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I shoved him again, resolved to this night taking a chaste turn. Kicking my boots off, I scooted back onto the air mattress, tucking the blankets around me.

Still grinning at me, Jude kicked his boots off and leapt into the trunk. The air mattress popped me up a good foot. Tucking himself behind me, one arm wound under me and the other extended above me, holding out one white rose.

Jude laughed into the back of my neck.

I grabbed the rose and chucked it outside of the truck.

CHAPTER THREE

It was raining‌—‌more like pouring. At least, that’s what I thought as I drifted awake. Then I heard the stifled laughter and realized the reason my clothing and blankets clung to me sopping wet had nothing to do with nature.

I’d just opened my eyes when one of Jude’s teammates, hovering over us on top of the cab, upended a five gallon bucket of water on us. I shrieked as the members of the football team exploded in laughter around Jude’s truck. That was, until Jude lurched awake, taking a swing at the first male that moved.

The player standing on his cab leapt off the truck before Jude could snag one of his ankles, but Jude was out of the bed and chasing him one second later. The poor guy wouldn’t get far.

“Why you running, Clay?” Jude yelled after him, leaving a trail of water splatters behind him. “We both know I’m a hell of a lot faster than you!”

Watching Jude close the gap between him and Clay, I wrung my hair out and threw the heavy blankets off to the side. They made a smacking sound when they hit the truck.

I made sure to aim my glare at every last player standing around, ending on Tony, who was smiling at me with that boyish grin. He was already forgiven before he opened his mouth. “What?” he said, like I was over reacting. “Sorry, Lucy. But it’s no fair Ryder got to stay warm last night snuggled up to your fine ass. We had to even the scales a bit.”

Bouncing my way down the mattress, I threw myself over the tailgate. “Next time you boys decide to ‘even the scales’ with Jude, could you please wait to dump a crapload of water until I’m out of the truck?” I wanted to grab a blanket to wrap around me, but all of them were drenched. “It’s freezing out here.” My breath was fogging the air, making me shiver even more.

Tony’s smile faded just barely. “Ah, hell, Lucy,” he said, shrugging out of his sweatshirt. “We’re animals. We live in the moment and don’t really think about the consequences of our actions.” Holding his sweatshirt out to me like it was a peace offering, his brows lifted. “Forgive us?”

Not in this lifetime, would have been my response had I been able to get it out around my chattering. I hated few things more than being cold‌—‌a root canal without Novocaine one of those few.

Scowling at Tony, so he knew this didn’t absolve him of any of his involvement in this morning’s prank, I grabbed the sweatshirt that could have fit two normal sized men with room to spare.

“Take this piece of shit back.” Appearing from behind me, Jude grabbed Tony’s sweatshirt out of my hands and flung it at his face. “Next time you or any of you bastards do that to my girl again, I’m beating all your asses. You got that?” Jude hollered, his eyes sweeping over his still and silent teammates.

He waited until every last one of them had nodded their agreement.

“And you,” Jude said, stepping forward and putting his finger in Tony’s face. “Don’t you ever try to give my girl something of yours to put on her body.” The muscles just below Jude’s neck were sticking out like shark fins he was so tense. “Or I’m never throwing another ball your way. Got that?”

And I thought I’d been pissed over a few gallons of water.

“Ryder,” Tony said, lifting his hands in surrender.

Jude took another step at him until their chests were butting against each other. “You. Got. It?”

Tony dropped his eyes, taking a step back. “I got it.”

“Good,” Jude replied, turning towards me. The planes of anger dissolved. “Let’s get you some dry clothes,” he said, his voice low and controlled.

I nodded my assent. I didn’t know how he could turn his anger on and off like it was hotwired to a switch, but it was as much a gift as it was a curse.

“Hey, Ryder,” one of his teammates called after him. One of the ones who’d been on the outskirts and hadn’t experienced a lethal dose of Jude fury. No one on the inner circle would be addressing him for a while. “What the hell did you do to Hopkins?”

Jude wrapped his arm around me, steering me towards the passenger side of his truck. “Locked him in your trunk, Palinski!”

When I peered up at him, he gave me his tilted smile.

“You didn’t,” I said, knowing he had.

“Hell, yes, I did,” he said, throwing open the door and leaning across the seat to retrieve his duffel bag. “And that’s not all the payback that little douche is going to suffer today.”

“Do I want to know?”

Shuffling through the contents of his bag, he pulled out a dark, long-sleeved shirt. “No. You don’t,” he answered, handing the shirt back at me. “But you’ll see.”

Tucking the warm, dry shirt into my hands, I nodded. “Something to look forward to.”

“Ryder,” Tony said, clearing his throat as he stepped around the front of the truck. He was holding out his phone. “Coach just called. He wants us in an hour earlier than usual. I told him it would take us at least an hour to get back. He said we’d better haul ass.” His face was almost a wince, like he was anticipating a fly off the cuff reaction from Jude.

“If coach wanted us to be there an hour early, he should have told us sooner,” Jude replied, not looking at him as he shuffled through some more contents in his bag. “I’ve got to get Luce some breakfast before taking her back to our place, so coach will just have to wait.”

“You want me to tell him that’s the reason you’re late?” Tony asked, nothing antagonistic about it, just an honest to goodness question.

“Damn straight I do,” Jude said, grabbing my waist and lifting me into the cab. “Tell him my girl comes before football. Tell him my girl’s breakfast comes before football.” Turning his gaze on Tony, he stared at him, waiting.

“You need me to write that down for you or you think you can manage that?” he added when Tony just stared his answer.

“Nah,” he said finally, managing a small smile. “Girl. Breakfast. Then football,” he recited, tapping his head. “I think I got it.”

Fastening the center lap belt over me, Jude slammed the passenger side door and came around the front of the truck. Pausing outside the driver’s side door, he peeled the wet thermal up and over his head, throwing it into the trees. Opening the door, he threw himself in and cranked the truck on. Blasting the heaters on, he centered every one of them on me. I’d just been freezing cold, and now everything felt all gooey and warm, even though the heat hadn’t kicked in yet. All because of one recently de-shirted man, wet and smiling beside me.

“What?” he said, his smile jacking higher as I continued to stare at him.

Sweeping my eyes down his upper half, I ended my investigation at his silver eyes. I matched my smile to his. “Now that’s a sight to wake up to in the morning.”

After assuring Jude I in no way required a sit down breakfast and that an egg white sandwich and a hot cup of coffee would be more than sufficient, we pulled into the driveway of the house he and five other guys rented. If it wasn’t for the man I loved living in it, I wouldn’t have stepped inside. It wasn’t flat out filthy, but it was close, and the whole place‌—‌no matter if it was morning or afternoon, weekend or weekday‌—‌smelled like dirty laundry and sex.

It took an hour and a half to get back, after taking Jude’s insisted pit stops for food and caffeine, which meant he was already running a half hour late. Jude wasn’t the everyday college football player, he was the one coaches prayed for on Sundays, so he wouldn’t be riding the bench. But he’d be in trouble. Some sort or another.

“I’ll walk you in,” he said, still shirtless, still smiling that barely-there smile of his. Having to sit next to that man for close to ninety minutes, managing to keep my hands off of him, should have earned me some sort of medal. A big one.

“You’ve got a game to win,” I said, kissing the corner of his mouth that was upturned. “I know my way around.”

“Watch your step. I think Ben might have had a party last night while the rest of us were gone and you know how his parties are,” he said, catching my chin between his thumb and finger. Moving closer, his lips barely grazed mine before they ended on the underside of my jawline. Running his lips down, his teeth grazed the sensitive skin. And the man was still shirtless, so I could witness every muscle that tightened and rolled as his mouth and hands explored me.

Screw the medal, I deserved the virtuous equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize.

I trembled when his mouth left me. Unmistakably trembled like I was experiencing withdrawals.

I knew he’d be gloating. Jude loved the way he could make me feel and the responses he could unravel from me. However, I was starting to get a little tired of all the foreplay leading up to a whole lotta nothing.

Reaching for the door handle, I exhaled, working to recompose myself. “See you in a few,” I said, failing the recomposed test. “I’ll be the one of fifty thousand screaming, throwing my arms in the air, and yelling your name.”

“You’re the only thing I see out there, Luce,” he said as I scooted out of the door.

He handed me my bag, propping his other arm over the steering wheel. I wanted to take a picture to freeze that moment. It would keep me warm during the cold winter nights in New York when I slept solo in my bed.

“Yeah, you’re kind of the only thing I see out there too,” I said. “But it’s mainly because of the way your ass looks in that spandex.”

He huffed. “And I thought I was the world title holder in objectification.”

“Was, Ryder,” I clarified, “was being the operative term.”

CHAPTER FOUR

At least the shower that Jude and Tony shared was clean. At least clean by college bachelor standards.

It had taken a half hour of scalding hot water to do the job of warming me back up. I couldn’t remember a shower feeling so good, especially knowing it was where Jude stood buck nak*d a couple of times a day. I’d even found my eyes closing in imagination as I soaped my body with his bath wash.

Winding my hair into a towel, I brushed my teeth and slipped into my jeans and Jude’s favorite Syracuse football sweatshirt. It hadn’t been washed, so it still smelled like him. Fortunately, the good kind of his smells‌—‌soap and man‌—‌and not the way he smelled post practice.

I slipped on my boots before leaving the bathroom because Jude hadn’t exaggerated‌—‌his bedroom was a mess. Like someone might want to consider calling the hazmat team kind of a mess. I’d had to dodge obstacles like beer bottles, cardboard cutouts of bikini clad women laying on the floor sideways, and one pair of crumbled up boxers to get to Jude’s room earlier. The only thing that made his room cleaner than the rest of the house was the lack of girly cardboard cutouts decorating the floor.

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