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Page 37

The answer was, I couldn’t tell him. Not right now. Not with those words so fresh in my mind.

“What’s the matter?” Jude’s face shadowed as he watched me. “Talk to me, Luce.”

I looked down, unable to stare at those tortured eyes any longer. “I can’t. Not right now,” I said. “Soon.”

He huffed. “I’ve been hearing that word soon from you for three years now. I think your definition and mine are different.”

I didn’t have three years. I didn’t even have three months. My soon, in this case, would be his soon.

“Soon,” I said. “I promise.”

“I won’t hold my breath,” he said with a sigh.

I bit my lip. “I’ve got to get going.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s the story of our lives,” he said, studying me like he was trying to see inside me. “I know you’re tired and need to catch your flight and don’t want to talk about whatever’s bothering you, but after a good night’s sleep you’ll feel better. I want you to call me anytime, Luce, anytime. I don’t care if I’m in the middle of practice or asleep or in the shower; I’ll answer. Just call me. Tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that, whenever you’re feeling better, and we’ll talk this over. We’ll work this out the way we always do.” He paused and waited.

“Okay, Luce? We’ll work this out. Everything will be fine,” he said, pulling me back into his arms. “Just call me and we’ll figure this thing out together.”

I hugged him back—I couldn’t seem to hold him hard enough—but I never made that call the next day, or the day after that, or even the day after that.

Another week down, one week closer to D-day, as Holly and I had deemed it. Jude and I had talked every day, but we never had “the talk.” I pretended everything was fine and dodged his probing questions, but I knew I hadn’t fooled him. I was even avoiding my parents’ calls, because how could I talk about school and dance when I was keeping the secret that I was in my second trimester from them?

So when Anton asked if I’d be able to work Saturday, I’d said yes without a second thought. When I was at school or work, my mind was distracted just enough for me to pretend my life wasn’t spiraling out of control. Anton had found a new full-time admin once I’d gone back to school, but I still worked a Saturday or Sunday most weekends. There was always some report that needed to be filled out or completed or started. There was always a presentation that needed to be put together, and Anton not only didn’t have a problem with letting me work a flexible schedule, he encouraged it. It didn’t matter if I showed up early or late, Saturday or Sunday, the guy was always there. I was starting to wonder if he lived at the office.

Today, Thomas had been free to watch LJ while Holly was at work, so I’d showed up at Xavier Industries at eight a.m. I hadn’t lifted my head from the computer once when Anton stepped out of his office later that afternoon.

“Thanks again for helping today, Lucy,” he said, dropping a bottle of water on my desk. “It’s amazing how much more I can get done when I don’t have someone ducking their head in my office every two seconds.”

“No problem,” I said, saving the report I’d been working on the past couple hours before powering off my computer. It was getting late, and I’d promised to pick up dinner for everyone tonight.

“How have you been lately?” Anton asked with a serious expression. “India tells me you’ve been missing a lot of class.”

Traitor. No dessert for her next Friday night.

“I’m good,” I said with a shrug. “Just going through a bit of a life funk.”

“Is Jude responsible for this funk?” he said, leaning into my desk.

A flash of anger. It had been so long since I’d felt it, I welcomed it. Like a long-lost friend coming home for a visit. “Let me respond to that with a two-part answer,” I said, crossing my arms. “None of your business. And none of your business.” Jumping up, I grabbed my purse and headed for the coatrack to grab my jacket. I wanted out of here before Anton got warmed up.

“I make you uncomfortable.”

I huffed. “Doesn’t exactly qualify as the revelation of the year.”

Anton chuckled. Infuriating. “Well, maybe this will,” he said, coming toward me. “I know why I make you uncomfortable.”

“I know why, too,” I said, looking him up and down. “Everything. The whole Anton Xavier package makes me uncomfortable.”

Super. I’d just mentioned Anton and package in the same sentence, and the twisted SOB hadn’t missed it either. One side of his mouth was already lifting.

“I make you uncomfortable because some part of you likes me. Some part of you is attracted to me and that pisses you off. Some part of you knows that if you weren’t with him, you and I would be together.” He said this all without a bit of remorse, not even shame.

I was getting upset. More upset. I wasn’t sure if it was because of how wrong he was or how right he was. It was all very confusing.

“Maybe,” I said with a lazy shrug. “But that’s the answer to every question in the universe. Maybe. Maybe you and I might have hooked up in some alternate reality where there was no Jude, but that’s not the case. There is a Jude. And I’m in love with him.” I was getting worked up, just shy of a shout. I held up my left hand, flashing the ring in front of him. “And we’re getting married.”

Anton stuffed his hands in his pockets. “When?”

“Soon.” I grimaced at my word choice. He noticed that too.

“How long have you been engaged?” Still the picture of calm.

“Three years.”

He took a step toward me; I took a step back. “What are you waiting for?”

Why hadn’t I stuck with the whole none-of-your-business approach? “To graduate college.”

“No, I don’t think that’s it,” he said confidently. “I think you’re waiting because you’re unsure. Something’s telling you this man is not the right one for you, and you can’t kill that voice.”

“Wow, good one,” I said, clapping my hands. “And the Delusional Award goes to . . .” I stopped clapping to sweep my hands dramatically at him.

The more I got worked up, the cooler he seemed. Nothing I said or did could tip his calm scale.

“You say we could never be together, but that’s just because you’ve never even opened yourself up to the idea.” He took another step toward me and this time, when I took a step back, I was up against a wall.

Fitting.

“I don’t want to open myself up to that idea,” I said, warning him with my eyes. Warning him not to take another step closer.

He didn’t heed that warning. “Then I’m going to help you.”

Before I had time to process his intention, his lips were on mine, his hands following. Though his mouth was unyielding, his hands dropped gently to my waist and stayed there.

I tried shoving him away immediately. It was a useless endeavor with Jude, but I at least managed to budge Anton, though not enough. His lips continued their assault on mine, like they were a drowning man begging for a lifeline, but I’d tossed my lifeline out a long time ago—to a different guy, and I’d never asked for or wanted it back. I knew that what Anton had said was partly true. The two of us very well could have ended up together had the world been Jude Ryder–less. But it wasn’t. Anton was the understudy to Jude. Anton was my what-might-have-been, but Jude was my was, is, and will be forever.

“Anton, stop,” I protested against his unrelenting lips.

Either he’d gone deaf or he was ignoring me. Neither would work for me.

Raising my hand, I slapped it hard across his cheek. “Stop it!”

The slap got his attention. Good thing, because my next move would have been a sharp knee to the groin.

When Anton loosened his grip on me just enough, I gave him another hard shove, pushing him back a few feet. “You’re an a**hole. How’s that for an answer as to why we’re not together?” Shoving him in passing just because he deserved it, I marched toward the door. “And one more thing. I quit!”

I didn’t wait for a reply. I ran for the elevator, hoping I’d make it to the car before the last two minutes had caught up with me. As it was, I felt like I was hyperventilating.

What Anton had said might have been true, but none of it mattered. I was with Jude. I wanted Jude. There was no Anton and Lucy when I’d given my heart to Jude Ryder four years ago.

I had no doubts that if you plugged Anton and me into a compatibility computer, we’d come out on the other end together. I knew that, but it didn’t change anything. His rubbing that in my face when my fiancé was across the country, while I was an emotional, hormonal wreck, was not what I needed right now.

As soon as the elevator doors opened, I ran through the lobby, shoved through the revolving door, and continued my sprint to the Mazda. I was pulling my phone from my purse before I knew I’d gone searching for it. As if my fingers had a mind of their own, they punched in a number as I crawled into the car.

Jude answered on the first ring. “Hey, Luce.”

Just hearing his voice unleashed the flood of emotions I’d been trying to hold back. I started sobbing. Hard-core, rocking, choking sobs. The kind I’d experienced only in the days after my brother’s murder.

“What’s the matter, Luce?” Jude’s voice was tight with worry. “Shit. Are you all right? Where are you?” He was frantic, and it sounded like he was running.

I inhaled and counted to five, trying to compose myself enough to reassure him I wasn’t dying in some back alley. “I need you, Jude,” I sobbed. “I’m sorry. I know it’s late and I know you’ve got practice in the morning”—it was next to impossible to get words out, and each one felt like a victory—“but I need you.”

I heard him curse under his breath. I don’t know if my idea of composing myself had calmed him or made him more panicked. “I’m coming, baby. I’m coming,” he said, definitely running now, because I could hear the air cutting through the phone. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

I hated feeling so weak, like I needed someone else to hold me together, but I tried not to focus on that. I tried to focus on how lucky I was to have someone to call when I needed to be held together.

“Thank you,” I whispered as I tried to start the car. My hands were shaking, making it difficult.

“Are you safe, Luce?” he asked. “Are you hurt?”

I knew he was talking about the physical safe and hurt, so that was why I replied, “Yes, I’m safe, and no, I’m not hurt.”

“Where are you?” he asked, before talking in a clipped tone to someone. A taxi driver, maybe?

“I’m in my car. I’m heading back to the apartment.”

“Are you okay to drive?”

***

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