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Page 16


Oh, yeah. Men guessed that. From the time of the caveman, when tabletops were nothing more than flat boulders. It was time I, as a woman, figured that out and started using it to my advantage.

“Do you need anything else?” He kissed my forehead before rolling out of bed. “If I don’t leave in the next thirty seconds, I’m going to be late to practice.”

“I need . . . something,” I answered, throwing the sheet to the side, “but it sounds like you’ve got places to be.”

Jude’s eyes stayed on my face, but I could tell it was killing him to do so. “You’re cruel, Luce. You know that?”

“Mm-hmm,” I said, rolling onto my side to give him a better view. I smiled when his gaze drifted for the shortest second.

Slapping his cheeks, he spun around and grabbed his jeans. “Why don’t you go shopping or something while I’m at practice?” he said, pulling his wallet out. “There’s a shitload of stores around that would be eager to cater to the soon-to-be wife of an NFL quarterback.” Sliding that black shiny card free, he held it out.

I pulled the sheet back over me.

He scowled.

“Were you here for the conversation we just had?” I asked, glaring at the black card.

His scowl went another shade darker before it ironed out. “Yeah, I was.” Putting the card back into his wallet, he stood there, looking helpless.

I didn’t want him to feel this way. I knew Jude wanted to take care of me; that was at the forefront of his mind with everything he did. I just didn’t need or want to be taken care of with a shiny black card.

“Do you think I could borrow your truck?” I asked, hoping this would ease his need-to-do-something-for-Lucy-itis. “I was thinking about going to the beach and vegging all day long.”

“Of course,” he said, digging into his pocket again. As predicted, he looked relieved to be able to do something for me that I was willing to go along with. “It’s got a full tank, so take that baby for a spin.” He held out the keys to his new truck. They were shiny, too.

Everything was so damn shiny now. I never thought I’d be so anti-shine.

“Come on, I couldn’t see over the steering wheel of that thing, Jude,” I said, winking to make the blow easier. “That is, if I was actually able to climb into it without your help. I’d need a step stool or a ladder.”

“Do you want me to call you a driver or something?” he asked, and then his face lit up. “Or why don’t you go buy yourself that new sports car I’ve been wanting to get you. This way you can pick out your own color.”

I raised my hand and bit my tongue. “Thank you. On all offers,” I said, “but I was thinking I could just take your old rust bucket.”

Jude’s forehead wrinkled.

“Then if I’m snoozing on the beach all day, I won’t have to worry about some punk-ass kids ripping your brand-new truck off.” This was partially the reason I wanted to take the old truck, but certainly not the main reason.

A flash of annoyance lined his face, but it passed. “The keys are in the ignition,” he said, sliding into his jeans. “And I just changed the oil and gave it a tune-up, so you shouldn’t have any problems with the old piecer.”

I glared at the shirt he was reaching for. I knew clothes were the requirement, but they should have been the exception in Jude Ryder’s case.

“Oil change? Tune-up?” I said as he pulled the shirt over his head. “Is this the truck you were adamant about scrapping yesterday?”

He rolled his eyes as he slid into his Cons. At least those were the same ratty old ones I was used to. “You are busting my balls, woman.”

“I’m your soon-to-be wife,” I said. “That’s in the job description.”

He froze mid–fly buttoning. “Soon-to-be?” he repeated, his eyes flashing.

Uh-oh. Not as in tomorrow or next week. “As soon-to-be as I am capable of it,” I said, my heart fluttering a little from the way he was looking at me. With one look, Jude was able to melt every muscle right before they tightened in anticipation.

Jude beamed. “I’ll take it,” he said, and now, instead of up, his fly was going the opposite direction.

My pulse was already quickening. “What are you doing?”

Crossing the room, he leaped onto the bed. “I’m gonna be late,” he said, before his mouth and body covered mine.

If there was one thing I could get used to in Southern California? The beaches and the sun. A good eight hours had ticked off when I’d done nothing more physical than turning from one side to the other. That, and unscrewing the lid from my bottle of water.

I could see myself here.

Now, if South Cali was only known as one of the premier dance places in the world, I would have been golden. The sun was starting to fall in the sky, but there was at least another good hour of UV rays to soak up, and I didn’t want to miss out thanks to a severe case of hunger pangs.

To sway the leave-or-stay vote, my stomach rumbled again.

“Fine,” I grumbled, making a mental note that the next time I came to the beach, I’d need to bring more than a granola bar.

Before I could start packing up my beach-day essentials, my phone chimed. I grabbed it and read the text. ALL THE GUYS WERE ASKING ME WHY I HAD THIS STUPID GRIN ON MY FACE ALL DAY. Followed by a smiley face. I BLAMED YOU.

I’LL GLADLY TAKE THE BLAME FOR THAT STUPID SMILE, I typed, wearing my own stupid grin as a few memories jumped to mind. HOPE YOU DON’T MIND WEARING ANOTHER ONE TOMORROW. Followed by a winky face.

His reply was instant. HELL, NO.

I laughed and, before I could type a response, my phone beeped again. WHERE ARE YOU? NEVER TOO EARLY TO START WORKING ON MAKING THAT STUPID SMILE AGAIN.


I sat up and tossed my sunscreen into my bag when his reply came. I’LL MEET YOU THERE AND PICK UP DINNER ON THE WAY. His message ended with a dot, dot, dot, and then my phone chimed with another message.


I laughed, imagining him with the smile on his face, punching the accelerator, and adjusting his pants. ENOUGH SMILING ALREADY, I typed. HURRY UP, BECAUSE I WANT YOU TO MAKE ME MOAN.

Like I was in danger of being caught passing notes in class, I looked from side to side.

When his reply came, I almost jumped. PLANNING ON IT, LUCE.

I shifted in my seat, feeling warmth trickle into all the right places.

A few whistles sounded in front of me. I looked up as a couple of guys carrying surfboards sauntered by, gawking at a certain spot Jude wouldn’t have been down with.

“Yep,” I called out, giving the surfers a really? look, “they’re boobs!”

One of them had the decency to look away. The other one just grinned bigger. That was the Jude of the two. “No, babe,” the smug one called back, “those are n**ples.”

I glanced down. Shit. Yeah, those were most definitely n**ples popping through for all of La Jolla beach to see. Darn Jude and all his sexting straight to high-beam hell.

I didn’t have a snappy reply, but I couldn’t let surfer boy have the last word. Wrapping my arm around my chest, I flipped him off with the other hand.

Tilting his chin in reply, he winked and kept walking.

Men were infuriating creatures. In all walks of life. Even while you were keeping to yourself, resting on the beach.

Needless to say, I spent the next half hour lounging on my stomach.

At least until I caught sight of a familiar form swaggering his way toward me. I hopped up and jogged over to him like I hadn’t seen him in months. He had a paper sack and a sweatshirt tucked under his arm and looked freshly showered. However, the way he was looking at me was the opposite of clean.

“Where’s that stupid smile you were texting me about?” I said as I approached.

“It took a vacation when I saw what you were wearing,” he answered tightly. “Or what you’re not wearing.” He ran his eyes down my body, looking like he couldn’t decide if he disapproved or approved.

I knew the way to make up his mind.

Winding my arms around his neck, I lifted up on my toes and planted a kiss on his mouth that started soft but didn’t end up that way.

“Here,” Jude said, cutting our kiss short, “put this on.” He held out his old Syracuse sweatshirt and waited.

“Why?” I asked, playing dumb. On any other occasion, I would have happily slid into Jude’s ginormous ’Cuse sweatshirt, but not when I was being ordered into it.

“Because you made me hard from a hundred yards back in that thing.” He gestured at my swimsuit. “I don’t like the idea of a bunch of other guys getting off looking at my girl.” He shook the sweatshirt at me.

Nope. Not gonna happen.

“Who cares?” I lowered his outstretched arm and grinned up at him. “It’s only your hard-on that gets to go to bed with me.”

Jude snorted and crossed his arms. “Tell that to the jerk-offs who will be jerking off to you between their sheets tonight.”

The overbearing act got old fast. I crossed my arms and held my ground. “I don’t know what’s got your boxers in a bunch. This isn’t even my skimpy bikini.” It wasn’t. When it came to bikinis, this one was relatively tame.

He frowned as he inspected my swimsuit again. “All I’m seeing is a few tiny triangles and a whole lotta string, Luce,” he said, looking tortured all over again. “And you’re trying to tell me this isn’t skimpy?”

I answered with a noncommittal shrug.

“Only one way to settle the skimpy debate . . .” Jude’s eyes swept up and down the boardwalk, narrowing a few times along the way. “I win,” he said at last. “Every single bastard within seeing distance is checking you out, Luce.”

I glanced around the beach. “We’ll have to agree to disagree,” I said. “Because I’m positive it’s not me but you they’re staring at.”

He made a face.

He’d arrived at a different conclusion.

“No, not for that reason,” I said, giving him a gentle shove. “Do you think that maybe, just maybe, they’re looking at you because you happen to be the newest Chargers quarterback?”

“It wouldn’t matter if I was Peyton Manning,” Jude said, pursing his lips. “With you running around in that more-string-than-swimsuit thing”—his hands gestured up and down me again—“no eyes would be turned in my direction.”

I tried to hold it in, but I couldn’t help the laugh that sneaked out. It was kind of cute when he was mildly upset. It wasn’t as cute when he was full-blown pissed.

Jude’s eyes latched onto something behind me. “Hey, jerk-off!” he hollered, narrowing his eyes. “Unless you want to be reading your monthly issue of Playboy in braille the rest of your life, you’d better turn your eyes now!”

I rested my hand on his side and ran my thumb in slow circles. Slow, calming circles. “Could you get any more territorial?” I teased.


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