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Page 12

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More laughter. “Luce, you are busting my balls big-time today.”

“That’s because I’m into that kind of thing. You know? The horny, kinky, perverty kind of thing.” If I was going to be blindfolded so he could take me to some other surprise, I was going to let my snarky side run free.

It wasn’t much longer before the truck came to a stop.

“We’re here,” he said, his voice all boyish and excited again.

“We’re where?”

Grabbing my hands, he helped me out of the cab. Thankfully, he lifted me from the truck, because I didn’t want to make a blindfolded jump not knowing what the hell I’d land on.

“Here,” he answered, guiding me by the shoulders. We were moving over a hard surface. Concrete? Asphalt? Stone, maybe? Other than the sound of running water, fountains possibly, it was quiet. He couldn’t have been taking me to a store; we weren’t at the beach . . . where in the world were we?

Suddenly, he scooped me into his arms and jogged up what I assumed were stairs, before I heard a door open. Turning sideways, Jude walked inside before setting me down. My heart was already in my throat before he slid the blindfold back.

The first thing I saw was his eyes. I wanted to keep looking at them, to never look away, because I already knew what I was going to see when I did. I was scared to shift my gaze.

“I couldn’t find a big enough bow to put around it,” he said, turning me around. “I hope you don’t mind.”

Thankfully Jude had wrapped his arms around me, so when I wavered in place, he kept me upright. We were standing in a cavernous room, a space that could fit a decent-size home, and we were just in the foyer. A room a person walked through to get to others that were the size of my parents’ cabin. There were two staircases going up to the second floor. One for going up? One for going down? I didn’t have a clue, but it wasn’t the only thing over-the-top about this place. The chandelier hanging in the center of the room was the size of a Volkswagen, the furniture was so ornate it went past the point of offensive, and the marble floors were so shiny they almost looked like an ice-skating rink.

“What is this?” I whispered, hoping the answer I’d arrived at was wrong.

“The soon-to-be residence of a Mr. and Mrs. Ryder,” he answered, tucking his chin over my shoulder. He was grinning like a crazy man, but that changed when he saw my face.

“Luce?” he said, the excitement gone from his voice. “What’s wrong?”

I closed my eyes. I couldn’t keep looking around. Each new thing I saw drove me that much closer to having a full-fledged panic attack. “What is this, Jude?”

“Our home,” he said slowly.

“No. Our home is back in New York.”

His forehead wrinkled. “No, that place is a condemned apartment we rent. That place is a tetanus shot waiting to happen,” he said, sounding defensive. “You’re standing in our home. The place we’re going to own outright in a year’s time.”

“I like our apartment,” I whispered, weaving out of his embrace. Things were changing too fast. The NFL, the cross-country move, the money, the house . . . it was all moving at warp speed and I couldn’t even begin to keep up. We’d been pulling change out of the seat cushions to pay our electric bill last month, and this month we were standing inside the foyer of a house that was the size of a small country.

“You hate that place.” His voice was getting louder, and he was looking at me in that way again. Like he didn’t recognize me.

I hated that look.

“It’s a love/hate relationship that’s more—”

“What the hell, Luce?” he interrupted. “What new kind of crazy have you caught?”

That trigger-touch temper of mine, like his, just shot to the surface. However, like Jude, I’d been learning to control mine. I got that in Jude’s mind, he’d picked this place thinking I’d love it. I knew that at the core of every decision Jude made, my happiness was his top priority, and I loved that about him. I knew his heart was in the right place when he’d decided to turn us into the Joneses overnight, but I was upset about the way he’d gone about it. How could he make this huge life decision on his own without even consulting me first? We were a team. We should be making decisions as one.

Biting my tongue, I inhaled slowly before I dared to reply. “Same question right back at ya: What kind of crazy have you caught?” I said, nothing antagonistic in my voice, because that wasn’t how I meant it. I truly was wondering what new kind of crazy Jude had caught to go out and get a place like this.

Popping his neck from side to side, Jude took his time replying. We were both working to keep our anger monkeys in their cages. “I’m renting the place right now until I get my first big check, and then the owner’s agreed to sell it to me fully furnished.” He stopped and took another deep breath. “You should see the lagoon and tennis court in the back. This place is hooked up.”

“Lagoon? Tennis court?” My stomach was feeling more and more sick. I reminded myself once more that Jude had done this because he loved me. Not because he wanted to piss me the hell off. I bit back what I wanted to say. “Jude, we’re twenty-one years old.”

“We’re twenty-one-year-old millionaires,” he said with a shrug. “And now that I’ve got the means to give you anything and everything, I’m going to. I want to make you happy, Luce. That’s all I give a damn about,” he said, pointing at me. “You. Happy. Forever.”

“Happy?” I repeated, crossing my arms. “You think this is what’s going to make me happy? What did you do? Go down to the local library and check out The Idiot’s Guide to Making a Gold-digging Trophy Wife Happy?”

I tried biting my tongue again. Man, I tried, but apparently I’d reached my quota of tongue-biting today.

“Because if I was a gold digger then I imagine this would make me very happy,” I said, sweeping my arms around the room. “But I’m not. Despite your wanting me to be this girl who wants your money, I’m not that girl!”

What was I saying? What was I so mad about?

Jude’s face went from shocked, to sad, to angry in two seconds flat. “No, you’re not that girl, Luce. It doesn’t seem like I can do anything to make you happy these days. Maybe you just don’t want to be happy.”

Those words were like a slap to my face. I reminded myself yet again that this house was Jude’s way of showing his love for me, but my temper had taken off and I couldn’t pull it back. “Here’s a tip. If you’re looking to make someone happy, maybe you should think about what they’d want, not what you want them to want.”

Wrapping his hands behind his neck, Jude spun away from me. “And here’s a tip for you. You have to be willing to let happiness in when it comes your way.”

His words made me flinch.

“How is you buying a house for us in Southern California without asking me first supposed to equate with happiness? I live in New York, Jude. New. York.”

“You live in New York for another year,” he said, staring at the nearest wall like he wanted to bang his head against it. “Once you’re done with school you can leave and move in with me.”

This wasn’t a slap. This was a punch. A sucker punch to the gut. “I can leave New York and move in with you here? In California? In a Playboy-size mansion?” How had there been such a disconnect between us? Where did he get off assuming he could just map my life out for me without checking with me first? “Who said I wanted to pick up and move across the country to live with you here in the land of fake tits and phony smiles?”

From the look on his face, you would have thought I’d just socked him in the stomach. “When you agreed to marry me. When you let me put that ring on your finger.” His words were slow and controlled. So much so they were scary-sounding.

“So what you heard when I said yes to marrying you is that I’d willingly—no, gladly—give up my dreams, future plans, et cetera, et cetera, so you could live yours?” I shouted. “Because I guess I missed the fine print.”

Jude closed his eyes. “What do you want, Lucy?” I cringed internally. He called me Lucy only if he was really pissed or hurt. “Because apparently I don’t have a damn clue. So tell me. What. The. Hell. Do. You. Want?”

“I want to finish school. I’m going to school for dance, so I know it might seem crazy, but I’d actually like to dance after I graduate.” I could barely look at him right now. Not because of what he was saying, but because of what I was saying to him. I didn’t want to hurt him; in fact, I wanted the opposite. So when I hurt him, I hated myself.

“Okay, you want to dance.” He extended his arms at his sides. “Good news, Luce. You can dance here in San Diego. Problem solved.”

I snorted. “Problem not solved. If I want to dance in some crummy community theater rendition of Swan Lake once a year, I can dance here. I did not work my butt off dancing the past fifteen years of my life to perform half-assed dances in front of snoring seniors who paid ten dollars a ticket.”

Jude’s forehead lined. Well, it lined deeper. “So what are you saying? You want to stay in New York when you’re done with school?”

How had we not worked this out before? Maybe because we’d been so busy living in the moment, or stumbling over our pasts, we’d forgotten to look ahead. We’d missed the future part of our relationship.

“New York. Paris. London,” I said, shrugging. “Those are the cities where dancers who want to dance go.”

I could see Jude’s internal battle. The same WTF one I was experiencing. Why had it taken us so long to figure out that what I wanted and what he wanted might not align? “Well, shit, Luce. I didn’t get drafted by the Jets. Or the Giants. Or some European league,” he said, shaking his head. “I got drafted by the Chargers. I’m going to be in San Diego for a while.”

I nodded. “I know.”

“You know what?”

“I know you’re in San Diego. I know I’m in New York.”

I wanted—I needed—a break from this conversation. A few hours to figure out what was happening, what had been said, and where to go from here. I knew my priorities, and Jude was one notch above dance, but did Jude place me one notch below football in his mind?

I didn’t think so. He’d proven I came first over and over again, but this—the house, the truck, the expectations, the assumptions—all of this was starting to worry me. I needed to sort some serious shit out, and I couldn’t do it with him staring at me the way he was now. And I certainly couldn’t do it inside this mansion-on-steroids.

“Where does that leave us then, Luce?” he said, his voice quiet and his face tired. He looked like he needed time to work things out as badly as I did.

Where did that leave us? San Diego? New York? Somewhere smack in the middle?

“At a crossroads,” I said with a shrug.

***

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