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Page 17

testpreptraining

“Ever heard of the Middle East, Luce?” he said, smirking. “Covered head to toe in layers upon layers of material.” He tickled my sides. The worst was over.

“Ever heard of Europe?” I shot back in between fits of laughter. “Topless sunbathing? I thought you’d once said you were a fan of it.”

“Ballbuster,” he mumbled, before holding the sweatshirt back up. “Come on. Put this on?” he asked. He asked. He didn’t order, demand, or command. He asked. Well, he almost pleaded.

“Okay,” I said, because I couldn’t say no. I grabbed the sweatshirt from him and slid it on. Warm, cozy, and smelled just like him. I was half considering jacking this tomorrow when I headed back to NYC.

“‘Okay’?” He was looking at me like he was waiting for the punch line.

I slid the hood into position for good measure. “Okay.”

“Just when I think I’ve got you all figured out, Lucy Larson,” he said, winding his arm around my neck and pulling me close, “you go and do something totally unexpected. Like listen to me.”

I slid my hand into the back pocket of his jeans as we headed toward my little slice of beachfront property. “Also in the fine print, below ballbusting,” I said, hip-checking him, “soon-to-be wives are required to keep soon-to-be husbands on pins and needles at all times.”

“Ahh,” he said, “I really need to check out all that fine print.”

“If you don’t get to reading it, I’m sure I’ll manage to give you a real-life demonstration of each and every point somewhere along the way,” I said as we approached my beach towel. “What’s for dinner? And please don’t pull a can of caviar and a bottle of champagne from that bag or else I’m calling for an intervention.”

He held out the paper bag for me. “Because I knew it would . . .” My brows lifted. “. . . absolutely not make you happy or unhappy, because money has no say in your happiness meter”—he popped his brows, obviously pleased with himself—“I picked up a few fish tacos from a street vendor and some cheap beer from a gas station.”

He grinned like the devil and shook the bag. I grabbed it and plopped down on the towel before tearing it open. “Fish tacos from a street vendor and PBR?” I said, not sure whether to go for the beer or the tacos first. My stomach made the decision for me. “That, my love, makes me very, very happy.” I pulled out a wrapped taco and tossed it into his lap once he sat down.

“Of course a dinner that cost me ten bucks would make you happy,” he said, tearing the wrapper back. “Can you be any more infuriating?”

That was the million-dollar question.

Snagging a beer from the bag, I twisted the cap off and handed it to him. “Wow. You really missed the fine print if you don’t know the answer to that, babe.”

He bit off half the taco and rolled his eyes. “Eat your dinner,” he said around a mouthful of food. “I can hear your stomach grumbling from over here.”

Tearing my wrapper back from mine, I tapped his before taking a bite.

Damn. Okay, so Cali could rock the sun, the beach, and the fish tacos.

“Good?” Jude asked as I continued the love affair in my mouth.

I remembered my manners and waited until I’d swallowed my food before answering. “Good is an insult to the greatness that is this fish taco.” I took another bite as Jude grabbed another beer out of the bag. After twisting the cap off, he held it out. “Finish it with a swig of this and life will be redefined as you know it, Luce.”

I didn’t even wait to finish chewing before I took a drink. Holy taste-bud orgasm.

“Yeah, that’s the stuff,” he said, clinking his bottle against mine before taking a drink.

“I. Love. You,” I said, taking another bite. “So. Much. So, so much.”

Stuffing the other half of the taco into his mouth, he stared at me in that way I’d grown accustomed to. Like I was everything he wanted and everything he ever would want. I don’t know how his eyes were able to express this, but they did. Finishing his ginormous bite, he molded his hand against my cheek. “I love you. So much. So damn much, Luce.”

Leaning into his warm hand, I clinked my bottle against his. “Cheers.”

TEN

Two fish tacos, two beers, and two hours later, I was still not ready to leave. Not even close to it.

“You want the last one?” Jude asked, holding out a taco.

“It’s all yours,” I said. Scooting behind him, I skimmed my hands up his shirt. “You want a massage?” It wasn’t so much a question as a formality. In four years, I’d never known Jude to turn down a massage.

“Hell yes,” he said around a mouthful of fish taco.

Applying pressure, I worked my thumbs up the muscles of his spine. He sighed, leaning into my touch. “Does that feel good?”

“Hell yes.” He dropped the taco and hung his head.

I pressed my thumbs into the exposed muscles of his neck. “How about this?” I said, never sure how much pressure he’d want applied. Some days it was barely any, like he just liked the feel of my hands on him. Other days I couldn’t seem to punish the muscles hard enough. “Is that still all right?” I asked, pinching the muscles running from his neck to his shoulders.

He groaned. “Hell yes.”

“Sounds like it’s a ‘hell yes’ kind of night.”

He hung his neck lower, giving me better access. “Hell yes.”

It’d been dark for a while, but we’d watched the sun set earlier and it was a sight I knew I’d never forget. I was starting to understand what the tens of millions of people who lived here saw in the place.

“Could you imagine doing this every night?” I said, working over a nasty knot around his shoulder blade. “Tacos and cheap beer on the beach?”

“Sounds like one hell of a life, Luce,” he replied. “I’d be down with that.”

“I saw a little beachfront house for rent a little way down the beach. We should rent it for a few nights during Christmas break and then we could watch the sun set every night.” Having successfully worked out one knot, I moved to the next one.

“Sold,” he said. “You, me, Christmas, beach, sunset. Where do I sign?”

I leaned over his shoulder as I continued to knead his back. “Right here.”

His lips brushed over mine.

“I can’t tell if these are all knots,” I said, shifting behind him again, “or if they’re insanely hard muscles, but you’ve definitely got something that needs working out.”

He chuckled as I got back to work on a knot that was as big as my fist.

“What?”

“Luce,” he said, grabbing one of my hands and winding it around his waist. “I’ve always got something that needs working out.” My hand brushed down his jeans until he settled it over something that felt as hard as the muscles I was trying to relieve.

“A girl’s job is never done,” I said, gripping him.

He turned his head, his mouth searching for mine, but I had other plans. Popping up, I pulled the hoodie over my head.

“What do you think you’re doing?” he asked, his eyes going dark as they skimmed my body.

Reaching for the string at the center of my back, I gave it a tug. “I’m going to work something out right here on the beach.”

“Here?” His voice went an octave higher. “No. No, you’re not.” His words might have been against it, but his eyes weren’t. “Besides, beach sex is highly overrated.”

I leveled him with my stare.

“From what I’ve heard,” he added, giving me a tilted smile, “sand gets in all sorts of places it shouldn’t.”

Grabbing the tie around my neck, I tugged on it. “I’m not planning on hav**g s*x in the sand,” I said, letting my top fall to the sand. Jude swallowed. “I’m more of a water girl.”

Without another word, I started for the thundering waves.

“There’s sharks and shit out there, Luce,” he called after me.

I smiled as I continued on my merry way. How far would he let me get before he couldn’t stay away? Skimming my fingers into my swimsuit bottoms, I slid them down my body.

Once they were littering the beach, I turned toward him.

He swallowed again and stood up. His Cons were already off.

“Then you’d better come save me,” I called back. “From the sharks and shit.” Giving a wave and a shake, I turned and bounded toward the water.

Jude cursed behind me, and a glance over my shoulder revealed he was peeling his clothes off as quickly as clothes could be peeled. I was up to my knees before the water temperature registered. Cold barely described it. Mental note number one million and one: The ocean is more pleasurable from the beach than from the water.

“Ah! Shit! That’s cold!” Jude exploded into the water, sprinting toward me. His arms wound around me after another round of curse hollering. Pressing my back to his chest, he spun me to face him.

“I guess I didn’t really think this out,” I shrieked, laughing. Damn, this water was really too cold to even think about getting hot and heavy in.

Jude slowed and settled me back down, but his arms didn’t loosen. They tightened. He pulled me harder to him, his warmth running against my back and down lower. His h*ps flexed against my backside. I exhaled.

“I take that back,” I said as I wound my arms behind his neck. “I totally thought this out.”

I felt his smile on my neck before his tongue took its place. Jude’s hands traveled up my stomach until they found my br**sts.

“Nice tan lines,” he breathed into my neck.

“I worked on them all day,” I replied, letting my head fall back against him. As his hands and mouth moved over me, I no longer felt the chill of the water. There was nothing but warmth. A heat that ran so deep I felt it in every nerve.

One of his hands moved from my chest and trailed down my stomach. When it paused below my belly button, his finger moved against me. My breath hitched in my lungs.

“And I’m planning on working on you all night.”

ELEVEN

I was so sick of saying good-bye at airports. If Jude had asked me to stay with him, I would have happily missed my flight.

I’d blinked and two days and two nights had passed. I knew the next couple of weeks before Jude was scheduled to fly out to New York would pass like each day was a year.

“Luce?” Jude popped his head back inside the truck after he’d grabbed my suitcase out of the bed. “Not that I’d mind, but if we don’t hustle, you’re going to miss your flight.”

I held in my sigh and put on a brave face. Scooting down the seat, I patted the steering wheel. “Lots of good memories in this old rust can,” I said. “Don’t go and scrap it while I’m gone.”

Jude shook his head as he grabbed my hand and slammed the door. “What do you see in this piece of shit?” he said, kicking the back tire as we walked through the garage.

***

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