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Page 18

testpreptraining

I smiled to myself before answering. “I like things a little rough around the edges. Besides, it’s what’s inside that counts.”

“‘It’s what’s inside that counts,’” he repeated. “Who said that?”

“Some guy I know.” I tucked my shoulder under his arm and wrapped my arm behind him.

“He sounds amazing,” he said, grinning at me from the side.

I made a face and motioned my hand in a so-so way.

He chuckled, checking both ways before we crossed the road to the terminal. “That’s not what you were saying last night,” he said.

I pinched his side. “I wasn’t saying much, that I recall.”

“No, you weren’t saying much. There was a shitload of moaning, though.”

This earned him a few harder pinches.

“‘Jude,’” he cried out, channeling me last night. “‘Yes! Yes! Yes! You’re amazing!’” I couldn’t even pretend to be irritated with him. I was laughing so damn hard tears started to leak out of the corners of my eyes. “‘Jude . . . Amazing . . . Ryder! Yes! Yes! Yeeeeesss!’”

He was causing a scene as we approached curbside check-in, but I was too hysterical to mind. My giant fiancé was bouncing, shaking, and shouting, not caring what anyone thought.

“Control yourself,” I ordered amid my laughter, swatting his arm. “And if your performance is any indicator of what I act like during sex, I must look like a hippo about to give birth.”

Dropping the Lucy Larson Orgasming Show, he laughed with me. “Nah.” He laughed one more note before his expression changed. “It’s the damn sexiest thing I’ve ever experienced, Luce.”

Thankfully his words were no louder than a whisper, but as we approached the ticket counter, I was sure the heat rushing into my face, paired with Jude’s crooked smile, gave away the gist of what he’d just whispered into my ear.

From the sly smile on the employee’s face, he caught more than just the gist.

While I waited for my ticket, Jude handed my suitcase off and gave the guy a hefty tip. It was only a month ago when that tip would have paid for a movie-and-dinner date.

The ticket counter employee handed me my ticket, but he had eyes for no one but Jude. I knew that look, but it was weird sharing it with middle-aged males.

“You’re Jude Ryder,” the employee said, looking, sounding, and acting starstruck. “Aren’t you?”

Shoving his hands in his pockets, Jude winked over at me. “Jude Amazing Ryder,” he managed with a straight face. I couldn’t perform the same feat.

Coming up behind me, Jude wrapped his arms around me. “What’s so funny?” he teased.

Thrusting a pen and a newspaper at us, the poor guy looked like he was about to burst a blood vessel. It was so odd the way people treated Jude now, like they idolized him. “Could I have your autograph?” His voice was shaky.

“You bet,” Jude answered, uncapping the pen as the employee unfolded the front page of the local newspaper. On it was a huge photograph of a man and a woman at night. In the ocean. Bare-ass nak*d.

“Shit,” I murmured, twisting in Jude’s arms, hoping he hadn’t seen it yet.

Nothing good would come of Jude seeing this.

His eyes were locked on the picture, like he wasn’t sure what he was seeing. The confusion shifted toward red-faced anger in the time it took me to plant my hands on either side of his face.

“Jude,” I said, trying to sound calm. Trying to be calm for him, when I felt anything but. Calm was impossible when a full-frontal nak*d shot of me was plastered on who knew how many thousands of papers. “It’s all right. Calm down,” I continued, trying to get his eyes to focus on mine. But they would not look away from the picture below the headline, “Ryder Has Game Both On and Off the Field.” The photographer must have snapped the picture right when he’d joined me in the water and spun me around. Other than his face and arms, that was all of Jude the stupid pap had caught. But with me, they’d had to make use of the photo-blur tool in a couple of places.

Jude snatched the paper from the man’s hand and glowered at him. “What the hell is this?” Rolling it up, Jude stuffed the paper into the back of his pants and waited.

Once the employee realized Jude wasn’t going to move until he got an answer, he shrugged. “A newspaper.” He had the decency to look ashamed.

“That’s not a newspaper,” Jude said, seething. The muscles of his jaw rolled beneath my hands. “That’s a nak*d picture of my fiancée.”

Dammit. His face had just gone from red to purple. Soon we’d be past the point where anything I could do would talk him down.

“You got any more of those back there?” Rushing behind the counter, Jude inspected the area. I followed him.

“Jude,” I said, “stop.”

“No, no,” the employee said, raising his hands. I could tell he hadn’t meant any disrespect when he’d asked Jude to sign a nak*d photo of him and me, but I also knew the man would never, ever try something like this again.

“Who else has one of these?” Jude demanded after he was satisfied no more newspapers were stuffed behind the counter.

The man looked from Jude to me with his brows knitted together, his expression reading, Seriously? “Whoever subscribes to or picked up a Sunday paper today?” he suggested, slinking away from Jude.

Smart move.

Just then, Jude’s gaze drifted inside the terminal, where a man in a suit was depositing quarters into a . . .

Shit.

Jude turned and sprinted away before I could offer an apologetic smile to the ticketing employee.

“Jude!” I shouted as I entered the terminal. In addition to good-byes, I was also sick of making scenes.

He didn’t glance back—he didn’t even slow down—he just kept barreling at the man who was just lifting the vending machine door to grab his morning paper. Before he’d had a chance to unfold it, Jude was on him.

Shit, shit.

I was running now, too, but was still a hundred feet away.

Snatching the paper out of the man’s hands, Jude towered over him, glowering like he was the one responsible for my teeth, tits, and toes winding up on the front page.

“Jude!” I yelled louder this time, trying to get his attention.

It worked. His glare shifted toward me for the shortest moment, but it was enough. Jude’s shoulders were lowering and the rage on his face had dimmed as I got to him.

Panting from my two-hundred-meter dash, I laced my hands around his forearm. “Deep breath in,” I instructed. “Deep breath out. Think.” I took my own breath, watching his chest rise and fall. “Think.”

When I was certain Jude wasn’t going to hammer the guy into the ground, I loosened my grip on his arm. “Sorry about that,” I said, addressing the man, who was gawking at Jude like he was a tiger who had escaped the zoo. However, he didn’t look scared, just intrigued. This guy had no survival instincts whatsoever.

“Might I suggest tempering that anger of yours with some yoga and meditation, young man,” the guy said, in an incredibly unflustered voice. Like he hadn’t just been charged by two hundred and fifty pounds of muscle and fury.

Quirking a brow, he inspected Jude one more moment before turning and heading on his merry, no-survival-instinct way.

“Dammit, Jude,” I hissed, snatching the paper out of his hands. “Could you act any more unbalanced?”

He didn’t need to answer me. We both already knew the answer to that.

Watching the man in the suit meander away, Jude inhaled. “Can you believe this?”

“What? Yoga and meditation?” I said, hoping to lighten the mood. “Sounds like it might work wonders for that temper of yours.”

When Jude turned to me, his eyes narrowing even more, I realized lightening the mood wasn’t on the agenda for the day. “Not the yoga shit,” he said, flashing the stolen newspaper in front of my face. “This shit.”

I winced when I looked at the picture again. That photographer could not have been in a better position. If my hair was two shades lighter and my boobs three sizes bigger, I could have been a Playmate.

“Oh,” I said, hoping my parents never saw this spread. I mean . . . photo. “That shit. Yeah, that sucks.”

“‘That sucks’?” Jude couldn’t have looked more flabbergasted by my blasé attitude. Truth be told, of course I was pissed as pissed could be, but what could I do? It was out there, on lord only knew how many thousands of doorsteps and briefcases. My losing my cool wouldn’t help Jude hold whatever he had left of his. I needed to control myself for him, because it was apparent he couldn’t do it for himself.

“‘That sucks’?” he repeated, slapping the photo with his hand. “You’re nak*d for the whole goddamned world to see, Luce. My fiancée is going to be the fantasy of every jerk-off in the county tonight. And you have nothing more to say than ‘That sucks’?”

I counted to five before answering, because the reply that wanted to roll right off my tongue wasn’t going to help calm him down. It would have done the opposite. Calm, calm, calm, I reminded myself before replying.

“Is there another word you’d like me to use to describe it?” I asked, working to keep my voice flat. “Is there a certain way you’d like me to be acting right now?” Good job, Lucy. Keep the temper in its cage. “So if ‘that sucks’ doesn’t work for you, how would you describe it?”

“This is f**king war,” he said, his eyes onyx.

Shit. He was a rare shade of pissed.

Pulling his phone from his pocket, he punched in a number at the same time he charged toward the newspaper vending machine. He could have been about to beat the crap out of it, just as much as he could have been about to light it on fire. When Jude was in the rage zone, I never knew what he might do. The only thing I knew was that the end result was never a good one.

However, what he did next wasn’t even on my top-ten list. Jamming a few quarters into the machine, he dropped the door and, instead of tearing the machine to pieces, he grabbed the entire stack of newspapers in his arms.

Okay, he was in the rage zone that leaned more toward crazy than angry.

That was just as bad, if not worse.

“Jude,” I hissed, glaring at a few people who’d stopped to watch the show, “what in the hell are you doing?”

“I’m taking every goddamn newspaper in this machine,” he answered, depositing his armload into the closest garbage can, “and then I’m going to go find every other newspaper machine in the airport and do the same. And then I’m going to every damn newspaper machine in the city and destroy every last one of these motherfuckers until the only copy left is the one I own.”

My mouth was open. It had dropped at some point during his little speech, but I wasn’t sure when.

“Hammon,” Jude seethed into the phone. I felt sorry for whoever was on the other end. “You checked out the morning paper—”

***

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