“Try the cake. It’s fantastic.”
Christy lifted her gaze to the dark sky and took a deep breath.
Locking Martha in the sauna, turning it to high, and forgetting her there was extremely appealing at the moment.
Christy had excused herself from the table and gone outside Rosita’s for a bit of fresh air. Her mother, true to form, hadn’t taken long to follow her, that damn plate of cake in her hand.
“Come on, it’s just a small bite,” Martha insisted, pushing the dessert under her nose. “What harm can that do?”
Christy fought to keep her smile in place. With every passing second, it was becoming more difficult. “No, thank you.”
Martha tsked, giving her a chiding look, and took a piece herself. “You should have a healthy relationship with food. Even a kid can manage that.”
“Yes, Martha.” She would have loved to say something else, more along the lines of, Shove your uncalled-for advice up
… but she stuck to the script. Giving explanations to her mother had never been anything but a waste of time and energy.
“This would be a good choice for your wedding cake. You’ve always loved triple-fudge chocolate.”
Yeah, and she had the scars to prove it.
“There won’t be cake at my wedding.”
Martha widened her eyes, horrified. “What are you going to offer? Skewered fruit? No, no, no. I absolutely refuse. Over my dead body. You have to have the picture of the bride and groom feeding each other cake. It’s a must.”
“Martha, whose wedding is it?”
“It has nothing to do with that.”
And that was why this conversation was useless.
“Now that we’re on the subject, what about the wedding? He proposed months ago. You have to pick a date. As soon as possible, my dear; you know long engagements are not your forte. You need to tie him up fast. We don’t want him to change his mind.”
“Cole won’t change his mind,” Christy answered resolutely, trying to ignore the condescending way her mother was rolling her eyes at her.
“Christy, if that disaster with Todd proved anything, it’s that you don’t know how to keep a man.”
Ha! Like her mother, with a trail of failed marriages behind her, would have a clue.
Martha continued talking, seemingly oblivious to Christy’s murderous thoughts. “Pity you sent all the wedding presents back. Oh well; there was nothing engraved. They can give them to us again. Except that horrible vase Lora got for you. It’s going to have an unfortunate accident if I see it again. Don’t people know to stick to a wedding list instead of improvising when they have neither the taste nor the money for it?”
“I liked the vase.” Lora herself had made it. It was unique and quirky. With character.
Martha—surprise, surprise—ignored her. “Your gorgeous and expensive engagement ring is a lost cause. That evil woman at the Salvation Army is holding it hostage.”
“Did you go bugging Mrs. Patty about it?” Because Christy had voluntarily donated it last summer. That ring was more than gone.
“Me? Close to that bloodthirsty monster? Of course not. Do you know what she did to poor Todd when he tried to retrieve it?”
“Nicked him on his balls?”
“It’s called testicular rupture,” Martha admonished her.
The bloodthirsty monster, aka Mrs. Patty, was a sweet old lady who took Mike’s senior self-defense classes.
Todd’s dick could turn blue and fall into pieces for all Christy cared.
“What about the wedding dress? You were so unreasonable, standing me up in the bridal shop.”
“I was in a car accident,” Christy lied shamelessly.
“Excuses. Will the old one fit you? You need to watch it. You seem…healthier, if you know what I mean. But a fluffy, short jacket would cover any”—Martha gestured around Christy’s arms—”extra.”
Christy grabbed the lapels of her jacket and crossed them over her chest, feeling uncomfortable and exposed, which was nuts because she was covered from head to toe. “I asked you to get rid of the old dress. You didn’t?”
“The shop wouldn’t take it back. I decided to hold on to it. It takes months to get a wedding dress ready. Several fittings. I didn’t think it’d be wise in your position to waste precious time.”
“You are not a spring chicken, dear. You aren’t getting any younger. Or any skinnier.”
She hugged herself tighter, protecting herself from the onslaught, hating how inadequate her mom made her feel. “Get rid of the dress. I will not marry Cole in it.”
“He doesn’t need to know we’re…recycling it. We lost the deposit with the event coordinator, but I’m sure you can get a discount if you go back to her. Everyone pities an abandoned bride.”
For the love of Christ.
“I was not abandoned.”
Martha lifted her hands, exasperated. “What do you want me to tell people? That you walked out on a perfectly good man two weeks before the wedding? Who in her right mind does that?”
“He was cheating on me with my neighbor.”
“A trifle. All couples have their little ups and downs.”
“Finding your fiancé getting his cock sucked by someone else is not a little down. It’s a free fall over a ninety-degree slope.” It was a miracle Christy got any words out, the way she was clenching her jaw.
“You made too much of it. Especially after he apologized. You need to learn from that. Todd was somewhat malleable. Cole, on the other hand…”
Martha stared at her as if Christy were dumb. “I’ve seen the way women ogle him. Gorgeous women. Not that you are ugly.” She hurried to pat her daughter’s shoulder. “You’re… cute in your own particular way, but let’s be honest: he’s totally out of your league. He’ll stray.”
She knew what Cole looked like, and she knew the knockout beauties he used to date. But she’d learned to ignore the women salivating after him. Even learned to disregard the disbelieving glares they got when they went somewhere out together. That didn’t mean she enjoyed her mother reminding her of it. “He won’t. I trust Cole.”
Yes, he looked like a frigging gladiator and was rugged and sexy and absolutely heart-stoppingly handsome, but no, he wouldn’t cheat.
“You need to prepare for it and not make a mess of things this time around. Which brings me back to my initial point: pick a wedding date and seal the deal, as soon as possible. In fact, I think we should resort to the old unbeatable method—get knocked up. As in right away.”
Christy choked on the breath she was taking. “You are kidding me.”
If her gaze was anything to go by, then no, Martha was not kidding. “Pills are easy to forget, you know, for someone so scattered as you. And condoms have a nasty tendency to break, especially if you pierce them beforehand.”
No shit. “That’s what you did to my father?”
Martha waved her off, a snort escaping her. “Of course not, dear. You were an accident.” She must have realized how that sounded, because, surprisingly enough, she corrected herself. “A wonderful accident, mind you, but your father was in no way worth the bother or drawbacks of getting pregnant to catch him.”
Please someone shoot Christy. Now. Before she lost it.
Martha just continued with her ramblings. “An early spring wedding at a five-star resort would be fantastic.”
“And you’ll foot the bill? Traditionally it’s the father of the bride who’s responsible for that. He’s been a no-show for almost thirty-five years. So I guess it’s up to you.”
Her mom faltered. “Oh. I was assuming Cole would take care of that. You’re paying for your own wedding, then?”
She heard his voice a second before he placed his warm, strong hand on the small of her back. “She’s not paying for a damn thing, Martha.”
Martha smiled shakily. “Cole, we didn’t hear you.”
“I bet you didn’t. I came to see what was taking so long,” he said, kissing Christy.
Liar. He’d come because he’d guessed she was about to murder someone. And he’d been right.
“Oh yes, how inconsiderate of us. We were having fun chatting and lost track of time,” Martha apologized and, after pinching her daughter’s cheek, headed back.
Christy didn’t move.
Cole enveloped her in his arms and kissed her again, this time harder. “Come on, baby. You’re freezing.”
“I better stay here. Far away from the knives. How much did you hear?”
“Her asking if you were paying for the wedding.”
“Why? Did I miss something?” he continued.
Not much, really. Just her mother implicitly calling her fat, ugly, and childish. Nothing new. Business as usual.
“LET’S GO IN,” Christy said, the forced smile on her face pissing Cole off.
Stifling a growl, he followed her, watching as she reached in the pocket of her long skirt and took out a lollipop. There she went again with her oral fixation. It kicked in whenever she got nervous. Since her mom had come to Alden, the stock of sugar-free cherry lollipops in the greater Boston area had disappeared. He knew because those damn things were all over their house. Along with this new wardrobe of hers, consisting of big-ass clothes that had more in common with shapeless sacks than anything else.
And she was laughing less and frowning more, which bugged the shit out of him too. All in a matter of days. He didn’t want to know what Martha’s visit would do to Christy’s state of mind if it continued much longer.
“What were you guys talking about?” Cole asked after they made it to their booth. Martha was at the register, talking with Elle and one of the waitresses, so they were alone.
“Nothing, really.” Again that forced smile plastered on her face. “Nothing worth repeating.”
He studied her while she nervously sucked that damn lollipop.
“What’s with these clothes?”
She shrugged, her eyes not reaching his. “They’re comfy. And it’s easier to dress like this than deal with my mom and her comments. Believe me.”
“Lose the lollipop.”
He scooted over, took the offending treat from her hand, and set it on a plate. “How many times have I told you to come get me when your oral fixation kicks in?”
Her lips tilted into an amused smirk. “You can’t always be at my beck and call.”
She was so damn gorgeous, but when she smiled, she was out-of-this-world stunning, that luscious mouth and those expressive eyes of hers tugging at his cock and heart at the same time. “Oh, but I can.”
He put one arm along the backrest and turned toward her, boxing her in. With his other hand, he navigated her skirt, bunching it up from one side until he touched her bare skin.
At the contact, she jumped. “Cole!”
“You know the good part about loose clothes?” he asked, moving up her thigh while nuzzling her throat. “I can make you come and no one will notice.”
She stiffened. “Cole, stop.”
“All these layers are covering us perfectly. No one can see my hand going for your pussy. Open your legs.”
She looked around in panic, her eyes big. Frantic. “This is crazy. We can’t—”
He leaned in closer, blocking out the rest of the world. He wanted to be all that she saw. Needed her undivided attention.
Christy was back to hiding, and he was done putting up with it.
“Open. Your. Legs,” he whispered, his voice low and rough, his hand resting on her inner thigh. “Now. Or the kid gloves will come off.”
He’d never been a sex-in-public kind of guy; taking unnecessary risks was not his thing, but desperate times called for desperate measures.
She complied, nervously licking her already shiny lips, and he couldn’t resist moving in for a taste. He kissed her, tasting vanilla and cherries, while he worked his hand under her panties, swallowing the whimper that escaped her as he cupped her bare pussy.
“Cole, this is nuts. Stop,” she begged when he let her up for air. “My mother will be here any moment.”
“Forget your mother. Forget everyone else,” he said, rimming her sweet slit and slowly sliding a finger inside her. She was wet. Fuck. He loved how responsive she was. “Listen to me, sweet thing. You are not fat. I won’t stray. And you don’t need to get knocked up to keep me. Although I don’t object at all to getting you pregnant. As a matter of fact, I want you off the pill.”
Her chest visibly seized. “You heard her.”
Yep. He’d heard. Gritting his teeth and clutching the door so as not to dart at his future mother-in-law and make a mess. The only thing that had kept him in check was he knew Christy didn’t want him to interfere, but he was done with that now.
This shit was stressing Christy out. Making her insecure. That was unacceptable.
She was better than when they’d met; she wasn’t avoiding mirrors or fretting if he stripped her naked in daylight or refusing to accept compliments, but she still struggled, and her mother was setting her back. Doing a number on her.
“Don’t appreciate you downplaying stuff for my benefit.” Actually, he hated it.
“Sorry…didn’t mean to…”
He moved his finger out, circled her tight clit, and then pressed back in, kissing the hollow under her ear and grazing the skin on her neck with his teeth, the way she liked it. Despite her obvious reservations, her legs opened more.
“Yeah, like this. Full access. Let me make you feel good. Let me enjoy you. I love giving you pleasure. How wet you get for me. How hot. Your nipples are poking my chest with every breath you take. This sack you call a shirt is so loose I could easily sneak my hand in and stroke these mouthwatering tits, pinch and roll the tips. I bet they’re achy. You’d like that, wouldn’t you? My hand or maybe my mouth on them while I jack you off?”
She shook her head fervently, but her body betrayed her, her pussy clenching around him.
He smirked. “Shake your head all you want, baby. I can read you perfectly. Your breath is ragged, your pupils dilated. You’re creaming my hand, bathing it in yummy juices. You’re into this. And you’re clawing the tablecloth,” he whispered, pushing a second digit in, stretching her. “I don’t give a fuck, but someone is bound to notice when the cutlery falls to the floor.”
She lowered her hands, the fingers of one clutching his forearm, the other landing on his junk. He hissed at the sweet pressure, his cock jerking.
“Fuck, baby,” he said against her mouth. “Do you feel how hard I am? This is all for you. Even dressed in a shapeless sheet. One glance at you, one sniff of your scent, and I’m hard. My fingers in your pussy? You panting on my lips? Your hand on my cock? Fucking overkill.”
“Cole, don’t do this to me,” she begged in a pant, her voice but a whisper. “Everyone will notice. I can’t stay still, and I can’t keep quiet.”