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Page 7

At this pace, with those kinds of words, I wasn’t going to make it much longer.

“So, my wrists tied behind me, my legs tied around you, I’d lower myself over you, teasing you until I made you come and get it.” Had those words just come out of my mouth? At this point in fast-approaching ecstasy, I couldn’t be sure.

“And you’d be so ready for me, I’d bury myself so deep inside you I could come right then,” he continued, groaning through the end. “But then you’d start moving, doing that little hip swivel thing you know drives me nuts, and then—”

“Like the two-pump chump you are not,” I interrupted, feeling my cli**x building, “but like the sexual goddess I am, I’d whisper a few dirty words in your ear at the same time I tighten around you, and you’d come so hard you’d put me over the edge.”

“Oh, God,” he moaned, his face lining. “I can’t wait, Luce. I’m going to come hard,” he said, his eyes staying on me. “And I’m going to imagine it’s you I’m six inches deep in when I do.”

That was all I needed. The final push before I followed him.

My body tightened as much as it could before it let go, and then I was shaking from the intensity of my orgasm ripping through me. “Jude.” I sighed again and again as he did the same with my name, paired with a couple other four-letter words.

As the last ripples of pleasure were going through my body, I rested my leg back down on the floor. My lower half was trembling and my breath was ragged at best.

“I might have been wrong, Luce,” Jude said after both of us started breathing normally again.

Adjusting myself in the chair, I gave him a postorgasm smile. “Wrong about what?”

“Your dancing being the damn most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

My smile went a notch higher. “Oh, yeah?”

“Oh. Yeah,” he emphasized. “Because what I just had the pleasure of watching for the past five minutes was on a whole other playing field.”

I laughed. The expression on his face was that serious. “And I want to say kudos to you for improvising and managing to turn a sucky night into something . . . not so sucky.”

He leaned forward. “Kudos to you, Luce,” he said with a wink.

I flushed more than I already was. I was a physical wreck. The good kind of wreck. My inner thighs were still shaking, my left nipple was sore from the pain I’d unleashed on it, and my neck felt sore from all the rocking and tossing around.

“So,” I said, “same time tomorrow night?” I was partially kidding, but mostly serious.

Jude’s eyebrow lifted. “Who says we need to wait until tomorrow night for a repeat?” he said, leaning back against the truck’s seat again. “I’ve got all night, Luce.”

Grabbing the phone, I started for the bedroom. I was going to get comfortable for this round. “Me too.”

SIX

I’d slept in. I knew this because I awoke with that panicky feeling, consulting my phone for the time. Instead of showing me that, though, the picture on my phone was of Jude’s room. The Face Time count was still going, in the six-digit realm.

Crashing my head back down on my pillow, I exhaled. For the first time since last September, it seemed, it was acceptable for me to sleep in. I didn’t have an early class to be at, or a rehearsal to squeeze in before breakfast. Other than my summer class, my schedule was open to fill as I chose.

Turning on my side, I stared at his room. He must have left his phone behind so I could wake up to this. It was a small gesture that felt kind of grand.

The team had put him in a hotel during preseason training until he found something more permanent, which I guess some players complained about due to the lack of space. From the looks of it, Jude’s hotel room was almost as big as our apartment. Plus, it was about five times as nice and a tenth as old.

Following round two last night, Jude suggested we keep the Face Time on so we could fall asleep together. Well, it was more of a demand, but it was one I was eager to go along with. By the time he’d driven back to his room, I’d almost fallen asleep, tired from the day of running around, the double feature of orgasms, and arguing with him about how expensive his phone bill would be if we did this whole Face Time thing all night, every night, like he wanted.

He said he didn’t give a damn about the bill, or the money; he cared about watching me fall asleep every night. Yeah, I melted and caved right then.

Curling around my pillow, I stared at his empty bed. His sheets were twisted, the blankets kicked down to the foot of the bed, and the pillows were stacked into a leaning tower. Jude had never been a good sleeper, never sleeping longer than a couple hours at a time before something jerked him awake. He’d always played it off as being a borderline insomniac, but I knew why he’d burst awake, swallowing a scream, his body covered in a sheen of sweat. Jude had nightmares. The same kind I did—his just came from a different point of view. He was on one side of the gun and the man that had killed my brother, and I was on the other.

The weekends we shared in the same bed, he said he slept better, but knowing how many times he jerked awake in the middle of the night when I was next to him, I hated to think of what his nights were like when I wasn’t beside him.

Jude had an early practice this morning. And a late practice. Just like every day. In fact, if he wasn’t on the field, he was in one of three places: at the hotel restaurant shoveling food into his mouth, sitting in the oversize chair talking on the phone with me, or trying and failing to sleep in the bed I was staring at. His life was busy, his hours filled with places to be and people to interact with.

My days felt the opposite.

With Jude gone, I had dance, independent study, and a few friends who were, most of the time, too busy with their own lives to carve out time to hang with me. It had been months since I’d seen Holly, Jude’s oldest friend; something about a full-time job, living across the country, and having an almost four-year-old to keep up with had a way of keeping a girl busy. When Indie, my old dorm roommate, wasn’t beating off stockbrokers and ER docs in one of the clubs she frequented in the city, she was down in Miami dancing until sunset, beating away the Latin men she had a secret soft spot for. Thomas, my dance partner, bartended nights in the city and had been having girl troubles with the dancer he’d been dating for a year. What he called girl troubles, the rest of the world called cheating. Thomas liked to believe the best in everyone, God love him, and that was an honorable quality to have—when you weren’t dating a girl who believed sleeping with a slew of other guys behind her boyfriend’s back was acceptable.

After I grabbed my phone off its stand, it took me a few seconds before I was able to hit end. I had a window to Jude’s room and I didn’t want to close it. But life had to go on; I couldn’t stay tucked under my covers all day staring at an unmade bed on the other side of the country. I had to get up, go through a routine, and do my best to pretend my heart hadn’t flown to San Diego with him. This wasn’t a foreign concept to me—fake it until you make it; I’d done it for five years following my brother’s murder.

I knew this was different. Jude hadn’t been killed in cold blood; I knew this. But my lungs felt like they’d collapse at every other breath, and the spot where my heart used to beat felt like it was a hollow void.

Not that I needed any more proof, but damn if I didn’t love that man more than was healthy for me.

I typed a quick message, hit send, then made myself get out of bed. Shower or coffee first? After contemplating this for a good minute, I realized I was apparently incapable of making even the smallest decisions.

After a couple more minutes of indecision, I went with the coffee-first option. I had a handful of applications to fill out, not to mention a mess in the kitchen and dining room to clean up. Then I would shower, then off to the dance studio, then . . .

Oh, my God. I was going through my life like it was a step-by-step program. Not cool. To prove to myself I wasn’t becoming a step-by-stepper, I took action. I showered first, then got to work on the job applications while I waited for the coffee to brew.

I’d gone through half a pot by the time I’d finished with the eighth and final application. Shaking my wrist, sure I was experiencing the early stages of carpal tunnel from that fill-in-the-blank marathon, I tossed a change of clothes into my dance bag and couldn’t rush out of that apartment fast enough. Two weeks and I still hadn’t adjusted to being alone in it.

I wasn’t sure I ever would.

Two hours later, I’d handed off all the applications. Half the places said the positions had already been filled—the other half said they’d take a peek and give me a call if they wanted to interview me. When I said I’d call next week to check in, I was promptly answered with some variation of the don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you reply.

Outlook in the summer employment department wasn’t looking good.

No Jude for another week. No job for who knew how long. No friends within a half-hour commute.

By the time I’d arrived at the studio, I was feeling every shade of sorry for myself. There was only one way to stop this train of self-pity in its tracks.

I had my pointes on and was ready to go in record time. I moved without the accompaniment of music, each movement an extension of what I was feeling. By the time I’d worked up a sweat, my pity party had come to a wrap. And by the time my toes started tingling, I’d built up enough positive endorphins to remind myself that life was pretty damn good.

Taking a water break, I checked my phone. I was checking for missed calls or texts, but the time caught my eye. My eyes bulged. I should have stopped being surprised how I could lose time when I danced the way I had been today, but losing four hours in the span of what seemed like a couple dances wasn’t something I’d ever gotten used to.

The studio was quiet on weekend nights, and, other than the teenage employee obsessed by her phone, I was the last person in the place. After changing back into my shoes, I hurried to my car, rushing back to an empty apartment. I turned on every light, even the TV just to have a little background noise. Finishing cleaning up the mess from last night’s botched dinner, I poured a bowl of granola cereal and curled up on the couch, my phone balanced on my lap. I tried not to check the phone screen every five seconds.

An hour later, the self-pity was starting to trickle back into my veins. Jude must have had a crazy-busy day of practice; he usually was able to shoot me a quick text or two throughout the day. But not today. I was resolved to not become one of those clingy girls who had to check in with her guy every hour, although tonight, I was getting dangerously close to jumping on that bandwagon.

After minutes of tapping my phone’s screen, stalling, convincing myself not to call him, only to convince myself to call him the next second, the phone chimed.

I was so excited I nearly dropped it. I was in such a hurry, I didn’t check the screen to see who was calling.

“I missed you so damn much today,” I greeted Jude, my smile stretching into place.

***

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