“She likes you?” High scores for asking the question with as little emotion as possible.
He lifted a shoulder. “Maybe a little,” he answered, his eyes never leaving mine.
“A little?!” Tony hooted across the campfire as a handful of others close by smirked at us. “Thanks to Ryder, the male populace of Syracuse have been enjoying even more of Adriana’s ample bust on display. I thought they were about to pop out of that itty-bitty dress she showed up in yesterday.” Tony whistled through his teeth, his eyes clouding in dreaminess. “That fine thing is on the prowl. And she’s got her sights set on your man, love,” he said, looking at me with a bit of pity. Like I’d already lost the game of Jude by default. Appearance default.
“Say that again, Tony,” Jude warned, his jaw clenched, “and the only thing I’ll be throwing at your pinhead again will be my boot.”
“What?” Tony said. “Telling the truth about Adriana panting in heat for you?”
“No, shithead,” Jude said, notes of anger slipping between his teeth. “Call my girl ‘love’ again. She’s mine. I get to call her that. Not some pissant jerk-off with a big mouth.”
There is was. The territorial Rottweiler that Jude was when it came to me. Usually, it pissed me off when he talked about me like I was something that could be owned, but right now, after hearing about the goddess with tits, I was fine with him going as territorial on me as he wanted.
“My bad,” Tony said, rising and dusting off his pants. “Since I can’t seem to keep my mouth shut, I better put myself to bed before I take a knuckle sandwich to the face.” He smiled at me, but his eyes didn’t match. There was still that hint of pity in them. Like I’d had my time and it was now drawing to a close. I was about to be overthrown by Adriana Vix. “Get all your ugly, hairy asses to bed,” Tony yelled at the last remaining stragglers gazing with lidded eyes into the fire. “We’ve got some ass to kick tomorrow.”
A chorus of grunts and hoots followed as most of the guys shoved themselves up and followed Tony into their respective tents or threw themselves across the tailgates of their trucks. This night was so not how I’d imagined it going.
Jude and I sat huddled together in silence for a minute, both of us staring into the dimming fire, waiting for the other to say something first.
“Do you like her?” I whispered before I realized I’d even thought it.
Jude’s sigh was long and irritated. It was the first time I could remember being relieved that he was irritated at me. Spinning me around so I was facing him, but still sandwiched between his legs, he leveled me with those darkening eyes.
“No,” he answered. “Not in the way your crazy woman mind is thinking.”
He’d only caught a glimpse at how “crazy woman” my mind could get. “And what about in the other way?”
I watched the last flames of the fire’s shadow dying on the side of Jude’s cheek. “She’s all right,” he answered, lifting his brows and waiting. Because he knew enough about me to know something was coming.
“She’s all right?” I repeated, my voice going up. “She’s all right in a I’d-screw-her-in-two-seconds-flat-if-I-was-single kind of way, or she’s all right as in she’s just some girl?”
Jude had warned me months ago not to ask questions I didn’t want honest answers to. I instantly wished I could take my question back.
“Luce,” Jude said, unfurling the blanket cinched around me, grabbing my hands when he pulled them free, “you’re my girl. The girl.” To join the other emotions flashing over his face, a trace of pain did as well. “When I look at Adriana, or any other girl for that matter, that’s all I see. Some other girl who isn’t my girl. I don’t see them, Luce. I see you,” he continued, his skin lining between his brows. “I’ve only ever seen you.”
The worry clenching my stomach started to unravel.
“So could you please, for the love of God, cut out the paranoid girl act?”
With Jude, when he was like this, the best thing to do was cease and desist. I knew that, but I was never one to follow that advice and I wouldn’t start now.
“Kind of like you didn’t go all paranoid boyfriend on Thomas and me earlier tonight?” If my words didn’t point the finger of hypocrisy his way, my gaze certainly did.
Jude’s words caught in his mouth. Clamping it shut, his forehead lined as he leaned back into the log behind him. Face lined, eyes narrowed, teeth working at the right side of his cheek. This was a new expression of Jude’s I’d become increasingly familiar with lately. It was his look of contemplation, and one he’d worked hard on to replace when his gut reaction was anger.
I waited, giving him as much time and space as he needed.
“Luce,” he said at last, his voice soft, “what do you want me to do?” He paused, waiting for my response, but I wasn’t sure what he was asking, so no response came.
“Please, just tell me,” he continued. “Tell me what you want me to say, and do, when it comes to Adriana or any other girl that looks my way, and I’ll do it. You want me to fire a spit wad between their eyes? So be it. You want me to flip them off any time any one of them looks my way? You got it. You want me to poke my eyes out so I can’t see another one of their suggestive smiles again?” he trailed on, half of his face squishing together. “Well, that would suck, but I’d do it. For you.” Cradling my face in his hands again, he leaned forward so his eyes were staring into mine from half a foot away. “Just tell me, baby. What do you want me to do?”
I couldn’t put it into words because when asked point blank, I didn’t even know what I wanted him to do or say when it came to other women shaking their tits Jude’s way. Men like Jude couldn’t walk through a cemetery without being hit on. So what did I want from him when it came to the never ending supply of girls ready and willing to throw themselves into his bed at the first chance? Did I want him to be mean to them? Well, yeah, kind of, but some save-the-world part of me recognized this wasn’t the answer. So what was?
That question would have to remain unanswered because I had something else on my mind.
Lacing my fingers through his where they warmed my face, I scooted closer until I’d killed the half foot space keeping us apart. “I want you to take me to bed.”
I was sure I’d never seen the wrinkles lining Jude’s face disappear so quickly. “Now that, I can’t only do,” he replied, scooping me into his arms before rising, “I can do it with a smile.”
I could have laughed if I’d let myself, but one name still hung between us. I wasn’t ready or able to push the delete button on Adriana Vix trying to get her claws into my man.
“Wait until you get a look at the set up I made for us,” Jude said, his voice light as he carried me across the makeshift campground to his rusted out truck. It was so rusted you couldn’t tell if it’d originally been black or grey or some shade in between. He’d gotten the truck for next to nothing from some old farmer and had used part of the funds he made working at the garage to buy the parts it needed. The inside of the car was in fine working shape, but judging from the exterior, the truck looked like it needed to be junked.
I loved that Jude didn’t care what anyone else but me thought. I loved how he’d said the inside was what counted. I knew he’d been talking about cars, his truck specifically, when he’d said it, but I’d still gone a little soft in the knees.
Weaving through a few of his teammates new, souped-up monster trucks, Jude stopped at the back of his. Lowering the tail gate with one hand, it screeched open. “Your room for the night, Miss Larson,” he said in a sing-song voice, motioning at the air mattress and mound of blankets and pillows lining the back of his truck. He’d even put a foil wrapped chocolate on my pillow, right beside one white rose.
In high school, I’d learned what the colors of roses meant, and how you could decipher a guy’s intentions based on what kind he gave you. Pink meant he had a crush on you, yellow meant he wanted to be friends—I couldn’t count the number of abandoned yellow roses I’d seen decorating the insides of garbage cans in the high school halls—red meant he was in love, and white stood for purity.
Meaning his intentions were pure.
Meaning he didn’t want to do all the things a girl was envisioning doing in the back of his truck bed at night.
Damn white roses all to hell.
But, even in my white rose hating moment, I kind of loved it too. As soon as I thought I had Jude Ryder close to figured out, he went and left a white rose on my pillow. On the bed we’d be sharing a few hours after he’d just agreed to have sex with me in the cab of his truck, pressed up against the butt of his steering wheel.
“You can be rather romantic when you put your mind to it,” I said, looking up at him.
“Don’t tell anyone,” he said, sitting me down on the tailgate. It groaned beneath me. “It would ruin my badass reputation. Plus, you think the girls are lining up now…” he hinted, giving me a boyish smirk.
I shoved his chest; this reaction earned a chuckle from him.
So I decided to give him something he wasn’t expecting. Grabbing two fistfuls of his thermal, I pulled him to me.
“Come here,” I whispered, lowering my eyes to his mouth. “Let me put those girls in their place.”
His lips had just parted with their surprised inhalation when my mouth covered them, working them further apart. His hands gripped the flesh below my hips, sliding me to the edge of the tailgate so I was pressed right against him. At this angle, we were a perfect fit. That realization made me kiss him harder, my hands joining in the game of not being able to explore him fast or hard enough.
I could hear the quickened beating of Jude’s heart. I could feel how every part of him wanted me. I could see the uncertainty eclipse his eyes when I wound my legs tight around his torso, rubbing myself down him. I could sense the conflict trying to take over his bout of carelessness, and I wanted to stop it in its tracks.
Grabbing the hem of his shirt, I tore it up his back, trying to launch it over his head.
Only to be stopped before it had made it past his chest.
“Yes?” I asked again, this time knowing his answer.
He didn’t pause. “No,” he said firmly. “Not like this.”
I groaned so loudly I might have woken a couple of the guys closest to us. “Not like what? Hot, passionate, burning the night apart sex?”
Jude grinned so widely the scar on his cheek puckered. Gripping the tailgate, he worked on regulating his breathing.
“That sounds good,” he said, his breathing almost normal. Mine wouldn’t be normal for at least another ten minutes. “But I’m not really into the kind where my girl is motivated to have sex with me because of jealousy over another girl. At least not for our first time,” he said, pressing a soft kiss into my temple. “After that, I will gladly entertain and endure any and all bouts of jealous, angry sex you want to toss my way.”
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