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Super. The possessive, over-bearing police were back in town. It seemed as of late, they wanted to take up permanent residence. He could deny it all he wanted, but over-bearing implied he didn’t trust me, and call me a fool, but trust wasn’t only pivotal to a relationship, it was essential.

“Got it, Luce?” he said when I stayed quiet.

God, I loved him. Too much for my sanity’s own good, but I would not be commanded. “No, Jude. I don’t ‘got it,’” I said, a stage away from smoke billowing out of my nose. “So why don’t you go wait outside and let that sink in while I finished getting undressed?

“Alone,” I added before he could open his mouth to object. Because if he did, I wouldn’t be able to say no.

He paused, looking at me with indecision written on his face. Finally, he nodded. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll be right outside.”

“Is that so you can scare off any other guys who might help me with my costume, or just because you’re waiting patiently and respectfully for your girlfriend?” I said, turning and heading back over to my bag.

Jude’s sigh was as long as it was tortured. “Both,” he said just above a whisper before he closed the door behind him.

As soon as he was gone, I felt it. Guilt. Remorse. Followed up by a potent dose of regret.

I knew what I was getting into when Jude and I got back together at the start of the year. I went in willingly with both eyes open; I’d gladly gone in. Jude had been through more shit than any one person should and along with that came certain characteristics that could be classified as less than savory.

But you took the bad with the good. And when it came to Jude Ryder Jamieson, there was a surplus of good that always managed to not necessarily wipe the bad clean, but to make it a fair trade. If I was pointing fingers at who was damaged, I might as well turn that finger around, because I was no innocent, flawless flower.

That was part of the beauty of us being together. It was also part of the problem.

I had as many triggers that ticked at my temper and as many ghosts from my past as Jude did. When his anger flamed, mine responded in kind, and vice versa. The last two minutes case in point.

Then, as it always did, the anger I’d felt towards Jude shifted towards me. If I’d taken a time out to take a step inside Jude’s size twelve Converse, what would I have said or done if I’d walked on in some girl assisting him out of his clothes.

Shrugging into my sweater, I realized my reaction would not have been that far off from his. In fact, my claws would have been mid-swipe before he could open his mouth to explain. The old Jude, the one pre-Lucy, would have kicked ass first and asked questions later. The new Jude, although still not an anger management graduate, had managed to let words diffuse the situation. Not his fists.

Progress. Significant progress he’d made for me. And how had I repaid it?

By yelling at him and throwing him out of the dressing room.

Throwing the rest of my clothes on like I was declaring war on them, I stuffed my costume into my bag at the same time I threw it over my shoulder. I didn’t bother letting my hair out of its headache inducing bun. I didn’t care to wash off the three layer deep pancake makeup covering my face.

I had to get to him. I couldn’t get there fast enough.

Lunging across the room, I threw the door open.

Leaning against the opposite wall, Jude was every shade of tormented. The emotion expressing itself on his face was the exact emotion I was sweltering in.

One side of his mouth curved up as he rubbed the back of his neck.

Dropping my bag, I threw myself against him, wrapping both arms around him so tightly I could feel every one of his ribs hard against my chest. A heartbeat hadn’t passed before his arms dropped around me with just as much urgency and maybe even more relief.

“I’m sorry,” I said, inhaling the boy who, even in scent, exuded a hint of trouble just barely masked by a reluctant sweetness.

Tucking my head under his chin, he exhaled. “I’m sorry, too.”

CHAPTER TWO

“Why won’t you tell me where we’re going?” I asked, pressed so tightly against Jude on the bench seat of his old truck every inch of me ran against most every inch of him.

He smiled at the dark road we were bouncing over. Wherever we were going, I doubted there would be modern conveniences like hot water and cell phone reception.

“Because I’m enjoying your attempts to pull it from me far too much,” he answered, glancing over at me. His eyes dripped with wicked joy.

My heart did the sputter to a stop thing. Right before it restarted like it was trying to take flight. “Is that so?”

He made a noise of agreement, wetting his lips.

Against every instinct that had been overthrown by desire, I snapped out of my belt and slid across the bench seat until I was pressed up against the passenger side window. “Still enjoying yourself?”

He looked over at me, his face lined with contemplation, right before he reached across the seat for me. “Where do you think you’re going?” he asked, sliding me back across the seat, but he didn’t stop there. Grabbing my right thigh, he lifted it, shifting me until my h*ps had successfully pivoted right over his lap. The truck didn’t slow, it sped up, evening out the bouncing so that my body vibrated above Jude’s.

“I guess I’m not going anywhere,” I whispered, lacing my fingers behind his neck, feeling the press of the steering wheel against my back, feeling the firmness of his body everywhere else.

Keeping one eye on the road and one hand on the steering wheel, he gave the rest of his body’s attention to me. “Damn right, you’re not,” he said, his mouth curving into a smile that disappeared when my mouth covered his.

It wasn’t quite a moan, it went deeper than that, but the sound that came from his chest when my lips parted his and my tongue crept into his mouth was all Jude. I wasn’t paying the truck that much attention, but I thought I might have detected another increase in speed.

Jude kissed me back, matching every slide of my tongue and movement of my lips with one of his own. His free hand slid beneath my sweater, smoothing up the plane of my back. His hand was warm, slightly rough from days spent working in the garage and on the football field, and they were capable.

The truck hit a particularly nasty bump, pounding my lap down hard against his. Heat spread from the area between my legs, and this time it was me who made a noise that had yet to be named. The reality of us driving down a dark, gravel country road at thirty to forty miles an hour didn’t register with me when my hands left his neck to tug at the hem of my sweater. If he wasn’t going to do it, I was. Throwing the sweater over my head, I tossed it across the bench seat.

“Luce,” Jude said, his voice just enough strained to let me know I was doing something very right. “I’m trying to drive here.”

He’d put the brakes on this too many times before, metaphorically speaking‌—‌I wasn’t letting him this time. I was planting my feet beneath that brake before he could slam down on it.

Moving my mouth just outside his ear, I whispered, “Me too,” right before I took his earlobe into my mouth, sucking it softly.

Another sound slid up his throat, this one so loud it vibrated my chest. “Hell with it,” he said, no amount of hesitation or uncertainty in his voice. It was as firm and resolute as his body thrumming beneath mine.

With one flick of his fingers, my bra snapped free from my back, sliding down my arms until it landed on the floor beside Jude’s feet. His mouth covered mine again, hot and unyielding. I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t want to if it meant not being able to kiss Jude like he was kissing me right now. How he could make me feel his passion, his love, and his possession in one kiss was inexplicable. But he could. Jude’s body expressed his feelings, more often than not, better than his words.

“A little help?” he breathed in the space of our mouths. His hand grabbed mine and lifted it to the top button of his shirt. “Unless you want to finish this thing in the hospital, I’ve got to keep one hand on the wheel.” His words were strained, like I knew mine would be if I could talk right now. “I want to feel you against me, Luce,” he said when my fingers forgot what they were supposed to be working on.

Even with both hands fumbling over it, it took me one long kiss to get the first button freed. I was graceful everywhere except being intimate with Jude. Here, I became a fumbling, fiddling mess of nerves and limbs. Deciding we’d be across the state line before I finished the job, I stopped kissing him so I could focus. Focus a bit more.

The way he looked at me rendered me almost useless. The emotions he could convey with those eyes always confounded me, no matter what I was attempting to do at the time.

“Are you sure this is safe?” I asked, forcing myself to take a controlled breath in. I had to replace and store as much oxygen as my lungs were capable before getting back after it. “Not that I really care, but I’m sure we’re breaking about every traffic law ever put into motion, and I did kind of make you promise to stay on the straight and narrow.” Two more buttons free, a few more to go.

I grinned‌—‌it was the little things that made me happy.

Jude’s smile evened out as both eyes met mine for an instant. “Of course you’re safe, Luce,” he promised, one eye shifting back to the road. “I would never put you in harm’s way. I would never let anything happen to you,” he said, like it was a mantra. “You know that. Right?”

Leave it to Jude to take a simple question and to twist it into something it wasn’t.

“Of course I do,” I said, looking up at him before focusing on the next button. I wasn’t letting the turn in conversation stop me. “I was just checking. Straddling a driver while we attempt to undress each other at forty miles per hour is a first for me. Just wanted to get the safety seal of approval before proceeding.”

“This better be a first,” he said, the serious lines of his face fading. “And consider your safety seal stamped. I was driving before I was jerking off, Luce. I can control a vehicle better than I can control myself.”

“Baby,” I said, freeing the last button right before I tugged the shirt free from his pants, “your words never fail to make me want to swoon and squirm at the same time.”

Sweeping his shirt from his body, I slid my chest against his. The soft parts of my body formed against the hard parts of his. The lightest sheen of sweat was covering his chest, exchanging with the sheen of mine. Another uptick in speed.

“I wouldn’t want to disappoint you, Luce,” he said, his free hand clamping tight around my back, fitting my body against his like a key slipping into a lock.

This was the farthest he’d let things get since last spring, right before we graduated and discovered how our families and past tragically wove together. My body had forgotten how to breathe‌—‌I had to remind myself how to do it.

“You never do,” I whispered through a smile as my hands moved down the cut planes of his stomach, settling on the seam of his jeans. Now this button my fingers managed to tug free in the space of one surprised inhalation.

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