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Page 31

“So, Lucy,” Anton said from the other end of the table—positioned so he and Jude could pick up right where they’d left off in their staring contest. “I haven’t had a chance to talk with you about this yet, but I was wondering if you’d be able to stay on in the fall once school starts.”

Oh, boy.

“Lucy’s going to be busy—”

I raised my hand, cutting Jude off. “I can answer for myself, thank you very much.”

Jude raised his hand in surrender, clearly amused.

“I’m going to be busy”—I shot Jude a look—“with school. I really piled on the coursework my senior year, and then I’ll be going back and forth to San Diego to see Jude a bunch, too.”

Jude’s hand fell on my knee. “Not as much as I’ll be coming back and forth here to see you.”

“I could work around your schedule,” Anton said as everyone else chewed their dinner in silence. Even LJ knew something was going on. “In just three weeks’ time, you’ve proven to be quite the asset at Xavier Industries. I can’t just let you go.”

Jude squeezed my knee, more out of irritation than in reassurance.

“I’ll double your salary,” Anton announced before taking a big bite of his cheeseburger.

Jude opened his mouth, but I wasn’t going to let this go any farther without adding my two cents.

“It’s not about the money,” I said.

Anton arched an eyebrow.

“Well, it’s not totally about the money. I just won’t have the time. I want to commit to the things in my life that are more important than money,” I said, grabbing the ketchup bottle and squirting a glob onto my plate. “Besides, Jude’s making boatloads of money. I’m sure he can lend me a few bucks if I need it.”

I peered over at Jude. This was a source of discomfort for me, a matter of pride, and admitting to a table of my closest friends that I’d be willing to lean on Jude for financial support made me feel very . . . vulnerable. In the I’m-naked-where’s-the-nearest-palm-leaf kind of way.

But taking one glance at Jude’s face eased the way I was feeling. He didn’t just look happy; he looked relieved. Like I’d just removed a heavy weight from his shoulders. I didn’t understand it, but I didn’t need to in order to be glad I made him feel that way.

“I thought you liked making your own money. Being independent. Multimillion-dollar fiancé or not.” Okay, Anton didn’t just have a death wish courtesy of Jude. He had a death wish compliments of Lucy Larson.

This time it was my hand that moved to Jude’s leg, giving it a squeeze.

“That’s right. I do like making my own money,” I said, wanting to dunk one of my fries in ketchup and sail it across the table at Anton’s face. “But if Jude ever needed any of it, that money would be all his. And I think he feels the same way about the money he makes.”

“Damn straight I do, Luce.”

I loved the way he was looking at me right now, like he’d never been prouder of me. I wanted nothing more than to straddle him in that chair and kiss him until we were both blue in the face.

But I had someone else who needed to be put in his place.

“Anything else?” I said, challenging Anton with my eyes.

“I’ve got a whole lot of ‘anything else’s,” he said, dropping his hamburger onto the plate. “I’ve got so many more ‘anything else’s I could go on all night. But how about I start with one word that pretty much sums it up.” Anton wagged his finger between Jude and me. “Un. Healthy.”

Jude bolted up from his seat. I didn’t know what route he would take to get to Anton, but I wasn’t ruling out his flying straight across the table.

“That’s enough!” Holly scrambled out of her seat, too. “My three-year-old behaves better than all of you.” She looked down at LJ, who was trying to stuff a fry up his nostril. “And that’s not saying a whole lot.”

She looked at Anton. “Behave.” Then turned those crazy eyes on Jude. “Behave.” And then me. “Behave.” Taking a seat, she pulled the fry from LJ’s nose. “What’s Mom always telling you about using kind words, baby?”

LJ sat up in his seat, quite pleased to be included in this conversation. “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Holly mussed the top of his head. “Any questions?” she asked the table.

Nada.

Other than a few more death glares aimed at each other, Jude and Anton didn’t say another word to each other over dinner, although it wasn’t exactly a quiet dining experience. Between LJ and India and Holly trying to talk over each other while Thomas tried and failed to add in his two cents, my ears were ringing by the time Jude started on his third cheeseburger.

“Where are you putting all of that?” I asked, done in at half of one of those burgers.

He shrugged as he chewed off a tennis ball–size bite. “I have a feeling I’m going to need my energy for tonight.”

Ah. There was that flirty foreplay I’d missed. “Good feeling.”

He grinned at me as he continued to chew. I still hadn’t adjusted to it: Jude being über-rich. He had close to no table manners, lived in Levi’s and a white Hanes undershirt, and thought the Hamptons was a seventies rock band. You never could have known by looking at him that he was a millionaire.

And I loved that about him.

I hoped he’d still be sporting Hanes and Levi’s in ten years.

“So how was that movie you guys went to last Friday?” India asked, waving a fry at Thomas and Holly.

“It was all right,” Thomas said.

Holly couldn’t have looked more offended.

“But the company was phenomenal,” he clarified, giving her a wink.

“That’s what I thought,” she said.

“Did you guys make out or do anything freaky after?”

Holly choked on her burger. Thomas went red, a rare shade of scarlet, thanks to his fair skin.

“India,” I said, “could you be any more awkward?”

“Is that a rhetorical question?” she asked, while Jude thumped Holly’s back.

“Yeah. I suppose it is.”

India blew me a kiss before returning to the grand inquisition. “Well? Spill,” she said, looking between Holly and Thomas. “You two have so much pent-up S-E-X-U-A-L tension for one another I’ve almost passed out from lack of oxygen.”

“God, India,” I said, tossing a fry at her. She dodged it, so it flew into Anton’s chest.

I smiled. Even better.

“No,” Holly said, covering LJ’s ears. “We didn’t kiss or do anything else of a freaky or kinky nature, since you just have to know.”

Jude covered his mouth, but it wasn’t keeping his laughter contained.

“And just for future reference, we won’t ever be kissing,” she added.

Thomas’s head whipped to the side. “What?” he said to Holly. “Why not?” So much for playing the cool guy.

The skin between Holly’s brows creased. “Because I’m a girl,” she said slowly, like she was confused, “and you like boys.”

Thomas’s and my mouth fell open at the same moment. Maybe I should have been more direct with Holly about Thomas’s attraction to her, but I thought it’d been obvious. I hadn’t realized she still thought he was g*y after the first night we all had dinner.

Judging from the hurt look on Thomas’s face, I didn’t think he’d ever be the same after this blow.

“You think I’m . . . I’m . . . gay?” Damn. He couldn’t have sounded more insulted either.

Holly’s shoulders slumped as her hands fell away from LJ’s ears. “Aren’t you?”

“I’ve got the little man,” Jude said, standing and grabbing LJ. He tossed him over his shoulder, much to LJ’s delight. “You want me to teach you how to throw a football ten thousand yards now?”

“Yay!” LJ replied, giggling as Jude walked him down the hall before disappearing into the bedroom.

That man was getting laid so good tonight.

“So wait.” Holly shook her head. “You’re not gay? You like women?” This was clearly rocking her worldview.

“What? No!” Thomas twisted in his seat.

“No, you’re not gay, or no, you don’t like women?” Holly asked.

“No, I’m not gay!” This was the first time I’d heard Thomas raise his voice. I suppose if there ever was a time for a guy to lose his cool, it was when the girl he had it bad for thought he was g*y the entire time.

“Whoa.” Holly gave her head another shake. “This revelation is . . . profound.”

“Unbelievable. My whole life people have assumed I was g*y because I was a dancer. People judged me because I slipped into a different kind of spandex than the other guys in the locker room.” Thomas shoved his seat back, stood up, and headed for the door. “I didn’t think you were one of those people, too, Holly.”

“Thomas,” Holly called after him. “Wait.”

“I don’t think so,” he said, continuing to storm for the door. “I’m going to find some boys to kiss.” When he slammed the door, it shook the walls.

“He’s not gay?” she said, more to herself than anything else. “Did you know?”

“He’s been my dance partner for three years,” I replied, staring at the door. “Of course I knew he wasn’t.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because I thought you figured it out after the first night you met him,” I said, hating the way Holly was looking at me—like I’d betrayed her.

“I did think that, until we went on our date last Friday,” she said. “Until he kept bringing up this guy Samuel. He was talking about him making breakfast that morning, and how he always leaves his wet towels on the floor, and . . .” Holly’s face blanched. “Oh, my God, Samuel is Thomas’s roommate, isn’t he?”

I clucked my tongue. “Bingo.”

“Shit,” she said, slamming her fist down on the table.

“Do you like him, Hol?” I asked, feeling like I already knew the answer.

She bit her lip and nodded.

“A lot?”

Another nod.

“Then what are you still doing here?” I said. “Go after him.”

“Please, Lucy. Even if he did like me before I called him gay, he’s never going to say another word to me.”

“There’s only one way to find out,” India piped up. I was surprised it had taken her this long to give her two cents. She usually wanted in right away. Beside her, Anton was staying quiet for once in his life.

“You think I’ve got a chance in hell that he’s still going to like me after what I just said?” Holly’s arms were flailing about—a sure sign she was about to lose it.

India propped her chin on her fist and gave Holly a once-over. “Girl. I think that man would still like you if you told him to go get bent every time you saw him. He’s got it bad for you. Bad squared.”

***

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