Page 21

Bounding across the yard and up the stairs, I let myself in. It didn’t sting as bad as I’d thought it would, being here after weeks of separation, but I knew that had everything to do with the adrenaline firing to life right now. I had a message to deliver and I wasn’t leaving here until it’d been heard.

Weaving through the room crammed with bodies, I slid out of my coat and dropped it on the closest piece of furniture. My hat and mittens followed. I recognized a few faces in the crowd, but most were strangers whose eyes fell on me, likely wondering what was the reason for the scalding expression on my face.

Making my way to the end of the room where the fireplace was, I saw Jude. He was sitting on the couch, alone, a full cup of beer in his hand, just staring into the fireplace where no fire burned. His gray beanie was back on, sitting low on his forehead.

My stomach burned, seeing him like this. I wanted to go and wrap my arms around him until I was assured that beneath the statue sitting in front of me was the man I loved.

But that would have to wait.

I’d come here looking for someone else.

I’d driven five hours to find that bitch Adriana Vix and give her a piece of my mind‌—‌my fist doing the giving.

I didn’t have to guess who was in the center of the circle of guys over by the dining room table. A fresh burst of adrenaline shot through me as I marched across the room. Shouldering and shoving my way through the grouping of guys, I squared myself in front of Adriana.

For one second she looked surprised to see me, then her eyes narrowed as she crossed her arms, looking put out I was taking up her space.

“What?” she said, bobbing her neck to the side.

I grinned. She shouldn’t have come at me with words when I was way past words. My arm was already swinging back when her eyes widened, realizing I wasn’t in the “talking” mood.

My fist clocked her across the cheek, throwing her back into the crowd of shock faced guys.

“That’s what!” I said, shaking my hand. Those cheekbones of hers were sharp, but damn if it wasn’t worth it. “Bitch!” I tacked on, glowering at her.

Adjusting herself, she shoved away the guys fussing over her. Those green eyes of hers swirled black.

“You’re going to pay for that,” she seethed, her fists clenching. “That’s gonna leave a bruise.”

Without so much as a second thought, my other arm shot across my body, landing on the other side of her face. “There!” I shouted, shaking that hand too. “There’s another so they’ll match.”

Adriana’s bronze skin flashed red right before she lunged at me, her fingers wrapping around my neck. “You overrated whore!”

Driving me into the table, her fingernails digging into my neck, she kicked my legs out from underneath me. My back slammed into the table, the air immediately rushing from my lungs.

The impact had loosened her hands, so I shoved myself down the table, but not before grabbing a handful of her hair and pulling it along with me.

Adriana screamed, sounding like a constipated lioness. Lunging across the table at me, she scratched my arm that had a hold of her hair. Holy Freddie Kruger nails. Those were going to leave a scar.

By now, as Adriana and I rolled, wrestled, and pretty much unleashed the cat fight of the century, a crowd was gathering around the table. Guys were hollering, throwing their fists in the air, chanting, “Cat fight. Cat fight. Cat. Fight!”

Adriana’s slut-length dress had rolled its way up over her ass cheeks, and the thong she was wearing left nothing to the imagination. I’d at least come prepared to the battle with a pair of jeans, but somewhere along the way, she’d managed to split the poly-blend of my blouse down to my navel, so my white lace covered tits were on display for all the bulging eyes and raised cell phones to catch.

Another hair flying, palm slapping roll down the table and I landed on top of Adriana, managing to pin her to the table with my legs. She squirmed beneath me, trying to free herself. This chick might have half a foot on me and be ten pounds heavier‌—‌if only in her bra‌—‌but I was a dancer and I could strangle a rhinoceros with my inner thighs if I needed to.

Raising my hand in the air, I slapped it down across her cheek.

“That was for all the other girls you’ve brutalized!” I shouted above her, folding my hand into a fist and bringing it back down. “And that was for Jude.” Her lower lip was split and bleeding, her cheeks dotted red from countless slaps and hits, and her hair looked like a hurricane had just come to town. I couldn’t have looked much better.

“And this is for me,” I said, gulping in a breath and raising my middle finger at her. I smiled down at her, keeping my finger hanging above her face.

Shrieking, she squirmed harder, managing to get a leg free which she promptly bucked right onto my chin.

I flew off the table, landing on the floor at the feet of countless spectators. Adriana leapt off the table, landing on top of me, unleashing a frenzy of hits and grunts. This couldn’t even be classified as a cat fight anymore. In fact, I’m sure once this whole thing went viral on the internet, the WW-something would be calling us to sign wrestling contracts.

“What the hell!” a voice shouted above the chorus of shouts. Before Adriana could land another fist into my face, she was shoved away, landing on her butt-flossed ass a few feet away.

“Luce,” he breathed outside my ear, sounding as scared as I’d ever heard him. “I’ve got you.” Two strong arms looped around me, lifting me gently to his chest. “What the hell were you doing? Are you okay?” he asked, swallowing when he looked down at my face.

“Did I win?” I asked, letting him tuck me closer to him.

Glancing down at Adriana, his eyes narrowed.

“You kicked ass, baby,” he said, one corner of his mouth lifting down at me.

The pain started hitting me then, spreading from my head.

“Then I’m all right,” I replied.

Exhaling, Jude shook his head. “Let’s get you out of here, killer,” he said, steering me through the crowd, not caring who or how many people he bulled over.

“You look real pretty!” I shouted down at Adriana as we moved by her. “Slut!” I threw out for good measure.

Wiping her bleeding lip, she sneered up at me. “Even on my worse day, your boyfriend still jerks off to my face when you’re not around.”

This bitch wouldn’t take a hint. Squirming in Jude’s arms, trying to free myself so I could finish what I started, he only held me tighter.

“Ready for round two?” I seethed at her, shoving against Jude’s chest.

“Lucy,” he said, moving through the crowd faster, probably hoping to put more space between Adriana and myself. “Calm down. Take a breath,” he coached, looking into my eyes. One of them felt like it might be swelling shut.

Taking a formidable amount of effort, I did as asked, taking a deep breath and visualizing myself melting into his arms.

“And I thought I was the one with anger issues,” he said, climbing the stairs. “I’m afraid after tonight, you’ve got me beat, Luce.”

The pain was really starting to hit home now, pooling into every nerve ending.

“Anger through osmosis,” I replied, moving my jaw. Yeah, that was going to bruise too.

I regretted the words immediately. His face fell, although he tried to keep his eyes from following.

I couldn’t imagine how to rectify all the wrongs I’d thrown at Jude‌—‌I just seemed to keep adding more to the pile‌—‌so I folded my hand over his heart and let him carry me into his bedroom.

He walked me over to his bed, propping me in front of a mound of pillows.

“God, Luce,” he said, kneeling beside me and examining my face. I didn’t really want to know and I sure as hell wouldn’t be looking in a mirror for the next couple of weeks. “What the hell were you thinking?”

Running my fingers over my face, I winced at almost every place I touched. “I was thinking about giving that bitch a taste of her own medicine,” I said, “my fist doing the dosing.”

He exhaled, running his hand down the side of my neck.

“Don’t worry,” he said as I pulled my hands away to find blood spotting my fingers. “I’ll fix you.” Rising, he lunged across the room. “I’ll be right back,” he said, disappearing behind the door.

With Jude gone, the pain really started to eat away at me. I’d felt pain, and I wasn’t a huge wuss, but this felt like every nerve had decided to grow a heart that was pounding.

It had felt so good at the time‌—‌giving and taking a beating with Adriana‌—‌but now I was starting to question why I’d done it. I wasn’t regretting it, just questioning it. I’d never been a violent person‌—‌I had a short fuse, sure‌—‌but I’d never let my fists work out an issue I had with someone.

Why had I done it this time?

All the questions led to one answer: Jude.

He hadn’t made me go after Adriana, but my love for him and the pain I’d been caused at Adriana’s hand had been the fuel to my fire. I realized then it wasn’t Jude that was the problem. He wasn’t the reason our relationship was nothing short of explosive. It was me. It was the person I became with Jude beside me.

My anger peaked at new levels, exceeding his, but I didn’t have the self-control to douse that anger before it burned someone.

I couldn’t fix us until I fixed me. And he couldn’t fix me for me. It was a task that was all my own.

It was one I wasn’t sure I could face.

Jude was slipping back into the room before I could follow those thoughts down their depressing trail.

“Miss me?” he said, an armful of items tucked to his chest.

“Missed you,” I answered, dropping my head back into the pillows.

“Lucky for you, Luce, you chose to pick a fight around me,” he said, dropping the contents in his arms on the bed. “Someone who’s patched up, attended to, and sewn shut just about any wound man‌—‌or woman”‌—‌he smirked over at me‌—‌ “could inflict on one’s body.”

“I had it all planned out,” I said as he doused some cotton pads with alcohol. “Did you really think that was a heat of the moment I-really-should-have-known-better smack down?”

“Oh, no, Luce. That looked like you knew exactly what you were doing.”

Dabbing my cheek with the cotton, he flinched before I did. It stung, but no worse than any other part of my body.

“You’re getting to be a worse liar with each passing day,” I said, wincing when he ran the pad over my eyebrow. Must have earned myself a nice little gash there.

He grinned at my eyebrow. “Truth through osmosis.”

I started to smirk at him, but it hurt my face too much, so I settled for a small glare. He ignored it, continuing to work over my face meticulously.

I shouldn’t have, but I watched him working over me, his eyes narrowed in their focus, the tip of his tongue bit between his teeth, as he attended to every scratch, bruise, and cut. I’d never experienced hands as gentle as his were.