 4


THE HOUSE IS QUIET as always. Aisha’s out, although this week, instead of picking another man at the club, she’s having dinner with the one she picked last week during her girls’ night out in Q—Toby, the tattoo artist. It looks like they’re giving it a second chance.

I don’t think she ever went out on a proper date before tonight. She ran between the bathroom and her bedroom for two hours, getting ready, and kept knocking on my door, showing off skimpy dress after skimpy dress before she settled for a baby-pink wrap number.

It’s something I’d wear if the cleavage wasn’t so deep.

A cab waits for me on the driveway; the driver, Arthur, is one of the few I trust enough not to clutch the pepper spray tucked in my bag. He’s an older man, probably in his late fifties, always entertaining me with a chat.

“You look pretty tonight, Mia,” he says when I take the back seat, readjusting my green polka-dot dress. “I think my daughter has that same dress, just blue.”

Oh, that makes me feel great… His daughter is eleven.

Maybe I should make a rule not to buy clothes in the kiddie section, no matter how much I love them. It’s not like I purposely shop there, but a pretty sweater or a dress catches my eye every now and then, and I can’t resist. My compact size means I fit into teenage clothes just fine, and sometimes the dresses are too pretty to pass.

“Where are we going?” he asks, making a three-point turn on the gravel.

Rave, please.”

“That club? I’d never guess you’re twenty-one.”

I’m not. Most people in those clubs aren’t twenty-one. Aisha got me my first fake ID two years ago during a short-lived phase of inviting me out with her friends. Short-lived because I wasn’t much fun sitting in the booth, sipping lemonade, and ignoring her friends’ digs.

Arthur turns left onto the road, starting his catch-up monologue. He usually brings me home from lousy dates, so I’m well-informed about his life.

Newport Beach is big enough that you don’t know everyone but small enough that getting from point A to B doesn’t take long. Ten minutes later, after telling me his son joined the military, Arthur parks the cab outside the club.

“Call me when you’re ready to go home. I’m working till two in the morning.”

“Thank you, I’ll call if I need a ride.” I pay the fare, exiting the car before he tries to give me the few dollars’ change.

It’s only ten o’clock, but it’s the last weekend of Spring Break, so Rave is packed. Just to be safe, I glance around, scanning the crowd of partygoers inside, searching for the football jocks. They travel in packs, so if one’s here, the rest lurk nearby.

I’m avoiding Brandon, expecting him to retaliate in some elaborate, twisted way for breaking his nose

It’s not like I punched him out of the blue that night.

I sat on a large outdoor sofa in Nico’s garden, looking through the list of songs Six sent, checking what I’d be singing next. I failed to notice the pompous quarterback heading my way until he dropped into the seat beside me.

I got up immediately but didn’t take one step before I fell straight into his lap…

“Can you feel that?” Brandon hisses in my ear, moving his hips up, his erection butting against my thigh. “That’s what you do to me. You need to take care of that, kitten. I’ve been imagining you naked since my New Year’s Eve party.” He grabs my thighs when I try to move. “Not so fast. Fuck… you smell good.”

“You have until I count to three to let go.”

He laughs, the sound low, throaty. “And if I don’t?” His teeth graze my earlobe.


Another short laugh, louder, and he jerks his hips higher. “I bet you’re tight. So fucking wet. I’ll make you scream, shake, and beg for more, kitten. Just say yes.”


His fingers dig into my skin. “Fuck, kitten… stop teasing.” Another loaded growl leaves his lips.


One precise elbow throw and a dash inside Nico’s house later, I puked in the downstairs toilet.

What else is new?

Thankfully neither Brandon nor his friends are here, which is good, but I can’t see the triplets, either, and that’s not good. Colt texted me an hour ago, saying I should come over. With zero better plans, I took him up on the offer, but it looks like I arrived too late.

The triplets became part of my life when they saved my ass one night in Q last year. They’ve kept an eye on me since. I don’t know how I managed without them. The way we clicked is bizarre, but I couldn’t have hoped for better friends.

It’s a shame we didn’t get there sooner.

Although, given my history, maybe that’s for the best. The triplets were always in the spotlight. Three identical brothers, their mother a former Miss California title winner, their father a mayor… Yes, the triplets were always the heart of any gathering. We’ve attended the same schools for fifteen years. I’m a year younger, and as an outcast, I was invisible to anyone not trying to make my life miserable.

Avoiding eye contact with everyone inside Rave, I squeeze past the line at the bar and round the corner, heading for the staircase to the VIP section where I might find the triplets.

Once there, I scan the booths, two lines creasing my forehead. Where are they? I spin on my heel and almost jump out of my skin when a warm hand grips my upper arm, halting me in place.

His touch sends an electric impulse rushing through my bloodstream. Goosebumps dot my skin, forcing the hairs on my neck to rise. If not for my body’s reaction, I’d be clutching my bag, getting ready to unleash the pepper spray, but my suddenly weak knees hint who’s behind me.

I turn around again, my heart triphammering, hot flushes running down my spine. Nico stands a foot away, gouging his long fingers into my flesh hard enough to leave bruises. The ruthlessness he emanates isn’t aimed at me. It’s just a part of his disturbing charm that renders me speechless.

I’m not good with confrontation.

“What the hell are you doing here alone?” he clips, yanking his earphone out of his ear.

Maybe a bit of his attitude is aimed at me after all. He towers above me, a tall, broad-chested wall of muscles. Olive veins snake up his hands and forearms, covered here and there by black ink. The tattoos on his impressive biceps dance with every move he makes.

“Does Cody know you’re here?”

I swallow around the tightness of my throat as my stomach churns, nausea kicking up the gears as Nico digs his fingers harder into my skin.

“Let me go,” I say, steadying my breathing.

He won’t hurt me.

He said so.

He’s just a big brute.

He probably doesn’t realize how hard he’s holding me.

“I asked you a question, Mia.” My name rolls off his tongue, erotic and possessive.

Fear and desire mix in my head, but even the heat flaring at the backs of my thighs doesn’t ease the mild panic burning through my veins. “They don’t know I’m here. You have until I count to three to let me go, Nico. It hurts.”

His brows furrow in confusion as he glances down to where his hold loosens slowly before he lets go, raking his hand through his jet-black hair. “Why are you here, kid?”

I’m torn between running away with my tail tucked between my legs and rising on my toes to kiss him.

I’m not sure I can reach, though.

He’s too tall, and I’m too chicken. I wouldn’t get far if I ran, so I stand still, nailed to the spot. His cologne, a combination of bergamot, cedar, and a spicy note, overpowers every other smell here.

“I’m not a kid,” I mutter, my cheeks growing hotter. “Colt sent me a text earlier saying they’re here and to join them. Have you seen them?”

“They left half an hour ago.”

I pull my phone out, inhaling deeply as if it’ll help me get a hold of myself. Not likely. My hands shake, my pulse soars, and I can’t focus on the text message.

It takes three tries before the words make sense.

Me: You said Rave. You’re not here. Where are you?

Colt: Sorry, Nico’s there with friends. We evacuated to Q. I’ll wait for you outside.

He could’ve texted me sooner. Then again, I should’ve told him I’m coming instead of just arriving.

“They moved to Q,” I say, and Nico inches closer.

I wish he wouldn’t. He’s too close. So close I can make out gold specks in his almost black irises. So close that I’m enveloped by the heat radiating from the bulk of his body.

There’s a forest tattooed on his forearm. Tall, dark trees, a wolf, small birds, and mountains in the background. A stormy sky with lightning stretches up his elbow. The trees are burning. Smoke swirls higher, above the sky. There’s more there—a bird, I think, but it’s hidden under his sleeve.

Burning curiosity conquers embarrassment, pushing me to roll up the sleeve, and uncover a raven in flight. An unhealthy thrill zips through my nerve endings when Nico covers my hand with his, pressing it harder against his warm skin.

“I-I’m sorry. It’s beautiful… the bird.”

He clenches his jaw, flinching his hand from mine and shoving both of his into his pockets. “Why are you here alone? Where are your friends?”

I want him to touch me again. Take my hand or cuff my wrist… even if it’ll hurt a little.

I don’t know what to do with myself as we stand here, too close but not close enough, so I start twisting my rings. “I told you. They’re in Q. Colt said they’re here. He didn’t text me when they changed club, and I didn’t text him to say I was coming, so it’s my fault.”

A ghost of a smile lifts his mouth. “Come on.” He nudges his chin toward the staircase. “I’ll take you to them.”

“No, that’s okay. I know the way.”

“I’m sure you do, but I’m not letting you out of my sight until you’re safe with my brothers, Mia. I can’t force you to get in my car, but I will walk you to Q. Don’t argue.”

Seeing as he won’t back down, we start walking. I carefully lead the way like I’m taking my first steps, feeling self-conscious while he trails behind me, watching… judging.

Q is just around the corner,” I say once we’re outside, hoping he’ll reconsider. “I can manage on my own.”

He shakes his head, making the black, messy hair bounce along his forehead. “You shouldn’t have to manage on your own, kid.” He falls into step, urging me to do the same. “Where did you learn to play the piano?”

Keeping up with his long legs proves a struggle. He’s six-foot-three while I’m a whole foot shorter, and that’s only because I’m wearing three-inch heels. I fall back a few steps—a blessing in disguise. It’s easier being around him when he’s not crowding my personal space.

At the same time, I hate the distance.

It’s silly how I react to him as if he’s a powerful magnet spinning me like a compass needle. It’s not his looks that leave me breathless, even though he’s a sight to behold.

It’s his stance. The ruthless confidence. How he walks, talks, and smells like a divine mixture of masculinity, pheromones, and sex. At least that’s how I imagine sex smells.

“My grandfather was a piano teacher.”

Nico glances over his shoulder, stopping when he spots me a fair distance behind. “You need two steps for one of mine, don’t you?”

“Sorry, I wasn’t graced with height. Or speed.”

He chuckles, the sound thick, reminding me of tar on a hot summer day, his chest moving up and down. His whole face lights up. The harsh features soften, eyes sparkle, and he looks unnaturally carefree for a second.

He’s beautiful.

It’s not something he’d want to hear. Hot, handsome—yes, but beautiful? No. He wouldn’t want to hear that. He is, though. Beautiful and not half as scary when he smiles.

I know more about Nico than I’d care to admit aloud. Since we met two weeks ago, I’ve paid more attention to what his grandmother, Rita, says about him in particular when we play Bridge. Her grandsons are her favorite topic.

“You may have pulled a short straw there but you got a long one in talent. Why do you play old songs?”

He likes old songs. Aerosmith is his favorite band. Or used to be when he was younger. Rita doesn’t know much about what he enjoys now.

“I don’t always. You only heard me play when I had to clear my head. Classics work best. I like all kinds of music. New-age computer-generated music’s great for a party, but not what I listen to when I’m alone.”

He stops, putting one of the earphones dangling from the collar of his t-shirt in his ear before he hands me his phone. “So what’s your alone music? Show me.”

The distance between us is less than a foot. The heady scent of his cologne assaults my nose, his chest in my face.


Even in three-inch heels, I’m eye level with his pecs. I hold the phone, unsure what to play. I like intimate music. Slow, emotional, a little dark. Not necessarily old, just full of emotion. Inhaling a deep breath, I pull up one of my playlists on Spotify.

“Left Alone” by Allan Rayman fills his ears a moment later. The song is heavy, the lyrics full of meaning. I know every word. Watching Nico listen to Allan’s raspy voice and slow melody, I realize the lyrics fit him perfectly.

A lone wolf.

It’s unnerving how he never looks away from me, but I’m at ease despite the intimate atmosphere. I avert my gaze first, watching him save my playlist to favorites.

“Give me your phone.” He tugs the cord until the earphone pops out. “Your playlist for mine.”

“Oh, okay. That’s fair.” I open my bag, and the pepper spray peeks out of its small confinement.

Nico grabs the can, inspecting the label and expiry date. “Why do you have this, Mia?”

He uses my name a lot. It’s intimate… like we’re in bed in the heat of the moment, and he’s trying to draw my attention.

“Better safe than sorry.”

“I don’t like repeating myself, kid. Most people don’t buy pepper spray unless they feel threatened, so I’ll ask again. Why do you think you need to have this on you?”

“No reason.”

He’s silent for a whole minute, grinding his teeth before he exhales in a sharp gush. “You’re a lousy liar. This…” He shoves the can back in my purse, “…is shit. If you need it, get something with a better range.”

That’s what Cody told me when I showed it to him a week after the incident that forced me to buy it.

One evening. One date. A scarred psyche forever.

The triplets were there the night Asher Woodward spiked my drink and dragged me out of the club. They never acknowledged my existence before but came looking for me when I disappeared from the booth opposite theirs. They found me just in time. Twenty seconds later and Asher would’ve gotten what he wanted.

Once Cody pulled him away, I puked all over Colt’s shoes. He still finds it funny. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the only time the triplets saw me throw up. During the past year, they held my hair at least half a dozen times.

“Cody said the same thing. He wanted Shawn to get me a taser, but I don’t think I’d have the guts to use it.”

Shawn is Nico’s oldest brother and Deputy Chief of police in Newport Beach. There’s also Theo, who designs games, and Logan, who took over the largest construction company in The OC once Grandad Hayes retired.

“A taser?” Nico seethes. “And you think I’ll believe you don’t have a reason for that can in your bag? Why do you need it?”

“I don’t. Cody’s overreacting.” I nip the topic in the bud by handing him my phone, so he can save his playlist in my Spotify library.

A moment later, we’re walking again, the atmosphere no longer casual. I don’t like the sudden silence or his obvious exasperation. I guess he saw right through my lie.

The entrance to Q comes into view when we round the corner. Colt casually leans against the wall, phone in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He lifts his head, probably hearing my heels clicking. The triplets are alike, but they’re different from Nico. Shorter by about three inches, skinnier—maybe because of their age, and lighter in complexion.

“I found her in Rave,” Nico says.

“And you thought you’ll escort her? Thanks. I’ll take it from here.”

Instead of retreating, Nico balls his hands into tight fists. “Where’s Cody?”

“Inside,” Colt huffs, raking his fingers through his dark curls, styled to the front and shorter on the sides. “He’s getting you a drink, Mia. I hope you’re wearing comfortable shoes because he wants to dance. I doubt he’ll let you rest tonight.”

Good. It’s been a while since we went out together. All three of them are great dancers. Colt has the best moves, Conor makes me dizzy when he twirls me around too fast, and Cody takes the longest to run out of steam.

“That’s exactly what I need tonight. I’ll go find him.” I turn to Nico with one more wave. It looks childish… no wonder he calls me a kid. I should stop doing that. “Thank you.”

“Don’t let her go in alone.” He glares past me at his brother. “Either you go with her, or I will.”

“I’ve got her, Nico.”

They stare each other down like it’s a game, and the first to avert his gaze loses.

Colt does.

Of course it’s Colt. Nico doesn’t back down.

His eyes are on me next, the intensity of his gaze heating my cheeks. “Be good, Mia,” he says, drawing out my name in a way that makes me wet with need.

Lord, I think he could talk me to an orgasm.


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