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Eli (Mallick Brothers #4)
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Six years on the inside gave a man a lot of time to think. And a lot of time to plan. When I got out, I was determined for things to go a different way. I never wanted to lose control and rage out again.
The only way to accomplish that, though, was to shut it all down.
That meant no family, no friends, no links to anything attached to the man I was before.
Of course the problem was, I never factored HER into my plans. And try as I might, I couldn’t find a way to shut it down, to disconnect from her.
I had a sneaking suspicion she was going to take all my carefully constructed plans and toss them out the window, was going to force me to face up the demons inside and confront the ghosts from my past.
And a confrontation with them, yeah, I had a feeling it was going to show me that I had spent six years taking action on beliefs about the demons inside. Demons that had never actually existed in the first place…
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No one buys dildos at eight o’clock in the morning.
I learned that my first year of business while I fought with spreadsheets, cried over the light bill, and stocked bright pink butt plugs onto shelves.
It was also why I was sitting outside a coffeeshop in Hollydell right outside of Navesink Bank because, apparently, in a town full of twenty different fast food restaurants, having an actual coffeeshop was too much to ask.
The season was proving temperamental. I had woken up to forty degrees, but it was steadily on its way to the sixties, so I had grabbed my double shot mocha frappe to sit at one of the wrought iron tables-for-two right out front, flipping through the pages of a glossy magazine like I had all the time in the world.
I opened my store around ten-thirty on weekdays which gave the moms plenty of time to drop the kiddos off at school before dropping in for a new Rabbit, or tongue vibe, or – if there was an anniversary coming up – a mutually enjoyable cock ring or set of edible panties.
In case it wasn’t infinitely clear here – I own a sex store.
They call it, officially, a “novelty” store or an “adult toy store.” But let’s be real – it’s a sex store. I deal in making sex even better than it usually was. I was a smut-slinging, vibrator-advising, proud owner of Navesink Bank’s only sex store: Phallus-opy. Because naming it “X-anything” or “toy-something” was cheesy and unimaginative. Plus, when you went the “toy” route, there was the off-chance of someone getting the wrong idea and coming in with a kid. With “phallus” in the name, there was almost no chance of that kind of awkward screw-up.
Don’t want to scar the kids for life with the sight of a twelve-inch monster cock in rainbow leopard print or a unicorn-horn-shaped, glitter-infused butt plug.
I shook my drink, watching the full-fat whipped cream melt down into the skim concoction. Call it balance. Like how I was going to have a salad for dinner. Followed by a huge slice of the chocolate cake I had picked up at the bakery over the weekend. And don’t try to tell me that the fat and sugar in the oversized slice of cake actually made the choice of a light salad null and void because, well, no one wants that negativity in their life. Just let me live with my delusions.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!” a woman’s shrill voice had my head popping up. Shrill was not a good sign at eight in the morning. Someone was going to get his balls handed to him. “You won’t even stop to talk to me? Seriously?”
Crazy chick then.
This would be good.
I sat back in my chair, taking a sip out of my straw, watching as the duo came into view from the side of the building where the lot was situated.
And, yeah, damn.
Maybe it was my underused libido talking, but he might have been the best-looking man I had ever seen.
He was tall with a lean, strong body. A swimmer’s build, it might be called. Even though the morning was running toward chilly, he had on a white tee, showing off some ink on his arms that I had a sudden urge to inspect closer.
After we’d toured my bedsheets.
Okay there Autumn, get a grip of your hormones.
The body was nice, sure. He definitely wouldn’t get kicked out of any woman’s bed. But it was the face that made you feel like you were gut-punched.
That was the only word even close to good enough to describe him.
He had those good, old-fashioned chiseled, masculine features – a cut jaw, strong brows, a straight nose, lips that were pressed in a firm line but you knew would feel good kissing and sucking you all over. His hair was black, a little long, falling down his forehead. But the eyes, damn. Those eyes. They were the lightest kind of blue, almost transparent. With that dark hair and that perfect face? Oh, yeah, I could see why this woman was willing to go full-on crazy-ex-girlfriend at eight in the morning for a man like that.
She was pretty too. Gorgeous really, but in a cold kind of way. She was tall, lean, with long ice-blonde hair, blue eyes, and just a tad too much makeup considering she was naturally attractive.
“Eli, come the hell on,” she said, grabbing the man’s arm, making him stop, exhaling his breath slowly, like he was trying to prepare himself for something wholly unpleasant. “I know you couldn’t have been serious about it being the dog or me.”
Oh, yeah, he had a dog too.
Somehow, I had been so wrapped up in his face that I hadn’t noticed the bright orange leash in his hand that led to, well, the ugliest dog in the world.