“Hey, Tarzan,” I said as he took his seat next to me. “Tone it down a notch or ten.”
He slid me a smile. “You know that’s not my style, Luce.”
“Then why don’t you take a cheeseburger and stuff it in your mouth before you start throwing around any more ass-kicking threats at my boss.” I motioned at the tray of burgers Holly was holding out for Jude.
“So, Lucy,” Anton said from the other end of the table—positioned so he and Jude could pick up right where they’d left off in their staring contest. “I haven’t had a chance to talk with you about this yet, but I was wondering if you’d be able to stay on in the fall once school starts.”
“Lucy’s going to be busy—”
I raised my hand, cutting Jude off. “I can answer for myself, thank you very much.”
Jude raised his hand in surrender, clearly amused.
“I’m going to be busy”—I shot Jude a look—“with school. I really piled on the coursework my senior year, and then I’ll be going back and forth to San Diego to see Jude a bunch, too.”
Jude’s hand fell on my knee. “Not as much as I’ll be coming back and forth here to see you.”
“I could work around your schedule,” Anton said as everyone else chewed their dinner in silence. Even LJ knew something was going on. “In just three weeks’ time, you’ve proven to be quite the asset at Xavier Industries. I can’t just let you go.”
Jude squeezed my knee, more out of irritation than in reassurance.
“I’ll double your salary,” Anton announced before taking a big bite of his cheeseburger.
Jude opened his mouth, but I wasn’t going to let this go any farther without adding my two cents.
“It’s not about the money,” I said.
Anton arched an eyebrow.
“Well, it’s not totally about the money. I just won’t have the time. I want to commit to the things in my life that are more important than money,” I said, grabbing the ketchup bottle and squirting a glob onto my plate. “Besides, Jude’s making boatloads of money. I’m sure he can lend me a few bucks if I need it.”
I peered over at Jude. This was a source of discomfort for me, a matter of pride, and admitting to a table of my closest friends that I’d be willing to lean on Jude for financial support made me feel very . . . vulnerable. In the I’m-naked-where’s-the-nearest-palm-leaf kind of way.
But taking one glance at Jude’s face eased the way I was feeling. He didn’t just look happy; he looked relieved. Like I’d just removed a heavy weight from his shoulders. I didn’t understand it, but I didn’t need to in order to be glad I made him feel that way.
“I thought you liked making your own money. Being independent. Multimillion-dollar fiancé or not.” Okay, Anton didn’t just have a death wish courtesy of Jude. He had a death wish compliments of Lucy Larson.
This time it was my hand that moved to Jude’s leg, giving it a squeeze.
“That’s right. I do like making my own money,” I said, wanting to dunk one of my fries in ketchup and sail it across the table at Anton’s face. “But if Jude ever needed any of it, that money would be all his. And I think he feels the same way about the money he makes.”
“Damn straight I do, Luce.”
I loved the way he was looking at me right now, like he’d never been prouder of me. I wanted nothing more than to straddle him in that chair and kiss him until we were both blue in the face.
But I had someone else who needed to be put in his place.
“Anything else?” I said, challenging Anton with my eyes.
“I’ve got a whole lot of ‘anything else’s,” he said, dropping his hamburger onto the plate. “I’ve got so many more ‘anything else’s I could go on all night. But how about I start with one word that pretty much sums it up.” Anton wagged his finger between Jude and me. “Un. Healthy.”
Jude bolted up from his seat. I didn’t know what route he would take to get to Anton, but I wasn’t ruling out his flying straight across the table.
“That’s enough!” Holly scrambled out of her seat, too. “My three-year-old behaves better than all of you.” She looked down at LJ, who was trying to stuff a fry up his nostril. “And that’s not saying a whole lot.”
She looked at Anton. “Behave.” Then turned those crazy eyes on Jude. “Behave.” And then me. “Behave.” Taking a seat, she pulled the fry from LJ’s nose. “What’s Mom always telling you about using kind words, baby?”
LJ sat up in his seat, quite pleased to be included in this conversation. “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
Holly mussed the top of his head. “Any questions?” she asked the table.
Other than a few more death glares aimed at each other, Jude and Anton didn’t say another word to each other over dinner, although it wasn’t exactly a quiet dining experience. Between LJ and India and Holly trying to talk over each other while Thomas tried and failed to add in his two cents, my ears were ringing by the time Jude started on his third cheeseburger.
“Where are you putting all of that?” I asked, done in at half of one of those burgers.
He shrugged as he chewed off a tennis ball–size bite. “I have a feeling I’m going to need my energy for tonight.”