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“Hey, thank your stars your man ain’t no kiddie bumper cars,” India added, taking another puff before blowing out a smoke ring. “I dated a man once who was like that. The man who is solely responsible for why I don’t date any more. He even made love like the damn kiddie cars. Bump. Sputter, sputter,” India sat up, jolting back and forth. “Bump. Sputter, sputter.” I started laughing, watching her acting out the scene. “Bump. Sputter, sputter. Bump. Fizzle.” Curling her nose, she groaned, collapsing back into the chair.

Our laughter blended down the hall with Mr. Marley.

“Great practice today Lucy,” Thomas said, coming up behind me as I walked out of the auditorium doors.

“Well, it helps my partner is one hell of a dancer,” I said, nudging him as I wrapped my scarf around my neck.

It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the New York weather was already bringing it on. What had possessed a girl who believed sun was essential to life to go to school in a place where the winters ran frigid and long?

My pointes bounced against my body as I walked, reminding me why.

“Yeah, so, your boyfriend,” Thomas started, looking uneasy just speaking about Jude, “does he know we’re partners for the winter recital?”

Poor Thomas. He was a dancer, not a fighter. I would be scared out of my tights too if I was supposed to be lifting by the crotch the girlfriend of a boy who packed a mean punch.

“Not yet,” I said, throwing my cap on too. I would be living in a state of hat hair from now until May.

Thomas cleared his throat, fidgeting with the strap of his backpack. “Are you planning on telling him?”

“Of course,” I said, turning towards my dorm. I still had to finish one more assignment before the end of the day and the sooner I tucked myself into bed, the sooner Jude would be here in the morning to spend four whole days together. India was flying back home to her parents’ place outside of Miami, so we’d have the whole room to ourselves.

I wasn’t planning on leaving it once. That’s what delivery was for.

“When?”

I shrugged. I hadn’t really given it much thought. “This weekend, I guess.”

“Okay,” Thomas said. “I just want to be prepared. It’s probably for the best he knows sooner rather than later. Will make the shock a little less… extreme.”

“You’ve thought this out,” I said, trying not to smile to give away my amusement. “Good for you.”

“Yeah,” Thomas said, “if the dude almost beat my ass for helping you out of a corset, he will murder me on the spot when he sees our modern interpretation of the ‘Rape of Persephone’.”

Thomas spelling it out for me moved telling Jude about our performance and the “encounters” Thomas and I would share on stage up to number one on the list. The more notice Jude had about it, the more time he could get used to the idea so he, as Thomas had put it, wouldn’t murder him on the spot.

“Don’t worry, you’ll be all right,” I said, stopping outside of the dorm hall.

“I’d say I’ll be anything but ‘all right’ after your boyfriend is done with me, but thanks for the vote of confidence.” Heading down the sidewalk, Thomas waved. “Have a nice break, Lucy.”

I would.

“You too,” I called after him, rushing into the building because I was twenty seconds away from breaking into a chatter fest.

India was already gone by the time I made it back, but she’d left a gift behind. Lying on my bed was a black shopping bag, cascading with red and pink tissue paper. Not the first colors one thought of when they celebrated Thanksgiving.

Tearing into the bag, I tossed the tissue paper behind me, peering inside. My mouth dropped as I pulled out the item on top. It was black, lacy, and had holes in places that were normally covered.

“India,” I muttered, shaking my head. Tossing the lingerie off to the side, I grabbed the first thing in the bag my fingers fell on. Something cold and hard. I pulled out a pair of hardcore handcuffs, complete with key, dangling from my finger. Throwing them back in the bag like they’d stung me, I rolled the top of the bag over and stuffed it into the depths of our closet.

I might be ready to take the next step with Jude, but I wasn’t ready to go from A to Z in the same night. I’d be regifting these gems at Christmas to the girl who’d so carefully selected them for her resident prude.

I hurried through my last assignment and emailed it off to the professor by eight that night. Having a cup of hot tea and a microwave vegetarian burger for dinner, I turned off the lights and crawled into bed, hoping I’d fall into a deep sleep.

After tossing and turning my sheets into a tornado three hours later, I realized sleep and I weren’t making things easy for one another. Giving up some time after midnight, I threw an old DVD into the player and watched two movies all the way through before I managed to nod off. My alarm was blaring less than two hours later.

So much for the recuperative qualities of sleep.

CHAPTER TEN

I was on my third cup of coffee, and somewhere in between my second and third, I’d crossed the line from alert to jumpy. Oh well, edgy was better than comatose.

The knowledge Jude would be arriving any time helped my outlook significantly. My parents had made reservations at some fancy place downtown, wanting to treat us to a nice meal for Thanksgiving. I’d insisted that we didn’t need anything fancy, but Mom said she’d just landed a big new account and things were looking up. No matter what I said, she hadn’t relented, so the four of us were eating at some swanky place in SoHo.

Jude had already texted me asking what I was wearing and wondering if this was a tie required kind of joint. I’d replied telling him it was a whatever-he-showed-up-in kind of a joint because Jude always looked amazing. Tie or no tie.

I’d selected something fancier, a cranberry colored vintage style dress, because I’d been living in jeans and sweaters and it felt good to dress up every now and then. Sliding into my Mary Jane’s, a knock sounded at the door.

I practically danced across the room. Throwing the door open, I found Jude standing there, looking a bit uncomfortable in his tie and dress shirt, holding his hands behind his back. His discomfort melted when he took a good look at me.

“You get more beautiful every time I see you,” he said, taking me in like he was trying to cement this moment in his memory.

“Thank you,” I replied, taking a curtsy. “And you clean up rather nicely yourself.” I ran my fingers down his tie.

“It’s Tony’s,” he said, guessing my thoughts.

“Tony has ties?” It didn’t fit my picture of the charmer I knew.

“He’s Catholic,” Jude said, watching my fingers slide down the tie. “And his mom calls him every Sunday to make sure he went to mass. So yeah, Tony’s got a shitload of ties.”

“It looks nice on you,” I said, letting the charcoal tie fall back into place.

“Tony had to help me tie it because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing,” he said, popping his neck from side to side like the thing was strangling him.

“Do you have your bag?” I asked, not seeing one in view.

Jude’s face fell. “What bag?”

My face fell right along with his. “The bag you were supposed to pack to spend four whole days with me,” I said, wanting to pout. “That bag.”

“Oh,” Jude said, his arm reaching for something, “you mean this bag?”

Snatching it out of his hands, I tossed it onto the bed. There. Now we were set for the weekend.

“And this is also for you,” he said, removing his other hand from his back. Another rose. A pink one this time. We were making progress; it still wasn’t the red rose of love, passion, and in my book, sex, but it was a step in the right direction from the white rose of purity he’d given to me last.

He chuckled as I continued to study the rose. “It’s just a flower, Luce. Not the answer to all of life’s questions.”

Taking it from him, I rested it on my pillow. “Everything means something. Whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not.”

Walking into my room, he stared at my bed before looking back up at me. He gave me a stupid little smile as he grabbed my coat hanging over the swivel chair.

“I suppose that’s true,” Jude admitted, holding my coat open for me, “if you’re a woman. But for us men, a rose is a rose. And unless we’re in love with a girl or hoping to get our brains screwed out of our ears, we don’t go out of our way to get them.”

Stuffing my arms into my knee length wool coat, Jude slid my hair out from beneath the collar. His fingers just barely grazed my neck and it shot like a bolt through my body. Anticipation made his touch even more flammable.

“So which of those man reasons reduced you to buying a rose for a girl?” Cinching the coat’s belt, I turned to face him.

He had that same smile on his face. He lifted his brows. “Both.”

My stomach flopped and dropped.

“Come on,” he said, grabbing my hand and leading me out of the room. “We’ve got all weekend. Let’s make it to Thanksgiving lunch, brunch, whatever it is, before the clothes start flying.”

Closing the door behind us, I blew out a breath. “If we have to.”

Jude chuckled as we made our way down the hall. “Since your parents kind of flew across the country so they could have dinner with their precious daughter and her son of a bitch boyfriend at some yuppie restaurant, yeah, I’d say we have to.”

“You make a lot of sense for a member of the male species,” I said as we made our way down the stairwell.

Jude gave me a look that said obviously.

My heels clanged down the stairwell, filling the space with the echo.

“How in the hell do you girls walk in those things?” Jude said, studying the shoes with a wince.

“We have special powers that enable us to do so.”

Jude stopped on the stair below me. “Yeah, well, special powers or not”‌—‌scooping me into his arms, he heaved me against his chest‌—‌”I don’t want you breaking your neck on the stairs.”

I wrapped my arms around his neck. “You’re going to carry me down four more sets of stairs?”

“No,” he replied, his eyes flashing down at me. “I’m going to kiss you down four more sets of stairs.” Lowering his neck, I lifted mine, and when our mouths connected, I wasn’t sure how he was able to keep bouncing down the stairwell without collapsing, but I wouldn’t have been able to. Maybe that’s the real reason he’d decided to carry me.

Stiff arming the exit door open, a New York surprise was waiting for us. Airy flakes of snow swirled from the sky, landing on our faces. Jude looked up, taking his lips with him. The sky was clouded, a grayish blue hue tinting them.

“Looks like a storm’s heading our way,” he said, carrying me the rest of the way to his truck. “Good thing I’m prepared.” Kicking his new snow tires, he opened the door and dropped me inside.

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