“I’ve never been embarrassed to be seen with you,” I said, letting him tuck my head under his chin. “Not even in that sorry excuse for scrap metal of a truck.”
He barked out a laugh. “Good to know, Luce. Good to know.”
“How are you not nervous?” I hissed over at Jude, where he stood casually leaning against a wall. We were in the infamous green room on the first night of the draft.
Reaching his hand out for mine, he lifted a shoulder. “The coaches already know who they’re picking. There’s nothing I can do now to change that.” Once I grabbed his hand, he tugged me close and folded me tight against him. “However, I’m starting to get nervous you’re about to pass out any second.”
That wasn’t so far off. I reminded myself to breathe. “As long as you keep holding on to me like this, at least I won’t crack my head open if I do.”
His arms fastened tighter around me before he started to sway in time to an imaginary beat. “You can dance in front of hundreds of people and not break a sweat,” he said. The movement was relaxing me. “But your fiancé is waiting for the phone call to see which city he’ll be moving to so he can kick some big-time football ass, and you’re a thin line away from losing it.” Pressing a kiss to my temple, he leaned his forehead into mine with a small shake of his head. “Just when I think I’ve got you all figured out, Lucy Larson.”
My laugh sounded manic. Probably because that was how I felt. “I have to keep you on your toes somehow.”
Jude’s eyebrows moved against my forehead. “You excel at that, Luce.”
That tone again. The undercurrent that revealed he was trying to say something else. There’d been an increasing amount of “undercurrent” the past few months.
“Meaning?” I asked, peaking my own brows so they were as high as his. I reminded myself we weren’t alone, that we were surrounded by the best players in college football, along with their closest family and friends. This was neither the place nor the time to get into one of our spats.
“Meaning if you didn’t keep me on my toes every second of every day, I’d have figured out a way to get you down the aisle by now,” he said, and it all clicked into place. He was sulking because he didn’t have me barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen yet.
Okay, so “barefoot and pregnant” might have been an exaggeration, but there was no denying that Jude wanted me to be his wife the second after I’d agreed to marry him. He’d only been asking, begging, whining, and, as of late, sulking when I replied, “Not yet.”
It didn’t have anything to do with my not wanting to marry him. Jude was going to be my husband. I was going to be Mrs. Jude Ryder one day.
I just wasn’t ready for that day to be today. Or yesterday. Or tomorrow, for that matter. I wanted to finish school and have a few years of actual on-the-job dance experience before I became a Mrs. I didn’t want to be known as the one girl in the history of the twenty-first century to have gone to school to get an MRS degree.
So my answer was, “Not yet.”
But one day.
However, this wasn’t what Jude liked to hear. So instead of arguing back with my list of valid reasons for postponing marriage, I redirected the conversation. I’d become a diversion ninja.
“And if I hadn’t kept you on your toes the past three years, you wouldn’t be about to be a first-round pick and to sign your life away for mountains of money,” I replied, throwing his words back at him.
“Come on, Luce. I’m growing tired of the whole, stop, drop, and divert routine,” he said, looking down at me, but still keeping me close. “Marriage isn’t the end of the world.”
“Then why do you keep acting like my not wanting to tie the knot tomorrow is?”
“Because your saying ‘not now’ is the end of the world,” he said, fighting a smile. “Come on, baby. Marry me,” he said, not like a question but like a command. I didn’t reply, letting the seconds tick off in silence around us. “Marry me?” he repeated, this time as a plea. It crushed me a little bit every time, Jude pleading with me to marry him.
“I’m going to marry you,” I answered.
He smirked at me. “When?”
I smirked back. “Soon.”
“Can I get that in writing?” he asked. “Maybe a date, a time, and a location? You know, just so I can make sure to be there when the marrying mood strikes you?” He looked away, the lightness in his eyes shadowing.
Dammit. We’d officially crossed from his being marginally upset to full-on hurt. I hated that Jude felt this way, but I couldn’t cave. I couldn’t get married because I felt guilty. That would be a marriage doomed to failure, and when I said, “I do,” it was going to be a onetime deal.
“Jude Ryder,” I said, tilting his chin until he was looking at me. “Are you having an insecure moment? I thought you were immune to those.” I tried on a smile, but it felt superficial. “Are you worried I’m not going to marry you?” Even my light tone sounded artificial, too saccharine to be believable.
Leaning the back of his head into the wall, he lifted his face toward the ceiling. He couldn’t look at me, or didn’t want to, but his arms never loosened their hold. And I knew, no matter what was said or done, they never would. That was one of the many reasons I loved this man.
“I’m starting to worry,” he said finally, shifting his gaze around the room, pretending he was interested in the handful of players pacing the room like caged lions, and their respective entourages of family and friends attempting, and failing, to calm them.