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I didn’t know that’s where he’d gone‌—‌he could be anywhere‌—‌but that would be my starting point. I’d look under every nook and explore every cranny of New York until I found him. I didn’t care that he told me to leave him alone, to give him time to sort out his shit. I also knew there was truth in what my mom had said about men not wanting to talk the issue to death.

I didn’t need to talk‌—‌I just needed him to know I was here for him. I just needed to have him hold me while he figured out what needed figuring. I needed him to know I wasn’t going anywhere and he couldn’t send me somewhere that wasn’t where he was.

I just needed to have him look me in the eyes and know that everything was going to be okay.

It was after three by the time I cut the ignition outside of Jude’s. The snow had made the trip tricky and added another hour to the five hour journey. I wasn’t tired anymore though, because parked across the front lawn was Jude’s truck, the evidence of this afternoon’s incident, where his truck became a punching bag, facing my direction.

The usual rabble of cars dotted the street and driveway‌—‌not a party night showing‌—‌but every night at this place was some sort of party night.

Walking across the lawn, I made sure to go slow because the falling temperatures had made most of the state of New York a thin sheet of ice. I still had my Mary Jane’s on and they weren’t exactly ideal shoes to be tramping through an ice field in.

I made it up the walk and stairs and, resting my hand over the doorknob, I exhaled, realizing I’d been in such a hurry to get here, I hadn’t really planned out what I was going to say.

I didn’t need to say anything, I reminded myself. I just needed to wrap my arms around him and let him know I was here for him. However he needed me to be. Just as long as it wasn’t being left behind on some street in Soho.

I didn’t knock, because no one would have answered and knocking wasn’t a formality this place adhered to. In fact, there were no formalities that dwelled within the walls of this house, other than calling a cab for the latest girl you’d screwed.

A few guys were milling around in the living room, eating pizza and playing video games, but no one noticed me when I came in. Jude wasn’t amongst them, so I jogged up the stairs, hoping my search would end in his bedroom. I didn’t need an audience for however Jude was going to react to me showing up in the middle of the night.

His door was closed, no sounds coming from it other than the stream of the shower. Twisting the door open, I stepped inside. I was already heading towards the bathroom when I realized Jude wasn’t the one in the shower, causing the billows of steam to drift into the room.

He was draped over his bed, in a drunk coma.

Buck nak*d.

His fingers were still wound around an almost empty bottle of tequila. My mind couldn’t keep up with everything that was coming at it. Jude. Naked. Bed. Drunk. Tequila. Shower.

Just as my heart starting trilling with a realization I didn’t want to face, the shower shut off. I wanted to turn and run out of his room and this house and pretend I hadn’t seen any of it. I wanted to wake up tomorrow with a mind erased of everything from twelve p.m. yesterday to 3a.m. today.

I heard the shower curtain slide open and, just as I was backing up towards the door, someone sauntered out of the bathroom. As nak*d as Jude and still wet from the shower, Adriana’s gaze shifted my way, her face falling for one second. And then it lifted into a smile. “Oops,” she said, turning towards me so I could see every nak*d inch of the body Jude had enjoyed. “We weren’t exactly expecting you.”

I kept moving backwards, not able to get out of this room fast enough. In my hurry, my hip smacked into the side of Jude’s dresser. Something fell to the floor, shattering. I didn’t need to look down to confirm what had just shattered into an unfixable mess.

The noise jolted Jude awake. Shaking his head, the first thing he noticed was the bottle he was clutching. His eyebrows came together. Examining his nak*d arms next, his eyes traveled back the length of him. A frown was added to his expression. Then he noticed Adriana, in all her nak*d, wet splendor, taking a break from smirking at me to shoot a wink his way.

His expression ironed out, his face paling, and then, when his eyes swept my way, his whole face broke. Like mine had.

I wasn’t going to lose it in front of her. I wasn’t going to let her see that she’d won. Finally reaching the door, I threw myself out of it, already sprinting down the hall when Jude’s shout rang after me.

“Luce!”

I didn’t stop‌—‌I didn’t even slow down. I would never stop or slow or sigh over him saying Luce again. Barreling down the stairs, I ran into a hard chest.

“Whoa,” Tony said, grabbing hold of me. “Lucy? What are you doing here?” he asked, looking down at me. “Why are you upset?”

Throwing a look over my shoulder, I dodged out of Tony’s hold. I didn’t see him, but his voice was getting closer.

“Luce!” Jude shouted again down the hall. “Wait!”

I didn’t. I couldn’t.

Rushing outside the door, I leapt down the stairs, sliding almost the entire way to the Mazda. My hands were shaking, but I managed to pull the keys out of my coat pocket and start the ignition. Punching the car into drive, a shadow eclipsed the yellow light streaming out of the open front door.

Jude.

I hit the gas, forgetting I was on a plane of ice. My tires spun, getting me nowhere.

“No, Luce!” he shouted so loudly I could hear it across a lawn and through the windows of my car.

Taking a breath, I eased down on the accelerator this time and gained some traction. Encouraging the Mazda forward, I picked up some speed.

Before I’d gotten more than a few car lengths away, I caught sight of Jude leaping down the stairs and running across the lawn after me. He was still nak*d, nothing but a pair of boxers clutched in front of his nether region.

Gripping the steering wheel, I pressed the accelerator lower, praying I wouldn’t wind up in a ditch at the end of the road.

“Lucy!” he shouted, banging into the side of the car.

I screamed in surprise, pressing the accelerator lower.

Pounding on my window, he ran alongside the car. “Stop, Lucy!” he yelled. “Don’t do this.”

I couldn’t look at him, I couldn’t look at what I’d lost so soon after losing it. Keeping my eyes on the road, I bit my lip to keep from crying and shook my head before punching the accelerator.

He stopped being able to keep pace by the time I got to the end of the block, and even though I swore I wouldn’t, I looked in the rearview mirror.

He was crouching in the middle of the road, his breath steaming up the night air, and his head hung like he was both praying and accepting his punishment.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

I don’t know how I made it to the parking lot of a hotel outside of Monticello‌—‌in one safe piece‌—‌but I guessed it had something to do with angels. There’d been numerous alerts coming through the radio advising people to stay off the roads, and if one had to go out for an emergency purpose, to make sure they strapped on chains.

So the fact a young girl who had never driven on snow or ice in her life managed to drive her car that didn’t even have snow tires on it hundreds of miles without bending it around a median in a state of choking sobs, I knew some kind of ethereal being or beings had to have had a hand in it.

Grabbing my purse, I popped out of the car. My heels slipped and slid across the parking lot, managing to make it inside the lobby safely. The air was perfumed with coffee and some sort of chemical cleaner. But it was clean and it was somewhere Jude wouldn’t be able to find me.

I knew he’d come looking‌—‌I’d been checking in my rearview mirror every mile, expecting to see the square headlights of his truck shining down on me, but they never had. But then again, who knows? Maybe I’d overestimated him. Maybe he got the whole chasing after me thing out of his system when he ran balls to the walls down the middle of an icy road, wearing nothing but a boxer loin cloth. The thought made me more depressed. I wanted to be chased, in some part of me I didn’t want to acknowledge‌—‌I wanted to know I meant more to him than giving up after a few minutes.

But then I remembered Adriana’s glistening nak*d body and that smirk of hers and I swore I never wanted to see Jude Ryder ever again.

I walked carefully across the lobby, like I was still traversing over ice, and the receptionist looked up. Her smile was warm. “Good morning,” she greeted.

“Hi,” I replied because there was nothing “good” about this morning. “I need a room if you have one.”

I hadn’t realized this one might be full. The thought of getting back in the car and white-knuckling a few more miles to the next place made my stomach turn.

“We sure do,” she said, thrumming her fingers over the keys. “How long will you be staying with us?”

As long as possible. To the end of time.

“Until Sunday,” I said. I didn’t want to be in my room or in a place I could be found until I absolutely had to be.

“Check-in isn’t until three, so I’m technically supposed to charge you for four nights,” she said, swiping a card key through a device.

“That’s fine,” I said, pulling out my wallet.

“But it’s Thanksgiving weekend and I like to give ‘technically’ a break on the holidays,” she said, looking up at me with that smile again.

“Thanks,” I said, handing her my card.

I didn’t know how much it would cost, I didn’t even know if the only room they had left was the presidential suite. I just had to crawl into a bed and let sleep take me away from reality for a while.

She took my card, studying my face. Her smile lined into concern. “Honey, are you all right?”

Great. I was a walking, obvious exhibit of emotion. I suppose my red-rimmed eyes and puffy face gave away something wasn’t “all right.”

I nodded. “Just tired,” I said, wishing she could run my card faster so I could get on my way.

Having me sign a copy of my receipt, she handed me my card back. “You give us a call at the front desk if you need anything,” she said, resting her hand over one of mine. Patting it, she gave me another smile. “Lord knows I love them, but men are one giant pain in the ass.”

I didn’t ask why in the entire population of hotel receptionists I’d wound up in front of the most perceptive one, because the irony of it just sort of fit the tone of the last twenty-four hours.

Trying to smile back, I tapped my card key on the counter. “Agreed,” I replied, before heading towards the elevator.

I made it to the third floor; I even made it down the hall and into my room before the next batch of tears came. For someone who loathed crying, I was eating a lot of crow today. Taking a few seconds to kick off my shoes and coat, I slid under the covers and closed my eyes. I was asleep before the next tear could fall onto my pillow.

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