Page 19

Reality was finally starting to set in. I had a job. A sweet-paying job working for one of my best friend’s brothers. “The kind of employee you thank your lucky stars for,” I threw back, ready to hop out of my chair and bust a move.

“Lucy Larson, administrative assistant,” Anton said. “I like the sound of that. See you Monday morning.”

“First thing,” I said. “Thank you, Anton. You won’t regret it.”

“No, Lucy,” he replied, “I’m sure I won’t.”

You know that person who’s the first out of her seat the instant the airplane comes to “a complete stop”? Yeah, that would be me.

I was the first person up and the first person off the plane that Thursday in San Diego. As I powered toward the baggage claim area, I had to remind myself to walk, not run. More than once I forgot.

I saw Jude before he saw me. He was spinning circles in place, and his eyes fell on me after a final revolution. His shoulders relaxed when he smiled. “Yo, Lu-cy!” he shouted—Rocky-style—above the noise in the airport, breaking into a run my way.

I didn’t care that we were catching the attention of everyone within hearing and seeing distance; nor did I care about the show we’d be giving them soon. The only thing I cared about was the guy running at breakneck speed and getting his arms around me.

I wasn’t walking anymore. My bags were bouncing against me as I dodged around people, and the corners of my eyes stung with the tears forming. You would have thought he’d been deployed to the Middle East for the past year from the way we were charging at each other.

When Jude reached me, he grabbed me up and spun me around. I held on for the ride, wondering how another person could make me feel whole again. When Jude finally set me back down, I let my purse and carry-on fall to the floor. Folding me back into his arms, he pressed into me as tightly as two people could fit together. God, it felt so good.

“Damn,” he breathed into my hair. “I can’t go that long again.” His hand cupped the base of my neck and his other arm pressed into the small of my back.

My own arms were cinched in a death-hold around his waist. “Me, neither.”

While people grabbed their luggage from baggage claim or waited in line for a cup of coffee, Jude and I stood there, frozen in time. Five minutes, ten minutes, no minutes? I didn’t know. And I didn’t care.

He smelled the same, all soap and man, and his skin had darkened another shade in the California sun.

“Promise me right now we’ll never go that long again without seeing each other,” he said, nuzzling into my neck.

His breath against my skin gave me goose bumps.

“Promise,” he repeated, looking hard into my eyes.

“I will only make you a promise that I can guarantee I can keep,” I said, remembering why honesty was a double-edged sword when his face fell a bit.

His thumb brushed under the collar of my shirt. “Promise me you’ll marry me.”

I exhaled. That was an easy one. “I promise.”

His face went from dark to light in the span of two words. “Promise you’ll marry me in the next six months.”

Back in the danger zone.

I replied with a lift of my eyebrow.

He chuckled. “Yeah, yeah. You’re so difficult, Luce,” he said, keeping me tucked under his arm as he turned toward the baggage carousel. There was only one suitcase left spinning around on it.

Grabbing my bag, Jude pretended to be overwhelmed by its size. Or weight. Or both.

“God, Luce,” he said, looking from me to the bag. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were planning on staying awhile.”

Jude’s continued theatrics with my bag caught the attention of a few people waiting at the next carousel over. One little boy in particular.

“Two nights is a while for a girl,” I said, not able to take my eyes off the little boy gaping at Jude. No matter where we went, Jude got a lot of gaping. The little boys who stared were amusing; I only tolerated the batting-eyed females because I couldn’t take out the world’s female population singlehandedly. “Besides, I’ve got a present in there for you that took up at least half the space.”

“Present?” His eyes sparkled. “A ‘just because’ one?”

“Aren’t those the best kind?” I said, grabbing his hand and dragging him over to the airport store. I had an idea.

“I got you a present, too,” he said proudly as I scanned the store.

“A ‘just because’ present?” I asked as I found what I was looking for. Tugging on his hand, I beelined for it.

“Aren’t those the best kind?” he said.

“Yes, they are,” I said, grabbing the turquoise-and-yellow football before heading to the cashier.

“Luce, I can get you one of those for free,” he said, sounding confused. “An official one with the whole team’s autographs if you want.”

The cashier rang me up, and, before I could hand her the cash, Jude slipped a shiny black card into her hand. “I got it,” he said.

It’s all right. No biggie, I had to tell myself. He’s just paying for a football.

I thanked the cashier, then sifted through my purse until I found a pen. Handing him the pen, I held the football in place. “I just want one autograph.”

He did that half smile, half smirk of his that was by far the sexiest expression in the whole damn world, before signing his name just to the right of the laces.

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