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Page 38

testpreptraining

I took a few more deep breaths until my shaking stopped. “Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

“Okay, Luce. Wait for me at the apartment. I’m on my way, baby.”

“Thank you.” There was nothing else I could say.

“I love you, Luce.” His voice was still anxious, but it soothed me.

“I know, Jude,” I said. “I know.”

I hoped he would feel the same way once I told him everything I’d been keeping from him.

After a teary drive home, I found Holly waiting for me. Thomas and LJ were gone.

“Did you get off work early?” I asked, faking a smile.

“Jude called me,” she said, pulling me into her arms. “He was freaking out and asked me to meet you here until he flew in.”

“I’m sorry you had to leave work early,” I said, melting into her arms.

“That’s not what I’m worried about,” she said, steering me toward the couch. “I’m worried about you. What happened?” She inspected me as she sat me down. “Jude said you’d told him you were okay, but he wasn’t so convinced.”

“I’m okay in the way he was worried about,” I said, as she slid my heels off.

“Jude’s worried about you being okay in all the ways you can be, Lucy,” she said, grabbing the pillow and blanket over on the chair.

“I know he is. And I guess I’m both okay and not okay. If that’s even possible.” I let Holly ease me down on the couch until my head crashed into the pillow.

“What happened?” she asked as she layered the blanket over me.

Suddenly, just having my feet up and my head on a pillow, I felt exhausted. Utterly spent from the month, the day, and the past hour. It had all caught up with me, and my body was going to revolt if I didn’t let it shut down for a while.

“I’ll tell you later, Holly,” I said, yawning as I closed my eyes. “Will you wake me when Jude gets here?”

“Of course, Lucy,” she said. “Sleep tight.” She pressed a kiss to my temple, and then I was asleep.

NINETEEN

“How long has she been out?” Jude’s voice broke through my dreams, but didn’t fully free me from them. Dreams that had been more dark than light, more nightmare than dream.

“Since she basically walked through the door,” Holly replied, sounding far-off.

“What’s going on, Hol?” His fingers started stroking my hair.

“She wouldn’t say, but I’ve got a few ideas.”

“What ideas?” His voice was so tight with worry, and something else. Exhaustion, maybe?

“Nope, not my place to say. Lucy can tell you what’s going on when she wakes up.”

Jude’s mouth pressed into my temple and stayed there for a beat, like he was trying to breathe me in. “I was so worried, Hol. So f**king worried.”

“It’s going to be all right, Jude. Whatever Lucy needed you for, you two will work out.”

“Yeah,” he said against my skin, “I know.”

It might have been his lips, or it might have been his words, but one of the two freed me at last from the curtain of dreamland.

“Luce?” Jude’s face was blurry as my eyes adjusted. “Baby? Are you all right?”

“You made it,” I said, smiling up at him. I already felt ten times better just having him close.

“I told you I would.”

“I know,” I said, shifting below him. “What time is it?”

“A little before midnight.”

“How did you get here so fast?”

His fingers continued running through my hair, soothing me. “I chartered a plane,” he answered. “A fast one.”

This time, the price tag didn’t bother me. He was here in less than eight hours’ time. “Thank you,” I said, knowing two words were inadequate, but not being able to offer him anything else right now.

Jude smiled his reply. He was so close I could smell the scent of his favorite soap. Having him here, his presence, his smile, his scent . . . I was home.

“I know I should probably let you wake up and give you a minute, but I’m dying here, Luce. I’ve been dying since I got your call.” His voice got tight again. “What’s the matter? What happened?”

For one of the few times in my life, he looked scared. Scared of the questions and scared of the answers.

“First things first.” Holly appeared behind Jude holding a cup of orange juice and a handful of crackers. “You haven’t eaten anything for hours, Lucy. Eat this. Drink this. Or else.” She winked as she waited for me to sit up.

I twisted around so I could face Jude and took the OJ and crackers. “Thanks, Holly.” Again, there was so much I owed her for, but two words of gratitude were all I had right now.

Jude waited for me to take a sip and get down half a saltine cracker, but I could tell the waiting game was killing him. How could I break what happened to me this afternoon to him gently? If there was a way to ease the blow that the man Jude had been so certain had a thing for me had just plastered his lips to mine, I wasn’t finding one.

Segue . . . ease him into it with a segue.

“Anton kissed me.”

Segues, apparently, in my book, sucked.

The worry lines of Jude’s face deepened, until each wrinkle was its own canyon. “When?” His voice was so rough it scared me.

“Right before I called you.” I took another sip of my juice and waited.

“Where?” His jaw was locked and his shoulders were tensing.

“At the office.”

And now the veins in his neck were popping against his skin. We’d hit rage liftoff.

“Where is he now?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “And I don’t care.”

“Well, I care, and I’m about to find out.” He pulled his phone from his pocket and started searching through his contact list. I knew who he’d call first on this Anton manhunt.

“No,” I said, wanting to grab the phone out of his hands and toss it out the window. But then he’d just go find mine. “You’re not going to go find him so you can teach him a lesson and kick his ass.”

“That’s exactly what I’m going to do,” he said instantly, stopping when he got to the I’s in his phone.

“No, you’re not,” I said firmly, setting my juice and crackers down. My attention and hands were needed elsewhere. “I don’t need you, or anyone else, to prove to some other guy that I belong to you.”

“He kissed you, Luce,” Jude said, his eyes immediately narrowing. “It appears you do need me to do just that.”

I gently traced the scar I’d memorized years ago. “It doesn’t matter how many guys want to, try to, or actually succeed before they feel the slap of my hand on their cheek,” I said, forcing him to look me in the eyes. “Because the only one of them I want to kiss is you. And that’s what matters.”

To prove it, I lowered my face until our mouths were just a hair apart. Our lips hadn’t touched and already electricity was bouncing between us. When my lips did cover his, that electricity became something else entirely. Our lips played together, smoothing and sucking, until my breath started hitching in my lungs. Jude’s hand held my face carefully, but there was an undercurrent of strength in that touch.

I ended our kiss by running my tongue along the seam of his lips before pressing a featherlight kiss to the corner of his mouth.

“That’s who I want to kiss, and how I want him to kiss me, until the day I can’t kiss anymore,” I said, staring into his eyes. The darkness in them was gone. “So don’t feel like you need to kick Anton into next week to defend my honor. I can defend my own honor. Just stay here. With me,” I said, patting the couch. “Kissing me would be an added bonus.”

He sat beside me and grabbed my hand. “You know it might kill me not to give that little jerk-off a piece of my boot, right?”

I nodded. In fact, I was surprised he was still here, relatively calm, and talking in his normal Jude voice again. That kiss must have worked a miracle, because the Jude I’d known would have already tracked the guy down and broken his nose.

“But I want you happy. Nothing’s more important to me than that,” he said, sighing. “So I’ll resist every instinct and not hang him over the edge of the Empire State Building.” Another sigh, this one longer. “Happy now?”

“You have no idea,” I said, running my fingers through my hair. It was a mess, tear- and snot-coated, topped off by hours of twisting it into a pillow.

“I’ve got a quick solution to that,” Jude said, patting my leg as he stood up. “I’ll hunt down one of those ponytail-holder thingies you leave all over the place.”

“Bathroom’s a good starting point,” I called after him. I smiled. Jude had gone from hard-core Hulk to my ponytail-holder-thingy hunter in under a minute. Plus, he was here. I didn’t care why or what events had led up to his chartering a plane and flying across the country. Because he was here.

“Impressive,” Holly muttered to me from the kitchen, sipping a cup of tea. “I thought I was going to be sweeping up glass for weeks from that special shade of pissed he turned.”

Before I had a chance to reply, I heard a drawer slam before Jude came stomping out of the bathroom. “Goddammit, Hol,” he said, clutching something in his fist. “Did you go and get yourself knocked up again?”

Holly’s face did the confusion thing before she noticed what was in Jude’s hand. Then her face fell.

“What the fuck?” he said, holding up the pregnancy test in front of her. The pregnancy test I’d stuffed in the top drawer where I kept my toothpaste, ChapStick, and ponytail-holder thingies. Shit.

“Jude,” I said, but he didn’t hear me.

“How the hell are you going to take care of two kids on your own, Hol?” he said, sounding truly upset.

“Jude,” I said again, this time louder.

Holly was glancing between me and Jude, not saying a thing. She couldn’t lie, but she didn’t want to rat me out.

“Say something,” Jude said, waving the test.

“Jude!” There. I’d gotten as loud as he had.

“What?” he shouted, spinning around. His face softened just a bit when he realized he’d snapped at me.

“The test isn’t Holly’s,” I said, unconsciously draping my hands over my stomach. “It’s mine.”

It didn’t register right away. It took a minute. But as Jude’s face changed from red to white, I knew my words were settling in.

“It’s mine,” I repeated, looking at the test.

“Wait . . .” He shook his head, glancing at the test, then back to me. “What?”

I prayed he wasn’t going into shock, because I’d never seen this pale, clammy look on his face, and it sure as hell looked like shock to me. “The pregnancy test is mine.” He actually went a degree whiter at the word pregnancy.

***

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