Suddenly, he scooped me into his arms and jogged up what I assumed were stairs, before I heard a door open. Turning sideways, Jude walked inside before setting me down. My heart was already in my throat before he slid the blindfold back.
The first thing I saw was his eyes. I wanted to keep looking at them, to never look away, because I already knew what I was going to see when I did. I was scared to shift my gaze.
“I couldn’t find a big enough bow to put around it,” he said, turning me around. “I hope you don’t mind.”
Thankfully Jude had wrapped his arms around me, so when I wavered in place, he kept me upright. We were standing in a cavernous room, a space that could fit a decent-size home, and we were just in the foyer. A room a person walked through to get to others that were the size of my parents’ cabin. There were two staircases going up to the second floor. One for going up? One for going down? I didn’t have a clue, but it wasn’t the only thing over-the-top about this place. The chandelier hanging in the center of the room was the size of a Volkswagen, the furniture was so ornate it went past the point of offensive, and the marble floors were so shiny they almost looked like an ice-skating rink.
“What is this?” I whispered, hoping the answer I’d arrived at was wrong.
“The soon-to-be residence of a Mr. and Mrs. Ryder,” he answered, tucking his chin over my shoulder. He was grinning like a crazy man, but that changed when he saw my face.
“Luce?” he said, the excitement gone from his voice. “What’s wrong?”
I closed my eyes. I couldn’t keep looking around. Each new thing I saw drove me that much closer to having a full-fledged panic attack. “What is this, Jude?”
“Our home,” he said slowly.
“No. Our home is back in New York.”
His forehead wrinkled. “No, that place is a condemned apartment we rent. That place is a tetanus shot waiting to happen,” he said, sounding defensive. “You’re standing in our home. The place we’re going to own outright in a year’s time.”
“I like our apartment,” I whispered, weaving out of his embrace. Things were changing too fast. The NFL, the cross-country move, the money, the house . . . it was all moving at warp speed and I couldn’t even begin to keep up. We’d been pulling change out of the seat cushions to pay our electric bill last month, and this month we were standing inside the foyer of a house that was the size of a small country.
“You hate that place.” His voice was getting louder, and he was looking at me in that way again. Like he didn’t recognize me.
I hated that look.
“It’s a love/hate relationship that’s more—”
“What the hell, Luce?” he interrupted. “What new kind of crazy have you caught?”
That trigger-touch temper of mine, like his, just shot to the surface. However, like Jude, I’d been learning to control mine. I got that in Jude’s mind, he’d picked this place thinking I’d love it. I knew that at the core of every decision Jude made, my happiness was his top priority, and I loved that about him. I knew his heart was in the right place when he’d decided to turn us into the Joneses overnight, but I was upset about the way he’d gone about it. How could he make this huge life decision on his own without even consulting me first? We were a team. We should be making decisions as one.
Biting my tongue, I inhaled slowly before I dared to reply. “Same question right back at ya: What kind of crazy have you caught?” I said, nothing antagonistic in my voice, because that wasn’t how I meant it. I truly was wondering what new kind of crazy Jude had caught to go out and get a place like this.
Popping his neck from side to side, Jude took his time replying. We were both working to keep our anger monkeys in their cages. “I’m renting the place right now until I get my first big check, and then the owner’s agreed to sell it to me fully furnished.” He stopped and took another deep breath. “You should see the lagoon and tennis court in the back. This place is hooked up.”
“Lagoon? Tennis court?” My stomach was feeling more and more sick. I reminded myself once more that Jude had done this because he loved me. Not because he wanted to piss me the hell off. I bit back what I wanted to say. “Jude, we’re twenty-one years old.”
“We’re twenty-one-year-old millionaires,” he said with a shrug. “And now that I’ve got the means to give you anything and everything, I’m going to. I want to make you happy, Luce. That’s all I give a damn about,” he said, pointing at me. “You. Happy. Forever.”
“Happy?” I repeated, crossing my arms. “You think this is what’s going to make me happy? What did you do? Go down to the local library and check out The Idiot’s Guide to Making a Gold-digging Trophy Wife Happy?”
I tried biting my tongue again. Man, I tried, but apparently I’d reached my quota of tongue-biting today.
“Because if I was a gold digger then I imagine this would make me very happy,” I said, sweeping my arms around the room. “But I’m not. Despite your wanting me to be this girl who wants your money, I’m not that girl!”
What was I saying? What was I so mad about?
Jude’s face went from shocked, to sad, to angry in two seconds flat. “No, you’re not that girl, Luce. It doesn’t seem like I can do anything to make you happy these days. Maybe you just don’t want to be happy.”