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Page 10


“Yeah, one more thing. If you’re looking for one of those smiling, coffee-fetching, vacant-eyed bimbo types for an assistant, I’m not your girl.” This was positively the worst job interview in the history of interviews. Crash and burn, Lucy. Back to the want ads.

“Since I’m not big into bimbos,” Anton said after a few seconds, “and I really hate coffee and smiling, I’d say you just landed yourself a job.”

Say what?

I gawked at the phone, certain I hadn’t heard what I thought I had.

India did a fist pump into the air as I remained silent.

“Can you start first thing tomorrow?” Anton was all business again.

I gave my head a swift shake. “I’m leaving tomorrow morning, but can be in at the crack of dawn Monday morning.”

“Not even one day on the job and you’re already requesting vacation days?” Anton teased. “What kind of employee did I just hire?”

Reality was finally starting to set in. I had a job. A sweet-paying job working for one of my best friend’s brothers. “The kind of employee you thank your lucky stars for,” I threw back, ready to hop out of my chair and bust a move.

“Lucy Larson, administrative assistant,” Anton said. “I like the sound of that. See you Monday morning.”

“First thing,” I said. “Thank you, Anton. You won’t regret it.”

“No, Lucy,” he replied, “I’m sure I won’t.”

You know that person who’s the first out of her seat the instant the airplane comes to “a complete stop”? Yeah, that would be me.

I was the first person up and the first person off the plane that Thursday in San Diego. As I powered toward the baggage claim area, I had to remind myself to walk, not run. More than once I forgot.

I saw Jude before he saw me. He was spinning circles in place, and his eyes fell on me after a final revolution. His shoulders relaxed when he smiled. “Yo, Lu-cy!” he shouted—Rocky-style—above the noise in the airport, breaking into a run my way.

I didn’t care that we were catching the attention of everyone within hearing and seeing distance; nor did I care about the show we’d be giving them soon. The only thing I cared about was the guy running at breakneck speed and getting his arms around me.

I wasn’t walking anymore. My bags were bouncing against me as I dodged around people, and the corners of my eyes stung with the tears forming. You would have thought he’d been deployed to the Middle East for the past year from the way we were charging at each other.

When Jude reached me, he grabbed me up and spun me around. I held on for the ride, wondering how another person could make me feel whole again. When Jude finally set me back down, I let my purse and carry-on fall to the floor. Folding me back into his arms, he pressed into me as tightly as two people could fit together. God, it felt so good.

“Damn,” he breathed into my hair. “I can’t go that long again.” His hand cupped the base of my neck and his other arm pressed into the small of my back.

My own arms were cinched in a death-hold around his waist. “Me, neither.”

While people grabbed their luggage from baggage claim or waited in line for a cup of coffee, Jude and I stood there, frozen in time. Five minutes, ten minutes, no minutes? I didn’t know. And I didn’t care.

He smelled the same, all soap and man, and his skin had darkened another shade in the California sun.

“Promise me right now we’ll never go that long again without seeing each other,” he said, nuzzling into my neck.

His breath against my skin gave me goose bumps.

“Promise,” he repeated, looking hard into my eyes.

“I will only make you a promise that I can guarantee I can keep,” I said, remembering why honesty was a double-edged sword when his face fell a bit.

His thumb brushed under the collar of my shirt. “Promise me you’ll marry me.”

I exhaled. That was an easy one. “I promise.”

His face went from dark to light in the span of two words. “Promise you’ll marry me in the next six months.”

Back in the danger zone.

I replied with a lift of my eyebrow.

He chuckled. “Yeah, yeah. You’re so difficult, Luce,” he said, keeping me tucked under his arm as he turned toward the baggage carousel. There was only one suitcase left spinning around on it.

Grabbing my bag, Jude pretended to be overwhelmed by its size. Or weight. Or both.

“God, Luce,” he said, looking from me to the bag. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were planning on staying awhile.”

Jude’s continued theatrics with my bag caught the attention of a few people waiting at the next carousel over. One little boy in particular.

“Two nights is a while for a girl,” I said, not able to take my eyes off the little boy gaping at Jude. No matter where we went, Jude got a lot of gaping. The little boys who stared were amusing; I only tolerated the batting-eyed females because I couldn’t take out the world’s female population singlehandedly. “Besides, I’ve got a present in there for you that took up at least half the space.”

“Present?” His eyes sparkled. “A ‘just because’ one?”

“Aren’t those the best kind?” I said, grabbing his hand and dragging him over to the airport store. I had an idea.

“I got you a present, too,” he said proudly as I scanned the store.

“A ‘just because’ present?” I asked as I found what I was looking for. Tugging on his hand, I beelined for it.

“Aren’t those the best kind?” he said.

“Yes, they are,” I said, grabbing the turquoise-and-yellow football before heading to the cashier.

“Luce, I can get you one of those for free,” he said, sounding confused. “An official one with the whole team’s autographs if you want.”

The cashier rang me up, and, before I could hand her the cash, Jude slipped a shiny black card into her hand. “I got it,” he said.

It’s all right. No biggie, I had to tell myself. He’s just paying for a football.

I thanked the cashier, then sifted through my purse until I found a pen. Handing him the pen, I held the football in place. “I just want one autograph.”

He did that half smile, half smirk of his that was by far the sexiest expression in the whole damn world, before signing his name just to the right of the laces.

“I feel like my number-one fan should get something better than an airport football,” he said, following after me as I headed back to the baggage carousel.

“Oh, believe me,” I called back, “your number-one fan will be demanding you give her something better later tonight.”

He chuckled, that low-timbered one of his. “I live to serve.”

Pushing the thoughts aside that were making my whole body tingle, I walked toward the little boy who was still gawking at Jude. The kid wasn’t even blinking.

I knelt beside him, holding the ball out for him. “You look like a fan of Jude Ryder’s,” I said, grinning as the boy’s eyes widened another notch when he saw the signature.

“His biggest fan,” the boy said, his voice high and excited.

“You and me both, kiddo,” I said, motioning at the ball when he stayed frozen.

When he finally grabbed the ball, his face lit up like only a child’s could. It was amazing how a signature of the guy I loved could make a person’s day. It was heavy stuff, and something I wasn’t sure I was ready to process yet. Jude had been a big deal back at Syracuse, of course, but now playing for the NFL would mean a whole new level of fame.

I winked at the boy before standing up.

“Thank you,” he called out as I headed back to where Jude stood a way back with my bags.

I waved at the boy as he rushed off to his parents and stuck the ball in their faces.

“I know you don’t want it going public, but you’re quite possibly the sweetest person out there,” Jude said, his voice and eyes soft.

I grimaced with exaggeration over sweet.

“I think you just made that little guy’s year,” he said, wrangling my duffel over one arm and grabbing my hand with his other. “A beautiful stranger picking him out in a crowd. That’s one he’s going to be telling his buddies ten years from now.”

“That boy had eyes for nothing but you and that football,” I teased as we headed for the parking garage.

“I would have come over and said hi, but the little guy looked close to hyperventilating as it was.”

“Yeah, I think it’s a good thing you stayed back.” I laughed. “I’m certain his heart couldn’t have taken it if you’d said something to him.”

Fishing keys from his pocket, Jude came to an abrupt stop in front of a lifted black truck. “And I’m certain my heart can’t take it if I don’t kiss you,” he said, resting a hand on my hip. “Right here. Right now.” He stepped closer, until I could feel his body against mine. “And, Luce? I want you to kiss me until I’m weak in the knees.”

That melting sensation I got whenever he looked at me the way he was now started to spread from my stomach. Lacing my fingers behind his neck, I popped up onto my tiptoes. “I live to serve,” I whispered, quoting him from earlier, before pressing my lips to his.

This wasn’t a soft kiss. It wasn’t a sweet or shy kiss either. This was the kind of kiss you gave when you knew death was moments away. This was the kind of kiss you could feel in every part of you, and the kind of kiss that was dangerously close to making me combust right here in the airport parking garage. Fully clothed and all.

My hands moved from his neck to the bottom hem of his shirt. Skimming my fingers inside, I played with the skin trailing along his jeans. Our tongues tangled as my thumbs skimmed lower. Moaning into my mouth, Jude dug his hands into my backside, pushing himself up against me.

Okay, yeah. If he kept pressing and moving against me like that I was about two hot seconds away from ripping both of our clothes off.

As he picked me up, I wrapped my legs around him. Pressing my back up against the truck, he bowed my neck over the hood to give him better access. His mouth moved from mine to my neck, kissing and sucking the sensitive skin until I couldn’t breathe.

Somewhere in the back of my sex-crazed mind, I realized the truck’s owner probably wouldn’t be down with Jude and me going at it, having clothed sex on the hood, but I was long past words . . . and caring.

So when the snaps and clicks of cameras started to grow louder, I paid them no attention. All I felt was Jude’s mouth and body moving over me. It was obvious that was all he cared about, too, because it wasn’t until the people and cameras were a few cars away that either of us took notice.

“Jude! Jude!” they were shouting. “Lucy! Lucy!” More shouting and snapping, so much it shot us both out of our makeout haze.

Jude’s muscles tensed over me, and, when his face lifted over mine, I saw a familiar expression I hadn’t seen in a long time. Dr. Jekyll, meet Mr. Hyde.

“Jude,” I begged. “Chill out,” I coaxed as he set me down.


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