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“So?” she said, dabbing her lips with a shell pink gloss.

How was this not making sense? “So that’s one and a half sizes too small.” There‌—‌I’ll spell it out for her.

“Beauty is pain, sweetpea,” she said, flashing a pair of silver strappy heels from her bag and fastening them on. “Put those sexy ass shoes on and work it.”

“Should I even put up an argument?” I asked, clenching my teeth as I worked my first foot into the tiny shoe, praying a few hours of wearing them tonights wouldn’t affect my dancing for a few weeks to come.

“You could,” she said, throwing her head forward again and teasing the roots. “But it would be a waste of time.”

“I figured as much,” I muttered, bracing myself as I slid my other foot into the last shoe.

“Okay, let me get a look at you,” she said, sliding a silver chandelier earring into her ear. She studied me, like a painter inspected their masterpiece, and a smile made a slow journey into position. “Take off your underwear.”

“What?” I said, never prepared for the next thing that came out of Holly’s mouth. “No!”

“Take. Them. Off,” she repeated, sliding the last earring into place.

“You take yours off,” I threw back like an insolent child.

Her smile broadened. “They already are, baby.”

Shudder.

“Holly,” I said, “I’m not taking my underwear off. End of story.”

“Oh, yes, you damn well are,” she fired back. “End of story.”

I opened my mouth to volley back, but nothing came out. It was hard work making a logical argument against this kind of insanity.

“Lucy, you want to rub Adriana Vix’s perfect little face in her own pile of shit, you’ve got to have as many tricks in your bag as she does. Because I know her type and they play dirty. And they’re relentless little hoe-bags.”

Marching over towards me, she rammed her fists on her hips. “Trick number one: your hot little number,” she started, waving her hands down my dress. “Trick number two: you’re going to give Jude a pair of lidded bedroom eyes across the room any time he looks your way. Trick number three: you’ll be gracious and flattered when the droves of guys line up around you to drive him nuts,”‌—‌Holly must not have experienced Jude’s wrath if she thought any guy within the state would make a pass at me with Jude in the same room‌—‌”and trick number four”‌—‌she wagged her brows at me‌—‌”Adriana comes within an arm’s length of him, you nonchalantly slip those panties into his hand and walk away.”

For a crazy person, she made a lot of sense.

She waited while I worked all this out in my head. Finally, accepting she’d thought this out and any plan was better than no plan, I hitched my dress up and worked my panties down my legs. Thank the maker I’d selected a minuscule lacy pair that would drive Jude crazy.

Balling them up in my fist, I held it in front of her. “And where am I supposed to keep these while I’m waiting for the perfect time to slip them into his hand?”

She hadn’t thought out everything.

Rolling her eyes like I knew nothing, she fished them out of my hand and stuffed them between my cl**vage.

“There,” she said, patting my boobs. “You’re good to go.”

“So glad you’re here, Holly,” I said, combing my fingers through my hair and trying the flip and tease thing she was such a fan of. “To make me paranoid I’m about to lose my boyfriend to the likes of Adriana Vix.”

“That’s not what I’m saying, Lucy Larson,” she said, looking offended. “I know how Jude feels about you. That kind of crazy love runs deep, babe. He’s not going anywhere.” Opening Jude’s door, she motioned me out. “It’s not him I’m worried about. It’s that Vix bitch. That breed of woman has made an art form out of manipulating men before they even know how their pants wound up around their ankles. They’re dangerous, so the sooner you show her she’s not getting her claws into your man’s back, the sooner she can move on to the next couple she wants to tear apart.”

I sucked in a breath. I was going to need it. “All right, let’s do this.”

“There’s the spirit,” she said, smacking my backside as I passed her. “Time to drive Jude mad.”

The music started pumping as we passed down the hall. Of course it was some bad brand of hip-hop that vibrated the floor boards.

“I know you’ve got a streak of diva in you, Lucy,” Holly said as we rounded the corner to the stairs. “But tonight, I need you to set that diva free. Let her be all she can be. Got it?”

“Got it,” I said, surveying the room that was already two times past max capacity and the football team wasn’t even here yet.

Winding our way through the flood of bodies, I saw that Holly’s impromptu makeover was effective. Every male within a few body radius turned to watch us as we slid by.

“Hey, a**hole!” Holly hollered behind me. “Keep your hands to yourself unless you want me to chop them off while you sleep!”

The offender raised his hands and backed away.

So maybe she’d been a little too effective.

“This is good!” she shouted above the music, grabbing my arm and pulling me to a stop. “The first thing Jude will see is you when he comes through that door.”

“You really have thought this through,” I said, telling myself the guy beside me wasn’t purposefully brushing up against me.

“Location, location, location,” she quoted, smoothing my dress down before lifting my boobs higher.

The mouth of the guy behind Holly dropped.

“Stop,” I demanded, shooing her hands that were now molding my boobs into position.

“Fine,” she said, giving them one final pop. “Just remember. The diva to end all divas. And slip those panties into his hand the first time Vix tries something.”

I nodded in acknowledgement. Diva, diva, diva. Think like a diva, act like a diva. Diva is a state of mind. My mental encouragement to myself wasn’t helping, so I decided to put some diva theory into practice.

Turning to the guy still brushing up against me, I worked a half smile into place. Looking up at him through my lashes, I saw I’d caught his attention. “Sure is hot in here,” I said slowly, a tad suggestively.

Brushing Up Boy’s eyes widened; I could almost see the pulse quicken in his neck. “It sure is,” he replied, moving closer and resting a hand on my side.

“I could sure use something to cool me off.” I crossed one arm over my stomach, brushing the other hand up and down my other arm. The corners of his eyes lined watching my fingers caress my skin.

Wetting his lips, he came closer. Close enough to know I’d… ahem, hit the mark.

“I think I’m up to the challenge,” he said, one side of his mouth curving up.

“Hey, Mr. Over-eager,” Holly stepped in. “She means a drink. A cold drink.”

Shaking his head, he cleared his throat and stepped back. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “Sure. I’m on it.” Casting one longing look my way, he started tearing through the crowd, heading for the kitchen.

“You’re smart enough to know not to drink anything he gives you, right?” Holly said as we watched the boy storming ahead.

“Yeah,” I replied, shaking my head. “How was that for diva?”

“You’re a natural,” she said, nudging me. “Keep up the good work.”

The music came to an abrupt halt, a few heartbeats of silence saturating the room before the first few beats of “Eye of the Tiger” made the room shudder. All hail the victors, because if the song didn’t give them away, the chanting that had started outside and was working its way in had done the job.

“Show time,” Holly said, elbowing me.

“Will you stop throwing elbows?” I hissed over at her. “I’m going to look like a purple Dalmatian by the time you leave tomorrow.”

“Oh, grow a pair,” she muttered, focusing on the front door when it fired open. “Diva,” she added.

“Brat.”

“Ooooh. Burn,” she deadpanned, elbowing at me again.

This time, I dodged her bony little elbow.

The kicker, Kurt or Kirk, was the first through the door, one of the cheerleaders‌—‌no doubt his Spirit Sister‌—‌hanging off his elbow. Right behind the K named kicker, Tony came in, a petite bouncing blonde on his arm.

The players had never arrived in this fashion before; Jude usually just came barreling through the door first, hollering some obscenity, before throwing me over his shoulder and finding a quiet spot we could be alone.

I knew exactly who and what was responsible for the change in entrance. The who being Adriana Vix. And the what being a bitch.

“All right, Lucy, get into position,” Holly said, shuffling me in front of the door. “This chick’s coming out of the gates swinging.”

“No shit,” I said, shaking my head as the parade continued. I wasn’t holding my breath for Jude; I knew she was saving their entrance for the grand finale.

“Here, lean your hip into this,” Holly instructed, shuffling me sideways until I hip-checked an old, water damaged sofa table. Standing in front of me, she positioned my hip where she wanted it, then grabbed my hand. “Hand on hip, feet crossed at the ankles.” She squatted down, adjusting them just so. Popping back up, her gaze met mine with a hardened degree of seriousness. “When he walks in and his eyes fall on you, I want your eyes to emanate innocence. And I want your mouth to open just a bit‌—‌just like it does during orgasm.” Clamping her hands over my shoulders, she leveled me with one more look. “Got it?”

“Sure?” I answered, because there wasn’t any time for clarification. I could see the top of Jude’s shaved head coming up the front stairs. A shiny dark haired head a few bobbing inches below it.

“Put a nail in that bitch’s casket,” Holly said, driving her fist into her hand before disappearing into the crowd.

Even obscured by a mass of bodies, Jude moving into a room made my heart quicken. Even with a male fantasy glued to his arm, he made my legs weaken.

As I’d expected, Adriana was beaming like she was walking across the Miss America stage. I’d be honored to add some tears to her eyes if she didn’t loosen her grip on Jude’s arm. Bouncing into the room like she was the star attraction, she waved at the crowd while the chorus thumped through the room. She was wearing a simple, short, turquoise colored dress that made her skin almost sparkle in its bronziness.

The crowd was chanting, “Ry-Der. Ry-Der. Ry-Der,” and my heart was beating two beats a syllable. He’d changed into a snug fitting white v-neck tee and dark jeans that hung off his hips, finished off with his worn pair of Converse.

Over a year on and off together, and the man could still make my stomach clench just by looking at him.

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