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Too Sweet: Chapter 8




Holy shit.

It feels like I’m counting down to somethingAn event of epic proportions. A paradigm shift of sorts, but the truth is I’m counting up.

Up from the last time I saw Mia.

Five days.

In desperate need of a distraction, I send a quick text to the Hayes group chat.

Me: Who’s free tonight?

Shawn: Birthday afterparty? I wish, but Jack is flying to Chicago in an hour, and Josh has green goo pouring out of his nose.

Theo: Too much information, Shawn. And not tonight, Nico. Thalia’s been sick all afternoon. I think she threw up half her insides. Morning sickness my ass. It’s not just mornings!

Shawn: Too much information, Theo.

Me: You all should be glad people don’t need a license to have kids.

In all fairness, Shawn and Logan are great dads, and I know Theo will be, too, but life would be boring if we stopped riling each other up at every turn.

The license thing, though… it’s fucked up if you think about it. You need a license to drive a car, but you don’t need one to raise a human being?

Someone should introduce that.

Logan: You sure wouldn’t pass the test, bro.

See? Fun.

Cody: We’re in Vegas.

Logan: Cass is out. I’m holding down the fort. No green goo or puke here. We’re due code brown soon, though. You’re welcome to stop by. I’ll teach you how to change a diaper.

And underneath his text, a picture of him and little Noah in matching jerseys. Soon enough, they’ll be wearing matching caps, I’m sure.

Conor: Dude! I’m eating! Stop with the disgusting bodily fluids.

Logan: You’re always eating!

Cody: You need us, Nico? We can face-time.

Conor stuffing his face with whatever he’s in the mood for, mumbling every sentence, Colt with his piss-poor moody attitude, and the one I’m trying not to stab in the back.

Not what I need right now.

Me: No. I’ll call Toby and Adrian.

Less than an hour later, the three of us enter Tortugo per Toby’s request. Adrian’s always game, and while I should be dealing with the power outage that happened earlier in Q, I left it to the general manager. Something I should do more often, considering it’s his job.

Too bad he’s cluelessly running every tiny detail by me at all hours. I should hire a professional to find the reason for the outage, but I let myself off the hook so I can screw my head back in place.

Pun intended.

We stop at the bar, ordering beers, ready to get a few down our throats before we hit the club. I’m on the hunt, glancing around the room, searching for the perfect woman to take home tonight. Instead of a sharp-featured brunette, I spot a blonde I know all too well.

“Am I paranoid or…” Aisha says, amusement lacing her voice as she stops before us, “…are you stalking me, Toby?” She grins, their weird, flirtatious tug-of-war about to begin—again.

Toby and Aisha had a thing last year when they spent two weeks traveling all over Mexico. Things were going well till he cut her loose when they got home. He’d never admit it out loud, but he got scared. We’ve been friends for years. I know how he thinks. He was falling in love too fast, so he dumped her.

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Toby muses, cuffing Aisha’s wrist to pull her closer. “I read your books, baby girl. I know what you like.”

I tune them out.

Aisha has an undeniable ability to drive me up the wall with her presence alone. I don’t know what it is about her. She can be a bit ostentatious but overall she’s a good kid; yet my blood boils whenever she’s around.

Before she hooked up with Toby, she tried it on with me. I shot her down and she decided we should be friends. Apparently, I was the first guy who said no to her, and she took that as a great basis for friendship.

She’s been getting on my nerves ever since.

Most people aren’t comfortable around me. I’ve got a tight circle of friends who know there’s no reason to hold themselves wound up tight in my presence, but everyone else is always wary. Some are downright scared.

Not Aisha. She finds annoying me entirely too entertaining, and now that she’s dancing back and forth with Toby again, I see her more often than I’d like.

I take a long, hard look around the bar, scanning many women and waiting until something clicks inside my head.

It does. Louder than a fired gun.

I look again, double-checking my eyes aren’t playing tricks on me.


I squeeze the back of my neck, my entire body flooding with blazing heat. Huffing an exasperated puff of air down my nose, I glance at the ceiling, muttering profanities until the dictionary of filthy words runs dry.

She’s here.

She’s fucking here, of all places.

She stands twenty feet away on her toes, despite wearing heels. That’s how tiny she is. Even in heels, she’d fit under my arm without an issue. The baby-blue dress she wears is an inch below the knee, flared from the waist down. Her blonde hair is in two braids hanging down her front to her waist.

The bartender slides a wine glass her way, and she turns around, those emerald greens of hers laser-focused on one of the tables. She’s a far cry from what I got myself used to. Oddly refreshing with the aura of goodness humming around her. I never noticed girls like Mia, but she stole my attention with piano, and there was no overlooking her after that.

I move away from the bar on autopilot, following in her footsteps. The honeysuckle scent lingers like an invisible trail leading to treasure. I catch her wrist before she approaches whichever table she’s heading to. The touch of her skin sends a shot of endorphins through my system, but it’s not enough to ease my flaring temper.

“What the fuck are you doing here, Mia?”

The triplets are in Vegas, and the thought of her not being looked after makes my skin crawl. There are far too many sleazy assholes roaming Newport Beach for a girl like Mia to be out without a bodyguard.

“Why are you shouting at me?” She gawks at my hand holding her wrist. Her eyes narrow, and the self-defense skills my brothers taught her resurface. She glances at my throat, then quickly checks the position of my legs.

She’s afraid. She flinched again when I touched her.

How the hell am I supposed to deal with her when she’s so skittish? I want to wrap her in my arms, curve her into my chest, and hold her until she calms down, but it’d probably have the opposite effect.

She’s pocket-sized, but she broke Brandon’s nose, and I think she could cause me some damage, too. Explaining to Cody why his little girl felt the urge to take me down would be problematic, so I drop her hand, taking half a step back. I pump my fists, reining in the turmoil of my emotions.

It doesn’t work.

My pulse soars again, whooshing in my ears when I notice fading, yellowy-green bruises dotting Mia’s arms.

Both arms.

Upper, lower, wrists… dozens of bruises, most the size of a silver dollar, others bigger, some smaller.

I grab her again, yanking her closer to gently trace the pad of my thumb over the marks. “Who the fuck did that to you?”

She doesn’t reply, just stares at me blankly with those unbelievable eyes like she hasn’t heard what I said or doesn’t know how to respond.

I want to grip her shoulders and shake words out of her. Fury bubbles in my veins, throbbing in my temples, but I grit my teeth, swapping anger for fake calm. “Mia, who did this? I need a name. Now.”

“It’s nothi—”

“Don’t brush me off. Who did this?”

She squirms, her cheeks scarlet as she tries to tug her hand free, shuddering softly and angling her head back to look into my eyes. “Um… it was you.”

Three words. Just three small words, but their meaning hits like a lightning bolt.

“Me?” I let her go, stumbling back a whole step this time. Confusion wins the battle against rage, still sizzling at the back of my mind. “What? I never hurt you. I never fucking touched you, Mia.”

Not like this.

“Yes, you did. You grabbed me at Rave.” She points to four bruises around her upper arm, making my stomach bottom out. “And you held me when you taught me self-defense.” She touches the bruises around her lower arms and wrists.

“Fuck…” I can barely swallow around the lump in my throat as I curl my fingers under her chin. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I gripped you so hard.” I remember thinking my hold on her was tight, but not that tight.

“It’s okay.” She flashes me a smile, playing this down. It does nothing to loosen the chain coiled around my chest. “Really, it’s fine. I’ve got—”

“It’s not fine.” This is as far from fine as it gets. “Why didn’t you tell me I was holding you too hard? You should’ve said something.”

“It’s okay.” She steps closer to place her small hand on my bicep. The warmth of her palm radiates all over me, and my heart rate slows on cue. “Please don’t make a big deal out of it. I’ve got VWD. I bruise easily.”


“Von Willebrand Disease. My blood doesn’t clot properly. I bleed excessively and bruise like a peach.” She gently brushes her fingertips higher, then back down, trying to soothe me. “I’m fine. It doesn’t hurt if that’s what you’re wondering. I’m tougher than I look, Nico.”

I push a calming breath down my nose, but it doesn’t work. I’ve never hurt a woman. Not even Kaya when she threw a kitchen knife at me, missing my head by not many inches.

And Mia’s tiny, delicate: fucking fragile. My insides knot so hard it’ll take days before the tension eases.

The clotting disorder explains why she soaked through the gauze before we left the tattoo studio. “You shouldn’t be getting tattoos, right?”

She nods, her cheeks pinking up. “Not really, but I’m only type two, so not that bad. I take necessary precautions. All my tattoos are tiny, and I’ve never had issues.”

“Ah, there you are.” Aisha stops beside us, cutting in before I can apologize again. “I need to take a rain check, sis. I’ll make it up to you, I promise.” She pulls a peacock feather out of her bag, handing it over to Mia, then shoves her hand back in to retrieve a small, white box tied with a pink ribbon. “Happy birthday.”

A sad, defeated grimace crosses Mia’s face before it morphs into an unconvincing smile. “Thank you. Have fun.”

“Oh, I will.” Aisha leans in and pecks her cheek, then turns to me. “Come on, baby boy. We’re going to Q.” She doesn’t wait for a reply. She just walks away with a seductive sway of her hips designed to entice Toby, who watches her every move.

I imagine wringing her slim, long neck. She knows how much baby boy riles me up, and she hardly passes the chance to throw that in my face.

“She’s ditching you on your birthday?” I ask Mia.

“No, of course not.” She pinches the feather between her fingers. “My birthday was yesterday, but she was busy celebrating yours.”

We share a birthday? That makes her exactly ten years younger than me… too young.

“What’s the feather about?” I ask, pushing that thought away.

“It’s… it was a silly, childish tradition. It stopped working a long time ago.

“Keep going. I want to know.”

She tucks it in her bag, sliding the zipper left and right. “I found it at the Zoo when I was ten. Aisha’s six years older than me and a much different person. She never liked spending time together unless she could get something out of it.

“I didn’t see her much once she started high school, so we made a deal. Whoever had the feather could ask the other for anything. You didn’t have to agree, but if you did, you had to go through with it.”

She takes a small sip of her spritzer, moistening those heart-shaped, bee-stung lips I can barely stop myself from kissing.

“What did you wish for?”

“Time. I wanted to watch a movie with her, go shopping, or have her braid my hair. She wanted money or that I’d cover for her whenever she stayed out partying late. She held onto the feather for weeks but never backed out of a wish. It changed when she started college… I can’t remember the last time she didn’t back out.” She takes a deep breath, shrugging softly like it’s not a big deal, but her eyes tell a different story. She’s disappointed. “You should join them before they leave without you.” She points to where Toby and Adrian shoot me impatient stares. “Goodnight, Nico.”

She spins on her heel, not letting me get a word in, and walks toward the bar.

I can’t fucking move watching her hips, hidden under the flared skirt, sway from left to right; the bows on the back of her heels; the one-inch-wide strip of lacy fabric running from her neck and disappearing under the skirt.

How can she show so little yet be so sexy?

She hands her wine back to the bartender, and as she turns to leave, a cocky-looking prick wraps his arms around her middle, pulls her back, and whispers something in her ear.

And that’s enough to flare my temper.

She spins back to face him, his hand gliding down her spine and stopping on the small of her back as he towers above her. I know that kid. Justin Montgomery. He’s the triplets’ friend from college. A football player, I think. Loud, pompous, and spoiled by his rich mommy: a small-screen actress.

I watch them talk. I’m facing Mia’s back, so I can’t see her face when Justin laughs, shaking his head at whatever she said. My temper flares more when he spreads his fingers over her back, pressing her closer to his chest.

She’s not his to touch, but she’s not reacting.

Not pushing the asshole away.

He dips his head, grazing his lips along the crook of her neck, and moves his free hand to her butt, squeezing hard.

That’s when she braces against him. The gesture lacks resolve like she doesn’t really want him to let go, and I’m hit with a bad case of deja-vu.

I’ve seen this before.

Too many times.

Flashbacks flood my mind, summoning endless nights when I saw Kaya out on the dancefloor, letting some random douchebag grope her while I sat in the booth, watching her piss-poor attempts at breaking free.

She didn’t want to break free, though. She just made it look like she wasn’t letting the man touch what was mine.

I wish I’d known she did it on purpose.

She wanted me to burst into flames, fly down the stairs, and beat the hell out of the guy who did nothing more than put his hand up the skirt of a girl who let him. I wish I saw through the ‘I’m so sorry, baby. I tried to stop him, but I was so scared!’ bullshit.

Not a weekend went by without a brawl. Not one without shit hitting the fan. Kaya loved my temper. She loved my jealousy and fueled the fire with bucketloads of gasoline.

Seeing me throw my fists was the biggest turn-on for her. Whenever I made someone bleed, she dragged me out of the club to suck my dick or ride me in the back seat of my car.

She trained me like a puppy—instant reward.

The overprotective, possessive side of my personality didn’t help me see reason. I was blind to the obvious for seven long months, losing my goddamn mind whenever anyone touched even one inch of her body… whenever she looked at me with those beautiful, theatrically scared eyes.

It wasn’t until I caught her cheating that I saw our relationship in a different light and Kaya for who she really was. A manipulative, vile drama starter. An attention seeker. A leech sucking out my energy.

Once the unexplainable spell she had me under dispersed, I swore I’d never let another woman get me under her thumb like that. I’d never get involved with another drama queen.

And here I am, watching Mia turn around, away from Justin. Her big, round eyes scan the room before they cut to me, helplessness painted across her pretty face.

She’s just like Kaya. A damsel in imaginary distress.

She let Justin touch her. She didn’t do anything to stop the asshole groping her, and now she shoots me the look. The please help me look Kaya sent my way every weekend.

Fuck my life.

No matter how appealing the idea, I can’t leave her to fend for herself. My brother is into that girl. Not for long because I’m not keeping this to myself. I’ll tell him she’s not worth the hassle, but for now, I can’t walk away.

The triplets consider her their little sister.

They’re protective of her.

Probably because she gives off that deer-in-the-headlights vibe… she has them wrapped around her finger.

My temper goes from zero to prison when Justin cuffs Mia’s wrist, not letting her leave.

I cross the room and nail his face before he sees me coming. Next thing I know, he’s on the ground, clutching his bleeding lip. Another flashback hits me, fueling my anger to the point I could crack open Justin’s skull like an egg. The faces of all the guys I put in a similar predicament flicker on the backs of my eyelids. So many unnecessary fights.

“What the fuck?!” Justin booms, poking my chest once he hauls himself up. “What’s your problem, Nico?”

“Beat it, kid. She’s not yours.”

“How do you know? Maybe she is.”

Like hell.

“I told you I’m not interested, Justin,” Mia says, quivering like a two-day-old puppy whisked from the litter, her cheeks white for a change.

She’s a better actress than Kaya, I’ll give her that. Her unease rings genuine, but I’m not falling for that. It’s a fucking play. She’s in character. Acting the same way Kaya did.

Justin turns to her, but I grab his collar and shove him against the bar. “I said beat it before I lose my patience.”

From the corner of my eye, I see Mia, pale like a ghost, sink to her knees and rummage through her bag. She pulls out a travel-size bottle of mouthwash and unscrews the cap with trembling hands, inhaling the minty scent.

“Out,” I clip, pushing Justin toward the door.

He readjusts his t-shirt, shooting me a dirty look. Not as dirty as the one he shoots Mia, though.

I crouch before her, reaching for her shoulders to haul her up, but she jerks away so suddenly that she spills half the mouthwash down her dress.

“Don’t make a fucking scene. You let him touch you. Don’t act distraught now.” I reach for her again, and she falls back on her ass, scrambling away, those big eyes searching for a way out. It only pisses me off more. “Get up. I’m taking you home.”

“No, no, I-I—” She pauses, inhaling at what’s left of the mouthwash.

She glances past me. I look around, too, remembering Aisha’s here. She should be the one to escort Mia home, but a quick scan of the bar tells me she’s gone.

So are Toby and Adrian.

I pinch the bridge of my nose. Great. Just fucking great. Looks like I have no choice but to deal with the little diva.


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