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I brought it to my lap and stared at it.

“Open it,” he encouraged. “I’ve been dying to give it to you since I picked it out last week.”

I smiled. It was impossible not to with that boyish look on his face. “This is a pretty fancy box, Mr. Ryder,” I said, untying the bow.

“Walmart does a pretty badass gift wrap, don’t they?”

I elbowed him. “Nice try.” I doubted I’d ever get another Walmart present from him again. The idea made me sad.

“Open it,” he said. “Nothing’s too good for my girl. It’s nice I can finally afford those things you deserve.”


Before I could say whatever I’d been planning to say next, his mouth was on mine, fast and hard. Just as quickly, it was gone. I might have thought I’d made the whole thing up if I couldn’t still taste him on my lips.

“Open it,” he said, his face smug.

He knew exactly what he was doing and used that to his advantage. He could have been asking me to jump off a cliff, and I was so foggy brained I would have.

I took a breath and slid the lid off.

Nestled inside was a silver cuff bracelet. Simple and elegant. Something I would have picked out for myself, if I’d allowed myself to pick out something so nice.

“Wow,” I breathed, pulling it out. It was heavy and cool to the touch.

“Do you like it?” He glanced between the road and me.

“Now, that’s a bracelet,” I said, not having to fake my excitement for him.

“Turn it over,” he instructed. “There’s something else.”

Shooting him a curious look, I rotated the bracelet. There was an engraving on the inside, and the words made me weak in all the places a girl could go weak.

“‘For my Luce,’” I read. Luce had two sparkly stones around it. My dad would love the “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” reference. “‘Who has all my firsts that matter.’”

“Wow,” I repeated. Words were failing me.

“What do you think?” he asked, looking at the bracelet proudly.

“Jude,” I started. “It’s . . . it’s . . .” I had nothing more than one-syllable babble. Sliding the cuff onto my left wrist, I searched for the right words that would express my thanks.


Totally tongue-tied. I was a dancer, not a writer; my body expressed the way I was feeling a hundred times better than my words ever could.

And then it came to me.

Leaning closer, I kissed his scar. Once, twice, and then a third time before I moved to his mouth. I’d taken him by surprise. That was apparent from the way his muscles tensed. Taking Jude Ryder by surprise was rare, and I was going to enjoy it. Sweeping gentle kisses over his entire mouth, I savored the moment. Our other kisses were so passionate and unyielding I felt like I was being consumed by them, but this one I held on to. I enjoyed the scent of salt on his skin. The way the fullness of his bottom lip felt in my mouth. The way his tongue tasted against mine.

I pressed one final kiss into the center of his mouth. “Thank you,” I said. “I love my bracelet.” Okay, one final, final kiss. “And I love you.”

“Damn, woman,” he said, whistling through his teeth. “Have mercy. If that’s the thanks I get, I will be getting you jewelry every single day.”

As I leaned my head on his shoulder, I admired the bracelet. He had a finger, and now a wrist. And he had my heart. Jude Ryder was slowly taking me over, one body part at a time.

“And you’re welcome.”

We sat in silence for a few minutes. I slid my fingers up and down his as he was content to draw circles on my arm. It was peaceful, and although these kinds of quiet moments had been increasing during our time together, peace wasn’t a regular thing in our relationship. I hoped that one day that would change.

“Hey, I need you to put something on,” he said, pulling something out of his pocket.

My eyes narrowed at the thing dangling from his index finger.

“A blindfold?” I said. “A black satin blindfold? What was I saying about you being a horny perv?”

He shook his head. “This has nothing to do with horny . . . kinky . . . perverty,” he said, sounding increasingly uneasy with each word.

I held in my laugh. “Damn,” I teased. “There’s a way to ruin a girl’s day.”

“So difficult,” he said under his breath. “Just put it on. I’ve got another surprise for you.”

Grabbing the blindfold, I slid it on. “Does this surprise have to do with any horny, kinky, perverty fun?”

“No.” He chuckled.

“Double damn.”

More laughter. “Luce, you are busting my balls big-time today.”

“That’s because I’m into that kind of thing. You know? The horny, kinky, perverty kind of thing.” If I was going to be blindfolded so he could take me to some other surprise, I was going to let my snarky side run free.

It wasn’t much longer before the truck came to a stop.

“We’re here,” he said, his voice all boyish and excited again.

“We’re where?”

Grabbing my hands, he helped me out of the cab. Thankfully, he lifted me from the truck, because I didn’t want to make a blindfolded jump not knowing what the hell I’d land on.

“Here,” he answered, guiding me by the shoulders. We were moving over a hard surface. Concrete? Asphalt? Stone, maybe? Other than the sound of running water, fountains possibly, it was quiet. He couldn’t have been taking me to a store; we weren’t at the beach . . . where in the world were we?

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